Following on from yesterday’s list of the 100 Best Tracks of the Year, here are the 50 Best Albums 0f 2013:
50. Beach Party – For Now We Are Young
Beach party evoke a manic craze that’s not too dissimilar to a 4 year-old given free reign of the playground after gorging on a pack of Fizzers. For Now We Are Young is the Cape Town band’s second offering and is a steady refinement of their eponymous debut EP released last year. They stuck to the same guns-ablaze formula, while fine-tuning a number of their sensibilities.
While their debut offered fuzzy punk turned up to eleven, FNWAY features more emotional breadth – channelling the happy sadness of Belle and Sebastian, Lightspeed Champion and The Smiths with tracks like “Bacon Love” and “Should Never Lie”.
It is the first single and title track from the album that perhaps best sums up the band’s attitude and mission statement (if it’s possible for a punk-alligned band to have one): 2:36 of listless abandon, embodying an endless summer and all the ecstasy that accompanies it, with a classic surf-rock solo to top it all off perfectly.- Sean Magner
49. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Fewer albums cut quite as deep as Katie Crutchfield’s harrowing album Cerulean Salt. With elements of punk, folk and lo-fi she mused on being twenty something with every reason to be happy but unhappier because of that. Armed often with just her guitar and sparse percussion, this collection of thirteen short songs hit with wry wit, brutal lyrical craft and an unforgiving honesty.
There is a delicate way in which she portrays the characters in her songs. It can be seen in the funereal manner in which she depict a friend’s wedding when she sardonically remarks on the unavoidable tragedy in the scene itself. It’s weighty stuff from a songwriter who writes from the perspective of someone old enough to be truly messed up but still young enough to not be resigned to that fate. She muses on concepts like love or marriage or middle-class suburbia and pierces behind them to reveal their fragile torment. There are many lines that speak to that, from a drugged out couple in ‘Lively’, in which she sings “I had a dream last night, we had hit separate bottoms”. Or an aging couple wilting from the inside out on ‘Swan Dive’ where she sings, “And I will grow out of all the empty bottles in my closet / And you’ll quit having dreams about a swan dive to the hard asphalt”. Despite the subject matter, there is still a grace to her songwriting that comes from refusing to make us feel sorry for her and her characters. That’s because we see truths and aspects of ourselves in her songs. And if we’re all messed up then surely being messed up can’t be that bad?- Kevin Minofu
48. Dookoom – DOOKOOM EP
Dookoom are not everyone’s cup of tea. If that wasn’t clear by the time Isaac Mutant’s latest project’s debut EP was launched, it was certainly confirmed by the few abrasive live shows that he’s put on around the city in the past few months. The aesthetic was all there, Human Waste (Dplanet) and Spooky manning the decks while he stood front and centre, shirt off, telling the audience he wants to kill them. It’s not a comfortable experience, but that’s not what he’s going for. And this EP is the same. From start to finish, it roars of a man whose bark and bite could well be synonymous. If anything, its failings come from it veering too far on the side of passivity. It’s when Mutant is at his angriest that DOOKOOM is at its best.
As usual, no-one says it better than he does himself. A few days ago, he posted on his Facebook page: “Why do I have to make positive music. Maybe I just want to make music that express my emotion. Maybe I feel like colouring the clouds purple cos that’s how I perceive it today. Maybe I don’t hate my life, but yours. Maybe I just want to make music.”- Andy Petersen
47. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
Majical Cloudz consists of singer, Devon Welsh and synth-producer Matthew Otto. Welsh describes their project as being “the beginning of feeling like we were doing something that felt natural, and that made me feel like I was working on something fulfilling: I was saying what I meant and just trying to be as honest about myself as possible, getting it as clear and direct as it could possibly be.”
And the lyrics attest to this feeling of clarity and candour entirely. Impersonator is one of the most considered albums of the year, and indeed, one of its best sung. Welsh’s voice is so deliberate that every line comes off with all the solemnity of a funeral hymn. The album’s best songs, like ‘This Is Magic’ are those that understand that a voice as dominating as Welsh’s is best when the music is minimal. And then there is the moment on ‘Bugs Don’t Buzz’, when the grave pianos are joined by Welsh’s singing. In that moment, all else seems to lose consequence. The power that comes through with his voice and the emotion of the lyrics, on the song and the album as a whole, makes it one of the year’s most affecting records.- Simon Ruff
46. Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
Mount Kimbie, Britain’s famed Post-dubstep duo, released their sophomore album this year, entitled Cold Spring Fault Less Youth. Along with the clear, and welcome, developments made to their sound, they also made the clever move of releasing the album via London-based experimental imprint, Warp Records (home to the likes of Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada). This transition is most definitely evident in their music, which has gained a fresh lick of spontaneity and a captivating imbalance. By incorporating actual vocals (including guest vocals by King Krule), and including live instrumentation, the neatness of their debut, Crooks & Lovers, which relied solely on electronics, has been slightly diminished by putting a focus on distinction.
These ambitious changes have led to incredibly effective results. Cold Spring Fault Less Youth has a dynamism that recedes and flows in a slightly haphazard manner (especially with the gorgeous drawl of Krule in the mix), yet is somehow capable of asserting itself as a poised and meticulous work.- Elaby Mackenzie
45. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
After an absence of around 6 years, brother duo and electronica stalwarts Boards of Canada (BOC) began hinting at a new album in the most mysterious way. True to form the enigmatic pair disseminated codes and secrets via random 12” records which were sold around the world and then left for fans to find and decipher.
As the founders of what some call ‘IDM’ (Intelligent Dance Music), BOC did not disappoint with a 17-track album filled to the brim with understated and intricate soundscapes, much of which could be said to be the bedrock of much contemporary left-field electronica.
“So what genre of dance music do you enjoy?” one may ask of many new dance music fans. The answer you’re most likely to receive: “#EDM!”. True, this genre of electro/house/tech etc. has truly conquered the world, even infiltrating the USA’s pop music psyche. Boards of Canada, however predate this new phenomenon, and have shown how complex and diverse electronica can be, offering a true fascinating alternative.- Sean Magner
44. Jumping Back Slash – JBS004
To call yourself a DJ these days is becoming somewhat trite, especially in Cape Town, where everyone’s a DJ. With the release of more than one fantastic EP this year, Jumping Back Slash has shown how he’s no pretender and deserves to be taken seriously.
No imitation can be found here, no derivative Beatport Top 10 bullshit, rather consider the endless local productions doing the rounds on sites like Kasimp3 where South Africans are making beats the rest of the world is starting to take notice of and give due credit too.
JBS004 is a fine example of merging both international and local. In a mere 4 tracks, he manages to synthesise and reimagine what some artists have been attempting for ages and as a result he creates a superlative example of South African dance music.- Sean Magner
43. Foals – Holy Fire
This album has ended up at an almost criminal position on this list – alas, such is the nature of democracy. Full disclosure – Holy Fire is one of my top 3 albums of the year. From the moment I first heard ‘Inhaler’ the deal was pretty much done, never mind the utter pop confidence that comes oozing out of a track like ‘My Number’ or the melancholic tones of ‘Moon’ and ‘Late Night’.
This album is Foals at their most assured, with song writing reflecting this confidence. Gone are the endless mathematic and cerebral metaphors present on previous albums; instead, Foals present a new-found lucidity where Yannis trusts his abilities as a song-writer and has a collective behind him equally as capable of providing a canvas to perfectly compliment his ideas.- Sean Magner
42. Mikal Cronin – MCii
“I’ve been starting over for a long time” admits Mikal Cronin at the start of his excellent second LP, MCii. There’s a lyrical uncertainty and dissatisfaction that pervades the album from front to back, probably what’s causing him to restart all those times. And yet it’s this same striving for something greater that elevates MCii from a catchy album to one of the best pop-punk efforts of the year.
