Tuesday, 31 December 2013

LISTEN: '2013: The Best Of'

Now for the final post of 2013, and also my favourite time of the year. The day that my annual 'Best Of' compilation is created. I began making these in 1997 and haven;t stopped since. In 2010 and 2011, I made 100 track, 6 part compilations. But I've decided to slim them down to the bare essentials over the last couple of years! This year I began the process while listening back to all the best albums of 2013, picking out the finest tracks and noting them down. Then after adding lots more songs to the contenders list, I slimmed it down to about 100 songs. That then became 50, and then a high level of quality control was needed in order to trim off a few songs so the compilation would fit onto 2 CDs. So here they are, the best tracks of the year. There are loads more that I didn't have room for, proving that 2013 was indeed an amazing year for music. Unless you were listening to what was in the charts that is...

Happy New Year to all readers, bands, artists, labels, PR people and others who have supported this site over the last year. May 2014 bring you all the very best.



2013 - Albums Of The Year: 10-1

... And here it is. The final part. Unlike a lot of websites (some of who started publishing their "end of year" lists in October!), this roll of honour has been prepared after a lot of careful consideration, AND actually at the end of the year too! It's also a bit different to a lot of other 'Best Of 2013' lists in that it has been compiled by one person and is based on the opinions of one person, wheras most music sites have big teams of writers, meaning that their 'Best Of' lists are just an indication of the most popular and most commonly-heard records of the year. I know because I was the one who added up all the scores for God Is In The TV's list, which was aggregated from about 30 writers individual lists. While that's all well and good, the following list is one that offers an undiluted picture of the year's finest long players. A lot of the albums from 50-25 aren't really in any particular order, since many were equally enjoyable. Plus there are some LPs that I didn't have time to full investigate and allow time to grow on me properly. Some of these are in the list and could have maybe been higher (Nick Cave, Midlake, British Sea Power), while there are other great albums that didn't make the list for the same reason. Not based on hype, popularity amongst other critics or commercial success, it's quite simply an honest lowdown on the things that caught my ears the most in 2013... Also, the ratings for these albums are not based on the marks given to them when I originally reviewed them. If that was the case, the latest Ocean Colour Scene album would have probably been in the Top 20. Instead, I have spent the last month or so revisiting all my favourite albums from this year and re-appraising them...

Numbers 50-41 are HERE.
Numbers 40-31 are HERE.
Numbers 30-21 are HERE.
Numbers 20-11 are HERE.
10. Zoo Zero - Zoo Zero
Terms like "drone rock" and avant garde can make some think of boring, tuneless noise with no rhythm or structure. On the contrary, London four piece Zoo Zero are sharp, energetic and exciting while also capable of tripping into weirder, more cosmic places. Their sense of melody and how they utilise it throughout these tracks is what makes them stand out from the rest. “I guess we’re interested in music where noise and weirdness clashes with melody,” says singer/guitarist Tom Pinnock. “It’s way too easy to make some avant-garde, instrumental record – it’s harder to combine the unexpected with actual songs.” They accomplish this mission with a fat-free collection of songs that set stimulating punk energy, post-rock dynamics and droning noise to well crafted, ear-catching tunes, driving rhythms and spacey freak outs. As equally inspired by the likes of XTC and Wire as it is by Sonic Youth and Can, it's complex when it needs to be, without the tiniest hint of pretentiousness. 

The awesome 'Fraktion' confirms their arrival by whipping up a storm, as an accelerating motorik beat brings an element of krautrock into the picture, and the tense vocals highlight a somewhat manic quality. The guitars are also key elements; one second they're ringing out harmoniously, the next they're urgently tearing into furious riffs, and by the end they're growling, squealing and crackling in amongst a howl of feedback. The propulsive bass pounds away at a single note for long periods of time, making for a greater impact when it lifts off for the infectious instrumental hook. One of the best songs of 2013 without a doubt. An enjoyable 32 minutes absolutely fly by, and its fat-free length means you will often want to press the play button again after it's finished. It's too unusual to be able to memorise after one or two listens, but brilliantly intriguing enough to make you want to give it plenty more of your listening time. A fine debut from a truly exciting new band. Full review HERE.

9. Metamono - With The Compliments Of Nuclear Physics
With advancing technology, these days anyone can put together a dance track using some software and a computer, meaning that many unworthy mainstream nobodies have been trying to hide a lack of talent, skill and creativity behind a load of shiny, buffed-up digital sounds. Aware of the abysmal direction electronic music could be heading towards, Metamono create music using only old analogue instruments, and have completely abolished digital recording and production as a rule. In fact they work around an innovative manifesto, which can be seen HERE at their website. Made up of musician/producer Jono Podmore, electronic wizard Paul Conboy and fine artist Mark Hill, they ban things like sampling, overdubs and even microphones from their music making regime. "Being able to download just about any sound imaginable is liberating in one way, but I've found it makes me less creative" explains Podmore. "Making purely electronic music while rejecting digital technology imposes limitations, but then actually forces you to be more imaginative and resourceful."

