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Top 50 Albums of 2013

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    albums Top 50 Albums of 2013

    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.

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    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 artistbandrookie, 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.

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    To paraphrase our pal Chance the Rapper, we hope you love all our shit.

    –Michael Roffman
    President/Editor-in-Chief/The Worst


    so so glos blowout50. 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

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    Sky Ferreira - Night Time, My Time49. 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

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    Mutual Benefit48. 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

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    lorde pure heroine47. 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

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    HAXAN_CLOAK_PACK1_medium_image46. 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

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    Arctic Monkeys AM artwork45. 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

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    pusha t my name is my name44. 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

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    chelsea wolfe pain is beauty Top 50 Albums of 201343. 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

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    Mark Mulcahy42. 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

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     Top 50 Albums of 201341. 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

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    Bowie The Next Day40. David Bowie – The Next Day

    From his days as the stalking Thin White Duke to the glitter-clad Ziggy Stardust, part of David Bowie’s enduring legacy has been his adaptability and ability to embrace change. The luminary godfather of glam treads new territory on The Next Day, but never skimps on the bombastic rhythms, busty harmonies, or tales of love and loneliness that defined his early records as relatable classics. The Next Day is a record that rests on its promise to think forward and delivers. As Bowie continues to draw from his lifetime of experiences as an extraordinary artist, vocalist, film cameo extraordinaire, and excellent human being, listeners are in for a set of otherworldly treats. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. –Paula Mejia

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    earl doris39. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris

    In interviews, Earl Sweatshirt comes across as the most carefree guy in the world, deadpan but perfectly affable. So when, on “Chum”, the lead single from his debut album, he begins by noting his relationship with his MIA father, we know he’s a master of inward-looking versery, too. Generally, Doris is a laid-back affair. While away at boarding school in Samoa, his rap career on hold, Earl was painted as a messiah due to his obvious smarts. There’s nothing too heroic about Doris; instead, it finds Earl tweaking various left field rap tricks (heavily processed vocals, psychedelic beats) as he embraces his inimitable cool and vague nerdom in equal measure. One of the more appealing characteristics of Odd Future is that the collective has remained true to its roots as a basement-born nonentity. Doris, in spite of its high-stakes status, is a triumph of doing things for the fun of it. –Mike Madden

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    daft punk random access memories38. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

    Calling Random Access Memories Daft Punk’s best album is an exceedingly debatable statement, but it’s hard to question whether it belongs at the top of the duo’s catalog when it comes to pure mythos. The duo’s ambition — to return life to a lifeless genre — reeks of grandeur. “Today, electronic music is like an audio energy drink,” Thomas Bangalter lamented in a Rolling Stone interview. “Artists are overcompensating with this aggressive, energetic, hyper-stimulating music — it’s like someone shaking you. But it can’t move people on an emotional level.” And so Daft Punk set out to craft a fantastic EDM album that’s not even really EDM. It might not be their greatest work to date, but it’s certainly their grandest, as it switches from progressive (“Touch”, “Giorgio by Moroder”) to straight EDM thrills (“Motherboard”, “Contact”), never losing sight of its mission. There’s plenty of heart, and at its core, an immaculately produced display of fanboyism. –Brian Josephs

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    James-Blake-Overgrown37. James Blake – Overgrown

    After the release of his self-titled debut, Brit wunderkind James Blake was, in his own way, synonymous with the evolution of dubstep. Thankfully, Blake didn’t really care. Instead of exploiting his status as the Skrillex of post-dubstep, Blake collaborated with Brian Eno, Bon Iver, and RZA in an effort to expand his sound. And it shows on Overgrown, a smart, sexy album imbued with R&B influences (see the sultry “Retrograde”) and gospel leanings (“Digital Lion” climaxes in a sort of ecclesiastical fervor). Overgrown, winner of the 2013 Mercury Prize, is as good a follow-up as one could ask for after a smash debut. Sophomore slump this is not. –Randall Colburn

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    Waxahatchee-Cerulean-Salt136. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

