Top 50 Albums of 2013: 30 - 21
30. Ghostpoet - Some Say I So I Say Light
Alt-J released a killer record last year, so brilliant in fact I threw it in my top 5. Ghostpoet combines all the glitchy, atmospheric elements that made An Awesome Wave great and then began rapping over it. For some reason this year depressing, dead-pan rap that details lifes blatant and abundant insecurities has felt refreshing and renewing. Some Say I is such that as a listener you cannot help but be plunged uncontrollably in to his world, one of glitch and hestiation, of brutal honesty and loose morals. Dorsel Morsel is influenced by the likes of Sage Francis and Milo in delivery and U-Ziq and Ishq in the lens we are viewing it through. It's the quintessential cut from this record, and when the 8-bit sounding synths pop in to draw a Kraftwerk feel in you bask completely in the knowledge that Ghostpoet has absolutely no hang ups or stereotypical feelings towards hip hop. Kanye might be trying to blur the lines between genres in 2013, but Ghostpoet hits the nail on the head with his fusion of R&B, hip-hop, ambient and glitch electronics.
Best Tracks: Dorsel Morsel, Meltdown, Cold Win
29. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight The Worse Things Get
If Chelsea Wolfe takes the cake for pure feeling, Case demolishes the left overs. She then turns around and throws up (in a totally classy way, trust me it's been done). Nearly Midnight, Honolulu is an interesting and definitive track. 'They won't believe you, when you say my mother she did not love me, my mother she did not love me' ' Don't you ever shut up' 'Get the fuck away from me'. It's almost as if the pain, suffering and passive aggression is released in a maelstrom of spoken emotion. She sings with such a sweet demeanour that it's hard to imagine her ever getting angry or upset. Those country roots are so strong, she sounds like Reba on the upbeat Man, and City Swan charges along just as well as anything Tim McGraw has written (I use the term written loosely in his case). Everything that is good and endearing about a young country girl. She'll shot whiskey off your F-250 then sing you to sleep as you cradle the royal doulton at 2am.
Best Tracks: Night Still Comes, Wild Creatures, Nearly Midnight, Honolulu
28. Big Sean - Hall Of Fame
I came in ready to dislike this. Big Sean had a few good verses on Cruel Summer, and he had a decent mixtape a while back, but so often these promising young rappers fall depressingly short when embarking on a proper solo project (see French Montana and J. Cole). What was even more foreboding for this release was the stunning Control verse by Kendrick Lamar, where he managed to not only murder Sean but most of the contemporary rap landscape with a scathing charicature of battle rap. That didn't even make it on the record, and it's probably better it didn't, because it allowed you to focus fully on Sean. His story telling ability, humour and honesty turn Hall Of Fame in to a must listen. On 10 2 10 he rivals Meek Mill for aggressive delivery, on Beware his wit pokes through ('Kept my phone on silent ever since you got a ring'), and on First Chain he trades bars with Nas and feels authentic and organic. The bangers are here, but there is so much more to Sean's personality than ecstasy and auto-tune, which immediately sets him aside from the current crop of mixtape dwellers. And even my dad laughed at the skit Freaky!
Best Tracks: Beware, MILF, Sierra Leone/Greedy Ho's
27. Chelsea Wolfe - Pain Is Beauty
If pain is beauty, Chealsea Wolfe has one hell of a figure. The record is an exercise in movement, a slow relentless pulse towards a moment of clarity, a consequential discovery. It's not paired back, yet it is more atmospheric. Density is the key, and it all compliments Wolfe's bruised psyche perfectly. She seems inhumanly capable of empathy. This is from The Waves Have Come, a song about the Japanese Tsunami: 'And all you know gets older when / The sun goes down and everything / Begins to fade away, the waves have come / and taken you to sea / never to return to me'. It depicts perfectly the tempest that Wolfe conjures with the sheer power of her at times tortured mind, that she is able to so shockingly place herself in such a horrible situation. The forcibly epic nature of her sound nods to modern day EDM concerts, who's purveyors build and dash the emotions of the crowd with expert precision. Just put on Sick and close your eyes, the narrative will play itself in your mind with no personal creativity required, 'your pure heart, your white light / I should be put to death for ever being cruel to you'. I feel like giving her a giant hug and a warm cup of cocoa, but she'd find tragedy in that too.
