Albums of the year 2013

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1. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety

Arthur Ashin’s second album oozes emotional intensity throughout, with the album title perfectly summing up Ashin’s emotions while writing this album. Whether its about the anxiety of calling his grandmother for fear of her death (“Counting”), dealing with hitting his 30’s (“Gonna Die”) or going through a break-up (“World War”). Starting off with “Play By Play”/“Counting”/“Promises”/“Ego Free, Sex Free”, Anxiety has to be one of the strongest back-to-back hit filled albums released for a while. From start to finish this is an album to you can listen to whether its a Friday night ready to go out on the town or on a relaxing Sunday morning nursing a hangover as Ashin soothes you with his alt-R’n’B.

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 2. My Bloody Valentinem b v

If you say you’ve been waiting 22 years for this record, you’re lying. Even the most faithful of My Bloody Valentine fans gave up hope of ever seeing another release from the band long ago. When this album was released in February with little ceremony and an ordering process that temporarily broke the internet, there should have been no shock that it wasn’t another Loveless. Instead we’ve been treated to unexpected guitar solos, unexpected guitar-free compositions, more of Bilinda Butcher’s beautiful voice, and a few genuine what-the-fuck-is-that-sound moments. If you say this album wasn’t worth a two-decade period of absence, you’re lying.

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3. IceageYou’re Nothing

Still pissed off, still drawing heavily on post-punk angularity and tinny black metal bleakness, Denmark’s finest return with a more diverse album than their debut. The fast tracks still explode with spit and bile (“Ecstasy”,“Coalition”), but interspersed are moments of slow, muddy thuds (“Morals”), and even the odd Hüsker Du-influenced riff (“In Haze”).  Iceage are lads of impeccable taste, whose energy elevates them out of the mire of influences that so often burdens hardcore bands. The “New Way of Danish Fuck You” might not be so new any more, but with any luck, it is far from over.

 

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Vampire Weekend

4. Vampire WeekendModern Vampires Of The City

With this album, Ezra Koenig and his gang have progressed from the afro-pop elements of earlier days to a more diverse soundscape. Evident in the infectious pop tune ‘Step’, the playful ‘Ya Hey’ with manipulated chipmunk-voices and the beautiful vocal harmonies on ‘Obvious Bicycle’. The different textures are quite seductive and ‘MVotC’ has been a recurrent visitor on my record player. On top of that Ezra Koenig has a way with lyrics that really enthrals me: ”The harpsichord is broken/The television’s fried/The city’s getting hotter than a country in decline” from ‘Finger Snap’ is a line you don’t hear everyday. A great album that showcases a great band’s development.

 

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factory floor

5. Factory FloorFactory Floor

“Turn it up”. Take their advice: Factory Floor’s first album is a commanding blend of instinct and control, the human and mechanical. The trio’s double LP draws as much on minimalist, New York disco as it does on Throbbing Gristle, resulting in tracks whose power lies in the combination of cold synth lines, ghostly voices, and infectious beats (drummer Gabe respects, as we should all do, the mythical cowbell).

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds Push The Sky Away

6. Nick Cave and The Bad SeedsPush The Sky Away

Push The Sky Away is Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 15th studio album. The first album, where Nick Cave is the only remaining member of the original line-up, and also a masterful example of the growing collaboration between multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis and Nick Cave. After the end of the loud and noisy Grinderman, which in large parts consists of the same people as The Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away can be seen as return to a more quiet expression that makes you recall albums like The Boatmans Call. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds was formed thirty years ago; Push The Sky Away is a promise of many more years of great music to come.

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7. Julia HolterLoud City Song

Loud City Song is the third album in as many years by LA-based Julia Holter. As with her earlier albums, the classically trained artists has found inspiration in artworks from the past – this time the 1958 musical Gigi. The album is diverse, yet very coherent, and Julia Holter manages to breed new life and sounds into a classical instrumentation of horns, strings, piano and drums. Loud City Song is atmospheric; it feels more accessible than her earlier albums (that are also great) without losing the playfulness and experimentation.