    Katie Crutchfield’s solo project, Waxahatchee, began with American Weekend, an understated collection of lo-fi acoustic songs after she amicably split from P.S. Eliot, an Alabama-based punk band she co-founded with her twin sister, Allison (now of Swearin’). For Cerulean Salt, Crutchfield polishes up the recording techniques and employs a full band, making astoundingly affecting songs, from the bass-driven and downbeat “Brother Bryan” to the splash of pop punk on “Coast to Coast”. Crutchfield’s music is deliberately stripped down and simple on “Blue Pt. 2” and the acoustic “Tangled Envisioning”, shining a direct light on her vulnerable vocals and open-book, confessional lyrics. Cerulean Salt acts as a relatable road map for heartbroken and broke twentysomethings, telling substance-filled tales of sleeping on apartment floors, hooking up, and toxic relationships. –Josh Terry

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    janelle monae electric lady35. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady

    The Electric Lady is where experimentation and freedom — two words that feel synonymous at times — diverge. Experimentation implies a tunnel vision to forward aural progress, risking being esoteric in favor of trailblazing. Janelle Monáe isn’t trying to do that. She’s trying to make your body move, and in order to do so, she took the orchestral grandeur of The ArchAndroid and condensed it into something that’s tighter and fiercer. So, what we get is a package that’s part funk, part sensual R&B, part sass, part space opera, part earthy realness, but altogether empowering (see: the single mother ode in “Ghetto Woman”). The Electric Lady is also notable for being more accessible than its predecessor without sacrificing any of Monáe’s trademark idiosyncrasies. As she told Pitchfork, “This time, I said, ‘Let’s try it and see what happens.’ I believe in these songs even if they don’t make it on the radio, but why not try?” Her radio hit-seeking ambitions are on a whim; it’s you who doesn’t have the choice. And so you dance. –Brian Josephs

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    the men new moon e1357742335587 Top 50 Albums of 201334. The Men – New Moon

    The Men have become a special type of machine. They’re a vehicle on cruise control at 30 over the speed limit, with a tag team of expert drivers on board who have all been awake for way too long, as well as a mechanic who’s constantly adding upgrades one at a time. In 2013, they added keys onto their loose ‘n’ gritty garage sound, and it would “Open the Door” for them to develop a whole new Americana game for their skill set. What began as a super-charged clunker not long ago has evolved into something of a midsize truck barreling down a countryside highway at sunset; on New Moon, The Men still sound reckless and over-caffeinated (“Electric”, “Supermoon”) yet never unable to savor the scenery (“High and Lonesome”, “Bird Song”). Now, their current perfect streak of one great LP per year over four (soon, probably, to be five) straight years speaks their case as the most efficient machine, if not the best, that you’ll find in rock music today. –Steven Arroyo

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    OLE-1034-Majical-Cloudz-Impersonator-537x53733. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator

    The icy minimalism of Impersonator prevails in a saturated music landscape. Majical Cloudz’ Devon Welsh exhibits a commanding performance of musical restraint and impassioned poetry. His signature baritone pours out conflicted, self-conscious compositions atop skittering drum tracks both stark and grave. There’s little to hide behind. Impersonator finds Welsh in a state of unhinged self-doubt and confusion. Is he a “songwriter?” Is it “music” he writes? Can this record truly capture any real emotions, or is just an excuse to pretend? In raising all of these questions flat-out, Welsh simultaneously answers them, and makes one of the best records of “music” to emerge in sometime. And there’s nothing phony about that. –Drew Litowitz

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    Pissed Jeans32. Pissed Jeans – Honeys

    Pissed Jeans have never made it their business to make you feel comfortable. Even for fans of the Allentown, PA band’s work, it’s a loud, dense, punishing pill that doesn’t go down easy. So, it’s difficult not to look at a title like Honeys as some sort of smart-ass goof, and for the most part, it is. But the record’s also their most accessible and streamlined offering to date, even if only incrementally. The arrangements are tighter and slightly straightforward, and the sound’s a bit cleaner, too. But don’t mistake that fine-tuning for a concession of power. Honeys is every bit as much of a bear as anything the band’s ever done, full of the same menacing energy and apocalyptic volume that cuts through your ear canals like a buzz saw. –Ryan Bray

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    Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol 331. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare, Vol. 3

