YEAR IN REVIEW: My favorite albums of 2013

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

…Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age  (81/100)

“Refreshing” is the word that comes to mind.  …Like Clockwork is definitely the purest rock album we’ve had in years.  No gimmicks, no sell out songs,  just loud guitar riffs, pounding drums, and the occasional piano.

Reflektor by Arcade Fire (77/100)

Reflektor is by no means a perfect Arcade Fire record, but people tend to hold the band to a much higher standard.  I think Reflektor‘s problem isn’t the fact that they tried something new, but that it has more just-ok, don’t-really-give-it-a-second-thought songs (“Flashbulb Eyes”, “Here Comes the Night II”, “Joan of Arc,”) than any of their other works.  But then there are songs like the title track, “Awful Sound” and “Porno” that are so intricately put together that it makes up for any other tracks that might be lacking a little something.  I’m a much bigger fan of disc 2 over disc 1, but the album as a whole is quite indulging.

Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend (74/100)

To me, Vampire Weekend is a band everyone is embarrassed about liking.  You don’t feel cool saying that you’re listening to them, but you know you want to listen.  Modern Vampires of the City is by far the band’s best album.  It’s extremely playful and upbeat; great for a summer day at the beach.  Every song has it’s own personality.

Yeesus by Kanye West (73/100)

What seems like a one dimensional record (every track is in your face, confrontational) is probably Kanye’s most complex.  The lyrics are a less welcoming here, a little more vulgar and up front.  Not many clever or funny metaphor, he’s just telling it how it is.  I think that’s what turns people off initially.  But the music is genius.  Every time Justin Vernon comes in you get chills, the guitar solo on “Hold My Liquor” is perfectly out of place,  the brass sections throughout the album are jarring but wonderful, and every time a song suddenly gets interrupted by a soul sample, you laugh for a second, and then are captivated.

Random Access Memories by Daft Punk  (72/100)

When I first heard the album I thought it was great (had it as a 79/100 after the first month).  With a sound that spanned the genres of rock, pop, funk, jazz, show tunes, and of course electronic dance music, they utilized live music than computer sounds, and vocals to cover the monotony of their loops, creating extremely deep soundscapes.  I’m not sure if it was the over exposure to Get Lucky from the radio  that turns me off now, or that i find it too perfect sounding, but for whatever reason the album really didn’t have too much replay value.  That’s why what seemed like the sure fire album of the year when it first came out, is now  lower on the totem.

Holy Fire by Foals (72/100)

Holy Fire‘s a really fun, accessible album where all the moving parts work together well.  “Inhaler” and “My Number” are instant classics, but a little too poppy and formulaic when comparing it to Foal’s other works.  It lacked the personality of Total Life Forever and creativity of Antidotes, while still sounding 100% like Foals.

Run the Jewels by EL-P and Killer Mike (71/100)

Hip-hop doesn’t go hard like this nearly enough anymore.  Track after track of pounding beats, and friendly back and forths .  Lyrics are in no way earth shattering but it’s a nice mix of intelligent lines, openly obvious rap clichés and sex jokes.  The album’s plain fun all around.

Days Are Gone by Haim (69/100)

Most people will probably see Lorde as the breakout artist of the year, but I think Haim put out the much better record.  A fun fusion of 80’s pop and indie folk rock, Days Are Gone was the feel good album of the year, and reminds me of Foster the People’s debut a few years back (although I think this is a much better, more serious album).  “The Wire” and “Falling” are the obvious stars, but “Don’t Save Me,” “Forever” and “Let Me Go” are hidden gems.

Trouble Will Find Me by The National (68/100)

A very consistent and somewhat predictably structured album.  The tracks seem to alternate between soft acoustic guitars or piano, and fast paced drum patterns.  All the songs are good (“Fireproof” is the strongest) but do sound a bit too similar.

Monomania by Deerhunter (66/100)

A very solid album but the problem I had with Monomania is I didn’t absolutely love any tracks.  I guess “The Missing” and “T.H.M.” would be my favorites, but it’s really hard to pick one out of the crowd.  It’s a strong showing from the band but could have been stronger.

The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake (66/100)

JT’s best album, The 20/20 Experience  is catchy, creative and a little over the top.  The beats are fun but drag on at times.  Definitely the best pure-pop album of 2013.

Grownass Man by The Shouting Matches (63/100)

Possible Justin Vernon’s take on the Black Keys, Grownass Man brings southern rock to a garage-band atmosphere.  The band doesn’t at all rely on Vernon’s usually easily recognizable voice, and instead lets the music do all the work.  Whether the upbeat “Mother, When?” the soulful “Gallup, NM” or one of the various instrumentals on the record, Grownass Man has a little bit of something for any rock fan.

Bankrupt! by Phoenix (62/100)

My opinion hasn’t changed since I first reviewed Bankrupt! in mid May.  It’s a fun album that could have done so much more to be different from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.  It’s good, but feels lazy and safe.

AM by Arctic Monkeys (59/100)

I’ve never been a big Arctic Monkeys fan so I know I’ll have AM a lot lower on my list than most.  AM might actually be my favorite of their albums, and has 3 great songs that mix their new and old styles really well (“Do I Wanna Know?” “R U Mine?” “Fireside”).  But a lot of the others sound pretty similar, and sometimes move forward without too much excitement.

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