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The 50 Best Albums of 2013

December 2, 2013  |  6:59am
The 50 Best Albums of 2013
40. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
In an interview earlier this year, Bobby Krlic, the UK-based mastermind behind The Haxan Cloak, said that when he was studying drone music in university, he “started to realize the very real potential and power of the actual physical properties of sound.” That kind of mindset gives Excavation, his second album of dark electronics, such weight and dynamism: You actually feel the presence of this album on your person as you listen. Beats do provide the backbone, but they are quickly bent and strained under massive surges of low rumble and bass hits that aim for your lower intestines. Underpinning it all are some delicate touches: the string samples that anchor “Dieu,” feathery synth figures that snake through “The Drop” and plenty of open space that offers up a quick lungful of air before the next resounding assault.—Robert Ham

39. of Montreal – lousy with sylvianbriar
Lousy with Sylvianbriar is steeped ankle-deep with Barnes’ academic non sequiturs, which swirl like psychotropic babble into and around a brook of warm, nostalgic rock tunes in perhaps the most organic recording of Barnes’ career. Fleeing to San Francisco, recruiting new players and eschewing the borderless sonic property afforded with multi-take computer recordings, Barnes endeavored to lay songs down in his home studio on a 24-track without computers. The result, really, is a stunning re-imagining of Barnes’ songwriting prowess suddenly peeking out from behind the folds of a thick curtain of beats and keyboards. Whether exposing light or dark, or some blank hue in the middle, Barnes has all but bulls-eyed his status as a brilliantly daring artist on Lousy.—Ryan J. Prado

38. Danny Brown – Old
It’s funny that Danny Brown has named his first proper album Old. The follow-up to the free download XXX, Old dispels the shallow views of Brown and paints the rapper in a humanizing and relatable way, with enough bangers and one-liners to not bury the appeal of his personality. More than ever, Old allows even passive listeners to care about what Brown is saying, to form a bond with him and to trust there is more of interest to him than women and drugs. Making it through the captivating labyrinth of Brown’s childhood and journey to the microphone, the listener is rewarded with straight club-ready party jams acting as an over-the-top adrenaline shot meant to cause smiles as big as Brown’s. With collaborations featuring Purity Ring and Charli XCX, lyrical nods to The Bends, and a persona that isn’t feigned tough-guy, the often-hilarious Brown has wound up producing an album that transcends much of the typical hype bullshit and seems destined to stand as a unifying record.—Philip Cosores

37. Typhoon – White Lighter
Recorded on the sprawling Pendarvis Farm, about half an hour outside the band’s hometown, White Lighter takes the utopian aesthetic of its locale and translates it into music. The band’s comparatively enormous size—marked by a horn section, string section and eclectic percussion—naturally exudes a boisterous optimism and familial charm. However, that same positive music also seems to mask the dystopian themes of the record. Death is all over White Lighter, and it’s that combination that makes White Lighter so entrancing, serving as both warning and celebration of mortality.—Hilary Saunders

36. Lorde – Pure Heroine
A 16-year old girl not looking to twerk, whine or sugarshock? Meet Ella Yelich-O’Connor, who emerges as a distaff Holden Caulfield, by employing a sangfroid that punches through an acquisitional society which measures worth by a flauntatiousness divorced from meaning. “Royals,” the summer’s surprise lo-fi trance-ish alternative No. 1, finds Lorde ironically checking rap/video staples. She merges Lana Del Ray’s flat affect, Queen-evoking curtains of disembodied vocals and Massive Attack’s electronica over an anything but fizzy electro-pop. Superficiality falls beneath her razor-scrawled lyrics, which skewer the sexualization of violence (“Glory and Gore”), the willfully blissfully unaware (“Buzzcut Season”) and the unattainability/desirability of faux perfection (“White Teeth Teens”). For Lorde, youth is both the ultimate revenge and burden. To know so much, to feel so little and to embrace what is, she illuminates being young, gifted and bored with a luminescence that suggests life beyond Louis Vuitton.—Holly Gleason

35. Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse
Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers snuck onto the scene a year and a half ago, a quiet but brilliantly talented composer. But his sophomore record, Wondrous Bughouse, is not the timid work of a younger man. It’s full-frontal pop music with abrupt transitions and dramatic breakdowns. This is the soundtrack to an anxiety attack. Powers alternates between personalities throughout. Moments of chaos and panic intermix with eerie calm and occasional joy. It’s a journey through the human mind. Most every track makes some reference to death, the afterlife, murder, sickness or illness. Even the title itself is a reference to mental institutions. But the album is not a heavy listen. If you aren’t paying attention, it comes across as seamless pop record and could even accompany a nice, cheerful summer drive. Powers has turned “bedroom pop” into a visceral and emotional experience.—Andrea Kszystyniak

34. Pusha T – My Name Is My Name
Pusha T’s raps are ardent. Each bar has the ferociousness of a lion smelling the scent of fresh blood. “King Push,” My Name Is My Name’s first track, finds Pusha T expressing this sentiment with his opening statements, “This is my time, this is my hour, this is my pain, this is my name, this is my power.” It’s an indicator that Pusha T’s long-awaited debut solo LP will be packed with bravado that he backs up with slick wordplay and surreal depictions of his drug-dealing past. Among his contemporaries, Pusha T is the sharp-witted wordsmith who makes you feel like you’re listening to a master at work, devilishly cooking up something as pure and addictive as he possibly can.—H. Drew Blackburn

33. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
Try letting a breakout album ride on an unreal voice that’s been kept trapped in a closet. In all the best ways, Autre Ne Veut’s self-titled debut sounded like a Culture Club tape that had been left sitting on a hot dashboard for the entire summer. For the subsequent Body EP, Arthur Ashin teased his vocals out of the warp and water damage, but his performance still remained elusive and restrained. Anxiety? Try putting out an album that renders its lone maker as emotionally bare as Plastic Ono Band or I Am A Bird Now. Ashin doesn’t speak or merely sing his words—barbed in bladed desperation, Ashin wields a falsetto that would make “Let’s Stay Together” sound like a sketchy proposition.—Nathan Huffstutter

32. Rhye – Woman
Woman isn’t overt by any means, yet it knows exactly what it’s doing. It’s the coy glances, bold smirks and grazing of fingertips along tender flesh. The debut album from Rhye, a collaboration between Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal, is a masterful illustration of sensuality and intimacy. Milosh’s Sade-saluting ambrosial vocals and sincere lyrics make these easy tasks to accomplish. But, as Hannibal’s production permutates from song to song, from soft ostinato piano licks and crescendoing violins (“The Fall”) into hyper funky horn blasting (“Last Dance”) into bare bones minimalism (“Verse”) we’re drawn into Rhye’s world of a carnal appetite for love and lust. At times Rhye lucidly swaps a red light for a disco ball or a potential shouting match and the eventual make-up. Rhye strays far away from the conventions of contemporary R&B and in doing so, with earnestness, make an album that’s as sexy as it is romantic.—H. Drew Blackburn

31. King Khan & The Shrines – Idle No More
Arish “King” Khan has been playing with nine-piece band the Shrines since moving to Germany in 1999. He’s traveled the world serving up his stew of punk, psych and soul by way of outlandish, antic-laden stage shows. Six years have passed since King Khan’s last full-length, but he still packs the same energy, funk and backyard debauchery vibes. Idle No More is heavy on horns, soulful grooves and fuzzed-out guitar. It’s occasionally tender, too. “Darkness” showcases Khan’s sizzling, sooty vocals. Gunsmoke guitar hovers over ivory ripples. The track shines a light on Khan’s mental waves, marinating in the sinful stuff floating in all our bodies.—Beca Grimm

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