The Best Albums of 2013 (So Far)

Music Lists

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.

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.

The Best Albums of 2013 (So Far), Selected by Tyler Kane – Assistant Editor

1. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
No other album this year has grabbed me like Swedish duo The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual has. It’s a beautiful, abrasive onion of a release; a double-album that’s just as musically and thematically satisfying as every layer is pulled back. Whether your ears are taking in lines inspired by queer theory or “extreme wealth,” or if you’re just enjoying the floor-rattling beats, all 90 minutes of Shaking the Habitual are up for deconstruction. Chances are, I’ll still be finding something new in this release for years to come.

2. My Bloody Valentine – m b v
I was excited for this album. So much so that on the eve of its release, I waited for My Bloody Valentine’s crashed servers to open up (it took hours), bought my copy (my wallet really, genuinely regretted that I opted for the deluxe vinyl edition) and listened my ears off once the mp3s finally made their way onto my computer. And the results, after a decades-long wait was better than I could have hoped. Kevin Shields and co. delivered again with a memorable set of tracks that weren’t carbon copies of Loveless. Kevin, we forgive you.

3. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze
Smoke Ring for My Halo’s mellow folk tunes kept me coming back month after month following its 2011 release, so when it was announced that Vile’s new album would include tracks that were seven, eight, NINE minutes long, I was as nervous as I was excited. But rest assured, Vile delivered on Daze with lofty arrangements that were a bit more Neil Young than Rush, creating a set of tracks that are both pleasant and familiar for the listener but a huge leap forward for the artist himself. Favorites include “Wakin on a Pretty Day” and “Girl Called Alex.”

4. Deerhunter – Monomania
In the land of countless bland late-night performances, Bradford Cox and co.’s perfect Fallon appearance stuck out like a sore—er, bandaged thumb. Not only did the band have a beyond-exceptional performance, but they were letting the world in on what would be the title track of their new album, Monomania, just a month’s before its release. And from the performance you could correctly assume that Deerhunter’s return would be grittier and more fierce than we saw them on Halcyon Digest. The album packed all the punch we’d hope for from the sneak peek, all wrapped up in tracks like “Leather Jacket II,” “Pensacola” and “Dream Captain” that you’ll want to spin again and again.

5. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
There are few albums that are out this year that can compete with Muchacho‘s gorgeousness. Sonically, Matthew Houck and co.’s latest is filled with slow rolling, ear-pleasing tones ranging from blipping electronics, reverb-soaked pedal steel guitars and Houck’s southern-trained voice. Add in the deeply personal lyrics Houck sings on tracks like “Song for Zula” or “A Charm / A Blade,” Muchacho is an essential listen for anyone in 2013.

6. Mikal Cronin – MCII
If you were looking toward the big stage for the best hook crafter of 2013, you should have been keeping your ear to the garages of Southern California. Cronin, who cut his teeth as a bassist in Ty Segall’s live band, released his second album this year, and it’s damn near pop perfection. If you’re a skeptic, give MCII’s first three tracks a spin and try to keep your feet level. “Weight” touts a Beatles-like sense of melody, where “Shout it Out” sounds like if Johnny Marr and Rivers Cuomo were locked into a studio. It’s a quick listen, but you’ll find yourself reaching for the repeat button before long.

7. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
It’s rare that a brand-new album takes me back to a specific time and place, but it’s hard to not drift back into the early 2000’s with Queens of the Stone Age’s excellent Era Vulgaris follow-up, …Like Clockwork. Here, we’ve got a re-united cast of what most would consider QOTSA’s golden years (think Rated R and Songs for the Deaf). Frontman Josh Homme buried the hatchet with former bassist Nick Oliveri for a guest appearance, Dave Grohl threw down drums on several tracks and frequent collaborator Mark Lanegan appeared after calling it quits with the band years ago. Throw in a crazed piano performance from the self-dubbed queen himself, Elton John, and you’ve got a collection of tracks that live up to the names in the liner notes.

