Archive | December 2013

2013 – The Best Year For Music In A Decade.

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It wasn’t a hard decision to say that 2013 has been the strongest year for music in about a decade. I’ve certainly been persuaded to part with more of my lovely cash for albums this year than I have in a lot of years; say about 10.  And it’s not just one genre that has been having a pleasingly purple patch. It’s been widespread and persistent throughout the year, like a particularly mellifluous virus happily smashing your ears in. Plenty of well-established big players have put out their best works in a while and there have been some strong new(ish) acts making a big impression on me. All in all, it’s been a very entertaining time.

As much as best album of the year lists are anathema to me, invariably filled, as they are, with wearying mediocrity to make up the numbers, this year I have struggled to keep a list to 10 albums. Therefore in the spirit of personal hypocrisy, and not without a large helping of narcissism, I shall make a list of the new albums I have liked the most this year, ranked, not unreasonably, by my own personal enjoyment, all in traditional reverse order.

10. Arctic Monkeys – AM

If I was in my 20s it probably wouldn’t be that cool to like the Arctic Monkeys. I see critics who, in general, I respect giving them short shrift (I mean you, Simon Price). I am, however, considerably older than that and can therefore not give a fuck about received wisdom when it comes to these things.  AM is, by some distance, Arctic Monkeys best album since their second effort. Much has been made of the influences outside of guitar pop on Alex and his chums but, I find, it’s the self-assured swagger of a lot of the tracks that provide the album with its central charm.

09. NickCave & the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

With Mick Harvey long gone, the Bad Seeds have become a more hirsute and primal affair. The riffs on Push Away The Sky seem constantly poised at the point of collapse but never actually buckle, lending it all a strangely compelling air. Cave is his usual mawkish self, but then that’s OK because could anyone else operate even remotely in the same universe as him? I doubt it. Unlike traditional Bad Seeds fare and also a world away from Grinderman, it’s about as strong a comeback as you could have hoped for.

08. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Era Vulgaris was, not to put too fine a point on it, dog shit. Queens had lost their way and Josh Homme’s dalliance with swampy pub rock in super dull group TCV seemed to confirm that his most exciting writing days were behind him. Well, thank heavens for near death experiences, as almost carking it has revitalised Josh, and by default his band, handsomely. …Like Clockwork is a sullen beast but a rewarding one. Big riffs, reflective lyrics and some honest to goodness wig-outs make this a return to form that I had not predicted and that’s a very good thing.

07. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

The first time I heard Open Eye Signal I was completely blown away and had to play it again and again and again. There’s something about how the filthy cold and digital sounds crash against the beautiful, lush and emotive music that make this unlike almost anything else around. It’s staggeringly good. Hopkins’ time served as tech provider for an uber-producer and arranger for the world’s biggest band are evident in how big it all sounds and in the fearlessness of releasing a concept album when such notions have been rendered archaic by the shuffle button. Good skills, I say, when albums are this good, their future looks less perilous.

06. Boards of Canada Tomorrow’s Harvest

It’s been a long time and essentially the Boards have not changed but the ease with which they slipped back into a different musical landscape speaks volumes about their quality. Channelling the aura of 80s VHS video nasties into an agreeably bleak but aurally enslaving long long player isn’t as effortless as it sounds, but BOC manage it without breaking sweat. Although there are some really quite exquisite touches throughout, it does lack an out and out killer track to provide a spine for the whole thing but it stands up nevertheless.  Not one for down the disco, though.

05. The Asphodells Ruled By Passion Destroyed By Lust

Weatherall comes back from the brink following the worryingly patchy A Pox on the Pioneers solo album of a few years past. With a new engineer to do his bidding, ushering in a new outlook (less songs more grooves), Ruled By Passion is classic Wevvers with some proper chuggers and lots of wicked arpeggios bubbling away all over the shop, all bathed in enough tape delay to rip a dirty big whole in the time continuum.  The dub of their cover of John Betjemen’s Late Flowering Lust is the undoubted highlight for me.

04. My Bloody Valentine – m b v

Let’s cut to the chase; it’s a woozily wonderful album. Yes it took more than two decades, yes it sounds a lot like Loveless without the obvious singles but at least another album comes close to Loveless now.  This is an album that definitely benefits from repeated listens and your complete immersion in its treacly motifs. It could never live up to expectation but has managed to be elegantly alluring all the same.

03. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

On a seemingly unstoppable upwards curve Fuck Buttons followed up their Olympic triumph with a broody, self-produced third album that finally had all the pieces in the right places. Whether it’s a progression in the song writing or simply knowing what they’re doing now, there is a palpable confidence in this album that was lacking previously. The stand out track for me is Stalker, a colossus on an album stuffed full of really good tunes. This was in the running for number one but a late release and my growing obsession with another album bumped it to the bronze.

02. Daniel Avery – Drone Logic

As Erol Alkan’s protégé and feted by Weatherall, Daniel Avery was anointed as the Guardianista’s techno lovey practically from the beginning of his career, and with a reputation as Fabric’s secret weapon spanking unsuspecting dancefloors to within an inch of their lives, he had a lot to live up to with his debut album. Happily, that kind of praise and the accompanying pressure don’t seem to have phased him, and in Drone Logic he has handed over an album that is simultaneously quality traditional techno and utterly fresh and exciting. You could list a whole cavalcade of bands that signpost his sound from the guitar FX pedal drones of Chemical Brothers to the bleeping arpeggios of Underworld but that would be a disservice to what is a really substantial work of hip-swaying brilliance.

