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Top Releases in '13 

Some of our critics' favorite albums of the year, part two

SEAN BOTTAI

(in order of preference)

Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe (Glassnote)

Chvrches seamlessly blend irresistible dance music ("Lungs," "The Mother We Share") with oxygen-rich dream-pop ("By the Throat," "Under the Tide"). The most re-listenable album of the year, hands down.

Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold [LP] and Tally All the Things That You Broke [EP] (What's Your Rupture?)

Not since the halcyon days of mid-period Guided by Voices and pre-Crooked Rain Pavement has a collection of smart-alecky garage-cum-noise songs been this much fun.

Cassie, RockaByeBaby (Bad Boy)

Even an 11th-hour blast from Beyoncé can't unseat Cassie's fantastic mixtape from its status as 2013's best slice of R&B/hip-hop fusion. I've had tracks like "Sound of Love" and "I Love It" on shuffle since dropping in April, and I'll be playing them throughout 2014 and beyond.

Swearin', Surfing Strange (Salinas)/Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni)2013 was pretty great for the Crutchfield sisters: Katie's solo project Waxahatchee released the bedroom album of the year, while twin sister Allison's band Swearin' made the best Breeders album since Pod.

Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park (Mercury Nashville)

A country music album for the post-gay marriage, post-Internet age that's still soulful and down to earth, still overflowing with American spirit.

Charli XCX, True Romance (Asylum/Atlantic)/AlunaGeorge, Body Music (Vagrant)

A perfect pair of British alt-dance records, chock-full of beats and melodies more exciting than anything by Miley, Gaga, Katy or the rest.

Phèdre, Golden Age (DAPS/Discos Tormentos)

Less obtuse and discursive than the Knife's fine-but-frustrating Shaking the Habitual, weirder and less baroque than Austra's overwrought Olympia, Golden Age was the goth-art-pop record I couldn't stop playing in 2013.

Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time (Capitol)Fuzzy, retro-leaning collection of impeccable pop songs from imaginary John Hughes films.

Cakes da Killa, The Eulogy (Mishka)

In a truly great year for rap albums—from Yeezus to Run the Jewels to Doris—there was no release I spent more time with than Cakes da Killa's ferociously slutty, aggressively playful collection of party tracks.

Mikal Cronin, MCII (Merge)

A garage-pop record that's all perfect melodies and wistful joie de vivre.

Pet Shop Boys, Electric (x2)

Their best album since 1999's Nightlife. Electric is the perfect party record. It plays as well during the Dionysian midnight hour as it does on the early-morning-hangover drive home. "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct" is the anthem of the year.

Savages, Silence Yourself (Matador)

Seemingly beamed from London circa 1978, when bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Fall and Wire were innovating the sound that came to be known as post-punk. Primal, raucous, razor-sharp.

Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus (ATP)

A horror movie score without the horror movie. But it would be something about the demonic being Astaroth returning to Earth during a celestial convergence, which leads to children turning on their parents and eating their flesh, and the dead rising to run wild with liberated house pets to finish off the stragglers.

JOSHUA LEVINE

In the mainstream, 2013 was notable mostly for marketing cutting-edge brand names (Daft Punk, Arcade Fire) to promote sadly conservative music. Meanwhile, the real action was happening right here in Tucson, where this short list of albums re-established my faith in modern music, made my life better and, in a few cases, may have saved it.

(in order of preference)

Demon Queen, Exorcise Tape (Rad Cult)

This triumphant collaboration between Zackey Force Funk and producer Tobacco (Black Moth Super Rainbow) is as close to groundbreaking as music got in 2013. Is it hip-hop? Funk? R&B? Who cares? From the paranoia of "El Camino 2" to the threatening "Demon Practice" to the year's most breathtaking song, "Love Hour Zero," to malevolent lasciviousness (everything else), Exorcise Tape is a high-def thrill ride through hell, a day in the life of Zackey Force Funk, the meaning of life revealed through quantum physics, all of the above, or none of the above. Among the brilliant guest vocalists is N8NOFACE, whose recordings under his own name and Crime are just as essential.

The Freezing Hands, The Freezing Hands (Burger)

Travis Spillers reinvents himself as his generation's Ray Davies, weaving stories of everyday life, both humorous and moving, so articulately that you can smell his breakfast in "Good Morning Takeout." "Pretty Ann" breaks down the superficialities of Ann in such detail I find myself loathing her as much as the song's protagonist. The band didn't reinvent rock 'n' roll, but it did re-perfect it. The best lyric of the year is from "Numbers for Sale," which talks about "parasite people who don't give a shit about love." Well, I give a shit about love, and the year's finest rock record.

Prom Body, Creep the Strange (Topaz)

Creep the Strange seemed to appear out of nowhere, and it sounds like it—raunchy punk gems sandwiched between hypnotic instrumentals. The best song is "Cavities" and the second-best song is everything else.

The Resonars, Crummy Desert Sound (Burger)

This record marks the zenith of Matt Rendon's life's work, which is cramming the prettiest of melodies over deafening guitars and drums, all in the space of a couple of minutes. The Resonars have been rebuilding a better mousetrap for a long time, so Trouble in Mind's best-of compilation is also recommended to catch up. To call this garage rock is a gross understatement.

Burning Palms, Church of RA (Lolipop)

Now that the well-deserved hype has died down a bit, Burning Palms' debut can be judged solely on content. And it's simply perfect—mystical, otherworldly, beautiful, unsettling and unique.

