As 2013 comes to a close, we're reflecting on the music that made the biggest impact this year.
It was a glorious year for music. With unexpected comebacks, reunions and out-of-nowhere surprise hits, it was arguably one for the books. And with such a stacked lineup of acts putting out new material, it would seem difficult to compile any kind of best-of list. But we went ahead and tried.
As in previous years, we didn't do it alone. We pulled from a year's worth of reader feedback, combined with staff opinions, to create a long list of candidates for this year's top albums and mixtapes. We then allowed our readers to weigh in as we narrowed the list. The final 25 was ultimately curated using a combination of both staff and reader selections. Albums should have released, leaked or streamed in an official public format between Jan. 1, 2013 and Dec. 2, 2013.
The Top 25 Albums of 2013 can be seen below.
25. Foals - Holy Fire
The Brit band's third full-length was one of the most consistent alt-rock albums of the year. Although not without flaws, it came across as pure.
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24. Tegan & Sara - Heartthrob
This January release was one of the year's most ear-pleasing records, hands down. The sister duo took big risks, dabbling in heavier pop sounds while managing to maintain the authenticity and intelligent songwriting that has long been their trademark.
23. Childish Gambino - Because the Internet
Still the underdog, Gambino proved on this outing that he's for real. Not only did it flow seamlessly like a full album (not three singles and filler), but the guy created a work of art.
22. Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park
In the very vanilla world of modern country music, you can play it safe and have a fairly successful career. Singing about such things as same-sex love and smoking a joint, 25-year-old Musgraves is not only challenging the status quo of CMT favorites, she's proving artistry can be found in country.
21. Fitz and the Tantrums - More Than Just a Dream
The L.A. six-piece's sophomore record proved to be more eclectic than its predecessor, but it earned points for being throughly enjoyable and even quite ambitious.
20. Ariana Grande - Yours Truly
The debut album from the powerhouse songstress provided hope for those who still appreciate a pure pop record. Say what you want about "pop," but Ms. Grande doesn't rely on candy-coated faux-vocals because she has incredible skill, sans fluff.
19. Disclosure - Settle
In a year that offered strong showings from young talent, this duo of brothers released what was the cream of the crop. As dance music increasingly becomes mainstream, Disclosure proved it doesn't have to be redundant. In fact, this album was among the best debuts of any genre this year.
18. Volcano Choir - Repave
The Justin Vernon-led outfit's sophomore effort was one of the most cohesive collections of the fall. With lush layers and soaring vocals, it was indisputably solid.
17. Lorde - Pure Heroine
To think that just a year ago 17-year-old Lorde was just a teenager worried about keeping her grades up is staggering. And while humbly imperfect, this debut record emphatically highlighted the young singer's undeniable strengths and stratospheric potential. Queen Bee? There's no doubt about it.
16. Queens of the Stone Age - …Like Clockwork
The album marked a triumphant comeback from Josh Homme, further fueled with guests like Dave Grohl and Elton John. But above all, it cemented QOTSA's status as one of the ongoing pillars of rock and roll in the modern age.
15. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
With a catalog as rich as that of the Matt Berninger-fronted rockers, satisfaction is almost always guaranteed, but this may have just been the best yet. Ambitious while holding true to its honest core, the album was one for the ages.
14. CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe
After months and months of blog buzz and media hype, the pressure was on for the Scottish synthpop act. But they delivered, with a blend of addictive, well-crafted songs that beg for constant replay while ensuring this band's not going anywhere but up.
13. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
It was one of the most-anticipated albums of the fourth quarter. And what it seemingly lacked in heart, it made up for in artistry. Perhaps the most polarizing of its discography thus far, it marked a distinct shift in musical direction. Fans will surely debate the politics and undertones for years to come, but one truth remains: Arcade Fire still makes some damn good music.
12. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience: The Complete Experience
For '90s babies who remember singing "Cry Me a River" into their hairbrush, the new, more mature JT was probably hard to digest at first. But a spoonful of those clearly-Timbaland beats and classic Timberlake vocal gymnastics put folks at ease. While it still sounded like trademark JT, it felt like the organic evolution of one of pop's greatest.
11. Kanye West - Yeezus
In this latest solo record, Kanye West pushed some limits—and a lot of buttons. But more importantly, he pushed himself. This was arguably an album he needed to make for himself at this point in his life and career, and the rest of us were just witnesses of this tortured, gifted man trying to balance his art and his ego. Ultimately, who can really be mad at him for this album? As for that "Bound 2" video, though.
10. St. Lucia - When the Night
This was easily one of the most underrated albums of the year. From its opening track to its closer, it was brimming with '80s-infused goodness, wailing sax solos and shiny electro waves that could make even the coldest cynic want to dance under the neon lights.
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito
On album No. 4, Karen O and Co. created a gem that recalls some of the band's early curiosity. Clever and raunchy, it displayed a willingness to experiment and expound on a decade's worth of incredible music.
8. J. Cole - Born Sinner
While all the critics were obsessing over Kendrick and Kanye, Jermaine kept his head down and put out one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. Released on the same day as Yeezus, this album faced an extra amount of scrutiny. But it held its own and allowed for J. Cole to prove his worthiness of standing alongside some of his own idols.
7. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2
As the sequel to his widely-praised third album, Eminem put himself under the microscope for this one. Beyond the nostalgia of it all, MMLP2 was relentlessly unapologetic. Despite some controversial lyrics (as usual), there was also a level of honesty missing from some of the rapper's previous material. Most of all, Eminem did what he does best: rapped like the Rap God he is—reminding up-and-comers almost half his age who's still got the keys to the castle.
6. HAIM - Days Are Gone
Having gone the curious route of building up a presence overseas, the California sister trio returned to America this year and went all out. Following a year of tireless gigging and festival stops, HAIM culminated it all with this debut album. It was rock and also pop, with this intangible aura of a classic, while resembling a breath of fresh air.
5. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
After years of solitude, the Robots crept back onto the music radar this year and then exploded with one the year's most dazzling records. It was repeat-worthy, carefully crafted music that commanded the attention of its listener. There was certainly a lot of hype surrounding it, which guaranteed to let a few people down, but it was really everything a Daft Punk fan could have asked for. And in the long run, it probably helped push dance music forward.
4. Drake - Nothing Was the Same
This album found the actor-turned-rapper wrestling with fame and some personal insecurities, demonstrating a new level of vulnerability, while still giving critics and other thirsty rappers a lashing. Although Drake seems to continue setting the bar higher for himself, he exuded sincere confidence this time around, perhaps a sign that he knows he's one of the best in the game.
3. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
The third full-length from the New York indie-rockers saw the band step outside of the broad, playful tunes of their previous records to reveal some of the most meaningful material of their career. Still full of catchy hooks and delightful earworms, the album is actually held together by genuine soul-searching and thoughtful—maybe skeptical—lyricism.
2. Arctic Monkeys - AM
Five records in and it was probably the most important of the band's catalog to date. Thoroughly impressive from start to finish, it was as if the band found a new burst of energy and poured it all into this masterful piece. This was not just a highlight of the band's decade-plus existence, it was a game-changer that will be remembered for years to come as one of their biggest moments.
1. James Blake - Overgrown
Call it a coming-of-age album if you will, but despite being overshadowed by some of the gimmicky, attention-seeking albums out this year, Overgrown stood head and shoulders above the rest. It was earnest yet sincere, showcasing a level of artistry beyond Blake's years. Unlike a lot of the radio-ready mush with wide, mainstream appeal, this album wasn't just a shell. It was layer after layer of thought-provoking, soulful music, relying on sweeping vocals and brilliant songwriting instead of over-the-top production. In the end, it was the finest LP to hit the market.