Since 2013 has finally drawn to a close (and since so many people asked me to), I’ve compiled the now-traditional end-of-year list of my favourite albums. As far as I’m concerned, 2013 has been a very interesting year for music. I’ve certainly been listening to more new albums over the last twelve months than I have done for a very long time – particular thanks must go to the #twitterindiecrew for all their excellent suggestions and recommendations (you know who you are!) – although this has also been a year for (re)discovering many old favourites too, which is perhaps reflected in the choice of artists and albums below…
10) MARK LANEGAN – IMITATIONS:
I confess that I find it pretty difficult to resist almost anything Lanegan does; I could listen that wonderful, world-weary voice of his sing the phone book and still love it. One of the joys of his voice is the sheer range of styles he can sing – everything from the blistering rock roar of his work with Screaming Trees to his delicate take on some of the well-known standards and more obscure tracks that appear here. Highlights include a lovely version of Nick Cave’s ‘Brompton Oratory’ (and I am not a Nick Cave fan), an astonishing reworking of the Bond theme ‘You Only Live Twice’, a gorgeous, heartbreaking take on Neil Sedaka’s ‘Solitaire’ and, to my delight, a deliciously melancholy version of Brecht and Weill’s classic ‘Mack The Knife’. This album is a fascinating treat for the music lover.
9) PALMS – PALMS:
I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a collaboration between various members of the (sadly) defunct post-metal band Isis and Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno, but I’m certain it wasn’t actually this strange and wonderful album. If you liked Isis then you will probably like this – but don’t expect it to simply pick up where that band left off when they split in 2010, because this is a very different beast. This album has a strangely hypnotic and sprawling sound; all echoey and stoned and perfectly suited to Moreno’s quavery howl of a voice, which swirls in and out of layers of queasy guitar to often discomforting effect. All that may not mean much on first listen, but you should persevere, honestly. This album is a real grower – and it is genuinely worth your time and effort.
8) PEARL JAM – LIGHTNING BOLT:
Some readers may remember that I reviewed this album when it came out a couple of months ago, and now, after the excitement has worn off a little (and I’ve given it a lot more listens), my initial conclusions still stand. This is an excellent album, and a welcome return to form from the only major grunge-era band who have managed to quietly and consistently keep plugging on since the mid-90s with their original line-up (almost) still intact. But that doesn’t mean Lightning Bolt is a re-hash of past glories – far from it. As I pointed out in my review, this album is “the work of a band who are utterly comfortable with who they are and where they’re going – but it is by no means complacent”, which makes this album a fascinating document of a band who still insist on playing by their own rules.
7) KYLESA – ULTRAVIOLET:
This lot were a new one on me when they were suggested by a Twitter friend, and I was immediately intrigued by what I heard. This album can only really be described as weirdly melodic, sludgy, powerful psychedelic stoner metal with a dual-drummer attack and an unsual but very effective male/female twin vocal presence. Kylesa have been described as meshing Sabbath, Black Flag and early Floyd, all of which sounds like it ought to be a god-awful mess – but Ultraviolet shows that it isn’t at all. A ferociously driving, aggressive, riff-heavy and deeply purposeful collection of excellent material, this album was a real and unexpected highlight of my musical year and deserves a much wider audience. These guys properly rock.
6) MOGWAI – LES REVENANTS (SOUNDTRACK):
Any year in which there is a new Mogwai release is a good year for music. They are still one of the most exciting, unusual and downright fascinating bands Scotland has ever produced – which is saying something considering that tiny nation’s remarkable musical heritage. Admittedly, this album isn’t a classic Mogwai headmelter in the style of 2008’s The Hawk Is Howling, say, but it has a stark, lowkey beauty all of its own that perfectly suits its purpose as a soundtrack album (to the French zombie TV series of the same name). This album is a slow-burner, restrained and at times elegant, but always with a quiet undercurrent of vague, indefinable dread and menace which takes it beyond the cliches of your usual horror film score and into something redolent of a far darker, more wasted beauty.
5) BOARDS OF CANADA – TOMORROW’S HARVEST:
Boards of Canada are one of those bands who are impossible to pigeonhole – or even describe, for that matter. And frankly that’s a good thing. Having followed their own wholly singular path through the world of music for almost two decades now, they still seem determined to create music that willfully defies the mainstream sensibility, creating a sound and a style that is entirely their own. Tomorrow’s Harvest is yet another intriguing and absorbing example of their understated and evocative approach to music, harking back to their earlier work yet still containing nods to the wider music scene that has come since. This is a melancholy and quietly edgy collection of tracks that worms its way into your head and demands repeated listenings.
4) DEAFHEAVEN – SUNBATHER:
The friend who recommended this album to me described it as “Mogwai meets black metal” – and me being me, that naturally piqued my interest! I wasn’t disappointed either – this is a superbly intense and atmospheric album that sucks you into its undeniably powerful world from the first track. This is indeed black metal, but it’s utterly unlike what many people will imagine when they hear that phrase. For a start, Deafheaven are from San Francisco rather than the icy wastes of Norway, and there doesn’t appear to be a song about church burning or obscure Norse gods in sight. And that’s partly what makes this album so fascinating – because I’m not sure I could ever have imagined that such a specific and highly niche metal genre would end up sounding quite as absorbing and unusual as this…
3) BLACK SABBATH – 13:
They’re back – and back with Ozzy, too, for the first time since 1978. And this album is pure, unadulterated Sabbath at their most… well, Sabbath-y. This is easily the best record they’ve released in years, and it amply demonstrates that they have lost precisely none of that doomy, sinister, downtuned bluesy kick that made them true metal innovators. Despite the absence of original drummer Bill Ward (whose shoes are competantly filled by Rage Against The Machine’s Brad Wilk), this is as close as you’re ever gonna get to the classic line up – and, despite the inevitably more modern feel, it is full of lovely little musical and lyrical nods to early, classic Sabbath and some jaw-droppingly good guitar work from Tony Iommi. Proof that even these old masters can still rock hard…
2) TEETH OF THE SEA – MASTER:
This band completely mangled my head in 2013, and I’m bloody glad they did. I’ve never encounted anything quite like them in all my years of listening to and loving music, and (after some seriously heavy rotation), I’m still having problems locating their many points of reference. Every time I think I’ve got them figured out, they go and do something completely different and equally as brilliant – and totally throw me again! Full of effortless, complex layers of sound and mixing both analogue and digital sounds to mindbending effect, this is one of the most exciting and genuinely intriguing albums I have heard in a long, long time. It came within a gnat’s whisker of being album of the year, and it deserves a place in your collection too…
1) BRITISH SEA POWER – FROM THE SEA TO THE LAND BEYOND (SOUNDTRACK):
It was a difficult choice between this and the Teeth of the Sea album as to which was my favourite album of 2013 – but this utterly gorgeous late entry (it was only technically released a couple of weeks ago) won out due to being the most astonishingly beautiful thing I’ve heard all year. Rather wonderfully, the CD release pairs the album with a DVD of the the film it soundtracks (Penny Woolcock’s magnificent and absorbing maritime and coastal archive footage collection of the same name), which makes this release an essential purchase for anyone who loves the slow-building off-kilter cinematic soundscapes that British Sea Power excel at – and for those who are endlessly drawn to the ancient, unchanging sound of the sea…
Thank you for all your responses to this list on Twitter – great to see a lot of love out there for British Sea Power, Mogwai and Boards of Canada in particular!