2013 Albums Of The Year: Part Two

Following on from last week's post covering my albums of the year here are my favourite five albums of 2013. Don't forget the Spotify playlist of all of my favourite tracks from the year too.

 

5. Modern Vampires Of The City - Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend's third album feels a little older and wiser than the previous efforts, still ramshackle and chaotic as it tumbles out of the speakers on tracks like Diane Young but also a little more worldly-wise and heart-breaking. You can hear a growing maturity on tracks such as Hannah Hunt, a song that sounds like the conclusion to Springsteen's Born To Run (or, more likely, Vampire Weekend's own similarly optimistic Run). There was a gritty Gatsby-esque glamour to Modern Vampires Of The City, and it was hard not to be charmed by it's sparkle.

Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen on Spotify:

 

4. Random Access Memories - Daft Punk [review]

Daft Punk

Random Access Memories was album almost too big to view up close, better for having a little distance and hype dulled perhaps, though an element of the thrill has innevitably gone. It is deserving of a place on this list, if not at the top, for sheer ambition. Daft Punk blew away all their imitators by making real music and delivering what feels like the last ever conventional 'event record' - something Beyoncé has just rendered all the more obsolete by creating the first real 'event album' of the future. Her staggering eponymous video release dropped with none of the hype or fanfare Columbia threw at Random Access Memories. Both are a pleasure to behold, true widescreen artist visions.

Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen on Spotify:

 

3. Field Of Reeds - These New Puritans [review]

These New Puritans, image copyright: Dean Chalkley

In Field Of Reeds, These New Puritans emerged a considerable musical force, shaking free the shackles of their post-punk revival birth to become one of Britain's most intriguing bands since Radiohead. Field of Reeds sounds like the onset of paranoia or manic depression, and you can forget aggression - as Homeland's Carrie knows, feel psychological anguish doesn't get much scarier than when it is soundtracked by dischordent jazz and classical music.

These New Puritans are at their best when beguiling with approachable yet malicious moments - the delirious cover of Herb Alpert's This Guy's In Love With You, or the ghoulish screaches set against Organ Eternal's spiralling melodies.

Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen on Spotify:

 

2. Immunity - Jon Hopkins [review]

Jon Hopkins

Whether it is whilst it is in the midst of kicking your ass on its more electronic and intense first-half or stoking your heart on the slower, more contemplative latter Jon Hopkins' Immunity was 2013's dance album non-dance fans could dig.

Those stark melodic moments certainly helped - Abandon Window is cinematic and heart-breaking and the closing title track feels like a healing experience. But the album achieves much through structure and pacing, building in intensity from the taught opener We Disappear to the strung out and reeling Collider. In his work with Brian Eno, Hopkins has learnt from the best, and here he shows what you can do when 'the best' makes up your foundations.

Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen on Spotify:

 

1. Cupid Deluxe - Blood Orange [review]

Dev Hynes

No other album released this years captured the imagination in the way Dev Hynes' second album as Blood Orange did. From the opening sultry come hither eyes of Caroline Polachek's turn on Chamakay (keep watching for her forthcoming rise to R&B mega-stardom... She was last heard providing Beyoncé with her jams) to the empathetic band-aid of a record that is album closer Time Will Tell this is an album that wears its heart and sexuality on its sleeve. And I can't help but love the honesty. Hynes drops heartbreaker after heartbreaker whilst also honing his production style to near-perfection.

The result is an album that never suffers a dull moment. Cupid Deluxe is a gorgeously approachable record, packed with creativity and surprises yet also chock-full of hooks. Full of intelligent self-referential nods to Hynes' own work, there is enough on Cupid Deluxe to keep attentive listeners fascinated.

Yet it is the songs themselves that I will remember. The slow moving balladry of Chosen, a song floating on skipped heartbeats and heavenly sax. The jazzy breaks and 90s raps of Clipped On. The tears that On The Line's relationship difficulties inspires. No other album in 2013 felt so human, and no other album felt so good.

 Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen on Spotify:

That's it for 2013... Let me know what I missed or what you agree or disagree with, otherwise I'll be back all fresh and excited in 2014.

2013 Albums Of The Year: Part One

We are at the end of 2013 and so it's time for that most obligatory of blog posts: something that summarises what I particularly liked this year. 2013 has been a bit of an odd one in many respects... We have been spoilt by an abundance of lots and lots of good songs but for me the album format has felt more tired than ever. In other words, lots of good albums yet not that many great ones.

