It’s easy to get caught up in the present, but for the purpose of this post we ask you to take a minute to reflect on the not-so distant past. Without any further delay, Indie Current presents the first installment of our 2013 Year-End List. For the next couple of days, we’ll post the following three parts of the Top 100 Albums List, as well as lists featuring our top 50 EPs and our favorites songs of the year separated by hip-hop, rock, pop, electronic and remixed selections. Until then, enjoy these carefully curated record selections.
1. Jessie Ware - Devotion
The UK’s popstar sweetheart Jessie Ware initially released her album in August 2012, but failed to reach the US until mid-April of the following year. Expounding on collaborations with SBTRKT, Sampha and Disclosure, the powerhouse vocalist is paired with the production forces of Julio Bashmore and Dave Okumu (of The Invisible). Her unabashed pop sensibilities work curiously with the experimental electronic foundation of the album, anchored by a few radio-geared singles that sound more situated upon 90s R&B and soul than her musical contemporaries. It’s a few beats per minute too slow for house, a few decibels too loud for traditional female-driven hip hop. This long-anticipated debut, especially for her stateside fans, was more than worth the wait, distinguishing Jessie Ware as a contentiously graceful addition to pop music.
2. Boards of Canada - Tomorrow’s Harvest
Scotland-native brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin make up the downtempo, IDM duo Boards of Canada, who’ve been on the electronic dance music scene since 1986. Their fourth studio album, hyped by promotional codes to an album trailer on BBC, NPR, and Adult Swim, is a dense industrially-panged trip hop record. Significantly inspired by Joni Mitchell, My Bloody Valentine and 1970s nature documentaries produced the National Film Board of Canada, hence the band name, much of the album is occupied by confounded white space and alluring electronic compositions; the rare intrusion of vocals sounds cryptic and mysterious against the pallid silence.
3. Thundercat - Apocalypse
Thundercat’s unique synthesis of jazz, soul, hip-hop, and unearthly electronic composition on Apocalypse might be better understood through an alternative, anachronistic lens. Historically, black music has lent itself to the idea of space, science fiction, and futurism since 1975. The release of Mothership Connection by the psychedelic collective Parliament embraced the dark unknown, fragmenting a sense of unreality within the deep recesses of space. Through colorful expressions and previously undiscovered sounds, Parliament-Funkadelic (or P-Funk) affirmed their misplaced cultural identity by evoking the alien, the intergalactic. Whereas Parliament’s power in numbers developed their maximal, bombastic interpretation of funk, Thundercat distinguishes himself- his stark-naked emotional vulnerability and poignancy- through vacant, minimal soundscapes. This record is untimely, not rooted in either spectrum of the past or future, which makes it all the more interesting. Each track is salacious and sensual, emblazoned with synthetic textures or lilted to vacuous heights.
4. Wavves – Afraid of Heights
Once upon a time, I was an angsty little adolescent bastard. I exclusively listened to music that made me bob my head and shake it back and forth, not so much because I agreed or disagreed with whatever musical sentiments were being projected. It was a purely physiological response, a sound that gave me the means to tap into all that pent up emotional aggression through varying forms of spastic and often violent body movements. This spring I heard Wavves’ sophomore album release and was reacquainted with this bastard. It was an awkward reunion to say the least, but inevitably satisfying. Following their unsuspected collaboration on last year’s disappointing Big Boi album, Wavves have reoriented their static-fueled, lo-fi, hyper-grunge for a muddled, sedated-feeling punk rock. It’s brash and bombastic and beautiful, like those weekend afternoons spent blaring Blink-182 and Sum 41 CDs. Only this record is considerably less embarrassing.
5. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf
The first words uttered by Tyler, the Creator’s sophomore album alter-ego, Wolf, on the record’s intro of the same title are, “So, you guys are into jazz?” He is promptly interrupted by Tyler’s Goblin-centric alter-ego, the proverbial subconscious of the rapper’s narrative. The pitchforked and pointy-tailed red man on his right shoulder, if you will, shrouding the record in a tangible layer of melancholy. But there’s a tension here that’s practically nonexistent on Goblin, the prevailing force of jazz, weed-induced paranoia, Arizona iced tea and skittles. Tyler tries his hand at string arrangements and neo-soul expressions, fashioning a more accessible and aesthetically oriented approach to music production. Lyrically, this is one of the most progressive rap albums of the year, stripping sizable layers of vulnerability and internal struggles of the mind with each subsequent track. Tyler dissects the most uncomfortable and problematic facets of his persona and sets them to music, speaking at himself through multiple vantage points: as a hardcore fan, as a vocoded mentor, as a scared boy, as a wounded mind.
