2013: Music in Review

Music will carry on, and the preferred method of distribution by major and indie label artists tends to be the long playing record. Vinyl continues to grow in stature as people discover the joys of a slab of plastic and the warmth associated with it, the sheer physicality, the enormous and detailed artwork - I forecasted the death of the long player to be 2016 but it goes strong. This year, despite some major upheavals personally, was a fantastic year for the long player, with great albums released from a multitude of genres: I have not bought so many albums in a calendar year in easily a decade, the majority of which were new releases by established favorites and debuts by fascinating new artists.

This year's most interesting trend for me was the dichotomy of the album roll-out. When you have been away from the game for a long time, the stakes are high to get hype back on your side. The first major album announcement was from the Knife, and it was straightforward in all but the details: 13 tracks, 98 minutes, a 20-minute track smack in the middle. From there, the roll-out was in two camps: outrageous publicity, or none at all. Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, Kanye, Boards of Canada, Arcade Fire - all chose an elaborate campaign that focused on the imagery and iconography of the artist (BoC's album listening party in an abandoned water park, Kanye's screening of a music video on buildings, veve and voodoo imagery for Arcade Fire). On the opposite end, artists like My Bloody Valentine, David Bowie and Beyonce - upper echelon artists - chose the surprise method: MBV posted the download link on a Saturday night in February after two decades of waiting; Bowie announced his first album in ten years on his birthday, to be out in two weeks; and Queen Bey simply dropped an entire album of music and videos at once on iTunes, after most publications have their year-end list set, with zero advance word, and broke sales records. In an age of accelerated knowledge and almost no surprises, it was a bold move, and put the capper on a year of fascinating album campaigns.

It will be interesting to see if this year will be similar to 2003, when I felt the same elation at new music only to move on in following year. I do believe that the differences in technology in the past decade have made it harder, if not impossible, to have an overarching theme to a year: '03 was the year of dance-punk and indie rock, dominated by DFA and the The bands, while '13 was the year of...what, Miley Cyrus? No thanks! Technology makes it easy for one to burrow deep into a preferred hole and ignore the shrill bleating of the mainstream. It was a struggle to narrow this list down to even 50 (my self-imposed maximum), and even if these fall by the wayside in years to come - as I feel is inevitable - it was a pleasure to wallow in them in '13. Bring on the next round!

Albums of the Year

50. These New Puritans, Field of Reeds

The British art-rock band further ascends in their quest for perfection on their third full-length by becoming a neoclassical ensemble, adding a big dose of pastoral avant-garde to what is their most challenging, but ultimately rewarding, work to date. With contributions from nearly forty studio musicians, this boldly experimental album is the ideal way to kick off the 2013 list.

Fragment Two

49. Disclosure, Settle

Tailor made to be readily available for playing in the world's shopping malls, this sleek and sultry debut from the Lawrence brothers reflected the best (or worst) trend for dance music in 2013: the renaissance of UK garage, a personal favorite from the early Aughties. A laundry list of guest spots can usually spell doom on albums like this, but the pop-savvy brothers utilize these performers like weapons, an army of vocalists to keep the proceedings moving as quick or as languid as need be: Jessie Ware unleashes her inner disco-diva, Ed Macfarlane keeps it cool, Aluna Francis coos, and Jamie Woon sizzles. A confident and assured album that will suffer from a future backlash, but is oh so right for the times.

Defeated No More

48. Kanye West, Yeezus

A giant middle finger to pop concessions, the iconoclastic noise album he always threatened to unleash, the inspiration for Lou Reed's final public expression, a manifestation of West's anger at his inaccessibility to the highest echelons of fashion. Yeezus was a lot of things to a lot of people, and problematic elements (the lack of hooks, the empty posturing, the Nina Simone sample, the ridiculous video) aside, this is the album that defined the year - the unconventional roll-out ("Black Skinhead" projected on architecture), the rage, the noise, the blind adoration.

