July 2014: The Playlist

Hey y’all,

July has been a long and busy month for myself, mainly because my getting paid on the last Thursday of every month means I’ve had to deal with a five-week monstrosity whilst everyone else got seen to at least a week beforehand. Not only that, but I’ve been tinkering with playlists in an effort to beef up my official DJ debut at the following brand-spanking-new club night this coming Friday:

Audacity

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the live special guest has changed since last month to frisky synth-pop duo T.W.i.N.S, but the event itself will still be as fun, if not more so, with its blend of electronic, rock, pop and alternative music. If you’re in Camden, please pop along for a drink and a bop or several.

However, in the meantime take a listen to what has caught my ear over the past few weeks:

Dibder’s 2014: July Mix

Dibder's 2014: July Mix by Dibderbooth on Mixcloud

01) “Lust For Life” by Bright Light Bright Light

02) “Love Songs” by DJ Dodger Stadium

03) “Light On Edge” by Fhloston Paradigm featuring Natasha Kmeto

04) “Basic Instinct” by The Acid

05) “Nuit 17 à 52″ by Christine And The Queens

06) “Crushin'” by A Sunny Day In Glasgow

07) “I’m On Your Side” by Peter Murphy

08) “EXpire” by Plastikman

09) “Fingertips” by Caustic Window

10) “10th Circle Of Winnipeg” by Venetian Snares

Wish me luck and see you on the other side… xxxo

2014 TV: Penny Dreadful (Showtime, Sky)

(*** This review is ever-so spoilerific, so read at your own risk ***)

It’s always been a source of consternation for me when multitudes of people ask if I’ve seen whatever seemingly massive TV phenomenon has governed my social media feeds with humourously-evasive, spoiler-free, sentence-long reviews and I’ll admit with a somewhat tragic shrug that no, I haven’t. Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad MenOrange Is The New Black, RuPaul’s [Never-Ending] Drag Race… all of these shows and many more have passed me by; with the odd exception, it’s really down to the fact that I don’t watch as much TV as I used to, especially stuff that threatens to take over my life. This year, I’ve taken some pains to expand my repertoire beyond Syfy‘s Face Off (which surely must be running out of potential contestants now, given how niche a casting-call that still-great show has) and Showtime‘s Homeland (whose last season, even I’ll admit, was a frustrating mess); I’m all brushed-up on Parks And Recreation and Community despite their increasing tardiness to the UK’s programming schedules and I’m very much looking forward to the respective second seasons of Canal+’s Les Revenants and Channel 4’s Utopia. However, the first brand-spanking new television event that has taken precedence over all else this year is one that couldn’t have been more tailored for my own particular tastes; Showtime and Sky‘s über-opulent, gory-as-hell, monster-mash-up mini-series, Penny Dreadful, a love-letter to literary/theatrical/cinematic horror that is slyly self-reflexive, mordantly funny and gorgeously well-made.

Penny

Dreadful‘s extravagance in terms of its exquisite production design and rampant blood-letting can likely be attributed to two key instigators in its making; creator/writer John Logan and executive producer Sam Mendes, Hollywood heavyweights who had just previously dusted their shoulders off after bringing the most successful James Bond film ever to fruition with Skyfall. Armed with plenty of clout and ambition, it took a deal between two of the more prolific cable channels from either side of the Atlantic to bring this Gothic trifle to life, the eight-episode story charting the investigation of a young woman’s abduction by supernatural forces in fin-de-siècle Victorian London, as conducted by a rag-tag group of paranormal investigators. You can imagine the pitch; the camp nastiness and unruly violence of American Horror Story mixed with the procedural intrigue and high-stakes intensity of Hannibal set amidst a backdrop of period Englishness suggesting Downton Abbey as adapted by Hammer Horror. As if that wasn’t a unique enough gumbo of on-trend mishmash, most of the principal characters happen to be taken from key tomes of Gothic literature too, with Dr. Frankenstein himself opening up cadavers and analyzing blood samples and Dorian Gray swanning around listlessly seducing anyone who arrives in his line of vision.

