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Top 50 Albums of 2013


50. Broadcast 'Berberian Sound Studio'

Broadcast 'Berberian Sound Studio'
It's impossible to hear Broadcast's Berberian Sound Studio soundtrack as anything but an album haunted by the presence of Trish Keenan, the singer who tragically passed away two years before its release. Which is, of course, its power. Though the score to a film, Berberian Sound Studio further explores the band's obsession with Radiophonic-Workshop-inspired storytelling-in-sound. In many ways, Broadcast's soundtrack is more successful than Peter Strickland's picture (which chronicles a sound engineer at work with foley on an Italian gialli in the '70s) at its own goal: creating a sense of the uneasy, uncanny, and unexplainable. In Berberian Sound Studio, there's the cinematic approximation of a haunting; but when Keenan carols on "Teresa, Lark of Ascension" in a voice of unearthly beauty, the haunting feels far more literal.

49. Deerhunter 'Monomania'

Deerhunter 'Monomania'

Deerhunter's 2010 opus Halcyon Digest and Atlas Sound's gorgeous Parallax were an elegant set of sister records; twin longplaying studies in temporality and mortality. Bradford Cox sung about the unstoppable march of time, and it was symbolized by the fact that the guy who once wore dresses on stage and titled an LP Turn It Up, Faggot was growing up. Only here comes Monomania, swinging wildly in the other direction: its press shot showing the entire band in dresses. Musically, its 'nocturnal garage' shows a love of magnetic tape, of noisiness, of dissonance; and scans as occasionally obstreperous in comparison to its predecessor. Here, Deerhunter get ragged; the fried squalls of "Leather Jacket II," gnarly skiffle of "Pensacola," and throttling metal machine music of "Monomania" cranking up the amps and frolicking in the tape hiss. 

48. Ducktails 'The Flower Lane'

Ducktails 'The Flower Lane'
Ducktails was always just the 'solo' project for Real Estate's Matt Mondanile, with the tacit assumption that it would always be just him, at essence. The fourth Ducktails LP, The Flower Lane, changes that perception, even if Mondanile remains unalterably at its core. Exchanging chillwave's haze for the gloss of early '80s pop, Mondanile ropes in Cults' Madeline Follin, Jersey power-poppers Big Troubles, and Software nerds Ford & Lopatin, polishes the sax and gleams the synths, and sets out to summon Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout et al. "Letter of Intent" stands as single symbolic: Mondanile letting Future Shuttles' Jessa Farkas and Big Trouble bro Ian Drennan knock out a duet. In the space of five minutes, Ducktails becomes something completely new, sounding better than it ever has.

47. Young Dreams 'Between Places'

Young Dreams 'Between Places'
Young Dreams announced their existence, back in 2011, with their eponymous anthem, a jam yearning for the bright lights and big hopes beyond hometowns, beyond today, beyond the grave. "We'll live forever," Matias Tellez and his big band sing; conversing in sentiments of daydreamers immemorial. On "Dream Alone, Wake Together," they dare to carol: "we'll make a new declaration/so maybe the next generation/will see this worthless history/turn into obscurity/words will form of symphony/of things that we don't get around to." They're grand, Arcade-Fire-wins-a-Grammy sentiments given a grand treatment: stadium-sized synths, cascading choral parts, twittering woodwinds, fluttering harps, borrowed Mozart motifs, Beach Boys harmonies. Their dreams are young, and big, and thus far colored with giddy optimism.

46. Shine 2009 'Our Nation'

Shine 2009 'Our Nation'

Releasing 2011’s ironically-titled Realism, Finnish synth-pop duo Shine 2009 found themselves in an surreally internationalist place: based in Helsinki, recording in LA (with Paula Abdul!), sounding like an early-’90s London piano-house act, signing to a label from Sydney. That sense of banal globalism —and the internet's endemic placelessness— serves as the thematic spur for Shine 2009's second record, Our Nation, a longplaying study of what it means to be ‘from’ anywhere in an online era. “Welcome to my town/the heart of Finland,” Sami Suova sings, on "Suomen Sydän," but it’s not ’til he drops the next verse in Finnish that the familiar gives way to the foreign; that there's a sense that this music comes from anywhere other than the blogosphere. By personalizing their employment of cultural kitsch, Shine 2009 change its tenor; passé ’90s sounds no longer signifiers of pastiche, but memory.

