The staff here at Glide as usual had a hell of year narrowing down our picks for the best albums of 2013. After critiquing every significant release and deciding whether some releases might be too pop or others not fitting of the band’s strongest efforts, it all still comes down to the best of the year. We’re confident that this is a definitive list of 2013’s best albums. A lot of great music came out this year across several genres most noticeably Daft Punk’s huge comeback album, spirited debuts by Haim and Parquet Courts and Foals and Frightened Rabbit continuing to churn out quality recordings. And while there were some disappointments from some Glide favorites (Arcade Fire, Dawes, Pearl Jam), there’s still a lot to be said with these 20 top choices and our 20 honorable mentions.
Top 20 (In Alphabetical Order)
Basia Bulat – Tall Tall Shadow
Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat’s third album is by far her most accomplished work yet, full of songs that demonstrate the magic that happens when you match visionary producers (Arcade Fire’s Tim Kingsbury and Mark Lawson) with absolutely stunning writing. Bulat is in top form here, with title track “Tall Tall Shadow,” “Wires” and “It Can’t Be You” redefining her aesthetic to expand from the folk background she’s known for into areas of more varied texture and depth of introspection. A truly magnificent offering from quite an underrated singer.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Even without the summer hit of 2013 “Get Lucky,” this stunning album hits hard with the help of various luminaries, like Nile Rodgers, Chilly Gonzalez, Julian Casablancas, Pharrell Williams, Paul Williams, etc. Hard to label as EDM, Random Access Memories is more “disco revival” with slinky guitar riffs and low funky bass lines. It’s the brilliantly chosen collaborators where style and beats create memorable finished products like Panda Bear’s hypnotic “Doing it Right” and the spoken word piece from disco legend Giorgio Moroder that make for such a powerful display of creativity.
David Bowie- The Next Day
Just when we thought we might have heard the last from the Thin White Duke, he comes out of nowhere with The Next Day (his first studio album since 2003’s Reality) and arguably the greatest comeback album ever. Bowie and producer Tony Visconti worked hush-hush on this project, which many Bowie fans are calling his best since 1980’s Scary Monsters. From the spine tingling ballad and lead single “Where Are We Now” to rockers “The Stars Are Out Tonight” and the throbbing robotic synth of “Love is Lost,” The Next Day will satisfy almost any Bowie era fan.
Disclosure – Settle
This is one of those surprising debut records that feels veritably “lived in” – almost like this could be a third or fourth album from a well-established act. The fact that it’s Disclosure’s first is testament to their ability to work with both experimental sounds and textures and combine them with pop hooks and perfectly crafted guest vocals. It’s a brilliant debut, and it’ll be great to see what this Surrey-based duo comes up with next.
Foals – Holy Fire
Holy Fire is a natural progression from the dense math-rock of their debut Antidotes, through to the spacious creations of breakthrough record Total Life Forever and into something bigger and somehow more infectious. The Bloc Party comparisons have not stopped, and as long as there’s a disco heart throbbing inside Foals’ multifaceted sound, they probably won’t. But there’s plenty of evidence on Holy Fire that Foals have their own unique way of doing things.
Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse
On their first three releases, Frightened Rabbit more closely resembled an outfit fronted by a budding songwriter/front-man with backup players than a full band; that is not the case with Pedestrian Verse, however, as it has all come together for the group with this release. The lush production and confident playing shows that these road-tested tunes have worked their way into the framework of the players themselves, while Scott Hutchinson’s lyrical prowess is evident from the get-go, still addressing relationships, but moving from what feels specific to a more mature world view.
HAIM – Days Are Gone
Almost from their first significant appearance at SXSW in 2011, buzz has been building behind this Southern California trio of sisters who play throwback 70’s and 80’s-inspired pop/rock, laden with breathy harmonies and wicked bass lines. It’s both easy and hard to describe the group – they put out one of the best debuts of the year, bar none, and have one of the tightest and most engaging live acts, but they’re also hard to pin down because HAIM has that magic spark that makes you do a double, or triple take. Expect to see much more from this trio after they tour for the next few years behind Days Are Gone – talent like this isn’t flash in the pan. Just see them live – especially their rollicking, hair-raising take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.”
Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God
Jim James’ sweeping musical styles, which despite being on full display over a decade-plus career leading My Morning Jacket, is here mined even deeper and broader on his solo debut album. Lyrically and musically, he’s jumping around and exploring new ideas and whims, while also nodding in the direction of significant influences. He offers forth impassioned pleas for starting anew on the Vegas-era Elvis-like “A New Life,” laments the shifting nature of life and perspective in the trippy, “Of The Mother Again,” and struggles to rectify moral and spiritual devotion with life’s alternate states of decadence in the dramatic pleas of “All Is Forgiven.”
Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare
Jonathan Wilson can’t seem to go anywhere without being reference with some particular canyon in L.A. that is romanticized with the 70’s. Wilson pulls off sounding both retro and modern simultaneously, while his hushed vocals mixed with piano balladry and psych rock make things easy listening with balls. Guest appearances from Graham Nash, David Crosby, Jackson Browne , Roy Harper, and J. Tillman further create something that’s part homage with its fully blown out late-’70s analogue production, yet deliciously simple, harmonious and comfortable.
Man Man – On Oni Pond
Philadelphia indie rockers Man Man have always sought to push the envelope. With the release of their fifth full-length album, they do that by taking their music in a direction no one expected: the mainstream – and it works. To say that On Oni Pond is the band’s most accessible work is putting it mildly. The band that had always worn its quirkiness on its sleeve has put its love of absurdity aside in favor of a sound that is more direct and meaningful. Frontman Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner) is known for filling records with dark and twisted fictional narratives, but this time around, he looks inward and creates something almost funky and danceable for these edgy rockers.