Every single song on the album is packed with hooks and memorable lyrics. ‘Weight’, the opener, is definitely the album’s high point, but while this would cripple most albums, his dogged perseverance and ultimately optimistic disposition makes it a real winner. It’s great to hear him step out from the shadow of his much louder musical cousin and sometimes-band mate, Ty Segall. He doesn’t need to start over anymore, but you get the sense that that won’t stop him from doing so anyway.- Andy Petersen
41. Rhye – Woman
A mysterious, monochrome packaged slipped unassumingly into the music world during the former half of this year. Woman marks the debut of collaboration between the androgynous vocals of Micheal Milosh, and Robin Hannibal, of the Danish electronic group, Quadron.
Rhye greeted their listeners by asking answerless questions. Their first single, ‘Open’ still exists as one of the year’s finest songs and least understood creations. Woman’s release informed to some extent, but the album remains enigmatic, wrapped in layers of emotional fluidity. The beauty in Woman then comes in unwrapping it, song by song, closing in on its jazzy but sensual core of being. The balance between typically romantic and oddly carnal is perhaps its greatest trait. Woman is the beautifully-carved cornerstone of the 2013’s love affair with RnB deconstruction, fashionable synthesizers and crooning falsetto vocals dabbled in by James Blake on Overgrown and Blood Orange on Cupid Deluxe.- Graham Evans
40. Card On Spokes – Lead Me To The Water
Lead Me To The Water is impressively dense for its short length. Just as with the named element from this, Card On Spokes’ second EP, the song structure here is fluid, skirting predictability at all costs. Don’t get it wrong, though: as is not the case with many other avant-garde electronic producers, these are songs, made up of identifiable parts, working together for the good of the music, in favour of the listener at all times.
‘Rain’, one of two tracks featuring Nichy Schrire, is an incredibly memorable opener. The production is sparse, empty spaces emptying and being filled again, and the ‘chorus’ is restrained but bursting. ‘Goldshine’ employs a series of sounds that go beyond the impressively chopped and screwed vocals and lead synth line. His incorporation of a number of unorthodox live instruments into his music is also notable – Nils Berg’s flute sound elevates ‘Goldshine’ in its middle section, while ‘Ladders’ breaks off at its end into a jazzy coda, with Cooper himself on double bass.
The EP as a whole is an impressive experiment that comes off perfectly. With Lead Me To The Water, Cooper has truly established himself, cementing his unique position within the Cape Town music scene. If he keeps at it, the possibilities are endless.- Andy Petersen
39. Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Jon Hopkins is a UK-based electronic producer, whose fourth album, Immunity is a masterpiece crafted out of lush classically imbued and executed techno arrangements. Having worked with the likes of Imogen Heap, Brian Eno, Coldplay and King Creosote, he’s finally shaken off the shackles of instruction, and has been able to infuse his music with a sense of emancipation and the modest bravado of a man who is finally at peace with his own craftsmanship. The album soars from moments of hypnotic isolation in the ambient tracks, to clattering dance floor anthems with an almost tangible emotionality, giving each and every song a living and breathing nature.
Interaction with the tracks on a more emotive level is encouraged through his use of field recordings, which are scattered throughout, and have all been swathed in electronics. The painstaking detail that has gone into emulating a microcosm of the buzz of urban life, juxtaposed against the serenity of the natural world is evident in almost every passing minute. Hopkins has deftly impregnated Immunity with confidence and intimacy, which inspires the listener’s engagement to far greater depths. It’s a real achievement.- Elaby Mackenzie
38. Smith Westerns – Soft Will
The Smith Westerns’ music is good for many reasons. Their brand of garage-tilted glam-rock revival is more than well executed. Lyrically they capture the essence of adolescence and youthfulness better that most. Their songs are almost always expertly crafted and structured. But undoubtedly their most valuable asset is that they have distinguishable character. Closely observing their career trajectory from their cheaply self-recorded self-titled debut in 2009, to their 2011 studio-gem Dye It Blonde, to now, one cannot help but feel a friendly personal connection with the tight-knit Chicago trio.
The band was unjustifiably criticised by some for using the same formula over albums 1 and 2. With Soft Will the Smith Westerns showed naysayers their worth with a more layered presentation that still remained faithful to the T-Rex instilled tenets of out and out glam rock. Besides displaying greater technical ability as musicians, Cullen Omori’s vocals are more pronounced here and he delivers well. The songwriting on this record is their best to date. Even lyrically, they grapple impressively with the familiar themes of hopes, love, fantasies and life with greater – but still naïve – confidence.- Zia Haffejee
37. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Random Access Memories’ third song, “Giorgio by Moroder” opens with a monologue by dance pioneer Giorgio Moroder in which he discusses how his inspiration came from wanting to make “an album with the sound of the ’50s, the sound of the ’60s, of the ’70s and then have a sound of the future”. This serves as a sort of blueprint for Daft Punk, who have crafted an album that takes the sounds of the 70s and 80s and brings them to “the future”. They have blended those sounds with their iconic brand of dance, and done so to astonishing effect.
The album displays an array of meticulously produced sounds, each of which is as distinctive and colossal as the next. The album’s two-song centrepiece is ‘Touch’ and ‘Get Lucky’. ‘Touch’ showcases a love and understanding of music with a level of expertise that only technicians of the pedigree of Daft Punk could muster; while ‘Get Lucky’ parades the most catchy hook and best rhythm of this – or indeed any – year. The two songs exhibit the combination of supreme skill and pure fun that make Daft Punk their genre’s greatest force.- Simon Ruff
36. El-P & Killer Mike – Run The Jewels
Run the Jewels is an explosive, and at times mordant, collaborative effort between friends and rap game teammates, El-P and Killer Mike. The former is the New York alternative rap talent-maker synonymous with the Definitive Jux label, the latter a past OutKast crony.
With the release of colossal creative gestures like Kanye’s Yeezus, Drake’s Nothing Was the Same, and A$AP Rocky’s Long.Live.A$ap, rap has saturated reclusive party playlists and billboards alike this year. Run the Jewels comes in somewhere beyond it all, with the unlikely duo cavorting on the fringe of the fight for rap heavyweight, hurling thoughtful insults at the overly-serious nature of it all. Run the Jewels pound thunderous, unsettling avant-garde rap at their listeners, filling each song with tongue-in-cheek self-praise like “So I think we’ve burned our bridges, but it’s difficult to tell. I’ve been walking through the ashes, saying ‘didn’t we do well?’” on ‘Job Well Done.’
Intellectually dense and deliberately abrasive, Run the Jewels can be labeled something like a more accessible Death Grips, only without the death. The group have announced the imminent release of Run the Jewels 2. If their first release is anything to go by, this can be eagerly awaited.- Graham Evans
35. Tyler, The Creator – Wolf
Beyond any of the controversy – or indeed the hype – Odd Future ringleader Tyler, the Creator is a phenomenal producer. And as a producer, Wolf finds him in exceptionally fine form. But in some senses this proves an equal blessing and curse.
The album’s title track exemplifies the latter. The track opens with a series of soft piano chords that crescendoes into an incredible, grandiose cloud rap beat. It’s a beat that could have yielded a truly special track, had Tyler chosen to apply himself to it. Instead, it comes off as a missed opportunity.