New Slaves

47. Zomby, With Love

Mysterious UK producer Zomby has never been one to shy away from following his own muse and operating at whatever level he deems fit. Following 2011's funereal Dedication, he follows it up with a grandiose double disc of 33 tracks, at times monochromatic, frequently cut abruptly short, sometimes acting as sketches. Bass and trap weigh heavily on the proceedings, and his penchant for plaintive vocal samples is prevalent as ever. It could be his magnum opus, or the moment he finally went over the edge, but it makes for intriguing listening.

With Love

46. Goldfrapp, Tales of Us

A down-payment on future rewards. Ever since the dark disco thrills of Supernature, I have initially felt underwhelmed with Goldfrapp's new releases, only to find myself constantly revisiting them: Seventh Tree's gentle folktronica slowly revealed its pop heart underneath, and Headfirst's surface gleam started to distract less from the melancholy. This new album should be a similar slow burner, all melancholy pianos and strings supporting Alison's gorgeous vocals, with haunting lyrics about real people.

Annabel

45. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady

The divine Ms. Monae continues her future-shock apocalypse R&B inferno story of the messianic android Cindi Mayweather - and the results are the typical Monae madness, and a larger guest list that includes Prince and Erykah Badu. Serving as the prequel to 2010's breakthrough The ArchAndroid, the music incorporates jazz, funk, R&B, sensual ballads and gospel to a larger degree, and the radio interludes are one of the few instances of skits that serve a thematic purpose. Cannot wait for the sixth and concluding seventh instalment in the saga.

Dance Apocalyptic

44. The Haxan Cloak, Excavation

The year's blackest, most crushing and unforgiving album, an album-length aural vision of the afterlife - the inaccessibility, the horror, the life-affirming of it. Bobby Krlic plunges you in head-first and doesn't allow for much breathing space: the results are as much Sunn O)))-esque doom as they are electronic. And it is strangely exhilarating.

The Mirror Reflecting (Part II)

43. Haim, Days Are Gone

The Haim sisters stormed out of LA with a debut album equally beloved and reviled, a pop collage cherry picking the finest elements of 70's and 80's radio rock with the gloss of 10's recording (courtesy of the ubiquitous Ariel Rechtshaid) - it is pure hipster, cloying, but unabashedly sticky pop, 11 perfect tracks, one after the other. If you let your guard down, it is impossible not to sing along.

Don't Save Me

42. Ben UFO, Fabriclive 67

If anything, Ben UFO has proven himself to be a peerless selector of the best that underground electronic has to offer, and a deft splicer of said songs in a jumbled order that makes perfect sense. Though it isn't as light or emotional charged as his amazing Rinse 16 album, there is a distinct sense of a master at work, completely at ease with his selections, in utter charge of the flow - the transitions aren't flawless, but UFO does it with such charisma that you are disarmed and continue to dance.

Fabriclive 67 Trailer

41. The National, Trouble Will Find Me

Imagine being the National. Is it easy to replicate their oaken, sturdy and increasingly melancholy sound? Is it difficult to buck the expectations that they will change, or stay the same? Do they just go in the studio and record whatever, knowing that whatever they release will be adored and called their best effort so far? The band is in rarefied air, as eagerly anticipated as any of the most popular bands, and they cannot go wrong. So, another National album. You know what you are getting, and you know it will be great.

Demons

40. Pusha T, My Name Is My Name

As one half of the perennially underrated Clipse, and after years of delays, Pusha T's solo album has finally arrived - a lean, mean 12 tracks with a star studded cast that never distracts from his distinctive flow and varied stylistic attack. From trap to classic early Aughties rap to an ice cold shine that perfectly complements his cocaine raps, this is the "eghck" we love.

Nosetalgia ft. Kendrick Lamar

39. Burial, Rival Dealer

It's entirely possible that the weight of expectation has burdened Burial to the point at he can no longer think of the LP album. Perhaps he feels that he has already perfected that format, so why not challenge the EP to similar heights. His third EP in two years opens up an entirely new vista for the producer - it is similarly multi-part and expansive, but there is a new emotion coursing around here. Ending with a recorded statement from Lana Wachowski, and a very rare public letter from Burial himself about how this is "anti-bullying music", and its a whole new chapter in the Burial saga.

