Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Our top 50 albums for 2013

Playlist below.

The countdown continues. Here are our collective picks for top 50 albums of 2013. Please, weigh in with your comments.

50. MIA - Matangi

Her worst songs can be annoying. Her best songs are perfect. - SB

Thanks to MIA and "Y.A.L.A.," I'll never, ever purchase a Nissan Rogue. - AC

No. Just, I'm over it. - RB

49. Cults - Static

No sophomore jinx for this duo. Singer Madeline Follin's sweet vocals collide with the fuzz and bombast of guitarist Brian Oblivion to create something electrifying. With Static, Cults shows us that the band is not content to stay in one place. - AC

I didn't want to like this album, but...it's just catchy enough to draw you in and not let you go. - RB

48. Sebadoh - Defend Yourself

A band that hasn't made an album since the last century delivers with this one. Sebadoh delivers their brand of pop-punk as well today as they did in the '90s. - AC

If you'd told me that this album was made in 1997, got lost in a warehouse someplace before they could mass produce it and was discovered in 2013 when they finally decided to release it; I'd believe you. - RB

47. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

Frightened Rabbit didn't get a lot of buzz for their new album, and I'm not really sure why. They changed their tactics by playing their new songs on tour long before they went into the recording studio, and the result is a fine collection of "well-worn" songs. They may tread into Dad Rock at times, but their songwriting and sound are impeccable. - dw

46. Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven

Whoever in our group thought this was so awesome didn't bother to tell us why. I wish I had a clue. - AC

45. The Lone Bellow - The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow's self-title record is filled with great melodies and instrumentation. Definitely a highlight in folk music for me this year. - JG

One I didn't listen to much but probably should have. - MD

44. How to Destroy Angels - Welcome Oblivion

Underrated because it’s automatically overrated? If you go in wanting this album to be something it’s not, well yeah, you’re not going to like it. For what it actually is, it’s spectacular. Just because it involves Trent Reznor and isn’t named Nine Inch Nails doesn’t mean it sucks. Just because his wife sings doesn’t mean Trent’s gone soft (if you don’t like her singing that’s another issue). My advice is to embrace the album for what it is: meticulously crafted electronic music with insane attention to sonic detail. I love it. Sorry to get all defensive… it’s really OK if you’re not a fan, I swear. Essential tracks: Too late, all gone; The loop closes; On the wing - SB

What Steve said. I truly appreciated this Trent Reznor side project, but not quite enough to add to my top 50. - AC

43. The Civil Wars - The Civil Wars

Another solid effort from The Civil Wars, which will apparently be their last. It's kind of interesting that this is a very personal break-up album even though the two singers are (were?) married to other people. - MD

42. Alice in Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

It's an Alice In Chains record, which means you know exactly what it sounds like. It's a little long, but their sound is so distinctive and memorable, that you find yourself an hour into the record without realizing it. - CD

Sorry. No INXS without Michael Hutchence, no Alice in Chains without Layne Staley. That is all. - TN

Well, yes, BUT... if you listen to Jerry Cantrell's solo stuff, you realize how much of Layne's "voice" is in Jerry's harmonies. The new guy sounds a lot like Layne, but in a good way because Jerry makes it come together. - CD again

41. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels

This self-titled debut is a non-stop assault with absolutely no filler. 10 tracks that go and go hard. As you’d expect, El-P’s production is anything but typical and the chemistry he and Killer Mike show is just insane. Their live show communicated the essence of this record perfectly. Intense and to the point with zero fucks given. Download the album for free here. Essential tracks: Sea Legs; Job Well Done; A Christmas Fucking Miracle - SB

40. The Winery Dogs - The Winery Dogs

Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on Drums, Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big) on bass, and Richie Kotzen on guitar. Three virtuoso musicians, each given just enough space in the studio to shine individually, while making a really coherent, listenable hard rock record. - CD

Some blistering guitarcraft here. Again, not a top 50 pick for me. But definitely top 100. The ballad "You Saved Me" is the best track on a bombastic offering. Occurring as it does in the middle of this record, gives you a chance to catch your breath before you dive back in to the noise.- AC

39. City and Colour - The Hurry and The Harm

Listen to City and Colour's back catalogue, and you sense they'll put together a great album. "The Hurry and The Harm," while a nice effort, isn't it. Dallas Green's soft distinctive vocals and hypnotic musical swells often hit the mark from time to time, but this album feels like too much filler to meet the greater potential. - TN

