Top 25 Albums of 2013 (NCPR Intern Edition)

Over the summer, I commented on NPR Music’s Top 25 Albums of 2013 (Thusfar) and added my own top picks into the mix. But 2013 was an angst-y year for music. Justin Beiber quit, Miley detonated her ‘childhood’ image, Kanye claimed to be a God, Robin Thicke angered the feminists and Beyonce put all of her haters in their place. These artists all undoubtedly shook up the music industry.

But now that NPR and every other relevant music site has decided on their favorite albums of 2013 and now that all of the surprise albums have been dropped. Now that 2013 is officially OVER, I’m going to weigh in on the discussion, applying my vast knowledge of the music and bands on the outskirts of the Top 40. Where did this anxiety come from? Was this year’s music an indication of extreme NSA anxiety? The U.S. government shutdown? Or does? A reminission of 90’s post-grunge scene? Or were musicians more in-tune with universal themes that we as human beings share? Love? Loss? Regret? Let me know what you think!


25. M.I.A.– “Matangi”

You remember the song “Paper Planes” that dominated the top 40 charts in 2007? Well, she’s back and she’s amped up her sound about 3 notches. Matangi is vivacious, eccentric and electric. The hit single Y.A.L.A, which wordplay on that catchphrase that we all said way too much in 2013…and 2012…is fierce. Between the fast-paced and meticulous rhythms, M.I.A. is back after she went M.I.A. for 5+ years.


24. The Knife– “Shaking the Habitual”

When I first listened to this album, all I could think was Crystal Castles and I wanted to quit. But as I continued to listen, I realized that the brother/sister duo from Stockholm, Sweden delivers a playful yet powerful blend of synthetic pop mixed down on electric fast-paced beats. The vocals sound creepy, making the album a wild and bizarre ride.


23. CHVRCHES– “The Bones of What You Believe”

CHVRCHES is the joke that stopped being funny when their electric songs started to lodge themselves into my brain. When I first heard the singles “Gun” and “Recover” last summer, I would groan as Lauren Mayberry’s brightly lit high-pitched catcalls broke through my speakers. However, the baffling whines of a needy ex-lover now have lured me in with their deceptive indie-pop charm.


22. Volcano Choir– Repave

Fans of Bon Iver, rejoice! Although Bon Iver broke up earlier this year, Justin Vernon has multiple side projects, and Volcano Choir is one of them! Volcano Choir’s sophomore album, Repave transcends Vernon’s mellow one-dimensional (you know it’s true) harmonics and emits a more post-rock vibe. While I love Bon Iver to pieces, listening to Volcano Choir’s is like gazing up at the sun while your underwater.


21. Savages– “Silence Yourself”

It’s gritty, it’s raw and it’s unapologetic. The post-punk band has a rough but courageous sound similar to The Runaways. Each song starts with this rough ambient noise from the guitars, it’s almost eerie. This could be the soundtrack to “The Craft.” The affect of “Silence Yourself” is unshakable.


20. Bombino– “Nomad”

Goumar “Bombino” Almoctar’s sings in his native language and addresses the geopolitical struggles of his homeland, the nomadic Tidene, Niger. You can tell that the album was produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach when you listen to Bombino’s infectious guitar riffs. I found his album to have a ‘Black Keys’ meets Jimi Hendrix meets the world vibe. Meditative and earthy, Nomad made my list this summer and it continues to hold a special place on my top 25 list.


19. Yo La Tengo– “Fade”

Listening to this album at work, when the temperature is 0 degrees and the winter winds are even more bitter, I like to imagine myself on a sunny summer excursion through an field of overgrown wild flowers. “Fade” is the perfect soundtrack to my summer day dreams. If you listened close enough, the light clangor of the percussion sounds incredibly similar to the mating call of a blue bird and the gentle twang of the acoustic guitar strings feels about as natural as the light breeze brushing your cheek. But the harmonies in “Ohm” above all else, soar. Ultimately, “Fade” is a breath of lilac fuming fresh air.


