Best of 2013

The 41 Best Albums of 2013

From M.I.A. to Queens of the Stone Age, Paramore to Janelle Monáe, these are the must-hear LPs from the past 12 months
 / December 18, 2013

The Music That Mattered

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Ladies and gentleman, it was a long and arduous process, including at least two bloody slap fights over the inclusion of K-pop albums, but it has finally arrived: Fuse's 41 Best Albums of 2013 list, as chosen by the incredibly genius staff at our New York City HQ. 

From multi-culti genre-masher M.I.A. to desert-dwelling stoner-rockers Queens of the Stone Age, R&B alien Janelle Monae to Americana's leading balladeer Jason Isbell, these are the 41 must-hear releases from the past 12 months, with no genre left uncovered. Click through the list and get each staffer's rationale for why, exactly, this LP deserves its place in the hallowed ranks of Fuse's year-end content.

Want more Best of 2013 stories? Wish granted, bros and brahs. First and foremost, flip through Fuse's 41 Best Songs of 2013 list, then check out The 9 Ugliest Hip Hop BeefsThe 25 Best Live Performance Photos and The 8 Craziest Music Memes from 2013. And check back to Fuse.tv for more in the coming weeks!

Beyoncé, 'BEYONCÉ'

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Beyoncé dismissed every single one of her haters with one fell swoop when she released her top secret self-titled fifth studio album overnight at the end of the year. Fourteen new songs and 17 accompanying videos—no marketing, no teasers and more non-disclosure agreements than we care to know about. Despite the December release, though, Beyoncé’s first week still outsold almost every single artist for the entire year. (She came in second behind Justin Timberlake.) Not only was the release itself game-changing, but B stepped up her game on this album. Beyoncé might be her most personal album to date, and songs like the club banger “Partition” and the Drake-assisted slow jam “Mine” push the envelope like never before. We all bow down to the Queen B.

—Nicole James, Staff Writer / #ForeverTeen

My Bloody Valentine, 'm b v'

3 / 42

What's 22 years among friends? And if we weren't friends, then certainly we had to be somewhat kindred spirits, those of us who had held a torch for two decades-plus for the giant that was My Bloody Valentine's Loveless and its oft-overshadowed predecessor Isn't Anything. There it was on February 2nd: the "Saturday Surprise," a new album thrown up in Kevin Shields fashion with zero fanfare on the band's website, which promptly crashed under the weight of that long wait. It had a humble little title, m b v, with lovely purple cover art and a dive right back into the sonic swirl that only one band on the planet ever truly mastered. Its few detractors said it offered little that was new. But who could really quarrel with this glorious delivery of a lovingly familiar sound? The fuzz-drunk wobble of "Who Sees You," the gauze and throb of "She Found Now," stronger melodies and a compactness not seen on Loveless on "Only Tomorrow," and live favorite "New You," the closest to a pop single MBV have ever gotten. There's a middle section on which Belinda Butcher takes charge, hazily enchanting on "Is This and Yes," as well as a punishing "Nothing Is" and in "Wonder 2" a noisy, dizzying symphony that ranks among MBV's finest.  If, as Shields told a New York crowd in November, the band won't be back for "a long time," at least there's this. And hey, we can wait.

—John Norris, Supervising Producer / Left-handed Socialist Pisces

Major Lazer, 'Free The Universe'

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Major Lazer is a cartoon zombie fighter and a real-life three-man army: Superstar producer Diplo and his counterparts Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. Original member Switch departed after their debut Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do, but the group has plenty of reinforcements on its second album. Free the Universe’s long and diverse roster pairs indie darlings with dancehall veterans like Elephant Man and Vybz Kartel, and the result is a sound that’s insane in the best way possible.

The dancehall-EDM hybrid’s infamous live shows are an audiovisual assault involving giant inflatables, waving flags, air horns, impressively flexible dancers and Diplo crowd-surfing in a plastic ball. Free the Universe can’t match the frenetic energy of the trio's performances, and that’s a good thing. Between bangers like "Jet Blue Jet" and "Mashup the Dance," the album lets you catch your breath with the dubby "Jessica" featuring Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and standout track "Get Free" with Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors. And for the true dancehall fans, "Wind Up" and "Watch Out for This" are perfect for when you suddenly need to, I don’t know, practice your dutty wine in your pajamas while waiting for pizza delivery. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

