50 Best Albums of 2013

Vampire Weekend cut the cute and raised the stakes, Kanye assaulted our ears, Bowie shocked the world and Miley tossed a dance-pop party grenade

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Vampire Weekend, 'Modern Vampires of the City'

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The first two Vampire Weekend albums showed off a sound unlike any other in rock: a precocious mix of indie pop, African guitar grooves and wry, boat-shoe-preppy lyrics that were sometimes too cute for their own good. But with Modern Vampires of the City, they went deeper, adding scope and ambition to all the sophistication. In 2013, no other record mixed emotional weight with studio-rat craft and sheer stuck-in-your-head hummability like this one. It's one of rock's great albums about staring down adulthood and trying not to blink — that moment where, as singer Ezra Koenig puts it, you realize "wisdom's a gift/But you'd trade it for youth." The music is sculpted and subtly bonkers, with orchestral sweeps balancing hymnlike beauty and dub-inflected grooves. Koenig earns those Paul Simon comparisons thanks to vivid lyrics about youngish things in crisis — the unemployed friend who can't find a reason to shave in "Obvious Bicycle," the weary couple soldiering through the road-trip epic "Hannah Hunt." Then there's Koenig himself, filling songs like "Worship You" with religious allusions, evoking the search for meaning and faith with wit and skepticism. The album's fog-over-New York cover reminds us just how hard that search has become. The music makes it feel worth the heartache just the same.

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