This was my first introduction to City and Colour and I think it came at the right time of the year. Green's falsetto is beautiful and the instrumentation is lilting and forward-pushing. The lyrical content may not be deep, but there are great gems of societal and relational commentary that serve of great reminders. Best of all, I love putting this record on while working and just driving through a pile of projects. The Hurry and the Harm has that rare ... ethos? ...  that makes me want to be creative, write songs again. - JG

38. Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt

Katie Crutchfield, dba Waxahatchee, is the latest in a line of fine female singer-songwriters who excel at keeping it simple. (Think Liz Phair, PJ Harvey and Cat Power.) Raw-throated vocal delivery of prose-poems over lo-fi guitar riffs. Rinse and repeat. A few of the songs drag a bit, but all in all this is a worthwhile listen. - AC

Introspective singer-songwriter indie that lies somewhere between Mirah and Scout Niblett. Not as acerbic or pop as Jenny Owen Youngs, but nothing mainstream about it at all. It's perfect breakup music. Enjoy with a pint of Ben & Jerry's. - RB

I think the Liz Phair comparison is apt. You can hear the same sort of rawness, the same lo-fi post-folk Phair brought with Exile In Guyville. Crutchfield is of a different generation, of course, and she makes it her own. - dw

37. Phoenix - Bankrupt!

I doubt Phoenix will ever top their breakout album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and so it's probably unfair of me to compare this effort to that masterpiece. While Bankrupt! contained a few solid tracks, too much of it reminded me of a cross between Neon Indian and Passion Pit. This band had a more distinctive sound a few years ago. I'd love it if they rediscovered that sound. - AC

This is the release I was looking forward to the most this year. It didn’t live up to the brilliance of their last record, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t listen to it 100 times. Kind of like how the worst Woody Allen movie is still better than 90% of all other movies. Plus, “Entertainment” is a great single. -EO

I enjoyed Bankrupt! We added it to the car iPod and listened all summer while driving around Austin. Favourite tracks include "Drakkar Noir" and "Bourgeois". I absolutely loved the La Blogothéque  Takeaway show they did for "Entertainment". - JG

36. Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends

A creative pastiche of modern indie sounds collide with more classic echos in Evil Friends. Aided by the masterful Dangermouse, whose production casts a nice pallor of darkness over everything, Portugal. The Man evoke the best of Foster the People, MGMT and the like while also drawing on a deep well of musical influences. The title track segues into a surf-garage guitar riff a la the Black Lips. “Hip Hop Kids” channels NIrvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And that horn section that comes crashing through the acoustic strumming of “Sea of Air” is pulled straight out of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Even with all these allusions and homages, Portugal. The Man has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable album that stands on its own. - AC

35. Billie Joe and Norah - Foreverly

I was late to the party for this one, but I love the concept of a cover album in recognition of one of the more underrated pioneers of rock and roll. The Everly Brothers deserve this kind of tribute, and the unlikely due of Billie Joe and Norah deliver. - AC

The guy from Green Day and Norah Jones covering an Everly Brothers record. And somehow it works, even if it's a little repetitive. (And I don't know the original record at all.) - CD

I didn't care about the novelty of the concept. I did care that Norah Jones was doing yet another project with someone seemingly so far away from her in musical style. And, to be honest, the stripped-down country/bluegrass arrangements worked really well for Billy Joe's vocals (a little surprising to me), and of course was a perfect line for Norah Jones to play. - JG

Was really pleasantly surprised with this one. The bonus tracks on Spotify where they explain the creative process behind their interpretations are also worth a listen. - MD

34. Telekinesis - Dormarion

Happy, crunchy indie rock. “Ghosts and Creatures” is a fabulous song. -EO

33. Disclosure - Settle

File this one under "judging an album by its creepy cover." I couldn't make myself listen. I probably missed out. - AC

One of my daughter's favorite albums. She's not quite two yet. - SB

It's an acquired taste. You spend time with it and it begins to grow on you. - RB

The problem is that "When A Fire Starts To Burn" is so annoying you don't feel compelled to continue on in the album, so you don't feel compelled to continue on to some of the best British dance songs in years. - dw

32. Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium

Fun fact: I met the lead singer's father at last summer's CASE Summit in San Francisco. He (the dad) was impressed that I'd heard about his son's band. P.S. - It's a good album. - AC