But when Tyler does choose to apply himself, the results are spectacular. ‘Treehome’ is Erykah Badu-esque, while ‘IFHY’ has Tyler articulating as interesting a take on a love song as you’re likely to hear over a thrusting, larger-than-life beat.
But the album’s true standout is ’48’. Tyler puts himself into the head of a drug dealer, using post-dealing guilt as his premise. Here, Tyler displays an incredible amount of understanding (daresay, wisdom), which is perfectly foiled by the nervous-sounding beat he backtracks the tale with. Wolf comes off as an impeccably produced album, which is good enough to stand in its own right – but coming from someone with Tyler’s talent, can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity nonetheless.- Simon Ruff
34. Doldrums – Lesser Evil
Doldrums is an unashamed pop artist who loves the idea of big hooks and catchy melodies. But don’t let that fool you; he understands those concepts a little differently to the rest of us. Coming out of the freakishly good Montreal music scene that includes Grimes, No Joy and Majical Cloudz (indie myth of 2013 is that the Lesser Evil album cover is a photo of Doldrums in Grimes’ broken laptop screen, the same laptop he allegedly made this album on), Doldrums comfortably fits into that impressive list of daring and exciting artists.
Take for example the album standout ‘Anomaly’: starting off with thundering hand claps and buzzing arpeggiattors there is a huge synth wash where a huge chorus would normally arrive, but it does not. He knows that’s what we would expect so instead opts to hit us with thunderous percussion and some vocal purring from the man himself. It is a clever inversion of the traditional pop staple and Doldrums proves himself as a kaleidoscopic maximalist whose mission is to stuff a song with as many tweaks and electronic notes as possible. It’s there in the synth tornado that is ‘She is the Wave’ or even when he is a little more straightforward, as in the blissful psychedelia of ‘Egypt’. He is weird and inventive and although the album’s tricks dry up towards the more contemplative second half, it’s a thoroughly incomprehensible and hedonist ‘pop’ delight from start to finish.- Kevin Minofu
33. John Wizards – John Wizards
If this was a list of the year’s most important albums for the South African music scene, this would probably be at number 1. John Wizards’ self-titled full-length debut came out in September this year to international critical acclaim, winning them support from all corners of the globe. Since then, they’ve been on tour with Australian rockers Jagwar Ma and British electronic duo Mount Kimbie.
It would be easy to simply dismiss what they are doing as yet another inauthentic grab at making ‘African’ sounds more accessible to a white audience. What John Withers, Emmanuelle Nzaramba and co are doing is far more considered than that. It feels vibrant and necessary in a way that not too many South African albums of late have managed to feel.
This is an album that has only improved with time, and one that sets them up perfectly to make a real statement with their follow-up LP. Before that, though, they should bask in the success of what they’ve created and continue to grow their already sizeable international fan base. After this wonderful album, they deserve it.- Andy Petersen
32. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
It is apt in every possible way that Chancelor Bennett’s de facto arrival was with ‘Good Ass Intro’. It was a spectacular display of confidence, and had Chance springing through ever-smarter and wittier references at rattling speed. His clever wordplay hints of Lil Wayne, while his uncanny knack of flipping the absurd into the self-deprecating can’t help but be reminiscent of Kanye West.
And yet one never gets the slightest suggestion of imitation. His off-puttingly distinctive voice, and immediately memorable lines help to forge his entirely idiosyncratic persona. But as much a part of this persona as his wit is his insight. He never manages to escape the horrors of Chicago for long; on ‘Acid Rain’ he raps, “My big homie died young/ just turned older than him, I seen it happen, I seen it happen, I see it always/ He still be screaming, I see his demons in empty hallways”. He manages to toe the incredibly precarious line between conscience and self-aggrandising preaching without ever straying – a talent which cannot be overstated in hip hop.
It is a hugely impressive album that manages to be both fun and thought provoking, without ever diverting from Chance’s outlandishly good cadence. And following “Good Ass Intro”, it would have been silly to expect anything else.- Simon Ruff
31. No Joy – Wait To Pleasure
Fewer albums crackled and fizzed with such aural intensity and yet also with such pop sensibility as Montreal’s shoegazers No Joy’s second album Wait to Pleasure. Gorgeously produced and endlessly effervescent the album is a rich yet unfussy experience.
Known for their hypnotically frenetic live performances Jasamine White-Glutz and Laura Lloyd divert their attention here to not only creating barriers of feedback and distortion but also channeling that to make enveloping and consummate tracks. Standouts like ‘Lunar Phobia’ which slowly unravels and unwinds to find a beating pulse under the guitar wash and throbs towards an electro-tinged climax is a case in point. This is also evident in the warped vocals and crushing guitars of ‘Hare Tarot Lies’ where the duo’s gaze is firmly tilted skywards as the subtle shifts in dynamics act as the perfect entrance to No Joy’s slightly twisted world. The impressive formula works on the hazy but fleet-footed ‘Blue Neck Riviera’ or the all out sludgefest that is ‘Slug Night’. It is a careful balance of light and day; of pretty and ugly; and soft and heavy. It should come together to be a mess but it’s a beautiful mess: an entrancing heap of fuzz and sonic rubble. It is probably best categorized as dream-pop but it is definitely dreaming with eyes wide open.- Kevin Minofu
30. CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe
CHVRCHES are a Scottish synth pop trio whose debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, is a vibrant and infectious work, worthy of the hype it has received. The vibrancy of this album lies in its hyper-lucid electronic dimension, which, despite its clarity, does not detract from the vocals of Lauren Mayberry, whose voice displays multiple qualities throughout, each capable of inciting different listener responses. It’s hard to set yourselves apart as a synth pop band in this day and age, but CHVRCHES have hit the nail on the head with their ebullient anthems and occasional moments of introspection.
The songs are brimming with catchy hooks, and Mayberry’s dynamic lyricism propels the tracks along, providing a welcome foil to the soaring synths that emulate the rising success of their music. All in all, it’s pretty obvious that there has been no fluffing around during the production of this LP: the lyrics are direct, the notes are clear and neat, and they certainly crafted something memorable. They’re a young success story whose future is very bright, indeed.- Elaby Mackenzie
29. Local Natives – Hummingbird
After the spirited ruckus that was their 2009 release, Gorilla Manor, Los Angeles residents, Local Natives strolled into 2013 with a more meditative and settled creativity.
Hummingbird has certainly still grown from the roots that the band nourished with identifiable indie-rock traits: Animal Collective outbreaks and Grizzly Bear harmonies, to name but a few. Yet, the album shows Local Natives in a more personally-definable light. The broad instrumental range, songwriting confidence and more wholesome quality of Kelcey Ayer’s vocals are the marks of a band that has matured, not intentionally, but inevitably. This could to some extent be a product of their association with Aaron Dessner of the National, who contributed musically to Hummingbird whilst providing a studio space in Brooklyn.
Rich in feeling and even solemn at times, Hummingbird is at its best on ‘Ceilings’ and ‘Black Balloons’. The unpolished shouts and percussive frenzies of Gorilla Manor feature in a subdued, more thought-out sense this time around, ceding to softer piano chords and poignant guitar melodies. Some will mourn this loss; others will welcome the ripening of talent and intellect in a band that always had these qualities beyond their scuffed flannels.- Graham Evans
28. Deafheaven – Sunbather
The notion of ‘approachable’ black metal is oxymoronic. It has also been the most annoyingly prevalent oxymoron in music this year, thanks to Sunbather. Shoegaze and black metal are genres that share more similarities than fans would care to admit. Both strive to create a dense ambient vacuum in which their respective magic unfolds. Unfortunately, fans of black metal also happen to be about the most pigheaded and protective of their genre that you could find. Cue Deafheaven’s arrival on the scene and the latter diehards considered them an aberration.
