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Spinnaker Radio’s favorite albums of 2013

If you don't like these albums that's okay, but you're wrong
If you don’t like these albums that’s okay.

The end of the year marks the beginning of the annual music journalism tradition: “best of…” lists. Bands with zero resemblance whatsoever are pitted against each other in a musical battle royale. The end product is a ranking of music that attempts to appease a broad range of readers, yet instead only pisses everyone off as a result. Spinnaker Radio experienced similar feedback when we published our “Top 10 Albums of 2013 (So Far).”

Thus, we’re going to try something different: instead of an arbitrary ranking of the best albums that came out in 2013, Mason McGough (former Station Manager), Margaret Dodds (Assistant Music Director), Douglas Markowitz (DJ and contributing writer) and I (Logan Buzzell, Music Director) are providing an overview of 20 albums that defined the tastes of our DJs and staff.

See this list more as a suggestion of cool bands and tracks to check out as opposed to a definitive statement on this year’s music. Don’t agree with our choices? That’s cool. I want to punch Chance the Rapper in the throat for every yelp that he makes. Meanwhile, Margaret is still befuddled by Doug and I worshipping Death Grips. But the key is that we respected our differences because that’s what sharing music is all about.

With that, we present 20 of our favorite albums of 2013!

My Bloody Valentine – m b v

In a year of dinosaur bands returning to roam the Earth, perhaps My Bloody Valentine’s comeback was the most unanticipated. After almost 22 years of countless startups, starovers, teases and broken promises that can only be rivaled by Smile, My Bloody Valentine released their follow-up to the seminal Loveless. What is astonishing about m b v is that it retains the sensual chaos of loveless Loveless I swoon over while pushing the band in new directions guided by the industrial genre and the drum and bass genre. For an album that few thought would ever see the light of day, m b v marks one of the few instances of a legendary band following up their signature album with another classic. – Logan Buzzell

Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse

Adolescence is one of the defining characteristics of Youth Lagoon’s sophomore album, Wondrous Bughouse. Trevor Powers sings with a childlike voice over psychedelic guitars and keyboards. Even a recorder that makes an appearance. Meanwhile, the production successfully fuses lo-fi and dream pop styles. All of this gives Wondrous Bughouse a sense of nostalgia over juvenile experiences. But this memory is frequently juxtaposed by grim images of death, corpses and evil. The end result is as gorgeous as it as haunting. – Logan Buzzell

The Flaming Lips – The Terror

Small wonder that the same band that made The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots unleashed this anxious, eclectic trip of an album filled with buzzing synths, pounding drums and the loneliest and darkest lyrics Wayne Coyne has ever written. Several grim events – Wanye’s split with his partner of 25 years and band member Steven Drozd’s relapse – inspire The Terror’s production, and it shows. Intense, chugging drums and spaceship take-off noises on “Look…the Sun is Rising,” accompany bleak, drone-y pieces like “Turning Violent.” With a little help from Phantogram, the nerve-racking elements that compose the album reach their peak on one of the essential musical experience of 2013, “You Lust.” As a whole, The Terror is strongly recommended listening while driving on a highway at night, the best possible environment for Terror-izing yourself. – Douglas Markowitz

James Blake – Overgrown

James Blake shows us a slightly different side of himself in his newest LP, Overgrown. It’s a showier album than Blake’s 2011 debut, incorporating more gospel as well as R&B elements and a wider variety of textures. Blake seems to have opted for the singer-songwriter direction, making music more aimed towards the heart rather than the head. Overgrown exuberates Blake’s fondness for gloomy, bass-heavy soundscapes rooted in R&B. Although not as wall-to-wall great as his debut, fans of his debut James Blake will still find much to admire in this most recent record. Whether he’s making bass-heavy bangers, quiet melodies or, as of recently, something in-between, James Blake is a modern master of musical emotion. – Margaret Dodds

The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

Listening to to Shaking the Habitual is a struggle. Clocking in at 96 minutes, Shaking the Habitual throws away any notion of cohesion. Elaborate layers of percussion drawn from world music is followed by blaring polyrhythmic synth beats which is then followed by ambient droning. All of this is accomplished within the first three songs. Meanwhile, song lengths range from half a minute to 19. Just like in 2012’s The Seer, the Knife have tied a disjointed range of melodies and themes into an epic whole. It’s bizarre, abrasive and difficult, which makes it one of this year’s highlights. – Logan Buzzell

Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

Chancelor Bennett, or Chance the Rapper delivered one of the best mixtapes of 2013 with Acid Rap. This Chicago native is taking the rap game by storm. Man, oh man, does he have flow. Not only was this mixtape released for free, but each individual track flows so organically it’s nearly impossible to turn off. His strong lyrics are not only witty and relatively funny, but they speak. They speak of struggle and take you on a musical journey throughout Chance’s life and experiences, all while maintaining flow. Chance is easy to relate to and his sound can appeal to anyone, a task pretty hard to do in the rap industry. – Margaret Dodds

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

This time around, Vampire Weekend decided to take on weighty subjects like God, millennial grief and dying young – excuse me, “Diane Young.” They emerged with, not only their best effort to date, but one of the preeminent musical statements of their generation. Ezra Koenig and company have truly crafted a piece of art that will stand the test of time and dismissed any notion of being an indie flavor of the month. A generation from now, everyone who listened to Modern Vampires will have a favorite song and a favorite line, thanks to reference-heavy, wise-beyond-their-years songwriting and elements of baroque music that add to its religiously-informed themes. Undoubtedly, Vampire Weekend have proved their worth in this absolute triumph. – Douglas Markowitz

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

The truth behind corny statements is that they only become corny because they resonate with so many people. Random Access Memories (RAM) is the immaculate new album from the legendary Electrohouse duo, but it initially parsed audiences for both being radically different from their older material and for emulating the “tried-and-true” tactics of popular music in the 70s and 80s. RAM serves two purposes. Firstly, it’s a love letter/tribute to the disco, funk, electronic and pop musicians that were formative to Daft Punk’s modus operandi. More interestingly, it’s also the helmet-toting duo’s way of posing a question to us as listeners about our musical priorities. Lately, we’ve yearned for increasing emotional complexity in the music we consume, but are we forgetting what used to work? The light, pleasurable melodies and positive statements that used to resonate so well? In Random Access Memories, Daft Punk make a possibly bolder statement than any other artists in 2013 by simply asking: What’s wrong with enjoying the cliché? – Mason McGough


The National – Trouble Will Find Me

At the mention of the National, our music director Logan always gives the same opinion: they’re good at what they do. Their latest work, Trouble Will Find Me, reaffirms that terse statement, but also moves past the common labels affixed to the band: “somber rock,” “yuppie-core,” “drinking-whiskey-alone-in-a-bar music.” This album sees the band relaxing a bit, settling into their defining songwriting themes like responsibility, family and existential dread while Matt Berninger’s steady baritone remains affixed to the calming melancholy of their instrumentals. There’s a science to working within such a unique sound, and the National have once again achieved it. – Douglas Markowitz

Disclosure – Settle

Disclosure brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence have produced one heck of a dance album this year, creating some serious waves in the dance music community. Emerging seemingly out of thin air, they’ve somewhat changed the game of mainstream dance music. Their debut album Settle features a wide variety of carefully selected collaborators including London Grammar, AlunaGeorge and Jessie Ware, ensuring that the Lawrence brothers are on track to invade the radio waves. The number of influences they use to create their effortlessly addictive sound makes this duo unique. One thing is for certain: the future is bright for these two. – Margaret Dodds

Deafheaven – Sunbather

“I don’t listen to black metal but…” is the phrase I always hear when starting a discussion on Deafheaven’s debut album, Sunbather. At first glance it seems surprising that an album with indecipherable screaming, post-rock inspired song structures and unrelenting fury would have such a large cross-genre appeal. The source of this is in the inner beauty and intimacy beneath the layers reminiscent of Loveless. With surprising shifts in moods, tones and dynamics, Sunbather avoids being an hour of yelling and becomes an entry point into a new genre of music. – Logan Buzzell

Kanye West – Yeezus

Yeezus’ pile of accolades masks how divisive it is to the music-devouring public. Even here at Spinnaker Radio, half a year since its release, there is a no clear consensus on this record. Lines such as “She asked me what I wished for on my wish list/ Have you ever asked your bitch for other bitches?” straddle the line between sheer genius and outright terrible. Hell, from the over the top narcissism of “I Am a God” to his childishly angry political rant on “New Slaves,” the whole album straddles that line. Yet, the compilation of audacious tracks represent a tremendous rejection of the music industry and mainstream music. That and it’s hilarious. – Logan Buzzell

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels

Thanks to Kanye, June was a hectic month for hip-hop fans. No matter how you felt about Yeezus, the real treat came a week later in the form of Killer Mike and El-P uniting to create one of the banginest banger albums of 2013. Mike and El-P both put out heavily political solo albums last year, but as Run the Jewels, their only lyrical objective is to completely destroy anyone who would dare try and mess with ‘em. Seriously, the bars on this monster are completely incomparable. In the deepest depths of Yeezy season, Killer Mike moves “with the elegance of an African elephant,” and doesn’t miss a step with the epic El-P production thrashing around in the background. Run the Jewels is 33 minutes of a rap fan’s dream come true. – Douglas Markowitz

