Midyear Report: The Best Albums of 2013 So Far

  • Publish Date: July 3, 2013
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The 25 best-reviewed albums of 2013 so far (min. 15 reviews)

Now that we've reached the midpoint of the year, it's time to find out which of this year's releases have impressed critics the most. We start with the year's major releases, which have received at least 15 reviews.

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1. Sunbather 95 (Deathwish Records)
by Deafheaven

"Sunbather is a future classic, no matter where you pigeonhole it, and that's the mark of a true sonic masterpiece. Black metal, not black metal, just call it what it is: perfect."

BPM More reviews...

There's some argument about whether, with its post-rock tendencies, this second album from the San Francisco-based group is really "black metal." But you'll find no disagreement among critics about the album's merits; universally great reviews means that Sunbather is the rare metal album with a chance at album of the year honors.

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2. Acid Rap 88 (MTC)
by Chance the Rapper

"What he's accomplished with Acid Rap is nothing short of remarkable: Just two years removed from high school, and with no label support, he's crafted the most assured breakthrough Chicago rap release since The College Dropout."

A.V. Club More reviews...

The year's best-reviewed hip-hop release so far is this second mixtape from 20-year-old Chicago-based MC Chance the Rapper. And, with no label deal in place yet, he might be the summer's biggest free agent not named Dwight Howard.

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3. mbv 87 (self-released)
by My Bloody Valentine

"You'll be hard pressed to find another album that's this much fun to crawl inside."

CMJ More reviews...

It only took them a few decades, but Kevin Shields & co. finally released their long-in-the-works follow-up to the 1991 shoegaze classic Loveless earlier this year, self-releasing the album online. Expect a follow-up in, oh, let's say 2037.

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4. Random Access Memories 87 (Columbia)
by Daft Punk

"Daft Punk's best album in a career that's already redefined dance music at least twice. It is, in short, a mind-blower."

Q More reviews...

The first proper album in eight years from the helmeted French duo is their best-reviewed release to date and their first Billboard #1 album. Julian Casablancas, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Williams, Panda Bear, Todd Edwards, and Chilly Gonzales are among the guests, though it is the Pharrell Williams-fronted "Get Lucky" that will likely be remembered as one of 2013's best tracks.

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5. Once I Was an Eagle 86 (Ribbon Music)
by Laura Marling

"Once I Was an Eagle is a bold work that, in theory, shouldn't work—a lengthy, near-concept album about emotional availability—but Marling makes it into one of the year's essential releases."

PopMatters More reviews...

The 23-year-old British singer-songwriter has already been nominated for two Mercury Music Prizes, and could score another for her latest critically acclaimed release, this 16-track LP produced by Ethan Johns.

6. Tomorrow's Harvest 86 (Warp)
by Boards of Canada

"Tomorrow's Harvest is as strong a return to form as it is stunning an update, with the Scottish duo refining their blend of nostalgic sonics and futuristic sheen."

Boston Globe More reviews...

The first album from the reclusive Scottish electronica duo in eight years (and just their fourth LP overall) is their best release in quite some time, working as a menacing, cinematic whole.

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7. Shaking the Habitual 85 (Mute)
by The Knife

"It shouldn't work—they went all or nothing. They got all."

Paste More reviews...

This double album is easily the most challenging, least-accessible work yet from the Swedish brother-sister duo of Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, returning after a seven-year break, but that didn't stop critics from praising the record's ambition and invention.

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8. Yeezus 85 (Def Jam)
by Kanye West

"Yeezus—like Yeezy—is jarring, uncomfortable, uncompromising and courageous—all the things that initially made Hip Hop great."

HipHop DX More reviews...

Risky and polarizing, Yeezus may not quite be another My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but West's first solo release in three years is certainly in the running for rap album of the year, even if its production outshines the lyrics.

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9. Impossible Truth 85 (Merge)
by William Tyler

"Impossible Truth is among the year's most vivid and evocative albums so far, revealing new and absorbing details with every listen."

musicOMH More reviews...

Nashville-based musician Tyler worked with producer Mark Nevers (both are members of the band Lambchop) on this second solo album, a record of instrumental guitar tunes reminiscent of 1970s singer/songwriter classics.

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10. American Kid 85 (New West)
by Patty Griffin

"If it can be said that Griffin has been toiling in the shadow of Emmylou Harris, then American Kid is the long-overdue moment that puts the full range of her talent on display."

Exclaim More reviews...

The seventh studio album from the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter is intended as a tribute to her late father; the result is stripped-down, cohesive, and moving.

