The Top 25 Albums of 2013

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The Top 25 Albums of 2013

Let’s start with our annual caveat: lists are inherently subjective and should not be taken too seriously. (It’s not like anyone can listen to every single album that comes out in a year, and then analyze them fully, right?) Still, in this context they can help distill the thousands and thousands of records released in 2013 in order to highlight some that merit further attention. To that end, Weeping Elvis polled its editors and our pool of contributors, musicians and music geeks to  formulate a list of The Top 25 Albums of 2013. We had our own share of disagreement — particularly amongst The Editors — and what follows is a distillation of that argument to its lowest common denominator. Which, isn’t a bad thing — we’re looking at you, Congress — that’s also known as “finding common ground.”

 

TheFlamingLips-TheTerror25. The Flaming LipsThe Terror
The psychedelic first citizens of Oklahoma City continue to explore weird and wondrous sonic horizons on their latest album. Owing much to late-era Radiohead, the Lips weave hypnotic, textured walls of electronic sound on The Terror. Although this collection of new songs chooses not to rely on their penchant for writing catchy, melodic hooks, there is an odd allure to their soft, repetitive drone. Wayne Coyne’s falsetto voice, buried deep in the mix and sounding like a string instrument, bellows virtually indiscernible lyrics in a layered aural stew. This is less a rock album and more a film score…to some trippy-ass movie about sunrises and sunsets on alien worlds.     — Erik Huey

 

TheCivilWars-TheCivilWars24. The Civil WarsThe Civil Wars
At this time last year The Civil Wars were a house divided, their personal relationship seemingly irreconcilable. But, whatever their issues, they have not interfered with their abilities to make and record fantastic music together. Their self-titled sophomore album was a beautiful gift to rabid fans who thought they’d seen the end of some of the best singing and writing Nashville has offered up in recent memory. While the record shows off lush instrumentation, at the heart of it all is proof that stripped-down presentation reveals the greatness (or ineptitude) of songwriting and musicianship. In this case, the former wins out.     — Clem

 

LocalNatives-Hummingbird23. Local NativesHummingbird
Two hipster hotbeds came together when Silver Lake’s Local Natives crafted their second release under the attenuated ear of Brooklyn’s Aaron Dessner, guitarist and songwriter for The National. The indie outfit unpacks a sense of loss (dealing with the death of vocalist Kelcey Ayer’s mother and the departure of bassist Andy Hamm) with beautiful moody melodies, sparse keyboards, and well-crafted percussive treatments all awash in a reverb soaked universe. The tone is dark and sad while at the same time warm and healing, notably on the gorgeous “Heavy Feet” — showcasing Ayer’s easy falsetto — and “Bowery,” with its breezy undercurrent and soaring harmonies. The deluxe version of Hummingbird is topped off with three additional tracks that equal the subtle shine of the eleven-song release.    — Ferrise

 

Aviici-True22. AviciiTrue
It’s like something out of a music exec’s vision of Frankenstein: a 22 year-old Swedish DJ, an amazing soul singer (Aloe Blacc) and one of bluegrass’ best vocalists (Dan Tymanski) are improbably combined on an album. It should be baffling, but instead may prove as groundbreaking as that moment when metal and rap came together on the Judgement Day soundtrack. Avicii is one of EDM’s hottest artists, and his beats combined with “4 on the floor” country and folk-based song forms at first confounds and then soon seeps into your soul — turn it up! There is plenty of the pulsing, house-style bass and drum that made the young Swede one of the most prolific EDM acts in the world, so fans of previous work should not be disappointed. Instead, they will hopefully have their “ears” stretched and hear just how diverse electronic based music can be.     — Clem

 

Chvrches-BonesOfWhatYouBelieve21. CHVRCHESThe Bones of What You Believe
We all need a little good 80s retro electronica based groove in our lives and Glasgow’s CHVRCHES is glad to give it to us. It’s a feel good album from its first notes, but avoids the pitfalls of bubblegum pop with intelligently crafted synth-based fare that will get your head bobbing and toes tapping. While it wouldn’t be surprising if wispy-voiced (and easy on the eyes) singer Lauren Mayberry does a Gwen Stefani / Bjork, leaving the group for a seemingly inevitable solo career, we can still hope that CHVRCHES will lay a few more albums on us before Mayberry becomes a Vanity Fair cover girl. And please, People of the Internet, please lay off on sending the chanteuse those sexist messages.     — Clem

 