18. Thee Oh Sees– “Floating Coffin”

At the surface, each track on Thee Oh Sees new album is a new chaotic burst of energy. The bassline holds together all of the ambience, loud guitars and muted falsetto. But behind every infectious riff, there’s a dark undertone. According to Pitchfork, the lyrics are “about splattered blood and dead children.” While the melodies are catchy, the guitar solos are smashing and the transitions are smooth, I’ve had to ask myself, at what cost can I enjoy this album? For now, I’m going to pretend that I never ‘Google searched’ the lyrics and go back to head bobbing in my tiny intern cubicle. Because the bassline muffles the sound, you can’t really hear what Dwyer is singing about anyways. Just look at those sweet strawberries on the cover, with their sadistic gaze and their bared teeth.


17. King Tuff– “Was Dead”

Kyle Thomas is King Tuff; his name is a play on his initials and the nickname King Tut. Now thirty, his reissue of “Was Dead” (that he wrote in his early twenties) is taking over the indie rock scene. “Was Dead” is a consistent, tight and catchy surfer rock album. Known for his killer guitar solos, infectiously frivalent hooks, and lyrics that read more like personal mantras. Although Was Dead hasn’t gotten a lot of critical love on other top 50 lists, King Tuff has begun to acquire a devout following that would do anything for his music’s sunny disposition.


16. Kanye West– Yeezus

Before Kanye’s monstrously anticipated sixth solo album was leaked four days before it’s scheduled release, he told The New York Times that as a human, “my message isn’t perfectly defined.” That statement echoes wildly throughout his 40 minute compilation vibrant synths, industrial sounding drums, harsh beats and his notorious lyrics in which he calls “motivational speeches.” West has a reputation for stirring up chaos, which extends itself to his genre bending hip-hop beats, rock tones and new-wave vibes, adding more flavor to “Yeezus” than his other most recent albums. West’s new album is exploding with restlessness and anxiety, yet we’re not sure whether Yeezus was a complete accident or the end product of a mental breakdown, or if Kanye really IS a God?


15. Sigur Ros– Kveikur

Sigur Ros’ seventh album reminisces on the fiery trenches of post-rock.”Kveikur,” translates from icelandic to “candle wick,” seemingly fitting for Jonsi’s fiery outbursts and the volatile synthesizers. The drum beats in “Brennisteinn” introduce the vocals that feel like coarse texturized rock fragments against the molten lava that courses through Jonsi’s veins as his oscillate yet graceful tone echoes through the speakers. The metal clangs of composed of fractured cymbals propel the brass that resonates throughout “Hrafntinna,” the second song on the album.


14. Disclosure– “Settle”

This album is like a really energetic dog with a lot of endurance that always wants you to throw the tennis ball for him. Seriously, Guy and Howard Lawrence, use their synths to no end. Hailing from Surrey, England, Disclosure has topped charts all across England. Settle remains upbeat throughout and the baseline has one level- hyperactive.


13. Kurt Vile– “Walking on a Pretty Day”

Kurt Vile has been acquiring spots on 2013 Album of the Year lists since his fifth album dropped earlier this year. His tracks are a splash of melancholia. He paints the scene of the album when he sings “It’s hard to explain, my love in these days,” some of the lyrics in his single “Walking on a Pretty Daze.” These lyrics are at the heart of the album–the tellings of a journey through a simple life, not really sure which direction to move in next.

Disclaimer: I saw Kurt Vile over the summer at a music festival in the city, and his performance was–to say the least– a disappointment. I mean, sometimes I’ll listen to him when I’m driving but his tunes do not have the same glimmer that they used to. I guess I could argue that some musicians are best kept in the studio, but is that a real musician? Weigh in on this for me in the comments section!


