Albums of 2013: part three 30-1

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At last, the final part of the 2013 round-up. As I've said elsewhere, the reason why the list stretches to 90 albums is that this was such a strong year. I couldn't have done this with 2012's releases and I heard an awful lot of albums that year too. For the last 30 I have embedded one piece of audio from each album - I decided not to use the whole albums as that would've have made the page too unwieldy. Don't forget to track back and look at number 90-61 and 60-31. I probably won't look at them again as I'll end up changing the order!

30. Kurt Vile 'Waking on a Pretty Daze'

I made the mistake of listening to this late at night the first couple of times, and sure enough, I was asleep well before the end. It turned out that when I got to know it a bit better, that 'Wakin...' lived up to its title. It perfectly encapsulates a lazy morning, the songs are long, slow and lovingly crafted, as if they are soundtracking the waking up process itself. A pleasantly lazy concept album, if you like.

29. Run the Jewels 'Run the Jewels'

The collaboration between El-P and Killer Mike, thrown up for free download like some sort of mixtape, yet still structured like a conventional album. Maybe because of the carefree nature of the release it may have been overlooked in some quarters, but this was one of the hip-hop releases of the year.

28. Sleaford Mods 'Austerity Dogs'

A unique record really, and one that jarrs with a lot of this list. Are Sleaford Mods the only band in the UK tackling this whole sorry mess we are in? The simple repetitive beats and the urgent angry words come across as a lo-fi rearguard action against a lot of current bands, as well as the state of the country. Don't ignore this.

27. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle 'Perils from the Sea'

The original artwork for this said it was a collaboration between Sun Kil Moon and the Album Leaf, rather than the names of the main people in each group, and that wasn't the first controversy about it. Apparently made in isolation with the pair swapping tapes, there was confusion over who had written what, and just how much electronic material Kozelek actually wanted to appear, etc. Anyway, the end result worked pretty well, with some very strong soongs and LaValle's touches giving some new dimensions to Kozelek's sound. Well worth seeking out if you have even a passing interest in either person's work.

26. Bibio 'Silver Wilkinson'

Bibio is the work of Stephen Wilkinson, which I guess explains the title to an extent, and this is the follow up to the super-hazy 'Mind Bokeh'. Often tagged electronica, Bibio is actually more of a dreamy, folk-rock act, and this is more obvious on this album, where there are less beats and more "real" instruments. The downbeat nature of this reminds me a bit of Gravenhurst's recent work, really very pretty indeed.

25. Girls Names 'The New Life'

The second album from the Belfast band, on which they change direction away from the jangle-pop of their debut, towards a richer post-punk inspired sound. Echoes of bands like the Cure and the Chameleons, although it has enough strong ideas and songs to shake-off any copyist accusations. Poised for great things I hope.

24. Yo La Tengo 'Fade'

Their 13th album Fade is arguably their finest release in a decade. It still manages to sound exactly like Yo La Tengo, although this time around the songs are shorter, the extended jams are side-lined and the three-piece are occasionally augmented by driving motorik percussion and string arrangements. From delicate songs such as 'I'll be Around' and 'Two Trains', to up-tempo soulful pop like 'Well You Better', and the opening 'Ohm' which manages to distil a lot of the separate elements of their sound into an impressive and cohesive mix.

23. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore

Including live releases, this was the SIXTH record Kozelek was involved with in 2013, adn the second to make this list. Desertshore include Red House Painters guitarist Phil Carney, and songs like 'You Are Not My Blood' and 'Sometimes I Can't Stop' are the most RHP thing MK has done for a while). The lyrics focus on similar areas to his recent albums - the loss of family and friends (Jason Molina and American Music Club's Tim Mooney in particular), watching boxing matches, the endless cycle of touring, etc. It either comes across as hugely self-indulgent or a revealing peek into his personal diary.

22. Eleanor Friedberger 'Personal Record'

Ironically a less personal record than her solo debut 'Last Summer', this sees EF and band developing and refining the ideas of that album and creating something very poppy and accessible. I interviewed her about it here.

