Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Albums of the Year 2013

I reckon it's been a pretty vintage year for music, which has made the task of compiling this list even harder than usual. But there comes a time when you have to stop prevaricating and just crack on with it, so below you'll find my top 10 albums of the year, plus a bonus selection of records that all nearly made the cut.

1. Apparat - Krieg und Frieden (Music for Theatre)
Originally written for a German theatre production of 'War and Peace', the music evolved so much that Sascha Ring (Apparat) decided that it deserved a life of its own. Amazingly intense and powerful, but shot through with moments of fragility, it conjures up fantastically bleak images in your mind. Click here for the full review.

2. Daniel Avery - Drone Logic
A brilliant set of electronic dance music from Daniel Avery. It's clear that his time as a DJ has influenced the way he put the album together, but unlike certain 'superstar DJs' Avery is a real musician who understands the need for melody and variation in amongst the bass-driven floor fillers, The heir apparent to Andrew Weatherall, who described Avery's music as 'gimmick-free machine-funk of the highest order'.

3. Kanye West - Yeezus
The polar opposite of its brilliantly grandiose predecessor 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy', Yeezus is short, concise, and brutally to the point (an approach that even extended to the artwork). With tracks like 'Black Skinhead' and 'New Slaves' the honest, insistent and controversial lyrics more than match the power of the music, and once again he proves he's ahead of the game by bringing in the likes of Evian Christ & Hudson Mohawke to produce tracks, as well as enrolling Daft Punk just at the point of their interstellar comeback.

4. These New Puritans - Field of Reeds
About as far removed from pop music as you can get, this is an album that deserves complete concentration and uninterrupted listening from start to finish. It's rare to hear a record that's so perfectly realised, where everything is exactly how it should be. Overall there's a sense of space to this record - it's hard to describe but you can just feel the space in the music, you can sense the absence of things where other artists would've layered sounds up.

5. Pet Shop Boys - Electric
A joyous return to form, their best album since 'Introspective', and the album that soundtracked my summer holiday. Managing to reference the classic PSB sound and yet still sounding contemporary (but not in a try-hard sort of way), their National Treasure status is only enhanced by tracks like 'Thursday' and 'Love is a Bourgeois Construct'. If they never make another album then 'Vocal', the last track on here, will be the perfect way to bow out.

6. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
I confess, on first listen I thought this was all a bit 'samey', but repeated listens have revealed it to be possibly the most complete album The National have yet released. The fire has returned to Matt Berninger's lyrics, while the Dessner brothers' work with other artists has brought fresh nuances to the music.Tracks like 'Graceless' have already become live classics, and this records shows that the band seems to have found the perfect balance of writing intimate songs that can satisfy packed festivals and stadia around the world.

7. Drenge - Drenge
My favourite new band of the year (long before Tom Watson MP jumped on the bandwagon), the two loveless brothers make music full of the energy and vibrancy of youth. Like The White Stripes if they really were siblings and Meg was a decent drummer, they show that, despite everything Seasick Steve's done to prove otherwise, there's a future for blues-influenced rock. And in case you're wondering, 'Drenge' (pronounced with a hard 'g' sound) is Danish for 'boys'. Click here for the full review.

8. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
There was a lot of hype around this album, but that does't stop it being great. The things that stands out for me most of all is the quality of musicianship - you can hear that, once they had decided they wanted real instruments to be a part of this, they weren't going to settle for anything but the best. Single-handedly resurrecting the careers of both Giorgio Moroder & Nile Rodgers, this is the album that actually made me like (at least some) 70s disco. Click here for my 'Doin' It Right / Sexual Healing' mash-up.

9. Cloud - Comfort Songs
Walking a tightrope between optimism and despair, this is a record that simultaneously made me feel old and full of 14-year old teen angst, a record that you just want to put your arms around and hug and tell it everything's going to be alright. Click here for my full review, and read my interview with Tyler (Cloud) here.

10. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Proving that you don't have to be as young as Drenge to make a great rock record, '...Like Clockwork' is a classy, mature record showing that Joshua Homme has definitely got his mojo back. Full of highlights, from Dave Grohl's drumming to Elton John's brilliantly unexpected appearance on 'Fairweather Friend', the whole thing was topped of with artwork by young UK artist Boneface, who was flown out to make the art in the studio at the same time as the music.

Compilation Album of the Year - Cosmic Machine: A Voyage Across French Cosmic & Electronic Avantgarde (1970-1980)
Expertly researched and compiled, with sleeve notes from Jean Michel Jarre and Gaspard Auge from Justice and artwork by Philippe Druillet, this is everything you could want from a compilation album and more.

Also-rans and nearly-theres; on a different day any of these other albums might have made the cut:

  • Steve Mason - Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time
  • Jon Hopkins - Immunity
  • Dean Blunt - The Redeemer
  • Jagwar Ma - Howlin
  • Rudimental - Home
  • Public Service Broadcasting - Inform - Educate - Entertain
  • Seams - Quarters
  • Mogwai - Les Revenants
  • Villagers - {Awayland}
  • Nils Frahm - Spaces
  • Volcano Choir - Repave
  • Tim Hecker - Virgins
  • The Haxan Cloak - Excavation
  • Arctic Monkeys - AM
See - I told you it'd been a good year. Here's to an equally musical 2014!

No comments:

Post a Comment