Here is my list of the top 10 albums of 2013:
10. MCII – Mikal Cronin
Despite his obscurity and lack of presence in music today, rock artist Mikal Cronin has released one of this year’s liveliest records. His bubbly sophomore album, MCII, takes Cronin to new heights as he delivers a fantastic arrangement of endlessly catchy tunes. As a whole, the album maintains a relentless amount of energy, thanks to Cronin’s vivacious vocals and passionate guitar playing. Coming back from his praiseworthy self-titled debut in 2011, Cronin’s excellent work ethic continues to show, especially on the album’s loud and lurid opener “Weight.” Throughout the rest of MCII, Cronin displays powerful themes of heartbreak and existentialism through his evocative lyrics. Though most of his songs are consistently up-tempo jams, Cronin isn’t afraid to show his softer side, especially on the album closer “Piano Mantra.” After listening to MCII, it’s clear why Cronin has become (or, really, should become) an integral part of popular rock music today.
Best tracks: “Weight,” “Shout it Out,” “Peace of Mind,” “Piano Mantra”
Listen to this album if you like: The National, Ty Segall, Coconut Records, Kurt Vile
9. Bankrupt! – Phoenix
Phoenix has had quite the breakout after winning a Grammy Award, producing two #1 smash hits, venturing on four world tours, and headlining the Coachella Music Festival. Since their 2009 breakthrough Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the Versailles quartet has accumulated critical acclaim for their synth-heavy sound and hypnotic lyrics, especially from their more popular successes “Lisztomania” and “1901.” Next to Daft Punk, Phoenix is one of the very few French music groups that have assimilated with American culture and thus redefined the foundation of American music as a result. Four years since their last album, Phoenix’s excited albeit slightly anxious feelings about fame, glamour, and celebrity culture manifested into Bankrupt!, a record that’s far different from its predecessor but exceptional on its own. Though it’s more style over substance, Bankrupt! offers a more ecstatic and jovial tone than previous Phoenix albums.
Best tracks: “Entertainment,” “The Real Thing,” “SOS in Bel Air,” “Trying to Be Cool”
Listen to this album if you like: Passion Pit, The Strokes, Vampire Weekend, Two Door Cinema Club
8. AM – Arctic Monkeys
British rock group Arctic Monkeys have experienced a series of genre shifts throughout their eleven-year career. From post-punk to electronic to alternative pop to grunge rock, Arctic Monkeys have had a lot of time to experiment with music, but not a lot of time to focus on one central sound. But as luck would have it, they released their most consistent (as well as most commercially successful) record to date. On AM, Arctic Monkeys’ fifth album, the English foursome seamlessly bring forth a stronger and bolder sound that highlight each member’s musical abilities. Lead vocalist Alex Turner’s infectious warble benefits each song greatly, especially on slow jams “No. 1 Party Anthem,” and “I Wanna Be Yours.” On AM’s more energetic tunes, Arctic Monkeys pulsate their addictive indie rock sound with snappy drums and compelling guitar riffs, particularly on album highlights “R U Mine?” and “Fireside.” After just one full listen of AM, it’s certain that Arctic Monkeys continues to be one of the decade’s most influential rock bands.
Best tracks: “Do I Wanna Know?,” “R U Mine?,” “No. 1 Party Anthem,” “Fireside”
Listen to this album if you like: The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, The Vaccines
7. Nothing Was The Same – Drake
Unlike Drake’s previous star-studded and musically diverse records, this year’s Nothing Was The Same conveys a much more personal and introspective palette of music. On Drake’s fourth record, the 27 year-old Canadian rapper provided his audience with much darker themes and sharper beats, such as on the aggressive “The Language,” the aptly titled “Worst Behavior,” the slick “All Me,” and the steamy love ballad “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Based on Drake’s lyrical and musical strengths on Nothing Was The Same, the rapper continues to show himself as a leading man in hip hop music today.
Best tracks: “Tuscan Leather,” “Worst Behavior,” “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” “All Me”
Listen to this album if you like: Jay-Z, The Weeknd, Jhene Aiko, Big Sean, Pusha T
6. Days are Gone – Haim
Surprisingly, 2013 has also been a big year for new female bands and musicians. Whether it’s Charli XCX and her stylish debut True Romance or Icona Pop and their dance-infused record This is…Icona Pop, one female band that seems to lead the pack is LA-based trio Haim. Although the Haim sisters have had some unsuccessful setbacks in their career, they caught their big break with their masterful debut Days are Gone. Filled with magnetic hooks and an audacious sound, Days are Gone proves not only to be a huge feat in modern folk-rock music, but that Haim’s gifted talent is one to be reckoned with.
