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40 Best Albums of 2013: Fuse Staff's Mid-Year Picks

From vets like Jim James and Kanye to newcomers like Mikal Cronin and Jessie Ware, Fuse picks the 40 best albums of 2013... so far

1 / 41

Mid-Year Music Mic Check

Ariel LeBeau / Getty Images, 2

UPDATE: Check out our Fuse staff picks for the 41 Best Albums of 2013

Reality check: The year 2013 is more than half over. Damn. And when it started, "2013" felt like too futuristic a number to even comprehendwhat is this, a Kubrick movie?and now 2014 is closing in, and fast. But the first six months of the year were jam-packed with quality albums from newcomers to veterans, hip hop heads to hard rockers and beyond. We rolled up our sleeves and dug into what 2013 has offered thus far, and picked the best of the best, as a mid-year musical mic check, if you will. 

So, without further ado... here's Fuse's 40 Best Albums of 2013 So Far. And to see what other albums are coming up in 2013, check out Fuse's Most Anticipated Albums of 2013 list, too.

2 / 41

Kanye West, 'Yeezus'

Kanye West's sixth album is not an unqualified masterpiece like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and that's okay. Hip hop—and America in general—is a more interesting place thanks to Yeezus' schizophrenic sonic assault, oscillating emotional range and uncompromisingly dark, egotistic vision of the world. —Joe Lynch

3 / 41

Paramore, 'Paramore'

After nearly 10 years of making music, alt/pop-punk band Paramore finally nabbed themselves a No. 1 album with their self-titled fourth studio album. Paramore is a bit of a departure for the band as songs like "Still Into You" and "Ain't It Fun" showcase their more commercial side, but "Fast in My Car," "Now" and "Anklebiters" remind us Hayley Williams & Co. have not forgotten how to rock. —Nicole James

4 / 41

Jessie Ware, 'Devotion'

Have you heard "Wildest Moments"? Whew. It's a sexy, Sade-smooth anthem of temperamental love, and it's making British songbird Jessie Ware a leader in the budding alt-soul and R&B genre. Devotion is packed with glistening, sensual songs of yearning love and heartbreak fit for both the dance floor and the bed. The production from Dave Okumu (from Mercury Prize-nominated trio the Invisible), Kid Harpoon (who worked on Florence + the Machine's Ceremonials) and Bristol-based knob-twiddler Julio Bashmore are ground-breaking in their own right. No wonder Katy Perry is such a huge fan. —William Goodman

5 / 41

Joey Bada$$, 'Summer Knights'

Although not technically an album, the latest mixtape from Brooklyn wunderkind Joey Bada$$ is one of the most exciting hip hop releases of the year so far, and hopefully ought to help tide hungry listeners over until his full-length debut finally drops. —Ariel LeBeau

6 / 41

Foxygen, 'We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic'

The whole knockoff musical nostalgia thing can get a bit tiring, but bands like Tame Impala, MGMT and others have put a unique spin on the sounds of yore. With We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, this Los Angeles duo of Jonathan Rado and Sam France join their ranks by updating the '60s psych-pop sounds of the Beatles, the Zombies, Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground on one of the best indie releases this year. —William Goodman

7 / 41

J. Cole, 'Born Sinner'

The second album from this magna cum laude college grad is a huge leap forward musically and lyrically. J. Cole contemplates the messy intricacies of human interactions with an open-minded rigor that's hard to find in any genre of popular music. And the production—created primarly by Cole himself—is always excellent and frequently unforgettable. —Joe Lynch

8 / 41

Disclosure, 'Settle'

A dance album that's a start-to-finish triumph is a rarity, but this debut from Disclosure—British brothers Guy & Howard Lawrence—is one of them. The inventive samples, plentiful guest spots and eclectic stylistic influences all add up to a diverse, palatable album that's just as good for the iPod as the club. —Joe Lynch

9 / 41

Jay-Z, 'Magna Carta Holy Grail'

With the collaborator videos, "will it?" or "won't it?" chart debates and #newrules partnership with Samsung, Jay-Z's epic Magna Carta Holy Grail certainly built a mountain of hype, and, when it arrived on July 4, it mostly lived up to it. This is Hova questioning the trappings of success and, at times, turning introspective to air his worries about fatherhood and religion. It's hip hop's renaissance man at his most diverse. —William Goodman

10 / 41

Rhye, 'Woman'

The collaboration between Canadian electronic producer/vocalist/cellist Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal (the brainchild behind Danish soul-pop group Quadron), Rhye blend bedroom funk with soul, earning them Sade comparisons along the way. The group's morose, yet hypnotic tracks could soundtrack both getting the girl and losing her. —Jason Newman

11 / 41

Mikal Cronin, 'MCII'

