To say that 2013 was a great year for music is an understatement. It was a phenomenal year. I won’t dilly dally too much but it was a year of change, landmark releases from new artists and artists who’ve cemented themselves into the musical vista have given us new records. Without further adieu, here are my top 50 albums of the year.
50. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
This songstress brought out a third record this year and Tramp continues the indie rock stylings we’ve learned to love. “Serpants” and “Leonard” are standouts.
49. Off! – Off!
More than a supergroup, Off! offered a second helping this year after a stellar set of EPs. The album clocks in at around the twenty minute mark and delivers more of what we love about Off!: one minute long punk rock anthems. This real punk, if you’re expecting Blink-182, look elsewhere.
48. Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers
These guys are on their way out here for All Tomorrow’s Parties next year and they’re set to blow the roof off the remote venue with this new record. Alternative rock at it’s finest.
47. JEFF The Brotherhood – Hypnotic Nights
It’s the Black Keys reincarnate! JEFF are a two piece blues band with an extensive discography which is set to finally be discovered by the mainstream world after the release of this rockin’ blues album.
46. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
I finally bought into the hype here. Alt-J are a great little band who have been dubbed as ‘the new Radiohead’. I’m not gonna go that far, but they’re certainly a group making serious music for serious musos. “Tessellate” and “Breezeblocks” will have you singing along for hours no doubt.
45. Purity Ring – Shrines
Delightful synth pop. Purity Ring’s debut rings strongly of Grimes’ material. It’s not all that bizarre seeing as their signed to the same label, 4AD. This Canadian duo are set to be out here in May for Golden Plains – Lucky Seven music festival. IF you miss them, you’re a silly goose.
44. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
Ariel’s latest offering is an insight into the most bizarre societal observations of the world. “Kinski Assassin” is a burst of indie rock which sets the pace of the record where as, my personal favourite, “Symphony of the Nymph” is the humourous story of a sex addict. Another clever effort from the Haunted Graffiti.
43. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
Yeah it’s a long title. Leave me alone. Fiona Apple is back in a big way on this release which showcases her in a typical manner – a big voice, with a accompaniment to match it. Florence should take a leaf out of her book I think,
42. Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
On Kiwanuka’s debut record we’re greeted with a soul-folk record like no other. He croons wistfully on “Tell Me A Tale” and basks in nostalgia in “Home Again”. He’s playing the “Heavenly Sounds” tour in Australia which see him play churches across Australia. Sounds godlike to me. He joins a strong band of soul and blues records in the top crop of albums for this year.
41. Lone – Galaxy Garden
A shamelessly polished electronic dance record. Galaxy Garden conjures images of its namesake, with a colourful and textured electronic release. A really bright record that doesn’t pause for breath.
40. DZ Deathrays – Bloodstreams
I feel kind of bad with, this being the first of few Australian records in my top 50. I digress, this was one of my most anticipated records of the year and boy did it live up to expectations. It’s frantic, aggressive and the live shows back it up. Radical.
39. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
Ditching Fleet Foxes to focus on this, his solo project, Joshua Tillman released an ethereal alternative-folk record whih was received warmly at Splendour at the Grass this year. The influence from Fleet Foxes is clear whilst a more lively character was at large here when compared to his work released as J Tillman. Definitely worth a looksy.
38. Best Coast – The Only Place
Bethany Cosentino did a lot of growing up between LPs, as clearly visible in her sophomore record with Best Coast – The Only Place. Cosentino comes to grips with her own mortality and her attempts at combating her previous incarnation and crafting a new form, an almost scarily self aware one at that.
37. Perfume Genius – Put Ur Back N 2 It
The Tallest Man on Earth has a distinct style. It’s almost frail in nature, the guitars are used in a manner that puts emphasis on the subtleties he loves so much. It’s oxymoronic to say the least. On Perfume Genius’ 2012 release, he gives a master class that The Tallest Man on Earth should pay attention too. One of the strongest soft core piano records of the year.
36. Right Away! Great Captain – The Church and the Good Thief
The final part in the side project of, Manchester Orchestra front man, Andy Hull is another unbelievable release. The trilogy, which tells the tale of a 17th century sailor, who catches his wife cuckolding him with his own brother, concludes perfectly in this folk rock record. Sad to see this trilogy finaly come to close but it ended spectacularly.
