The Top 50 Albums Of 2013

In a nutshell: 2013 was the year where a lot of stuff happened. It was the year where young MCs pushed their product onto Billboard charts while albums like Yeezus, Magna Carta, and Beyoncé demolished the barriers of art and commercialism, and made us talk. It was the year where the medium’s old timers (Pearl Jam, QOTSA, Nine Inch Nails) restructured their riffs as indie played hooky with UK garage beats, gritty fuzz blasts, and pop’s latest wave of ferocious noisemakers. It was also the year punk broke (again) – shedding layers while appealing to Pitchfork notaries, reinforcing a passion for the vinyl format, and carving fans out of national dailies that aren’t exactly sanctioned to publish a variation of the phrase “flawless vulva”. 

Further more, the past 12 months have forced everyone to abandon their pedestrian tastes in music and leave some room for relatively new artists. Our team has always had an expansive palate but the upper echelon of this year’s extensive list is stacked with British imports, fearless rap prodigies, a “bitter pop” wunderkind, and three alternative/punk bands that live on indie labels. It was agonizing to omit a few records – including LPs from Darkside, CHVRCHES, The National, Marnie Stern, Wampire, Chelsea Wolfe, and Death Grips – but that’s what the Internet’s for. It’s a landscape that’s constantly glitching out and sprawling with new discoveries that are as accessible as a greasy large pizza with extra cheese. We recommend taking on both if you have time to spare over the winter break and we hope our Top 50 Albums Of 2013 list can be a useful guide. Just remember: wear headgear. 


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Random Access Memories

One listen through and it will confuse and underwhelm, but giving up on Random Access Memories too soon would be like leaving the Sistine Chapel after a 30-second tour. It institutes the feeling that you're missing a masterpiece – one that defies time periods and will undoubtedly change landscape as we know it. Just give it a couple years. [Sony/Columbia]

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Country Sleep

23-year-old singer-songwriter Winston Yellen has a fine taste for woozy love stories but its his refined portrayal of realism that stings more than the Tennessee whiskey that may live by his bedside. And in a lot of ways, Country Sleep channels Buckley and Ryan Adams, making the factual lovesickness of the Nashville transplant heavy and staggering. [Dead Oceans]

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Resonate/Desperate

Finding screamo/hardcore tiresome? Thank God for No Sleep. Santa Rosa's State Faults bear the same roots as Former Thieves and Pianos Become The Teeth, but they balance their raw edges with ambient textures and give their expansion on post-hardcore a new set of teeth. Just listen to "Meteor" and "Amalgamation" - this is music that will bleed you out. [No Sleep Records]

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The 20/20 Experience

Not that he needs any but in defense of Justin Timberlake, he's always been one to alter pop's makeup. The 20/20 Experience collection carries over from FutureSex, and warps into another dimension as he muses on love ("Mirrors") and takes his Thriller from the five-star spot ("Suit & Tie") to the bedroom ("Cabaret"). Forever and always JT, we salute you. [Sony/RCA Records]

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FIDLAR

For the duration of the fuzzed-out album – between squealing surf rock solos and the crashing of amphetamine-fueled drums – FIDLAR proudly praise dirtbag drug addict friends, spending whole pay checks on cocaine, and happily living out of your car. It's Black Flag without the irony or political motivation; the perfect soundtrack for your next party. [Mom + Pop Music]

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Honeys

Just ask Matt Korvette – with aggression comes the responsibility to demand attention. The second you throw Honeys on, the Pissed Jeans frontman claims "You're in the kitchen crying/ Don't make me say I told you so", and so begins 35 minutes of teeth-gnashing noise rock that could be used as a middle finger salute to your neighbours and enemies. [Sub Pop Records]

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Watching Movies With The...

