Sunday, January 5, 2014

Albums of 2013

So here we are in 2014 already. And a lot of 2013’s baggage has naturally enough, by default and design, managed to transport itself into the New Year. Not least is the small issue of this blog’s perennial failure to come up with its ten “albums of the year” before the metaphorical bells rounded things off so succinctly a few days back …

In past years I’ve done a series of album-by-album posts to highlight the albums I played (and enjoyed) most of all over the previous 12 months, but for 2013 I thought I’d cut to the chase and just list the ten “albums of 2013” in one post … partly because I’m in lazy-sod-holiday mode, but mostly because a few of them have already been reviewed here previously. These albums aren’t necessarily the best of the year, just the best as heard in my house, or in my headspace across 2013. The only prerequisite for inclusion is that I still had my mitts on a copy – in any format – at year’s end:

10. Elvis Costello and The Roots – Wise Up Ghost

Wise Up Ghost wins the prize for most unlikely transatlantic collaboration of the year. But then again, unlikely collaborations have always been one of Costello’s favourite things, and thanks to the huge talent and versatility of The Roots, the quality control factor on this one was always going to be set extremely high. The Roots might just about be the best thing ever to happen to Hip hop, certainly the group rates as the genre’s most authentic live act, and for all that Costello’s words and musings – quite often referencing work from his distant past throughout the album – are crucial to Wise Up Ghost’s success, the music of The Roots is something really quite special. A little bit post-punk, a little bit jazz, a whole lot of Hip hop (though Costello – mercifully – doesn’t rap), and never anything less than 100% funky. Best tracks: ‘Walk Us Uptown’, ‘Tripwire’, and ‘Viceroy’s Row’.

 9. Fat Freddy’s Drop – Blackbird

Speaking of bad rap (or not speaking of it) … these guys get a lot of it from local music scribes (or perhaps that’s “a bad wrap”?) and I’m genuinely at a loss as to fully understanding why that is. When I listen to this hard working local collective all I hear is “home”, a place to be; Wellington, a beach on the Kapiti Coast, or anywhere else specific to Nu Zild. Our accent, our landscape, our multicultural people … and if that’s a little bit too laidback or (apparently) derivative for some, then so be it. It works for me. If they can be knocked for a lack of (perceived) progression style-wise, it’s merely because the band is now very much at ease with who they are and the music they’re making. I happen to think that’s a very good thing. Blackbird was one of just a handful of CD’s I purchased during 2013 (downloading continued as my format of convenience and choice) and my edition came with the eight-track bonus disc. So I thought it was a pretty good score and I played it often. Best tracks: ‘Clean The House’, ‘Silver and Gold’, and ‘Barney Miller’ from the mixed bag bonus disc.
8. Foals – Holy Fire

When I reviewed Holy Fire earlier in the year I hadn’t expected it to wind up as one of my albums of the year, but I found myself continually returning to it, and it grew and grew and grew … originally reviewed here.

7. Lord Echo – Curiosities

Multi-instrumentalist Mike Fabulous is one very special talent. Fabulous has been, for a long time, one of the main protagonists behind the international success of Wellington reggae/dub outfit, the Black Seeds. A couple of years back he released his first solo effort under the Lord Echo moniker, and this follow-up, Curiosities, builds on that work to showcase what might prove to be a musical coming of age. Curiosities is a 42-minute ten-track no-filler extravaganza of funk, disco, jazz, and pure unadulterated pop ... plus a few other things besides. So there’s a wide scope of styles on the album and I think that, more than anything else, is what makes it such a persuasive listen. The album made a belated run for this list after I picked up my copy of Curiosities on CD very late in the year, but regular listening through December provided its own reward, and its own reason for being here. Best tracks: ‘Digital Haircut’, ‘Molten Lava’, and the sublime closer ‘Arabesque’.
6. The Analogue Fakir – Worlds We Know

A good cyber-friend of everythingsgonegreen, Muhammad Hamzah, a Sufi Muslim based in Manchester by way of Bradford, wears many hats. One of them is the one he dons as Celt Islam, and I’ve blogged about his work a few times already. Less well known is the work he does as The Analogue Fakir, but when he sent me a link for his 2013 release, Worlds We Know, I was completely blown away by the sheer depth and quality on offer. As with Celt Islam’s music, I simply can’t believe that more people aren’t embracing this worldly fusion of Eastern and Western vibes. Where Celt Islam’s stuff tends to be a more dub or dubstep-orientated hybrid of styles, Worlds We Know struck me as being every bit as state-of-the-art, but more indebted to electronic forms like EDM, and it works as a slightly freaky hard-edged variation on global electropop. But there’s so much more to it than any label I can tag it with – it isn’t really “pop” for a start, it’s far too dark in places, and almost post-apocalyptic in parts. A great, challenging, if largely overlooked album. Find out for yourself by downloading at the link below. Best tracks: ‘The Forms’, ‘Moments In Time’, and ‘Annihilation in Allah’.

5. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

And by the month of May, “trouble” had most definitely found me. By crook, rather than hook, back in a corner … again. This album was one of my favourites from the first half of the year and while it may not have been as dark and dramatic as High Violet, or as compelling as a couple of the band’s earlier albums, it was still a bunch of beautifully crafted tunes. And that man’s gentle baritone corners me every damn time. Originally reviewed here.

4. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Naturally. I’m a disco nut. I’m a history nut. I’m a Nile Rodgers fan from way back. I love some of that early Giorgio Moroder stuff. Combine all of those old school ingredients … stir to boil, and then add a liberal sprinkling of fairy dust in the form of new digital technology and you’ve got an instant everythingsgonegreen favourite. Random Access Memories plays out like some kind of skewed potted history of disco, and it was originally reviewed here.

3. GRiZ – Rebel Era

Rebel Era by GRiZ easily qualifies as my freebie download of the year. A brilliant concoction of old style blues and dubstep, Rebel Era was another one of those safe “go-to” albums on those rare occasions I was stuck for something to listen to. With heavy use of samples and a funk heart at its electro-dubby core, some might consider this throwaway fare, but for a while back there, GRiZ was the biz (sorry – Ed) in my world, and this “solo” album is every bit as good as the work he did with fellow dubstephead Gramatik (released as Grizmatik). Originally (sort of) reviewed here.

2. Public Service Broadcasting – Inform - Educate - Entertain

An almost flawless blend of sepia-tinged nostalgia and modern rock as we know it. But not as we know it. So different from anything else on offer. A journey into another world, another time, another place. Samples and soundbites abound. Originally reviewed here.

1. Darkside – Psychic

It seems appropriate – given that the vast majority of my music listening is via headphones – that my 'Fones album of the year and the blog’s overall album of the year is Darkside’s Psychic. I could – and did, more than once – completely lose myself in this album. Immerse myself in it. Use it to shut out everything else around me. Not always an easy listen, Psychic is an absorbing mix of production FX, vocal distortions, and ambient soundscaping, but it also leans heavily towards classic rock, with more than a few old fashioned blues signature moments buried deep within its sonic mash. It’s such a hybrid of musical styles and production techniques it’s (thankfully) impossible to damn it with one singular/solitary genre label. Hell, the first couple of minutes on the 11-minute opening opus amount to little more than a pulse, and it’s a full five minutes in before we get anything resembling a meaningful beat. So it requires patience, and the impression is that the album was designed to be listened to as a whole, not as individual pieces within that whole. But oh how that patience is rewarded. Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington also collaborated as Daftside, and hopefully we’ll hear more from this duo. Best tracks: ‘Heart’, ‘Paper Trails’, and ‘Freak, Go Home’.

Honourable mentions: Atoms For Peace – Amok, Panda Dub – Psychotic Symphony, Primal Scream – More Light, DU3normal – Flow Frequency, and London Grammar – If You Wait.

Reissue of the year – I can’t decide between The Breeders’ (Last Splash deluxe) LSXX, or the Tears For Fears reissue of The Hurting. So I choose both. Two reissues of the year – my blog, my rules!

Compilation of the year – I can’t say I downloaded or purchased too many compilation releases during 2013 (an unusual development for me) but this sampler release from the aptly titled Earth City Recordz label – reviewed here – opened up a whole new world of sound possibilities for me.

New Zealand album of the year – obviously Lord Echo (see above), closely pushed by Fat Freddy’s Drop, and two other Wellington-based-band releases: Black City Lights with Another Life, and the relatively low profile Bikini Roulette’s otherwise gripping Erotik Fiction. For all that Lorde’s Pure Heroine “made the grade” internationally and wasn’t too bad at all for a debut release, I can’t hand-on-heart say it rates as highly as many other blog and mainstream media year-end lists tend to suggest. I make no excuses for the very obvious Wellington bias in my picks, I really should have expanded my “local” music horizons a little further than I did, and I know I missed far too much good stuff through the year, something I hope to rectify (again!) in 2014.

So that’s that. Obligatory annual list completed.

Comment below if you agree or disagree (fat chance – Ed) … or maybe you just want to call me naughty names again … I’m clearly not all that fussy.


No comments:

Post a Comment