Ah, the end of year “best of” list. That perennial instigator of heated debate and discussion among opinionated media junkies across the globe, produced in earnest by every magazine, blog, and website worth its salt.
As 2013 draws to a close, and in the list-fueled spirit of the season, here is a brief run-down of my personal picks for 10 best albums from the last twelve months. Feel free to congratulate me upon the fine taste demonstrated in the following selections, or indeed berate my utter ignorance of this year’s true greats, as you see fit in the comments section.
That is, after all, the point and purpose of such lists, is it not? Scroll down and let’s begin.
Taking the template of 80’s post-punk, with its buzzsaw guitars, tight drumming, and urgent bass and making it sound vital and relevant thirty years later is no mean feat. Far from sounding like an homage, the full-length debut from London’s Savages packs a tremendous amount of fury and emotional heft into its relatively short 38 minute running time. Surely one of the best début albums of the year along with the next work on this list.
While a début record packed to the rafters with catchy pop hooks and tight harmonies is enough for most, the fact that the Haim sisters write everything themselves and are a formidable live act has also lent them a significant degree of credibility with the indie and rock crowd. Often compared to Fleetwood Mac and having opened for such diverse headline acts as Beyonce, Mumford & Sons, and Florence & The Machine, the future is bright for this Californian trio.
Running Savages’ close for the début of the year accolade is this reverb-soaked psych-rock effort from Hookworms. Pounding and hypnotic, Pearl Mystic twists jam-heavy influences such as Hawkwind and Spacemen 3 into something altogether more visceral and vital, while skilfully avoiding becoming a mere pastiche of their influences.
Following up last year’s really rather good The Plot Against Common Sense, former Mclusky man Andrew “Falco” Falkous dials back the synths even further and cranks up the guitars once again. Funded by fan donations through pledgemusic.com, How To Stop Your Brain… is FOTL’s best record to date; all crunching guitars, furious energy, and scathingly hilarious lyrics.
Boldly opening with a beautifully interconnected four-song cycle detailing the fallout from a broken relationship, one might feel that such an outpouring of emotion would leave a record with nowhere to go. One would be very wrong indeed. Once I Was An Eagle weaves that smoky, soulful voice around her underrated guitar playing, resulting in a captivating, deeply satisfying album.
Thankfully moving away from preppy tales of privileged youth, songwriting duo Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij tackle weightier and more mature themes on their third album, Modern Vampires of the City. Musically less busy than previous albums and all the better for it, perhaps due to the influence of an outside producer for the first time in the band’s career. This is by far the most consistent, thoughtful record Vampire Weekend have produced thus far.
Twenty-two years. Twenty. Two. Years. That’s how long we had to wait for Kevin Shields and co. to release the follow-up to 1991’s landmark shoegaze record Loveless. Was it worth the wait? Yes. Yes it was. Sounding like they’d just popped out for lunch before resuming work, ‘mbv’ is testament to the timelessness of Shields’ artistic vision. Let’s not leave it so long next time, eh Kev?
The throbbing, sexy swagger of Arctic Monkeys’ fifth studio album signalled a return to form for Sheffield’s finest after a run of competent but patchy LPs. A sense that everything the Arctics have tried to accomplish through their recent output, with varying degrees of success, has suddenly clicked into place.
A man in an extremely rich vein of form makes a record with a few guys with whom he was in a legendary 90’s band. Greatness ensues. By turns touching and funny, Mark Kozelek and Desertshore is perhaps unsurprisingly reminiscent of the very best of Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters, which can only be a good thing in my opinion. Excellent stuff indeed.
From out of nowhere, a stone-cold modern classic taking elements of the shoegaze and black metal genres and fusing them into a startlingly original and affecting record. Fans of both genres will rejoice, but what is perhaps more surprising here is the fact that fans of neither genre will also find much to admire should they allow this album the time to get under their skin.
Sunbather is a heart-breakingly beautiful masterpiece that is hands down my pick for the best album of the year.