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The Top 10 Albums of 2013


So 2013 is over, and I get the chance to throw my hat of choices into the ring for the best records released this year. It has been a strange year, the two records that won the most acclaim elsewhere, ‘Yeezus’ and ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ were, in my opinion, not all that impressive. Unlike my 2012 list which had 3 (Alt-J’s ‘An Awesome Wave’, Tom Williams and the Boat’s ‘Teenage Blood, and Flying Lotus’ ‘Until The Quiet Comes’), there are no truly staggering 10/10 records. Instead we have a series of very good albums from 10-5, and then effectively 5 fantastic records that could all have taken number one. Each of these top 5 albums did something exciting, and are all ones that I have kept going back to all year. In the end, the winner had to go to the record that I had simply played the most times, a record that despite these repeat listens, never grew old. But before that, the rest of the list…

10. Lapalux – Nostalchic

Lapalux - NostalchicKicking this list off is a record that probably swept under the radar for most people. A British member of the Brainfeeder experimental electronica collective, Lapalux merges a chillout, R&B vibe with the creepy sample morphing of last year’s man of the year, Flying Lotus. As an album it flowed perfectly, like a relaxed train journey moving through various textures, particular highlight being the delicate tremoring of ‘Without You’ a track that just commands total attention, drowning the listener in its minimalist atmosphere.

9. Suede – Bloodsports

Suede-Bloodsports2013 saw yet more comebacks from established bands, continuing the trend on from 2012 (My Bloody Valentine’s ‘mbv’ narrowly missed this list). What was really surprising was that one of these reuniting bands managed to actually be better than they were before. Suede hit 2013 with ‘Bloodsports’, an album that roared them back into the national consciousness. It’s a staggeringly good record, a tight 10 songs, every one a potential single. When I went to see them play at Southampton Guildhall they decided to run through this album from start to finish. It was incredible. Suede seemed to believe in this album and these songs with the energy of a band releasing their debut. It was a fitting testament to the quality of this record, and a kick in the face for any cynics crying ‘money’ at their reunion. It has everything that made them so good to begin with, and even more for the new fans. Enjoy.

8. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

Chvrches - The bones of what you believeIn at number 8 is one of two bands that I predicted as contenders for making the album of 2013 at the start of the year. Chvrches are a heavy synth-pop act, fusing M83’s sugary sound with some of the best vocals this year from frontwoman Lauren Mayberry. Disguised amongst some of pops best melodies are some pretty cutting lyrics, ‘We Sink’ proclaims ‘I’ll be a thorn in your side / till you die’. The genius of Chvrches is wrapping this sharpness in some staggeringly strong anthems, ‘Lies’ and ‘The Mother We Share’ were already known bangers but pretty much every song on this record delivers. It’s a tightly packed record, and definitely the most instantly accessible and enjoyable record on this list.

7. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Jon Hopkins - ImmunityAmongst the releases considered for the Mercury Music Award sat this record from little known producer and Brian Eno-collaborator Jon Hopkins. Those not in electronic music circles can be forgiven for not knowing much about this release, but a number of musicians tellingly placed it in their own end of year lists. This album is a staggering merger of acoustic and electronic, in that field recordings mash with chopped and screwed techno, in a surprisingly pleasing combination. It never bursts into stadium beats, despite always grabbing your interest, and it never drifts into complete ambience, even the piano on the closing title track seems distant from Eno’s ‘Music for Airports’. This album for me has been a go to study record. The energy within it helps focus the brain, but the pure pleasing sound has kept me relaxed and calm. Fans of texture and sound should absolutely get this.

6. Savages – Silence Yourself

Savages Silence YourselfAnd now for the other band I had considered at the start of this year. Interestingly I was also completely wrong. I thought that Savages ran the risk of making a rushed and weak debut compared to Peace or Palma Violets (neither of whom made the list). Instead, Savages delivered one of the tightest, most ferocious debut albums in British music. I’ve written in a few places why I love this record, and most of it boils down to this: Savages demand your attention. A lot can be written and should be written about their feminism, their politics etc. But for me the most significant thing about this album is its sheer strength at grabbing your attention. The title says it all, Silence Yourself and listen to Savages.

5. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels

Run The Jewels

So now we’ve broken through the first 5 records, the good but not stunning ones, and arrived at the top 5. This set were all fairly even so take the number with a pinch of salt, suffice to say that every record in this top 5 was one I went back to again and again as the year went on, and few were more entertaining than number 5. Run The Jewels is the combination of Southern Rap stalwart Killer Mike and underground king El-P. For some reason, despite having decent success in their significant separate careers, the combination of the two of them elevates both of them to modern legends. Forget ‘Watch the Throne’, ‘Run the Jewels’ is the real sound of collaborative fire. While both rappers do political and socially conscious rap incredibly well, this LP is far more a commemorating of an unstoppable friendship and collaborative energy. Every single track on this features some of the best raps this year, El-P’s beats are phenomenal, and his raps here and on last year’s ‘Cancer 4 Cure’ have made him replace Andre 3000 as my own personal favourite MC. People who have heard this album need no persuading how staggering this album is, and those who haven’t should only need to know that it is completely free to download, so go and do it now, and witness the birth of rap’s greatest duo since OutKast. They also happen to make the best music videos ever. Merry Fucking Christmas:

4. Everything Everything – Arc

Everything Everything - ArcThere’s a part of me that’s heartbroken not to be able to call this my favourite of the year. Everything Everything are the band on this list that can most be considered ‘relevant’. With ‘Arc’ they took the ferocious creativity of their debut album ‘Man Alive’ and managed to highlight the touching, the heartbreaking, in short, the personal, that lay within their explosive experimentalism. I wrote more in depth at the start of the year in a review, but Arc was a record that I felt had a lot to say, and said it in a way that was incredibly novel. So many songs on this remain favourites of mine, opener ‘Cough Cough’, the sassy ‘Torso of the Week’, the chilling ‘The Peaks’, the epic ‘Radiant’, and the stunning ‘Undrowned’. Many other blogs might have overlooked this record because of how early it came out but it is their loss. Everything Everything are the highest placing British act on this list, and this album sets them up for a career on the cutting edge of what good music should be, a band it is impossible not to like.

3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away(Attention pedants: despite living here, Nick Cave is not British) From the cutting edge to one of music’s elder statesmen. Nick Cave is 56 but my god has he ever sounded better. ‘Push The Sky Away’ saw the Bad Seeds take a different approach, replacing Grinderman’s raw rock assault with minimalism and a focus on textures. The result is a phenomenal record, Cave’s lyrics finding their match in the delicate touch of his band. I could go on and on about how this record is Nick Cave’s best since whatever you think his last good one was, but that would do a disservice to everyone. Instead I’ll just say that this record is better than all but 2 albums released this year, let alone Cave’s own back catalogue, and it would reach a similar position if it only had one track on it: ‘Higgs Boson Blues’. God damn is this song amazing, the kind of song that would totally absorb and come to define a lesser band. Listen to all 9 minutes of this behemoth and you will understand why Cave has such respect from all corners of the music world.

2. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

arcade-fire-reflektorArcade Fire approached 2013 as Indie’s Most Important Band. Their last album, ‘The Suburbs’ sits alongside records like Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’, Interpol’s ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’ and Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ in my top 10 albums of all time. So it’s understandable that a lot of people’s hopes rested on this, their fourth record. Well this album delivered, in a way that disappointed many of those so desperate for their success. ‘Reflektor’ gave us an Arcade Fire aggressively attacking their own legacy in more ways than one. Gone were the delicate folk touches of ‘Neighbourhood #1’, the epic organ of ‘Intervention’, in their place the fiery techno of James Murphy and the furious funk of the Haitian nation. The lyrics no longer charted the rise and fall of ‘the kids’, instead a scathing attack on society and self-interest, all merged around a retelling of the classical epic of Orpheus and Eurydice. I had the fortune of seeing them play the Roundhouse as they toured the songs off this record (thanks Pete!) and live these songs came alive in a way that seemed to trump the past three albums. The epic stomp of Normal Person, like much of this album indebted heavily to Talking Heads, tore up their legacy and legend. Arcade Fire were reborn in 2013, as something almost scary, a band rejecting so much of what made people love them. It’s hard not to end this with a pun on their track ‘Afterlife’ but the pretentious part of me can’t help but think that this is Arcade Fire’s attempt at immortality. This is their attempt to break the shackles of what had defined them, genres, attitudes, the lot. Was it a good album? Hell yes. Was it perfect? No, not at all, some tracks seemed too long, the running time is excessive, I don’t even think every song on it is great. But does it feel like you’re listening to something so much more than just entertainment or an accompaniment to the real world out there? Abso-fucking-lutely. This album matters.

1. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The-National-Trouble-Will-Find-MeThat this album comes in at number one will surprise few people who came within hearing distance of my speakers this year. Just like last year, I had to go on pure number of listens, and my god have I played this album to death, and then through death into a zombie state. The National are a band that surely by now you either love or haven’t heard. Like many people I don’t even consider this their best record, the previous three (High Violet, Boxer, Alligator) all captured a certain mood and turned it into a masterpiece. With this album however, the band seemed unwilling to affix themselves to one thing, it flies all over the place, from the driving pulse of ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’, the roar of ‘Sea of Love’ to the bar-room ballad ‘Pink Rabbits’. For some absurd reason, though, the result is a captivating and yes, heartbreaking album. Matt Berninger’s epic baritone toys with us moving high and low but continues to be one of the most gripping voices in music. This is helped of course, that he is one of the most talented lyricists around. It’s pointless to sit here and rewrite the myriad phrases that cross this album, as by now nearly every single one is a favourite. This album is like having The National as your personal pub jukebox, banging out hit after hit to your hearts desire, pretty much every song has been my favourite at some point, at first the spine-tingling ballads: ‘Slipped’, ‘I Need My Girl’, ‘Pink Rabbits’, then it was the drivers ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’, ‘Graceless’, ‘Demons’, etc. etc. The reason this album gets number one above the other equally fantastic albums, is simply the way it has completely dominated my music listening this year. I’ve pondered every lyric ranted to friends about the guitar tones, stared into space with this as my soundtrack. And after all this I don’t know whether it’s the album or the band as whole that I like more. All I can say for sure is that you should listen to this album, and then maybe you’ll agree. Have a good 2014.

Honourable mentions to The Flaming Lips – The Terror, Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady, My Bloody Valentine – mbv, Public Service Broadcasting – Inform, Educate, Entertain and Atoms for Peace – Amok.

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Everything Everything – Arc – Review


2013’s challenger to the Art-Pop throne approaches. (My Beardfood review of it is here)

Everything Everything - Arc

It’s a brand new year and the first record to grab AiA’s attention is the second album of mancunian art-poppers Everything Everything. Their 2010 debut, Man Alive, featured some of the most insane, and most brilliant songwriting and spawned a number of alt-radio insta-classics in ‘MY KZ, UR BF’ and ‘Schoolin”. Unfortunately they couldn’t sustain the genius/insanity balance across a whole album, but they were widely praised for creating a unique and innovative sound with their first record. No pressure then, for this follow-up… Fortunately most fears about what could go wrong were allayed by the fantastic first single, and also opening track, ‘Cough Cough’. It was so successful that last year it actually snuck into the top 40, an impressive feat for a band so experimental.