The San Francisco outfit employ unrivalled power and energy as the vehicle of powerful emotion. Their unique execution of this on Sunbather has earned them widespread praise from fans of all genres. The unrelenting wall of sound that Deafheaven creates across the board both rattles and overwhelms the listener while simultaneously engulfing them in frontman George Clarke’s all-devouring vocals. But still, the listener opts to stay on board and cooperate. Any criticism of this LP based solely on the grounds of genre-straddling amount to the most bootless of cries. Black metal fans should, as any grateful parents would, yearn for custody of this different yet devastatingly talented tomorrow-child.- Zia Haffejee
27. James Blake – Overgrown
April brought with it the release of James Blake’s second LP, Overgrown. After genre moves and a busy EP history, the London-based wunderkind producer seemed poised for something stirring, even momentous.
In many ways, the sultriness and lyrical honesty of Overgrown was just this. Blake wonders and hums over a darker array of empty bass beats and cruising synth loops, more assertive in his songwriting and cleverer with his production design. The comprehensive originality of Overgrown also served to push Blake ahead of artists with similar, neo-RnB intentions like How To Dress Well and Milosh.
What holds Overgrown back is thus not something overtly musical, but rather how Blake’s method manifests in the album as a whole. Content to experiment personally, seemingly satisfied with the uncertainty in intangible personal expressions like, “everything feels like touch down a rainy day” in ‘Life Round Here,’ Blake has left Overgrown somewhat inaccessible to those expecting a cover-to-cover favourite album. This distance is not all undesirable, but explains the reception of Overgrown as a solid effort rather than a momentous career hallmark.- Graham Evans
26. Drake – Nothing Was The Same
In a typically caps-locked tweet, Odd Future leader Tyler, the Creator recently compared professional skateboarder Nyjah Huston with Toronto-born rapper, Drake. This is allegedly because, like the Toronto-born superstar, “[He is] FUCKING GOOD. ALWAYS KILLIN, BUT N*GGAS ARE ALWAYS HATING HIM AND NEVER HAVE GOOD LOGIC TO WHY THEY DO [sic]”.
That about sums it up. No matter the tracks that Drake turns to gold, or the stadiums that he packs out, there will always be the Big Ghostfase and Drake’s The Type Of of the world to remind him that his name is Aubrey and that he is too soft. But surely, surely the world realised that the scale upon which a rapper’s ‘hardness’ is measured is irreparably broken? This after the promising ‘Control’ saga involving Kendrick Lamar and other current Hip Hop heavyweights yielded only the intensity of a Facebook-poke frenzy.
Take Care saw Drake establish his superstar status for good reason: the record was damn near perfect. Nothing Was The Same was never going to be his Yeezus – not to say that anybody knew that Yeezus would be Kanye’s Yeezus; Drake appeared too comfortable to want to shake things up. But there was very little chance that it wasn’t going to be brilliant. Drake’s can-do-no-wrong creative headspace, coupled with the right collaborations and immaculate production was always going to be a devastating formula.
The truth is that blunt and artless ridicule constitute the only basis upon which his detractors may criticise his work. The world has changed, and so too has the game. Drake knows this, and is laughing at Big Ghostfase’s posts all the way to the bank.- Zia Haffejee
25. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Music journalists too often pose – directly to the acts they interview – the tactless yet endlessly tempting question of how an upcoming album compares to the others. In responding, musicians have wizened up to the danger of creating expectations. Nowadays, artists generally take a safer route, refining their claims to things like “well, we’ve worked hard on it” or perhaps even “we love it”.
Veteran frontman, Josh Homme, is part of a dying breed. In typical balls-to-the-wall fashion he freely declared in interviews prior to its release that …Like Clockwork was the best thing QOTSA had ever done. When a consistently strong, accomplished artist asserts that a particular oeuvre is their masterpiece, and if that statement is not made in desperation due to a waning career, it feels counterintuitive to argue otherwise when said piece is this good.
Is …Like Clockwork better than QOTSA’s genre-classic, Songs for the Deaf, and so the best thing they’ve ever put out? Probably not. But thankfully, that is a discussion for another forum. What is important here is that the new record is a staunch statement of all-round badassery with notable crossover appeal, and a clear standout in Homme’s distinguished repertoire.- Zia Haffejee
24. Disclosure – Settle
Dance is something with as many permutations, wrong and right, as the algebra that I will for the sake of this analogy pretend to understand. Of all the reasons for throwing, or for the fortunate, moving, oneself across empty space for pleasure, none seem more relevant this year than Disclosure’s immaculate studio debut, Settle.
Howard and Guy Lawrence have managed to bundle the most pertinent aspects of garage, house and other such genres that come alive at night into a one hour and twenty minute rave arsenal. Settle is anything but its title. Its flawless production is perhaps the only thing composed about it. With enough featuring artists to rival the countless festival crowds that Disclosure blew out of Europe this year, Settle oscillates from serious house heights in ‘Grab Her!’ to something that could even get wallflowers perking in ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’ with London Grammar. This diversity in a dance album is rare. In a debut, it is unprecedented.- Graham Evans
23. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
There probably wasn’t a more fitting album title all year. From start to finish, there was one emotion that rose palpably above the rest, and it’s the one right there in the name. As such, multiple listens of this album start to feel exhausting. Add to that the immaculate production and the sheer force that Arthur Ashin puts into each line of his vocal delivery, and you’ll often feel out of breath.
Anxiety isn’t an album to put on during a sunny Sunday drive along the coast, nor one to soundtrack a gathering of friends. It’s an album to sit down and contemplate, to allow yourself to move with and be moved by. It is a serious tour de force, albeit one that does, at times, feel like a simulated panic attack.
It contains within it some of the strongest singles of the year, and is probably the foremost contender for 2013’s best opening 1-2 in ‘Play By Play’ and ‘Counting’. Those two singles are masterpieces, and if the album had just contained those alone with eight other duds it probably would still have made it onto this list. But there are lots of other astounding tracks – ‘A Lie’, ‘Ego Free Sex Free’ and ‘World War’ in particular. This is by no means an easy listen, but it is most definitely a rewarding one.- Andy Petersen
22. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
On Fuck Buttons’ towering third album the Bristol duo proved they were the true pioneers of anthemic and crushing noise. Using elements of drone music, techno and brash percussion, the group’s third self-produced album is seamless and flows from track to track. The album offers various perspectives on their sound, from the orchestral and exhilarating destruction of ‘Brainfreeze’, the slow-building lurch that is ‘Stalker’ or the shuffling and dance-y ‘Prince’s Prize’. They favour long and considered compositions that successfully build upon layers and layers of noise to create grand anthems that are distinctly haunting, brooding and at times a little hopeful. Working in a shadowy and obscure genre of electronic music, the duo build on the success of their second album to make their most cohesive musical statement with Slow Focus. It provides for a thrilling, engrossing and thoroughly rewarding ride.- Kevin Minofu
21. Toro Y Moi – Anything In Return
Chaz Bundick celebrated the start of 2013 by flexing his creative muscles with Anything in Return. January saw the Columbia-based producer’s third full-length album hit the Itunes playlists of rooftop parties and fashion shows with the sonic smack of no less than thirteen songs, neither being too typically chillwave nor too mindlessly danceable.
