> | | | > Albums Of The Year: Endless Window 2013 Review, Part Three

Albums Of The Year: Endless Window 2013 Review, Part Three

Posted on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 | No Comments

Here we go. The big one.
Somewhat later than had been planned, I grant you, but I got here as fast as I could. As with any such lists, there are inevitable omissions and oversights - records that have slipped from the mind, or haven't been heard yet, or haven't connected with me in the way they have with other listeners. There's many fine releases that, unfortunately, haven't made it here, but you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, and for my current purposes fifty records seemed sufficient for the story I wanted to tell. (And what are these carefully ordered packages of the very recent past other than stories?)
For those of you who have read the previous quarterly round-ups on Endless Window, many of these records will be familiar to you. There are, however, records from those which have failed to make it in, ones which have grown or fallen in stature and ones forced to make way for recent discoveries. Suffice to say though that these are all records that I can stand by, ones that tell a story I am satisfied with - about the year, about music, about myself.

Should you wish to hear something from these records, please find my playlist over at 8tracks that will take you through the full selection: http://8tracks.com/fluorescences/endless-window-albums-of-2013

50) Broadcast - Berberian Sound Studio OST


This is not how I would have hoped to be writing about Trish Keenan, in that dreadful, final past tense. This, however, is how history has panned out, and so we start with one of the year's earliest releases, Broadcast's soundtrack for the superb, imaginative meta-horror Berberian Sound Studio. The technological expertise and occult leanings of the group's later work make an ideal match for the film, the duo of Keenan and James Cargill weaving un-nerving effects and giallo pastiche into a dense web that works just fine as its own radio play. Yet this is a work that is unavoidably a footnote: Keenan's ghostly presence here should not have been the last word.

49) Atoms for Peace - AMOK


For an album as full with interesting rhythmic work, great melodies and gorgeous vocals, brought to gleaming life by uber-producer Nigel Godrich, a record which really does get so much right, there's still something slightly anti-climactic about AMOK. Blame it on the back catalogue, perhaps: Thom Yorke has a hell of a lot to live up, and with his new group of collaborators Atoms For Peace, the pressure was as on as ever. Between the battered afrobeat of opener Before Your Very Eyes..., the eerily catchy Default, the funk reverie Stuck Together Pieces and the suitably bleak title track, there's plenty of delights here. Yet in the album's long gestation, some of the heart of his work with Radiohead and his previous solo work seems to have gone missing. Still, missed opportunities are rarely as successful as this.

48) Wire - Change Becomes Us


For their first album with new guitarist Matthew Simms (previously of It Hugs Back), Wire did something they've previously been loathe to do: look back to the past. A set of re-worked and re-written tracks from 1979 and 1980, previously collected on live curio Document and Eyewitness but never taken to the studio, Change Becomes Us succeeds as a demonstration of how Wire have continued to evolve while other peers have fossilised. While they were already moving towards textural exploration before their first split in 1980, the current quartet is able to do far better justice to the material here, a greater subtlety and nuance now present alongside the muscle present in opener Doubles & Trebles. Instead of nostalgia, Wire revisited old blueprints to find the latest step forward.

47) Jai Paul - Jai Paul
 

Of the many difficult decisions that were made in compiling this list, one of the most trying had to be whether this could really be counted as a record at all. An illegally released compilation of unknown origin, with some clearly unfinished tracks and demo pieces alongside complete songs, Jai Paul's debut album was nothing of the sort. But while the wait for an official debut grows, this strange patchwork offering has enough invention, charm and joy to merit its inclusion here, a hazy and idea-packed compendium of forward-thinking dancefloor fillers.

46) Deerhunter - Monomania


Coming after a (by Deerhunter standards at least) long intermission, Monomania was not the record all fans of the band wanted or expected after the wait. Where their run from Cryptograms to Halycon Digest had seen Bradford Cox and the band shedding past skins, trying out new forms and focusing in on their songwriting, Monomania was a brash, self-consciously simple set of in-the-red garage rock and lilting ballads that took the band right back to basics. The number of gems that this approach brought however - the manic title-track, the instantly catchy Sleepwalking, the tragic T.H.M. and lovely Lockett Pundt contribution The Missing - suggest that once again, Bradford has kept himself ahead of the pack in unexpected ways.

45) Hookworms - Pearl Mystic


Truth be told, this album would be much higher up the list if it weren't for the unfortunate fact that the band seem content to just run the clock out from the two-thirds mark. It's a shame, because before then Pearl Mystic is a fantastic introduction for Hookworms. If they couldn't quite bottle the ferocious energy of their live show, they still delivered a hefty dose of pure rock'n'roll thrills. Away/Towards might well have been the greatest opener of the year, and on the glammed-up Form & Function and the acid rock mantra In Out Time, their psyched-up take on the Velvets was a must hear. If not the home-run it might have been, there's plenty here on Pearl Mystic to make it worth your time.

