Year end lists are my favourite thing, because it forces me to look at what I have collected over the year and after several glasses of pinot grigio, declare a list of twenty worthy of sharing with the world. This year was hard, as my house got over taken by Miley, Selena, Demi and something called a Luke Bryan and another something called Austin Mahone. (It must stop.)
My children’s momentary lapse of taste not withstanding, it was a good year for music overall. Below the cut, my favourite twenty records of 2013.
20. Kanye West Yeezus
I remain mixed overall about Yeezus– Kanye’s skills are undiminished, but the lyrical content is beginning to worry me. But every time I listen to a Kanye West record, I am astonished at his talent while being appalled by ego. Art isn’t always pretty, one must go with their gut, and my gut tells me Kanye is a true talent. Where My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was epic in its orchestration, Yeezus is a more bare bones classic.
Key tracks: “Black Skinhead”; “Blood on the Leaves”; “Bound 2”
19. Johnny Marr The Messenger
It’s Johnny Fuckin’ Marr. It’s brilliant. Some 25 years after Marr and Moz broke up the Smiths, crushing my prepubescent heart and adding to my general anxiety about life, the other greatest living guitarist goes it solo, and creates an album full of genre busting anthems and proving that Marr is as good as the wayward Morrissey on every level.
Key tracks: “Generate! Generate!”; “I Want the Heartbeat”; “The Messenger”
18. Phoenix Bankrupt!
I’m always a sucker for a French pop star, and Thomas Mars fits the bill. I mean, my blog stole its name from a Phoenix song. The slightly bizarre English lyrics from non-native speakers, the shimmery pop guitars, the bright synth sounds- it’s all here. But the songs overall are less pristine, more relaxed, and more evocative.
Key tracks: “Entertainment”; “Trying to be Cool”; “Don’t”
17. Iceage You’re Nothing
As the Danish punks of Iceage mature, they are beginning to produce better songs. This is astonishing because the songs on their début album New Brigade were pretty amazing. The band is proving expert in being both shambolic and precise at different moments, both expert and beginner, adult and child. There is no waste, no filler, and more importantly, it plays great at eleven.
Key tracks: “Rodfæstet”; “Ecstasy”; “Interlude”
16. Pet Shop Boys Electric
I will love the Pet Shop Boys until I die. Their icy cool brand of electro dance pop still thrills three decades on. The dance party album of the year.
Key tracks: “Love is a Bourgeois Construct”; “Axis”; “Flourescent”
15. Manic Street Preachers Rewind the Film
The Welsh trio would be one of my all time favourite bands, and I still wish for a return to their grand This is My Truth days. But I will take an uneven Manics album any day as long I still get a Manics album. It shares the sweet and introspective melodies of their grand opus, but they don’t shy away from being political, nor do they run from adventure amidst the swells. It’s not quite what I want, but I still need it.
Key tracks: ” 30-Year War”; “Show Me the Wonder”; “Anthem for a Lost Cause”
14. Rhye Woman
Critics took the easy way out by comparing this album to Sade. It does sound like Sade, I guess- languishing soul music that doesn’t smack you, but caresses you. But it is so much better than that description implies. The soaring falsetto of singer Milosh remains a wonder.
Key tracks: “Woman”; “Open”; “The Fall”
13. Chvrches The Bones of What You Believe
Glaswegian synth pop act Chvrches stormed the scene with the 80s inspired aplomb. A rich album, with complex melodies hidden among the gleam, it has a ferocity and immediacy sorely lacking in the recent 80s pop revival. All with some Caledonian spunk.
Key tracks: “Lies”; “The Mother We Share”; “Lungs”
12. Savages Silence Yourself
While listening to Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot go on about South By Southwest, I was taken in by Jim’s effusive description of Savages front woman Jehnny Beth. It even strayed into blasphemous territory, with Jim comparing Beth’s fierce on stage charisma as Cobain like. Thems fightin’ words. But Beth and her band of lady punks created possibly the most ferocious sonic noise of 2013.
Key tracks: “Husbands”; “She Will”; “No Face”
11. Janelle Monae The Electric Lady
Monae was going to have a tough time matching The ArchAndroid. It’s one of those albums that transcends everything around it. While The Electric Lady seems to be an interesting failure if you look at the music press, there were some of us who adore the adventurous directions taken by Monae on her recent album. It’s not a pretty album by any means, but it is compelling.
