In case you missed it, our top tracks from last year were announced on Christmas eve. 2013 also saw the release of an array of brilliant debut albums and career climaxing records from a wide range of genres. Here are twenty favourites.
20. II – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
19. Cold Spring Fault Less Youth – Mount Kimbie
18. …Like Clockwork – QOTSA
17. Jai Paul – Jai Paul
16. The Child of Lov – The Child of Lov
15. Light Up Gold – Parquet Courts: Loud, guitary, and simultaneously sarcastic and nostalgic.
14. Howlin – Jagwar Ma: Fuzzy psychedelia mixed with bubbly dance.
13. Paracosm – Washed Out: The chill wave heavyweight evolves to a more subtle and textured wall-of-sound.
12. Factory Floor – Factory Floor: New New Order with added malice under the surface.
11. Love’s Crushing Diamond – Mutual Benefit: Economical, ephemeral, and crushingly sad.
10. 6 Feet Beneath the Moon – King Krule
Only tenth because I’m getting embarrassed about how much I talk about it.
9. The New Life – Girls Names
In The New Life the Belfast four piece reinvent their sound: more brooding and restrained, vocals and guitars drip with reverb, and gloomy synths give a distinctly 80s feel.
8. Immunity – Jon Hopkins
The expertly paced progression of the album follows that of a night: glitchy excitement teeters over into anxiety, the album peaks with crunching and aggressive techno, and the final washed out piano-ambient songs are the melodic equivalent of a sunrise.
7. Cabinet of Curiosities – Jacco Gardner
An eerie and ornate baroque pop album that could be a series of children’s stories: in turns charming and sinister, the diverse soundscape is as atmospheric as it is beautiful. The young Dutchman played all the instruments in the lush orchestration and produced the album as well, coating it with late 60s reverb.
6. Drone Logic – Daniel Avery
Acidic techno at times reminiscent of the early Chemical Brothers, this is a far cry from the garage-influenced minimalism dominating the current club scene – which is perhaps why it’s so refreshing. The Fabric veteran’s groovy, thrumming riffs are hard to resist.
5. Silence Yourself – Savages
Bracing, darkly energetic music that somehow manages to sound like it is being sung – or howled – in the same caps lock as their online manifesto. Simply post-punk karaoke? Far from it: Savages manage to be a product of their influences without being a pastiche. Glorying in their own intellect, their lyrics deal with art and sexuality.
4. Cupid Deluxe – Blood Orange
Dev Hynes takes a break from production to develop his solo career. This is fluid and mournful stuff, 21st-century R&B with the emphasis on blues over rhythm, with smooth synths and gently throbbing drums interlaced with androgynous vocals.
3. Pale Green Ghosts – John Grant
Grant combines singer-songwriter and synth pop, his intensely personal lyrics dealing with the heartbreak, homophobia, and HIV he suffered – but still managing to be blackly humorous. The imagery is relentlessly inventive: depression is like ‘a cold, concrete room with fluorescent lighting…which, as you know, makes everything look bad´; and the pale green ghosts of the title are both the road-side trees on a solitary drive and reminders of his past.
2. Psychic – Darkside
Nicolas Jaar joins guitarist Dave Harrington for an uncomfortable but masterful melding of genres: influences range from krautrock to blues. The atmosphere is dimly lit and otherworldly, schizophrenic in its fluctuating BPM and sudden sustained silences – Psychic sounds like Eraserhead looks. The distant vocals and spectral guitar only add to the effect. Darkside weaves an intricate sonic tapestry worth exploring at length.
1. Wakin On A Pretty Daze – Kurt Vile
‘Making music is easy, watch me’. Everything about Wakin On A Pretty Daze seems effortless. It is laziness elevated to an art form: the mumbled lyrics are contemplative and introspective, dealing with the touring life. The overgrown songs sprawl over 9 minutes. This is Kurt’s conversation with himself – and as such he can be as idle as he likes. But all this apparent effortlessness hides a complex and painstakingly created sound. It’s a testament to Kurt’s talent that his tangled guitar picking still feels spacious and improvised, as do his wittily tangential lyrics. Wakin On A Pretty Daze feels as hazy and sun-drenched as its artwork. If you have an afternoon with as little to do as Kurt Vile, spend it listening to this.
Biggest disappointment: Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Self-indulgent, lazy and Disneyfied – the comparisons with Andrew Lloyd Webber were entirely justified. ‘Alive’ it is not.