—Samantha Vincenty, Social Media Editor / Volunteer Bulldog Masseuse

Janelle Monáe, ‘The Electric Lady’

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Fans (right here! right here!) have been impatiently awaiting a new Janelle Monáe album since her near-perfect 2010 major-label debut The ArchAndroid, and The Electric Lady did not disappoint. The album makes a strong opening statement with the funk guitar jam "Given Em What They Love," a duet with Prince himself. The pace picks up with the girl-power anthem (and lead single) "Q.U.E.E.N." featuring Erykah Badu, then slows to a sexy retro-soul groove with “PrimeTime” featuring Miguel. It's one solid track after another, from the hyper-upbeat "Dance Apocalyptic" to the hushed R&B groover "Can't Live Without Your Love," to the genre-smudging closer "What An Experience." If you're not dancing to this album, check your pulse. 

—Mark Sundstrom, Web Content Manager / R&B Connoisseur 

Kacey Musgraves, 'Same Trailer Different Park'

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This 25-year-old Texan is the most refreshing new female voice in country music—and she released one of the genre's best debut albums in recent history. On Same Trailer Different Park, the Nashville songwriter is like Taylor Swift's wiser, more authentic cousin. She offers hard-won optimism over slide-guitar and whistle-ready choruses on "Silver Lining"; reveals the depressing dark side of small-town America in the banjo-plucked "Merry Go 'Round"; leads a boot-stomping sing-along about the escapist daydreams of a waitress on the rockin' "Blowing Smoke"; and promotes sexual liberation and even same-sex kissing on her controversial single "Follow Your Arrow." Musgraves is rooted in traditional country music, but she's looking back to move forward. Country music owes her a "thank you." 

—William Goodman, News Editor / Gnar Specialist 

Chance the Rapper, 'Acid Rap'

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Listening to Chance the Rapper's second mixtape Acid Rap is experiencing a day in the life of the 19-year-old Chicago native. Hidden between addictive melodies and experimental beats, Chance delves into the real sh-t: gun violence, family ties and young, blind ambition. "I know how to make a dope album," Chance confidently told Fuse earlier this year. The kid tells the truth.

—Nicole James, Staff Writer / #ForeverTeen

Queens of the Stone Age, '...Like Clockwork'

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Foo Fighters notwithstanding, no other mainstream rock act blends hard rock with melodic shuffle better than Queens of the Stone Age. Melding warped blues rock (the LP gem "Smooth Sailing") with even sexy dance-rock, the band's sixth album ...Like Clockwork is their best release since 2002's universally lauded Songs for the Deaf. Trent Reznor, Mark Lanegan, Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner and Elton John all appear, but it's the return of Dave Grohl—part slinky drummer, part eight-armed basher—that trumps them all.

—Jason Newman, Senior Writer / Street-Walking Cheetah

Run The Jewels, 'Run The Jewels'

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Releasing a free record doesn't pay off better than it did for Killer Mike and El-P, aka Run The Jewels, aka the rap duo that our dreams are made of. The longtime cohorts set out to make an album together mostly for kicks, but the result turned out to be one of the most viciously creative, sharp-tongued and even sharper-witted albums we've heard in ages. Over El's unmistakable production, the two vigorously volley their flows with such fluidity and symbiosis that it makes Watch The Throne sound like Kidz Bop

—Ariel LeBeau, Photo Editor / Directioner

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

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Kind of like the scene in "No Destruction" where they drive their car off a hill, Jonathan Rado and Sam France have been pulling pop genius from the jaws of disaster for years. As middle school students in Westlake Village, CA, they made a string of wack job homemade recordings with names like Catfood, Dog Food, Motor Oil and Jurassic Exxplosion Phillipic - small wonder that their full-length bore the mouthful of a title We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

With a name like that, you'd better deliver—and France and Rado did, with an extraordinary album that is all over the place in the best way. Produced by avant-pop auteur Richard Swift, it was a grab bag of influences with no rules: the sonic bumper car of "On Blue Mountain" (it's pop! it's krautrock! it's blues!); the campy gem of a single "San Francisco", with a Royal Tenenbaums-meets-Satanic Majesties music video; the lazy-eyed shuffle of "Shuggie"; and the honky tonk of "No Destruction" and its memorable lyrical jab, "You don't have to be an asshole, you're not in Brooklyn anymore." Upon first hearing it nearly a year ago, my jaw hit the floor. Countless listens and unhinged live shows later, Foxygen still takes my breath away. 

