50. Ryan Hemsworth – Guilt Trips
This Canadian artist-producer released his first solo studio album as Guilt Trips, a dreamy, lo-fi soundscape of anxious and berated trap melodies. With collaborations from Baths, Lofty305, and Haleek Maul, Hemsworth curates an auspicious, weary form of IDM compositions. “Ryan Must Be Destroyed” has Hemsworth confronting himself on this record like David Bowie on Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, submitted to the precarious The-King-Must-Die complex, weary of the longevity of his own swiftly advanced career, perhaps? Or just hoping to shed another skin and take on another form.
49. Beach Fossils – Clash the Truth
Captured Tracks released the third studio album by Brooklyn-native lo-fi rock group Beach Fossils, a garage-rock vibe that feels increasingly progressive with each new record. In a year of lengthy, prolonged album cuts and fifteen-minute songs, Beach Fossils rebutes the system with a fidgety collection of brief tracks, the longest at just over three minutes. But in no way does Clash the Truth feel rushed or anxious. Quite the opposite, Beach Fossils sound at their most complacent and at ease on this record, confident of their capability to deliver a series of electric, pop-minded and shoegazed songs—each one better than the last.
48. Baths – Obsidian
After battling a serious illness that nearly left him on his deathbed, producer Will Wiesenfeld of the electronic project Baths returns with a dark-minded, melancholic follow-up to his 2010 album Cerulean with Obsidian. In synthetic terms, in relation to the album titles, this album feels black and festering like a serious wound in comparison to the cool, blue-tones of his previous record. Obsidian marries an insular, acoustic dream with computer-generated affectations, troubled and restless as unceasing nightmares. Despite all the darkness and despair, however, Baths succeeds in producing another gorgeous album.
47. Widowspeak – The Swamps
The Washington State-native duo Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas make up the Captured Tracks indie-rock act Widowspeak, and—incredibly—this was their second full-length studio album release of the year. Following up the twice-as-long Almanac, The Swamps is an Americana folk rock apologue, alluvium deposits glinting like gold in the murky waters of this lurid soundscape. Hamilton, in her blue-eyed soulful moorings, most closely resembles a fresh-faced Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. This is a novella of records, six concise songs that call up a dated form of bluegrass and roots rock in this timely creation, but it never feels too brief. The album closely gallantly and assuredly with the intimate gallows of “The Swamps,” sweeping and luridly attractive.
46. Darkstar – News From Nowhere
The London-based dubstep/garage duo James Young and Aiden Walley became a trio with the addition vocalist James Buttery, an experimental transgression of progressive electronic pop music. This Warp Records release News From Nowhere is their sophomore album, less distanced and weary than its predecessor. Full of ambient vocations, an exploration of metaphysical sonic devolutions, songs like “Amplified Ease” and “Hold Me Down” are intrinsically well-balanced and sublime.
45. Gold Panda – Half of Where You Live
London-based producer Derwin Schlecker of Gold Panda has always had a worldly perspective, exploring East Asian sounds and inspirations for early songs like “Quitters Raga.” On this third album release, though, with Schlecker relocating to Berlin and spending the last few years touring the globe as Gold Panda, Half of Where You Live is presented as a stately international music concept record. Each song explores another corner of the world, paints another starkly contrasting scene, with an overabundance of found sounds and samples, the most dominant being the chop-screwed vocal on album-showstopper “Brazil.”
44. Kavinsky – OutRun
Native Parisian Vincent Belorgey released his debut album as the French electro-house maestro Kavinsky earlier this year. The album’s “Prelude” establishes Kavinsky’s over-arching narrative: the tragic story of a boy and his red, 1986 Testarossa Ferrari fusing as tandem spirits after a bad wreck, leaving behind the love of his life. The album’s second song reverently echoes Justice’s hit-single “D.A.N.C.E.” with the use of metronomic, youthful exaltations. The first cuts off OutRun (named after the 1986 Sega arcade game) are bombastic, trembling pop numbers. The second half of the record, though, grows tense with an autotune chorus of pedantic female vocals, while pulsating techno flurries of alternately light and heavy beats induce a perfect transition for the bombastic, electro-synth number “Blizzard” that follows. Sounds are drowned out by a delightful excess of drum and bass, while guitar riffs rip through the darkness like a bolt of lightning in a hailstorm. The record is framed by the Drive soundtrack single “Nightcall,” situated perfectly among all the other glimpses of 80s nostalgia and emotional dance pop. You can conceptualize OutRun as the epic soundtrack to the movie that never was.
