The 13 best albums of 2013
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By Jocelyn Cote
No matter how you look at it, 2013 was an incredible year for music. From long-awaited albums to unexpected comebacks, this was certainly a year to remember. Now, as 2013 draws to a close, I’ve lent my ears to its musical output once again to assemble my favorite releases.
I’ll be honest here – I didn’t know what to think of Lorde at first when “Royals” first started to hit radio airwaves. Sure, her voice is impressive for a seventeen-year-old, and her songs are catchy, but is her songcraft really all that unique? Pure Heroine is what sold me. Her lyrics can get a bit cliché at times, and usually focus on the rites of teenagerdom, but are overall mature. It’s a solid album bursting with glittery pop nuggets that cater to a wide audience, with songs being heard everywhere from alternative radio to top 40 stations. It’s only up from here for this young lady.
Ah yes, Daft Punk. The kings of electronic dance music and one of the most uniquely-outfitted duos of all time. Random Access Memories was one of the most anticipated albums of the year and it delivered. Their first true album release since 2005’s Human After All, the album marked a return to form with funky, danceable tracks and some interesting collaborations, including Pharrell Williams, The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, and Animal Collective’s Panda Bear. There’s something here for everyone, and if you deny that “Get Lucky” was one of the greatest tracks of the year, you’re lying to yourself.
I honestly never thought I would see an album release from David Bowie, so imagine my surprise and excitement when The Next Day was announced as his first album in a decade. Sure, it’s no Ziggy Stardust, but definitely his strongest output of the last quarter century. The album blends elements of classic rock, jazz, and modern alternative into a musical melting pot topped with Bowie’s one-of-a-kind vocals, still strong after 66 years. Once you get past the cover, which is the artwork for 1977’s “Heroes” with what looks like five minutes in Windows Paint, it’s an enjoyable listen for any Bowie fan.
Kveikur is undeniably darker than Icelandic band Sigur Rós’ previous effort, 2012’s Valtari, but from that darkness sprouts beauty. After losing a founding member last year and rumors of a break-up swirled, the future of the band was uncertain, but Kveikur solidified the fact that they’re strong as ever and here to stay. Sigur Rós have once again stuck with the usual post-rock route, but lead singer Jónsi’s vocals have been brought to the forefront rather than being drowned in a sea of ambient noise, creating a gorgeous balance that was not present on Valtari.
So… is it 1983 or 2013? That’s the question I kept asking through my first listen through Silence Yourself. The all-female quartet from London conjures up a jarring post-punk album that would fit in perfectly with many of the genre’s staple albums. Lead singer Jehnny Beth’s vocals fall somewhere in between Ian Curtis and Siouxsie Sioux and frame the album’s picture, with ferocious drum, guitar and basslines to create 39 minutes of heavy, confrontational rock ‘n’ roll. Although not a recording for the faint of heart, Silence Yourself is certainly an album that will scratch your 2013 punk itch.
My Bloody Valentine’s comeback album was second only to Bowie in the surprise department – long rumored, but never really confirmed (lead singer Kevin Shields is known for being notoriously cryptic.) Their first release since 1991’s Loveless, the sovereigns of shoegaze return 22 years later with an album that lives up to the decades of hype. From start to finish, the album features the band’s signature shoegaze blend of soaring synths, distorted guitars, and excellent percussion. It doesn’t knock Loveless down for top spot in the MBV hierarchy, but boy, does it get close.
The Joy Formidable are one of my favorite indie acts out their right now, and I got my first taste of Wolf’s Law when I saw them late last year in Providence, quickly making it one of my most anticipated albums of the year. While it doesn’t quite top their debut album, 2011’s The Big Roar, Wolf’s Law is filled with triumphant moments, from the rapturous opener “This Ladder is Ours” to the melancholy, stripped-down “Silent Treatment.” There’s a few forgettable tracks, but nothing truly bad. All music aside, the album also boasts some of my favorite cover art of the year.
Often considered one of the founding bands of the Britpop movement, Suede lost momentum through the late 90s and early 00s and called it a day in 2003, only to reunite in 2010. However, it would take another three years before the band’s first album in a decade, Bloodsports, would be released. The album is a triumphant return for the band, after a string of sub-par albums towards the end of their original recording career, and likely their best release since 1995 sophomore album Dog Man Star. The album shows a band back in their element, reliving the sound that brought them to the forefront of British music 20 years ago, but with a modern twist.
Deerhunter are known for stylistic jumps from album to album, and Monomania is no different. Gone is the mellow acoustic vibe of 2010’s Halcyon Digest, and in comes pure, unleashed southern garage rock. And – like much of the band’s work before it – it works. The album is loud and in-your-face in the best way possible, with screeching guitar riffs and muffled, low-fi vocals wrapped up in a blanket of reverb. It’s a change in style for sure, and may take some getting used to for seasoned Deerhunter veterans, but overall it encompasses itself as a great American record that salutes the great American songwriters of past and present.
Atoms for Peace began as a simple band in 2009 comprised of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich, bassist Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and percussionists Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco who grouped together to develop a live arrangement of Yorke’s 2006 solo album The Eraser. After years of rumors, the band finally produced its first album together, Amok. Its sound is interesting – Yorke describes it as “[not being] quite sure where the human starts and the machine ends.” It’s essential listening for any fan of Yorke’s work, but caters to electronic and experimental fans as well.
Across the pond, Arctic Monkeys are a household name and arguably the biggest band in Britain at the moment. Following their usual two year release pattern, it was no surprise when AM was announced as a follow-up to 2011’s Suck it and See. The album isn’t as in-your-face as some of their previous work and at times trades in usual upfront guitar parts for groovy basslines and beats, but overall it’s a cohesive listen tied together by lead singer Alex Turner’s snappy vocals and lyrics that marks another stepping stone in the British rockers’ musical journey. This is the album that turned me from a casual Arctic Monkeys fan to a loyal listener.
What do you get when you cross Canadian indie rockers Arcade Fire with one of the world’s most acclaimed dance producers, James Murphy? Why, a 76-minute alt-tinged disco revival, of course. Reflektor is nothing like the band have ever released before in the best way possible. I would consider the title track one of the top singles of the year for various reasons – it’s fun, danceable, and even features a cameo from David Bowie, who claims to have wanted the song for himself after hearing it for the first time. Although some fans have balked at the new sound, it’s definitely interesting to see a different facet of one of the most enthralling bands in the world.
From the moment I finished my first listen of this album, I was almost positive it would come out on top on my end of the year list. Modern Vampires of the City is Vampire Weekend’s most cohesive album to date – the songcraft is strong and it flows very smoothly. Lyrically is where this album stands out in the catalog, though. No longer are we talking about rings at the bottom of the sea or greatest hits listmakers, but rather questioning religion, love, and the meaning of life – but that’s not to say there isn’t carefree fun sprinkled in the mix. It’s a beautiful, poignant picture of an incredible band in their prime, and will likely be looked upon as one of the greatest albums of the decade for years to come.