Before delving into the list of my favourite albums of the year feel free to check out the Spotify playlist I've compiled of some of the best tracks of the year... It's a bit of a mammoth set and in no particular order:

As always, my top ten list isn't necessarily supposed to be the ten best albums of the year, just the ten I enjoyed the most. I'll follow up with five through one shortly - the first half of my top ten are below. There were some near-misses here - Haim, Fuck Buttons, Classixx, Washed Out and Foals all delivered strong albums, but there can only be ten on the list...

 

10. The Bones Of What You Believe - CHVCHES

CHVRCHES

When I first listened to CHVRCHES (a little late but that was corrected by a friend) I didn't know what to expect, but it sure wasn't this. The low-end electronic rhythms of The Bones Of What You Believe feel oiled, primed, sleek and ready to move. In contrast, those synth-pop melodies and Lauren Mayberry's vocals feel angelic, beautiful and innocent. The whole feels mentally incongruous yet infectious as hell. At their best CHVRCHES were churning out pop songs so impossible not to like that it masked their depth. Gun remains one of my favourite moments of the year - a sweetly aggressive put-down record that betrays Mayberry's own emotional dependency on the subject. And Tether is the perfect soundtrack to your denial, every bit as amped as the feelings it describes.

Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen via Spotify below:

 

9. Nonfiction - The Range [review]

The Range

The Range's debut album for Donky Pitch was one of 2013's most surprising finds - a record of fractured rhythms, hip-hop beats and beautiful melodies. The sounds, samples and snatches of hip-hop rhymes that emerge from the chaos feel collage-like  in nature, the specifics much less important than the whole. Nonfiction is a complex sounding melting pot of noise but it is also a pure joy to consume - exciting and rewarding, thoroughly and unapologetically contemporary.

Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on MP3 [affiliate link]. Listen via Spotify below:

 

8. Settle - Disclosure

Disclosure

No album felt quite as instaneaously infectious this year as Disclosure's Settle, a promiscuous and delicious warm slab of 90s influenced garage house. Despite growing up a generation late for it, Disclosure focused on drawing inspiration from the dance music that inspired them, capturing the world's attention whilst boosting the career of AlunaGeorge. Settle's appeal is in it's honesty combined with it's inclusive approach to music - they created something out of a catholic approach to music appreciation, borrowing from the best to create something new.

Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen via Spotify below:

 

7. Reunion - Alex Barck [review]

Alex Barck

The best album from this year that no-one I've spoken to has ever heard of, the Jazzanova founding member released a proper grown up house music album that delivers a full twelve quality tracks. Soulful,  bluesy and absolutely full of passion and detail, Reunion respects where it comes from, but adds plenty of modern magic.

Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen via Spotify below:

 

6. Reflektor - Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire, copyright Guy Aroch

Criminally overlooked by many, Arcade Fire's 'dance record' is of a significantly higher calibre than most would have you believe. It deals with a variety of themes - celebrity, technology and the end of the compact disc - but it is the songs, and James Murphy's production, that should win you over. Title track and first single Reflektor dazzled with ambition and spectacle but there were plenty of equally immersive moments - Joan of Arc's swagger, the distortion and stark drum rhythms of It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus).

In turning their back on the insular themes of suburbia that dominated their previous albums Arcade Fire made something that felt far more expansive.

Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen via Spotify below:

 

Come back soon for my five albums of the year, and if you have any thoughts on the above (or what else you think should be in the list) please comment!

Anticipation: Random Access Memories - Daft Punk

Human After All left me cold but the sheer hype of the Alive 2007 tour (effectively a gigantic mashup and a greatest hits album on wheels) got me back on the Daft Punk gravy train...

The internet is now seriously hype for the forthcoming fourth DP album on Columbia. Everyone is concentrating on a collection suspension of disbelief at this point. It's practically impossible for everyone to come out happy, but we may as well sit happy for a few weeks in the belief that the new album Random Access Memories may save music.

Two things for you to chew on whilst you wait. Firstly, this excellent article from the Verge on whether Daft Punk can make albums (fuck it, music?) actually matter again. Secondly the below interviews with Giorgio Moroder and Todd Edwards for the Creators Project, both of whom collaborated with Daft Punk on the new album.