I've been drawn to Okkervil River's literary, storytelling style since I discovered The Stage Names. Lead singer Will Sheff takes that even further with this concept album set in his small New Hampshire hometown in the mid-1980s. Like Andy says, it's a good album. - MD

31. John Fogerty - Wrote A Song for Everyone

Another geezer rocker returns to revisit his catalog of mostly hit singles. But with a twist. On Wrote A Song for Everyone, John Fogerty, who led Creedence Clearwater Revival to the summits of rock and roll in the late '60s and early '70s, pairs with a dozen or so other celebrated musicians to re-record and re-imagine some classics. Teaming up with Foo Fighters on "Fortunate Son," Fogerty and Dave Grohl exchange lyrics with a passion and urgency that makes you want to burn a draft card. Some of the greatest moments on this album come from unlikely pairings. Fogerty teaming with Kid Rock of "Born on the Bayou" is spectacular and swampy, and Kenny Chesney's guitar work on "Hot Rod Heart" takes chicken pickin' to a new level. Wrote A Song For Everyone is a stellar tribute to one of the giants of '60s rock. - AC

Surprised to see this make the list, even though it's high on my personal list. This is a fun record, top to bottom. Made a bunch of old songs you already knew sound fresh and exciting. - CD

30. The Avett Brothers - The Magpie and the Dandelion

Didn't make my top 50, but it's a solid, if predictable, Avett Brothers offering. A few good tunes, a few that tend to drag. - AC

Love the Avetts. I think this will take some time to grow on me and find the two or three super-memorable tunes. - CD

The Avett Brothers' main blessing -- their jaw-dropping 2009 masterpiece "I and Love and You" -- is in a way its biggest curse, because what could they do for an encore? Curiously, these tracks came from the same recording sessions as 2012's rather disappointing "The Carpenter," but the new collection somehow outshines it. Perhaps being a bit less ambitious, but a bit more personal, makes it feel at least a rung better than "The Carpenter." - TN

I'm a big fan of the Avetts -- especially live -- and I played this quite a bit when it came out so I had to include it. It's not my favorite of their albums, but it does have a few really good tracks. -- MD

29. Local Natives - Hummingbird

I didn't ever like Local Natives before this album. But on Hummingbird, they've put together one of the most listenable albums of this year and one that I know I'll revisit after I stop overplaying it. I didn't rank it #1, but it's surely the album I listened to the most consistently this year from top to bottom. Melancholy, thoughtful and bordering on brooding, the songwriting is tight and the lyrics will penetrate the recesses of your memories. I can't say enough good things about it.  It's most certainly "mood music" but it's done extremely well. - RB

28. Laura Veirs - Warp and Weft

It's taken me a while to warm up to singer/songwriter Laura Viers, but Warp and Weft has sealed the deal for me. The entire album evokes an ambient sense of the expansive American West. It begins with "Sun House" and weaves through every track, from the political commentary of "America" (about gun violence) to my favorite track, "Dorothy of the Islands," which echoes the theme, and a snippet of lyrics, of the ancient folk tune "Motherless Children." Warp and Weft has woven a place in my soul as one of the most evocative albums of 2013. - AC

I'm a longtime Laura Veirs fan, even seeing her live while she was something like 8 months pregnant. (She was great, btw.) This album is not her best album by any stretch, but her post-baby music has been a bit different than her earlier stuff. Her mom music is still very nice and sounds great as coffee shop music, but if you like this at all, then check out Year of Meteors or even the more recent July Flame. - RB

27. Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt

This is a helluva record. Sounds like it could fit in between Vs. and Vitalogy for me. - CD

I haven't spent any real time with this. I suppose I'm going to have to sometime, but the first few listens I gave it didn't do anything for me. That's probably more reflective of me, than the album. - RB

26. Jason Isbell - Southeastern

One of these days, perhaps Jason Isbell will shed the modifier "former Drive-By Trucker" before his name. With the release of Southeastern, he's made a huge step forward. After fits and starts and glimpses of brilliance as a non-DBT, Isbell fought alcoholism, sobered up and created one of the most personal, raw albums I've heard in a while. With one exception (the song "Super 8"), every track on Southeastern showcases Isbell’s at his most elegant and melancholy. Track after track weaves together stories of heartbreak, loneliness and love lost. “Elephant,” about a couple’s struggle with cancer, is the masterpiece. I choke up every time I hear it. If you don't also, then I question whether you have a soul. - AC