8. Sigur Rós – Kveikur
If you’re like me, you waited patiently through all of Sigur Rós’ ( ) until it built to that part in “Untitled 8.” Around the eight-minute mark, the song starts to tense up with pulsing drums, a heavy bass and Jonsi’s shrieking, bowed guitar. It was usually the closing song of most of their sets in the mid-2000s, and saw the band roaring to a full, aggressive onslaught of volume. And in seeing them live, taking in this explosive ending, I always wondered what it would sound like if they did a whole album that sounded like this. Enter Kveikur, the “Sigur Rós-goes-heavy” album. With the departure of keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson, we see the band at its most bare-bones, shedding the lulling ambience of last year’s yawn-worthy Valtari. The results are pretty breathtaking, most notably on “Brennisteinn” and “Isjaki.”

9. Marnie Stern – The Chronicles of Marnia
For most of Marnie Stern’s The Chronicles of Marnia, she’s absolutely destroying it on guitar. Whether she’s tapping out a melody over some frantic drums or layering her unmistakable vocals, she’s cemented herself as a player that young musicians should be looking up to. But like any smart, gifted musician, her flashy guitar work is just a piece of the puzzle—not a gimmick the album depends on. After all, it’s an album called Chronicles of Marnia, and as an audience, we’re treated to all of Stern’s songwriting charm and sense of humor over and over again on tracks like “Year of the Glad” and “Nothing is Easy,” which are only enhanced by Stern’s six-string skills.

10. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The National’s not really breaking any ground on Trouble Will Find Me, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty great. The guys rely on their trusty format of “sad dude lamenting over lush arrangements,” adding another 13 winning songs to their discography/your BummerJamz ’13 playlist. Favorites include the Annie Clark-guesting “This is the Last Time” and opener “I Should Live in Salt.”

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.

The Best Albums of 2013 (So Far), Selected by Bonnie Stiernberg – Assistant Editor

1. Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
Declaring yourself to be the 21st-century ambassadors of peace and magic is pretty much an open invitation to internet snobs to unload their cynical vitriol, and I’ll admit I may have rolled my eyes when I first read the title of Foxygen’s excellent LP, but you won’t hear a negative word about this album from me. From the opening notes of “In the Darkness” to the surprisingly lovely final piano tag of “Oh No,” the Richard Swift-produced record takes everything I love about the Velvet Underground, The Kinks and Between the Buttons-era Rolling Stones and rolls it together to make something so far in my wheelhouse they might as well have called it Bonnie, You Will Like This Album. [Insert cliches about reinventing wheels and fixing things that ain’t broke here.] Whatever. I knew I’d love this record, and I did. You will too.

2. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
It’s rare that an absolutely heart-wrenching lyric like “I saw love disfigure me into something I am not recognizing” sounds so pretty, but Matthew Houck (aka Phosphorescent)’s “Song for Zula”—and, in truth, his Muchacho album as a whole—is just that: sonically gorgeous but narratively painful. On “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master),” the singer/songwriter declares “I could be the tiger, I could be the snake / I could be the fire, I could be the lake / I could be the sky bird, waiting on the wind / I could be the devil waiting to begin,” and we’re inclined to believe him. Happy, sad, peaceful, chaotic—it’s all there on Muchacho, proof that if there’s something Matthew Houck can’t do, we haven’t found it yet.

3. Deerhunter – Monomania
This is (hopefully) the record that’ll finally get those who have been snoozing on Deerhunter’s stellar back catalog to wake up and repent for their sins. Much has been made about frontman Bradford Cox’s public persona and buzzed-about late-night TV performances (and hey, dude once caressed my face at a show in Atlanta, but that’s a story for another time), but when it comes down to it, he’s got the songs to back it all up. “Pensacola,” “THM” and “Neon Junkyard” are all examples of when his perfect storm of sneering image and songwriting chops comes to a head, and when the title track devolves into a chaotic, distorted “monomonomaniamonomonomaniaMONOMONOMANIAMONOMONOMANIA,” you can’t help but envision a world where everyone with a radio knows these guys’ names.