21. Grumbling Fur 'Glynnaestra'

Another collaboration between Daniel O'Sullivan and Alexander Tucker and their finest release to date. This takes Tucker's distinctive folk stylings, shades of his experimental drone work and O'Sullivan's synths to create something impressive and more accessible than many might expect. The combination coincidentally resembles a more psychedelic Depeche Mode at times. Psychedelic, melodic and well worth exploring further. 'The Ballad of Roy Batty' sets the famous Rutger Hauer speech from Blade Runner to suitably elegiac music.

20. The Pastels 'Slow Summits'

I was a fanzine boy fifteen years ago and I rang up Stephen Pastel and got him to talk me through their then newly released album 'Illumination'. I never thought that it would take until now to release the proper follow-up, but I'm pleased to say that it picks up where its great predecessor left off; melodic and very slightly jazz influenced indie-pop with a lot of depth to it.

19. Jenny Hval 'Innocence is Kinky'

A difficult yet very rewarding listen from the artist formerly known as Rockettothesky. It ranges between soft whispered vocals and squeals of noisy guitar, and so far every time that I have returned to it I've heard something new. The lyrics paint a disturbingly sensual and personal snapshot as well.

18. Jon Hopkins 'Immunity'

'Immunity' is just superb really, I can't fault any of it, from the strong melodies, the danceable electronica right through to the moody pieces that hark back to his recent much-loved collaborations with King Creosote. This is one that I would expect to see in most lists of this type this year, truly a 2013-defining record.

17. Caitlin Rose 'The Stand In'

I'm not a huge a fan of Americana but this is a record which transcends genre. It's a collection of brilliant songs really. Strong tunes, superb playing and an impressively assured vocal delivery make this one for everyone to investigate. Expect her star to rise even more in 2014.

16. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 'Push the Sky Away'

I was skeptical about a post-Mick, never mind post-Blixa, Bad Seeds, but this album is easily worthy of the name. It hangs together remarkably well as a set, and comes across as an autobiographical gentler work - with a strong sense of place, absolutely rooted in Cave's adopted home of Brighton.

15. The Wave Pictures 'City Forgiveness'

A 90 minute double album full of inspired lyrics and audacious guitar playing. Surely their finest work to date. I gave it one of my highest scores of the year on my review for the 405 here

14. Daniel Avery 'Drone Logic'

This was first brought to my attention by Mr Avery dropping mbv into a 6 music mix, an influence which is subtle rather than obvious. This album is more 4/4 techno than experimental electronica. It's actually quite refreshing to hear the old-school material here. Once this clicks with you, it's hard to leave it alone.

13. Hookworms 'Pearl Mystic'

An intense take on garage rock and Spacemen 3 era psychedelia, Pearl Mystic has anthemic touches and maybe even a hint of hardcore elements as well. Early comparisons lumped them in with the space-rock heads, but I think they transcend that. Even better live, but this is still a hugely impressive debut album, and one which makes me await the next instalment with relish.

12. Factory Floor 'Factory Floor'

I was beginning to wonder when this debut album from Factory Floor would arrive, they've been teasing us for years. Their music employs similar skills to Moroder-style disco as they make tunes that somehow seem to go on forever, but never outstay their welcome. Well worth the wait.

11. Julia Holter 'Loud City Song'

This is her best work to date. Built around voices that are as clear as a bell, this is another beautiful album. Her lovely version of 'Hello Stranger' almost overshadows some of her own writing, which has more challenging time changes and arrangements, but clearly a sign that her talent is developing further with each release.

10. Deafheaven 'Sunbather'

I've been informed by metal fans that this isn't metal. The trademarks of the screaming vocals and double-beater drums combine with lots of melodic touches and guitar lines which owe more to post-rock than metal. I'm beginning to agree with them as Deafheaven's wash of sound is more reminiscent of harder shoegaze bands and even Wolves in the Throne Room and GY!BE. Deafheaven's debut just passed over me, but 'Sunbather' makes much more impact. An album that may well convert a lot of people.

