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“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films — these things matter.”
— High Fidelity


Best Albums of 2013

Looking at this list of mine, if I had to say there was one trend for 2013, it was that, in an ever-increasing number, females are finding their way onto the highest echelons of my musical taste.

I would never call myself sexist, but my musical interests throughout my life have steered towards guys. Guys in bands. Guys with guitars. Guys who sing about girls. Maybe it's a new sign of maturity, or maybe I've just been waiting for a genre other than to make me fall for ladies all over again. Whatever the case, it was a good year for women across all genres. Even one of my favorite albums from a pair of dudes sounds like women made it.

Besides getting in touch with my feminine side, 2013 was a year of unexpected discoveries butting up against old favorites. In the case of the former, a bunch of artists I had slowly been losing interest in bounced back with a vengeance, causing me to renew that love I thought I had lost.

A handful of those new discoveries came from artists who have been around forever. Even for a music fanatic like me, certain artists can slip through the cracks. Either you write them off too soon, or you never gave them a chance in the first place. Luckily, though, we can always revisit them, and give them a second chance to surprise us.

I'm sure this list has a few surprises on it. It is as all-over-the-map as anyone who knows me should expect, yet I think it tells a story of 2013 pretty well. And it tells the story of my 2013 even better.

  1. The Next Day

    The Next Day

    David Bowie


    Aging rocker's 1st album in a decade sounds refreshed & refreshing, proving vital works can come late. Choice Cuts: "The Stars Are Out Tonight", "The New Day"

  2. Tog Pebbles

    Tog Pebbles

    Way Yes


    This dreamy/tribal rock from Ohio might be dismissed as Animal Collective-lite but maybe that's why I enjoy it so. Choice Cuts: "Colerain", "Macando", "Get Healed"

  3. Hummingbird


    Local Natives


    The edges have softened since their debut Gorilla Manor, but the shimmering melodies are even stronger here. Choice Cuts: "Heavy Feet", "Breakers", "You & I"

  4. The Invisible Way

    The Invisible Way


    Sub Pop

    The veterans have been making the same great, slow rock for years but this might be their 1st album to grab me. Choice Cuts: "Just Make It Stop", "Plastic Cup", "So Blue"

  5. Settle




    An old-fashioned house LP made by precocious brothers & a cavalcade of guest stars, anchored by showstopper "Latch". Choice Cuts: "Latch", "Defeated No More", "Help Me Lose My Mind"

  6. The Silver Gymnasium

    The Silver Gymnasium

    Okkervil River


    I was ready to skip this LP until witnessing a boisterous live set in Oct. Back on the bandwagon. Choice Cuts: "Down Down the Deep River", "Stay Young"

  7. The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

    The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

    Courtney Barnett

    House Anxiety

    Aussie's frank, confessional Americana snuck onto my list in the 11th hour w/ dry humor & subtle twang. Choice Cuts: "Avant Gardener", "History Eraser"

  8. Once I Was an Eagle

    Once I Was an Eagle

    Laura Marling


    Still doing her best Joni Mitchell impression, but one full of foreboding & a stark beauty. Choice Cuts: "Master Hunter"

  9. Fourth Corner

    Fourth Corner

    Trixie Whitley

    Strong Blood

    Husky-voiced singer's soulful solo debut recalls the atmospherics of her father's Soft Dangerous Shores. Choice Cuts: "Gradual Return", "Never Enough"

  10. The Stand-In

    The Stand-In

    Caitlin Rose


    Sophomore LP is easily my fave "true" country album of 2013 & has me excited for the rest of Rose's career. Choice Cuts: "Only a Clown", "Silver Sings"

  11. Fade Away

    Fade Away

    Best Coast

    Jewel City

    Bounces back from a lackluster sophomore effort w/ an effervescent, extended EP reminiscent of their sunny debut. Choice Cuts: "Who Have I Become?", "This Lonely Morning", "I Don't Know How"

  12. Dream River

    Dream River

    Bill Callahan

    Drag City

    For no reason, it took me until this year to get into Callahan/Smog. Bought this & 3 others on the same day. Choice Cuts: "Winter Road", "Ride My Arrow"

  13. From the Hills Below the City

    From the Hills Below the City


    Rough Trade

    I'm a sucker for this brand of Appalachian roadhouse country & sad it's never quite in vogue. Choice Cuts: "Penitentiary", "On the Road"

  14. Just Tell Me You Want Me

    Uncanney Valley

    The Dismemberment Plan


    Like a long-lost friend; you miss the old days, but mostly you're just happy to see them again. Choice Cuts: "Invisible", "White Collar White Trash", "Waiting"

