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Best Albums of 2013

December 5, 2013

20. The Weeknd Kiss Land
Quite possibly the years worst album title but don’t let that prevent you from listening to The Weeknd’s major label debut. Abel Tesfaye’s voice is hard to turn away from. The dude could sing the ABC’s and you’d get all the way to Z. On “The Town” he sings “You did many things that I liked, that I liked And you like diamond rings I can provide, I can provide for you You made me feel so good Before I left on the road And you deserve your name on a crown, on a throne” which sounds like a personal departure from the underworld of The Trilogy. Musically he kicks it up a notch or two and the result is exhilarating. The shades are still drawn but from time to time he peeks out from behind the blinds to let a little light in.

19. Drake Nothing Was The Same
I have never been a Drake fan until this album was released. The production on this album is slick and infectiously minimal. “Tuscan Leather” is the perfect table setter giving us a prelude to the album’s tone and lyrical content – “I’m livin’ like I’m out here on my last adventure, past the present when you have to mention, this is nothin’ for the radio, but they’ll still play it though. Cause it’s that new Drizzy Drake, that’s just the way it go. Heavy airplay all day with no chorus”. Drake raps with a chip on his shoulder reminding us continuously that nothing in fact, is the same.

18. Savages Silence Yourself
Savages are a London-based post-punk revival rock band who exploded onto the music scene in 2013. It’s pure white knuckle rock and roll, delivered by an unlikely ensemble considering they are an all female band. I’m not saying females can’t rock hard….okay, most females can’t rock hard. These ladies specialize in drawing you in closely before they unleash an all out assault on you as in the song “I Am Here”. They cruise through the first half of the song before they mash the accelerator and repeat the song title over and over and you realize its not really a song but a confession.

17. Foxygen We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
Foxygen know how to have a good time with their musical talents. It is a throwback album with a heavy 60’s influence. Yet it doesn’t sound dated or too pretentious. The songs have a dose of humor in them, “I left my love in San Francisco, that’s okay, I was bored anyway” (San Francisco). The magic here is each tune takes you back to a time where we weren’t so aggressive (No Destruction) and consumed with technology and with who has what and who’s better than who (Oh Yeah). Foxygen are encouraging us, “Ah if you believe in yourself you can free your soul” (Shuggie). Grab some friends, put your arms around one another, sway back and forth and let the Ambassadors lead the way.

16. Autre Ne Veut Anxiety
The best R&B album of the year comes from an unlikely source, American singer Arthur Ashin. He’s white, he sings about sex and …..dying? Yep. It’s a bit of a paradox, it’s uplifting (Dance With Somebody) and sobering (A Lie, Gonna Die). But he is bringing something new to a genre that seems to be dying in its own cyclical, monotonous, predictability. Autre Ne Veut is anything but predictable. On the song World War he sings, “Sometimes I see your face I’m under right now, rather just stand here fighting you, world war” and it sounds like it’s being sung to an alien invasion that ends halfway through the song. Don’t let the name of the album fool you. As they say, don’t judge an album by its cover. There’s some joy in this Anxiety.

15. Majical Cloudz Impersonator
Majical Cloudz is a Canadian indie pop duo consisting of singer Devon Welsh and producer Matthew Otto. This album is a raw confessional. “See how I’m faking my side of it? I’m a liar, I sing, I make music” (Impersonator). The music is minimal and achingly beautiful but the purpose is for us to bond with the man behind the mic. Welsh has plenty to say, as if he’s in a small room with a crowd and a stool, microphone in hand. “If this is all that I am, If this is the last thing I do, I feel so good” (This is Magic). Take the time to listen to Impersonator, I bet you remember the experience.

