2013 has been such a good year for music that as I was putting together this list, I realized great albums by beloved artists–Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, The Avett Brothers, David Bowie, Elton Freaking John–not only weren’t going to make my top 10, they weren’t going to make my top 25! This is kind of the best possible problem to have, in my opinion, except for maybe too much money or too much love. Actually, I kind of DO have the problem of too much love, in the sense that I loved too many albums to even list them all here. Hopefully that helps endorse these 10 ridiculously amazing albums that DID make my Best of 2013 list.
Disclaimer: I’m not in any way claiming these were the 10 best albums released this year. There is too much music out there for even me to listen to it all, as close as Spotify and I grew this year. And the great thing about music is how personal and subjective the experience is–what hit me might not hit you, and that’s okay! So these are the 10 albums I listened to, loved, and went back to most (it is this criteria that pushed BEYONCE into the second half of the list–I predict a few more weeks with this one and it could have cracked the top 10). These are the albums that stuck. I hope you find something here to love.
1. Wildewoman, Lucius
I saw Lucius live three times this year, including one road trip to Founders in Grand Rapids. I talked about them to anyone who would listen, and played their album in its entirety nearly every day after its release (which I’d anticipated for a full year). This was easily my favorite album of 2013, and the band I’m most excited about right now. Every song on this album is a gem–it’s the kind of album that immediately after each song I change my mind about which is my favorite. For now I’d say “How Loud Your Heart Gets,” “Wildewoman,” and “Don’t Just Sit There,” but if you ask me tomorrow I might have a completely different answer.
2. Once I Was an Eagle, Laura Marling
A major highlight of 2013 was winning a chance to see Laura Marling play live in the WXRT studio. My friend Amy and I made a summer Friday of it and got to sit right in the front row, probably ten feet away from Ms. Marling, and I was completely blown away by her voice. It’s low and rich and deep but also crystal clear. And she has better control than maybe any other singer I’ve ever heard. The first four song seamlessly blend one right in to the next and create a beautiful self-contained set, and “Master Hunter” and “Where Can I Go?” showcase the masterful writing and phrasing that make her a talent to watch.
3. White Lighter, Typhoon
This album has a huge, almost orchestral, sound, and every time I listen to it I am delighted all over again. The songs are bouncy and catchy and yet they continue to surprise me. They are infinitely hummable and the beats settle into your heart. I have been following this band for years but this was the album where they realized their potential. “Young Fathers” is one of the best singles of the year, and “Hunger and Thirst” is a big number that lights up the second half of the album. I haven’t seen them live yet, but I’m hoping to catch them in April at the Metro! You should too!
4. Muchacho, Phosphorescent
One of my best memories of 2013–one that will immediately come to mind when I think of this year in the years to come–is of standing in the middle of Union Park at Pitchfork Music Festival with some of my best friends, listening to Phosphorescent play the mesmerizing “Song for Zula.” Really the whole set was amazing, but that song in particular is a moment I wish I could bottle up and relive over and over again. This is music that makes everything else melt away, leaving behind only what is most important.
5. Repave, Volcano Choir
It’s basically a Bon Iver album, released under the name of Justin Vernon’s side project. It was a little less ambitious than last year’s Bon Iver but not one ounce less beautiful. This was the soundtrack to a good chunk of my year–it’s great working/journaling/reading music–and “Byegone” and “Comrade” hold their own against Vernon’s best songs. I have a feeling it will get many more listens as winter continues its assault; this is the kind of music you curl up to with a cup of tea, a candle, and a good book.
6. Days Are Gone, Haim
This was the year Haim took over the world. Seriously, since falling in love with them at the Gentlemen of the Road stopover in August 2012, I have watched them go from a 2-in-the-afternoon band without even a single released to a buzzy new band playing SNL to a massive headliner getting magazine covers and making every year-end best-of list. Everything that makes them great is still intact on their debut album, including the rough edges and raw energy that make their live show so much fun. Looking forward to seeing these ladies tear down the Vic in May!
7. The Blessed Unrest, Sara Bareilles
Probably no one was more surprised than Sara Bareilles when her latest album got nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy. She seems an odd choice for the Grammys to recognize–not mainstream enough to be known by most of the music-buying public, but not indie enough to have any serious artistic buzz or earn them any cred. But she does what she does–the confessional singer/songwriter thing–better than just about anybody in the business, while churning out a big mainstream hit with “Brave.” But then she can turn around and write a hauntingly beautiful song like “Manhattan.” I also got to see her this fall, and I think every person in the room wanted to be her best friend.
8. Reflektor, Arcade Fire
This was one of my most anticipated albums of 2013, and it (mostly) did not disappoint. Arcade Fire really let loose their weirdness in the runup to the release, and I loved it. The insane post-SNL concert special? Yes, please. The formal dress code for their upcoming arena tour? Bring it on! Many of the songs lived in this weirdness well (“Reflektor,” “Here Comes the Night Time”) but I didn’t love it as a whole as much I did The Suburbs. But that one took a while to grow on me, so I’m giving this one time to settle into my life and my soul.
9. Lanterns, Son Lux
I am naturally predisposed to love anything even loosely associated with Sufjan or the Asthmatic Kitty Records family. Son Lux and Sufjan make up 2/3 of Sisyphus (formerly s/s/s/, new album coming out in February!) so I have kept an ear to what Son Lux has been doing these past few years. But it wasn’t until this album that they really caught my attention. The single “Lost It To Trying” might be my favorite of the entire year–it’s one of those songs that really and truly delighted me from the first moment. But as I listened to the entire albums, songs kept jumping out to grab me (“Easy,” “Enough Of Our Machines”) and now I love Son Lux for Son Lux and not just his proximity to my main man Sufjy. Checking him out in March (can’t say I’m not hoping for a surprise Sufjan appearance).
10. I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You, Derek Webb
One of my professional highlights of 2013 was getting to interview Derek Webb in an in-house show here at Christianity Today, and then getting to post a bit of that 40-minute interview on Today’s Christian Woman. I have been a fan of his since his Caedmon’s Call days, but his solo stuff has meant more to me spiritually than almost any other artist. This new album, in particular, articulates so much of what I’ve been thinking and feeling these past few years, and renews my commitment to and hope for Christ’s church. Lauren and I both got to see him in May: here are her thoughts on that beautiful show.
15 more albums I really enjoyed in 2013:
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko Case
Pedestrian Verse, Frightened Rabbit
Push the Sky Away, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Trouble Will Find Me, The National
The Civil Wars, The Civil Wars
Pure Heroine, Lorde
San Fermin, San Fermin
The Bones of What You Believe, CHVRCHES
The Speed of Things, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Secondhand Rapture, MS MR
Bad Blood, Bastille
We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Foxygen
We the Common, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
The Lone Bellow, The Lone Bellow
For your discovery and delight, here’s a playlist of my favorite songs of 2013, including many songs from the albums above:
Before you say goodbye to 2013, revisit the year’s musical highlights share your own favorites in the comments. If there’s one thing I love more than sharing old favorites, it’s discovering new ones!