The 20 Best Albums of 2013

12/18/2013 4:00 AM |

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Kanye West


In which Kanye throws down his nastiest, most aggressive marker on pop. This is future music angry about its own present—too angry, really, to get its thoughts straight. The rough-hewn, extemporaneous quality works, though, selling feeling more than its articulation, prizing corroded metal over gleaming marble. Funny that “indie rock” continues to clean up toward plausible radio fare, while the most prominent rap record of the year recalls the never air-able depths of Throbbing Gristle-y minimal synth punk. Yeezus is packed with brilliant, stupid and ugly thoughts all given more or less equal weight. You can just feel him straining against his level of celebrity, even as he enjoys elevated status. Due to who he is, how regularly and loudly he proclaims his own genius, Kanye might never again get the benefit of the doubt. Every joke becomes a dead-serious headline, every goofy boast an unfiltered utterance of the soul. It seems exhausting. Not that you can feel sorry for him, exactly, but is it any wonder he spends his days dreaming about designing leather sweatpants? Key Track: “Blood on the Leaves”  — JK

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Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City


It’s a minute into Vampire Weekend’s third album, and Ezra Koenig ices a minimal piano melody with what is probably the most sobering line in the saddest song of the band’s career. “Listen up, don’t wait,” he advises a protagonist grappling with fleeting youth. The message is a far cry from where Modern Vampires of the City ends up, with multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, in his first turn as frontman, cooing a single repeated line: “You take your time, young lion.” The pendulum swing from point A to B is quite a ride. The character-specific sketches of the band’s earlier albums are widened across eras, cultures and locales to explore our struggle with time, religion, wealth and other Big Ideas, with Koenig finally settling on an unifier: not everyone gives a fuck about an Oxford comma, but every life is a race against the clock. Modern Vampires is ultimately a reminder to calm down; assurance that we don’t need to rush. It’s exactly what we wanted—what we needed—to hear in 2013. Key Track: “Hannah Hunt”  — LB

Follow Lauren Beck and Jeff Klingman on Twitter @heylaurenbeck and @jeff_klingman.

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