Stripping away the last few decades of electro music and building a new alternative from scratch, when sources are restricted, a greater degree of imagination has to be applied. And imagination is a vital ingredient for great music, a fact underlined by the sounds Metamono create. Following on from a couple of excellent EPs, the debut album 'With The Compliments Of Nuclear Physics' is a fascinating and highly rewarding record that spans four sides of vinyl, reflecting four different sides to the sound of these visionary electronic musical scientists. Returning to the creative processes employed by game changers like Stockhausen, Raymond Scott, Joe Meek, Thomas Leer and Robert Rental, Metamono also share the experimental mindset of people like Can (whose Irmin Schmidt is Podmore's father in law) and Cabaret Voltaire as well as the musical instincts of acid house pioneers and early Mute Records artists, while somehow managing to craft a style as fresh and modern as that of Fuck Buttons or even many of the acts on Warp Records. All of this remarkable, often improvised music has been created using their "Instrumentarium", a mass unit of second-hand or hand-built vintage analogue synths, ring modulators, phasers, stylophone, theremin, sirens and transistor radio. Much of their equipment has been recycled from old parts from different instruments, making for a healthy amount of "found sounds"

Firstly, this record is not designed to be listened to in one big helping. It's split into four sides because each one should be listened to separately. Much of it is like how we imagined the future would sound years ago, and ironically it's made by instruments from the past, most of them salvaged from the scrap heap. Contemporary ideas show that far from being Luddites or mere retroists, they're not looking to return to the past. Instead they're building something new out of old bits in order to make creative progress for the benefit of electronic music's future. This is why, despite never leaning on many of the less-skilled techniques used in electronic music these days, it never sounds dated and certainly never comes across like some sort of novelty. Part of their manifesto reads "Metamono will restrict and limit the sound sources and techniques available to us in order to liberate the imagination." Mission accomplished. Full review HERE.

8. Thought Forms - Ghost Mountain
Thought Forms consists of guitarists (and occasional vocalists) Deej Dhariwal andCharlie Romijn, plus drummer Guy Metcalfe. They don't need a bassist or keyboard player because the music they create doesn't require such things, and unlike many others, this three piece don't need to "flesh out the sound" in any way. All they need are their instruments, an excitingly vast range of well-used guitar pedals, and a blank canvas to apply their imaginations to. The colours on their palette are similar to those of Sonic Youth, Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine, but the picture they paint is very much their own work. 'Ghost Mountain' was produced by Jim Barr, the live bassist with Portishead, whose Geoff Barrow signed Thought Forms to his Invada label a few years ago. The soundscapes and drones from their previous self titled debut are still here, but the songs work on many more different levels than before. The ideas have developed and have been applied in a way that makes a bigger impression. 

Dhariwal and Romijn's voices and guitars correspond beautifully on the bleak swoon of 'Sans Soleil', an essential moment of shoegazing magic that precedes the LP's colossal centrepiece 'Burn Me Clean'. With a heavy sense of a shamanic ritual taking place, to call it "dark" would be a major understatement: it's absolutely fucking apocalyptic. It's also a powerful example of how exploration can create something truly magical, and each one of its 12 minutes and 58 seconds are vital. This is the sort of thing that the term "mind blowing" was invented for. It takes its time to go exactly where it needs to, and uses its space to make each note resonate with maximum impact. The careful structure, impeccable precision and patient timing of the piece allows the intensity and mood to build into one of overwhelming devastation, as squealing, earth-shattering guitars come roaring out of the darkness. 'Ghost Mountain' is a truly immersive piece of work that captures the mind and takes it on an extraordinary trip. By fine tuning their ideas, the band have unlocked a sound of their own and made a memorable record that has moved them into a higher league. Full review HERE.

7. The Fall - Re-Mit
The Fall mean different things to different people. To some it's just a northern bloke shouting random nonsense over repetitive music, while to others they represent an ever-changing musical revelation fronted by one of the greatest poets of our time, and an outfit that continues to experiment and break boundaries. They were John Peel's favourite band and have influenced a massive array of bands and artists over the years. For those who aren't aware, Mark E Smith formed the group in 1976 and about 66 different members are said to have played in his band over the years, a lot of them exiting the group due to conflicts with the notorious frontman. However this particular line up of the band has now recorded its fourth album together, a kind of stability never seen before within these ranks. 

