Though I confess to being an ardent reader of them, I'm resistant to shoveling my year's listening habits into a year-end list; looking back like that feels like underscoring the records I missed rather than the ones I was spinning endlessly. Beyond that, I find it nothing short of off-putting when critics pay particular attention to the gender of a given band, especially because that discussion only ever comes up when the gender is female. You never hear, "They're a really great rock band, and they're all men, too!" and, damn it, that ain't right.
With all of that said: Holy shit, there were a lot of great female-fronted records out in 2013.
The easy standout in a discussion of such a stellar collection of albums is going to be Savages, whose debut Silence Yourself is an unrelenting barrage, with all the intensity of a slightly more melodic Hüsker Dü. The post-punk tag somehow seems fresh and urgent in the hands of Savages, with Fay Milton's drums bellowing along like no one has ever drummed harder. Silence Yourself somehow makes the last 10 years of rock feel like it's been spinning its wheels.
And this is to say nothing, of course, of The Knife's proper follow-up to the unassailable Silent Shout: the equally staggering Shaking the Habitual, my pick for the best record of last year, standing head and shoulders above critical darlings Yeezus and Modern Vampires of the City.
While it's hard to say quite how democratic the songwriting is in the Knife (interviews with the band are few and far between), I'm apt to give singer Karin Dreijer-Andersson an awful lot of credit, and not just because Fever Ray is a bit more interesting than Oni Ayhun. And Shaking the Habitual seems to have drawn a line in the sand, a canister of tear gas thrown into the middle of the dance floor. In short, no one does this shit better than the Knife does it, with Shaking being their most enigmatic, challenging, political, and beautiful record yet.
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Lauren Mayberry's presence has been a welcome one, too, with her earworm-y Chvrches debut The Bones of What You Believe sounding better with every listen. It's not quite as exciting as Crystal Castles or moody as Purity Ring, but Mayberry & Co. are doing something neither of those bands have yet managed, aping in the poppier side of '80s electronica in a way that makes you think you've never heard it before.
Ditto for Austra's sophomore effort Olympia, a criminally overlooked record with "Forgive Me," one of the best singles last year.
Women put out extraordinary records every year, of course, and to highlight these because of gender, even if you're celebrating them, is also to somehow other it. That's far from my aim here. They're simply extraordinary records, plain and simple.
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And there are just too many to give proper credit; drawing attention to some only draws more attention to the records that I haven't given enough time to: the underrated reinvention of M.I.A. in Matangi, Janelle Monáe's ridiculously catchy The Electric Lady, Waxahatchee's addictive, affecting Cerulean Salt. Luckily, though, there's still 2014 ahead of us and, god willing, a new Grimes record to talk about.