01. (James) Holden – The Inheritors

Kieran Hebden tweeted a little while back that The Inheritors would be one of the albums we’ll all talk about when reassessing 2013s musical legacy. Naturally, with that kind of praise coming from a man like him I was intrigued. I’ll be honest, James Holden meant dreary prog to me, but fuck me was I entirely wrong. Throw about all the sonic explorer hyperbole you like but, there’s no getting away from the fact that Holden’s Inheritors is an auditory adventure unlike anything else released this year. Jon Hopkins’ lush digital tones may be in the same general vicinity but the musical experimentation and honeyed timbre of the entire album is breathtaking and completely enveloping. I guess it’s techno at heart but it’s so deconstructed and so thrillingly rearranged as to be something gleamingly modish and new. I am a grizzled cynic with almost no joy in my bones but I genuinely found this album intoxicatingly exciting and for that, I should really thank Mr Holden!

Honorary mentions for Savages,  Factory Floor, Jagwar Ma, Primal Scream, Daft Punk, David Bowie, Hookworms, Teeth of the Sea and Islet who all released albums which I have enjoyed a lot. Also, there are a couple of albums that have resurfaced or have been discovered late including Prolapse’s Pointless Walks To Dismal Places, Fairhorns’ Doki Doki Run and the entire Rite series by arch drude Cope. It’s possible that I am in a more receptive mood to music in general as I am more aware of the pop charts than I have been in a long time but there seems to be something on the cusp of happening there too and I am intrigued to see where it all goes once EDM is, rightly, kicked to death…

Anyway, whatever the reason, vive la 2013, you have been a good year.

2014 Might Sound Like This

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It is now December, when music lists prevail. Everyone (me included) becomes super-opinionated and pontificates about not only what they think the best music of the year was, but also who they think will be successful in the following 12 months, heaping untold expectation on fledgling music careers that aren’t generally up to supporting that kind of pressure.  I’m not really sure why these ones to watch lists have become so prevalent in the past decade. As ever, I blame the internet and its ceaseless quest for new content, creating a spurious reason for barely qualified ‘tastemakers’ to earmark the acts that pluggers and PRs have assured them have the budget to succeed.

The kingpin of these lists is the BBCs Sound Of… Today they published the long list for 2014, and it would seem that the ‘featured artist’ is this year’s feted choice, which may or may not signal a lack of depth in the thinking behind this list. I should come out and say right now that I dislike every single act that has previously been tipped for the top from this list and must conclude that it is not aimed at a surly old fucker like me who is far too picky for his own good. Fair enough. This being the internet, however, I am entitled to my opinion and as such I am giving it to you. Happy now?

BANKS – Good tunes a bit screechy though, probably the best out of the girls in this list.

Chance The Rapper – good at what he does, he’s got really good flows.  Not my bag though.

Chlöe Howl – Ever decreasing circles, been done to death recently. No.

Ella Eyre – Doesn’t offend me but where are the hooks?

FKA twigs – Ace voice. You need to smoke a lot of weed to dig the tunes…

George Ezra – Great voice, good guitar player. Far too earnest for me. Loosen up mate.

Jungle – I like Jungle. But they sound like someone else. Metronomy, I think.

Kelela – nice but boring. Really boring.

Luke Sital-Singh – Music for bank managers.

MNEK – Great tone in his voice but hard to tell what he’s about. He needs to do his own tunes.

Nick Mulvey – Reminds me of the lighthouse family.

Royal Blood – Sticks out like a sore thumb and smacks of tokenism in this list. It’s rock by committee, and it’s too slick and passionless to be really good.

Sam Smith – Great vocalist. Where are his own tunes?

Sampha – Do we need another James Blake? Give you a clue, the answer is no.

Say Lou Lou – Disappointingly dreary, with voices this average they need to have some fucking amazing tunes. They do not have amazing tunes.

And there it is. Informed opinion at work. My predictions: three quarters of this list will disappear by 2016. Sam Smith will probably win. Banks is the outside bet.

Just to shed some light on how good this list is, as an indicator of long-term talent, let’s have an arbitrary look at past winners and what I think about their success, as I am too lazy to look up actual facts.

2013 – Haim – Still successful but can’t see their Fleetwood Mac-lite schtick lasting too long

2012 – Michael Kiwanuka – Who?

2011 – Jessie J – Longevity acquired through TV not talent.

2010 – Ellie Goulding – Just about doing it, thanks to some dreadful covers.

2009 – Little Boots – Nope.

2008 – Adele – An undeniable winner and rare talent. Still not my bag though.

2007 – Mika – No, no, no.

2006 – Corinne Bailey Rae – Can’t get arrested.

2005 – The Bravery – Currently residing in the “where are they now? No don’t tell me, I don’t care” file

2004 – Keane – Inexplicably popular for too long.

2003 – 50 Cent – Probably the list’s most successful winner but after a decade understandably waning in popularity. Let him off for that, eh.