  15. Regions of Light and Sound of God

    Regions of Light and Sound of God

    Jim James


    Took a while for me to warm up to this, but that buttery voice is undeniable in any form. Choice Cuts: "Of the Mother Again", "Actress", "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)"

  16. The Ballad of Boogie Christ

    The Ballad of Boogie Christ

    Joseph Arthur

    Lonely Astronaut

    A loose concept album & one of the finer efforts from the prolific singer-songwriter. Choice Cuts: "All the Old Heroes", "Saint of Impossible Causes"

  17. Heza




    Electropop-tinged rock likely doesn't get attention in their jazz-heavy city, but this New Orleans duo deserves it. Choice Cuts: "Put a Light On", "Awake"

  18. Anxiety


    Autre Ne Veut


    Always sexy, never crass; blue-eyed R&B recalls the best of the early '90s sound: heavy beats & bedroom eyes. Choice Cuts: "World War", "Play By Play", "Counting"

  19. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore

    Mark Kozelek & Desertshore

    Mark Kozelek & Desertshore

    Caldo Verde

    Kozelek trades his usual rainy day milieu for one w/ sun breaks, the brightest being "Mariette". Choice Cuts: "Mariette", "Seal Rock Hotel"

  20. Corsicana Lemonade

    Corsicana Lemonade

    White Denim


    Austin psych-rockers mature on wax w/o losing the rambunctious, infectious spark of their live set. Choice Cuts: "Pretty Green", "At Night in Dreams"

  21. Reflektor


    Arcade Fire


    Lacks the immediacy of The Suburbs, but I'm sure I'll come back to this later and wonder why it wasn't higher. Choice Cuts: "Afterlife", "Reflektor", "Here Comes the Night Time"

  22. I'll Find a Way

    I'll Find a Way

    The Blind Boys of Alabama


    Guest-heavy set curated/produced by Justin Vernon, who wisely mantains focus on the Boys. Choice Cuts: "Every Grain of Sand", "I've Been Searching", "I'll Find a Way (To Carry It All)"

  23. II


    Unknown Mortal Orchestra


    Along w/ Aussies Tame Impala, these Kiwis are importing '70s-style psych-rock swagger back to America. Choice Cuts: "So Good at Being in Trouble", "Swim and Sleep", "Monki"

  24. Caveman



    Fat Possum

    Lonely, wintry, synthy '80s rock in the M83 vein, but more wistfully nostalgic, it stuck to me like a ladybug on a finger. Choice Cuts: "In the City", "Ankles", "Where's the Time"

  25. Grownass Man

    Grownass Man

    The Shouting Matches

    Middle West

    Casual, tossed-off blues rock is everywhere, so why this? Phil Cook & Justin Vernon, that's why. Choice Cuts: "Gallup, NM", "Seven Sisters"

  26. Avalanche



    Vested in Culture

    Slinky, sly R&B sans any trace of hip-hop, which is hard to find these days. I guess Danish origins help that. Choice Cuts: "Hey Love", "It's Gonna Get You", "Favorite Star"

  27. Junip




    The Jose Gonzalez-fronted trio adds new textures, growing beyond their inauspicious folk-meets-electronics beginnings. Choice Cuts: "Suddenly", "Line of Fire", After All Is Said and Done"

  28. The 20/20 Experience

    The 20/20 Experience

    Justin Timberlake


    The songs are too long, part 2 is superfluous & "Mirrors" was just OK, but the rest? Very good. Choice Cuts: "Pusher Love Girl", "Suit & Tie", "Let the Groove Get In"

  29. Ghost on Ghost

    Ghost on Ghost

    Iron & Wine


    Sam Beam continues his pattern of adding new layers to his once-quiet sound. This time, more pop & soul. Choice Cuts: "Caught in the Briars", "New Mexico's No Breeze"

  30. Wakin on a Pretty Daze

    Wakin on a Pretty Daze

    Kurt Vile


    Aptly titled LP is the sunnier counterpart to 2011's rainy day masterpiece Smoke Ring for My Halo. Choice Cuts: "Wakin on a Pretty Day", "Never Run Away"

  31. Muchacho



    Dead Oceans

    Matthew Houck's slow rise to prominence has coincided neatly w/ his growth as a country/rock songwriter. Choice Cuts: "Terror in the Canyons", "The Quotidian Beasts", "Ride On / Right On"

  32. We the Common

    We the Common

    Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

    Ribbon Music

    As fetching as ever, Thao truly comes alive onstage, where I saw her perform 2x this year. Choice Cuts: "Every Body", "Holy Roller", "We the Common (For Valerie Bolden)"

  33. Pedestrian Verse

    Pedestrian Verse

    Frightened Rabbit


    Scottish rockers have become the new so-conistently-good-that-they're-boring-and-nobody-cares band. Choice Cuts: "The Oil Slick", "Dead Now", "The Woodpile"