With Anything in Return, Toro Y Moi and his unpredictable but harmonious musical progression have reached a multidimensional pinnacle. The album discos on an intersection of house, RnB and chillwave that can only become the subject of insufficient generalisations like ‘dance-pop’ and ‘newwave.’ It is this strategic, tasteful appropriation and assembling of popularity that has placed Anything In Return in the top half of our list.
From the house chorus of ‘Say That’ to the assertive bubblegum tune, ‘Cake’, Bundick closes the gap between echoing bedroom projects and crowd-moving dance musicians. Anything In Return initiates the war on rigid genre boxes that lasted the length of 2013, with albums like Kanye’s Yeezus and Deafheaven’s Sunbather finally claiming glory.- Graham Evans
20. Gateway Drugs – Gateway Drugs EP
By December, the outdoors and internet begin to fill with banal holiday cobwebs. The year has concluded, and year-end album lists have already been posted and pondered over. At this exact time in 2012, Gateway Drugs burst through it all with a seminal eponymous EP. Seven tracks of clever 1980s synthpop have stirred up the Cape Town music scene ever since. It is thus with a great neon and demin pleasure that Gateway Drugs, released after all 2012 album lists and thus excluded from sure praise, is carried over to dance with the music of 2013.
David Thorpe and Andrew Esterhuizen have had a decent year, together being half of the surf-pop outfit Beach Party, who’s For Now We Are Young also makes this list. As a project, however, Gateway Drugs has fast-become their most successful. Their formidable balance of simple songwriting and a well-timed stab at synth melodies and bass-snare beats has made their work the pride of its local listeners. Gateway Drugs is at first the sort of album that, but for the good old accent, makes South Africans say, “Hey! This doesn’t even sound local.” But after reflection, this is exactly what it has changed. This album has blown the aural narrow-mindedness of a small local music scene, elevating our understanding and expectations of its musician’s capabilities. No longer are things quite a measure of local versus other, but rather “Hey! This is wondrous as is, against any measure!” We have the Eurhythmicsesque bounce and late-night charm of Gateway Drugs to thank for this.
It would be hard to fathom how anyone has not already done so, with most of us already yelling ‘‘Keep your eyes on the holiday!” from ‘The Chase’ through open car windows down Kloof Street throughout the year, but download the Gateway Drugs EP for free here.- Graham Evans
19. King Krule – 6ft Beneath The Moon
It’s hard to pick out truly original artists in a world that is so condensed with white guys with rucksacks and banjos or, alternatively, white guys blasting EDM. But nineteen year old Archie Marshall represents an interesting anomaly: he is a considered student of jazz, a huge fan of hip-hop and plays his guitar with fluidity reminiscent of rock’s great singer-songwriters. Under the moniker of King Krule and over the course of the album’s fourteen tracks – which work less as individual songs and more as various stages of Marshall’s nocturnal and hazed-out journey through inner-city streets – he touches on many styles. From the elasticated blues of ‘opener ‘Easy Easy’, to the dark jazz tones of ‘Foreign 2’, Marshall proves that he is a chameleon in various guises. That’s not to say that it is always a winning formula, the ska-influenced brass work of ‘A Lizard State’ feels clunky and self-indulgent and songs like ‘Ocean Bed’ threaten but end limply. But the true success of Marshall is in his ability to always make his songs interesting in the way he creates the cavernous spaces for his growl of a baritone to roam around in. And when it works it is very good indeed. The pretty much unchanged 2011 track ‘Out Getting Ribs’ has a desolateness that makes even more sense in the context of this album. Or the album’s highlight, ‘Neptune Estate’, which allows him to croon and half-rap about love and relationships with such maturity and lyrical sharpness, hauntingly making you believe him when he whispers that he “could stay in your mind”.
He’s graduated from being the indie kid with the messed up voice to a confident and increasingly ambitious songwriter. It’s not the complete statement of his talents but its proof that he is a name that should be eagerly followed, especially because often on the album he makes such beautiful music sound so easy. That is such a rare gift and one that he is making the absolute most of.- Kevin Minofu
18. Atoms For Peace – AMOK
Thom Yorke’s 2006 solo album, The Eraser, was an unfulfilled experimental project that came to life in the shape of Atoms for Peace, a live performance band formed in 2009 and made up of Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke; multi-instrumentalist and Radiohead producer, Nigel Godrich; Red Hot Chilli Peppers bassist, Flea; Beck and REM drummer, Joey Waronker; and Brazilian percussionist, Mauro Refosco. Their debut album of original material, AMOK released earlier this year, is arguably one of the great experimental electronic albums of recent years, with an immense depth of focus and longevity that keeps you returning to it, only to discover more of its organic textures, delicate synth flourishes, hints of hypnotic Afrofunk, and mind-numbing basslines.
It’s safe to say that AMOK is an album filled to the brim with an almost palpable energy, with the five ageing men weaving their respective talents into a delicate, yet towering, framework of subtlety, all brought together by Yorke’s often muffled and ghostlike vocals that weave images throughout the arrangements. The subject matter occasionally touches on the sinister themes that constitute much of his music, but ultimately what they provide is an added depth to the already vast soundscape. It’s a great album that needs time to sink in. One may think that with the band’s ‘supergroup’ nature, AMOK should have been stupendous, but with multiple listens, you’ll find that its true worth lies in its moments of understated complexity, more than anything else.- Elaby Mackenzie
17. The Future Primitives – Into The Primitive
Into The Primitive is the Future Primitives’ third full length offering and their second of original material. The album title denotes the band’s venture into the very roots of garage rock. A subsequent foray into rockabilly and psychedelia in conjunction with their contemporary sensibilities has resulted in a niche sound that will inexplicably make one feel that much cooler. In spite of a highly saturated international market, the thrash-y trinity have pinpointed a distinctive rock n’ roll destination with Into The Primitive that sets them apart.
The eclecticism of styles on the album are owed largely to the very particular taste of the artists themselves. These guys are passionate listeners. Reared on the likes of Television, The Clash, Gun Club and The Sonics, the band are very conscious of what sounds authentic and what doesn’t. That their creative process is reinforced by a knowledge of their field – both past and present – ensures that the Cape Town trio avoid the trodden path. The Future Primitives are not a party band, but this LP makes for one hell of a fun set.- Zia Haffejee
16. Deerhunter – Monomania
Recently a colleague of mine referred to Bradford Cox as a cult. An odd description indeed, but in truth few metaphors would do better to sum up the freakish enigma that is the Deerhunter frontman. Dictating the band’s artistic direction with an iron fist and painted nails, Cox is a perfectionist with an unshakeable fealty to crackpot individualism and showmanship. And for this, the band’s fans could not be more thankful because it always seems to pay off.
Deerhunter’s latest and most daring, patriotic venture is no different. Monomania finds Cox mapping out a destination near the very roots of American garage rock. As we learnt last year with his solo offering, Spooky Action at a Distance, the band’s polished gleam is owed largely to guitarist and backbone Lockett Pundt. While his traditional modus operandi is noticeably confined to ‘The Missing’ and ‘Sleepwalking’, he adapts with great poise to his new, screechier role and somehow still manages to sound familiar.
Monomania is arguably Deerhunter’s best work to date. Cox’s kooky experiments consistently produce beautiful results. Whether or not he is merely chasing an aesthetic here is irrelevant – donning leather jackets, drawing inspiration from the amateurish roots of punk and garage and dirtying the band’s sound was a stroke of genius whichever way you look at it. Whether it’s with Deerhunter or his side-project Atlas Sound: where Cox treads, band members and fans will blindly follow.- Zia Haffejee
15. Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse
This album has been a standout since the moment it came out, yet I feared that given the release of the alleged “holy trinity” (Yeezus, Reflektor, Modern Vampires of the City) something as beautifully understated as Wondrous Bughouse was bound to be forgotten. Thankfully it hasn’t been. At least, not by us.
