20) Akron/Family – Sub Verses
A band that appeared on my radar after I was persuaded to see them play an incendiary set in Hoxton (Thanks Jo), Sub Verses is an album of subtleties; from the mournful sax of When I was Young to Way up’s warm drone.
19) Har Mar Superstar – Bye Bye 17
Most surprising revelation of 2013 – Har Mar Superstar can really sing. After apparently growing tired hiding behind a sleazy Ron Jeremy shtick, Bye Bye 17 was an album of motown inspired standards that puts his funky strut in a much more palatable context.
18) Wolf People - Fain
Wolf People partly have Stealing Sheep to thank for their place in this list, as it was they who opened my ears to the idea of medieval folk. Fain improves on the Sheep’s template by adding blistering blues riffs and cacophonic drumming.
17) Jon Hopkins - Immunity
Another album that caught me off guard. Normally I’m quite allergic to (sigh) “Intelligent Dance Music”, but Hopkins’ crisp minimal melodies also know the perfect time to rise then crash, never allowing me to drift off into boredom.
16) Parquet Courts – Light up Gold
In the year The Strokes officially became obsolete, another group of New Yorkers put themselves in position to take their place by riding their wave of jangly vitality. The cheeky nod to Billie Jean in Donuts Only’s intro proves they have a better sense of humour than their forebears, while the quality of the Tally up all the Things you Broke EP proves they have a better work ethic too.
15) Future of the Left – How to Stop your Brain in an Accident
Future of the Left frontman Andy Falkous has provided a timely reminder that he’s not only the grumpiest man in rock, but a pretty fine songwriter as well. Pulling off the impressive trick of being sludgy & snappy, How to Stop your Brain…. is the sound of cynicism rather than a call to revolt, but it’s always good to vent.
14) M.I.A. - Matangi
The anticipation built by last year’s Bad Girls was almost entirely washed away amid record company wrangles and aborted documentaries, but M.I.A. was smart enough to keep drip-feeding new songs throughout the year to keep us keen. That persistence was rewarded with an album that marries her unique and disparate influences into something approaching coherence. There are enough bangers to keep us DJs happy, even if she’ll never win any awards for lyricism.
13) The Mouse Outfit - Escape Music
Speaking of lyricism, Dr.Syntax has been one of the best UK hip hop has to offer for many years. This hook up with a couple of Manchester music teachers, (plus a few of their more talented students) accentuates his elastic turn of phrase by building a brass-laden bedrock that really seems to suit him. Joined on the mic by young guns Dubbul O and the supremely talented Sparkz, if you see these guys on a festival line up in the near future make sure you get down there.
12) Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
People are falling over themselves to compare Janelle Monae to other artists, like Beyonce, Kelis, and especially Prince. But she really is like no one else. Marrying otherworldly future funk to a positive message of empowerment and enjoyment, at ease with epic orchestral arrangements (Suite V: Electric Overture could score a 60’s spy thriller), or a classic power ballad such as Primetime.
11) Arctic Monkeys – AM
It took them four years, but Arctic Monkeys finally convinced the world that their Queens of the Steel City evolution is a good thing. While the level of feverish devotion they inspire may be slightly generous, they are by far the most interesting “big” band in Britain. AM’s magpie tendencies teeter on the edge of parody without falling over; upsetting Black Sabbath fans on Arabella and making Joy Division sound sexy on I Want it All. Arguably their best trick is the motown stomp of Snap Out of it, pushing the newly falsetto rhythm section to the forefront.
10) Outfit – Performance
Outfit have had to work harder than any other act to get into the top 10, mainly because three of their number are good friends of mine. Having compartmentalized my joy at their success, I realized this album more than stands on the quality of its music. 10 tracks packed with emotion, Performance is an album that demands you listen to every note from Nothing Big's claustrophobic start to Two Islands' ecstatic finish. Both vocalists Andy Hunt & Tom Gorton share an elegiac fragility that shows its power when set against shimmering synths, piercing guitars and rumbling percussion.
