This was an absolutely belting year for new music. There’s some brilliant stuff here. Great new bands, career highlights of existing bands. There was defintely something in the water in 2013.
1 – Teeth of The Sea – Master
This is the soundtrack to the best sci-fi horror movie never made. An uncompromising record that only really works in its entirety. It blends thumping beats, harsh guitars and snippets of spoken word to ratchet up atmosphere and tension right until the thrilling last track “Responder”.
2 – Phosphorescent – Muchacho
This is a country music style break-up album. Honestly. It is also absolutely brilliant. An album of terrific songs with gold-plated hooks and meticulous production and musicianship. Phosphorescent is the alias of singer-songwriter Matthew Houck, although he plays so many instruments he often sounds like an orchestra.
4 – Hookworms – Pearl Mystic
Who says nothing good comes out of Leeds? Well, me normally but an exception needs to made for this confident and powerful debut album. Hookworms produce a wide-canvas psych rock that has some parallels with 80’s bands like Spacemen 3 & Loop. But ultimately they don’t sound like anything but themselves.
5 – Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
Speedy Ortiz are definitely students of The Pixies. But importantly they aren’t copyists. They have taken the template and simply used it as the vehicle that transports their spiky and powerful songs.
6 – Janelle Monae- The Electric Lady
Janelle Monae thinks she can turn her hand to any form of music. She’s probably right. And she models herself as an android. Unsurprising then that the mighty Prince guests on this massive and hugely rewarding mix of soul, funk, R&B and anything else that you can you think of.
7 – The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The National don’t make a big fuss about things. They quietly produce a kind of brooding and melancholy music that accompanies dense tales of everyday lives – usually sad ones. Doesn’t sound too promising does it? The thing is they creep up on you and I found myself coming back to this again and again over the year. Deceptively complicated song arrangements emerge and the rumbling vocals of Matt Berninger convey a kind of redemptive world-weariness.
8 – The Besnard Lakes – Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO
Canadians The Besnard Lakes probably take the prize for weirdest album tittle of the year. But forgive them for they take their signature woozy, harmony-led guitar rock to another level on this slowly-revealing and eventually enveloping album.
10 – Holden – The Inheritors
This standout electronic album of the year was delivered by James Holden who fulfilled on the promise of earlier work such as the wonderfully titled “The Idiots are Winning”. Opener Rannoch Dawn is all tribal drums and sounds squeezed from vintage synths. Stone age techno.
11 – Mountains – Centralia
This enthralling ambient album carefully builds texture and atmosphere until the wonderful wash of guitar of the final track. It builds a tremendous sense of space and movement.
12 – Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day
This is the Mazzy Star who in the 1990’s made three excellent albums of haunting, stripped down yet intricate country blues. Vocalist Hope Sandoval has one of the most evocative voices going. Wisely, and perhaps serving as an good example to some other bands, they stick to their winning formula and this album stands with their previous work without being altered or affected by any outside influence.
13 – Grumbling Fur – Glynnaestra
On “The Ballad of Roy Batty” the lyrics are taken from the dialogue of an android in teh key scene of Blade Runner. The album is named after some spirit or deity the band apparently channelled. This band are clearly a little strange. But in Glynnaestra they have made an approachable, even catchy collection of “normal” songs. Wolves in sheeps clothing.
14 – Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Jon Hopkins was half of the excellent Diamond Mine project. His movie soundtrack work is excellent too – “Monsters” for example. On this album he’s pulled it all together and forged his own style of danceable yet intelligent and personal electronic music.
15 – Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Yes, Fuck Buttons were included in the Olympic opening ceremony. Yes, they have the word fuck in their name. Moving on. I thought the sampled-to-death snarls and cavernous pits of white noise on their debut, “Street Horsssing” were their finest hour. Since then they’ve moved away from this ferocious humanity to a kind of mechanized menace. The production on this album is superb and the deliberate machinery of their music is ironically it’s greatest draw.
16 – Lumerians – The High Frontier
U.S. psych this time. Where bands like Wooden Shjips seem to be drifting away from the genre Lumerians find all kinds of variations on a fuzzed-out motorik template to create this diverse and fun album.
17 – Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
On first play there might not seem to be much to this album. It may seem fragile and restrained but slowly Julianna Barwick’s complicated arrangements and breathy vocals shine through and create a euphoria that makes groups like Sigur Ros and even Cocteau Twins seem, well, loud.