Best Tracks: Sick, The Warden, Feral Love
26. Birds of Tokyo - March Fires
I copped heat for giving these guys an 8 out of ten earlier in the year. As I said at the time, Australians love home grown pop music. That's how I saw Birds Of Tokyo, a pop band with stadium ambitions, in the vein of Kings Of Leon. They are so much more. Lead singer Ian Kenny treats us to an expert mix of indie pop and dark depth, keeping the hipsters, goths and teeny boppers all equally satiated. His overriding sense of doom is highlighted tracks like Boy, where he reminisces of a happier, healthier youth, and on Liquid Arms as he deals with the sweet embrace of alcohol and it's oxymoronic status as an eroder and a builder of minds. He then breaches with songs like Lanterns, a wonderful call to arms to those struggling with their own battles as Kenny offers himself as their talisman. I honestly love this record. It was a hard sell, but once it infected me I couldn't stop listening to it. For a good 4 days it was the only record I played, with the exception of their back catalogue. The wonderful mix of stadium pop/rock ambition and clear, relatable lyrical mission really resonates. When Kenny emerges, you emerge with him, when he retreats, you're sitting in the dark corner watching. You never really get to his level, because the music acts as the antidepressant, ensuring a base level of enjoyment. A strange mix, but so very effective.
Best Tracks: White Leaves, Boy, Lanterns
25. James Blake - Overgrown
Blake is weird. This album is weird. He is so wildly experimental, in such a narrowly defined niche it almost boggles the mind how he can incorporate so many varying influences and still sound inherently 'Blake'. Arguably the kick starter (read: kick starters, not creator) for the current generation of down tempo R&B, he took Bon Iver's soft indie and turned it in to something critics fell over themselves to adore. Overgrown doesn't disappoint. Juxtapose Voyeur with DLM, one sounds like a club track on mute whilst the other blends stunning rising strings paired with Blake's trademark wail. They are inherently the same, yet so different. Such is his focus that even the slightest deviations feel like major events, as a small jerk on the steering wheel would land you in a hedge at 200mph yet at 60 it'd do nothing. His invitation to Raekwon on Take A Fall For Me could be seen as cynical, as a calculated attempt to be 'that' guy, the one who is so cool and unique that he can put together a piece of beautiful music and have a hardened rapper spit fire over it. It could be. But it just works! It's so off kilter and that is its charm. Many artists in this vein favour fluency. Try Inc. or Tricky. They sculpt records that favour continuity and build a wall of sound that envelops you. Blake builds it up then smashes it down, in a non-violent way, and manages to keep your heart rate below 100bpm the entire time.
Best Tracks: Take A Fall For Me, Retrograde, I Am Sold
24. The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
The startling thing about Shaking The Habitual is The Knife were never to be found on the well-beaten track in the first place. Applying their own mysterious mindset to electronic music resulted in a dangerously diverse sound that culminated in an ‘electronic opera’ CD called Tomorrow, In A Year. Which was brilliant by the way. That was until now.
It’s a disconcerting listen, not on a superficial level but deeper than that. There is such an inherent anxiety and tension. To say there is a lot of history behind this music is an understatement, but it all manages to express itself sonically. A Tooth For An Eye introduces us immediately to that affectionately familiar voice of Karin Dreijer Andersson, yet she feels so strained, so strung out. Over the top of such a fluttery, almost normal beat, she sounds like she is pulling, struggling to break free. The whole first half of the album reads in this manner, a musical manifesto against any kind of accepted trend or pop directive.
