2013 was a great year for music. A few of my favorite bands had new releases (some good, some okay, some bad), other up and coming artists released stellar debuts, and some folks appeared out of nowhere.
There was no unifying theme for the year; instead, 2013 reflected the continual diversity of modern music. There is something for everybody. Whether you love psychedelic rock, country, hip hop, soul, or jazz, an artist is making new, ear-warming tunes for you right now.
So, before folks call me out for not including their favorite band, let’s acknowledge these are just albums that I have enjoyed and stuck with me.
I’m not going to lie and call this the best of 2013, because everybody’s taste is different, and there are a lot of albums that I didn’t listen to, barely listened to, and never heard about.
Nonetheless, through the power of the internet, particularly Spotify, I have tried to listen as many new albums as possible. Checking the releases each Tuesday, exchanging recommendations with friends, listening and rating festival prospects through our stupendous project Hippohonk (check it), going to shows (and watching openers!), and keeping my ears open.
All together, I have listened to around 340 albums. Certainly not all as many times as I would like, but still, there’s a lot out there.
Why make a list?
To help these artists make some money!
Let’s share the love. If you like an artist, tell your friends, tell your parents, tell the world. Maybe somebody will buy an album, wear a tshirt, go to a show, or stream it online. Whatever you do, it helps artists and hopefully leads to more music that you love.
Listen to new music, support your favorite musicians, and tell your friends what you love. Sharing is caring.
That being said, here are
Tony’s Favorite 50 Albums of 2013
Note: Band name links to a youtube video; album name links to Spotify.
Also rankings feel somewhat arbitrary; I love all these albums. After #10, you can pretty much discount the rankings, and after #25, I just list them alphabetically. Definitely recommend watching the youtube videos for some fun.
1. Futurebirds - Baba Yaga - Great debut album from these Athens, GA boys. This is new Americana; each song has a beautiful drawl in the lyrics and the music.
2. The National - Trouble Will Find Me - Dark, brooding, and beautiful, The National’s new album is my favorite of theirs. Absolutely perfect.
3. Portugal, The Man - Evil Friends - This band and this album are just too much fun. These guys blend all sorts of styles from jam band to funky David Bowie, but are all around a joy. If you can see them live, do it. “I just wanna be evil!”
4. Rhye - Woman - These guys are channeling Sade. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s funky, and you should listen to it. Beautiful.
5. Jim James - Regions of Light and Sound of God - Well, if we can’t have a My Morning Jacket album this year, at least we got this piece of gold from Jim James. Intensely personal and unique solo album with even better live performances.
6. Wild Cub - Youth - This album was one of my favorites of 2013, but apparently it’s been de-released and is being released again officially in 2014 on a different label? You can still hear the single, Thunder Clatter, online. Regardless, it’s a joyful, indie rock/pop/ funk album reminiscent of Passion Pit and so forth but better in some ways. It always makes me smile.
7. CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe - Yeah, it’s on everybody’s list, but yeah, it’s really good. The full album dropped following a fantastic SXSW performance, and they’ve been back to Austin twice since them. These British kids are working hard. Indie-electropop badassery.
8. Phosphorescent - Muchacho - I love all of Matthew Houck’s work as Phosphorescent, particularly his 2010 album Here’s To Taking It Easy. This followup is softer, more personal, and more beautiful. You’d maybe call it indie folk.
9. Haim - Days Are Gone - We were loving these sisters so much when all they had were a few singles and music videos, and I’m so happy they are having all this success. Three badass sisters that sound like Fleetwood Mac meets grittier indie rock and roll. You can’t lose.
10. Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium - My favorite Okkervil River album yet, The Silver Gymnasium is more upbeat, whimsical, and accessible than past releases. I can listen to “Stay Young” on repeat without it ever getting old.
11. Arcade Fire - Reflektor - Haters gonna hate, but I love the new Arcade Fire more than any work they’ve done since Funeral. Funky and fresh, with a touch of David Bowie and James Murphy. What more can you ask for?
12. Typhoon - White Lighter - Holy cow these guys are good. Indie folk from Oregon. You probably haven’t heard much like them.
13. Arctic Monkeys - AM - Maybe not as gritty as their first albums, the new Arctic Monkeys release is more polished and perfect. They hit each note at the right time, and it still freaking rocks.
14. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories - How could I not include Daft Punk? They have been one of my favorite acts for 15 years. While Random Access Memories is different from some of their past works, the departure is towards greater artistry.
15. Caveman - Caveman - Their live show was really disappointing this year, but I still can’t get this softly subtle, indie-Americana album out of my head.
16. White Denim - Corsicana Lemonade - I didn’t love White Denim, but with this new album (Jeff Tweedy of Wilco produce) they really took it to a different level. Good solid rock and roll.
17. Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers - Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers - Some 2.5 million people have seen their cover of I Can’t Go for That recorded in their tour van (see the first link), but Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers have more to offer than just covers. Channelling Bonnie Rait, these guys are packing some great 70′s style rock and roll. This album was even further reinforced by a badass live show at the Parish this fall on Nicki’s birthday. (Note: I also love Bonnie Rait)
18. Elvis Costello and the Roots - Wise Up Ghost - What collaboration did you least expect in 2013? If you guessed Elvis Costello and the Roots, then you guessed right. At first it seems like a surprising pairing, but the more you think about it and listen to it, it starts to make perfect sense. It has funk. It has horns. It has rock. It has a beat.