Foals-HolyFire20. FoalsHoly Fire
Foals are one of the best live bands around, with visceral performances that result in a literal melding of band and audience. And, with Holy Fire they created compositions that, while truly best when performed live, still present ample evidence of their trademark vigor and restraint. Yes, vigor AND restraint. It’s not an easy combination to pull off without appearing overly earnest, but the boys from Oxford are almost as good as that other local band — Radiohead — at using musical chiaroscuro to create emotive soundscapes that deftly take listeners on a serious of unforgettable roller coaster rides. They’re a rock band, first and foremost, and they proved their virtuosity in both clubs and festivals, gaining untold scores of fans while supporting their brilliant album. While Holy Fire incorporates various sub genres, it never strays too far and as such solidifies their signature orchestral rock sound.      — Behrnsie

 

PortugalTheMan19. Portugal. The ManEvil Friends
Overly accessible (by Portugal. The Man standards), the hyper-caffeinated and sometimes claustrophobic Evil Friends is a hip-hop spiced, neo-psychedelic-tinged indie pop masterpiece bursting with all manner of sonic color.  The punchy, rhythm-driven elements of Danger Mouse‘s stylistic production are smeared all over this dark and often sinister album like textual fingerprints creating a fresh kaleidoscopic pattern of groovy moods and dynamic sound. Like each of their other albums, the genre-spanning Evil Friends is at once all over the musical map — overstuffed and seemingly scatterbrained — and yet at the same time cohesively tight and right there in front of you to embrace.     — Timko

 

Lorde-PureHeroine18. LordePure Heroine
Call her “The Kiwi Kid”, “The Wunderkind From Down Under,” or “The Anti-Miley Cyrus” but whatever you call her, what is obvious from Pure Herione is that this 17-year old has both something to say and musical gifts that are totally legit. The electro-minimalist “Royals” was a surprise hit, but one that once again shows that a good song with a super catchy “chorus of sisters” vocal arrangement can create a fervor. Her sound shows familial relation to that of her fellow Kiwis, The Naked and Famous, both in underlying rhythms and instrumentation, but the messaging is what really sets this album apart. While Top 40 staples are discussing 1% issues and their God-complexes, (see: Jay-Z / Kanye West), Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor created anthems for the rest of us. What she does next is a big question — one never knows with teen stars — but expect to hear her named called out on Grammy night for what she’s accomplished already.     — Clem

 

NekoCase-HarderIFight17. Neko CaseThe Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Neko Case’s latest release is her most raw and lyrically revealing album to date. Although she’s well known for her work with Canadian indie outfit The New Pornographers (along with being an avid Tweeter) it’s her solo material that really shows off the power and emotion of her voice.  On her sixth release — which has earned her a Grammy nod for best alternative music album — she gets help from friends that include Carl Newman, M. Ward, and Howie Gelb. Her spine-tingling voice is matched by the dark sensibility in her mature songwriting on tracks like the blues tinged “Local Girl,” the waltz-timed “Wild Creatures” and “Bracing for Sunday” (I’m a Friday night girl waiting for Sunday to come). It’s a cathartic 12-song journey, exploring her depression and grief but punctuated with a cleverness that never wallows — introspection at it’s finest. The expanded album features three bonus tracks including her gorgeous version of Robyn Hitchcock’s “Madonna of the Wasps.”     — Ferrise

 

Eminem-LP2 16. EminemThe Marshall Mathers LP2
Maybe it’s because he’s been a household name for over a decade in a genre that rewards the latest above the greatest, but for some reason this release did not receive the attention given to lesser albums. But, one listen to The Marshall Mathers LP2 shows why he is one of our greatest rapper/hip-hop artists…period. His storytelling abilities and perspective (Stan’s brother takes revenge on Slim for his brother’s demise), musical innovation and rhythm and flow are unequaled and should keep Mr. Mathers highly relevant. The surprising yet cohesive covers and riffs on “Time of the Season” and “Life’s Been Good” are gems that contribute ably to a fantastic record. It’s clear that Eminem hasn’t lost a step; we would all be smart to continue to pay attention (no matter his popularity on the charts) as he continues to break new ground and refine himself as an artist…yeah, I used the “A word” and I meant it.     — Clem

 

JasonIsbell-Southeastern15. Jason IsbellSoutheastern
Jason Isbell’s Southeastern is a sparse, brooding reflection on bad decisions, lost love, broken laws and road weariness. Although he utilizes accompanying musicians on the album, this is essentially an acoustic endeavor; Isbell’s voice is prayerful and contemplative, embodying the high lonesome tradition of Gram Parsons. His songwriting is less rowdy than his previous work with the Drive-By Truckers or his earlier albums with The 400 Unit, and several songs give melodic and thematic nods to “Hello In There”-era John Prine. Although his forlorn characters shuffle through bleak landscapes, with shadows at every turn, they “hope against hope” and yearn for dignity. But, in the end, they realize that every road leads them back to themselves, because after all, “Jesus loves the sinner, but the road loves the sin.”     –Erik Huey