Penny Dreadful

Made with an affectionate nod towards the high-concept mash-up titles made by Universal Studios in the 1940s and shot through with a modern adherence to shocking violence, sexuality and coarse language typical of its cable TV-based peers, Dreadful is broad horror entertainment that (mostly) doesn’t skimp on anything in terms of design and execution. The set design and decoration in particular is stellar throughout, from the dank underground opium dens that give way to vampire nests to the high society ballrooms that play host to seances and orgies for the well-to-do, all shot through with a sense of Gothic realism befitting the era whilst steering clear of going cartoonishly steampunk as other like-minded offerings have done recently. Needless to say, the costumes and practical makeup effects follow suit, particularly the latter in its offering up not just all kinds of nasty moments of torn flesh and claret being sprayed everywhere but also in key principal character designs that can inspire as much sympathy as they can terror, the best example being Frankenstein’s creation(s). All departments are also aided substantially by expert use of CGI, which is mostly used to broaden London’s ports and lamp-lit streets into cinematic vistas but also to help animate unsettling swarms of spiders, as well as at least one nasty instance of a character being ripped apart before your very eyes.

Which isn’t to say that all Dreadful can be enjoyed for is as 2014 TV’s finest showreel of resplendent flash-bang-squish; ironically enough, its use of state-of-the-art techniques not only mirrors the pyrotechnics and geysers of stage blood that punctuate the plays held at the Grand Guignol but also subtly plays into one of the show’s core themes of technological advancement being deployed by its characters to gain personal victories or spiritual enlightenment that more often than not ends up destroying them or those closest to them. The most significant example of this is Harry Treadaway‘s Frankenstein being confronted by his monstrous “child of modernity”, a creature that was primarily borne from romantic ideals in order to bridge the gap between life and death (one of the show’s most playful touches is his quoting Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s poetry throughout the series). We also have Billie Piper‘s Brona castigating the industrialization of the factories for sending her on to the streets with a nasty bout of tuberculosis and Eva Green‘s Vanessa being sent to a leading asylum that ultimately fails to try and mend her “mental disorder”, only to have the very evil that she tried to suppress snap her back into torrid life.

Eva

Which brings me to the main reason why Dreadful demands your attention: Eva Green. Having worked on her intense glower in the likes of Casino Royale and Starz‘s short-lived Camelot TV series, Green’s work as clairvoyant Vanessa Ives in Dreadful is positively star-making. Weighed down with terrible guilt over the disappearance of her beloved friend but unquestionably formidable with regards to how she applies her intelligence and sensuality in her quest to find her, Ives gives Green the chance to run the gamut of everything an actress can be offered physically and emotionally, showcased extravagantly in the best possession scenes since The Exorcist. Of note also is Timothy Dalton, his character Sir Malcolm’s single-mindedness affording the actor to convey cutthroat ambition and macho heroics amidst a strikingly dark, at times ruthlessly emotional journey; it ought to be said that Green’s finest moments in her already-lauded possession scenes are when the devilish discourse is being directed at Dalton, his reaction to his “son’s” death rattle being especially powerful. Special mention must also go to the roster of established guest stars, some of whom manage to create fabulous characters in but a handful of scenes, stars among them being Alun Armstrong‘s splendiferously vocal theatrical and the mighty David Warner‘s Van Helsing (who has a marvelous line about dispatching his wife that only an actor that iconic can pull off). The rest of the principal cast, however, have a harder time eliciting as much excitement from their own storylines, which is not entirely their fault but nevertheless where my misgivings for Dreadful start to creep in.

Timothy

For all of the clever touches that Logan has thrown into Dreadful‘s story, it does have a difficult time trying to balance all of its ensemble elements against Vanessa and Sir Malcolm’s shared trauma into anything nearly as engrossing. Treadaway’s arc that turns his beleaguered doctor from a cold man of science into someone able to feel empathy for his adopted comrades and even his own murderous progeny just about scrapes through on the strength of his appealingly smart-arse performance, even if by the end Rory Kinnear‘s monster’s continued skulking in every dark London corner after him becomes a little farcical (it didn’t help that Caliban himself remained pretty unsympathetic despite Kinnear’s best efforts, but then gruesomely murdering two of the nicer characters in the series can paint you that way, I guess). Piper and Josh Hartnett put in committed work as far as nudity is concerned, the former’s “lost cause” love interest even managing to earn sympathy when she denies herself a night on the town with her new beau because she feels too worthless, but both characters are too thinly etched to be truly engaging. For his efforts, Hartnett does provide some dashing Hollywood glamour as the closest thing the group has to a moral compass, but his big reveal in the finale is both the most telegraphed twist in TV history or the most clumsily handled depiction of lycanthropy in recent years (we don’t even get a full-on transformation, which for a show with such high production values is almost irredeemably unfair).