9) White Denim - Corsicana Lemonade
White Denim have hit a rich vein of form since the introduction of 2nd guitarist Austin Jenkins off the back of 2009’s fantastic Fits. Corsicana Lemonade sees them capture not only the essence of their peerless live performances, but a larger proportion of mainstream attention in the process. It’s easy to be blinded by the spiraling riffs, but this chaos is carefully crafted. James Petralli’s southern drawl can burst into full-on wail or cooing lullaby at the drop of a hat and always at right time. There’s no doubt White Denim would be massive if this album was released in 1973 rather than 2013, but if they keep making records as good as this, they’ll get there.
8) High Cross Society - High Cross Society
Proof that great musicians who are friends make great music together. High Cross Society is a collective that features members of Lazy Habits, More Like Trees, Fjokra & Joe Driscoll’s band, as well as vocalist Josh Bevan and champion beatboxer Reeps One. The result is a real head-nodder of an album that sounds both retro and current. This is hip hop you could play in the car with your parents, and no, that isn’t a bad thing.
7) Run The Jewels – Run the Jewels
El-P & Killer Mike don’t give a fuck about your parents. In fact, to listen to Run The Jewels' nihilistic, brutal bars - backed with the intense horrorcore EL-P perfected on last year's TVFTB No.1 album Cancer for Cure – you’d think they didn’t give a shit about anything. But these guys are cleverer than that. 36” Chain is a tongue-in-cheek brand of machismo (ably illustrated by the ridiculous video), and A Christmas Fucking Miracle is an unsettling ode to everyone who thinks the phrase “Happy Holidays” is a sick joke. It’s a rare beauty to see two underrated artists connect so brilliantly so deep into their careers – the way their flows dovetail on the opening title track is at times breathtaking, punctuated by a clipped bongo solo and swirling organs. More of this please.
6) Queens of the Stone Age - ……like Clockwork
Josh Homme broke quite a few hearts this year by revealing that being in Queens of the Stone Age wasn’t half as fun as it looked. His battle with depression following a knee surgery that nearly killed him, and the mysterious sacking of Drummer Joey Castillo has pushed Homme’s notorious dry humour even closer to the gallows. Luckily, as is often the case, when a great musician is forced to look inwards and confront the big questions, it’s us listeners who reap the rewards. …..Like Clockwork is easily my favourirte Queens album since Songs for the Deaf, and ticks all the boxes a Queens album should. Speedball-powered riff-o-rama? Check (My God is the Sun). Melodic murder Ballad? Check (I Appear Missing, …..Like Clockwork). Slinky fuzzed-out funk? Check (If I had a Tail). Even the much-dreaded Elton John collaboration is superb, mainly because Homme wisely sits him at the piano without a microphone.
5) Jagwar Ma - Howlin’
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the weed must be good in Australia right now. Adding to the blissed out psych of Tame Imapala and Pond, and the dream pop of Cut Copy, Jagwar Ma are clearly smoking just enough to get a buzz but keep dancing. Bringing back big staccato house chords, reverb heavy guitars and Mani-esque basslines, Howlin’ does scream Screamadelica, but in a way that makes you want to revisit that 90’s classic AFTER rather than instead of. Another great rock song this year heavily influenced by Motown, Come and Save Me was the breakout dancefloor hit of the year, and perfectly sums up this Summer sunset of a record.
4) Deap Vally - Sistrionix
Much like another Blues-inspired duo, The White Stripes, Deap Vally entered my consciousness as I literally stumbled across them at Glastonbury. Impressed by their furious energy and keen ear for a hook, Sistrionix enhanced those themes while adding a layer of defiance that while certainly not subtle, is a lot more attention grabbing when you can hear exactly what singer Lindsey Troy is saying. Song titles such as Walk of Shame, Gonna Make My Own Money and Woman of Intention create a unashamed feminist manifesto. I’ve always been a sucker for pure Rock and Roll, and this is pure Rock and Roll at its best, with or without balls.