It's the 30th Fall studio album overall, the first since 2011's aggressive, sometimes messy'Ersatz GB' and it begins in a brighter, cleaner but no less exciting manner with the brief 'No Respects (Intro)', where the sound has clearly taken a turn towards surf-rock. It has no vocals and the style is completely at odds with the previous album, yet you could probably guess that it was The Fall. By the time the raucous'Sir William Wray' bursts in there's no mistaking who this is, as a heavily distorted Smith vocal snarls through the speakers accompanied by a kick-ass riff, noisy synths, intertwining guitars, boisterous "hey!"s and the propulsive punch of the rhythm section. Quite clearly, the band sound tighter and more confident than they did on the last LP. It's hard as nails, yet none of this LP seems to be in the same thrashy, metal vein as 'Ersatz GB', instead we are presented with clearer production and a style that is livelier and more melodic in places. It revisits The Fall's past brilliantly while continuing to push things forward in an uncompromising and challenging fashion. In terms of Fall albums it's not quite a classic, but certainly one of the strongest of the last decade or so, and easily the equal of 2010's acclaimed 'Your Future Our Clutter'. Forever destined to divide opinion, if you don't like The Fall, it will make you dislike them even more. If you are a fan, chances are 'Re-Mit' will not disappoint. Full review HERE.

6. David Bowie - The Next Day
It's not often that I get to welcome back an artist who is often regarded as the greatest who has ever lived. Up until a few months back, no one could have believed that we'd actually be listening to this now. But here it is, the new David Bowie album 'The Next Day'2003's 'Reality' was the third in a series of LPs made since 1999 that saw Bowie abandon his experiments in the 90's for a more straight forward, perhaps less adventurous approach. Maybe the heart attack he suffered in 2004 was a warning sign, a suggestion that he needed to slow down and have a well deserved break. But a couple of years later and there was still no sign of Bowie returning. The long silence and complete lack of public appearances led to rumours about his health, and as each year of inactivity passed, the chances of Bowie making a comeback were looking less and less likely. Many thought that he had decided he'd made his contribution to the world and owed it to himself to live out a normal life for the rest of his days. Even his biographer Paul Trynka thought that he had retired, and wouldn't ever return unless he could deliver something "seismic".

Then in January, on the day that Bowie turned 66 years old, the world was stunned at the instant arrival of a new single and the announcement of a brand new album. How did the world's biggest star manage to record an LP in complete secrecy over two years, without rumours getting out and news being leaked on the internet? In an age of instant and easily accessible information, this true icon had pulled off a masterstroke. The musicians involved in the record were all made to sign non-disclosure agreements, and even producer Tony Visconti had to keep his mouth shut whenever asked about Bowie's activities. This comeback album was secretly recorded, sensationally announced, and has been heralded by a storm of hype whipped up by the music press, clamouring to welcome back this unquestionable legend. But is it really the "seismic" work that Bowie needed to come out of retirement to give to the world? It's more adventurous than the three previous albums he made since the 90's, but his ideas sound more fully formed and carefully thought out this time round. In fact this could very well be his most diverse collection of songs. Sometimes you have to look below the surface to understand the genius of this record, and trying to get your head around the lyrics is like venturing into a mental minefield. Perhaps being out of action for so long and watching the world of popular "entertainment" descend into vacuous blandness might have awoken something in him that had been sleeping for a long time. Perhaps before 2004 he was too concerned with constantly moving forward and making the next record to possibly take a break. Too busy to take a look back at his entire life, career, and his musical journey through the decades. After taking the time out and making sense of his past, he's also aware that the weight of his history is always going to be on people's minds whenever he releases new music. But this album's revisiting of his past is not about nostalgia, it's about placing references to previous works in the fresh context of new songs.

It somehow bridges many styles that are completely at odds with each other, adding a new ingredient to gel them together. That new ingredient is the present day. Despite revisiting many eras of his past, he doesn't ever fall into the trap of self parody and certainly doesn't sound like he's running out of new ideas. He's challenging himself again, not wishing to end his career with the comfort and steadiness of the previous three LPs. No one else could have made a record like this but Bowie, in fact it's only now that he himself is capable of doing so. Just like no-one could have made an album like 'Station To Station' except for the 1976 Bowie. His output is so wide ranging and diverse that none of his albums come close to defining him, because each era saw a different Bowie. But this is a case of looking back while moving forwards.

He doesn't ever sound like a "museum piece" over the course of these 14 tracks, in fact he sounds more hungry and more relevant than he has done for decades. To say it's a pleasure to have him back would be an understatement. Full review HERE.

5. I Am Kloot - Let It All In
Formed in 1999, I Am Kloot finally broke through to a wider audience with their acclaimed 2010 album 'Sky At Night', which as well as giving them their highest chart position to date also earned them a Mercury Music Prize nomination. Now they follow it up with their sixth effort 'Let It All In', a more varied record that builds on the sparse acoustic sound of its predecessor while reintroducing and improving the style of their early work. Like the previous LP it's produced by Elbow's Guy Garvey and Craig Potter, who have been friends with Kloot long enough to know how to bring out the best in their music. The success of the previous album has given the band greater confidence, and this one will surely take them further.