35. Opossum – Electric Hawaii
I was always going to love this record. I love Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and the Mint Chicks and this release from a Nielson brother was a resounding success in line with the rest of his body of work. This psychedelic, electronica release deserves a listen even if you despised his earlier work.
34. Gary Clark Jr. – Blak and Blu
The poster boy of blues gained quite the following with his debut record, Blak and Blu. He kind of popped out of no where this year, but boy has he made his mark. Two sold out shows on a stop over tour earlier this year and he’s back for the Big Day Out too! More hype than Alt-J, and he really deserves it. Lovers of the Black Keys and Dr. John, look no further.
33. THEESatisfaction – awE naturalE
This is one super rad record from a band with a super rad name. THEESatisfaction released their first record this year which serves as a tribute to everything great about soul and funk music in a modern era. There’s brass, there’s soul, and above all there’s funk. Fonky fonky fonk.
32. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles III
Before I heard this record, I had it pinned for album of the year. I loved Crystal Castles I and Crystal Castles II. They were frenetic, fast paced yet glitchy and sensitive in part. Crystal Castles III continued the trend of solid records but wasn’t quite as good as I wanted it to be. Perhaps it’s because nothing surprised me like it normally does. The only real stylistic change is that the vocal melodies took on a new prominence, taking on a similar role in the way Arcade Fire manipulate their vox.
31. Mac Demarco – 2
2012 was the year of soul. A lot of the records I’ve put in my top 50 have some inkling or influence from that distinctly 70s gospel style of recording and chord progression. Like Michael Kiwanuka, Mac Demarco matches his guitars to create a record in the vein of Gary Clark Jr. I even hear some Michael Jackson influence in some of the opening tracks. Definitely give it a look if you’re after some soulful, jangly, guitar pop.
30. Mates – Chemical
Shock horror! An EP! At number 30! And it’s an amalgamation of all of my favorite bands! If The Vaccines, The Wombats and Kasabian had a child, it’s Mates. The six tracks only span just over 15 minutes but in that time we’re told of a man’s fear of his own sexual incompetence, a battle with a drunken alter ego and a strange feeling that can overcome a soul. Top notch EP. And speaking of the Vaccines…
29. The Vaccines – Come of Age
It’s a solid follow up to their 2011 debut which I ranked so highly. Whilst What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? was radically short, potent, guitar pop, Come of Age is a foray into a more conventional song structure with tracks being extended for three or four minutes. It’s a big change for this band, but what remains static is their lyrical swagger. I’m no teenage icon/I’m no Franky Avalon/I’m nobody’s hero is one of my favourite lyrics of the year and the track “Teenage Icon” is a doozy.
28. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend, Ascend!
I love Godspeed. They’re a band that you just don’t hear enough from mainstream media. That would, in large part, be due to the fact that they haven’t released an album in ten years, prior to this one obviously, and that their records are typically made up of four or five tracks of twenty minutes in length. They aren’t exactly accessible. But have a listen to this band if you have a spare hour or so, the entire discography is disgustingly solid and when they tour out here for All Tomorrow’s Parties, you’re in for a treat.
27. Death Grips – No Love Deep Web
The second release from Death Grips this year sees more of the paranoid and angry rap – or shouting – we’ve learned to expect from the group on their previous two LPs. Apart from the album cover, it’s easy to be taken back by tracks like “Lil Boy” and “No Love”. Death Grips are a pretty important band for hip hop right now, and this experimental release confirms it.
26. Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods
I trashed this record for so long, but upon seeing it performed live my opinion changed. The riffs and bass driven hooks are solid. Really solid. For a grunge band who have a habit of dragging out their songs for five or six minutes, the record moves at quite a fast pace through it’s opener “Skin Graph” to “Bloody Mary” and “Busy Bees”. To join the trend on these guys, if you like Smashing Pumpkins you’ll like Silversun Pickups.
25. Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes
FlyLo, as I like to call him, cements his place as one of the best producers in contemporary music on his fourth offering, Until The Quiet Comes. As the album title suggests, for the most part it is a more subtle and intricate work featuring a large array of collaborations – most notably from Thom Yorke. Have a peek if you’re into jazz tinged electronica.
24. Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe
When you take one legend of jazz soul and give him a king of Britpop to work with, you’re in for something special. That something special occurred when Bobby and Damon Albarn got together and released this sublime record. Of particular note is the track featuring the sultry voice of Lana Del Rey, first time I’ve really appreciated her as an artist.
23. Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky
Another fantastic record from the original trio who reformed just a few years ago after releasing some of the seminal alternative rock albums from the 90s. J Mascis and the gang released a banger of an album with singles like “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” and “Watch the Corners” no doubt slotting into the career spanning setlist nicely.
22. Dr. John – Locked Down
Another blues legend with a legendary album. Produced by Black Key – Dan Auerbach – the doctor’s new record has that new Orleans blues feel that we’ve come to expect from him in his 70 odd years. A good friend at my local record store often tells me stories of how he’s caught him three times in New Orleans. I wish I was able to catch him. Take a look at “Revolution” for a key track.
21. John Talabot – fin
This dark ambient record needs to be listened to as a whole to be properly understood The electronic soundscapes aren’t as colourful as Lone’s effort Galaxy Garden, but more textured and intriguing. You can’t form an opinion based on your first listen to this, it needs a few.
20. Daniel Rossen – Silent Hour/Golden Mile
You gain a better understanding of the inner machinations of a band like Grizzly Bear when you deconstruct the group and allow them to release solo material. Chris Taylor’s CANT released a glorious record last year and this year Daniel Rossen dropped his first solo EP – a delicate acoustic collection of four tracks. It’s hard to say too much more than the tracks are all solid with not one of the four feeling weak or out of place. I hope the other members of the band start bringing out solo work because it’s becoming clear that Chris Bear and his band are one of the most talented groups around at the moment.
19. Swans – The Seer
Post-punk gods Swans join the list of irrefutably talented bands to release records this year. The Seer is a mammoth journey, clocking in at nearly two hours in length, and it’s all classic Swans. One of their strongest releases from their massive back catalogue – and their playing All Tomorrow’s Parties. That’s gonna be a fantastic festival.
18. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
The kings of psychedelic and experimental pop released another outstanding record this year – one that many critics had pinned as an early album of the year. With the return of the man affectionately referred to as ‘the Deak’, Animal Collective saw successful singles in the form of “Applesauce” amongst others. It’s a shame they’re clashing with the Red Hot Chili Peppers at this year’s Big Day Out, otherwise I’d be front row.
17. Muse – The 2nd Law
No one can grasp how much I love Muse. It’s a lot. Someone once asked whether I’d save my family or Muse from a plane crash and I had to seriously think about it. Muse only lost that battle by a fraction. I’d waited for The 2nd Law to drop ever since that September release date was announced. When it did, as with The Resistance it was meant by instant criticism as they’d changed a little more and evolved into a different band. If you go into an album expecting the same thing to be done again and again, you’ll be disappointed. Sorely. Muse’s latest effort bends genres and is one of their strongest efforts yet. I so wanted it to be album of the year, but it was a big year with albums that just blew it out of the water.
16. Aimee Mann – Charmer
My golly. Charmer is an album that doesn’t blow you away on your first listen but as you continue to play it, you find more and more favourite tracks, until every single track on the album has been your favourite at one point or another, Aimee doesn’t try and achieve too much on Charmer rather she focuses on putting together a coherent, solid collection of songs with lovely chord progressions and clever lyricism. Stand out tracks come in the form of “Gamma Ray”, “Labrador” and “Crazy Town”. The duet with James Mercer of the Shins is pleasant too. Aimee proved that she’s a real charmer on this one.
15. Daughn Gibson – All Hell
Gibson’s debut full length album is an interesting one. It features little instrumentation, rather focusing on production and sampling, Oh, and that incredible voice of his. Gibson produces this bassy croon which you can’t help but love. He manages to create real ambience and atmosphere on each track, with beautiful moments on tracks such as “Rain on a Highway” and “Young Girl’s World”.
