Albums Of The Year: #25-1

Following on from my 20 Honourable Mentions and my Albums of 2013 #50-26, here is the conclusion.

The top 25 albums of 2013 (in my opinion):

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25. Mount Kimbie - Cold Spring Fault Less Youth | Warp

The second album from this London electronic duo is a much warmer and diverse affair than its predecessor. It skips from heady and brazen beats, to clicky little pop numbers, to rap songs featuring King Krule, to downright floorfillers. It feels a bit like a lot of different songs just stuck together, which in the end only adds to its charm for me.

Read my full review of Mount Kimbie's Cold Spring Fault Less Youth.


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24. Deafheaven - Sunbather | Deathwish

I don't think anyone expected a "black metal" album to become one of the year's most widely lauded and loved albums of the year; but you can tell by just looking at the cover that this is no normal release of that ilk. The scope of Sunbather is humongous, and while it holds all the tenets of black metal it comes across as radiant, uplifting and epic. I've enjoyed this album thoroughly every time I've listened to it, but its brashness was something I didn't often have a hankering to return to, so it floundered outside my albums of the year list, until, just a couple of weeks ago I had a truly transcendent moment with it listening to it while bombing it down a mountain in the sun on a snowboard. If that isn't proof that this album is magnificent then I don't know what is.


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23. Danny Brown - Old | Fool's Gold

Danny Brown's 2011 release XXX was chock-full of lines about getting head and doing drugs, and while Old certainly doesn't eschew those two subjects, they take a back seat to much more real, heartfelt and insightful songs from the rapper. The production across Old's 19 tracks is uniformly stellar, with pounding party anthems hitting viciously, while the more introspective tracks get decked out in simpler and more emotionally tinged electronics. Danny Brown is now undoubtedly one of the stand out voices in hip-hop, both lyrically and tonally.


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22. James Blake - Overgrown | Republic

While I enjoyed James Blake's self-titled debut, I did find a lot of the sonic "drops" a bit hackneyed and it all seemed to run together and bore me after a little while. Overgrown, in my opinion, is a huge step forward for James Blake who has used a much denser palette of oozing and swirling pianos, keys, bass and much more in marriage with his soulful croon to deliver a deeply confessional and gripping album.

James Blake - "Retrograde"


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21. Factory Floor - Factory Floor | DFA

Factory Floor's debut album finds them perfecting their own brand of deeply industrial techno/dance music. Getting through the album can sometimes feel like taking a drilling and several blows to the head, it's that heavy, but the intricacies and diabolically brilliant craft that's gone into the tracks will make you stick with it. And you have Nik Colk Void's alluringly robotic voice to guide you through it too, if you feel like you're getting overwhelmed.

Read my full review of Factory Floor.


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20. DARKSIDE - Psychic | Other People

Nicolas Jaar is prolific as heck in releasing singles under various projects, but his album with Dave Harrington as DARKSIDE is his first full length since his debut under his own name. Psychic shares a lot with that album (Space Is Only Noise) in its use of atmosphere and its ability to draw from many different styles, but Psychic has a much more organic feeling to it. Harrington's guitar is prevalent throughout and there are handclaps and a wide variety of interesting drumming styles thrown into this swirling beauty of an album.


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19. Jon Hopkins - Immunity | Domino

Jon Hopkins' latest album is a fairly unique foray into the domain of electronic music. The opening half of the album uses largely organic and "real-life" type sounds cut and manipulated expertly into glorious and highly danceable techno. The second half spreads out into much larger, slower and more stunning aural vistas that are pretty spectacular to behold.


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18. Phosphorescent - Muchacho | Dead Oceans

Matthew Houck's Phosphorescent was once a lonely man singing songs almost all by himself, heartbreakingly and sparingly. Now he has a whole band to back him up and his production skills are finely honed, but the themes of heartbreak and loneliness are still his go-to topics, and Muchacho has some of the most bleakly beautiful songs he's ever written. There's also some dirty rockers and some downright colossal musical moments through this songs superb 10 tracks. I can't believe this album has only ended up at 18, I feel like any other year it would have been a shoe-in for the top 10.

Bonus award: Best live band of the year (almost). Their gig at Village Underground was the best I went to all year until I saw Neutral Milk Hotel. They were also one of the very best bands at an extremely well-packed Primavera Sound this year.

Read my full review of Phosphorescent's Muchacho.