Bullets opens the album, building from downbeat Northern misery and a tune that hints at The Doors' 'People Are Strange', before swinging into a Tom Waits-like burlesque stomp. With its dusty night time moods the (almost) title track 'Let Them All In' is a laid back grower, while the magnificent 'Hold Back The Night' is a perfect example of how I Am Kloot have progressed over the years. After the resigned, brooding bitterness grows more powerful with each verse, it's soon pushed up to dramatic levels with the arrival of a sweeping string section that wouldn't sound out of place in a Bond film. 'Forgive Me These Reminders' closes the record on a bittersweet, heartfelt note, a charming low key moment so beautiful it could make a grown man cry. Fitting together wonderfully, Let It All In sees John Bramwellmoving in to a higher league in terms of songwriting, a strong and consistent album that provides I Am Kloot with their definitive work. Full review HERE.

4. Suede - Bloodsports
When a legendary band reforms, it's often a case of just touring the old hits. Coming back with new material can carry the risk of tainting a legacy, but in Suede's case the release of a brand new studio LP gives them the chance to redeem themselves after the damp squib of 2002's disappointing 'A New Morning'From the opening headrush of 'Barriers', it's clear that the fire is burning bright once again. Its epic melodrama and statements of undying love provide a superb start to a record that sounds like it could have been made at any point in the mid 90's. And for Britpop nostalgists like myself it's worth buying for that reason alone. 

But what we don't get is a group simply relying on a sound similar to that of their best work to try and win back what they once had. Sometimes a band can end up making a poor record and mistakenly believe that it's good because it's in the same style as their most celebrated work. The Oasis album 'Heathen Chemistry' is a prime example. But thankfully Suede haven't fallen into that trap. These songs just remind the listener of the old stuff because it's packed with just as much heart, guts and epic bursts of emotion. It's the sound of a group who have somehow rediscovered the magic. Brett Anderson's vocals are positively awe-inspiring, and it's a fine way to return. 'For The Strangers' produces one of many fine choruses, all underlined with magnificent soaring guitar lines. Upon hearing this particular track for the first time, I couldn't help but smile. It was like the last 17 years never happened. The massively infectious 'Hit Me' delivers electrifying glam riffs, a simple and hugely addictive chorus and an epic "la la la la la" refrain will no doubt have audiences punching the air and singing at the top of their lungs. They sound like they've reignited that spark and rediscovered what they once thought was lost forever. Overall it's not quite up there with the truly perfect'Coming Up', but its best moments provide us with something we thought we'd never hear again: Suede producing some new classics and proving that their glories aren't all in the past. Full review HERE.

3. Primal Scream - More Light
In 1997, Primal Scream changed the way I listened to music forever, with their phenomenal 'Vanishing Point'. The follow up'XTRMNTR' turned me on to politics and various music genres I hadn't explored previously. It was perhaps inevitable that after those two magnificent albums, subsequent releases failed to match such outstanding quality. 2008's 'Beautiful Future' was a good record, but not a good Primal Scream record. Something about it just seemed a bit too conventional by their standards, and it was perhaps an indication that another change was needed in order to revive the momentum and keep things moving along. During the intervening years, legendary bass icon Mani departed after over a decade with the group to return to his old pals in The Stone Roses, and after recording 'More Light'this ever changing unit welcomed the unknown Simone Butler into the fold. After spending the last few years touring 1991's landmark 'Screamadelica', there have been rumours that the album's sound was to be a major influence on the band's new LP. The truth is that the tone is in fact closer to that of 'Vanishing Point' and'XTRMNTR', however 'More Light' is a very different record that sees Primal Scream moving in new directions once again.

Producer David Holmes helps the record flow with a filmic quality, the sort of album that takes you on a memorable journey. And like 'Vanishing Point', this is a good record for the road as well as a terrific thing to experience through headphones. Although there are hints of their best LPs, this isn't a case of a band repeating themselves. The explosive nine minute opener '2013' is the sound of thrilling confrontation that perfectly defines the state of modern culture. While others are either afraid to protest or not concerned, here is a fine and all too rare modern day example of a dire political, social and cultural climate provoking a powerful musical reaction, and Primal Scream are just the band to do it. Running at over 70 minutes, 'More Light' is the sprawling sound of a reinvigorated group giving it all they've got and stretching their musical imaginations to the limits, sounding vital and important once again. Full review HERE.

2. Teeth Of The Sea - MASTER
Teeth Of The Sea's astonishing third album is a record that's impossible to categorise and truly stands on its own in a musical world overpopulated by conformism. Incorporating elements of krautrock, electro-prog, psychedelia, metal and even disco (amongst other things) into a puzzle of cosmic terror, it's a terrific, boundary breaking fusion of sounds. I've been trying not to overplay it, however it continues to astound more and more after every listen, so another dose of this mighty brainfuck can be hard to resist. Utilising a range of otherworldly sounds and reaching deep into their boundless imaginations, the London-based outfit have put together something of a masterpiece (no pun intended).