Isaiah Toothtaker, Illmatic 2 (Machina Muerte)

Of his several releases this year, Illmatic 2 might be the strongest. Toothtaker's literate, evocative lyrics are matched to a flow that legitimizes this album's title. The non-album track "Hyperbolic Chamber Music" might just be his best song yet. MTV calls him "horror-core." We call him Isaiah Toothtaker.

Monster Pussy, In Heat! (Bloat/Cat Cassettes)

A tall order: rock opera about love in Tucson, with lyrics making direct references to people and places, over a shambolic, Velvet Underground-esque racket. By turns hilarious and gut-wrenching, but always passionate, In Heat! is a stunner.

Various Artists, Dune Drift 2 (Topaz)

An endlessly listenable and handy introduction to artists who are omitted here for space reasons only. Listen closely and discover the likes of Dream Sick, Algae & Tentacles, Man Bites Dog, etc.

LABMUNKZink, Almanac (Self-Released)

A pinnacle of hip-hop production, Almanac is the rare album that succeeds on the dance floor and at home.

The Electric Blankets, Vehicles (Self-Released)

The loudest boy band around makes a worthy case for drummer Romo's personal fan page. Those beats! Those guitars! Those melodies! Those haircuts!

Honorable mentions: Ex-Cowboy, Ex-Cowboy (Diet Pop); Some of Them Are Old, Little Boys (Self-Released); Free Machines, Cursive Moon 7-inch (Dirt Cult); Kid Puto, Kid Puto 7-inch (Goin' Ape Shit).

ERIC SWEDLUND

(in order of preference)

Restorations, LP2 (Side One Dummy)

Philly's Restorations bring a lot to their second album—not everything in the mix has clear antecedents but what does is unimpeachable: straightforward Fugazi-style punk, bits of hardcore, edgy barroom anthems that recall Gaslight Anthem and even some psychedelic detours. LP2 is a start-to-finish thrill, the album I listened to far more than anything else in 2013.

The Resonars, Crummy Desert Sound (Burger)

Matt Rendon's long-running Tucson band is better than ever on Crummy Desert Sound, a 12-song run of the catchiest garage-rock tunes this century. It's impossible to get close to such infectious, energetic songs like "The World Is Wrong" without getting completely hooked.

Jason Isbell, Southeastern (Relativity/Southeastern)

Isbell's fourth album is a masterpiece, his always-promising songwriting finding a sharp focus after a stint in rehab. His lyrics, perhaps expectedly, touch on misery, newfound purpose and the sort of long-view hope of a man who's caught a fleeting understanding of his place in the world.

Mikal Cronin, MCII (Merge)

With loads of musical talent and a sense of how to make pop songs flourish in a number of styles, Cronin is equally effective going loud or quiet, sober or exuberant, giving MCII an incredible balance. MCII doesn't have a weak moment, but "Shout It Out" and "Weight" in particular make it an album for cranking and enjoying.

Phosphorescent, Muchacho (Dead Oceans)

The long, slow and mesmerizing "Song for Zulu" is an incredible vehicle for showcasing Matthew Houck's unique songwriting: He can describe life as a storm, yet remain calm in the middle of it. After touring Phosphorescent's last album, Houck says he lost his place, his girl and his mind. Muchacho is Houck stacking things up again from scratch, intent on finding the beauty in life's chaotic spin.

The Lovely Bad Things, The Late Great Whatever (Volcom)

These Orange County youngsters approach music with a manic enthusiasm, playing bash-it-out garage rock that doesn't skimp on hooks or harmony. The band draws from surf and punk rock and even a bit from the Pixies. The Late Great Whatever may be raw and messy, but it's a thrill ride built from top-shelf materials.

Blitzen Trapper, VII (Vagrant)

After seven albums, Blitzen Trapper has twisted and cobbled together a mad-scientist brand of cosmic Americana all its own, with some head-banging rowdiness, shameless hick-ishness and heavy doses of funk duct-taped alongside some raw slide guitar grooves.

Superchunk, I Hate Music (Merge)

Majesty Shredding (2010) was Superchunk's comeback album, but I Hate Music finds Superchunk back at full force. Catchy and dark, it's a mature record, but one that brings all the joyous noise that made "Slack Motherfucker" the band's breakthrough single in 1989.

Black Joe Lewis, Electric Slave (Vagrant)

Raw, lean, rowdy, punky, funky and soulful, Black Joe Lewis' sound is unlike anything else and his first album for Vagrant ties everything together brilliantly. Get groovin' to "Come to My Party" as soon as you can.

Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze (Matador)

The guru of haze-rock makes calm seem to be the best state of existence. But don't get too lulled, this record has an undercurrent full of surprises and Vile's own brand of one-liner lyrical gems scattered throughout.

Honorable Mention: King Khan and the Shrines, Idle No More (Merge); Neko Case, The Worse Things Get ... (ANTI-); Treetop Flyers, The Mountain Moves (Partisan); Akron/Family, Sub Verses (Dead Oceans); Camera Obscura, Desire Lines (4AD); Charles Bradley, Victim of Love (Daptone); La Luz, It's Alive (Hardly Art); The National, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD); Mount Moriah, Miracle Temple (Merge); Okkervil River, The Silver Gymnasium (ATO).

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