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The Best Music of 2013 [Albums #20-#11]

20-11

Our countdown continues with albums 20 through 11. Key tracks from each — and the entirety of great jams from earlier in our countdown — can be found on the mighty mighty Spotify playlist:

#20. Deafheaven, Sunbather

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This is a ranking sure to satisfy nobody…if you like things like “experimental black metal,” then this will almost certainly be one of your five favorite albums of the year. If you really don’t like that sort of thing, it probably won’t be in your five HUNDRED favorite albums of the year. I don’t exactly dial up 10+ minute epics of death and anguish when I’m looking for a good listen — but I have to tell you, this is one of the best headphone records of the year. Deafheaven are George Clarke on vox and Kerry Clarke on axes, backed by drummer Daniel Tracy for this record. Suffice it to say that they know how to build a punishing soundscape.

“Vertigo” is my personal favorite track, a 14 minute monster that starts gently and gradually builds in amplitude through some shredding solos and finally breaking into outright screaming — then repairing for an instrumental interlude before upshifting into an absolute rampage — THEN decaying into a ghostly apparition of itself before exploding like a motherfuckin’ supernova in slow motion. That’s all in one song. It is pretty god damn righteous.

#19. Drake, Nothing Was The Same

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Two of the year’s best singles — “Started from the Bottom” and “Hold On We’re Going Home” — are the highlights of this triumphant record from the pride of Toronto. He’s carved out the space in commercial rap that Kanye has so forcefully vacated, and he has a better singing voice too. His versatility is key to his appeal: Drake can go hard with 2 Chainz, but he also isn’t afraid to shed a tear and go emo — inspiring the entertaining twitter feed Drake The Type:

Noah “40” Shebib, the producer who has helped define Drake’s downtempo sound and served as his secret weapon throughout his career, shares writing or production credit on almost every track. It took me a long time to warm up to the “Drake sound,” but consider me won over. Even when they put out a track called “Wu Tang Forever,” which I want to hate on principle, I get caught up in the beat and end up loving it. And again, the two lead singles off this album are simply monstrous.

#18. Youth Lagoon, Wondrous Bughouse

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Who knew the quiet kid from Idaho would end up channeling the spirit of Syd Barrett? Trevor Powers’ first album The Year of Alienation was good, but pales by comparison to this breakout effort. Wondrous Bughouse intoxicates completely, then drifts away like a nice dream. “Mute” explodes in flowery glory that grows for six solid minutes before giving way to the cantering “Attic Doctor” and the freakout is on. By the time the bubbling fadeout of “Daisyphobia” arrives, all you want to do is put the record on again. Avant-garde psychedelia has rarely been so accessible.

#17. Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap

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Exploding out of Chicago with this maniacal mixtape, Chancelor Bennett forces us to reconsider everything we thought we knew about the Windy City rap scene. This couldn’t be further from the trap beats and Chief Keef threats we’re familiar with. It’s less drug dealer, and more drug aficionado.

“Juice” evokes the goofy joy of ODB at his best and “Cocoa Butter Kisses” could be a classic Pharcyde track with its nostalgic chorus and playful rhymes. Chance’s rhymes and hooks are perfectly complemented by a series of outstanding beats — the Willie Hutch sample famous from “Rat-A-Tat-Tat” reappears to back the far chiller “Lost,” and “NaNa” samples a dank Freddie Hubbard bassline for Chance and Action Bronson (who is amazing on this) to rumble over. It’s a ridiculously fun record bursting with promise.

#16. Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

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“Maybe in the mind, it’s a hell of a time…in the darkness.” The inspirations are obvious: The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan — and Anton Newcombe. It’s 60s throwback rock ‘n’ roll from a couple of bicoastal bohemians and their merry band. Reading the array of breathless press that’s followed Foxygen through compelling records and disastrous gigs, you get the impression that the alliance between Sam France and Jonathan Rado is a tenuous one. But when the two are locked in, the tracks that emerge are The Brian Jonestown Massacre on steroids.

21st Century Ambassadors is loaded with masterful cuts that seem to build a bridge between 70s New York and 60s California — on this side “No Destruction,” on that side “San Francisco.” A steady build to insanity fuels “On Blue Mountain,” and the epic jam “Oh No” closes the album in stupendous fashion. Foxygen isn’t forging any new sounds here, but they are tremendously gifted in the styles they’re working with.

