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The AbsolutePunk.net Top 30 Albums of 2013

Posted by - 03:16 AM on 12/17/13
I'd like to formally welcome you all to the end of 2013. We thought we'd celebrate by unleashing our AbsolutePunk.net Top 30 albums of the year. Compiled from all of the AP.net staff's EOTY lists (which can be found here), we've once again released one of the most complete and eclectic lists you'll see from any publication. From death metal to indie to defend pop punk to #emorevival, we have it all. So I'll shut up now and let our list do the rest of the talking - check it out in the replies. As always, your thoughts, opinions, and disagreements are welcomed. 2013 was a great year for the music world once again - here's to 2014.
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03:16 AM on 12/17/13
Drew Beringer
Senior Editor - @drewberinger - Locked Groove
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ContributorsDrew Beringer [DB]; Chris Collum [CC]; Ryan Dennehy [RD]; Jake Denning [JD]; Kelly Doherty [KD]; Zac Djamoos [ZD]; Jake Jenkins [JJ]; Craig Manning [CM]; Thomas Nassiff [TN]; Cody Nelson [CN]; Deborah Remus [DR]; Blake Solomon [BS]; Anthony Sorendino [AS]; Jason Tate [JT]

30 | Modern Life Is War | Fever Hunting | Deathwish
Man, it's nice to have the Iowa hardcore veterans back. After taking a five year hiatus after 2008's Midnight in America, Modern Life Is War roared back in 2013 with what could be the quintet's best effort yet, the riveting Fever Hunting. The 11 track effort has MLIW going back to the basics while throwing in a few curveballs. The screeching intro of "Old Fears New Frontiers" finds it way to Jeffrey Eaton's unforgiving bark. "Chasing My Tail" and "Media Cunt" keep up the intensity, while the title track and "Brothers In Arms Forever" serve up some of the most resonating and emotional hardcore of the year. Modern Life Is War's brand of hardcore is precise and powerful, harboring just enough hope to guide you through. [DB]

29 | letlive. | The Blackest Beautiful | Epitaph
With their 2010 breakthrough Fake History hailed as a "hugely entertaining and inventive" "lesson in the pure power of music" that "could also pique the interest of some of the genre’s disenfranchised old guard," it's fair to say there was a lot of pressure on letlive. - and they delivered with what is arguably the most challenging post-hardcore album of the year. Damn few bands like this would open an album with a rap-influenced song like "Banshee;" it takes a special talent to make that work not only as a song, but in the context an album. Somehow it makes perfect sense that the slow "Virgin Dirt" builds to one of the most chaotic bridges the band's ever written, then flows seamlessly into "Younger," the poppiest song of their career, then into the electronic intro of the blistering "The Dope Beat." And while, yes, the production is more than a bit questionable, the intensity behind the songs makes up for it. When Jason Butler tells you he'll "raise hell 'til it's high enough to be heaven," he not only makes you believe him, he makes you want to join him. Listen up, because letlive. are here to fulfill every one of your dreams. [ZD]

27 | Haim | Days are Gone | Polydor/Columbia
One of the hardest things to do in the music scene is living up to the hype bestowed upon you by critics and buzz blogs alike, and the Los Angeles trio of sisters, Haim, had plenty of it. Which is what makes the band's debut album, Days Are Gone, one of the biggest delights of 2013. Not only did Haim deliver on their promise and potential, they exceeded it. Songs like "The Wire" and "Falling" are the sure-fire hits, but it's the deep cuts like "Don't Save Me," "My Song 5," and "Go Slow" that shows off the substance. Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim have created an album that's a mixture of the past, present, and future of pop ("If I Could Change Your Mind" and "Honey & I" are two delicious examples), making Days are Gone one of, if not the most, essential pop record of 2013. [DB]

27 | Defeater | Letters Home | Bridge Nine
There's few hardcore bands that are as emotive and brutal as Defeater. The Massachusetts band are responsible for some of the best punk albums of the 21st century and Letters Home is no exception. Less complex and dynamic than its predecessor but holding just as much impact, Letters Home is a ferocious, emotional continuation of Defeater's dysfunctional family storyline. Derek Archambault's vocals are more impressive than ever before - rough and angry, yet emotive, the band are impossibly tight and the lyrics are devastating. Whilst the record is simplistic, it's hard to see if Defeater could have written an album more perfect for this stage in their career. The sheer power and confidence exuded by the band on tracks such as "No Savior" and "Bled Out" show they're at the top of their career. Long may they stay the most reliable punk band around today. [KD]

