Because We Heart Music: The Top 16 Albums of 2013 Gina Vaynshteyn

My favorite month of the year has to be December, because I get to gather up all of my new albums, listen to them for about three days straight and decide how I want to rank each individual one. I have not left my bedroom for about seventy hours, my ears hurt from simultaneously wearing my Skullcandy earphones and glasses for too long, and I might have consumed too much caffeine and pizza. But I am committed.

2013 has been a prolific year for music, especially for female singers. Synth-pop and the ’80s have seemingly taken over and dubstep is shriveling away for now. This list is an honest product of my feelings, tastes, and experiences. So, here we go:

16. MS MR – Secondhand Rapture 

MS MR (not to be confused with the 80s band Mr. Mister) is comprised of two band members –Lizzie Plapinger and Max Hershenow. Small but mighty, MS MR is one of the most underrated bands of 2013 with the most over-played single, “Hurricane.” Curious to see what the rest of their album sounded like, I bought Secondhand Rapture and immediately thought, “MS MR is what it would be like if Mazzy Star, Kavinsky, and Florence and the Machine had a love child.” In the best way possible.

In an interview, MS MR have said, “We both get off on wild weather and write our best music when there’s something crazy happening in the air,” which makes sense because the album is a calculated rhapsody (or should I say “hurricane”?) of reckless youth.

“Fantasy” off Secondhand Rapture:

15. Cults – Static 

I’ve been in love with Cults ever since I heard “Go Outside” and I squealed like a nine year-old at Claire’s when “Wanted” was in Weeds (I think the end of season six). Static isn’t as good as their self-titled album, but it’s pretty freaking good. ’60s girl group meets lo-fi isn’t all bubble-gum flavored ice cream and whimsy. “No Hope,’ and “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” prove that Static is a darker album than its predecessor. Cults is growing up to be a moodier, louder young adult. And I think I dig it.

“Always Forever” from Static

14. Katy Perry – Prism 

“Roar” was my song this semester. Not only is “Roar” about independence, confidence, and strength, but her entire album is also filled with conviction and girl power. Katy has grown up and outgrown Teenage Dream, and with it she has shed her whipped cream bras and blue hair. But that’s not to say Katy Perry isn’t wild, her wildness just has more posture now.

“Legendary Lovers” off Prism:

13. Kanye West – Yeezus 

I had to listen to this album at least three or four times before I decided I didn’t absolutely loathe it. Kanye West has a terrible public persona; he’s an egomaniac who “designed” a plain white tee-shirt that costs $120 and fathered a child with a Kardashian. But every time he releases an album, I eventually fall in love with it and forgive Kanye for his big head because I silently understand he’s  a musical genius. Although I miss Late Registration Kanye West, his new album is much more conceptual, complex, and successfully conveys his take on contemporary socioeconomic problems.

“Blood on the Leaves” is gorgeous, a song that weaves in Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” and discusses money problems and a messed up 21st century relationship. “New Slaves” addresses race issues that are still prevalent in our country, and its rawness is vulgar but necessary. Yeezus is an album we would love to hate, but we have no choice but to embrace it for the kind of honesty we don’t often see in the music industry anymore.

“Blood on the Leaves” off Yeezus

12. Miley Cyrus - Bangerz 

I hate myself a little bit for including Miley, but I couldn’t stop listening to this album, so its addictive swagger must count for something.  Plus, like (or unlike) Mileybird, I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. I liked the album. So what? It’s not perfect; “SMS (Bangerz)” which features Britney Spears is obnoxious and “#GETITRIGHT” doesn’t really fit with the rest of the track listings.

However, the princess of dirty gossip and crop tops did something right with songs like “Someone Else” and “Drive” which are propelled with young adult angst and conviction. I felt myself rooting for Miley and I didn’t even know why. “Do My Thang” essentially summed up not only Bangerz, but Miley’s newest approach to music and fame, and “Wrecking Ball” is just straight up pretty. This was the most fun album to listen to this year and I don’t care what anyone else says, okay?

“Someone Else” off Bangerz:

11. She & Him -Volume 3

Okay, on to something a little bit more light-hearted. Channeling ’60s pop and artists like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and The Beach Boys, She & Him dance in whimsy and vintage nostalgia. I’ve loved Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s band since day one, and I can always rely on them for a killer album that makes me grin like a fool every single time I listen to it. She & Him do it again in Volume 3 with “Turn to White” which is sweetly serene, and “Together” which is crazy catchy. Also, just try watching “I Could’ve Been Your Girl” without getting “and you coulda been my four leaf clover!” stuck in your head for days.  Zooey has this old-timey voice that’s beautiful and so endearing at the same time. Both Zooey and M. Ward have this heartwarming energy that I have personally witnessed at Coachella; it defines them and if I could write in their yearbook I would scribble “don’t ever change!” in sparkly gel pen.

