So as 2013 draws to a close, I thought I would round up some of what I thought were the best records released this year. There were some surprises, some disappointments, and some that were just plain weird. Being my usual awkward self I’ve picked out 9 of my favourite records this year, and I’ve tried to put them into some sort of order:
9. Palma Violets – 180
Having seen this band live earlier this year, I would definitely award them the prize for Most Enthusiastic Band. But their debut album was a triumph, so I guess they do have something to be happy about. I often heard it compared to Peace’s debut record, as both were received to a similar fan base and both albums were released within a short time of each other, however I can’t help feel that the wild, shambolic, joy-inducing tunes from 180 are the complete antithesis to the smooth, every-note-is-perfect type approach seen on In Love. For me, the Palma’s win all the way: it’s short, sweet, filled with memorable riffs and definitely festival material.
Best tracks: We Found Love, Chicken Dippers, Best of Friends
8. Jagwar Ma – Howlin
Jagwar Ma are one of my favourite discoveries of the year. I stumbled across them at a festival this year having heard one of their tracks online, and as soon as their 30 minute set was done, all I wanted to do was race home and listen to their album in full. It’s a strange hybrid of indie-dance-rock, mid-tempo tracks with reverbed guitars and punchy melodies. It’s as if it’s taken from the another era, namely the 80’s Manchester music scene, yet it still feels current enough that they’re not simply copying the formula laid out by their predecessors. I will admit the best bit on the album is the bass drop in The Throw. Pwoar. Chills.
Best Tracks: Man I Need, Come Save Me, The Throw
7. Keaton Henson – Birthdays
If ever you feel the need to curl up in the corner of the room, rocking back and forth and sobbing whilst quietly whilst mourning a lost love, then Keaton Henson should most certainly be your soundtrack. His voice is like a delicate piece of china, ready to crack and fracture into tiny pieces at any moment. Like an extended love letter Henson croons his way through 10 tracks of pure emotion. They way he plucks his guitar is like he is literally pulling on your heartstrings. Needless to say, Birthdays is not a particularly happy album, but it is an intriguing and rapturous one.
Best tracks: You, Kronos, Sweetheart What Have You Done to Us
6. Haim – Days Are Gone
Initially this album didn’t click with me as much as I would’ve liked, however over the past few months I’ve found myself revisiting it and gradually getting more and more out of it. There is a distinctive sound that the three Haim sisters have crafted and one they stick to quite rigidly on the album. It falters and twists slightly on tracks such as My Song 5 and Let Me Go, but the majority of the album is awash with strong percussion, jaunty guitar and pitch-perfect harmonies. On first listen there are a couple of stand out singles such as the fabulous Don’t Save Me and The Wire, but if you were to have this record playing in the background then the rest of the songs might just brush past you without making much of an immediate impact. But after multiple listens I can certainly say that this is a pretty impressive debut record, and definitely worth the prolonged wait.
Best Tracks: Don’t Save Me, Let Me Go, Forever
5. Foals – Holy Fire
It seems I’ve been listening to this album for so long it’s hard to believe it actually came out this year. But in February the math-rock quintet graced us with their third LP, and what a delight it is. You could’ve been mistaken, had you listened to their second album Total Life Forever, that Foals were being tempted away from their origins and into ambient, more spacious musical territory. Indeed this subtler side crops up on Holy Fire in songs such as Moon and Prelude, but although it lingers it is not the dominant sound. The heavyweights of the album employ Foals’ distinctive intertwined guitars, strong vocals and solid drums, these songs being My Number, Bad Habit and the incredible Inhaler, all following one after the other by intention. That’s not to say the rest of the album isn’t equally as good – they certainly had my vote for the Mercury Prize (why wasn’t I asked to judge?!).
Best Tracks: Inhaler, Bad Habit, Milk and Black Spiders, Stepson
4. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
After a drawn out publicity campaign, “The Reflektors” released their 4th studio album to hungry fans and critics alike. They said they wanted to be able to play these tracks in the Southern Hemisphere and people to enjoy them, and so what they’ve done is effectively make a soundtrack to a carnival. But this is one carnival which you definitely want to go to, and don’t forget to go to town on the costumes too. It’s theatrical, filled with weird noises and sounds, and is almost nonsensical at points but it’s utterly brilliant. It needs to be listened to in one go, like a strange kind of indulgence, in order to get the full feel.
Best Tracks: Reflektor, Afterlife, It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)
3. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Having heard rave reviews about the new QOTSA album, I decided to check them out for the first time – and OH MY DAYS am I glad I did. This album is absolutely brilliant; it’s musically flawless, well-produced, smooth, slick, and hands down the best rock record I’ve heard in a long time. Josh Homme is a lyrical genius, and the songs are loaded with catchy riffs. There are the stadium ready anthems such as My God Is The Sun and If I Had A Tail, but then also the initially quieter Kalopsia and …Like Clockwork that play to Homme’s more emotional side. Not to mention the list of super musos who’ve joined Josh + co: Trent Reznor, Alex Turner and Sir Elton John to name but a few. It’s certainly more accessible than the majority of their previous work, but hugely enjoyable all the same.
Best Tracks: …Like Clockwork, I Appear Missing, Fairweather Friends, My God Is The Sun
2. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
This is The Bad Seeds’ 15th (15th!) studio album, and they certainly aren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel for song ideas. Nick Cave returns to his standard lyrical form, referencing mermaids, Miley Cyrus and the Higgs Boson, and Warren Ellis weaves his musical magic with subtle, looped guitar lines that beat softly and simmer gently in the background. At first glance it appears a relatively short album, only 9 tracks longs, but it is 42 minutes of guilty pleasure. It’s so spacious and while some songs seem to drift along, every note is prominent and purposeful. Jubilee Street might be in contention for my top track of the year. It’s a beautiful, stunning record. There isn’t really much else to say.
Best Tracks: Jubilee Street, We Real Cool, Higgs Boson Blues.
1. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
It’s strange to think that my top 3 albums of 2013 come from bands I’d never really listened to prior to this year. Clearly my musical taste has improved over the past 12 months! I picked up this album by chance, and my God how my iPod would look different had I not. It took a couple of listens for the songs to properly sink in, for the lustrous melodies, the exquisite guitar lines, the enveloping strings and the general ambience to seep its way into the deepest corners of my mind. As Matt Berninger sings in his distinctive careless baritone, it’s like sitting in on a confession, or a psychiatric appointment. He projects with such clarity the issues surrounding him, and countless others who have reached that middle stage in life. He sings of lost friends, lost love, regret, suicide, desire, yearning, and although I’m perhaps I’m a little too young to relate to some of the lyrical content it doesn’t make it any less striking. From start to finish this album holds me in an embrace that’s just loose enough for me to wallow in self-pity and self-indulgence simultaneously. The music is crafted with such care and precision and despite Berninger’s vocal taking centre stage it doesn’t dominate, it merely lingers in the foreground while being enveloped itself in delicate noise. I cannot recommend this highly enough, it should be a staple in any contemporary record collection.
Best Tracks: Pink Rabbits, Don’t Swallow The Cap, I Need My Girl, This Is The Last Time, Hard To Find
So there we have it! Feel free to post your own favourite albums, EPs or tracks of 2013 in the comments section.
Happy New Year from Stream of Sound!