Best of 2013 (So Far): Aaron's Picks

10.  Jim James - Regions of Light and Sound of God

If Erykah Badu moved to a cabin in the wilderness to chop wood and distill spirits while somehow growing a beard in the process, this is the psychedelic folk R&B record she would record when she came back to the grid.  And that is absolutely a compliment to Jim James.  Hell, that’s a compliment to anybody.

9.  Chelsea Light Moving - Chelsea Light Moving

Chelsea Light Moving accomplish many objectives on their eponymous debut.  One listen (or many) makes it obvious that their intention is to appear, to disappear, to punish, to reward, to compel, to deny, to uplift, to dishearten, and to engage.  Simultaneously.  At high volume.  But mostly they came to rock.  And to help you get some of the smaller items out of your place.  So if you have an end table that needs to be moved, or perhaps a bookshelf or an ottoman you’re not into anymore...  Well, you know who to call.

8.  Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience

Somebody likes old soul records as much as I do.  And that somebody isn’t content to just listen to them and remember when.  No, that somebody decided to make his own classic soul record.  While some were disappointed that The 20/20 Experience wasn’t a continuation of the sounds Justin Timberlake explored to great ends with Timbaland on FutureSex/LoveSounds, my ears found this blend of classic and neo-soul refreshing and inspiring.  I cannot wait to hear volume 2...

7.  Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

I never thought I would like Vampire Weekend.  I never wanted to like them.  I certainly never expected to include them on any “Best of” lists...  With Modern Vampires of the City the band didn’t give me a choice.  This album is eclectic and curious and sprawling and concise and poppy and arty and sometimes all of the above within the span of 30 seconds or so.  And for once, it doesn’t sound like they’re trying too hard to be any of those things.  A refreshing surprise.

6.  Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away

On their fifteenth album(!), Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds show that they can weather personnel changes, health scares, and all manner of maladies and tragedies with the same grim determination, gallows humor, lecherous leering and dark meditations on the human experience that they’ve delivered for decades.  Push the Sky Away is special, though, for its moments of levity and incandescence.  When you’ve got a ten ton catastrophe on a sixty pound chain, pushing even the oppressive sky itself away is an occasional necessity.

5.  Atoms for Peace - Amok

Thom Yorke is a very talented man with very talented friends.  Not content with the “go it (mostly) alone” approach of his first solo album, The Eraser, he reconvened the band he enlisted to bring those songs to the stage and delivered a robust set of new creations.  That band, percussionists Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco, producer and multi-instrumentalist Nigel Godrich, and a spicy pepper by the name of Flea on bass, adds depth and humanity to the icy explorations Yorke has mastered within and without Radiohead.

4.  A$AP Rocky - Long.Live.A$AP

Someday, A$AP Rocky’s lyricism is going to draw equal with his vocal dexterity, flow, and eclectic taste in production.  When that day arrives (and it will), he’ll have the rap game in the palm of his hand.  For the time being he’ll have to settle for a debut album that is nothing short of incredible.  Danger Mouse, Santigold, Skrillex, Jim Jonsin, Schoolboy Q, Action Bronson, and Kendrick Lamar all grace amazing tracks on Long.Live.A$AP, but the album is truly a star turn for Harlem’s own A$AP Rocky, from whom further greatness is expected.

3.  The National - Trouble Will Find Me

There’s something to be said for knowing what you do best and doing it well.  The National found their niche on High Violet and have set about refining that niche while expanding and expounding upon it.  It’s somehow fitting that a band known for their contentious collaborative process would strike gold while taking a break from the “record and tour” grind.  Annie Clark, Sharon Van Etten, Richard Reed Parry, Nico Muhly, and Sufjan Stevens are among the supremely talented co-conspirators, but this recording is an outstanding showcase for the nimble percussion of Bryan Devendorf and the rangy vocals and lyrical heft of Matt Berninger.

2.  Kanye West - Yeezus

Kanye West had a signature sound in 2004:  Vintage, occasionally obscure soul samples, sped up to the effect of making Luther Vandross sound like Alvin, Simon & Theodore.  Kanye West had a signature sound in 2008:  Plaintive, confessional vocals, Auto-tuned to the effect of making himself sound like an android with sophisticated emotion-simulating software.  Kanye West has a NEW signature sound in 2013:  All of the above, plus new wave, industrial, dancehall and more.  Hip-hop can no longer contain him.  Everybody wins. 

1.  Savages - Silence Yourself

If every CD I’ve purchased in 2013 was being sealed away in a vault, this is the one I would fight hardest to keep.  Rich and austere, passionate and cool, seductive and violent, Savages’ debut is a stark, captivating affair full of muscular bass riffs, frenetic drumming, impassioned vocals, and angular guitars.  The feedback on “Waiting for a Sign” alone will make it difficult to displace as an Album of the Year contender.