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The Best Music of 2013: Introduction & Honorable Mentions

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Why, hello there! Maybe you thought the ROTI team was gonna take a year off from reviewing the greatest and best tunes to emerge since last December. You thought wrong!

Yes, we’re a solid month past the end of List Season, but after the sneak-attack Beyonce record made every professional music critic look foolish, I like to think of it as simply thoughtfully biding our time for the year to conclude before summing up THE YEAR IN MUSIC 2013. Update: An index to the entire countdown can be found here.

So here are the beginnings of that summation. Enjoy!

NOTES ON METHODOLOGY

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Artistic appreciation is inherently a bit subjective and varies a lot from person to person. In an attempt to gather wisdom from outside my own mindbrain, I crunched best-of-the-year lists sent in from a panel of experts based all over this great land. Then, exercising my best editorial judgment, I shaped these rankings into a Best Music of 2013 list that reflects not only the will of our expert panel but also a general view on the most thought-provoking, rewarding and exciting album releases this year.

Thanks to C. Dave, Doan, Serious Nihilism, Alison the Business Casual, Jeni Sue, Lady McGregor, EBC, Andy & Andrea, Secret M, Izzie B, Schmentz, and many more who might not have even known they were influencing this list when they rocked a new record on Spotify or brought a great track to my attention via Facebook. A loving hat tip to every genius who helped craft this list. And thanks also to DB, who provided motivation to get the job done.

Please note that I know nothing about classical, jazz, or true experimental music, so please seek that wisdom elsewhere. I also concede a bias against challenging genres like “drone” and “black metal” — I’m just more inclined towards music that I can throw on the stereo in a roomful of people. Thus some potentially great records are either underrepresented, underrated, or not present here. Serious fans of that kind of stuff may want to look elsewhere!

Along those lines, you will probably disagree with the particular order presented here, which is pretty expected, since it’s ultimately arbitrary and I know for a fact that most of the expert panel will disagree as well. (And no doubt I’ll curse myself in six months for whiffing on a few albums and overranking some others.) But hopefully, you’ll enjoy and discover a lot of great music along the way. Feel free to vent your outrage and vitriol in our comments, or to print out the posts and do horrible things to the hard copies. Or just drop me a line on Twitter.

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST

The playlist begins with tracks from the albums listed below — and will be updated as the list is revealed. Now updated to include our countdown in its entirety.

THE LIST BEGINS!

And now for 50 honorable mentions — presented in alphabetical order. Essentially, this is 51-100 on our countdown. All are excellent albums well worth checking out! You may find you prefer ’em to those yet to come.

Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose. Miranda Lambert’s sidekick (Pistol Annies) comes into her own on this classic country set. Monroe is a singer-songwriter whose tunes any fan of the Nashville sound will enjoy.

Atlas Genius, When It Was Now. Aussie indie band comes through strong with a sharp set keynoted by hit single “Trojans.”

Au Revoir Simone, Move in Spectrums. The best band ever to be named for a quote from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure delivers a great record packed full of shimmering ladyvocals and tight beatz.

Bastille, Bad Blood. London synth-wielders come strong with this 80s-inspired set that lights up the dance floor with several uplifting cuts.

Bill Callahan, Dream River. The coolest middle-aged baritone around continues to age like a barrel of fine American bourbon.

The Blank Tapes, Vacation. A wonderful California hippie record, complete with an ode to the Double Rainbow. Highlights are the poppy summer single “Uh Oh” and the dank, rocking “Tamarind Seeds.”

Boards of Canada, Tomorrow’s Harvest. Scots electrobros maintain their mastery of textured atmospherics with cuts like “Reach for the Dead.”

Boogarins, As Plantas Que Curam. Brazilian psychedelic rockers say hello to Earth with the cleverly titled “Lucifernandes.” 

Brendan Benson, You Were Right. The veteran rocker brings forth a rootsy set highlighted by the rambunctious “Swallow You Whole.”

Brothertiger, Future Splendors. John Jagos’ second full-length defies bedroom pop cliches, layering sweet slabs of synth and vocals to soar to a dreamy peak.

