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Top 20 Albums of 2013

| Thursday, December 5, 2013

Like I pointed out in the previous installment of the Top 20 albums of 2013 countdown, there are bound to be disagreements when putting together a ranked list of this nature.  This time through, John Darr definitely thought less of Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” than I did. Earlier this month he wrote about the most overrated albums of the year, and featured the record in that article.

In fact, not only did I anticipate rifts in the making of the list, but also in its reception. I encourage debate on everything from where albums are ranked, inclusions and exclusions and even which tracks we chose to represent the albums. The year-end countdown helps create a healthy dialog regarding art. It also provides a platform to connect with others and maybe have conversations you might not normally have with other people you might not regularly have conversations with. This is one of the reasons I got excited to help undertake this project. Now, on to the music. – MM

10. “Loud City Song” – Julia Holter


If you’ve had the opportunity to walk through a grand city at night, you might have noticed that different blocks move in different ways. One street might be full of rushing cars and groups of laughing friends stepping quickly down the sidewalk. A block over, each sentence from a couple at a nearby café slips into the air and hovers amidst silence. The park hosts whispered secrets and the quiet steps of unseen creatures. The rhythm of the night is constantly changing to the walker and completely immersive to one who stands still.

This is the nature of Holter’s modern masterpiece “Loud City Song,” an album that twists and turns down roads that are alternately loud and soft, wondrous and contained, dark and light. Holter’s unique blend of acoustic and electronic elements in a spacious, often minimalist atmosphere creates a sound unlike any of her songwriter contemporaries. “Loud City Song” is a collection of pieces that often defy choruses and verses, ideas that transcend song structure and become something more purely musical. It’s truly an experimental work, and yet its warm sound makes it an incredibly inviting accessible listen. If you find yourself longing for some new roads or adventurous alleys one night, just close your eyes, open your imagination and let Holter sing you into her world.

Choice Cuts: The entire album. Honestly.

9. “Reflektor” – Arcade Fire


Frontman Win Butler and the rest of indie rock juggernaut collective Arcade Fire simply know how to put together an album. Actually, when they release music, it becomes an event – highly anticipated and speculated – not just an album.  So with the release of “Reflektor,” which was probably their most talked about release as a result of the band’s growing popularity in the mainstream and the amount of news surrounding the album, there were bound to be a lot of expectations.

With the sheer grandeur of the album, Arcade Fire meets these expectations and succeeds. Produced by electronic dance guru James Murphy, of LCD Soundsystem, every track on “Reflektor” finds an undeniable groove and rolls with it. Hook heavy, the songs exhibit world music influence and flutter between a myriad of genre styles. The two-sided album clocks in at 75 minutes, but it’s the fastest, most engaging 75 minutes a double album can be. And when the focus turns to the lyrical content, the best moments makes the listener – what else besides – reflect.

Choice Cuts: “Reflektor,” “Here Comes the Night Time,” “Afterlife”

8. “Run the Jewels” – Run the Jewels


If Jay-Z and Kanye West had more of a purpose on “Watch the Throne” and were pissed they weren’t as famous as they are, the collaboration would be called Run The Jewels.  Two of 2012’s finest rappers, Killer Mike and El-P, who both put out excellent albums last year featuring each other’s work, rap from the streets instead of a Benz. One hard-hitting song after the other, “Run The Jewels” never relents through it’s blistering, high-paced 33 minutes.

The origins of the album came from the duo wanting to have songs toperform together on their shared tour. Yet, the results are nothing quickly put together.  Featuring dizzying levels of interior and exterior rhyme schemes, the two write and rap trading blows while interweaving verses, challenging each other with furious flows and mostly friendly one-upmanship. From the outside, if either one calls you out its terrifying, but listening as a bystander you have almost as much fun as you can tell the two had creating the album.

Choice Cuts: “Get It,” “DDFH,” “Sea Legs”

7. “Immunity” – Jon Hopkins


The past couple years has seen a near-meteoric rise in groove-driven electronic music. Burial, Tycho, John Talabot, xxyyxx, Flume, Bonobo and more have melded dance beats with genres like ambient, chillwave and instrumental hip-hop to achieve new and exciting sounds that have garnered critical respect and in some cases commercial attention. However, many such efforts are inconsistent, boasting as many failed experiments as successes.

“Immunity” is a welcome exception. A beast of a record, Jon Hopkins’ latest album is an incredibly ambitious work that marries earthy samples of ambient noise and clatter to gorgeous musical tapestries. The songs are incredibly patient, allowing each melody and drumbeat space to breathe and evolve before joining with additional sonic elements. And while many “patient,” slow-moving records fail to hold listeners’ attention, the sheer beauty of Hopkins’ arrangements and the incredible textures of his samples allow him to stretch songs far beyond many of his contemporaries. It’s a soundtrack so deep and colorful that it needs no visual accompaniment. 

Choice Cuts: “Collider,” “Immunity,” “Breathe This Air”

6. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk 


Random Access Memories was the album that shouldn’t have worked. Before R.A.M., Daft Punk hadn’t released a studio album in eight years. Both their last studio album and the one musical project during that eight-year period (the soundtrack for Disney’s “Tron: Legacy”) were critical failures. Since Daft Punk’s prime, the electronic music scene has made huge leaps forward; much of the most experimental and forward-thinking music falling under the electronic label. The world had every reason to expect R.A.M. to be dated, irrelevant and mediocre.

And then came lead single “Get Lucky” with ridiculously groovy guitar riffs, insanely catchy chorus and unforgettable party-ready lyrics. Get Lucky seamlessly combined Daft Punk’s penchant for repetitive catchiness and clean-cut production with real instruments and guitar legend Nile Rogers to achieve something rarely seen in the pop music scene – a restrained dance anthem.

The rest of the album followed in the success of its lead single. R.A.M. is an artistic vision crafted out of perfect pop songs (“Instant Crush,” “Lose Yourself to Dance”), sprawling musical journeys (“Giorgio by Moroder,” “Touch”) and transitional tracks and experiments that add cohesion and variety. It’s an amazing crossover record from an already-prominent group. Random Access Memory is a miracle of an album. Don’t deny yourself the magic.

Choice Cuts: “Touch,” “Get Lucky,” “Doin’ It Right”