10. Touche Amore – Is Survived By
Is Survived By is a frantic exercise in frustrating melancholy – that emotion you feel when you scream at yourself in your head for getting caught in a funk. It’s that whole experience of being down and self-aware, a prisoner in a cage that you created, throwing yourself at bars you know don’t exist to no effect with only some time reserved for the hopeless gazing down at shoes and giving serious consideration to giving up between each assault on the cage. We’ve all been there before and if you haven’t, well, fuck you.
The thing that makes Is Survived By a stellar album is in its ability to capture this feeling impeccably without doubt or question. There’s an inherent tension and despair to Jeremy Bolm’s persistently aggressive and ernest rants that’s made all the more poignant by the racing pace of the 30 minute album that just does this somewhat specific affliction incredible justice. — Tom Gerhart
9. Danny Brown – Old
I was never a big fan of XXX. Nor did I really consider myself any sort of Danny Brown enthusiast until I realised Danny has sat comfortably at the top of my last.fm chart ever since I reset it back in early October. Sticky taping elements of trap and grime and injecting the result with whatever psychedelics he can fumble off the floor, Brown sets up the gloriously warped base for his bipolar rapping style and leaps in manic frenzy from the menacing title track to the sex-crazed “Dope Friend Rental” to the MDMA-infused “Smokin & Drinkin” to the somber “Float On” and to everything else in between. You can analyze Old all you want, in terms of its cultural relevance or in comparison to other mainstream hip hop releases of 2013, as was the trend, but ultimately Danny Brown and co. simply slap into your face the most fun you’ll have listening to music in a long time, pretension-free and never leaving a hook or an infectious beat unturned. — fish
8. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
Whether you’re grinning or scoffing at The Wonder Years being in the top 10, there’s no denying The Greatest Generation was one of the most talked about albums of 2013. It’s not without reason, however. Soupy’s voice has always been an acquired taste, but this time around he delivers some of his most accessible work to date. Sure, it doesn’t hurt that he’s accompanied by Laura Stevenson in ‘Devil in My Bloodstream’ (one of the best songs of the year), but his voice sounds more polished all together. And how about those punchy guitars in opener ‘There, There’? You get the point. On The Greatest Generation the band ramps up everything musically while staying true to the hard-hitting lyrics we’ve come to expect from them. The result is one of the most memorable albums of the year that’s likely to please longtime fans and snag up some new listeners in the process. — Aaron Arneson
7. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
At the risk of taking flak for comparing two almost totally unrelated albums, in terms of major-label, “mainstream” music The 20/20 Experience is part of an exclusive group containing only itself and Yeezus in terms of the mounds of hyperbolic claims it’s received. And, of course, with this distinction comes the inevitable backlash of anti-hype which goes hand-in-hand with an Internet-shaking album earning widespread acclaim – surprisingly soon after Sputnikmusic’s own Channing Freeman posted his now-legendary Justin Timberlake review, hordes of naysayers across the Web started to dismiss the album – it was “overblown,” “pompous,” “arrogant.”
No matter whether you view Timberlake’s eight-minute pop behemoths as brilliant or masturbatory, it’s difficult to dismiss the appeal of his swaggering, angelic falsetto. Sure, though in this writer’s humble opinion The 20/20 Experience displays nigh-innumerable attractive facets (brilliant production, wonderful codas, the one-two-three punch of “Strawberry Bubblegum,” “Tunnel Vision,” and “Spaceship Coupe”), it’s always the omnipresent confidence that brings me back. Damn the ambitious claims of the pop-shattering nature of The 20/20 Experience – when all is said and done, there’s almost nothing I’d rather hear this year than the last three minutes of radio smash hit “Mirrors.” Timberlake’s crooning over sultry piano is simply brilliant, and the aural treat of the album’s 70-minute runtime is difficult to match. — Nathan Flynn
6. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
In the spirit of the cliché Matt Berninger tries so hard to subvert on “Heavenfaced”: Trouble Will Find Me is like a box of chocolates. At times the spotlight may be on the pitter-patter of the drums, the slide of a guitar or the soft ache of a slowly aging Matt Berninger, now a father sinking deeper and deeper into his 40s. “Sea of Love”’s passion is reminiscent of Alligator’s raw angst and “Don’t Swallow The Cap”’s light rhythm of High Violet’s atmospheric orchestration. “Demons” could have come straight off Boxer. The odd track here and there doesn’t quite hit the perfect note The National have so consistently tapped over the past few years, but then there are songs like “I Need My Girl”, which sways with deep longing, or “Humiliation”, with possibly the most sublime and carefully constructed atmosphere the band has ever composed. Trouble Will Find Me doesn’t work as a cohesive album in the same way The National’s previous works do. Rather, it borrows elements of each, or just creates its own, setting a different path for each song. One thing’s for sure though: there’s no one else who can take something as simple as a single note, drum fill or slight shift in harmony and turn it into something so perfect and beautiful quite like The National can. — fish
5. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
