It’s been a great year for albums. Not since 2010 have we seen such a consistent stream of must-have releases, and from so many camps. Think about it: Salivating follow-ups were checked off crumpled wishlists, rookies left the dugouts with the nosebleeds in mind, veterans legitimized their medallions once more, and Daft Punk wrote another hit. Not too shabs, right?
For me, the trips to the record store have been frequent as of late, essentially taking a knife to my credit and personal savings, which should do wonders for my wedding budget next year. But hey, who’s to argue with a crippling addiction to vinyl, right? …right? [Insert nervous laughter.] Christ, please don’t tell my fiance.
ANYWAYS, over two remarkably frosty weeks, we’ve wrapped ourselves in blankets and bathed our throats in green tea to assemble this year’s top stories, photos, videos, and songs, in addition to our picks for artist, band, rookie, and festival of the year. Now, it’s time to finally hit the showers as the main events in our 2013 Annual Report come to a resounding end with our Top 50 Albums.
So, as we’re singing Elton John in the steam and suds, feel free to let us know how we did this year in the comments below. Of course, we’ll also gladly accept any packaged baked goods, holiday gift cards, DVD copies of Shame, and tickets to Norway.
Though, stay tuned next week for our supplemental reports, including this year’s top cover songs, late night performances, and music moments in television. We’ll also name our favorite comedian, share our individual staff lists, and publish a few editorials capping off the year in hip-hop, EDM, and folk.
To paraphrase our pal Chance the Rapper, we hope you love all our shit.
50. The So So Glos – Blowout
The So So Glos trace their origins back to 1991, when the Brooklyn rockers were barely out of diapers. “The spirit and the songs,” said the brothers Levine on a recent episode of Sirius XM host Jake Fogelnest’s podcast The Fogelnest Files, “came before the technical skills.” It shows, too, and that’s not a slam. The same sloppy, spit-in-yer-face spirit that launched Nirvana and The Clash into so many mangled hearts resides in the unkempt corridors of Blowout, a punk record that’s as remarkable for its hyperactive riffs as it is for its positive vibes, which, if bands like FIDLAR are any indication, wasn’t necessarily the trend in 2013. Good on ‘em. –Randall Colburn
49. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
In a year’s time, I’ll probably mutter something like, “You know, we really should have put Sky Ferreira’s album higher.” Unfortunately, you really can’t argue for hindsight, though here’s my bratty attempt, anyhow: Ferreira’s an artist that’s not only going to sharpen her game, but capitalize upon her strengths. In my recent review of her Chicago gig, I questioned whether audiences will appreciate her alternative brand of pop when she hits the road with Miley Cyrus next year, concluding that it will. Maybe that’s too optimistic, but if teens are digging Night Time, My Time, they’re only a few steps removed from Suicide, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Blondie. That’s an exciting prospect. –Michael Roffman
48. Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond
There are existential crises throughout Mutual Benefit’s gorgeous Love’s Crushing Diamond. On “Let’s Play / Statue of a Man”, multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lee’s lilting voice sings, “And on a train through the Midwest/ I was trying to get reborn.” Referring to these seven serene and nostalgia-soaked folk songs as “dispatches from a year of notable absences,” Love’s Crushing Diamond was recorded in multiple cities, including Boston, Austin, and St. Louis. Ever the wandering soul, Lee approaches his songs with childlike wonder, giving them ornate compositions with plucky banjos and warm strings, as well as measured lyrical optimism like “we weren’t meant to be afraid” in “Golden Wake”. Though Mutual Benefit treads similar waters to artists like Freelance Whales and Patrick Watson, Love’s Crushing Diamond is an evocative, carefully hopeful record. –Josh Terry
47. Lorde – Pure Heroine
Armed with minimal synth tracks, intelligent lyrics, and a voice years ahead of her, New Zealand’s Ella Yelich-O’Connor, aka Lorde, took the world by storm. What was it that made Pure Heroine so seductive to those of us with a few more heartbreaks and formative experiences under our skin? Feverishly, I played “Ribs” and “400 Lux” over and over again, and turned up “Royals” any time it happened to come on the radio. (The numbers prove I wasn’t the only one.) Somehow, O’Connor tapped into primal and basic insights about a time most of us still haven’t digested appropriately. “It drives you crazy getting old,” Yelich-O’Connor sings on “Ribs”, but with a debut like Pure Heroine, age and its wisdom should only enhance her already considerable gifts. –Katherine Flynn
46. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