    Few artists can orchestrate the endless arpeggios and mazy instrumentation of saxophonist Colin Stetson. What makes New History Warfare, Vol. 3 encapsulating is its power behind a breath and entire body. We could hear his paced breathing as a creepy texture, but it’s what makes his music humane and alive. His powerful techniques defeat what a computer could possibly do, as he relies strictly on his mouthpiece to fuel distorted bell hums and fingers to crack percussive pounding. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon allows the genre to transform further with his daring vocal contributions, whether he sings with his well-known falsetto or vicious death metal croak. Yeah, we didn’t see that coming either. For that, Colin Stetson sets a high bar for what experimental music can be when the body is the dominant force. –Sam Willett

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    Deafheaven-Sunbather-cover220. Deafheaven – Sunbather

    If anything, the vibrant, pink album art donning Deafheaven‘s Sunbather was the first sign that this was no ordinary metal record. On their debut, Roads to Judah, the band pushed the boundaries of black metal but never exactly broke them. With the expansive Sunbather, the amount of influences crammed in makes it nearly impossible to classify. It’s a crossover record that’s equal parts post-rock, shoegaze, and black metal, spreading resonant ideas over songs often 10 minutes or longer.

    Sunbather’s lyrics are deeply immersive and paired with Kerry McCoy’s beautifully ferocious guitar playing that at times channels Weakling, Slowdive, and Godspeed! You Black Emperor creates a uniquely affecting experience. The standout title track has George Clarke’s harshly bitter screams detailing a powerful image of a wealthy woman sunbathing while other tracks offer vivid renderings of class, inadequacy, and despair like the booming opener “Dream House” and the epic “Vertigo”. The songs are spaced between lush instrumentals like “Irresistible” for nearly perfect sequencing. –Josh Terry

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    drake nothing was19. Drake – Nothing Was the Same

    Virtually all of rap’s biggest names released an album this year – Jay, Kanye, Em, 2 Chainz, J. Cole, the list goes on – but none of them had more to prove than Drake, previously a punching bag for those opposed to anything remotely emo in rap. If 2011’s Take Care was Drake drowning in compliments, then Nothing Was the Same is the sound of him making his way back to the surface on his own terms. “Worst Behavior” is menacing and colossal, “Too Much” is the emotional stunner with its wrenching refrain from London crooner Sampha, and on a handful of others, Drizzy shows out as his era’s smoothest rapper-R&B singer hybrid. He’s less concerned with the immediate past than he was on Take Care, revisiting his days as a young Wu-Tang fan in Toronto and deciding that his present might not be so tough after all. Nothing Was the Same is a toast to his success, and to success itself. –Mike Madden

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    Lady Lamb Ripey Pine18. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine

    In an era when a musician can post a track to Soundcloud and have a global tour booked days later, Aly Spaltro (aka Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) has remained remarkably patient. Ripely Pine began taking shape over four years ago in the basement of the video store where Spaltro worked, recording to a tape recorder after hours. “I’m in no rush,” Spaltro told us earlier this year. “The slow-going pace is really my way of trying for longevity because I don’t want to burn out.” It’s the precise antithesis of how music is generally done nowadays, and the results are stunning.

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    Almost entirely self-arranged, the tracks are a tour de force of soft-loud dynamics (“Hair to the Ferris Wheel”, “You Are the Apple”), full of earnest vocal imperfections that retain a DIY richness. Lyrically, it’s everything we privately scratched into our late-teen/early-20s journals, except with a poetic poignancy we only dreamed about (“you handled me like an infant skull/ And I cradled you like a newborn nightmare”). As much as we’d love more, these songs allow us to listen as patiently as she formed them. Here’s hoping Lady Lamb takes as much time as needed before following up this beautiful effort. –Ben Kaye

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    mikal cronin mc2 e1360075845389 Top 50 Albums of 201317. Mikal Cronin – MCII

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    There was a magical time in the mid-’90 when household machinery lacked proper safety devices. The laser beam stopgaps put in place to prevent children from being crushed to death were so primitive that they might as well have been ornamental. The fondest right of passage in those post-Cold War glory days was pushing the garage door button and then charging through its clamping jaws. Escaping the garage was never easy, and certainly not safe. But it paid off. The brain rewarded your apprehensive heart with a jolt of achievement tinged by genuine grief over taking such an unnecessary risk. This swirling mix of emotions is also the best way to describe Mikal Cronin’s own mad dash from the world of psychedelic garage rock toward a lush garden of power pop beauty and sublime contemplation.