Introduced by a frightening German android, the opening 'Leder' leads into 'Reaper''s punishing disco textures, where bellowing synths, a pounding 4/4 beat and tribal percussion form the basis for a dramatic piece evolving into powerful, industrial post-rock. 'The Servant' delivers awesome suspense, frazzled analogue synths and fucked-up trumpets that sound like swarms of wasps, while the mighty thump and mechanical menace of 'Black Strategy' shoots brain-frying sounds through your eardrums, frightening yet mesmerising with its hallucinogenic power and entrancing Moroder-esque synths. Just when you think it can't get any bigger, it does just that and continues to do so throughout every astounding minute, with the brass elevating it to new atmospheric levels. Sounding like fists being hammered against walls, the brutal 'All Human Is Error' reverberates with hypnotic power and deep bass, thriving on the thrilling sensation of noise travelling from ear to ear. Halfway through the closing 'Responder', the mood grows heavier as it threatens to erupt so forcefully, you're scared of what it might do to your ears. As its apocalyptic robo-march climaxes, it serves as the perfect ending to an astonishing album, but 'Master' is more than just an album. It's an experience.

Do yourself a favour and do this record justice by playing it through a good pair of headphones, and then you will be able to feel the full power of the Master. People complain about the lack of unique, original music these days. There's no shortage of that here. Enjoy. Full review HERE.

1. Edwyn Collins - Understated
The best record of 2013 was not one that pushed musical and sonic boundaries, or one that sold bucketloads. Sometimes, the simplest things are the best. This record delivered tune after tune, and over the course of the year has proved to be the finest collection of songs the last 12 months have produced. It was a close one, but listening to this on vinyl over the last few days has swung it. Edwyn Collins has made RW/FF's Album Of The Year. Well deserved, Sir.

'Understated' is an apt title for an album by a man like Edwyn Collins, for his influence is exactly that. People often talk about how bands like The Smiths and The Stone Rosesinspired generations of indie groups, butOrange Juice were also very much pivotal in their own way. Collins was the singer of this group, and after their split embarked on a solo career that produced a number of incredible albums. But in 2005 his life was shattered after suffering multiple brain haemorrhages, a trauma that many people don't bounce back from. It was a relief that he survived the tragedy, and just knowing that he was still with us was a blessing. While the man may have lived to see another day, many people assumed that we would probably never hear the musician again. But Edwyn Collins doesn't give up that easily. And here we are eight years later listening to his new album, his second since his return to doing what he loves most. Edwyn's recovery has been partly been the result of his sheer determination to carry on making brilliant music, something which helped him rebuild his life, and in many ways his thoughts.
For 2010's 'Losing Sleep', a range of high profile collaborated were enlisted to help their hero get back on track after the major setback he suffered, and after re-acquainting himself with music again, this latest album sees him take centre stage. It's perhaps his most personal record as well, several tracks reflecting on the events of his life in a most powerful and open way. It won't be long until you're singing along to the choruses, or maybe you won't be singing along because you'll want to concentrate on the power of that voice.

Opener 'Dilemna' kicks things off with smart horns and a simple yet massively infectious tune, while the strutting 'Baby Jean' tells of how his art has kept him going. The lively 'Carry On, Carry On' is a joyful piece of Motown-infused soul that doesn't take for granted the simple pleasures in life, and elsewhere songs like the poignant, bruised 'Down The Line' push his vocal abilities to the limit. "Just understand I've lost some ground"he sings, highlighting the fact that he's not trying to hide anything from the listener. While some tracks openly deal with his struggle, others look back to his youth and his early days as a musician, in fact the humbly touching '31 Years' does both. But not once does he sound like a man playing for sympathy or feeling sorry for himself, as the truly buoyant northern soul stomper 'Too Bad (That's Sad)' demonstrates, a classic break up song put to the most uplifting of musical settings.

Some of the wit and lyrical sharpness of his pre-2005 material may have been blunted, but in its place are honest autobiographical reflections, and a newfound sense of perspective, while the determination and sincerity powering his performance is nothing short of awe inspiring. 'Forsooth' grows from a soft Velvet Underground-like melody into a wonderfully underplayed gospel chorus. Because music has given him so much, he's giving himself to the music and can be heard truly singing from the heart. When he sings"I'm so happy to be alive", you can tell that he means it. The thrilling 'In The Now' sees him celebrating survival with a defiant energy, pleased to be not only "living and breathing" but also "working", while the fantastic title track provides another catchy direct hit.