—John Norris, Supervising Producer / Left-handed Socialist Pisces

Pusha T, 'My Name Is My Name'

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We normally loathe to take seriously a rapper's claim that he "made the hip hop album of the year," but we'll make an exception for Pusha T, whose debut album My Name Is My Name was a dark, exhilarating suite of ominous coke-rap. Yeezus wins best rap album of 2013, but MNIMN was right behind. The former Clipse rapper stayed consistent (or predictable, depending on your POV), but Pusha is, to quote Gang Starr, "mostly the voice." His guttural rasp and disgusted inflection—his "Ecchhh" > your cadence—make every song compelling.

—Jason Newman, Senior Writer / Street-Walking Cheetah

Drake, 'Nothing Was the Same'

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Drake's Grammy-winning sophomore LP Take Care sent the Toronto native to the peak of the rap game, and with the braggadocio-drenched Nothing Was the Same, he's basking in the glory. "[My] last album had it booming somethin' vicious," he boasts on "Come Thru." He's quick to remind that he's no longer the new kid on the block, no longer satisfied to just be included: "F-ck all that 'happy to be here' sh-t," he raps on the Jay Z-assisted "Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2," reiterating a sentiment echoed throughout NWTS

Album highlights include "Worst Behavior," the hook-less, trap-influenced hype song that birthed the phrase, "Muhf-cker never loooved us!" and "Hold On, We're Going Home," the soft '80s-inspired hit that Drizzy wants us all to blast at our weddings. Despite declaring that nothing's the same now, Drake remains distinctly Drake on deeply reflective tracks like "Own It" and "From Time," the latter featuring R&B's newest darling, Jhené Aiko. NWTS leaves Drake lovers with little to complain about, but even if you're not spinning Drizzy's latest, he really doesn't give a f-ck. It's his world, and you novices just live in it.

—Tina Xu, Web Content Manager / Wine & Drake Enthusiast 

The Wonder Years, 'The Greatest Generation'

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It's natural to have high expectations for a record that you're anticipating. If a band have put out material you grew attached to in the past, those expectations can become outrageous. Since it's human nature to "hype" things to an infinite degree, there's a chance of being slightly disappointed with the outcome when you first hear it. The Wonder Years faced no such qualms with The Greatest Generation, undoubtedly their most widely anticipated release to date. 

I'll admit that my personal expectations were for an album that would be among the best ever released in pop-punk – their previous material has earned them such great expectations – and the Philadelphia group responded with a better record than I thought them capable of writing. The final chapter in a trilogy of records that serves as a sprawling coming of age story, the album centers around the idea that young people need to believe in themselves, overcome whatever personal shortcomings they perceive and finally become the type of people they want to be. It's about an entire generation seizing an opportunity to be remembered for something other than the early adoption of new smartphones. 

It's clear enough that frontman Dan Campbell and Co. are growing at an exponential rate and as the current leaders of the genre, it's easy to say that they've already cemented themselves a spot in history. If you're not a pop-punk fan, I'd suggest forgetting every preconceived notion you have about the genre; with its versatile musicianship and lyricism that should strike a chord with teenagers as easily as listeners heading into their 30s, The Greatest Generation will apply a sledgehammer to what you think you know about this type of music and give you an album that you can connect to for years to come. 

—Thomas Nassiff, Web Content Manager / Punk Rock Princess 

Paramore, 'Paramore'

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Paramore's self-titled fourth studio album was their first without former members Josh and Zac Farro, who left acrimoniously in 2010. But all's well that ends well, considering the LP became the band's first No. 1 debut. The Tennessee band, long a leader in the pop-punk genre, took a lot of risks on Paramore, ditching a bit of the "punk" to explore the "pop," especially on songs like "Ain't It Fun," "Still Into You" and "Hate to See Your Heart Break." "The self-titled aspect of the [album] is definitely a statement," frontwoman Hayley Williams told radio.com. "I feel like it's not only reintroducing the band to the world, but even to ourselves ... By the end of it, it felt like we're a new band."

—Nicole James, Staff Writer / #ForeverTeen

Mikal Cronin, 'MCII'

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I'll bet good money that MCII, the second solo album from San Francisco garage rocker/Ty Segall collaborator Mikal Cronin, will grow to become a classic, definitive release from the Cali indie-pop genre. Expect this puppy to be written about reverently in "best-of" rock music books—yeah, your kids will read about this LP in their dorm rooms, alongside Pixies, Weezer, Nirvana, etc. The ingredients are in place: classic pop, yet not formulaic, songwriting; hyper-catchy Beatles-taught pop smarts; distorted electric guitars alongside folksy acoustic strums and tender piano; and, of course, the yearning of a young man coming to grips with the world around him.