    Cronin – best known for his membership in the Ty Segall Band and as a modern day McCartney to Segall’s Lennon – showcases a fun collection of tracks on MCII,  his sophomore solo release, that balances wonder and awe with a profound sense of loss. Like Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins before him, Cronin adds an abysmal depth to even the most lighthearted melodies. Tracks like “Weight” and “Shout It Out” display some of the best instrumental sojourns and rock choruses of the year, while “Change” features  a beautiful string section that ends with violent sawing, like a mad lumberjack tying one on. —Dan Pfleegor

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    rplusseven1 Top 50 Albums of 201316. Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven

    While other musicians simply work with computers and the Internet, none sound more as if they are coming symbiotically through that interconnected technology than Oneohtrix Point Never on R Plus Seven. The album captures the arching bursts of obtuse data and semi-comprehensible language that, when pieced altogether, produce dizzying thrills, intense paranoia, and everything in between. There are organic experiences in the machine, a human musicality guiding the way through the distressed snippets of voices, crystalline synths, and rime-crusted atmospheres.

    With each Oneohtrix Point Never album, Daniel Lopatin pushes further into the void, but this time, that void is the one that we all face when we open the lid on the laptop or start up the smartphone. Though digitized, chopped, and reassembled, the wordless incantations and clanging strings of “He She” impact as a timeless religious rite. A melody attempts to reveal itself through the chilled wash of “Americans”, and “Still Life” dips in and out of the white noise deep end, calmly rising for deep breaths of air. R Plus Seven is the sound of Daniel Lopatin making his way through the Internet, assembling a mantle of meaning, language, and sound around him, and then gliding out of a speaker, putting a hand on your shoulder, and then fading back into the dark corners of data. –Adam Kivel

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    humming Top 50 Albums of 201315. Local Natives – Hummingbird

    Following the dismissal of founding bassist Andy Hamm and the death of singer Kelcey Ayer’s mother, Local NativesHummingbird was a decidedly more somber affair than their euphoric debut. Yet with the help of The National’s Aaron Dressner, who produced the record, the LA quartet managed to sidestep the dreaded sophomore slump while not straying too far from their comfort zone. They’ve always been sonically prone to comparisons with bands like Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear, and those parallels still hold true here.

    But with Hummingbird, Local Natives added welcomed emotional depth and surprisingly heart-wrenching song craftsmanship. See: “Colombia”, where a bleary-eyed Ayer poses unanswerable questions to the heavens. The stunning torch song succeeds both as a private observance and mile-high tribute to his mother. “Am I giving enough?” “Am I loving enough?” he ruminates, and you can practically see him by the hospital bed as she takes her final breaths. –Bryant Kitching

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    Danny Brown Old14. Danny Brown – Old

    Danny Brown calls himself “old,” yet his technique improves with each record, his taste for beats honed to a science. Credit his flourishing relationship with go-to producers SKYWALKR and Paul White. When Brown wants a party banger (like the cheefing anthem “Kush Koma”), he’s given a trap beat that aligns perfectly with his fast, spastic flow. About half the tracks on Old fit this mold, while the rest see Brown in conscious mode, relating poignant anecdotes (“Wonderbread”) and ruminations (“Torture”, “25 Bucks”) about his harsh childhood in Detroit. Softer sounds and tamer rhyme schemes define these moments, with electro acts such as Purity Ring and Charli XCX making effective guest appearances. The striking thing about Old is how in touch it sounds. Its 19 tracks are a tour through contemporary pop and electronic music — from dubstep to smooth R&B. There’s really nowhere Danny Brown won’t go, no topic he won’t rap about, and that explosive uncertainty drives Old. –Jon Hadusek

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    nick cave bad seeds push the sky away13. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

    Nick Cave sings a line in Push the Sky Aways penultimate track about “Miley Cyrus swimming in a pool.” A supposed free-form lyric in February became a reality this summer, when the former Disney princess shocked parents everywhere with her pool-party antics in the “We Can’t Stop” music video. The band’s 15th studio album is dark enough without this bizarre and accurate prediction, with the eerie siren calls of “Mermaids”, the destitute prostitutes and johns of “Jubilee Street”, and potentially soul-questioning scientific discoveries (“Higgs Boson Blues”). But while Cave and his Bad Seeds are no stranger to the darkness (Murder Ballads) and even subtle production (The Boatman’s Call), it is the combination of these two that make for a subdued and often uncomfortable record. Cave’s knife hasn’t dulled over the past three decades, and if Push the Sky Away is any indication, it could stay sharp for decades to come. —Justin Gerber