26 | Jon Hopkins | Immunity | Domino
The roiling, viscous acid of “Open Eye Signal” pulls a trick that doesn’t reveal itself until well after its runtime is over. It’s arguably one of the years most massive and undeniable floor-fillers, but it goes beyond that. The writhing pulsations manage to double as ambient music, an impossibly tranquil affectation that rises from the thuds of feet and bass. Throughout the rest of his fourth album, Jon Hopkins manages to lay hands on the legacy of ambient grandfather and collaborator Brian Eno, dragging it onto the dance floor and watching the softest edges flake away beneath his touch. Eno’s influence is most palpable on the closing title track, which incorporates the sound of Hopkins’ piano pedal into the rhythmic atmosphere or elsewhere when the sounds of the shore breaches the album. By cracking open the alien forms of acid house and techno to let organic influence seep in, Hopkins accomplishes more than his mission statement of capturing the feelings of a night out. The shorn-off bass edges of “Breathe This Air,” which is a masterful melding of ambient and dance, are tinged with longing and regret, but the albums centerpiece is the one-two of the punishing throb of “Collider” and the exhausted, mournful “Abandon Window.” The latter ranks among the most emotive moments of the year, an ambient drift of piano over the rush of wind and water that eventually finds you lost in the atmosphere. Immunity never falters, never fails to permeate the space around you - whether that’s on the club floor or in the cushioned, safe space of your headphones is irrelevant. The only option available is to let the tide of wind swept in by the opening door on “We Disappear” carry you wherever Hopkins chooses. [RD]

25 | Frightened Rabbit | Pedestrian Verse | Atlantic
No matter what mood I was in this year, I never once hesitated to give this album a spin. From the humming bass lines of "Backyard Skulls" to the introverted tones of "The Woodpile" or "Holy," you'll be hard pressed to choose a favorite track off of Pedestrian Verse. The band surrounded this album with two EPs, State Hospital and Late March, Death March both equally as enjoyable as the full length. The amount of quality content that this band churns out results in one of the most impressive discographies out there. Scott Hutchinson has proved to be one of the most talented lyricists of this age, and the music and melodies that come with those lyrics are refreshing and memorable. Don't let your guard down when, after 9 tracks you've yet to hit a speed bump. Frightened Rabbit saves the best for last with the gripping, guitar led "Nitrous Gas" and the hopeful "Oil Slick" where Hutchinson closes the album with: "We've still got hope so I think we'll be fine / in these disastrous times." [AS]

23 | Captain We're Sinking | The Future is Canceled | Run For Cover
It's kind of strange - for such a fun, catchy album, The Future is Cancelled tackled some decidedly serious topics. From alcoholism to decaying marriage to death, there's little solace to be found in the lyrics to the record. Which is also strange, since listening to the album is such a refreshing experience. There's something liberating in shouting that "I crossed the line/ of being out of my fucking mind." There's something beautiful in the time change in the title track. There's something heartbreaking in the bridge of "A Bitter Divorce" and the harsh lyric, "I made a list of everything that I despise/ and I wrote your name down several times." There are little moments in each song that'll ingrain themselves in your head, whether it be a lyric, a riff, or even an odd pronunciation. It sticks with you, and eventually it'll mean something to you. [ZD]

23 | A Day To Remember | Common Courtesy | Self-Released
I’ll come right out and say it, Common Courtesy is exactly what A Day To Remember needed at exactly the right time - let’s be honest here, if you’re a fan of the band, then most of you were definitely able to wait 3 years for a new album, especially since their back catalogue holds up. However, not all fans felt the same way as the majority. Because this album took a little longer getting to everyone, this was a “do or die” situation - if for some reason the album flops, then can you really tour off of your past material for another couple of years? Probably not very successfully. What really paid off for the band is that they listened - they realized they have fans that prefer some of the faster pop-punk styled songs (“City of Ocala”, “Right Back At It Again”), some who crave the breakdown filled bangers (“Dead and Buried”, “Life Lessons Learned The Hard Way”, “Violence”), as well as those who really enjoy the softer acoustic selections (“I’m Already Gone”, “End of Me”). No matter what you preferred, there was something for you to enjoy on this album. Heck, even our founder Jason Tate (who I’m pretty sure has never listened to an ADTR song beforehand) liked a couple of these songs, particularly “Life @ 11”. Common Courtesy is without question the band’s finest offering to date, and will continue to allow them to “take over the world”. No fucking respect? Nah, all the fucking respect. See you at the next show! [JD]

22 | Paramore | Paramore | Fueled By Ramen
This self-titled album isn't my favorite Paramore record, but I feel comfortable saying it's the band's best work. Hayley Williams and Co. could have folded their hand after the departure of the Farro brothers, but they instead responded with the band's most dynamic album to date and a career year for the act. Never has Paramore been more in the direct eyesight of any average American than they are now, and that's a beautiful thing. It's beautiful because Hayley Williams is the kind of woman that people want their daughters to look up to; it's beautiful because young music listeners can simultaneously be exposed to smart powerpop like "Still Into You" and crashing indie-rock like the closing "Future." Paramore is proof positive that this band has the ability to do anything they want to do; the band's world tour is proof positive (again) that Williams can be a world-conquering frontwoman; 2013 as a whole is proof positive that Taylor York and Jeremy Davis are much more than two guys playing in the background. If Paramore becomes the biggest band in the world, I would still want more for them. [TN]