—William Goodman, News Editor / Gnar Specialist 

Laura Mvula, 'Sing to the Moon'

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Soul singer Laura Mvula's debut, a Top 10 hit in her native UK, sounds like it was sprinkled with musical fairy dust. Heavenly choirs, twinkling percussion, soaring strings, electronic atmospherics and more join the undisputed centerpiece of the sound, the Birmingham native's Nina Simone-esque voice.

—Jeff Benjamin, Staff Writer / International Music Fan

Deafheaven, 'Sunbather'

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Leave it to San Francisco to birth an uplifting death metal band. Deafheaven's second album, Sunbather, pummels the ears without punishing them and delves into darkness without ever becoming bleak. The textured layers of noise that Deafheaven work with on their 10-minute plus outings seem more about introspection than angry catharsis, and the guitars conjure The Cure and My Bloody Valentine as much as Slayer. It's a metal record for the headbanger and navel-gazer alike.

—Joe Lynch, Staff Writer / Coney Island Baby

King Krule, '6 Feet Beneath the Moon'

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Archy Marshall’s voice has drawn comparisons to Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, though a more accurate description might be “Shane MacGowan if he gargled with battery acid.” Whether it’s genetic blessing or total affectation, King Krule’s vocals are the burning star of 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. “Easy Easy” and the chills-inducing “Out Getting Ribs” are greater than the sum of their stripped down parts. Marshall opens “A Lizard State” with a growl that makes the song completely punk rock, even after the saxophone comes in. But King Krule’s the most fun when he goes trip hop, very nearly rapping on “Neptune Estate” (his flow on “You Took Your Time” with British duo Mount Kimbie is one of the best things I've heard all year). If he sounds this good—and this world-weary—at the tender age of 19, the best is yet to come.

—Samantha Vincenty, Social Media Editor / Volunteer Bulldog Masseuse

HAIM, 'Days Are Gone'

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HAIM have been compared to everyone from Shania Twain to Fleetwood Mac, to a mashup of Nirvana and TLC. No matter whom they sound like to you on their critically acclaimed debut Days Are Gone, one thing is for sure: the sister trio have mastered the art of the pop melody. I haven't been able to stop myself from multiple repeat listens of "The Wire" and "Honey & I" since the LP dropped. Plus, a million bonus points for Este Haim's epic bass face.

—Nicole James, Staff Writer / #ForeverTeen

A$AP Rocky, 'Long.Live.A$AP'

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With singles like "Goldie" and "F**kin' Problems" floating around and catching feverish hype for the better part of 2012, by the time A$AP Rocky's delayed debut album finally dropped in January 2013, it was a wonder whether that hype would ultimately be his reckoning. The answer, Long.Live.A$AP, was a resounding no. A well-crafted marriage of radio-ready bangers like "Wild For the Night" and "Fashion Killa" and contemplative thunderclouds like "Pain" and "Suddenly" (the latter of which lets Rocky's production skills shine) makes for a strong and surprisingly dark debut. Not to mention, between "F**kin' Problems" and "1 Train," there are enough killer guest spots on this record to turn anybody's head.

—Ariel LeBeau, Photo Editor / Directioner

DJ Rashad, 'Double Cup'

21 / 42

Footwork, the Chicago dance style and house music subgenre, had its moment in 2013, marked primarily by DJ Rashad's soul/hip hop-sampling debut album Double Cup. The Chicago DJ/producer has been active in the dance music scene for more than a decade, but Double Cup, an amalgam of New Jack Swing samples alongside drum n' bass, trap and acid house, is the producer's clearest distillation of a sound that's simultaneously dark and danceable.

—Jason Newman, Senior Writer / Street-Walking Cheetah

f(x), 'Pink Tape'

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It's the most experimental K-pop album of the year: Pink Tape, girl group f(x)'s second full-length album, is steeped in quirky, boundary-pushing electronic sounds with woozy harmonies, English and Korean raps and cheerleader-esque chants. The production ranges from punchy EDM to arena-sized electronic rock and beyond. Skeptical listeners should check out funky single "Rum Pum Pum Pum" or the euphoric "Airplane."