Best tracks: “Falling,” “Forever,” “The Wire,” “Days are Gone”
Listen to this album if you like: Fleetwood Mac, Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag, Speedy Ortiz
5. The Bones of What You Believe – Chvrches
Swedish synthpop band Chvrches (pronounced “churches”) unknowingly entered 2013 with what would become one of this year’s more groundbreaking and colorful debuts. Pulsating with a peppy electronic sound, resonant vocals, and bold lyrics, Chvrches’ The Bones of What You Believe provides listeners with an authentic and rich listening experience.
Best tracks: “The Mother We Share,” “Gun,” “Lies,” “Recover”
Listen to this album if you like: AlunaGeorge, The Knife, The Chromatics, Robyn
4. Settle – Disclosure
After slowly surfacing online in 2011 with their first EP The Carnival, British electro-duo Disclosure easily became one of this year’s hottest bands with their breakthrough studio debut Settle. Using elements of trance, pop, electronic, and dance, Disclosure brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence have masterfully molded Settle into an hour-long set of breathtaking jams, which includes the snappy opener “When a Fire Starts to Burn,” the remarkable “Latch,” the slinky “White Noise,” and the bouncy “You & Me.” As Settle’s prominence garnered much more attention for Disclosure, it also prompted the duo to venture on a worldwide tour, occupy a spot on the Coachella lineup, and receive a nomination for Best Dance Album for the 2014 Grammy Awards.
Best tracks: “When a Fire Starts to Burn,” “Latch,” “White Noise,” “You & Me”
Listen to this album if you like: Chvrches, Daft Punk, Jessie Ware, Flume
3. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
Ever since Daft Punk’s small beginnings in the early 90s, the French electronic duo have been adept to creating arresting visuals for their elaborate live performances, donning stylish robot costumes, and collaborating with some of the industry’s best musicians. Returning to music from out of the blue this year made for one of the biggest comebacks for Daft Punk, especially after the release of their last album, 2005’s disappointing Human After All. Though their new record, the imaginative Random Access Memories, is a slight departure from the duo’s club-friendly sound, Daft Punk’s top-notch craft is nevertheless commendable. Melding the themes of human connection and love with a multi-faceted assortment of funk, disco, pop, and rock, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories reminds us that there is still magic in music.
Best tracks: “Giorgio by Moroder,” “Instant Crush,” “Get Lucky,” “Doin’ it Right”
Listen to this album if you like: Chic, Pharrell Williams, Animal Collective, The Strokes, Disclosure
2. Yeezus – Kanye West
Last May, Kanye West made one of the most bizarre and possibly the most ingenious moves of his entire career: he promoted an album without any initial commercial advertisment. In this case, West unleashed the song “New Slaves” to the public, displaying it visually on the sides of apartment buildings in different areas around the world. This event marked a radically different chapter in West’s discography, prompting both excitement and anxiety from Kanye fans. After Kanye performed “New Slaves” and new track “Black Skinhead” on Saturday Night Live, the 36-year-old hip hop artist released Yeezus a month later. Although Yeezus has received mixed reactions from fans for its overly aggressive and unconventional style, it’s nevertheless a monumental artistic achievement for West, especially after collaborating with mogul music producer Rick Rubin. Moody, abrasive, and unrelentingly provocative, Yeezus is not only some of Kanye West’s best work to date, but also a distinguished paradigm of modern issues, such as racism, materialism, sexuality, pop culture, and the perils of fame. Musically, Yeezus incorporates a rawer sound, using acid house synthesizers, industrial music, Jamaican dancehall, and experimental post-punk. Though Yeezus only lasts for about 40 minutes, each song enforces a timeless and lasting effect that continues to rank West as one of the most powerful zeitgeists in music and in social media currently.
Best tracks: “Black Skinhead,” “New Slaves,” “Bound 2,” “Blood on the Leaves”
Listen to this album if you like: Kanye West (because why not?)
1. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend
After making two records, it seemed as though Vampire Weekend were inevitably stuck with their pigeonholed indie rock sound, despite receiving critical acclaim and a massive following of fans. However, this year, all four band members took the extra mile to produce the group’s most unique and daring album to date, Modern Vampires of the City. In this new album, Vampire Weekend enhanced their foreseeable sound by experimenting with different genres and production techniques. With bewitching lyrics written by lead singer Ezra Koneig and a flawless production, Modern Vampires of the City is an unpredictably insightful, heartwarming, and mesmerizing album that incorporates diverse sounds without losing sight of some of the band’s old practical rhythms. The record encompasses much more complex storytelling, darker themes, and unusual recording assets than from the group’s self-titled debut and sophomore effort Contra. Vampire Weekend has come a long way from being soft-spoken Columbia University undergrads to a musically acclaimed band, proving that their sensibility shouldn’t be underestimated by their youth.
Best tracks: “Obvious Bicycle,” “Unbelievers,” “Diane Young,” “Ya Hey”
Listen to this album if you like: The Vaccines, Discovery, Arcade Fire, Haim, Radiohead