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    JuliaHolter_LoudCitySong12. Julia Holter – Loud City Song

    From Tragedy to Ekstasis to this year’s Loud City Song, Julia Holter has not only transitioned from one-woman bedroom show to touring with a large accompanying band, but also into acquiring multiple vocal and musical personalities. With these new facets, Holter intricately concocted a Gigi-inspired third record of intricate dreamscapes and cityscapes, all the while maintaining a horrifically beautiful atmosphere full of contradictory timidity and societally despairing nightmares.

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    “The feeling you get from the Gigi character is that she is trying to figure out why she doesn’t understand society, and you get the sense it is ‘loud’ to her, that she is bombarded by it and she is running away from it,” Holter told The Quietus. From the haste-laden footsteps of “Horns Surrounding Me” to the jazzy informality of “This Is a True Heart” to the observation-driven “World”, Holter has succeeded in making the depiction of this Gigi character a vicarious one, the record ultimately never ceasing to surprise your imagination. –Zander Porter

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    HAIM Days Are Gone11. HAIM – Days Are Gone

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    What HAIM managed to accomplish on the sheer potential of Days Are Gone is astounding. When the record finally dropped, all the hype proved so very worth it. But besides undeniable tracks like “The Wire” and “Falling”, the album is remarkable for the way it simultaneously exemplifies and rewrites the typical indie pop-star story.

    Infectious, relatable heartbreak songs that hearken as much to 70’s pop (“Honey & I”) as to millennial electro-noise (“My Song 5”) bridge the gap between mainstream megastar potential and blog darlings. Based solely on singles, they locked in a massive festival schedule, performed for the British Prime Minister, and signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation. Yet throughout all their success, no one talks about the fact that this is a girl group. I challenge you to think of an all-female band that has put out a record this attractive in the last decade.

    That few mention gender when discussing HAIM is not an issue, though; it’s a testament to the talent encapsulated on Days Are Gone and the state of music in 2013. Borrowing styles from multiple eras, performed and written by the musicians on the cover: this is the modern pop album. –Ben Kaye

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    chance the rapper acid rap10. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

    Not many hip-hop artists look scared on their album covers. In fact, I can’t think of a single one, save for Chance the Rapper. He stares at you from the front of Acid Rap, clad in a droopy wifebeater splattered with purple and blue. His eyes are wide and panicked, as if he’s just witnessed an army of Smurfs get gunned down in the woods. For it’s fear that’s at the core of this twitchy, half-weird mixtape. The anxiety springs from various sources: drug-fueled co-dependence (“Lost”), growing up (“Cocoa Butter Kisses “, “Acid Rain”), and dying before getting to grow up. That last one comes courtesy of “Paranoia”, an early-album hidden track where Chancelor dreads summer in his native Chicago because that’s when kids get shot.

    But although fear is at the album’s core, it’s not the whole thing. Even the tense moments are wrapped in warm soul samples, and there’s still much joy to be found within the lyrics: in back-to-back tracks, Chance ponders his favorite songs and the importance of love, both romantic and familial. Acid Rap even ends on a similar note, with the rapper thanking his father over the phone for getting him a computer and some t-shirts. It might be hip-hop’s least intimidating conclusion to an album, but maybe that’s the point. At 20 years old, Chance the Rapper is still a kid, something he never shies away from. He rarely postures or self-aggrandizes, and even when he does, it feels humorous and earned, like a high schooler goofing around with his friends. It makes sense, given that not too long ago, that’s exactly what he was. Genuine, huh? Maybe he’s an adult after all. –Dan Caffrey

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    The National Trouble Will Find9. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

    The National have honed the idea of seemingly low-effort perfection. Their catalog is filled with razor-sharp albums that seem like wine-fueled spontaneity, but are precise and measured. Trouble Will Find Me is no exception, but there is something running underneath that’s different. There is a steadiness and an absolutely unshakeable confidence that coats every song. Lead singer Matt Berninger told our Michael Roffman, “The whole process of making this record was actually very fun for me. We spent more time on this than any of our records so far, but it was never a stressful struggle.”