Come Down To Us

38. Deerhunter, Monomania

"Nocturnal garage". "avant garde(?) but only in context not form (original intent of avant garde (1912-59) / before logic: FOG MACHINE / LEATHER / NEON. Deerhunter's press release about their new release in three years offered precious concrete ideas about the sound, but there is little you need to know in advance; this is one of the most fascinating and consistent American bands, and any work of theirs is one to get into.

Back to the Middle

37. Sigur Ros, Kveikur

Quick, name the most famous Icelandic metal band! It would be a long stretch for that label, but Sigur Ros did everything in their power to re-imagine the stagnating sound after last year's critically shrugged-off, stylistic-dead-end Valtari and the departure of their keyboardist. End result? Roiling rhythms! More guitars playing less texture! Strong vocals! Cinematic grandeur for a Refn movie! A thrilling and ripe addition to their sterling legacy.

Brennisteinn

36. Segue, Pacifica

One of the best dub techno albums in recent memory, Segue crafted this album to highlight melodies, and to emphasize the natural beauty that is prevalent in its tones. It is an ideal album that follows in the path of recent favorites by Voices From the Lake and Petar Dundov, a lush and serene album that is ideal for a night drive or bedroom listening.

Snow Dub

35. Moderat, II

Moderat is the portmanteau of notorious party-starters Modeselektor and melancholic dance-popper Apparat, and the combination of the two is an appropriate melancholic party album, one that is crafted to be listened to a seamless whole on the dance floor or in the bedroom, a refreshing exception to the year's crushing darkness.

Bad Kingdom

34. Factory Floor, Factory Floor

A short lifetime in pop music since their inception and live shows left critics salivating, Factory Floor finally release their debut album on the DFA label after a three year gestation. A tightly crafted amalgam of rhythm, synth and vocals, with the briefest splashes of guitar dissonance thrown in as a palate cleanser, this is post-industrial disco that demands to be played at maximum volume.

Two Different Ways

33. John Talabot, DJ-Kicks

Coming on the heels of his adored fin debut from last year, K7 chose Talabot to helm their flagship mix series, and he turned in a stunner, seamless flowing from Balearic euphoria to a steady house beat, crafting a smooth mix that is as distinctive as his own work: bright, sensitive and endlessly re-playable.

Without You (DJ-Kicks)

32. Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap

This is only Chance's second mixtape, and he is only 20, but the lyrical maturity and unbridled enthusiasm (his preferred ad-libbing sounds like an eager puppy yelping) he exhibits on this album, coupled with the stunning music he curates and chooses from, mark him as a young talent to watch, and the best bet to saddle with the crushing "next Kendrick" label.

Cocoa Butter Kisses

31. Kelela, Cut 4 Me

If you think that singers teaming up with forward-thinking producers is a great trend (think Jessie Ware + Julio Bashmore), chances are you have heard and loved Kelela's debut mixtape. Enlisting the services of Night Slugs/Fade to Black artists like Jam City, Nguzunguzu, Kingdom and Bok Bok - who provide her with some of their tastiest productions - she allows for the appropriate push-and-pull, never overtaking the music but never letting it overwhelm her. The result is some killer future-pop, all at the consumer-friendly price of free.

Bank Head

30. DJ Sprinkles, Queerifications & Ruins / Where Dance Floors Stand Still


A double-disc compilation of recent remixes and a 14-track selection of like-minded deep house - we were graced with almost three-and-a-half hours of Sprinkles magic this year. Anyone who counts Midtown 120 Blues as a favorite needs to check these two albums out as proof that deep house, emotional and healing and propulsive, is alive and well in the caring hands of Terre Thaemlitz.

Ducktails - Letter of Intent (DJ Sprinkles' Post Script)

29. David Bowie, The Next Day

Here I am, not quite dead. Very much alive. Announced on his 66th birthday, several years since he had been written off as an MIA pop trailblazer with an empty tank, Bowie returned with fangs bared, a triumphant reassertion of past glories and perhaps a final salvo in a peerless career. We didn't deserve to see The Next Day, and there may not be another, but what a surprising and essential album.