I say understated, yet there is much grandiosity to this album, particularly in the naiveté with which Trevor Power’s voice navigates the myriad glistening aural territories. The music evokes images of both earthly and alien wonders viewed through a murky shard of amber, managing to evoke soaring elation as well as deep introspection.
The album is very much a surreal drug-infused tale of being human, it just takes a while to sink in. As it very well should: we tend to take the things closest to us for granted, assuming we understand them, yet upon closer inspection they turn out to be more alien than we could have ever thought possible. As such, Wondrous Bughouse is a beautiful articulation of the type of nausea associated with such stark realisations.- Sean Magner
14. Danny Brown – Old
Danny Brown always felt like a precociously talented wordsmith, but – after no less than fourteen full-length releases – one who was unlikely to ever really fulfil his potential. Yet at the age of 32, on his third studio album, Old, he displayed a previously unforeseen maturity that led the album to go above and beyond any prior expectations of what he was capable of.
It is a long, complex album that few rappers could attempt without losing the listener, but Brown pulls it off expertly. The production is intended as a kind of hip hop timeline: starting with old school 90s beats and progressing through to contemporary trap music. He picks beats that are going to instil feelings, first and foremost, and the lyrics fit into them, rather than the other way around.
But that takes nothing away from his wordplay or the lyrics themselves. It is an album that holds an incredibly strong narrative, and has Brown opening up about the terrors of growing up in Detroit. The album’s darkest track, ‘Torture’ is no misnomer. Its ominous beat is followed by harrowing tales of dope fiends beating each other with hammers and brutal domestic violence. The horrors are never far, and run through the album like a scar that could open at any given moment. He can’t even escape the turmoil on the album’s most hedonistic moments, like ‘Dip’ where the drugs that seem glorified are revealed to be a way to “kill that pain”.
It is an album that is intended to overwhelm, which it achieves without ever being difficult to listen to – a feat that only a supremely talented wordsmith could accomplish. It is a truly remarkable achievement: an album full of powerful narratives, emotional depth, enigmatic flow and genuinely superlative beats. Old is more than Brown fulfilling his potential; it is him completing obliterating any previous expectations of him, and proving himself to be as good as anyone in the game.- Simon Ruff
13. My Bloody Valentine – m b v
The story of My Bloody Valentine’s momentous Loveless has been told and mythologized countless times before. Kevin Shields’ otherworldly guitar work, which created the most punishing wall of sound, had made the shoegaze album an absolute classic that has only grown in stature since it was released in 1991. In the intermittent time, the world impatiently waited for the follow-up to the album and as the nineties and then noughties faded into memory it appeared that there never would be that ‘next album’. But in February of this year, to an unexpected audience, Shields and his bandmates released m b v and created one of the biggest frenzies of excitement the musical community has ever seen. Yes, it was true: they were back.
Two decades after Loveless, the band pick up roughly from where they left off – the same tremolo guitar that seems layered and layered over shards of static and feedback. In fact, a lot of the material on the album was taken from aborted recording sessions in the mid-nineties. At the same time – ever the music innovator and fascinated with where he could push the sound of guitar next – Shields offers a varied album that can roughly be divided into three parts. The first three songs represents the harder and grittier side of the band that firmly established shoegaze as a sound and has standouts like the sprawling brutalism of ‘Only Tomorrow’ and the jagged riffs of ‘Who Sees You’. The second third contains the more melodic and ethereal side of the band with the bright sunspots of ‘If I Am’ and the endlessly catchy ‘New You’, that both showcase Belinda Butler, guitarist and co-vocalist’s, wispy vocals. The last third is Shields leading the band down its most experimental work with the military percussion of ‘Nothing Is’ and the guitars that are truly stretched to unimaginable levels of distortion and ambient haze on closer ‘Wonder 2’.
After such a long time, the world was not sure they needed My Bloody Valentine again. But with this towering album that you can lose yourself in at will, they show they are even more vital than when they left.- Kevin Minofu
12. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Consistency is as misunderstood a quality as it is underrated. In music, it is often conflated with tedium. Both of these terms have been levelled as accusations against The National. But, as is the case with so much music journalism, this is more a product of bandwagoning than considered criticism.
Trouble Will Find Me is the National’s sixth album, and follows four incredibly strong ones – each of which boast cohesive messages and durable themes. They cover issues of doubt at every possible level: from the most personal self-loathings to political and social anxieties; and they do so with an unmatched level of emotional maturity and relatability.
But more than this, each member of the band is – first and foremost – an incredible musician. And they manage to come together to create some of the most intricate and glorious music of recent times, without ever being overbearing. Trouble Will Find Me – like all of their music – ties all of these elements together perfectly, and this is perhaps best displayed on ‘Humiliation’.
The song tells a tale of existential dread, twinned with very real social and microcosmic problems. It is a song that could as easily be analysed for hours as listened to without a second thought. The song, like the album as a whole, is yet another display of stunning bravura from a band that makes a habit of it. It is genius without eccentricity: something that they deserve the highest acclaim for.- Simon Ruff
11. Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
There are bands and artists aplenty who have gone back in time to gather influences for their albums, but not many are able to appropriate the sounds of the 60s quite as successfully as LA duo, Foxygen, who, despite their recent emergence onto the scene, have rocked the boat with their latest We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace And Magic. With scatterings of retro blues, psychedelic rock and the warbling vocals of lead Sam France giving the album a cheery playfulness, it’s steeped in a pretty jaunty dose of nostalgia.
We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace And Magic makes nods to the likes of Mick Jagger, The Kinks, Lou Reed, and other greats of that bygone era, but it’s also evident that Sam France and Jonathan Rado have been able to condense and refine the influence of rock history into something fresh and timeless for years to come. They have created an album that is just sheer, unadulterated fun, and as an added bonus, you can clearly hear their own enjoyment of making this music.- Elaby Mackenzie
10. FIDLAR – FIDLAR
Naming one’s band ‘Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk’ speaks volumes for one’s worldview, let alone one’s perspective on the music industry. The hardcore revivalist scene currently taking place in California –which has seen the spirit of Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies reincarnated through the likes of Trash Talk and FIDLAR – is more than just an internet phase, despite the medium being the primary means by which the movement has gained popularity.
FIDLAR do not attempt to sell anarchy, or tell you to disregard the Pope. They don’t promote a carefree, careless lifestyle. They simply lay their views and a synopsis of their lifestyle on the table and let you take of it what you will. Never mind that may make it so goddamn appealing. Their distinct brand of not-giving-a-fuck is far more ‘hakuna matata’ than A$ap Mob’s icy nihilism or Savages’ underlying antidisestablishmentarianism.
The eponymous debut is one obscenely catchy anthem after the next. ‘Cheap Beer’ is perhaps the most telling. The team-chanted chorus (“I drink cheap beer so what fuck you”) unifies all those listening and alienates all those who aren’t. Not in years has a song inspired such fun, obnoxious defiance. FIDLAR’s mantra is all-embracing and inclusive: they will be partying and anybody is free to join. Just don’t bring your craft beer.- Zia Haffejee
9. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
“Been back a couple weeks and I already feel like calling it quits,” says Earl Sweatshirt on the last lines of the second verse of ‘Chum’, the first single off his much-hyped major label debut, Doris. It felt like ages that we waited for the moment when this, possibly the single most talented young rapper on the planet, would allow us into his undeniably kooky, whacked-out, let’s face it, kind of fucked-up brain. And threatening to take it all away before we even got a proper taste felt like torture, especially on a track as perfectly put-together as ‘Chum’, which, had it come out this year, would undoubtedly have occupied a very prominent place on our Track of the Year list.
