Albums of 2013, part one 90-61

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If you are a regular reader of this blog, many of these will be familiar from the albums of the month slot. I am amazed how many albums I heard this year. I estimate that it is around 240 - and coupled with the fact that it has been the strongest year for albums in living memory - I have picked my absolute favourites and compiled them into a top 90. Why 90? Well, conventional wisdom suggested a top 75 or 50, but I felt there were too many that deserved a listing that would miss out if I did that, and if I had extended up to 100, then there were going to be albums that I wasn't totally fussed on getting on to the page. It's safe to say that every single album in the 90 has my full seal of approval, and if you like this blog, you should get something out of each one.

[part two, albums 60-31] [part three, top 30]

90. People of the North 'Sub Contra'

Not quite starting as I mean to go on, as this list does touch the mainstream at times, but this was an improv album closely connected to the work of Oneida and their Ocropolis studio in Brooklyn.
"People of the North isn't so much an Oneida splinter group or side project, instead it is probably wiser to think of it as an entity that exists and complements the parent group... ultimately Sub Contra is an interesting addition to that band of musicians' relentless and prolific output."

89. Malojian 'The Deer's Cry'

A self-released album from Northern Ireland, featuring some of the sweetest tunes I heard all year. I believe that this is being re-issued in the new year, with some UK dates as well, so look out for it. [review]

88. Quasi 'Mole City'

Their 20th anniversary album! Sam and Janet cooked up an epic double album that skirted around classic songwriting and prog touches, but had indie-rock at its heart. [review]

87. Phosphorescent 'Muchacho'

The rest of this album was overshadowed by the magnificent lead track 'Song for Zula' which was one of the tracks of the year. Matthew Houck stepped sideways from his classic folk and country influences for this sixth album as Phosphorescent, embracing ambient textures and showing lyrical inspiration from an extended stay in Mexico. Much like John Grant, this is another artist who has updated their sound with some success.

86. Disappears 'Era'

A sort of kraut/ indie-rock vibe off this, with some touches of the tasteful side of goth as well. [review]
"The songwriting emphasis has moved from shorter No-Wave style songs towards lengthier, motorik jams, and although influences are still very much worn on their sleeves, on this album Disappears are developing and establishing a stronger identity of their own."

85. Eat Skull 'III'

A beautifully ramshackle record. I must admit I thought Eat Skull had gone, given the four year gap since their last new material. 'III' comes across as a more accessible record, less discord, more pop, but still delightfully skewed. Potentially one that could win them new fans.

84. Foot Village 'Make Memories'

Post-apocalyptic, oppressive, energetic, subversive and positive, according to my

83. Throwing Muses 'Purgatory/ Paradise'

I'll be honest here, I just haven't had time to do this record justice. I got it in late November - with the lovely book with accompanying writing for each song - and on first listens it sounds like classic Muses, which also means that if this list was compiled a few weeks in the future, this would be way higher.

82. PINS 'Girls Like Us'

Last year (2012) their first ep floored me when it came on the radio, and this debut album saw them toughening up and sounding more blunt and aggressive, evoking the spirit of post-punk.

81. Future of the Left 'How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident'

Rowdy, riotous, punk rock fun, but not in a stupidly crass way. Oh no, 'How to Stop Your Brain..' is an incisive slice through today's weird world which makes you sit up and listen. Someone described them as the Welsh Shellac, and although that does seem very niche(!) it is accurate.

80. Zola Jesus 'Versions'

Some quarters have received this collaboration with less than enthusiasm. Here we have the songs and voice of Zola Jesus working with Jim Thirlwell (aka any project with the word Foetus in it) and the Mivos Quartet. The end result is stripped back versions of material that has graced the ZJ albums to date. It certainly worked for me.

79. Sebadoh 'Defend Yourself'

Yet another comeback, fourteen years after their last album. Their sound hasn't changed, yet 'Defend Yourself' is more of a grower and less immediate than their great run of 90's releases. After a few listens, I'm beginning to think that this maybe one of the most consistent records they've made.

78. Low 'The Invisible Way'

It is a shock to me to have Low so, erm, low in the list, but The Invisible Way didn't click with me in the way the majority of their records have, despite Jeff Tweedy's fine attempt to capture the warmth of their sound. There are some great songs though, and they're still one of the greatest bands around though.

77. Swearin' 'Surfing Strange'

I became aware of this lot after their (literally) sister band Waxahatchee so I'm less familiar with this album as I write, but it all sounds like a lovely burst of indie-rock in love with the early to mid 90s, and that's fine by me.

