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A Will Cleveland Pop-Ed: The Best Music of 2013

This past year was a superlative one for music. I had some memorable favorites from the past few years, but the depth and variety of what I loved in 2013 made it particularly difficult to narrow the list down to these 12 favorites. (Biased music fiend disclaimer: These are my favorites from 2013. These are not the best. I did not listen to every single album released in the past 12 months, but I did listen to quite a bit, and this is what moved me the most. Outside of the first album listed, these are not presented in any particular order.)

Jai Paul — Jai Paul  
It says a lot about the state of music in 2013 that my favorite “release” of the year wasn’t actually released. (And as I showed in my previous Pop-Ed about Jai Paul, I am obviously obsessed.) Paul’s self-titled debut appeared online in April after his laptop was stolen. He and his record label both denounced the release, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It’s been the one album that I have come back to most. And even if these 15 songs are only sketches, they were perfectly fleshed out to me. I am excited to see what the future holds for Paul.

Deafheaven — Sunbather 
The second album from this San Francisco black-metal outfit is one of the most heart-wrenching albums I heard all year. It feels like a perfect marriage of post-rock goliaths Godspeed You! Black Emperor and dearly departed post-metal superstars ISIS. It’s a beautifully brutal album.

Nine Inch Nails — Hesitation Marks 
I’ve always been a devoted fan of NIN, but I was skeptical when I heard about the upcoming release of their eighth studio album (and first since 2008). I should’ve trusted Trent Reznor (and I will never question him again).

Pusha T — My Name Is My Name 
A lot of the great music I discovered this year had a lot to do with me putting aside my preconceived notions and just trying to listen. Pusha T’s long-awaited and long-delayed debut album fit into that category. I knew Pusha T from his work with Clipse and Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music, but I didn’t really think he could carry a whole album worth of quality material. And again, I was wrong. With a huge assist from Kanye, Pusha T released one of the most consistent and interesting hip hop albums of the year.

CHVRCHES — The Bones of What You Believe 
Scottish synthpop trio CHVRCHES (Churches) released one of the best debut albums of the year. It’s well-constructed and catchy.

Zola Jesus — Versions 
With the help of a J.G. Thirlwell-led string quartet, Nika Roza Danilova (Zola Jesus) shows the stunning heart behind many of her more well-known songs. There is an often an industrial glean to her music, but these new versions present those songs in a new, warmer light and showcase her unique vocals talent.

Kevin Gates — The Luca Brasi Story/Stranger Than Fiction  
I’ve been following Baton Rouge, Louisiana, rapper Kevin Gates for a few years now. He burst out in 2013 with the release of two excellent mixtapes. Each of the releases showcased Gates' unique sing-song-y approach to lyricism and his sharp eye for observation.

Kanye West — Yeezus  
I’ve already stated my devotion for Kanye West. I am a member of the Cult of Kanye. Yeezus is brilliant. It is outspoken, stark, original, icy and confident.

Run the Jewels — Run The Jewels
El-P and Killer Mike (with production from El-P) each released wonderfully caustic rap albums in 2012. This joint venture between the two hip-hop veterans hits hard.

Touché Amore — Is Survived By  
On their third full-length, these post-hardcore badasses from Los Angeles beat the shit out of the listener (but in the best possible way). In just under 30 minutes, lead screamer/vocalist Jeremy Bolm introduces the listener to all of his neuroses and worries.

Foxing — The Albatross  
From their Facebook fan page, I was able to see that St. Louis five-piece Foxing describe their music as “post-prickly.” Their debut album (with a huge assist to my German friend Chris) is one of my favorite discoveries of the year.

Native — Orthodox  
Los Angeles-based indie music label Sargent House released some of my favorite albums of the year, including Deafheaven and Russian Circles. They were also responsible for giving us Native’s Orthodox. On the band’s Tumblr page, we are informed that, “Native is an Indiana band best categorized as hard; both in their difficulty to categorize and in their sound itself.” Check it out. 

Honorable mention
Kacey Musgraves “Same Trailer Different Park”; Danny Brown “Old”; Bill Callahan “Dream River”; Beastmilk “Climax”; Waxahatchee “Cerulean Salt”; Junip “Junip”; The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die “Wherever, If Ever”; Mutoid Man “Helium Head”; King Krule “6 Feet Beneath The Moon”; Sky Ferreira “Night Time, My Time”; Lorde “Pure Heroine”; Drake “Nothing Was The Same.”
A Will Cleveland Pop-Ed: The Best Music of 2013 Reviewed by Will Cleveland on 12/19/2013 Rating: 5


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