Sunday, 2 February 2014

24 Best Albums of 2013: #20 to #11

This is the second part of my Best Albums of 2013 list. The first part, containing albums #24 to #21, can be read here. 

20. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
I hadn’t paid any attention at all to Chvrches before The Bones of What You Believe was released, so the album took me somewhat by surprise; I went in expecting little more than catchy dance-pop and found a resonant and frequently moving record instead. Lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry, who could be Emily Haines’ kid sister, brings unexpected darkness and depth to the exhilarating rush of “We Sink” and “The Mother We Share.”

19. Kanye West – Yeezus
Yeezus is not the easiest album to love, or even like; indeed, the most preferable way of listening may be to hold it at arms’ length. The only real way to listen to this record, however, is to engage with it on its own terms, and it’s then that you realize how emotional, irreverent, startling, contradictory, bizarre and deeply personal Yeezus is.

18. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Despite Random Access Memories’ technology-inspired title and its creators’ strict adherence to anonymity (as the controversy over a helmetless photo of Daft Punk on Twitter last year illustrates), it’s actually one of the most personable records released last year, with a willingness to experiment and an excellent lineup of collaborators. 

17. Lorde – Pure Heroine
I wouldn’t go so far as to label Pure Heroine as “anti-pop” (by which I mean the opposite of pop, not a criticism of the genre), but its relatively short length, unfussy arrangements and overall sense of restraint made Lorde’s debut a change of pace from the occasionally overindulgent records put out by many Top 40 artists this year.

16. She & Him – Volume 3
With Volume 3, Zooey Deschanel once again proves her status as one of the most underrated songwriters working in indie pop today. The originals on Volume 3, along with a few well-chosen covers (including a poignant rendition of "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me"), show a further refinement of the blend of '60s pop and country that has always characterized Deschanel and M. Ward's work. Deschanel's enviable gift for breezy yet insightful lyrics and earworm choruses is on full display in such highlights as "Turn to White," "Something's Haunting You" and the rollicking "I Could've Been Your Girl."

Head below the fold for albums #15 to #11. 

15. Basia Bulat – Tall Tall Shadow
Basia Bulat's albums have been getting better and better since her impressive debut Oh, My Darling in 2007, and with Tall Tall Shadow, she's created a record that takes full advantage of her amazing voice and awe-inspiring musicality. The songs on Tall Tall Shadow feature synthesizers, guitars and Andean charango as well as Bulat's signature autoharp, making for a deeply satisfying, diverse listen.

14. Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle
Laura Marling released her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim when she was 19 and has been branded as a precocious child prodigy by critics ever since. Once I Was an Eagle, her fourth record in almost as many years and her most mature and accomplished yet, shows that she's far more than just some British folk wunderkind. Accompanied only by acoustic guitar, bass, cello and minimal percussion, Marling takes the listener on an immersive and unforgettable journey.

13. Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
Both as cinematic and as intimate as its title suggests, Tales of Us finds Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory revisiting the lush soundscapes of their debut album Felt Mountain. The songs, each named after an individual who often, but not always, appears in the lyrics, draw on a wide range of film and literary sources, a diversity reflected in eerie opener "Jo," the mysterious ballad "Stranger," and epic closer "Clay."

12. Volcano Choir – Repave
Volcano Choir immediately dismisses the label of ‘Bon Iver side project’ that’s followed the group, a collaboration between Justin Vernon and Collections of Colonies of Bees, since its formation with this triumphant and spellbinding album. While Repave doesn’t shy away from contemplation – the heartbreaking “Alaskans,” which ends with a Charles Bukowski sample, is a highlight – there’s a sense of urgency present on such songs as “Comrade” and “Tiderays” that one might not normally associate with Vernon’s solo work. This is a record to get lost in. 

11. Drake – Nothing Was the Same
Nothing Was the Same may seem straightforward, given its bucolic cover art, traditional album structure and clearly defined emotional arc. However, the lyrical portraits Drake paints are just as uncompromising and unexpected as, say, Kanye West’s – perhaps even more so, given the soulful and pastel-coloured backdrop Drake has chosen to accompany his sometimes startling lyrics. (“From Time” and “Too Much” are possibly the best examples of this approach.) In a time when samples and guest appearances can distract from the actual content of an album, Drake uses both well.

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