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.

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