Charli XCX, True Romance. A solid set from the mind behind Icona Pop’s huge global hit “I Love It.” The single “Nuclear Seasons” (first released in 2012) is an especial highlight.

Cloud Cult, Love. This highly earnest Minneapolis collective’s latest album is bursting at the seams with dozens of instruments and anthemic choruses.

Cults, StaticI can’t help but call this record a disappointment after the triumph that was Cults’ 2011 self-titled, but it still packs a punch. “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” is a tasty jam.

David Bowie, The Next Day. This surprise record thrilled rock critics for obvious reasons — who could possibly object to new music from human deity David Bowie? It’s nothing special by Bowie standards, but the title track still slays the best efforts of most musicians in their prime of life.

Dawn of Midi, Dysnomia. The outstanding second record from this Brooklyn-based trio, who combine percussion, double bass and piano into an extended mimimalist, groovy jam.

Deer Tick, Negativity. The Providence stalwarts’ latest album is packed full of alt-country growlers, as singer John McCauley seems to be coming emotionally unhinged throughout. Selfishly, I enjoyed the results.

Ducktails, The Flower Path. Real Estate’s guitarist finally takes his side project seriously, going into the studio to create this set of melodic, dreamy tunes augmented by electronic beats and guest vocals from the likes of Cults’ Madeline Follin.

Endless Boogie, Long Island. Psychedelic shredders from a wizened master of the genre. Paul Major leads his troops on a time-traveling magic carpet ride. “Imprecations” is audio acid.

Fear of Men, Early Fragments. Two girls and two guys from the Brighton, UK art school scene set out to make a shoegaze record, but can’t silence their indie pop inclinations.

The Flaming Lips, The Terror. Wayne Coyne and the Omaha legends plop another wedge of freaky brilliance on the world’s collective consciousness. “You Lust” is 10 minutes of mindzonkage.

Ghostface Killah, Twelve Reasons to DieA blood-drenched rap opera about a vengeful spirit on a campaign of revenge against a Mafia empire. Producer Adrian Younge provides a dramatic backdrop for Ghost’s unfailingly entertaining flow. I loved this record.

Guards, In Guards We Trust. Speaking of Madeline Follin, her younger brother made a record this year too! Tracks like “I Know It’s You” are on-point NYC indie rock, great soundtracks to a subway ride.

Jenny O., Automechanic. Charming LA country-rocker spins road tales and wistful lovelorn songs. I don’t think the phrase “I can machine” has ever been deployed in a song before.

Junip, Junip. Swede strummer Jose Gonzales rejoins his pre-fame trio, producing this record that adds grooves to acoustic jams, and contains winning tracks like “Line of Fire.”

The Knife, Shaking the Habitual. A lot of smart people really loved this electronic, highly political record, but I didn’t find anything as tactile as their old hit “Heartbeats” to grip on to. I did appreciate the Margaret Atwood references, though.

Local Natives, Hummingbird. Kind of a huge disappointment after the masterpiece that was 2011’s Gorilla Manor BUT at their best, Local Natives still evoke Byrnian highs. “You & I” is choice.

The Lone Bellow, The Lone Bellow. The phrase “Brooklyn country music” makes me stabby, but gentle melodies and tight harms will never be unwelcome in this space.

Lorde, Pure Heroine. The Kiwi who took over America without firing a shot. Everyone knows and loves “Royals,” but “Tennis Court” is also a pretty stellar cut.

Los Campesinos!, No Blues. The Campesinos! family (they all go by that last name) are back at it again with an overall solid record that hits some enjoyable peaks. “Avocado Baby” is a cracking track.

Lucius, Wildewoman. Frontwomen Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig fuse Berklee skillz and Brooklyn indie cred on this highly enjoyable debut. “Turn It Around” should be a radio hit.

Majical Cloudz, Impersonator. Devon Welsh, known for his collabs with Grimes (last year’s #1 artist), formed this duo with music man Matthew Otto. “Childhood’s End” is a dreamy, melodic winner.

MIA, Matangi. What is otherwise a sad mile marker on MIA’s decline into irrelevance is somewhat saved by two great tracks co-starring The Weeknd — especially the enjoyable closer, “Sexodus.” Otherwise, if I wanted a laundry list of war-torn areas of the world I would just read The New York Times.

