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The 25 Best Albums of 2013
Disclosure

5. Disclosure, Settle. From the disco fantasy of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories to the roller-rink soundtrack that was Classixx's Hanging Gardens, 2013 was a good year for the dance album. No entry, however, was as unadulterated or unapologetic as Disclosure's Settle. Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence feel no compulsion to water down their house tastes, leading to funky, muscular cuts like "Latch," where percussion opens and snaps shut like a syncopated bear trap, and "January," a liquefied, Italo house-inspired jam whose rapid-repeat bassline is pure sex. The album's title, then, is not so much a recommendation for calm, but the Lawrence siblings assuring listeners, "Relax, we got this." Liedel

Kanye West

4. Kanye West, Yeezus. In a year where Jay-Z definitively crossed over from esteemed elder statesman to distracted, detached relic, Kanye West fully assumed his mantle as rap's biggest star, issuing both ever-more boneheaded public statements and an album that communicated his sputtering feelings with far more directness. As raw and straightforward as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was sparkling and expansive, Yeezus is another self-deifying shrine to an artist so much more sensitive than his stature should allow, turning everything he releases into a messy blend of the personal and the political. Never has this been clearer than on stellar songs like "New Slaves" and "Blood on the Leaves," which conflate personal and historical traumas into one chaotic mixture, communicating both the insidious, lingering effects of a racist culture and the unmistakable imprint of an artist who refuses to be quieted by his own insecurities. Jesse Cataldo

Lorde

3. Lorde, Pure Heroine. Few things are more dire than the lyrical scribbling of 16-year-olds, as my own buried marble notebooks can surely attest. But New Zealand teen Lorde manages to be both precocious and perceptively relevant on her debut album, a portrait of desiccated youth on par with Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring in terms of on-the-ground significance. Full of strikingly concise, surprisingly mature pop songs, Pure Heroine conveys the exhaustion of growing up in a hall of mirrors, the usual difficulties of identity formation further confused by the hollow expectations of a fame-obsessed, copycat culture. There's nothing inherently groundbreaking here, the sort of rebellion that's been into practice put by teen-pop artists for decades, but rarely have those proclamations been issued with such impressive articulation and grace. Cataldo

Arcade Fire

2. Arcade Fire, Reflektor. Swathed in the various sounds of punk, disco, art-rock, and pop, Reflektor wears its experimentation remarkably lightly for such an ambitious album, certainly better than frontman Win Butler wears his ironic disco suit. Drawing its rhythmic impetus as much from vocalist Régine Chassagne's Haitian heritage as from analog-era dance floors, there's a consistent theme of the redemptive possibilities of music and dance: "If there's no music in heaven, then what's it for?" Butler sings, drawing on the Greek myth of Orpheus, a musician who attempted to rescue his wife from death using the power of his songs alone. The billowing electronic landscape, surreal as any Hades, and egregious running time might cause some fans to agree that "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)," but Reflektor is a defiant, successful celebration of the album as a conceptual statement in an era of easily consumed singles and reductive lyrics. Caldwell

Vampire Weekend

1. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City. In the halcyon days of the British Empire, there was a tradition among explorers of strange and uncharted lands to exhibit upon their return a so-called "cabinet of curiosities," a hodgepodge of keepsakes, decontextualized and random but fascinatingly foreign. Vampire Weekend's first two albums similarly possessed a magpie's eye for the unusual, but with little that was revelatory below the surface charm of the unfamiliar. Modern Vampires of the City, by contrast, finds the band looking closer to home, as frontman Ezra Koenig traces a lyrical road trip across the U.S., from Providence to Phoenix. Scoring sardonic deconstructions of the rock-n'-roll myth with Dick Dale-style guitars ("Diane Young"), novelistic half-sketches of peripatetic romance with loping Gershwin-esque strings, ("Hannah Hunt"), and even a confrontation with the man upstairs with church organs and semi-ironic gospel choirs ("Ya Hey"), Vampire Weekend seems to have finally exhausted their wanderlust, and come home wiser, more soulful and more vital than ever. Collett

 


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