The best pop albums of 2013 

click to enlarge Sleigh Bells
  • courtesy photo
  • Sleigh Bells topped our list of pop favorites in 2013.
Musically speaking, 2013 was like a game of pop-star poker, with some solid hands being laid down defiantly and quite a few bluffs being called. Winners: Katy Perry, who ditched the girly shtick and embraced adulthood with “Prism,” and Miley Cyrus, who went kicking and screaming into the grown-up world with a promising “Bangerz.” Loser: Lady Gaga, who amped up every eccentricity to 11 as she hurtled toward also-ran irrelevance via the absurdly overhyped “Artpop.”

But the most interesting twist occurred in Nashville, Tenn., where young country kittens such as Kacey Musgraves, Lindi Ortega, Brandy Clark and Ashley Monroe unsheathed their razor-sharp claws, a la stylistic forebears Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. They had real meat-and-potatoes songwriting, not the white-bread R&B again foisted on us by Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake.

In reverse order, here is the best music of the year.

10. FIDLAR, “FIDLAR”

These squirrelly SoCal skate-punkers’ sneering odes to beer, pot, other stimulants/depressants. White-trash existence never suddenly sounds awesome. (Mom + Pop)

9. David Bowie, “The Next Day”

An amazing hat trick — no advance fanfare, no publicity, no talk-show appearances. Just a great new cutting-edge Bowie album that stood on its own. (Columbia)

8. Savages, “Silence Yourself”

When French chanteuse Jehnny Beth met atmospheric guitarist Gemma Thompson, sparks ignited. And a Banshees-brilliant new juggernaut started rolling. (Rough Trade)

7. Brandy Clark, “12 Stories”

Clark already has penned and co-written wry hits for everyone else in Nashville. Finally, she stakes out her own laconic turf with this debut. (Slate Creek Records)

6. Frightened Rabbit, “Pedestrian Verse”

The new Scottish version of Ireland’s Snow Patrol? Could be. Frontman Scott Hutchison has got the voice, the darkly poetic lyrics and the sweeping, panoramic vision. (Atlantic)

5. Editors, “The Weight of Your Love”

Gothic-timbred anchor Tom Smith lost his guitarist, gained two new members and actually pushed Editors into even more majestic territory on this fourth set. (Pias America)

4. Ashley Monroe, “Like a Rose”

Monroe — also a member of The Pistol Annies, whose sophomore “Annie Up” was a contender for this list — has a retro-country voice as pure as a mountain spring, but a songwriting sensibility that’s soap-opera trashy. (Warner Nashville)

3. Jake Bugg, “Jake Bugg”

This 19-year-old British wunderkind was a perfectly unexpected combination of existential angst and unbridled hunger, all to the tune of a retro-hip slapback sound. (Island)

2. Vampire Weekend, “Modern Vampires of the City”

What Ezra Koenig and company have accomplished here is an album so gorgeously ornate and intricate, its composition should be taught in college. But don’t study it — just let it wash over you. (XL Recordings)

1. Sleigh Bells, “Bitter Rivals”

Another record that could be dissected in school. Every spin through this delectable noise-pop delight unveils more carefully hidden underpinnings that keep the whole contraption thundering along. Even synthesized dog barks play a crucial role in this malevolent masterpiece. (Mom + Pop)

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Tom Lanham

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