Mutual Benefit, Love’s Crushing Diamond. This was the best year in recent memory for the Boston music scene, and Texan transplant Jordan Lee helped lead the way with this gorgeous record. “Advanced Falconry” is a gem.

The National, Trouble Will Find Me. The year’s most polarizing record — members of our panel openly argued about this album on Facebook. It fell WAY short of High Violet in my opinion, but I can’t fully dis a band with a deep-voiced singer.

Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. The gifted ginger thrilled her fans with this record, a tough omission from the Top 50. “Night Still Comes” has some of the year’s tastiest backing vox behind Case’s invariably great lead.

Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks. A surprisingly accessible, danceable record from Trent Reznor — at first I thought this might be a exploration of the territory he first explored while tooling on Chris Cornell! Catchy cuts like “Everything” and “Copy of a” perhaps reveal paths Reznor might have initially pursued if he had grown up a pampered, happy millennial. Like the Bowie comment above, Reznor’s career bar is too high for this record to raise it, but it’s a super fun listen — when was the last time anyone said that about a NIN record?

The Octopus Project, Fever Forms. An experimental music outfit goes pop! Catchy jam “Whitby” evokes Devo, a band that The Octopus Project has often supported on tour.

Palms, Palms. Chino Moreno, the singer of Deftones, joins forces with the sidemen of recently-split band Isis to form this alt-metal powerhouse. Epic tracks abound with ear-friendly vox and instrumentation.

Pissed Jeans, Honeys. An outstanding blue-collar punk record for a white-collar world. My favorite track is probably “Cafeteria Food,” a tightly-wound narrative of evilly-hilarious cubicle-world rage.

Portugal. The Man, Evil Friends. My expectations for a PTM record helmed by Danger Mouse were absurdly high, and they were, unfortunately, unmet. Single release “Modern Jesus” has a reallllly bad lyric, and the album overall falls short of the band’s masterful In The Mountain In The Cloud. Still, Danger Mouse’s production always sounds amazing, and “Creep in a T-Shirt” got a lot of spins from me this summer.

Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork. Josh Homme, one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, still has a knack for an evil-sounding jam. His vocals ain’t bad, either. “I Sat By The Ocean” is a bluesy joy.

Rhye, Woman. It’s REALLY easy to forget you are not listening to Sade when you spin Woman. Singer Mike Milosh’s voice defies gender norms and Robin Hannibal builds tasty grooves for it to float on. “Last Dance” is a jam I particularly enjoy.

Smith Westerns, Soft Will. The first band to make me feel really old (when I saw their 2010 video for “Weekend”) return with this slightly more mature set. I’m not sure I hear a classic among these tracks, but Smith Westerns’ gentle sound is always appealing.

St. Lucia, When The Night. Washed Out meets Justin Timberlake. South African-born Jean-Philip Grobler combines gauzy, 80s-pop instrumental tracks with a gorgeous singing voice. Put “Elevate” on a mix CD for a pretty girl or guy and go in for the smooch.

Ty Segall, Sleeper. The axman known for his balls-to-the-wall shredding surprised everyone with this gentle, mournful record. Still, it feels great to hear him cut loose at the end of “The Man Man.”

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, II. “So Good at Being in Trouble” is one of my favorite indie tracks of the year, with “Swim and Sleep” not far behind. As a whole, the album doesn’t line up to those two cuts, but let’s not get greedy.

Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City. Cue the outrage! I just don’t like this band as much as most of my peers; most of their music just makes me want to listen to Graceland for the 10 millionth time instead. This record was aight, though. “Diane Young” is a jam.

Widowspeak, Almanac. Not the great leap forward I was finger-crossing for after their jawdropping debut, but a lovely record nonetheless.

Yo La Tengo, Fade. These baseball fans have still got their fastball. “Ohm” is a highlight of this well-rounded set from the indie legends.

Young Man, Beyond Was All Around Me. A fitting last will and testament for the now-disbanded group (frontman Colin Caulfield joined DIIV), this record is packed with steadily building jam sessions that build to satisfying conclusions. They went out on top!

Next: The top 20 pop and hip-hop singles of 2013.

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About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

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