 

BloodOrange-Chamakay14. Blood OrangeChamakay
Fresh off of becoming perhaps the most sought-after indie producer/composer/collaborator out there (see: Solange, Sky Ferreira, Florence Welch, Britney Spears, etc.), Devonté Hynes decided to step back into the shadows of the spotlight (he doesn’t do front-and-center, even on his own projects) and release a second full-length album under the name Blood Orange. He’d previously put out an album and a handful of songs under this moniker that teased at the brilliance yet to come, as had the tenor of his recent collaborative work. Funktastic sensibilities and 80s influences are undeniable, from the incorporation of Asian half-tones to obvious Prince inflections to tonal atmospherics to its welcoming, anxiety-inflected, amorphous sexuality. It’s all brilliantly executed, as are collaborations with artists that include his girlfriend (GirlsSamantha Urbani), Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and Dirty ProjectorsDave Longstreth. But, most importantly, he confronts his anxiety, his inadequacies, and his fear of rejection, both real and perceived. With this project he has realized his groove, and the synesthete shows off prodigious talent while gifting listeners comforting knowledge; the gifted must also cope with fears and anxieties, but they need not be debilitating.      — Behrnsie

 

Phosphorescent-Muchacha13. PhosphorescentMuchacho
Phosphorescent had a very good year.  Muchacho isn’t the band’s first album — it’s their sixth, including a full length Willie Nelson tribute — but it’s the one that got our attention. The album is a late-night lament laced with regret and heartbreak, Matthew Houck’s lyrics a profile pic depicting heartbreak and despair. In the album’s single, “Song for Zula,” he sings of love as a disfiguring, caging thing, “a killer come to call from an awful dream.” His voice tells a different set of stories; it’s ragged and worn, part Bob Dylan and part Lou Reed. It sounds like booze and cigarettes and the swagger of Timothy Oliphant as Raylan Givens. In the same track, his pride shows through as he warns listeners they “will not see him fall, nor struggle to stand.” The album has all the hallmarks of classic country – pedal steel, picks, and sparse percussion – but Muchacho is as much spaghetti western as country and western. It’s grandiose, in-your-face, and lovely.     — Maeve Ward

 

DaftPunk-RandomAccessMemories12. Daft PunkRandom Access Memories
Nobody stands out by following the crowd, and the French duo Daft Punk has never been anyone’s lackey. And when they finally released the long-awaited Random Access Memories, the DJ duo zigged when the electronic world zagged. Funky rhythms are an homage to disco days gone by while orchestral aspects hint at the momentous and cinematic nature of the work. They pay tribute to the past in multiple ways, including a historical documentation / spoken word on the origins of electronic music with Giorgio Moroder that improbably retains a danceable quality. They integrate live instrumentation with synthetic in a way that speaks to a more mature iteration of EDM, one that draws from the past as it propels the possibilities of music into the future. A series of collaborations (Pharrell, Nile Rodgers, Julian Casablancas, Paul Williams, etc.) enhance the complexity of their compositions — so much so that we can even forgive their dalliance with Panda Bear. And, to top it all off, they offer up first-rate songwriting, including the most memorable single of 2013 (“Get Lucky”) not accompanied by video evidence of Emily Ratajkowski’s nubile nakedness.     — Behrnsie

 

QueensOfTheStoneAge-201311. Queens of the Stone Age…Like Clockwork
Queens of the Stone Age gets the nod for perhaps the most inapt (or maybe just ironic) album title of the year. The releases of Josh Homme and his rotating cast (here again with Dave Grohl) are the opposite of clockwork, coming in fits and starts. A bit more nuanced, this record doesn’t provide the all-out sonic drone strike of “Rated R” or “Era Vulgaris,” instead playing with dynamics and even introducing piano ballads and echoes of ’50s pop (oh, and also the line “I blow my load over the status quo”). But then come tracks like “My God is the Sun” and “I Appear Missing,” which deliver, respectively, Homme’s twin calling cards of double-time, fuzzed-out rockers, and program music for being stoned in the desert.     — Sir Duke

 

KurtVile-Walking10. Kurt VileWakin on a Pretty Daze
Ever lose something you love but then it turns up months or even years later? That feeling of lost treasure found permeates Kurt Vile’s fifth release Wakin on a Pretty Daze. His writing sounds effortless, but beneath the easy, earthy exterior are layers of his well-planned sonic landscape populated with acoustic guitars, subtle organs and fuzzed out riffs wrapped around his distinct spoken word-like vocal melodies. From the Neil Young-esque “KV Crimes” to the descending intro of “Snowflakes are Dancing,” light and dark sensibilities take shape in perfect balance to create a world that’s both atmospheric and grounded, and one that inspires repeated listening.     — Ferrise

