Ahh, the intro to a best albums of the year article. This is the part typically chock full of statements like 'what a year for music'... let's face it, when was the last year in living memory that wasn't overflowing with fantastic music? This year is, of course, no exception. Whittling down my favourites to ten has been incredibly tough. This is entirely subjective, and may explain why this is perhaps the only year end list you'll read without Yeezus in it, along with a few other typical contenders for places. I've also avoided adding albums from a previous post I did on my favourite hardcore albums of the first half of 2013, otherwise Nails and Coliseum may well have popped up. Well, anyway, without further ado let's take a look at some of 2013's best offerings.
Best albums of 2013
10. Gnarwolves – Funemployed (EP)
Being the only EP on my list, and coming in at under 10 minutes long it wouldn't have been fair to put Gnarwolves any higher than number 10, but based on the quality of their music and their monumental rise in popularity this year it wouldn't have been fair to leave them off either. Gnarwolves are the epitome of a band who've put their middle finger up at the music business, and have gone from a bottom of the rung support act in January to a band that's just finished their own stage-dive packed, singalong filled UK headline tour through means of working hard and making addictive, intricate emo-punk. 2014 will be the year of the Gnarwolves LP; for now, Funemployed is hands down the best EP of this year.
9. Barrow – Though I'm Alone
Barrow's LP slipped by in early 2013, somewhat under the radar, which is a shame as it's a beautiful and heart-wrenching sophomore effort. Whilst it does little to change the face of the hardcore scene generated and perpetuated by so-called 'Wave' bands such as La Dispute and Touché Amoré and the rest of the No Sleep Records roster, it does it all fantastically well. The music is a seamless blend of screamo, post-rock, and emo, and at times even ventures into hardcore territory (such as in the penultimate track You Can Probably Find It In Norfolk). This approach keeps it consistently fresh, and it's a rollercoaster ride. The beautiful depressive vocals morph into crescendos of screaming noise-filled climaxes. By the end of the album you'll likely feel emotionally deflated, but it's rare for any album to create such an effect and that is Barrow's merit.
8. Isaiah Rashad – Mixtapes
Strictly speaking, there's no official mixtape from Isaiah Rashad yet, so I'm kind of cheating here. We've got a few mixtapes out there, mostly collections of his music put together unofficially – check out Welcome To The Game, or Don't Call Me a Rookie for some good introductions. Or just head over to his Soundcloud. Whatever you pick up though, you'll dig it. Isaiah Rashad is Top Dog Entertainment's latest addition. TDE at the moment are a label that can do no wrong, and arguably has the strongest roster in hip-hop. Rashad is no exception. Stand out tracks on (most) mixtapes are Shot U Down (particularly the remix), and 2x Pills, produced by FlyLo. I don't want to speak too soon, but with TDE behind him and clear inspiration from Kendrick Lamar, Rashad could very well release 2014's Good Kid m.A.A.d City. For now, sit tight and enjoy what he's got out already.
7. Lorde – Pure Heroine
Probably my favourite pop-album of the year. Whilst nearly every review I've read of this can't help but jump on the 'SHE'S ONLY 16!' bandwagon, I'm going to try to avoid that for the sake of this short write-up... Ok I can't resist – HOW IS SHE ONLY 16? Phenomenally talented.
But seriously, that has no bearing on the music itself, and this album so warrants its hype. Lorde has sprung out of pretty much nowhere, with an album that has captivated the anti-pop crowd – those who would happily touch One Direction with a bargepole if only to beat their pretty-boy faces in (whilst enjoying a cheeky listen of Up All Night). As Lana Del Ray did last year, Lorde has created a pop-album that has encapsulated everyone and made damn sure that there's been more to pop this year than Miley Cyrus' ass.
6. Captain, We're Sinking – The Future Is Cancelled
You know those weird moments where you feel like you're living in a dream? That perhaps you've just imagined an entire album exists? This is how I've felt with The Future Is Cancelled by Captain, We're Sinking. A band that does The Menzingers better than... well, The Menzingers, and every time I mention them I'm greeted with blank expressions. I don't even consider my music taste that diverse, and therefore my only conclusion is that this album is horrendously underrated. Let's just put it this way: if you're sitting reading this post whilst still half drunk from your New Year's night, and any of the following bands mean anything to you: The Menzingers, Spraynard, The Lawrence Arms, Iron Chic, Latterman, The Flatliners etc. etc. then please go and listen to this album so that when I excitedly mention it again in the future you can smile and nod... unless of course The Future is Cancelled, hahahahahaha. Ok I'll see myself out.