There's nothing I'm going to say about this album that Andy hasn't already said. I was always a fan of the Drive-By Truckers and I know a lot of Jason Isbell's struggles prior to making this album. I think it's a yeoman's effort putting an album like this together and the end result is really really good. Surely one of the best Americana/County/alt.country releases of the year. If you like that genre, you need to get familiar with this record. - RB

This is what I get for waiting until the absolute last minute to write my comments. Andy and Ron have already said better than I could have everything I wanted to say about this album (including the part about tearing up to "Elephant" -- every time). I didn't listen to it seriously until the week I was putting my list together and it still landed in my number three spot on my list. Just a great album. - MD

25. Danny Brown - Old

I love this guy. He’s hilarious, he laughs funny, and he’s redefining the genre. Essential tracks: Smokin & Drinkin; Side A; Break It (Go) - SB

Danny Brown is one of my favorite rappers because like Stephen said, he's really different than mainstream rap. But say, unlike a TechN9ne or someone terrible like that, he actually raps really well and he doesn't need a bunch of features to make an album sound hot. The dude can carry a track on his own. It's as if you took a hipster version of Busta Rhymes on Whoo-Ha

24. Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart

A damn good, damn passionate songwriter who swears a lot. Also, he has a lot of tattoos. - AC

What Andrew said. "The Way I Tend To Be" is one of my favorite songs of the year. - CD

Turner's power pop/rock/post-punk songs don't necessarily reinvent any genres, but they just plain work. Head-bopping rockers like "Recovery" and "Plain Sailing Weather" sit happily next to meditative ballads like "Polaroid Picture" and "Broken Piano." The extended 17-track version provides icing on an already delicious cake. In my opinion, it's the most bitter, sweet, bittersweet and best album of 2013. - TN

23. Phosphorescent - Muchacho

“Song for Zula” is probably the single song I listened to the most this year. Really beautiful record. -EO

I encountered Phosphorescent opening up for Foxygen at SXSW this year. While I enjoyed their sound, I hated the band members and I think that tarnished any joy I might have had for Muchacho. When it released and I listened to it, I was not impressed. - JG

22. Bastille - Bad Blood/Remixed

A colleague put this disc in his car when he left his campus in Western New York, and listened to it non-stop the entire way to Albany for a meeting this summer. "It was just so good. I couldn't turn it off." - CD

Bastille is sort of this year's Imagine Dragons, just missing a breakout hit or two appearing in every other ad or sporting-event bumper. Their earnest rock is worthy of such royal treatment. Bastille's blend of heady lyrics (referencing everything from ancient Rome to the Bible to "Twin Peaks"), ample vocal hooks, diverse influences and smooth arrangements make for a winning debut album. - TN

21. Dream Theater - Dream Theater

Holy moley, Dream Theater made the Top 50. I am agog. I've "known" these guys for twenty years, and even with a new drummer, they can do no wrong for me. - CD

Dream Theater reminds me of every prog rock/hair metal band of my high school years, from Styx to the Scorpions. And that's why God gave us punk rock, to rescue us. - AC

20. Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle

How is this woman only 23 years old? She has an amazing, world-weary voice, evocative of Joni Mitchell at her prime. - AC

Every new album I ask the same question: When is she going to finally realize she's a Joni Mitchell level talent, and that's what she should be aiming for? Until this album. I think she's making the leap. - dw

Saw Laura play live for the 3rd time this year in Austin and she's still as spot-on as ever. Once I Was An Eagle is the first album in a run of three that hasn't hit my top 10, but that's not to say it's not great. Melodically I didn't feel it as compelling as I Speak Because I Can and I found myself jumping to her older records through the year. However, as DW said above, she's made the full-leap connection to her Joni Mitchell influence. I have no problem with that, but hope to see her move back to her own distinct melodic stylings -- this record drips with Mitchell and at times, to me, felt too homage-y to be considered all that original. Her next album has her moving toward electrified instruments and in moving her acoustic guitar styling to a Thinline Telecaster, she's creating something even more interesting. - JG

19. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell - Love Has Come for You

One of the oddest pairings since Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. But it works. Brickell's quirky songwriting, coupled with Martin's spare banjo picking (and little else), made for an enjoyable collection of old-timeyish tunes. - AC

I really enjoyed Martin's banjo picking with Brickell's singy-song tunes from the olden times. It's not anything that'll change your life, but it's quite nice. The title track Love Has Come For You is probably the best song on the album. - RB

