25. Umphrey’s McGee – 2012 Hall of Fame
It was a battle whether or not to include this “album” on the list since it’s neither an actual album, nor a true live album. This is a compilation of the best live songs Umphrey’s played over the course of 2012… as voted on by the fans. It’s an incredible concept that not even one other band has even approached. Since these songs are all from different shows, Umphrey’s sound engineer Kevin Browning caresses them together using precise fading and deft use of audience cheering/sound to make this thing flow beautifully. And if nothing else this “album” needs to be mentioned because of the version of “Puppet String” it features. This was the first time they ever jammed “Puppet String” out, and the jam ended up being a mind-screwing double bounceback variety with as good of an improvisational rock peak as exists… It’s just fuckin’ ridiculous.
24. The Floozies – Tell Your Mother
There’s nothing earth-shattering going on here. The Floozies certainly aren’t trying to impress anyone with technical prowess on Tell Your Mother — they’re trying to make you dance like a crazed animal. Their raunchy sense of humor pervades this whole record, it seems like the Hill brothers had their tongues in their cheeks during the entire recording process. One of the best parts of the album is their hilarious use of samples, most notably Will Ferrell’s voice from Anchorman in “Indubitably.” This is the kind of filthy, dirty, grimy electro-funk that will light a fire at any dance party.
23. Sage Francis – Sick To D(EAT)H
Any new material from Sage Francis is a good thing, even if some of it is older stuff re-packaged in new ways. The differentiation between an “album” and a “mixtape” is blurry and remains a phenomenon confined to the world of hip hop. Nonetheless, this (like the other mixtapes on this list) is a full-length, complete work worthy of being examined like a proper record. The raw, unpackaged nature of this mixtape is actually quite refreshing — it’s great to hear so many different sides of Sage and such a strong focus on him rapping with guests. His last couple of studio albums have felt so polished that this Sick To D(EAT)H feels almost as if it’s something we shouldn’t even be hearing. If you’re a fan of Sage Francis at all, you will love this release — it’s a side of this enigmatic lyricist we don’t often see.
22. Cut Copy – Free Your Mind
Cut Copy really nailed this album cover. It might look simple but the colorful aesthetic speaks directly to the bubbly & gregarious nature of Free Your Mind. This is one seriously fun dance rock album, an up-and-down ride that stays light throughout but often veers into dirtier moods. “Footsteps” is just a pure dance track with a lighthearted energy thanks to well-timed loon call samples and kitschy cowbell percussion, all backed by a deep house tempo and synth lines. The gem of this album is “Let Me Show You Love,” a slower, funky track led by a big beat and a filthy synth line. Although there are some tracks that feel like filler, including some odd interludes that don’t really add much to the album, overall this is a great album, one of Cut Copy’s best.
21. Snarky Puppy – Family Dinner Vol. 1
Leave it to Snarky Puppy to think way, way outside the box with their latest “studio” album. We’ve seen this production before: recorded live in front of a small audience, with each song’s final version being recorded in one complete take. It’s an ambitious approach to album recording with very few contemporaries. This album is different from what they’ve done in the past due to its focus on guest vocalists — a different one for each of the eight tracks. This causes a sense of discontinuity in the album and creates a lack of cohesiveness that Snarky Puppy albums are typically known for. Nonetheless, there are some phenomenal songs on this album; namely “Amour T’es La” featuring Magda Giannikou, a joyful romance song sung all in French, and “Something” featuring jazz vocals from Lalah Hathaway, a prototypically ‘Snarky’ song with the added bonus of Hathaway doing things with her voice — like singing in chords — that aren’t really possible. It’s not their best album, but Family Dinner Vol. 1 is certainly brilliant in its own way.
20. Foals – Holy Fire
Holy Fire is one of the strongest rock albums of 2013, establishing Foals among the harder rocking of the current crop of “indie” bands. Songs like “Inhaler” and “Providence” make you feel like Foals could be the best rock band on Earth, but this feeling is fleeting and ultimately inconsistent throughout the album. They seem to have a slight identity crisis in terms of how they can best use vocals — sometimes the vocals blend into their sound well, other times they seem discordant and out of place. Nonetheless, the overall attitude & aura of this album places it among the year’s best… and seriously, listen to “Inhaler,” it will kick your ass.
19. Run The Jewels – s/t
Talk about the perfect meeting of artistic minds. El-P has made a name for himself for being one of the most aggressive hip hop producers in the game and Killer Mike is known for being a lyrical technician who drops nothing but harsh truths & wake up calls. Their respective styles match perfectly with each other, and with El-P being one hell of a lyricist himself, Run The Jewels is a violent storm of rap. It just doesn’t get any harder than RTJ, it’s an all-too-short record but every song is a sledgehammer to your ears; there’s an insane amount of energy on this album and not one drop of it is wasted. Obviously the track featuring Big Boi, “Banana Clipper,” is a high point of the album. Mike and El-P trade short verses — skipping over any hooks or choruses — and set the table for Big Boi to end the song with a quick & potent verse. But if you wanna cut to the heart of this project, it’s “Sea Legs,” a gritty, unsettling track with one full verse from El-P, the hook, then a classic malevolently smooth verse from Killer Mike. Run The Jewels is the raw shit.
18. Talib Kweli – Gravitas
Sneaking in just before the finish line of 2013 was Talib Kweli with Gravitas. And it’s a good thing he did because it’s instantly one of the finest hip hop records of the year; given more time to really digest the material it would probably be much higher on this list. Nonetheless here it is because it’s a monolith of hip hop greatness. From start to finish this record is high energy, with huge, bold beats and Kweli’s trademark flow on it’s A-game. Collaborations with Raekwon and The Underachievers are high points of the album, and it’s pretty amazing that we’re still hearing unreleased J Dilla beats with the closing track on the album “Colors Of You” produced by the late hip hop legend. Gravitas is Kweli at his finest.
17. White Denim – Corsican Lemonade
Wait, this is a new album? Are you sure this isn’t from the 70s? Throw everything you thought you knew about ‘classic’ rock out the window, because White Denim is doing that shit in 2013. In an era where rockers seemingly avoid the easy-going, easy-to-digest, accessible wonder that is the rock music you hear on your dad’s FM radio, White Denim is embracing the hell out of it. These guys are all about solid riffs, a steady drum beat, and some of the most perfect rock vocals you’ll find. Aside from the opening song “At Night In Dreams,” which leans a bit more aggressive, this is a strikingly consistent album. It gets slightly psychedelic at times, especially when they kick in the vocal effects, but overall this is a wholesome, throwback classic rock album that will make you feel nostalgic in a hurry.
16. AlunaGeorge – Body Music
While unquestionably a huge beneficiary of Disclosure’s UK garage wave, AlunaGeorge produced a fantastic album in 2013 that deserves plenty of recognition on its own. Sure, they got a huge boost with their guest spotted on Disclosure’s track “White Noise,” but Body Music came out shortly after and established AlunaGeorge as one of the best acts of this genre. Tracks like “You Know You Like It” and “Your Drums, Your Love” are perfect examples of how perfect Aluna’s voice is for this type of smooth but bass heavy music. Their remix of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” is fairly brilliant in how much they altered the original to something all their own. But the gem on this album is “Lost & Found,” a perfect example of the apex of a UK garage-pop banger and one of the best dance tracks of 2013.