If 2013 boasted some fine albums and some excellent songs, compiling a “best of” list proved to be a challenge. For every standout and pleasant surprise (Haim’s Days Are Gone, Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time) there were a few releases that one would have had higher hopes for (Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories). By far the album I found myself routinely returning to was one I’d failed to discover in 2012, Lord Huron’s outstanding Lonesome Dreams. It’s beautifully orchestrated and full of wistful tender lyrics.
Best Album picks:
Days Are Gone – Haim
If these SoCal sisters have quickly taken the world by storm, it’s for good reason – their debut is a solid collection of accessibly catchy songs, punctuated by easy harmonizing and powerful choruses. The album at once feels both familiar and fresh; nostalgic and hopeful for the future. Do they live up to the hype? They do.
IV (EP) – The 1975
Sure, this isn’t technically an album, but the five songs on this EP, released four months before their full-length album, hang together well and showcase the spunky simplicity of The 1975. Much the EP’s charm stems from the jangly guitars and Matthew Healy’s alluring British voice.
The Bones Of What You Believe – Chvrches
The debut disc from this Scottish trio does much to hone a synth-y ‘80s vibe, but the songs really pop thanks to Lauren Mayberry’s hauntingly delicate vocals.
Night Time, My Time – Sky Ferreira
It’s easy to shy away from this album with its creepily sordid cover art and vague pop promises, but don’t let that deter you. Songs like “You’re Not The One,” “Boys” and “Heavy Metal Heart” should be more than enough to win you over.
Modern Vampires Of The City – Vampire Weekend
As tempting as it is to want to dismiss Vampire Weekend, their third album doesn’t disappoint. Here there’s a sense of evolution, and, if not maturity, certainly themes of getting older. It suits them, and grooms some great standout tracks, including “Unbelievers” and “Step.”
Trouble Will Find Me – The National
Matt Berninger’s commanding, unmistakable voice can be as comforting as it is unsettling. The music here stays out of too dark territory; even songs like “Demons” feel like they have an uplifting core. High Violet may remain a superior album, but Trouble is a nice move.
Muchacho – Phosphorescent
There’s something about the sprawling, “Ring Of Fire”-referencing “Song For Zula” that instantly draws you in to Muchacho. The song’s swelling melody is accentuated by Matthew Houck’s sometimes creaking voice, which adds a sort of rough texture to the entire alt-country-tinged album.
Heartthrob – Tegan & Sara
Stepping away from the “folk/indie” label, Tegan and Sara may have produced the best pop album of the year. The oddball Canadian twin sisters pack this album with tight, polished three and a half minute songs about love and relationships. You know, pop songs.
AM – Arctic Monkeys
It’s the fifth album from these rollicking Brits and they haven’t lost any of the flamboyant ego from their early “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” days, but they have chilled out a bit. It’s a good thing. There’s a dramatic risky/cool tone to the album, escalated by Alex Turner’s vocals.
Settle – Disclosure
The debut from a pair of English brothers, Settle is an unrelenting electro-dance album with a bit of a bit of a ‘90s throwback feel. Here the synths feel modern and the lyrical styles feel retro.
Best Songs - Playlist
“Do I Wanna Know?” – Arctic Monkeys
“Closer” – Tegan and Sara
“The Mother We Share” – Chvrches
“Miracle Mile” – Cold War Kids
“Don’t Save Me” – Haim
“Unbelievers” – Vampire Weekend
“Song For Zula” – Phosphorescent
“Wings” – Haerts
“Here Comes The Night Time” – Arcade Fire
“Graceless” – The National
“Sex” – The 1975
“You’re Not The One” – Sky Ferreira
“Take My Hand” – Charli XCX
“Happy” – Robert DeLong
“Wanderlust” – The Weeknd
“Play By Play” – Autre Ne Veut
“Latch” – Disclosure
“Get Lucky” – Daft Punk
“Blurred Honky Tonk Women” (“Blurred Lines” mash-up) – MadMixMustang
“High School Lover” – Cayucas
“Two Fingers” – Jake Bugg
“Do What U Want” – Lady Gaga (feat. R. Kelly)
“Team” – Lorde
“Open” – Rhye