2013 was a particularly interesting year for music. There were several notable releases from artists that had been out of the picture for some time as well as some impressive debuts. As part of my finally joining the masses and obtaining a DAB radio I was exposed to more music than ever thanks mainly to BBC6 music being on all the time. When It came time to compile a list I found I had over forty albums under consideration. By some ruthless cutting and hard-nosed decisions I was able to get the list down the ten you see below.
10 Deltron 3030 – Event II
For fans of the hip hop supergroup featuring Del The Funky Homosapien, Kid Koala and Dan the Automator the wait for a follow-up to The Event was a mere 13 years in the making. The album is a direct sequel to the first album and is a concept album charting the progress of Deltron Zero as he battles the evil corporations of the future. The beats and samples are instantly accessible with lyrical and quite often humorous rapping on top. The quality does not dip and the inclusion of guest artists such as Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zac De La Rocca enhances the overall concept. If there is to be a third album it would be good to hear it at some point before 2026.
9 Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
Since Cave formed (and subsequently disbanded) Grinderman the Bad Seeds sound has mellowed moving the vocal and lyrical performance front and centre. At heart Cave is a story-teller in the gothic vein. That isn’t to say the songs are all doom and gloom. Far from it. He takes you on a journey with each track and leaves you wanting to find out more at the end. The centerpiece of the album , the track ‘Jubilee Street’ is a beautiful piece of music with a vocal delivery that barely conceals its anger. A welcome return.
8 Elvis Costello and The Roots – Wise Up Ghost
Recently Mr Costello was quoted as saying that Wake Up Ghost was not his hip hop album. He was correct because this is in fact his Funk album. On paper the combination of the tight, melodic and groovesome Roots and the slightly nasally vocal of Elvis did not seem like a winning combination, but in reality this is a stormer of an album. The rhythm section underpin the groove on each track leaving space for the guitar, horns and vocals to work their magic. Costello is clearly having a ball mixing in his story telling songs into the mix. He has again proved that he can turn his hand to any musical style and just about every musical experiment he tries is a success.
7 Boards Of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
It was widely thought that the notoriously camera-shy Fife duo had hung up their keyboards for good so it was a pleasant surprise to see the release of this album in the early part of the year. The album is not a great departure from their previous releases but since the quality of those albums was so high, Tomorrow’s Harvest is an excellent addition to their canon. Beats and bleeps abound as the dou paint musical landscapes that have as yet failed to get the attention of the David Attenborough and his natural world documentaries.
6 Deap Vally – Sistrionix
The first debut on my list this year. The Californian two piece were introduced to me by the musicscramble team and I was completely blown away by the ferocity of the music. Their sound is best described as dirty blues with a combination of thunderous drumming, screeching guitars and angry, throaty vocals. Lazy White Stripes references littered their reviews this year but the band are no mere imitators and have carved out a sound that is all their own.
It will be fascinating to see where they take their sound next. To be honest another album in pretty much the same vein would be very welcome as this one was a (loud) delight to the ears.
5 of Montreal – Lousy With Sylvianbriar
The six piece from Athens, Georgia have been around since 1996. This, their twelfth album, is the first I had heard of the band. The album has a distinct Seventies feel that invokes the best rather than the worst of the decade. With lyrical couplets such as “You post naked GIFs of your epileptic fits” the songs bring a smile to your face while absorbing the accomplished, and at times complex, musical accompaniment.
4 John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
Following up his 2011 album Queen Of Denmark was going to be a tall order which was made even more difficult with Grant’s HIV diagnosis last year. He promptly moved to Iceland and focussed his energies on his second solo effort. The result is a musical progression taking in more electronic and dance elements while maintaining the high standard of songwriting from his debut. Grant’s voice is the star of the album with his deep melodic tone inviting you in to listen to some of the most vitriolic and self hating songs you will hear for a long time.
3 David Bowie – The Next Day
The first and biggest musical surprise of the year came on the 8th of January, Bowie’s birthday. A new single was released swiftly followed by a full length album that he had been working on quietly for most of the previous year. Not just a return, it was a massive return to form with songs that harked back to his last great creative peak in the late seventies. The tunes were no mere copies. The songs used elements of his past and highlighted the fact that he could still produce vital and engaging music and more importantly showed that he still has the vocal skills to entertain.
2 Laura Veirs – Warp And Weft
Laura Veirs is another artist who has been around for a long time but only came to my attention this year via Mark Riley’s radio show on BBC6 music. Fusing elements of Country, Folk, Rock and Jazz this is an album of variety and depth. Veirs distinctive vocals are crystal clear throughout and the arrangements on the majority of the songs is nothing short of superb. On the track ‘Shape Shifter’ there is the best violin / viola solo that you will hear this year. A beautiful and haunting song about the changing of the seasons. This was vying for the number one spot on the top ten list for a long time.
1 Bleached – Ride Your Heart
The sound of Summer 2013. This album was on semi-permanent rotation for the whole of the season. The debut from the Clavin sisters is a mix of the three chord manifesto of The Ramones and the two part harmonies of the girl groups of the sixties. The songs are not complex in the slightest and deal with the usual subjects of boys, fighting and love. The opening track ‘Looking for a Fight’ is a statement of intent and sets the tone for the remainder of the album. It is over all too quickly with most songs clocking in under three minutes.