44) The Child of Lov - The Child of Lov


Of those who we lost in 2013 - Kevin Ayres, Jeff Hanneman, Lou Reed - none came as such cruel and unexpected news as the death of Martijn William Zimri Teerlinck, the man behind The Child of Lov, at the young age of 26. As a result, the sole musical legacy he leaves behind is his curious, eccentric self-titled debut release. Fortunately, it's a distinctive release that set out his artistic voice from the off: while the Prince worship might be nothing new in these days of alternative R&B, the precise arrangements and addictive grooves of The Child of Lov set him out as a interesting new force. Sadly, we will never know where he would have gone from here, but at least we have these ten tracks to remember him by.

43) Kanye West - Yeezus


Were you expecting this higher? In some ways, so was I, because at its best Yeezus is one of the most exciting and invigorating things to have hit the mainstream in years, the sound of a hugely successful and acclaimed artist using their position to throw new sounds and ideas at the audience and expect them to raise their game rather than condescending to a lowest common denominator. On blitzkrieg beats like On Sight and Black Skinhead and on the political commentary of New Slaves, Kanye West in on the form of his career. Yet this blatantly rushed record has too many failings - the increasingly disturbing and violent misogyny, displayed at its worst on I'm In It, chief amongst them - for it to stand out as one of the year's classics. For the gems amidst the chaos though, Yeezus was one of 2013's essential releases.

42) Conquering Animal Sound - On Floating Bodies


Just what do you have to do to get people to pay attention? Because lord knows Conquering Animal Sound are doing all the right things, weaving elaborate yet unmistakeably home-spun electronic arrangements around delicate pop songs with, as their second album On Floating Bodies proved, with great skill and emotional investment. But still they remain a notably underground concern, even when on tracks like Warn Me they're doing a better job of being Bjork than the woman herself managed on most of Biophilia. What else is to be said? It's a shit business.

41) Charles Bradley - Victim of Love


When is pastiche not pastiche? It's a question posed by the recording career of Charles Bradley, a James Brown tribute act in his sixties discovered by soul revivalist label Daptone Records. Both of his albums to date have been undeniably rooted in the sounds of the past, but then isn't that apt for the finally uncovered Screaming Eagle of Soul? Where debut album No Time For Dreaming had to relay much of Bradley's often tragic backstory, here on Victim of Love he's liberated and allowed to become the soul icon he should have been forty years earlier. The songs are, yes, pastiche, but when it's pastiche as well written as Strictly Reserved for You, performed with the passion and talent of someone like Bradley, it turns into something far greater.

40) Earl Sweatshirt - Doris


It's the end of 2013, and we're at least a year gone from when people genuinely cared about Odd Future. Their shock tactics have become dull and obnoxious, the releases have often disappointed, and Frank Ocean has (quite rightly) moved along the road to superstardom all on his own accord. Just as well then that Earl Sweatshirt's long-awaited debut Doris defied expectations and got to business, delivering a slow, introspective set that reinforced his identity outside of the group, using outside producers and rappers yet bending them to his own vision.  Consider the hype proven.

39) The Body - Christs, Redeemers


Doom metal is not an artform known for concision. Signature acts like Candlemass, Saint Vitus and Cathedral think nothing of elongated running times and crushing, oppressive repetition. For Christ, Redeemers, The Body decided to compress doom metal down to size without compromising on the heavy riffs and glacial tempos. Rather than dragging it out, here The Body stuff all that fury and horror down into compressed slabs that hit all the harder for it. If one is to really appreciate life, you have to understand it from as many angles as possible - The Body have mastered misanthropy and anguish and made hulking, cathartic noise out of it.

38) Amor de Dias - The House At Sea


The Clientele may sadly remain in hiatus, but Alasdair MacLean's new project with Lupe Nunez-Fernandez of Pipas, Amor De Dias, filled the void nicely on their second album The House At Sea/ Where their debut album Street of the Love of Days sounded tentative and uncertain, the full-band sound presented here was far more assured and rewarding. While MacLean's somgwriting voice remains consistent with later Clientele releases, the juxtaposition with Nunez-Fernandez's bossa-nova scented tracks lends the full album an earthy psychedelia both lighter and more abstract than the urban geography explored by The Clientele. A subtly rewarding piece.

37) Yo La Tengo - Fade


While Fade didn't exactly reinvent the long-established Yo La Tengo modus operandi, it made a sterling effort of breathing new life into it. Most obvious was the abbrieviated track-list, making it their first effort to comfortably fit on a single slab of wax since Painless, while the presence of veteran Chicago producer John McEntire gave the krautrock rhythm of Stupid Things and the placid Two Trains a sheen to match the new-found sense of precision. Most impressive of all was the communal chant of opener Ohm, a piece at once bitersweet and defiant and quite evidently one of the greatest rockers of their grand career.

36) Manic Street Preachers - Rewind The Film


Even the wild young things have to grow up sometime. The days of feather boas and leopard skin lie far back in the past, but Rewind The Film still marks something of a shock in its stillness and sober subject matter. It's an album haunted by death and aging, one that asks whether all the efforts were worth it, whether youthful idealism is doomed to failure. It's Nicky Wire's strongest set of lyrics in years, and James Dean Bradfield matches it with a clutch of sensitive, acoustic-driven compositions. Yet this dark night of the soul ends up positively rousing: in their own self-doubt and self-analysis, they re-connect with their intelligence and their ambition and find their reason to keep on going.