14. Beach House – Bloom
This record came out so early in the year that I almost forgot about it when it came time to make this list. The dream pop duo put together another fantastic record full of ethereal beats and delightful vocal melodies which soar over the instrumentation. And they have cowbell on the first single. Mother flippin cowbell on mother flippin “Myth”. Props Beach House!
13. Kishi Bashi – 151a
Of Montreal man _____________ dropped this peace of gold under the moniker of Kishi Bashi in the middle of this year. And it rules. Each track rings of Arcade Fire’s ridiculously smiley indie pop. You can’t help but love tracks like “Bright Whites” and “Manchester which open the album – though likewise you’re left adoring “Beat the Bright Out of Me. It’s pretty hard to fault.
12. Pond – Beards, Wives, Denim
Tame Impala’s little brothers released their sophomore LP early in the year to resounding, international approval. NME and Pitchfork agreed for once, maintaining it to be an all round success. And how can you blame them? Album opener “Fantastic Explosions of Time” sets the pace as it moves into “Elegant Design” and “Moth Wings” you’re hooked. I’m hooked. And there’s gonna be a new record next year. That’s my early pick for album of year, 2013.
11. Sigur Ros – Valtari
I so wanted to put Sigur Ros in my top 10, particularly after catching them at Harvest festival this year, but a last minute alteration left them high and dry. I swapped them with the album which was originally in this position. Everything Sigur Ros touch turns to gold so it shouldn’t be a surprise the Valtari follows the same track. “Ekki Mukk” is a beautiful track that spas many incarnations and is my pick of the tracks on the record.
We’re hitting the big stuff now, number 10!
10. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
This indie-rock record – not modern twangy indie rock, 90s indie rock – rules pretty hard . All eight tracks on this record are potential singles as their punk stylings cross different strokes. It’s a short record, at just over half an hour, but you wouldn’t know it with tracks spanning from two and a half minutes up to eight minutes in length. My favourite tracks on this Nirvana-esque record include “Stay Useless”, “Fall In” and album closer “Cut Off”.
9. Dark Dark Dark – Who Needs Who
This lovely Minneapolis’ based folk group released their third record this year and it builds upon the mantra that they crafted on their first two releases – intricate, charming gypsy folk which creates an ambience that casts you into an alternative vista. Driven by the glorious vocals of front woman Nona Invie, as well as an array of strings, accordians and various bass instruments, Who Needs Who is far anad away the best folk record of the year.
8. Karriem Riggins – Alone/Together
A collection of instrumental jazz, hip-hop and RnB samples from one of those artists who you see credited on a bunch of records but never has any full length records to his name. That’s what you get in Karriem Riggins’ debut LP Alone/Together. Recorded largely on a single synthesizer, the double album features groovy hooks that drive it to be an exciting listen despite its somewhat ostracizing format.
7. BADBADNOTGOOD – BBNG2
BBNG2 is the first jazz record to make it into the top ten, and it’s an interesting concept at that. The record consists mostly of covers of popular contemporary hip-hop stars including Kanye West and Earl Sweatshirt as well as a couple of Odd Future covers. A very talented group of college students from America, and an undoubtedly incredible record.
6. Grimes – Visions
The second I heard this record I knew it was going to be high on a lot of lists this year. There was one early draft of this list which had it at number one! If you read my recent review of Clare Boucher’s live show at the Corner Hotel, you’ll already know of my love for her. Visions is a perfect pop album, crafted on the floor of one very talented twenty four year old’s room. I hope you caught her on her recent tour out here, if not start lining up for her next one.
5. Death Grips – The Money Store
The only artist who managed to get in here twice! Death Grips are paranoid, angry and aggressive about it on their experimental debut LP. Everything about The Money Store is confronting. From the album art work depicting a bizarre transgender nightmare to the frenetic opening track “Get Got” all the way through to “I’ve Seen Footage” and similar hook driven tracks. The wailing siren of “The Fever” and the barking nature of “Hustle Bones” should, by all respects, attract no audience whatsoever, but I can’t help but keep listening.