18 – Wire – Change Becomes Us
The greatest new wave band are tireless and thirty-odd years after “Pink Flag” they continue to work ideas to their artistic conclusion. “Change Becomes Us”, consists of reworkings of songs that didn’t quite make it to album stage in the early 1980’s. A long wait, but well worth it.
19 – Hey Colossus – Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo
A pleasing mixture of sludge metal and experimental noise rock. Opener Hot Grave is one the best tracks of the year and this lot are becoming the British noise-rock standard bearers. Loud, sweaty and splendid.
21 – My Bloody Valentine – mbv
22 years between albums. Blah blah. Get past the fact that everyone worships them like gods and you’ll find an excellent album that sticks to the model of the, admittedly wonderful, “Loveless”. Kevin Shields can still make a really big noise.
23 Low – The Invisible Way
The band that became famous – in the midst of grunge – for playing quietly. they stay true to form on this mature and very rewarding album of well-crafted contemplative songs..
25 – Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven
This needs a few listens. Elaborate and seemingly fragmented electronics and samples skitter around in your head until everything drops into place and you realise it’s very clever and all rather lovely.
26 – Boards of Canada – Tommorrow’s Harvest
First album in ages for this revered Scottish duo sticks to their distant dubby electronic template with odd sampled vocals floating in and out. Dreamy, man.
27 – Eluvium – Nightmare Ending
This is excellent ambient electronica that manages the clever trick of being both minimal and tremendously emotional. Background music that leaps up from time to time and grabs you.
28 – Fat White Family – Champagne Holocaust
Filthy, lewd and dirty music using the template of The Fall and The Monks. London’s Fat White Family are a refreshing blast of stale air. Unwashed and loutish, unapologetically foul. This is Rock Music.
31 – Gary Numan – Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)
The elder statesman of electronica emerges from the shadows to drop the best industrial electronic album of the year. Nine Inch Nails take note – this is how it is done.
32 – Nick Cave – Push the Sky Away
After the lewd gutter blues of his Grinderman work and the driving dark humour of Dig Lazarus Dig you can forgive Nick Cave for taking a bit of a breather. And Push the Sky Away is much more understated than his other recent work. But this is Nick Cave remember so it’s still ace.
33 – Steve Mason – Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time
Ex Beta Bander Steve Mason’s second solo album is delightful. Even his hip hop experiment works and he leaps from style to style without losing track.
35 – Savages – Silence Yourself
An all woman band hyped to death by the music press. They sound very like Siouxsie and the Banshees with a bunch of other 80’s influences thrown in. The album cover contains an uncompromising declaration of intent. You can imagine how much I wanted to hate this. But actually it’s very good.
37 – The Asphodells – Ruled By Passion, Destroyed by Lust
Andy Weatherall’s latest collaboration is a winner. The vocals fronting the electronica start out by grating but after a few listens mesh into the whole thing. Intelligent Dance Music indeed.
39 – Primal Scream – More Light
Their last album wasn’t up to much but this is a return to form of sorts. The Primals have darted off in so many creative directions over the years that it is almost a surprise to see them set up shop securely in the middle of their sound as they do on this album. So nothing new then, but some well crafted, well executed songs.
40 – John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
John Grant takes a major detour from his Midlake collaboration, “Queen of Denmark”. This album has stark electronica, lush ballads and brutally self-searching and bitingly funny lyrics – all delivered in Grant’s amazing voice. “Greatest MF” is one of teh tracks of the year.
42 Throwing Muses – Purgatory/Paradise
The first album in ten years for these 80’s 4AD label stalwarts is remarkably inventive and playful for a band so far into their careers. Songs are split into pieces and familiar bits crop up all over the place. Their best stuff is their most restrained and the whole album eventually pulls together into a powerful whole.
44 – Grant Hart – The Argument
Drummer and songwriter with ’80’s noise legends Husker Du releases a double concept album about the fall of Lucifer based on Paradise Lost. It could have been a right mess but as it turns out he pulls it off very well indeed. Rattling through styles this is a unique and enetrtaining album.
…and here’s a few from 2012 that I missed last year that are well worth a listen.
48 – Redd Kross – Researching the Blues
Thirty years into their career and fifteen years since albums Redd Kross make the best thing they’ve ever done. Massive power pop albums with great hooks. A cracking album.