6. Typhoon - White Lighter
An eighteen second prelude is all it takes for Typhoon to prepare you for total bombastic bliss. In White Lighter, this 11-piece supergroup drum up a predominantly anthemic sound. As with any Typhoon record, every song is beautifully orchestrated and delivered. The manner in which the band playoff of each other is a testament to their uncompromising level of comfort with their skills and abilities; they know what they have and aren’t afraid to show it. With his bandmates softly cooing behind him, Kyle Morton belts out poetic lines as if they were his last. Of course, his near brush with death at an early age might explain the dark lyricism. “I could have been a gold digger/ I could have been a gunslinger/ I could have been a little bigger/ I could have been an old ringer/ I could have been a pop singer,” Morton powerfully beckons in “Hunger & Thirst.” They are powerful lines—and like the rest of the lyrics in the album—they speak volumes.
7. Shigeto – No Better Time Than Now
Some call it glitch-hop. I call it magic. Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Zachary Saginaw settles on a comfortable flow here, more successful and pervasive than any of his previous material. His primarily non-lyrical compositions find a form of personified texture, rippling forth like the rampant streaming consciousness of a distressed MC. The beats are hollowed-out, vacant, retaining a sheen of high-end production and low-end substance. Despite the lyrical space unfilled on this record, the album never feels lonely. Shigeto is a romantic, constantly bombarding you with a bevy of mutating cadences and melodies, layers of acrylic flung dramatically onto an empty canvas.
8. Disclosure – Settle
The Lawrence brothers have done their fair sure to alter the EDM scene, in the UK and otherwise, with their producer duo team Disclosure. House is rejuvenated! The 90s are alive and flailing on molly! Everything is bigger, brighter, more romantic. These tunes showcase warbling, glitchy electronic production, deceptive and faltering before it reassembles with a vengeance. As crazed and grossly grandiose as Settle may seem, it accomplishes something significant in the forthcoming advancement of electronic dance music. Analog and artificial sounds, in both a studio and live setting, are paired together to work harmoniously rather than oppositionally. As such an overly exhausted pinnacle of sonic influence, however, this act’s debut record risks its credence of authenticity. Some months following its release, I am personally driven to the belief that Disclosure sounds significantly better at the liberty of another artist’s imprint. Kaytranada, TEED, Flume, Hudson Mohawke and Baauer all lend excellent doses of creative impulse to Settle, where the hype has failed to persist.
9. Hiatus Kaiyote – Tawk Tomahawk
This Melbourne, Australia-based future soul group stunned and sedated me the same way D’Angelo had all those years ago. To me his critically acclaimed album Voodoo sounded like the future, an alternate and seemingly utopian vision of the future where all that glitters is gold. It’s the same sense I got hearing Tawk Tomahawk, only this time I’m not left with the sickly feeling that the hype won’t last. Lead vocalist Nai Palm employs the husky timbre of female singers like Emily King and the late Amy Winehouse. The synth-oriented, big band R&B sound is like a constant conversation between individual parts, lulled into lethargy or advanced to a state of elation at a moment’s notice. Heavy-handed reliance upon electronic programming, Hiatus Kaiyote is at the pinnacle of contemporary neo-soul, extending past hip-hop vanguards like J Dilla and Questlove. The synthetic integration of artificial sound infused with analog instrumentation expressly recalls a kind of Soulquarian sensibility. Everything about Tawk Tomahawk has the air of improvisation, as if the record spawned from a source of impetuous necessity. Here the avant-garde is retained, aesthetic tradition is reified and perceptions of perfection are boldly renounced. It’s raw and unconditional and terribly affecting. But, most importantly, it’s of the now.
10. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
Artist and producer Dev Hynes released his sophomore album this year, a motley patchwork of collaborative guest artists who amplify and enhance the already palpable R&B fusion found on his debut Coastal Grooves. It sounds like a lot more than just two years separate the records. Along with his current girlfriend Samantha Urbani (vocalist of Friends), Dev consolidates a community of like-minded artists in his new home base of Brooklyn. The signature cascading guitar riff iconicized in Coastal Grooves finds a bigger, better home here, less isolated among all the pristine brass arrangements and throwback production styles. Everything sounds a little sunnier, a little breezier, with soul-tinged xylophones or twangy, Prince-reverent guitar melodies. The last track abandons all the elaborate fanfare of guests and dense, analog percussive arrangements for hollow, metronomic drum pads and triumphant piano chords.
11. Lapalux – Nostalchic
Artist-producer Stuart Howard dropped his debut LP this year through Fly-Lo’s UK-based Brainfeeder label... and it was bangin’. R&B takes on a new, capricious form through Lapalux’s emotionally inspired IDM. It’s the kind of music you can’t listen to without making heavily exaggerated arm movements. There are parts of Nostalchic that are volatile and unpredictable, a spontaneous thunderstorm persisting against the sunlight. Other songs featuring vocalists Jenna Andrews, Kerry Leatham and Astrid Williamson are serene and amorous, one steady stream of melody adorned by Lapalux’s swank and grind.
12. Jagwar Ma - Howlin
This Australian dance-pop outfit’s Howlin is one of the most cumbersome debut albums of the year to dismantle, and for this very reason it’s one of our favorite records. Psychotropic tendencies give way to tropical soundscapes and lucid harmonic chord progressions. This record feels like the cross-bred grunge rock dance pop trio are exploding in sound, exploding in hype, barely cognizant of their own remarkable contributions to electronic dance music. Howlin picks up with a loud, raucous bang, but the closing moments of the record recede from energy and euphoria to shadier regions of ambience and the sublime.
13. Ducktails – The Flower Lane
Matthew Mondanile’s solo project stemming from Real Estate has permeated as something quite substantial on its own. His third record as Ducktails finds solace in a place that greets the textures of disparate instrumentations, refusing to stay confined to the standard four-piece rock band. Mondanile’s imagination runs wild on The Flower Lane briefly removing the listener from the present to a shrouded vision of the past. Melodies come rushing in with kaleidoscope refractions, reverberating harmonies ushered in and out of the fore to make room for the next progressive sound. The saxophone solo on “Under Cover” was a definite highlight, as was guest-vocalist Jessa Farkas’ spotlight on “Letter of Intent.” This record is the sound of Mondaline emerging from his proverbial box of indie rockdom and exploring the limitless reach of music within his grasp.
14. Sigur Rós - Kveikur
No matter how you slice it, Kveikur is Sigur Rós’ most dark and intense album yet. It’s not their most enterprising album (that’s for sure), but by all accounts it may be their best. Diehard fans will have you know that Takk… is practically the pinnacle of Icelandic rock music, but I’m here to tell you that it may have met its match with Kveikur. Where Takk… proudly flaunts its perfection, Kveikur hides it behind a wall of haunting imagery. Sigur Rós are louder and prouder than ever before, having traded off their clean image with a more mysterious one. That being said, their music still imbues a calm quality. Through the buzzing electronics and clattering cymbals, the band keeps things in check, sustaining a consistent sound throughout and acting as one cohesive unit. As always, Jonsi acts as the guiding voice for the album, but there is a definite push in the instrumentals department. Rather than trailing behind the leading man, the drums, guitars, horns, and electronics all diverge to form their own path. In turn, this opens up the album to a wide-range of experimentation and allows the trio to create an expansive colour palette, full of possibilities.
15. Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap
Chancelor Bennett, the 20-year-old MC from Chicago known as Chance The Rapper, took the music industry by storm with his second self-released mixtape Acid Rap. The title may contain the word but this genre-bending mixtape goes so far beyond rap mixing together R&B, rock, hip-hop and more. Chance’s ability to mash this all together allows the mixtapes themes to seamlessly glide through pensive (“Chain Smoker”), boastful (“Favorite Song”), and provocative (“Paranoia”) all in this 13-song mixtape. Acid Rap features a talented group of next-up rappers on guest verses like Twista, Ab-Soul and seasoned producers like Nosaj Thing as well as skilled members of his Save Money collective like rapper Vic Mensa and producer Nate Fox. Although there was hype before the release of Acid Rap due to the popularity of Chance’s first mixtape 10 Day, no one expected it to be in the conversation for best Rap album this year.
16. Rhye – Woman
Certainly the most mysterious act of the year, duo Rhye spent a large part of 2013 maintaining their alluring anonymity. And for good reason. Masked with the androgynous vocal timbre of UK soul pop star Sade, male singer-songwriter Mike Milosh and producer/instrumentalist Robin Hannibal revealed themselves as Rhye earlier this year. Each minimal groove is salacious and tender, only further invigorated by the sensuous croonings of Milosh. Violins, steel drum and stuttering synth coalesce in puzzling harmony, a kind of new-age adult-alternative downplay on disco and R&B. The record is intimate and indelible, a voyeuristic perspective upon the opposite sex that reflects all it sees.
17. Jai Paul - Untitled
Let's be real for a sec: If you made it through this year without hearing/snagging a copy of this unreleased set of songs, then prepare to endure large amounts of self-afflicted pain- because you won't find it here. Regardless of whatever controversy that has spawned from this unofficial album release, it is quite simply one of the most substantial pop records of the year. Several of the sixteen tracks are recycled from his earlier mixtape, along with powerhouse singles “BTSU” and “Jasmine,” but each song is subtlety and meticulously revamped and revisited. “Jasmine,” comparatively, thumps teasingly and more deliberate than its predecessor; the vocal layers are similarly revised, performed in a softer, less tactile rendition of the already elusively provocative cut. He samples Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Gossip Girl and action-packed video game sound bytes. “Str8 Outta Mumbai,” off his mixtape, builds upon experimental, noise-pop foundations previously established by the artist, only to delve even further amidst a convoluted conglomeration of sounds, expressions, and post-colonial culture. Jai Paul iconicizes himself and his music as something irrefutably majestic, yet tentatively indescribable. He is pushing the limits of pop music, re-appropriating and redefining the way people perceive the genre. These sixteen tracks are a maximalist approach to slow-jam R&B, boasting a legendary similitude to pop legend Prince exacerbated by the rampant, inexplicable forces of the Internet.
18. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
The New Zealand psych-rock trio returns with the follow-up to their self-titled debut record. Their lo-fi integrity persists but there are portions of II where the static fizzles out, leaving the smooth inner-workings of their shifty, blues-based form bareboned and sexy as hell. A few of the songs here, to include the single “So Good At Being In Trouble,” mimic all the gleam and sophistication of a Holland-Dozier-Holland-type Motown gem. The bass sheans prevalently while drums are safely secured by a time warp to the 1950s. Other tracks are bustling with a frantic, warbled kind of energy, like Baywatch on mescaline.
19. Vondelpark – Seabed
The members of Vondelpark exude any uncanny amount of rhythm and blues for three white British men in their early 20s. Layered over provocative two-step beats and warbling, sea-swayed expressions, they make effervescent tones and watery guitar melodies that bear a modest resemblance to producer Jamie xx. Vondelpark experiments with traditionally bluesy chord progressions and dabbles in syncopated jazz instrumentation. The liquid tones and nostalgic, lo-fi R&B beats converge in sentiments that are equal parts foreboding and affectionate. What distinguishes Seabed as one of the most sophisticated alternative albums of the year, however, is Vondelpark’s ability to meld various components of jazz, blues, soul, and R&B to create a contemporary, electronic-oriented record. Their intentions are made even more apparent in the track “Bananas (On My Biceps)”, which samples generously from Aretha Franklin. Vocalist and band founder Lewis Rainsbury utilizes lyrical improvisation to evoke abstract meaning and ambiguous interpretations. But even the concrete lyrics of the album are faltering and enigmatic, like whispers in the wind or muffled voices underwater.
