So, 2013. I know every year of music is unique and quite brilliant in its own way, but 2013 felt a bit.. Meh. Since I really began consuming as much music as humanly possibly I don't think I've seen a year with so many truly big ticket releases. I'm talking global megastars. My Bloody Valentine, Bon Jovi, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Justin Timberlake, Lil Wayne, Fall Out Boy, Michael Buble, Will.I.Am, Snoop Lion, Daft Punk, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Drake, John Mayer, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, Lady GaGa, One Direction, Britney Spears, Beyonce..
Ok you get the picture. The problem with releases like this is the hype usually far outweighs the end product. I mean David Bowie releasing new music for the first time since Reality, 10 years ago? Massive! Kanye West AND Jay-Z releasing within a few months of each other? Huge! 2 of the Queens of pop music, Ga Ga and Perry! It's a recipe for disaster, or a brew of unbridled brilliance. Surprisingly, it landed somewhere in the middle. The blue ribbon albums were either just decent (Drake), just hype-worthy (Lady GaGa), or simple disasters (Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Justin Timberlake). Over-hyped albums delivered, such as Arcade Fire's Reflektor, but you could never call these moments classics like say a Good Kid Mad City (I know the grammar is wrong, too lazy), or a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or even a Sound Of Silver. A solid year of music, nothing more, nothing less. We have been inundated with falsetto'd groove (James Blake, Inc. Autre Ne Veut), EDM twisters (Delphic, Flume, Cher) and a revival of old school indie/alternative pop (Jake Bugg, Vampire Weekend, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros). Old school rockers have regaled us with brilliant throwbacks (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Pearl Jam) and rappers have rebelled against the emergent Molly culture with smooth beats and de-tuned vocals (Earl Sweatshirt, Mac Miller, Rittz).
Will we remember 2013 as an important year in music? Hard to say. Yeezus will be remembered as a horrible misstep in an otherwise genius output. The 20/20 Experience will be forgotten as quickly as it came. Reflektor will be hailed as brilliant. Artpop will be known as a missed opportunity. Either way, we've had some decent music to keep us going. Hopefully 2014 brings some more huge releases, and hopefully they live up to expectation. Here is my top 50 album releases. This doesn't include live albums, EPs, or mixtapes. That's a whoooole other post.
50. Hugh Laurie - Didn't It Rain
Yeah I didn't know he made music either. And it's good! Didn't It Rain is a collection of Laurie's favourites, and his piano and guitar skills lend an almost rustic quality to the blues and jazz he chooses to try his hand at. It's his vocals that really impress, though. A Cohen/Reed/Costello quality comes through, a grizzled gruffness that seems so far removed from his persona as a TV superstar. Check out 'Junkers Blues', it's a brilliant cover.
Best Tracks: Junker's Blues, The Weed Smoker's Dream
49. Daniel Avery - Drone Logic
Avery mines that oh so rich vein of 4am dance-club rhetoric. You need an angle if you saunter down this well trodden path, and his is hard to pinpoint. It's an edge, a dirtiness that is usually frowned upon in these parts. Each song just feels a little bit off, almost as if you're high on marijuana and everyone else took acid without telling you. Cool elements start to emerge. Water Jump is like that moment you dive in to the pool and the soundscape changes. Knowing We'll Be Here wanders around almost majestically. It's hard to differentiate between white and off-white. But you can, even if you can't explain it.
Best Tracks: Water Jump, Need Electric
Avenged Sevenfold - Hail To The King
It's difficult to deal with your past. Do you embrace it and be called stale? Or do you distance yourself, and just use the 'growth' argument? Maybe you take a third route. You say fuck everything, plug your amps in, turn them up to a thousand and call yourselves kings. Avenged Sevenfold did that. They sound like they don't care. If you criticise them they'll scream at you and whack you over the head with a diamond guitar. Kings, now play catch up.
Best Tracks: Hail To The King, Heretic
Sleigh Bells - Bitter Rivals
Imagine wandering through a bikie pub and finding Laura Marling on stage. That's Sleigh Bells, and whilst it has been a successful formula in the past, it's never easy to retain the attention of today's hype-based media. They may not have popped up on too many people's radars with this release, but it's a confirmation of their relevance. Slight changes in structure, writing process and delivery ensure a refreshing new angle, but one that doesn't stray too far from their unique sound.
Best Tracks: Young Legends, Bitter Rivals
Gary Numan - Splinter
When I first discovered Cars during my wonderful new-wave phase, I thought Numan was an oddity, a bit of a laugh. I finally reconnected with him on Splinter, and I was shocked. Appalled even.. Someone who authored some of my more care-free and enjoyable youthful moments is fucking DIRTY. This record is mean. In the title track he starts with 'I believe in the cruelty of man' and ends with 'I don't believe in God'. It's a decidedly godless, joyless place that he creates, but it's so expertly crafted that even though you feel uncomfortable and shocked to be in it, you have to admire his handiwork.
Best Tracks: Here In The Black, Lost
emptymansions - snakes/vultures.sulfate
I never liked Interpol, so it stands to reason that I love both Paul Banks' solo work, and the work of Sam Fogarino within emptymansions. Listening to this record almost makes Interpol sound pompous. I would describe the effects utilised as trying to listen to a conversation through a relatively thin motel wall. Everything is slightly muffled, making much of it unintelligble, whether that be the music or the lyrics. Lyra is the gem here, a noise rock epic worthy of mbv or even Meat Puppets. As with Banks, Fogarino is quite introverted and projects quite a depressed demeanour, but the music compliments it wonderfully.
Best Tracks: Lyra, Sulfate
Foals - Holy Fire
(Full review here)
On Spanish Sahara this band showed what stunning potential they had. Their first record was as dull as a blank stare, but Total Life Forever broke new boundaries in the twitchy math-rock arena. Which is great, but you have to keep ahead of the dogs nipping at your heels lest you are devoured by your own creation. Holy Fire ensures they remain well entrenched at the top. Tracks like Inhaler and My Number are as catchy as anything that has been released in the last 5 years, and Yannis then has the capability to completely flip the switch and enter his dark brooding place on tracks like Out Of The Woods. Whether you're a hipster fangirl, a hipster fanboy, or, like me, you're a hipster in denial and claim to see past the knitted sweater and craft beer, you'll love this record.
Best Tracks: My Number, Out Of The Woods
Tim Hecker - Virgins
Hecker's journey on Virgins is staggering. It feels like Lord Of The Rings; we're transported along in a safe bubble, observing a visceral display of valleys, peaks and warm plateaus. Feeling cut off is merely an expertly executed technique; expanding on the beauty of the music and significance of the experience. Hecker is a master craftsman, as all good electronic musicians need to be. His penchant for delving deep in to the deep house genre and extracting only the lushest sounds is admirably tamed by this artisan-like technique of surrounding you with a safe place to view his dystopian world. You're never touched by it, you can't touch it, only observe.
Franz Ferdinand - Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action