As she explains Loud City Song began with the end of her second album Ekstasis; more precisely the song Maxim’s III. The song need it’s own album, she thought, and what an album it got!

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8. The NationalTrouble Will Find Me

High Violet was always going to be a tough album to follow up for the Cincinnati quintet, however, I had the same thought with some of their previous albums Alligator and Boxer, they seem to effortlessly write albums start to finish that are hard hitting and grab you in a way no other band can. Trouble Will Find Me gives us an insight into the life Matt Berninger has settled into in his more mature years having admitting “…I didn’t care what the songs were going to be about, or if they were going to seem depressing, or cool, or whatever”, even so, they still manage to roll out the hits with tracks such as, “Don’t Swallow The Cap”, “Sea Of Love” and “Graceless”. 

 

Ed Harcourt

9. Ed HarcourtBack Into The Woods

In the 12 years since Ed Harcourt released his Mercury Prize-nominated debut, he’s explored all complexities for the conveyance of his baroque pop style. So if he decides to strip things back, he must be certain of himself. Recorded in just six hours at Abbey Road Studios in London, Back Into the Woods is the kind of natural, unadorned performance you can only get away with if the songs are really that strong.

At its core, most of the album is just Harcourt at his piano or guitar, and a natural warmth that emanates from the instruments, in lovely contrast to the husky timbre of his voice.

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10. Queens Of The Stone Age….Like Clockwork

Frontman Josh Homme was sidelined for months after complications from a routine surgery, and …Like Clockwork is the manifestation of him literally getting back on his feet. If a little strife provides good inspiration, then it’s no wonder this is QOTSA’s strongest album in years. It’s equal parts brutal and creepy, with tracks like “If I Had a Tail” marking Homme as heir apparent to Scott Walker. Dave Grohl plays a bulk of the drums, and there are guest spots from Trent Reznor, Mark Lanegan, and Elton John. If you haven’t paid much attention to QOTSA in recent years, …Like Clockwork will make you regret ever counting them out.

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11. Kanye WestYeezus

Yeezus‘ bookends feel like a follow on from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a time when he was going through darker periods of his life after the death of his mother and a break up, to his current life with Kim Kardashian with “Bound 2”. If this is anything to go by we can expect the follow-up to Yeezus to be an R’n’B love album…….yeah right! The album contains unmatched production qualities with tracks that will make Kanye’s live set for years to come as he rolls out the albums other hits, “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves”.

Sigur Ros

12. Sigur RósKveikur

In tribute to Jonsi’s made up language, “hopelandic”, I have retranslated my review in six different languages, resulting in some nonsense they can be proud of:

“Finally ROS Sigur dark, interesting bass lines and shiny surfaces with just the ignition Mogwai album in Iceland felt a huge area, sounds more and more electronic sound plan. Browse all Vacuum guitar violin, or Jónsi is much better able to withstand it.”

In English, Sigur Rós have returned with a power that had largely dispersed in their later recordings. The tweeness has been replaced by darker and heavier electronic sounds, undercut by Jonsi’s distinctive vocal style.

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13. TrentemøllerLost

Trentemøller has gradually shifted away from the more overt, techno style of electronica towards grander, more cinematic compositions. Lost is a sweeping, sometimes broody, cinematic work that prioritizes subtlety. It’s definitely an album made more for headphones than stereos, and maybe it’s most conducive to quiet moments of reflection, but ultimately, it is beautiful. And with appearances from Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, Low’s Mimi Parker, and the Drum’s Jonny Pierce, Lost might prove to be one of those gateway albums that lures unsuspecting rockists into the dark underbelly of electronic music.

Blood Orange

14. Blood OrangeCupid Deluxe

There is a good reason why Devonté Hynes is the producer in quest these days. The Englishman’s musical sensibilities are as sophisticated as a cat walking through a dollhouse, knowing exactly where to place the paws without compromising the arrangements, that is perfectly balanced between the cheesy and the chic – just as if the aesthetic of the 80’s was taken to contemporary society. Exactly the 80’s are along with New York the main point of reference for the album, which combines the best of the decade (New Romanticism, Golden Age Hip-Hop and New Jack Swing) with a who’s who of Brooklyn-socialites such as David Longstreith (Dirty Projectors) and his fiancé Samantha Urbani (Friends). Cupid Deluxe is in many ways the preliminary redemption of Hynes’ vast talent.

