On two occasions during the last week, I have been asked by friends for my ‘Album of 2013’ suggestions. I deliberately avoided answering the question, not having given the matter proper consideration and not having listened to enough everyone else’s contenders: I still haven’t heard the new albums by Arcade Fire, Janelle Monáe and My Bloody Valentine, to name but a few.
I have thought about it a bit more in the time since and, so as to avoid giving any answer at all, picked out the twenty releases from this calendar year that I have played and enjoyed the most. They are presented below in alphabetical order, as opposed to being listed in any qualitative sense: as we all know, music charts and rankings suck harder than anything else in the universe.
Atoms For Peace – Amok
It seems weird to think that when Amok came out I was disappointed with it. Like everyone else, I was praying for some kind of Flea-led, Fela-Kuti-meets-!!!-style jamathon. What we got was a slightly-more-uptempo-than-The Eraser Thom Yorke record.
After a while, I remembered that, despite all of their faults, I really like Thom Yorke records and decided that it did not matter that Flea, Mauro Refosco and Joey Waronker had essentially been replaced by a laptop in the editing process. The title track, in particular, is a masterpiece of sound design. People who wish Yorke would stop making music like this and go back to The Bends need help.
Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
For a while this seemed like the most-hyped record in the world and I did everything I could to avoid listening to it, at least until the hysteria had died down. Then I listened to it, loved it and headed to join the overexcited crowd just as it dispersed.
Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
My words cannot do justice to the scale of Barwick’s ambition, nor that of its success, so I am not even going to try and write anything explanatory. Just listen to her record. It is beautiful.
Bestia Bebé – Bestia Bebé
When I moved to Argentina in October, I had no idea that so many of the country’s bands were so heavily influenced by those from the UK and North America. I am still not sure how I feel about it: on one hand it is nice for me to be able to dip into familiar culture in a land that I am still very much adjusting to; on the other, is it that hard to come up with your own ideas that you have to borrow those from another continent?
In Bestia Bebé’s case, it hardly matters. Their stripped-down, youthful indie-rock is so perfectly realised that the listener cannot help but go along with it. While the song structures, sounds and lyrical themes all come as familiar fare to any Western listener, the album’s total lack of pretension coupled with the tasteful musicianship on show more than cancel out any misgivings. Plus, any album that begins with an audio sample from ISS Deluxe gets a thumbs-up in my book.
Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
I have rarely felt more apprehension before listening to a record than I did before playing Tomorrow’s Harvest. Boards of Canada’s body of work up until this release had been almost uniquely flawless and the idea that they could make an album unworthy of being placed alongside their others inspired real fear. What a nice surprise, then, to hear what may be my favourite Sandison brothers’ release of all. It is perfect.
Boddika – Steam EP
Burial – Rival Dealer
There have already been enough gushing words written about Burial to fill the internet to its brim and I have next to no desire to add to them. I just want to ask that if a reader knows of any other musician so routinely making genuinely exceptional records, can they please let me know.
Dadub – You Are Eternity
2013 was a very good year for ambient techno. You Are Eternity was a very good album for 2013.
Los Espiritus – Los Espiritus
My favourite of the bands I have seen so far in Argentina. Even though it was after 2am and I was absolutely shattered – even my Argentine amigos were flagging – there was no way to pull myself away from their mesmerising and devilish performance. I cannot wait to see them again but in the meantime their album will have to do.
Forest Swords – Engravings
I could write an entire essay about this one but I will restrict myself to one sentence: Engravings is really, really good.
Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind
In some ways it is a bit of an insult to describe Kieran Hebden as ‘a safe pair of hands’. Here is a man pushing himself as hard as he can to make and release hours and hours of innovative dance music while trying to reform the music industry from the inside. The fact remains, however, that while I can never be exactly sure what kind of sonic aesthetic a new Four Tet album will have, I will always trust Hebden’s intuition and good taste enough to buy it. He has not disappointed me yet and I honestly doubt he ever will.
Nils Frahm – Spaces
Much like the aforementioned Barwick, Nils Frahm is playing in his own league, making the rules up as he goes along and very obviously reaping the benefits. I have thought long and hard about how much and what to say here, but there is no way to describe anything as beautiful as Spaces using words. It has to be heard to be understood.
Ghostpoet – Some Say I So I Say Light
Described by a friend as “the most London thing I have ever heard”, Obaro Ejimiwe’s second full release as Ghostpoet does indeed feel like a product of its environment, indelibly shaped by the time and place in which it was created. Aside from that cultural novelty, it is also a very good record indeed.
The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
The bleakest, blackest and most harrowing record I have heard since Ben Frost’s By The Throat (2009). That does not sound like a very nice thing to say but I mean it as the strongest possible compliment.
Tim Hecker – Virgins
When God grows up, he wants to be Tim Hecker.
Holden – The Inheritors
This year’s Hail To The Thief: with most listens it feels a bit long, questionably sequenced and at times a bit too eager to put its agenda forward, but when pressed on how I would improve it or which tracks I would remove, I cannot answer: all of the songs are essential to the album’s narrative and as individual pieces they are more or less as good as they could be. Definitely worth your time, anyway.
The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
The most punk album to be released in decades: an emphatic middle-finger salute to the world and one that highlighted just how streamlined, monotonous and cynical most of the culture we consume is. Tiny Mix Tapes gave Shaking The Habitual an ‘unrated’ review on the basis that to evaluate it as an album would do it a great disservice: an idea that I most certainly endorse. In a year in which many things were apparently ‘meta’, The Knife’s album and tour was the most ‘meta’ of all.
DJ Koze – Amygdala
One of the most creative and colourful albums I have heard in a long time. Undeniably silly but if you can get beneath the surface and forgive the numerous flights of fancy, there is goodness inside.
Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements of Light
Hendrik Weber’s releases as Pantha Du Prince have always been technically admirable but while listening to them I can never help but wish for a Hebden-esque injection of humanity or humour. Who would have known that a collaboration with a group of Norwegian bell enthusiasts would solve that problem and thereby produce one of 2013’s loveliest records.
Prurient – Through The Window
Three songs spread over thirty-two Earth-scorching minutes, the almost impossibly prolific Dominick Fernow’s latest release was one of the highlights of the first half of the year. Considering its relatively short length, it is improbably dense: best heard in a single sitting and preferably followed by a long period of silence to allow it to be properly digested.