As far as the consensus goes, 2013’s album of the year seems to be a toss-up between Kanye West’s “Yeezus” and Vampire Weekend’s “Modern Vampires of the City.” A college dropout against a group of Ivy Leaguers. What a perfect way to sum up how delightfully strange 2013 was.
But as someone who is a huge fan of both Kanye West and Vampire Weekend, I have to root for “Modern Vampires of the City.” It’s simply the better album, and a step forward for a band that is still developing, while “Yeezus” represents a significant step back for an artist who has been releasing albums for nearly 10 years. I like “Yeezus” plenty, but after releasing “The College Dropout,” “Late Registration” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” I know he can do better.
Neither album is my personal favorite, though. Here are my ten favorite albums of 2013 – a pretty tough list to narrow down.
1. The Uncluded: “Hokey Fright” (Rhymesayers) Since the Moldy Peaches, Kimya Dawson has tried many times to find a musical partner who could suit her as well as Adam Green does, but she kept coming up short. What was she to do? Enter Aesop Rock, her sidekick who brings the beat down. Together, they have new ideas and new abilities and, for the first time, Kimya has released an album that goes beyond “The Moldy Peaches.” If the world doesn’t remember her for this album, at least I will.
2. Vampire Weekend: “Modern Vampires of the City” (XL) This isn’t my favorite Vampire Weekend release – the debut is just too close to my heart. It’s easily the most mature and melodic album they’ve put out, though. From the gorgeous opener “Obvious Bicycle” to the masterful “Ya Hey,” the band establishes a thematic consistency that is on par with their musical consistency. And if “Hudson” isn’t “Modern Vampires of the City” good, it’s at least “Contra” good.
3. Kacey Musgraves: “Same Trailer Different Park” (Mercury Nashville) Imperfect, sure, but the slight lyrical flaws don’t diminish the quality of the music – or her intentions.
4. Rachid Taha: “Zoom” (Wrasse) A shining example of musical diversity, the songs here range from acoustic to Auto-Tuned, from Taha alone to guest appearances from Mick Jones and Brian Eno. None of the songs sound the same, but they’re all terrific and even with all its variety, the album flows quite well.
5. Rilo Kiley: “RKives” (Little Record Company) A rarities compilation that’s better than almost every other album released this year, just in case you had any doubt that Rilo Kiley deserves to be ranked among the greats.
6. The Julie Ruin: “Run Fast” (Dischord/TJR) Kathleen Hanna’s most consistent batch of tracks, even if it doesn’t house anything quite as perfect as “New Radio” or “Deceptacon.”
7. M.I.A.: “Matangi” (Interscope) M.I.A. was already the most consistent solo artist in the world, but this has cemented it. Four solid albums in a row, each distinctive and yet clearly hers. Like her magnum opus “Maya,” her latest has been getting iffy reviews, which makes me wonder what so many critics are looking to get out of a new M.I.A. album. If it’s between her releasing another
“Kala” and her continuing to get bad reviews, I’ll take the latter. Keep moving forward, Maya, and leave everyone else in the dust.
8. Janelle Monáe: “The Electric Lady” (Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy) Not superior to “The ArchAndroid,” despite what I said in my original review. Merely another fine album that showcases Monáe’s humor, coupled with her delectable talent for hooks.
9. Yo La Tengo: “Fade” (Matador) I’ve admittedly overrated it heavily, but it has remained a top 10 album for me since I first heard it in January. It’s sad, gorgeous and tuneful, but it just doesn’t get the same emotional reaction out of me anymore.
10. Ashley Monroe: “Like a Rose” (Warner Bros.) Offering this much pleasure into such a small time length is tricky, but here, Monroe packs nine songs into 31 minutes. Every song is enjoyable in its own way, although I still think I could live without hearing “You Ain’t Dolly (And You Ain’t Porter)” again. In a very strong year for women labeled with the country genre, Monroe may not have said the most, but she at least said what she had to say the fastest.
My top 10 songs of 2013, as well as my full end-of-year lists, are coming soon.