Heat

28. Daniel Avery, Drone Logic

A quick run of singles, a massive Fabriclive compilation, and now the masterful debut album: young British producer Daniel Avery has taken the familiar elements and placed them into a unified whole that doesn't offer the well-versed many surprises, but will wow the uninitiated. The twisted Detroit machine funk rages white-hot for nine tracks before the final three tracks of glorious, Field-like kosmiche brilliance tie it all up in a glittering bow, putting the exclamation on a well-rounded LP. And he is just getting started.

Knowing We'll Be Here

27. Tim Hecker, Virgins

Working with real musicians for the first time, Hecker does not let the live instrumentation stand out so much as color his compositions, brief splashes of the familiar making the unfamiliar that much more haunting and frightening.There is a certain thing that Hecker does very well, and if you haven't enjoyed it before, chances are you won't join up, but he is making some of the best music out there.

Stab Variation

26. The Field, Cupid's Head

The black album cover really throws you for a loop and disrupts the fine flow of Axel Wilner's run of three slightly off-white images, a visual aesthetic as memorable as any in recent album designs. What hasn't changed is his unimpeachable ear for the magic of repetition, something he admitted he found difficult at first to conjure. But voila, "No. No..." came to him in an inspiration, and the rest is looping wonder for the rest of us. I struggle to think of another producer who has accomplished so much with so little.

Cupid's Head

25. Death Grips, Government Plates

After a year of high-profile turmoil that included a very public spat with Epic (and their subsequent firing), a phallic album cover, and endless strings of cancelled concert appearances, Death Grips returned full strength in November with what got them attention in the first place: creating abrasive, confrontational and thrilling music. This is closer to The Money Store's more conventional song structures than No Love Deep Web's blunt confrontation, and is not reactionary to the turmoil they made for themselves; they simply want to make you uncomfortable while banging your head.

Birds

24. Arctic Monkeys, AM

I had been a casual follower of the Monkeys after their sophomore album Favorite Worst Nightmare dropped in 2007, and was shocked at how immediate and relentless fifth album AM is: their previous collaboration with Josh Homme had lead to a more stomping sound on 2011's Suck It and See, and that sound has come full circle with a glammed up attitude here, a top-to-bottom barnburner with every song a potential smash single.

Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?

23. James Blake, Overgrown

A surprise, deserving winner of the Mercury Prize, Blake's sophomore album establishes his intentions with music: the razor-sharp dubstep of CMYK is a thing of the past, and the more straightforward singer-songwriter (albeit of a heavily electronic, 21st variety) guise will be further developed. His spirit of collaboration leads to some gems (Brian Eno on "Digital Lion") and some questionable affairs (RZA on "Take a Fall For Me"), but the maturity and confidence of his work is immediately apparent, and it will be a delight to watch him down the road.

Retrograde

22. Forest Swords, Engravings

The logical thing to do after releasing an EP that is salivated over is to follow it up quickly with some more work. Matthew Barnes however, took three years to follow up Dagger Paths, and pulled us further into that world's dusty, acoustic ambience. Engravings was inspired by nature and mixed outside - he lives in a forested part of England - and the results are as beautiful as ever, a Burial for 4 am in the woods rather than the city.

Thor's Stone

21. DJ Koze, Amygdala

Eight years since his debut, with numerous singles and remixes since, DJ Koze finally returns to Pampa to deliver his self-described Sgt. Pepper's, a kaleidoscope of deep house, folksy electronica, and a bevy of guests, from Matthew Dear to Caribou to Apparat. At a hugely generous 80 minutes, this is a record to luxuriate in.

Das Wort

20. Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven

The follow up to my 2011 AOTY is a slight return to the arpeggiated, MIDI-based sound of OPN's earlier work, albeit done with a larger budget on Warp. The same surreal sounds, of the cold pre-set sounds of early 80s computing, create a hall of mirrors to get lost in, alternately familiar and disorienting, with the vaguest snatches of melody floating in and out of focus. Another masterful work of inexplicable beauty.

