Friday, December 20, 2013

Top 10 Albums of 2013

Right, I've done the best songs of 2013 - now it's time for the albums. These are my ten favourite albums of the last 12 months, and each one is an outstanding testament to the album as a format. Some scale the highest of high concepts with subtlety and aplomb, while others simply succeed by filling a CD with corkers from one rim to the other.

One side note before we get started: The Crimea's Square Moon is noticeably absent from this list, but not because it's not good enough for the top ten. The band's double-length swansong was officially released this summer, but since I got a pre-order version way back in autumn 2011 (ner ner na-ner ner), I don't really count it as an album of 2013. If you like, you can read my tribute to Square Moon - and The Crimea generally - by clicking here.

Right, now that that's out of the way, let's crack on with that all-important list...

#10 - Reflektor by Arcade Fire
There are plenty of reasons to dislike it (not least its inescapable promotional campaign, which certainly ruffled the feathers of one Trent Reznor), but it's hard to deny that Reflektor is one of the best albums of 2013. It's easily been among the most talked-about, and that kind of hype will often lead to disappointment when things actually get released, but fortunately, the music on those two discs more than justified it. It was a more daring, more ambitious, and altogether more exciting album than The Suburbs, with songs like Afterlife and Here Comes the Night Time making up for the slight lack of truly brilliant tunes on the band's previous release. Oh, and even if it could quite easily have fit on one CD,  the second one makes it feel a lot bigger, and a lot more important.

Read More: Reflektor vs. The Suburbs

#9 - Praxis Makes Perfect by Neon Neon
Comparing all the other Welsh Music Prize-nominated albums to this one - and finding, by and large, that they weren't quite as good - certainly helped me to grow fond of Neon Neon's cool-yet-catchy sophomore effort. What made me even fonder, of course, was the band's spectacular collaboration with National Theatre Wales, which premièred back in May; simply playing a gig to promote your new album will never be enough from now on. Put on a big, involving theatrical experience that changes the perspective of all who attend, or don't bother!

Read More: What's So Great About Praxis Makes Perfect?

#8 - Sick Octave by Young Knives
When I blogged about Sick Octave a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had no idea what it was about. I've got a theory now, at least: I think that sick octave is a compendium of illness, running the gamut of what it means to be sick. In We Could Be Blood, 'sick' means stalkerish; in Marble Maze, it means memory loss, self-flagellation, and a distinct sense of unease. In Green Island Red Raw, it means feeling genuinely ill and run-down, bargaining with your immune system to hang on until you "get over this next horizon". That's my guess; I could be utterly, utterly wrong, but whatever it signifies, this is the sound of the Young Knives running wild and free, and it's a sound we should all be grateful to have heard.

Read More: Young Knives - In with the New!

#7 - La Costa Perdida by Camper Van Beethoven
The only other CVB album I own is Key Lime Pie, and this one is a lot more jammy than its predecessor. La Costa Perdida was a great friend to me this summer, especially songs like Come Down the Coast and Peaches in the Summertime which make you feel like it's sunny and warm even when it isn't. And then, of course, there's the magisterial Northern California Girls - my favourite song of the year that wasn't performed by Okkervil River - and the smashing title track, which  is a brisk, violin led mini-epic.

#6 - Inform-Educate-Entertain by Public Service Broadcasting
Earlier this year, I did a blog about how much I wish this album were two tracks shorter. That it's still my sixth favourite of 2013 should give you some idea of how good the other nine tracks are.

Read More: Inform? Educate? Off with its 'ead!

#5 - Partygoing by Future Bible Heroes
I still can't quite get over how good this album turned out to be. I was expecting something slight and throwaway, a stopgap to fill the space between Magentic Fields albums. But, as I've mentioned several times, I actually prefer Partygoing to Love at the Bottom of the Sea; it's a nice, easily-digestible album that's full of fantastic little electro tunes like Digging My Own Grave and Living, Loving, Partygoing. It's also one of the few albums I can listen to several times in a row without a break.

Read More: The Magnetic Fields vs. Future Bible Heroes

#4 - Lost in Light Rotation by Tullycraft
Not an album I've talked about much on The Album Wall before, but one that puts a big, big grin on my face anyway. The difference between Lost in Light Rotation and the other LPs on this list (and this might also be why I haven't really written anything about it) is that, where everything else is fairly-high concept, with a lot of stuff to analyse, LiLR just feels like a really good set of songs, great for putting adrenaline in your system and a smile on your face. Of course, there are plenty of obscure references to research if you really need something to analyse, but these songs are great because they don't make you feel ignorant with those references - they make you feel like part of the gang, laughing at all the in-jokes even if you don't really get them.

#3 - There is Nothing More Frightening Than the Passing of Time by The Superman Revenge Squad Band
This album is fantastic for many reasons, but the main one is this: it takes all of these things that I feel, couches them in pop-cultural references that I can understand, and throws them back to me, like an emotion mirror that watches too much TV. Any album that mentions Automatic for the People and quotes from Iron Maiden's Can I Play With Madness? is a winner in my book anyway, but when it takes these things I love and adds new meaning to them like There is Nothing More Frightening... does, well, I just feel spoiled.

Read More: There is Nothing More Frightening...

#2 - The Silver Gymnasium by Okkervil River
If you've already read my Songs of 2013 list, you were probably expecting this one to be top of the Albums list - after all, it does contain my two favourite tracks of the year. I'll explain why it's only #2 in a moment, but first let's take a moment to focus on just how great The Silver Gymnasium is: outstanding tunes, lyrics you can really get your teeth into, a definitive musical feel (eighties throwbacks meet big-band indie) and, of course, plenty of extra material to ponder while you listen. I did three blogs about this album in a row, have I mentioned that already?

Read More: The Silver Gymnasium - A First Glance

#1 - MEN by Quiet Marauder
Let me explain. I haven't chosen this album because it has the best songs, because it doesn't - The Silver Gymnasium would win that fight hands-down. I haven't chosen it just because it's local, either, or there'd be more than one local album in this list to betray my favouritism. No, MEN is my album of 2013 because of its scope, its creativity, and its batshit crazy ambition. Some would probably argue that releasing a 111-track album is a marketing gimmick and nothing more, but while this four-disc collection certainly grabbed its share of headlines in the Welsh music world, it's much deeper than that. It sets out to provide a comprehensive map of the male psyche, including (especially?) its very darkest recesses. It's a towering monument to what one can do with an album; most bands will simply record a set of songs that they've written and that will be that, but Quiet Marauder's album (Quiet Marauder's début album, let's not forget) is proof that so much more can be done with that blank canvas. Kudos, gents.

Read More: MEN and How it Makes Us Look

So that's my take on this year's album output - what's your favourite LP of 2013? All comments welcome. 

No comments:

Post a Comment