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The Top Five Indie/Alternative Albums of 2013

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!


Gregory Alan Isakov The Weatherman5. Gregory Alan Isakov, The Weatherman

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.


Neko Case The Worse Things Get4. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

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.


Jason Isbell Southeastern3. Jason Isbell, Southeastern

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.


The National Trouble Will Find Me2. The National, Trouble Will Find Me

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.


Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City1. 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.


Honorable Mentions

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.


About the Author


Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Kim Phelps found her inspiration and love for music listening to local bands play in the coffeehouses around town. She soon found her own voice as a singer-songwriter, and eventually began playing her own gigs in the coffee shops. Her personal influences include Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Ingrid Michaelson and Cat Power, but as an indie musician herself, she has an affinity for any band or artist who pursues creative freedom on the outskirts of the music industry. As our Indie correspondent, Kim makes a point of highlighting up-and-coming independent acts who are creating a buzz and building an audience. When she's not blogging for us or playing in the coffee shops, Kim works as a barista herself to help pay the bills. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

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