35) Ghostpoet - Some Say I So Some Say Light


As if unconciously hiding from The Curse of the Mercury, one-time nominee Ghostpoet took to ground for his follow-up Some Say I So I Say Light. The album runs on nocturnal confusion and dream logic, the night bus tension of Them Waters, the depressive cloud of Msi Musmid and sleepwalking march of Dial Tones dragging the listener one way while the afrobeat pulse of Plastic Bag Brain and the soaring strings that conclude Comatose pull in the opposite direction. On centerpiece number Meltdown, the all-too-human surrealism of the lyrics and the murky yet anthemic production meet in the middle and illuminate the powerful heart driving Ghostpoet's work.

34) Darkside - Psychic


Both moving away from and advancing the vision of barely-there, ambient house proferred on the stunning Space Is Only Noise, Nicolas Jarr's new collaborative project Darkside saw his etheral production weave around Dave Harrington's guitars to conjure up the slow-motion travelogue of Psychic. Majestic eleven-minute opener Golden Arrow saw the Trans-Europe Express of Kraftwerk rebuilt and upgraded for a new generation, before the album moved onto a clutch of barely-there funk hymnals that felt beamed in from some other reality. By the time of trip-hop tinted closer Metatron, the sci-fi elegeance of Psychic returned to base, having taken the listener to the edge of the map and back.

33) Machinedrum – Vapor City


The conceptual underpinning of Machinedrum's latest release Vapor City may be more evident in the press releases than in the actual music (although it has, more impressively, acted a a frame for expansions and additions to the main album on his website, such as the recently unveiled Vision EP), but that's no great concern when the productions are this strong. If his fate is to become the acceptable face of modern jungle and drum'n'bass, then so be it, because throughout tracks like Center Your Love and the Wendy & Bonnie sampling SeeSea, he marries frantic, triple-digit BPMs drum patterns with a melodic invention and intelligent vocal sampling that honours the roots of his sound whilst successfully reaching for a greater emotional scope.

32) Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City


Vampire Weekend have always been a clever band, but then that's also been their biggest weakness: a condescending, preppy clever-clever snarkiness that didn't so much layer their post-Graceland pop as just push the listener away from it. On Modern Vampires of the City, the band finally hit maturity, and invited the audience in rather than pushing them back. As such, tracks like the perfectly detailed Step, the short-story ballad of Hannah Hunt and Ya Hey (discussed previously here) saw them striking at a level that previously seemed beyond them. It's a record that boasts some seriously smart and nuanced songwriting, with one vital special ingredient: compassion.

31) Warm Digits - Interchange


The Half Memory project, whose culmination Endless Window reviewed back in April, helped two of Newcastle's finest acts produce great new albums. Richard Dawson offered the avant-acapella epic The Glass Trunk, whilst Warm Digits used the opportunity to craft Interchange, their second full-length and the best distillation of their sound to date. The conceptual underpinning - the construction of the Tyn & Wear Metro - proved the ideal platform for the duo's utopian soundscapes, skipping between krautrock, disco and post-rock to vibrantly depict the possibiliies of a future that got left behind. (A special mention also for the brilliant DVD of visuals accompanying the release too, that adds an additional, important dimension to the Warm Digits aesthetic.)

30) Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks


Two new tracks created grudgingly for a mooted best-of release does not normally a good comeback make, yet something clearly dug itself deep into Trent Reznor's imagination, for here we are with a brand new Nine Inch Nails album, Hesitation Marks. Rather than the simplistic electro-rock of With Teeth or The Slip, it's a release that thankfully takes more cues from Year Zero than any other of his post-The Fragile releases, placing a premium on synth abuse and atmosphere that suits the middle-ages Reznor well. A re-writing of The Downward Spiral where the doomed narrator finds a way out yet has to find a way of dealing with his ghosts, Hesitation Marks made a very convincing claim that the Nine Inch Nails banner still held some unfinished business.

29) Thee Oh Sees - Floating Coffin


There were several albums barred outright from inclusion here - Mosquito by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Lousy With Sylvianbriar by Of Montreal chief amongst them - on grounds of extreme uglyness. The outstandingly awful artwork for Floating Coffin almost saw it fall foul as well, but the latest garage rock announcement from Thee Oh Sees forced its way in here on the simple grounds of having some of the year's greatest riffs. Toe/Cutter/Thumb Buster, Maze Fancier, Night Crawler...Floating Coffin is rock's DNA replicated to the highest of standards, blasting away any opposition. See you next year for the next one.

