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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.

    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.

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    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.

    –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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