Throughout the past 12 months we've experienced a musical metamorphosis. With pop music in a state of flux, former genre borders dissolved, allowing many smaller bands with unique sounds to attain wider audience attention. This blurring of the indie and pop divide has provided one of the most diverse collections of best albums we've seen in years.
12. CHVRCHES, The Bones Of What You Believe
2013 was a great year for Scottish trio CHVRCHES, who unleashed their addictive synth-pop sound on the world with their debut album The Bones Of What You Believe
. With Lauren Mayberry's vocals heading the group, CHVRCHES creates electrifying pop songs that would have helped fill dancefloors at any 80s club. The twelve tracks that make up the album exist in their own world of pulsing noise, and they have us looking forward to what these Scots will come up with next.
Watch CHVRCHES entire concert, live at Hype Hotel
11. Disclosure, Settle
English brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence are the masterminds behind Disclosure, one of the U.K.'s biggest dance outfits whose debut album Settle
reached number 1 in their home country and helped land their nomination for "Best Dance Album" at the 2014 Grammy Awards. At just 18 and 21 years old, the Lawrence brothers have gotten plenty accomplished since putting their songs on MySpace: they signed with PMR Records to release Settle
and have reached the Top 20 three separate times. As they proved with Settle
, Disclosure's house sound runs on a monumental bass-heavy energy. Well worth listening to.
Watch Disclosure's entire concert, live at Hype Hotel
10. Typhoon, White Lighter
Portland-based indie rock group Typhoon is a musical storm. Headed by songwriter Kyle Morton, the 12-piece band features a mix of strings, horns, and multiple drum kits that together produce dynamic, passionate songs. Recorded on a secluded farm in Happy Valley, Oregon, White Lighter
is the group's second full-length album. It is full of layered melodies and autobiographical storytelling. While the 13 tracks may appear uplifting, the image of death is laced behind tracks like "Young Fathers" and "Dreams of Cannibalism". Morton tackles the truth of mortality head on. In a letter, he told fans, "Once on the other side one finds that there exists no great partition between sickness and health, only various stages of dying and various ways of surviving that death. I realized that if I were to accomplish anything it would be to recover some kind of meaning in what my friend Zach Schomburg called the Wild Meaninglessness." White Lighter
is an impressive, emotive album and we can only hope Morton and crew share more.
9. Har Mar Superstar, Bye Bye 17
Sean Tillmann is Har Mar Superstar, a sex-crazed singer/songwriter known for his practically-naked, break-dancing performances. His fifth album Bye Bye 17
is undoubtedly his best to date—it is lyrically richer than his previous output and hints at traditional Motown roots. The soulful 60s pop that makes up Bye Bye 17
has earned Tillmann long-deserved attention and ranks him at number 9 in our list of the year's best albums.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., The Speed of Things
We've long had lenses focused on Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. ever since we first heard their 2011 debut It's A Corporate World
. For their long-awaited sophomore follow-up, the Detroit duo matured and embraced their city's creative roots by melding their uniquely harmonized indie-pop tone with hints of Motown. It's a far more refined and mature album, one that showed us that this group is on a true quest to create the perfect pop song.
7. Local Natives, Hummingbird
After the successful release of 2009's Gorilla Manor
, California's Local Natives had high expectations and could have easily fallen into the "sophomore slump" of musical habit. But luckily Hummingbird
did not disappoint, and instead showed a different, richer side of the band. They have had their share of recent troubles - bassist Andy Hamm left the band in 2010, and in 2012, the singer/keyboardist Kelcey Ayer's mother passed away. Local Natives had a lot to deal with and that can be heard throughout Hummingbird
. Their signature sound is still present, but it resonates with a new-found confidence.
Watch Local Natives' full performance from the Bowery Ballroom
6. James Blake, Overgrown
English producer and songwriter James Blake made it clear that his brand of dubstep is far from the rest. Blake's music is anti-macho, as he explained in an interview with the Boston Phoenix
: "[Certain producers who are successful in the U.S. have] hit upon a sort of frat-boy market where there's this macho-ism being reflected in the sounds and the way the music makes you feel. This is a direct misrepresentation of the sound as far as I am concerned." On Blake's sophomore album, Overgrown
, he shows an unparalleled talent for fusing dubstep with influences of R'n'B and gospel.
5. Blood Orange, Cupid Deluxe
Singer/songwriter Dev Hynes has written music for greats like Florence + the Machine and The Chemical Brothers (his work appeared on their Grammy-winning album We Are The Night
), but it is his latest work as pop outfit Blood Orange that has landed him at number 5 on this year's list. Cupid Deluxe
is the second album to come from Blood Orange and features a number of guest appearances including Caroline Polachek of Chairlift, David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors and British rapper Skepta. The album is bursting with funk, 80s pop, and plenty of bumping ebb and flow.
4. Junip, Junip
Junip, the Swedish trio, made up of Jose Gonzalez, Tobias Winterkorn and Elias Araya delivered their self-titled sophomore album this past spring, pleasing our ears with inviting melodies and rich arrangements. Carried by psychedelic instrumentation and Gonzalez's alluring voice, the ten tracks on Junip
have an enigmatic heaviness that's easy to lose yourself in.
Watch Junip perform live at the Knitting Factory
3. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
On their third album Modern Vampires of the City
, New York's preppy quartet Vampire Weekend took a step away from the quaint, yacht-bro sound that made them famous. Instead, they struck a darker note and attempted a more ambitious form of storytelling, depicting modern life in New York City. Basically, between this and their previous album, they graduated from college and moved into the city. The album divided our office in camps of hate and love - see DiDi Finkel's review
- but for the emotions it stirred, it deserves a top spot on our list.
2. The National, Trouble Will Find Me
On The National's sixth studio album Trouble Will Find Me
the band were assisted by artists like Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent, and Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry. Reaching number three in both the U.S. and the U.K. and nominated for the Best Alternative Music Album at the 2014 Grammys, Trouble Will Find Me
was recorded with a "music-camp feel" says bassist Scott Devendoft, as they spent much of their time in a converted barn called the Clubhouse in New York. The five-piece truly came together for the making of this record, and singer Matt Berninger said it was one of the first times he actually enjoyed writing: "I think a lot of it was because I wasn't worried- I didn't care what the songs were going to be about, or if they were going to seem depressing, or cool, or whatever." Trouble Will Find Me
is a dramatic and poetic album that unfolds itself the more you listen to it, making it number two on our list.
1. Kanye West, Yeezus
2013 will be remembered as the year Kanye West broke free of the hip-hop norms in order to unleash a chart-topping artistic experiment. The Rick Rubin-produced Yeezus
solidified West's status as an artist who is far more interested in his craft than his success. Having already achieved so much West now possesses the total freedom to fuck around and exercise his creative muscle. Although the album was musically progressive and tonally ferocious—undoubtedly making it difficult for some to appreciate—listeners were pacified to know it was still the same ole' Kanye through the lyrical subtleties of his highly criticized badge of arrogance. Kanye stated that he didn't make Yeezus
for the radio, and while most would agree he instead made it for himself, we like to believe it was all for us. Read our full Yeezus review