5. Laura Stevenson – Wheel
Laura Stevenson of Bomb The Music Industry! fame has been solidly building a repertoire of albums over the last few years in a sort of solo career (really she's got a full band behind her but I guess coming from BTMI! makes a standard five-piece band seem relatively plain). Wheel, her latest, is a real gem in this though. Each song retains its own feeling despite being interconnected by the central themes. It is this quality that sets it apart from many other folk albums of the year. It's no secret that I loved Radical Face's latest addition to The Family Tree this year, but Laura's music can be listened to via one or two tracks on a playlist, whilst truly shining when it's packaged together in Wheel.
4. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap (mixtape)
Acid Rap is a lesson in how to go from a rising star to the year's biggest hip-hop artist in a matter of months. It's that mixtape that no one expects. It comes out of nowhere, and BOOM – Chance is now an unavoidable force in modern hip-hop. As he rounds off his year with a huge tour and featuring on a Justin Bieber single, we round it off with a quick recap of one of the most important albums to drop this year. Chance has nailed a real middle ground between fantastic hip-hop flows and catchy addictive pop-hooks. Good Ass Intro, the self-explanatory intro track, will have you hooked within a minute as it builds steadily but rapidly on the opening backing vocal 'Even better than I was the last time, baby'. As you move through the album, it never lets up. Cocoa Butter Kisses and Juice are the kind of tunes running through your brain when you wake up in the middle of the night. Once you're addicted, Chance is damn hard to stop listening to. Acid Rap? More like crack-cocaine rap.
3. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
So far, The Wonder Years have proved themselves to be an infallible band. Let's forget about the debut record (sorry guys, it wasn't all that great) and the EPs. The Upsides, 2010's album, created a new breed of pop-punk. Meaningful, full of realism but tinged with an overall positive message. Suburbia, I've Given You All, and Now I'm Nothing was a perfection of that. From the mind of Soupy to the breadth of America, it did everything bigger and better. The Greatest Generation is this band's magnum opus. A sprawling and beautiful epic – where can a band go after dealing with the themes in their previous album? Into history of course. This album has redefined pop-punk for me. In fact, it has killed it. There is literally nothing even close to this good in the genre right now. This is a perfect album from start to finish, and pop-punk is a genre that has grown up with this band. The Greatest Generation, indeed.
2. Deafheaven – Sunbather
Sunbather is perhaps the most divisive album of this year. This isn't because of its quality – its presence on nearly every year-end list going is testament to that. It's because at worst it is genre-defying, at best it is genre-defining. Pigeon-holing Sunbather into any pre-existing genre description is close to impossible. Black metal? Sure, that's what initially comes to mind. But the post-rock, shoegaze dream-like ambience says this is far beyond that. Vocalist, George Clarke's stage-presence has more in common with Ian Curtis than Immortal. Lyrically, Sunbather has more in common with the rap-genre, dealing with themes of poverty and wealth.
I'd love to say that 2013 was the end of genre discussions, but alas Sunbather has sparked more than any other before. Really though it shouldn't. It's a stunning accomplishment and its worth should be measured on that alone.
1. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
I admit, my choice for number 1 is a little unorthodox. My 2012 AOTY was Good Kid m.A.A.d City, and RTJ doesn't reach the dizzying heights that Kendrick's maze-like tale did. What we do have though is a near-perfect 90s-esque hip-hop album. It does little new but everything is does do is so polished that it's impossible not to fall in love. Killer Mike tears through the album's short playtime (at just over half an hour) with snarling viciousness, whilst El-P is on-hand to provide all the wit and humour you need to complete a duo which will have you smirking with even the 100th listen. El-P's production is second-to-none, providing beats that will haunt your mind. A cameo from Big Boi is all that's needed to send you spiralling back in time to an era of rap that's long since passed. This is nostalgia but it's without the rose-tinted glasses, as it's better than almost everything that era threw at you.