—Jeff Benjamin, Staff Writer / International Music Fan

Boards of Canada, 'Tomorrow's Harvest'

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Two of my top five of 2013 came from bands who returned with albums after long hiatuses, each with ardent followings. And while Boards of Canada didn't make fans cool their heels a third as long as My Bloody Valentine did, the Scottish electro-soundscapers generated enough excitement with the June release of Tomorrow's Harvest, their first new output in seven years, to do some site-crashing of their own. The press-averse BoC are famously called "shadowy," and in a typically enigmatic way, they announced the record with a campaign that began on Record Store Day and included numerical codes that had to be uncovered treasure hunt-style, which ultimately led to access to the album's site.    

Tomorrow's Harvest is immersive, and as sprawling as Boards of Canada have ever sounded. Reportedly inspired by '70s movie soundtracks, the entire thing could certainly be set to pictures; in fact, one song was—"Reach For the Dead," a buzzy, vaguely foreboding track that came with a dusty, desolate and beautiful music video. The record that splits the difference between warm and inviting ambience—the percolating "Cold Earth," for instance, or the piano-driven "Nothing is Real"—and a lingering sense of dread and, as the highlight "Sick Times" drives home, a planet doomed. It plays like a cautionary message from another time (the future? Maybe...), or another dimension, as the sounds of static and radio tuning pepper the minimal "Transmisiones Ferox," and the electronic mash of opener "Gemini." If Boards of Canada are right, and this majestic record really does portend where we are headed, it may not end well. But it will sure sound fine as we head toward our demise.

—John Norris, Supervising Producer / Left-handed Socialist Pisces

Lorde, 'Pure Heroine'

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From dominating pop charts worldwide with "Royals" to scoring four Grammy nominations, to hanging out with new friends like Taylor Swift, 2013 has been a huge year for Lorde. And she completely deserves it, as Pure Heroine has some of the smartest songwriting this year. The wistful, confessional "Buzzcut Season" makes me wish I had a car (and a license) so I could sing along on a late-night drive with an old friend, while tracks like "Tennis Court" and "White Teeth Teens" rival—or even trump—Lorde's ubiquitous first single. 

—Samantha Vincenty, Social Media Editor / Volunteer Bulldog Masseuse

J. Cole, 'Born Sinner'

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J. Cole's Grammy-nominated major label debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, may have introduced the rapper to the world of commercial success, but its deviation from his mixtape roots undoubtedly frustrated his longtime fans. Cole's response to the skeptics? Recognize the criticism, up his production game, and drop a monster sophomore LP that, this time, successfully balances the old with the new. 

While Born Sinner features made-for-radio hooks via "Crooked Smile" and "Power Trip," tracks like "Trouble" and "Runaway" display the creative control that's reminiscent of Cole's Friday Night Lights days. Vividly painting the not-so-glamorous demons and dualities that come with fame, the album also highlights relationship and spiritual struggles in the soulful "Sparks Will Fly" (which made Fuse’s Best Songs of 2013 list) and title track "Born Sinner." Versatile, cohesive and deeply honest, Born Sinner marks J. Cole's most established project yet.

—Tina Xu, Web Content Manager / Wine & Drake Enthusiast 

Kurt Vile, 'Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze'

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The fifth LP from this long-haired Philadelphia singer-songwriter might have the most fitting title in the history of rock. Wakin' on a Pretty Daze is the ideal wake'n'bake soundtrack: It's lightly psychedelic with layers of reverb-drenched, finger-picked acoustic guitars and glistening electric riffs; it's woozy and warm, still snuggling in the sheets, with Vile's voice in a low, hushed mumble-sing like he's just emerging from a dream; it's romantic, as Vile sings of the pact between two lovers and promises his lady not to party too hard on tour. It's also Vile's most-accessible album yet, each track fit into tighter pop formats with shimmering choruses. Grab a cup of coffee and put this album on tomorrow morning—there's a reason my girlfriend and I have done just that, nearly every morning, all year long.

—William Goodman, News Editor / Gnar Specialist 

John Legend, ‘Love in the Future’

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Written and recorded just before his marriage to long-time girlfriend Chrissy Teigen, John Legend's highly-anticipated album Love in the Future—his first solo LP in over four years—is a love letter to his new bride. The first taste arrived in March with the Kanye-produced "The Beginning," and I was instantly in love. Standout tracks include Legend's ballsy cover of Bobby Caldwell's soul classic "Open Your Eyes," the gorgeously raw hit single "All of Me" dedicated to Teigen, the fun and sexy "Caught Up" and the duet with singer/songwriter Stacy Barthe on a cover of Anita Baker's "Angel." Love in the Future is a cohesive collection of well-written soul songs, all performed with a passion few artists today can pull off as convincingly as Legend does. 