'Understated' is more than just another step to recovery, it is indeed a fine record in its own right, and utterly life-affirming. It's also perhaps the ultimate testament to the healing power of music. He lost the ability to read, write, and lost movement in half of his body, but what he didn't lose was his gift for coming up with an ear-catching tune, as is proved here. It will make you smile, it may even make you cry, and its an album that reminds you how good it is to be alive. 

Listen to the album in full HERE
And then buy a copy HERE

Monday, 30 December 2013

2013 - Albums Of The Year: 20-11

So we come to THAT time of year again. Unlike a lot of websites (some of who started publishing their "end of year" lists in October!), this roll of honour has been prepared after a lot of careful consideration, AND actually at the end of the year too! It's also a bit different to a lot of other 'Best Of 2013' lists in that it has been compiled by one person and is based on the opinions of one person, wheras most music sites have big teams of writers, meaning that their 'Best Of' lists are just an indication of the most popular and most commonly-heard records of the year. I know because I was the one who added up all the scores for God Is In The TV's list, which was aggregated from about 30 writers individual lists. While that's all well and good, the following list is one that offers an undiluted picture of the year's finest long players. A lot of the albums from 50-25 aren't really in any particular order, since many were equally enjoyable. Plus there are some LPs that I didn't have time to full investigate and allow time to grow on me properly. Some of these are in the list and could have maybe been higher (Nick Cave, Midlake, British Sea Power), while there are other great albums that didn't make the list for the same reason. Not based on hype, popularity amongst other critics or commercial success, it's quite simply an honest lowdown on the things that caught my ears the most in 2013... Also, the ratings for these albums are not based on the marks given to them when I originally reviewed them. If that was the case, the latest Ocean Colour Scene album would have probably been in the Top 20. Instead, I have spent the last month or so revisiting all my favourite albums from this year and re-appraising them...

Numbers 50-41 are HERE.
Numbers 40-31 are HERE.
Numbers 30-21 are HERE.

20. Public Service Broadcasting - Inform, Educate, Entertain
Four years in the making, Public Service Broadcasting's debut LP follows the release of a number of brilliant singles and EPs. 'Inform-Educate-Entertain' is a superb representation of what the duo do, live drums and voice samples from old films being their trademarks. The opening title track provides a good tone setter, preparing the listener for the journey with little previews of what's to come, before the excellent 'Spitfire' sets motorik rhythms and lively guitar lines to dialogue from a 1940's war movie. 'Late Night Final' closes the album in a bleak, almost trip-hop fashion with haunting horns building throughout. It's a unique record that takes you on a journey through the past while sounding fresh and innovative enough to place in firmly in the present. Full review HERE.

19. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Specter At The Feast
Initially I didn't warm to this album immediately, but it requires a few plays to make its full impact, and after a week I found it hard to identify that many faults. The brooding 'Firewalker' opens the record in a creeping, shadowy fashion. It's almost a bit "desert rock" in fact. It builds up a menacing and ominous tension with a hypnotic, slow-burning groove, before the storming single 'Let The Day Begin' kicks in. The group may not be bringing that many new ideas in to their music, but they haven't completely covered this ground before, and have never sounded quite this introspective before. All of it may take a while to sink in, but 'Specter At The Feast' isn't short of memorable songs. Maybe it's not as fresh and exciting as the first two LPs, instead it works in a different way. It's definitely something that could be termed a grower. Full review HERE.

18. Atoms For Peace - Amok
the exemplary debut LP from Thom Yorke's new supergroup Atoms For Peace. Perhaps slightly less emotional than Radiohead, it's more reminiscent of 2003's 'Sit Down Stand Up' or 'The King Of Limbs', and I think I prefer it to the latter. In effect, it's more like a follow-up to Thom's 2006 solo album 'The Eraser'; it's still very much Yorke at the centre of things, and his distinctive qualities are everywhere. The cold electronic textures are given a human warmth by the instinctive songcraft and the unfolding melodies, as demonstrated on the slow-burning 'opener 'Before Your Very Eyes''Default' gives us ominous, rumbling bass and glitchy, awkward beats, while 'Ingenue' delivers warped analogue synth and percussion that sounds like dripping water in a cave. 
'Dropped' thuds and knocks before veering into an almost jungle-like drum and bass rhythm, where the bottom end riff is brutal. The shuffling, rattling 'Stuck Together pieces' has a contagiously dense groove and becomes a true earworm that will soon capture you after a while; "you don't get away so easily" it tells you. You certainly don't. Meanwhile the superb 'Judge Jury And Executioner' adds a touch of acoustic guitar beneath the clapped beat, moaning bass and Yorke's eerie falsetto. It's clearly not the sort of thing you're going to hear the milkman cheerfully whistling in the morning. As you might expect, it's not an instantly accessible record and you will need to spend a bit of time with it. But records like this can be extremely rewarding when the songs creep into your headspace. Thom Yorke is without a doubt a genius, a fact that is once again underlined by this is enjoyably explorative collection of tracks. Full review HERE.

17. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
Beginning with the brooding late night road trip of the title track, the former Czars frontman returned with an album inspired by the sounds of the dancefloor while still bringing out plenty of those rich, elegant displays of emotion. It also reflects his reaction and ways of coming to terms with his HIV diagnosis in an admirably upfront fashion. And there are very few people who can sing the word "fuck" as brilliantly. MusicOMH: "It’s a towering achievement, building on what has come before while expanding it in astonishing ways. This is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year and after so many thwarted attempts, the world is finally Grant’s for the taking..."

16. Atlanter - Vidde
One of the most exquisite examples of sheer musical magic in recent times has come courtesy of ‘Vidde’, the fantastic debut LP from Norway’s Atlanter. According to the press release “The band describe their thoroughly eclectic sound as 'Viddeblues'. 'Vidde' in Norwegian, refers to an open mountain landscape; an image as elemental as their blues and folklore inspired roots”. This album does a great job of conjuring up such mental illustrations, a record that inspires the imagination to paint vivid pictures. The band are led by Jens Carelius and Arild Hammerø, with percussionist Jonas Barsten Johnsen and bassistMorten Kvam bringing together musical experiences within from jazz, folk, rock and improv music. Combine the aforementioned styles with touches of psychedelica and prog, along with a subtle baroque flavour, and you get one of this year’s most fascinating and enticing records. Take the time to absorb these sounds, for ‘Vidde’ isn’t designed to you first time round. Instant gratification followed by a lifetime left on the shelf is not what this record aims for. There’s too much here for the human mind to possibly take in and understand fully during the first listen. The next time you listen to it, you’ll notice parts that you didn’t hear before. ‘Vidde’ is the sort of record that entices you to spend more time with it, revealing more as it intrigues and charms with each listen. Maybe it’s supposed to grow over the course of multiple plays because it DESERVES to be listened to many times. 

Treat yourself to a copy of this record. Don’t miss out on the rewarding experience that these nine magnificent earworms have to offer. Full review HERE.

15. Savages - Silence Yourself
And savage it was indeed. Dragging primal post-punk back into the 21st century, this was the sound of three disillusioned young women whipping up a storm. The violent energy, the intensity of those vocals and some absolutely fierce guitars proved that there was no room for complacency in the world of Savages. This is an album that makes you BELIEVE in the future of music. God Is In TV: "Yes. It is a bloody racket. It’s dark, powerful, uncompromising music -and all the better for it. It’s menacing. Drenched in feedback. It does not care what you think... This is an album to be played loud. This is an album that some won’t be able to handle. This is an album that follows in the footsteps of a heritage of bands like The Slits, The Raincoats, Throwing Muses and Sleater-Kinney, amongst others, whilst not necessarily sounding all that much like any of those bands. Bugger believing the hype. Savages are here in your face, and taking no prisoners. Are you up for the ride?"

14. Melt Yourself Down - Melt Yourself Down
The excellent self titled debut from Melt Yourself Down is quite unlike anything else you’re likely to set ears on this year, the work of a seven piece group whose combined previous experiences are as refreshingly diverse as its musical ingredients. It’s a wild fusion of sounds from across the world, spanning multiple cultures and genres to create a sound that truly needs to be heard to be understood. Some would lazily call it “world music”, but it’s essentially dance music with true value, demonstrating true musicianship and providing a far more interesting alternative to the current endless crop of unimaginative electronic acts who fail to provide quality with their dull digital sounds, and yes I am talking about that shit the kids call “EDM”. When I say it’s an “alternative” to modern dance music, what I really mean is that it’s on the other side of the spectrum in terms of accomplishment, and in a completely different league when it comes to producing something memorable. That’s not to say that MYD don’t embrace modern electro sounds, but they are used almost decoratively rather than providing a base for the sound. Eight tracks that are as addictive as they are inventive, this is a record that you should not ignore. Now you know it exists, seek it out and treat yourself to everything it has to offer. Full review HERE.

13. Manic Street Preachers - Rewind The Film
Out of all the British rock legends of our generation, the Manic Street Preachers are arguably the band who have stood the test of time most effectively. Through constant change and reinvention, with each record they have always come back as a slightly different group. All of their albums stand as particular snapshots of time that document the various points this band have arrived at during their long journey together, and now their 11th LP marks the dawn of another new era for the group. After becoming stadium-filling rock royalty in the second half of the 90’s, the following years delivered a couple of unfocused and sometimes seemingly confused records. Nearer the end of the Noughties, the band appeared to have reconnected with the anthemic power that made them rock idols, but some fans who preferred the less shiny, rawer “other” version of the Manics were left wanting. Those people were given a real treat when 2009’s‘Journal For Plague Lovers’ set the final lyrical works of much-missed former member Richey Edwards to a bleaker, more intense sound more reminiscent their 1994 masterpiece 'The Holy Bible'. True to their habit of reacting against their previous records, they released the unashamedly lavish ‘Postcards From A Young Man’a year later, an intentionally grand mainstream rock record that Nicky Wire described as their “one last shot at mass communication”. But realising that genuine rock had gradually deserted the singles chart entirely, it seemed like a good time for James, Nicky and Sean to draw a line under another chapter of their career with the ‘National Treasures’ singles collection and live shows intended to “mark the passing of the rock hit”.

