Top 50 2013

#30: Baths – Obsidian

baths obsidian

LA’s own Will Wiesenfeld, better known as Baths, is the non-electronica fan’s electronica act, and his third studio album, Obsidian, is a testament to his utter listenability. Turned off by the throbbing bass, insubstantial lyrics, and lack of instrumental diversity in your everyday electronica? Baths is kinder and gentler, with lilting falsetto vocals, complex progressive rhythms, and lyrics bordering on poetry. Think Nine Inch Nails meets Death Cab for Cutie. Obsidian is a pensive, thoughtful album of the very rare kind from which one awakes from listening as if dreaming. Within the layered soundscape, its rawness and vulnerability holds a mirror to our own. – Megan Driscoll

Listen: “Ironworks

#29: Deafheaven – Sunbather

deafheaven-sunbather

I suspect that Deafheaven is not higher on this list due to the completely understandable fact that the band has its roots in the not-entirely-user-friendly genre of black metal. The fact that Sunbather is on the list at all is testament to the album’s unique appeal. If you can handle the blast beat drums and the shrieked vocals buried deep in the mix, then Sunbather is a simply staggering achievement.

This is an album that opens with the ten-minute epic “Dream House,” which is neither the album’s best nor longest song. That title would belong to “Vertigo,” the fifteen-minute behemoth that forms the nucleus of Sunbather. Drawing further influences from the likes of shoegaze and post-rock, Deafheaven was one of the year’s most unlikely and pleasantly surprising crossover successes, and their second album was about as beautiful a metal album as you are ever likely to hear. – Jay Chirinos

Listen: “Sunbather

#28: She & Him – Volume 3

She-And-Him-Volume-3-1

If there’s one thing the dynamic duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward (aka She & Him) are good at, it’s making lovably lighthearted musical magic. Volume 3 marks their fourth studio release and is rife with ooey, gooey, unabashedly poppy love songs that are both instantly likable yet whimsically unique. Although I admittedly wasn’t bowled over by it upon first listen, I’ve found myself returning to Volume 3 many times since to the point where I can now honestly say this is my favorite She & Him release since their debut, Volume 1, three albums ago. With honest lyrics and simple-but-well-executed instrumentation, Volume 3 has wormed its way into my cynical little heart for good. – Lesley Park

Listen: “I Could Have Been Your Girl

#27: Lorde – Pure Heroine

Lorde Pure Heroine

Her real name is Ella Yelich-O’ Connor, and she’s the youngest act to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 since Tiffany did it in 1987. At now 17 years old, singer/songwriter and New Zealand native Lorde already has the world’s attention, and the positive critical and popular reception of her debut album, Pure Heroine, ensures that she’ll keep it into 2014.

Pure Heroine plays like a showcase of Lorde’s talents. Displayed alongside her impressive 16-going-on-35 vocal is the diversity and maturity of her songwriting. “Look what I can do,” the album says, but it’s not shouted like a petulant teenager; like a competitor at the Olympic trials, or a surgeon completing his first major organ transplant, Lorde’s work speaks for itself. If she’s writing songs like “Royals” at 16, imagine what she’s going to be writing at 30. Pure Heroine is enough to get one excited at the prospect. – Megan Driscoll

Listen: “Team

#26: Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

Pedestrian Verse Cover

Frightened Rabbit became one of my favorite bands very quickly. The group’s blend of upbeat music and self-loathing lyrics makes for perfect winter music, and I was endlessly excited when I found out that their new record, Pedestrian Verse, would be coming out this year. The album is not only a good example of their Scottish folk-rock roots, but it also encompasses their willingness to experiment sonically, turning otherwise straight-forward songs into brilliant and sometimes noisy works of art.