3) The Child of Lov - The Child of Lov
As one of my old mates used to say, this one came out of butt-fuck nowhere. I first thought The Child of Lov was a prank, based on how much creator Cole Williams looks like my mate Stevie Law. That illusion was shattered upon hearing the brilliant lo-fi soul of Heal – Stevie could never write a song that good (sorry mate). I only came across his self-titled album after the news of his untimely death, and its maverick quality only added an extra layer of tragedy to his tale. Sharing a sweaty, agitated take on the soul singer template with Jamie Lidell, Williams combines disparate, unpalatable sounds to create a delicious masterpiece, like a Heston Blumenthal of electronica. Damon Albarn brings a bag of haunting Gorillaz guitars along with him for his collaboration on One Day, while Living the Circle is led by a chorus of dubby blips and beeps. Every track catches the ear at a slightly askew angle, leaving you clueless to where it’s going next.
2) Danny Brown – Old
Danny Brown is a frustrating motherfucker a lot of the time. He’s clearly an intelligent and talented guy, but too often he allows people to be distracted by the caricature of the goofy gap-toothed crackhead. Pitchfork’s obsession with him has allowed me to investigate into his past, and see the footage of Danny as a broke as fuck ex-con with a dream, sitting with the oven on for heating and getting the bus to his sold out shows. Fans of his work back then are often dismayed at the high-pitched hedonist that has shot to global recognition (equal parts fame and infamy). With OLD, Danny Brown flipped the script fantastically.
Using those brickbats as the theme for opener Side A (Old), telling us “They want that Old Danny Brown/To bag up and sell a whole pound” can be interpreted as going back to his old style, or his old drug dealing ways, but could just as easily be referring to determination of everyone to put him in their own preferred pigeonhole. The Side A/Side B concept is at once giving the people what they want, and explaining why both sides will always be a part of him. The Return rides a G-Funk beat better than any of the Compton alumni could wish to manage in 2013, while the skittering electronics of Red 2 Go is the perfect lead in to the abrasive trap-heavy Side B. The 2nd half of Old is everything Yeezus tried and failed to be – representative of the scene from which it comes, yet still stunningly individual. Despite declaring it his last Dope Song, there are plenty more where that follow, such as Dip (cheekily re-interpreting one of Yeezy’s lines) and Smoking and Drinking, which lets us know what’s really going on: “Stress party, get away, hope that these problems just go away/Right there in my face, I ignore it every day”. Old is an album that reveals a little more of itself on every listen, and proves that party music can have depth. If he’d managed to get clearance for the samples in ODB, it could have made it to number 1.
1) Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down
If I’m brutally honest, Melt Yourself Down felt like my No.1 album roughly 15 seconds into 2nd track, Release. The build up is intense – Thunderous drums are layered with a threatening bassline, then ominous squeaking sax, and mysterious delayed vocals…Your shoulders are violently shaking, your heart is racing, your mouth is dry…..and this is after 15 seconds. After the Jazzy funk explosion of opener Fix My Life (Incidentally the best start to an album in a year of brilliant track 1s) here is another track just as ecstatically vibrant. All in all this record is a full-on assault of the senses, and some of the most kinetic music I’ve ever heard. Track after track sounds like the best party you ever went to that just kept getting better.
Much like last year’s number one, hearing it played live in it’s entirety took it to another level. Seeing the music in 3D, with Pete Wareham & Shabaka Hutchings trading riffs back and forth like Keith Richards & Ronnie Wood, while Kushal Gaya pinballs across the stage – ups the adrenaline even further. Even when the tempo drops in Free Walk it’s simply an excuse to push percussionist Satin Singh front & centre, as he slaps out a playful beat made for twisting along in the hot sand.
Camel is one hell of a way to sign off as well, morphing from a big band banger into a guitarless rock out and back again. Remarkable.