14. Nine Inch Nails Hesitation Marks
Trent Reznor is the master of pain and pleasure. His music personifies both so effortlessly that you forget that hesitation marks refers to the cuts one makes on the wrist in a premeditated suicide attempt. Trent Reznor is just trying to find his way through the bleak, uninspired world in which we all live. It’s kind of a morbid way to look at things but somehow it doesn’t feel too heavy. “Hey! Everything is not okay” he sings on All Time Low but it’s with a fist in the air not a head on a pillow. He knows how to breathe life into his darkness as evident on tracks like “Copy of A”, “Came Back Haunted” and “In Two”. It’s been a long while since Reznor has made a solid, consistent album all the way through. Hesitation Marks isn’t a resurgence, it’s a resurrection.

13. A$AP Rocky Long.Live.A$AP
A$AP isn’t the greatest lyricist. I won’t be quoting any songs here but the production is tight and the guest spots here are a perfect fit. My favorite song here is “Fashion Killa” which is really about a girl who wears a bunch of cool clothes, oh and her pistol goes boom-boom-pop-pop. But the beats are on the money. “1 Train” and “F**kin Problems” with their guest spots are a few of the best ‘pass the mic’ rap songs ever assembled. “Wild for the Night” is a welcome surprise too which features a Skrillex dub step beat as A$AP navigates his way through with finesse. It shouldn’t work but it does. If Rocky was going for a knockout punch, he came awfully close. If he can raise his game lyrically I’ll credit him with a KO, until then he scores a TKO.

12. CHVRCHES The Bones of What You Believe
You could argue that this was the year of EDM (electronic dance music) and a great argument it would be. CHVRCHES are a big contributor to the genre’s success this year. Synth pop is this Scottish group’s specialty and they lead it off with one of the best songs of the year, “The Mother We Share” which wears the crown for the most infectious chorus. On “Tether” they sing “Will we ever get away from this place, It’s an image that’s burned on my chest, For a moment you need me to stay, Cold blooded and drifting away” and continues “I feel incapable of seeing the end, I feel incapable of saying its over”. Like a forlorn relationship this record is impossible to let go of too. CHVRCHES is a place I will gladly revisit because unlike actual churches, I enjoy their sermons and hymns.

11. The Civil Wars The Civil Wars
This album is heartbreaking, lyrically and literally. The opener “The One That Got Away” turned out to be a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts, “I miss the way you wanted me, When I was staying just out of your reach, Begging for the slightest touch, Ooh, you couldn’t get enough, mmm”. Now that Joy Williams and John Paul are at odds and taking a hiatus, we may never experience the magic those two created together. Even when they can’t seem to get along they make one of the best albums of the year. They can do cover songs like no one else, “Disarm” (Smashing Pumpkins) and “Tell Mama” (Etta James) are the two featured and it’s that blend of styles that makes them such a fascinating listen. Listen to “Eavesdrop” and you just might shed a tear because it may be the last time you get to.

10. Kanye West Yeezus
It seems Kanye can do no wrong. He can pretty much rap over anything he wants. On Yeezus, Kanye leads us on a parade through his twisted mind. The album opens with some distorted electronic schizophrenic beat and the first words we hear are “Yeezy season approaching, Fuck whatever y’all been hearing, Fuck what, fuck whatever y’all been wearing, The monster about to come alive again”. The next track “Black Skinhead” opens with what appears to be a Marilyn Manson drum blast from “Beautiful People” and then the Yeezus monster truly comes alive – “Stop all that goon shit, early morning cartoon shit, This is that goon shit, fuck up your whole afternoon shit I’m aware I’m a wolf, soon as the moon hit, I’m aware I’m a king, back out the tomb bitch”. And once again we witness the resurrection of Kanye West. Kanye unveils a back to back one-two punch, “Blood on the Leaves” and “Guilt Trip”, that should go down as two of his greatest hits. The guy is just a bad ass mother fucker. What else can I say?