43. Tokimonsta – Half Shadows
Los Angeles producer Jennifer Lee sparked the interest of Stephen Ellison (Flying Lotus) in LA at a monthly open mike night for beatmakers. She joined his Brainfeeder label to release an EP, but for her debut album Tokimonsta went through Ultra Records. Her simultaneous art pop and hip hop sensibilities collide here in a beautiful, floundering mess. The A-side has Kool Keith, MNDR and Gavin Turrek collaborating on electro-pop landscapes. The B-side, however, takes a darker, more troubled route. The influence of trap music is there, but it’s soiled on the ground, split in half with all it’s gushy insides exposed. Breakbeats and downtempo rhythms reverse the momentum built up before, exposing a glowing glimmer of soul.
42. FaltyDL – Hardcourage
New York producer Drew Lustman has released some strange material over the past eight years as an avant-garde, disco purveyor of electronic dance music. This release, though, is surely his strangest. Everything feels introspective and dark, like that Treehouse of Horror short where Homer Simpson gets stuck in the third dimension. But in the same sense, Hardcourage is some of his most pop-oriented music to date, unafraid to embrace the hand of house and funk with one foot dipped in hyperspace. There’s a moment suspended in a tranced euphoria, a dangerously moderate BPM, but on “Korben Dallas” FaltyDL shifts gears to a vigorously syncopated hip hop freakout. No words are needed, just the occasional, disruptive vocal sample. A alien, autotuned, “Woot…Woot.”
41. Giraffage – Needs
Artist-producer Charlie Yin returns with an underhanded sophomore album title, speaking to all the sexual adrenaline his vacillating beats project on this record. It’s urgent, in-your-face, IDM hysteria. Cicada-like drum flutterings meld against trebled overtones before unscrewing, altering the tempo to dramatically slow frequencies. Nothing is what it seems. Needs reaches for the past, a retro-funk fantasy with a dose of the present rotating on an adjacent turntable. These songs don’t sound labored or overproduced, despite all its creative embellishments, more like an enthusiastic stream of consciousness. Rhythm and groove flow from the mind of Charlie Yin with all the practiced concentration of a legendary DJ or a dangerous MC. This record doesn’t sound like he merely wanted to make it. It sounds like, by some impulsive of creation, he had no choice in the matter. The beat had to get laid down.
40. Jesse Woods – Get Your Burdens Lifted
This debut record by Austin-based singer-songwriter Jesse Woods dawdles about, almost tipsy and fairly stoned, loitering in front of the local convenience store with nothing to do but smoke a cigarette. Where synths and grand scale production work have largely dominated the independent music scene in 2013, Woods stands as a lonesome, rogue cowboy. The heart-wrenching romanticism of his 2010 single “Sparks,” is no where to be found. Instead we have a wandering soul, sifting through the unceasing stream of bullshit that life can be, searching for salvation and finding it in folk music.
39. Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind
British artist producer Kieran Hebden’s musical roots originate at the post-rock group Fridge. With Kieran on lead guitar, the band was a loose canon of schizophrenic rhythm and muted melodies. His electronic-oriented solo project Four Tet channels this chaos through a psychedelic, celestial echo-chamber of clammering groove. Sampled elements used in Beautiful Rewind are recycled, rotated through like channels on basic cable. The soulful female vocal run looped on “Parallel jalebi” resumes itself on the following track “Our navigation,” which extends the sample as a brighter, looser-feeling track. With years of varied musical experience, Four Tet seems to restrain himself on this record, expressing himself in the simplest of terms and most convenient modes. The mold leaves album standout “Unicorn” gleaming in the shadows, a handful of scattered tones, reverberated and augmented until it’s exhausted in empty space.
38. Daughter – If You Leave
What started as a solo project by singer-songwriter Elena Tonra has manifested as a majestic, impassioned art rock group. Their debut album, following the success of singles like “Youth,” relinquishes itself to the somber, salient melodies of The xx or Cat Power. Where these acts tend to remain bound and constricted, Daughter lingers in empty desperation before rupturing in panicked ecstasy. The record captures a solemn tone, paints a grim kind of portrait for its listeners. Tracks like “Lifeforms” and “Amsterdam” are existential and bereaved, threatening to implode against the strain of Elena Tonra’s tenderly transparent lyricism.
37. Flume – Flume (Deluxe Edition)
Australian electronic music producer Harley Streten stunned the EDM community at large when, after just a few successful hits on Beatport and Soundcloud, Flume released a massive debut record. The original album has a few Indie Current favorites like Chet Faker and George Maple contributing music and lyrics to the dazzlingly intrinsic production, but the re-release of Flume as a deluxe edition have the instrumental tracks adorned with added layers of melody and mysticism. Freddie Gibbs, How to Dress Well, Twin Shadow, and Ghostface Killah are just a few of the artists to rectify the skeletal structures of these vastly improved songs. This album is as ambitious and august as it is penetrating, a record that only seems to get better with time.
36. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
Canadian electronic art pop duo Majical Cloudz are trying to make you uncomfortable. Their music is lonely, vacant, tremulous, like a tattered flag blowing in the wind or the sun against a cloudless sky. Singer-songwriter-producer Devon Welsh’s vocals sound conscious of how strained and labored they sound. The topic of the songs on Impersonator often occupy the space of the speaker’s mind and the very process of creating a song. “I Do Sing For You” has Welsh crooning brutishly in the middle of a vast, empty room, hundreds of people standing motionless and silent, transfixed at the sullen spectacle. The record swells up with a sappy kind of emotional strain that gets debilitated and worsened towards the close. It’s real now, all that beige-colored heartbreak and solace, so real you can touch it. Wait, no, those are probably just tears.
35. The Internet – Feel Good
In all the calamity and confusion that was 2013 in music, Los Angeles rap collective Odd Future saw the exodus of two integral members: Frank Ocean and Syd Tha Kid. The Internet finds Syd Tha Kid paired with producer Matt Martians making soul-infused, down-tempo, jazz structured music. Their sophomore album is a naked approach to their first, the contours of each melody exposed and vulnerable but nonetheless provocative and alluring. The producer duo use songwriting only when necessary to advance a song, some cuts remain lagged and looped, trapped in a perpetual, swirling vacuum of groove. The album’s most rambunctious hits, “Dontcha” and “Runnin,’” are cleverly guised as pop songs, propulsive bass lines and Justin Timberlake falsettos providing the backbone for these ebullient tracks. The other cuts on Feel Good are too reckless and schizophrenic for pop songs. They might digress spontaneously, diminish to a lone rim shot drum pattern and vocal scattings, as something new. It’s hedonistic, maybe, but it’s also simple and untainted and revelatory; two kids finally getting their shit right.
34. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze
On this, the fifth studio album, solo act Kurt Vile divides all the messy dynamics of his past material with The War On Drugs. Wakin On A Pretty Daze is singular and introverted, the solitary expression of a singer-songwriter who’s been at it since the age of 14, finally able to exercise his talents to the fullest of their abilities. This record is the epitome of what stoner rock sounded like in 2013, more palpable and variant than anything on the Captured Tracks roster. The album’s single, bearing the same name, stretches beyond nine minutes, a substantial two-part rock epic that emotes with all the sonic intensity of a wind chime. “Goldtone,” the closing number, mirrors this form at ten and a half minutes, lilting and hypnotically calm. The record is lethargic, maybe jarringly so, but once you learn to channel and interpret Kurt Vile’s listless brand of musical optimism it’s kind of sublime.
33. The Darcys – Warring
Before the release of Warring, The Darcys hadn’t yet found themselves. They were caught between a rock and a hard place, having come off of a tribute album to Steely Dan and had their debut album all but forgotten. It was only appropriate then that Warring saw the group start from scratch, instead of picking up the pieces. By doing this, the band were able to veer away from their “art-rock” roots and take on a whole new image—a cleaner, more appropriated one. By polishing their sound, they found themselves creating a finely-tuned alt-rock, with all the commercial appeal of a pop band. As a result, Warring turned into an edgy but fresh effort that incorporated a heavy amount of muffled electronics and fuzzy guitar work. “747s” and “Horses Fell” saw the band forge new ground, approaching their music with a lighter touch, while “Muzzle Blast” and “The River” saw them revisit their past. All-in-all, The Darcys have created an album that, while forward-thinking, is undoubtedly accessible to the masses—at the very least, the indie-rock community.
32. Darkside – Psychic
New York-bred experimental dance music producer Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington make up the avant-garde industrial pop duo Darkside. Their debut album echoes fragments of the steady rhythmic pulse found on Jamie xx’s Coexist, with all the sereneness and sentimentality exchanged for disorder and lucidity. Electro-pop, jazz, reggae and blues are meticulously crafted above a thin layer of ambient, transforming white noise. The record’s progression is laborious and deliberate, slow-tempoed trance set to liquid guitar licks. The album is short, only eight cuts, but some tracks extend for six, seven or even eleven minutes at a time, divulging and streamlining against a merciless rage that seems to be persisting from below: the dark, seedy underbelly of a rain-soaked metropolitan city.
