#5. The Bones of What You Believe by CHVRCHES
If The Bones of What You Believe was only two songs, “The Mother We Share” and “We Sink,” it’d still be a top-five album of the year. As it is, CHVRCHES’ sterling debut after a year of blog buzz is “The Mother We Share” and “We Sink,” and ten more exquisitely detailed, sweetly yearning, deceptively dark synth-pop gems.
#4. Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend
“Aren’t they that hipster nonsense band?” A year ago, I would have agreed with you, then Modern Vampires of the City came out, and now the worst thing about Vampire Weekend is their band name. The group’s third record is far and away their most accomplished and polished, backing away from the twee afro-pop cuteness that Ezra Koenig & Co. employed on their first two albums. Gone is the coldness that made “A-Punk” impossible to more than halfheartedly sway to; it’s been replaced with an organic warmness, as if the songs weren’t written by Ivy League dips flaunting their intelligence, but actual humans you could have a conversation with. Not hearing “Worship You” every three seconds in a Honda commercial helps, too.
#3. Sunbather by Deafheaven
A lot of metalheads hate Sunbather, for the same reasons that make it so brilliant. It’s too melodic, they say, too literally bright. “I mean, shilling for Apple, really? Call it death metal for newbs, if you must, but also be sure to add “revelatory” and “built on a foundation of complexly ferocious guitar compositions with unintelligible screams painted on top.” The flawlessly sequenced build from “Irresistible” to the title track could be the Friday Night Lights theme song, if Dillon, Texas, was located in Hell (Texas isn’t far off). The conversation about punk and metal authenticity has been boring since the first “hey ho, let’s go” — appreciate Sunbather for what it is, not what it’s not.
#2. Days Are Gone by HAIM
It’s baffling that HAIM is cool. OK, yeah, they’re three impossibly chic women from Los Angeles who majored in How to Look Like a Rock Star 101 in college, with a minor in Sunglasses and Open-Mouthed Bass Playing and When In Doubt, Always Wear Ripped Jeans, but when your band has time and time again been compared to a more-rocking version of Hanson, where do you go with that? Well, the oft-unmentioned thing about Hanson is that “MMMBop” is a great song, and at its core, Middle of Nowhere is a pretty good pop-rock record that fortunately/unfortunately later got grouped in with the likes of Aaron Carter. HAIM, who owe as much to Sheryl Crow as they do the Strokes, has no such issues: the all-sister trio are packaged as “indie pop,” but there’s nothing indie about them; impossibly catchy, intelligently obvious songs like “The Wire” and “Forever,” with hooks that go on for days, are as radio-ready they come…if songs with guitars were played on FM radio anymore.
#1. Yeezus by Kanye West
I didn’t want to. I really didn’t. It’s so obvious. He’s such a dick. It’s not as good as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But then I put “On Sight” on while trying to make up my mind about what else could be number one, and before I knew it, 40 minutes of my life had vanished, and all I could vaguely recall was Nina Simone and Gerard Butler on a motorcycle. There is no filler to be found on Yeezus, Kanye West’s most punk (and rushed) album to date. It never has a chance to sound tired because it doesn’t stay around long to bore. Not that Kanye cares about your pleasure: Yeezus is the jarring musical equivalent of a serial contrarian. Oh, you like soul and samples? Here’s Kanye’s theme song, “Black Skinhead,” which roars, pounds, intimidates, and snarls with the best of…actually, there is no other best of “them,” at least not in 2013. There’s only Yeezus.