9. Queens of the Stone Age ….Like Clockwork
The Kings of rock and roll have returned. This album was much needed since the rock music scene appears to have damn near disappeared. The stomping opener “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” thunders along like a slow destructive earthquake. And with lyrics like “Big smile, really a show of teeth without a care in a world of fear, Lonely, you don’t know how I feel, Praise God, nothing is as it seems” you know these guys aren’t just aiming for the gut. This is heavy rock music for the most cerebral. The years best ballad appears on this album, “…Like Clockwork” or is it “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”? Hell, I don’t know. I didn’t know they could pull one off much less two. And that’s what makes QOTSA such a rewarding listen. The album is loaded with some of QOTSA’s best stuff ever written. Listen to “If I Had a Tail” – “I’m machine, I’m obsolete, In the land of the free, Immortality”. With this album they have achieved just that.

8. Woodkid The Golden Age
This album did not get the praise it deserves. The album tells a story of a young boy growing up through childhood and it’s told with big, bold strokes of epic instrumentation. As majestic and sweeping and emotional as it can be it never feels forced or too over the top, though it certainly takes us to the brink. Woodkid knows how to pull back in order to keep the listener engaged. If every song were as epic as “Stabat Mater” (my personal favorite) you would need multiple intermissions. But some of the best moments are the quieter ones like “The Boat Song” and “Where I Live”. If you are at a point in your life where you are in the middle of a personal struggle, “Iron” takes no prisoners -“A soldier on my own, I don’t know the way I’m riding up the heights of shame I’m waiting for the call, the hand on the chest I’m ready for the fight and fate”. Put your headphones on and join the battle. This is the perfect soundtrack.

7. Justin Timberlake The 20/20 Experience Part 1
Nobody does pop music like JT, even if he’s making a throwback, classic suit and tie, Brat pack inspired experience. 20/20 is really hard to dislike, believe me I found it hard to admit that I actually enjoyed the album but I did….every song on it. Timbaland’s at the top of his game and so is JT. The songs are long, yes, but the good kind of long, like all the Godfather films, you’ll be glad you saw it all the way through. Each song gives your body extra room to loosen up and get your groove on. Whether he’s comparing the love for a woman to that of a drug pusher or reveling in the scent of her bubblegum flavor, as long as he’s got his suit and tie we’ll get dressed up for the occasion too. But ladies, good luck keeping your dress on.

6. Daft Punk Random Access Memories
If you grew up in the 70’s and 80’s this will sound like a nostalgic throwback to those eras. If you didn’t you’ll get a great representation of why that was the golden age of music. The album kicks off with a disco inspired hand clapper “Give Life Back to Music”. It seems that’s just what Daft aim to do here. “Lose Yourself to Dance” is an encouragement and if the album fails to get your body moving then you my friend, lack a pulse. What’s so mesmerizing about the album are the moments Daft Punk slow things down and inject some soul into their musical landscape (Game of Love, Within). They are arguably the best moments on the album. By the time you get to the pulsing bass line of “Doin’ it Right” you really can’t help but start to plan your next house party. RAM = Instant classic.

5. The National Trouble Will Find Me
“When I walk into a room I do not light it up. Fuck”. Yep, you’re listening to The National. These guys don’t aim to cheer you up but rather reach out a hand and settle it on your shoulder. There is a lot of misery in life and as hard as you try to avoid it, much like the album title, trouble just seems to find you. Lyrically they have never been better, “Oh, but your love is such a swamp
You’re the only thing I want, And I said I wouldn’t cry about it, I…. This is the last time”. It’s really hard to explain the gravitational pull you get sucked in to with The National. Maybe it’s their evident sincerity or the deep baritone of Berninger’s voice or the brooding, rhythmic beauty of the instrumentation. Or maybe there is no maybe. They don’t go big on horn sections or expand themselves into outer space. It’s slightly more down to earth but that doesn’t mean the album is any less exhilarating than their previous albums. In fact it may just be the opposite.

