We are at the end of 2013 and so it's time for that most obligatory of blog posts: something that summarises what I particularly liked this year. 2013 has been a bit of an odd one in many respects... We have been spoilt by an abundance of lots and lots of good songs but for me the album format has felt more tired than ever. In other words, lots of good albums yet not that many great ones.
Before delving into the list of my favourite albums of the year feel free to check out the Spotify playlist I've compiled of some of the best tracks of the year... It's a bit of a mammoth set and in no particular order:
As always, my top ten list isn't necessarily supposed to be the ten best albums of the year, just the ten I enjoyed the most. I'll follow up with five through one shortly - the first half of my top ten are below. There were some near-misses here - Haim, Fuck Buttons, Classixx, Washed Out and Foals all delivered strong albums, but there can only be ten on the list...
10. The Bones Of What You Believe - CHVCHES
When I first listened to CHVRCHES (a little late but that was corrected by a friend) I didn't know what to expect, but it sure wasn't this. The low-end electronic rhythms of The Bones Of What You Believe feel oiled, primed, sleek and ready to move. In contrast, those synth-pop melodies and Lauren Mayberry's vocals feel angelic, beautiful and innocent. The whole feels mentally incongruous yet infectious as hell. At their best CHVRCHES were churning out pop songs so impossible not to like that it masked their depth. Gun remains one of my favourite moments of the year - a sweetly aggressive put-down record that betrays Mayberry's own emotional dependency on the subject. And Tether is the perfect soundtrack to your denial, every bit as amped as the feelings it describes.
9. Nonfiction - The Range [review]
The Range's debut album for Donky Pitch was one of 2013's most surprising finds - a record of fractured rhythms, hip-hop beats and beautiful melodies. The sounds, samples and snatches of hip-hop rhymes that emerge from the chaos feel collage-like in nature, the specifics much less important than the whole. Nonfiction is a complex sounding melting pot of noise but it is also a pure joy to consume - exciting and rewarding, thoroughly and unapologetically contemporary.
Purchase on Amazon.co.uk on MP3 [affiliate link]. Listen via Spotify below:
8. Settle - Disclosure
No album felt quite as instaneaously infectious this year as Disclosure's Settle, a promiscuous and delicious warm slab of 90s influenced garage house. Despite growing up a generation late for it, Disclosure focused on drawing inspiration from the dance music that inspired them, capturing the world's attention whilst boosting the career of AlunaGeorge. Settle's appeal is in it's honesty combined with it's inclusive approach to music - they created something out of a catholic approach to music appreciation, borrowing from the best to create something new.
7. Reunion - Alex Barck [review]
The best album from this year that no-one I've spoken to has ever heard of, the Jazzanova founding member released a proper grown up house music album that delivers a full twelve quality tracks. Soulful, bluesy and absolutely full of passion and detail, Reunion respects where it comes from, but adds plenty of modern magic.
6. Reflektor - Arcade Fire
Criminally overlooked by many, Arcade Fire's 'dance record' is of a significantly higher calibre than most would have you believe. It deals with a variety of themes - celebrity, technology and the end of the compact disc - but it is the songs, and James Murphy's production, that should win you over. Title track and first single Reflektor dazzled with ambition and spectacle but there were plenty of equally immersive moments - Joan of Arc's swagger, the distortion and stark drum rhythms of It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus).
In turning their back on the insular themes of suburbia that dominated their previous albums Arcade Fire made something that felt far more expansive.
Come back soon for my five albums of the year, and if you have any thoughts on the above (or what else you think should be in the list) please comment!