Who would have thought Mac Mill's most overlooked release would be his best yet? Watching Movies With The Sound Off doesn't redraw his rhyme scheme but it accentuates every faded punchline with cinematic bursts of colour, and when you're least expecting it, lets Mac's flourish next to Ab-Soul, Pharrell co-writes, and trippy ass beats. [Rostrum Records]

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Major Arcana

More so than any other debut in the past decade, Major Arcana uses its own ammunition. It dips into throwbacks here and there but it takes a long look at the overbite of modern rock and goes over every inch with a splatter of noisy riffs and Sadie Dupuis' sobering entries: "When a play date ends, do you call your other friends or do you go home?". [Carpark Records]

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True Romance

Charli's debut is steeped in Tumblr vibes and pitch-shifting dramatics but its her genuine sophistication that resurrects pop from the Recycle Bin. It gives each track a carefully organized touch, deleting your usual filler takes and left-field experiments for a generous helping of hooks that are gritty, lush, and admirably incomparable. [IAMSOUND]

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MCII

If MCII hasn't touched your ears yet, then you're doing life wrong, man. Mikal Cronin's ambition was never questioned and partly because he knows how to craft feel good recordings and punch up the fuzz when it's needed. Songs like "Weight" and "Don't Let Me Go" on the other hand give insight into a musician gripping the perfection in his voice. [Merge Records]

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My Name Is My Name

"King Push", "Numbers On The Board", and "Nosetalgia" show how far Pusha has come since his Lord Willin' days but it's the vivid body shots (preying on his past, dealing out hints of Ma$e) that really connect. And to be fair, they leave bruises: "Push, my name is my name/ In the kitchen with a cape on, apron/ Tre-eight on, coulda' been Trayvon". [Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music]

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Void // Deep Trip

If the world ever comes to an end, you can expect Destruction Unit to soundtrack our final days on earth. Their name suits any demise, they're from Arizona, and as their two full-lengths show, they mess with scrappy velocities, venomous tones, and grimy, existential layers that strip alternative clean and turn it into a dirty word. Side note: we're not kidding around. [Sacred Bones Records]

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If You Leave

Londoners must have a fascination with making us weep uncontrollably because Daughter are capable of snipping every heart valve you have with serrated hedge trimmers. With their debut full-length, the group stick alternative into various intricate wells - illuminating atmospheric landscapes, hypnotic lyricism, and a touch of beauty to leave you stunned. [4AD]

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Run The Jewels

It's true: El-P and Killer Mike's first collab joint bumps harder than your ex on the rebound. The 33-minute Run The Jewels is inexplicably the greatest thing to happen to rap music this year and it bears no weaknesses, ruthlessly kicking around your psyche like a tin can while being "a sin on the verse like a kid in a hearse or a nun in cum shot". [Fool's Gold Records]

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Paracosm

No one really goes after stimulating a specific blend of lush reverb, snippets of sun-spotted reggae, and carefree (but inviting) field recordings, but no one tackles perfection like Ernest Greene. Paracosm jumps the idea of "daytime psychedelia", stashing away Within's makeout music sessions to slip you a taste of the future of electronic ambience. [Sub Pop Records]

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Dead Language

What makes Dead Language more than a circle around ambition is The Flatliners preternatural skill for balancing the highs of cathartic, hard-nosed alternative with gutting narratives. They do everything in their capacity to peak your enthusiasm and do so by cycling through songs that will make you cry, yell, and find some sort of solace. [Fat Wreck/New Damage Records]

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You're Nothing

A brash improvement on numerous levels, it's hard not to relate You're Nothing to the concept of a creative youth closing his first novel, only to observes its insecurities and tear apart his apartment in the process. The love/hate complex is something Iceage have put more thought into and its turned their live tendencies into a new breed of calculated ferocity. [Matador Records]

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Comedown Machine

Remember when your close pals gave up on The Strokes because they "lost it"? Unfriend them. As soon as possible. Comedown Machine is by no means Is This It Pt. II, but it's richer than most present day rock records, showing the fivesome's intangible ability to write noteworthy songs and "eat-you-raw" melodies that sex up the definition of cool. [Sony/RCA Records]

