Wednesday, 11 December 2013

My Favourite Albums of 2013: Part One

Hey guys. So seeing as we're on the verge of 2014, we're now well into "List Season" where everyone decides what they enjoyed about 2013 the most. Guess what that means? That's right, it's time for the least relevant list of them all, as I run down my favourite albums of the year! As per usual I'll stress the word "favourite" - I'm not saying this is a definitive list of the 10 best albums you'll hear this year, just the ones that gave me the most pleasure personally. (Oi, stop giggling at the back!)

This year was an absolutely ridiculous one for new releases, as artists who hadn't released anything in donkey's year decided to crawl out of the woodwork and deliver some cracking stuff (which we'll get to later). I probably could have done a top 20 of the year because there was so much stuff but not even I'm pretentious enough to believe anyone's that arsed about my opinion, nore could I be arsed to put all those albums into order, so I've stuck with giving a handful of honourable mentions as usual.

Honourable Mentions

  • John Murry - The Graceless Age: I'll admit, I've only just stumbled upon this thanks to The Guardian's end of year list. Boy am I glad I did. Here was me thinking Mazzy Star made the most beautiful song called "California" this year - along comes Murry's track of the same name to blow me out of the water! So heartfelt  and marvellous.
  • Follakzoid - II: I dunno what they're smoking in Chile but it must be good shit lemme tell you. Grooves that are the very definition of earworms litter this album. A psychedelic treat. (and a bargain too at $7/roughly £4)
  • Jagwar Ma - Howlin: The trippy-indie scene really took off in Australia post Tame Impala's Lonerism, and Jagwar Ma really rode the crest of that scene with highly danceable numbers like "Come And Save Me" and "The Throw".
  • Arcade Fire - Reflektor: The jury's still out on whether this record fully lived up to its potential, but there's no denying that it's littered with touches of class. The way the guitars and drums breakdown in "Here Comes The Night Time", the way the synths and strings work together on "We Exist", the saxophone and David Bowie cameo on the title track ("Thought you were praying to the resurrector...") are all fantastic, but "Normal Person" is the high point for me.

10. Kurt Vile - Waking On A Pretty Daze

Right, onto my actual top ten now, and first up is Philadelphia's Kurt Vile. Equal parts Neil Young and Lou Reed, Vile's natural knack for melody and sustaining hypnotic, breezy sounds ("Wakin On A Pretty Day") are matched by his ear for a nice, crunchy riff ("KV Crimes", "Snowflakes Are Dancing"). With the two styles brought together, WOAPD is probably the most effortless sounding album of the year (most noticeable on the aptly titled "Too Hard"): listening gives you a sense Kurt and his band, The Violators, went into a world of their own and got lost there, and as the record merrily skips along it lures you there too. A terrific, infectious listen.

Download: "Wakin On A Pretty Day", "Snowflakes Are Dancing", "Air Bud"

9. California X - California X

Despite the name, California X actually hail from Amherst, Massechusetts, which also happens to be the hometown of Dinosaur Jr. This inevitably led to the former being compared to the latter (that and the fact that like J Mascis' crew, the band play loud. REALLY loud), a comparison not unwarranted. However, California X by no means stand in Dino's shadow.
This is just a flat out, air-punchingly good, good old fashion rock record. Big, heavy, grungy guitars are prevalent throughout, opener "Sucker" being a prime example, as the opening riffs ascend into a truly awesome head-banger. Definitely one of my favourite finds this year.

Download: "Sucker", "Hot Hed", "Pod Rot"

8. Haim - Days Are Gone

In a world where the music industry has flat out fallen on it's arse and genuine break through stars are hard to come by, record company execs across the globe must have been doing cartwheels when the sisters Haim emerged. They've all got a great sense of humour, give often hilarious interviews and the camera seems to love them. That's practically the complete package when it comes to "star quality" in the music biz even before you actually get to the music.
Luckily they deliver on that front too. I can't remember a pop album in the past few years that's been just so flat out fun like this, listening to it can't fail to put me in a good mood. What it lacks in originality, the album more than makes up for in infectious call-and-response vocals and inhibition stripping sing-a-longs - I'm particularly susceptible to belting out "IF I COULD CHANGE YOUR MI-EE-III-EEE-IIIIIND" during the chorus of said song. Every listen puts a smile on my face.

Download: "Don't Save Me", "If I Could Change Your Mind", "The Wire"

7. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Few albums this year were hyped quite to the extent of Random Access Memories. The drip-feed of previews and eventual astronomical success of lead single "Get Lucky" put anticipation at fever pitch - to the extent that some idiot bookmakers were putting odds on the album to break Be Here Now's first week sales record (come on, no album is every going to sell in those kinds of quantities again). Inevitably the eye-watering amount of hype led to many convincing themselves the album was awful simply for being over hyped. Silly people.
This album was born in the disco and absolutely drenched in the influence of the heroes of dance music and brimming with ideas. "Giorgio by Moroder" being a case in point: who else would be able to take a simple monologue from Moroder (who has the most awesome pronunciation of "synthesiser" ever) and make it into one of the most innovative dance tracks of the decade? My heart never ceases to race when the keys kick in after the immortal line "My name is Giovanni Giorgio, but everybody call me... Giorgio". Album closer "Contact" is also simply sublime just in the sheer sense of synesthesia it creates.
Granted it's not a prefect record - during my first few listens it felt like literally nothing happened between "Get Lucky" and the delightful "Fragments of Time", but it's a dance smorgasbord of innovation and homage that's never short of delighting you.

Download: "Giorgio by Moroder", "Fragments of Time", "Contact" [because you've either already downloaded "Get Lucky" or been unable to escape it's ubiquity enough to not need to download it]

6. Suede - Bloodsports

Everyone always assumed that if Suede - Britpop before Britpop was cool - were to return to former glories then Bernard Butler needed to come on board and get back into his song writing groove with Brett Anderson. Turns out everyone was wrong - Bloodsports is an unfathomably good record, to the extent that several songs here actually rank up there with their best work period.
The satisfying clash of drums (especially the intro to "Hit Me"), the pulsing basslines and addictive guitar riffs all sit nicely alongside each other, and are elevated further when there's a dramatic chorus involved  - "It Starts And Ends With You" in particular is a corker, while the mere key change in "Snowblind" is enough to raise you adrenaline. Musically you definitely feel the thrill of the chase and carnal nature Anderson was after when making the album.
Like I mentioned above, it was a year of comebacks, and you needed something exceptional to stand out. Suede certainly achieved that. Well played.

Download: "Snowblind", "It Starts And Ends With You", "For All The Strangers"

That's your lot for now, keep your eyes peeled for part two soon. Byeeeeee.