Frightened Rabbit knows the importance of a good lead-off track on an album, and Pedestrian Verse is no exception. “Acts Of Man” has its share of weird noises, attention grabbing moments, and sheer poetry. Other album tracks, such as “Holy” and “The Woodpile,” have an anthemic quality to them that is both inspiring and gut-wrenching. The group is amazing live, and Pedestrian Verse is some of their best work. – Gerry Doot

Listen: “The Woodpile

#25: Capital Cities – In A Tidal Wave of Mystery

Capital Cities

2013 was a big year for LA’s Capital Cities. Their monster single “Safe and Sound” from their debut album, In A Tidal Wave of Mystery, hit number one on the US Alternative Songs chart, sold over a million copies in the US, and turned Capital Cities into a household name. Not bad for two dudes who met on Craigslist, huh?

Produced and mixed entirely by Capital Cities’ Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant, In A Tidal Wave of Mystery is an exceedingly danceable collection of feel-good synthpop magic. If you’re looking for deep, philosophical lyrics and intense, introspective reflection, stick to your Coldplay and Morrissey; however, if the catchy hooks and wicked beats of a good old-fashioned pop song do it for you, then look no further. Psychiatrists could prescribe this album to treat depression. – Megan Driscoll

Listen: “Farrah Fawcett Hair” ft. Andre 3000

#24: Little Boots – Nocturnes

Nocturnes

Little Boots’ music is made for the dance floor, and this year’s pulsating Nocturnes epitomizes that very fact. The album’s opener, “Motorway,” is coy, but blossoms to showcase the artist’s delicate vocals. After that first track, the album sheds its cocoon and delivers the quintessential British brashness we’ve come to love. With four years to plot the release of Nocturnes, Little Boots brought a well-cured, tempered update to her sound and a delicate hand that provided a sense of growth, rather than one of eager anxiousness. With notable disco influence on the album, Little Boots clearly displays that she is crafting her own sound instead of playing catch-up to the pervasive dancefloor beats. – Marni Epstein

Listen: “Motorway

#23: My Bloody Valentine – m b v

m b v my bloody valentine cover art

Stop for a second and think about what you were doing 21 years ago. If you happened to be alive at that time, you were probably consuming Play-Doh for the first time or just learning about what sound a guitar makes. Chances are you did not just release a career-topping album with the prospect of coming back into public consciousness two decades later, reinvented and reborn.

As if emerging from a hyperbaric chamber or time capsule, My Bloody Valentine released m b v in 2013 without skipping a single beat (let alone 21) to deliver an album we have all been anticipating since the release of Loveless. However, this new album is not simply a regurgitation of the past. The band packs a lifetime of experience into their tracks, blending the alt-rock sounds of today with the synth-pop style we expect from this legendary band. – Christine Perez

Listen: “She Found Now

#22: Savages – Silence Yourself

Savages-Silence-Yourself

Yes, the arrival of Savages brought with it a self-consciously moody band photo for cover art, a manifesto, a monochromatic dress code, and an almost overwhelming sense of seriousness. The band also delivered devastating live shows and this terrific debut album, which signaled the arrival of the year’s most powerful new rock band.

The London-based quartet kept things lean and fierce on Silence Yourself, and the album was all the better for it. On “She Will” and “Husbands” they had two adrenaline-charged singles that stunned audiences during their turn at Coachella earlier in the year, and while Savages stuttered ever so slightly in the album’s quieter moments, Silence Yourself contained more than enough evidence to anoint them as worthy successors to the likes of the Dead Kennedys and At The Drive-In. The label said post-punk, but the attitude was pure rock and roll. – Jay Chirinos

Listen: “Husbands

#21: Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Jon-Hopkins-Immunity

Immunity is an amazing example of great sound mixing and technical production. Techno and ambient collide and coalesce in a masterful way on the album. “Abandon Window” envelops the ear in lush and spacious sound. Listen to “Breathe This Air” with headphones. The layers of Hopkins’ music shift and fade and move. Every track on this record feels alive, which is something that you can’t normally say about techno or ambient music. Even the dance tracks, such as “Open Eye Signal,” have significant depth. You don’t listen to Immunity so much as you feel it happen to you. – Marcus Slater

Listen: “Open Eye Signal