Album Analysis: 2013’s top 20 boast memorable, commendable collections

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The Album Analyzer had his hands full this year.

Yielding the strongest selection of releases since the new millennium, 2013 included so many memorable albums that ranking them can incite a headache. However, these 20 efforts deserve recognition.  

20: “The Next Day” by David Bowie

Bowie’s strongest effort since 1977, “’Heroes,’” meshes all the best parts of his past work. Following releases by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young in 2012, he’s part of a long list of rock gods who continue producing classic work. Standout Track: “The Next Day”

19: “You’re Nothing” by iceage

This Danish punk group’s sophomore album thrashes through four decades of fast-paced, angsty guitar music and includes one of 2013’s strongest singles: “Morals.” “Morals,” with its end-of-times intro and multiple tempo changes, provides the strongest feelings of melancholy and confusion music can create. Standout Track: “In Haze”

18: “Woman” by Rhye

Rhye lead singer Mike Milosh’s lush vocals caused much confusion when the duo’s debut album dropped this spring because critics and fans alike assumed only a songstress could sing so high. His words, compounded with steady keyboards and driving bass, make for as great of a ‘80s impression as Haim provides. Standout Track: “The Fall”

17: “MCII” by Mikal Cronin

I’ve praised Cronin’s ability to capture the essence of summer before, yet his pop-rock tunes hit as hard in the snow and ice as at a sun-kissed barbecue. His progression as an artist hasn’t ceased despite success, with multiple indie groups, and “MCII” expands on everything that made his self-titled first album a solid listen. Standout Track: “Am I Wrong”

16: “Days Are Gone” by Haim

The Haim sisters’ album kicks off with three singles, “Falling,” “Forever” and “The Wire,” that by themselves highlight music from the ‘80s and its better qualities. “The Wire” provides the most throwback, radio-friendly rock effort since Muse’s 2012 hit “Madness,” and its squealing strings and dramatic hook show the band’s potential. Standout Track: “My Song 5”

15: “Sleeper” by Ty Segall

Cronin’s buddy and creative partner, Segall, released an album so brief and simple this fall that even dedicated fans could have missed it. However, “Sleeper” and its haunting instrumentals competed with releases by Drake, Lorde and Justin Timberlake and outshined those projects in almost all aspects. Standout Track: “She Don’t Care”

14: “Muchacho” by Phosphorescent

With his sixth album, Phosphorescent has perfected that Willie Nelson-meets-Wilco sound he’s spent a decade developing. Take “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master),” where the piano keys and slide guitars hover under down-home lyrics to highlight both country and pop music’s most subtle intricacies. Standout Track: “A Charm/A Blade”

13: “Yeezus” by Kanye West

West’s self-coined “yeezy season” began in early summer and stretched clear to the release of his awkward “Bound 2” video in mid-November. While rap purists can’t hold the MC’s latest project in as high regard as 2010’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” the album’s most anthemic tracks, “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves,” are on par with 2013’s best hip-hop songs. Standout Track: “Blood on the Leaves”

12: “Modern Vampires of the City” by Vampire Weekend

The band’s most mature, non-snobbish effort sheds the irritating pretention that crowded Vampire Weekend’s early work. By growing up and capturing life from the perspective of people other than the Ivy League frat brats lead singer Ezra Koenig crooned about before, Koenig and crew’s new direction includes more inspiration and introspective lyrics. Standout Track: “Hannah Hunt”

11: “Acid Rap” by Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper’s free mixtape that dropped this spring gives both hip-hop heads and mainstream music fans an accessible look into the genre’s future. Hailing from Chicago, this charismatic teen chronicles the troubles of his neighborhood through improvised chants and potent punch lines. Standout Track: “Everybody’s Something”

10: “Silence Yourself” by Savages

London’s helter skelter, all-girl rock group channels its tremendous hype into a first album that is based on recurrent themes. Among other excellent, high-temp tunes, “Husbands” stands out as one of 2013’s best songs as lead singer Jehnny Beth chants “husbands” for the better part of two minutes. Standout Track: “Shut Up”

9: “…Like Clockwork” by Queens of the Stone Age

Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme’s ability to stay relevant while other prominent rock ‘n’ roll figures from the past decade fade away is exhibited with the band’s sixth album. “I Sat by the Ocean” sounds like a more emotional Led Zeppelin; “If I had a Tail” creates such an absurd scenario even the most level-headed listener must ponder the positives and negatives of having a tail. Standout Track: “Smooth Sailing”

8: “Run the Jewels” by Run the Jewels

El-P and Killer Mike trade spares rhyme-for-rhyme throughout their debut project, and the odd couple’s ability to combine Southern trap beats with Wu-Tang-esque verses shows great depth. From the album’s first track, El-P’s production includes catchy motifs that filter in every now and again to add great cohesion. Standout Track: “36” Chain”

7: “Wondrous Bughouse” by Youth Lagoon

Pink Floyd with a bigger sense of urgency may sound like Youth Lagoon here, as his psychedelic grooves move so fast listeners might miss the album’s lush, organic sounds. Take “Dropla,” track six, where Youth Lagoon chants, “You’ll never die.” After even three minutes of this, it’s unclear whether he’s lying or not. Standout Track: “Mute”

6: “Reflektor” by Arcade Fire

Doubling down with its two-disc fourth album, Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” emulates island music similar to The Clash. Taking the best qualities from its previous three albums and meshing them with entirely new sounds, Arcade Fire continues evolving, and the project’s strongest song, “Here Comes the Night Time,” proves this. Never has an act combined the laid-back vibes of a dancehall with the sincerity of folk music. Standout Track: “We Exist”

5: “Dream River” by Bill Callahan

Alt-county’s most elusive figure eases a bit with “Dream River” and presents a look into the dreary, lackadaisical life of a recluse. “Well, the only words I said today are ‘beer’ and ‘thank you,’” Callahan repeatedly whispers over strings and empty drum kicks. Despite the desolately placed stories through the album, his emotional depth throughout eases the sorrow-filled lyrics at times. Standout Track: “The Sing”

4: “Old” by Danny Brown

Much like Arcade Fire’s latest project, Brown splits his third album in half, with Public Enemy-molded burners on the front and dubstep-duping dance tracks toward the end. Brown’s versatility with this project proves he’s on the rise, and the constant turns throughout “Old” make predicting his next moves nearly impossible. Standout Track: “Dip”

3: “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” by Foxygen

Foxygen’s nine-song “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic,” clocking in at just more than 30 minutes, takes listeners on a cosmic voyage that covers rock music — past and present — and its finest characteristics. From the melancholy chorus on “No Destruction” to the funk-packed, choir-backed “On Blue Mountain,” this underdog of an album one-upped 2013’s most anticipated releases.

2: “The Electric Lady” by Janelle Monae

Disco-dotted and reeking of ‘70s themes, the album dips through numerous genres and tackles subjects like alienation and loneliness. When Monae isn’t screaming over thick bass lines and dirty power chords, she teams up with the likes of Prince, Miguel and Erykah Badu — creating a comprehensive overview of both past and present urban music. Standout Track: “Give Em What They Love”

1: “Monomania” by Deerhunter

The year’s best album dropped during the three-week span in May that also provided releases by Daft Punk, Vampire Weekend and Savages. With “Monomania,” Deerhunter captures the culmination of nearly a century of guitar music, and the individual tracks could each represent any era of rock. “Pensacola” zeroes in on Southern comfort like The Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd; a modern-day Chuck Berry or Elvis may bust out “Back to the Middle” during concerts in packed basketball arenas. Nothing Deerhunter does here fails to sound momentous and groundbreaking. Standout Track: “Dream Captain”