22. Cults — High Road
Cults’ sophomore effort was a diffused haze of off-kilter dreaminess, like a lost Phil Spector-produced soundtrack to a David Lynch film. Setting aside the behind-the-scenes machinations between the duo’s Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion — they ended their romantic relationship during production of the record — what we were left with was what most had come to expect from the band. They were birthed in the fertile ground of New York City’s indie scene but were quickly swept up by an imprint of Columbia Records and they’re one of those groups that benefits most from the extra money and better production a big label can deliver. It’s hard to imagine their atmospheric spell would be quite so impenetrable if they didn’t have the resources to construct it so lovingly. Nowhere was this clearer than on the album’s lead-off single. High Road was a swirling, playfully eerie little intoxicant that sluiced its way into your brain and stayed there.
21. Earl Sweatshirt (ft. Vince Staples and Casey Veggies) — Hive
The era of horrorcore in hip-hop is really long since over, but apparently Earl Sweatshirt of rap’s most misanthropic troublemakers, Odd Future, decided a few years back to try to see that there was some evolution to it. Hive, from this year’s excellent Doris album, was a four-and-a-half minute encapsulation of all that makes the very young Sweatshirt a voice to be reckoned with in the game. His unnerving lyrics were only compounded by the hookless, unrelenting drone of his delivery. But make no mistake: that delivery, his wordplay, his amusing and occasionally confusing verbal somersaults — all wrapped in a dragging beat, a few low-end synth-notes and a seemingly weakening choral sample — were what made this song so hypnotically creepy. And so damn good.
20. Haim — The Wire
They’re equally beloved by both pop-minded suburban teens and urban hipsters and The Wire showed us exactly why that is. The sisters of Haim had an outstanding 2013. In addition to breaking very big — going from indie darlings to a hit record, the praise of critics, and a guest spot on SNL — they sewed up their burgeoning reputation for writing some of the best pop songs out there right now. They’re willing to acknowledge their 70s soft-rock roots, with the most obvious comparison being to Fleetwood Mac — The Wire even lifted its drum-beat directly from the Eagles’ Heartache Tonight — but they’re decidedly new school. In the end, the acclaim was warranted. Their album, Days Are Gone, was a refreshing, infectious blast from start to finish, and The Wire was one of its high points.