As 2013 comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the artists who have released stellar work over the past year. I don’t mind telling you I had a hard time whittling this list down to five—this was simply an amazing year for the indie scene. To help make up for it, I’ve added a couple of honorable mentions at the end.
Here are my picks for the top five indie/alternative records of 2013. See if some of your favorites are on this list!
This is a name you might not have heard of unless you’re a dedicated indie aficionado or deeply embedded in the neo-folk genre—but the critics love Gregory Alan Isakov, and the fans keep buying his records and selling out his shows, because he’s a master of understated brilliance. The Weatherman is the best example of why, and it marks a fresh pinnacle in his career.
There are plenty of women in indie music who are loaded with talent, but few armed with as much diversity and range as Neko Case. Few people, for example, can take stream-of-consciousness songwriting and make it accessible to the greater public. Neko Case did just that on this record.
If you like your indie music southern-fried, Jason Isbell is your guy. In my opinion, the former Drive-By Trucker truly comes into his own with Southeastern, an honest and unflinching series of stories and reflections that speaks volumes lyrically while feeding the soul musically. One of my favorite songwriters.
In my review of this record, I mentioned it was an early contender for this very list. From then until now, there has never really been any competition to knock it off the list. Matt Berninger’s understated-yet-powerfully-emotional vocals have made Trouble Will Find Me of the best listening experiences of the year.
1. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
This one is simply a modern masterpiece. Anything you might be looking for in an indie record—diversity of sound, creativity, mature lyricism, passion—Modern Vampires has it all. It’s difficult to understand how one of the best indie-rock acts around managed to top themselves, but they did. If you don’t have this album—get it.
Here are a few titles that heartbreakingly didn’t make the list, but ought to mentioned as contenders—including a few up-and-comers. See if you agree:
- Laura Marling, Once I Was an Eagle—This was one record that made me wish this was a Top 6 list. Broke my heart not to include it. Sheer poetry.
- Arcade Fire, Reflektor—I know David Tillman put this one on his Top Five for the year. I didn’t rate it quite as high, but it’s still a great record.
- Ivan & Alyosha, All the Times We Had—I love the way these songs stick in my head when I’m done playing the record. And believe you me—I still play the record.
- BOY, Mutual Friends—This Swiss-German girl duo already has a lot of popularity in Europe. This year, they won a lot of fans in the U.S. This album helped.