Top 10 Albums of 2013

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2013 was a huge year for music – find out what we thought was the best of the best.

2012 may have been a relatively slow year for music – so 2013 rebounded. The year came in like, well, a wrecking ball, with big releases nearly every single week. There were a lot of shifts this year – Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry’s mediocre albums shifted focus onto the up-and-comers. Drake, Janelle Monae, Sky Ferreira, Lorde, and yes, Miley, proved the next heirs to the throne at the top of the charts. Kanye abdicated his seat by going beyond rap. Beyonce and Death Grips both unexpectedly dropped new albums, while Arcade Fire and Jay-Z went to extravagant heights for promotions. Eminem and Britney bounced back, and John Fogerty and David Bowie really bounced back to release two of the year’s best. Vampire Weekend and HAIM proved that indie rock is growing up, while Parquet Courts and Wavves proved it isn’t. Impressive debuts from Savages, Pharmakon, Yvette, Chelsea Light Moving and Body/Head show that noise rock is far from dead. Even a metal band tore up stereotypes, with Deafheaven dividing fans and critics. It seems like each band had a bigger year than the next band. And although some of the veterans stumbled, there was a vast array of excellent albums across every genre this year. So here, for the first time on the Filtered Lens, we are attempting to whittle the list down to the 10 best albums of the year.

#10. Savages – “Silence Yourself”

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One of the year’s angriest albums came from across the pond, as the debut from the London ladies ripped through relationships on tracks like “She Will” and “Husbands.” The band’s volume is always at an ear-aching level while remaining melodic, even catchy at times. Their post-punk/post-hardcore sound hit big quickly – “Silence Yourself” charted at #70 in the US and #19 in their native UK. Savages prove one of the more unfiltered acts in music, and one of the most painful. Jehnny Beth’s scream at the end of “I Am Here” sticks in your ears for days.

#9. Foxygen – “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic”

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With an album title almost as long as the album itself, this indie duo roars through a short, diverse, self-referential and surprisingly funny set. Their music is almost the direct child of Lou Reed and Mick Jagger, with just hints of Patti Smith and today’s indie. Each song is radically different from the next, while all fitting into a pleasantly insane narrative. It’s not entirely certain what the album is actually about, but the cries of “On Blue Mountain / God will save us / Put the pieces / Back together” show up in nearly all of the nine songs. There’s some deep insanity at play here, all made for your entertainment. In a year with an overabundance of phenomenal music, this was my personal favorite release.

#8. Lorde – “Pure Heroine”

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Sick of “Royals” or not, there’s no denying Lorde shook up 2013. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears were all vying for the #1 song simultaneously, but it landed on the sixteen year old from New Zealand. For nine weeks, “Royals” sat at the top of the charts. And when her debut came out, it met expectations. “Pure Heroine” has all the lyrical personal struggles of a pop album, mixed with poetic metaphors and a kind of minimalist sound usually reserved for Nico. The album is short but sweet, further proof that someone besides Adele can score pop hits without sexy lyrics or club beats. Lorde has the attitude of a pop star – turning down a tour opening for Katy Perry because of a genre clashing. Now she’s headlining herself. If she keeps it up, she might be royal soon after all.

#7. David Bowie – “The Next Day”

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David Bowie stands at a solid 49 years older than Lorde, and it shows. While Lorde’s album dealt with issues of jealousy over pop stars, Bowie’s “The Next Day” is written from the perspective of someone who used to be one. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is about as thinly veiled as it can get. Bowie’s first new album in ten years – and one that came with little warning and no tour – has Bowie explore the last genre he possibly can – comfortable normality. “The Next Day” is packed with normal, radio-friendly songs that only reflect Bowie’s stance on reluctantly growing old. It’s playful while remorseful, but never regretful. This is probably Bowie’s last stand, going out by telling us that his age is only what it is because of time.

#6. The National – “Trouble Will Find Me”

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The gloomiest gloomy group in indie rock got even gloomier in 2013. “Trouble Will Find Me” is a painful record. Matt Berninger sounds even more like a man with nothing left to lose. But it’s also referential, and just a little funny. There’s something disturbingly comedic in the year’s best line (from “Sea of Love”) – “Hey Jo / Sorry I hurt you, but / They say love is a virtue / Don’t they?” “Trouble Will Find Me” is one of the year’s most consistent records. The songs don’t necessarily stand out from each other, but they result in an engaging and reactive hour. Each National record is better than the last, and they’ve grown to the point where the Grammy’s are taking notice. Success and a surprising mass appeal hasn’t altered their moods; they’re even more sour than before.