Shaking The Habitual is no masterpiece. It’s not a Renoir, or a Van Gogh. This is free-form art, when we’re invited in to the minds of people living on a completely different plane to ourselves, a level we probably didn’t comprehend the existence of before this record. It is cunning in its creation, the manifesto released before the record a startling explosion of theory and energy from such a mysterious and usually silent band. Every left turn, every dark alley, every explosion of pop is programmed in to paint an entire picture, a musical blob on canvas that feels so wrong, so disordered, being pulled in so many directions, yet that in itself is the statement. Music need not be, and that is the beauty of it.Best Tracks: A Cherry On Top, Fracking Fluid Injection, Full Of Fire
Everyone surely knows Josh Homme's tortured story by now, if you not then check it out here. The interviews he has done before and since the release of this record place it at such a dangerous crossroads in the mind of the man. One can only imagine the explosion of uselessness he felt, stuck in that hospital bed with no desire to pick up his guitar and his band, and by extension his life. The whole album is littered with his anxieties and demons. Fairweather Friends, I Sat By The Ocean, If I Had A Tail, My God Is The Sun, I Appear Missing. They all sound like he is about to jam a giant depression pill down your throat. Sometimes artists need troubling events to spark that aggressive urge they had when they were younger. Homme BULLIES this record. His pomp on Smooth Sailing is a stage show in its own right, and the brilliant If I Had A Tail opens with the delicacy of a wind chime-sounding riff before bursting in to this beast that drags the chime through it's own tempest. I Appear Missing is an equally exhausting affair, as Homme runs us through the full gamit of emotions from melancholy to euphoria and beyond as he breaks his soul open and invites us all to take a scoop of the dangerous, toxic mixture. This is the album they had to make, although I don't think any of us predicted it'd be so uniformly brilliant.
Best Tracks: If I Had A Tail, I Sat By The Ocean, My God Is The Sun
22. Torres - Torres
Where to start with this.. You know something is good when it sends you down the path of nostalgia. Why, I don't know. She reminds me of early Eurythmics, with the new wave sound removed. It's a deceptively sparse record, it sounds like there is a lot going on but really we're being served up a basic riff and Scott's intriguing vocals. On Jealousy and I she utilises a backing track to great effect, sounding off on herself. You know what it is? She reminds me of a woman I once knew. I won't go in to detail. The most prudent way to describe the image I have of Torres in my head is a middle aged woman, a wonderful woman, beaten down by the world, given up on the world, but able to cast her eyes over her mistakes and address them. Moon & Back is the standout, a track about a baby she gave up many years ago. Her treatment of this is of such longing and lust for a second chance, yet her skill is in letting us know that deep down she is sure she'd make the same decision again. The way these songs are created reminds me slightly of Nile Rodgers, in the way they are propelled with so little yet manage to sound so vast. It's a gift and it means Torres is able to add strong texture to her lyrics.
Best Tracks: Honey, Jealousy and I, Moon & Back
The British alternative scene comprises not of 'good' artists and 'bad', but good albums and bad ones. Any number of about 10 bands are capable of making AM, and many have, this time it was Arctic Moneky's turn. Borrowing the Bloc Party recipe for cooking up album titles, they finally tighten their sound. It's almost like a rusty old tractor. Over the years it's jiggled and jolted itself so that all the screws have loosened, the pistons aren't lubricated anymore, you almost consider throwing it out. But you sit down and work hard to tune it all back up and all of a sudden this brilliant piece of machinery emerges. From this comes spacey tracks like Arabella, 3am anthems like Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High and horribly sounding R U Mine?. These tracks are all firmly entrenched in the seedy underground, the 1am pints at the local boozer that result in fist fights over football results and sneaky shags in the bushes outside your mums house before a quick vom and off to bed for work tomorrow. Funnily enough, AM has taken a sonic route similar to that of ...Like Clockwork. Something like No. 1 Party Anthem brings the ceremony and star light that Homme conjured. Then there is the heavier sides of One For The Road. Such a stunning return to form.
Best Tracks: Arabella, One For The Road, Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?