12. The Flaming Lips– “The Terror”

Over the years, The Flaming Lips have produced over 10 albums and taken on some weird side projects. (The 24 hour song?) Nothing ever quite achieved Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ status. But then The Terror came along, an album that sounds secure in itself. With an eclectic blend of vintage synths and soothing vocals, the ‘Lips’ experimented with a more soothing sound, and succeeded. But let’s be honest: “The Terror” never came close to trumping ‘Yoshimi,’ but The Flaming Lips made a comeback that only truly experienced and talented musicians could even attempt to make.

Side note: The Flaming Lips recorded The Terror at my college. I’ve seen Wayne Coyne in Starbucks a few times.


11. James Blake– “Overgrown”

James Blake is making waves with his sensual new album, “Overgrown.” The twenty-three year old Londoner utilizes waves of gospel and R&B to create a more sultry egalitarian dubstep sound. Listening to Overgrown, suddenly your hit with sultry synthesized sounds, vivacious piano interludes and his effective use of sub-bass. But it’s the emotional resonance in Blake’s voice that carries, making “Overgrown” a harmonic delight.


10. Wavves– “Afraid of Heights”

While they’ve been “Kings of the Beach” since 2010, they’re finally ready to “Sail to the Sun” with their new album. Afraid of Heights, their third (and by far best) album is the surfer rock band’s version of buckling down and writing an album that actually shows off their talent. The single “Demon to Lean On” sells itself, with eclectic guitar riffs steadily grow with intensity and anticipation until Nathan Williams bellows, “Holding a gun to my head, so send me an angel,” an explosive and powerful line, however, you’re too busy head bobbing to the rhythmic shuffles the bassist and drummer are emitting, so there’s really no need to despair.


9. Arcade Fire– “Reflektor”

The anticipation behind Arcade Fire’s fourth album was, in spirit, colossal. Rookie and veteran fans came together from all over the internet in celebration of the 85-minute video which cued up the entirety of their new album to visuals from Marcel Camus’ 1959 film Black Orpheus. Of course, the anticipation behind “Reflektor” was only to be expected, considering their third album “The Suburbs” was recognized as “Album of the Year” at the Grammy’s in 2011. But amid all of their success, “Reflektor” feels restless. This is perhaps due to the band’s collaboration with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, who produced the new album. There’s something edgier and more restless about Reflektor. However, “The Suburbs” and “Funeral” will forever be my Arcade Fire albums of choice.


8. Parquet Courts– “Light Up Gold”

This album epitomizes the twenty-something angst. Imagine: you earned a degree from a liberal arts college but have no career, five random roommates you met on Craigslist who still thinks their band will headline Warped Tour, twenty dollars to your name, holding your tongue when you call your parents, “I cannot ask for money, I cannot ask for money…” But don’t worry, Parquet Courts knows how they’ll eat tonight: “Roasted Peanuts or Swedish Fish?” These freeloader’s debut album “Light Up Gold” is trying to be punk-rock but seamlessly hailing from the indie realm of Brooklyn. Their eccentric guitar riffs and seemingly unsystematic lyrics gives off an absent-minded vibe, but as songwriter Andrew Savage sings, “it seems these days I’m captive in this borrowed time,” implying that these freeloaders aren’t all that seem.


7. Jim James– “Regions of Light and Sound of God”

‘Regions of Light,’ James’ debut solo album shimmers with a meditative sense of wonder. James played all of the instruments and produced this magical little gem of an album by himself. Best known as the lead singer in My Morning Jacket, James’ vocals are sensual and intimate, evoking an affirmed sense of serenity within the listener.


6. Waxahatchee– “Cerulean Salt”

“Cerulean Salt” is the wise recount a wanderer. Katie Crutchfield, the vibrant songstress behind Waxahatchee’s twangy voice rings confidently through the speakers as she firmly and honestly declares, “If I muster the strength to reflect you, I won’t feel any better at all.” Crutchfield elicits the simplest details that undoubtedly resonate with us, gently tearing at our arteries. Yet Crutchfield’s tone is so casual, you assume her stinging words reflect off of her like a broken mirror, except the shattered mirror fragments, getting stuck in our shoulders and our sides. Often, Crutchfield’s lyrics openly reject the path of marriage and tradition. In “Swan Dive,” she confesses that “dreams about loveless marriage and regret” keep her up at night, while painting the scene of a wedding that’s more of a “tragic epilogue” than a celebration” in “Dixie Cups and Jars.” Waxahatchee may resemble the deeply personal cries of Elliot Smith and early Cat Power, but Crutchfield stands confidently on her own.