Problem Areas

19. Sandwell District, fabric 69

The elusive techno mavericks of Sandwell District (Regis, Function and Silent Servant) have crafted some of the most ominous, darkest, and fascinating electronic music of the past few years, and their mix for the esteemed London label/club serves as their epitaph - a clinically precise, hypnotic and disorienting distillation of their past triumphs and other like-minded artists. Sandwell District may be dead, but their spirit carries on.

fabric 69 Trailer

18. Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus

The multiple levels of surrealism were entirely appropriate for a band like Fuck Buttons: standing in the casino section of a Manila hotel resort after a gut-busting buffet, staring blankly at a massive tv screen playing the London Olympic opening ceremony as the familiar strains of "Olympians" from Tarot Sport blared into the world. Luckily, their first new album in four years was just as surreal, a completely post-everything effort that took disparate elements into an uncompromising whole, as cold and aloof as it is gently yielding. They did not take the logical next step of commercialism, and we are all the luckier.

The Right Wing

17. Laurel Halo, Chance of Rain

Coming quick on the heels of her iridescent vocal-based debut album Quarantine, Halo's new work for Hyperdub was bookended by brief piano interludes that showcased her classical training, and jam-packed the middle with obtuse, difficult, utterly bewitching electronic skullduggery. From one left-turn to another, Halo has us constantly running to catch up.

Serendip

16. Danny Brown, Old

Brown's list of his favourite albums for Complex magazine is one of the most interesting from a public persona, and sheds a great deal of light on why Old is such a triumph, and so hard to pigeonhole into a simple rap genre. He had stated that he wanted the music to bang and mutate, and be just as interesting by itself as the lyrics, with Kid A a direct reference point. So with help from folks like Purity Ring, Rustie and SKYWLKR, he turned in a half-cloud-rap, half-dubstep-nightmare album and ran amok. Which makes it lyrically and musically one of the best rap, nay, Albums of the year, period.

25 Bucks

15. DJ Rashad, Double Cup

Footwork is a tricky sound to make sound good for long stretches: leave it to one of the genre's originators, Chicago-based producer Rashad, and his army of collaborators, to create the genre's first definite LP statement. After two enormous EP's for UK label Hyperdub (the best song of which, "Rollin'", he did not even contribute here), this full-length was the cherry on top of his breakout year. An essential and varied work.

I'm Too Hi

14. Autechre, Exai

When you have been around for so long as Autechre, and thrown so many inscrutable elements together that it more closely resembles audible physics than music, you are entitled to a little indulgence - so Booth and Brown decided to reward themselves with a double album, two full hours of that Autechre magic, running the gamut from warm Incunabula IDM to Confield's obtuseness and everything in-between, serving as a summation of everything that has come, and offering hints at what is still in the future.

bladelores

13. Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks

Hi guys, here is my new album with my wife, this is one of the most rewarding musical projects I've ever done! Just kidding, we are on hiatus and now I am back with my true money maker! I have created my best album since 1999 and my new tour is gonna blow your minds! A killer about-face from Reznor results in an amazing, haunting new NIN album, and a fascinating glimpse at what may be next for the long running group.

While I'm Still Here

12. Beyonce, Beyonce

Blink and you missed it. One of the biggest music stars on the planet, in a process that surely took months of absolute secrecy, crafted a 14-track album, with 18 high-budget accompanying videos, and dropped it on the world out of the clear blue sky with no advance word. How this was accomplished in today's hyper-connected digital realm will be a discussion for the times, but the music within speaks volumes. After the light-weight 4, Beyonce wrangled an all-star cast of collaborators and stood on their shoulders with a meaty, challenging, uncompromising and fully-formed vision of intent. After a year of endless coverage of shrill, vapid popstars, it took Beyonce a day to show up and show everybody up. A definitive statement of 2013

Blow

11. My Bloody Valentine, m b v

Think about what you were doing 22 years ago. Chances are, you weren't rearranging the musical landscape like Kevin Shields was. It has been a long wait since Loveless, one that was so ridiculous that it has long ago passed from punchline to mere matter of fact. But now that m b v is here, we can only rejoice - at its low key announcement on a February Saturday night, at its untimeliness, at its timelessness. May our children have the pleasure of a new MBV album in 2035.

she found now

10. Savages, Silence Yourself

Few debut albums come as perfectly intact and in sync with their ambitions as this group of British post-punks. From the imagery to the manifesto to the blistering music within, Savages arrive with a bang, and immediately set themselves up for staggering expectations.

