Honorable Mentions: Run the Jewels by Run the Jewels and …Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age.
#10. m b v by My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine doesn’t have to blow out your eardrums to sound transcendent. On m b v, the group’s first album since their 1991 masterpiece, Loveless, Kevin Shields trades deafening reverb for something equally textured in its layers of noise yet more accessibly gorgeous, with each track taking their time to slowly unfurl. Also, it’s still pretty goddamn loud. m b v is both a throwback and completely of its time, occasionally in the same song, like in the vibrating “only tomorrow,” which Billy Corgan has spent his entire career trying to sound like. Unlike most decades-in-the-works albums, m b v was worth the wait, though hopefully it’s not another 20 years before album #4.
#9. Acid Rap by Chance the Rapper
For a musician, the term “labor of love” is a backhanded compliment. It implies that there are singers, rappers, ukulele players, whomever, who aren’t giving their whole when they’re making new music, either because they’re lazy, they don’t care, or they’re lazy AND don’t care. But it’s an endorsement, I swear, when I say Acid Rap is a labor of love, because Chance the Rapper, who lives in the permanent haze of a smoker’s paranoia, puts everything he has into every track. As he should. He’s 20 years old, hasn’t released a full-length studio album, and before this year, his biggest claim to fame was “Childish Gambino opening act.” The future is now for the often playful, always determined Chance, whose elastic Acid Rap isn’t a sign of great things to come; things are already pretty great.
#8. Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
Ain’t Daft Punk a bunch of stinkers? One of the funniest music moments of the year came from two French robots, who began their first album in eight years with a rising crescendo of electro-noise that made Random Access Memories sound like a spiritual sibling to Discovery. Then it all vanishes, into a smooth stream of soft disco. Random was not what we thought it’d be. There is no “Digital Love” or “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” It owes as much to an obscure Italian record producer as it does any dance music trend. That’s because Daft Punk were the forefathers of many of those trends, and they weren’t interested in reliving the past. Or at least not the immediate past. Better to pretend it’s the late 1970s, when Chic was one of the biggest bands in the world. That’s how we got the perfectly perfect “Get Lucky,” which dance groups are going to try to replicate for the NEXT 20 years. It’s a cruel cycle.
#7. Silence Yourself by Savages
Savages make it easy for us: they sound savage. A very particular kind of savage, the kind that exists in a meat locker with unforgiving acoustics, but savage nonetheless. Silence Yourself is a self-assured post-punk debut that rumbles like a band that’s been together for fifteen years, not less than three; it’s direct, confrontational angst, forcing you to put aside the bullsh*t. Over and over again, singer Jehnny Beth chants, “I am here, I am here, I am here,” until it becomes a way of life. Savages is here; everything else doesn’t matter.
#6. The Greatest Generation by the Wonder Years
“Jesus Christ, I’m 26/All the people I graduated with all have kids, all have wives, all have people who care if they come home at night/Jesus Christ, did I f*ck up?” That might be the most fiercely honest lyric I’ve heard all year. There’s a guy who pops up later on this list who’s well known for exposing his emotional scabs to everyone, but unless you’re a fashion designer/rapper with a Hobbit for a wife, he’s impossible to relate to — I can, however, scream and self-loathe with a bunch of pop-punk sad sacks from the Northeast who named their band after a TV show. The Wonder Years make small details sound life-changing, where every heart-on-sleeve song sounds could be the soundtrack to a climatic movie scene. The Greatest Generation recharges an often-stagnant genre.
#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.