But that of course, is where Everything Everything’s true genius has always been. While other bands like Django Django and fellow mancs Dutch Uncles seek the same sonic experimentation, EE have always had the pure songwriting chops to accompany their musical adventurism and it is on Arc that this songwriting gets it’s true showing. Let’s cut to the chase, this album has no ‘Photoshop Handsome’, EE have toned down some of their more insane moments and it is slightly dissapointing, but they haven’t abandoned their sound at all. Instead they’ve pushed it towards a more coherent model. The pop songs on Arc have more in common with Man Alive track ‘Final Form’ (no coincidence that was the last track released), while much of the album sees EE persuing ballads in the vein of Man Alive’s ‘NASA Is On Your Side’. This yields mixed results. There are only 5 tracks that could be considered the Art-Pop that made up the majority of their debut, the rest are all variants on this balladic form. Some, like the orchestral ‘Duet’ and ‘Choice Mountain’ seem to echo other bands, the former touches very close to Coldplay while the latter wouldn’t have gone awry on Alt-J’s debut Album. They’re good songs, certainly better than the troughs of Man Alive, but not quite as good as the heights hit by the pop singles of ‘Cough Cough’ and latest release ‘Kemosabe’, whose nutty lyrics will satisfy long term EE fans.

However where this album really earns its stripes, and where it deserves to be called an improvement on their debut is when their ballads work. ‘Feet for Hands’ and ‘The House Is Dust’ are good, but ‘Radiant’, ‘Undrowned’ and ‘The Peaks’ are just majestic. With atmosphere’s that build beautifully to explode and unleash a torrent of musical awe, these songs rapidly became my favourites on the album, and earns Everything Everything their new direction. These ballads have a stronger permanency than the singles, however brilliant and mad, and canm have a much stronger emotional impact, even if they don’t give you that earworm of a whistly hook that ‘Schoolin” did.

The overarching theme of the record is some sort of technological apocalypse, picking off perhaps where Photoshop Handsome left off. ‘Undrowned’ sees frontman Jonathon Higgs’ trademark rapid-fire falsetto vocals deliver some deceptively relevant lyrics about modern Britain, only to close in an echo of Radiohead’s cult favourite ‘True Love Waits’, with a earnest plea of ‘Don’t leave’. ‘Radiant’ brings in enough of the art-pop to allow it’s monstrous nerdy cry of ‘I see a geiger counter / I see a richter scale’ to be genuinely terrifying, let alone it’s despairing chorus of ‘Go! Leave your homes! Take whatever you can! It’s no joke! It’s coming towards you.’ and just as the song fades Higgs drops in the line ‘I can make a difference so easy / I could make a difference but I don’t / Darling, I’m closing.’ It’s left to following track ‘The Peaks’ to gather it together, but all we get is what reads like a deity looking at the collapse of civilisation ‘And I’ve seen more villages burn than animals born / I’ve seen more towers come down than children grow up’, a couplet which twists in an even more horrific plea towards the song’s close. Why one of Britains most forward looking bands is so terrified of the future we’ll never know, although it should be mentioned that the undertones of ‘Cough Cough’, with it’s video footage of the London riots, might’ve been about some large impending doom to our society: ‘There’s something wrong but it’s okay if we’re still getting paid’.

And now they’re proving why I’ve been so intently calling this band Art-pop. You don’t have to think about these songs to enjoy them. The cries of ‘Yeah! So, Um? Wait a second!’ are catchy and fantastically fun (even though ‘Duet’ apes Coldplay, there’s no way Chris Martin would ever sing a line like ‘and of all the dead vocanoes on earth you just happened to retch and roll through mine’) and musically they’re just astounding to listen to, but these songs all carry some sort of emotional and intellectual weight too. It’s one of the hardest tricks to pull off but it’s the reason Everything Everything are so good and the reason this album works so well.

