Top 10 Albums - 2013

So, it's that time again; sift through this year's new music and lovingly, ruthlessly select my vital 10. Yeah, couldn't do it. There's been a lot of amazing stuff to listen to this year and, though I tried I couldn't even get close to 10. Here's my top 15 for 2013. As usual, in one particular order. Oh yeah, and there's 2 albums that technically are from 2012... I didn't get to them (nor they to me) until the beginning of this year so, with no apologies, they are included here.

15. Jake Bugg – Shangri La
Rick Rubin proves to be a good fit, and has helped work Bugg's spiky skiffle into something a bit more vital than last year's promising debut. No huge leap musically perhaps, but more than compensated for by sheer song-writing verve.

14. Bill Callahan – Dream River
Bill Callahan and his wonderfully inventive lo-fi underground rock, seems to have been around forever, without making that much of an impression on me (certainly not in the guise of Smog), but Dream River has changed that. The personal nature of the album's overall narrative is incredibly engaging and seductive. It's a sophisticated and smooth album that makes great use of negative space to achieve its goal of being an ideal late-night listen. 

13. Atoms for Peace - Amok
Super-group makes good album shock! For me it was simple; Thom Yorke's voice drew me in, but it was the music that held my attention; rich and deep with fascinating shifts and contrasts, and myriad electronic flourishes that I found intriguing enough to listen to again... and again... and again... and that's when I started to 'get' this album. I think everyone should 'get' this album.

12. House of the Black Lanterns – Kill The Lights
Dylan Richards' latest incarnation really caught my attention when a mate sent me a link to You, Me, Metropolis. That sent me to the album, but it was the opening track, the very dark 'Beg', which brought me back the 5 or 6 times it needed for me to become infected.

11. Foals – Holy Fire
Yannis and co. stepping forward and up into the big league. The album from the intro and Inhaler, fair bursts out of the speakers and demands to be heard. And for what it is; unashamed, unabashed and unselfconscious power and bloom.

10. Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
A dark, gloomy, bluesy masterpiece, easily their best album since Violator, if not their best album ever.

9. Midlake – Antiphon
I was really worried about Midlake when I heard last year that Tim Smith had moved on to greener pastures. Not so much because he was the main vocalist, but more because he was also the main songwriter too. Actually, though, it sounds like I needn't have worried, Eric Pulido has stepped up to the plate with aplomb, and Antiphon is in many ways better than The Courage of Others and on a par with Van Occupanther, especially in the way it flows... it almost feels like a Jethro Tull concept album. No, really.

8. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Yeah, it's a disco album, but that doesn't even tell half the story. Steeped in 70s and 80s influences and inspirations, this albums buzzes with craft and invention. Well-chosen collaborations are important to the vibe, but it's deft attention to detail that defines it. Their best album by far; both a game-changer and a mind-blower. 

7. Disclosure – Settle
Joyous dance/pop, lifted higher than the rest by a touch of intelligence and the fact that this is in effect a stunningly (frighteningly) self-assured debut. Some have mentioned that the list of guest vocalists is a bit of a hype machine who's who, but actually the brothers' (Guy and Howard) hand is clearly on the wheel throughout. And a surprisingly steady hand it is too.  

6. British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy
The Cumbrian oddballs finally penetrated my 'pretentious bullshit' shield on this their 6th full-lengther. Quirky still, but way more cohesive than their previous one (Valhalla Dancehall). It's wistful, nostalgic, bouyant, and manic. They're looking for and occasionally finding the sweet spot between melancholic and exquisite. 

5. Madness – Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da
Technically, from 2012, but this didn't get to my part of the world until January. I almost threw it on last year's list on first listen but, perhaps due to the fact that I've never before championed the Camden outfit, I decided to give it a bit more time. Well, 10th time lucky, and it looks like time has given them something I always thought they lacked; depth. Skanking, giddy, brassy, unapologetic ska-pop. 

4. Artic Monkeys – AM
Their best yet... by far, and clearly one of the albums of the year, especially if you're a fan of psychedelic rock, blues rock, heavy rock, desert rock, and even R & B, soul and hip hip, as evidently the Monkeys are. For me it was hints of the Velvets, Black Sabbath and Dr. Dre that drew me in, and Turner's lyrical slant and the band's assurance that have held me. 

3. Cass McCombs – Big Wheel and Others
Genre-hopping masterclass of engaging and affecting folk rock. McCombs has been threatening to release something like this for a while now. Like most people, I was expecting an album from him this year. Also like most people, I wasn't expecting two, which this clearly is. Ambitious to be sure, but also creative beyond measure and absolutely fascinating. 

2. Kodaline – In a Perfect World
Steve Garrigan's stunning voice carry the folkie melodies, and crashing riffs underline the anthemic choral chants; welcome to the perfect world of Kodaline. Solid personal heartfelt pop/rock from the same mould as Coldplay or Keane, and even a bluesy edge, a la Hothouse Flowers. Although this is technically a debut, they have been around a while, and they have undoubtedly been learning all the time. It's unusually assured musically, if a little naif lyrically. If they continue to grow and learn, they will be huge.  

1. Field Report – Field Report
Chris Porterfield stepped out of the shadows and the cloud of what he had seemed to give up when he quit DeYarmond Edison (Justin Vernon's pre-Bon Iver vehicle), with this incredible piece of work about death, self-sabotage and redemption. That's not to say it's a 'heavy' listen, it's not. It's a group of 10 sincere songs, carefully layered so as to reveal more and more on subsequent listens and, by turns, playful, gentle, engaging and captivating. Without a single filler track this album is a gem; an old school long-player that ebbs and flows like a tide of craft and honesty.


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