Like his buddy and sometime bandmate, blog darling Ty Segall, Cronin is a Laguna Beach-bred garage rock whiz. But instead of the booze-guzzling party rock produced by his peers, he turns inwards on MCII, which is already hailed by some as a contender for Album of the Year. "I've been starting over for a long time," he sings on the LP's opening track, "Weight," a gem of soft-loud-soft, '90s alt-rock dynamics. Get. This. Album. Now. —William Goodman

12 / 41

Justin Timberlake, 'The 20/20 Experience'

After seven years away from music, Justin Timberlake returned with his sexy, groovy, mellow and (semi) danceable album The 20/20 Experience. While it lacks the instant pop-dance gratification of Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds, 20/20 displays a sophisticated evolution, especially when he rocks that handsome "Suit & Tie." For fans who wish Justin stuck to his poppier roots, stay tuned for The 20/20 Experience (Part 2) expected later this year. Fingers crossed for you guys. —Nicole James

13 / 41

Wale, 'The Gifted'

Funky instrumentals, stellar production and a solid features list make The Gifted one of this summer's best hip hop albums. Wale delivers on the bass-heavy and handclap-filled "Clappers," before paying homage to Michael Jordan and those classic Carolina Blue kicks with "88." The DC rapper balances feel-good tracks with more serious introspective jams, all while keeping his beats polished. —Tina Xu

14 / 41

The Wonder Years, 'The Greatest Generation'

Already established as pop-punk's current flag-bearers, the Philadelphia sextet eclipsed themselves with The Greatest Generation. Full of sharp songwriting and unbridled intensity, it's a better record than the Wonder Years were supposed to be capable of writing. Each track is a gem, but it'll be hard to find a more rewarding song than "I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral" in 2013. —Thomas Nassiff

15 / 41

MS MR, 'Secondhand Rapture'

Game of Thrones fans might recognize "Bones" as the song in this awesome trailer for season 3, and most of Secondhand Rapture is similarly epic. Lizzy Plapinger's vocals and Max Hershenow's thundering production have critics calling them the next Florence and the Machine. —Samantha Vincenty

16 / 41

Jim James, 'Regions of Light and Sound of God'

Given that it frequently sounds like a mixture of David Bowie's Berlin period, Talk Talk and Prince, it's difficult to believe this album comes from My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James. Although his main gig's funky psychedelica is present, it's recast in the context of expertly constructed avant-pop tunes. We're all better for this detour. —Joe Lynch

17 / 41

Daft Punk, 'Random Access Memories'

For their fourth studio album and much-hyped comeback, the Parisian robot duo paid tribute to '70s California prog-funk, opting to swap digital sampling to work with the best-of-the-best session musicians. It worked: It's full of jaw-dropping technical prowess, guest galore (including Nile Rodgers, Animal Collective's Panda Bear, the Strokes' Julian Casablancas). It even produced the unofficial song of the summer, "Get Lucky" featuring Pharrell Williams. But the centerpiece is "Giorgio by Moroder," an epic, instrumental-swerve tribute to the Italo-disco legend. —William Goodman

18 / 41

Tokimonsta, 'Half Shadows'

Jennifer Lee's second album is a must for fans of Flying Lotus, Flume and '80s/'90s-era trip hop acts like Massive Attack. Amid the hypnotic mood music jams, Half Shadows is punctuated with songs that'll get stuck on repeat, including "Go With It," featuring labelmate MNDR, and "The Force" with eccentric rapper Kool Keith—a collaboration that pays perfect tribute to the electronic forebears who influenced TOKiMONSTA's sound. —Samantha Vincenty

19 / 41

Kacey Musgraves, 'Same Trailer Different Park'

Taylor Swift not authentic or gritty enough for ya? Well, this Texas native is the answer to your musical woes. Kacey Musgraves is an empowered 24-year-old woman penning more traditional country tunes just fringe enough to appeal to fans of American and even indie rock. Especially thanks to her uncensored personality and lyrics, which challenge small-town values and fight for gay rights ("Follow Your Arrow") and get poetic about whiskey shots, cigarette breaks and dead-end 9-to-5 jobs. With Same Trailer Different Park, Musgraves has become the most promising and relatable young female artist in country music. —William Goodman

20 / 41

Savages, 'Silence Yourself'

This scorching debut album from Savages—an all-female British quartet—recalls Sleater-Kinney, Lydia Lunch and Joy Division. But this isn't mere hero worship: Savages' promising songcraft and visceral delivery proves they're a distinct force in their own right. —Joe Lynch

21 / 41

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, 'II'

On their second album, New Zealand/American trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra blend crisp, hip hop-influenced percussion with insanely catchy, fuzzed-out guitar riffs. The trio find the sweet spot between Mayer Hawthorne's croon and Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach's world-weary melancholia. —Jason Newman

22 / 41

Kurt Vile, 'Walkin On A Pretty Daze'