#5. Drake – “Nothing Was the Same”

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With Kanye’s genre-less “Yeezus” and Jay-Z’s disaster “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” their throne was no longer being watched. Although Kendrick Lamar and Eminem have made recent bids, Drake is now alone at the top. And his third album enforces two of those words – “top” and “alone.” Drake’s boasts on the album are so all-encompassing that you have to believe them, even though he sounds like he doesn’t. “Nothing Was the Same” boasts a heavy emotional load, with Drake being a man who knows to shrug off his competitors but doesn’t seem to know why. The emotional nature of the album is evident in songs that can turn from conventional to devastating at the drop of a hat. There’s a lot going on with Drake, and it all comes through. It’s a surprisingly dramatic album that hits every note, emotional and physical.

#4. Beyonce – “Beyonce”

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Right as I was about to do my write-ups and say that all of the veterans stumbled this year, Beyonce unexpectedly drops an album. Beyonce’s new release isn’t technically titled, but has been dubbed “Beyonce” because everything on it centers around her. It jumps seamlessly from R&B to rap to pop, nailing every one. And it has a directly feminist tone, one a lot more explicit than she’s done before. The time was just right for an album with a tone like this. Whether she’s singing about Blue Ivy, calling for independence among women, or just referencing doing dishes, “Beyonce” is honest. It has all the conflicting thoughts and actions of a person, all reflective of the queen behind it.

#3. Kanye West – “Yeezus”

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Kanye’s vanity isn’t just a fault – it’s an album-ruiner. “Yeezus” bleeds through with anthems that Kanye thinks are the best and most experimental ever made. Kanye is by no means the most experimental person in rap, and he’s just as susceptible to mistakes as we are. But there’s no denying that “Yeezus” is abrasive and destructive. The more lyrically focused songs on the album feel like mission statements, and they’re spine-tingling real. It’s a lot to take in, especially when almost none of it actually sounds honest, given whose behind it. But “Yeezus” is one of the most original albums of the year – a head-scratcher with unpredictable, crushing music. It was a risky experiment, one that paid off.

#2. Daft Punk – “Random Access Memories”

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Daft Punk had disappeared for a while before “Random Access Memories.” They recorded the soundtrack to the second Tron film, but it was a release met with tepid reviews and sales. Since the duo’s last official album in 2005, a huge electronica boom has happened. House music, EDM, and dubstep took off like wildfire. This was all music Daft Punk had helped to create, so they couldn’t be caught dead still participating in it. Instead, they released a 74 minute funky, disco jam. Mega-hit “Get Lucky” was one of the grooviest songs in years, and it’s just one little cog in this machine. At well over an hour, no minute of the album feels wasted. It’s a throwback party album, one that works on days good and bad. Throw it on a rager, or listen while you’re studying – it covers all areas at once. And I challenge anyone to find a better closing song from 2013 than “Contact.” It’s a terrifying and grasping instrumental about finding alien life. Daft Punk is bigger than ever.

#1. Vampire Weekend – “Modern Vampires of the City”

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Vampire Weekend’s third album is kind of disappointing on the first listen. No songs jump out quite the way they did on “Vampire Weekend” and “Contra.” But a second and third listen reveals that the album works as a whole. With less instruments, an intentionally more focused influence, and deeper lyrics, the guys are no longer singing fun songs about raincoats. These are mature songs about politics and a persistent, internal discomfort. Maturing is a tough bridge for younger musicians, but Vampire Weekend handle it like it’s no problem. Songs like “Unbelievers” and “Diane Young” still have a poppy, bouncy feeling, but it’s deceiving this time around. There’s pain, heartache and insurmountable problems on this album. And still, they’re having fun. It’s Vampire Weekend’s simplest album, yet it’s got much more focus and depth than their previous two. In a year filled with brash experimentation and bold promotions, the best album is a simple, straight-forward one written by two guys in an apartment. Congrats, Vampire Weekend!

Runners-up, in alphabetical order: Danny Brown’s “Old,” Miley Cyrus’ “Bangerz,” Deafheaven’s “Sunbather,” Sky Ferreira’s “Night Time, My Time,” Parquet Courts’ “Light Up Gold” and Waxahatchee’s “Cerulean Salt.”

-By Andrew McNally

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