By the sounds of things the album sounds perfect - a focus on real instrumentation avoids those moments when you suddenly realise 75% of the groove existed for decades. And let's face it, with Spotify spot the sample takes days rather than months. The vibe also sounds perfect - less novelty hard rock, more silky soul and disco updated for the now.

2012 Album of the Year, Part Three: 5 to 1

Today I wrap up the final post on my Albums of the Year, confirming the five best long-players of the year.

As with yesterday's post, the headings link to album reviews where they exist, and there is a Spotify player and an affiliate link to the MP3 on Amazon.co.uk where possible.

Once again, don't forget there is a Spotify playlist including songs from almost every album on the top ten and the long-list, together with songs from some of the best single and EP releases this year. You can check out the playlist here.

5. Kill For Love - Chromatics

2012 felt like it would belong to Chromatics entirely at one point, up until Frank Ocean came along, but it goes without saying that it was the band's biggest year to date.

Kill For Love's gothic tones, all black lace and poison, may be the first thing listeners noticed upon the opening bars of Neil Young cover 'Into The Black'. It is the dalliance with futurism that made this album so essential however - a haunted reflection of a future we can only hope to avoid, and the perfect soundtrack to late night driving.

Get it on Amazon.

4. Channel ORANGE - Frank Ocean

I was never as taken with Frank Ocean's Nostalgia, Ultra as everyone else and as a result it was some time before I gave Channel ORANGE the room it takes to worm its way into your head. Unusually for a popular R&B star the appeal of Ocean's music isn't instantly all that obvious - the joints are well seasoned but the production work isn't as quick to deliver as that of either the Neptunes or Timbaland in their heyday.

The real reason Channel ORANGE is a classic album is because of the depth of Frank's mind it portrays. Whether it is the spellbound, unrequited and insistent 'Thinkin Bout You' or the paranoid and jealous slow-epic 'Pyramids', it was the words Ocean used that really made this album appeal. So rare is it to hear such attention to detail and sophistication on a record so commercially successful.

Get it on Amazon.

3. Lonerism - Tame Impala

On which Kevin Parker takes every element of his début Tame Impala release Innerspeaker and builds on them in every way. Lonerism was a psychedelic trip through its creator's mind with a soundtrack obviously influenced by the past but created in a way that is only possible right now.

No other album had as much incredibly dense and startlingly beautiful production work this year. At it's best, as on 'Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could', Lonerism sounds like we're all just dreams inside Parker's head.

Get it on Amazon.

2. Fin - John Talabot

This year the top two positions on my list were more heavily contested than during any other year. John Talabot created an electronic album that seemed to re-imagined what the format could do. Much more for the hardcore than anything from the likes of Cut Copy or Hot Chip and yet it retained a similar sense of immediacy. 

Crucially Talabot made an album that appears to be universally loved, doing something for almost everyone. Fin feels like a sign-post for the future - the raw, bluesy vocal refrain from 'When The Past Was Present' represents 2012's conflicted nature perfectly - encouragingly futuristic and yet overwhelmed with uncertainty.

Get it on Amazon.

1.  The Haunted Man - Bat For Lashes

Before The Haunted Man Natasha Khan already made fascinating pop music. By focusing on a specific theme - moving on from ghosts of the past - Bat For Lashes achieved so much more with much less.

The Haunted Man may not exactly be a straight-forward pop album, but everything from the restrained artwork to the immaculately handled production screamed that this was an album Khan had poured everything in to, determined to create a living, breathing record (in the original sense) of herself.

And it works, consistently and excellently, across the entire 52-minute duration. Every track creates a surprising moment, and yet the whole is both accessible and consistently themed - an album soundtracking the end of Khan's emotional winter, complete with snowy soundscapes.

The shadow of Kate Bush is impossible to ignore but Khan uses that inspiration to create an album of incredibly well-defined songs that are all unmistakably her own, and much more interesting than those of her contemporaries.

As with any great album there are too many brilliant tracks to call-out, but it would be difficult to avoid mentioning the naked-yet-elegantly-wasted 'Laura', a poignant tribute to the trappings of fame. The Haunted Man's greatest moment however is the title track, complete with its all-male choir, aerial synth line and rumbling bass. This may be a pop album, but it's unlike any other you will have heard all year.

Get it on Amazon.

And that's it. Thanks for staying with the site this year and please feel free to comment, call out what I've missed or what your favourites are. Normal service will be resumed next week!