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The 50 Best Albums of 2013

December 2, 2013  |  6:59am
The 50 Best Albums of 2013
20. Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
When it comes to humor, straightforwardness and never, ever giving a shit, Kacey Musgraves is taking all the right cues. Lyrics about same-sex kissing and double standards may still be scarce on commercial country airwaves, but that hasn’t stopped Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” from rising as a fan favorite. A top-seller despite its lack of radio play, the song has become popular across genre lines by promoting open-mindedness in a way country music hasn’t necessarily seen before. The writing on Same Trailer Different Park builds on the simplicity and straightforwardness of country classics while mixing in distinctly modern romantic sentiments, freshening the sound for a new generation of music-lovers.—Dacey Orr

19. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
The first Waxahatchee record, American Weekend, was a demo—murmured, acoustic, trying to find feeling. The new Cerulean Salt recaptures some of Katie Crutchfield’s melodic sense with a full band that still manages to honor her lyric-oriented sparseness. Tricks like the kick-snare-bass propulsion of “Brother Bryan” or the miniature Keith Moon eruptions that burst open “Peace and Quiet” break up the braininess so one can rest on her solid rock devices without reading along all of the time. Her inexhaustible desire to make short, emotional rock records at an impressive clip and get every overshare out there is a rare thing in tuneful bandleaders these days.—Dan Weiss

18. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Arcade Fire have been really good for a really long time. Three LPs might not seem like much on paper, but it’s been a thrilling, nail-biting ride in real-time: The holy trinity of Funeral, Neon Bible and The Suburbs (each released three years apart, arriving with the geeky art-rock grandiosity of a new Star Wars film) ranks among the most impressive streaks of recorded rock music in the past couple decades. With a band of this stature, there’s always a bit of dread involved: “When are they gonna fuck it up?” And as early buzz generated around Reflektor, the Montreal band’s fourth album, the moment of reckoning seemed nigh: A double-album co-produced by DFA whiz James Murphy, boasting Haitian rhythms, backed by a hallucinogenic ad campaign? But within Reflektor’s polarizing mess are some transcendent moments—particularly when Murphy’s presence is tangibly felt.—Ryan Reed

17. Volcano Choir – Repave
Justin Vernon may be forever branded as the guy in Bon Iver, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any gas in the tank for his side projects. Case in point: Repave, the second album from Volcano Choir, composed of Vernon and members of All Tiny Creatures and Collections of Colonies of Bees. Unlike the band’s first album, Unmap, the sophomore effort abandons much of the formless, saturated experimentalism indicative of the debut and instead melds anthemic post-rock with off-kilter indie-folk. Repave is the sound of revitalization, fusing composition and accessibility with wonderment and precision. And while Vernon has become known for his soft-edged falsetto and mellowed-out dirges, on Repave he and the band sound positively suffused with vigor and angst. It’s a musical and lyrical masterwork that builds and blooms in all the right places—and in places you’d never expect. One of the year’s biggest and best surprises.—Michael Danaher

16. Kanye West – Yeezus
That Kanye’s anointed himself as Jesus’ BFF isn’t surprising: After a decade of hip-hop domination and high-profile media spectacles, the dude’s made plenty of enemies—Jesus may be the final person he hasn’t totally pissed off. Luckily, Kanye’s still more man than God. Yeezus’ second half is weirder, darker, more introspective—all the qualities that define his best work. The first revelation is “New Slaves,” a racially charged gospel set to a gothic, electro-choral swirl. The first verse alone is masterful—as focused and emotionally affecting as anything he’s ever written (“You see it’s broke nigga racism that’s that ‘Don’t touch anything in the store’ / And this rich nigga racism that’s that ‘Come in, please buy more’”), delivered with a razor-sharp cadence, with an eerie sonic framework that adds urgency to the message. Basically, it’s the anti-”God.” The album closes with “Bound 2,” an old-school College Dropout throwback—built on a warped soul sample, crammed full of classic Kanye observations. It’s a beautiful blast of humanity on an album—a perplexing, fascinating, absorbing album—that often feels outside normal human grasp.—Ryan Reed

15. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Robin Thicke’s mega-hit might have out-partied “Get Lucky” in sheer saturation, but there’s no denying that Pharrell’s appearance with the chrome-domes is, without a doubt, the summer jam that reigns supreme in quality. Daft Punk and Pharrell’s not-so-subtle mission statement is slicked over by Nile Rodgers‘ virtuosic take on glossy rhythm guitars, forming an alliance we’d never imagine—but we’re perfectly happy listening to the outcome. The album may be wildly eclectic—even inconsistent—but the highs, like “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Doin’ it Right,” make the album one of the year’s essential listenings.—Tyler Kane

14. Savages – Silence Yourself
The music of Savages is a logical derivative of post-punk that draws on Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus and any other of the greats from that period that you picture draped in black and never smiling. And, in a whirlwind of sexuality, violence and gender roles, the most contemporary connection to draw is something like Metz, minus the screaming. And while the genre distinction is far from unique, Silence Yourself satisfies both in its details and its scope. A song like “No Face” features calculated guitar effects and tones, ranging from blown-out fuzz to a more precise, tin-plated sound, shifting deliberately throughout the song, both Gemma Thompson’s guitar and Ayşe Hassan’s bass weaving around each other in a well-rehearsed dance. Hear the immediacy of the music and live your life in the same manner. This might all sound a little abstract, and, well, Savages as a band is a little abstract, but Silence Yourself evokes very real sensory and emotional connections, leaving it up to you to get something out of it.—Philip Cosores

13. Lucius – Wildewoman
Co-lead singer Jess Wolfe told Paste earlier this year, “We’re two voices singing as one.” And from the first vocal notes of “Wildewoman” on Lucius’ eponymous debut, her description couldn’t be more perfect. Wolfe and fellow frontwoman Holly Laessig sing in unison or in close tonal harmony throughout the record, bringing an extra dose of force to an album already fortified by strong song structures, substantive lyrics and precise playing. At times almost country and other times impossibly hip, the band’s influences ring clearly, but not overpoweringly so. Most prevalent is a soulful ’60s vibe, courtesy of Wolfe and Laessig’s matching voices and wardrobes. But Wildewoman’s true success comes by reintroducing retro girl-group swag to the 21st century at a time when it’s most needed. The album offers empathy for the heartbroken and sultry fun for partiers, all backed by fuzzy guitars and polyrhythmic percussion. The Brooklyn band’s infectious melodies, keen self-awareness and shameless authenticity sweep through all 11 songs, making Wildewoman one of the most complete indie pop LPs this year.—Hilary Saunders

12. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Trouble Will Find Me may be The National’s funniest album to date. Not that it has a whole lot of competition. The bookish Brooklynites don’t typically drop punchlines, although Matt Berninger has snuck a few sharp absurdities into his lyrics. On the band’s sixth album, however, he actually foregrounds the humor, which is a welcome change for the band so deep into its career. Berninger’s self-deprecating humor nicely complements the album’s pealed-back sound. If High Violet was an ambitious statement album that propelled the band to new heights of mid-life/middle-class existentialism, Trouble Will Find Me is looser, easier and rawer—as laidback as The National ever get. Dense with allusion and mythology, Trouble portrays The National as a band that has soaked up so many influences that they’re bleeding out into the words. And yet, you don’t need to know who sang “Blue Velvet” or get the Elliott Smith reference on “Fireproof” to appreciate the band’s stripped-down sonic assault or sympathize with the confused protagonists wandering through these songs.—Stephen M. Deusner

11. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
The first few years of Jason Isbell’s solo career were beset with personal problems, including a well-publicized struggle with alcohol abuse, and his first three solo outings often played like too much of the same thing. But with Southeastern, Isbell has broken this hard luck streak, crafting an album worthy of his considerable talents. Each of the songs is a stunner. “Cover Me Up” is on the one hand a gentle, insistent love song, and on the other a moving testament to personal redemption that never once turns a blind eye to past indiscretions. It sets the tone for the remainder of the album, which is given equally to the promise of romance and the ever-looming possibility of suffering, both self-induced and arbitrary. As good as the songs are, Isbell’s singing may be even better. It’s certainly some of the best vocal work he’s yet committed to tape. His baritone, always rich, is deepened here by a grittiness that lends Southeastern a real soulful quality. By any reasonable aesthetic criteria, Southeastern is a triumph. It’s the most potent expression to date of Isbell’s talent (including his Drive-By Truckers output) and, hopefully, a harbinger of great things to come.—Jerrick Adams

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