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17. Bill Callahan - Dream River | Drag City

Bill Callahan is without a doubt one of the very finest lyricists that's around today. With a sharp wit, a keen eye and a true heart he can compose songs that make you laugh and weep from one line to the next, or at the same time. He therefore doesn't necessarily need to be great musically to go along with it, but on Dream River the use of atmospheric guitars and subtly jazzy drums provide a canvas that turns out to be much more expansive than you would ever imagine they'd be from this lackluster description.

Bill Callahan - "Small Plane"


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16. Los Campesinos! - No Blues | Wichita

I still haven't made up my mind, but this might well be Los Campesinos!' best album yet. It might not have the variation or the drama of their opus Romance Is Boring, but going purely on hit rate I think No Blues might have it. All 10 tracks have downright flooring moments instrumentally, vocally and lyrically. Every time I listen I find it hard to resist belting out the choruses of songs like "Avocado, Baby," "Glue Me," "For Flotsam" and pretty much every other song. The band sounds tighter and more colourful than ever and Gareth's lyrics might be more dense than ever, but that only means taking the time to read through them (as I have done) is even more rewarding. Got to love all of those football references.


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15. Iceage - You're Nothing | Matador

I enjoyed Danish teens Iceage's debut album New Brigade quite a bit, and You're Nothing doesn't stray too far from that template but fine-tunes their short, sharp hardcore punk style while implementing more post punk aspects. The guitar interplay is sublime, but it's blink-and-you'll-miss-it quick, and texturally a lot of the songs here feel like having your skull tickled with some kind of power tool. Unmissable is Elias Bender Ronnefelt's vocal performance throughout, where he sounds like he squeezing out every last cubic millimeter of air from his lungs with each line to get his point across. The impact is so great that on at least half the songs on here there are moments where I can't stop myself from simultaneously screaming and fist-punching along.

Bonus award: Best album art. It doesn't get more badass than a fucking raven and its shadow chilling starkly not giving a fuck.

Iceage - "Ecstasy"


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14. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City | XL

This is possibly the biggest surprise of the year for me. Vampire Weekend's second album Contra did not do much for me at all, and after that release I kind of dismissed the band as hipster bait that I was too serious to be into. Even the singles from their fantastic debut album had seemingly started to lose their zip. But then their third album Modern Vampires of the City came along and changed all that. Not only are the songs as catchy as ever, but they're much much more musically ambitious and interesting, and the songs have substance lyrically without ever getting anywhere near bogged down. It speaks volumes that even half a year after this album was released I was still returning to it fairly regularly to jam to "Diane Young" or " Unbelievers", sing sweetly and chuckle along with "Step", or bust my lungs out to the emotional incomparable "Hannah Hunt."

Vampire Weekend - "Step"


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13. DJ Koze - Amygdala | Pampa

Amygdala is like a magical menagerie of a dance music album, every bit as vibrant and bonkers as its album cover which you can see above. With turns from guest vocalists including Apparat, Dan Snaith (Caribou) and Matthew Dear (who steals the show on both "Magical Boy" and "My Plans") there is plenty here to keep you firmly invested through the album's 78 minutes. Of course certain tracks stand up very well on their own too, as I've proven time and again by returning to the likes of those aforementioned Matthew Dear tracks, the sexy grooves of the title track and "Ich Schreib' Dir Ein Buch 2013", or the eurdrum tickling cover of Kings of Convenience's "Homesick" featuring Ada. This was a masterstroke for summer music listening, and I wouldn't be surprised to be pulling it out again in summer 2014.


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12. My Bloody Valentine - m b v | Self-released

Twenty two years on from Loveless, we finally got a new My Bloody Valentine album. If you'd have asked me last year I would have told you that I was 100% certain that this would never exist, regardless of Kevin Shields' promises. And even when they announced it would be released imminently on that fateful February night I still decided I'd rather go out clubbing than stay in and listen to what was sure to be a disappointment. Well, I was wrong. But I was glad to be, because when I got back from that night at around 6 or 7 am I had no intention of going to sleep. Instead I calpped on my headphones and found myself melting away into the beautiful deluge that is m b v. Well, "beautiful deluge" can only really be used to describe the first two thirds, the final few tracks are much louder and more experimental, but they're just as enthralling. And tall 9 tracks on this album never lost a touch of beauty or brilliance even as I continued to return to this album fairly frequently right up until the end of 2013. Bring on the next My Bloody Valentine album, just please let it come in less than two decades.