... and a few more:
Album Label Metascore Listen
11 Muchacho
by Phosphorescent
Dead Oceans 85 Spotify
12 Light Up Gold
by Parquet Courts
What's Your Rupture? 84 Spotify
13 Modern Vampires of the City
by Vampire Weekend
XL 84 Spotify
14 Excavation
by The Haxan Cloak
Tri Angle 84 Spotify
by Mikal Cronin
Merge 84 Spotify
16 ...Like Clockwork
by Queens of the Stone Age
Matador 84 Spotify
17 Trouble Will Find Me
by The National
4AD 84 Spotify
18 Centralia
by Mountains
Thrill Jockey 83 Spotify
19 Honeys
by Pissed Jeans
Sub Pop 82 Spotify
20 Floating Coffin
by Thee Oh Sees
Castle Face 82 Spotify
21 Immunity
by Jon Hopkins
Domino 82 Spotify
22 Fade
by Yo La Tengo
Matador 82 Spotify
23 Pale Green Ghosts
by John Grant
Partisan 82 Spotify
24 Field of Reeds
by These New Puritans
Infectious 82 Spotify
25 Wakin on a Pretty Daze
by Kurt Vile
Matador 82 Spotify

Albums are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. Only new studio albums released between January 1, 2013 and June 30, 2013 are eligible; EPs, live albums, box sets, reissues, and the like are not included. The above list includes only those albums with at least 15 reviews from professional critics; lists below include albums with at least seven reviews. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Albums are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. Scores are from July 2, 2013.

Good albums with fewer reviews

Here is a look at the albums that received extremely positive reviews, but not enough of them to qualify for our list above. (In other words, consider them the year's best under-the-radar releases.) Albums on this list received 7-14 critic reviews. (Titles with fewer than seven reviews are excluded from all year-end charts.)

  Album Label Metascore Listen
1 Jama Ko
by Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
Out Here Records 90 Spotify
Malian musician Bassekou Kouyate enlists several family members on this truly angry, politically charged album co-produced by Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire).
2 Southeastern
by Jason Isbell
Relativity 90 Spotify
The former Drive-By Truckers member and leader of the 400 Unit receives sole billing on this fourth solo release.
3 Like a Rose
by Ashley Monroe
Warner Bros. 89 Spotify
A member of the group Pistol Annies (see below), country singer Monroe also found time this year for a second solo album. Blake Shelton guests on one track.
4 Run the Jewels
by El-P and Killer Mike
Fool's Gold 89 Download
Big Boi and Prince Paul guest on this first LP collaboration between the two rappers, released as a free download.
5 Same Trailer Different Park
by Kacey Musgraves
Mercury 88 Spotify
The 24-year-old country music artist (and former Nashville Star contestant) follows a trio of self-released albums with her major label debut.
6 The Graceless Age
by John Murry
Evangeline 88 Spotify
Released last year in the UK and this spring in his native America, Graceless is the debut LP for singer-songwriter Murry.
7 Minute by Minute
The James Hunter Six
Concord/Fantasy 88 Spotify
The Grammy nominated English soul singer returns with his first album in five years.
8 Beautiful Africa
by Rokia Traoré
Nonesuch 87  
The accessible fifth album for the Malian singer and guitarist includes some English lyrics and was produced by occasional PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish.
9 Annie Up
by Pistol Annies
RCA Nashville 87 Spotify
The second album from the country music trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley was another hit with critics.
10 In Time
by The Mavericks
Valory/Big Machine 86 Spotify
After a decade away from recording, the newly reunited Americana band returned early this year with this new 14-song set.

More bests and worsts

So now that we know what the critics liked this year, what about what Metacritic users liked? Below are the 2013 releases receiving the highest average user scores.

2013 Releases Most Liked by Metacritic Users (Min. 15 User Reviews)
Album/Artist User Score Metascore Listen
1 Once I Was an Eagle
by Laura Marling
8.8 86 Spotify
  ...Like Clockwork
by Queens of the Stone Age
8.8 84 Spotify
3 Tomorrow's Harvest
by Boards of Canada
8.7 86  
by Bring Me the Horizon
8.7 81 Spotify
  One of Us Is the Killer
by The Dillinger Escape Plan
8.7 79  
  We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
by Foxygen
8.7 80 Spotify
  Modern Vampires of the City
by Vampire Weekend
8.7 84 Spotify
  The Raven That Refused to Sing and Other Stories
by Steven Wilson
8.7 77  
9 Pale Green Ghosts
by John Grant
8.6 82 Spotify
by Sigur Ros
8.6 80 Spotify

User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors, from 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

If you read the small print under our list of high-scoring albums above, you noticed that reissues and other album types were excluded from our best-reviewed albums charts (which are intended to include only new albums with new material). Here are the highest-scoring "disqualified" albums of 2013 so far:

Best-Reviewed Reissues, Box Sets, and Compilations of 2013 (Min. 7 Reviews)
Album Metascore
1 Rumours by Fleetwood Mac 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition 99
2 Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 2 by Miles Davis Quintet 92
3 Last Splash by The Breeders 20th Anniversary Edition 87
4 Inspiration Information/Wings of Love by Shuggie Otis 85
5 Fabriclive 67 by Ben UFO 84

Finally, here are the worst-reviewed albums (at least, those releases major enough to receive at least seven reviews) released in the first half of the year:

The Lowest-Scoring Albums of 2013 So Far (Min. 7 Reviews)
Album Label Metascore Users
1 Authentic by LL Cool J 429 Records 46 4.8
2 I Love You by The Neighbourhood Columbia 48 7.7
3 #willpower by will.i.am Interscope 49 2.5
4 Hotel California by Tyga Republic 50 2.1
5 What About Now by Bon Jovi Island 50 4.4

What do you think?

What are your favorite and least favorite albums of the first half of 2013? Let us know in the comments section below.

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