—Mark Sundstrom, Web Content Manager / R&B Connoisseur 

Neko Case, 'The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You'

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Singer-songwriter Neko Case has written some hauntingly sad and beautiful songs in her day, and The Worse Things Get… does not hold back on the sad-and-beautiful. Recorded during a struggle with depression following the deaths of both her parents and grandmother, the album centers on grief, loneliness and recovery, but finds levity in Case's ever-present dark humor. Her gale-force voice hits hardest on "Man" and "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu," an acapella open letter to a child she saw being mistreated at the airport. There's some Neko-on-Nico action with a cover of "Afraid," while the buoyant closing track "Yon Ferrets Return" leaves us happy and hopeful for the ferrets—and for Neko, too. The world needs a hundred more albums full of fight songs like these.

—Samantha Vincenty, Social Media Editor / Volunteer Bulldog Masseuse

Disclosure, 'Settle'

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British brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence's debut album Settle entered at No. 1 on the UK Albums chart, and it was nominated for the renowned 2013 Mercury Prize. It's both a pop album and a dance album, crossing over in a way that not many other electronic acts could duplicate (outside of Daft Punk). Disclosure's album opens on a high note with the soulful, sermon-inspired "When A Fire Starts to Burn," while tracks like the effervescent "White Noise" and the exceptionally giddy "You & Me" keep you dancing throughout. Their show at this year's Lollapalooza was also one of our favorites.

—Nicole James, Staff Writer / #ForeverTeen

A$AP Ferg, 'Trap Lord'

30 / 42

Anybody quick to reduce Ferg to "A$AP Rocky's sidekick" is doing a disservice not just to him, but to themselves. Trap Lord brings a dark, downright menacing presence to hip hop airwaves with some of the most aggressive raps of 2013, a year largely dominated by innocuous trap-pop tracks and a twerking ex-Disney star. Not to say that Trap Lord doesn't come with party jams, as the ridiculously infectious singles "Shabba" and "Work (Remix)" demonstrate, but what sets Ferg and his debut LP apart are the nefarious and, at times, even woeful tracks like "Fergivicious" and "Cocaine Castle," which serve to remind where trap's roots lie. If nothing else, Ferg at least deserves accolades for the new generation of young listeners that will inevitably be introduced to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony via epic collabo track "Lord." (Seriously, sh-t is wild.)

—Ariel LeBeau, Photo Editor / Directioner

Sara Bareilles, 'The Blessed Unrest'

31 / 42

Thank goodness at least somebody out there gave Sara Bareilles the recognition she deserves for this stellar album. It's a shame that the whole "Brave" vs. "Roar" debate overshadowed what should've been the real discussion—that The Blessed Unrest is grossly underrated. Bareilles might seem ideal for bubbly adult contemporary hits, but the 34-year-old veteran shines most brightly on sorrowful, swelling piano ballads like "1000 Times" and the heart-wrenching "Manhattan," arguably the album's most notable tracks. But those seeking something more uplifting and light can spin "Chasing the Sun" or the ridiculously cute "I Choose You," which surely ended up on hundreds of wedding playlists. Whether you're lamenting a relationship gone wrong or feeling giddy about a new one, you'll find something to love on The Blessed Unrest.

—Tina Xu, Web Content Manager / Wine & Drake Enthusiast 

Jason Isbell, 'Southeastern'

32 / 42

It's a story of alcohol abuse, redemption and the best Americana album of 2013. The series of events that led to Southeastern, though, started a decade earlier when Isbell joined hard-living Alabama rockers Drive-By Truckers and married the band's bassist. But after four years of hard touring and harder drinking, Isbell's marriage ended, and he was booted from the band. He recorded a pair of middling solo records and fell into a downward spiral of drinking, until entering rehab with help from his recently-sober pal Ryan Adams. After drying out, Isbell started writing his best songs yet. The result is Southeastern, a collection of acoustic guitar ballads and a few balls-out country rockers reflecting on sobriety, love, loss, forgiveness and, most vitally, putting the past to rest and moving ahead. The cozy-cabin love story "Cover Me Up," the heart wrenching and booze-drenched cheers to a dying cancer-patient "Elephant" and "Live Oak," about Isbell's former self haunting him, are all among the year's best tracks. But Southeastern is an album, without a single lackluster track, which just helps sate my intense anticipation for Isbell's next release.