Earl Sweatshirt is not a very easy-to-pin-down dude, even for the over-half-a-million people who follow him on Twitter, where he frequently ‘interacts’ with his followers, on occasion going so far as to allow what appear to be unguarded moments of honesty. What is important to note and is often forgotten is that, although it seems like he’s been in our lives forever by now, he’s not even 20 years old yet.
Doris was, fittingly, equally as hard-to-pin-down. There are times even when it’s a frustrating experience, sitting there, sifting through his double- and triple-entendres, trying to extract meaning. Sonically, it feels like being stoned in the afternoon, lazy with occasional highs, loads of giggles, lots of planning what you’re gonna do that night with no real end goal in mind. But for the most part, Doris is just a lyrical masterpiece. It’s the proverbial portrait of the artist as a young man, painted by someone who’s a cross between Picasso and Earl’s ‘big brother’, Tyler the Creator.
There are many standouts on the album. ‘Sunday’, featuring Frank Ocean, is one such, and ‘Hive’ and ‘Whoa’, featuring cameos from other Odd Future affiliates, are too. ‘Hive’ has him rapping “Promise Heron I’ll put my fist up after I get my dick sucked”, an incredibly self-aware line that shows that, while he might be all about the partying for now, there’s a dormant political consciousness within him. Vince Staples turns up at the end of the song and threatens to blow Earl away with an incredibly astute verse (possibly the best he’s ever delivered), but like with all his guests who up their game on this album, Earl still comes off best. It isn’t exactly brimming with incredibly high-profile features, but you get the feeling that, the form Earl’s on right now, it could be almost anyone and the case would be the same. No wonder Kendrick didn’t mention him.- Andy Petersen
8. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze
Kurt Vile’s newest EP, it’s a big world out there (and I’m scared), simply fell short of the mark made by the Philadelphia singer/songwriter himself. 2013 will nevertheless be remembered as a year of glad tidings for the dream-dwelling crooner on the strength of Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze – his third solo LP (since departing The War On Drugs) released a few months prior.
To hype the release of the album he also put out a downright adorable promo video of sorts with him and his daughter (which would probably have been more valuable had it been released before the new EP).
Building atop 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo, Vile constructed one of this year’s finest works. This time ‘round in addition to his hazy, dreamy guitar work punctuated by uniform plucks and slides, the shaggy-haired virtuoso gained more confidence in his usage of synths and other effects to achieve phenomenal results.- Zia Haffejee
7. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
Dev Hynes is the epitome of eclecticism, with a musical past so diverse it’s hard to trace some sort of trajectory of influence from the dance-punk days of Test Icicles, to the sleek and hazy 80s sound that has come to define his work as Blood Orange today. Cupid Deluxe, his sophomore album under this project, sees the kind of washy amalgamation of classic R&B, cool jazz, ‘80s easy-listening, funk, and indie pop. When put down like that, it seems like the outcome could be an absolute mess, but in true Hynes style, he has made sure that each and every song has a voguish edge and an unassuming complexity that comes together better than you’d even imagine.
The subject matter of Cupid Deluxe is filled to the brim with emotional anguish and heartache, which, like the multiple styles that constitute his music, is somewhat lost in the ambiguity of it all. Is he sad? Is he happy? We’re all sitting here grooving along to his expertly crafted melodies, upbeat drumlines, and reverb-laden guitar licks, and yet with a closer listen, it’s all pretty depressing.
There’s this incredibly revitalising aspect about his music that has assured him a spot as one of the most prolific pop virtuosos of our generation. He doesn’t even know he is that good. This is made pretty obvious by the handful of guests who he has really allowed to shine bright on this album, while often taking on the seemingly marginal roles himself. This is a deeply introspective album, with an intricacy and dimension of intrigue that just keeps you going back for more.- Elaby Mackenzie
6. Darkside – Psychic
The beginning of October saw the release of a patient and considered album, forged by two young minds on the East coast of the USA. 23 year-old (I shit you not) Nico Jaar, one half of Darkside, has already become somewhat of a left-field internet music phenomenon with works of a decidedly more electronic nature. When he met Dave Harrington at Brown University, the multi-instrumentalist immediately sparked a bond of friendship with Jaar and this masterpiece is the result.
Opening track “Golden Arrow” is just over eleven minutes long and it’s sparse and desolate. The music is an example of icy and harsh electronica being seamlessly merged with the human tones of natural sound palates which would almost seem diametrically opposed. Such is the case with the references cited by the pair, which includes Ricardo Villalobos and Pink Floyd. Yet, although the music cited may initially seem disparate, consider the ethos behind them. Both possess a meditative and reflexive quality, fine-tuned to mental self-discovery and reflection; something which Psychic does with aplomb.- Sean Magner
5. The Brother Moves On – A New Myth
The New York-based band Interpol released their seminal classic Turn On The Bright Lights in 2002 a year after New York had been shook to the core by the events of 9/11. Their best song ‘NYC’, despite its vague lyrics, became emblematic of a city that had lost its lustre and exposed for the world to see. The irony was that the track was written before 9/11 even happened but that mattered neither here nor there. Music is ultimately – despite the artist’s intentions – what we make of it and so it can be hard to overstate the significance of The Brother Moves On releasing A New Myth after deep personal grief – the loss of founding member Nkululeko Mthembu – and the country’s shared grief in Nelson Mandela’s passing. But their success is not a consequence of unfortunate and inexplicable events, their success is in being able to distill the entire miasma of a country from our uncertainty, fear and greed and string those together into a moving testament of an album. The timing only confirms how necessary this evaluation of our society is.
Musically, the album flows with such assured confidence and purpose it could be easy to forget that they are a young band. But there is a drama and spectacle to every fraught note that Siyabonga Mthembu holds in his tenor that feels like a force of nature in itself. Filled with subtle flourishes and flickers of guitar squall, the album grabs you and demands your attention right from the a cappella ‘Everything Will Be Okay’ up to the 23-minute closer ‘Jam for the Bear’ that darts course and style right the way through it. Importantly and unlike so many South African contemporaries, they are not afraid to step down and write music about what really matters: the people of this country. It is an anomaly that a country that is as ideologically conflicted as South Africa has not had a vibrant group of musicians to speak about that journey, and TBMO steps up into the ring with the acerbic wit of ‘Party@parktownmansions’. They’re speaking with such force and clarity that it is easy to label them one of the voices of a generation – a non-homogenous and multi-faceted group of children of the Old Myth. They would probably say otherwise, but at a time of such public soul-searching they are the only ones speaking with such honesty and hope for us to fertilise this New Myth. Whatever it may be. And at a time of their own undoubted private soul-searching, they were the only ones brave enough to do so. That is such an overwhelming triumph and despite or as a consequence of their intentions, A New Myth is now emblematic of a country.- Kevin Minofu
4. Savages – Silence Yourself
Savages are no strangers to confrontation. As an all-female punk-tinged rock band, you kind of feel that’s by necessity. They’re also very serious. Every single promotional photo has them death-staring the camera in unison. It’s impressively difficult trying to find a single still of them smiling. This seriousness is also on display in their personal manifesto, which they published on the front cover of their debut album, a long all-caps call to action with one central axiom – silence yourself.
