Well here we go, another fine year for records. It always is, and anyone who says different isn’t really trying to find the good stuff. I should say there were a lot other records from 2013 that I liked a lot too, but I guess these are the ones that stuck with me the most. (You may have seen my Top 20 already on BrooklynVegan, but here’s more and more blurbs.) My Top 3 are basically a three-way tie for 1st place — they’re all completely different — so feel free to take them as such. But I don’t believe in ties (Tys is a different story, see #38) so I pulled rank. No MP3s this year, but there are links to streams (Spotify, mostly) and where to buy a physical copy — there is a track from every one of these 50 albums on my year-end mixes. I also made a Spotify playlist of all of the albums on my list that are on the service.
Without any further ado, my Favorite Records of 2013:
1. Hookworms – Pearl Mystic (Gringo / Weird World)
This group from Leeds, UK practice a visceral blend of noise, drone, motorik rhythms and impassioned vocals that basically demands to be listened to at top volume. The parts are old but Hookworms’ electrifying energy makes it feel like they came up with the idea. Seeing them live during CMJ, where singer Matt Johnson seemed to leave his body on stage, nudged this record ahead just enough for me to name is at my favorite of 2013. For that matter, their non-LP single, “Radio Tokyo,” was my favorite track of the year. Hookworms win.
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2. Warm Soda – S/T (Castle Face)
Matthew Melton formed Warm Soda immediately after his previous band, Bare Wires, imploded onstage at SXSW. He doesn’t really alter the power-pop formula with his new band but the change has definitely made his creative juices more effervescent. Keeping with those late ’70s vibes, Warm Soda’s debut actually kind of sounds like it is coming out of a transistor radio: tinny and compressed (in a good way), but with giant hooks and choruses packed into 27-minute running time. It’s hit after hit after hit.
3. La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin (Born Bad)
The title of Parisian band La Femme’s debut album, Psycho Tropical Berlin, is a pretty good summation of what to expect: crazed psychedelic pop with a krautrock/coldwave backbone and an affinity for surf rock. Add to that the inherent French element (Ye-Ye enthusiasm and smoky Gainsbourg cool), you get an inventive, modern, highly entertaining album, unlike anything anything else I heard this year.
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4. Outfit – Performance (Double Denim)
After a few singles/EPs, UK group Outfit make their long-player bow and I wasn’t quite prepared for what a leap they made. This is sleek, elegant dancepop, endlessly inventive and a little nerdy/quirky — but not so much that it ever pulls you out of the groove. Comparisons to Hot Chip are pretty easy to make but Outfit have their own distinct style. This record remains a UK import. Somebody over here sign these guys!
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5. John Hopkins – Immunity (Domino)
Having helped create textural work with Imogen Heap, Brian Eno (and Coldplay), Jon Hopkins delves into dance music for the first time, with this concept album exploring, instrumentally, an epic night out. While it may not feature any Disclosure-style dancefloor bangers, Immunity is an absolute stunner, a record that needs to be heard as a whole, and one whose synthesizers throb like a beating heart.
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6. Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum (Turnstile / Wichita)
Written following the death of her maternal grandmother but recorded after moving from Wales to her new home of California, Cate Le Bon’s third album, Mug Museum, hits the happy/sad sweet spot like a ray of sunshine peaking through the grey. A little less skronky than last year’s CYRK, Cate Le Bon’s quirky Welsh charm, songwriting skills and bewitching voice remain.
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7. No Joy – Wait to Pleasure (Mexican Summer)
Working with Violens’ Jorge Elbrecht, Wait to Pleasure goes beyond the No Joy’s pummeling shoegaze start, showing off previously unheard textures, melody and beauty. They can still attain tinitus-level volume (just see them live), but they’ve now got other cards too and the ebbs, flows and crashing waves make for a great listen start-to-finish. One of the most pleasant surprises of 2013.
8. Factory Floor – S/T (DFA)
25 years since it’s Detroit birth, the sounds of techno and acid house are still inspiring new artists. UK trio Factory Floor take those squelchy 303s and filter them through krautrock and post-punk sensibilities for a near-relentless hour on their long-awaited-but-worth-it full-length debut. While using some of the same equipment Juan Atkins tinkered with in his bedroom in 1987, in Factory Floor’s hands, it still sounds like the phuture.
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9. Girls Names – The New Life (Slumberland)
For their second album, Girls Names dropped much of the murky gloom prevalent on their debut, instead opting for more crystalline production, driving basslines, propulsive drumming, prominent keyboards and markedly improved songwriting. It’s all a little early-’80s Bunnymen, but Girls Names bring their own style to the proceedings, and every little atmospheric detail works. You still wouldn’t call it happy, but you can dance to it.
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10. Ooga Boogas – S/T (Aarght)
Australian musician Mikey Young stays busy with a bunch of bands (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control, Lace Curtain), all of them excellent. And here’s another as part of Ooga Boogas. Their self-titled album genre hops from Fall-influenced indie rock to Stranglers-y new wave to the vaguely Talking Heads-ish groovers. (Also “Studio of My Mind” is the best LCD Soundsystem song they never wrote.) But damn if they aren’t all great.
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11. Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister (Slumberland)
Somewhere between Veronica Falls and Los Campesinos, Weird Sister takes great fantastic indiepop tunes and throws them in the mosh pit. One of the best album covers of the year too.
12. Minks – Tide’s End (Captured Tracks)
A band I thought was over, MINKS return letting bright sunshine burn through the haze of their debut, giving us ridiculously catchy ’80s-inspired synthpop.
13. King Krule – 10 Feet Beneath the Moon (True Panther Sounds)
An old soul trapped in a teenager’s body, Archy Marshall really stepped up to the plate on his debut full-length, a pidgeonhole-defying record that melds the sounds he hears around him now (and a few from his mom’s record collection) for something truly modern.
14. Mikal Cronin – MCII (Merge)
Mikal Cronin does it again. Apart from Warm Soda, perhaps the best pure guitar-pop album of the year.
15. Suede – Bloodsports (Suede LTD)
Suede return (with second guitarist Richard Oakes) to make a great new album, no “comeback” signifier needed. If Coming Up is your favorite Suede album, buy Bloodsports immediately.
16. Weekend – Jinx (Slumberland)
Reigning in the dissonance for gothy — and danceable — pop hooks, Weekend reimagine themselves just enough and show that they’ve got way more to offer than just sheer sonic blast.
17. Wax Idols – Discipline + Desire (Slumberland)
Savages (who I like, mind you) may have the image and super-intense live show, Wax Idols’ new album has something they don’t — the tunes. In the ’90s, you could put Weekend’s album on one side of a Maxell XLII C100 cassette and this album on the other.
18. Heaven’s Gate – Transmuting (Inflated Records)
Out of the ashes of Sweet Bulbs, Heaven’s Gate took some of their old band’s dreamy noise, but took it in a significantly different direction, playing to singer strengths and became more of punky rock band… while still using a lot of effects pedals. Their debut is a terrific representation of what Heaven’s Gate have become — confident, hooky, and pretty damn kick-ass.
19. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze (Matador)
Olivia Newton John once asked, “Have You Ever Been Mellow?” Kurt is probably more like “Have you ever NOT been mellow” but has honed that vibe to perfection here while still letting it all hang out.
20. Heavenly Beat – Prominence (Captured Tracks)
Onetime Beach Fossils bassist Jon Pena works with a small palette — lightly plucked classical guitar, synth steel drums, skittering beats, whispered vocals, the occasional pizzicato strings — but make the absolute most of it, with lots of great little touches in the arrangements. Meticulous, yet has a shrugged off, sexy charm.
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