Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top Ten Albums of 2013

For me, there weren't many great albums released in 2013.  There were a lot of good albums that I've enjoyed in the here and now, but I have serious doubts about whether I'll still be listening to many of the albums in this top ten in five years time.  Which is not to say we shouldn't enjoy them now while we still can ...

10.  Issakidis, "Karezza" (Kill the DJ Records)

The criminally underrated George Issakidis made the year's best leftfield experimental techno album and hardly anybody noticed.  Jumping from smooth, Luciano/Villalobos style minimal  to James Murphy's disco rock to oddball kitchen sink unclassifiable weirdness with ease, there's something for everyone here.

9.  Depeche Mode, "Delta Machine" (Columbia/Mute)

It's not the best Depeche Mode album, but it might be their best sounding album.  Deep, resonant, cavernous, electronic blues for packing stadiums and festivals.  

8.  Sannhet, Known Flood (Sacrament)

When people talk about the death of the album format, they're ignoring metal.  I relearn this lesson every time I discover metal albums I really like and remind myself that they demand that you immerse yourself in them for a full, uninterrupted 45 minutes.  In bite size chunks, "Known Flood" is nothing, as a cohesive unit, it's a blizzard of guitar noise that doesn't let up, like Branca gone metal.    

7.   My Bloody Valentine, "m b v" (MBV Records)

Bold prediction: in three years time, nobody who puts this album on their year-end list will stand behind their ranking.  Sure, we know it's not another "Loveless" and that's OK (although "She Found Now" could easily slot in there and even raise the average song quality).  Fans are just glad they've rejoined the land of living, breathing bands who record new music.  But how good is "m b v" really?  A million other bands could have made this album in the past twenty years.  Does that matter?  Would we tolerate weirdness like "Nothing Is" if MBV weren't the band behind it?  This album is something of a time capsule, the realization of the 1991-1996 rumours come to life (e.g. "they're recording a DnB album!?!" c-1995-6), maybe it'll be easier to process the legacy of MBV vers. 2 when we start hearing the stuff that represent where their heads are at in the 21st century.

6.  Traversable Wormhole, "Traversable Wormhole Volume 6-10" (CLR)

As the title indicates, this is not precisely a new album, but a mixed compilation of tracks from the latest five EP's from TW.  What you get is roughly the techno equivalent of the cover art -- an immeasurably dark, mind-warping descent into a black hole of industrial techno hell (you know, in a good way).  

5.  Sigur R├│s, "Kveikur" (XL Recordings)

I say it all the time, but it bears repeating: Sigur Ros are one of the most inventive bands of this generation.  People think they've got them figured out, but they really don't have any idea of what they're going to do next.  I mean, who had "Sigur Ros goes metal" in the office pool??

4.  Daft Punk, Random Access Memories (Columbia)

I really can't figure out why Daft Punk superfans don't think this is their best ever album.  A disco album recorded and produced in the classic 70's/80's style (complete with real life classic disco musicians and producers), an instantly iconic cover, and a world conquering single to boot.  Why, because it should have happened already with "Digital Love"?

3.  Moderat, "II" (Monkeytown Records)

A more than worthy follow-up to their classic first album, this one feels more suited for clubs and lounges than its genre-hopping, all things to all people predecessor.  Get well soon, Sascha, and get back to blowing minds again when you tour this thing.

2.  The National, "Trouble Will Find Me" (4AD)

Well, it happened again, I fell for an indie rock album (as in, exactly one album) by a band I hadn't previously paid much attention to.  While not obvious on the surface, the National are the closest thing I've found to 90's Tindersticks in contemporary music.  They can be sour or mopey or aggressive or funny, they know exactly when to dial up or down each of those components, and they can even pull them all off within the same song.  Whenever I hear "Graceless" or "I Should Live in Salt" or "Pink Rabbits", the world around me simply stops moving.  

1.  Eluvium, "Nightmare Ending" (Temporary Residence Limited)  

Recently I was starting to feel that ranking "Copia" as one of the top ten albums of the 00's was a mistake. Eluvium was following a clear formula -- warm, lush ambient mood pieces alternating with serene piano ballads -- that was wearing down after so many listens.  Even the previously unstoppable "Repose In Blue" was starting to lose its mesmerizing power.  Then he released "Nightmare Ending", which follows mostly the same formula ... and guess what, it still works.  The ambient songs have gotten longer and noisier, the piano ballads have become more intricate, and he could have split this 80-minute plus album into two and ended up with two best albums of the year.  

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