However, the album isn’t without it’s flaws. It’s a great shame that the title track is so transient. It would work better if it’s brief hook was more memorable, but it doesn’t quite have the effect it could which seems a missed opportunity, especially as giving it your album title makes listeners more keen to have it as the crux of the record. The record will never get a perfect score because only half the ballads are mind-blowing, the rest are merely average, which makes it all the more frustrating so few true pop songs make it on and that the three best of those all come right at the start. But by far the most frustrating thing is that the final song, ‘Don’t Try’, admittedly a great song, wastes the chance to have the sublime ‘The Peaks’ as the album closer. There would be few things more magnificent than having the last sounds on the album Higgs’ cry of ‘Tell me that my world is gone’. It’s so annoying to feel fully sated by an album, only to have a song pop up and ruin the perfect calm, although I can understand if Higgs and Co. wanted a slightly more upbeat ending, but if ‘Don’t Try’ had been slotted in around the equally good ‘Amourland’ it would definitely improve the overall feel of the record. Even without that change, it’s still a fantastic album, with some great emotional moments, but beyond that it’s also one of the most purely fun records I’ve heard in the last few years. I’ll leave you with what is probably the most fun song on Arc, ‘Torso Of The Week’, a wry look at our fitness obsession with a brilliant chorus.

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Who Will Make The Album Of 2013


So having just finished my end of year list way too late to have anyone care, I thought I’d get ahead of the game for once, and have a go at guessing which artist will make what would be the album of 2013. It’s clearly ridiculous, but it’s just a bit of fun, and also a way for me to bag some proper ‘I told you so’ rights in the coming year.

The Indie Rock Debut Contenders

Here we have the bands, championed by the NME and the odd critic out there for Indie Rock crown. The best of the bunch seem to be the following: Peace, Palma Violets, Savages and Haim. The latter just won the BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll/list/whatnot, which should make them major players, but they don’t do anything for me. The songs are good and fun (their rendition of The Chanukah Song was a highlight of 6music’s Christmas playlist), but they sound too much like what my head thinks the 80s sound like. They are undoubtedly good, but not fresh enough to make an album that would stun. Palma Violets on the other hand are exactly that. Their lead single ‘Best of Friends’ was the NME’s song of 2012, they deftly signed to Rough Trade after never releasing any songs and having seen them live, the phrase ‘Fucking Amazing’ does spring to mind. But my main worry, is that they haven’t got enough songs of ‘Best of Friends’ caliber. ’14‘ and ‘Tom the Drum’ are songs that I do think rock, but don’t quite have the catchy power of BoF. Ultimately though, their secretism about releasing tracks will work in their favour, as it makes guessing this much harder, they could still come out and stun us.

Savages are in a tight bind. While probably my personal favourite of all four (how can you not love a post-punk band of Siouxsie meets Joy Division), they have one stonking track in ‘Husbands’ and a great sound. But I can’t help feeling they’ve rushed into the making of their album, especially as they have remained independent, on their own ‘Pop Noire’ label. They need to take the time, tour even more than they already have so that when they have a full album out, it will be packed with tight and infectious intense songs like ‘Husbands’, a poor record here could kill them early on.

So, my pick for the Indie Rock album of 2013 folks is Peace. Why, because unlike Palma Violets I know their other songs are awesome, I saw them live and know that they rule, and genuinly, every single track this band have put out, (all 8), is golden and that’s more songs than on a Springsteen album. All it takes is one more cheeky single that does something different around when release day for the album hits and they will have nailed it. Peace 4 2013. Rumours of a Rock Revolution are abounding, and are as stupid as they were the first time some hack journalist propagated them… Indie won’t be the place the music revolution will happen, it will be in POP…

The Pop Debut Contenders

Music is changing, and it’s not the way you think it will be. Rather than Indie wiping out stupid boring pop music for big men with guitars who sing about girls and drugs and leather jackets, it’s the Pop that will go Indie. Over the last couple years it’s become increasingly more acceptable for the #cool #indie #types to admit to being fans of pop music, or even hideously uncool pop acts, but 2012 is the first year where artists are properly combining Indie nous with Pop Power, giving a crossover power that will destroy all in their wake. The two new bands leading the charge are both British, one from Glasgow, and one from London. I talk of course, of two nominated for BBC’s poll as well, AlunaGeorge and Chvrches.