28) British Sea Power - Machineries of Joy


After the gleefull mess of Valhalla Dancehall, British Sea Power smartened themselves up and sent out a beacon of hope across the land with Machineries of Joy. In an age where The British Bake-Off has taken 'bread and circuses' to its logical conclusion, British Sea Power gave a poignant reminder of the genuine oddness and brilliance that can be found in these British isles, a progressive, inclusive and humane tribute to the Monsters of Sunderland and everywhere else. Marks were deducted on account of closer When A Warm Wind Blows Through The Grass seemingly having wandered in from a totally different album and leaving things on a slightly sour note, but Machineries of Joy was another fine dispatch from this most quintessentially cult of bands. (Although ineligable here for its use of older music, their gorgeous soundtrack for From the Sea to the Land Beyond is a heart-tugging joy highly deserving of your time and money also.)

27) Fell Voices - Regnum Saturni


Although the backwards-looking kvlt contingent still lingers, for the rest of us black metal has become one of the great breedings grounds of invention and creativity within extreme music in recent years, with Fell Voices's monolithic work of lo-fi Regnum Saturni proving a fine example of the possibilities of the form. Over these three extended pieces, waves of crashing drones and thundering percussion drift into new avenues, song structure blurred into a vast gothic presence. The off-mike roars and screams and harmonia intros and outros add additional curveballs into the mix, further wrinkles in this lengthy and impassioned quest for transcendence.

26) Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe


You might not have realised you needed a new Depeche Mode at the start of the year, but give The Bones of What You Believe a few spins and it feels like some itch you had only just noticed has been scratched just right. The trio of Lauren Mulberry, Iain Cook and Martn Doherty have all done their time in the indie trenches, yet nothing feels forces or anything less than heartfelt about this synth-pop coming out party. The dazziling hooks of The Mother We Share, Recover and Night Sky are matched by the sincerity of the approach: next time though, please don't let the guys near the vocal mikes.

25) Iceage - You're Nothing


Controversy has followed these Danish punks from the off - for the record, the Nazi allegations are evident bullshit stirred up by arseholes at Vice magazine, but selling branded flicknives as merch is hard to describe as anything other than cretinous. You've probably spotted that old 'let the music do the talking' cliche coming a mile off, but well, that's what You're Nothing does to brilliance: a focused, half-hour blast of energy and passion that keeps the chaos of New Brigade intact while adding a few vital new wrinkles to the sound. Where so much modern punk is unavoidably conservative and point-missing, this is vital, urgent stuff.

24) Danny Brown - Old


Given his unhinged reputation, Danny Brown's latest Old is a remarkable feat of sequencing: a rap purist heaven of a first half, full of ghetto horror stories, before a hit-heavy second half packed with the floor-fillers that have made him such a draw on the festival circuit. Yet it's in the seemingly easier second half that the real brilliance of Old lies: beneath the pounding beats and braggadocio the darkness of the album's first half remains, as a portrait of a traumatised Danny Brown trying to drown out his memories emerges. It's hedonism as a symptom of PTSD (has anyone informed Andrew W.K.?), and it's a cunning sleight of hand that makes for Old's greatest strength - shame then that rights issues forced the logicial narrative conclusion, ODB, to be pulled from the tracklist before release.

23) John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts



Sure, dude mentioned he used to like Blancmange on stage, but did we expect him to try and become them? Although there's still traces of his soft-rock roots on Pale Green Ghosts (most clearly in the brilliant black humour of GMF), the shift towards synthesised arrangements suits John Grant's dark confessions well. Black Belt is a gloriously sardonic kiss-off, Ernest Borgenine a powerful juxtaposition of personal revelation with haunted disco, and Why Don't You Love Me Anymore a stark, dramatic account of a relationship gone wrong. Sure, dude mentioned he used to like Blancmange, and now he's gone and bettered them.

22) Death Grips - Government Plates


The issued cover art for Government Plates features no anime slaves or scrawled-on erections: hey, have Death Grips gone soft? Well, of course not. But it did provide a very welcome corrective for a band whose taste for controversy was in danger of eclipsing their music. Released without warning for free, Government Plates was a gift for the vigilant fan that awarded their patience in abundance, with standard-issue bruisers like Two Heavens a launch-pad for experiments with rave (Big House) and warped blues (Birds). Four albums in, they remain a confrontational joy.

21) Melt Yourself Down - Melt Yourself Down


Full disclosure: if the rest of the album was as strong as this record's remarkable A side, this thing would be a lot higher. And while the B side isn't bad - very far from it, really - it's those first four tracks that you'll keep coming back to again and again. Under the leadership of Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear player Pete Wareham, his new group Melt Yourself Down took the most lively elements of psychedelic rock, jazz, afro-beat and electronica and whipped them up into a fantastic new hybrid, perfect party music for the mind as well as the feet. It's still good when they slow down and breathe later on, but good lord, that A side.