I really thought I would dig this, but it's a little boring. - CD

This was my number one album. It played on repeat at my house throughout the summer, to the point that my 6-year-old knows all the lyrics. Brickell has a gorgeous voice that works really well with Martin's banjo picking. I'm a sucker for the casual but powerful way her lyrics play within traditional bluegrass structures to tell the stories of imagined lives both present and past. - MD

18. David Bowie - The Next Day

I really didn't think I would like this -- I'm not a big Bowie fan -- but there's a lot to like here. It's like the complete opposite of the Martin/Brickell CD right above this one, on lots of levels. - CD

Maybe the Thin White Duke’s best days are behind him. Or maybe Mr. Space Oddity/Ziggy Stardust/Star Man/Aladdin Sane is reinventing himself once again. The album cover, a retake on Heroes, would seem to suggest that. But with Bowie, you never know. No matter. The Next Day is a terrific album, his best since Scary Monsters. Bowie’s voice is more unsteady nowadays (at age 66 now), but he’s still capable of creating songs that remind us of the oneness and hugeness of everything (“The Stars Are Out Tonight” is a perfect example). Bowie still comes across as some alien creature observing our world but not really of it. That's part of what makes Bowie Bowie. - AC

17. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace

If you've ever wondered what ennui sounds like, you need go no further than the opening words of this album's first track, "In the Darkness," and keep going. But the languid tenor of Foxygen lead singer Sam France doesn't equate to boring. This L.A. duo produced a terrific, west coast hippiefied indie-pop record with a distinctive, raw but modern sound. - AC

This album pairs well with the aforementioned Unknown Mortal Orchestra release, in that, it's more west-coast retrofied homage rock to a bygone era. It's a bit more sonically diverse and very polished. Enjoyed it mightily. - RB

When SXSW came to town the one band my wife and I wanted to see was Foxygen. Their stage presence is manic and the sound is just... amazing. They're not tight live, but they put on a crazy show. Like... if the Stones had the neurosis of The Velvet Underground. The record is a fantastic trip across that era of rock music and feels exciting and fresh while staying familiar. - JG

16. James Blake - Overgrown

This guy’s from the future, and whenever I don’t “get” his stuff, I give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s just a whole bunch of steps ahead of me. While there’s no “The Wilhelm Scream” equivalent single on this record to make you question everything you thought you knew about music, “Retrograde” is undeniably gorgeous. With that voice, it’s hard to believe he’s even better live. But, he is. -EO

Take The Fall For Me (feat. RZA) and Retrograde are two of the songs released in 2013. The album didn't do a lot for me, but those two songs stopped me in my tracks. I Am Sold was good too. Back in the era of "three songs and I buy the album" this would've been a buy. - RB

15. Kanye West - Yeezus

I'm not sure what to say about this album. I wanted to like it, as much as I liked his 2010 effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was masterful. It's not the heavy reliance on electronica in Yeezus that wears me down so much the seemingly random sampling combined with yet another Kanye ego trip. This didn't make my list. - AC

I thought there were three or four good tracks on this album, but it's just not as enjoyable as his previous efforts. It has prompted an increase in public proclamations of Kanye on Kanye, which I always find entertaining (see: The 31 Best Kanye West Quotes of 2013).

14. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob

At the start of the year, their decision to embrace pop music seemed really brave. Looking back through a year when everyone embraced pop music, it seems a little too calculated. No matter. The songwriting's still taut, and they're still wearing the gawky folkiness even as the kids are pogoing to their new sound. - dw

Has it really been four years since they released their last album? The Canadian twins' catalogue and signature sound are staples by now to the point they seem to be everywhere. "Heartthrob" finds them in fine form, throwing a bit more electronica into their well-established and always-welcome hook-filled, clever-worded, heart-wrenching recipe. - TN

13. Kasey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park

She's compared to Taylor Swift for some reason, and I don't get it, because there's real substance here. (And I like TS.) "Follow Your Arrow" is one of my top five songs of the year. - CD

On a lark last spring, while standing at a Starbucks counter, I picked up a free download card for Kasey Musgraves' single "Blowin' Smoke." And I was hooked. Musgraves is a talented singer-songwriter who is making a great mark on Nashville. As someone who doesn't necessarily like a lot of country-pop, I can appreciate the strong threads of storytelling and 3-minute morality tales Musgraves weaves throughout this record. - AC