My Bloody Valentine - "Only Tomorrow"


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11. The Field - Cupid's Head | Kompakt

At this point I'm ready to declar Axel Willner, the man behind The Field, as a genius, and I find it extremely hard to explain why, which I think only strengthens my feelings. Cupid's Head is his fourth consecutive magnificent release as The Field. It continues in the vain of its predecessors in terms of its basic style - airy, glacial electronic soundscapes; hypnotic loops; subtle but emotionally moving progressions in sound - but this time it seems much heavier and bigger. Take for example the utterly colossal "Black Sea," which over the course of its eleven minutes kind of feels like getting ripped through a series of whirlpools, but instead of feeling torn apart or lost you feel gloriously massaged and carefree. "No. No..." just loops that titular word over and over but you feel utter despair and compassion for whoever - or whatever - uttered it. Willner has proven once again that he is a master of manipulation, musically and emotionally.


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10. Arctic Monkeys - AM | Domino

It now seems that every time Arctic Monkeys release a new album I go through the same cycle. At first I find it enjoyable, but I don't think it's quite up to the standard of their previous album. But after a few more listens those little Alex Turner quips and the guitar explosions start to get at my heart and brains. This time around there was a little psychedelia throwin in in the form of "Arabella" and "Knee Socks." The poetry of "I Wanna Be Yours" and the humour of "Why'd You Only Call Me When Your High?" get me every time. I then reach the stage where I convince myself that "this is the best album they've done yet!!" So is AM really Arctic Monkeys' best album? Yes. Tied in joint first with all their others.

Arctic Monkeys - "Do I Wanna Know?"


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9. Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle | Virgin

Laura Marling has been maturing rapidly with each subsequent album, and while many may have missed her youthful exuberance on her third album A Creature I Don't Know, I'm sure they'll be pleased to see quite how that maturation has progressed into her fourth full length Once I Was An Eagle. The opening 4/5 track suite is an absolutely blinding piece of songwriting, lyrically and musically. The way she uses the her guitar actually seems as graceful and majestic as the titular Eagle, and it flutters and swoops through the opening four tracks (with Marling expounding on topics and through characters that should be much beyond her years) before it comes rollicking home with the powerfully cool "Master Hunter." The remainder of the album is also full of delightful songs that traverse the nostalgic, to the maudlin, to the eloquent.

Bonus award: Possibly my favourite lyric of the year from "Once": "Oh, I was a child once / Oh, I was happy, young / When all I didn't know needed doing / Had been done." So simple but so true.


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8. Majical Cloudz - Impersonator | Matador

Impersonator is probably the most consistently lyrically flooring album of the year, and that's a good thing, because Devon Welsh powerfully strained vocals are set clear front and centre of their sound. The lyrics are not complicated or overwrought, but relatively simple and use great imagery to bring to light the struggles of Welsh's characters, and his voice does the rest. Backing them up is a fairly simple array of drum muchines and synths laid on by band partner Matthew Otto, which is all it really needs. Though, when other instrumentationis brought in, like the frigid piano of "Bugs Don't Buzz," then the effect can be devastating.


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7. The Knife - Shaking The Habitual | Rabid

Yet another album that we'd been waiting years for that seemed like it might never come; The Knife sort of reinvented themselves from their 2006 dance album Silent Shout. Although, even on there they always seemed like they were willing to be more experimental, and this was further proven by what the two halves of the brother-sister duo did separately in the seven years since. They've come back together in a big way on their third album Shaking The Habitual, which still features some dance tracks, but much heavier and more politically charged ones. There's also a slew of other ideas going on, which they carry out in their extremely idiosyncratic ways, from 19 minute ambient drone tracks to those aforementioned punk-dance numbers and beyond. The majority of the double album's 13 tracks stretch beyond 6 minutes and the total running time reaches 96 minutes; but if you're up for the challenge of getting through it you will be consistently and richly rewarded.


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6. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - II | Jagjaguwar

I actually remember first hearing Unknown Mortal Orchestra's second album II at the tail end of 2012, because it leaked fairly early. The fact that it's hung on so high in my list over a year later is testament to its replayability and the utter joy that I find in so many little parts of these songs. Whether its in Ruban Nielson's delivery, his production, his impressive guitarwork or his lyrics which detail lovelorn and lost characters, loneliness, or getting high in the morning, there are plenty of things that make me sing along on II. "Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)" is still potent, "So Good At Being In Trouble" never fails to get me singing along in an awful attempt at a sweet falsetto. On the second half you have "Monki" which makes me close my eyes against the crush of sadness and "No Need For A Leader" which just has a roiling guitar lick driving it along. It took me a while to "get" Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but now I absolutely love every song on both of their albums and I can't wait to hear what's next.