20) James Blake – Overgrown


Overgrown may not have made a pop star of James Blake just yet (although healthy sales and a Mercury Prize should keep his record company happy enough), but it proved after the overly staid Enough Thunder that the promise of those stellar dance EPs and his debut album was real. On the production side of things alone, there's very little this year that sounded this accomplished and forward-thinking - seriously, why is Chance The Rapper the only guy in hip-hop using his stuff for beats so far? - and when he matches it with songwriting on the level of Retrograde or Life Round Here, the boy Blake demonstrates a remarkable amount of talent for just one man.
19) The Haxan Cloak – Excavation


At first glance, you might look at Excavation, and think, "oh yeah, scary heavy metal". The reality is far darker than that. Bobby Krlic's 2011 debut was full of tormented, abused found sounds and symphonic decay, but Excavation went one step further. The album starts in death, and traces the path of the soul through the afterlife through cavernous bass, tense drone and urgent horror soundtrack strings. It's a sound that could easily tip over into kitsch, but Krlic's smart enough to stop things tipping over into self-parody, and rewards the listener at the end with the chink in the dark of The Drop. A difficult but hugely accomplished listen.
18) Cate Le Bon - Mug Museum


The chime of Television guitars that bursts out of the speakers on opener I Can't Help You marks another shift in tone for Cate Le Bon, from the folk-orientated Me Oh My to the psychedelic outpourings of Cyrk. The move to Los Angeles prior to making Mug Museum could have suggested an acquiescence to trans-Atlantic mores, but her singular songwriting identity remains strong throughout. It's her darkest effort to date, as songs like No God and I Wish I Knew (a gorgeous duet with Perfume Genius) make clear, but it might also be her strongest and most confident, full of initially simple songs that slowly reveal their depths and power. Mug Museum is a record for the attentive listener to really take to heart.

17) Suede - Bloodsports


For an idea that should have been so wrong on paper - a delayed comeback from a group whose last two albums were clearly not good enough, and still lacking the fan-favourite original guitarist- Bloodsports is supremely right in reality. In fact, Suede make it sound downright easy here, recapturing the energy and drama of their youth almost effortlessly whilst shifting away from melodrama just enough to make it befitting of an older band. With this strong, strident collection, Suede have made exactly the album only they could have done, when almost nobody would have imagined that they could.
16) The National – Trouble Will Find Me


If The National really are, as many are fond of dubbing them, the new R.E.M., then this is their Green album - the slightly awkward but still immensely enjoyable sound of a cult band that's found itself miraculously hitting the big time. Trouble Will Find Me suffers slightly from an abundance of slow tracks in the second half, but track by track the quality control is as high as ever, and in Don't Swallow The Cap, This Is The Last Time and Humiliation, they've come up with some of their greatest triumphs to date. Awkward tracklistings aside, this release sees the band making the most of their new-found fame.
15) Forest Swords – Engravings


While many treated the mini-album Dagger Paths as the debut, it makes sense that Forest Swords would see the full-length Engravings as his real first statement. It's a record that takes everything that enthralled listeners previously - dubbed-out bass lines, murky percussion, Morricone guitar lines - but goes further with it, extrapolating those slow-burn delights into a cohesive and engaging statement. It's music that's ideally suited to cold winter walks and introspective solo listening, but as the euphoria of closer Friend, You Will Never Learn demonstrates best of all, it's a release that reaches out as well as beckons in.
14) Outfit – Performance


Designers, take note: that above is how you design a record cover. Cool, precise, bold, uncluttered. It's an ideal match for Outfit's music, a synth-pop blend perfectly in keeping with current trends (the productions of Jamie XX certainly loom over the likes of Thank God I Was Dreaming) but mindful also of the considered intelligence and posture of ancestors like OMD. As such, Performance feels like the work of the brainy, more mannered cousin of acts like Django Django and Hot Chip, but beneath the pristine exterior lies something more incisive and heartfelt than that might suggest. It's a beguiling debut from a band that sounds of a piece with the zeitgeist yet sits majestically outside it.
13) Bill Callahan – Dream River


Bill Callahan is the greatest short-story writer since Ernest Hemingway. Sure, there's the unfortunate fact that Bill Callahan is a songwriter, not an author, but give Dream River a spin and the comparison stands up. Every song offers up a perfectly depicted character and narrative, relayed with the minimum of detail yet hugely evocative. Works like Small Plane, Spring and Summer Painter are minor miracles of American writing, brought to life by Callahan's precise baritone and the subtle. intuitive playing of his band. Line them up alongside Hills Like White Elephants: it's the only proper comparison.
12) David Bowie – The Next Day


In the year of the surprise release, David Bowie was the first and the biggest. Long presumed totally retired after the health troubles that halted his touring in support of the Reality album in 2004, The Next Day was a wonderful shock for his ever-present legion of fans. And even better than that? Far from the sound of man supposedly on his death bed, this was a magnificently alive and potent collections. He may no longer be the pioneer he once was, but as that marvellously cheeky cover made clear, there's plenty of room left amongst the sounds and looks of his many pasts for him to get to work within. So we had the ambitious, Scary Monsters rush of the title track, the deceptively sweet Valentine's Day, the haunting Heat, the touching Where Are We Now?...a whole treasure trove in fact that add a significant new chapter to his body of work.