20 | The Front Bottoms | Talon of the Hawk | Bar/None
Not everything has to be complicated. With Talon of the Hawk, The Front Bottoms take all those things we blog about being oh-so-confusing and break them down with exacting precision. Like on “Funny You Should Ask,” Brian Sella sings in his signature snotty style, “Honey, y’gotta learn that love is simple just like mud,” and you just think YEP. Talon of the Hawk is one of those jangly, folk-indebted punk albums that sounds half like life on the road and half like a depressing basement bedroom. Seeing the band live this year, and hearing the heartbreaking first verse of “Twin Size Mattress,” makes clear that the band’s easygoing outer shell is hiding a tightly orchestrated band with only the biggest goals. People get excited about records like Talon of the Hawk and that’s great, but many times it ends up sounding more like a final statement than a turning point. We act shocked that a band makes a record like this, then immediately prepare for its follow-up to fall short. So while this album feels like a fresh take on the age-old dilemma of being 28-ish, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect more with time. On closer “Everything I Own,” Sella delivers a gut-punch in the form of, “Sometimes you get sad when we’re together / Because you’re not sure if you’ll miss me when I’m gone.” I can say without a doubt that I will miss The Front Bottoms, but I’m also sure that I won’t have to worry about that for a long, long time.[BS]

20 | Fall Out Boy | Save Rock and Roll | Island
In his 2011 memoir, Butch Walker called Patrick Stump a "force of nature." He was talking about the time he’d worked with Fall Out Boy on 2007’s Infinity on High and heard just how much soul Stump could cram into his wild wail of a voice. At the time, Stump explained to Walker that his audience wasn’t going to let him use his true instrument just yet. His emo/pop-punk roots were confining him to a particular vocal style, and just like Marty McFly taking "Johnny B. Goode" back to 1955 and shredding a mad guitar solo, the kids weren’t ready for it yet. Six years later, though, with Walker in the producer’s chair for a full-length album and Fall Out Boy making a comeback after a lengthy hiatus, the time has come for Stump to take his place as one of the finest vocalists in modern pop music. He does so right off the bat, giving himself over to complete reckless abandon on the propulsive opener that is "The Phoenix." From there, Fall Out Boy craft one stellar pop anthem after another, slinging intentional melodic callbacks to some of the last decade’s biggest hits (Rihanna’s "Umbrella" on the infectious "Alone Together," Adele’s "Rolling in the Deep" on the Foxes-featuring "One More Yesterday," Train’s "Hey Soul Sister" on the kinetic "Young Volcanoes"), and executing surprise guest spots (Courtney Love on the spitfire burst of "Rat-a-Tat" and Sir. Elton John on the near-perfect title track) in an effort to make good on the pure audaciousness of the album title. Through it all, Walker wraps the songs in some of his best and most bombastic production to date, teaming with Stump’s unbeatable voice to turn Save Rock and Roll into this year’s most definitive spin on the larger-than-life pop album. [CM]

18 | John Mayer | Paradise Valley | Columbia/Sony
When John Mayer released Born and Raised in early summer 2012, it appeased many listeners (and for good reason; it's a great record), but the curveball folk/country hybrid planted a somewhat disheartening seed in the back of some fans' heads as well. Is the solo-friendly, noodle-faced Mayer of years past officially a memory? Did the move to Montana permanently redirect his creative mindset? The time away and sonic far cry made fans wonder about what his career trajectory would look like now. It only takes about two minutes of Paradise Valley's opener "Wildfire" to show us that while John hasn't forgotten where he came from, it certainly isn't where he is now. Merging the homegrown charm of B&R while incorporating 70's soft-rock sensibilities and guitar-heavy arrangements popularized by the Fleetwood Macs and Jackson Brownes of the world, Valley isn't quite the Mayer of albums past, but it's one we can easily get used to. Containing tracks that hearken back to the era of country road songs ("You're No One 'til Someone Lets You Down") as well as potential Mellow Mafia b-sides ("On the Way Home," "I Will Be Found"), Mayer keeps his influences openly on the front burner, but by mixing in his inimitable guitar technique and songwriting prowess, the final result is a record that couldn't have been made by anyone else. While not without its flaws (Katy Perry duet "Who You Love" and Frank Ocean spotlighter "Wildfire," neither bad tracks, are both glaring interlopers), Paradise Valley is a smooth, groovy listen in to an artist listening to his heroes, and if Mayer continues to venture down this path, that's far from a bad thing. [CN]

18 | Have Mercy | The Earth Pushed Back | Topshelf
Have Mercy's The Earth Pushed Back was quite a surprise. It came out of nowhere and hit us with the power of a handful of modern emo albums. Perfectly balancing the emotion and familiarity associated with emo and the harshness of post-hardcore, The Earth Pushed Back is a cohesive, flowing album which manages to be irresistible and abrasive. With highlights such as the dynamic "This Old Ark", "Let's Talk About Your Hair" and "When I Sleep", Have Mercy establish themselves as one of the strongest bands of the Topshelf Records generation. If this is the band's debut, we can only imagine where they're going to go from here. [KD]