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Matangi

To answer your question: M.I.A. isn't "getting too old for this shit". Her songs still belong to a dimension of ear-splitting beatscapes but the music on Matangi is inescapable. "Y.A.L.A." and "Bring The Noize" ride hard with dizzying intensity, "Know It Ain't Right" rubs with the right amount of seduction, and "Bad Girls" will make you forget "Paper Planes". [Universal/Interscope]

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The 1975

The 1975 sure do look like nerds who've been plagued by romantic strife for years but their successful (and quietly polished) debut points towards Coldplay and The Police. Their work runs through decadent stadium rock filters, letting hooks surface when you least expect them to and depending on your chromosomes, they can pierce with attitude. [Universal/Interscope]

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Free The Universe

Free The Universe barely sticks to the standard chords of Catch A Fire reggae but it aims high while your waist is down low. It chops up a variety of new blends, enlisting Peaches, Santigold, Amber Coffman, and a dub-friendly Ezra Koenig, to breach monotony and show Diplo's still keen on educating and extorting island flavours. [Downtown/Secretly Canadian]

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Wolf

Front to back, Wolf is gorgeous and brilliant. It's a multi-toned trip that leashes aggression so it can cut deep with textured sentiments ("Awkward", "IFHY"), smooth key-driven bumps ("Parking Lot") and mobbin' thrash rap ("Trashwang"), and it does effortlessly because Tyler's an overflowing barrel of talent. Now if only others could learn from his growth spurts. [Odd Future Records]

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Wakin' On A Pretty Daze

Hippie folk. Breezy psych. Hazy blues tunes. Whatever Vile's work was called in the past is now incarcerated because at its core, Wakin' On A Pretty Daze underlines a songwriter's ability to directly convey his authenticity while tightening a noose around your own emotions. And as a plus, the guitars are focused, the context is edgier, and the melodies are timeless. [Matador Records]

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Silence Yourself

Through 11 tracks, Silence Yourself inhales the stark complexities of late '70s post punk yet releases a not so easy listen. It has a tendency to get too mechanical at times, but let's be honest - has the genre ever been peaceful or mainstream? In this case, no; its replenishing itself, giving life to bands like Savages that feed off of striking at the right moments. [Matador Records]

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Afraid Of Heights

Nathan Williams is well aware that getting old sucks and his growth has allowed the team to shade in their underexposed skill while he layers his thoughts onto songs. They still come out swinging in mediums that open up garage pop ("Demon To Lean On", "Everything Is My Fault") but their mindset is one that makes Afraid Of Heights unforgettable. [Mom + Pop Music]

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Vampires Of The Modern City

Even though their compositions are now sepia-toned, Vampire Weekend have penned an album that draws inspiration from classical arrangements, Irish and Persian interchange, and a few high-energy '50s rockabilly beats that burn with vivacious novelty. Their transition could be an epiphany but in hindsight, this may just be what euphonic bliss sounds like. [XL Recordings]

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Old

Old wraps itself around a Side A and a Side B, is splattered with the coolest guests (Purity Ring, Freddie Gibbs, Charli XCX), and runs trains with production from Rustie and SKYWLKR, but it's Brown's narratives that are 100% visceral. He's turned himself into rap's most profound poet (jn a lyrical sense) and subsequently, he's chilling on his own podium. [Fool's Gold Records]

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Monomania

From multiple angles, Monomania rewrites indie rock to be the way it should be, climbing over avant-garde knicks and gritty blues knacks to pen full numbers that flip out with shades of Room On Fire, forgotten Decca rock groups and a very DIY “just-try-to-fuck-with-me” mindset. It’s a record that shows Bradford Cox can be glossy but it also proves he's a genius. [4AD]

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The Blackest Beautiful

Soulless industrialization, crumbling bonds,and Worship And Tribute nods are imminent, but The Blackest Beautiful circles around darker, prettier tones (see: "Virgin Dirt") that multiply and resonate. In terms of composition, letlive. are well aware of the grip they have on ambition and they're more than willing to strip their boundaries to be memorable. [Epitaph Records]