19. Wild Belle - Isles - What can I say? I have loved Wild Belle since randomly seeing them on a side stage during SXSW 2012. This brother-sister duo of Elliot and Natalie Bergman from Chicago brings lethargic but well-layered reggae with an indie twist. Still can’t believe I used to regularly see Elliot in the afrobeat band NOMO while in grad school in Ann Arbor. Also helps that Natalie is both gorgeous and talented.
20. Latasha Lee & the BlackTies – Latasha Lee & the BlackTies – Wow, this girl can SING! She reminds me of Amy Winehouse but with more soul and reggae.
21. Lorde – Pure Heroine – Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody loves Lorde, but damn, this shit is good.
22. Jenny O. - Automechanic - Why are more people not listening to this lady? She’s a singer-songwriter with some attitude and her own sound.
23. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II – These guys are definitely different, but when they bring out that low-fi ’70s soulfullness, I cannot resist.
24. Cults – Static – At first I didn’t like Cults’ sophomore release as much as their self-titled debut (which everybody should listen to), but after seeing them perform it live, I was sold. It’s like the 1960′s meets indie rock meets some electronic.
25. Cayucas – Bigfoot – They sound like the Beach Boys meets 2013. It’s fun, summertime music that is hard to resist.
- Alpine – A is for Alpine - A is also for Awesome, which is what this Australian indie pop debut album is.
- Bear Mountain – Xo - Eccentric, cluttered, electropop tunes from Canada
- Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip – The Abstract and the Dragon - I haven’t had a lot of time to listen to this album yet, but man, this is some great hip hop. How can you go wrong with these two? Listen online via the second link.
- Cage the Elephant – Melophobia - I really don’t know much about these guys but can’t help but really like this solid indie rock album that has a nice mid-90s feel at times.
- Charli XCX – True Romance - Unadulterated Britpop fun.
- Delorean – Apar - More beautiful, spacey, indie-electropop Basque tunes.
- Deltron 3030 – Event II - Solid follow up to one of the best underground hip hop albums of the 2000′s.
- Empire of the Sun – Ice on the Dune - Great followup to their 2008 debut, Walking on a Dream. This is the best dance-pop album of the year.
- Hockey – Wyeth IS - Slept on the new Hockey album until recently, but this is a great indie rock album and probably would have made my Top 25 if I’d started listening to it earlier in the year.
- Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze – This is a really great, mellow rock album from Kurt Vile, who at times sounds like Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, but overall it’s a bit too repetitive and similar from track to track.
- Little Daylight – Tunnel Vision EP – Another great electropop act, this time from Brooklyn.
- Los Campesinos! – No Blues - Not as great as their previous masterpiece, Hello Sadness, this is still a wonderful ironically bitter and sarcastic punkish indie rock album from one of my favorite bands.
- Los Porcos – “Sunshine / C.F.W.” EP – Love, love, love what the ex-members of WU LYF (minus frontman Ellery Roberts) are doing. This electropop goodness is candy for my ears, and I can’t wait until they cut a full album. If you’re wondering what Ellery Roberts is doing with his distinct voice, you need to see this video for Kerou’s Lament.
- MS MR – Secondhand Rapture - Dark, brooding, and awesome. Lizzy Plapinger can rock.
- Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You – I still don’t love this as much as 2009′s Middle Cyclone, but it’s still Neko and unique, enigmatic, and badass.
- Noah and the Whale – Heart of Nowhere – Sometimes this guys voice reminds me of They Might Be Giants. The songs are also very upbeat and sound a bit like the ’90s.
- On An On - Give In - Solid indie rock debut.
- Only Real – Days in the City EP – Another fantastic EP from the English youth. I cannot wait until they come for SXSW and cut a full album next year. Seriously love this. It sounds like WU LYF meets Arctic Monkeys. Irreverent and yeah. Good stuff.
- San Cisco – San Cisco – I like to describe these guys as the Australian Vampire Weekend but better.
- Sir Sly – Gold EP – Badass indie rock debut EP. These guys put on an energetic live show.
- Radiator Hospital – Something Wild - Indie rock with a fast pace and a punk feel at times. This is some good stuff.
- Trails and Ways – Trilingual [EP] - Fresh and light indie pop from Oakland with lyrics sometimes in, you guessed it, three languages. Personally, I love the Ghost Beach cover of their song Miracle, which isn’t on this EP, best. Listen here.
- Washed Out – Paracosm - New Washed Out is dreamy and beautiful and fresh like his first album.
- Wolf Alice – Bros [Single] – While not an album, I love all the singles from Wolf Alice and cannot wait to see them at SXSW. Bros is upbeat indie pop and excellent.
- Pretty Lights - A Color Map of the Sun - Best hip hop DJ album I have heard since Pretty Lights’ debut.
Honorable Mention (Most of these I just haven’t listened to enough)
After putting this together, I now say, screw it. These albums are all #1 and worth your listen. Have fun.
“I fuck up all the time, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever sold my soul to the devil, and I don’t feel like I’ve ever sucked anybody’s dick to get anywhere. I don’t feel like I’ve ever played that game.”
-Jim James in Rolling Stone, 2013.