Neko Case- The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
At this point, it’d be bizarre if Neko Case didn’t deliver one of the most affecting, emotionally-impacting and magnificent records of the year. Following on the incredible string of Blacklisted, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood and Middle Cyclone, it was unclear whether the follow up would be able to match the superlative qualities of those three albums. Thankfully, Case shook things up and took quite a few left turns to redefine her aesthetic and breathe life into these new songs. There’s a staggering amount of open raw vulnerability, beautifully rendered with Case’s inimitable voice (and perfect harmonies from Kelly Hogan), but this is also the first record to so succinctly and clearly demonstrate her dark sense of humor. It’s another triumph for Neko Case, and another reminder that she really is one of the voices of her generation.
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
After the one-two kick of The Boxer (2007) and High Violet (2010), most National fans became suspicious as to whether the band could top these two much-beloved records. While their newest Trouble Will Find Me doesn’t best either of those records, it does stand on equal footing and creates an amazing trifecta of albums that truly demonstrate the palpable brilliance of the Cincinnati-based band. Songs like “Fireproof,” “Heavenfaced” and “I Need My Girl” are some of the best songs they’ve written, and this album just shows how well the band has honed their craft.
Parquet Courts– Light Up Gold
Sick of synth pop? ‘90s indie rock fans rejoice! The sludgy guitar adventures of Sonic Youth, Guided by Voices and Pavement are alive and well with this debut from the NYC-based outfit Parquet Courts. Short snappy songs about the DMV and other meanderings ride tight grooves, and led by the allure of its frontmen Austin Brown and Andrew Savage, perhaps not as scene stealing as The Strokes, but gritty and honorable in their own right.
Patty Griffin – American Kid
Patty Griffin should really be discussed in the same vein as Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Bob Dylan — rock and country legends that write indelible melodies and wildly insightful lyrics that go down in time as changing the musical landscape of America. Griffin’s approach to folk music is not flashy or ostentatious; rather, she culls memories and feelings into remarkably lucid and hugely affecting work, and American Kid is no different. In fact, this may be her most raw and vulnerable album yet, and songs like “Wild Old Dog,” “Go Wherever You Wanna Go” and “That Kind Of Lonely” join the canon of mandatory Patty Griffin listening along with her lost album Silver Bell, which was released later in 2013.
Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Frontman Josh Homme took 6 years in between QOTSA recordings to make an album with mighty friends (Elton John, Dave Grohl Trent Reznor and among many others appear on the album), as well as experiment with the work of his influences and peers (Them Crooked Vultures). The band explores many sounds on the music spectrum, from pummeling hard rock to sensitive ballads while touching on dark and sensitive themes such as death and lost love, armored in the hard rock you’d expect from QOTSA.
Savages- Silence Yourself
Who says an album that drips with the influence of PJ Harvey, Joy Division and Siouxsie can’t be popular in 2013? UK-based quartet Savages show us that it absolutely can with their debut Silence Yourself. It makes us happy that noir pop can still be in vogue… but only when done right, and Savages totally nails it. This debut is fully-realized, brawny and an engaging listen from start to finish, and only makes you want to jump around and see the band play the songs on stage.
Sigur Rós – Kveikur
Following last year’s largely shapeless Valtari (and the subsequent departure of keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson), these Icelandic post-rock icons rebounded in a major way with Kveikur, their darkest, proggiest LP to date. Writing as a trio has recharged the band’s creative batteries — from the brooding avalanche of “Brennisteinn” to the title-track’s metallic assault, they sound sonically (and emotionally) reinvigorated.
Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
Canadian duo Tegan and Sara Quin have had quite the journey through the music business since their debut with 1999’s Under Feet Like Ours, venturing from folk to indie-rock, through to 90s throwback and then up into more muscular electric-guitar heavy rock, but their latest offering Heartthrob builds on the melodic strengths of both Tegan and Sara and lays it on top of an electro-pop foundation. Some may call it selling out, but that’s the easy way out and lazy, if you ask us, as this record is firmly a Tegan and Sara effort– tight harmonies, catchy hooks, thoughtful instrumentation and angsty lyrics. It’s a brilliant step forward for the band, and demonstrates the power of shaking up the formula from time to time and trying new things.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
UMO’s rather straightforward approach (short songs, tightly constructed) succeeds as they manage to achieve a form of psychedelia less with loud guitar feedback or long-winded jamming and more via texture and ambiance. First single “So Good at Being in Trouble” is a winner, a slice of washed out white boy R & B that plays like a hipster Booker T and the MG’s: lots of slacker swing. “I’m so good at being in trouble/so bad at being in love.”
Volcano Choir– Repave
Volcano Choir’s second album Repave is the logical progression from the band’s debut Unmap. It’s at points sparse, fragile and quiet (like the midwest winters that seemingly inspired the material from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon), but there are truly wonderful points at which the songs cascade and pile up into cinematic, sweeping anthems, but without ever becoming too top heavy or overwrought. It’s plays like a folk-inspired Bon Iver album, and it’s a moving listen, full of nuance and beauty.
20 Honorable Mentions ( In alphabetical order)
Arctic Monkeys– AM
Caveman – Caveman
Daughter- If You Leave
Devendra Banhart – Mala
Dr. Dog – B-Room
Flaming Lips- The Terror
James Blake – Overgrown
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Kurt Vile – Waking on a Pretty Daze
Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
Local Natives– Hummingbird
Milk Carton Kids –The Ash & The Clay
My Bloody Valentine– MBV
Pickwick – Can’t Talk Medicine
Portugal. The Man – Evil Friends
Sanders Bohlke – Ghost Boy
Vienna Teng – Aims
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito