The Best Albums of 2013

Hey there ponx, punx, punks, ballers, dirtbags, freaks, geeks, and normies. How's it going? No, seriously, how's it going? Leave us a comment or send us an email or a Tweet or whatever letting us know how you're doing. We hope you've had an incredible Holiday season, and that the new year is off to an even incredible-er start. As usual we are running a bit behind on our year-end best-of coverage, but very soon the pages of HDD will be going crazy with list-o-mania! Nathan has been working very hard at compiling the 30 best punk & hardcore records, the 30 best hip-hop albums, and the 20 best rap mixtapes of 2013. As well, we'll be tossing in some random odds 'n' ends of notable things from the past 12 months. So please stay tuned for all of that. In the meantime, here's a collective list of our 30 favorite full-length albums from 2013.


1. El-P & Killer Mike – Run The Jewels (Fools Gold)
Well, they went and did it again.  Following a year that saw El-P and Killer Mike releasing two of the best albums in any genre, let alone rap music, both of which were produced by El-P, the two returned as the duo Run The Jewels.  And as it was expected to be by anyone who loves rap music and has a Twitter account, Run The Jewels is actually the best rap album to drop in 2013.  El-Ps beats were deep, scientific, tense, and so far beyond bass-heavy, that they needed to be heard with headphones (and possibly a senses-heightening substance) to be fully appreciated.  Cadence-wise, the duo attacked each track with sweltering intensity and unrestrained emotion.  Their verses effortlessly traversed between humorous witticism and cutthroat battering.

2. Nö Pöwer – No Peace LP (Sorry State)
There are subtle elements of garage and psych at play here but it’s primarily raging hardcore punk, with a noticeable emphasis on the noise. It's a primitive and blown-out style of D-beat that’s been injected with a distinctive dose of artiness and then drenched in feedback.

3. Gensu Dean & Planet Asia – Abrasions (Mello Music Group)
Gensu Dean, who's gone largely unknown up to this point, crafts simplistic yet alluring loops rooted in boom-bap nostalgia. Fresno, CA's veteran underground rhymeslinger Planet Asia masterfully rocks the mic with his commanding presence and sharp rhymes

4. Baltic Cousins – The Broken Horn (Self-Released)
Out of Bellingham, WA come Baltic Cousins with their debut full-length, The Broken Horn; an ominous, punk-y brand of Americana that picks up right where they left off on 2011’s For The Hell Of Us EP.  Bradley Lockhart’s lyricism, which is seemingly rooted in honesty and realism, walks the line between optimism and gloomy despair.  “Junk Beach, Parts 1 & 2” is perhaps the absolute best rock ‘n’ roll song of recent times that nobody will hear.

5. Guilty Simpson & Small Professor – Highway Robbery (Beat Goliath / Coalmine)
Detroit emcee Guilty Simpson has worked alongside some of the hottest producers in the game. With full-length collabos flanking Madlib, Black Milk, and Apollo Brown already under his belt, he stepped out in 2013 with burgeoning beatsmith Small Professor. Highway Robbery was a concept that was set in a post-apocalyptic Detroit, where Simpson’s signature rhyme scheme told the story of survival in the concrete jungle, while Small Professor’s menacing, percussion heavy, scratched-up boom-bap pounded its way forward in neck-snapping fashion.

6. California X – Self Titled (Don Giovanni)
There are a variety of elements at play on their debut full-length—sludgy metal change-ups, lo-fi dream-pop, ‘90s-ish pop-punk (particularly in the vocals,) etc.—and all of them are buried under a glorious heap of ear-piercing guitar fuzz. If J. This is what the soundtrack to Easy Rider would sound like if it was made two decades later and starred J. Mascis, Bob Mould and Cris Kirkwood instead of Hopper, Fonda and Nicholson. Someone was recently telling me about a dude they know who regularly wears a tee shirt that says, “Bring back the early ‘90s.” That dude would love this shit.

7. Ill Bill – The Grimy Awards (Fat Beats)
Ill Bill returned to an early formula of using high profile beatsmiths and spitting venomous rhymes.  The album featured backing from the likes of Large Professor, Pete Rock, the Beatnuts, DJ Muggs, El-P, and DJ Premier, which of course droves the sonic direction into hard-hitting boom-bap. But Ill Bill’s lyricism and delivery was totally on point too.  Not only did he do the requisite murder and paranoid conspiracy raps, but he got deeply personal about his life, loved ones, and how much hip-hop (and even heavy metal) shaped him.  The Grimy Awards was as near a “classic” rap record as we've heard in a while. 

8. Milk Music – Cruise Your Illusion LP (Self-Released)
At times Cruise Your Illusion treads dangerously close to guitar-music-for-the-sake-of-guitar-music territory, but never spins completely outside the realm of cult music.  Olympia, WA’s Milk Music understands that sometimes you just want a little Neil Young in your punk rock.  Take some oddly melodic vocals and pair them with soaring yet murky guitar riffs and you have, you know, grunge or whatever.  Their sound is clearly indebted to the past—particularly the late-‘80s/early-‘90s alt-rock—but holy shit, have they ever made it sound so good in the present.        

9. Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge – Twelve Reasons to Die (Relativity / Soul Temple)
The album was produced entirely by beat-maker Adrian Younge, and narrated by Wu head honcho RZA.  Twelve Reasons was a concept album of sorts.  Tony Starks is a former enforcer for a crime family, who was murdered by the mob after falling in love with the Boss's daughter.  His remains were melted in vinyl and pressed into a dozen LPs that, when played, revivified him as the Ghostface Killah.  He then exacted his revenge on his killers.  It’s often been said that rap music is cinema for the ears, and it couldn’t be truer with Twelve Reasons.  Not since a Prince Paul album, do I recall story time rap being taken to this level.  The synergy between Young and Ghost is so air-tight it’s hard to believe this was the first project they’ve done together.

10. Broken Prayer – Self-Titled LP (Sorry State)
Here’s some condescending, pissed-off, experimental hardcore from Chicago. Like some crusty D-beat guys let one their younger brother’s play his synths with them but only if he got fucked-up on cold medicine and cocaine first. The vocals, which are on the Pissed Jeans / Raw Nerve / mysterious guy tip are awesome, and the driving force behind the record. 

11. Durag Dynasty – 360 Waves (Nature Sounds)
Durag Dynasty found Planet Asia teaming up with emcees Tristate and Killer Ben, and prolific beat master Alchemist.  Although there was a minimal air of comedy involved, mostly due to imagery and the fact that they’re called, you know, Durag Dynasty, 360 Waves was an exercise in grimy cypher rap – a prominent example of mic skill and hard beats.   The album appealed to heads who want more out of their rap music than a clever hook and a generic trap beat.

12. Chelsea Light Moving – Self-Titled (Matador)
Chelsea Light Moving is Thurston Moore's post-Sonic Youth band that sounds just like Sonic Youth did in the '80s and '90s. It's pretty fucking great. You probably think I'm lying but I'm not.

13. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience / The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2 (RCA)
Haters gonna hate. But I'm a lover. And lovers gonna love.

14. Roc Marciano – Marci Beaucoup (Man Bites Dog)
Roc Marciano makes noir-style rap music that’s perfect for a headphone session. Whether riding a train through the city or laid back on the couch with a splif, Roc’s gravely accent and distressing  wordplay swirls its way into your ears, demanding your astute attention.  Marci Beaucoup was ripe with his enthralling production; managing to sound experimental while still exhibiting evident nuances of classic New York hip-hop. While he handled all the beats and appeared on every song, he also brought aboard a bevy of guest emcees including Evidence, Quelle Chris, Ka, Boldy James, Action Bronson and Guilty Simpson.

15. Rough Kids – The State I'm In LP (Sorry State)
This is super catchy ‘70s style punk rock out of Los Angeles. There are some regulus rock ‘n’ roll parts, and a bit of new wave, but the emphasis on traditional guitar-driven Brit punk is the most apparent. A nice reminder that before punk got all muddled up in subgenres it thrived in simplicity. Sloppy in all the right places, concise, totally rockin’, and absolutely not to be missed.
16. Pusha T – My Name Is My Name (Def Jam / GOOD Music)
After turning in a somewhat disappointing trap-orientated mixtape in the Wrath of Caine early in the year, Pusha T came back hard with a capital H on his debut album My Name is My Name. Against a backdrop of alluring, and often times mean-sounding beats handled mostly by Kanye West, Pusha was the most urgent and focused he had been since his Clipse days. Whether he came with braggadocios rhyme style or was sharing personal insights—often times switching up his cadence and using different vocal tones—he kept you glued to your headphones throughout the duration of the album. In many ways, My Name is My Name is the Good Kid/m.A.A.d. City of 2013.

17. Much Worse – Macrocosm is a Wash LP (Forward)
Following up a couple of excellent 7”s, this is the first full-length LP for this Minneapolis crew. Spun from the same Mecca-like breeding ground as Brain Tumors, Wild Child, Total Trash, Condominium, and countless others, this band plays a brand of ‘80s-style hardcore that sounds like Boston and Japan going to war in a cage match. It’s agro, it’s bloody, and nobody that enters is will come out unscathed.

18. Ka – The Nights Gambit (Iron Works)
Brooklyn’s little-known emcee/producer Ka is a working class professional by day, who makes rap music on the side. His DIY or die approach to hip-hop is straight punk rock. He’s the type of hushed innovator that goes largely unnoticed by the masses but is held in esteemed regard amongst underground heads. While it’s often stated that he resides in the boom-bap nostalgia of the ‘90s, his beats on The Night’s Gambit were too ominous and ambient for that comparison for that to be wholly accurate. In fact, often times he used no drums at all. Instead he relied on simple orchestral loops, which worked well with his vocal tone. Much like his compadre Roc Marciano, his usual gravelly voice effectively transmitted the dark subject matter of his song writing.

19. Iceage – You're Nothing (Matador)
Rather than reiterating what others (read: the Internet) have said about how this record is more aggressive than their critically acclaimed debut (which it is,) how Elias Rønnenfelt’s vocals are more present and urgent than before (which they are,) how the apathetic, gothic tendencies are gone in favor of enthusiastic, thrashing punk (which is fairly accurate but not entirely true,) and how it is not only one of the best punk albums of the year (which it undoubtedly is) but one the best albums in all of music (which is probably true but still debatable)—even though in saying so, I just did exactly that—I would instead like to say this: Regardless of how you feel about a bands intentions, or your affinity for DIY-produced punk, or disdain for mainstream coverage, sometimes you just have to admit that band made a really fucking good record. This is one of those times.

20. A$AP Ferg – Trap Lord / A$AP Rocky – LongLiveA$AP (RCA / Polo Grounds / A$AP Worldwide)
A$AP Mob’s biggest stars released albums this year; beginning with A$AP Rocky’s long-awaited LongLiveA$AP in January, and ending with A$AP Ferg’s highly-anticipated Trap Lord in August. The two records complement each other well, as Rocky fits in well with the oddball party rap styling of Danny Brown or 2 Chains, while Ferg holds down the thuggy gangsta end of things. As well, both records are shining of examples of what popular hip-hop sounds like in the year 2013. That is to say, despite geographic location (in this case NYC) the South’s impact (trap in particular) on rap music cannot be ignored.  
21. Pissed Jeans – Honeys (Sub Pop)
The latest record finds them exploring further “un-punk” subject matter, with songs concerning the dullness of working an office job, checking emails, cafeteria food, choosing health plans, and trying to spice up stagnant relationships. This is what happens when teenage punk angst gets drawn into the doldrums of adulthood. To call them a joke band would be incorrect, as they are blatantly self-aware and openly shameful of their own narcissism. To not like Pissed Jeans is to not understand them.

22. Destruction Unit – Void LP (Jolly Dream)
Out of the deserts of Arizona come this art-damaged, freakout post-punk. It’s rhythmic, brooding, and partially psychedelic. Sort of like sludgecore that’s been given the darkwave treatment –swirling, atmospheric yet lumbering soundscapes matched with detached vocals. Think Ian Curtis singing for Kylesa or something.

23. Mudhoney – Vanishing Point (Sub Pop)
Unmistakably Mudhoney from top-to-bottom, but they still throw in a few surprises. "What To Do With The Neutral" is arguably the most groove-oriented tune in the band's lengthy catalog with Arm doing what appears to be the best/worst Lou Reed impression ever. -Kevin Fitzpatrick via Scene Point Blank

24. My Gold Mask – Leave Me Midnight (Highwheel)
Chicago guitar and drums duo known as My Gold Mask swirl gothic pop and brooding darkness in a way that recalls both Blondie and Siouxsie & The Banshees, yet remains oddly unique and original.  Despite conjuring up memories of the girl from 9th grade who wore all black, except for the red bra strap that was revealed by her swoop neck Bauhaus tee shirt, there's something decidedly contemporary about it. Leave Me Midnight is a captivating album that got plenty of rotation around these parts.  

25. Joint D ≠ – Satan is Real Again, Again, or: Feeling Good About Feeling Good About Bad Thoughts LP (Sorry State)
Hailing from North Carolina this quartet delivered their second full length in as many years.  Catchy, tension-filled fringe punk, shot with a load of ‘80s west coast hardcore. It’s oddly unique and rocks with a driving intensity that demands attention. While the title is clever, and certainly a mouthful, it should be noted that it’s also a play on a similarly-titled 1996 album from Scottish art punkers Country Teasers.  

26. Useless Eaters – Hypertension (Jeffery Drag Records)
This is weirdo garage punk with some surf and new wave-y parts from Nashville, TN. Hard to tell if the guitars sound like fucked-up keyboards or if there is a keyboard that drowns out the fucked-up guitars. I honestly could care less because I happen to really like it. Sometimes just being a stupid music fan and not some musician is awesome because you don't have to over analyze the shit out of how every little sound is made. Other times it's frustrating because you can't describe it to people without sounding like an asshole.

27. Quelle Chris – Ghost at the Finish Line (Mello Music Group)
Following an excellent mixtape titled Niggas is Men early in the year, Detroit emcee/producer Quelle Chris dropped his latest album, Ghost at the Finish Line. It was an insightful look at “art and life, and the realities and illusions that blur the two.” The album featured guest spots from a number of notables, including Alchemist, Guilty Simpson, House Shoes, Black Milk and more. Beats were handled by Denmark Vessey, Knxwledge, Oh No, Chris Keys and Quelle Chris himself. Ghost at the Finish Line was Chris’ best effort to date.

28. The Men – New Moon (Sacred Bones)
 The Men play a roots-infused style of punk/HC that at times treads dangerously close, but never completely veers off into jam band territory. To give you a better idea, here are three things I overheard at their 7th St. Entry show back in April: 

“The Men are like a punk band that decided to be the Allman Brothers…in a good way…if that’s possible.”

“The Men are like a punk band that wanted to put out a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young record on SST.”

“I can’t see the drummer, but I know he’s not wearing a shirt.”

29. Gateway District – Old Wild Hearts (It's Alive)
This Twin Cities-base band has a working-for-the-weekend vibe to them, celebrating the good times and letting your Saturday nights roll. On their third LP, the transition continues from earlier works. For a band that started as a one-off 7”, they’ve now hit stride and found their voice. The sound is a strong pop influence that clashes with mid-tempo, guitar-heavy punk. The pop seeps into memorable choruses, and also in the backing vocals. It has a bounce to its step, well accentuated by the vocal trade-offs that keep the energy flowing. -Loren Green via Scene Point Blank

30. Autistic Youth – Nonage (Dirtnap)
These Portland suburbanites play a clean, insistent style of pop punk that’s been injected with a bit of garage rock and ‘80s hardcore, and a healthy dose of classic power pop ala The Buzzcocks. With its driving melodies, gang vocals and upbeat tempo, it’s the kind of punk rock party music that makes partially-jaded old-school dudes like me drag our butts of the couch and start dancing around.

So, what do you think? Any glaring omissions?  Are we full of shit?  We want to know. Let's hammer this out, ya'll!  Also, we were serious before; we do really want to know how you're doing. Comment below, Tweet, or email.  Thanks, and Happy New Year!

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