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15. These New Puritans – Fields Of Reeds

Taking inspiration from classical and experimental composers of the 20th century, Benjamin Britten foremost among them, These New Puritans may not be the most light-hearted or humorous of bands, but Fields of Reeds is the culmination of the band’s unique and exacting approach to music. Singling out songs from this tightly woven work may be counterproductive, but “Organ Eternal” signals the power TNP can generate from a simple, “Tubular Bells”-like riff. Don’t think progressive, Fields of Reeds has the best claim this year on the title of “timeless”.

 

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16. James Blake – Overgrown

Last year, when I told people James Blake was Dubstep, they refused to accept the fact. Whilst ‘Overgrown’ is hardly at Skrillex’s level on the ‘drop the beat’ scale (yuck), it’s a lot closer than the artist’s debut. Blake’s talent means one can never tire of ‘Overgrown”s multiple layers; it has an extraordinary power to be at once very personal, whilst the electronic framework makes it like the grown up echo of a dance album. It’s about when the songs bite, just like a “Digital Lion”. See “Retrograde” for reference. What that boy does with a piano, a vocal warble and a computer is just insane. No wonder that Mercury Prize ended up in his hands.

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Arcade Fire (2013) Reflektor LP Vinyl Record Album 1

17. Arcade FireReflektor

Alongside countless other fans, I was impatiently awaiting the release of the fourth album by the Canadian seven-piece. A release that consolidates Arcade Fire’s position as one of the greatest indie bands on the planet. ‘Reflektor’ shows a more up-beat side to the band, in the disco-tinged title track, ‘We Exist’ and ‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’, alongside rock anthems like ‘Normal Person’ and ‘Joan of Arc’. Utter magnificence that keeps growing on me, fuelled by Win Butler’s intense vocal delivery.

With a playing span of 75 minutes the band’s typical epic scope remains constant and this album is another brilliant addition to an awe-inspiring catalogue.

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Darkside Psychic

(18) DarksidePsychic 

Described as “rock’s cosmic outer edges through the immersive, body-moving framework of 21st-century house and techno”, upon the release of Psychic, Nicolas Jarr and Dave Harrington’s debut album brought a breath of fresh air to the electronic music scene in 2013, just as Jarr has previously done with his solo venture. Post-rock riffs and downbeat electronica dominates Psychic. Tracks such as “Paper Trails” has glimpses of Jarr’s solo work vocally, although admittedly containing a denser and more textured sound. Darkside have left us hungry for more as they continue to take the album on the road in 2014.

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19. Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum

The always-evolving Cate Le Bon found sunshine in California and a more stripped-back sound for her third full length. The Velvet Underground influence on Mug Museum should smack anyone over the head, even if s/he hasn’t gone on a Lou Reed listening binge following his death. Le Bon’s sparse, minimally-produced album has easy sing alongs, a few moments of total chaos, a duet with Perfume Genius, and stays just on the right side of that vaguely surfy vibe to distinguish her from every other band that has hit the reverb a little too hard. Mug Museum is 2013’s best palate cleanser.

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20. Arctic Monkeys – AM

“Who the F*ck are the Arctic Monkeys?” Only kidding! Perhaps you didn’t see enough of the Arctic Monkeys on every music magazine’s front page and website this summer? Never fear, they’re gonna be on every end of year list. With very good reason. The Sheffield band’s fifth studio album was an absolute masterpiece from those first two drum whacks of “Do I Wanna Know?”, (a song which also possesses one of the best rock riffs of all time), to the dreamy, track twelve cover of John Cooper Clark’s poem, “I Wanna Be Yours”. The pace is sickingly fluctuating, but the adrenaline is never wavering. It also produced a video of Alex Turner wandering around London pretending to be drunk and hallucinating about kebab salesmen humping, so who can complain?