January 2, 2014 • 05:55:03 p.m.

Vampire Weekend leads our list of 20 best albums of 2013


(Photo provided)

2013 is the year Vampire Weekend finally crossed over from indie rock darlings to mainstream favorites.

“Modern Vampires of the City,” their third album, will undoubtedly help jettison them from the sidestages to music festival headliner.

The release also tops our list of the 20 best albums of the year.

1. Vampire Weekend “Modern Vampires of the City”

“Modern Vampires of the City” could be construed as Vampire Weekend’s most Paul Simon-y release as they wrap up a trilogy of albums.

Their sound is more loose for the finale as they take their time to air things out.

“Modern Vampires of the City” is well-written, well-thought out, and signals Vampire Weekend’s most complete work thanks to some of their catchiest songs to date.

2. Chance The Rapper “Acid Rap”

On “Acid Rap,” Chance The Rapper cycles through elements of several genres while keeping a sturdy backbone of rap and jazz.

Chance sounds as much at ease rapping about bringing guns to a rumble on “Juice” as he does when he reveals, “I miss my diagonal grilled cheeses” on the title track.

“Acid Rap” doesn’t make light of a bad situation. It just shows some good came come from all of the bad.

3. Lorde “Pure Heroine”

Lorde, aka 16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor, couldn’t have chosen a better vehicle to introduce herself to mainstream audiences than “Pure Heroine.”

The New Zealand resident is fearless on her debut album as she saunters her way through 10 sultry electropop songs.

“Pure Heroine” has a run time of just over 37 minutes, is perfectly concise and rarely wanders.

4. Daft Punk “Random Access Memories”

On “Random Access Memories,” the French duo embrace their infatuation with ’70s schlock by bringing it to the forefront of their music.

Instead of giving in to current electronic dance music trends, Daft Punk turns back the clock for what is their least hyper and most chill album to date.

Their ability to slightly update the sound with a few familiar Daft Punk studio tricks makes this more of a tip of the cap to the era than a full-fledged tribute.

5. Queens of the Stone Age “... Like Clockwork”

The best rock album of 2013.

While band members have changed over the course of six albums, the heart of QOTSA remains Josh Homme. His connections in the music business and willingness to incorporate his friends into his work pays off.

Sure, some of the songs might dial things down compared with past releases. But in the end, the guests help expand the QOTSA sound, not distort it.

6. Justin Timberlake “The 20/20 Experience”

“The 20/20 Experience” is a nod to classic R&B without throwing it all the way back. The album is a mix of past and present, with JT providing smooth vocals over long-time collaborator Timbaland’s equally cool beats.

It’s best listened to from start to finish rather than picking and choosing your favorite tracks.

It’s clear Timberlake used a much different thought process when putting this one together.

7. The National “Trouble Will Find Me”

The National has maintained a knack for churning out morose musings. They rarely get to a point of being a total unbearable bummer.

The lyrics on “Trouble Will Find Me” are somewhat hopless. A few rays of sunshine come through the dark clouds on “Graceless.”

The National end up right back where they started, knee-deep in doom and gloom, before closing out yet another beautiful album.

8. Waxahatchee “Cerulean Salt”

Waxahatchee, singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield, is an alternative folk act that’s rough around the edges.

On “Cerulean Salt,” Crutchfield’s voice is pitch perfect while her music sounds fit for a grunge-era band destined to sell out your friend’s basement.

The guitars are fuzzy. The drum beats are basic. It’s Crutchfield’s voice that proves to be her greatest instrument.

And it also helps to have some fantastically well-written lyrics too. Crutchfield rarely falters with her words and voice on the 13 tracks of “Cerulean Salt.”

9. Kanye West “Yeezus”

“Pardon me while I get my scream on,” Kanye West spits on “Black Skinhead.”

The lyric is an indication of what’s in store for the early part of “Yeezus.” West’s twisted tales on his sixth studio album are more dark than beautiful. His words are delivered with more anger than ever before.

Sure, there are a couple of moments where “Yeezus” is difficult to listen to.

But, then again, so is Kanye. In the end, his willingness to push the envelope and explore different styles is what makes “Yeezus” an interesting listen.

10. Disclosure "Settle"

Disclosure bucks current dance music trends on “Settle.”

British brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, ages 22 and 19, respectively, play things smart.

The album is chock-full of drum and bass and ambient music that comes off as being much more complex than other offerings garnering attention within the genre.

“Settle” is about as good a debut album you could possibly get from Disclosure. Actually, considering their young age, it’s probably a lot better than most would expect.

11. Phoenix “Bankrupt!”

French alt-rock band Phoenix grew its following in the U.S. thanks to its excellent 2009 album, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.”

