#10: Janelle Monae – Electric Lady
Quirky neo-funk/R&B songstress Janelle Monáe is one of today’s most groundbreaking artists. She made such a splash with 2010’s The ArchAndroid, and her sophomore effort, The Electric Lady, carries the torch that much further.
Monáe is a genre-jumper, and her latest effort nods to the doo wop-infused, lightning-paced dance numbers that are her calling card, while also expanding her repertoire. So adept is Monáe at shifting from crooning slow jams to whimsical R&B throwbacks to rock-driven raps that with a second showcase like The Electric Lady, it’s clear that she possesses the same musical athleticism that Lauryn Hill once did.
With powerhouse guest appearances on the album from Erykah Badu and Miguel, Monáe has solidified her starpower. Though her music borrows from the soulful roots of R&B and doo-wop, the artist is undoubtedly making the music of tomorrow — her robotic musical textures and avant-garde whimsy create a futuristic air all their own. – Marni Epstein
#9: Local Natives – Hummingbird
This album was a grower for me. Local Natives’ debut, Gorilla Manor, was an amazing success and featured songs that really hit you from the first note, and though it wasn’t right to expect the same from their sophomore effort, I honestly gave Hummingbird one listen and shelved it. Then I saw that Local Natives were performing at The Greek Theatre. I wrote a review of the show and really fell in love with the album in the weeks leading up to it.
The best parts of Hummingbird are Local Natives’ signature harmonies and rich textural sounds. From song to song, layers upon layers of sonic bliss blend together, and beyond just the abundance of richness, the lyrical content is incredibly deep and personal. It truly deserves to be one of the top 10 albums of the year. – Gerry Doot
Listen: “Heavy Feet”
#8: The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Since releasing their self-titled debut in 2001, The National has been slowly gaining a following of moody, indie-rock loving fans, and this year’s Trouble Will Find Me is chock full of brooding, insightful tracks consistent with their catalogue.
The beauty of this top album is in its lush musicality and the emotional depth of the lyrics. Matt Berninger’s soothing baritone voice brings fans dark, intricate metaphors (“I’m a television version of a person with a broken heart”), and themes of self-reflection and doubt run deep on tracks like “Demons.” With a few up-tempo offerings — such as the love-centric, poetic “Sea of Love” — the album’s smoldering, atmospheric songs highlight the melancholy emotions that The National has become known for.
Trouble Will Find Me expands on The National’s blueprint of somber songs and poignant lyrics, creating a substantial album that rightfully earns its spot on lists of top 2013 releases. – Mary Bonney
Listen: “Sea of Love”
#7: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito
It would take a lot for me to not like a Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. The band has established such a strong and wildly popular presence in the music industry, and Karen O demands the spotlight and adoration of her well-deserved loving fans. With the teasers for Mosquito (that’s right, the anticipation for the band’s new record was so great it warranted three teasers) and the release of the first single, “Sacrilege,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs proved they are still a force to be reckoned with. The album’s opening track says it all. The raw, cold intro builds with O’s opening, echoing lines bouncing off dynamic guitar and drums before the brooding trio come together with a choir so powerful, it pulls you into the rest of the album. – Angelica Corona
#6: Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
There’s no better word to describe Daft Punk’s highly anticipated fourth studio album, Random Access Memories, than juggernaut. Debuting at number one in twenty countries and spawning the ubiquitous single “Get Lucky” as well as the infectious “Lose Yourself to Dance,” Random Access Memories was the Star Wars of 2013: hyped, dropped, and gobbled up by a Daft Punk-hungry public for whom eight years between non-soundtrack albums was enough.
