#40: Icona Pop – This Is…Icona Pop
The Swedish duo Icona Pop released their hit single “I Love It” on their 2012 debut, Icona Pop, but their explosion into mainstream music occurred in early 2013 when the character Hannah on HBO’s Girls enjoyed a cocaine-filled party night as the now-famous track thumped in the club background. “I Love It” became an anthem of pre-games, late nights, and a general YOLO partying attitude and was included on the duo’s sophomore album This Is… Icona Pop.
Aside from the fact that the electro-pop team of Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo are gorgeous, their talent for singing and mixing synth-heavy dance tracks (see “We Got The World” and “Ready For The Weekend”) put them a step above perfectly-packaged, generic pop acts. Their live shows are dance party perfection, and the pair will be bringing those high-energy shows nationwide in 2014 while opening Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz tour, ensuring this pair will be the talk of the town for at least another year. – Mary Bonney
Listen: “Ready For The Weekend”
#39: Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze
Throughout his solo career and time with The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile has proven himself to be a master of slacker rock, producing a myriad of beloved indie-rock songs. His pattern of creating quality rock continued on his 2013 album, Wakin On A Pretty Daze, which followed his excellent 2011 LP, Smoke Ring For My Halo.
This year Vile once again doled out a hardy heap of scuzzy lo-fi tunes that are truly satisfying. Each of his songs has a laid-back air to it, presenting a gentle and utterly pleasant vibe. In fact, as our very own David Fisch described in his album review this past spring, Walkin On A Pretty Daze shows “Kurt Vile in peak song-crafting form, but he never sounds like he’s trying too hard.” With this album as evidence, Vile clearly plans to continue to exude his own brand of chill charm for years to come. – Sarah Bellman
Listen – “Walking on a Pretty Day”
#38: Maya Jane Coles – Comfort
The long-awaited debut release from deep-house darling Maya Jane Coles was easily one of my most anticipated albums of the year, and wow, did it ever deliver. You’re not going to find any heart-throbbing drops or schizophrenic unce unce unce here; when listening to Coles’ signature downtempo jams, understated elegance is definitely the name of the game. The tracks on Comfort are filled with layers that deftly take their time to work their magic on you. If I had to label the effect that the moody pulses of “Stranger” and “Burning Bright” have on me, I’d have to go with “musical massage.” The album as a whole is expertly produced, unbelievably polished, and really, really, really, ridiculously sexy. – Lesley Park
Listen: “Burning Bright”
#37: AlunaGeorge – Body Music
Here I was thinking that R&B was a dying genre when, in fact, it just picked up its bags and moved to the UK. Body Music is AlunaGeorge’s first effort. It’s a pop album, but it’s really good. Aluna’s voice is lively and the production is incredibly modern. There’s a heavy UK garage influence here (no doubt due to the duo’s dealings with Disclosure). It’s refreshing. More importantly, it’s not corny or derivative. Body Music is likely my favorite R&B album of the year for that reason. AlunaGeorge is looking forward, not backward. – Marcus Slater
Listen: “You Know You Like It”
#36: The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation might just be the 2013 soundtrack to your nightmares, and I mean that in the best way possible. This release from musician Bobby Krlic on Tri-Angle Records is a collection of tremendously dark and doom-filled electronic recordings that tap into regions of the mind you probably didn’t think even existed — or that you knew did and desperately wished to forget.
But Excavation is more than the album of utter shock that it sounds like I’m describing. Like the best films in the horror genre, patience is its greatest virtue, and Krlic expertly utilizes tension to create not just a terrifying atmosphere but a wholly satisfying experience, so much so that you really can’t believe you’re still breathing after the album’s end. He’s crafted a sly, spacey, instrumental album of de-tuned beats and boomy instrumentation that hits you without warning, resulting in perhaps the most curious and tantalizing record of 2013. – David Fisch
Listen: “The Mirror Reflection (Part 2)”
#35: Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
Considering that El-P and Killer Mike were individually responsible for two of last year’s finest hip-hop albums and collectively responsible for one of the year’s best tours, a free download album seemed like a great way to say thanks for the support. If it had been a throwaway release with a couple of great tunes that would have been perfectly acceptable. However, it seems that the duo is no longer capable of producing anything less than stellar, and so their debut under the name Run The Jewels turned out to be almost as great as last year’s releases.