9. Julianna Barwick 'Nepenthe'

The more that I listened to this the better it got. My review is here (the 405).
"So much music gets described as ethereal, but there is no better adjective for this.
After a while you get lost in Nepenthe and forget that this is mostly voices, it manages to transcend its constituent parts and make a beautiful noise from start to finish."

8. Bill Callahan 'Dream River'

He's made some fine records over the last 20 years, both under the name Smog and more recently as himself. This is the first one since Knock Knock to completely floor me on first listen. It is dream-like as the title suggests, and his subtle songs are played by a fluid bunch of musicians, adding some slight jazzy touches.

7. Oneohtrix Point Never 'R Plus Seven'

The consensus on 'R Plus Seven' is that it is one of the finest albums that Daniel Lopatin has put his name to. It sounds amazing, that's for sure, and the pieces flirt with minimalism whilst still bringing that arresting glitch-type trademark of his. If you have any interest in electronica at all this is a must hear.

6. Matthew E White 'Big Inner'

Where has he come from, where has he been, to arrive this "fully-formed"? Apparently he has connections to Bon Iver and the Mountain Goats but I had never heard of him before. It is all the more extraordinary then that he has recorded this elaborate, classic-sounding debut album, steeped in soul and gospel and bits of alt-folk, which is destined to be a big presence this year.

5. The Knife 'Shaking the Habitual'

This was never going to be an easy listen, but given the mixed reaction to this album, it's possible that some fans expected the Knife to deliver another 'Silent Shout'. It may be worth remembering that their interim release since SS's success was an opera about Charles Darwin. 'StH' is an ambitious album which touches on philosophy and politics whilst stretching the boundaries of what is expected from an established act, and ending up with an album which may be as divisive and as important as 'Spirit Of Eden' or 'Kid A'. The 20 minute drone 'Old Dreams Waiting to be Realised' is the one that seems to split the fanbase, but I listened to it on a lonely late night walk and it totally spooked me. One thing is for sure, 'Shaking the Habitual' sounds more like the future than anything on this page.

4. These New Puritans 'Field of Reeds'

Far removed from their previous records, this album saw These New Puritans make the same sort of risky leap that people like Talk Talk and Scott Walker have made in the past. They chose a pastoral sound for this album, as far as I can tell it is guitar free, and it touches on jazz and 'Electric Eden'-style folk. Whereas their other records slotted into post-punk, this one could have been made at any point post-electricity.

3. My Bloody Valentine 'mbv'

Along with Mr Bowie, mbv have been responsible for putting some excitement back into releasing records. When the ridiculously long-awaited 'm b v' appeared in the early hours of Sunday 3rd February the buzz was incredible. This is my most listened to album of the year, and while it is obvious that it would work better as three EPs, I am still standing with what I said on my initial tweets here
and here. It doesn't just preserve their legacy, it adds to it.

2. Cate Le Bon 'Mug Museum'

A late charge to the top for this one, as it only came out in mid-November, but it is starting to feel like a classic to me. The songwriting and her distinctive vocal delivery are exceptional, and sonically this sits somewhere between classic Velvet Underground and Television, whilst still managing to sound utterly contemporary. The duet with Perfume Genius - embedded below - is just one of the many highlights.

1. The National 'Trouble Will Find Me'

I must admit that I take a twisted pleasure in placing a relatively mainstream album at the top of this (hopefully) very diverse list. This is my most listened to album after 'mbv' and for the first three of those listens I didn't like it. This isn't as immediate as their other records; it is slower and the songs take less dramatic shifts, so I guess it kind of crept up on me. The more I dug in, the more the lyrics just seemed to click with me. The latter part of this year has not been good for me and it seemed that all of a sudden this record made perfect sense. Some of the songs are taut and clipped - a couple even have motorik rhythms - and the tension comes through in the lyrics. I can hear the whole thing as a struggle with relationships, with stress, with anxiety, and ultimately for me, every listen to it helps. over time I may decide that some of the other albums deserved to be number one in this year of classic albums, but for now Trouble Will Find Me is the record that sums up this year for me and that is why it is top of my pile.

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