4. Disclosure Settle
Disclosure are an English electronic music duo, consisting of brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence. Settle is their debut album and this electronic album succeeds where most others do not, with its guest artists. Almost every song features a guest vocalist yet the spotlight never drifts from the music. The singers compliment each track perfectly. One of the strongest collaborations on the album is with England’s London Grammar on the track “Help Me Lose My Mind”. It was a great introduction for London Grammar who would go on to release their successful debut album later in the year. It’s a blissed out house beat that cruises along smoothly as the words “You help me lose my mind and you believe something I can’t define” repeat frequently. And that sums up the album. Hard to define, easy to enjoy.

3. Run the Jewels Run the Jewels
If you are looking for this years best hip hop album, look no further. Not even Kanye could touch this thrilling duo of Atlanta’s Killer Mike and NYC’s underground kingpin, El-P, who supplies the thundering beats and some of the illest raps of 2013. “I’m bored, Enough of your bummy shit, it’s numb to the core, sure You suck a good dick for the fame and couldn’t resist getting played I fuck like I’m headed to war I’m really not playing no games, Tag me god damn it I’ll kill the carrier that mentions my name” – (Banana Clipper). On DDFH, which stands for do dope fuck hope, El raps, “Look: ta-dah! The sound of your hopelessness I can feel it too, from the ground rising up in us, Right above the clouds there’s a shroud there to smother us, Make a sane man walk around with a blunderbuss, Peel another round, make a sound that is thunderous”. Killer Mike is a great addition to El-P’s beats because Mike raps hard and when you have two of the dopest MC’s on the planet going hard you have a hip hop classic in the making. Sorry Eminem, Drake, Kanye, Jay -Z and A$AP, I think when El-P kicks off the album with “Oh dear what the fuck have we here? These motherfuckers all thorn no rose…” I think he may be talking about you.

2. Twenty One Pilots Vessels
Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun are the duo from Columbus Ohio who are Twenty One Pilots who have been touring the country tirelessly connecting with people and expanding their fan base. The album was released in January and how this album has been virtually overlooked is criminal. On “Ode to Sleep” we are introduced with a pulse pounding electro beat that explodes the moment Josh Dun crashes the drums. Tyler Joseph sings and um…raps and he does it effectively. There is nobody out there who sound like 21 Pilots. They have carved out a style all their own. The song structures are schizophrenic and cross several genres including reggae and piano ballads. There are surprises a plenty and each song takes itself to new heights, new joys, new levels. Lyrically they know how to cut right through us and open up our deepest emotions. On “Car Radio” Tyler sings “Sometimes quiet is violent I find it hard to hide it My pride is no longer inside It’s on my sleeve My skin will scream Reminding me of Who I killed inside my dream I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me I’m forced to deal with what I feel There is no distraction to mask what is real I could pull the steering wheel”.
It’s an album I can’t recommend any particular song because I would recommend them all. All I can say is just push play and get ready to feel something.

1. Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City
Is it irony that the chorus for the first song, “Obvious Bicycle” goes “So listen oh, so listen oh. Don’t wait, don’t wait”? I don’t think so. The chorus is a serenade preparing us for one hell of a ride. And from there Vampire Weekend have our full attention. The next track, the whimsical “Unbelievers” continues with “We know the fire awaits unbelievers All of the sinners the same, Girl you and I will die unbelievers Bound to the tracks of the train”. Again, the irony about a pair of people who believe so deeply in something they are willing to die for not being believers of another thing. Hmmmm. And that’s how deep and intellectual the entire album becomes. On Diane Young, which is a play on words (dying young), “Nobody knows what the future holds And it’s bad enough just getting old Live my life in self-defense You know I love the past, ’cause I hate suspense…” And this is what makes Modern Vampires a modern classic. The ability to enter our cerebrum in order to find its way into our hearts. Almost every song features an angelic choir or Gregorian type chant and on “Ya Hey”, a show stopper in its own right, those chants accompany “Through the fire and through the flames You won’t even say your name Only “I am that I am” But who could ever live that way?” – solidifying the fact that Vampire Weekend have made the year’s number one album.

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