10. Pusha T: My Name is My Name
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In case you weren’t aware, Pusha T moved drugs. He’s also got bars to push, but ever since the excellent days of Clipse, he’s been in need of someone who could supply him with the right product…er, production.
Enter Kanye. If you ‘ain’t been doing the education,’ the man is a preternaturally gifted producer who laced up some insane beats for King Push to tackle (including my track of the year, “Nosestalgia”). Even if Pusha is low key–“just a name and a number with the means to reach you” (“Suicide”)—it’s a name you’ll readily associate with quality stuff. – Grady O’Brien
09. Lorde: Pure Heroine
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Pure Heroine is at its most grandiose and showiest during “Royals,” which is not a particularly grandiose or showy song. It is slow-building, and, for the most part, Lorde‘s voice is calm and low. Like most songs on the album, the production is understated, letting the layering of Lorde’s vocals do most of the heavy lifting. The first song, “Tennis Court,” starts off the album with Lorde asking, “Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” That’s the essence of Pure Heroine. It is not about politics, or privilege, or privation; it is about a very talented, very bored sixteen year old from Auckland who is “kind of over getting told to throw [her] hands up in the air” making the kind of pop music that neither tells you, nor compels you to do that. On Pure Heroine, Lorde is never romantisizing or critisizing the “torn-up town” she sings about. She simply gives you the details; take it or leave it. – Dragos Nica
08. Haim: Days Are Gone
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The Haim sisters were this years indie rock sweethearts. If you are pretty cool, you probably heard of them after their show at 2012’s SXSW. If you are really cool, you probably downloaded their EP Forever back in early 2012. Regardless, 2013 was when HAIM got their much deserved mainstream breakthrough with the debut LP, Days Gone By. Drawing the obvious comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, because they are girls, but Days Gone By has a bit of funk to it with some a more modern sound to it as well. Songs that you’ve probably already heard a fair amount like “Falling” and “The Wire” are great, but every song on the album is done well with veteran production. Days Gone By is a great album because it generally seems to give off good vibrations and you can tell that the Haim sisters are having a blast making music together. – Andrew Garrison
07. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories
Daft Punk has never been accused of accepting the status quo. So while it would have been easy for the group to drop Homework Pt 2, the French duo created something completely different for anything they have done before. While the greatest criticism of Random Access Memories has been that it does not sound like a Daft Punk record that is also what makes it a Daft Punk record.
Working with disco legend Nile Rodgers, Daft Punk crafted their most personal and emotional record to date. Tracks like the piano ballad “Within” to the eight-plus minute “Touch,” there is a sense of the group having more to say than dance, party, and robots. While some tracks do feel long or tedious, you have to applaud Daft Punk for trying something new and redefining dance music for the third time in their career. – Adam Morgan
06. Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience
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The 20/20 Experience is complete and utter overkill and that’s why I love it. The effort is palpable. Timberlake’s desire to make a Big, Ambitious Album is evident. It all comes across very calculated. Yet somehow the music is good to the point where the pretension can not only be excused, but actually celebrated. Every track, over the course of its 5-8 minutes, contains some detail to be discovered after each listen, working both on its own and in the context of the larger album. We need more pop stars like Justin Timberlake. – Mark Steinbach
05. Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady
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Janelle Monáe faced high expectations as she attempted to follow up 2010’s instant classic, The ArchAndroid. While The ArchAndroid was a revelatory, ambitious debut, The Electric Lady doesn’t necessarily set out to prove as much. Instead Monáe carries herself with it the assurance of a seasoned R&B artist, creating an album that is loose, whimsical, and clearly in search of sonic perfection. It comes together as an album that is as replayable and infectious as it is meaningful and heartfelt. If it took three years for this near-masterpiece to come together, I’ll wait patiently for her next effort. – Mark Steinbach
04. Arctic Monkeys: AM
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I am convinced there was no LP more listenable front to back this year than Arctic Monkeys‘ fifth album AM. From the group who gave the world manic energy on tracks like “I Bet That You’d Look Good on the Dancefloor,” comes an album that’s filled with patient, dark grooves. With guitar riffs that sounds straight off of a Queens of the Stone Age record, bass licks that recall the Rolling Stones, and stoner metal beats, the album is so uncharacteristic of Arctic Monkeys that it is jarring. At the same time that is how listeners know that the album is a true wonder. It would not matter what band recorded “Do I Wanna Know?” or “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?,” they would still be critically acclaimed. It just so happens the band that recorded this thoroughly enjoyable album is that same band that has been making hits for the last seven years. – Adam Morgan
03. Chance The Rapper: Acid Rap
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Chance The Rapper has BJ The Chicago Kid open up Acid Rap with an exciting promise: “Even better than I was the last time, baby.” For the next 13 songs, he delivers on that promise, somehow managing to sound more artistically matured while having more fun than he did on his first mixtape, #10Day. His voice is electrifyingly raspy and high-pitched, ranging somewhere between early Eminem and Gilbert Gottfried on molly, and his puns are clever, or funny if they need to be. From “Favorite Song” to “Cocoa Butter Kisses” to “Juice,” there is more fun to be had on this mixtape than anything out in 2013. – Dragos Nica
02. Kanye West: Yeezus
The day Yeezus came out, I expected to hear an album of hubris, accompanied by “New Slaves” style diatribes against institutional racism and corporations. There were song titles like “Black Skinhead,” “I Am A God,” and “Blood On The Leaves,” and every time I pressed play on one of them, I was delighted to hear how misguided my original expectations had been. Yes, there is an ego of tianic proportions rapping on Yeezus, but it is often mitigated by anxiety about being a father, self-doubt about the future of a relationship, or anger about running into an artistic glass ceiling. The first half of the album is bleak and alienating, a lunar wasteland, and to listen to it is to strip down naked and run from crater to crater screaming obscenities down at the Earth. By the time “Bound 2” plays, the words “maybe we can make it to Christmas” offer hope for what seems like the first time on the entire album (perhaps this is why the video had to be so over-the-top and fantastical); “Bound 2” offers nostalgia in the form of a classic Kanye sped-up soul sample, but Yeezus offers an entirely new Kanye, rapping from a ledge, intoxicated, daring passerbys to try to talk him down. The album can be ridiculous, nonsensical, and down-right uncomfortable, but it is a near-flawless statement by a perhaps troubled, perhaps misunderstood, musical genius, and it remains a breathtaking listen. – Dragos Nica
01. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
When listening to Modern Vampires of the City, it’s hard not to get struck by feelings of loneliness. Whether it’s spiritual (“Unbelievers,” “Worship You”), social (“Hannah Hunt”), existential (“Finger Back”) or just plain post-apocalyptic physical (“Hudson”), Koenig and company are still always telling the truth, no matter how bleak. However, there may still be some hope, as Koenig tells us “everyone’s dying, but girl you’re not old yet” (“Step”). So sit back and enjoy the contrapuntal precision of “Young Lion” or the vintage bass-driven “Everlasting Arms” while you’ve still got time.
After all, what could be worse than Diane Young?
– Grady O’Brien