The weakest link of the cast though is the one enlisted to inhabit the most iconic literary antihero to play. Broadway star Reeve Carney is certainly a handsome enough fit for Gray and manages to hold on to a consistent enough English accent all the way through, but the pan-sexual dreaminess he tries to imbue comes across as too caddishly cheeky to be truly alluring, never mind threatening; as a result, the moment he’s meant to feel an emotion other than horny smugness near the end doesn’t pack nearly as much of a punch as Logan clearly intended. Most ill-served of all though is Danny Sapani‘s right-hand man Sembene, who does little but intone wisdom and/or warning with a single line of dialogue each episode and kick admittedly impressive swathes of shit out of an ever-increasing army of platinum blonde vamps; here’s hoping the Magical Negro stereotype eludes him thanks to something resembling a backstory in the next season. True, some characters are bound to suffer short shrift on the development angle even in an eight-part mini-series, and perhaps Logan was fully confident that Dreadful was going to register enough interest for a second series to be commissioned so as to assuage these qualms in the next run, however it still made for a choppily-paced season wherein some plotlines and characters were left to dangle after a couple of episodes whilst there was a whole episode devoted to a Vanessa/Sir Malcolm flashback.

Vamp

One thing to note about Dreadful though is that Logan retains a solitary writing credit for all eight episodes, which may explain how overcrowded with potential offshoots the series is, the self-edit button not quite knowing whether to simply hint at certain goings-on or spoonfeed the audience the whole spiel. Perhaps he can share the writing with others next time so as to help streamline certain elements in order to let others take their hold and weave themselves together more fluidly; having an extra couple of episodes will likely serve him well as there are now at least four different narrative arcs featuring an American werewolf in Victorian London, vampires tattooed with end-of-days hieroglyphics, Frankenstein monsters and immortal playboys to deal with. It’s great that Dreadful has quite a few avenues to travel down, but storyline management from episode-to-episode will need to be a little tighter to maintain a slicker, more breathless pace to keep it from flagging. A couple of suggestions; opening up the “Ripper Returns” storyline to include more scenes of Sir Malcolm’s posse interfering with police investigations, which in turn will give Hartnett a lot more worried-glancing to do. And more of Helen McCrory‘s delirious Madame Kali and less of the disposable vampire harpies; in fact they can be replaced with some more of the creepy fuckers above, please.

After all is said and done though, I’m definitely in for next season because there have been moments on this show that I haven’t seen on TV before, and to get that excited must be worth something. The purpose of a first season is to lay as much foundation as possible so as to have the following series launch the show into the stratosphere, and Dreadful has more or less done that, despite dropping the ball somewhat with an anti-climactic finale; Vanessa and Sir Malcolm were well-served with their newly fortified father-daughter relationship, but no werewolf carnage AND no Dracula?? Give us something more than another anonymous vampire slaughter and Rory Kinnear whining about being alive, please!? However, there’s plenty of dark, fertile ground for the show to grow from and so long as Dreadful somehow sharpens its focus on the larger canvas, there’s no reason why Logan and company can’t turn it into one of the most successful horror shows on TV. In a how of goodwill, I even end this entry on my favourite line from the series…

(“…did you name…the mountain after me?…”)

xxxo

2014, The First Half… + June 2014: The Playlist

Hey y’all,

So in spite of everything, we’ve made it to halfway through the year 2014 and before I bestow June’s blogmix upon the Internet for the delectation of any and everyone, in honour of making it through two-hundred new albums, EPs and mixtapes already over the past six months, I’m writing a few brief words on my favourite albums of the year so far. So without further fanfare…

My Top 10 Albums Of The Year So Far… In Alphabetical Order

BoyCarla Bozulich
Boy
With a music career embodied by over thirty years of work including collaborations with Marianne Faithfull and Wilco, Bozulich’s fourth solo effort arrived with some of the composer’s best critical notices ever, the album’s eerily belligerent aura no doubt ensnaring each listener as its progenitor’s weathered vocals navigate through passages of Americana blues at its most tortured, dank and gorgeously gothic.
Metacritic Score: 83
Spotify Link

