Best Music of 2013

Published on December 6, 2013

Best Music of 2013

Sorting through this year’s avalanche of pop music, mysteries abound: What is this I’m feeling? Is it right or is it wrong? What rhymes with ‘hug me’? What does the fox say?

The year’s finest albums, however, provided us with concrete answers about the tensile strength of our tear ducts, the durability of our commitments and the shape of slow jams to come. These are the 10 best of 2013.

(Kelly Christine Musgraves)

Top Ten Albums of 2013

1. Kacey Musgraves, “Same Trailer Different Park”

The dread of the millenials can’t be captured in a selfie, so Nashville’s newest star is picking up the slack and singing about what happens when a generation of idealists inherits a broken country. With optimism in her melodies and calm in her delivery, she’s dropped one of country music’s strongest debuts in forever.

(Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)

2. Kanye West, “Yeezus”

Continue to dismiss Kanye West at your own risk. With his feral sixth album, the rap auteur extends his reign as pop music’s most volcanic force, refusing to shut up, back down, play nice or cash out. And his boldest album is always the one that’s coming next.

(Bill Callahan by Hanly Banks, Lonnie Holley by Mike Arnett)

3. Bill Callahan, “Dream River”

Here’s a songwriter, a soothsayer, a stoic and a smuggler who can’t help but find new ways to bury treasure inside ordinary folk songs. “Dream River” feels as vast, intimate, recognizable and unknowable as true love. Or America.

4. Lonnie Holley, “Just Before Music”

It’s an album by an eccentric Alabama sculptor, released in 2012, re-released with bonus cuts in 2013. But it’s also a free jazz fever dream from the deep South, a babbling Baptist sermon from deep space, a lullaby for the end of the world, a songbook that’s frequently beautiful and occasionally frightening.

(Ashley Monroe by Jim Wright, Paramore by Nigel Crane)

5. Ashley Monroe, “Like A Rose”

Only the greats can compartmentalize crisis as gracefully as this silver-voiced 27-year-old. Demure and devastating, Monroe’s saddest country tunes have come to steal your tears. Hydrate accordingly.

6. Paramore, “Paramore”

The embattled rock band’s fourth album finds the trio honoring their commitments with their hair on fire. They’re still standing, still together, still playing a style of post-emo that’s long gone out of style with a tenacity that never will.

7. Roberto Fonseca, “Yo”

This Havana-born pianist isn’t afraid to hit hard and get personal, detonating the walls surrounding Afro-Cuban jazz and rearranging the debris into a very flattering self-portrait.

8. Danny Brown, “Old”

Rap has gone from “CNN for the streets” to “Tumblr with 808s,” but ugly memories of urban survival are still churning inside this Detroit native’s skull. He exorcises them with a stuffy-nosed squawk that’s every bit as jarring as the worst of what he’s seen.

(Danny Brown by Josh Wehle, Kelela by Matt Fry)

9. Kelela, “Cut 4 Me”

Half romance, half science fiction, this L.A. rookie’s R&B debut reads as if she learned to sing about heartache in some airless, digital, post-human future.

10. Steve Gunn, “Time Off”

As contemporary songwriters surf rivers of blood, sweat and tears, hoping the world will take notice, this Brooklynite plays circular folk songs that unfold as effortlessly as a breath. The fact that he’s making no special bid to be heard means we might want to listen especially close.

(Tyrone Lebon)

(Tyrone Lebon)

Three worst albums of 2013

Miley Cyrus, “Bangerz”

A white Disney Channel graduate embraced a hyper-sexual image while pantomiming what she heard on black radio. In the shadow of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, how is that anything other than familiar? Miley’s ascent may have provided America with the great comfort scandal of 2013, but her lifeless new album rang out like an afterthought.

Jay Z, “Magna Carta… Holy Grail”

In addition to rapping like a bored bazillionaire, Jay spent his summer flirting with performance art and data collection, shedding his relevance and his hyphen in the process.

Arcade Fire. (Courtesy of Universal Music Group)

Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”

When the world’s most ponderous indie rock band marches into the discotheque, we must double-knot our dancing shoes and run far, far away.


Editing: David Malitz
Production: Amy King and Veronica Toney

Editor’s picks

Best Movies of 2013

It was a great year for movies. Here are the 21 best of 2013, as picked by Ann Hornaday.

Best Television of 2013

Best TV of 2013 and the biggest letdowns, as picked by Hank Stuever.