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Best Albums of 2013: Mid-Year Report

Daft Punk, Vampire Weekend, Kanye West and more

40 Best Albums of the Year

From Daft Punk ditching EDM to Kanye assaulting our ears to surprise comebacks from My Bloody Valentine, Justin Timberlake and David Bowie, 2013's been a great year for albums – and we're only halfway through it. Here's an unranked list of the year's best so far.

Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park

Courtesy of Mercury Nashville Records

Kacey Musgraves, ‘Same Trailer Different Park’

There are no vocal tricks on the 24-year-old country singer’' debut; all the cleverness is in catchy, biting lyrics about waitresses on smoke breaks, non-conformity and friends-with-benefits sex. Musgraves lays bare small-town life with the unflinching frankness of someone whose bags have been packed since she turned 17.

From the RS review: ". . . Man, can Musgraves write. The album showcases a songwriting voice you won't hear anywhere else in pop: young, female, downwardly mobile, fiercely witty."

‪So So Glos‬, Blowout

Courtesy of So So Glos

‪So So Glos‬, ‘Blowout’

These punk rock kids hail from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; imagine the Ramones as actual brothers. Their second album is their gloriously high-speed manifesto, as the Glos declare war on everything boring and dive into dirty big-city kicks with songs that have a classicist confidence, reaching all the way back to the Clash and the Kinks.

From the RS review: "It's the Glos' boyish exuberance that drives every second of the album home."

Eleanor Friedberger Personal Record

Courtesy of Merge Records

Eleanor Friedberger, ‘Personal Record’                

Listening to the classic rock puzzles Eleanor Friedberger and her brother Matthew create in the Fiery Furnaces can be difficult, but her second solo LP is full of crisp, jangly indie pop that can suggest Harry Nilsson or early Stones, packed with stories of young people too mopey to realize the person across the bar is hitting on them. 

From the RS review: "She's winking, but each wink squeezes out a tear."

‪Chance the Rapper‬, Acid Rap

Courtesy of Chance the Rapper

‪Chance the Rapper‬, ‘Acid Rap’

On his wildly anticipated second mixtape, Chicagoan Chance the Rapper at first sounds a bit like Lil Wayne or Eminem. But his vibe is more Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, his voice shifting between fleet rapping and rap-singing. His beats have a woozy, psychedelic feel. Don't be surprised if someday he's spoken of in the same class as his influences.

From the RS review: "The density of wit, ideas and verbal invention that makes this one of the year's defining hip-hop releases."

Boards of Canada Tomorrow's Harvest

Courtesy of Warp Records

Boards of Canada, ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’

The year's other big comeback from a press-shy European electronic duo is as satisfyingly true-to-form as Daft Punk's Random Access Memories is unexpected. Eight years after their last album, Boards of Canada are still orchestrating brilliantly chilly instrumentals laced with a liberal dash of existential panic. Put on a pair of good headphones and get ready to shiver.

From the RS review: "There's plenty of intellect on Tomorrow's Harvest but not nearly as much soul; like an intricate artifact found preserved in a glacier, this album is impressive to behold, but cold to the touch."

‪My Bloody Valentine‬, m b v

Courtesy of Pickpocket Records

‪My Bloody Valentine‬, ‘MBV’

"Hotly anticipated" is one thing. Waiting 22 years – which is how long it took Kevin Shields and bandmates to follow up the legendary Loveless – for an album is something else entirely. MBV delivers cosmic guitar noise, full of late-night yearnings for excess and obliteration, feedback drone, Stereolab-style pop tunes and psychedelic punk.

From the RS review: "Despite the skull-crushing power, MBV is music that rewards close listening, music that takes its time to give up its secrets."

‪Justin Timberlake‬, The 20/20 Experience

Courtesy of RCA Records

‪Justin Timberlake‬, ‘The 20/20 Experience’

Until Random Access Memories dropped, The 20/20 Experience was the biggest pop event of 2013, but it's not quite a pop album. The 10 tracks average seven minutes; songs unfurl into vamps, abruptly change keys, pile on unexpected beats and harmonies. The music is catchy, but the emphasis is on rhythm and flow.

From the RS review: "You might call The 20/20 Experience Timberlake's neo-soul record. (It has more in common with D'Angelo and Maxwell than Usher or Bieber.)  But that guy in the suit and tie, that showbiz savant – in the end, he makes it sound like pop."

‪Yeah Yeah Yeahs‬, Mosquito

Courtesy of Interscope Records

‪Yeah Yeah Yeahs‬, ‘Mosquito’

Shaped partly in New Orleans with longtime crony Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio into raw, scrappily urban music, Mosquito feels nostalgic for when the YYYs were New York's most thrilling underdogs, and not just because one song begins, "I lost you on the subway car/Got caught without my Metro card," and builds a groove on what sounds like the grind of a missed L train.

From the RS review: "Ten years in since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' debut LP, frontwoman Karen O is a primal institution – the hipster next door lurching from one emo spectacle to another on bigger stages than anyone expected; she's the Lena Dunham of art punk."

Tegan and Sara Heartthrob

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

Tegan and Sara, ‘Heartthrob’

After years of folk rock, the 32-year-old Canadian twins have decided to get sweaty with a bouncy-castle of lush, up-to-the-minute indie synth-pop and blown-out radio choruses, less fussy and more fun than anything they've done. Producer Greg Kurstin (Ke$ha, Kelly Clarkson, etc.) deserves a little thanks for the dance-floor churn.

From the RS review: "Emotional processing should always be so liberating."