17 | The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die | Whenever, If Ever | Topshelf
I feel like we can "blame" the whole #emorevival thing on The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, no? All joking aside, it was a massive 2013 for one of the genre's most important bands. TWIABP's debut full-length, Whenever, If Ever, takes plenty of lefts in its music when you’re expecting rights, making it Topshelf's first ever release to crack the Top 200. Add in tours with Brand New, Caspian, and more and you have a band that honestly kind of revived emo (or at least all the think pieces about it). Post-rock tendencies are met with horns-aplenty and juxtaposed against incredibly catchy pop-punk-esque hooks. The way TWIABP transitions from dreamy soundscapes to a spastic kind of pop-punk is truly fascinating (it’s executed perfectly again on moog-friendly “You Will Never Go To Space,” as well as in reverse on “Layers of Skin We Drag Around”) and a major reason why this album has resonated with so many listeners. TWIABP's knack for weaving passionate lyrics with unpredictable music has been well-known for the last few years - thanks to the numerous extended plays and splits the band released. The accumulation of all those releases and basement shows have resulted in Whenever, If Ever. It's the genre's gold standard in 2013 - the kind of LP you want playing when you take that leap into the great abyss. [DB]

16 | Jimmy Eat World | Damage | RCA
It would be a lie to say that Jimmy Eat World's most recent album is the strongest in their back catalogue, however it is yet another stellar record from the elder statesmen of emo music. Far more straight up than its predecessor Invented, Damage harks back to JEW's early years with a set of full bodied pop-rock anthems. Described by Jim Adkins as an 'adult break-up record', Damage shows that JEW will always be the perfect band for the everyman. With a rough and ready production and a live feel, Damage sounds like the perfect reaction to the demise of a long term relationship. and is a record for any JEW fan. The anthemic roarers of "Appreciation" and "I Will Steal You Back" show them at their stadium rocker best, "Please Say No" and "Lean" cater to those who love the band's vulnerable side. While Damage is certainly not their most exciting record, it's as reliable as we've come to expect from them and is an all-round, solid album. [KD]

15 | Shad | Flying Colours | Black Box
One can't say an artist is in a league of their own without having evidence to back that statement up. In this case, then, it's a good thing that Canadian rap sensation Shad (sorry, man, I had to) is four records deep, because now that his latest release Flying Colours has had time to sink in, it's never been clearer that what he's doing is a step above the rest. In a genre where fans see artists' careers become complacent or unintentionally self-parodying, Shad often wonders if the passion he puts into his music will extend past what he's currently working on, leading him to release nearly all his records under the possible pretense that they will be his last, and this would explain why he's only gotten exponentially better. Highly proficient in terms of diction and cadence, Shad's flow is far from hindered by a track's BPM, and he raps gracefully over a wide sonic production gamut that runs from uplifting with bombastic percussion ("Remember To Remember") to eliciting thoughts of regret through subtle horns and arpeggiated piano ("He Say She Say"). His talent extends past rapping proper as well, as over Flying Colours' near-hour runtime, it's the lyricism that's on true display. Skillfully constructing verses that integrate anything from bone-dry wit & triviality to political and social messages, self-reflection & statements of faith, Shad's words are an amalgam of topics that are typically found in rap music, and his ease at tackling both playful and difficult subjects is a large part of his appeal (managing to address race relations, common issues with some rap fans, being accused of making songs to get women and having time to mention Thai food all organically in one verse is no easy feat). All in all, many of the reasons people enjoy hip-hop can be found somewhere within Flying Colours, and what makes Shad one of the most consummate artists in the genre is the fact that overarching accessibility isn't made at the expense of talent and creative purity. Whether or not we get album #5 from Mr. Kabango is yet to be seen, but should he end on this go-around, it's nice to know that he cared enough about us and himself to want to go out on top. [CN]

14 | Sara Bareilles | The Blessed Unrest | Epic
"To get yourself a new life, you've got to give the other one away." This phrase soars amidst the last minute of "December," the closing track on Sara Bareilles' magnificent third release The Blessed Unrest, and what a life it was that she so abruptly departed. Hot on the heels of one of the decade's most assured pop records, her sophomore album Kaleidoscope Heart, Bareilles up and left the golden coast responsible for the bright production & carefree melodies strewn about her career to that point and headed to the Big Apple. The result of that relocation was a noticeably darker and awe-striking subconsciously conceptual record, the best audio dedication to the East Coast since Billy Joel gave us Turnstiles. Whether she's proving her worth at radio-tailored fodder with tracks like lead single "Brave," baring her soul with powerful stripped-down introspection in "Manhattan" and "Islands," or eschewing the limits of conventional pop arrangements, working with quasi-dissonant chord progressions & more experimental vocal arrangements in songs like "Hercules" and "Satellite Call," Bareilles proves she is a musical force to be reckoned with in a myriad of ways. Now, I say 'subconsciously conceptual,' because outside of three or four tracks, New York's influence on Unrest is wholly implicit, but that works in the record's favor. New York is an overwhelming, ever-changing city, especially to a transplant, and Unrest perfectly conveys that perpetual feeling of flux and possibility, as over its 50-minute runtime, Bareilles bounces repeatedly from wall to wall with the styles found on The Blessed Unrest; luckily for us, not once did the end result feel as if she was 'trying something out.' To say I'm excited to see where her career goes next is an understatement, because as we all know, after Turnstiles, Billy Joel released The Stranger. [CN]

