Gareth’s Top 10 Albums of 2013

I love lists. I sometimes find them hard to compile, but ever since I understood what a list was I have enjoyed creating them. Be it, my favourite this or a top 5 that, those lists soon became mix tapes of the best songs I was listening to at the time, or compilations of one band’s “best” tracks.

Fast forward many many years and it is of no surprise that I want to compile a list of what I consider to be my favourite albums of 2013. This isn’t the best, or the most popular by any sensible metric. This is just the albums which I have loved the most this year.

Travis – Where You Stand

Travis - Where You Stand CoverStarting off this list is a band I have always loved. I feel that sometime soon I will more than likely write an open letter to Travis, explaining what it is about them which excited me so. But for now let’s just appreciate the first album from the band since 2008.

Very much a returning in style to earlier albums after 2008’s (unfairly criticised) Ode To J. Smith, we have an album of deceivingly simple future classics. The songwriting here has all the hooks and lyrical cleverness found in The Man Who and The Invisible Band, but is married to a more mature, deeper understanding of the music which carries those lyrics along.

Perhaps not as ‘instant’ as their earlier “massive” albums, but certainly appealing enough to ask for repeated listens which result in the songs becoming lodged in your mind.

Turin Brakes – We Were Here

Turin Brakes - We Were Here Album CoverWay back in 2001 I loved new band Turin Brakes when they released debut album The Optimist LP. Having seen them live many times I was a fan for years and then either they disappeared or I lost touch with their music.

Four or five years passed with nothing, then I saw that they were streaming a track, ‘Blindsided Again’. I pressed play (if I’m honest not expecting much) and was instantly carried away with the brilliance of the track. A long lost friend had come back. The song is fantastic, and the album – released 3 days after I heard ‘Blindsided Again’ – continues the thread and is provides an opulent and grandiose soundtrack to accompany your day.

I’ve had this in the car since it was released in late September, and I reckon it won’t be taken out for a long time.

Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

pearljam-lightningbolt-cover-artPearl Jam how I’ve always loved thee. Since the release of their single ‘Alive’ I’ve bought everything you’ve done, and seen you live as often as I could. I admit not every album is as good as the last, but the quality has always been high.

With Lightning Bolt it feels as if Pearl Jam have hit back upon that pulse which took in to the upper echelons of global success in the first place. A more mature and better paced album than some of its earlier predecessors what we have been given is an album which reflects the influences, experience and challenges of the band having passed their 20th anniversary.

Haim – Days Are Gone

HAIM-DAYS-ARE-GONEHAIM are three sisters from California, who to these ears seem to have swallowed Fleetwood Mac’s songbook and decided to play it back as if they were The Eagles.

I had heard their name before I saw them performing backing vocal to Primal Scream at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. I was impressed then, and still hadn’t heard anything of their own material. Days Are Gone is a great album with many hooks and fully deserves a place on my list. A favourite album from the end of summer to this day.

Janet Devlin – Hide and Seek

Janet Devlin - Hide and Seek coverJanet Devlin was on X Factor in 2012. Through a successful PledgeMusic campaign she wrote and recorded her debut album this year, released to pledgers in the summer (though it won’t be released in stores until March 2014).

Writing all the songs herself as part of a pairing with internationally acclaimed songwriters Newton Faulkner, Joshua Radin and Jack Savoretti, the resultant album has some pop sensibilities but definitely roots itself in a more indie acoustic / folk vein (her main influences are John Frusciante and the Red hot Chili Peppers, City and Colour and Devendra Banhart so you get the idea).

Instantly likeable with that fantastic affected Celtic voice, songs like ‘Wonderful’, ‘Crown of Thorns’ and ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ deserve to propel Janet and this album skyward in popularity.

The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law

The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law coverI saw The Joy Formidable as a support band in a tiny club in Glasgow around 2008/2009 and – like Janet Devlin – I loved the sound of singer Ritzy’s accented voice. Wolf’s Law is the second album from a band who have honed their craft constantly touring. The hard graft has paid off in massive style.

From opener ’This Ladder Is Ours’, through ‘Cholla’ and on past the hauntingly brilliant ‘Silent Treatment’ there is no let up in the standard of song writing on display. The production is immaculate, mixing fuzzy guitar with clear soaring vocals and pounding drums.

I knew very early this year that this album was making this list of favourite albums, and standing at the end of the year looking back it’s position was never once in question.

Bastille – Bad Blood

Bastille - Bad Blood album cover‘Pompeii’ is a great single. The album is less instant, but with just a few listens its wares are revealed to you fully; and what a reward it is.

Mostly electronic, the songs lend themselves to summer days, out with friends, and for singing along to. In addition to ‘Pompeii’, ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ and ‘Flaws’ have become favourite tracks from the album.

I first saw them supporting Muse in a massive Manchester stadium and bought the album online that night as a result. A sensible purchase and further proving why it is so important to go see support bands when you head along to a gig.

Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe album coverMy top three favourite albums this year are all Scottish (and sort of Glasgow-based). This is a first for me, it also makes me feel very proud of how strong my local music scene has once again become in recent years.

From where I was standing Chvrches appeared out of nowhere. It was early in 2013 and I heard ‘Recover’ which had just been released as a single. I absolutely loved it. I thought it was so different from what I had been listening to and my ears felt refreshed.

Over the summer the album The Bones of What You Believe was released and the irony is that ‘Recover’ is probably now one of the tracks I overlook on the album. The three-piece have re-opened my love of discovering new music, and with an album as strong as this from a band I didn’t even know existed when the year started why would I ever want to be myopic?

Roddy Hart and The Lonesome Fire

Roddy Hart and the Lonesome Fire album coverRoddy Hart has been a musician I’ve appreciated for many years.

This is his first album he has released as part of a band, The Lonesome Fire and the songwriting has been kicked up a gear with the challenge of writing and performing as a band. The result is an album deserving of this high place in my favourite albums of the year without question.

I featured an interview with Roddy earlier this year where we discussed the recording of the album in great detail before I reviewed it for the site. Rather than repeat myself here please take the time to read that in full.

What I will say again though is that if this debut is anything to go by then I hope this pairing of Roddy and The Lonesome Fire continues for many more albums.

Biffy Clyro - Opposites album cover

Biffy Clyro – Opposites

I reviewed this album back when it came out, and everything which impressed me back then I now love. The standard of songwriting on this double album never lets up, meaning that almost every track is a “four or five” rating on my iTunes.

Each time this band release an album I think to myself there is no way they can beat “insert previous album here”, but then they do. In the March I went to see this album played live, and considering the massive back catalogue of stunning tracks they have in their arsenal it is testament to how strong Opposites is by the fact that (excepting two songs) the first hour of the show was all songs from this album. And nobody was upset by that, it was a fantastic gig.

In the era of instant downloads of single tracks and short albums, when a 20-track album can sound as good as this it bolsters faith in the fact there are still true masters of the album making craft out there.

For me, there could be no other choice for my favourite album of 2013.

Gareth Fraser
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