Silence Yourself also happens to be the name of the album, and if they really want us to keep quiet, well then they’re certainly not leading by example. The album is a ferocious tumble from start to finish, as in-your-face and demanding as any album this entire year. It’s the kind of thing you have to immerse yourself in to really enjoy. It requires all of your attention. But it is also packed with punchy hooks and catchy phrases to shout aloud, especially on songs ‘She Will’, ‘Husbands’, ‘Shut Up’ and ‘City’s Full’.
In a year when women’s rights issues took on increased worldwide prominence (to at least some extent), it seems fitting that one of the biggest acts to emerge out of it is comprised entirely of women. For better or for worse, however, Savages are quite uninterested in the typical feminist narrative. They aren’t cookie-cutter anything, really, and they aren’t here for you to hold up as your shining light or symbol. They’re subversive, definitely. But they’re also incredibly talented musicians and songwriters. That’s the main reason so many people are taking notice, and you kind of feel they wouldn’t have it any other way. Silence Yourself is quite possibly the most important debut of the year. And what’s equally exciting is that this almost perfectly-formed first album comes from a band that you have to feel haven’t even gotten started.- Andy Petersen
3. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
At the back-end of 2013, another successful year for Vampire Weekend, it almost seems quaint to think that this band were once divisive. Their self-titled debut was the subject of much debate, and, at the risk of being flippant with the word, controversy. Who were these rich Upper East Siders and why were they using African sounds?
Five years later and that question has been answered in every imaginable fashion. Ezra Koenig’s world-wiseness and occasional put-upon world-weariness has made him the darling of the indie world, his eclectic and eccentric taste and sensibilities making him the easiest point of reference when discussing quirky hipness. But the most solid reply has always come in the form of their music, and Modern Vampires of the City is their most complete, cohesive statement yet.
The most immediately striking thing about it is just how much they’ve matured. Musically, there is hardly a note out of place, their sound so completely belonging to them that extravagant left-field turns often come across as safe. But to see this album as a mere inevitable progression would be to deny it its ambition, its grandeur, its scope. On ‘Step’, we’re taken on a journey from “Angjor Wat, Mechanicsburg, Anchorage and Daar Es Salaam’ and beyond. They’ve always been travellers at heart, but what’s really different here is Koenig himself. He’s no longer stringing quaint tales of love. He’s moved his focus upward, to questions of God (‘Hey Ya’, ‘Unbelievers’), youth and death (‘Diane Young’, ‘Obvious Bicycle’).
They’re still the same band, though, and nowhere is that more apparent than on album standout ‘Hannah Hunt’. It does what they’ve always done – mix simple yet inventive song structure with obscure instrumentation, witty lyricism and an indescribable but transcendent ‘chemical X’ – but it does it better than they ever have. Three albums, three knock-outs. We should cherish this band infinitely.- Andy Petersen
2. Kanye West – Yeezus
Up until the very last moment, ‘Blood On The Leaves’ was going to be the first track on Yeezus. It made complete sense as an opener: the ominous piano feeding into the hugely affecting sample of Nina Simone’s ‘Strange Fruit’; and the gargantuan horn crescendo. It is the song that any other musician would have chosen. But, then, Kanye is no mere musician.
In an interview with Fuse.tv, Donald Glover said – when asked about Kanye – that, “I try not to be like ‘he’s a musician’ or ‘he’s a rapper,’ that holds people back—I think he’s like a prophet. He makes people want to be better, work harder and pushes all of us forward. I think it’s kind of sad people don’t let him do what he wants to do”.
And it’s difficult to disagree with him, as regards Kanye being more than a rapper, or a musician at least.
He is an artist who has long since given up the idea that music is merely a form of entertainment. He is one of very few musicians in popular culture that is still convinced of the impact of protest music, but more importantly, the need for it. He has proven, time and again, that he is more than capable of making songs for radio, or songs to party to or just to appreciate for their magnificence. But these songs – as he says in his controversial interview with Zane Lowe – aren’t “going to stand out in the way that 808s or Yeezus stands out, and can completely push or redefine or make people say, hey, I completely hate that, or I completely love that, but let me just think differently”. And that last sentence defines how Kanye sees his music, and so it defines Yeezus. He wants to make people see the truth, no matter how ugly. Kanye has transcended contemporary musicianship. “I’m here to crack the pavement and make new grounds, sonically and society, culturally.”
On ‘Black Skinhead’, he is in full rebellious force – yet again calling out the system that ignores, for all intents and purposes, the killing of black Americans in Chicago. And the fury swells on ‘New Slaves’, which denounces the absurdity of a government that works in coalition with privately owned prisons that are openly profit seeking entities.
There is also, throughout the album, interplay between the very personal prejudices that Kanye and his family have faced and the broader societal issues. This is manifested on ‘Blood On The Leaves’ – a song destined for controversy by its choice of sample. It is a song about personal betrayal that is presented as a protest song. Sonically, it is a collision of incongruous sounds that somehow come together majestically. There’s the torturedly distorted Nina Simone vocal sample played alongside Kanye’s anguished rapping. And this is all underpinned by the unyieldingly colossal horns, which are in turn contrasted with an imposing piano melody. It shouldn’t work – no one else could make it work – and yet, magically, it does. It is an album that, both sonically and in terms of cohesion, transcends all others.
But most transcendent is the message that burns through on the album. He is determined, more so than anyone else, to show that the racial and classist prejudices that are so prevalent in modern societies can no longer be ignored. He, like so many of the classical philosophers, is fiercely committed to truth; yet he is vilified for it. On its closer, ‘Bound 2’, Kanye raps “I know I got a bad reputation/ Walk around always mad reputation”. But the real question is not “why is Kanye so angry?” but “why the hell isn’t everyone else?”- Simon Ruff
1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
What hasn’t already been said about this album? Everything from the initial guerrilla marketing to the first sneak-peek of the first single to the Montreal Salsatheque takeover, Arcade Fire have impressed with every move, cementing their status, first and foremost, as creators. Completely re-stylised, ‘the Reflektors’ are the new reincarnation, an Arcade Fire cover band who occasionally play some original material. It’s this kind of artistic ambition that sets Arcade Fire aside from all the rest.
While there may be much disagreement over what to call our current artistic era, the depiction offered by Arcade fire in a double-disk totalling 13 songs is one of life in the ‘Reflektive’, age and they hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. Trying to choose a favourite track proves incredibly difficult, alternating with almost every listen. ‘Reflektor’ proved to be a monster first single that initiated hype wich would ultimately, and thankfully, not disappoint. ‘Normal Person’, a standout from the fantastic cameo-rich late night TV special ‘Here Comes The Night Time’, is a moment of hyper-self awareness, with arguably the biggest rock band in the world asking, “Do you like rock n’ roll music”, before adding “cause I don’t know if I do…”
The album was reviewed by Annie Clark (St. Vincent) and she perhaps sums up the album best:
“Arcade Fire have released an album that elucidates our constant psychic vacillation between uber-connection and utter disconnection. They ask you to be aware of your fractured attention span/psyche/in touch with your humanity. Arcade Fire so mercifully avoid the Nuremberg-rock cliches (“Hey!”) in favor of sleaze, anxiety, and pathos that you can dance to. Reflektor is an utterly 2013 record that asks the existential questions “Where are we now?” and, more importantly, “Where are we going?” In the words of Joe Strummer, “Straight to hell, boys.”
– Sean Magner