Photograph by Sarah Odriscoll

Photograph by Sarah Odriscoll

Once a year, the Ca Va Cool writing team packs their favourite records from the past twelve months into the trunk of the car and journeys to an unassuming silo somewhere in the Ontario countryside to duke it out.* Today, we emerge from this lost weekend with a consensus: our twenty best albums of 2013. With 10 writers contributing to the list, the bottom half is as eclectic as ever; from rap veterans to young folk songstresses, noisy British debuts to even noisier British follow-ups 20 years in the making, Ca Va Cool heroes of studio and stage developing their sound to breakout bands to look out for, and yes, even Danny Brown. Listening to the entire album is always ideal, but we’ve included links to our top tracks to enjoy as you read. Check back later this week for the conclusion of our list.

*It’s 2013, people; we just argued in a Facebook thread.

Run the Jewels

20. Run the Jewels

Considering it only took a year for El-P and Killer Mike to release another collaboration following the latter’s 2012 album R.A.P. Music, it’s hard to be surprised by the potency of this free 33 minute digital release. Really, all they needed to solidify their newfound friendship and undeniable chemistry was a name – Run the Jewels. It’s the mutual respect and admiration these two have for one another that has them consistently delivering such fluid and often staggering jabs. Mike bluntly declares how highly he thinks of El-P on second track “Banana Clipper”: “Producer gave me a beat, said it’s the beat of the year. I said El-P didn’t do it, so get the fuck outta here.” Despite the unmistakeable fury that can be found on any release by either artist, the pleasure they tuck in with that cynicism has never been more evident than when the two share rap duties. With both underground veterans’ wit on display throughout, boosted by some extra playful brutality, Run the Jewels is an album that both Company Flow and early Killer Mike fanatics and new fans can enjoy. — Jay Winer

Run the Jewels – Banana Clipper feat. Big Boi

James Blake

19. James Blake – Overgrown

James Blake’s fragmented lyrics on Overgrown tell of great loves – and the heartache and loneliness that are bound to replace them – while the music combines disparate electronic elements in perfect harmony, leaving each song with both ugliness and beauty. On “Take a Fall for Me,” over a post-dub beat, RZA delivers a legendary, cerebral cameo that tells the tale of a man that can’t connect with his lover on more than a sexual level and is told that she has accepted another man’s marriage proposal. He spirals into the understanding that he does in fact love her, and that once she is gone, he will no longer have any purpose. Taking production and thematic inspiration from musical heavyweights including Brian Eno and Joni Mitchell, Blake is making serious strides. What he has accomplished as a composer is immense, and his ambiguity is obviously growing (i.e. “Retrograde”). James Blake is a unique composer, producing the musical equivalent to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel; the darkness manifests through the use of loops and snipped vocals, but there is a delicate beauty to it that shines through. — Alec Ross

James Blake – Take a Fall for Me feat. RZA

My Bloody Valentine

18. My Bloody Valentine – m b v

The pleasure in listening to “She Found Now,” the first track from My Bloody Valentine’s first album in 21 years, is realizing that after all this time, with so many imitators, not one band has managed to sound quite like this. The elements Kevin Shields perfected on the singular Loveless are recalled immediately on m b v; vocals and guitar, once concrete and specific, are obscured to a point where all that remains is a dense cloud of melody. The compounding distortion of “Only Tomorrow” then accomplishes an even greater feat by matching the penetrative guitar brutality of early single “You Made Me Realise.” Despite these representative highlights to start, m b v covers a larger sonic range than its preceding albums, from the calm keyboard drones of “Is This and Yes” to the looping jungle breakbeats on “Nothing Is.” m b v is lush enough to provide a satisfying answer to one of the great what ifs of rock music and impenetrable enough to keep fans entertained for the next 21 years. — Daniel Hernandez

My Bloody Valentine – Only Tomorrow

Laura Marling

17. Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle

Four albums in, and British folk darling Laura Marling is still impressing. Once I Was an Eagle finds Marling returning to a sparse musical arrangement with minimal accompaniment, putting the focus where it started: on her voice and guitar. Still only twenty-three years old, Marling somehow manages to convey weariness and understanding beyond her years. By far Marling’s longest album, it may be also be her most cohesive. One song effortlessly blends into the next, most noticeably on the opening quartet of “Take the Night Off,” “I Was an Eagle,” “You Know,” and “Breathe.” Though Once I Was an Eagle is her third album to be nominated for the Mercury Prize in the UK, Marling has yet to truly break through in North America. Her powerful yet fragile brand of folk is developing in complexity with each new release, and sooner or later, people will have to take notice. — Kevin Kania

Laura Marling – Breathe

Photograph by Kristian Embdal

Photograph by Kristian Embdal

16. Iceage – You’re Nothing

The Danish wunderkinds return with an even more abrasive record than their 2011 debut New Brigade. The main structure is still Elias Bender Ronnenfelt’s vocals howling over harsh and melodic guitar lines, but the boys have refined their sound even further on You’re Nothing with the blisteringly brutal “Wounded Hearts,” and have even incorporating gloomy, marching riffs on “Morals.” A few stray piano chords fill up what little space is left on the record, a reprieve from the sprinting pace it sets. The brisk You’re Nothing rarely takes any breaks, using its cutting sounds to better frame the strained words shouted and repeated over each chord. One can’t help but wonder what Iceage will look like in years to come, taking on more influences than one would expect from a band so young, they are by far the most intelligent group being called punk today. — Anthony Boire

Iceage – Morals

Photograph by Sarah Odriscoll

Photograph by Sarah Odriscoll

15. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator

We live in an overwhelming world. At least, that’s how Devon Welsh of Montreal duo Majical Cloudz feels. Reflecting on today’s musical landscape, he lamented to Stereogum earlier this year about the trappings of cheap recording technology, and the resulting freedom it’s given artists to build-up, fill-up and maximize. “I wanted to make music that seemed like it was barely there,” he said. Each song on Impersonator is made up of three or fewer key elements. Calling its production an exercise in restraint may even be an understatement; this is electronic minimalism. You get a sense that Welsh needs to create this quiet in order to think, emote, and be. It’s in this quiet that he sings the types of things that most people would relegate to the private pages of their diaries. Here, childhood memories and fears sit naked, alongside meditations on anxiety and artistic purpose. We all have our quiet places; on Impersonator, Devon Welsh invited us into his, and it’s beautiful. — Sal Patel

Majical Cloudz – Childhood’s End

Photograph by Dierdre O'Callaghan

Photograph by Dierdre O’Callaghan

14. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

Trouble Will Find Me is the National’s sixth record, but the first that finds the band comfortable in their own skin. After ten years spent climbing the indie rock ladder, they finally solidified their place as one of the biggest rock bands with 2010’s High Violet, selling out stadiums across the world. Without the anxiety of having to “make it,” the National released a record that sounds like they can finally breathe. The loose acoustic opener “I Should Live in Salt” lets us in easy. Matt Berninger isn’t singing about such grand ideas as living in a weird state of America, but instead about arguing with his brother. “Pink Rabbits” seems to showcase the state of the band most clearly; it simply sounds like a band playing live together in a room. It’s one of Berninger’s most melodic and unique vocal deliveries, where at times his voice cracks from reaching up out of his baritone range. For a band that was known for fighting in the studio for a state of perfection, they now seem fine with letting a song show its imperfections, and it’s allowed them to make one of their best records to date. — Kyle Sikorski

The National – Pink Rabbits

Photograph by Alex John Beck

Photograph by Alex John Beck

13. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Faith, death, the economy: for a band labelled as shallow from day one, Vampire Weekend finally delved into subject matter deep enough to prove all the haters wrong. The music on Modern Vampires of the City may sound sunny — see band MVP Rostam Batmanglij’s jubilant keys on “Unbelievers,” or the mellow baseline anchoring the sweet strings that bookend “Everlasting Arms” — but make no mistake, Ezra Koenig’s fear of the ticking clock creeps into every track. Even love isn’t safe: the freewheeling fun of “Diane Young” is shadowed by the doom of a girl saddled with “the luck of a Kennedy.” Feeling the weight of the 21st century and his own mortality breathing down his neck, Koenig tries everything he can think of to keep the faith, even using synth yelps to capture the One True Name of God on the exquisite “Ya Hey.” From Anchorage to Angkor Wat, Modern Vampires of the City is the sound of a band on a vision quest for the one thing we’re all after: our own sense of time. — Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy

Vampire Weekend – Ya Hey

Photograph by Richard Dumas

Photograph by Richard Dumas

12. Savages – Silence Yourself

Jagged guitars, brooding bass, pounding drums, and that seriously iconic album cover – with all of the post-punk comparisons, it’s easy to forget just how many different musical territories Savages emerged from with their unforgettable debut album, Silence Yourself. Indie rock, garage and punk all make their way onto one fuzzy, angular album. How can one band encompass such different influences while still remaining a fiery, original experience? Between their regular ban on cell phone use at their concerts, their insistence on improving and changing their live shows, and the raw power that each musician brings from across the musical gulf that is Savages, this is one band that requires its listeners to “Shut Up” and let their music do the talking. — Anthony Boire

Savages – She Will

Danny Brown

11. Danny Brown – Old

If 2011’s XXX showcased Danny Brown’s dark thoughts and surroundings, then Old is his inevitable downward spiral, and it’s perfectly structured to convince us of this. On Side A, Danny paints yet another grim picture of his recession-hit Detroit life: harsh Michigan winters, drug-addled prostitutes and beggars, music business aggressiveness, the echo of shots in the distance. Heck, a fight breaks out over Wonderbread. Yeah, he’ll always rep Detroit, but it’s clear that things between him and this city are bittersweet. And how has he dealt with the stress? Escape. Escape on Side B through pill popping, through crude lust, through endless, EDM-filled nights of clubbing and drinking. “They want that old Danny Brown” he raps, but Danny knows that he’s gotta stay true to himself. And at the end of the day, he’s just a dirty old man from Detroit with a pill in his mouth and a real knack for storytelling. — Sahil Parikh

Danny Brown – Torture

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— , December 16, 2013    1 Comment

So far so good…looking forward to the rest of the list. Especially enjoyed the James Blake album

Disco Dust, December 19, 2013