Shut Up

9. Livity Sound, Livity Sound

Much like Hyperdub's epochal 5 compilation, this double-disc overview represents a crystalline summation of Peverlist, Kowton and Asusu's entire recorded output as Livity Sound - a flawless run of tracks padded with four new productions, from the meditative and arrhythmic to the straightforward, always built on the absolute minimum of elements for maximum sonic assault. They have not released a bad track yet.

Pev - Livity

8. Jessy Lanza, Pull My Hair Back

A young Canadian producer/singer, working with Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan, on an album to be released on Hyperdub. This was basically a can't-miss proposition, and it rose to the challenge admirably. Fully formed and concise (perhaps to a fault), this electro-pop album was fun without being dumb, cutting edge without tipping into absurdity, and just plain fantastic. A refreshing antidote to waves of mainstream garbage.

Kathy Lee

7. Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels

Killer Mike and El-P made strange bedfellows on paper, but after the vicious body blows of R.A.P Music and Cancer 4 Cure, Run the Jewels was the knockout punch to the head: a brutally concise collection of chest-thumping beats and the funniest, most savage litany of braggadocio in well over a decade, an old-skool throwback and easily the best hip-hop of the past several years. A well-earned victory lap.

Banana Clipper ft. Big Boi

6. The Knife, Shaking the Habitual

Seven years and one opera cycle later, the electro-troubadour sibling combo of the knife return sharper (excuse me) than ever and keep with the tenor of the times - exceedingly ambitious double album veering from anarchist gender political techno to chilling Lynchian torch ballads to near-unlistenable noise experiments to a 19-minute drone cuz why not. It won't replace the dark pop thrills of Silent Shout, but we are all the richer for their ambition.

A Tooth For An Eye

5. Jon Hopkins, Immunity

There are a few albums that come along every now and then that wash over you with such convincing force that you are forced to take a moment and reexamine what you just heard. The product of intense focus and assessment, it is a record of two near-perfect sides that come together in a cohesive and fluid statement of purpose, four tracks of buzzing techno and four tracks of contemplative electronics that on the surface scan like a simple journey but are so much more. Amazing.

Open Eye Signal

4. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

Vampire Weekend are a band I constantly try to overrate and forget about come the end of the year they release a new album; then I revisit the album and realize I can't get enough of it. Largely foregoing the yelping indie tics of their first two albums for a richly ornate sound - coupled with Ezra Koenig's indelible lyrics focusing on impending maturity - Modern Vampires is a masterwork and establishes their place in the 21st pop firmament.

Step

3. Darkside, Psychic / Random Access Memories Memories


Nicolas Jaar asserted his place in the musical landscape with a stunning debut album, and handfuls of highly acclaimed live performances that broke the mold of what electronic music could do. For his follow up, he enlisted the help of guitarist Dave Harrington and created a full-length remix of one of the years most insanely over-hyped albums that was miles better than the original. Then one-upped themselves with a majestic long player that revealed itself slowly like an origami piece being assembled. The sky is the limit.

Golden Arrow

2. James Holden, The Inheritors

James Holden's career trajectory has been one to marvel at. From his beginnings as blissed-out trance DJ (his Balance 005 mix is one of the all-time greats of any genre) to label head of Border Community, with a highly lauded, under-heard debut (2006's The Idiots Are Winning) and one of the weirder editions of DJ-Kicks under his belt, there were concerns of his being a one-album wonder. No more. The Inheritors is the type of earth shaking statement that is like a boulder rolling down a mountain, destroying everything in its path, a modular synth masterclass, a 75 minute composition of ethereal electro-acoustic sun-scorched analog fuzz, an album to settle any doubts.