"Merry Go Round" was one of my favorite songs of 2012. Her album did not disappoint. - dw

I explained this album to a friend as "what would've happened if Natalie Maines was a really good songwriter and had a solo career." I heard this album really late, pretty much when I saw the final list thus far and realized I hadn't heard it. I heard it and couldn't forget I heard it. It's the best pop country album I've heard in years and it'll remain in my memory long after 2013 passes, which for country is a much harder threshold for me than any other genre -- ESPECIALLY mainstream country. Her songwriting skills and deft mastery of providing an imagery of what life in the country is really like for ordinary people is no small feat. I loved this album and look forward to what she does next. Next to Jason Aldean, she might just be one of my new favorite mainstream country artists. - RB

I checked this out after hearing a review on NPR earlier in the year, but didn't really come back to it until I sat down to make my list. I'm glad I did. This is a really good album that Ron sums up well. - MD

12. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

The pretentiousness hit a level that I couldn't listen to it more than once. If they are the Millenials' U2, this is their Zooropa. Or, if we're generous, perhaps their Unforgettable Fire. They're believing their own BS. - dw

This band continues to reinvent themselves with each album. Reflektor is a stark departure from The Suburbs, which was their magnum opus. The idea behind Reflektor seems to be a combination of introspection and narcissism, a gaze into the hall of mirrors that has become our hyper-connected yet divided world. Maybe they're not believing their own BS so much as they are playing off of it. - AC

Even us amateur music critics apparently are expected to cheer every time Arcade Fire sneezes, and erupt into gushing praise when they release an album. "Reflektor" comes with the added artifice of being a "two-record set" that only tallies 13 tracks. Don't get me wrong: I like this band's music. This is a reasonably talented band putting out a decent fourth album (its fourth-best release, at that), no more, no less. - TN

Meh. Love DW's review above. - JG

/falls asleep - CD

11. Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks

I think the glee of a new NIN album was marked by the fact that this release was actually a return to form for Reznor and company. If you're a fan of the band, this album won't disappoint. - RB

And this did nothing for me. I feel like there weren't enough hooks. To each his or her own, I suppose. - CD

I think so highly of this record (first on my personal list) because it feels like the ultimate culmination of Nine Inch Nails. Music and vocal elements of essentially every single previous release make an appearance in one way or another. Watching Trent Reznor’s evolution to this specific point — particularly from a sonic point of view — has been incredibly fulfilling as a serious fan. From that perspective, listening to Hesitation Marks is a special, enjoyable, and consistently rewarding experience each and every time. I wrote much more about this album here. - SB

10. The Head and The Heart - Let's Be Still

It’s really a great band name, because great music affects both. For example, Katy Perry’s producers have absolutely figured out pop music. You can’t “not” dance. But you can absolutely not think. With alternating male/female vocal leads, this is happy thoughtful indie-folk at its finest. And “Another Story” is one of the best songs of the year. -EO

I was so impressed with this record. It immediately drew me in. It is fun, energetic, has great vocals and is so enjoyable to listen to, you can't help but crank it up in the car and drive around. Totally agree with EO's opinion above; "Another Story" is one of the best songs written and recorded in 2013 - JG

I had a hard time getting into this. So much of it reminded me of Ryan Adams, and a big part of me wondered why this got so much attention while albums like Ha Ha Tonka's Lessons, which is a much stronger album of the same ilk, was essentially ignored by almost everyone. - AC

9. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady

Picking up where she left off with The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monae extends the dystopian vision inspired by Fritz Lang's Metropolis into a world of dancing droids. "Dance Apocalyptic" is a high point of a very catchy album. - AC

I wanted to like this more than I did. I think I ranked it where I did as an appreciation for the single QUEENS (feat. Erykah Badu) and for the sheer fact that there's a music landscape where an artist like Janelle Monae can exist and flourish. I love being in the modern era. In the 90s, genre-bending wasn't really allowed outside of the occasional underground hit or painstakingly orchestrated mashup by the label. So artists like Janelle Monae, the Odd Future crew, Childish Gambino, Jennah Bell and many others are part of making me enjoy where we are musically. - RB

8. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

Every Vampire Weekend album takes a while to grow on me. But this one has taken longer. There are a few solid tracks here -- "Ya Hey" and "Unbelievers" come to mind -- and this seems to be a more spiritual album than the past two efforts. Yet it seems to be all over the place, unfocused, and somewhat unfinished. - AC

