Top 10 Albums of 2013: The National, Neko Case, Kanye West and More

Photo by Dierdre O'Callaghan

Photo by Dierdre O’Callaghan

It’s not the most diverse top-10 list I’ve put together in my 12 years of making top-10 lists (here’s last year’s), but the more I tried to branch out for the sake of inclusiveness, the more I came back to these albums. That seemed like enough of a sign to me.

So here they are, my 10 favorite albums of 2013:

1. The National, “Trouble Will Find Me” (4AD) — The New York band parses the secret angst and uncertainty of evolving adulthood on their sixth LP, a gorgeous album full of sophisticated, frequently powerful music.

2. Neko Case, “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You” (Anti) — Case’s latest is the sound of a songwriter catching herself mid-fall as she comes to terms with a lifetime of avoidance. By turns fiery, mournful and flat-out wrenching, it’s a riveting collection of songs. (Review)

3. Kanye West, “Yeezus” (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam) — Though it’s not the most accessible album this year, West’s latest is easily the most inventive and far-reaching, by a fair margin. “Yeezus” is a study in abrasion as West gives full vent to his frustration and rage on songs that lay bare his psyche over shattering, shuddering electronic parts. Even when he gets wrapped up in sophomoric sex talk, the music is so overpowering that it’s hard to look away.

4. Lucius, “Wildewoman” (Mom + Pop) — Gorgeous vocal harmonies and strong, versatile songwriting make this Brooklyn quintet’s debut one of the most memorable albums of the year.

5. Savages, “Silence Yourself” (Matador) — The British foursome lives up to its name on fierce, jagged songs packed with propulsive rhythms, serrated guitars and vocals at once hypnotic and terrifying.

6. Ghostface Killah, “Twelve Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple) — The gangster-centric narrative here is, well, tangled, but Ghostface is as nimble on the mic as he’s ever been, and the hip-hop noir tracks full of twangy guitars and murky atmospherics are just perfect.

7. Jason Isbell, “Southeastern” (Southeastern) — Isbell has showed flashes of considerable brilliance as a songwriter throughout his career, but the Alabama native, a born storyteller, has never been this consistently good and irresistibly compelling.

8. Vampire Weekend, “Modern Vampires of the City” (XL) — The band’s third album sheds much of the smug air that accompanied Vampire Weekend’s obvious musical chops on two (very good) previous albums. The New York quartet has traded precious precocity for mordant wit on deftly constructed songs full of irresistible hooks.

9. Lorde, “Pure Heroine” (Universal) — Just 17, New Zealand’s Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor — Lorde — sings in a rich voice capable of feathery lightness and impressive resonance on smart synth-pop tunes, and she writes about pop culture, provincialism and budding romance with insight far beyond her — and most people’s — years.

10. John Murry, “The Graceless Age” (Evangeline Recording Co.) — A dark album full of riveting songs that hit like a punch to the stomach, Murry’s solo debut is his coming to terms with choices he’s made, many of them with dire consequences. It’s at once harrowing and essential. (Review)

Honorable mentions: Frightened Rabbit (review), “Pedestrian Verse” (for “Holy” and “The Woodpile” in particular); Shelby Earl (review), “Swift Arrows” (put “The Seer” on repeat and let go); Parquet Courts, “Light Up Gold” (for the good-natured humor and pell-mell song craft); Amanda Shires, “Down Fell the Doves” (“the sexiest violinist since Thomas Jefferson” — The Wall Street Journal); Daft Punk, “Random Access Memories” (past becomes future, and hey: Nile Rodgers!).

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