#15. My Bloody Valentine, mbv

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Kevin Shields is a guitar god’s guitar god, and his return to the spotlight after a 22-year gap between albums completely lived up to the hype. mbv is a spectacular album that proves Shields and his band haven’t lost much of a step since they dropped two all-time classic albums, founded shoegaze and inspired everyone from Radiohead to Smashing Pumpkins to U2 before vanishing in the mid-90s. Of course, part of that consistency is owing to the fact that huge swathes of this brilliant record were salvaged from 1997 recording sessions that went off the rails. We can count ourselves lucky that this material finally made it to market. In the words of Dr. Jones, “It belongs in a museum!”

The first three cuts of this self-released record are completely stellar: “She Found Now” is a placid wall of sound, “Only Tomorrow” is a decayed pop record, and “Who Sees You” is a torrent of gorgeous noise. By the time you reach the end of mbv, even the uninitiated can understand why MBV’s music has caused people to literally poop themselves. If it doesn’t quite match up to the standard of Loveless, it can’t be faulted — really, not much ever has.

#14. Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold

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Brooklyn country-punkers purveying a highly appealing blend of rawk. Frontman Andrew Savage takes the band through their paces and song after song is flawlessly executed. “Master of My Craft” is no idle boast. It’s hard to ID any songs I did not still fully enjoy on this album after dozens of listens. It’s consistently good all the way through.

Whether they’re hollering out a melody or chanting an anthem, Parquet Courts are never short of energy or charm. I suppose my favorites are the ascending hook and dead stops of “Borrowed Time,” the yelping melody of “Yonder Is Closer To The Heart,” the Velvetslike “Stoned and Starving,” and the Clashlike “Light Up Gold II.” Call this one Brooklyn Calling.

#13. Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus

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From the opening beat of “Brainfreeze,” the Bristol electronic team of Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power make it clear that they are here to melt faces. “Stalker” starts with throbbing, scary menace and consistently builds intensity throughout its ten-minute run, slowly transforming to become weirdly inspiring and cinematically epic — this wouldn’t be out of place for the scene where Dave Bowman flies through the stargate in 2001.

So many killers abound. “Prince’s Prize” bumps with electro-thump, and “The Red Wing” reminds me of Cornershop’s weirdest instrumental moments. Ultimately, this is an album whose charms lie with sounds sufficiently wacked-out to defy my puny word-grapplings. Just get yourself a nice set of speakers and crank it up.

#12. Grouplove, Spreading Rumours

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When the hype for this group and album started building, I looked into ’em and found this description on Spotify: “New Yorkers Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi, through sheer kismet, forged a friendship with Sean Gadd, Ryan Rabin, and Andrew Wessen while attending an art residency on the island of Crete.” And so I was fully prepared to hate Grouplove. But it turns out this album, their second LP, is completely awesome.

Zucconi, Hooper and Wessen provide intertwining vocals that propel the album forward with energy and enthusiasm — Hooper is an especially compelling presence, with a voice that can be playful but then turn in an instant to cut like a knife. “Ways to Go” is certainly the breakout cut here, but Spreading Rumours is jammed with other fantastic songs: “Shark Attack” is a way less pretentious version of Vampire Weekend, “Borderlines and Aliens” is a weird, wonderful shredfest, and “Sit Still” is a ramshackle jam. Grouplove, I love you.

#11. Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time

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Another record that made me raise a skeptical eyebrow and then completely won me over. I was all, “who’s this dampened chippie showing boob on her album cover to get a rise?” One spin of this record was enough to make me respect Sky Ferreira’s talent. She’s a compelling force to be reckoned with, charging ahead through a collection crafted with crack producers Ariel Rechtshaid and Justin Louis Raisen.

Night Time, My Time makes a nice pairing with Haim’s Days Are Gone: it’s the late-night party to Haim’s sunny picnic, and there’s some degree of production staff crossover. Both are catnip for anyone who listened to the Top Gun soundtrack way too many times (raises hand). Ferreira gets the edge for me, with the blistering vocals she delivers on “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)” among my favorite indie-pop performances of the year. Other great tracks include the grungily romantic “Boys,” the rocking “I Will,” and lead single “You’re Not the One.” Sky Ferreira is a born star and she commands respect with this record.

If you can’t get enough Sky, then for a bonus treat co-starring other ROTI favorites, be sure to check out her Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) collab from last year, “Everything is Embarrassing” — there’s also a Twin Shadow remix kicking around out there!

NEXT: The final installment of our countdown, with our #1 record of the year.

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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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