As a Vampire Weekend hater, this album was one I never expected to enjoy and yet, I did throughout. Seems they've come into their own. - RB

I didn't get the praise until I realized I'd only heard the album on "shuffle." Listen to it in order, and it's a fantastic album. Very odd. - dw

Good, solid offering. Vampire Weekend continues to put out records that are increasingly more mature and refined. I respect their artistry a ton. While this record didn't "force" me to listen to it over and over again, I was always happy when tracks came on, and I bought the vinyl. - JG

7. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe

Just an infectious album. Every track is terrific. - AC

Gorgeous pop tracks. Third wave feminist lyrics. My favorite album of the year. - dw

I don't think I ranked this, but I was surprised by how good it was. Lots of upbeat tunes for driving. - RB

6. Avicii - True

I discovered this late (I believe it was Tim Nekritz who pointed it out) but I'm glad I was able to give it a few spins before the end of the year. The first track, "Wake Me Up," begins with the folkish strum of an acoustic guitar, then dissolves into an electronic disco beat. "Hey Brother" pulls the same trick. Rarely does a country style mesh so seamlessly with electronica. On True, it works. - AC

Instead of trying to list every genre this Swedish DJ taps, it would be easier to say what it isn't: Like any other record released this year. Name a style of music and it's probably on this record, and that's what makes "True" so admirable and listenable. When the breathtaking musical trip is over, you're left wanting more -- the ultimate measure of a great record. - TN

5. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight the More I Love You

The longest album title since Fiona Apple's 2012 offering (The Idler Wheel... etc.). Neko Case's The Worse Things Get... is chock full of the usual tunes about family dysfunction (a mother yelling at her child to "get the fuck away from me" in a supermarket) and stories told by one of the best roots rockers around. - AC

I'm the resident Neko Case stan. At first, I didn't like this album. When you have SO MANY memorable songs, it can be very difficult for an old fan to get into a new record especially this one. It sounds very different than her past work and at first, it can appear worse. But spending a bit more time with -- here comes the term mood music again -- the record it appeared to me how beautiful this thing is. I'm From Nowhere is Neko at her best. Other standouts include City Swan and Calling Cards. Neko Case is the artist you introduce to someone who thinks they don't like country, but listen to all sorts of other introspective types of music. You pick the right time and place, put her on and if they're old enough, they'll appreciate what she does. It's a very accessible album for "Intro To Neko" in my mind, because if someone likes this album they'll love her older stuff. - RB

I do like her voice, but I can only stomach so much death and dismemberment on any one record. - TN

Ron nails the review again. I love Neko Case, and this album is no exception. - MD

4. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Random Access Memories marks Daft Punk's return to relevance after a long absence. The disco-influenced synth-heavy album sounds like music made for androids, but it’s extremely likeable. The album is bit self-indulgent at times (track 3, “Giorgio by Moroder,” begins as a monologue before the groove finally -- finally! -- breaks through). But overall it’s an enjoyable bit of space-age disco. And "Get Lucky" was the most enjoyable earworm of the first half of 2013. - AC

This album is dazzling and dizzying, mesmerizing and mystifying. With an act as talented, imaginative and genre-spanning as Daft Punk, you'll get quite the auditory party … which means hits as well as misses. But oh, when the band hits, the result is towering, fireworks-inducing home runs. The incredibly fun and funky "Get Lucky" gets my vote for single of the year. - TN

For good or for ill, this will be the album a generation of artists will point to as a major influence. Does it mean disco is back? I really hope not. But they did manage to distill the luster of disco's party without the mountains of cocaine.  - dw

Meh, again. As someone who has been listening to Daft Punk for more than a decade, this record didn't do it for me at all. I listened through a few times trying to find something to pull me in, and there wasn't anything. - JG

3. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

I didn’t listen to The National at all before this year. Hell, I barely knew who they were. I can’t believe they made it to FOURTH in my personal list. It doesn’t make sense until I consider how much I love every single track. These guys know how to write captivating songs that touch a nerve, and you can’t help but to be emotionally invested. The lyrical themes strike me as deeply personal but it’s not difficult to frame them in a broader light, too. In fact, much of the accomplishment here comes from that judgement completely being in the ears of the beholder. This is how music is supposed to feel.
Essential tracks: Don’t Swallow the Cap; Fireproof; Humiliation - SB