13 | A Wilhelm Scream | Partycrasher | No Idea
Of all the awesome punk records that were released in 2013 this one managed to chart the highest on our list and that's probably because A Wilhelm Scream continues to prove it's one of the best when it comes to thrashy, technical punk rock. The album starts off at a blistering pace with "Boat Builders" and continues that way throughout the remaining ten tracks just like you'd probably expect. One of the best tracks is probably "Devil Don't Know" just because it's classic AWS with its metallic riffs and multiple refrains that are perfect for shouting along with in the pit. It might have been six years since Career Suicide was released, but Partycrasher wastes no time assuring fans that the band hasn't lost its touch. [DR]

12 | Justin Timberlake | The 20/20 Experience Part 1 | RCA
Before The 20/20 Experience became a sprawling double album, it was the ambitious comeback project of a guy who had been away from the music game for the better part of seven years. The album’s first single, the sultry "Suit and Tie," played the return safely, steering toward Timberlake’s wheelhouse dancefloor pop and getting one of his famous friends - an out-of-place Jay Z - to endorse it with a guest feature. However, from the moment The 20/20 Experience started streaming on iTunes, it was clear that this JT was a different one than the guy we’d left in 2006. Gone were the urban rhythms and dark atmospherics of FutureSex/LoveSounds, replaced here by the swooning neo-soul of classic-soundtrack-worthy opening track, an eight-minute melange of orchestral string sections and gorgeous falsetto lines called "Pusher Love Girl." The rest of the record was every bit as ambitious, with an average track length of seven minutes and with songs that featured towering eighties-style guitar solos (the Prince-aping "Spaceship Coupe"), hip-shaking Latin grooves (the steady crescendo of "Let the Groove Get In"), and arena rock textures ("Mirrors"). Sure, Timberlake can still swing a perfectly simplistic pop song without breaking a sweat (see "That Girl"), and his vocals have never been better than on the sobering and restrained "Blue Ocean Floor." But in an age of boring blockbuster pop albums, filled to the brim with lyrical cliches, cookie-cutter melodies, and repetitious production techniques, Timberlake proved that he could still be a relevant industry fixture not simply for his voice, hooks, or looks, but also for his willingness to push the envelope and create music that is at once challenging, creative, and cool. [CM]

11 | Arcade Fire | Reflektor | Merge
For a band that seemed to unite everyone with their debut record nine years ago, Arcade Fire have been releasing incredibly divisive music pretty much ever since. Reflektor, a sprawling double album where the average track length is about 5:22 – and that’s only with the blatantly unnecessary ocean of noise at the end of "Supersymmetry" excised – is the band’s most polarizing album to date. It’s also one of their best, parlaying influences from dance music and Greek mythology (to name a few) into a collection that is reminiscent of U2’s Achtung Baby in the way it departs from the band’s past work, but still keeps their core elements (stadium-sized earnestness, full-bodied arrangements, a reverence for classic rock and pop music) intact. Davie Bowie shows up on the glammy title track, "Joan of Arc" is kinetic Talking Heads new wave, and "Awful Sound" is downright Springsteenian in its escapist themes. Elsewhere, the band sets fire to the proceedings on "Normal Person," a venomous, Stones-like rocker with a blistering guitar riff, while "Here Comes the Night Time" uses Haitian grooves and spinning wheel piano chords to create a topsy-turvy carnivalesque atmosphere. Finally, frontman Win Butler provides the album’s most emotive moments on the late-album one-two punch of "Porno," an electro-pop disco ballad, and "Afterlife," a masterful gem which continues Arcade Fire’s tradition of leaving huge album highlights in the penultimate slot. None of it is as perfect or immediate as "Wake Up" or "Rebellion (Lies)," but it all does justice to the indulgent double album format in a way no other band has in years. [CM]

9 | Moving Mountains | Moving Mountains | Triple Crown
The only good thing about this being Moving Mountains' last record is that at least they went out on top of their game. Moving Mountains shows off a band at its most complete, its most comfortable, its most confident and its most creative. Earlier this year, I attempted to write a review for this album and utterly failed. Is it enough to call it "pretty"? Ambitious? Devastating? It's near-perfect in many ways; while it's not as explosive as Waves or other earlier MovMou material, it's almost impossible to tell that the band hasn't been operating in this exact wheelhouse for its entire career. A new sound doesn't come as a surprise from a band that has mastered evolution before anything else, but what comes as a most pleasant surprise is the expertise in which it's executed. The guitars are riffy when they need to be (the end of "Seasonal" is jaw-dropping) and provide ambience when they're supposed to. The vocals are used either for cutting lyricism or simply as an additional instrument in the ether. The drums provide the jam backbone when we need them to and they're soothingly electronic when it fits. Nary will you hear such desperate-sounding musicianship in spots, either – it's a true rarity for music to sound as emotional as lyricism, but that's the case in many songs on this record. Since I can't really say anything bad about this album – I really think it's a masterpiece of a record and nothing short – I'll just shut up and ask you to listen for yourself. [TN]