The French duo eased up on the synthesizers, added live instrumentation, and featured dynamite guests such as Pharrell Williams and Julian Casablancas to complete their modernized homage to the unique sounds of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s part Bee Gees, part A Flock of Seagulls, part Fleetwood Mac — really, there’s a throwback to suit every taste on this album, which might explain its massive appeal and warm reception. Of course, that may also be due to the difficulty of listening to it without surrendering to the urge to dance your ass off. – Megan Driscoll
Listen: “Instant Crush”
#5: Disclosure – Settle
Dance music is not in the same place it was at the beginning of 2012, and it’s Disclosure’s fault. Settle is a non-stop house music masterwork. Every single song on here is fresh and an absolute blast on the dance floor, plus the album includes excellent cameos from AlunaGeorge, London Grammar, and Jessie Ware. It’s just a classic, and it’s also an example of the duo’s surprising depth. “Help Me Lose My Mind” in particular takes a break from the disco-infused fury of the rest of the record in lieu of a more chill, Everything But the Girl vibe. I love it. For an EDM scene that’s recently been trapped in a progressive-house quagmire filled with superstar DJs and legendary producers, Disclosure offers a breath of fresh air and a look into the future. – Marcus Slater
Listen: “White Noise”
#4: Haim – Days Are Gone
Haim’s Days Are Gone was hard to escape in the music-sphere blotter this year, and rightfully so. The album is easily accessible for Top 40 radio, and yet has a level of brilliance that goes beyond the typically short-lived pop single landscape. Days Are Gone is simple, buoyant, and so tight it makes Joan Rivers’ face incredibly jealous. The album is also angst-ridden, has heart, and thrives in its surprising tempos and syncopation, which are owed to its funk undertones. Rampant 1980s nostalgia has definitely made music’s new efforts sound familiar, but Days Are Gone finds an invigorating new wormhole into pop’s past. On the album, the sisters Haim effortless meld early Michael Jackson and Wilson Phillips for a compilation of anthemic, post-modern barnstormers. – Marni Epstein
Listen: “The Wire”
#3: Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
2013 has been a huge year for Glasgow electro-pop trio Chvrches. The group rose from obscurity last year, finding minor blogosphere fame with various singles, but it was only recently that the trio transformed into one of the top bands in the scene thanks to their wonderful debut LP, The Bones of What You Believe.
With the band’s splendid combination of shimmering synths, crystalline vocals, and addictive beats, it is no surprise that the group has garnered vast levels of popularity. Chvrches does something special. While each song glistens and pops with an iridescent glow, there is so much more to the group’s style than what meets the eye. They create jubilant music with a substantial, distinctly intelligent edge. With charming yet smart singles such as “Mother We Share,” “Lies,” and “Gun,” The Bones of What You Believe has proven itself to be a brilliant album that will paste a smile on your face as you revisit it time and time again. – Sarah Bellman
Listen – “Gun”
#2: Arcade Fire – Reflektor
When word broke out that universally-adored Arcade Fire was hunkered down in a studio with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame, many a musical orgasm was had. With bated breath, we waited to see how such a divine collaboration would pan out. Despite the fact that such hopes often lend themselves to an ultimately underwhelming release, Reflektor proved to be anything but.
The release of the album’s lead single, the sprawling, close-to-eight-minute opus “Reflektor,” set the tone for what would ultimately be one of the group’s most orchestral releases yet. The breadth of genre variety on the two-disc Reflektor far surpasses anything in Arcade Fire’s already impressively and expansive catalog, yet still retains the cohesive feel an album ought to.
From the delightfully funky “We Exist” to the blaring chords of “Normal Person,” Reflektor shattered the impossibly lofty expectations I had for it. It’s more than a collection of songs on a record; from start to finish, it’s an epic musical journey the likes of which only Arcade Fire could have taken me on. – Lesley Park
#1: Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
After simply loving the Brooklyn quartet’s debut, I was thoroughly disappointed that Vampire Weekend’s 2010 sophomore effort, Contra, didn’t gel with me in quite the same way. Thinking they might just be another of those bands that peaks way too early, I didn’t have the highest hopes for their third effort, but upon first listen to Modern Vampires of the City, I found myself firmly back in the Vampire Weekend camp, and I doubt I’ll be leaving any time soon.
While Ezra Koenig cryptic poetry had lyric junkies filling their Internet histories with searches for “Croesus” and flight rates to Dar es Salaam, the group’s afro-inspired beats, experimental production, and just damn catchy choruses had everyone else dancing or at least shuffling along. Vampire Weekend was back and better than ever in 2013, and with Modern Vampires of the City, they’ve earned their place atop our list of the best albums of the year. – Kristin Houser