Music News

Backbeat writers look back on national favorites from 2013

It's always baffling to us when we hear somebody bemoan the fact that there's no music being released these days that's worth listening to. There's actually quite a bit, if you ask us. Guess it sort of depends on your perspective — or at least how much time you have on your hands to make your way through the deluge. That's the thing: Most folks just don't have a surplus of time to seek out new sounds. Fortunately, we spent the past year sorting through static in search of music that moves us. And you know what? We found plenty. Here's a rundown of the albums that blew our hair back in 2013. If you're already dialed in, consider this a refresher. If not, consider this a shopping list (or Spotify list) of things to check out over the holiday.

A$AP Rocky, Long.Live.A$AP (RCA). Some have criticized Long.Live.A$AP for being too commercially focused, but considering A$AP Rocky's easy-to-consume lyrics and his dependence on great production, the album was the perfect release to elevate him from underground treasure to rap superstar. The beats are outstanding, Rocky's flow is as nice as ever, and the album's got something for everyone. — Noah Hubbell

Devendra Banhart, Mala (Nonesuch). It's possible that the best way to forget about the subzero temperatures in December is to pop this in and just pretend that you're sipping a mai tai on a tropical island. "Your Fine Petting Duck" and "Mi Negrita" are especially well suited to the task. But if mellow dance tracks aren't your cup of tea, there's still sure to be something for you on Mala, an incredibly diverse record that solidifies Banhart's reputation for producing bizarre pop with roots across the globe. — Ashley Rogers

The Baptist Generals, Jackleg Devotional to the Heart (Sub Pop). Nearly a decade after the Baptist Generals released the wonderfully idiosyncratic No Silver/No Gold, the Denton, Texas, six-piece returned with Jackleg Devotional to the Heart, which found the act, fronted by the brilliant songwriter Chris Flemmons, exploring different sonic territory, with some of the songs verging on experimental. Jackleg is a magnificent collection throughout. — Jon Solomon

The Black Dahlia Murder, Everblack (Metal Blade). Everblack proves that the Black Dahlia Murder has not plateaued in its creativity, boasting drastically more imaginative leads and solos than 2011's Ritual. — Brad Lopez

Black Joe Lewis, Electric Slave (Vagrant Records). Austin garage-rock-bluesman Black Joe Lewis strips things back on Electric Slave, letting the raunchy guitar effects stand front and center to create a really modern sound based on traditional influences. The funk-soul-garage-punk hybrid is super-infectious. — Leslie Simon

Terence Blanchard, Magnetic (Blue Note). Sure, Terence Blanchard can swing with the best of them, but the trumpeter also has no problem pushing boundaries, which is what he's done on Magnetic. While he's been running his trumpet through electronic effects for a number of years, that sound hasn't appeared on a recording until the release of this audacious disc. — JS

Boards of Canada, Tomorrow's Harvest (Warp Records). Tomorrow's Harvest sounds like an epitaph for the current era of human civilization. From the desolate album art to the tone of much of the music contained within, the album evokes a post-apocalypse characterized not by violence, but by isolation and a complete collapse of the human social experiment begun 10,000 years ago. — Tom Murphy

David Bowie, The Next Day (Columbia). The Next Day isn't an act of total reinvention; that much would be impossible for an artist with the track record of David Bowie. Even so, the new release from the legendary artist shows that he's still capable of innovation. The production is clean, the lyrics are well-edited, and the entire album does Bowie's genius justice. — A.H. Goldstein

Charles Bradley, Victim of Love (Daptone). Having spent many years as a James Brown impersonator, Charles Bradley clearly has an affinity for the Godfather of Soul. And though there are still hints of Brown in Bradley's delivery, on Victim of Love, the singer seems equally at home doing his own thing. Whereas his last effort, No Time for Dreaming, was about dealing with darkness, Victim finds Bradley buoyantly embracing the light. — JS

Danny Brown, Old (Fool's Gold). Old is a chronological journey through the rap of the last ten years, moving from the old Danny Brown that his hard-core fans love through an incredible turn mid-album to a raucous and futuristic hybrid of dance and hip-hop cultures. The tales Brown tells are poetic and affecting, even when covering something as ostensibly humdrum as buying bread. — NH

Bill Callahan, Dream River (Drag City). Bill Callahan's career has arced from his early days of lo-fi tape hiss to today's embodiment of national folk laureate. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Dream River, where Callahan's plaintive baritone makes the most impact with the fewest instrumental flourishes. — Mark Sanders