9 | Drake | Nothing Was The Same | Cash Money/Universal
Is it the shoes? Drake continues his hot streak with his third LP, Nothing Is The Same, his fusion of emotional R&B with sneering hip-hop bravado. You could argue that the single leading up to this release, “Started From The Bottom,” was the hip-hop anthem of the year, while “Hold On We’re Going Home” showcased the pop crossover side of one Aubrey Graham. The duality of Drake's demeanor is present throughout - it's just as easy for him to emphatically exclaim that “muhfuckas never loved us” on the boisterous “Worst Behavior” while also airing out relationship issues ("From Time") or family drama ("Too Much"). And he does all this while keeping in emotions in check and maintaining a level head despite being “just as famous as my mentor.” All-in-all, Drake is undoubtedly a superstar now - his next goal on LP4 should be becoming the biggest name in hip-hop. [DB]

8 | Touché Amoré | Is Survived By | Deathwish
On their third full length album, Is Survived By, post-hardcore outfit Touché Amoré tackled some pretty big topics. “I was once asked how I'd like to be remembered and I simply smiled and said 'I'd rather stay forever,'” exclaims frontman Jeremy Bolm on the opening track, “Just Exist.” This line (along with many other lyrics on the album), has been one of the most resonant this year, likely due to how forceful the rest of the album is after this first lyric kicks it off. Touché Amoré still offer up their swift and quick formula of churning out songs (though more than a few extend beyond the 3 minute mark), but on Is Survived By, the short lengths no longer feel like a hindrance to their sound. The songs ebb and flow with more meaning and purpose than ever before, with each element bouncing off the others with the kind of precision that can be hard to come by. With producer Brad Wood (Sunny Day Real Estate, mewithoutYou) at the helm, the perfect space is carved out for each instrument to lay under Bolm's harsh, demanding vocals. By the end of the album, Bolm offers a bit of advice, presumably to himself: “So write a song that everyone can sing along to/So when you're gone you can live on, they won't forget you.” Is Survived By is that song. The idea of leaving behind a legacy is something a lot of people struggle with, and Touché Amoré have put out the kind of album that any band would kill to be survived by. [JJ]

7 | Balance and Composure | The Things We Think We're Missing | No Sleep
It’s interesting that Balance and Composure’s two best songs have the word “head” in them. This year’s Best Song Nominee, “Back Of Your Head,” is very different from 2011’s Separation-leading “I Tore You Apart In My Head,” but it’s fitting from a band that doesn’t let emotionalism flow strictly from the heart. Jon Simmons and crew lash out at just about everything on The Things We Think We’re Missing, but in a way that seems thoughtful instead of reactionary. A bunch of boo-hooing at this volume serves no purpose, so B&C expand both their vocabulary and range throughout The Things We Think We’re Missing (look no further than the one-two metaphorical punch of “Tiny Raindrop” and “Notice Me”). And while on “Reflection” Simmons may be singing about how pitiful he’s been, the music is all growth. Its consistent build and closing wall of metal fuzz portray a band who may be at odds with the world, yet know each other extremely well. The Things We Think We’re Missing might be a challenge and it might be aggressive, but it’s what many of us needed this year. But most impressively, it’s rebirth through sheer power of will. [BS]

6 | Deafheaven | Sunbather | Deathwish
Although one could spill pages about how Deafheaven's second record is the antithesis of the niche mentality that dominates the loosely-defined conglomerate dubbed "heavy music," that would not only make for a boring exercise, it would be a disservice to the record itself. The fact that Sunbather transcends narrow genre tags is inconsequential when talking about an album so breathtaking in its scale, its precision, and in its muscular ambition. George Clarke's Emperor-inspired vocal performance is one of the most captivating and emotive of the year, but Kerry McCoy's guitar work almost steals the show. McCoy pulls tones from Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai to combine with a rigorous structure reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a My Bloody Valentine-like whammified haze, and an occasional dose of "true" black metal furor. Additionally, new drummer Dan Tracy packs a thunderous whallop that is a particular highlight of the album's ten-minute title track: the tempo shift he spurs on halfway through the song is an earth-shattering revelation whether on first or seventeenth listen. Some metal dudes may decry the album as unorthodox, and scoff at its carefully sculpted fluidity that incorporates sound collages and piano interludes, but that's to be expected. Clarke said in a studio diary post: "I named the record Sunbather because that’s the feeling it gives me. It is the sadness and the frustration and the anger that comes with striving for perfection. Dreaming of warmth and love despite the pain of idealism." While you don't even need to read Clarke's lyrics to understand the tone of the record, he offers terse prose that wrestles with failure, addiction, mental illness and even class envy with unflinching honesty. Sunbather is a truly great record from a band still in its infancy, and in a year full of surprising releases it proved to be one of the most fascinating. [CC]