76. Arbouretum 'Coming out of the Fog'

Unfortunately a little bit lost in the fog of last January's releases, this was yet another strong album from the Baltimore band I interviewed them just before it came out, [here]

75. Daughter 'If You Leave'

An album that grew on me and made more sense after I saw them live - something I ended up doing twice actually. 'Youth' and 'Human' were tow of my stand-out tracks of the year.

74. Mountains 'Centralia'

An epic drifting album of ambient music, worth coming back to again and again. This is most fully realised recording I've heard from Mountains, multi-layered pieces built from acoustic and electronic roots. Somewhere between instrumental Spiritualized, Emeralds and Stars of the Lid, this is quiet music that overtakes you and becomes an immersive experience.

73. Youth Lagoon 'Wondrous Bughouse'

A gently psychedelic treat, reminiscent of the early 90s work of Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips, certainly in terms of feel and atmosphere. Mainly the work of Trevor Powers, this was more complex and less minimal than his debut 'Year of Hibernation', although tunes as strong as 'Mute' and 'Dropla' won some new fans.

72. Steve Mason 'Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time'

To be honest this is the first post-Beta Band release that I have really listened to, despite being a fan of them, and seeing their farewell tour, etc. 'Monkey Minds..' is a hugely ambitious, sprawling album which flirts with traditional song structures, spoken word, hip hop and pretty much pulls it off. One of those albums that rewards repeated listens. It is also not afraid to tackle contemporary politics head on, which is something that has been unfortunately lacking in 2013.

71. Barn Owl 'V'

Hard to believe that this is their fifth album already. This Californian based duo have been creating a drone-based psychedelic music for around three years, and the appropriately titled 'V' sees Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras created some lovely, yet somewhat haunted, ambient music. This is an almost meditative work, at times reminiscent of the beauty of Fennesz or Labradford. It makes me want to get immersed in their back catalogue at once.

70. Chelsea Light Moving

Thurston has been prolific since Sonic Youth went on hiatus, and this was his most coherent statement. A heavier record than many expected as well. [review]

69. Amor De Dias 'The House at Sea'

With the Clientele still on hiatus, Amor de Dias continued to fill that gap with another strong album. The twin Spanish guitars of Alasdair MacLean (The Clientele) and Lupe Nunez-Fernandez (Pipas), meant that Amor de Dias continued to make lovely sounds, whilst sounding utterly unlike anyone else around.

68. Haxan Cloak 'Excavation'

This debut from London's Haxan Cloak was as good as anything in the world of drone/ noise this year, and the only reason it is down this low on my chart is due to my personal fatigue with the genre. It is still an overwhelming and, at times, beautiful noise.

67. Grant Hart 'The Argument'

An epic double album inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost and the writings of William Burroughs, wherein Grant Hart reminds us what a great tunesmith he is.

66. Laura Veirs 'Warp and Weft'

Nine albums down the line, Laura Veirs is still remarkably consistent, although this new release is her most varied to date. Perhaps furthest from her folk roots, embracing occasionally noisy guitars and a tribute to jazz legend Alice Coltrane, and featuring guests such as Neko Case, kd Lang and Jim James, it's a very welcome return.

65. Tim Hecker 'Virgins'

The whole 'Ravedeath'/ 'Dropped Pianos' thing has connected Hecker's work with church based imagery - in particular the church organ. This continues that theme, as it sounds by turns, large, cold, empty, and often strikingly beautiful. Perhaps more varied than previous releases, this is one to play to people who think he is only about the drone.

64. Serafina Steer 'Nights Before Mutiny'

These days it is always tricky for a lady with a harp to avoid the obvious comparison. I saw Serafina Steer around four years ago but I haven't followed her closely since, however this Jarvis Cocker produced album should help address that. A delicate and modern take on English folk song, with the odd quirk such as 'Disco Compilation' lifting it away from the rest of the pack.

63. The Fat White Family 'Champagne Holocaust'

Somehow these folks are still relatively unknown, despite laying claim to being one of the most unusual and original bands in London at least. This debut album dribbled out on Bandcamp in April and gained a reputation throughout the year. It's offensive, perverse and political, and to be honest it is the sort of thing we need more of.

62. Veronica Falls 'Waiting for Something to Happen'

Simply the purest indie-pop album of the early part of 2013, with 'Tell Me' being one of the tunes of the year. The punk-goth hints of old have been sidelined in favour of classic indie-pop, and the songs just shine, thanks to a sympathetic production job. Much much better than I expected.

61. Joanna Gruesome 'Weird Sister'

Nothing to do with the absurdly talented American lady that their name rhymes with, instead Joanna Gruesome are the finest c86 and early MBV loving band I've heard in many years. The trouble with this kind of music was that it got old very quickly, many years ago, but 'Weird Sister' gave it a thrilling make-over. It was hard to resist this kind of thrilling indie-pop.

FORWARD TO 60-31 >>>

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