After four albums of atmospheric, lo-fi '70s-style rock, this former forklift driver from Philadelphia produced the best LP of his career with Walkin on a Pretty Daze. Kurt Vile honed and refined his previous sound into a full album work, a rarity in the digital era of iTunes singles, and the LP's 11 songs are breezy, shimmering and gently psychedelic as Vile, a father of two, transforms ordinary life into extraordinary art. —William Goodman

23 / 41

Queens of the Stone Age, '…Like Clockwork'

One of the last great rock bands of the decade, Queens of the Stone Age misstepped a bit with 2007’s Era Vulgaris, but returned this year with …Like Clockwork, their best album since 2002's Songs for the Deaf. Foo Fighters notwithstanding, no other rock band has blended punch-your-friend-in-the-face rock with pop-inspired melodies so effortlessly as Queens. —Jason Newman

24 / 41

Charles Bradley, 'Victim of Love'

Sixty-four-year-old soul singer Charles Bradley may have only released his debut album two years ago, but the former James Brown impersonator has been honing his musical acumen for years. Victim of Love, his sophomore album, expands on the JB-inspired soul and funk of his debut, blending heartbreak ("Crying in the Chapel") with tales of romance ("Strictly Reserved for You"). —Jason Newman

25 / 41

OneRepublic, 'Native'

Anyone who doubts frontman Ryan Tedder's songwriting prowess needs to get their hands on an OneRepublic song and admit that it's the catchiest thing you've ever heard. The band's third album, Native, follows the same addictive formula of the first two, while standouts like "Feel Again," "What You Wanted" and "Counting Stars" are sure to soundtrack your next iMovie slideshow. —Nicole James

26 / 41

Fall Out Boy, 'Save Rock and Roll'

Chicago pop-punk vets Fall Out Boy were one of the most impossible-to-avoid acts this year thanks to their comeback effort, Save Rock and Roll. Hell, the album's title alone is enough to make headlines. Don't take it too literally—the album's littered with pop gems—but do expect awesomeness, especially collabos with Courtney Love, 2Chainz and Elton John. Thanks, universe. —Thomas Nassiff

27 / 41

Chrisette Michele, 'Better'

Grammy-winning soul singer Chrisette Michele's LP Better is soulful, glamorous and above all, a story. She highlights the ups and downs of love, from her desire to find it in "Be In Love," to the inevitable doubts that love creates in "Can The Cool Be Loved?" As usual, her vocals are on point. And if you're looking for that "summer romance in the city" album, search no further! —Tina Xu

28 / 41

Classixx, 'Hanging Gardens'

Classixx built up an Internet following with their blog-famous remixes, and their debut delivers more easy-breezy goodness. The L.A. DJ/producer duo made a near-perfect summer album (think Washed Out’s Within and Without plus more disco beats and finger snaps) and it sounds kind of like the musical equivalent of a Lisa Frank sticker-sunset—Samantha Vincenty

29 / 41

Capital Cities, 'In a Tidal Wave of Mystery'

Just last week, the L.A. pop duo cracked the Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 with their synthy dance-pop single "Safe & Sound." Their debut LP follows suit with funky guitars, video game-esque bloops and lots of whooshing synthesizers. The LP also has a major co-sign from Andre 3000—he guests on jubilant standout "Farrah Fawcett Hair," a quirky ode to all the good things in life. —Jeff Benjamin

30 / 41

Atlas Genius, ‘When It Was Now’

The Australian rock outfit's breakout single "Trojans," a Top 5 Alternative hit, only scratches the surface of what their debut LP offers. The group dabble in new wave ("Electric") and synth-pop ("All These Girls") with each track centered around their harmony-driven croons. —Jeff Benjamin

31 / 41

Tyler, the Creator, 'Wolf'

Tyler, the Creator's third solo release proves the Odd Future leader is as talented a producer as he is a rapper. It's a playful sonic kaleidoscope, incorporating an anomaly of sounds in ways never before seen in hip hop—its opening track "WOLF" even posits Tyler at the piano crewing "F-ck you" over soaring orchestral sounds and jazz guitar. And the guest list is out of control: Pharrell, Erykah Badu and OF members like Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt and Hodgy Beats. Even Stereolab's Lætitia Sadier guests on "PartyIsntOver/Campfre/Bimmer," a wall of hip hop sound, with swelling synths, guitar, experimental drums and more. Tyler's oft-vulger lyrics are juxtaposed beautifully with the album's oft-kilter sounds. —Kevin Tully

32 / 41

Have Mercy, 'The Earth Pushed Back'

Baltimore, Maryland alt-rock quartet Have Mercy seemingly emerged from thin air in 2013, but their debut album boasts the sounds of seasoned vets. Like a perfect combination of Manchester Orchestra and South Dakota alt-acoustic outfit The Spill Canvas, The Earth Pushed Back is full of aggressive, emotion-evoking muscle and vocal pleading, making it one of those records you keep under your pillowcase at night. Any of the LP's 10 songs will leave you blindsided. —Thomas Nassiff