—William Goodman, News Editor / Gnar Specialist 

Avicii, 'True'

33 / 42

Avicii is famous for fist-pumpin' EDM, but his debut album shows that there's far more to the 24-year-old producer than bass drops. The Swedish DJ blends heavy beats with bluegrass, disco, soul, classical and other peculiar sounds for a genre-blurring album still wholly accessible to mainstream audiences. Standouts include the funk-disco jam "Lay Me Down," featuring Adam Lambert and Nile Rodgers, and the bluegrass ditty "Hey Brother."

—Jeff Benjamin, Staff Writer / International Music Fan

Windhand, 'Soma'

34 / 42

One year ago, Richmond, Virginia doom metal group Windhand—known for long, sludgy songs that alternatively drag you to the swamp and beat you over to the head—were only known among hardcore metal fans. With the release of new album Soma, the band have gone from niche darlings to a (relatively) crossover group, anchored by frontwoman Dorthia Cottrell's ominous vocals and the band's dual guitar punishment.

—Jason Newman, Senior Writer / Street-Walking Cheetah

Danny Brown, 'Old'

35 / 42

Unlike Kanye, J. Cole and Childish Gambino—who all dropped incredible records this year—Danny Brown steered clear of navel-gazing in 2013. The Detroit rapper told Fuse that his album is conceived as "a timeline of hip hop" styles, which makes Old the only concept rap album of 2013 that isn't self-obsessed. Brown is a sonically fearless artist, and his album is aimed at adventurous hip hop listeners, but unlike his competitors, he isn't hung up on convincing you he's an "Artist." He lets the music and the rhymes speak for themselves.

—Joe Lynch, Staff Writer / Coney Island Baby

Justin Timberlake, ‘The 20/20 Experience (Part 1)'

36 / 42

Justin Timberlake gave me exactly what I didn't even know I needed with The 20/20 Experience, his first album since 2006's FutureSex/LoveSounds. He pulled together a stellar team for the project, including super producer (and longtime collaborator) Timbaland, A-list producer J-Roc and a top secret weapon, songwriter James Fauntleroy. These tracks—though occasionally a bit long—were expertly crafted for R&B and pop radio in 2013. The three men behind the scenes, writing and producing in the studio, deserve just as much credit for the album's success. Word to the wise: Keep your eye on singer/songwriter Fauntleroy! 

—Mark Sundstrom, Web Content Manager / R&B Connoisseur 

Ariana Grande, 'Yours Truly'

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The pop/retro-soul album debut from actress-turned-singer Ariana Grande was one of this year's most pleasant surprises. Channeling '90s R&B and hip hop with some '50s doo-wops thrown in, Yours Truly is a fun, feel-good album that sounds vintage yet current. Snap along to opening track—and personal favorite—"Honeymoon Avenue" or shake your hips to the catchy and underrated "Lovin' It," both of which show Grande's affinity for nostalgic beats. Oh, and the Mariah Carey comparisons are definitely warranted, thanks to the breezy cascading melodies on the Babyface-produced "You'll Never Know" and "Baby I." But don't assume that this pop diva is only about giggles and butterflies, as standout piano ballad "Almost Is Never Enough" will surely tug at your heartstrings.

—Tina Xu, Web Content Manager / Wine & Drake Enthusiast 

Have Mercy, 'The Earth Pushed Back'

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In the indie-punk world, a vocalist can infuse a tone of desperation that, when properly applied, will create something that has the potential to last for a long time. Taking Back Sunday's Tell All Your Friends is a notable example of this – while Adam Lazzarra certainly wasn't going to blow your mind in terms of technical singing ability, the album has an adored place in the storied early-2000s output from the Long Island indie scene. Lazzarra never doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, belting out intrapersonal lyrics with a passion that can really only be found on a band's first full-length record; it's that severe passion and a sense of, "What do I have to lose?" that bands often find themselves abandoning after they've reached some critical success.

