2013 is proving to be a stellar year for music. Whether you’re a fan of rock, hip-hop, or even dance music, there’s most likely an exciting new album to tickle your eardrums. These five recordings represent the cream of this year’s crop and will be appearing on many Top 10 lists once 2013 comes to a close.
Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Building off the commercial and critical success of their first two albums, Vampire Weekend comes back with a fully matured sound on this year’s release, Modern Vampires of the City. All of the band’s signature elements are here, the African rhythms, the swirling synth sounds, and the feel good vibes, but Vampire Weekend’s muse has grown more serious, even world weary. Vocalist and frontman Ezra Koenig sings songs about truth and reason in a spiritual world, meditates on the meaning of age, and the time-tested rock n’ roll trope of not belonging. This all adds up to VW’s strongest release and a solid contender for best album of 2013.
Random Access Memories
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Electronic Dance duo Daft Punk threw everyone a curveball with Random Access Memories. Gone are the drum machines, samples, and much of what has defined the robot DJs for the last 20 years. Instead, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter turn to live musicians with a strong dance pedigree, like legendary guitarist Niles Rodgers, EDM godfather Giorgio Moroder, and modern R&B producer Pharell Williams. The result is the most genuinely alive recording of the year. Every inch of this record makes you want to groove. The music is dripping with this easy-going West Coast feel. A great example of how the unexpected can be the most satisfying.
Mikal Cronin – MCII
Mikal Cronin should be the tunesmith poet laureate for Millenials. He sings about growing up in a world unprepared or unwilling to provide for him, the uncertainty of youth, and the unyielding nature of time. It sounds familiar, but he sets these words to unforgettable melodies. Cronin, a product of San Francisco’s healthy garage rock scene, plays most of the instruments himself on this solo release with a little help from his friend and band mate Ty Segall. The growling fuzz of Bay Area garage rock does make an appearance, but it acts as more of an ornamentation for Cronin’s lush symphonic instrumentation that includes pianos, flutes, and strings.
We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Sounding like a hazy paisley collage, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic has Foxygen doing their best impression of just about every rock band from the psychedelic era. At any given moment you will here Lou Reed or Mick Jagger singing or an organ from The Zombies or The Doors. There’s even a song dedicated to psych funk legend Shuggie Otis. The album would be considered plagiarism if it wasn’t for how artfully Foxygen grafts all of these sounds together into something wholly their own.
Kanye West – Yeezus
This album could very well become hip-hop star Kanye West’s defining album. With a sound as polarizing as the artist himself, Yeezus is full of aggressive, barbed wire intensity. Much like collaborators Daft Punk, Kanye mostly abandons his signature soul sampled sound for biting synths and sparse instrumentals. He’s never sounded more cocky, purposeful, or self aware than he does on this album. Clocking in at a spare 10 songs in 40 minutes, Yeezus makes a stunning argument for rap as art. Love it or hate it, you have to admit that this album deserves to be heard.