 

JanelleMonae-ElecricLady9. Janelle Monae The Electric Lady
Janelle Monae is an anomaly in the world of modern R&B and may just someday fulfill her destiny and change the face of the genre. She’s already begun, and to say she is dancing to her own groove is both literally and figuratively correct. Hers is a rare combination: an eclectic vision that pushes boundaries, total showmanship and an amazing voice that is as good on a torch song as she is on a kick-ass R&B burner. Her sound is part Outkast, Prince, Tina Turner, James Brown, Lena Horne and Grace Slick but ALL original. The concept of “concept album” is strong with this one and she has the potential to be an artist that could one day be labeled as visionary.     — Clem

 

Kanye-Yeezus8. Kanye WestYeezus
Whether you love him, hate him, or just wish he would go away, everyone seems to have strong feelings about one of music’s most (purposely) controversial artists. If you are gonna hate, though, better to hate the image-making and give the music a fair shake. Thank God for god-like producer Rick Rubin, who infused the album with both a touch of EDM and that stark sensibility he achieved with Johnny Cash; in the process he helped make Yeezus a work of art. Yeah, it’s that good. What Kanye is actually saying will continue to be debated…does he really think he is a god? We honestly don’t care, and just hope that he will shut the hell up and remain smart enough to allow collaborations like this to continue. Yeezus is minimalist, groundbreaking, envelope-pushing, ear opening and ultimately…really, really good.     — Clem

 

JakeBugg-20137. Jake BuggJake Bugg
If  you could take the rhythmic love child of Dwight Yoakam, Johnny Cash and Buck Owens and raise him in England in the midst of the current “Britainicana” alternative scene, the music of 19-year old Jake Bugg is what you would most likely get. This album showcases a truly unique style of songwriting, playing and singing that couldn’t possibly feel more authentic and organic. A couple of great sets at the 2013 SXSW festival made everyone in Austin take notice; a not-so-slow-burn rise in popularity has found him on many critics’ and fans’ Best Of lists. If his terrific inaugural effort is any indication, we can expect to hear a lot of great music from the young artist for many years (maybe decades) to come.     — Clem

 

Lucius-Wildewoman6. LuciusWildewoman
Well before they released their inaugural album, WE has been witness to the rapid growth and development of Brooklyn’s Lucius. From club shows to well-timed festival appearances (we caught them playing a set in a church at SXSW and another at Bonnar00) and adulation from the likes of The New York Times and NPR have helped spread the gospel. Lucius converts the masses almost instantaneously with terrific doubled vocals and unison percussion, uniquely crafted songs and instrumentation and a quirky stage presence. They utilize techniques that may remind some of Arcade Fire, others of The B-52s, and many of Phil Spector‘s 60s girl-groups. At the end of sermon, though, Lucius is totally, completely and unequivocally unique. For those of us who eagerly anticipated their full-length debut, Wildewoman gave us what we were hoping for while whetting our appetite for more from the talented Berklee grads.     — Clem

 

FrankTurner 5. Frank TurnerTape Deck Heart
2013 was the year that Weeping Elvis fell in love with English folk/punk singer Frank Turner. WE caught up with Turner at SXSW at an outdoor event where he was leading the Austin faithful in a chant of “there is no God!” and we dubbed him the bastard child of Joe Strummer and Billy Bragg. We caught him repeatedly as the year progressed, and his anthemic, frenetic performances reminded us why we fell in love with rock and roll in the first place. Turner’s fifth studio LP finds him on the back end of a bad breakup, examining his soul for clues. His search for self-knowledge takes him from the gutter to the stars, from “blacking in and out in a strange flat in East London” to heading to a club and earnestly embracing “four simple words…I want to dance.” The record is slickly produced by Rich Costey (Muse, Franz Ferdinand and Santigold), who takes Turner’s acoustic ballads in a decidedly pop direction. Turner’s lyrics are less urgent and ragged than on previous releases, having evolved into something more self-aware (not to mention, increasingly self-excoriating). Despite his ongoing heartbreak and chemical explorations, he remains optimistic, finding solace in music as the fire that fuels his Tape Deck Heart. With a fist in the air warning to all the “lackluster scenesters,” he loudly and proudly declares that it’s time to “forget about the bitching and remember that you’re blessed / because punk is for the kids who never fit in with the rest.” Amen.     — Erik Huey

