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Stephen Thompson's Top 10 Albums Of 2013

Kacey Musgraves. i i

Kacey Musgraves. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
Kacey Musgraves.

Kacey Musgraves.

Courtesy of the artist

The same caveats apply to every individual writer's year-end Top 10 list: This is one person's favorite albums of 2013, based on one highly individualized set of tastes, level of desire to reflect the culture at large, life circumstances and genre preferences, as well as mood swings and a capricious nature, complicated further by an intricately nested bundle of personality disorders.

For this particular writer, the best albums of 2013 stood as album-length statements rather than mere collections of good songs. Each captured a powerful songwriting voice and, just as important, a central philosophy: Moving and smart, the records below have clearly defined reasons to exist. They say something meaningful about the people who made them. And, more to the point, I simply love them — and have played them over and over again, even as deadlines loomed and other, newer material beckoned.

Stephen Thompson's Top 10 Albums Of 2013

Cover for Same Trailer Different Park

1. Kacey Musgraves, 'Same Trailer Different Park'

  • Song: Follow Your Arrow

The do-what-you-feel politics of "Follow Your Arrow," while unusual for mainstream country music, sometimes overshadow Kacey Musgraves' real strength: a gut-level, ground-level, unromantic understanding of how people live. In song after catchy and affecting song, Same Trailer Different Park finds Musgraves nailing the details of small-town boredom ("Merry Go Round"), lousy jobs ("Blowin' Smoke") and compromised romantic standards ("It Is What It Is"), in ways that sound both modern and true to the roots and meaning of country music.

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Song
Follow Your Arrow
Album
Same Trailer Different Park
Artist
Kacey Musgraves
Label
Mercury Nashville
Released
2013

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Cover for The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

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

  • Song: Man

"Man" is a thrilling, gender-bending, fun and funny anthem, and certainly the grabbiest moment on The Worse Things Get... But the rest of the album delves deeper and more provocatively into a brilliant and complex mind: Neko Case has wrapped her luxuriantly powerful voice around some terrific songs in her time, but she's never wrapped it around statements this bold, or nerves this exposed. When, in her cover of a Nico ballad, Case sings "You are beautiful and you are alone," the loneliness and beauty are profound enough to overwhelm.

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Song
Man
Album
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Artist
Neko Case
Label
Anti
Released
2013

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3. San Fermin, 'San Fermin'

  • Song: Sonsick

Thematically, sonically, vocally and artistically ambitious, San Fermin is the fully formed vision of a young, classically trained pianist and songwriter named Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Sung by Allen Tate (voice: deep, brooding) and the women of Lucius (voices: high, sweet, sung in unison), Ludwig-Leone's 55-minute opening statement swoons and stuns. Months after its release, it still beckons to be unfurled further, with ever more intricate details to discover.

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Song
Sonsick
Album
San Fermin
Artist
San Fermin
Label
Downtown Records
Released
2013

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YouTube
Cover for Woman

4. Rhye, 'Woman'

  • Song: Fall

Mystery is baked into the collective persona of Rhye, the duo of singer Mike Milosh and producer Robin Hannibal. The two men perform in darkness and enshroud their publicity photos in shadows; for months, those who'd heard the band couldn't be certain of Milosh's gender, let alone his identity. But there's nothing so enigmatic about Woman, a collection of love songs bathed in desire, intimacy and bone-deep affection. It's bedroom music, sure, but for lovers who've shared every room in the house.

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Song
Fall
Album
Woman
Artist
Rhye
Label
Universal Music
Released
2013

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Cover for Once I Was an Eagle

5. Laura Marling, 'Once I Was An Eagle'

  • Song: Master Hunter

Some albums find their strength in the vulnerabilities they expose. For Laura Marling's Once I Was an Eagle, strength lies in bared fangs and the will to shred everything in sight. At 23, Marling is already on her fourth album: a 16-song, 63-minute powerhouse in which she chronicles the end of a relationship with a ferocity that's not cold so much as clear-eyed. "I am a master hunter," she sings during the stunning five-song suite at the top of the record, adding, "I've cured my skin / Now nothing gets in." Her assuredness is awe-inspiring.

