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The 13 Best Albums of 2013: Lorde, Kanye West, David Bowie, and More

From Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ to Lorde’s ‘Pure Heroine,’ there were many fine music albums released this year. See our picks for the best of ’13.

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The 13 Best Albums of 2013: Lorde, Kanye West, David Bowie, and More

Last year, we crowned Frank Ocean’s eclectic R&B debut Channel Orange as the best album of 2012 (followed by Beach House’s Bloom and Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City). Miley Cyrus may have dominated music coverage in ‘13, but this year brought us many terrific albums from a wide array of artists, ranging from 17-year-old Lorde to 66-year-old David Bowie. Here are The Daily Beast’s picks for the best albums of the year.

13. Daft Punk – 'Random Access Memories'

OK, this may also be the most overrated album of the year—a disco-infused pastiche that goes down like a smooth island cocktail. But the helmeted French electronic duo, with some tinkering and falsetto-ing from Pharrell Williams, has successfully rebounded from their shitty Tron: Legacy soundtrack to deliver an exuberant, pleasurable album filled with sing-along choruses and nostalgic samples. For their first proper album since the minimalist mixed bag that was Human After All, the robots have taken cheesy ‘70s disco and sexed it up with some ace knob-twirling. It’s not the most innovative album of the year—that would be Yeezus, by a mile—but it may be the most chilled-out. And hell, we could all stand to be a little more chilled-out.

12. Chvrches – 'The Bones of What You Believe'

What a great year for women in music. There was Lorde, Laura Marling, and Haim, the dream pop duo MS MR, garage rock outfit Savages (which you’ll see later on this list), Neko Case (also later), The Knife, Beyoncé, and more. Add to that Chvrches, a synthpop trio from Glasgow led by cutesy front woman (and former journalist) Lauren Mayberry, whose electro confections will have you dancing up a storm (“Gun”) one moment and howling along to a chorus the next (“Recover”). Every track provides an effervescent brew of Mayberry’s powerful vocals—dripping with emotion—and layer upon layer of sonic instrumentation, and sounds like a single. “Who are you to tell me how / to keep myself afloat / I tread the water all the while / you stuck in the knife / that you held at my back,” she croons on “Gun,” about a lost lover. This is fiery, fiery stuff.

11. Deafheaven – 'Sunbather'

My metal days are a bit behind me, but this San Francisco-based shoegaze/post-metal outfit blew me away with their hypnotic mélange of strident symbols, howling vocals, and shrieking guitars. The album is comprised of only seven tracks, many of which exceed ten minutes in length, but provides a wholly immersive experience. Each song is replete with wild tempo changes, shifting from somber ballad to soaring anthem in the blink of an eye. For one hour, Sunbather will hold all of your faculties hostage as you struggle to unmask its puzzle. This is metal’s answer to Explosions in the Sky

10. Arcade Fire – 'Reflektor'

Arcade Fire have, contrary to critical belief, been on the downslope since their brilliant debut Funeral. The songs, though ornately fastened by a deliciously inventive panoply of instrumentation—violin, glockenspiel, xylophone, accordion, and harp, to name a handful—had become a bit too moody and morose for their own good, with singer Win Butler’s powerfully delicate voice approaching Oberst-esque whimpering. With Reflektor, the Texan-Canadian collective—with the help of producer James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame—swapped their trademark swelling, emotional anthems in favor of a more disco/new wave sound. This 85-minute double-album tackles themes of religious hypocrisy and urban alienation with an electro sheen, and is the band’s most ambitious effort to date. While it doesn’t always succeed—the second half gets a bit languid at times, and ends with a whimper instead of a bang—it’s still light years ahead of most musical acts in terms of technical craftsmanship and scope.

9. Parquet Courts – 'Light Up Gold'

Yes, there are still some punk bands out there kickin’ ass and takin’ names, and this Brooklyn quartet is one of them. Over 15 frenzied tracks—most of which clock between two and three minutes in length—the fellas steamroll you with song after song of catchy, witty slacker anthems. There are progressions and digressions; sharp detours; and cynicism to spare. The track “Stoned and Starving,” a five-minute garage rock loop about wandering through Queens in search of some grub, is like Joyce’s Ulysses on THC. What a fun ride.

8. Haim – 'Days Are Gone'

This trio of Angeleno sisters—Esme, Danielle, and Alana Haim—was the talk of this year’s SXSW back in March, but their musicianship steadily improved in the build-up to their debut LP, Days Are Gone. With their harmonizing vocals, angular guitars, and sparse percussion, the gals come off like a cross between Fleetwood Mac and Pat Benatar, and have unleashed a collection of bouncy, breezy tunes that go down very, very smoothly. The sisters’ joie de vivre permeates each and every track, and will infect you as well.

7. David Bowie – 'The Next Day'

The Thin White Duke is back! It’s been ten years since Bowie’s last, slightly disappointing album, Reality, and rumors had begun to spread that the music legend was in poor health. And then he went and unloaded The Next Day on us. Bowie’s 24th studio album, recording over two years and shrouded in secrecy, is a heady mix of bold, beautiful, reflective lyrics—tackling everything from high school shootings, World War II veterans and, of course, love—catchy guitar hooks, confident vocals, and sonic experimentation. “No one ever saw you moving through the dark / Leaving slips of paper somewhere in the park / Hidden from your friends, stealing all they knew / Love is thrown in airless rooms / Thin vile rewards for you,” he sings on track “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die.” This is pure Bowietry and, coupled with the instrumentation, has a cumulative effect of aural delirium, but once you unpack all the odd Bowie-isms—over several listens—you’ll see it for the dazzling return to form that it is.