I'm probably also artist-in-residence for The National fandom in these parts, too. Dating back to The Boxer LP, I've been fascinated by how gripping this otherwise seemingly boring band can take over your senses with stories of lost love, passion and dream-inducing memories of what was. Trouble Will Find Me is not their best album in the past few years. Graceless is the most memorable song on the album for me. This is not the best album to begin with if you're not a fan of this band, though. It will probably bore you. - RB

/falls asleep again - CD

Also a fanboy of The National. They take sometimes banal lyrics and a droning vocal style to capture the existential angst of modern life. I believe someone in this group nailed it when they said on Twitter something to the effect of: "It's dad music. You'll understand The National once you have kids." - MD

2. HAIM - Days Are Gone

The three sisters Haim came out of nowhere -- well, L.A. actually -- to produce one of the best pop albums I've heard in a long time. A smooth mix of rock and R&B, all built around a solid foundation of percussion and the vocal harmonies. "Down to the Wire" and "Forever" and essential tracks, and the opening tune, the trance-like "Falling," is also worthy of multiple listens. - AC

This album is not something I'd ever listen to normally. But I stumbled onto it one day and when I heard If I Could Change Your Mind, it was as if they were trying to change my mind into liking them and it worked. This album echos teen pop of the late 80s when Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Tracie Spencer and Belinda Carlisle were writing their own pop songs and having acclaim. It's not a throwback album by any means, though. It's the sort of breakup album that feels contemporary without feeling inaccessible. When I hear good pop music, I am fond of remarking "that's just a good pop song. It's just a well-written song." I said that a lot listening to Days Are Gone. It's absolutely worth adding to your record collection. -RB

Not my cup of tea, but their waterfall harmonics and affectionate '80s influences are admirable. - TN

I really wanted to hate this record. Being the pretentious jerk I am, so many people were telling me how great this record is. I didn't believe it. Then I listened to it. And it is SO good. Astounding production (those drum sounds!) and mesmerizing vocals moving in and out of infectious melodies. It sucked me in. - JG

Days Are Gone didn't make my top albums but in retrospect it probably should have. Definitely enjoyed it. - SB

1. Lorde - Pure Heroine

I resisted this album for a long time. But the gravitational pull of this young New Zealander is too powerful. The trancetastic single "Royals" is only the beginning of a fine album. Sixteen-year-old Ella Yelich-O'Connor has a promising future ahead of her as a singer-songwriter without peer. But, this really shouldn't have been the top album of the year. Not one of us put this at No. 1 on our individual list, but two members of our collective listed Pure Heroine as a No. 2 pick, and the album got enough votes to pull it off! - AC

She wrote the album at 15. I just don’t know what to do with that. And Tennis Court is arguably the most brilliant and jarring music video of the year. This little girl might be the future of music. Although, there were a couple weeks a few years back when I thought the same about Gaga. Maybe Lorde just got lucky. But even if this is all we ever get from her, it’s something special. - EO

Royals is a good song, but the rest of it did nothing for me really. I mean, I didn't hate it at all. It just didn't stick to my ribs. - RB

One facile (and not inaccurate) comparison for Lorde would be this year's Adele, a teen whose propulsive and preternatural voice and smart lyrics demand attention. Or Tegan and Sara, to whom critics often compare her sound. Beyond the hype machine, this is a nice 10-track record that isn't up the level of either of the above artists … although she clearly has the time and ability to grow into her acclaim. - TN

A massive year for pop music, but who's at the top? A teenager singing about the empty excess of pop music (and teenage life) over a spare drum machine beat. A marvelous, and out of nowhere, debut album. - dw

Another album my arrogance wouldn't let me listen to for months. Actually, this one had me curious. My wife had heard one song from a live set that Lorde did and was not impressed... until I started listening to this record non-stop while working. A crazy, exciting, catchy, moving, deep piece of musical artistry from a baby.  Just. Incredible. I think it really does deserve to be in the top slot this year. Pop music (as a stylistic genre) ruled 2013, and I've got no problem with that. - JG

I bought into the hype and actually purchased this (on CD even) the day it was released. I wasn't disappointed. I'll admit that at first I was a little embarrassed by how much I loved a teenager's pop album, but I soon came to terms and owned that fact. Top to bottom a great listen and my overall number two this year. Team is the standout track for me, which somehow simultaneously works for both disaffected teens and the grown ups in the room: "I'm kinda tired of getting told to throw my hands up in the air./So there./I'm kinda older than I was when I revelled without a care./So there." - MD

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