Best of 2013
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please welcome our favourite records of 2013. In the list you’ll find albums that have variously excited, enthralled, challenged and delighted us, plus one or two that might have even have moved us to tears… We hope they bring you as much enjoyment as they have us.
The Top 10
- In a year seemingly saturated with quality electronic releases, it says a lot about Immunity that it’s made the top ten of our Best of 2013. Structurally, Hopkins’ fourth album follows the loose narrative of a night out, moving from propulsive, techno-inspired tracks like ‘Open Eye Signal’ to the more ambient, after-hours textures of songs like ‘Immunity’. Sonically, it’s an intricate tapestry of synthetic and physical sound, finding Hopkins piecing together effects as diverse as piano strings being struck and the distorted whoosh of fireworks, recorded during the Olympic closing ceremony.
- From Dev Hynes producing Solange to Sky Ferreira covering Cat Power, the line between indie and pop has become increasingly blurred in recent times. Haim best personify the collision of the two worlds, uniting commercial radio listeners and NME readers alike with a blend of Fleetwood Mac-style soft rock and Destiny’s Child-ish grooves. If you’ve not heard debut album Days Are Gone yet, prepare yourself for forays into disco, funk and R&B, not to mention massive pop hooks and an impressive level of musicianship.
- Alongside David Bowie and Scott Walker, Nick Cave is one of a mere handful of artists still capable of surprising listeners 40 years into their career. Last seen exploring gutter-rock with Grinderman, he’s now back with the Bad Seeds and has readied a 15th studio album that’s a world away again from the rousing rock ‘n’ roll of last long-player Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! Whether sprinkled with strings, embellished with choirs, or stripped back to guitar, piano and Warren Ellis’ atmospheric synth loops, these beautifully-brooding missives make for intoxicating listening. Lyrically, Cave’s on fire too, delivering a plethora of melancholic metaphors about love, and all manner of menacing pen portraits of sad and seedy individuals in even sadder and seedier circumstances. Superb stuff.
- The annals of rock history are littered with individuals who’ve come a cropper to excess, and UMO’s Ruban Nielson was almost one of them. Fortunately, the Portland-based Kiwi knocked the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll on the head before things went too “Keith Moon” and, after a year of R&R, he’s just returned with a superb second studio effort. Littered with references to loneliness, II certainly bears the battle scars of that debauched debut tour, but it’s offset sonically by a strain of sun-warped psychedelia so lo-fi you can practically hear the warm crackle of vinyl. According to Nielsen, the album was influenced by Led Zeppelin and Al Green, but if you’re after some more contemporary points of reference, we reckon it’d nestle snugly in your collection between Ariel Pink and Tame Impala.
- Alter-egos are par for the course in the pop world, but few artists can pull one off quite as brilliantly as Janelle Monáe. Having cast herself as disgraced android Cindi Mayweather on debut album The ArchAndroid, she’s back to reprise the role for the follow-up. Of course – as with any great artist – Monáe allows us listeners the option of engaging with the themes or simply enjoying the tunes (which, frankly, are excellent). From R&B to jazz, from gospel to soul, Monáe throws everything into the mix on The Electric Lady, and enlists A-list guest stars like Prince, Miguel and Erykah Badu too.
- Inspiring essays like “Brainwashing, Misanthropy, and Society: an Analysis of Geogaddi” and “Are They Evil, Occult, Illuminati Monsters?” it’s fair to say that few artists consistently fascinate listeners like Boards of Canada do. In a marketing master-stroke, the reclusive Sandison brothers gamely embraced the intrigue for the announcement of this, their first album in eight years, sending fans searching for cryptic codes etched on rare vinyl, and airing adverts at Tokyo traffic intersections. Well, the musical scavenger hunt of the century’s over now and we’re left with our reward: an hour of shape-shifting, electronic soundscapes that are every bit as complex and challenging as the launch campaign.
- If the pursuit of happiness is our ultimate motivation in life, why does melancholy music have such an intoxicating hold on us? Because we need the low moments to make the happy times seem sweeter? Because profound sadness resonates deeper emotionally than feelings of jubilation ever can? Whatever the reason, there’s nobody we’d rather turn to when we’re wallowing (or want to wallow) than The National. Ironically, life’s probably never been sweeter for the New Yorkers than it is right now: last album High Violet broke through in a big way, and Trouble Will Find Me is one of the most hotly-anticipated guitar records of 2013. Well, if Matt Berninger’s celebrating inside, he’s hiding it well here, lending his gloomy baritone to a set of songs that’s destined to rank amongst the band’s finest.
- Long rated amongst the best live acts in London, this trio upped the ante in September by delivering one of the most essential electronic albums of 2013. Released through James Murphy’s legendary DFA imprint, their eponymous debut delivered a propulsive combination of hypnotic minimal techno and aggressive post-industrial sounds, with singer Nik Colk’s distorted, dead-eyed intonations only amplifying the sense of claustrophobia. Truly, an immersive listening experience.
- Kanye West is a genius. As he recently reminded The New York Times, he’s “the Michael Jordan of music”, a “great activist-type artist…”, a creative “connected to the most influential artists of the past ten years... Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes…” One might worry he was overcompensating for some crippling inferiority complex, were it not for the fact he’s gone and delivered the goods again. Offering up 40 minutes of flab-free hip-hop, Yeezus is more succinct than its predecessors. West sounds a damn sight angrier here too, furiously venting his spleen over a brutal backdrop of glitchy electronics, sledgehammer beats, deliberately-butchered samples and screams. It’s not all about West, though: he’s magnanimously invited God along for a duet too.
- Nominated for the BBC Sound Of prize and the BRITS Critic’s Choice award, Laura Mvula was unquestionably one of 2013’s most hyped newcomers. Fortunately, the 26 year old singer-songwriter more than vindicated the hype with Sing To Moon, drawing on her classical training to deliver a beautiful blend of baroque pop and soul, complete with unusual arrangements, complex instrumentation, and vocals which fell blissfully between Billie Holiday’s and Amy Winehouse’s.