4. Kendrick Lamar – good kid M.A.A.D City
Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut begins with an audio reel of a young man begging for forgiveness before his god, a higher power. A story of redemption and life (as general as that sounds) follows in my favourite hip-hop release of the year. In contemporary rap, it’s become very easy to slip into complacency and write the same old pimps and hoes crap you get from artists like Eminem or novelty hooks without any substance (cue Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”). Kendrick doesn’t stand for this. good kid M.A.A.D City is a record with an important message. It’s not veiled, so listen and learn.
Looking at it musically, it’s hard not love it. There was about two weeks where I couldn’t stop singing “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” which is a nuttily catchy track. Similarly “Money Trees”, singing of “Halle Berry or Hollywood” and affluence makes for a fantastic single from the record. Album closer, “Compton” featuring the man who signed and discovered Kendrick, Dr. Dre, has its controversies (should it have even been on the album, the answer is yes), however it’s an undeniably tops track which closes out my hip-hop release of the year.
3. Tame Impala – Lonerism
Kevin Parker. You genius. I always question the labeling of Tame Impala as a ‘band’ rather than Parker’s solo project. The first record, Innerspeaker, had a track on it called “Solitude is Bliss” and Lonerism, an intensely autobiographical record was recorded, more or less, by himself in two locations. The focus is always on Kevin Parker, let’s not kid ourselves here. I digress, from the opening whispers of “Be Above It” through to the dreamy synth drenched tones of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” Tame Impala’s sophomore release is the perfect follow up to their 2010 debut. There isn’t much more to say, other than that the entire record is hit after hit.
“He took the mirrors of his Cadillac, yeah, cause he doesn’t like it looking like he looks back”
2. Jack White – Blunderbuss
When the White Stripes broke up, officially, in 2011, I became a broken man. The band, which a dear friend of mine introduced me to when I was ten, had lived with me and been an important part of my life ever since. When she gave me Get Behind Me Satan on CD, I’m not sure she knew what she’d started.
The sadness of that break up was met with the joyful news that White was going to release a solo record. And boy. Did he release a solo record. Every single track on it is a kicker and displays the versatility of the greatest musical talent the new century has seen.
The ominous, rolling hook that opens Blunderbuss, and hence “Missing Pieces” , sets the mood for White’s exploration of Gothic based saloon music. Or so you think. Whilst the entire record maintains that ominous, dark tonality over each of its tracks. “Sixteen Salltines” is one of the singles of the year, with its perfect chorus on delifhtfully Stripes-y guitar tone and structure. White’s signature wail is on display on each and every track . Be it a piano based saloon number or the alternative grunge of the White Stripes blaring through, Jack White’s solo record is the sign of a bevy of classics to come.
1. Grizzly Bear – Shields
If there is amything to learn from Shields it’s that music can, and in some cases should be, the ultimate democracy. Grizzly Bear is four musicians, all equal in musical stature, collaborating to craft something magical. Shields is the quirky experimental psychedelica of Chris Taylor, the complex folk stylings of Chris Bear, the stripped back acoustics of Daniel Rossen and the flare and passion of Ed Droste combined into a real force. From the opening, fractured chordal progression of “Sleeping Ute” you can feel that one element of the music doesn’t overtake any other aspect, as the band glide seamlessly through their record, into the Veckatimist-esque “Speak in Rounds”, delightfully eerie baroque interlude “Adelma” and resonant yet dissonant masterpiece “Yet Again”.
And that’s only the first side of the record.
Shields doesn’t let up with the gorgeous “The Hunt” and “A Simple Answer” forming the framework for the latter half of the album. As you head into “Half Gate” things begin to wrap themselves up as you truly comprehend where Grizzly Bear have taken you on this voyage, before seven minute epic “Sun In Your Eyes” satisfies you.
Upon its end, you feel as though no aspect has really taken an overbearing presence over any other element of the music – a factor only exemplified by the live performance which sees the bands’ four members spread across the front of the stage in a line. A subtle nuance, but one that rings home with me.
It’s all over in ten tracks, clocking in at just under an hour. But it’s a rewarding hour. There’s no doubt that Grizzly Bear’s Shields is a most deserving record of the title ‘Album of the Year’.