Run The Jewels is my second favorite album of the year so you’d think I’d have a lot to say about it, but I don’t. I’ve wanted to put my love for this album into words for a long time, but it just hasn’t happened. It’s weird because I didn’t even like the album very much when it first came out. I thought the first half was really fun and full of bangers (a word I hate btw) and I thought the second half was really boring. It wasn’t until about ten listens that I really started focusing on the fantastic lyricism that I began to appreciate the second half more. Then I starting to really enjoy the subtle nature of the beats in the second half, and it was at that point that my love for the second half began to transcend the first half. Killer Mike and El-P crafted an album that is a rejection to the decadence of modern hip hop. It’s only around 35 minutes long, there’s no skits, there’s no filler, there’s no bullshit. Run The Jewels is two guys who love what they do, and I love hearing them go to work crafting the finest hip hop album of 2013. — Robert Lowe
4. Gorguts – Colored Sands
Gorguts have always been a step ahead of the competition for taking the long view. Rather than trying to bash tracks into a few minutes for the illusion of technicality that speed oft presents, Luc Lemay and company run lightning fast speed drills when they have to, but augment them with dark, drawling riffs that pulse and moan. They feed off of the slow and dark chaos that festers at the edge of every decaying portrait to bring down blue skied towers for the parts and materials needed to erect barbed black fortresses on bleak and biled shores as even in the light, flirty strings of “The Battle of Chambdo,” there is also the ultimate submission into darkness, emptiness, and the eventual madness of “Enemies of Compassion.” Easily a work of calculated chaos and infinite energy, it’s not hard to see why Colored Sands clocks in near the top of the list this year. — Tom Gerhart
3. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One Of Us Is The Killer
Dillinger Escape Plan have been on one of those steadily consistent rises. The predictability of the matter becomes a mere retrospect when this chaotic, high energy, stand alone group continue to push their name into the hardcore, metal mainstream. One Of Us Is The Killer excels where most similar groups fall into mediocrity and push towards a more cohesive and balanced sound. It comes down to the fact that Dillinger Escape Plan simply do what they do, but better than most similar acts. The experimentation here shows a certain restraint but as far as the band is concerned, everything has a place within the band’s 2013 record.
One Of Us Is The Killer shows a group in full swing, building on the momentum of their previous records despite presenting fans with a three year wait. There’s enough substance here to earn some new fans while keeping the die-hards sated at the same time. The nuances behind The Dillinger Escape Plan’s need to constantly shift their sound sees the band work out their kinks into something completely formidable, granted they’ll hit a few bumps here and there but for the most part the roads are smooth. — Robert Garland
2. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
There has been no other album opener in rock music this year that sets the mood for the record following after it more perfectly than “Keep Your Eyes Peeled.” The guitar line is seriously deep enough to be mistaken for bass, and each strum grabs your attention like a drunken, drawn-out slug to the jaw. The Queens have always seemed to make a first priority out of crafting either frantic or corrosive introduction tracks, but this time around its been made perfectly clear that when Josh Homme says he’s making a “blues record” he’s talking about some smutty, gritty, and raw melancholy done desert style. Even though Homme’s smirking demeanor hadn’t left the presence of the music realm, Queens of the Stone Age have been missed in a six year drought of new material, and its simply striking and inspiring in how …Like Clockwork is such an assured and confident resumption for the group, without a single sense of doubt or questioning of direction evident. That attitude only further revs up the flexing guitar lines, sludgy and grimy atmosphere, eloquently mysterious piano cuts, irresistibly macho grooves, and high-octane salaciousness found throughout the album. The quality speaks for itself in a way that’s almost silencing, as the most important thing you need to know about this album is that it’s simply the sexiest and most ass kicking rock you’ll hear in a while, and that Queens of the Stone Age are back and proving they’re the band in the genre that is making rock what it should be. — Alex Beebe
1. Deafheaven – Sunbather
Well, here it is, folks – that genre bending metal and post-rock fusing mindbender that glides between emotive, slow-flowing lows and raging breakneck dirges. Last year we had Atoma and Ne Obliviscaris fill the role, and this year we have Deafheaven. Is top critical success that formulaic?
Obviously not – I’m boiling it down far too much, but you can see what I mean. There is a consistency in our praise for albums which accomplish incredibly complex endeavors with a grace that makes them feel like one cohesive package from cover to cover. It should go without saying that this praise is well-deserved, but maybe it’s something for the albums of 2014 to consider when aiming for our critical acclaim.
While I first listened to it in June, I don’t know that I “got” Sunbather until just this past week. While it’s easily far more accessible than any other release with even the most minute black metal influence, it can be tough to scratch the surface of that layered bombastic assault triggered in by “Dream House,” but when you dial into those underlying melodic currents and let the entirety of the album wash over you in its dualistic euphony and cacophony, there is a sort of nirvana in the between that feels both intensely human and intensely spiritual at the same time.
Maybe I didn’t have the time before or maybe I was just trying too hard to see what others see between the moments of brilliant post-rock melody, but in the contrast of light and dark, in between whimsy and firmly-rooted pessimism, there’s something we can identify and sympathize with, and Sunbather captures that perfectly without forcing us to strain for meaning or pick out every nuance and detail. — Tom Gerhart
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