31. Mikal Cronin – MCII
There’s something spiritual about Mikal Cronin and MC II, as if the weight of his gospel and blues affectations rise stubbornly above all that cataclysmic, thrashed-out punk music like a glowing halo. There are tender moments, where violins serenade the space between Cronin’s own vocals. There are also more immediate intersections, where rhythms and tempos are shifty and deceptive, brash and unrelenting. On his sophomore album, the singer-songwriter is inspiring “Change,” eradicating a “Peace of Mind,” justifying his right (no, obligation) to “Shout It Out.” From here things will be different, it’s time to turn this away, the album seems to reflect. There’s a beachy kind of carelessness on MCII, you can practically taste the saltwater breeze, but it’s grounded by the heartache and internal dissension on songs like “Piano Mantra.”
30. Los Campisenos! – No Blues
Los Campesinos! have always had a tendency to conjure up relationship-fueled pop/rock. But with the release of No Blues, the band took some big steps forward. Leaving their “childish” ways behind them, No Blues saw the band take on a more mature outlook on life and love. When looking back on their older material, it is very evident that lead vocalist Gareth Campesinos! has put his quick-witted lyricism at the forefront. So as you might have guessed, this remains the case in their newest effort. Like Hello Sadness (the band’s previous LP), this new album has a rather optimistic feel to it. Gone is the heavy-handed, self-loathing that soaked up their first two projects. What we’ve been given instead is a full-bodied album that permeates strength, and—most importantly—confidence.
29. Peace – In Love
The influences behind this four-piece English rock band’s debut vary extensively. A playlist on their Spotify profile titled “Inspiration for ‘In Love,’” features “Jungle Fever” by The Chakachas, “Last Night A D.J. Saved My Life” by Indeep, Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” among The Who, Nirvana, Bowie and My Bloody Valentine. Like Vampire Weekend, they might be considered one of the most millennial rock bands of the present, encapsulating six decades worth of popular music influence. Unlike their rock predecessors, the content of tracks on In Love are jubilant and uplifting, whimsical and spunky like any good dance jam. There’s a grand, cinematic quality to these songs, an expressive story in each track to be told. Genres are melded and constraints are breached to assemble a foreign and unconventional mode of rock ‘n roll. Disorienting, alien and irresistible.
28. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse
With Pedestrian Verse, Frightened Rabbit didn’t exactly pick up where they last left off. Instead, they pushed themselves to create an album that was more accessible. While part of this decision may be lead back to Atlantic Records (the band’s new label), you get the sense that creative control was left to the band and their renowned producer, Leo Abrahams. With his help, the band were able to take risks without veering away from their trademark sound. Songs like “Backyard Skulls” and “The Woodpile” were excellent commercial offerings that kept the band’s dusty, well-worn image intact, while uprooting a newer, fresher sound. And it’s because of this that they were able to make so much headway.
27. Local Natives – Hummingbird
Where Gorilla Manor left off shuffling in the sand, baked in heat, Hummingbird, swiftly soars upward to a vacant horizon of blue to black. It’s startling how the first verse vocal penetrates so deeply and desperately. Taylor Rice has barely uttered three words and we’re already swept up in a current of heavy-weighted apathy. On their sophomore album, Local Natives create a space for their music to extrapolate, resounding and reverberating against pedantic snare drum cadences and a chorus of echo-chambered backup vocals. The melodies are taut and confined to airy backdrops before exploding in a rush of calamitous intensity. On tracks like single “Breakers” the structure never recovers, progressively urging out with greater volumes of emotional strain and hi-hat. The songs have less danceable rhythms but a much greater sense of purpose. You can trace the pain of Hummingbird like jet trails in the sky.
This is the biggest, most well-known act you are sure to see on this list. We’ve honed in on independent and underground artists for our year-end lists, excluding all the big name, mass-produced albums of the year to promote a sound less heard. But Indie Current has long since had a soft spot for Arctic Monkeys, whose humble beginnings marked their professional career with several albums that failed to reproduce their DIY perfection on records like Whatever People Say I Am That’s Not What I’m Not. Their most recent record, AM, has sonically diverged farthest from its origin, but in a grand scheme of things it feels like their resorting to the past, back to the bad beginning. The Sheffield rockers are all shean, leather and greased-back hairdos, polished to perfection. Quite literally, AM is like the Grease musical number “Grease Lightning,” where John Travolta and his ragtag gang of hooligans trade dirty overalls for leather jackets and their busted up 1948 Ford Convertible is miraculously fixed and adorned with a solitary lightning bolt. But something about it, for all its decadence, feels a little tongue-in-cheek. All the re-appropriated classic rock touchstones fashioned to each cut, the instantaneous 180-degree pivot away from the sullen, low-tempo trance of Suck It and See. Alex Turner and the boys have fixed themselves up, moved to LA with all the other hotshots and found a new groove. It sounds like they’re laughing in our faces, caked with irony, muttering slyly, “Is this what you wanted?” Still the same rebellious wankers.