OK, nearly done for the busy-bastard of a year that was 2013; sure, I had fun, but it’s all about the thankless struggle of another year to look forward to right now and I’d sooner get this out of the way so I can start listening to more new stuff. So, firstly:
Top 50 Albums Of 2013
(N.B. Click the album titles for Spotify links, where available)
50. The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case
49. Somewhere Else by Sally Shapiro
48. the minutes by Alison Moyet
47. Shaking The Habitual by The Knife
46. Other by Data Romance
45. John Wizards by John Wizards
44. Matangi by M.I.A.
43. Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
42. Spaces by Nils Frahm
41. Dynamics by Holy Ghost!
40. Dream River by Bill Callahan
39. Immunity by Jon Hopkins
38. Welcome oblivion by How To Destroy Angels
37. Reflektor by Arcade Fire
36. Tomorrow’s Harvest by Boards Of Canada
35. Cosmos by Slow Knights
34. ilp. by Kwes.
33. Nepenthe by Julianna Barwick
32. Drone Logic by Daniel Avery
31. Wise Up Ghost And Other Songs by Elvis Costello & The Roots
30. Lost by Trentemøller
29. Soul Music by Special Request
28. Slow Focus by Fuck Buttons
27. Wenu Wenu by Omar Souleyman
26. Nightmare Ending by Eluvium
25. The Next Day by David Bowie
24. AMOK by Atoms For Peace
23. Pacifica by Segue
22. Behold, A Pale Horse by Ebony Bones!
21. Cupid’s Head by The Field
20. Anxiety by Autre Ne Veut
19. Krieg Und Frieden (Music For Theatre) by Apparat
18. Elsewhere by Sally Shapiro
17. Engravings by Forest Swords
16. Woman by Rhye
15. Yeezus by Kanye West
14. The North Borders by Bonobo
13. Pale Green Ghosts by John Grant
12. Excavation by The Haxan Cloak
11. Elements Of Light by Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory
10. Psychic by Darkside
9. Me Moan by Daughn Gibson
8. Cupid Deluxe by Blood Orange
7. Tales Of Us by Goldfrapp
6. Echoes by CREEP
5. Centralia by Mountains
4. II by Moderat
3. Nocturnes by Little Boots
2. The Electric Lady (Suites IV And V) by Janelle Monáe
A-ha! Well, before I get to the best, I have to make an acknowledgement of the absolute worst…
The Worst Album Of 2013
True by Avicii
I remember the first time I heard Swedish DJ Avicii’s massive hit “Wake Me Up“; the opening guitar riff sounded so similar to Eagle-Eye Cherry‘s lovely breakout single from 1997 “Save Tonight” that I thought maybe it was getting a bit of a resurgence in radio-play just because it’s still rather brilliant. Then it abruptly decided to turn into another song I hadn’t heard before, and I thought fine, I’ll give it a go regardless of the bait-and-switch I’d encountered. And whilst ideologically I’d normally appreciate what Avicii ended up doing with the song in mashing up two seemingly disparate genres into the kind of novelty pop hit designed for mainstream radio, the marriage of Mumford & Sons-style faux-authentic guitar strumming along with bouncy Eurobeat generics did nothing but make me feel sad and angry over how cynically put together the whole thing was. Sure it was slick and commercial, belying Avicii’s evident youth in his being able to put something so professional together, but the lack of heart and sincerity in the arrangement was too much for me to ignore.
The rest of the DJ/producer’s debut LP follows suit, all calculated soullessness with nary a genuine spark or idiosyncratic flourish to remove the plasticity from the music. It’s not that Avicii has bitten off more than he can chew with the direction he’s chosen to go with this album either; French band C2C‘s Tetra from 2012 is a shining example of how ebulliently silly this kind of dance music can get, plus some of the people working on this album try to bring as much of their own mettle to the table as they can (the Adam Lambert/Nile Rodgers collaboration is the closest this thing gets to being any good, as you’d expect). But by the time a particularly hideous sugary-rave cover of Antony And The Johnsons‘ “Hope There’s Someone” rolls around, all listening temperance is lost. I’m still open to see what Avicii has up his sleeve in the future (his remix of “Derezzed” on the Daft Punk TRON: Legacy remix album was one of the best dance tracks of 2011), as long as he gets this insipid-singer-songwriter/ravey-house mash-up shit out of his system, pronto.
