Sorting through this year's avalanche of pop music, mysteries abound: What is this I'm feeling? Is it right or is it wrong? What rhymes with “hug me”? What does the fox say?
The year's finest albums, however, provided us with concrete answers about the tensile strength of our tear ducts, the durability of our commitments and the shape of slow jams to come.Top 10 albums of 2013
1. Kacey Musgraves, “Same Trailer Different Park”
The dread of the millenials can't be captured in a selfie, so Nashville's newest star is picking up the slack and singing about what happens when a generation of idealists inherits a broken country. With optimism in her melodies and calm in her delivery, she's dropped one of country music's strongest debuts in forever.
2. Kanye West, “Yeezus”
Continue to dismiss Kanye West at your own risk. With his feral sixth album, the rap auteur extends his reign as pop music's most volcanic force, refusing to shut up, back down, play nice or cash out. And his boldest album is always the one that's coming next.
3. Bill Callahan, “Dream River”
Here's a songwriter, a soothsayer, a stoic and a smuggler who can't help but find new ways to bury treasure inside ordinary folk songs. “Dream River” feels as vast, intimate, recognizable and unknowable as true love. Or America.
4. Lonnie Holley, “Just Before Music”
It's an album by an eccentric Alabama sculptor, released in 2012, re-released with bonus cuts in 2013. But it's also a free jazz fever dream from the deep South, a babbling Baptist sermon from deep space, a lullaby for the end of the world, a songbook that's frequently beautiful and occasionally frightening.
5. Ashley Monroe, “Like a Rose”
Only the greats can compartmentalize crisis as gracefully as this silver-voiced 27-year-old. Demure and devastating, Monroe's saddest country tunes have come to steal your tears. Hydrate accordingly.
6. Paramore, “Paramore”
The embattled rock band's fourth album finds the trio honoring their commitments with their hair on fire. They're still standing, still together, still playing a style of post-emo that's long gone out of style with a tenacity that never will.
7. Roberto Fonseca, “Yo”
This Havana-born pianist isn't afraid to hit hard and get personal, detonating the walls surrounding Afro-Cuban jazz and rearranging the debris into a very flattering self-portrait.
8. Danny Brown, “Old”
Rap has gone from “CNN for the streets” to “Tumblr with 808s,” but ugly memories of urban survival are still churning inside this Detroit native's skull. He exorcises them with a stuffy-nosed squawk that's every bit as jarring as the worst of what he's seen.
9. Kelela, “Cut 4 Me”
Half romance, half science fiction, this L.A. rookie's R&B debut reads as if she learned to sing about heartache in some airless, digital, post-human future.
10. Steve Gunn, “Time Off”
As contemporary songwriters surf rivers of blood, sweat and tears, hoping the world will take notice, this Brooklynite plays circular folk songs that unfold as effortlessly as a breath. The fact that he's making no special bid to be heard means we might want to listen especially close.
Top 15 songs of 2013
1. Mariah Carey feat. Miguel, “#Beautiful”
Couples will sing this duet at karaoke nights in the year 3000, only wondering what the hashtag was about.
2. Mikal Cronin, “Shout It Out”
Give this California dreamer three minutes to explain why falling out of love is still a bummer and he might convince you that rock-and-roll is still alive.
3. Brandy Clark, “Take a Little Pill”
In country music, tragic psychedelia is almost as rare as this woman's songwriting talent.
4. Sicko Mobb, “H— Be Goin' “
Two teenage brothers from Chicago's nascent “bop” scene have come up with the year's most thrilling display of amateurism, urgency and instinct.
5. Beau Wanzer, “Balls of Steel”
A deeply primal dance track that doubles as a bizarro anti-smoking PSA? Life rules!
6. Lil Durk, “Dis Ain't What You Want”
Of the countless rap anthems to spill out of Chicago this year, this one inherited the city's blues.
7. Parquet Courts, “Stoned and Starving”
A rock song for when the munchies get existential.
8. Migos, “Versace”
VersaceVersaceVersaceVersaceVersaceVersaceVersaceVersace! (This is what hip-hop hypnosis sounded like in 2013.)
9. Queens of the Stone Age, “If I Had a Tail”
For those who still believe rock-and-roll should be slimey, sinister stuff.
10. Lori McKenna, “Salt”
A ballad so brutal, you could lose weight crying to it.
11. Florida-Georgia Line, “Cruise”
Country music's macho mutation into arena rock is nothing to fear if all of the songs end up being as fun as this one.
12. Rocko feat. Future, Rick Ross, “U.O.E.N.O.”
The most mesmerizing backing track in rap music since OutKast's “Elevators,” U-O-E-N-O.
13. Colin Stetson, “To See More Light”
It lasts 15 minutes: A saxophone convulsion, a plunge into the abyss.
14. Marc Anthony, “Vivir Mi Vida”
A stadium chant-along about individuality courtesy of the deepest lungs on Earth.
15. Icona Pop, “Girlfriend”
This corn-syrupy ode to platonic BFF-ness may have failed as Icona Pop's one-way ticket out of one-hit wonderworld, but I DON'T CARE.Three worst albums of 2013:
Miley Cyrus, “Bangerz”
A white Disney Channel graduate embraced a hyper-sexual image while pantomiming what she heard on black radio. In the shadow of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, how is that anything other than familiar? Miley's ascent may have provided America with the great comfort scandal of 2013, but her lifeless new album rang out like an afterthought.
Jay Z, “Magna Carta Holy Grail”
In addition to rapping like a bored bazillionaire, Jay spent his summer flirting with performance art and data collection, shedding his relevance and his hyphen in the process.
When the world's most ponderous indie rock band marches into the discotheque, we must double-knot our dancing shoes and run far, far away.