 

ArcadeFire-Reflektor4. Arcade FireReflektor
What do you do after exploding out of relative obscurity to win the big boy Grammy, the one for Best Album? As a band, you no longer have the luxury of low expectations, so you have to go big. And, that’s exactly what Montreal’s Arcade Fire did, collaborating with James Murphy (formerly of LCD Soundsystem) for an epic double album that takes their trademark sound and mashes it with a mélange of Carribean, dancepunk, and disco vibes. One can argue that they went too big — a couple of middling songs may have been best reserved for B-sides (do we still have B-sides?) — but one can’t argue with their willingness to boldly venture into new territory. Ultimately, the philosophical album mostly succeeds but requires more intent listening than most of their earlier, relatively accessible, rock anthems. And, as could be expected, fat bass lines and catchy rhythms seem destined to do what the band has been destined to do from its inception: rock arenas and amphitheaters with uniquely orchestrated musicality. And, for fans that stick around for the entire journey, an unexpected surprise lurks near the end of the second disc: “Afterlife” is a portentous metaphor for the album itself, a somewhat shrouded gem with blingy appeal destined to sparkle brightly in the days ahead.     — Behrnsie

 

ArcticMonkeys-AM3. Arctic MonkeysAM
AM
is a restless, slow grinding, self-assured album full of seductive and flirtatious stomps, not unlike a cohesively strung together batch of acoustic NSFW GIFs about sex, sin, lust, frustration and isolation. Alex Turner‘s lyrical genius shines throughout this smart, sullen and cleverly constructed collection of gold-tinted kiss-offs and late-night after-party booze-fueled regrets.  Musically, the album is anchored by confidently dramatic and heavily layered grooves, merging hip-hop drum beats with blistering 70s-style guitar riffs laid down by Jamie Cook, Nick O’Malley and Matt Helders. AM’s opening juggernaut — “Do You Wanna Know?” — just might be one of the greatest opening tracks of our time. Suck it and see.     — Timko

 

TheNational2. The NationalTrouble Will Find Me
As Lester Bangs opined in “Almost Famous,” “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”  The five middle-aged white guys who make up the National are nothing if not uncool. What they’ve shared with us on Trouble Will Find Me is true rock currency. Every track on their sixth LP fills the room with sound. On “Trouble Will Find Me,” they deliver Morrissey-like mope within the soundscape of an Arcade Fire-ish anthem. While we’re sorry for Mr. Berninger’s trouble, the results are stellar. The album is dark, atmospheric, and indulgent — for the band and the listener. It is comfortable like a cable knit sweater and sexy like worn leather. Matt Berninger’s oaken baritone is haunting, the band is tighter than on previous albums, and the pacing is perfect. Not since Leonard Cohen has the minor fall and the major lift received as much careful attention.     — Maeve Ward

 

Savages-SilenceYourself1. SavagesSilence Yourself
One of the rarest of musical events is when a band emerges fully formed from the primordial ooze of rhythm and melody, immediately fleshed out not just with sensible songs that connect with listeners, but with an immediately recognizable sound and a fully-formed aesthetic. Savages’ Silence Yourself is undoubtedly that, perhaps the first band to earn this distinction since the debut of The XX. Whether or not it’s a coincidence that both are well-schooled British bands can be debated, but what can’t is the darkly atmospheric amphetamine of an album that the post-apocalyptic-post-punk London band unleashed upon the unwitting. From its first track, “Shut Up,” tension and anxiety cause palpitations, and somewhere, a dimly lit alley with wet pavement welcomes what just could be the latest installation of music for “The Crow.” It’s immediately gripping and exciting and wildly different in this era of electronic-driven drivel, referential to the post-punk greats (Joy Division / Siouxie & the Banshees) whilst perfectly appropriate commentary on modern day carnage. Jehnny Beth’s evocative vocals are as precise as is her laser-like glare on stage. Her unblinking stare permeates the dusky fog in as striking a debut as a front woman has had in recent memory. Gemma Thompson’s guitar riffs slice through the air, rusty and Grim Reaper-ish, harvesting the fruit of seeds sown by bands as divergent as Black Sabbath, early-era U2 and Sonic Youth. Ayse Hassan’s verdant bass resonates and rumbles, growing the dark ambience and helping keep pace while Fay Milton’s drums do just what they need to…keep time and punctuate moments with poignant, cathartic thwacks. Seamlessly conjoined, Savages have created a mutant super crop of post-punk, strong, hardy and resilient. It’s quite a feat for any band, let alone one releasing their first full-length record.     — Behrnsie

 

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