Monday, December 9, 2013

What I Missed - Uncut's Best of 2013

So December is here and the end-of-year lists are rolling in. I will be posting my own list on the blog in due course, but I thought I'd do a small disclaimer first. I haven't listened to anything like the number of albums that most listmakers will be drawing from this month; where magazines and proper music websites probably get sent a tonne of new releases each month, most of the albums in my Top However Many will be ones that I went out and bought.

This leaves me with a pretty limited longlist - my favourite albums of 2013 will by no means bear any resemblance to the actual best albums of 2013. I've pretty much finalised my list already (I just need to put everything in order), but for the sake of diversity, I thought I'd have a look at some of the other albums of the year to see if I've missed anything big.

As I mentioned in this blog post, I'm a semi-avid Uncut reader, so while I was faintly curious to see what the likes of Q and Mojo had at number one, it was the Uncut list that I was really interested in. Since their end-of-year issue rather handily came supplied with a free CD of ongs from their favourite albums of 2013, I figured that a quick blast through those 14 tracks would be a good way to dip a toe in the murky musical waters that I failed to explore this year.

By the way, if you're still eagerly waiting to find out who made Uncut's top spot, then SPOILER ALERT - you might want to leave this post for now and come back once you've seen the list.

If you're ready to proceed...

  1. Only Tomorrow by My Bloody Valentine
    From mbv (#1 on the Uncut list)

    Just as I've never seen E.T. or played Street Fighter, I've never once listened to My Bloody Valentine before now. And that's kind of weird; a lot of bands that I really like cite MBV as a major influence, and that one album by them (Loveless, I think?) is never far from a 'Best Albums Ever' list. This song - my first proper taste of Kevin Shields and co - is all right, and I like the woozy guitar line that comes in near the end, but I'm not sure I believe that its parent album is the best of the year.

  2. The Enemy by Roy Harper
    From Man & Myth (#6 on the Uncut list)

    Since everyone is innocent until proven guilty, I shall ignore the child sex allegations that were recently levied at Roy Harper (notwithstanding the words preceding these brackets) and state that this a lovely song, with a very classic feel to it. It sounds like a Friday night in a small English town, thick with friendship and possibility. The title is kind of interesting - I'm not quite sure why such a warm, lovely-sounding song is called 'The Enemy', but perhaps I just need to listen more closely.

  3. Jubilee Street by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
    From Push the Sky Away (#3 on the Uncut list)

    I really liked Push the Sky Away - more than I expected to, given my preference for NC's louder, more unhinged moments - but I don't think, as many seem to, that this song is the album's highlight. I've seen it called the most important song of the year and possibly even the best song ever, and while it's certainly no slouch , I think that songs like We Know Who U R and Push the Sky Away and even Finishing Jubilee Street (this song's sort-of sequel) are superior. But hey, I guess it's not my end-of-year compilation, is it?

  4. Live Oak by Jason Isbell
    From Southeastern (#26 on the Uncut list)

    Okay, here's an artist I've actually never heard of before. Bear with me while I check the magazine...oh, it's someone from the Drive-By Truckers, apparently. I like the one or two songs I've heard by them, but this one is softer than I Used to Be a Cop, and perhaps more spiritual. It sounds a bit like something from Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams, which is definitely a good thing.

  5. Good Things Happen to Bad People by Richard Thompson
    From Electric (#33 on the Uncut list)

    There's a brilliant Richard Thompson song called Let it Blow, which I discovered - surprise, surprise! - through an Uncut compilation. That track was just Thompson and an acoustic guitar, whereas Good Things... features a full band who are, as the album title would suggest, all plugged in. This one doesn't concentrate on storytelling to the extent that Let it Blow did; instead, we simply get to listen to the band having a pleasingly insistent jam. Nice.

  6. Cecil Taylor by Jonathan Wilson
    From Fanfare (#23 on the Uncut list)

    This one is a bit boring. There are a few bits with backing singers that made my ears prick up every so often, and at one point there's a strange synthy swoosh that suggests an unusual change of pace around the corner, but when that change's not all that interesting. Some very nice sounds, but for me, they don't really add up to much.