  34. Naomi


    The Cave Singers


    My interest in the band was waning, then fully renewed by this record and a live set back in May. Such grooves. Choice Cuts: "Have to Pretend", "Canopy", "Northern Lights"

  35. Big Wheel and Others

    Big Wheel and Others

    Cass McCombs


    A sprawling double album of meandering, idiosyncratic folk from a criminally underrated songwriter. Choice Cuts: "There Can Be Only One", "Home on the Range", "Aeon of Aquarious Blues"

  36. The Happiness Waltz

    The Happiness Waltz

    Josh Rouse

    Yep Roc

    An unexpected return to near-greatness from the veteran singer-songwriter; his best since Nashville. Choice Cuts: "The Western Isles", "A Lot Like Magic"

  37. Love's Crushing Diamond

    Love's Crushing Diamond

    Mutual Benefit

    Soft Eyes

    Delicate pop finds its home between Sufjan's grandiosity & the quietude of Perfume Genius. Choice Cuts: "Advanced Falconry", "Strong Swimmer"

  38. The Music Is You

    The Music Is You (A Tribute to John Denver)

    Various Artists


    An all-star roster pays tribute to John Denver; best cuts transcend inherent cheese w/o shying away from it. Choice Cuts: "Prisoners", "All of My Memories", "The Eagle and the Hawk"

  39. Cerulean Salt

    Cerulean Salt


    Don Giovanni

    Dream of '90s lady alt-rock in the Liz Phair tradition is alive & well in the music of Katie Crutchfield. Choice Cuts: "Dixie Cups and Jars", "Lips and Limbs", "Coast to Coast", "Peace and Quiet"

  40. Pushin' Against a Stone

    Pushin' Against a Stone

    Valerie June


    Spunky Tennessee-bred singer-songwriter's debut deftly melds blues, pop, folk, soul & country. Choice Cuts: "Twined & Twisted", "Wanna Be on Your Mind", "Tennessee Time", "The Hour"

  41. Hanging Gardens

    Hanging Gardens


    Innovative Leisure

    Bright, cheery dance pop built from expertly curated guests, beats & samples; the perfect summer soundtrack. Choice Cuts: "Holding On", "I'll Get You", "All You're Waiting For", "Long Lost"

  42. The Worse Things Get

    The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You

    Neko Case


    With a Fiona-esque title, Neko turns her storyteller's eye inward, and is as funny & pretty as ever. Choice Cuts: "Night Still Comes", "Local Girl", "Man"

  43. Woman




    The most enchanting R&B record of 2013. Michael Milosh sounds like Sade & Robin Hannibal (of Quadron) is a master of mood. Choice Cuts: "3 Days", "Major Minor Love", "Open", "The Fall"

  44. Trouble Will Find Me

    Trouble Will Find Me

    The National


    Their old quiet/loud dynamic has been traded for a more measured approach, but the gravitas remains. Choice Cuts: "Sea of Love", "Pink Rabbits", "I Should Live in Salt", "Demons"

  45. Impersonator


    Majical Cloudz


    Stark & haunting; as if Depeche Mode, "One More Try" & Sinead's "Nothing Compares 2 U" had a threesome. Choice Cuts: "Turns Turns Turns", "Bugs Don't Buzz", "I Do Sing for You", "Silver Rings"

  46. Days Are Gone

    Days Are Gone



    It's no coincidence these sisters were featured on last year's Fleetwood Mac tribute album. It's uncanny at times. Choice Cuts: "The Wire", "Honey & I", "Falling", "Days Are Gone"

  47. Wildewoman



    Mom and Pop

    Swirling, hummable indie girl pop in the grand Spector tradition, full of memorable hooks & impressive vocal chops. Choice Cuts: "Two of Us on the Run", "Until We Get There", "Turn It Around", "Tempest"

  48. Seasons of Your Day

    Seasons of Your Day

    Mazzy Star

    Rhymes of an Hour

    A sound unchanged yet not out of step w/ modern times, a nearly impossible feat after a 16-year hiatus. Choice Cuts: "In the Kingdom", "Common Burn", "California"

  49. Random Access Memories

    Random Access Memories

    Daft Punk


    Guest-heavy tour through late-'70s/early-'80s rock & disco through the eyes of time-traveling robots. Choice Cuts: "Get Lucky", "Fragments of Time", "Doin' It Right", "Touch"

  50. Repave


    Volcano Choir


    I knew Justin Vernon had it in him, but I never expected this side project to be worthy of my full attention. Choice Cuts: "Byegone", "Dancepack", "Alaskans", "Almanac"