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The 50 Best Albums of 2013

December 2, 2013  |  6:59am
The 50 Best Albums of 2013
30. Local Natives – Hummingbird
On “You & I,” the opening song of Local Natives’ sophomore LP Hummingbird, Kelcey Ayer’s initial vocals flap and flutter on delivery, stretching out the song’s title like a clumsy inaugural flight. The moment deviates from the band’s previous offering, the critical and commercial mini-hit Gorilla Manor, exchanging trademark harmonies for Ayer’s lonely cry, a lunge for the apex of his vocal range that lands gripping the ledge by his fingertips, every quiver and imperfection magnified by its naked presentation. When the chorus arrives, his aching falsetto is comforted by his bandmates, but not before a nest is built to cradle Ayer’s sorrow, and not until the roles that his band and their music play in his healing begin to be defined. From the first sung note of Hummingbird, Local Natives are frank in their presentation of a serious album, challenging listeners to heal along with them; cognizant that investment is proportional to remuneration.—Philip Cosores

29. Queens of the Stone Age – ...Like Clockwork
There aren’t many Herculean bands in the post-Zeppelin age—rock bands that’ve not only satiated critics and conquered radio, but have in the process permanently etched their inimitable logos into rock and roll history books. The sixth album from Queens of the Stone Age gets them a step closer to that mark. It’s arguably the best QOTSA record to date. While Josh Homme has always sought to please himself, there’s something for everyone in his music—even uppity rock snobs and downcast rock slobs. And …Like Clockwork satisfies on so many levels. It’s ambitious and meticulously assembled, seamlessly stacking leather-clad swagger with refined elegance thanks to Homme’s guitar work, arrangements and pitch-perfect falsetto.—Mark Lore

28. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
The 12 new songs on The Worse Things Get clock in at just over 38 minutes, leaving no room for filler or distractions. With a length equal to most old-school vinyl albums, it’s amazing to hear how many different approaches to communicating a lyric Case experiments with in such a compressed time frame. Case approaches each song with such incredibly bristly, focused intensity that the album’s brevity works in its favor. Extraneous material would either overwhelm or dilute the power of the often difficult and troubling songs that make up the record with its themes of alienation, regret and the spoken and unspoken tensions brought by love.—Douglas Heselgrave

27. Bill Callahan – Dream River
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Bill Callahan has an uncanny ability to make you think about life. The images are vivid, the language, simple, and the metaphors open to interpretation. His records seem to be made up of a million vivid scenes that paint a compelling portrait of the human condition. As Dream River progresses, you get a sense of an underlying, almost optimistic love story, one that’s far from perfect, and one that could be real or a dream. And the music matches the dreamlike state of the lyrics. Guitars intertwine softly with equally slinky bass lines. Flutes chirp like spring birds on “Javelin Unlanding” and “Summer Painter,” while percussion pitters and patters throughout. There are more jazz flourishes than straight country strums, which add to the record’s dream sequences. It’s easy to get lost, especially through headphones. Callahan has used his art to make sense of the world, and in turn helps us make some sense of it, too.—Mark Lore

26. My Bloody Valentine – mbv
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First, let’s reflect. After years of hype, rumors, heartbreak, internet hints and untimely server crashes, My Bloody Valentine delivered their first new record in nearly two decades. And it isn’t Loveless 2. Although m b v’s hazy artwork has the album title emblazoned in stark contrast, although this album features Kevin Shields playing those treble-scooped, gnarly guitar parts of his, m b v is a whole different beast. The production doesn’t feel nearly as glossed or obsessed over as its decades-older sibling. m b v feels like it’s wrapping up the band’s arc by revisiting old, very old material and bringing something new to the table entirely. My Bloody Valentine successfully followed up a decades-old classic with m b v, an album that stands as confidently, beautifully and masterfully composed as its predecessor.—Tyler Kane

25. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
Unlike the Frankenstein approach Ruban Nielson employed on the debut—which sounded like a depository for all of the music and pop culture he absorbed as a kid—there’s more consistent musical plasma coursing through the veins of II. That’s not to say there’s not an alien green hue to it as Nielson still taps into future sounds to convey his love for the past. Guitars are more prominent this time around in the form of fuzzed-out strums and more controlled, slinky patterns. “Monki” sounds like Prince partying like it’s 2099, and “No Need For a Leader” takes ’70s arena rock on a rocket to Mars. Themes of isolation—whether chosen or not—become more clear with each listen.—Mark Lore

24. M.I.A. – Matangi
Maya Arulpragasam’s music has finely enmeshed the personal and the political, using her multi-varied upbringing to bracing effect. She urged the world to pay attention to the plight of African and Asian citizens, and the diaspora, just as she urged you to lean into her club-ready bangers. On her fourth album, M.I.A.’s focus has shifted. As the cover art suggests, this LP is a tight close-up on her world: her artistic abilities and credibility, her sexual bravado and simply her skills on the mic. It’s a telling move too that she calls this Matangi, her birth name, and the name of Hindu goddess of music. And on this album, the line between those two definitions is completely blurred.—Robert Ham

23. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
Parquet Courts’ second release kept a relatively low profile until it was reissued on What’s Your Rupture? in January, and it’s held up its promise of being one of the most good-timing rock records of 2013. Light Up Gold is a quintessential New York album, as the Brooklyn four-piece summon the spirit of the Ramones, the Velvets and Sonic Youth, and maneuver their way through Ridgewood, Queens, in search of Swedish Fish. Even the more muscular tunes like “Light Up Gold II” and “Borrowed Time” maintain a certain couch-sloucher physique. With lyrics that are as dry as the production, this one’s a timeless winner for all the losers.—Mark Lore

22. Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium
Armed with a distinctive howling tenor, a capacity for incorporating multiple musical influences in the span of a single track and a skill set for narrating harrowing tales of vice and virtue, Will Sheff has become one of indie rock’s more celebrated literary-minded icons. It’s a trend that continues on The Silver Gymnasium. But this time around, Sheff’s lyrical theme is his own past, detailing the people and places he knew while growing up in Meriden, N.H., in the ‘80s. By romanticizing on his own memories and experiences of love and loss, of remembrance and regret, of functioning in the world or feeling paralyzed by it, Sheff has written another collection of sordid and stinging stories. The songs on The Silver Gymnasium are packed full of forbidden love, controlling parents, fizzling friendships, premature death, prostitutes and drug addicts, broken-hearted bartenders, car crashes, self-medication, loss of innocence and clinging to the promise of youth as if your life depended on it. Sheff’s songs ooze with longing, and they throw you into a world that is unfamiliar yet immediately recognizable. The album grows on you, and sooner or later its nostalgia becomes your own—only the names and places are different.—Michael Danaher

21. The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
Tomorrow, In a Year, the 100-minute double album from Karin Dreijer Anderssen and her brother Olaf, is both smart and surprisingly approachable. Think of Public Image Ltd.’s Second Edition, the famously abrasive masterpiece with coherent politics and forward motion in the grooves. Think if Liars’ percussion monsoon Drum’s Not Dead was all it was cracked up to be. Think of last year’s Swans album, The Seer, if it was composed and programmed protests rather than improv goth comedy. This is The Knife’s first album to get lost in; the duo has put together a dense, disturbing world that forces the listener to adjust to their uncompromising terms, with layers upon layers of undersea sediment, anti-patriarchal themes and supposedly homemade noises. There’s so much to hear, all foreboding. It shouldn’t work—they went all or nothing. They got all.—Dan Weiss

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