The 25 Best Albums of 2013
The 25 Best Albums of 2013


Local Natives, Hummingbird

With their sophomore effort, Local Natives forgo the uptempo, radio-friendly jams of their 2010 debut in favor of a more reserved, introspective style. Remarkably reflective in its lyricism and subtle aural gestures, Hummingbird tells a handful of stories about confronting life’s myriad inevitable obstacles (loneliness, self-doubt, the death of loved ones). The album fluidly cycles through a range of powerful emotions without ever feeling overwhelming, from the gentle, harmonious sway of early highlight “Ceilings” to the fastidiously affecting ballad “Colombia.” On the latter song, vocalist Kelcey Ayer cautiously croons, “Every night I ask myself, am I giving enough?” The answer is a resounding yes. Mike LeChevallier

The 25 Best Albums of 2013


J. Cole, Born Sinner

The year’s least flashy rap album may also be its best. Born Sinner comes on slow, but it’s as close to greatness as J. Cole himself—on the verge, but still playing it cool, even as he dissects chronic misogyny and rappers who enslave themselves to chains of white gold. At the mic, he’s a better raconteur than ever, complicating his stories with bits of misdirection that hit as hard as any of the disc’s bass drops. On “Chaining Day” and elsewhere, he raps about slavery as sharply as anyone, but the real villain of Born Sinner is the dog within, whether you’re Superman cheating on Lois Lane or (more often) MLK cheating on Coretta. Then there are the college-educated, sneaky-freaky ladies, and a local minister who pays a congregant for brains. The second half of the album is in part a tribute to Cole’s two main models, Nas and 2Pac, down to conspicuous mid-‘90s-sounding hooks from TLC and James Fauntleroy. Craft and community storytelling aside, the only other album of 2013 that boasts as many internal rhymes-per-minute is Eminem’s. Scheinman

The 25 Best Albums of 2013


Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze

On 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, Kurt Vile displayed a proficiency for crafting dreamy, lo-fi pop soundscapes that clocked in at, on average, not much longer than five minutes. Never one to repeat himself, though, he changed things up considerably on the superior Wakin on a Pretty Daze, an ambling assemblage of songs filled with hazy, hypnagogic melodies (the opening and closing tracks hover around the 10-minute mark). With more articulate production courtesy of John Agnello, as well as an even more laidback, stream-of-consciousness lyrical flow, the album boasts a treasure trove of assured, free-spirited tunes that stands, at least so far, as Vile’s artistic zenith. LeChevallier

The 25 Best Albums of 2013


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

Neko Case’s sixth album finds the alt-folk siren at her most wistful, and though the humorous candor from Middle Cyclone persists, there’s a strong sense that The Worse Things Get is the flashpoint of her longstanding existential crisis. Case in point, “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” where all non-vocal accompaniments are stripped away and, likewise, humanity’s hateful narcissism is distilled into one heartbreaking bus-stop anecdote. Certainly, The Worse Things Get is another blistering chapter in the singer’s musical narrative, but perhaps more importantly, it’s a masterful display of her ability to internalize and poeticize the pain, self-deprecation, and tiny tragedies she observes in everyday life. Kevin Liedel

The 25 Best Albums of 2013


Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady

On The Electric Lady, Janelle Monáe resumes her celebration of cyborgs, space travel, and the cathartic powers of groove-worthy dance beats, curating what initially feels like a grab-bag full of genre samples into a sustained paean to the flexibility of R&B as an art form. Comprising suites IV and V of Monáe’s Metropolis saga and featuring copious references to her android alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, The Electric Lady risks overdoing it with the conceptual posturing; however, highlights like the effervescent “Dance Apocalyptic” and the slow-burning, synth-punctuated “PrimeTime” require no prior knowledge of Monáe’s sci-fi cosmology to work their magic. On the title track, Monáe casually drops the couplet, “Come on, get in/My spaceship leaves at 10,” suggesting that she’s got better places to be, but that everyone’s welcome along for the ride. Galvin