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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

Best Albums of 2013

The past 12 months had more great music going on than any year in recent memory. Some of the most innovative artists of the last decade — Kanye West, Daft Punk, Queens of the Stone Age, Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire — all made watershed albums. Rock & roll greats like John Fogerty, Paul McCartney and David Bowie proved they could be as vital as ever. The EDM explosion kept blowing up thanks to artists like Disclosure and Avicii; old-school titans like Eminem and Pusha T pushed hip-hop forward alongside new-school innovators like Chance the Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, J. Cole and Danny Brown; Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe made country that was traditional and iconoclastic. But the most exciting news of the year might've been the astonishing number of breakout new artists, from retro-Eighties sister act Haim, to Brit-folk prodigy Jake Bugg, to indie-rockers Parquet Courts, to post-punkers Savages to chart-topping 17-year-old truth-bomber Lorde. Even Miley Cyrus' wrecking ball of an adult-oriented breakout album was kinda awesome. Oh 2013, you gave so much and asked so little; 2014, get crackin'. You've got a lot to live up to.  

Contributors: Jon Dolan, Will Hermes, Christian Hoard, Rob Sheffield, and Simon Vozick-Levinson

Courtesy Def Jam

33

Pusha T, ‘My Name Is My Name’

The cockier half of the Clipse didn't choose to go solo — he had to after his brother found God. Pusha, in turn, found Kanye West, whose stark and twisted production helped make My Name Is My Name feel like a more lyrically focused companion piece to his own Yeezus. It's the year's sharpest hit of street philosophy.

Courtesy of Glassnote Records

32

Chvrches, ‘The Bones of What You Believe’

On their debut, this Glasgow trio made indie-weaned synth-rock that hit with as much big-box thwump as Rihanna or "Roar." Singer Lauren Mayberry throws herself into stalker-pop come-ons, and nearly every song is bright and cutting and almost scarily impassioned.

Courtesy of Polydor Records

31

Haim, ‘Days Are Gone’

On their debut, these three harmonizing Los Angeles sisters found an elusive art-pop sweet spot between TLC and Kate Bush — and won over indie kids and teenyboppers alike. "The Wire" plays like a great lost Eighties radio hit. But "My Song 5," with its broken beats and snaky flow, is the hook-mad high point.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers Records

30

Tegan & Sara, ‘Heartthrob’

After a decade-plus making smart folk pop, this duo of Canadian twins took a leap into radio-hungry dance beats. Their songwriting stayed sharp and revealing as ever, and on "Closer," they show up all the billion-dollar divas with a disco burner about "how to get you underneath me" that is one of the year's sweatiest singles.

Courtesy of Nonesuch Records

29

Bombino, ‘Nomad’

For this raw cross-cultural jam, Omara "Bombino" Moctar — a hot-shit guitarist from Niger — hooked up with Black Key Dan Auerbach, who produced the LP with a crate-digging R&B/psych vibe. It's full of hypnotic fuzz, and the cosmic country of "Tamiditine" conjures Workingman's Dead – if it'd been made in the Sahara desert.

Courtesy of Mercury Nashville

28

Kacey Musgraves, ‘Same Trailer Different Park’

This charmingly matter-of-fact 25-year-old Texan makes commercial country sound artistically fertile again. Singing about a friend with benefits ("It Is What It Is") or weed smokin' and same-sex kissing ("Follow Your Arrow"), she's ballsy, traditional and pop. Call her the millennials' Loretta Lynn.

Courtesy RCA Records

27

Miley Cyrus, ‘Bangerz’

Amid all the foam-finger hub-bub, Miley made an excellent pop record. Bangerz is full of country-flavored slow jams and dirty beats like "Do My Thang" and the ace Future duet "My Darlin'." She drops top-shelf electro hooks and navigates coming-of-age conundrums, bringing depth and vulnerability to one hell of a party.

Courtesy of Chance The Rapper

26

Chance The Rapper, ‘Acid Rap’

The second mixtape from this 20-year-old Chicago MC is the ultimate in psychedelic hip-hop. Chance spins Lil Wayne-meets-Hendrix language swirls punctuated by the real-life observations of a kid who grew up in a world where "it's dark a lot . . . easier to find a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot."

Courtesy of Capitol Records

25

Elton John, ‘The Diving Board’

Sir Elton reunites with rock & roll curator T Bone Burnett and old writing partner Bernie Taupin for a return to classic piano-man form. Mixing singer-songwriter balladry, music-hall storytelling, corner-church testifying and parlor-room nostalgia, it's the sound of a legend with his showbiz guard dropped.

Courtesy of Interscope Records

24

Eminem, ‘Marshall Mathers LP 2’

On the sequel to his 2000 masterpiece, Eminem taps the maniac genius who first scared America into submission — Stan's little brother even came back to murder Mr. Mathers. But on "Headlights" he made peace with his estranged mom in what's gotta be Slim Shady's huggiest moment ever.

Courtesy of MBV

23

My Bloody Valentine, ‘MBV’

It's the noise-rock Chinese Democracy — 22 years in the making and utterly throttling just the same. MBV's third LP echoed their landmark Loveless with new shapes and colors, but the same deceptive tunefulness. And "Nothing Is" is nothing less than the art-rock equivalent of crazy-strong hash.

Courtesy of Glassnote Records

22

Phoenix, ‘Bankrupt!’

The French indie-pop group didn't come through with hits on par with "1901" or "Lisztomania." Phoenix did something even cagier, rolling out sleek, savvy songs that took apart fame, fashion and coolness from the inside, without scrimping on their space-rock whoosh, surging melodies and wry New Wave pout.

Courtesy of Capitol Records

21

Sky Ferreira, ‘Night Time, My Time’

Ferreira's Eighties-weaned diva pop recalls no-nonsense Nineties alt-rockers like PJ Harvey and Shirley Manson, setting love-wracked disclosures to grungy guitar static, electronic gauze and computer-groove churn. When she sings about her "heavy-metal heart," she's not kidding: The woman works well with machines.

Courtesy of Virgin Records

20

Laura Marling, ‘Once I Was An Eagle’

Marling is the most compelling singer-songwriter of the U.K. roots-revival scene, with a voice that conjures young Joni Mitchell. Kicking off with a heart-surgical seven-song opening suite, her fourth LP is the record Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis might have made after kicking Justin Timberlake to the curb.