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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."