4. Charles Bradley – Victim of Love
Charles Bradley doesn’t sing; he feels. Pain hangs in his voice like moisture in the air on a humid day, and by now, you’re probably aware of the Daptone soulman’s tragic backstory—homelessness, a murdered brother—but his sophomore album isn’t all heartache. When he sings “I thank you for helping me through the storm,” the gratitude is palpable, and it’s clear how much his late-blooming career and the connections he’s established with fans mean to him. And Victim of Love should only bring him more adoration.

5. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Confession: I did not like Vampire Weekend when they first put out their self-titled debut. I was one of those people droning on and on about authenticity, appropriation, hype, Paul Simon and boat shoes. But somewhere along the way I gave in to its catchiness, and slowly but surely Vampire Weekend became one of my favorite albums of its decade. Confession #2: I did not like Modern Vampires of the City at first. I thought the singles were weak and overproduced. I was wrong again. Modern Vampires is a grower, and if you can let go of your desire for another hooky “A-Punk” or “Oxford Comma” and give it a chance, you’ll find that it still has all the components of a great Vampire Weekend album: lyrics that’ll remind you of your college English class reading lists, harpsichord aplenty and melodies that worm their way into your head until you submit.

6. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
Laura Marling is probably incredibly tired of being compared to Joni Mitchell at this point, so I’ll make this quick: If you’re a fan of the legendary Canadian singer/songwriter, stop what you’re doing and pick up Once I Was An Eagle immediately. Marling’s a grade-A lyricist, and on her fourth album, she gives her words room to breathe, backed by little more than acoustic guitar and the occasional Eastern drum beat. “Damn all those people who won’t lose control, who will never take a foot out of life,” she sings on “You Know.” Follow her lead; brew yourself a cup of something warm and cozy, pop this album on and let Marling’s music take you outside of yourself.

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito
Featuring a gospel choir, sounds of the subway tracks and even a James Murphy-produced track with a Dr. Octagon verse, Mosquito is certainly the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ most ambitious album to date. It could’ve been an epic failure, but instead it’s a fascinating collection of tracks that includes some of the band’s strongest work. “Sacrilege” holds its own against nearly any of your favorite Yeah Yeah Yeahs tracks, and Karen O’s in top form on the title track, sneering “I’ll suck your blood” like only she can. But the quieter, more understated moments (“Subway,” “Always” “Wedding Song”) are just as compelling, making for a balanced record that completely hits its mark.

8. Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound
I’ve seen Jim James perform three times in the past two months (Shaky Knees, Hangout Fest and Bonnaroo), but if I found myself in a city where he was playing his Regions of Light and Sound material again tomorrow, I’d probably still go. It’s a testament to the album that it never gets tiresome, even when James is singing vowels like he’s auditioning for Sesame Street on “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.).” (That’s an unfair joke; the lyrics are thoughtful across the board, inspired by Lynd Ward’s God’s Man.) “A New Life” is one of the best songs you’ll hear all year, and when it reaches its transcendent climax (“once mooooooooore”) you’ll be scrambling to find the next date James’ll be gracing your town with his presence.

9. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, II
1960s-style psych seems to be enjoying a bit of a moment right now, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s second LP is another excellent album to add to the growing list of work revitalizing the genre. Opener “From the Sun” sounds like a lost, trippy George Harrison track, the fantastic “Secret Xtians” closes the album on a funky note, and everything else in between demands respect. How is it that more people aren’t completely losing their minds over this record?

10. Mikal Cronin, MCII
Some records were made to be played while cruising with the windows down on a sunny summer day. Mikal Cronin’s MCII is one of those albums that has not left my car—not because it’s not great, but because it’s the perfect soundtrack to driving this time of year. “Weight” and “Shout It Out” are the kind of singles I wish Weezer was still making, and unlike Rivers Cuomo and company, Cronin’s completely at the top of his game.

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.

The Best Albums of 2013 (So Far), Selected by Dacey Orr – Multimedia Editor

1. Mikal Cronin – MCII
While this record itself sounds decidedly less punk than his self-titled debut (which, honestly, may be why I gave it a listen), the songs on this record take on a completely different attitude when performed live. You could pick any track on that album and release it as a single, and as one single work it’s cohesive without sounding like 10 variations of the same sound.

2. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
I love that Daft Punk can reach a level of accessibility with a track like “Get Lucky” (which you can hear at basement frat parties and trendy clubs alike) while still pushing boundaries creatively.

3. Jim James – Regions of Light and Sounds of God
I love the way this album has a futuristic feel without being electronic. It’s as though the instruments are an extension of James himself.

4. Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
Even folks outside the genre are praising Musgraves for “saving country music,” but this album showcases the simple twangy guitar and up-front attitude that I love about old country, too. Don’t make the mistake of listening to only the singles, either. Tracks like “It Is What It Is” showcase this young singer/songwriter’s talent for writing a good old sad country love song.

5. Wild Belle – Isles
This is another album that needed a second (or hundredth) listen to make it into my top 10. The adept way these guys blend reggae undertones with electronic sounds is a refreshing departure from the other releases this year.

6. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
I rarely appreciate an album very much on my first listen (see: Modern Vampires of the City and Isles), but Muchacho felt like a familiar favorite from the very first chorus of “Sun, Arise.” The catchy “Song for Zula” may be a highlight, but tracks like “Ride on / Right On” and “The Quotidian Beasts” have worked their way onto almost all of my playlists as well.

7. Deerhunter – Monomania
It’s amazing to me how unique each of these tracks can be while maintaining a level of cohesion. I feel like this record is one I’ll come return to every so often, only to find a new line or aspect I hadn’t noticed before.

8. Cayucas – Bigfoot
Maybe it’s because i’m making this list in the middle of the summer, but the sun-drenched sound of this album is the perfect soundtrack to all of my favorite warm-weather things. “High School Lover” is without a doubt my favorite track, but I’m a sucker for any album that pairs so nicely with a day at the beach.

9. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
I did not this album when it came out. It doesn’t have an “A-Punk,” and without the bouncey, accessible single, I filed the album away and made a big fuss about how it just wasn’t for me. Fortunately, working in an office like Paste sort of forces you to spend a little more time with the big releases, and after a few listens I found myself most attached to the aspects of the songs that originally turned me off: from the the minimalist beat (and clever title) of “Obvious Bicycle” to the waltz-like harpsichord in “Step,” I’m hooked.

10. Brazos – Saltwater
I just added this album into my rotation a few weeks ago, so there’s a chance I’m still in the honeymoon-stage (or that it needs to be moved up a few spots). The layered vocals and synth undertones balance bright, upbeat tempos to combine several aspects that immediately pull me into a song or album. We’ll see if this new love lasts until 2013’s end.

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.

The Best Albums of 2013 (So Far), Selected by Laura Medina – Graphic Designer

1. Deerhunter Monomania
Rather than over-thinking it, Bradford Cox and his slightly misfit crew of musicians have delivered an album that is no more polished than the frontman himself. It’s rough and loose but the pieces come together seamlessly pointing a shaky finger back to the forefathers of punk.

2. Kurt Vile Walking on a Pretty Daze
Listening to this album is a little like what I might imagine it being like to watch Kurt Vile have an hour-and-a-half conversation with himself. There’s something so wide and comfortable about his music. He delivers each line with a tired, lazy pace, but his acute self-awareness is sharp and wry enough to keep you listening.

3. Mikal Cronin MCII
Mikal Cronin has effortless pop riffs perfectly balanced with just the right amount of softness and power. It’s clear that Cronin possesses the skills to compose and refine his style (judging from the string arrangements that appear on this album), but the hook hits flesh on the uncomplicated delivery of pure, blissfull pop.

4. The National Trouble Will Find Me
Don’t expect to throw on your headphones for an easy listen with this one. It’s filled with just the right amount of dread that is expected from The National—seeping out from the vocals to the drum progressions. It’s a listening investment that, if allowed to seep into the crannies, will most definitely pay off.

5. Jim James Regions of Light and Sound
Jim James brings a dream-like haze right into the present with the release of his first solo LP. Trading the grandiose rock of My Morning Jacket with etherial meditation and wholehearted earnestness, his efforts to grab pieces of religion and ideology to string them together is what gives him his own personal trademark. His commanding voice is the only thing that anchors an album that so badly wants to float upward.

