December 4, 2013

The Sun’s Top 10 Albums of 2013

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1. Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend

The dirty words that have always dogged Vampire Weekend — Ivy League, boat shoes, Upper East Side Soweto — have no place on Modern Vampires of the City. It’s a pop record as done by musical omnivores. Whether they’re referencing a Souls of Mischief track in the midst of a baroque chamber pop song (“Step”), filtering “Footloose” through a kaleidoscope of synths and machine gun drum fills (“Diane Young”) or pitch-shifting the voice of God himself (“Ya Hey”), the band marries playful experimentation with an undeniable melodic immediacy. Lead singer Ezra Koenig comes into his own here, fixating on death, the nagging sense that time is running out and his own struggles with religion. Steeped in New York imagery — from Hudson Bay to Upper West Side falafel shops — Modern Vampires of the City is a portrait of a band reveling in self-doubt and the myriad sounds of the new millennium It’s the promise of their self-titled debut realized: from precocious to prescient, Vampire Weekend have trumped the naysayers with a veritable masterwork. — James Rainis ’14

2. Settle, Disclosure

Short of making us all feel inadequate, it’s incredible to believe that Disclosure brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence are 18 and 21 years old. It’s harder to believe that they had been churning out music before their stunning debut Settle. Claiming influences from J Dilla to Burial, Disclosure already had excellent tracks like “Boiling” with UK bass influences and Detroit hip hop beats in a pop sheen. But that they didn’t end up on the eventual album is a testament to the enormous standards Disclosure set for themselves. Too many gems appear in rapid succession, from “Latch” to “Help Me Lose My Mind,” that ranking them feels like a Sisyphean task. And in case people thought the Lawrence brothers relied solely on the talent of guest vocalists, they shattered those conceptions from the beginning with the propelling “When A Fire Starts to Burn.”  In a time when dance music seems to converge as one blobby mass, Settle establishes a new baseline nigh-impossible to beat. — Kai Sam Ng ’14

3. Yeezus, Kanye West

The last piece of work Lou Reed published before he passed away this year was a glowing review of Yeezus in The Talkhouse. In it, he called the album “majestic and inspiring” and praised it for its juxtaposition of the ugly and the serene, going so far as to say that the coda to “Guilt Trip” brought tears to his eyes. Reading the review now, you can’t help but feel like a torch is being passed from one curmudgeonly genius to another. Indeed, on Yeezus Kanye seems to be the next in line of immensely influential individuals you hope never to meet in person; of restless visionaries who could only see the art; of punks who rubbed elbows with the fashion aristocracy whether you like it or not. So in 50 years, when the same bullshit surrounds yet another asshole come to steal our hearts, you’ll know exactly what happened: Yeezus just rose again. — Paul Blank ’14

4. The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches

Truly great synthpop’s infectious hooks never get old even well after the record’s grooves are worn out. Many a listener left Chvrches’ LP on repeat for long after its release, but The Bones of What You Believe never lost a single bit of its luster. Even after logging countless spins of this near-perfect debut, the Glaswegian trio’s tracks sound as fresh as ever with its bouncy melodies and Lauren Mayberry’s stellar vocal chops. The Bones of What You Believe is about as addicting as albums come, so be prepared to spend quite a bit of time jamming out to its synthy goodness. — Mike Sosnick ’14

5. The Electric Lady, Janelle Monáe

And the concept pop album survives another year! Janelle Monáe doesn’t just talk about fear, sex and love by talking about them: She jazzes things up in a world of her own making, where androids diss robots on public radio. Monáe fleshes out her story through spoken word interludes, but the meat of the album, the music, is where her genius truly shines. A gifted musician as well as a collaborator, Monáe reminds us why R&B/Soul/Funk music is so sexy with the help of Prince, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, et al. You got “Q.U.E.E.N.,” which sounds like MJ with a cyborg, feminist touch, followed by the bumping “Electric Lady” and groovy “PrimeTime.” It’s not perfect, but no album fused ambition with pure fun like The Electric Lady this year. — Zach Zahos ’15

