2013 – The Best Year For Music In A Decade.
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.
About absolutedisastercharlieTrying not to be misanthropic.
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