Everybody DownKate Tempest
Everybody
If you were ever going to label any single artist of 2014 as ‘prodigious’ it would be pretty difficult to try and find anyone who can topple Tempest; already a prize-winning poet and playwright with a novel due out next year, she’s done well to also find time to lay down one of the most arresting hip hop debuts of the year, her passionate rhymes detailing an sordidly intricate story of city-based stragglers that’s never less than engaging.
Metacritic Score: 80
Spotify Link

Hotel ValentineCibo Matto
Hotel
Easily laying claim as one of the late 90s’ greatest pop curios, Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda’s music project went on hiatus after the release of only their second album (1999’s severely underrated pop gem Stereo Type A); with their creative juices rejuvenated after reuniting for a tour in 2011, its an absurd pleasure to report that none of their daffy pop smarts have dulled in their time apart.
Metacritic Score: 75
Spotify Link

It’s Album TimeTodd Terje
It's
In terms of how long it has taken for reputable dance music DJ Terje to release his debut collection, quite a few of his fans would do well to change the title of his debut album to “It’s About Time”; however, when you get throwback disco this heady, propulsive and entertaining, such qualms can be easily rescinded (N.B. it’s the album Daft Punk probably should have come out with last year).
Metacritic Score: 80
Spotify Link

Music For The Uninvited – Leon Vynehall
Music
Vynehall’s talent is certainly not one to be confused with the deluge of his so-called contemporaries who dabble in radio-friendly vocal pop to get that all-important number one debut single; sure, his debut mini-LP is a collection of more-than-nod-worthy house music, but it also happens to take its cues from as many classical samples as there are electronic, only to take them into equally euphoric places.
Metacritic Score: NR
Spotify Link

Nabuma RubberbandLittle Dragon
Nabuma
After courting notable plaudits for their previous albums along with their guest-work on albums from the likes of Damon Albarn, Dave Sitek and SBTRKT, the Swedish quintet hit their stride with indelible, world-taking confidence on their fourth album, the group’s brand of soul-flecked electro-pop owing as much to the sublimely sinister machinations of trip hop as it does the bubbly swathes of guitar-led alt-R&B.
Metacritic Score: 77
Spotify Link

Naturally… – Dana Ruh
Naturally
Gorgeously deep house is the theme of the day with this German DJ/producer’s long-in-the-offing debut album, having kept herself busy with minimal-minded offerings since ingratiating herself into Berlin’s crowded electronic music scene in 2005; the title itself couldn’t be more perfectly suited to the wares within too, as Ruh’s ear for swoonsome sequencing creates an effortless ebb well worth being carried away by.
Metacritic Score: NR
Soundcloud Link

Pocketknife – Mr. Little Jeans
Pocketknife
Having coasted on plenty of blogs’ Next Big Thing lists for the good part of five years since her cover of Arcade Fire‘s “The Suburbs” caught its fair share of appreciative listeners, Norwegian singer/songwriter Monica Birkenes’ solo project finally yielded album-shaped fruit with this collection of wistful electro-pop, which retains enough of a refreshing bite to make its heroine’s premier voyage a bittersweet joy.
Metacritic Score: 77
(No link for this one guys, sorry… You’ll just have to take my word for it!!)

“What Is This Heart?”How To Dress Well
What
Crooner Tom Krell’s third album under his lovelorn persona finally saw his tremulous voice break through the reverb-heavy cage it was formerly imprisoned in and take centre stage, allowing the gorgeous arrangements and production flourishes to enhance his devastating lyrics rather than distract the listener from them; it’s more accessible and easier to listen to but the candid emotionality is still all there.
Metacritic Score: 79
Spotify Link

Yellow Memories – Fatima
Yellow
Swedish native Fatima’s profile has been assuredly bubbling under for some time now since her debut EP was released back in 2010 after landing in London; blessed with a mercurial voice that offers inescapable comparisons with the nu-soul greats (Erykah Badu in particular), her album offers a varied showcase for both her songwriting craft and effortlessly blissful vocal delivery.
Metacritic Score: NR
Spotify Link