5. Chance the Rapper– “AcidRap”

Chance has popped up on almost every top 50 list that I’ve come across, and with good reason. As Frannie Kelley of NPR Music says, “He was highly anticipated, and he came through.”  Chance has separated himself from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Chief Keef and Kanye–he’s paving his own path, and he’s only 20. Chance’s raps sound dazey, but he’s really contemplating universal questions, such as life and death. Chance is being real and honest, so naturally, he’s becoming more and more relevant. Although he recently appeared on Justin Beiber’s single “Confident,” which was pretty basic, JBeibs quit so, hopefully no more of that.


4. Arctic Monkeys– “AM”

I fondly remember dancing in my room to “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor,” when their debut album first began to make waves in 2006. Confident in their bright sound, the U.K. band has always been compared to other Brit bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Kooks and Blur. Always striving to bring excitement to the stage, their fifth album that dropped in September seems a little more poised and a little more methodical. One could only assume that the Arctic Monkeys are aging gracefully all the while  reaching out to new perspective fans–literally. Songs such as “I Wanna Be Yours” and their hit single “Do I Wanna Know” could clearly encapsulate the band’s adoration for their fans. So if you’re someone whose craving an exciting and mood lifting album, give “AM” a try.


3. DJ Koze– “Amygdala”

I loved this album because the sound was so weird and unpredictable. First, the album artwork vaguely reminded me of Neil Patrick Harris riding the unicorn in the second Harold and Kumar film, which made me laugh. But the techno beats are juxtaposed with velvety-toned vocals, creating this brilliant and relaxing vibe. The bass lines and drum beats get pretty sporadic as the album goes on. It’s a bubbly little gem of an album, and I’m obsessed.


2. Speedy Ortiz– “Major Arcana”

Speedy Ortiz wear their love of the 90’s on their torn, flannel sleeves. Sadie Dupuis, the lead singer and 90’s princess of the group spews out a mouthful of meticulously crafted lyrics that will make you drool. Robidoux’s gut-wrenching guitar riffs embellish Dupuis’ shrill voice, as not to drown her out. Filled with fluid rhythms, roaring basslines and just a hint vivacious amp feedback, Speedy Ortiz roars.


1. The National– “Trouble Will Find Me”

Right now, The National is indie-rock royalty. This year, they released their fourth (and arguably their trimmest) album to date, produced a documentary film about their self-paved road to success and were involved in many other unique projects, including a collaboration with the creation of the television show Bob’s Burgers on a Thanksgiving song. The National is reliable because their albums always incorporate elements of anxiety driven existentialism. But in Trouble Will Find Me, the sorrow and anguish formulates a beauty that transcends those melancholic feels, the result being a clean-cut album tailored to all of the dreamers out there. This was my favorite album of 2013.

So did I miss anything? Have any recommendations for me? Share your comments and concerns in the comments box, and cheers to the new year!

1 Comment on “Top 25 Albums of 2013 (NCPR Intern Edition)”

  1. Bob Falesch says:

    Good luck in showing those connections between musicians’ extra-musical notions and the current socio-political foment! :–) Music is my core, but I’m afraid I’m as far from Top-40 as anyone you’ll find (have been all my life), so I’m not about to suggest what you might have missed. My concerns are net neutrality and how its reduction could impact on fringe musicians getting their stuff out there, and simply the health of musical pluralism in general. Oh, and, I worry there isn’t really an avant-garde at the moment (in any of the arts).

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