Enough music dances around the fear of death, landing vaguely on a compulsion to seize the moment for what it is, because after this, who knows? The Haxan Cloak dives into death as another experience, imagining the passage of a soul after it’s been severed from the machinations of the body. But this isn’t the afterlife folk songs hope for. Deep and surreal, Excavation works on living bodies in ways a lot of dark ambience only hints at. This is a full-body album, something to be blasted in the dark, something to be understood not as an object but as a series of vibrations felt in the ears and the skin. Bobby Krlic imagines death ina way that makes sure you know you’re alive. –Sasha Geffen
45. Arctic Monkeys – AM
As Jon Hadusek put it in his review, Arctic Monkeys has never given in to the success trap of playing the same things that made you a star in the first place. In fact, they have fought tooth and nail against it. AM is a darker, more groovy and slinky album than anything they’ve done previously. Alex Turner is pushing the band into stranger sonic directions, but their inventive guitar work and lyricism never wane. Turner’s wordplay is some of the most clever and unexpected of any songwriter today. Arctic Monkeys have used AM as another incredible reminder that they have grown up, and 2006 was a long time ago. –Nick Freed
44. Pusha T – My Name Is My Name
I don’t pretend to relate to Pusha T. Not on a lyrical level. I’m white, I was raised middle class, and I’ve never dealt cocaine. And if there’s any truth to My Name Is My Name (which there’s lots), I’m not about to start. Not because it’s an anti-drug record—the album’s as morally ambiguous about the coke trade as anything by Clipse—but because it makes pushing blow sound hard. “Two beepers on me/ Starter jacket that was two-toned / Four lockers / Four different bitches got their mule on,” the younger Thornton brother explains in “Nosestalgia”. Complicated stuff, plus I was never good at math. This elaborate business model is a part of the M.O. of My Name Is My Name, an album that views narcotics strictly in terms of logistics, economics, and survival. Pusha T’s practicality makes him unique among his contemporaries—his material indulgence is moderate, and he never uses his own supply, if he even uses at all. –Dan Caffrey
43. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
Prior to the release of Pain Is Beauty, fans were left speculating whether Chelsea Wolfe would return to the more volatile noise of Apokalypsis or continue in the direction of Unknown Rooms‘ doom folk. The answer is a little bit of both, but really neither. On Pain Is Beauty, Wolfe conjures ominous drones and buildups as menacing as Swans’, and layers them with beats that creep and moody atmospherics. It’s nearly an hour of nuanced gloom and doom that’s as gorgeous as it is monstrous. Pain Is Beauty defies classification and establishes Wolfe as music’s true mistress of darkness. –Frank Mojica
42. Mark Mulcahy – Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You
While Daft Punk, David Bowie, and My Bloody Valentine all resurfaced with some of the most anticipated and celebrated records of 2013, cult singer-songwriter Mark Mulcahy quietly returned with a “comeback” album that rightly belongs in the same conversation. Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You plays like a love note to fans, blending Mulcahy’s singular solo sound with that sugarcoated Polaris vibe in 35 minutes of irresistible pop bursts. Mulcahy’s voice — the most dynamic and versatile instrument found in his music — remains finely tuned, delighting on everything from emphatic call-and-response shouts and zero-to-60 chorus blastoffs to hushed echoes and pulsating vocal flourishes. And irony-rich relationship reflections like “Poison Candy Heart” (a brutally one-sided relationship dipped in a confectioner’s glaze of strums, keys, and carefree whistles) and “The Rabbit” (an ambivalent portrait of a lover articulated with an elocutionist delivery) are as playful and insightful as anything heard this year. —Matt Melis
41. Mountains – Centralia
The Brooklyn duo of Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg kept us warm last winter with Centralia, their third and strongest release to date. By combining acoustic instruments — guitars, piano, and strings — with a deck of electronics, the two bridged our world with the unknown. What came of the welding was a relaxing excursion over seven tracks that breathes in all the ways Brian Eno once intended with Music for Airports. You’ll sit in a lonely church pew out in the Salton Sea (“Sand”), breathe miraculously underwater (“Circular C”), and discover an icebreaker to tell David Bowman (“Propeller”). Admittedly, it isn’t too complicated to find an ambient album supercharged with emotion these days, but it says something that this didn’t get lost amidst new releases by Oneohtrix Point Never, Darkside, and Boards of Canada. –Michael Roffman