6. Daft Punk Random Access Memories
There was some early backlash when Daft Punk released their much-anticipated follow up to 2007’s Alive, but any of that backlash was just a result from people that expected predictability or normalcy from a band like Daft Punk. If they were setting out to make a statement about music, consider their purpose accomplished. Yes, they can release a chart-topping hit like “Get Lucky” with the snap of their fingers, but they can also deliver a fully-embodied album filled with all their old-school charm plus a little of the unexpected.

7. Phosphorescent Muchacho
There’s a palpable lushness to the melodies in Phosphorescent’s latest release, but brokenness comes through sharply (or maybe slightly more raspy) in the lyrics and voice of Matthew Houck. He may have gone to Mexico to flee from circumstances at home, but there’s a clear sense of frustration, loss and redemption in the progression of the album that ultimately concludes in the sun rising.

8. Caveman Caveman
The sophomore release of this Brooklyn-based band is a slow move into a new realm that fully encapsulates the uniqueness of each musician and fuses them together. The band’s chemistry is undeniable and shines through in their latest album.

9. Foals Holy Fire
After quite a bit of UK buzz surrounding the pop band’s release of several singles, their most recent album ups the drama and showmanship but spares none of the distinctness that made Foals so popular. Largely energetic and ambitious, the album unwinds into something more complex than first indicated by the first few notes.

10. Camera Obscura Desire Lines
Camera Obscura hasn’t changed much with their newest record, but they offer the reliability of an indie-pop band to produce a record with just the right about of lightness and cheek that made them so appealing in the first place. Tracyanna Campbell’s voice has just the right levels of moodiness and vulnerability which makes the subject matter of the messiness of human relationships that much more true.

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.

The Best Albums of 2013 (So Far), Selected by Sean Doyle – Marketing Manager

1. Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God
Jim James’ musical genius has been obvious in all his albums with My Morning Jacket, but on his solo debut you can really feel him stretching his legs. Regions of Light sounds like late-’50s and ‘60s soul tripped out on acid from the future—the type of songs he’s hinted at in the past but never fully realized till now. James’ signature guitar sound can still be found here, but repetitive, slow-burning, melodic tones dominate most of this album—with 747-sized Flying V solos tastefully soaring in and out of tracks.

2. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
This album wasn’t the jangley harpsichord Ivy League punk album I was hoping for, but that’s a good thing. Vampire Weekend began as an incredible blend of Paul Simon-esk aftrobeats and Victorian walz, while still showing the punky youth of the band at the time. That garage element has faded a bit—replaced with softer hooks, the kind that wash around in your head for days. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics and ‘80s-heavy delivery of the chorus in “Diane Young” show that the boys still have the chops to write “A Punk”, but now have also mastered the slow build.

3. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Some of the most savory dishes come from a perfect balance of the simplest of ingredients. Random Access Memories is a sonic exercise of simplicity where the robot twins musicianship is front and center in every track. From the undeniable mega-hook of “Get Lucky” to “Within”’s eerily somber “rainy day” tones (I always imagine Guy-Manuel’s helmet displaying a giant teardrop), this album has a dance track every mood.

4. Shout Out Louds – Optica
Words I never expected to be writing: The flute solos on this record rock! Optica feels like a found record in some audiophile’s dusty old ‘80s vinyl collection. Every sugar-coated chorus sounds like your favorite Cure song that you’ve never heard. Go ahead and put this one on repeat, because you’re going to want to hear it again and again.

5. Telekinesis – Dormarion
Michael Benjamin Lerner has taken his knack for creating emotionally personal guitar-driven power pop up to a new level. On his previous records he tended to favor a more acoustic sound—punchy guitar lines propel Dormarion along to where Lerner has created an electric expansive palate laden with synths and his signature metronome drumming. Where Telekinesis! and 12 Desperate Straight Lines felt most at home on your bedroom stereo, Dormarion begs to go for a drive with the top down.

6. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
Muchacho’s opening track perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album; on “Sun Arise (An Invocation/An Introduction)” Matthew Houck’s voice breaks the horizon, echoing a warm glow through the canyonous melodies that make this album feel like an ever-expanding landscape. An album that feels both barrenly lonely and colorfully rich as a painted desert.

7. ON AN ON – Give In
ON AN ON’s sound can be a difficult one to pin down. Nate Elesland’s turn-it-up-to-11, megaphone-sounding vocals alternate between soothing and in your face, only eclipsed by complex indie dance beats where you’re sure the next cymbal crash will blow out your speakers. The end result is a mass of sound that pushes it’s way into every nook and cranny in your head. Alissa Ricci’s incredibly catchy yet airy backing vocals float in and out of this mass, like a ghost haunting every dance inducing track. I’m very interested to see what this band does next.

8. Generationals – Heza
Generations create a deep, textured sound that’s a bit less straight forward than their last album. The record’s California tones flow from high to low energy creating swells and falls of sound, making Heza a surf rock saturated wave that you can ride all the way to the beach.

9. Kurt Vile – Walkin’ On A Pretty Daze
This is the kind of record that you wish was the soundtrack to your day, especially if you’ve had a long night out. Vile’s voice and sedated delivery hangs beautifully on every one of his guitar’s sunny slurred licks.

10. Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost
How does Sam Beam always manage to write the perfect summer’s day record—like an Instagram filter for your ears, coating everything in gold polaroid tones. Even the saddest songs on the record still feel warm to the touch—and like a summer’s day, the album feels over far to quickly.

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.

The Best Albums of 2013 (So Far), Selected by our Writers

Ryan Bort
Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse
From a fan’s perspective, a little uneasiness is natural when an artist decides to opt for a big-name producer and slick studio setting after cutting their debut at home with zero professional assistance or equipment. How instrumental was that lo-fi, DIY charm to their breakout’s appeal, and what happens when it’s stripped away in favor of a more dressed-up sound? In the case of Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers, the bigger budget only allowed him to communicate his vision with more clarity and connect with listeners on an even deeper and more emotional level. From lead single “Mute” to album closer “Daisyphobia,” Wondrous Bughouse tracks a dazzling journey through a galaxy of awe-inspiring soundscapes. It was an ambitious step for Powers, and one that couldn’t have been taken in a home studio in Idaho. Sometimes the more bells and whistles (in this case, literally) an artist has at their disposal the better.

Beca Grimm
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – We The Common
When We The Common dropped, New York finally experienced snow. Upon leaving drinks with a friend, I started back home on the dark paths between warehouses. I cued “Every Body” to walk me home. Banjo stamped custom designs in the falling, glittery flakes. “Yes, we get naked / But not naked enough.” It wasn’t my neighborhood, but it used to be. I left in a hurry a year prior, away from the won ton factory’s oily haze. “Every body has a body above.” Away from personal toxicity. For the first time since I moved, the place didn’t taste sour. Synth buzzed like white noise. I felt calm. Kick drum quickened my pace. That ugly feeling was old, worn of power over me. “I’ve got a brand new / I’ve got a brand new / I’ve got a brand new / I’ve got a brand new way.”

Nathan Huffstutter
Phosphorescent – Muchacho
While the 2013 hype-cycle has cranked on overdrive to promote failures of craft as successes of intention, Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent vastly expanded his sound without compromising a note. The violin-backed “Song For Zula” soars across the desert plains and scores all the handshakes on the talk show circuit, but Muchacho ultimately thrives on its narrative arc of defiance, ruin and renewal. From the lascivious, choogling groove of “Ride On/Right On” to the despairing nocturne “A New Anhedonia” to the hellfire torment of “The Quotidian Beasts,” Houck doesn’t flick out concepts or duck behind contradictions; instead, backed by flophouse piano and borracho horns, the songwriter pursues sin and redemption across throttled-out highways and fouled sheets, finally staggering free to greet the clear dawn sea. As the half-life of internet buzz degrades and other high-profile releases settle below their maker’s best work, Phosphorescent can stand badass country-proud behind the definitive record of his career.