AlunaGeorge I’ve been aware of since early on in 2012, when they made me break my unwritten rule of not buying singles when I bought ‘You Know You Like It’ after hearing it on the radio. Something about its awesome production and catchy as hell chorus made me have to grab it. In other words, it worked exactly like pop singles are supposed to, except on twee indie types like myself. The follow-up single ‘You Know You Like It’ was even better, and again, I bought it. The band have nailed making interesting, arty music that can get the pop factor essentials absolutely right, and it’s why they really should have won Sound of 2013. Now with these 2 perfect singles, and a teaser clip for a new song that sounds great, and a sneaky chilled out one that sounds supercool, their album should be a shoe-in for a record that combines pop sales with Indie coolness.

I can’t really split between them and Chvrches for who is better. While AlunaGeorge are more slinky, more post-dubstep, Chvrches are full on synth-pop. The heavy, heavy tones of the synths allow vocalist Lauren Mayberry to plant sugary sweet melodies in your brain with a fantastic scottish accent that makes them especially shine out. Singles ‘The Mother We Share’ and ‘Lies’ are both impossible to forget, but also rewarding on repeated listens. Their album should devastate if they can even put out one more song as good as the previous two, and from interviews they all seem to have cool heads on their shoulders so it should be no problem. These two bands are just as likely as Peace to make the record of 2013, but so far all I’ve looked at is new bands…

Established Band Contenders

Leading the pack of bands that have already put out albums in Foals. The main single ‘Inhaler’ sounds like someone took their ambient selves from previous album Total Life Forever and trapped them in a room with 1993 era Soundgarden until they were prepared to RAWK. Mighty riffs and screaming vocals make it a breath of fresh air in dainty indie land. Being still the darlings of the press, they have enough about them to make an album that can surprise and twist even if other single ‘My Number’ is just a bit ok.

They will probably be trumped though, if current biggest Alt band in the world besides Radiohead, Arcade Fire, manage to beat the turn of the new year with their as yet unconfirmed but being worked on fourth album. It’s estimated for late 2013, or early 2014, and considering they have put out 3 records of era defining quality, it should seem an easy game for them to take album of the year, especially with James Murphy at the helm of production. But Yorke and pals could have revenge with Atoms for Peace‘s debut album Amok. Only single ‘Default’ was pretty awesome and live footage keeps emerging that finally makes sense of how someone as physical as Flea fits into a sound as odd as the one Yorke creates. Arguably this could even sound better than Radiohead’s last LP which left a lot of people very cold with its Caribou stylings.

A group of assorted older bands will be making ventures into 2013, among them Mudhoney, Eels, Pearl Jam, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but most asonishingly My Bloody Valentine, who have claimed the new album is actually finally mastered, only 22 years after their last was released! Some of Indie’s less hype-intensive small groups are also due to be making 2013 inroads, Everything Everything hope to follow fantastic single ‘Cough Cough’ with a quality album, Local Natives have been gathering a cult following throughout 2012, and thi smight be their breakthrough year, while band-that-I-just-heard-on-the-radio Villagers have a very nice single out in leiu of their album due out in 4 days. Good for them.

But in all honesty, if I know myself, if won’t be Peace, AlunaGeorge, Atoms for Peace or Chvrches that turn out album of the year. It will be some weird act that I’d never heard of until mid-July who emerge from nowhere with a completely different sound. And that’s not a bad thing, the internet and the disfigured shape of the music industry mean that any odd record can wind its way into your hands, and it means that taste doesn’t have to be so tribal, we can like what we like. That said, I’m still humming ‘Lies’ by Chvrches, so you can probably count them as favourites.

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