Best Music Of 2013

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Ken Tucker's Top 10 Albums Of 2013

Jason Isbell's Southeastern was Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker's favorite album of 2013. i i

Jason Isbell's Southeastern was Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker's favorite album of 2013. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
Jason Isbell's Southeastern was Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker's favorite album of 2013.

Jason Isbell's Southeastern was Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker's favorite album of 2013.

Courtesy of the artist

No music moved me more, did more to make me think about life a bit differently, than Jason Isbell's continually revelatory album Southeastern. It cohered as a statement about love, regret, loneliness and joy, and also about what it's like to make vernacular music concerning these themes. It was self-conscious without being self-absorbed.

This past year was also a remarkably dominant one for women making diverse, challenging music. Notable female hit-makers ranged from the New Zealand teenager Lorde to Miley Cyrus (yes, the latter's album Bangerz was actually good, folks). There were superb pop recordings from Tegan and Sara and the sister group HAIM; from indie phenomenon Eleanor Friedberger; from the soul-singing Valerie June; and, most of all, from country-music-making women such as Ashley Monroe, Caitlin Rose, Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark. Clark's 12 Stories possesses the kind of narrative and melodic drive that characterizes the best country music of any era.

Hip-hop yielded some engrossing young wordsmiths this year, with the release of Earl Sweatshirt's Doris, Danny Brown's Old and Chance the Rapper's often brilliant Acid Rap. But the guy to grapple with, for now, remains Kanye West, who continues to be wily, controversial, ridiculous and amazing. I'm still finding new things to listen to in Yeezus.

Among veteran music acts, there were a number of substantial new releases this year. Not resting on their laurels but enriching their legacies were David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Daft Punk and Superchunk. Superchunk released some of the best pop-inflected hard rock this year.

I'd also like to mention my favorite old music this year. Two releases stand out: Colder Than Ice: Arctic Records and the Rise of Philly Soul contains cool music from the 1960s, featuring early work by producer Kenny Gamble and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, among many others. And then there was I Heard the Angels Singing: Electrifying Black Gospel From the Nashboro Label 1951-1983, a staggering anthology of R&B-powered gospel music that works on you like spiritual rock 'n' roll.

Ken Tucker's Top 10 Albums Of 2013

Southeastern.

1. Jason Isbell, 'Southeastern'

  • Song: Traveling Alone

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Song
Traveling Alone
Album
Southeastern
Artist
Jason Isbell
Label
Relativity
Released
2013

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YouTube
Cover for 12 Stories

2. Brandy Clark, '12 Stories'

  • Song: Pray To Jesus

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Song
Pray To Jesus
Album
12 Stories
Artist
Brandy Clark
Label
Slate Creek
Released
2013

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YouTube
Cover for I Hate Music

3. Superchunk, 'I Hate Music'

  • Song: Me & You & Jackie Mittoo

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Song
Me & You & Jackie Mittoo
Album
I Hate Music
Artist
Superchunk
Label
Merge
Released
2013

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YouTube
Bakersfield

4. Vince Gill & Paul Franklin, 'Bakersfield'

  • Song: Together Again

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Song
Together Again
Album
Bakersfield
Artist
Vince Gill & Paul Franklin
Label
MCA Nashville
Released
2013

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YouTube
Cover for Yeezus

5. Kanye West, 'Yeezus'

  • Song: Black Skinhead

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Song
Black Skinhead
Album
Yeezus
Artist
Kanye West
Label
Def Jam
Released
2013

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YouTube
Cover for Heartthrob

6. Tegan And Sara, 'Heartthrob'

  • Song: Closer
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Ashley Monroe

7. Ashley Monroe, 'Like A Rose'

  • Song: Used

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Song
Used
Album
Like a Rose
Artist
Ashley Monroe
Label
Warner Music
Released
2012

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YouTube
Mavericks

8. The Mavericks, 'In Time'

  • Song: Back in Your Arms Again

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Song
Back in Your Arms Again
Album
In Time
Artist
The Mavericks
Label
Valory
Released
2013

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YouTube
Fulks

9. Robbie Fulks, 'Gone Away Backward'

  • Song: Imogene

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Song
Imogene
Album
Gone Away Backward
Artist
Robbie Fulks
Label
Bloodshot
Released
2013

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YouTube
Cover for Same Trailer Different Park

10. Kacey Musgraves, 'Same Trailer Different Park'

  • Song: Blowin' Smoke

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Song
Blowin' Smoke
Album
Same Trailer Different Park
Artist
Kacey Musgraves
Label
Mercury Nashville
Released
2013

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

YouTube

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Best Music Of 2013