11) Future of the Left – How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident

In a world run by self-serving slime, monitored by hypocritical tossers and populated by stone-cold idiots, Andy Falkous is the only sane man left. His gift for the perfectly barbed turn of phrase and the deadly guitar riff has only grown over the years, and Future of the Left's fourth album How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident might be his masterpiece to date. He demolishes a litany of common annoyances and omnipresent lies with great aplomb - just check out the marvellous spoken-word spiel of Singing of the Bonesaws for proof - while he and his merry band supply their own skewed, addictive take on punk rock as accompanyment. You're either with Future of the Left, or you're on the wrong team.

10) Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest


Amongst the returning heroes of the year, we find Michael and Marcus, the brothers behind much-loved electronic act Boards of Canada. The silence that descended after 2005's The Campfire Headphase, a release whose more relaxed sound was found lacking by some, was lifted with Tomorrow's Harvest, a release that flicked the switch the other way with its post-apocalytic atmosphere and tense John Carpenter-styled interludes. Instead of returning to the pastoral unease of Geogaddi, here they looked to a bleak future, their production subtly upgraded and deepened so that tracks like Reach for the Dead and New Seeds sounded as vast and cavernous as the great, ruined American plains they depicted. For those willing to invest the time, Tomorrow's Harvest proved a very welcome return.

9) Savages - Silence Yourself


Plenty of sounds get revived these days - there's been disco revivals, house revivals, shoegaze revivals, even worrying hints of a fucking baggy revival - yet for some reason it's the bands that reach back to their post-punk records that get it in the neck. Maybe it's a result of the dread reign of Bloc Party last decade, but looking thirty years ago for inspiration has become a reason for suspicion (whilst all these dreadful Americana and folk acts that look back a century are fine, by some terminally stupid twist). Which is all a long way of saying that the people accusing Savages of trying to be Sixouxie & the Banshees clearly aren't listening very well: they don't sound a thing like it. Instead, what Savages do throughout the incendiary Silence Yourself is rescue post-punk from pastiche and find the radical spirit left within it, a spirit very much needed in the desperate political climate of 2013. Their metallic, intense sound is the launch pad for a set of ometimes inquisitive, sometimes declarative songs that use the unfinished, unfulfilled promise of post-punk as a way to move forward, not backwards. No band truthfully sounded like this in 1979: only one does in 2013.

8) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away


What do you do when you've been doing this for decades? When half the crowd could easily be your children (ha, as if you could forget that night...), when so many different people have different ideas of who you are and what they want for you that dissapointment is an inevitability rather than a possibility, when you have been doing this for so long that cliche is near impossible to avoid? What do you do to still make it worthwhile? Do you even have anything left to say anymore? Maybe the only answer is to keep on going. Keep trying new ideas, show them a part of you they haven't seen before. Maybe it's just rock and roll, but it gets you right down to your soul, right? So just keep on pushing, keep on pushing, push the sky away.

7) Julia Holter - Loud City Song


Do you ever think to yourself sometimes, oh come on, that's just not fair? Well, imagine being a singer-songwriter right now and knowing that the competition in your chosen field is Julia Holter. Because that really is not fair. In three years, she's brought out three superbly realised albums of genre-bending magic, and even more scarily they're getting better and better. Loud City Song is nothing short of audacious - musically, her classical chops are evident even as the songs switch from minimal laments, jazzy run-downs and attention-demanding synth pop, while the immaculate character studies of her lyrics mark her out as one of the very few lyricists working today alongside Joanna Newsom, Mark E Smith and Scott Walker to actually respond in some way to the changes and challenges of poetry after modernism. The loss of other singer-songwriters is our joy though, as we get to dwell with Loud City Song, to explore its grand architecture and slowly uncover its many treasures.

6) Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels


In 2013, you've got your trap rap, your queer rap, your underground rap, your experimental rap...yet let the dust settle on all of this, and who's standing on top? Two old-school smart-arses from Atlanta and Brookyln, that's who. There's been plenty of innovative, exciting and challenging new hip-hop this year, but for the sheer fun of it - the pristine beats, the immaculate wordplay, the absolute mastery of a craft - nothing can come close to the debut from Killer Mike and El-P, Run The Jewels. Their work together on their respective 2012 solo albums R.A.P. Music and Cancer 4 Cure marked out a great paring, but the full collaboration on this album sees them both bringing their absolute top game for the length of proceedings. The beats are fantastic, the shit-talking is hilarious, the chemistry is undeniable, and they brought it in at a lean thirty-three minutes and let you download it for free.

5) Various Artists - After Dark 2


Johnny Jewel is not the first or last artist in this list with an unfortunate habit of delays, but After Dark 2 - a label showcase originally due for release in 2012 - finally made it out of his meticulous grasp this summer. Given the Italo-disco focus of Italians Do It Better, that their different acts (most of whom feature Johnny Jewel in some capacity or another) would be able to sit so comfortably together isn't a great surprise. That it would prove such a grand statement remains a welcome surprise, with key acts like Chromatics and Glass Candy turning in some of their finest work to date and smaller artists like Mirage and Appaloosa getting a chance to shine in the spotlight too. Certain other dance albums this year proved to be regressive, conservative bores - After Dark 2 bursted at the seams with creativity and life.

4) Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady


Why bother trying to be a pop star or R&B singer in what historians to come shall doubtlessly come to know as The Age of Monae? Even if the chart positions aren't quite up to scratch yet, in an artistic sense The Electric Lady is surely what Neil Tennant would call an "imperial phase", a collection of deft, intelligent and incisive tracks that tackle working class identity, sexuality, race, consumerism and personal identity through a gaudy, stretched-to-breaking-point sci-fi filter. Isn't this what we hoped Lady Gaga was going to be round about Bad Romance? Amidst the nihilistic flesh market and four-to-the-floor abyss of modern pop formatting, Janelle Monae stands alone, irrepressible and inspirational and fighting for humanity. Whether the rest of the pack choose to acknowledge it or not, this feels like a vital dispatch from the winning side.

3) Deafheaven - Sunbather


Decades in the future, when music critics to come ask if there was a true crossover moment or tipping poing for black metal, it might not be Cradle of Filth's brief major label stint or the proliferation of documentaries like Until the Light Takes Us that stands out, but instead the release of Deafheaven's second album Sunbather. It may not have been a best-seller, but in taking one strand of current black metal progression - the incorporation of shoegaze elements for which acts like Alcest have become known - and finding a way to present some still highly extreme (by most listener's standards at least) music to a wide audience usually suspicious of metal, it radically challenged and changed the expectations of those inside and outside the scene. More importantly than that, it proved to be one of the most ambitious, emotive and brilliantly executed releases of the year, a phenomenal eruption of generational angst that cut far closer to home than a thousand indie rock bands. In my review of the album, I concluded that "putting aside any notions of genre and categorisation aside, this is an unusually affecting and beautiful album". This judgement I have only become more certain about.

2) My Bloody Valentine - m b v


The problem of the second time is always obvious: it's never the first. It can never be new again, never as unknown or scary or exciting. As life goes on, the number of firsts seem to shrink, and unless one is careful to keep their sense of wonder about them, it becomes easy to become jaded or dismissive of the new, as it can never match up to what the new used to be, to what your 'new' was. Even when we go back to try and reclaim those youthful experiences, they can never be the same: trying to do what you used to do ten years ago after the fact is never going to work.

It's with this in mind that it's perhaps best to confront m b v, the ghost at the banquet that finally came home in February. The rumours and mythology surrounding the slow unravelling of My Bloody Valentine in the wake of the seminal Loveless have been repeated plenty of times before: suffice to say that even after the band undertook a successful reunion tour in 2008, it appeared a truism to say that the power of Loveless had crushed even the muse of its own creator underfoot. Not even Loveless could follow up Loveless by now. There was no possible way that any new My Bloody Valentine release could live up to all the myths, to reconfigure sound once more in the same way that Kevin Shields had so radically challenged guitar music two decades previously. When m b v landed by surprise one Saturday night then, it's unsurprising that euphoria was accompanied by nerves: as Jayson Greene put it:

I found that I was profoundly reluctant to listen. The moment I did, one of the richest mysteries of my listening life -- “What would the follow-up to Loveless sound like?” -- would instantly be erased. Once I clicked play, that was it. I would never not know the answer to that question again.

m b v could never be Loveless: the genie came out of the bottle a long time ago. What is miraculous then is just how absorbing, just what a minutely detailed and endlessly replayable masterstroke it turned out to be in its own right. There are the moments like the slow-burn opener She Found Now where the old formula remains enough - a formula, as it takes mere seconds to confirm, only Kevin Shields has ever had access to, no matter how many thousands have tried to crack it in his wake. Then there's the ones where you can hear his songwriting evolving yet further, taking glorious new shapes - lounge on If I Am, pop on New You, anthemic leads on Only Tomorrow - that remarkable guitar sound instantly recogniseable but evolved, filtered through new technology and somehow earthier, grittier than the dream of Loveless. Then, in the album's final third, lift-off took place, and we went somewhere entirely new/ Nothing this year has given me the genuine shock of the new in the way my first listen to Wonder 2 did. All the elements were familiar, yet the combination///uncharted territory for sure.

Whatever the follow-up we might have wanted beforehand would have been - more obviously melodic maybe, a return to Isn't Anything thrashing perhaps, or a deeper plunge down the drum'n'bass wormhole - m b v has proven itself as the only follow-up that could have happened, the only sane way to find something valuable to say in the wake of a towering, unique work.  In its own knotted way, m b v established its own unique identity and worth within the existing My Bloody Valentine canon: there can be no greater achivement that it could have realistically reached.

1) These New Puritans - Field of Reeds


 "Fa-di-da, fa-di-da."

Most of the time, I'm afraid that I just speak in nonsense. That no matter how I try, I'm not saying what I ought to be, what I want to be saying. Just take this blog for an instance: most of the words typed for it will be deleted within seconds of typing, or taken out later during editing, or maybe shelved from publishing and shielded back in case of future need: break this glass in case of emergency. Long periods can go of course when there really isn't anything to be said, certainly nothing that I would want to. And that's fine. But sometimes the need to speak overwhelms, the desperate desire to be heard. So I write some more long, over-punctuated sentences like the ones you've been reading, I try and spit out some half-digested ideas and theories to those who might linger long enough to hear. (I thank them for that.)

