arcade fire

2013 Albums Of The Year: Part One

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.

Purchase on on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen via Spotify below:


9. Nonfiction - The Range [review]

The Range

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 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.

Purchase on on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen via Spotify below:


7. Reunion - Alex Barck [review]

Alex Barck

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.

Purchase on on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen via Spotify below:


6. Reflektor - Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire, copyright Guy Aroch

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.

Purchase on on CD or MP3 [affiliate links]. Listen via Spotify below:


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!

The Obligatory Best of 2010 List - Part Two

Following on from Part One, here they are... Our favourite nine albums of 2010:


9. Crooks & Lovers - Mount Kimbie

This year saw dub step evolve. Having previously felt like an excuse for people who should know better to listen to garage some of the genre's pioneers began to, well, actually pioneer. And the innovation really came from combining the music with other genres. Mount Kimbie's debut is a perfect example - tempered with a bit of intelligent soul you suddenly had a classic on your hands, particularly on the standout 'Before I Move Off'.

8. Total Life Forever - Foals

It shouldn't really have worked... Following their acclaimed status prior to the release of their debut album (and subsequent fall from grace when it disappointed some), Foals returned with a more melodic, accessible and populist album. And it was also the best thing they have produced yet.

Criticism has been levelled at Total Life Forever on the basis that it contains too many songs to appeal to summer festival goers. Which basically means it has too many songs people will actually like. Go figure.

By stripping back the math-rock and building some actual songs Foals made an album containing several of this year's best songs. And it isn't just the sings that shine - the production work from Luke Smith is sublime - a gorgeous, melancholic, sun-bleached feeling runs through the record from the dip-in-the-pool-refreshment of 'Blue Blood' through to the desperate 'What Remains'. With not just one but two completely killer tracks ('Spanish Sahara' and '2 Trees') Total Life Forever is already shaping up to be one of 2010's most overlooked albums in the end of year roundups.


7. InnerSpeaker - Tame Imapala

Whatever you think of Tame Impala - little more than plunderers of the past or innovators kick starting a new genre - it's difficult not to get caught up in it all. Sure, the production is epic - thick basslines, rhythms punched out of solid steel and guitars that encircle the listener in proggy bliss - but it is the songs that will keep you coming back, particularly the apathetic bluesy closer 'I Don't Mind'... It's the stoner equivalent of La Roux's 'Bulletproof' and the weird rave bit halfway through never fails to surprise. Genius.

6. Black City - Matthew Dear

Potentially Dear's magnum-opus, Black City builds on everything that has come before and turns it into something original. Darker than ever, it straddles a variety of emotions, at turns alienated, sexually depraved and wounded and needy. 'You Put A Smell On Me' is like Nine Inch Nail's 'Closer' re-made for 2010 - pure, unadulterated filth of the sort that will have you singing things you really shouldn't in public.

5. The Suburbs - Arcade Fire

BlackPlastic still isn't sure if The Suburbs is as good as either of the last two Arcade Fire albums but the fact that the question even lingers means this is an album that deserves a place on the list. A cleaner and sparser record, but potentially all the more weighty for it. On first listen it seemed to lack stand out moments but repeated listens just demonstrate that this is simply because every track is a highlight.  


4. Klavierwerke - James Blake

Not an album but still one of this year's most significant releases, James Blake seems to be making it his personal mission to upset hardcore dub step fans by tearing up the rule book, taking the genre's best ideas and running off to make something entirely new with them. 'I Only Know (What I Know Now)' is the sound of a man learning from his past mistakes. It is also this year's most emotive five minutes.

3. Vampires With Dreaming Kids / Color Your Life - Twin Sister

Not an album but really a double pack EP, this nonetheless was the sound of one of 2010's most promising bands. With the stripped back aesthetic of the XX, the rawness of early Yeah Yeah Yeahs and what sounds like sterling taste in 1980s pop music at their best the influences combine to make something marvellous, as on the slow burning 'The Other Side of Your Face'. Twin Sister will be ones to watch in 2011.

2. This Is Happening - LCD Soundsystem

If albums were judged on artwork alone This Is Happening would have owned this year. With its minimal type combined with that picture of James Murphy flying through the air in his suit it really felt like a statement of intent.

Whatever. This Is Happening is regardless one of the best things to come out of any stereo this year. With greater focus than Sound of Silver LCD's latest release felt more like a proper album. And with the monstrous bass of 'Dance Yrself Clean', the middle-aged-guy-having-an-epiphany gut-wrencher that is 'All I Want' and the subtly epic 'Home' it also had the tunes. It may not have another 'Someone Great' but it's the sound of one of our times' best bands all grown up.


1. Cosmogramma - Flying Lotus

It says a lot when a record has increasing amounts of praise heaped on it the longer it has been out. He may not have won a Grammy but he has made 2010's best album - a record that fuses genres like they don't even matter. The J Dilla comparisons are perhaps inevitable but Cosmogramma is no mere re-tread - it demonstrates that Flying Lots is one of the most innovative producers of our time.


So what are your thoughts? What did we miss?

Video: The Suburbs (Arcade Fire Cover) - Huski

This neat little cover version of Arcade Fire's opening track from new album The Suburbs dropped into the BlackPlastic message box this week. Normally messing around with Arcade Fire would be close to sacrilege but in all honesty this slightly darker take on the original is pretty tasteful. The video itself was made by filming a bike journey - the result is nicely in keeping with the feeling of the original song.

More over at the Huski site.

BP x