Wednesday, 11 December 2013

My Top Albums of 2013

2013 has seen some big records released, from worldwide megastars like Daft Punk to young hipster upstarts like Lorde. Here's my Top 5 list of the best and brightest albums to have pricked my ears in the last 12 months. 

Honourable mentions

James Blake - Overgrown, Jagwar Ma - Howlin', Palma Violets - 180, City and Colour - The Hurry and the Harm, Miles Kane - Don't Forget Who You Are, The Paper Kites - States, The Jungle Giants - Learn to Exist, London Grammar - If You Wait, Lorde - Pure Heroine

5) Haim - Days Are Gone

A d├ębut record by three unassuming sisters from San Francisco took the world by storm in 2013 - Days Are Gone is the culmination of six years work by Danielle, Este and Alana Haim and the result is nothing short of outstanding. 

Inspired by classic 1970's California pop and Americana, Days Are Gone is an infectious record that overflowed with catchy lyrics and fun hooks. The many singles like 'Forever', 'Don't Save Me', 'Falling' and 'The Wire' were inescapable on the radio this year and for good reason. 

A great record for summer, Days Are Gone is wall-to-wall pop fun and an indication that Haim will be a big band for years to come. 

Download these tracks: The Wire, If I Could Change Your Mind, Don't Save Me, My Song 5

4) Queens of the Stone Age - Like Clockwork

Queens of the Stone Age's sixth record, Like Clockwork, saw the band return to doing what they do best; unashamedly grimy and dark desert rock.

With swaggering riffs and dirty guitar licks, Like Clockwork is one the years coolest albums - Homme and co. have crafted a collection of tracks that, whilst don't revolutionize their sound, evolve it into something very accessible and confident.

With guest appearances from Elton John, Alex Turner and Dave Grohl, 'Like Clockwork' is Queens of the Stone Ages' most popular and successful work to date - the album reached No.1 here in Australia and in the US.

Personal favourites of mine include 'I Sat By The Ocean', 'If I Had A Tail', 'My God Is The Sun' and 'Smooth Sailing', the latter in particular a decidedly menacing and funky track that is one of the best the Queens have ever written.

Plus, that artwork is very cool and recognisable. All in all, a defining comeback record for a band that should not stay away so long next time.

Download these tracks: I Sat by the Ocean, The Vampyre of Time and Memory, Smooth Sailing

3) Foals - Holy Fire

The album that transitioned Foals from a quirky Oxford quintet with a penchant for jittery indie pop into a big-balled stadium-filling rock band, Holy Fire blew me out of the water right from the get-go.

Lead single 'Inhaler' is one of the most instantly infectious songs going. The stomp-stomp beat and grungy guitars announce the band's arrival and brings things to a swirling zenith after just two minutes. Be sure to check out clips of the band performing this track on stage at Glastonbury and Reading Festival; it's not very often that I prefer a live version to the studio recording but that is the case here. The on-stage ferocity and energy from lead-singer Yannis is astounding.

Things then change tact for 'My Number', a straight-up pop song with a sing-a-long chorus and dancey riff, before again shifting focus for a series of slower, atmospheric tracks which recall Foals' second record, Total Life Forever.

'Late Night' and 'Milk and Black Spiders' are notable high-lights, the latter building up to a massive crescendo akin to the band's much lauded 'Spanish Sahara'. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another three years for a follow-up.

Download these: Inhaler, My Number, Late Night, Milk and Black Spiders, Providence, Bluebird

2) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds returned from a five-year hiatus in 2013 with this atmospheric and meditative record, Push the Sky Away.

I'd never listened to any Nick Cave before 2013 so my entry point to his work is this record. For me, it was a chance discovery that really sucked me in and opened me up to his previous work.

Push the Sky Away has a melodic tenderness interwoven throughout the nine tracks. Things kick off nicely with the minimalist and melancholy 'We No Who U R' before working their way through heartfelt love songs ('Wide Lovely Eyes'), looming danger ('Water's Edge') and rip-roaring crescendo's ('Jubilee Street'). The stand-out track for me is the seven-and-a-half minute epic blues track, 'Higgs Boson Blues'.

Plus, that controversial artwork is pretty memorable and definitive to say the least. 

Download these tracks: Wide Lovely Eyes, Jubilee Street, Higgs Boson Blues, Mermaids

1) Arctic Monkeys - AM

Arctic Monkeys were near enough inescapable in 2013. Everywhere I went I felt like I'd catch a few bars of their simply brilliant fifth album, AM. Upon first listen, I knew it was the album of the year. Hands down.

The record is a masterpiece for a number of reasons, but mainly this; it both shifts the band into fresh, new territory and maintains their distinct sound fans know and adore.

From the thumping opener 'Do I Wanna Know?' to the slower tempo closer 'Wanna Be Yours', AM is the band at their loosest, their most relaxed and fun. The lyrics of 'Arabella' spring to mind, as does the catchy chorus of straight-up pop song 'Snap Out of It' or the cheeky booty-call story behind 'Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?'

Back in September when I originally reviewed AM, I said that all the different inspirations and elements added together to make "the most complete and cohesive Arctic Monkeys record yet. AM shows that the band aren't happy to rehash old material and instead continue to readjust and reinvent themselves." I think that sums it up pretty nicely so I'll leave it at that.

Download these tracks: Arabella, Fireside, Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?, Mad Sounds, Knee Socks

What're your favouraite albums of the last 12 months? Maybe you fell in love with Daft Punk's much-hyped Random Access Memories or  Kanye West's divisive Yeezus. Let me know in the comments section down below!

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