45. Club 8 'Above the City'

Club 8 'Above the City'
Club 8's last LP, The People's Record, was one of 2010's best albums, and three years on, the Swedish duo return with a follow-up every bit its equal. Above the City, the band's eighth album, continues their giddy devotion to melody and harmony, hook and refrain. Like so many Swedes, Club 8 are pop obsessives, with Johan Angergård a PHD student in the history of twee, and Karolina Komstedt having one of those melted-snow voices, pure and clear. After The People's Record was summery, Balearic, and tinged with Highlife-like guitar, Above the City turns more windswept and synthy; the change effectively marking the difference between indie-pop from 2010 to 2013. As pop purists, what really matter are the songs, though; and jams like the romantic "A Small Piece of Heaven" and the string-swept "I'm Not Gonna Grow Old" are amongst the best Club 8 have ever penned.

44. Various 'After Dark 2'

After Dark 2
Italians Do It Better

After Dark 2 was never meant to be on a Best Albums of 2013 list: it was supposed to come out in 2012. But if famous stickler Johnny Jewel —the downbeat-disco producer behind the Italians Do It Better imprint and label acts Glass Candy, Chromatics, Desire, Symmetry, Mirage, and Farah— didn't make us wait, it wouldn't feel the same. The follow-up to 2007's After Dark was never going to have the definitive, sound-minting, statement-making quality of its predecessor, but, in terms of pure sound, After Dark 2 shows Jewel in fine form. Desire's "Tears from Heaven" and Chromatics "Cherry" are great, but the album's defined by its four songs by Glass Candy, which are a sublime reminder that Ida No is one of pop music's great mystics, and that we've been awaiting GC's LP Body Work for a really long time. 

43. Molly Nilsson 'The Travels'

Molly Nilsson 'The Travels'
Dark Skies Association

Calling a song "The Power Ballad" seems like a piece of easy indie-musician irony, but Swedish synth-pop minimalist Molly Nilsson is making a joke as deadpan as her lyrical delivery. Her dinky, jaunty, handclappy tune has none of the hallmarks of power-balladry; instead, it's a sentimental song about power in society, a lament not for love-lost but for the way church/state/media/fashion serve as systems of oppression. Now five matching-two-tone-geometric LPs into a cult career, Nilsson's ever-wry lyrics are better than ever; managing to be both silly and pointed. "I wanna be a sister to you/and do things normal siblings don't do," she smirks, mid-standout "Philadelphia," and the line is at once comic and romantic. Her record is full of smart (and smart-ass) lyrics, situating Nilsson —and the friends and lovers she sings about and to— as perpetual outsiders content with that status.

42. Misfit Mod 'Islands & Islands'

Misfit Mod 'Islands & Islands'
Stars & Letters
Were this a countdown of 2013's most overlooked records, the debut LP for Misfit Mod might sit atop it. Sarah Kelleher —the London-based, Auckland-raised ex-pat behind the project— makes swoony synth-pop songs (like "Valleys") that are stark, repetitive, and hypnotic, singing her lyrical refrains as if incantations. Like El Perro del Mar, she turns repetition into revelation, achieving a state of transcendence and grace with, say, every utterance of the phrase "let's get higher." It's as if, faced with the ephemeral nature of existence, Kelleher sings these things, plays these same beats, over and over in hopes of achieving a feeling of fleeting permanence. Terms like simple or repetitive are conditioned to be critical pejoratives, but Kelleher uses them as powerful compositional tools.

41. Standish/Carlyon 'Deleted Scenes'

Standish/Carlyon 'Deleted Scenes'
Once members of louche mood-rockers the Devastations, Standish/Carlyon —a duo rebranded like a new ad agency— set out, instead, to explore a sound that (to borrow Kevin Shields' phrase) is "the opposite of rock'n'roll." Deleted Scenes draws from shoegaze fuzz, dub's echo-obsession, and new-wave's foppish pomp to stage an album in which gleaming surfaces and swirling atmospherics do nothing to disguise the exquisite emptiness at its centre. It's a work more concerned with decay than attack, a form of ambient music made by radically abstracting old pop forms; its spectral slow-jams like the distant ghosts of long-dead '80s power-ballads. Where countless '80s-synth-pop-revival records released in 2013 seemed blissfully unaware of their emptiness, Standish/Carlyon made that very idea their central thesis.
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