"You asked if the islands would float away"

I ask myself often what the point of this kind of activity is. There's certainly no tangible reward to it: in terms of time spent and effort and energy taken away from other areas in my life, you could rationally say it's been ultimately detrimental. Yet I keep coming back to this. There's plenty that interests me: architecture, comedy, cinema, art, design, good food and drink. Something about music - and, yes, popular music to be specific - keep drawing me back in, has kept me obsessed for much of my life thus far. Perhaps it's how much energy and effort is required to produce something so comparatively small. And how life-changing those small acts of creation can be. Despite my sometimes depressive state, I think my love of music is ultimately optimistic - I believe that there are things that will always mean something to me, that there are things out there I have yet to encounter that can change my life anew, that there is something unknowable lying in the future ready to erupt and shake the ground beneath my feet. I have no proof for any of this, but just take it as a strong hunch.

"if the stars run through me / like a river, like the air:"

Three paragraphs in, so maybe it's time to get round to the damn record before any remaining readers lose nany remaining patience and click onto the next site. These New Puritans, the act led by Jack Barnett, had two very accomplished and very different full-lengths to the name prior to Field of Reeds: there was the debut Beat Pyramid, a work of dystopian dance-rock that stood far above the lumpen nu-rave and pseudo post-punk being sold at (not to) the consumer at the time. Then came Hidden, a more ambitious work: mechanical hip-hop rhythms reworked into organic marches, swooping woodwind arrangements working their way around baroque electronic programming, lyrical shading running the gamut from the reworked Fisher King present in Eliot's The Waste Land to a grand re-interpretation of Richard Garnett's Where Corals Lie. Surprise surprise then that Field of Reeds upted the ante further, changed the game again.

"I said yes."

The notion of an act being 'all brain, no heart' has become a convenient one for the industry to use to beat down more challenging and innovative acts that might not fit into current marketing models in favour of far easier work that might help the venues sell more piss-weak lager. Unsurprisingly, it's a brush These New Puritans have been tarred with before. It's also a label that Field of Reeds utterly refutes: it is a body of work whose complexity is driven by the very complexity of human emotions, by the fact that it rarely boils down to 'I love you' or 'I miss you', and that it's almost never as easy as having one at the time. Thought of that way, it's incredible that the songs aren't longer or more dense than they are, that there is so much air and space for thought and dialogue within this album: the depth of the work feels true to life, yet far less cluttered that the real thing is.

"La-di-da, la-di-da."

True, if you dropped by for an easy sing-song, this record would not fulfill that need. Which isn't a problem: plenty of people are out there working to fill that particular gap. Very few people however are targeting what Jack Barnett is. Field of Reeds achieves a successful, fluid hybrid between modern classical compositon, electronic and organic playing, British art rock tradition, several decades of pop songwriting and, thanks to new recruit Elisa Rodrigues, jazz vocalisation as well. The decision to start with a stripped-bare, barely remembered version of Hal David and Burt Bacharach's This Guy's In Love With You proves apt: that great partnership which delivered technical precision alongside sentimental heft truthfully haunts the whole project. Too long have virtuosity and honesty been divorced from each other, pointless progressive rock and post-Dark Magus jazz fusion on one side, simplistic singer-songwriters and rock bands facing opposite. To really progress further, we have to reach back to skills we've lost along the way. Then the next chapter can begin. (If you really want to know what I think of the rest of the album, I trust my first review will suffice.)

"I am in the wrong place / so I will go away."

Field of Reeds did not make for a great commercial success. People's loss, we could say, and then move on. Sometimes though, these things feel more personal than that. Field of Reeds is one of those rare records that, for a music obsessive like myself, seem to justify the entire thing, one of those recordings that seem to speak so personally and so meaningfully that its rejection by others almost feels like a rejection of the self. Not so much what's wrong with the album, but what's wrong with me? Without wanting to dwell too heavily on my own failings and flaws on what should be a note of triumphant to celebrate a great work of art (we could be here all day then, for starters), it is vital to stress how significant the artistic effort of this is to me. To hear something this bold and this heartfelt is to know that I now have something I can reach to in moments of unalloyed joy, or cling to in those of despair. To say things are my opinion is inherently pointless, as that much should of course be evident. But as far as I can see, this is a remarkable achivement that helped make the wide world of 2013 - Tory 2013, the unending recession 2013, calamitous 2013 - that bit more worthwhile. I suspect it will have that effect for me on a more personal level for years to come. If I've talked for too long, then forgive me a little more, as we're nearly there/ But music is how I process it all. So when something like this comes, it means a great deal, a great deal more than has been put down here. I write and think about music because it might help me come closer to solving my own world, the one that I only I can see through my eyes. I doubt very much it shall bring me much in the way of anything tangible, but then I know I can lie back, listen to the final song of Field of Reeds, and it brings such feeling, it means something to me. I'll keep going, keep trying to figure out what it means to me. And maybe, just maybe, that might help the rest to fall into place.

"Sail to me, sail to me."

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