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Nothing Was The Same

We have an undying love for Drake. We're not ashamed (obviously) but it's multiplied so much of late because Nothing Was The Same isn't a record you'd expect from him. It's a carefully groomed album, one that puts you in his new J's, places his lingering insecurities on your shoulders, and hastily explains why he's a premier hip-hop heavyweight. [Universal/Island]

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...Like Clockwork

Even six albums in, Queens Of The Stone Age are still unhinging riffs that twist your neck, rip out your intestines, and headbutt you into oblivion. It's a trait other hard rock grandfathers (Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam) haven't been able to cling onto, but they cover our losses with songs such as "My God Is The Sun" which dial it back and prove cohesion can be dangerous. [Matador Records]

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Wait To Pleasure

Montreal's No Joy rock out like they have Ph.Ds in "Shoegaze That Will Blow Your Mind" and only because their sonic expertise is nanoseconds away from shaming everyone else. They've improved on distorting textures to the point where they drip with declarative sounds and it's a rush - sugary, but more hypnotic. Sort of like Astro Pops coated in Pop Rocks and LSD. [Mexican Summer]

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Doom Loop

Well liked and praised for writing self-help tunes, Christopher Browder has flexed his true potential this year with Doom Loop. It's a fuzzy power pop takeover on the outside but when you dig into its genes - that include feverish wordplay and guitars that raise hell in a moment's notice - you wind up realizing why Mansions pen life-altering songs and not meaningless hooks. [Clifton Motel]

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Days Are Gone

In a year where "Women In Pop Music" has arguably never been a more culturally important issue and nods to '80s pop rock are as musically ubiquitous as bass drops, the trio of sisters who quote Fleetwood Mac are about as zeitgeist-y as you can get. In that regard, their Days Are Gone LP is a bubbly helping of chorus porn that's impossible to hate. [Sony/Columbia]

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Anything In Return

Chaz Bundick may have just been trying to write an album that his girlfriend could listen to but it's hard to depict Anything In Return as just that. Along with being quotable, the record's been a popular go-to at campus parties and likely because it's a framed portrait of Chaz's eclectic taste which covers Mann, Florida Fiya, and the late Whitney Houston. [Carpark Records]

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Night Time, My Time

Sky is bold, controversy-prone, and sometimes vulnerable with a microphone in her hands, but Night Time, My Time is a pop-meets-rock masterpiece and she's not afraid to admit it surges with honesty. As she eloquently explained a few months ago: "I felt like it needed to be personal - otherwise, it would've sounded like every other pop record". [Capitol Records]

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6 Feet Beneath The Moon

On his latest, the 19-year-old sketches street-smart beats, new gen jazz joints, and odes to previous rock eras while almost serenading himself into a sonically bare k-hole. It's a disturbing image, but it's hard to want it any other way. Krule is inept at scribbling down songs that when performed, can blur the whole world while you sort out your feelings. [True Panther Sounds]

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AM

As Alex Turner calls it, the LP’s lined with "girlfriend music" and while it may be Buddy Holly fan fic, it smartly accents the Monkeys' capability to raise a fuss about Sabbath ("Arabella") and rock the blues boat with sexed-up hooks ("Do I Wanna Know?"). It might be too straight-forward but Josh Homme be damned if it doesn't grip the creases on your hips. [Domino]

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Long.Live.A$AP

Of all the titles A$AP Rocky holds – self-declared or appointed – "lyrical genius" is not one of them. His debut album Long.Live.A$AP instead spills an impeccable taste for infectious beats ("Fuckin' Problems") and flawlessly organized recordings ("1Train", "Phoenix") proving the Harlem native is much more of a mastermind than his words would allude. [Sony/RCA Records]

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Sunbather

Sunbather has been called a lot of things (see: black metal, shoegaze, dreamcore) but as the folks at Apple will tell you, it's the year's heaviest record. Converge held that honor in 2012 and Deafheaven have politely stripped them of it as these songs will leave you writhing in a snowbank as you revaluate what you mean to your friends, your better half, and your Mom. [Deathwish Inc.]