“I Could’ve Been Your Girl” off Volume 3

10. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Every time Arcade Fire releases a new album, I always lament, “well, it’s no Funeral,” but maybe I just need to bury the old Arcade Fire for good. Reflektor is its own masterpiece, heavier in electro and dark disco beats. I always wanted to see Arcade Fire live, but I knew after Neon Bible, that they’d already reached Radiohead level. Maybe even surpassed it, because record after record, they’ve proven themselves to be prolific without selling out and losing their creatively manic energy. This album is electrifying and deliciously long. Arcade Fire cares about their music and it shows.

“We Exist” off Reflektor:

9. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories 

You can’t deny that “Get Lucky” not only lodged itself in your brain for weeks, but made you feel more alive than ever. Random Access Memories’ liveliness is contagious, as are all of Daft Punk’s albums. It was a big day for the internet when this album came out; Daft Punk diehards were freaking out, dancing on the streets, rejoicing for the grandfather of electronica. Collaborating with Pharrell, the songs “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” are more disco than robo-techno, and they’re freaking fun. “Doin’ It Right” which features Panda Bear is one of my favorite tracks on the album that pays homage to their older tracks like “Around the World” and “Digital Love,” but it’s newer, fresher. If there is one album I hope is played non-stop at your New Years party, I hope it’s this one.

“Lose Yourself to Dance” off Random Access Memories:

8. Haim -Days Are Gone

Haim’s album, Days Are Gone is a prime candidate to serve as the score for a feel-good ’80s replica movie about love, sports, and maybe San Francisco. For some reason, I picture Danny Tanner and the Olsen twins dancing in bright sweat pants and snapping their fingers while the female protagonist (who, in my mind, is a soccer player) discovers she actually doesn’t need a man. The three LA sisters, who are close to my age, are profoundly talented. They’ve clearly proven this to the world with the wildly successful Days Are Gone, which I’m pretty sure is one of the most likable albums of the year.

“The Wire” off Days Are Gone:

7. Lissie -Back to Forever

I discovered Lissie when I was listening to my Fleetwood Mac station on Pandora, which is the perfect way to describe Lissie. She’s a crossbreed between Stevie Nicks and Anya Marina. Equally soft and rough, this girl rock is confessional and mighty. In my favorite track, “Shameless” Lissie rejects the music industry’s way of pushing artificial identities on celebrities: “I gotta get far away from you / I gotta keep my identity / And focus on what I can do.” Lissie, who belongs in the camp where Jenny Lewis and Neko Case play, is unique. Her voice is heartbreakingly beautiful; you can almost see her singing in an empty cornfield while looking you dead in the eye.

“Shameless” off Back to Forever:

6. Chvurches – The Bones of What You Believe

I first heard Chvurches on the radio several months ago and before I could get my phone out to look up the artist, the DJ announced the new song he played was by “Churches with a ‘v’” and I was like, wow how pretentious, but I went home and got the album anyhow. If you like M83 or Crystal Castles, you will surely love Chvrches. This Scottish synth pop band is capable of a tremendous record, and they proved that with The Bones of What You Believe, their first full-length album.  I know there has been a lot of similar music in the last five years (see: Sleigh Bells, Crystal Castles, The Knife, Purity Ring, the xx) but The Bones of What You Believe stands out as an accomplished album that made a significant dent in 2013’s musical timeline and I’ll sway to them in neon at a concert any day.

“Lies” off The Bones of What You Believe

5. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time

Originating from royal LA blood, Sky Ferreira used to hang out with Michael Jackson and is one of Terry Richardson’s big-eyed, bare-all muses. She might be an it-girl of our generation, but who isn’t these days? Her album, Night Time, My Time is awesome. It’s (like many of my picks) ’80s inspired, with effeminate vocals and pretty lyrics. If you need an album to blast on the freeway, this is it. “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)” is like a page from a sixteen year-old’s diary and re-mixed to eloquence and deeper meaning.

“24 Hours” off Night Time, My Time:

4. Lorde – Pure Heroine

“Royals” is pretty amazing, but “Tennis Court” or “Glory and Gore” are better at showing off Lorde’s talents. I couldn’t stop listening to Pure Heroine for weeks, so the album’s name is appropriate. Sinisterly sweet and sharp like spicy mangoes, Lorde’s first album is an astonishing accomplishment for such a young artist. I love how she doesn’t pretend to sing about things she doesn’t understand fully. I overheard an interview with her on the radio, where she explained she wouldn’t write a relationship song because she doesn’t really know much about relationships. Lorde is the breath of fresh air we all needed in pop music.