“Bankrupt!,” is of that ilk, as well. And while it might not have a recognizable hit that jumps out like “1901,” “Bankrupt!” is, top to bottom, a more solid album.

“S.O.S. In Bel Air” feels frantic, yet controlled. “Trying To Be Cool” stays true to the song’s name with its relaxed vibe.

“Bankrupt!” might not have the bouncy Phoenix songs that were featured on “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” but the band and this album is better off for it.

12. Nine Inch Nails “Hesitation Marks”

Recent Nine Inch Nails albums have been the victims of boundaries pushed too far. Trent Reznor’s experimentation bordered on the verge of being excessive.

“Hesitation Marks,” might be Nine Inch Nails’ most accessible album to date.

Reznor and his ever-changing roster of bandmates incorporate several styles into their industrial rock to make the genre not sound as outdated as in the past.

“Hesitation Marks” is Reznor at his best. This is the Nine Inch Nails album that probably should have come out years ago.

13. Danny Brown “Old”

“It’s time for me to clean it up. I came too far to f--k it up,” Danny Brown proclaims on “Clean Up.”

A little more than halfway into “Old,” Brown has had enough. The bass picks up as does his intensity on “Smokin and Drinkin.” Brown brings it harder than he has on any of his albums, and certainly much more so than the first half of “Old. “

And while Brown seems to not have totally forgotten his drug-fueled past, this album is his coming of age.

Letting loose may have been the best prescription for Brown’s career and one of the best rap albums of 2013.

14. Arcade Fire “Reflektor”

“Reflektor,” the fourth studio album from Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire, is a good album that could have been a great album.

In the mix this time is LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy, who was brought in to co-produce the album.

Murphy’s influence is immediately felt on the title-track opener.

Arcade Fire are at their best on “Reflektor” when they are more concise. Some more fat could have been trimmed away from this release to really let their talent shine.

15. Majical Cloudz “Impersonator”

“Impersonator” is the first full-length album from the Montreal-based synth-tastic duo of Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto.

Welsh’s delivery is deliberate. He often sounds like a lounge singer performing with a tranquilizer dart lodged squarely in the side of his neck. While this may sound gimmicky, it actually provides more time to savor some fantastically written lyrics.

The music moves along with the same molasses-soaked pace. The result is a beautifully creepy album.

16. Kacey Musgraves “Same Trailer Different Park”

Kacey Musgraves avoids entirely committing to being Taylor Swift or Carrie Underwood on her full-length, major label debut, “Same Trailer Different Park.”

There’s a greater emphasis on songwriting on this album. Musgraves, who has a writing credit on all 12 tracks, comes off as much more mature than expected on her songs.

Sure, there are a couple songs on this one that are being served up for pop music fans, but there’s also a few here that could almost be considered alt-country, as well. Musgraves deserves credit for not taking the easy route.

17. Drake “Nothing Was The Same”

Three full-length albums to his credit and Drake has found what works for him.

“Nothing Was The Same” is of the ilk of his more laid-back portions of 2011’s “Take Care,” which were some of the best parts of that album.

The R&B flavored “Hold On, We’re Going Home” has a throwback sound to radio favorites from the early ’90s.

“Nothing Was The Same” proves Drake can still craft some hits.

18. Telekinesis “Dormarion”

Telekinesis isn’t as much a band as a project of Michael Benjamin Lerner.

“Dormarion” is Lerner’s third outing under the Telekinesis moniker, following up his excellent 2011 release, “12 Desperate Straight Lines.”

Energetic songs such as “Wires” and “Empathetic People” give this album a little more punch.

Lerner has a knack for writing catchy pop-rock songs while wearing his musical influences on his sleeve.

While the last Telekinesis album was good, this one feels just right in so many ways.

19. Mavis Staples “One True Vine”

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy returned to produce 73-year-old soul singer Mavis Staples’ latest “One True Vine.”

The release contains covers and original material written by Tweedy and Nick Lowe.

Tweedy plays nearly every instrument on the album except drums, which were played by his 17-year-old son, Spencer. The two provide a solid musical backbone while getting out of the way to let Staples do her thing.

“One True Vine” is yet another solid effort from a classic voice that deserves to be heard.

20. Sundowner “Neon Fiction”

Three albums into his solo venture, Chris McCaughan continues to get better with every Sundowner release.

“Neon Fiction,” while acoustic in nature, borrows heavily from the music of Jawbreaker. McCaughan even does his best Blake Schwarzenbach vocal impersonation on “Life In Embers” as he sings “I’m a collage of success and defeat.”

Even with his musical influences out in the open for all to hear, McCaughan still makes the sound his own thanks to his ability to tell masterfully crafted stories. His best songs are the ones on which he lets us into his life, which he does often.

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