6. Lorde – 'Pure Heroine'

The artist formerly known as Ella Yelich-O’Connor began the year as curiosity of sorts—that voice, and only 16! Following the release of her debut album, however, the New Zealand chanteuse has graduated from curiosity to full-blown prodigy. Her smoky, powerful voice, a cross between the purring of Lana Del Rey and belt-it-out bravado of Stevie Nicks, is laid over lo-fi minimalist production (think James Blake) in the service of some truly addictive anthems. And the lyrics, fascinating meditations on outsiderism, pop materialism, and friendship—co-written by Lorde—signal the arrival of an artist that’s wise beyond her years. This gal is no joke. Listen to “Royals” or “Team” and just try getting those choruses out of your head. Not a chance.

5. Laura Marling – 'Once I Was An Eagle'

On her fourth album, the 23-year-old British singer-songwriter has achievement something staggering: she’s created a mature, hauntingly poetic concept album about emotional availability. No doubt inspired by her past relationships—with new folkies Charlie Fink (singer of Noah and the Whale, which once counted Marling as a member) and Marcus Mumford—and subsequent move to Los Angeles, Eagle sees Marling bare her soul, crooning in her splendid, airy voice, “Maybe I like pleasure pain / of going and coming back again / what I leave behind / I come back to find / it’s no longer mine.” With just a soft voice, tender guitar picking, and a lilting piano, Marling has made the folk album of the year.

4. Queens of the Stone Age – '…Like Clockwork'

The California-based band comprised of singer-guitarist Josh Homme and Co. hadn’t really produced a great album since their stellar 2002 LP Songs for the Deaf. Some of this was down to the constant rejiggering of the lineup, including the addition (and then subtraction, and then re-addition) of drummer Dave Grohl, the strange orgy of guest vocalists on the more experimental LP Era Vulgaris, Homme’s involvement in Them Crooked Vultures, and his producing gigs on the side. But, after six years, Queens finally released their long-awaited follow-up to Vulgaris. …Like Clockwork is a seductively loud, dangerous, sexy album that beckons its listeners to peel back layer upon layer of sound. It’s the darkest, most mysterious effort of the year, and a stunning return to form from a band that was all but left for dead.

3. Vampire Weekend – 'Modern Vampires of the City'

On their third album, Columbia University’s finest Afropop/indie rock outfit eschewed the varied instrumentation (and Paul Simon-esque Afrobeat) of their previous album, Contra, in favor of a less dervish approach, employing pitch-shifting and harmonizing—of vocals, and various instrumentation—to create a batch of elegant, fascinating musical quilts. The songwriting is also more mature, casting aside themes of twenty-something privilege to explore more grandiose topics like faith and U.S. imperialism. “I thought it over, and drew the curtain / Leave me to my cell, leave me to my cell / I hummed the Dies Irae as you played the Hallelujah / Leave me to my cell, don’t leave me in my cell,” singer Ezra Koenig croons on “Everlasting Arms” (Dies Irae translates to the “Day of Wrath,” referencing a 13th century Latin hymn). This is, in many ways, their Sgt. Pepper’s, and cements the band’s status as the finest indie band on the planet.

2. Phosphorescent – 'Muchacho'

Phosphorescent is the stage name of Brooklyn-based (by way of Georgia) singer-songwriter Matthew Houck, and his sixth studio album, Muchacho, is his most fully realized effort to date. Like Bon Iver crossed with Ray LaMontagne, Houck has crafted a beauteous album packed with heartrending tunes about love and loss. The emotional rawness of the lyrics coalesces with the dream-pop arrangements to create moody, addictive soundscapes that burst with feeling. “See, honey, I am not some broken thing / I do not lay here in the dark waiting for thee / No, my heart is gold, my feet are light / And I am racing out on the desert plains all night,” he sings on “Song For Zula.” Muchacho features arguably the best songwriting of the year.

1. Kanye West – 'Yeezus'

The 36-year-old Chicago native may be the most polarizing musical artist of the 21st century but, love him or hate him, there’s no denying his considerable talent. And on his sixth solo studio album, Yeezus, the producer-rapper has delivered his most sonically audacious and cohesive LP to date. Over ten wildly diverse tracks, ranging from club bangers to dizzying lo-fi industrial blasts (courtesy of co-producer Rick Rubin) to the Nina Simone-sampling “Blood On the Leaves,” West provides listeners a Being John Malkovich-esque wormhole into his psyche, exposing his myriad contradictions and vast array of stylings. No album this year came as close to pushing the musical boundaries as Yeezus. This is West at his most bizarre and experimental; it’s his Kid A.

C Flanigan

Honorable Mentions:

Arctic Monkeys – AM (pictured)

 

My Bloody Valentine – M B V

 

Savages – Silence Yourself

 

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You

 

Danny Brown – Old