The best albums of 2013 (so far) - the critics' choice

Our music writers reveal the records they can't stop listening to this year, from John Grant's Pale Green Ghosts to These New Puritans' Field Of Reeds. Plus: readers recommend their own favourite albums

Most young bands dream of a third album as transformative as Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City. Addressing big themes (God, death, America) with a light touch, this songwriting tour de force makes their first two sound like stepping stones. Very much in my comfort zone is Electric, on which rave-fingered producer Stuart Price helps Pet Shop Boys make their strongest album in 20 years, especially Love is a Bourgeois Construct, a dance-pop monster inspired by Michael Nyman and David Lodge. Very much outside it is Same Trailer Different Park by country music wunderkind Kacey Musgraves: vivid, compassionate storytelling with a subversive streak. All told, a great six months for lyrics.
Dorian Lynskey

Jello Biafra may be 55, but he remains a merciless thorn in the side of cultural complacency. His second album with the Guantanamo School of Medicine, White People and the Damage Done, is as sharp, subversive and exhilarating as anything in the punk icon's catalogue. Meanwhile, Bruce Soord and Jonas Renkse's sublime Wisdom of Crowds is a mesmerising and melancholy exercise in wonderfully subtle songcraft, Soord's inspired arrangements combining exquisitely with his comrade's unerringly evocative voice. Finally, Black Sabbath may have made the media splash, but it is UK doom metal legends Cathedral whose final album The Last Spire has provided 2013 with the last word in heaviness, intensity and earth-shattering riff worship.
Dom Lawson

These New Puritans
These New Puritans. Photograph: Willy Vanderperre Photograph: Willy Vanderperre

Based on the data that iTunes has kept on me, the record I've played more than any other this year so far is Wedding, the debut from AJ Holmes and the Hackney Empire, a homegrown British highlife outfit, but of music in this area, I suspect Power Punch by the Owiny Sigoma Band will stick with me longer. Primal Scream can do no wrong in my book, even when they're pretty bad, but More Light is a triumph. As much as Field of Reeds by These New Puritans appeals, for the sake of scoring points in the hipster stakes, let me pick out instead the equally surprising and equally beguiling Redeemer by Dean Blunt.
Caspar Llewellyn Smith

It may be old news, but six months into its UK release, Matthew E White's Big Inner can still stop me in my tracks with a burnished horn blare and a muttered insight. Sistrionix, meanwhile, by Deap Vally, is as smart and funny as it is lurid and forthright. Of all the great electronic albums that are pouring out of 2013 – and that Daft Punk album is still amazing – Jon Hopkins's Immunity repays repeated plays: bespoke, body-moving sounds with the glitches recycled as inspiration.
Kitty Empire

James Blake
James Blake. Photograph: Richard Saker Photograph: Richard Saker

The aching melancholy of James Blake's Overgrown became a befittingly sombre soundtrack in the frosty month of April. Benefiting from a bout of heartache, Blake's intimate record requires patience and a willingness to wallow – unlike J Cole's Born Sinner, which might not have sucker-punched its way in Yeezus-style but had enough of College Dropout Kanye to elate, with samples of A Tribe Called Quest on the track Forbidden Fruit being a particular highlight. Nothing can match Unknown Mortal Orchestra's II, however, with songs so fragile and fuzzy – notably So Good at Being in Trouble – they sound stuck somewhere in-between Otis Redding, the Zombies and a walloping lump in the throat.
Harriet Gibsone

Dawn Richard
Dawn Richard. Photograph: PR

Dawn Richard's Goldenheart still stands as one of 2013's boldest and most ambitious releases. Part one of a planned trilogy, it is bursting with ideas: from the medieval and futuristic imagery with which she illustrates her love-as-holy-war concept to the dense electronic R&B backdrop, it's a heady and passionate experience that keeps on giving. Kacey Musgraves's Same Trailer Different Park is at the forefront of a straight-talking feminist movement in country: her laconic vocal presence and pared-down songwriting makes for a winningly over-it persona as she cuts through small-town lies. Brooklyn duo Blondes' second album Swisher finds their crisp take on techno honed further: percussive clatter and sonorous chimes augment, but never distract from, their straight line: dance music as bright and dazzling as the glare of sunlight.
Alex Macpherson

John Murry
John Murry. Photograph: Dara Munnis Photograph: Dara Munnis

On a slightly drunken bus ride home I was knocked sideways by John Murry's The Graceless Age, an album I'd previously admired, but which through the filter of several bottles of wine revealed its mysteries fully (and they stayed revealed once sober). The headline is that it's about heroin addiction, but there is far more love, humanity and anger in there than the headline conveys. Desperation by Oblivians scratched my itch for dirty, feral garage rock – one of those albums where it feels as if the instruments are playing the musicians rather than the other way around. And I owe to my colleague Alex Macpherson a tip about the wonders of Kacey Musgraves's Same Trailer Different Park, an album of delicious melodies and lyrics sharp enough to give you paper cuts.
Michael Hann

Disclosure. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian Photograph: Graeme Robertson/Guardian

Daft Punk's Random Access Memories is like a mixtape of various discredited genres: commercial disco, soft rock, prog, even Broadway bombast. Their genius was to turn such uncredible raw material into the coolest dance album of the year. Another duo, and another compendium of styles, only more recent: Disclosure's Settle gave us the summer's other party soundtrack by revisiting house and UKG/2-step, with nods to grime and assorted developments in bass music. But above all it's a pop classic, typified by the AlunaGeorge team-up, White Noise. Toro Y Moi's Anything in Return was the third album from Chaz Bundick, the one enduring artist to graduate out of 2009/10's chillwave class, and it's another superb record collection in miniature, with everything from juicy-fruity funk to R&B given a hazy afterglow and a pop polish.
Paul Lester

John Grant
John Grant. Photograph: PR

John Grant's Pale Green Ghosts plays like a twisted, confessional indie-film soundtrack. Grant is its velvety, filthy Old Father Time, and so much menace and sadness comes from his new, widescreen synth sound. I'd love to hear him do a Bond theme. Just as affecting is The Man Who Died in His Boat by Portland's Grouper, full of hazy, wordless vocals and chillingly lovely ambient electronics. David Bowie's The Next Day is still stunning, too. Its power is in its brilliantly varied shifts of mood, from the smutty, baritone saxophone passages in Dirty Boys to the waltz-time magic of You Feel So Lonely You Could Die. If there's any room for highly recommendeds, I'd throw in Suede, Lloyd Cole and Roedelius, and Bleached.
Jude Rogers

"Psychedelic" is an adjective that tends to be used these days as shorthand for painstaking 60s revivalism, but Hookworms' debut album Pearl Mystic is nothing of the sort. This is restless, dark, idiosyncratic, intense and thrilling music that has nothing to do with historical recreation: they're even better live. I keep coming back to John Grant's Pale Green Ghosts – real depth and emotional power in a world of wan Radio 2-friendly singer-songwriters – and the epic prog-pop ambition of These New Puritans' Field Of Reeds: there's something about the way its sound teeters between pacific and slightly unsetting that I find really compelling.
Alexis Petridis

David Bowie
David Bowie. Photograph: Jimmy King Photograph: Jimmy King

David Bowie's shock return to surprise a media-saturated world felt as radical a masterstroke as Ziggy Stardust. Equally, The Next Day is the sort of Bowie album fans had given up expecting: edgy and unknowable, with some of his best tunes in more than 30 years. Former Beta Band frontman Steve Mason is a Bowie-type outsider and Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time sees the Scot continue to carve out a unique path: ethereal electronica which addresses emotions and events to dazzling effect. From the opposite side of the world and musical spectrum, young Nashville country singer Caitlin Rose's The Stand-In is just a simple joy to play: big heart, big songs and a voice the size of Tennessee.
Dave Simpson

Laura Marling
Laura Marling. Photograph: Steve Schofield Photograph: Steve Schofield

There is such a joy in seeing an artist bloom into their talent, and with Once I Was an Eagle, Laura Marling showed why she is one of the most staggeringly gifted songwriters working today. I love the strength of this record, its sense of broad freedom and defiance. I'm a long-standing Phosphorescent fan, but I was completely broadsided by the gloriousness of Muchacho. And it also boasts Song for Zula – one of my very favourite songs of the year. Finally, the National's Trouble Will Find Me is just a perfect album; it has a kind of musical radiance, and a lyrical force that hit me amidships.
Laura Barton

Readers' recommendations

We asked Guardian readers to tell us their favourite albums of the year so far, too, and amid the hundreds of suggestions were some that attracted supporters by the number. So feast your ears on their recommendations:

Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Savages – Silence Yourself
My Bloody Valentine – mbv
Broadcast – Berberian Sound Studio
Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Tricky – False Idols
Disclosure – Settle
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
Primal Scream - More Light
Bastille – Bad Blood
These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
Neon Neon – Praxis
Black Sabbath – 13
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)
Sigur Rós – Kveikur
British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy
Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
OMD – English Electric
Matt Berry – Kill the Wolf

Guardian Music

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The best albums of 2013 (so far)

We asked readers to nominate their favourite albums of the first half of the year. Here are the results

Adam Boult

05, Jul, 2013 @12:58 PM

Article image
Best albums of 2013: 20-11

The countdown continues! How are you feeling? Nervous? Terrified? A bit disinterested but willing to take an active interest in case an album you hate made it into our list so you can tweet about it? Here's the next batch of names

Guardian music

06, Dec, 2013 @12:00 PM

Article image
The 100 greatest BBC music performances – ranked!
As the Beeb celebrates its centenary, we take a look at its most memorable pop moments, from the birth of grime to the first sightings of Bob Dylan and Bob Marley, plus TOTP goes Madchester and countless classic Peel sessions

Guardian music

06, Oct, 2022 @12:12 PM

Article image
The 100 best albums of the 21st century
We polled 45 music writers to rank the definitive LPs of the 21st century so far. Read our countdown of passionate pop, electrifying rock and anthemic rap – and see if you agree

Ben Beaumont-Thomas (1-50); Laura Snapes and April Curtin (51-100)

13, Sep, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
The best albums of 2017: the full list
St Vincent tops our countdown of this year’s most outstanding sounds, from complex rap to moody rock, alt-R&B, inventive grime and more

05, Dec, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Best albums of 2013: 30-21

Welcome back, friends, to the list that never ends. It's time for the next instalment of our countdown of the year's best albums

Guardian music

05, Dec, 2013 @12:00 PM

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2019: the full list
Our pick of the year’s finest albums brings American dreaming, teenage dynamism, heartbreak, barbed rap, impetuous indie and beautiful soundscapes

20, Dec, 2019 @9:41 AM

Article image
Mercury Prize 2013: the odds - in pictures

Mercury Prize 2013: the odds from Ladbrokes - in pictures

12, Sep, 2013 @2:49 PM

Article image
The 100 greatest UK No 1s: 100-1
Look back on our complete countdown of the greatest UK No 1s, from the Beatles to Baby D, and So Solid Crew to Suzi Quatro

Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Alexis Petridis and Laura Snapes

05, Jun, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
The best albums of 2013: No 5 – Overgrown by James Blake

James Blake's Mercury-winning second album was as much a folk or jazz record as it was a piece of electronic music

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

16, Dec, 2013 @12:00 PM