    That liberty and comfort is completely evident on Trouble Will Find Me. Berninger’s mumbled baritone slurs and bubbles from an honest pit inside him on tracks like “Don’t Swallow the Cap”, “I Need My Girl”, and “Pink Rabbits”, while the rest of the band creates a web of intricate guitar lines and concrete rhythm to hold Berninger upright.

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    The fun Berninger had making this album released the urgent tension of previous albums High Violet and Alligator. Those albums were the midnight drunk trying to explain to the person he loves that he loves her while standing on a cold street corner as she’s hailing a cab. It’s honest and beautiful, but uncorked.

    Trouble Will Find Me then is the second glass in a quiet apartment. It’s maturity. It’s immediate. The National peered into the world of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen to create an adult album in a year fully-stocked with young artistry. This isn’t twentysomething heartbreak and despondence. This is slow drags and deep sips at the end of the bar. It’s a light laugh with a heavy pause afterward. In those moments, we now have this. –Nick Freed

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    The_Knife_-_Shaking_the_Habitual6. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

    When choosing songs for best of lists, one common strategy is going by what you listened to the most. Makes sense, right? If an album was the best, you’d want to listen to it repeatedly. Many things that result in pleasure, from smoking a cigarette to running five miles, are repeated to regain that initial pleasure. But is this an absolute metric of what is good?

    The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual is unlikely to be the most played album in many iTunes libraries because it’s difficult, paranoia-inducing, at times plain unsettling, and relentlessly thought-provoking. The songs are long, demand attention, and Karin Dreijer Andersson sings in an exaggerated kink that makes her Swedish roots seem almost extraterrestrial. Yeah, it’s demanding. And, its subject matter is equally demanding, asking the listener to examine and abandon that which we do repeatedly, instinctually from conditioning, habitually. Like, say, listening to Yeezus.

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    The resulting album may not be the most enjoyable to all. It is, though, still experimenting with dance music and using pop-rooted Western melodies, directly and indirectly, with moments of fun (“Stay Out Here”, “Full of Fire”) and beauty (“Raging Lung”, “Ready to Lose”) not hard to find with a minimal effort.

    But, beyond sonic pleasures, The Knife have created a useful and vital record, essentially calling everything from gender roles to religion to political traditions into question. That includes lists like this. Olof Dreijer told The Guardian, “We are constructed to like certain things. We’ve been teaching a bit at this summer camp for teenage girls who want to make electronic music, and there we often talk about this idea of quality in music and what informs our ideas of what is supposed to be good and bad music. You know that music history is written by privileged white men, so we can ask ourselves how important it is to repeat their ideas.” I think that means Yeezus is still cool. –Philip Cosores

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    kurt vile wakin on a pretty daze Top 50 Albums of 20135. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze

    How Kurt Vile can make such on-point, complex, and beautiful music while still seeming perpetually stoned is anyone’s guess. Wakin on a Pretty Daze is a dreamy trip inside the Philadelphia raconteur’s head, and while the music that comes out on the other side is sometimes esoteric and sometimes shrouded in layers of ambiguity, it never comes off as navel-gazing.

    When Vile tells us that he wants to live “in my fantasy infinity” on “Girl Named Alex”, all we can really do is be thankful that he’s taking the rest of us along for the ride. Drawing on ’70s influences and assistance from instruments like a Wurlitzer and lap steel guitar, Vile crafts a series of tunes that welcome the listener like a cozy Midwestern neighborhood.

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    While the album art suggests all the intrigue and adventurous promise of an inner-city street corner, with its possibilities for chance encounters with strangers and eclectic bus drivers ready to whisk you off to anywhere you want to go within the city grid, it all boils down to Vile alone on the curb, ready to be the main attraction and show you the sights himself.

    The shaggy-haired songwriter’s excellent guitar stylings still run the show, of course—he never sacrifices his technical skills. But unlike the gloomy isolation of 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, this body of work finds us opening our eyes in the morning with Vile on a day when the sun is shining and many things seem possible. –Katherine Flynn

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