So there you are; if you think I’ve missed anything out/allowed something miscreantly terrible to slip into that miniscule chart of audio loveliness, please challenge me/let me know. And whilst you try and put your words together, please have a listen to this month’s selection of just-released awesomeness:

Dibder’s 2014: June Mix

Dibder's 2014: June Mix by Dibderbooth on Mixcloud

01) “Shades Of Cool” by Lana Del Rey

02) “Cedar Lane” by First Aid Kit

03) “Palace” by The Antlers

04) “Trying To Do Better” by Tom Vek

05) “Coffee” by Sylvan Esso

06) “Repeat Pleasure” by How To Dress Well

07) “Simply Beautiful” by José James featuring Takuya Kuroda

08) “Thermal Capacity” by Answer Code Request

09) “Like That” by Martyn

10) “Pass This On (Shaken-Up Version)” by The Knife

And finally, one last thing… If you happen to be in London on Friday August 1st, you’d do well to try and make it down to Camden for the launch night of a brand-spanking-new gay indie night. Audacity is the name, venerable institution of late-night mirth and merriment The Black Cap is the venue and it promises to be a great party dedicated to the best rock/electro/alternative music, recent and classic, popular and obscure. As well as a multitude of DJs spinning their particular favourites (including yours truly, but don’t let that put you off!), the particularly fancy bon-mot of the night will be a live set from up-and-coming synthpop juggernaut I Am A Camera, who quite simply put are fucking amazing.

10299052_524688197656981_5196838060247530532_n

If you’re in town, please pop by… it’ll be an awfully grand adventure. Until then, xxxo

May 2014: The Playlist

Hey y’all,The month of May has been a doozy, to say the very least… Managing to squeeze all of the stuff that went down between two Bank Holiday weekends in a single paragraph is more than a little trite though (and it’d be very blasé of me to leave a passing comment as to how storm-in-a-teacup this whole Ukip thing was considering if one actually looks at the results), so I’ll sum up the two big music-related things with a couple of bullet points:

  • I had the good fortune of seeing Janelle Monáe at her London show on May 9 and she was typically brilliant, her diminutive frame and busily-populated stage not once belying her incredible stage presence and combustible vocal prowess. The most impressive thing I took away from it was that it says something when a performer takes on songs from her albums originally conceived as duets and you don’t miss the high-profile guest stars for single moment.
  • The right act/song won Eurovision this year in the sultry form of Austria’s Conchita Wurst and her imperious would-be Bond anthem “Rise Like A Phoenix“. Of all of the “Skyfall” knock-offs that were performed at the event this year it was undoubtedly the best and Conchita herself managed to tow the line between novelty and earnestness rather gracefully, aided substantially by her impressive belter of a voice that she managed to sell the whole thing with.

Now that’s out of the way though, what new music have I managed to get hold of, listen to and like so much as to recommend for your auditory orifices? Well, let me sign off now with…

Dibder’s 2014: May Mix

Dibder's 2014: May Mix by Dibderbooth on Mixcloud

01) “Do You Feel The Same?” by Hercules And Love Affair featuring Gustaph

02) “Lost In Love” by I Am A Camera

03) “Every Little Thing” by Röyksopp & Robyn

04) “Never Gonna Love Again” by Lykke Li

05) “Cat Rider” by Little Dragon

06) “Ocean Death” by Baths

07) “Venter” by Ben Frost

08) “SOTM” by Teebs

09) “Do Better” by Fatima

10) “Lonely Daze” by Kate Tempest

#TeamSolange… xxxo

April 2014: The Playlist

In spite of myself, here I am everyone…

April is normally a busy month for me anyway, but what with this year being the thirtieth of which I have duly celebrated/suffered/indifferently-schlepped-through the process of life on this earth and my actual birthday being hijacked by one of British culture’s more boozy public holidays (thanks for dying for our sins so we can get absolutely wrecked for four whole days, ‘Our Lord’), my always-tentative grip on normalcy has seen its stubby, sweaty little fingers almost reduced to jelly. But it was all in good fun in the end, and thanks to everyone who wished me well and got me stuff/drunk throughout; I’m a firm believer in the Rule Of Three, so am entering the third decade of my life with a degree of excitement as to what to expect already…