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Sleeper

While Ty could have easily put his new guitar pedal to use on Sleeper, he opted to fight his inner demons and stark realizations with a semi-acoustic effort. It's a perfect fit for the blues, Eastbound & Down, and his extensive discog, and even in its darkest and most sublime moments, it backs an influential message: even with the pain, you've just got to ramble on. [Drag City]

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Pure Heroine

Talk is cheap but Lorde's raved about initiation into music notes she's light years in front of everyone else. Pure Heroine analyzes the novelty and frustrations that come with being a teenager - translating bitter realizations into recordings that disarm you with glowing electro pop and the kind of riveting songwriting you'd expect from an icon, not a 17-year-old. [Universal/Republic]

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The Greatest Generation

The Lansdale six-piece live by the book of honesty and if Suburbia helped you tackle the odds, then The Greatest Generation will make sure you never stop believing in yourself. It's a fine illustration of what keeps pop punk's essence intact, and through the confessions, the ethics, and the musical growth, it's helped the band become who they've always wanted to be. [Hopeless Records]

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Doris

Even with a target on his chest, Earl's been water-boarding emotions to find some sort of tranquility and Doris does everything he needs it to do. It unravels his grayscale thoughts, spotlights him with appropriate collabos (Vince Staples, BadBadNotGood), and even sets the mood with David Axelrod samples that note this is just the beginning. [Tan Cressida/Columbia]

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Settle

The U.K. brother duo have accomplished a lot this year. With Settle, they've grabbed a Grammy nom, stolen the hearts of females everywhere, and quickly put a foot on the gas pedal in terms of giving disco/house/garage a new license to thrill. And with a stylish flair and an intimidating guest list, their club-ready mixes show they were born to curate albums and not playlists. [PMR Records]

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Overgrown

Recorded in solitude, Overgrown flashes Blake's genius but it also details an internal struggle that's relatable. His growth is not only felt in the record's survey of his troubled pysche, but he steps over the sub-genre he questionably designed and stretches out - sampling Big Boi verses, teaming with RZA, and fixating on the line that separates what's beautiful and what's tragic. [Universal/Republic]

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Acid Rap

From high school to the head of the class, the 20-year-old Chi-town MC is rewriting the elements to rap. His verbal wit and confidence draws up images of pre-Grammy Weezy/Yeezy and his drive resonates through his rants about politics, putting in work, and everyday observations: "Ya Kna Wha Mean, I got the Chicago Blues / We invented rock before the Stones got through."

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Is Survived By

Under the anthemic riffs, pulverizing grace, and jagged pieces of chaos, Is Survived By is a work of art. It's terrifying how much passion spills over track-by-track but it's an infatuating addiction because Touché Amoré feed off of connections. If it's not personal, it's just bullshit, and it's why every chord and open admission on this record makes a bee line for your heart. [Deathwish Inc.]

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Yeezus

Darker than 2011's Twisted Fantasy and comparably visceral to 2008′s 808s & HeartbreakYeezus mixes minimalism, anarchist punk, and bits of Chicago’s drill scene while delivering Ye's latest bout of experimentation. It's full of pinnacles and wholesome authenticity, but it's bordered with a new level of Yeezy that's "bound" to be revolutionary. [Universal/Def Jam]

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The Things We Think We're Missing

Read it and weep: B&C's sophomore effort is the year's most complete album. The Will Yip-produced record sinks its teeth into every indie/alt/emo tag and ruptures expectations with desperation, a pinning sense of isolation, and deafening chemistry. It has a tendency to rip the skin and change you for the better, but it's best you take this red pill yourself. [No Sleep Records]

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