“Glory and Gore” off Pure Heroine:

3. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The National will forever be some of the best make-out music. Too much information? I don’t care. The National unusually keeps releasing albums that are increasingly more and more beautiful than the last. Trouble Will Find Me opens with “I Should Live in Salt” which is about a guy kicking himself for breaking up or abandoning his lover, and I can feel the remorse, it’s so organic and genuine. Other songs like “I Need My Girl” and “Graceless” show off all that The National can do, and by this I mean tear our heart strings apart like a game of Cat’s Cradle. Also, The National toured in LA where they played at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and by the time I found out it sold out and I hated myself for weeks. They’re amazing live, by the way.

“I Need My Girl” off Trouble Will Find Me

2. Beyoncé - Beyoncé

Oh, Beyoncé. You are the only one who can get away with releasing a digital album with absolutely no marketing or promotion; you let your fans do that for you after the fact. Destroying everyone’s best-of 2013 music lists (except ours because I procrastinated, which apparently can pay off), interfering with Lorde’s newest single release, and pissing off Target and Amazon, Beyoncé proves she can do what she wants because she’s Beyoncé. Coupled with music videos, the tracks on Beyoncé are all phenomenal, sexy, smart, nothing short of godly. My favorites are “Drunk In Love” (which I see as a nod to her 2003’s “Crazy In Love”), “Partition,” and “***Flawless” which maintain that a woman can embrace her sexuality, independence, and strength. Carefully listening to “Partition” and “Blow” I had a few “didshejustsaythat” moments, but they’re so artfully and elegantly produced, I almost missed the hyper-raunchy lyrics. So, you amazing sex goddess you, I love you and all you have brought to this once Yoncé-less world.

“Drunk in Love” off Beyoncé:

1. Arctic Monkeys – AM

AM is number one in my book because I was so surprised by this album. Arctic Monkeys have come such a long way since Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare, not to say those albums aren’t good. They are. But in between their first two albums and their fifth, Arctic Monkeys did some maturing. AM, which by the way is a really clever title, is simpler, but the sound is more rugged, and they’re not taking any bullsh*t from anyone. Slightly moving away from spastic punk-pop, Arctic Monkeys are borrowing The Black Keys’ unapologetic rhythms and blues. Their single, “Do I Wanna Know?” reminds me of “Money Maker” off El Camino, and I love this bonding because I love The Black Keys. I saw Arctic Monkeys on my 16th birthday about seven years ago, so there is an extremely special place in my heart for them. Long live Arctic Monkeys!

“R U Mine?” off AM:

Happy Listening!

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  1. This is my problem with Drunk in Love. I love Beyonce, and I like Jay Z. Yet, in his rap he has the line “eat the cake, anna mae”. For those of you who don’t know that was a reference to the Tina Turner’s biographical film “What’s love got to do with it” about the continuous abuse and rape of Tina Turner by the hands of Ike Turner. The scene in that film where he says that line was while he was forcing her to eat cake and was a pivotal moment of showing the abuse that she endured. I’m fine with songs making references to consensual rough sex, but do you really have to use a reference to compare it about domestic abuse?

  2. Definitely forgot Justin Timberlake’s 20/20!!!! Excellent album!!

  3. Definitely Missing Paramore’s Album.

  4. OMG, such an amazing list of choices! Reflektor – Arcade Fire, Trouble Will Find Me – The National and AM – Arctic Monkeys were definitely my Top 3 picks of the year, along with Foals’ ‘Holy Fire’, Vampire Weekend’s ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ and Phoenix’s ‘Bankrupt’.

  5. I can’t believe you didn’t include Save Rock & Roll!! Fall Out Boy came off hiatus with such a great album this year!

  6. No… Keaton Henson’s “Birthdays” and Kristin Hersh’s “purgatory/paradise” should be on that list. Your lack of taste in music is disturbing… lol

  7. This is a great list! I haven’t seen MS MR on a lot of other best-of-2013 lists, but I really enjoyed that album.

    Optica by Shout Out Louds, In Guards We Trust by Guards, Waiting for Something to Happen by Veronica Falls, Diluvia by Freelance Whales, and Our Nature by Savoir Adore were all really great albums as well. I posted a blog about my favorites over at http://saracrawford.net/blog/blog/10-albums-i-loved-in-2013 :-)