5 | Vampire Weekend | Modern Vampires of the City | XL
Over the last seven years, Vampire Weekend have done a lot of growing up, and their third full length album, Modern Vampires Of The City, is their biggest leap yet in terms of growth. Frontman Ezra Koenig's lyrics are more mature than ever, focusing on themes of growing older and the passage of time (and even tackling a few political topics), and the compositions and performances are as tight as ever, with each track containing layers upon layers of lush instrumentation to peel back for endless replay value. The best thing about Modern Vampires, though, is that even though it contains everything you would expect from a band reaching the potential shown on previous albums, it still excites and thrills in new ways. Vampire Weekend weren't afraid to get weird with producer Ariel Rechtshaid, and the result is some very unique manipulations to Koenig's vocals, like the pitch shifting in “Step” and “Ya Hey” or the elasticity effect on “Diane Young.” These moments show a band that's not content with comfort, though Modern Vampires Of The City is still very much the sound of a very talented band coming into their own. It almost feels wrong to call the album Vampire Weekend's magnum opus, because even though at this point it absolutely is, all signs show that they will probably be able to top even this on their next go around. [JJ]

4 | The 1975 | The 1975 | Vagrant | Interscope
I feel as though every year or so a new band hits my ears that forces a sharp reflection and virtually recalibrates my tastes. It’s that band that defines the year for me. That band that I look back on as the crack that splintered my tastes and musical habits into a spider-web of new directions. I think of artists like Blink 182, The Format, Brand New, Thrice, The Gaslight Anthem, Bon Iver, and P.O.S. -- these are bands that have become pillars of my musical collection and ones I would point to as defining my “taste matrix.” These bonds have lasted for years and each listen to their catalog transports me back in time. These are the bands that I take possession of and metaphorically hang my hat on. The band where I say: “this is the band that defines this part of me; this is the band that I believe in.”

In 2013, that band is The 1975.

The band's infectious charm is musical equivalent of being transported into a John Hughes movie. As the year came to an end, and I played the "where do all the albums I loved this year fit" game ... it's here where I ended up realizing there was only one choice. It was The 1975 that dominated my stereo unlike an album has in years. It was The 1975 that I found myself coming back to time and time again. And it's The 1975 that defined my year. So, hats off boys ... you won my heart this year. Oh, they're very popular guys. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore them. They think The 1975 are righteous dudes. [JT]

3 | Kanye West | Yeezus | G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam
Essentially until the moment it hit the internet, no one was entirely sure Yeezus even existed. Deleted tweets and video projections notwithstanding, there was little, if any, concrete information surrounding the release of hip-hops most popular firebrand’s sixth solo album. So when the first high quality moments of “On Sight” kicked in, I imagine most people were put off. “New Slaves” had shown a new direction for Yeezy, but cell phone recordings of the video weren’t much to base an opinion or forecast for the album on. But that garbled transmission that opens the album signifies something - to Kanye, it’s frustration. To many others, it’s the buzzsaw that hews the frozen edges of 808s and Heartbreak into something perhaps even more divisive, a pyrrhic victory against white industries and audiences through rampant gendered racial politics. Kanye let loose a flood of instant quotables that mingled alongside expressive personal defeats and aspirational anti-racist rampages. The album is simultaneously his most intriguing and weakest lyrically, as he succumbs to muddled, contradictory polemic that we all experience when talking politics. The personal is the political on Yeezus and in real life, it’s just that for Kanye and his ilk, the personal happens to be unapologetically wrecking and demeaning the material wealth of those below him or bemoaning his mistresses inability to terminate her pregnancy. How else can one even begin to explain or understand the grafting of TNGHT’s tremors of horns to “Strange Fruit?” Months after the release, Kanye asked Zane Lowe a rhetorical question: “Would it have been better if I had a song that said ‘I am a gangster’ or if I had a song that said ‘I am a pimp.’ All those colors and patinas fit better on a person like me, right?” So “I Am A God” is a challenge to racial stereotypes as Kanye asserts his ego elevates him to divinity- but the panting footsteps and howls of pain that come with it suggest that he’s still the same rapper in a pink polo wracked with insecurity and uncertainty that won acclaim almost a decade ago. [RD]

2 | The Wonder Years | The Greatest Generation | Hopeless
The Wonder Years – and the pop/punk genre in general – have been building toward this sort of apex for years. After creating a sprawling and emotional concept album based on Allen Ginsberg’s America two years ago, this Pennsylvania six-piece went back to the drawing board to figure out a way to top it. The result, The Greatest Generation, is not only the best album the Wonder Years have ever made, but also one of the finest displays of full-album thematic mastery in the history of our scene. Frontman Dan "Soupy" Campbell called it the conclusion of a trilogy about growing up, a trilogy that began promisingly with the college-bound angst of The Upsides, continued memorably with the jilted hometown promise of Suburbia, and which ends here amidst a fractured American dream. "I was born to run away from anything," Campbell sings on album highlight "Passing Through a Screen Door," and you can bet his Springsteen reference is no accident. Like the best of the Boss, this record is about reconciling the dreams we have in youth with the realities and failures of adulthood, and those themes lend themselves to songs that can be either anthemic and resilient (riotous sing-alongs like "Dismantling Summer" and "Teenage Parents") or crushingly sad ("The Devil in My Bloodstream," a piano-laced confessional about Campbell’s struggles with depression). Still, by the time the album reaches its bombastic firework show of a finale ("I Just Want to Sell out My Funeral," which explodes bits and pieces of the previous 12 songs into a single burst of climactic force), Campbell has figured out a way to reconcile the broken dreams, beat back the depression, and embrace his life and the people in it for what they are. Here’s hoping the rest of us can do the same. [CM]