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5. Cut Copy - Free Your Mind | Modular People

You can always count on Cut Copy to deliver albums full of downright fun and cheesy-yet-brilliant dance pop music, and Free Your Mind continues that trend powerfully. The band's message on this album may be simplistic and cliche, but combined with the bombastic and bouncy tracks they've written you won't be able to stop yourself from singing along. Tracks like "We Are Explorers" build mountains of synth that you climb joyfully; "Let Me Show You Love" and "Take Me Higher" would be overwrought odes in the hands of others, but here their cheese is a tasty treat; the near closing "Walking In The Sky" is a perfect salute to ll those who have made the journey through this vibrant collection of songs. Turn on this album, turn off your inhibitions and have a fantastic time.


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4. Local Natives - Hummingbird | Frenchkiss

Local Natives' debut album Gorilla Manner was exuberant to say the least, but beneath all the shouting and banging there was a lot of emotion. That has been brought to the fore on their second album Hummingbird, and they've become extremely proficient at finding ways to further express it musically. It helps that they seemingly all have voices of angels, and when used either solo or in conjunction they squeeze every last drop of emotion from each word. Extra production help from The National's Bryce Dessner has fleshed out their sound which is more complex and yet subtle than ever, which only makes its power more profound when it needs to be.


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3. Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse | Fat Possum

To me, Wondrous Bughouse is almost like a concept album. It's a journey "Through Mind And Back" as the opening track would call it. It's like going on a haunted-house-meets-It's-A-Small-World on shrooms ride through the brain of Youth Lagoon's sole member Trevor Powers . Each track is like entering a different room of the ride and within it you get a vivid and often scary glimpse into a different aspect of his psyche. Some of what you see (hear) is disconcerting, some beautiful, some tragic. In the end what you end up with is a vastly interesting but impossible to decipher inner portrait of a very unique and interesting young man.


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2. Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze | Matador

Kurt Vile is often pegged as a laid back slacker, both for his appearance and his vocal delivery, and,sure, there are plenty of songs on Wakin On A Pretty Daze that play to that aspect - look no further than the gloriously sunny 10 minute opening track "Wakin On A Pretty Day" - but that doesn't take into account the extremely high level of production and quality of writng that's gone into these tracks. Additionally, when he wants to, Vile can pack one hell of a bit lyrically and musically. Check out the malice in "Pure Pain" or the utter desolation in "Too Hard". Ultimately though, Wakin On A Pretty Daze is a breezy and uplifting album that you can enjoy for its surface merits or delve deeper into and be rewarded handsomely.

Kurt Vile - "Wakin On A Pretty Day"


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1. Julia Holter - Loud City Song | Domino

Loud City Song is Julia Holter's third album is as many years, and she's grown more ambitious and accomplished with each consecutive one. This is the first time she's stepped out of her bedroom to record, and it seems rather than go into a studio she's gone out into a beautiful and magical world from which she tells tales of bustling bars and restaurants of previous generations, Alice In Wonderland-type wildernesses, epic lovers reunions and getting trapped in enclosures of sound. What I love also is the varied and inventive instrumentation which truly sparks the descriptions into life and allows them to swallow you whole. Loud City Song will take you on a journey not only through space, but time as well, up into the sky and all around, before setting you down softly once more. All you need to do to go on that magical ride is press play again and again and again...

Read my full review of Julia Holter's Loud City Song.


OK! So that's it! Thanks for checking out my list.

Well, actually that's not quite it. Before I go...

A couple of special mentions:

Burial - Rival Dealer: This was actually right in my top 50 right up until the end when I thought I had it 100% locked. But then, nightmarishly, I realised last minute that I'd left something out entirely. Rival Dealer ultimately had to make the sacrifice because it arrived so late in the year and because "technically" it is just an EP. It absoluely deserved to be in here though and I'm sort of annoyed that I had to cut it.

 

Parquet Courts - Light-Up Gold: For some reason I kept going through this whole year thinking that Light-Up Gold was a 2012 album, so I never added it to my ongoing list. By the time I realised that I'd incorrectly left it out it was way too late to add it. So that's another album that was undeservedly left out of my top 50.

 

Ok, that's actually it this time.