6. Trouble Will Find Me, The National

The first time you listen to Trouble Will Find Me is the worst time. Fans of The National know that their albums only improve with each listen, as new songs become old friends and lyrics like, “When you’re sitting in your faintin’ chair drinking pink rabbits,” turn into drunken adages. Their albums grow on you, perhaps because The National knows how to balance tradition with its own signature sound. Acoustic commingles with electric, intricate percussion with big brass, soft with loud, often on the same song, like opener, “I Should Live in Salt.” With Matt Berninger’s baritone, lead single “Demons” sounds as smooth as a song about psychotic repression can. “Sea of Love””rocks as hard as the Arctic Monkeys, and the whole album joins old school rock goodness with surreal postmodernism in the most delicious way. — Zach Zahos ’15

7. AM, Arctic Monkeys

The leather jackets, desert-outlaw backdrop and Alex Turner’s impeccably coiffed pompadour seem miles away from the ramshackle jitter-punk of the Sheffield quartet’s world-storming 2006 debut. But we forget that Arctic Monkeys — five UK #1 albums and two Glastonbury headlining spots in — are one of the few big rock and roll bands we have left. AM is where they start acting like it. From the sultry opening strut of “Do I Wanna Know?” to Turner’s heartfelt croon on album closer “I Wanna Be Yours,” AM is a testament to the band’s airtight technical skill and their inimitable swagger, rife with some of the year’s best come-ons and headbanging moments alike. If their debut was the sound of excitable kids trying to sneak into the club, AM is the sound of the guys inside seducing your girlfriend while you’re off in the toilets. — James Rainis ’14

8. Cerulean Salt, Waxahatchee

In the mid-2000s Alabama twins Allison and Katie Crutchfield kickstarted their musical careers as teenagers with their indie duo The Ackleys. Since then, the sisters have launched individual solo projects — Allison with Swearin’ and Katie with Waxahatchee. On Cerulean Salt, Waxahatchee returns with a devastating testament to life’s trials and challenges. Sparse and bitter, Crutchfield infuses Cerulean Salt with frank and poetic lyrics (“chest in disgrace / blood on the back seat / lives in disgrace / scarface he doesn’t need”). Standout tracks include the heartbreaking “Coast to Coast” and single “Peace and Quiet.” — Gina Cargas ’14

9. Anxiety, Autre Ne Veut

“And I said, ‘baaaaaby,’” begins Autre Ne Veut’s LP Anxiety. Equal parts sexual, romantic and dejected, Arthur Ashin’s silky voice and frank delivery wraps you in passion from the album’s outset and never lets you go – not that you’d ever want it to. At times you find yourself wishing you could lounge in its velvety warmth all day until an unprecedented burst of falsetto fury takes your emotional stability for a joyride. It’s become in vogue to mix old school crooning with glassy synths, but Ashin kicks it up three notches with creative hooks and a set of pipes to match the R&B greats. — Mike Sosnick ’16

10. Pure Heroine, Lorde

Lorde’s debut album, aside from being a lyrical masterpiece, is a comprehensive treatise on the fascinations and inclinations of its creator’s generation. The breakout single, “Royals,” is a maturely defiant diatribe about the ludicrous images of wealth that hip-hop culture portrays as imperative, and several tracks paint gracefully dark images of youthful freedom paired with anarchic boredom. Lorde’s aesthetic is pure modernity — it’s post-hip-hop and post-Lana in its attitude, its vocals are primordial beyond Florence Welch and its lyricism is a poetic post-rap spinoff. Pure Heroine is an album of and about 2013 (“you’ve been drinking like the world was going to end (it didn’t)”). Specific to time where it isn’t to place, Pure Heroine is a perfect pastiche of only that which is undeniably real. — Kaitlyn Tiffany ’15