Ove the course of ten tracks and 34 fat-fee minutes, El-P and Killer Mike continually raise their game. The production is predictably tight and menacing, and it’s a real treat to see Killer Mike, a rapper with real talent but for too long without the songs to back him up, ending up in the middle of a golden run of form. There was even time for a cameo from Outkast legend Big Boi, who completed an outstanding triple bill on “Banana Clipper.” – Jay Chirinos
Listen: “Banana Clipper” (Feat. Big Boi)
#34: Tegan and Sara – Hearthrob
Tegan and Sara are the musical equivalent of driving through the pouring rain in an old Volvo station wagon. Their music is crass, depressing, filled with teenage angst, and yet despite all that, still fun. The sisterly duo, however, put their trademark sound through the ringer on this year’s Hearthrob.
On this album, Tegan and Sara go from homespun acoustics to radio-ready electro. It is a difficult shift, and one that often doesn’t go down easy for fans. Never lost on the commercially accessible Hearthrob, however, is their emotional accessibility and rawness. The angst is ever-present and the creeping emotional narratives remain; the tempo has just been launched into high gear. The melding of Tegan and Sara’s quintessential qualities with pop hooks makes Hearthrob this year’s ultimate it-feels-so-good-to-feel-so-bad album. – Marni Epstein
#33: Forest Swords – Engravings
Rising English producer Matthew Barnes (aka Forest Swords) has developed a reputation for putting fourth innovative, dynamic creations. Following up his 2010 work, Dagger Paths, with this year’s excellent Engravings, Barnes focuses on producing avant-garde electronic music that is minimal at times and vibrant at others. While his sound is distinctly atmospheric, it also has a strong hip-hop influence thanks to the artist’s use of compelling beats. Barnes’ sound is moody, his style abstract. Each song is exquisitely produced and extremely mindful. It is clear that Barnes views his music with an artistic eye, yet he still makes sure it is utterly addicting. Listening to each one of his strange tracks, it is clear that his work is something unique and very special. – Sarah Bellman
Listen – “Thor’s Stone”
#32: Sara Bareilles – The Blessed Unrest
Ever the fan of strong piano-playing women, Sara Bareilles’ velvety vocals and pop hooks on her sophomore album, The Blessed Unrest, were more than enough to land her in our top fifty albums list. During her September performance at The Greek Theatre, however, she shared the inspiration for this album, explaining, “I spent a lot of last year in a lot of heartache and making difficult personal changes, and I wrote these songs to help me become stronger.”
The songs capture that emotional heartbreak she weathered in Los Angeles and the journey that led her to New York. The tracks range from sassy send-offs (“Little Black Dress”) to lost love tearjerkers (“Manhattan”), and with every song, Bareilles opens up her heart a little more in an attempt to help fans heal theirs. The emotional and musical strength found on The Blessed Unrest is a testament to Bareilles’ talent as a singer-songwriter and speaks to the brilliant performer she is. – Mary Bonney
#31: Woodkid – The Golden Age
Having directed videos for Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, Moby, and Taylor Swift, Yoann Lemoine was already a well-known French music video director before the release of his debut album, The Golden Age, and now he can add an amazing album under the Woodkid moniker to his list of achievements.
When trying to describe Woodkid’s sound to a friend, the only thing I could think to say was that it’s like the music Napoleon would play for his troops before the battle at Waterloo had he been able to access his iPad. The music on The Golden Age is artistic, eclectic, beautiful, entrancing, scary, and downright epic. Songs like “The Great Escape” are upbeat and inspiring, while others, such as “Run Boy Run,” are dark and unsettling. Some moments on this album are also beautiful and big with full string arrangements gliding through driving beats. The Golden Age was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me, and I’m so happy I decided to check it out. – Gerry Doot
Listen: “Run Boy Run”