The day of reckoning fast approaches for the music industry. Without the subsidy of a massive release from Adele (granted acts like Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, and Lady Gaga sure tried to replicate her superhuman feats this year), 2013 feels like a transitional year. Many have written on the shifting music scene, the death of genre, and the inability to cash in on massive marketing campaigns. In fact, the most successful album of the year might have been successful because it wasn’t marketed. I’m speaking, of course, about Beyoncé’s middle-of-the-night release.
In short, music is rapidly changing—from the method of listening to the financial model necessary to support the artists. Amongst this turmoil, artists continue to make great music.
My listening habits also continue to change. I continue to move toward a philosophy of generosity in genre. It doesn’t matter if a band plays country, rock, hip-hop, or polka. Great songwriting, impeccable production, and sheer talent arise musicians from the ashes of any style. Where I used to pick a genre and stick with it, I now find myself dabbling in places for which I would chide myself in earlier years.
Without further ado, here are my top 10 albums of the year:
10. Russian Circles — Memorial
Russian Circles has always been a favorite of mine in the post-rock category. They’ve found a unique sound in a genre strewn with ambient delay pedals cascading the same note over and over again (I’m looking at you, Explosions in the Sky). The band has been able to blend successfully the ambience of typical post-rock with a heavier, metal-influenced sensibility.
9. Bastille — Bad Blood
The rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to the single, “Pompeii.” But that song blends perfectly crafted pop with afro-beat influences. Bastille makes the kind of music that seeps into your bones. Heavily produced and rhythmically present, Bad Blood constitutes easy listening at its best.
8. CHVRCHES — The Bones of What You Believe
The Bones of What You Believe is like catnip for indie music aficionados. Musically akin to M83, but extremely poppy, CHVRCHES makes sense on top-40 radio as equally as it would in a loud bar in the cool part of town.
7. Daft Punk — Random Access Memories
Daft Punk finds a way to take us back in time and forward to the future of music, simultaneously. The band limns retro future rhythms throughout with funky guitar, four-on-the-floor drums, and a tendency toward their patented aluminum vocals.
6. Arcade Fire — Reflektor
In the wake of Grammys and worldwide fame to sidle next to their worldwide acclaim, Arcade Fire returns with an album defying convention. The music business would have you believe that a Grammy-winning artist should move toward a position of massive radio airplay and increasingly accessible music. Instead, Arcade Fire zigs where most expect zags. Reflektor espouses pop for urban jam band chaos on double length.
5. Volcano Choir — Repave
I hate to minimalize the influence of its other members, but Volcano Choir seeps Justin Vernon—or Bon Iver. Repave has the same melodic wanderings, complex lyrics, and snowy disposition. There are differences, however, between Bon Iver and Volcano Choir. For starters, Volcano Choir is heavier. Secondly, the songs hold less to form; you won’t see many verse-chorus-verse-chorus constructions. Nevertheless, everything Justin Vernon touches turns to gold.
4. Haim — Days Are Gone
Haim rocks. These sisters know how to write a song with energy, addictiveness, and joie de vivre. Even better, they support good songwriting with an impeccable live show. There are no studio tricks here!
3. The National — Trouble Will Find Me
No album, on a lyrical level, moved me as much as Trouble Will Find Me this year. While the catchiness factor of High Violet doesn’t quite take up shop on this record, The National’s ability to convey complicated emotions, distilled to the core of the idea, simply astounds me.
2. The Civil Wars — The Civil Wars
I’d love to pour one out for this band and mourn the seemingly permanent hiatus of its members. Many thought the discord between members might have been a keen marketing ploy on the band’s name but with further distance, it seems the disconnect is permanent. I’m clearly reading into things, but it certainly sounds like there was a concerted effort to put Joy Williams at the forefront of this record with John Paul White’s voice sliding toward a background, harmony role. The results of the record, from a songwriting sense, are light years better than the first album. It seemed as if The Civil Wars were close to writing the perfect record. But now, the world may never know.
1. Vampire Weekend — Modern Vampires of the City
Speaking of delivering on the promise of previous records, Vampire Weekend connects all the dots on Modern Vampires of the City. The band blends pop harmonies, dark lyrics pondering the weight of existence, and global musical influences into a perfect record. The album is strong throughout, yet possesses high watermarks for “Unbelievers” and “Ya Hey.”