For Baltimore's Have Mercy, a debut LP was offered much along the same desperate lines as Tell All Your Friends. The quartet released The Earth Pushed Back via Topshelf Records early this year; and the lyrics are yelped with such volume and fervor that it's impossible to not hear them, no matter where in the country you live. The quiet-loud-quiet-loud-quiet-very loud structure works well on The Earth Pushed Back, as both of Have Mercy's singers take turns either screaming for their lyrical lives or barely whispering love songs. If I were to instruct any stranger to listen to only one album that came out in 2013, this would, without a doubt, be that album.

—Thomas Nassiff, Web Content Manager / Punk Rock Princess 

Savages, 'Silence Yourself'

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This scorching debut album from Savages—an all-female British quartet—recalls Sleater-Kinney, Lydia Lunch and Joy Division. But this is far from mere hero worship: Savages' promising songcraft and visceral delivery prove they're a distinct force in their own right. They bash their way through the unsettling "Husbands," toy with the Pixies loud-quiet-loud approach on "She Will" and blast your face off on the appropriately titled "No Face." Their mix of technical precision and nervous energy is a pure, propulsive thrill.

—Joe Lynch, Staff Writer / Coney Island Baby

Atlas Genius, 'When It Was Now'

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The Australian rock outfit scored a pair of Top 10 Alternative hit singles this year with breakout debut single "Trojans" and their synthy follow-up, "If So." But that only scratches the surface of their new LP. The duo dabble in synth-pop ("All These Girls") and new wave ("Electric") with each track centered around their harmony-driven croons. Highly recommended for fans of Death Cab for Cutie.

—Jeff Benjamin, Staff Writer / International Music Fan

M.I.A., 'Matangi'

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There's a reason they call Maya Arulpragasam the Julian Assange of pop music. Whether or not you buy into it, she revolutionizes the genre (i.e. whichever one people ascribe to her: pop, rap, "diasporic trap sh-t") as well as The Genre (i.e. the idea of fitting into any categorical cage), and her fourth full-length, Matangi, is Exhibit A. Though the hype surrounding M.I.A. has dissipated considerably since her commercial and critical peak circa 2007's Kala, her newest album has more brains and more guts than "Paper Planes" ever mustered. When Matangi uncannily intertwines elements of trap, dubstep, bhangra, punk, reggae and more, it feels purposeful, not pandering. Much like M.I.A.'s Versace capsule collection inspired by bootlegged designsMatangi conglomerates pervasive markers of the moment and refashions them into a product that is as successful as it is subversive. And oh yeah, catchy as hell.

—Ariel LeBeau, Photo Editor / Directioner

Kanye West, 'Yeezus'

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"I'm great like Michelangelo... I'm like Disney"
"We're the new rock stars. It's been like that for a minute, Hedi Slimane!"
"Kate Upton ain't Marilyn Monroe. Kim is Marilyn Monroe, you know that." 
"You ain't got the answers, Sway!" 

Stop. Can't we wind back the clock to June, when the remarkable, thrill-a-minute Yeezus spoke for itself? When the indignant "I Am a God" was the only proclamation of greatness we needed? When the captivating "Blood on the Leaves" prompted discussion of whether it was appropriate to appropriate Nina Simone's vocal from a civil rights essential into an auto-tuned come-on? When the witty sample-fest "Bound 2" couldn't help but put a smile on our faces and conjure memories of the "old" Kanye? And of course, when "New Slaves" was the thesis for it all, a gauntlet-throwing declaration of defiance to a contemporary, classist slavery? He'd rather be a d-ck than a swallower. Some would say, "Mission accomplished." I say I'll take pugnacious Kanye any day if it means that we continue to get records as adventurous as Yeezus isIt's punk, industrial, electronic, lean and mean, and as far from pure hip hop as he's ever been, as is its accompanying tour, long on spectacle. Rap fans hoping for a reversal, of course, may find that ship has sailed. But wherever he goes (music, fashion, a new "Steve Jobs"), we'll be watching, and I'll be rooting for him. Here's to the explorers.

—John Norris, Supervising Producer / Left-handed Socialist Pisces

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October 21: Taylor Swift the Cat Lady

October 21: Taylor Swift the Cat Lady

In case you haven't heard, Taylor Swift love cats. So, what else would a cat lover wear on a plane? A robe covered in kitties, of course. While other celebrities are wearing boring ol' jeans and a t-shirt, Swift proudly wears her purrfectly cute robe on this trip. She explains, "This is a good example of what I typically wear on planes, in front of lots of other people who all have eyes." Keep doing you Taylor.

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