The past 12 months had more great music going on than any year in recent memory. Some of the most innovative artists of the last decade — Kanye West, Daft Punk, Queens of the Stone Age, Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire — all made watershed albums. Rock & roll greats like John Fogerty, Paul McCartney and David Bowie proved they could be as vital as ever. The EDM explosion kept blowing up thanks to artists like Disclosure and Avicii; old-school titans like Eminem and Pusha T pushed hip-hop forward alongside new-school innovators like Chance the Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, J. Cole and Danny Brown; Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe made country that was traditional and iconoclastic. But the most exciting news of the year might've been the astonishing number of breakout new artists, from retro-Eighties sister act Haim, to Brit-folk prodigy Jake Bugg, to indie-rockers Parquet Courts, to post-punkers Savages to chart-topping 17-year-old truth-bomber Lorde. Even Miley Cyrus' wrecking ball of an adult-oriented breakout album was kinda awesome. Oh 2013, you gave so much and asked so little; 2014, get crackin'. You've got a lot to live up to.
Contributors: Jon Dolan, Will Hermes, Christian Hoard, Rob Sheffield, and Simon Vozick-Levinson
There's old-school, and then there's "Man, it would rule if someone would invent electricity" old-school. Beck's "album" of sheet music turned out to be a sly collection of folky swing tunes, steeped in Beck's absurdist wit. One ukulele ballad, "Old Shanghai," even became a YouTube hit.
The Lips return to the apocalyptic acid punk of their Eighties albums, with monkish meditation, darkening-plains rumble and scouring electronics. It's what happens when psych heroes find the hard-won honesty in whoa-dude revelation.
This duo's third set of psychedelic electronic rock gets pretty dark, but its wordless tension-and-release journeys are no less majestic. It's filled with tsunamis of corroded synthesizer noise and industrial beats — like the soundtrack to a dystopian sci-fi movie, or real life in 2013.
Once again, the avant-R&B rebel proved the raw power of her global-cauldron dance beats and hater-blasting lyrics. Matangi takes on her bird-flipping 2012 Super Bowl scandal and even has a tender lover's jam in "Come Walk With Me," finding revelation by living out contradiction.
After four years away, the mod Scottish boys jump back into the game swinging hard. Right Thoughts has many of their friskiest tracks ever, long on witty high-energy blasts of rhythm-guitar lechery.
Hey, you got Mumford & Sons in my EDM! Swedish producer Avicii slyly celebrated electronic music's stateside boom by combining vintage roots music and energetic house beats. It's an exuberant cross-cultural good time, and thanks to anthems like "Wake Me Up," it never lets up.
"I'm cold and I'm cold and I'm cold and I'm stubborn," Savages' Jehnny Beth informs us on the band's debut. With the repetitive insistence of a howitzer and the urgency of an air-raid siren, these four women made some of 2013's scariest, most thrilling noise, finding new worlds of terror and stress in Eighties U.K. post-punk.
Odd Future's brightest cult star lives up to his reputation as an unholy verbal wizard on his long-awaited debut album. He also upends it — pushing past the amoral bomb-lobbing that won him notoriety with a newly introspective style, perfectly suited to third-eye-opening beats courtesy of Pharrell, RZA and Earl himself.
Releasing your major-label rap record the same day as Kanye took balls. So did staying true to hip-hop's vaunted edutaining tradition with a set of hypersmart, excellently self-produced tracks that recall, well, vintage Kanye in their ability to dramatize the tension between Hov-size career ambition and post-Pac truth saying.