33 / 41

Laura Mvula, 'Sing to the Moon'

This retro-soul singer's debut, a Top 10 record in her native England, sounds like it was sprinkled with musical fairy dust. Her warm vocals, often compared to Nina Simone, are backed by heavenly choirs, twinkling xylophones, sky-bound strings, electronic flourishes, experimental percussion and more. It's a stop-and-listen experience that'll leave your neck tingling. —Jeff Benjamin

34 / 41

Belinda, 'Catarsis'

This Mexican pop princess' fourth LP has the makings of a hit record in any country. Catarsis has club bangers ("Dame Mas"), dubstep ("After We Make Love"), ballads ("Vuelve a Mi") and even a Pitbull feature ("I Love You… Te Quiero"). The 23-year-old shines brightest on the album's two lush, mid-tempo singles, "En el Amor Hay Que Perdonar" and "En la Obscuridad.—Jeff Benjamin

35 / 41

Frank Turner, 'Tape Deck Heart'

English singer-songwriter Frank Turner got his start in early-2000s now-defunct hardcore punk band Million Dead, which makes his brand of folk songs an odd departure at first glance. But five albums later, Turner has carried on his punk roots in the form of bare-all lyricism, telling stories in a blunt and honest fashion. "We Shall Not Overcome" serves as a battle cry for angst-riddled youths the world around. —Thomas Nassiff

36 / 41

Dave Grohl & Co.'s 'Sound City Soundtrack'

For his documentary about Los Angeles' legendary Sound City Studios, Dave Grohl formed the Sound City Players to record the film's soundtrack. Check out the lineup: Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Trent Reznor, Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, Slipknot's Corey Taylor and even Paul McCartney, who recorded with Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear in a sort-of Nirvana reunion. And like many classic LPs before it, including releases from Fleetwood Mac to Neil Young, the soundtrack was recorded through the studio's legendary soundboard, giving it a unique, magical sound. —Kevin Tully

37 / 41

Vampire Weekend, 'Modern Vampires of the City'

These four v-neck sweater- and topsiders-clad Ivy Leaguers made a career on pop-punk tunes heavily inspired by afrobeat sounds. Their schtick was down to the Tommy Hilfiger commercials their music soundtracked. But with Modern Vampires of the City, VW proved to be that and much more. It runs the gamut, from lush, experimental piano ballads to Buddy Holly rockabilly and beyond. Turns out, VW majored in more than just Paul Simon's Graceland at Columbia. —William Goodman

38 / 41

David Bowie, 'The Next Day'

As David Bowie receded further and further from the public eye over the past decade, fans slowly accepted that another album would most likely never, ever arrive. Then The Next Day appeared out of nowhere. Rejoice! Reuniting with producer Tony Visconti, the man behind his classic 1969 LP Space Oddity, Bowie crafted an album that sounds like the modern fourth installment of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy (The Next Day's album cover is the same as Heroes, minus Bowie's face). If The Next Day is indeed Bowie’s last album, as rumored, then it's a memorable outro to a stellar career. —Kevin Tully

39 / 41

Girls' Generation, 'I Got a Boy'

We've been eagerly awaiting the English version of Girls' Generation's fourth LP, but despite the language barrier, we've been bumping the Korean version on repeat. Lead single "I Got a Boy" is a clusterf-ck of genres (dubstep, drum n' bass, funk, electro-pop) smoothed over by the girls' sweet harmonies and fierce rapping. And there's even more genre hopscotching: minimal R&B (“Lost in Love”), '80s-inspired pop (“Express 999”) and even swing ("Romantic St."). This isn't an album for only K-pop fans, but all kinds of pop fans. —Jeff Benjamin

40 / 41

'The Great Gatsby Soundtrack'

In recent years, true movie soundtracks were reserved for young adult vampire movies (cough, Twilight, cough). No more! The suits behind the remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby hired Jay-Z to executive produce a soundtrack as grand as the debauched and monied Jazz era depicted in the film. He tapped Beyonce, Jack White, Lana Del Rey, Andre 3000, Florence + the Machine, the xx and more for a collection of original and covers. The lush, shoot-for-the-stars sound was a perfect complement to the film's ornate visuals. —Kevin Tully

41 / 41

Run the Jewels, 'S/T'

To say that longtime pals/collaborators El-P and Killer Mike make a precocious duo would be a massive understatement. The ferocity of their respective flows complement each other aggressively but perfectly, especially on top of El's vicious beats. The duo's scorching self-titled LP is available for free via Fool's Gold Records, and they are currently on tour throughout the summer. —Ariel LeBeau


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