As the final hours of 2013 vanish I am enjoying my warm apartment’s comforts for a while longer before going out into the cold clench of death that is the New York City winter night. All that last sentence means is today I am doing what I should have done weeks ago – posting my favorite albums of 2013.
Below, in order, are my 10 favorites plus a few honorable mention picks. These are the albums I enjoyed the most this year, the ones that inspired strong feelings and continued to surprise and confound as I grew older with them. They lean heavily toward the pop dial because that is what I gravitated toward for much of the year.
Honorable Mention: Charli XCX – True Romance; Volcano Choir – Repave; Haerts – Hemiplegia ep.
10. Local Natives – Hummingbird
Lost in the shuffle of 2013 blog buzz releases, this sophomore effort from L.A. light FM rockers Local Natives remained in heavy rotation for me throughout summer and into fall, even as it drifted from the public’s eye. Hummingbird is wistful, punchy, and gorgeous in a manner that recalls an overcast afternoon at the beach in late fall.
9. Radiation City – Animals In The Median
Somedays I hear the past on Animals In The Median. Other times I hear the future. Regardless, the Portland quintet’s latest record features an emotional sweep that resonates each time I listen. Animals In The Median highlighted the quirkiness, warm nostalgia, and open spaces that I loved about Rose City when I called it home, and for these reasons proved essential listening in 2013.
8. Lorde – Pure Heroine
Yes, the bandwagon for 16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor (nee Lorde) is awfully full. Hell, my legs might be dangling off the side as I write this. The New Zealand teen is sassy, soulful, and gives fewer fucks than Julian Casablancas circa Is This It? And damn, those singles … Pure Heroine’s singles have me chasing the blast like a junkie chasing the snake away.
7. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Another sad sack album from The National? my internal music critic whined when Trouble Will Find Me dropped in May. Six months passed before I learned what I had missed. Namely, another quality album from this NYC quintet. Trouble Will Find Me features all the requisite charging rockers, love sick moans, and slow-burning wasteyfaced hymns that have landed The National headlining gigs at basketball arenas. It’s every album ever released by The National and, yet, I’ll be damned if I don’t find it essential because of this fact.
6. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Arcade Fire will never release another Funeral. I am still coming to grips with this. I imagine a lot of their fans are too. Yet, in Reflektor, the Montreal collective found its groove, literally and figuratively, unleashing a double-album that tackled meaty themes like fame, love, and death in an energized big tent manner. Yet the message they delivered never felt like an albatross. It felt freeing in a shake your hips, throw your hands at the heavens, let all pretenses go sort of way. It was not Funeral, nor did it try to be, and that was a significant part of Reflektor’s lasting joy.
5. Disclosure – Settle
One of 2013’s prevailing musical questions: How the hell are the Lawrence brothers this good this young? One reason: They’ve aligned themselves with uber-talented vocalists like Jessie Ware, Aluna George, and Sam Smith. However, providing too much credit to feature performers would be doing the Lawrence bros. a disservice. One only needs to play “When A Fire Starts To Burn” to know Disclosure needed no help whipping up a dance party in 2013. There will no doubt be plenty more Disclosure-inspired dance parties in 2014, I’m sure.
4. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
The words and sounds on Impersonator conjure up visions of the kind of skies normally seen before a mile wide tornado rips apart a small town. The Montreal duo’s work is not a cakewalk, and that’s putting it mildly. It is direct, stark, raw, piercing, and memorable. Smiles are rare, thus causes for optimism. Death lurks like a serial killer who never sleeps. Amidst the storm of life that Impersonator represents the reward is pushing forward, not some trophy. Some would say what Devon Welsh subjects listeners to is brutal honesty but if we’re being brutal it’s merely honesty. Truth, when in the right hands, can be captivating.
3. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
The ex-Drive By Truckers songwriter penned three songs whose lyrics stirred jealousy within me – “Different Days”, “Elephant”, and “Relatively Easy”. These songs are not merely songs, they’re real life personified in poetry. Forget that they focus on impending death, teen strippers, pill poppers, and suicide. Isbell’s turn of phrase and assured southern twang made the three songs highlighted – not to mention the entire album – worth revisiting over and over and over. NOTE: This is the second year I’ve placed an Alabama artist in my top 3 albums. Hold your Freebird comments.
2. Haim – Days Are Gone
I love a good bassface as much as the next music fan. Oh, and the three sisters in Haim churned out an album that exceeded my expectations and trashed my lazy Fleetwood Mac comparisons. Days Are Gone produced the best mix of 80s pop, guitar rock, and sisterly harmonies since … ever. Oh, and it featured Michael Jackson vocal tics in “Falling”. Bassface, Jacko vocal tics, sisters, and great songs. Yes, Days Are Gone’s first three tracks were the holy trinity of ass-shaking, ass-kicking fury in 2013, so much so that you’d be excused, for a day or two at least, if you never got to the album’s fourth track.
1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
It seems almost farcical Metacritic would rank Modern Vampires of the City No. 25 on its best reviewed albums list. Not as farcical as Deafheaven’s Sunbather ranking No. 1 but close. Vampire Weekend, a quartet of twenty-something New Yorkers, achieved something monumental on three fronts this year: 1) Modern Vampires Of The City, with its fits of elation, melancholy, and sage observation, challenged listeners to press skip, a rare feat in today’s ADHD world where filler is too common; 2) Modern Vampires Of The City marked their third straight excellent album to start their career, ensuring they will be high on festival marquees for years to come (assuming they remain a band for years to come); and 3) Vampire Weekend further distanced itself from the privileged pop-revisionists tag some indie music fans dismissed them as when they first arrived five years ago. Modern Vampires Of The City proved excellent across moods, seasons, and settings, functioning as an album that transcended genre or mere time. Amid all its successes, the album cemented Vampire Weekend as not only a great band in the moment but one critics and fans might discuss in 20 years as one of its generation’s elite.