Saturday, 28 December 2013

2013 - Albums Of The Year: 40-31

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 30-21 are HERE.

40. Hookworms - Pearl Mystic
Psychedelic trips, thrillingly unhinged vocals and blaring guitars powered this excellent debut from the entrancing Leeds four piece. MusicOMH: "Pearl Mystic really is a staggering debut. Hookworms are a band quite unlike anything the UK has produced for years. It’s to their huge credit that they have made such an assured and immersive album on their own terms..."

39. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
Returning with a possible career high point, this moody, powerful piece of work has quite rightly featured in many other 'best of 2013' lists, making the top spot on God Is In The TV's writer's list. Certainly a fine offering from the ever-imaginative Cave, it's a record that I have only heard a few times, and yet it still claims a place here. A few more listens and it could have been higher, but no doubt more hours will be spent with this album in the future. God Is In The TV: "Cave is still preoccupied with god, punishment, and judgement, with the front cover depicting a cold Nick presumably ordering a naked woman out of his abode, for some imagined transgression. Present day Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds are the musical equivalent of an iceberg, slow moving, ninety percent hidden below, awe-inspiring, and unstoppable..."

38. Cave - Threace
From one Cave to another, a Chicago psych outfit. Comprising of 5 tracks that stretch to 42 minutes, pieces are elongated, made up of repeating riffs and off kilter rhythms that gradually unfold bit by bit. It's a record that requires patience over the course of a few listens to be enjoyed properly, and the 5 minute 'Shikaakwa' is the LP's shortest track. Touches of 70's prog and krautrock are put together with a stubborn percussive groove as wandering guitar parts intertwine with analogue synths and the bright, organic flourishing of woodwind, flutes and other jazzy developments. It's odd, it's rather beautiful, and its rhythms really lock the listeners ear into its calculated patterns.

The lengthier tracks tend to take a while to unfold, and on the surface they may do very little to please the more impatient ear, and when they do progress, sometimes they have the feeling of an overlong build up. and have a very gradual, slow burning impact. Having said that, when it does eventually reach its climax, 'Silver Headband' has some considerably mean bite, while fluid highlight 'Arrow's Myth' plays with psychedelic wah-wah jazz-funk. Weird and repetitive, much of 'Threace' is built around odd time signatures, topped with plenty of skillfully utilised analogue synths, explorative guitars, tantalising percussion, and even some colourful flutes. 

37. TOY - Join The Dots
On TOY's cosmic second album, they didn't exactly undergo any kind of major reinvention or stray too far from the path of their critically acclaimed 2012 debut. They didn't need to. Instead they built on the mesmeric sounds of their previous work and continued to make the most of their creative streak. From the excellent opening instrumental '' to the psychedelic juggernaut that is the LP's epic title track, this was the sound of a band on a roll. This Is Fake DIY: "It's definitely the case that ‘Join The Dots’ sounds an awful lot like a band who've spent quite a lot time recently listening to TOY. It has the same sense of momentum as the debut. Songs pound onwards, elliptical guitar lines wrapping round and round, and there's an all encompassing feeling of travelling vast distances. Relentlessly, confidently and quite, quite spectacularly. So while TOY may be fast workers, they've also got a faintly astonishing level of quality control. It's fair to say ‘Join The Dots’ would have been worth a far, far longer wait..."

36. Roy Harper - Man And Myth
After a 13 year gap between albums, the hugely influential 72 year old folk hero returned with this marvellous LP, his 23rd overall. With guest spots from Pete Townsend, strong melodies and magnificent arrangements, Harper's talent for storytelling was just as sharp as it's ever been. Uncut: "an often spectacular comeback album that confirms Harper’s place as one of English music’s last great visionaries. Now 72, age has barely tempered Harper’s view of the world as a battleground, where good and those on its side are ranged against those who are not good, far from it, in fact, and the many more on their side, by inclination or coercion. The rebel in him will clearly never be quietened, nor his robust romantic impulses ever quelled. Like the brave bird after which Stormcock was named, Harper continues to sing fearlessly in the face of hostile winds..."

35. New War - New War
New War are a Melbourne-based quartet who play dynamic post punk, and their debut album was originally released down under back in 2012. However this year saw ATP Records grant it a well-deserved re-release, and tongues have started wagging among a wider audience. What it lacks in guitar noise, it makes up for with hypnotic rhythms, insistent basslines, pitch black atmosphere and songs that go on many different journeys. The Quietus: "indebted to molasses-thick, 70s-doused heavy rock records, all Satanic riffs and snarling harmonics, with lyrics that implore you to “sacrifice your head” and song after song starting with tumbling drums that recall John Bonham’s precision chaos. Moments break from the retro mould – ‘Revealer’’s insistent disco bass evokes a haunted-house iteration of The Rapture – but the band are at their most impressive with heads down, rocking out – a thankfully timeless delight."

34. The Pastels - Slow Summits
The Pastels are a band I first heard on the soundtrack album to 'The Acid House', back in 1998. This year the band announced it would release their first full length album in sixteen years, entitled 'Slow Summits'. Released in May through Domino, the wait was worthwhile. A sparkling summer gem, it featured the gorgeous single 'Check My Heart' and the stunning English (or should I say Scottish) melancholia of 'Summer Rain', that on the surface sounds like a sweet little love song, but listen deeper and it reveals an underlying message concerning mankind's abuse of our planet. AllMusic: "Slow Summits is an unhurried, understated masterpiece that should make fans of the band, and of music in general, glad that the Pastels have not only stuck with it for so long, but grown into the kind of group that could release something this warm and beautiful..."

33. Foals - Holy Fire
The phenomenal 'Inhaler' and the groovy 'My Number' seemed to suggest that this third record from Foals was going to be something truly special. 'Holy Fire' doesn't quite live up to that promise, but it's a step forward into bigger things that delivers a number of essential moments. The aforementioned 'Inhaler' is undoubtedly one such highlight, hard swaggering funk and a prime example of the thicker, more muscular production provided by Alan Moulder and Flood. The stratospheric blast of the chorus elevates it to a thrillingly spectacular level that I was hoping could be matched by the rest of this LP. But there are some other superb examples of their craft here as well, like the instant hooks, chiming guitars and bright disco vibe of 'My Number'. In places it reminds me of an Ibiza dance anthem combined with a hint of Fleetwood Mac. And it's ace. It's a bigger, more confident record that retains the atmosphere of 'Total Life Forever', and moves further from their math-rock beginnings. Expect that army of fans to keep on growing.

32. MONEY - The Shadow Of Heaven
Manchester-based MONEY lit up 2013 with this ethereal, enigmatic debut. God Is In The TV: "Perhaps because The Shadow Of Heaven isn’t an easy listen, isn’t crammed with immediate FM hits but instead compositions that require repeated plays to reveal their true stature, some may dismiss it as overblown. But the themes written through the spine of this disc: its restless questioning, its a recognition that are lives are spent carrying the unbearable lightness of being are undeniably ambitious. Heaven and hell, where will we end up? Or when it ends will it just go dark? The Shadow Of Heaven isn’t just one of the d├ębuts of the year it’s a record that could make you start to question your own existence. The sound of the lofty thoughts of man for wide-open hearts..."

31. Euros Childs - Situation Comedy
Released via his very own National Elf label, former Gorky's Zycotic Mynci man Childs served up his finest solo effort yet, an addictively fun bag of treats packed with infectious melodies and brilliantly absurd lyrics. The wonderful McCartney-esque 'Tete A Tete' contains some of the best lines you'll ever hear, and if someone was to make a musical based around the lyrics of this LP, audiences would be in for an extraordinary treat.

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