The finale is here. My top 10 favorite albums of 2013. Leave yours in the comments!
#1 Disclosure-Settle (Spotify)
From the moment you hit “play” on Disclosure’s debut album Settle, I challenge you not to want to get out of your seat and move. “When A Fire Starts To Burn” sets the tone so well, I was almost concerned the album couldn’t possibly deliver past the intro. Instead the brothers Lawrence paired their excitable productions with top notch vocalists like Jessie Ware, Eliza Doolittle and more. Disclosure didn’t set out to break new ground in dance music, but made an homage to house (“F For You”, “Stimulation”), garage (“Grab Her”) and other forms of dance music that worked as a lesson in pop excellence. Ware shined on the bass heavy cut “Confess To Me”, while the duo slowed down the tempo with London Grammar on intoxicating track “Help Me Lose My Mind”. Sam Smith particularly proved a match made in heaven for the duo on clever anthem “Latch” and AlunaGeorge punctuated the spastic rhythms of “White Noise”. Don’t be surprised if Settle launches Disclosure to the front of every pop starlet’s production wish list.
#2 Volcano Choir-Repave (Spotify)
Of Justin Vernon’s various side projects, features and production dalliances, Volcano Choir was previously qualified as his “most curious”. The collective’s debut album was largely an instrumental effort, which was gorgeous and experimental, but not as enticing when Vernon’s vocals are missing. Apparently, the man behind Bon Iver thought so too because nearly every cut on Repave featured Vernon on his best instrument, his pipes. The band’s latest work does align closely to the most recent Bon Iver album, but tracks like “Comrade” and “Acetate” show off even more experimentation. “Byegone” might even have a bigger hook than anything Vernon has ever been a part of.
#3 Haim-Days Are Gone (Spotify)
Mix one part Fleetwood Mac, one part Wilson Phillips, one part Debbie Gibson and the result is Haim. I’m a sucker for group sung harmonies (see Fleet Foxes, First Aid Kit, Mumford & Sons, etc), but the ladies of HAIM owned 2013 wit their debut Days Are Gone. I don’t even understand how the band decided which single to release first. Nearly each track on the concise album is a winner. “Falling” and “If I Could Change” build with ‘90s prom anthem synth, guitar grooves and vocal tricks. The syncopated rhythms of “Forever” and “Don’t Save Me” beg for group karaoke sessions. “The Wire” shines with one of the most superb hooks of the year. If this weren’t Pharrell’s renaissance year, I’d argue Ariel Rechtshaid should win the Producer of the Year Grammy for his work on Haim’s album alone.
#4 Vampire Weekend-Modern Vampires Of The City (Spotify)
By the time Vampire Weekend’s third album was finally released, it almost seemed like the discussion about VW turned from excitement to wishing for the band’s failure. My how things changed from their epic launch in 2007. Erza and co. deftly ignored the negativity and released arguably their best work yet with Modern Vampires of the City. Darker tunes like “Obvious Bicycle” and “Don’t Lie“ showed a maturity previously unseen. Even deeper topics like questioning faith and death excel with sunny sounds on “Unbelievers”, “Ya Hey” and “Diane Young”. Maybe animosity and internet reluctance brings out the best in Vampire Weekend after all.
#5 Arcade Fire-Reflektor (Spotify)
If you only listened to the title track from Arcade Fire’s fourth album once, you might think the Canadian act might have abandoned their touchstones. I like to think Win Butler and co. just chose to evolve. The big hooks, anthemic sounds and diverse instrumentation is still there, but adds a layer of new wave influence to the mix. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy has a visible effect on outstanding cuts like “We Exist” and “Afterlife”. Even non-Murphy tracks like “Flashbulb Eyes” and “Here Comes The Night Time II“ showcase a side of Arcade Fire’s personality that is new, but not a stretch. In a time when many musicians are opting for electronically infused sounds, Reflektor just seems smart, well crafted and present at the same time.
#6 Sky Ferreira-Night Time, My Time (Spotify)
I largely avoided Sky Ferreria’s music, because of her headline grabbing actions and shock value album art. I’m glad a friend suggested I give her work a listen, otherwise I would have missed the biggest surprise of 2013. Night Time, My Time is gushing with new wave (“Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)”) and glam pop (“Boys”) that if given say the marketing budgets of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, I have to believe would be a massive album. Crafted with expert songwriters and producers Ariel Rechstaid and Justin Raisen, Ferreira detailed narratives of love (“24 Hours”), the joys of heart break (“You’re Not The One”), and confidence (“Ain’t You’re Right”).
#7 Kanye West-Yeezus (Spotify)
The unexpected sonic experience of Yeezus jarred the internet and made for more than just a memorable summer. Kanye has always wore his emotions on his sleeve, but this album had the anger to match is leather kilt. The industrial sounds felt grimier than anything else in hip-hop with a NIN meets Saul Williams feel. “On Sight” was one of the best album openers of the year and set the tone for a raucous ride. West is still at his most boastful (“I Am A God”) and political (“New Slaves”, “Blood On The Leaves”), but feels more artful than past work. Not to leave all his past fans in the dirt, “Bound 2” made fans feel nostalgic combining the talents of Charlie Wilson with some sped up soul and bravado-filled bars. I believe we’ll be dissecting this period of Kanye’s artistic life and hailing this album for decades to come.
#8 The National-Trouble Will Find Me (Spotify)
Matt Berninger and The National have a way of making pain and heartbreak sound anthemic better than most. Trouble Will Find Me continued that trend and excelled in building songs before erupting with compelling sounds. Tracks like “Demons”, “Graceless” and “Sea of Love” rank with some of the group’s best. After six quality albums, I don’t see a need for The National to change that formula.
#9 Jason Isbell-Southeastern (Spotify)
Even if alt country isn’t your typical musical choice, I implore you to give Jason Isbell’s epic Southeastern a try. Isbell had always charmed as a former member of Drive By Truckers and leading the 400 Unit, but “Southeastern” offers his most heartfelt effort to date. The stripped down tracks serve as ample landscapes for vivid narratives like “Stockholm”, “Traveling Alone” and “New South Wales”.
#10 Justin Timberlake-The 20/20 Experience Part I (Spotify)
While I wasn’t so sure about JT’s newfound love of dapper suit’s and ties in song, The 20/20 Experience Part I ended up being one of the albums I listened to most this year. Timbaland’s production is consistently on point with JT in the fold and Timbo seemed reinvigorated throughout the album. The soulful vibe of the record was new ground for both parties and each rose to the challenge on tracks like “Pusher Lover Girl“ and “Spaceship Coupe“. The dynamic duo also cleverly split most songs into two which allowed for experimentation in world music rhythms (“Let The Groove Get In”, “Don’t Hold The Wall”) and home-run pop/R&B sounds (“Mirrors”, “Tunnel Vision”).