But I digress, here’s a list of what I felt was April 2014’s finest new music:

Dibder’s 2014: April Mix

Dibder's 2014: April Mix by Dibderbooth on Mixcloud

01) “Forever Be” by Kelis

02) “Blue Sunshine” by HTRK

03) “Flood Poems” by Inventions

04) “Swing Star (Part 1)” by Todd Terje

05) “My Cave” by Dana Ruh

06) “Be Brave, Clench Fists” by Leon Vynehall

07) “Take Your Body Off” by Perc

08) “Solace” by EMA

09) “I’m Not Part Of Me” by Cloud Nothings

10) “You Endless” by Squarepusher x Z-Machines

xxxo

March 2014: The Playlist

So that’s the first quarter of 2014 done and dusted. Going by quick this year, isn’t it? Been plenty of new music for us all too; have already cracked the 100 barrier with regards to new albums, EPs and mixtapes that have managed to find their way into the world within the past 90 days. There goes my promise of trying to slow down I guess, but whether I’ll crack 500 like I did last year still remains to be seen/heard.

In any event, here is March’s mix. Enjoy:

Dibder’s 2014: March Mix

Dibder's 2014: March Mix by Dibderbooth on Mixcloud

01) “We Got A Love” by Shit Robot featuring Reggie Watts

02) “Rhythm Of Devotion” by Sisyphus

03) “Buzz” by LE1F

04) “Salt Carousel” by Evian Christ

05) “Pen#1″ by Penny

06) “When We’re Gone” by Vijay Iyer

07) “Danceland” by Carla Bozulich

08) “Eyes To The Wind” by The War On Drugs

09) “Like The Moon” by Future Islands

10) “Mercy” by Mr. Little Jeans

xxxo

February 2014: The Playlist

Hey Everyone,

As promised, keeping it quick and simple this year, though this entry comes with a shout-out to Mixcloud, who’ve not only revamped their site something fancy, but have allowed their users with WordPress blogs to post their mixes directly into their entries via fancy new widgets, as evidenced below. Cheers, luvs! Anyhoo, here is:

Dibder’s 2014: February Mix

Dibder's 2014: February Mix by Dibderbooth on Mixcloud

01) “Blue Eyes” by Katy B

02) “Lyk U Use 2″ by Moodymann featuring Andres

03) “OMG” by ceo

04) “Human Drama” by Planningtorock

05) “Weightless” by Neneh Cherry

06) “Mmmh Mmmh” by Young Fathers

07) “Déjà Vu” by Cibo Matto

08) “Windows” by Angel Olsen

09) “Micheline” by Sun Kil Moon

10) “Tahalamot” by Tinariwen

And that’s it… xxxo

January 2014: The Playlist

Hey Everyone,

Hope the new year didn’t treat all of you as badly as it is often accustomed to; as you’ll have noticed, the blog has adopted a cleaner, more-streamlined (re: far-fucking-easier-to-read) theme, as befits my attempting to adopt a new blogging strategy for this year. Considering how much I listened, watched and generally got up to over 2013, the idea for the next twelve months will be keeping all music-related waffle to a minimum, as part of an effort to try and get more entries about other things out into the world; I listened to over 500 albums last year, so I’ll be forgiven for wanting to slow down a bit and get some semblance of a life in order, especially now I’ve finished all those infernal Candy Crush levels, right?

But the monthly playlists will still be coming, as evidenced below. So, to ring in 2014 officially, please have a listen to:

Dibder’s 2014: January Mix

Dibder's 2014: January Mix by Dibderbooth on Mixcloud

01) “True Trans Soul Rebel” by Against Me!

02) “Looking For Someone” by East India Youth

03) “Gaze” by Actress

04) “Pull Me Down” by Clams Casino

05) “Disclosure” by I Break Horses

06) “Strangers (Nocturnal Version)” by Little Boots

07) “This Song Is Not About A Girl” by Flume & Chet Faker

08) “Louie The First” by Duck Sauce

09) “Hello” by Axel Boman

10) “Awalole” by Angélique Kidjo featuring Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg

Till next time, xxxo

2013: My Favourite Music Of The Year, Pt. 2

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

True

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.

Dishonourable Mentions

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

Samson

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