Holly Gleason
Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer, Different Park
Kacey Musgraves arrived with a bright, aggressively acoustic thrust, seemingly the turpentined answer to country’s bloated rock veneer. More importantly, she’s living in the now—singing about kissing girls, smoking dope, real pictures of suburban America (“Mama’s hooked on Mary Kaye, brother’s hooked on Mary Jane and Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down”)—and isn’t compelled to sensationalize, lament or cartoon the life of the Bottom 50 Percent. Her banjo-embroidered, little girl-voiced Trailer isn’t merely a breath of fresh air, it’s inciting a Grrrrlquake in the 6-1-5, and that may be the antidote to what plagues country radio.

Stephen M. Deusner
Ashley Monroe – Like a Rose
We’re only halfway through 2013 and already it’s been a great year for country music—more specifically, for female country singers who have a firm grasp of Nashville tradition and an open mind for its future. At the top of the pack is Ashley Monroe, whose second album—the follow-up to a criminally underpromoted 2007 debut—shows off her bittersweet vocals and her wry songwriting. Requesting weed instead of roses and admitting she’s too weeks late (with rent, among other things), the East Tennessee native and part-time Pistol Annie flaunts Nashville conventions gleefully, but she can sell a ballad like “Used” or “You Got Me” with incredible dignity and poise.

Philip Cosores
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Like another contender for album of the year, Kanye West’s Yeezus, Vampire Weekend have also released an album tied to imagery and concepts from the Judeo-Christian tradition, and managed to top the charts with it. Unlike West, their album has served to end much of the controversy that surrounds them, rather than fan the flames. Critical knocks centering around “white privilege” have largely been silenced by Modern Vampires of the City, not because Vampire Weekend were ever concerned with these, but because the lyrics, the production, the arrangements and the songwriting are all so thoughtful, and even innovative, that they render such readings as inert. As one of the most popular bands in America, both in the mainstream and in the counterculture, it would be easy and financially beneficial to pander to audiences, but by challenging themselves and listeners, exemplified by the emotionally honest “Hannah Hunt,” Vampire Weekend show they can have their cake and eat it, too.

Rachel Bailey
Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
With each release, Kurt Vile demonstrates more mastery of American guitar music, and Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze is no exception. The real trick, though, is how effortless he makes it all sound. With his distracted-sounding, almost mumbled delivery, Vile masks the depth, humor and love that populate his songs. His latest collection, while packed with hooks, is not flashy—but it is roomy, confident and very pretty. That it’s accessible and versatile enough to soundtrack anything from a languid summer afternoon to a day wasted with a hangover to a dinner with friends is a testament to Vile’s skill as a songwriter. He’s spun the influences of such greats of his form as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Tom Petty to make a sound that, while distinctly his own, often manages to feel like an old favorite from the very first listen.

Mark Lore
Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Cynical me is (pleasantly) surprised by how many good releases there’ve been so far in 2013. Incredulous me is still trying to figure out how, after sifting through all of my highlights this year, I keep landing on this one. But Queens of the Stone Age went above and beyond my expectations with …Like Clockwork. Whether by choice or not, Josh Homme has one foot in the broader commercial realm of heavy rock and the other in his own rock and roll laboratory seeking out his own artistic vision. That just doesn’t happen in this day and age. …Like Clockwork is the Queens’ most ambitious work to date, traversing the desert where it all started while staring into the cold, dystopian future. As I said in my review: It’s got something for uppity rock snobs and downcast rock slobs.

Robert Ham
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement – Folklore Venom
Details are scarce regarding the nature of this ongoing project and its creator Dominick Fenrow’s intentions with it. But like walking into a dark basement or creeping into an abandoned house, there’s a delicious thrill in exploring the music within this cassette/digital release. These seven tracks come along like an enveloping fog, with creeping synth drones and minimalist rhythms burbling through the lo-fi murk. If you listen to only one piece from this strange masterpiece, allow me to suggest the gently rolling waves of sound that make up the 10-minute opener “Upside Down Left Eye.” The track evokes a shortwave radio transmission of an LP’s runout groove being broadcast into deep space; as if aliens found the Golden Record aboard the Voyager spacecraft and accidentally left it spinning on their turntable while they explored other parts of the galaxy.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin