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Puja Patel’s 25 Best Albums of 2013

To finish out the year, we’ll be offering the top 25 albums from various SPIN staffers. Today, as a matter of introduction, SPIN’s new Associate Editor Puja Patel.

My favorite albums each year tend to be the ones that drive me the craziest. The denser the music, the better the head-trip — psychoanalyzation, daydreaming, and sonic nitpicking is key when you’re listening to the same music on repeat as frequently as I do. Eventually abandoning all that scrutiny later, especially with regards to dance music, makes the actual dancing part that much more freeing. It’s an approach that allows me to either dramaticize the regular and/or whittle down overblown trends to their particularly endearing quirks. I find that I most frequently return to the stuff that I’m able to suck in and carry around as my own; the records that let me romanticize the artist’s vision, no matter how self-aggrandizing or self-deprecating, into something that proves that they’re Just Like Me. Give me your weary, your lovelorn, your boss bitches, your second comings, your beat-constructors, your tween sexpots, and your weirdos. I’ll take ‘em all. At some point during my listening, I’ll convince myself that I am basically the same person as them, too.

This sort of borderline-insane fantasy roleplay is definitely best done while traveling. And since planes, trains, and subways have dominated most of my year, my iPhone became the default keeper of new music I had to take a good listen to. By the numbers, the album I listened to the most in 2013 isn’t from 2013 at all; it was DJ Sega’s amazingly intuitive debut club release New Jack Philly from back in 2009. Coming up in a distant second place: an intentionally trendy, bangers-only rap mix I downloaded from a friend in San Francisco entitled — wait for it — TURNT (DRUNK AT THE CLUB MUSIC). While I did listen to the two mixes excessively, there were other factors at play. More often than not, I refused to carry some of my favorite new albums around with me for fear that I’d listen to nothing else. Or that they might accidentally change my mood. Publicly headphone-dancing on my own to club supergroup R4’s “Work It,” Sophie’s “Bipp,” or Cedric Gervais’ remix of LDR’s “Summertime Sadness” while waiting for the train is perfectly acceptable by my standards. Risking the chance of tearing up to Rhye’s “Open” or accidentally mean-mugging the wrong person to Kanye’s “Blood on the Leaves” would be far less attractive.

If nothing else my obsession with New Jack Philly did serve as a frame of reference for the music I loved this year. Back in March I wrote about the world of Jersey Club — a scene closely related to Sega’s — because their innovators, like those belonging to many other regional urban dance scenes, have been bridging the divide between pop and underground dance for years. Club folk tend to be open-minded about their likes; if they don’t like a sound, they’ll pick apart what they do and try to make it better. For a rap-, R&B-, dancehall-, and pop-loving dance critic like myself, this was a year where my worlds followed suit, warily but openly embracing each other. My favorite albums of the year felt like they adopted a similar mentality. They got weird, and didn’t stick to a blueprint; Kanye played with the underground’s favorite producers, M.I.A. and Beyoncé danced circles around their criticized socio-cultural stereotypes, Burial got emotional, RP Boo massaged R&B vocals, DJ Koze spun kaleidoscopic visions, and Kelela and Kingdom knocked us dead. These artists weren’t so much subversive as they were representative of a complex grab-bag of influences, cultural evolution, and the mentality that perhaps disparate ideas can (*gasp*) exist simultaneously. To my rockists, popists, and purists of yesteryear: There’s no room for you here.

1. Kanye West, Yeezus
2. M.I.A., Matangi
3. DJ Koze, Amygdala
4. Disclosure, Settle
5. Rhye, Woman
6. DJ Rashad, Double Cup
7. Autre Ne Veut, Anxiety
8. CHVRCHES, Bones of What You Believe
9. My Bloody Valentine, m b v
10. Beyoncé, Beyoncé
11. Burial, Rival Dealer
12. RP Boo, The Legacy
13. Kelela, Cut 4 Me
14. Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time
15. Jon Hopkins, Immunity
16. Waxatchee, Cerulean Salt
17. Matias Aguayo, The Visitor
18. Omar Souleyman, Wenu Wenu
19. The Knife, Breaking the Habitual
20. Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park
21. A$AP Ferg, Trap Lord
22. Haim, Days Are Gone
23. Classixx, Hanging Gardens
24. Majical Cloudz, Impersonator
25. Kingdom, Vertical XL