Anything will.i.am touches this year turned to horridness also… but y’all knew that already, and I don’t want to mourn over Britney Spears and Dizzee Rascal‘s albums in particular any more than I already have done.
So now that’s over with, here it is:
The Best Album Of 2013
Samson & Delilah by V V Brown
I’m a sucker for being proven wrong, especially with regards to something as emotionally intrinsic and spellbinding as music. Be it a debut album from a fledgling talent that defies to be categorized by genre as I try and muster up a reference to compare it to when I first listen to it or an album from a more experienced artist that flies in the face of everything I’ve sonically known them for previously, at the best of times you can’t beat that rapt feeling of discovery when you hear something and fall in love with it instantly because you have no idea where you are going to end up afterwards. Suffice to say, English singer/songwriter/producer/model/fashion designer Vanessa Brown has come up with something just that inimitably special with her third album, Samson & Delilah; a forlorn electronic opus simultaneously drenched in reverb and peppered with ominous passages but still club-friendly with its driving beats and beauteous synths, all the while pushing and pulling its frontwoman’s vocals from crystal clarity to zombified moans and eerie chants, it’s the kind of “holy-shit-where-the-fuck-did-this-come-from” moment that is precisely so amazing because it’s so unquantifiable. Of course, the best artists tend to reinvent themselves along with their work all the time, but not always this assuredly and arrestingly.
To offer a little perspective, Brown’s music career was on something of a bad footing before 2013. Four years previously saw the release her debut album Travelling Like The Light (after the typical rocky road of development deals and the like falling through), which enjoyed modest success with its chart-friendly mix of Mark Ronson-esque doo-wop references and left-of-centre lyrics but was hardly enough for Brown to emerge as a musical force of her own, even after having a hand writing songs for the likes of Pussycat Dolls among others. Still, Light‘s big hit “Shark In The Water” was enough of a success to get a second album up and running in the studio, and 2012 was due to see the release of Lollipops & Politics, which even got as far as being previewed in the Los Angeles Times (who gave a lukewarm review of her new material, mentioning one song’s “cartoonish electronics”) until Brown herself indefinitely placed it on the shelf marked “unreleased”, telling her fans that it “didn’t feel right” to release this particular album right now for her. Instead, an entirely new album was to be written, produced and released the following year, and Samson & Delilah was the result.
Created and released entirely off of Brown’s own back with the help of some of the more reputable indie electronica producers of recent years (among them The Invisible‘s Dave Okumu alongside Pierre-Marie Maulini and Liam Howe, former members of M83 and Sneaker Pimps respectively), the album is both minimalist and epic, often capturing the fraught tension between earthy sensuality and divine transcendence with sublime purity. Underlying all of this is a potent electronic surge that permeates throughout, as found either bubbling menacingly all the way through “Igneous”, saliently shimmering through the lyrical horror of opener “Substitute For Love” or fabulously prompting an action-packed crescendo on “I Can Give You More” that is so good that you hear it twice in the same song. Many have already compared it to Madonna‘s equally seismic shift towards rave-worthy spirituality displayed on 1998’s Ray Of Light; indeed, not only do the first two tracks coincidentally share names with two of that earlier album’s singles, but truth be told, if Madge was listening to the likes of The Knife and Zola Jesus as much as she probably should have done recently, it’s hard to imagine her coming out with an album that didn’t sound something like this.
This is Brown’s album though, and she never lets you forget that, navigating every song with a bracing presence that can somehow pierce through whatever pro-tool assisted distortion she finds herself intoning with and leave you aching to hear how each song ends. With pop music finding itself in something of an EDM-mire over the past couple of years (as evidenced by that aforementioned Avicii monstrosity), it’s so heartening for someone to deliver something seemingly outside of her wheelhouse so brilliantly especially because she’s clearly set out to make this all for herself with such a singularity of vision and depth of purpose. And if I’ve bigged up Samson & Delilah as something too alternative to be heralded by anyone other than no-life bloggers, rest assured that Brown is still in possession of those winsome pop-writing smarts that served her well a few years ago. For instance, “Faith” (a duet with co-writer/producer and long-serving musical ally Laurence Aldridge) is that rare thing in being an affecting ballad that doesn’t beat you over the head with how wrought up it gets and, of course, there is the fact that she came out with the best pop single of last year, as evidenced below:
In fact the whole thing is so good, have a listen here even if you are without Spotify:
So it’s a pop album at heart, a bold statement in intent and the best album of 2013. Thank you so very much, V V Brown.
And now, the next twelve months… xxxo