20. James Blake – Overgrown
Electronic music finds an ominous and avant-garde form in singer-songwriter James Blake. Like Mount Kimbie, Blake escaped the clustered threshold of post-dub to explore a new, immersive dimension of electronic and dance music, often independent of each other. At the heart of James Blake’s music however, seems to be a steady, unceasing source of soul, which is what makes this record all the more irresistible. Finding collaborative inspiration in disparate paradigms like Brian Eno and RZA, Blake nestles comfortably into a musical grey area, an alluring and incomprehensible niche of prophetic dancejams.
21. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
Though it wouldn't seem it, The National have come a long way since their formative years. With more than 15 years behind them, the band have slowly developed their sound and continued to impress. Their music could best be described as "dad rock," but even that label doesn't do them justice. In Trouble Will Find Me, Matt Berninger tackles a wide range of topics, the most obvious being "love and loss." At times, his soft, but well-worn voice shows the side of man who has been jaded by his past. But at no point does he feel like a tired, washed up rocker who has spent his years drinking away his sorrows. Instead, Berninger pours out his romantic struggles over a steady, drum-led backdrop. This turns Trouble Will Find Me into an appealing, relatable, and highly engaging album that makes your dad's music look like a pathetic excuse for the word "rock."
22. King Krule - Six Feet Beneath the Moon
There are a lot of things that distinguish Archie Marshall (a.k.a King Krule, a.k.a. Zoo Kid) from his musical contemporaries. His groveling, grooving blue-eyed soul. His shimmering, effervescent shade of red hair. His puzzling penchant for nostalgia-induced, bare-bones alternative classicism. Since signing with XL Records at the tender age of 17, the singer-songwriter has beckoned a summit of well-deserved hype over his debut record. Syncopated rhythms flurry out from behind the gruff, low-voiced musician, not quite a rapper, not quite a singer, but some confounding synthesis of the two. King Krule might demonstrate a new generation of musical artistry. He is suspended within his own ominous brand of grimy, idiosyncratic sentiments, exposing the hapless, melancholic underbelly of his consciousness through emotively penetrating lyricism.
23. Foals - Holy Fire
For Foals, nothing is a better reflection of their development as a band then Holy Fire. It meant bigger, more expansive walls of sound, and above all, an end of theirs days as a “math rock” band. “Prelude” set the tone early on, just as any proper rock album would, slowly and gradually building up through a series of progressions, before unleashing a devilish arrangement of instrumentals. This theme was then carried over to “Inhaler,” which also proved to be a ruthless exposé of maximal guitar work. While Foals have never been a stranger to distorted guitar riffs, these two songs in particular saw the band take it to another level. At certain points in the album, things felt a bit disorienting—but in the end, Foals were able to balance it out with catchy vocal hooks and a bit of that metallic bounce they have become so infamous for.
24. Toro Y Moi – Anything In Return
Each album from the artistic alter-ego of Chaz Bundwick comes from a new point of reference. Toro Y Moi molts from form to form and sound to sound, this year releasing a pop-inflected dance sensation with Anything In Return. The record instills all the past creative genius of Bundwick and hones in on its beam like a microscope to the sun. Everything is hyper-focused, streamlined, augmented. Tracks like “So Many Details” find Toro Y Moi donning an aggressive persona. Bombast and sonic grandeur come in the form of fluttering congo drums and 8-bit synth. The past seeps in through the cracks, house on funk on disco-pop madness, but the tempo stays dropped down low, seductive and patient like a sexy earworm.
25. Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
At the fore of this year, English duo Mount Kimbie made a drastic paradigm shift to their otherwise integrally post-dub catalogue: the redemptive, exonerated sophomore album. Cold Spring Fault Less Youth presents both artificial and instrumental sounds that merge together in one glorious and confounding spectre of groove. The beats are impeccable, sharp, braised with the time-honored tradition of soul and blues. A two-track guest spotlight by King Krule highlights these pedantic and rudimentary rhythmic complexities. Mount Kimbie have more than uprooted themselves from their previously concreted reference point. This record speaks to the future of electronic music, how both electronic and analog forces can synthesize sound and spur about auditory revelation. It’s insatiable, hypnotic and our top pick for 2013.