  7. Everywhere I Go by Caitlin Rose
    From The Stand-In (#25 on the Uncut list)

    I like it; a slightly slow start, perhaps, but it's good when it gets going and CR has a great voice that's country but not too country. Oh, and the music has several shots of Wilco in its veins, which is even better than sounding like Ryan Adams.

  8. Master of My Craft by Parquet Courts
    From Light Up Gold (#18 on the Uncut list)

    Sarah and I were listening to Parquet Courts on Saturday evening, and we both agreed that they were a force for good. Comparisons to The Strokes (of which there are many) are reasonably well-founded, although this music is somewhat punkier than those chaps. The "forget about it!" part starts to grate after a while, but I'll forgive it on the raucous strength of everything else. Definitely tempted to check out the album.

  9. GMF by John Grant
    From Pale Green Ghosts (#4 on the Uncut list)

    GMF isn't particularly representative of Pale Green Ghosts - a record built primarily on Scandinavian synthesisers, as opposed to this Midlake-toting callback to Queen of Denmark - but, just like Nick Cave's Jubilee Street, it's one of the album's more talked-about songs, which may be why it's here. You can check out my track-by-track review of Pale Green Ghosts for more of my thoughts on this song, as well as its brothers and sisters.

  10. Canary Island by Houndstooth
    From Ride Out the Dark (#50 on the Uncut list)

    Ah, an act I've genuinely not come across previously! This is good, loose, 'merican rocking; the magazine likens them to Jefferson Airplane, a comparison I'm not at all convinced by, and Avi Buffalo, which is actually more or less spot-on. Canary Island isn't especially focused, but the guitar solos are cool and the title-dropping chorus sounds sweeter each time it rolls around.

  11. Big Love by Matthew E White
    From Big Inner (#11 on the Uncut list)

    A lot of people speak about Matthew E White in glowing terms, but I remember being distinctly underwhelmed when I first gave his music a try. This is good, though, with smoky, soulful production and wonderful, rolling piano work. The only thing I'm not sure about is his voice - it's not bad, as such, but I find it slightly irritating in ways I can't quite describe. It makes my ears tickle in a way I'm not altogether fond of.

  12. Hello Stranger by Julia Holter
    From Loud City Song (#15 on the Uncut list)

    Perhaps it's just too early in the AM, but I find this song a bit too busy. The Björkish arrangement is cool, especially the dramatic-sounding horns, but there are a lot of noises happening and, frankly, not all of them are entirely pleasant. It's very unique and interesting and if I were listening to it at, say, any time besides first thing on a Monday morning, I might well be into it. But all I want right now is a simple, straightforward song that I don't have to puzzle out while I listen.

  13. Billy by Prefab Sprout
    From Crimson/Red (#12 on the Uncut list)

    This is more like it! My previous experience of Prefab Sprout is limited to that song about Albuquerque (I think it's called The King of Rock 'n' Roll?) and while this song doesn't reach that song's dizzy, eighties-tinged heights, it is a lovely slice of laid-back pop. I especially like the tooty synth trumpet sound.

  14. The Artemus Ward by Endless Boogie
    From Long Island (#19 on the Uncut list)

    As with Richard Thompson, I've already heard Endless Boogie on another Uncut CD, and I remember them being somewhat more upbeat than this. This is still cool though, with a great repeated bassline and somebody murmuring various thoughts into a microphone. I also like how it seems to speed up a little as it goes on. A nice one to end with.
To be honest, there's not much here to suggest that I missed any really amazing albums. I've already got the Nick Cave and John Grant albums, and while those songs by Roy Harper and Houndstooth and Caitlin Rose were all very good, they didn't suffuse me with some overwhelming desire to purchase the LPs from whence they came.

The only ones that really caught my attention were Parquet Courts - who I will definitely be checking out further, even if I don't get 'round to it in time for The Big List - and perhaps Prefab Sprout. For now, though, my list remains the same - feel free to recommend more of the year's good stuff in the comments if you fancy.

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