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Song
Master Hunter
Album
Once I Was an Eagle
Artist
Laura Marling
Label
Ribbon Music
Released
2013

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Cover for Repave

6. Volcano Choir, 'Repave'

  • Song: Comrade

Justin Vernon has suggested that he may never return to Bon Iver, the project that made him an unlikely household name. Instead, he spent 2013 focusing on side projects: producing The Blind Boys of Alabama, running a boutique record label, heading up a blues-rock band, appearing on Colin Stetson's record and, of course, singing in Volcano Choir. But where Volcano Choir once glued together chopped-up experimental fragments with varying degrees of approachability, it now finds the midpoint between avant-garde meandering and the alternately intimate and grandiose gorgeousness of late-period Bon Iver.

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Song
Comrade
Album
Repave
Artist
Volcano Choir
Label
Jagjaguwar
Released
2013

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YouTube
Dessa art

7. Dessa, 'Parts Of Speech'

  • Song: Fighting Fish

A leading member of the Twin Cities hip-hop collective Doomtree, Dessa is equal parts rapper, singer and poet, often landing at a spot all her own. On Parts of Speech, she paws through the steaming shrapnel of failed relationships with smart specificity, references to Greek philosophy and a wise eye trained on her own guarded heart. But for all the personal vulnerability Dessa explores, she's never better than in "Fighting Fish," an ode to boldness and a life free of meekness or apology.

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Song
Fighting Fish
Album
Parts of Speech
Artist
Dessa
Label
Doomtree Records
Released
2013

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Frank Turner art

8. Frank Turner, 'Tape Deck Heart'

  • Song: Recovery

Frank Turner is a London folk singer who often wields an acoustic guitar, but he's got the boozy, funny, bleeding-heart bluster of a barroom raconteur. Tape Deck Heart opens with a rowdily infectious chronicling of rehab — "Recovery," one of the year's great chant-along anthems — before delving into an album-length string of bawdy, goodhearted moments. Equally adept at rafter-raisers and lighter-lifters, Turner carries off Tape Deck Heart with the charisma of an arena-filling rock legend.

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Song
Recovery
Album
Tape Deck Heart
Artist
Frank Turner
Label
Polydor
Released
2013

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Cover for Sing to the Moon

9. Laura Mvula, 'Sing To The Moon'

  • Song: She

Laura Mvula's confident debut sprawls across genres — soul, pop, R&B, jazz — as freely as it straddles eras and breezes around the globe. Regardless of how and whether she's pigeonholed, the English singer-songwriter paints in Technicolor, with brash, spangly arrangements that never overwhelm Mvula's elastic, exciting voice. Throughout Sing to the Moon, she and her band conjure images of classic soul and old movie scores, yet keep their attention trained ever forward.

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Song
She
Album
Sing to the Moon
Artist
Laura Mvula
Label
RCA Victor
Released
2013

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Cover for Trouble Will Find Me

10. The National, 'Trouble Will Find Me'

  • Song: Don't Swallow the Cap

The National's records reveal themselves slowly: What might seem formless at first can unveil hidden intensity over time in ways you might never expect. Like its predecessors, Trouble Will Find Me explores the worried mind and internal struggles of singer Matt Berninger. But The National also possesses the patience and chops to continue exploring musically, which helps give the band's songs beauty as well as meaning.

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Song
Don't Swallow the Cap
Album
Trouble Will Find Me
Artist
The National
Label
4AD
Released
2013

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Purchase Featured Music

Same Trailer Different Park

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

Album
Same Trailer Different Park
Artist
Kacey Musgraves
Label
Mercury Nashville
Released
2013

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