BANKS – London EP

BANKS, aka Jillian Banks, is a female musician hailing from Los Angeles. Her recent EP release titled London renders a dim and dark pop that has me continuously coming back for more. Although her lyrics seem to focus on loss, abuse and obsession, each song grabs your attention like a conventional pop song might, but I’m finding them sticking to me for a whole other reason. There’s a sense of realness when it comes to BANKS’ music, a realness I find hard to come by these days. Her beautiful voice and powerful lyrics hit home for me and I’m just sitting over here wondering what’s coming next. – Margaret Dodds

Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven

Constructed from cobbled together stock sounds and computerized MIDI effects, Daniel Lopatin’s latest release as Oneohtrix Point Never marks an attempt by the electronic composer to explore new and unexpected musical timbres, especially those that might be considered goofy or cheesy. “Boring Angel” and the epic closer “Chrome Country” give the impression of sitting in an empty, digitized cathedral. “Zebra” begins like something you’d dance to if it had a beat before switching to an airy, ambient mode, then switching back to the pulse. It begs to be boomed out of an expensive sound system. Trying to find a unified theme in these tracks is like looking at a Dali painting, and to borrow a phrase from the video for “Still Life (Betamale),” “you can see every detail clearly, but cannot grasp the meaning.” Yet for all its mystique, R Plus Seven begs to be recognized as one of electronic music’s latest triumphs. – Douglas Markowitz

Darkside – Psychic

Minimalist electronic producer Nicolas Jaar caught the indie community’s attention with his 2011 debut Space is Only Noise, but it took the combined talents of Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington to create the smoothest album of the year. Several high-profile artists spent the year attempting to resuscitate the dormant sound of disco – most notably Daft Punk and Arcade Fire – but Darkside put the most inventive spin on the sleeping genre, fusing Jaar’s mysterious voice and spacious production techniques with the seductive twang of Harrington’s guitar. It’s not exactly dance music, and it’s not exactly disco, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable entries of 2013. – Douglas Markowitz


Danny Brown – Old

Danny Brown is oftentimes crass, crude and pretty damn funny. Dedicating Side A to being “Old,” Brown decides to move beyond the dick jokes of his previous two albums and focus more on the demons of his past. Brown describes watching his uncle smoke crack, witnessing domestic violence and seeing a murder take place. For a man who brags about his drug use and legitimacy, Brown laments on what he had to experience to make him the man he is today. But after all the self-reflection, Brown says to hell with it, pops a molly and dedicates Side B to “Dope Songs.” The dick jokes come back alongside twerk anthems and drug endorsements. The dichotomy demonstrates the versatility and creativity and one of rap’s leading figures. – Logan Buzzell

DJ Rashad – Double Cup

The Chicago resident, DJ Rashad’s recent full-length debut on Hyperdub is the perfect combination of techno and house with a splash of instrumental hip hop. Featuring appearances from DJ Phil, DJ Spinn, Addison Groove, just to name a few, this album is brilliant overall with superb mixing and production throughout. Double Cup’s deep soulfulness is a refreshing take on today’s dance music, making it hard to find a fresher sounding record this year. – Margaret Dodds

Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Reflektor is the fourth and most recent album release by one of the best indie rock groups of our generation. Produced by the disco loving James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, this album is unlike any other. Filled to the rim with range, each song extends in a different direction, all-merging together to create their most upbeat album to date. Arcade Fire is most certainly headed in the right direction with each track effortlessly moving both the body and, creating a whirlwind of danceable emotion. This album is most definitely deserving of all the recognition it’s been receiving this year. – Margaret Dodds

Death Grips – Government Plates

Death Grips doesn’t give a damn. After a notorious year of no-showing concerts and preemptively releasing their sophomore album, No Love Deep Webb, to the chagrin of their record label, Death Grips dropped an unannounced mixtape on Facebook. For a band regarded as one of the most singular acts in contemporary music, Government Plates ups the ante on the band’s violent, nihilistic soundscape. The level of lyrical and melodic savagery from the first half of this album is exhilarating. Meanwhile, the second half consists of minimal lyrics and electronic beats that explore new elements unseen in previous work. But its the monster closer “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)” that epitomizes Government Plates and Death Grips as a whole: manic, disjointed, unnerving, rageful and pioneering. – Logan Buzzell

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