I thought 2013 was a disappointing year for music in terms of breakthrough albums, as I found few albums I returned to over and over again. But still, there were a few gems. My favorites below:
10) Josh Ritter – The Beast in its Tracks
An incredibly honest break-up record, The Beast in its Tracks doesn’t quite reach the heights of Ritter’s best work, but it’s still filled with undeniably catchy melodies and emotional lyrics that warrant repeat listens.
Best Tracks: "A Certain Light", "Nightmares"
9) Lorde – Pure Heroine
If we’re going to compare the artistic works of teenage singer songwriters, I’ll take the original, genre-melding work of Lorde over the saccharine tunes of a young Taylor Swift any day. With songs this catchy, its safe to say Lorde will be dominating the radio airwaves for years to come.
Best Tracks: “Royals”, "The Tennis Court"
8) Haim – Days are Gone
A breezy, fun, laid back debut album from a trio of sisters from California, Days are Gone features the kind of exuberant melodies that make California pop so enjoyable. The album came out in the fall, but it’s chock full of the songs of summer.
Best Tracks: “The Wire”, “Forever”
7) Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
The best debut of the year came from a Scottish trio who make synth pop music with addictive hooks and beautiful vocals. They’re an 80’s throwback band that sounds startlingly fresh.
Best Tracks: “The Mother We Share”, “We Sink”
6) Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight…
Neko Case is one of the most forceful singer songwriters on the music scene, and her latest finds her voice as robust and aggressive as ever as she belts her way through songs about love, loss and heartbreak.
Best Tracks: “Man”, "Calling Cards"
5) The National –Trouble Will Find Me
My love and admiration for The National is so great, that any album they put it out that isn’t an immediate masterpiece feels like a disappointment, which is how I initially received Trouble Will Find Me. But as with any album by The National, the melodies are both energetic and haunting, and the harmonies and instrumentation keep one coming back over and over again.
Best Tracks: “Graceless", "Sea of Love"
4) Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle
Twenty three year old Laura Marling is already on her fourth album and she just keeps getting better with age. On Once I was an Eagle, Marling take her brand of folk rock to a darker, more adventurous place, and while she may not belong in the same breath as names like Mitchell and Dylan just yet, there’s no reason to believe she won’t be there soon enough.
Best Tracks: "Master Hunter", "All My Rage"
3) Kanye West - Yeezus
To paraphrase the old saying, writing about Kanye is like dancing about architecture – there’s no making sense of a man who can tap into so many visceral responses with his music while his public persona just continues to get increasingly ridiculous. But whenever ‘Ye goes to the studio, something interesting comes out, and Yeezus doesn’t buck the trend – yet again, Kanye finds fundamentally interesting beats and ingenious lyrics to keep one mesmerized.
Best Tracks: "Black Skinhead", "New Slaves"
2) Jason Isbell - Southeastern
Jason Isbell’s very personal, very emotional songwriting fits squarely in the country rock tradition he honors in Southeastern, but his lyrics are more raw and his stories more real than what passes for country music these days. On Southeastern, he covers topics ranging from addiction to cancer, and while the subject matter can be hard to take the music never is.
Best Tracks: "Traveling Alone", "Elephant"
1) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Third time’s a charm. After two stellar albums, my fellow Columbia alums produce their best album yet with Modern Vampires of the City, an album teeming with playful melodies, lush harmonies, and propulsive beats. If the knock on Vampire Weekend has been that their too clever for their own good, their latest at least suggests they are maturing, making fewer jokes and offering tighter, more fully realized songs. But their talent remains their absolutely irresistible melodies, and Modern Vampires indicates that Vampire Weekend is making the most consistently compelling pop music today.
Best Tracks: “Unbelievers”, “Diane Young”