We’re six months into 2013, and already the year has been kind to music fans. Every year at this point, we ask our staff and writers for a snapshot of their favorite albums so far. This is not meant to be a definitive list, but rather a way to compare notes, check out albums we might have missed and raise a mid-year glass to the musicians who’ve given us these records.
Here are my top 10, but page through to see everyone’s individual lists.
The Best Albums of 2013 (So Far), Selected by Josh Jackson – Editor-in-Chief
1. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
Matthew Houck has been recording music under the name Phosphorescent for a dozen years. After releasing six full-length albums in the middle of which he moved from Athens, Ga., to Brooklyn, he’s left the realm of “consistently good” to “inspired greatness” with his seventh LP Muchacho. At the heart of the album is “Song For Zula,” a hymn to heartbreak by one so broken he’s done trying. And while we might be able to relate to that sentiment, gorgeous swelling strings make us doubt the longevity of his resolve. Throughout the album, guitars wail, horns sing and organs open the world to possibilities the narrator of these songs might not yet see. With hints of Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty and Dawes, it’s a progression of that folky brand of rock into thrilling new territory, a visionary record for a genre that needed it.
2. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
I’ve gone on record calling this the best Rolling Stones album since Mick Jagger and company released Some Girls 35 years ago. Foxygen has had a rocky year with frontman Sam France alternately amazing crowds with his charismatic swagger on stage and disappointing them by canceling tour dates. But there’s no denying the charm of this Richard Swift-produced album that aims to single-handedly keep the onslaught of EDM from completely killing rock ‘n’ roll.
3. Mikal Cronin – MCII
The frequent Ty Segall collaborator has a Kurt Cobain-like gift of taking pop melodies and imbuing them with the additional joy of making noise in the garage. His Merge debut (and second album overall) is a raucous affair, but at its heart are monstrous hooks that could have come straight out of Liverpool.
4. Deerhunter – Monomania
Bradford Cox has been following his own muse since the beginning of this Millennium, and she’s never once led him in a straight line. For Monomania she’s led him completely off the rails, but it’s where Deerhunter seems most themselves. Careening from pure cacophony to sweet melody, the ride will leave you breathless.
5. Josh Ritter – The Beast in Its Tracks
The bitterness and sorrow Ritter felt when his marriage fell apart came out in songs, but those were not the songs he chose to share with the world. The ones collected here came out when he first started to heal and find love again. The anger and heartbreak is still there, but it’s diminished with time, new love and the joy that comes from music. Still, “New Lover Now” contains the year’s best dig at an ex.
6. Cayucas – Bigfoot
The happiest album of the year is also filled with the most perfect swimming-pool/beach-blankets/4th-of-July-picnic summer ballads. We’ll see where this ends on my list when the gray days of winter roll around—an album out of season or the a little warmth packed in streaming 1s and 0s.
7. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – We the Common
After a few plucks from a strained banjo, Thao Nguyen’s clear voice cuts through, defiant and strong on “We The Common,” the first and title track on the duo’s latest album. She rarely lets up through the dozen songs, and Joanna Newsom even joins in to harmonize.
8. Leagues – Leagues
Thad Cockrell got his start strumming the kinds of ballads to have No Depression rightfully all aflutter, but there’s little country—alt or otherwise—about his new project Leagues with Nashville veterans Tyler Burkum on guitar and Jeremy Lutito on drums. The trio has left the Ryman for full-on arena rock with Cockrell putting down the guitar altogether to grab the mic with both hands. It’s a move that’s paid off with single “Spotlight” getting the band more attention than anything he’s done before.
9. Kurt Vile – Walkin On A Pretty Daze
Kurt Vile’s music seems effortless, as the former War On Drugs frontman coos his words over flanged guitar strums. He may be the coolest cat to come out of Philadelphia since Wilt Chamberlain. Walkin On A Pretty Daze opens with a nine-and-a-half minute psychadelic jam of the same name. There’s a love of classic rock here, but no fear of what comes next.
10. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse
Frontman Scott Hutchison loosened the reigns on his bandmates when it came to writing the music for the band’s fourth studio album, but his funny, self-deprecating and intensely personal lyrics are still there. It’s a more varied album, though the music is still just as raw-nerved as the words.