Blackpool Late Eighties

1. Boards of Canada, Tomorrow's Harvest

In a hotel room overlooking Budapest's Chain Bridge in late April, I read the news that the reclusive, believed-absentee genius brothers of BoC, who had been teasing the Internet with scattered clues of something for the previous week, are indeed releasing a new album in June. As I looked to my three-months pregnant wife, I knew 2013 would be a special year. In true BoC fashion, there is little foothold in their new vision: an instantly recognizable fanfare opens the album and quickly dissolves into the drone that dominates the proceedings. In true BoC fashion, they don't adhere to the sounds of the Now: this could be a lost horror movie soundtrack from the 70s, or the current global meltdown missive. In true BoC fashion, this is an album that will grow in stature over the years: let's hope it doesn't take another 7 years for a follow up.

Cold Earth

Honorable Mentions

Dream Theater, Dream Theater
For their first album co-written by new drummer Mike Mangini, the long running prog rock band released their first self-titled album and set boundaries for song lengths: the result is a consise, thrill-a-minute ride of killer almost-pop songs with their usual out-of-this-world musicianship, and a fresh start, well into their third decade.

Laura Marling, Once I Was an Eagle
This contemporary folk singer's fourth album plays more like a novel set to music, an exhaustive dissection of love gone wrong with all the rich instrumental trappings.

Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Unwieldy title aside, this is one hell of a throwback album: two young guys who inhaled decades of music and exhaled it in a pure distillation of 60's psychedelia, with a wildly unhinged live show to match.

Flying Lotus, Ideas+drafts+loops
One of the handful of musicians who dropped some completely free scraps of work, FlyLo's collection is appropriately bugged-out, a thrilling snapshot of his vision, and a great tease of where he may be headed.

Four Tet, Beautiful Rewind / Twitter Mixtape
Not content with releasing a banging album inspired by his recent club experiences, Kieran Hebden also released nearly two hours of fascinating sketches, remixes and unreleased tracks after passing 100,000 Twitter followers. A double treat.

Paul McCartney, New
Even Sir Macca jumped on this minimalist bandwagon this year, if you judge a book by its cover. He is a living institution, and any new work will be beloved or reviled based on the times. This rocking throwback album, with contemporary production from people like Paul Epworth and Ethan Johns, is as good as any since his glory days.

Depeche Mode, Delta Machine
I had a desperate love affair with the DM discography this year in leading up to this album, and while of course this can't compare to their glory years, it is a respectable addition to their formidable catalogue.

Phoenix, Bankrupt!
How do you follow up a gigantic, stadium-ready pop-rock classic from four years ago? You burrow down into less immediate thrills, more expansive songwriting, and texture over melody. A potential career-staller, but good on Phoenix not to take the easy route.

Primal Scream, More Light
Every new Primal Scream album is heralded as their best since Screamadelica, and nearly as good as XTRMNTR, and its rarely true. Except now. A throwback to their Stones-y jangle-rock with a splattering of the free-for-all noise assault of XTRMNTR, this album will make you believe once again.

Deafheaven, Sunbather
Some crazy scoring system gave this album the highest rating for the year on Metacritic, with no year-end love to show for it. No matter. Forget the divisiveness of this record and put it on loud. Close your eyes. Soon enough you will see the color of the cover, as if you were facing the sun. A fantastic achievement.

Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Everything that you loved about Smoke Ring from 2011, dialed up a notch. How Vile even manages to stay awake through all the haze is a wonder, but its easy to lay back and let his vibes wash over you.

Steven Wilson, The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories
As frontman for Porcupine Tree, Wilson is responsible for some of the smartest and heaviest prog rock of recent years. As producer and remixer extraordinaire, he has reissued some of the most famous prog works in crystalline, reference-worthy 5.1 mixes. As a solo artist, he combines these traits into aural magic on this challenging and amazing album.

Atoms For Peace, Amok
One of the rare supergroups that coalesced into a formidable whole, and flew under the radar, Atoms for Peace's debut was slept on through the year, but made for an efficient follow-up to Thom Yorke's solo album The Eraser - if you liked that, chances are you enjoyed this album.

Mazzy Star, Seasons Of Your Day
One last album by a band back after a prolonged absence. There was little reason to expect much from Mazzy's first album in seventeen years, but in true fashion, they deliver an understated gem with Hope Sandoval's peerless vocals.

Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience
A simple video following Timberlake through a labyrinth, ending in a vocal booth, was the first salvo in the year that journeyed from breathless anticipation to utter market saturation and savage backlash - his first musical endeavor since 2006 was a continuation of the maximalist, multi-suite epics that peppered FutureSex, taken to the logical extreme. Foregoing the current trends for a classic soulful feel, with the requisite Timbaland-isms, 20/20 is Married Music, love letters to his wife, clumsy lyrics and luxurious instrumentations alike. He is an Entertainer in the classic sense, and it is good to have him strut his stuff.

Overrated of the Year

Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
Seven years is a long time to wait between albums. A bumper crop of artists we last heard from in 2006 (Boards of Canada, The Knife, Holden, Justin Timberlake) finally returned this year, but none was trumpeted as loudly as these Parisian robots. They commandeered the biggest and longest roll-out (GIORGIO MORODER, Glastonbury hype-jacking, album-listening party in the middle of Australian sheep-country, NILE RODGERS, did I mention MORODER guest-spots??), and we were distracted to the point where we didn't even care about what was most important - the music. Because they hadn't released any. A 15-second snippet of "Get Lucky", then the radio edit of "Get Lucky" - a light-as-air Chic rip-off with a vocoder breakdown not at all different from "Digital Love". Repeat ad infinitum until the masses are slack-jawed and drooling and unwilling to assess. The album, as it stands, is a hugely expensive-sounding disco throwback that, like the worst of that era, is utterly vapid and, simply put, boring as a white wall. All the accolades thrown their way about innovation and forward-thinking are bullshit; they merely flexed more financial muscle to make the musical equivalent of a Tamagotchi. Let's include the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, and it is twelve years and counting since Daft Punk has released a worthwhile album.

Arcade Fire, Reflektor
Similar case to Daft Punk's on a slightly smaller scale. You can't fault Arcade Fire for winning the biggest Grammy of 2011, and it is refreshing to see them trade in their well-worn indie tropes for a different sound - until you dig in and realize its a red herring. The heralded Studio 54/Haitian voodoo propulsiveness and veve imagery mask an album not so different from the standard sound. Win Butler dropped some pretty heavy references in discussing the subject matter (Kierkegard, etc.), and reading into the lyrics, you wonder where all the heaviness went - because in between the endless repetition and vapidity, Reflektor is content to scratch the surface rather than gouge like past works. Self-editing is a side issue; whether it was 75 minutes long or 50, it would still be a boring album of half-baked ideas.

Worst of the Year

Jay-Z, Magna Carta Holy Grail
A ludicrously overwrought roll-out (MCHG posing beside the actual Magna Carta because why not), the nothing songs, completely unrelatable subject matter - this album marks the point where Shawn Carter loses all charisma and becomes what he had been chasing his entire career: a business, man. Your baby desecrated a Picasso that hangs in your bathroom? That's cool, my baby just desecrated a t-shirt I've been wearing for five years and I don't want to spend $15 on a new one. This is the point of the movie where the good guy reaches the top - and we spend an hour watching him rolling in luxurious filth and sneering at us.

Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience Part 2
Not sure where or how the idea of two discs of overblown pop took root, or who said it would be a good idea to dilute JT's potent product to such lows, but this album is basically the epitome of useless, a potential career-killer (remember what happened after Guns n' Roses dropped two discs of the same thing? Where was Nelly after Sweat/Suit?), an utter train-wreck, from the controversially titled first single to the tuneless songs, this was a hubris-guided need to make it a "20/20 experience", and what was supposed to be Justin's year, what started with him riding in like a returning emperor, turned into him feeling like critics "shit in his mouth", or something along those lines from GQ's interview. We can try to forget this album ever happened, but it will be hard.

Some Random Songs

Dream Theater - Illumination Theory

A$AP Rocky ft. Drake, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar - Fuckin' Problems

Chvrches - The Mother We Share

Drake - Hold On, We're Going Home

A$AP Ferg - Shabba

The Knife - Full of Fire

Blood Orange - You're Not Good Enough

John Newman - Love Me Again

Nine Inch Nails - Came Back Haunted

Haim - The Wire

DJ Rashad - Rollin'

Isolee - Allowance

The Mole - Lockdown Party (DJ Sprinkles Crossfaderama)