1 | The National | Trouble Will Find Me | 4AD
While fans (and our staff) will debate where to rank Trouble Will Find Me in The National's discography and if this LP is the band’s best work or not, I think the majority of us can agree that Trouble Will Find Me is The National’s most essential album to date. This is the absolute National record that I'd recommend to interested listeners ten out of ten times. The album’s thirteen tracks feature all the band’s best musical qualities and vocalist Matt Berninger is still on top of the lyrical game. I also really appreciate the subtlety and self-awareness throughout. With songs like the anti-ballad “This Is The Last Time” and anthemic “Graceless” (which has one of the best bridges the band has ever written), it’s easy to see why this is the AP.net staff's favorite record of 2013. The National is a band that understands its strengths and its core, yet they still have the ability and panache to pull off different styles and all the variations they entail. They are always exploring with different time signatures, guitar usages, and tempos, which prevents The National from ever sounding too “samey”; they’re always doing something interesting and new within its craft. Trouble's best moment shows up on “I Need My Girl” - the nervous urgency throughout disguises what’s really a love song at the core. It’s a prime example of the brilliant balancing act Berninger pulls off by sounding absolutely confident one second and completely unraveled the next and that’s what makes Trouble Will Find Me so enthralling and what makes The National one of the most important bands of our generation. [DB]
03:37 AM on 12/17/13
I'm on the up and up.
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mbao's Avatar
Interesting. I've checked out a few of these, and of those I've listened to, The 1975 is my album of the year. I'll keep this in mind to check out -- those Vampire Weekend and The National albums have definitely caught my eye now.
03:39 AM on 12/17/13
I'm on the up and up.
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mbao's Avatar
Also, did Beyoncé's new album fuck up your lists too? Hahahaha
03:45 AM on 12/17/13
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hometownblues_'s Avatar
Better Off's "(I Think) I'm Leaving" blew me away. I was pleasantly surprised by Stickup Kid's "Future Fire" too.
03:57 AM on 12/17/13
Chris Collum
Goddamn those shaky knees
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Chris Collum's Avatar
Very happy with our list
04:00 AM on 12/17/13
You wanted to set the world on fire
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mrnegativezero's Avatar
God, I really need to listen to the National. Nice to see Paramore, Jimmy Eat World and 1975 on the list though. Also, in before the absolutejustintimberlake comments (that album is well deserving of its spot though).
04:04 AM on 12/17/13
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InfiniteArms's Avatar
I look at my list, in progress, and then I look at your list and think "I forgot about a lot of great albums when making my list"
04:12 AM on 12/17/13
Is love just forgetting the horror?
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BlackJak094's Avatar
Most of these albums would make it on to my top 30 for the year, in a very different order though.

Captain, We're Sinking and letlive. are both in my top 10 (maybe top 5). Deaf Havana, Protest The Hero and The Story So Far would get high spots too.
04:14 AM on 12/17/13
i am a rob0t
Registered User
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i am a rob0t's Avatar
I was certain the 1975 would (and should) be number 1.

National is certainly a top 5 though
04:20 AM on 12/17/13
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cubsml34's Avatar
Better Off's "(I Think) I'm Leaving" blew me away. I was pleasantly surprised by Stickup Kid's "Future Fire" too.

Me too, that album lost some lasting value for me but it's still in my top 20 this year.

Very happy to see Have Mercy and Captain We're Sinking! (my AOTY) on here. I've come to appreciate the Greatest Generation a lot more over the past 6 months, but I just can't get into the second half. I still think Suburbia tops it lyrically as well.

Restorations LP2 has been my sleeper hit, it's just the perfect rock album that I can't get out of my head.
04:35 AM on 12/17/13
Stay Classy
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Mrplum5089's Avatar
After listening to "The Greatest Generation" I'm really disappointed I didn't make it a priority to see them on Warped tour last summer
04:49 AM on 12/17/13
Idle Will Kill
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Big_Guy's Avatar
What am I missing with Kanye West? Why do people think he's some sort of genius
04:52 AM on 12/17/13
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skinchino's Avatar
Needs more Foals, Bronx, Mansions, Deer Hunter & Jetplane Landing.
05:04 AM on 12/17/13
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i don't have the time nor patience to deal with this list. i just don't agree with much of the relative placements. let's leave it at that.

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