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The 25 Best Albums of 2013
Laura Marling

20. Laura Marling, Once I Was an Eagle. Once I Was an Eagle marks a turning point in 23-year-old wunderkind Laura Marling's career, as she's departed from albums that boast a few standout singles to a format that possesses the structural integrity of a novel or, say, the second side of the Beatles' Abbey Road. Opening with a six-song suite that probes the contours of a failed relationship, the album nestles variations like the stripped-bare murder ballad "Undine" among numbers like "Love Be Brave" that revisit the themes and echo the unifying guitar figure of the initial suite. On closer "Saved These Words," Marling sings, "Thank you naïvety for failing me again." That failure has produced an artifact testifying to the achievement of a maturing virtuoso of minimalist folk, just beginning to come into her powers. Galvin

Fuck Buttons

19. Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus. This year found Fuck Buttons holding the birds-eye seat atop the dying embers of two genres. They ascended just as indie transformed from an artistic movement to a wise career decision. And when the alt-rock squares were dismissive of electronic music as somehow less "real," Fuck Buttons were forging furious and fearless audio murals on their laptops. With parts cut from post-rock, smoky electronica, indie rock, shoegaze, downbeat, and noise, Slow Focus was "post-genre" in the boldest and most thrilling sense. As their lazy contemporaries were throwing Pro Tools down the kitchen sink, Fuck Buttons yielded their influences like surgical instruments, transforming an autopsy into an act of pure creation. Sullivan

Charli XCX

18. Charli XCX, True Romance. Charli XCX's biggest hit, Icona Pop's "I Love It," co-written by and featuring the U.K. singer, wasn't included on her debut, True Romance. Which might explain in part why the album, despite being backed by a major label, barely made a blip on the mainstream radar. But the album is chockfull of potential pop smashes superior to almost everything released by Katy, Miley, and Gaga this year, the crunchy, lo-fi electro-pop of early singles "Stay Away" and "Nuclear Seasons" complemented by the more radio-ready, just-left-of-center bubblegum pop of tracks like "Take My Hand" and the Gold Panda-sampling "You (Ha Ha Ha)." The result is a postmodern pastiche of '80s-inspired synth melodies and standard Top 40 lyrical tropes juxtaposed with pitch-shifted vocals and growling, subterranean basslines from the end of the world. Cinquemani

Death Grips

17. Death Grips, Government Plates. One of the amusing paradoxes of our current musical landscape is that, while the modern world continues to be miserly with good news, most of the artists who blight our radio stations and streaming services remain almost maniacally committed to turning that frown upside down. Not Death Grips. Four releases in, the Sacramento band continues to startle and provoke by refusing to compromise or resort to silly shock tactics. Actually, the latter isn't always strictly true (as the NSFW cover art to their last album attested), but Death Grips' latest, Government Plates, proves they don't need arch juvenilia to shake you when a schizophrenic collage of filthy beats, shattered synths, and found-sound nightmare fuel will do just fine. Add the howling antiflow of indie's most mesmerizing frontman, and you have the most galvanizing end-times advocacy since Fear of a Black Planet. Sullivan

Arctic Monkeys

16. Arctic Monkeys, AM. The Arctic Monkeys moved to sunny California, borrowed some heavy beats from West Coast G-funk, and laid down one of best British rock albums of the decade. It's moody and heavily textured, full of slinky riffs, shimmering falsetto choruses, and the belated libido of the last few minutes of a boozy party. "R U Mine?" might be the friend-zone anthem of the year, but the glam-rock "Arabella" and eery "Knee Socks" are equally worthy of being played on repeat. Alex Turner's absurd precocity has matured into a canny sneer that lets him rip off the Fab Four on "No. 1 Party Anthem" and totally get away with it. Caleb Caldwell


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