Key tracks: “Q.U.E.E.N. (featuring Erykah Badu)”; “Dance Apocalyptic”; “We Were Rock & Roll”
10. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Push The Sky Away
The Master of Dark returns with his legendary band to sing pretty songs with some bite. Age has not softened Cave’s bile. But the softer music tones balance the blade of Cave’s words, creating a masterpiece from the man who still cannot say anything nice in a song over thirty years into his career.
Key tracks: “We No Who U R”; “We Real Cool”; “Jubilee Street”; “Higgs Boson Blues”
9. Neko Case The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
The girl with the voice of gold returns with an album full of wonderful lyrical phrases, aching introspection, and idiosyncratic melodies. She continues to astonish with her ability to bend the unbendable- time, genre, gender, God. An incredible piece of art.
Key tracks: “Man”; “Calling Cards”; “I’m From Nowhere”; “Local Girl”
8. Laura Marling Once I Was an Eagle
Rarely has a broken heart sounded so wonderful. Marling dissects, pokes, prods, and contemplates over sweet organs and strummy plummy guitars. It’s an album that never ceases to amaze, and it captivates with its subtlety and pure soul. If the neo-folk scene in the U.K. has a queen, it’s the young and gifted Marling.
Key tracks: ” Master Hunter”; “Pray For Me”; “Take The Night Off”; “Once”
7. Arcade Fire Reflektor
Arcade Fire are ripe for backlash, and they have gotten some on Reflektor. It’s a shame. I love the band’s wandering into synthy 80s disco, albeit a synthy 80s disco with some awesome guitars and David Bowie cameos. It’s not as life affirming as Funeral, maddeningly dense as Neon Bible, or melancholic as The Suburbs, but the bands need for anthemic, meaningful music remains, even with the glitter.
Key tracks: “Reflektor”; “Afterlife”; “Here Comes The Night Time”; “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”
6. The Arctic Monkeys AM
Alex Turner and company continue to push boundaries with AM. A dark record both lyrically and musically, dragging elements of hip hop into the Monkeys already burgeoning punk rock vocabulary, they continue to want music to be better, and damn it, they are going to get it there.
Key tracks: ” Do I Wanna Know?”; “One For the Road”; “Arabella”; “R U Mine?”
5. Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City
As clearly talented as Vampire Weekend are, after a while, there albums have had a tendency to grate. They are too clever by half, too twee, too much. So imagine my surprise at the fully formed, mature, cohesive album that appeared on my turntable. A music listening experience absolutely vital to life as I know it. It’s an album full of wonder.
Key tracks: “Hannah Hunt”; “Ya Hey”; “Hudson”; “Everlasting Arms”
4. James Blake Overgrown
Blake met Kanye and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and promptly absorbed genius. Jazz and hip hop permeate the electronic tones of Blake’s music, and that voice- dear God, that voice. It’s like Jeff Buckley reincarnated and had babies with Aaron Neville.
Key track: “Retrograde”; “Our Love Comes Back”; “Voyeur”; “Take A Fall For Me”
3. My Bloody Valentine mbv
Miracles do indeed happen.
I was one of those My Bloody Valentine fans who just simply gave up. Twenty two years is a long time to wait for a record, but patience is a virtue. This time, the wait paid off in spade, as Kevin Shield returned with an album that sounded just as we wanted it. It doesn’t completely shatter expectations, nor does it reinvent the wheel. It does however completely satisfy, and it is a good record regardless of sentiment and hope. One of the great stories of 2013 was that the returning artists all seemed to not suck. The wayward shoegazers were the first of those stories.
Key tracks: “In Another Way”; “New You”; “Only Tomorrow”; “Nothing Is”
2. David Bowie The Next Day
Here is a different one of those comeback stories. No one knew Bowie was recording- I mean, just mere days before this album hit the web, someone wrote a “Bowie is officially retired, we’re never going to see him again” story. I’m glad someone was wrong. The Master returned as bold and melodic as ever, still pushing himself to be grand at everything he does. This richly complex and totally kick ass album is a late career highlight and I hope for more.
Key tracks: “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”; ” Where Are We Now”; “Valentine’s Day”; “(You Will) Set The World On Fire”; “Love is Lost”
1. The National Trouble Will Find Me
I admire the National greatly, but I was never one of those must follow Matt Berninger around and immerse myself in that gorgeous baritone types. until I heard Trouble Will Find Me. An album of surprising ease and clarity, it moves the band forward without eliminating what made them great in the first place. Berninger’s voice is one that seemed in the past to just ooze doom and gloom, but he’s beginning to see what he can do with shades of grey. An amazing and accomplished album.
Key tracks: “Sea of Love”; “Demons”; “I Need My Girl”; “Pink Rabbits”; “Graceless”