I decided to do a completely unoriginal year-end review of my favorite albums of 2013. I guess I felt like sharing since I can never get enough of talking about music and sharing what I’m into at the moment. But also because most year-end lists from actual publications can’t stop getting their rocks off about Vampire Weekend and other popular stuff that I’m not into at all. Also, if I can get even one person to check out something on here and dig it that you weren’t aware of before, I’ll be ecstatic. I’m not gonna blab too much but I’m adding some notes for those who may not be familiar with the artists, including links for Spotify or other relevant/interesting stuff.
1. Milosh – Jetlag
(Not on Spotify yet, but it’s free to stream on BandCamp)
Milosh was easily my artist of the year, as his other project, Rhye, also appears on this list. Tough call between the two but his solo stuff’s chill, downtempo electronica is perfectly up my alley. This is easily his best solo album front-to-back, with phenomenal, emotional songwriting that swings all over the place sonically. Usually an entire album of basically love ballads would be boring and lame but it works shockingly well because it’s all extremely genuine, deliberate, and honest. “Hold Me” is probably my personal favorite; I would not have expected a dynamic, 8+ minute song in this style to be effective but it’s pretty incredible. On the totally other end of the spectrum, he recorded the outstanding piano ballad, “Slow Down,” with an accompanying video starring his wife that’s intensely sweet.
2. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
This is probably the only album I really agree with pretty much all the critics on as being one of the year’s best. But it still seems like it’s flying a little under the radar as far as fans and listeners go. If you’re not familiar, it’s a hard-to-describe clusterfuck of genres, in the best way possible. It goes from Prince-y pop/R&B/soul to new wave, disco, and hip-hop mixed together in and endlessly interesting and awesomely listenable experience. Consistently well written and diverse songs make the entire album pretty fantastic the whole way through, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be maybe the weirdest track on the album with its odd 2+ minute voice-over intro and catchy-as-hell bass line, “Chosen.”
3. Rhye – Woman
As I already spoiled, the other project involving Milosh was in serious contention for my favorite album of the year until the last two I wrote about were released late in the year. It’s much sparser, much more organic, and much more soulful than the electronica of his solo music, and I’ve gone back and forth a ton on which I prefer. If I were picking my top 20 (or maybe even 10) songs of the year, 3 of them would for sure would be from this album. “3 Days,” “Open,” and “The Fall” are all absolutely amazing, with “3 Days” probably being my favorite track of 2013. The live versions are really worth checking out also since they’re approached quite a bit differently (This one for example, or this). If it weren’t for a couple mediocre tracks thrown into the mix, this would have been on top of the list.
4. Jon Hopkins – Immunity
I could see this being a little bit of a “love it or hate it” kind of album for some people since it goes absolutely all over the place. As a producer with a really varied background, Jon Hopkins covers the gamut on anything you might possibly throw under the “electronic” genre. I love the diversity, though. He throws together some of the most interesting, unique, and excellent upbeat dance tracks with some of the most beautiful piano-driven instrumentals I’ve heard in awhile. The mix is kind of a rollercoaster ride but it makes for an awesome listen. Get up off your ass to some electro dance funk with “Open Eye Signal” then follow it up with a gorgeous 10-minute ride of the title track “Immunity” and see what you think.
5. Gary Numan – Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)
If you haven’t been paying attention, Gary Numan is still making music, and it’s pretty great. Apologies to Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, How to Destroy Angels, tweaker, etc., but this is easily the best “industrial” album of the year. Quite possibly, the best of the last many years. It isn’t necessarily breaking new ground or doing anything stylistically mindblowing, but if you dig heavy industrial music, this is nearly a perfect execution of the genre. If you consider yourself a fan at all of any of those artists, do not pass on this. Check out the first track, “I Am Dust” and you’ll likely know whether the album is for you.
6. Moderat – II
A collaboration between two of my favorite electronic artists, Apparat and Modeselektor, had the potential to disappoint horribly. However, the execution of this album was outstanding and managed to blend their unique styles in a really excellent way. There is an awesome flow and feel to the record even as it moves from experimental instrumental tracks to upbeat songs that border on pop R&B like my personal favorites, “Bad Kingdom” and “Gita” which both apparently got some college radio play earlier this year. Aside from that, though, this album sadly seems to have slipped under peoples’ radars even after really great critical response when it was released.
7. Queen of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
I sincerely hope I don’t have to explain this one too much. I think it’s almost inarguably the best mainstream rock album to come out this year. Queens haven’t put out anything bad in… maybe ever, and even though the releases aren’t very frequent, they do one hell of a job pushing the envelope with their style and presentation. The album is far from perfect but it’s always interesting, and the high points, like “Smooth Sailing” and “If I Had a Tail” are quite amazing.
8. Apparat – Krieg und Frieden (Music for Theater)
This got taken down from Spotify recently for some reason and I can’t find a full album stream anywhere. It’s on iTunes/Amazon and there’s obviously BitTorrent if you want to be shady.
This album was not originally going to be an album. It’s the soundtrack to a German theater performance of War and Peace with all songs written with the intent of being performed live. But it was so good and so well received that they were basically forced to do a studio version of all of it and released it as an album. Most interestingly is that it was all written and arranged by Apparat, who was primarily a glitch/house producer and DJ until he started to get bored and decided to do all sorts of various stuff. It’s mostly emotional, orchestral style compositions like the theme “K&F Thema (Pizzicato)” (that version is the good studio version but incomplete, this live one is complete and beautiful but not ideal quality). However, there are a couple awesome vocal tracks, including the incredible “A Violent Sky” which is a must-listen.
9. Glasser – Interiors
This is in a similar vein to the style of Milosh’s solo album or the more pop-oriented tracks from Moderat’s album that I’ve already mentioned here. I couldn’t get enough of the good mid- or downtempo electronic stuff that was released this year, and this was one of the best. This could easily have been an Imogen Heap record in an alternate universe, which I say in a good way because Imogen Heap is great. The album’s opening track, “Shape,” is probably the best, but I really dig “Keam Theme” and “Landscape” as well.
10. Hammock – Oblivion Hymns
My two favorite post-rock bands, Sigur Ros and Hammock, decided to go completely different directions with their 2013 releases, and it was very hard to choose between them for this last spot. While Sigur Ros decided to bring some aggression to their excellent Kveikur, Hammock minimalized to the extreme. This album is about as ethereal, understated, and simply pretty as anything I’ve heard since, ironically, probably Jonsi’s side project release, Riceboy Sleeps. If you’re trying to actively listen to anything and really dive in, this could definitely drag on over the course of the entire record, but as mood music or semi-background listening it is unbelievably good.
Others that were close calls and I like a lot but didn’t quite make the cut, in no particular order:
Sigur Ros – Kveikur
Kanye West – Yeezus
How to Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion
Pretty Lights – A Color Map of the Sun
Trentemoller – Lost
tweaker – Call the Time Eternity
Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Jimmy Eat World – Damage
If you dig my taste at all in my top 10 selections, I would strongly encourage checking out this stuff as well obviously.