After announcing a “hiatus” it seemed that we wouldn’t be seeing them again for a long time.“We squeezed every last bit of anthemic energy and belief in the idea of being in a rock’n’roll band and there was nothing left,” said Nicky. After surviving through so much for so long, maybe they’d already given all they could possibly give and wouldn’t be able to find new ways of being brilliant. How would they be able to reinvent themselves again after recording no less than ten studio albums? Luckily at some point over the last three years, an unplanned jolt of inspiration seems to have breathed new life into the Manics. ‘Rewind The Film’ is an album that proves magic can occur when a band follows its instincts rather than pushing hard for calculated results. It seems a lot less concerned about commercial success previous outings. Mainstream fame? They’ve been there, done that. Now their reward is the freedom to stay true to themselves and concentrate on their own ambitions, surely more rewarding than any of those platinum discs. It will be a divisive record for sure. The people carrier-driving Absolute Radio brigade hankering for mammoth rock anthems will run a mile when they set ears on the likes of ‘Manorbier’. Don’t come here looking for another ‘Archives Of Pain’ either: ‘Anthem For A Lost Cause’ and ‘Show Me The Wonder’ are about as far away as you possibly get. Rather than attempting to recreate their past, the most important part their history has played in‘Rewind The Film’ was bringing them to the point which they are now at. Those of us who have grown up with the music of the Manics should be glad that their music continues to grow with them. We should be also thankful that out of all the bands who have appeared over the last three decades, it’s this incredible group that have survived to tell the tale. Their battles have left them bruised and scarred, but its their experiences that have shaped them, installing a unique emotion into the heart of their music. They remain as enduring as ever. Review HERE.

12. Jagwar Ma - Howlin'
On their fantastic, wildly eclectic debut the hotly tipped Australians fused psychedelica, acid house, 60's pop, surf, garage and a healthy measure of indie rock to create one of 2013's most inventive long players. NME: "“The future of the galaxy depends on the Temples and Jagwar Ma records,” Noel Gallagher told NME last month. “If those two records are right, the imperial forces will be defeated.” No pressure, then. Luckily Jono Ma and Gabriel Winterfield were compiling ‘Howlin’ on the other side of the world in Sydney, unaware of the expectant gaze of a man of whose patronage Winterfield has said: “That’s ridiculous. Noel was my hero…” If Winterfield is an Oasis fan, it’s not apparent in Jagwar Ma’s sound, which fuses dance and guitar music in a way that hasn’t been done for 20 years. Their album lives on some retro-futuristic dancefloor where the DJ drops old-school piano house, The Beach Boys and ‘Screamadelica’ in quick succession. If that makes it seem like ‘Howlin’ just references genres your dad got off his tits to, be happy that its origins are in a different place..."

11. Steve Mason - Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time
Steve Mason's career has produced an array of interesting styles, not to mention some utterly brilliant songs. The work he created with The Beta Band was thrillingly experimental yet tunefully strong, and his projects since the band's split in 2004 have been most compelling indeed. 2010's 'Boys Outside' was the first record released under his own given name, and while packed with great songs, it took a slightly more straightforward approach.

Three years on and Mason brings us his second solo set 'Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time', named after a Buddhist term for an easily distracted brain. And in an age of mass-media induced public ignorance, there's no better time for this creative intelligent musician to unleash his most confrontational work yet. The press release states that the LP is "shaped by the current global political climate and the lack of dissenting voices in music and popular culture in general". Inspiringly, he's opted to stay true to himself, while other artists are too scared to stand up and be counted, in case they don't get played on radio (which nowadays doesn't take kindly to artists who have something to say). But although it's billed as his political album, it doesn't see him standing on a soapbox and delivering a lecture. It's FAR more subtle and cleverly done than that. It's a record that also provides us with his most personal collection of songs yet. At nearly an hour in length and boasting no less than 20 tracks, it's an ambitious, sprawling effort that incorporates a wildly eclectic mixture of genres from country to hip hop. But out of the 20 tracks, 11 are mostly brief interludes that link the nine wonderful full length songs together and give the LP a fuller sense of variety. Maybe it doesn't need to be this long, but it's the outstanding quality of its key moments that make 'Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time' a career best. Full review HERE.