Best Albums of 2013 So Far
With the year half done, it’s high time we consider the Best Albums of 2013 So Far. These lists are gambles, as the albums we dig in the spring and summer might not hold up in the fall and winter, but we’ve got a good feeling about the following 10 records. Presented in no particular order, our picks include perennial faves and promising rookies alike, and stylistically, they’re all over the map, spanning spiky post-punk to sensual R&B. For our year-end Best Albums of 2013 list to look significantly different than this midyear one, the coming months will have to bring some pretty amazing product. Let’s hope they do.
The first entry on our Best Albums of 2013 So Far list opens with a tune called 'Shut Up,' as if anyone would dare speak while these London ladies are plugged in and throwing down. The foursome is constantly compared to Wire, Gang of Four and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and while they certainly echo those and other post-punk greats, Savages play with a ferocity all their own. It borders on frightening, particularly in the live setting.
'Modern Vampires of the City'
On their first two albums, the Weekenders seemed nice enough, but there was a degree of self-satisfaction behind their oh-so-clever lyrics and Afro-pop riffing. Here, they lose the dickish grins and ponder mortality, and the result is their most confident and heartfelt set of songs yet. The wild-card standout is 'Diane Young,' possibly an homage to Kenny Loggins' work on the 'Caddyshack' soundtrack. There's even a golf reference!
'Kids in L.A.'
On their second album, the duo of Jesse Kivel and Zinzi Edmundson draw on the vapid characters of Bret Easton Ellis novels and the slick grooves and bittersweet melodies of '80s Latin freestyle music. Whether you'd actually want to live in their fantasy version of 1986, it's a fun place to hang for 38 minutes -- or for the entire summer.
'Random Access Memories'
Journalists are getting a lot of mileage out of that "human after all" line, as these French man-bots finally live up to the title of their 2005 album and trade samples and house beats for real instruments and organic disco grooves. They even nab Chic's Nile Rodgers to give this good-time record the proper 'Good Times' feel. If Daft Punk are making amends for all the bad EDM they inspired, apology accepted.
'Wakin on a Pretty Daze'
If you dig Tom Petty but wish the dude were just a little more chill, Kurt Vile's your man. On his fifth full-length -- our next selection on the Best Albums of 2013 So Far list -- the cucumber-cool Philly rocker kicks his usual sweet and lackadaisical jams, flashing some guitar heroics and nimble finger-picking but seldom breaking a sweat and never showing off. Every Kurt Vile album could be called 'Wakin On a Pretty Daze,' but this one really earns the title.
In the 16 years between 'Slow Summits' and their previous album, the Pastels watched from the sidelines as scores of lesser bands cribbed the "shambling" indie sound for which their were initially known. Plenty nailed the jangle, but few had the Pastels' personality, and with 'Slow Summits,' the gang from Glasgow returns to school the shaggy masses with a set of tidy chamber-pop tunes. If 'Check My Heart' doesn't lower your blood pressure a few ticks, well, it's time to get your heart checked.
These days, everyone's weak in the knees (yes, that was an SWV reference) for '90s R&B, but rather than go all chopped and screwed and reduce the music to avant-garde goo, this British songstress does dial-up-era dance-pop with confidence and sophistication. She's like a hipper, less histrionic Adele or a more with-it Whitney Houston, and when she sings on 'Wild Moments' about how "we could be the greatest" and yet also "the worst of all," she may be the world's wisest 28-year-old.
'Antenna to the World'
Think of this next entry on our Best Albums of 2013 So Far list as a time and money saver. Combining the twee-ness of the Pastels with the lazy sway of Kurt Vile, it's a reasonable substitute for both, though really, it sounds nothing like either. Alternately whimsical and harrowing, the latest and greatest from this San Francisco band flits musically between '60s pop and New Wave and thematically between the sweet ('Path of Orbit') and sour ('Girl on the Street') sides of life. 'Mutilator' and 'Green Blood,' all about tangling with a lover's cyborg husband, fall somewhere in between.
One of the guys behind this U.K. sibling duo is only 19, and that probably means he's better positioned than most folks -- even his 22-year-old bro -- to judge what's cool in the dance-music underground. Until a couple of 12-year-old DJs come along and really rock our world, we'll spin this set of hooky house jams, the best of are strong enough for the clubs but pH balanced for the pop charts.
Like Cascine labelmate Rush Midnight or the great Twin Shadow, this Brooklyn trio specializes in achingly lovely synth-pop tunes. If the aforementioned Kisses aim for 'Less Than Zero,' Selebrities do musical John Hughes fanfic.