30. Rhye – Woman
2013’s most sensual album came courtesy of Rhye, a duo comprising of singer Milosh and producer Robin Hannibal. From the first track, the excellent “Open”, the listener is treated to lush sounds and breezy, effortless vocal work. The jazz-influenced, R&B sound is complemented by subtle synth additions, and culminates into one of the year’s most memorable debuts.
29. Danny Brown – Old
The ambitious and lengthy follow up to critical success XXX, was not for the average listener. Obtrusive, unwavering, and his polarizing voice, resulted in many passing on the record entirely. But for those who were willing, they were rewarded with one of the year’s densest hip hop albums. “Side B (Dope Song)” showcases his undoubted talent.
28. Los Campesinos! – No Blues
The Welsh band had listeners struggling to decide on a favourite track from their latest and most steady record. A merge between synth pop and indie rock, No Blues was filled with many catchy riffs and memorable lyrics, illustrated best by standout “What Death Leaves Behind”.
27. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
The aurally aesthetic album by Dev Hynes (as Blood Orange) is a refined mix of R&B and new wave, occasionally incorporating hip hop to further highlight the record’s diversity. Utilising guest features immaculately, as with opener “Chamakay”, he showed he was as willing to gift major hooks, as he was to share them.
26. My Bloody Valentine – m b v
Possibly the year’s most anticipated release, Kevin Shields had fans longing for 22 years before the release of m b v. Plagued by website crashes during release (due to demand), nothing could have ceased the immediate worldwide attention the record inevitably had. Fortunately, it took only seconds into stunning opener “She Found Now”, for many fans to know this had been worth the wait.
25. A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP
Inconsistency haunted the first major release by hip hop artist A$AP Rocky, with a few tracks simply underwhelming in comparison to other heavyweights on the album. With arguably two of the most popular club hits of 2012/2013 (see “Fuckin’ Problems” and “Wild for the Night”), the trap influenced record was a major success. It was however in straight posse cut “1 Train”, where LONG.LIVE.A$AP hit its high.
24. Local Natives – Hummingbird
The indie darling of 2013, with hooks, heart and notable lyrics aplenty, this was sure to be a favourite of many listeners. Restrained folk-like verses, before suddenly breaking into epic, indie rock choruses, did grow slightly weary with repeated listens. However, Hummingbird gives exactly what you ask of it, and highlight “Heavy Feet”, is a fine example.
23. Torres – Torres
The debut album by Mackenzie Scott was as captivating a listen as any other record released this year. Comprising of both rawer, rock tracks such as standout “Honey”, and delicate folk ballads like “November Baby”, Torres was definite in intent. It was in the delicate “Don’t Run Away, Emilie”, where the record truly won you over.
22. Volcano Choir – Repave
Unmap, was an expected side project album. Experimental, different from the artist’s usual work, and ultimately, less satisfying. With Repave, Justin Vernon ventured into post-rock territories, and succeeded. A complement to his euphoric vocals, the genre is one you could expect on a Bon Iver record, and with a sound as developed as on “Comrade”, this could well occur.
21. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
2013’s strongest R&B record comes courtesy of Arthur Ashin; a largely electronic, grandiose PBR&B record that is more The Weeknd than Frank Ocean. Ashin’s powerful vocals star, but it’s when both voice and production are in synch that the record awes the listener. “Play by Play” is one of the year’s most epic in sound, and a vital 2013 track.
20. Drake – Nothing Was the Same
Aubrey Drake Graham is almost without comparison in terms of command over modern music. A critical and commercial success with all his endeavours, Drake released his most consistent album this year. Always boasting both rap anthems and impeccable pop/R&B tunes, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” proved his talents had not let up.
19. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
In a surprisingly strong year for alternative country, the Americana themed Muchacho was this year’s most heartfelt record. Singer Matthew Houck’s incredibly fragile voice served as the perfect forefront for the string laden, sombre, yet euphoric affair. “Song for Zula” stood tall as 2013’s standout ballad.
18. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Released very early in the year, this was 2013’s answer to the excellent Lonerism of 2012. A trippy, exciting, psychedelic rock/pop record, We Are… remained prominent in the minds of many come year end. It contained one of the year’s best lyrics (“There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore”), and in “Oh Yeah”, they had one of the year’s catchiest hooks as well.
17. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
Difficult to describe, the ethereal beauty of the record was unparalleled this year. From the genuine wonder and isolation of opener “World”, to the magnificent cover of “Hello Stranger”, Holter remained at centre stage despite the flawless instrumentation. “In the Green Wild” was the perfect match of her quirky nature and lush backdrops.
16. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
When two hip hop heavyweights form a duo, you can only expect a record that matches, or even surpasses, their individual efforts. With Run the Jewels, Killer Mike and El-P gave us the most complete, and the most solid, hip hop record of the year. Every track hits hard, and is unrelenting in statement. “Banana Clipper” stands above others, but really, every track is notable.
15. Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw
Country is not a genre I would usually rank among the year’s best in any aspect, however, the genuine likeability and maturity of Haw allowed it to last long in memory. From epic, sober tracks (“Sufferer (Love My Conqueror))” to more cheerful efforts (“Busted Note”), there is much to find within the record’s depth. Despite being the shortest (vocal) track, I found myself returning to “What Shall Be (Shall Be Enough)”, more than any other.
14. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Containing possibly the year’s best sequential trio of songs (“Sunday”, “Hive” and “Chum”), the debut studio album by Odd Future starlet Earl Sweatshirt was an exercise in restraint. Balancing downbeat production with the signature smooth flow, Doris was the casual album of the year. “Sunday” is the pick, but don’t be fooled, Frank Ocean need not be involved for Odd Future to succeed, the young rapper could well take centre-stage.
13. Disclosure – Settle
Not only the year’s best dance record, but the best dance record released in recent memory, the debut by the British brothers was the most exhilarating of the year. Front to back, no track disappoints, and each constantly innovates, and reinvigorates. Arguably, the latter half is slightly weaker than the former, but that doesn’t detract from the brilliant, feature-laden album. “Latch” is a cut above other exceptional tracks.
12. Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle
The lengthy fourth album by British folk singer-songwriter Laura Marling is her most accomplished to date. Universally acclaimed, tender and fierce, polished and raw, the record remained one of 2013’s most daring albums. “Master Hunter” is the strongest example of her work; talented guitar playing, brilliant vocals, and powerful lyrics.
11. Arctic Monkeys – AM
Containing many of the year’s catchiest choruses, the popular English indie rockers released the year’s best rock record. Filled with pop sensibilities among other genre homages, the album never really ceases to let up and has you along for the ride. “Arabella” is the pick of the tracks, but nothing can take away from the sterling single “Do I Wanna Know?”
10. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Music’s most consistent, and ever improving, band released their sixth album to their expected critical acclaim. Generally more subdued than their recent efforts, the lack of raw vocal exclamations does not detract from their usual gloomy themes and lyrics. The subtle “I Need My Girl” and rampant “Sea of Love” show their songs have yet to decrease in quality, but it’s the grower “Don’t Swallow the Cap” which haunts. Also noteworthy is “Graceless” for the tongue-in-cheek lyric, “God loves everybody, don’t remind me”.
09. Haim – Days Are Gone
Top of BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll, expectation and hype were aplenty for the young indie pop trio from Los Angeles. Instead of succumbing, the incredibly likeable girls created a record that old, young, anyone, could appreciate. Standout hooks litter the album, and rings true to being the most accessible in our top ten. Rivalling Earl’s Doris, the opening three tracks are flawless and serve as highlights off the record, with all balancing R&B, pop, and hip hop stylings masterfully. “Forever” is the essential pop track.
08. Jai Paul – Demos
Controversy surrounded the supposed debut album by mysterious UK producer Jai Paul when it was announced his demo tape had been released silently onto Bandcamp. The internet was ablaze, and fans scrambled. The release was reported as a leak, and was taken off promptly, but not before thousands of listeners had already purchased the album. Unpolished, inconsistent bit-rates, incomplete songs; none of this mattered. Demos was one of the albums of the year. “Jasmine” and “BTSTU” were two of the biggest hits in their respective years, and accompanying those were 14 unrefined, pre-production, masterpieces. “Track 2 (Str8 Outta Mumbai)” is the year’s best pop song, and if this is what he creates as demos, expect the world.
07. Deafheaven – Sunbather
Not a regular metal fan? Irrelevant, neither was I. Black metal, shoegaze, post-rock; whatever. The year’s most gorgeous record came courtesy of the indefinable duo. Intertwining wild moments of fury, with subdued moments of peace (the instrumentals), Sunbather is exactly what can be achieved when genres are perfectly matched. Opener “Dream House” is one of the year’s best, but the beauty of the record is that its successor, “Irresistible”, an instrumental piano piece; was one of my most played tracks of 2013. The musicianship is stellar, and the emotions are many.
06. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
The best pop record of 2013, is an eclectic collection of synthpop that stands firm against any scrutiny. Whilst not ground-breaking, the consistency of the album reminds me of last year’s Shrines by Purity Ring, an album so defined in sound and atmosphere that it achieves all it sets out to. Standout “Gun” rises above equally worthy “The Mother We Share” and “Recover” as the best track, but special mention must go to M83-esque “Tether” and Grimes-like “Science/Visions”.
05. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
First they revitalised dance (Homework), then they mastered it (Discovery). Disappointed with the current state of electronic/dance music, de Homem-Christo and Bangalter did the only they could to influence dance yet again; take it back. Using real instruments and star guests, they created a disco record. I sat for hours listening to the album when it first leaked, letting every moment of every song sink in its entirety. A conclusion was made. This was the most complete album the duo have ever released, and possibly the most well engineered and cared after album I’d ever heard. From subtle “Within” to epic “Touch”, everything is crafted with precision. Features are used to enhance, not to distract from lack of talent; “Doin’ It Right” is the showcase of one of indie music’s biggest stars matched with dance legends. And then there is “Get Lucky”, THE song of 2013.
04. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
The best mixtape, and the strongest hip hop release, of the year. Relatively unknown before the release, Chancelor Bennett found his way in 2013. The production is excellent, as are the verses, but it’s the lyrics and vocal style that rise above everything else. Humour laces the tracks, and some lyrics are genuinely clever; together inducing grins from all listeners. “Chain Smoker” may stand as the record’s strongest track, but highlights are ever-present. Likely favourite track, the aptly named “Favorite Song”, along with “Cocoa Butter Kisses” are the album’s most cheerful moments. These are naturally balanced with the vivid “Interlude (That’s Love)”, and the grand “Pusha Man”.
03. Kanye West – Yeezus
“I have this new strategy. It’s called no strategy… This album is about giving. This whole process is all about giving no fucks at all… I’ve got an idea on how to sell more music, it’s called make better music.” To follow up one of the most perfect albums in recent history, West made the least perfect album of his career. A jarring, flawed, but always intuitive take on modern hip hop; industrial rap and electro find themselves featuring heavily. Daft Punk and Kanye seems far from a textbook match-up, but the never-complacent attitude of both, and their legendary status in their respective genres, allows the pair to create some of the most exciting music heard in this, or any year. The first few seconds forces us brash sonic noises, and although his lyrics may not be as accomplished as on MBDTF, everything just ‘works’. “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead” may have received wider attention (deservedly so), but “Blood on the Leaves” is where the album reaches its climax. Yeezus is essentially an improved Heartbreaks, and “Blood and the Leaves” is the showcase. It has weak tracks (namely, “Guilt Trip”, “Send It Up”) by comparison, which is the only reason it isn’t the best album of 2013. But in saying that, Yeezus will be the most influential, the most remembered, and is more likely than any record this year to be the album of the decade.
02. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
From the moment it was released, Modern Vampires was destined to be a heavy favourite for album of the year. The most mature, most intellectual, and most stimulating record the band has ever released, is also their best. Gone are the peppy, lovable “Oxford Comma” and “Giving Up the Gun” type songs, replaced by tracks with in depth lyrics about age and religion, Koenig has never been sharper. “Diane Young” and “Unbelievers” still hold on to that signature Vampire Weekend punk sound, but are now reinforced with profound lyrics. “Hannah Hunt” and “Ya Hey” are the grandest tracks on the album, delicately balancing restraint with moments without. The flawless “Step”, was my most played song of 2013. “Wisdom’s a gift but you’d trade it for youth”, Koenig claims, in what is the year’s most memorable lyric. Not as immediate or as revolutionary as other albums released this year, but the prettiest and the most well round off. Do yourself a favour.
01. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
When James Murphy announced his involvement with the iconic Canadian indie rock band’s new album, everyone’s expectations rose. One of the past decades very best musicians/producers, with arguably, the best band of their generation. What was to be expected then? The “Sprawl II” electronics exemplified? Or “All My Friends” styled builders? When the band released the lead single “Reflektor”, it was exactly as you would hope; a mixture. The year’s most polarizing record (Kanye fans expect change), the 75-minute epic double album, is a brooding disco/art rock extravaganza. The James Murphy influences are scattered throughout, the breakdowns are exquisite, the musicianship is compelling, and the vocals are utilised for maximum effect. Side 1 is reminiscent of The Suburbs-era Arcade Fire, but it’s on Side 2 where Reflektor-era Arcade Fire take centre stage. “Awful Sound” is the year’s most grandiose effort, and “Afterlife” the subtle dance track of the year. 2013 was an important year for the band, not only releasing Reflektor but also expanding into scoring large-scale movies (‘Her’ by Spike Jonze, which resulted in the serene but stunning closer “Supersymmetry”). Is it as good as Funeral or The Suburbs? Maybe, maybe not. Is it as important? More so. This was the year the band expanded their horizons, the year they were no longer content with their indie rock ‘formula’. 2013 was their year.