Top Ten Albums of 2013
For many of us 2013 was a growth-spurt year. There were a lot of major changes, some painful; our base convictions were challenged; our sense of security, shattered; our morals, tested.
And what appears to be emerging, is something of a personal revolution. The time has come to shake off our bad habits, that maybe we viewed as safe behaviours; to heed our instincts; to take risks again and explore; to confidently draw experience from those around us, and move forward without yet another indulgent look back.
I came across a quote recently I liked, by an author whose name eludes me. I feel it applies well to the process of loss and inevitable change: “At first we are dumbfounded, shocked, inert, immobile. We play dead to avoid our inner monsters. We are ossified in our pain, cast in the mould of our reticence and fears. Then we feel enraged, indignant, rebellious and hateful. Then we accept. Then we cry. And this is called healing.”
2013 was also the year of listicles! Merely a new word, not at all a new concept (but popularised this year nonetheless), BuzzFeed and a bunch of others spoon fed us nice snapshot lists to save us all some time. We secretly love it; especially the ranked Buffy episodes listicle. But it begs the oft-raised question, has the internet gone too far? And such a piecemeal approach has significantly influenced music.
I had been discussing with quite a few friends this year the difficulty surrounding the new world order for music. Since the eighties, record labels have been hellbent on creating hype ahead of album releases, by first releasing singles and pushing promotion through bloggers like myself, magazine interviews, listicles etcetera, etcetera. What this has endorsed is a sycophantic ADHD-like obsession for each release. Take Lorde for instance; a talented young lass from New Zealand, whose song Royals took to the air in Australia and internationally to the point where Lorde is followed by celebrity ‘it girls’ like Lena Dunham.
But when listening to her album, I felt nothing. The flow was sub-divided by the singles, and my favourite song, Love Club, wasn’t even on it! And this isn’t the first time this has happened.
I find myself at the end of 2013, sifting through my music history to find my Top Ten Albums of 2013 and it ain’t easy. Could I pick 10 songs? Absolutely! Love Club would probably be one of them. But albums? Well, let’s see how I go…
10 Beyonce – Beyonce
Beyonce recently dropped an album, with the intention of getting it to the masses untarnished by media build-up. I heard about the album from several friends within a day of its online release, which shows that there is a real currency in a return to the album release AHEAD of single releases. It’s something everyone has been discussing, except for record labels.
So despite its new release, Beyonce made it in, and London Grammar got bumped. I really like the London Grammar album, but it’s nothing new.
Beyonce, on the other hand, is trying something different, and while 4 felt like a clumsy mish-mash, Beyonce’s (appropriately) self-titled very recent release draws the stage curtains with a surprising reveal. This is a solid independent album, with a structured flow, beautiful music, and variation in tone (there is a song about vaginas, another song inspired by American Horror Story, and the stand-out female-empowerment-first-track was written by Sia).
Hot tip for those having trouble getting into it (it took a few listens for me): go and watch all the videos first; it provides the frame of reference and adds some nice depth to what feels almost like a Madonna album from the eighties.
Now if only this didn’t feel like quite the money-making venture, and seeing those videos was a bit easier…
9 Woodkid – The Golden Age
I’m always a sucker for the dramatic and devastated, but film maker Yoann Lemoine’s deep Antony and the Johnstons-like voice skillfully touches on those emotional highs and lows in this album, with a lyrical focus on growing up and falling in and out of love.
There are some beautiful yearning songs, like Ghost Lights and I Love You, which is clearly a popular release, given the number of remixes and different versions you can find; the Quintet version is particularly affecting.
8 Bastille – Bad Blood
There’s a cheesy pop quality to this album, which means it likely won’t stand the test of time, like The National or Kurt Vile or James Blake. It’s not a classic, but it is incredibly uplifting and Dan Smith’s vocals are so sexy. It’s a bit of a stocking stuffer but it is a welcome relief to its often over-worked, flawless peers.
7 The National – Trouble Will Find Me
It’s incredible to see that The National are still writing beautiful music with lots of emotional depth. They have also retained their aura, never hitting full recognition and acclaim, but deemed a necessary influence in the music environment. My friend described The National as a glass of fine wine. Let it breathe, let it mature, let your palate refine, and one sip can be deeply satisfying.
6 Chvrches – The Bones of What you Believe
Lyrically, it’s nothing new, and this is pretty break-up focussed, but the electronica lifts the mood each time, shaking off those bad vibes for some shimmy-shammy. Tether starts off with such a sad sigh from Lauren Mayberry, “In a place where we don’t have a prayer there’s a tether that’s keeping me there…” But uncertainty in the lines “I’m feeling capable of seeing the end/saying it’s over” is cleared away with electronic charge, Mayberry seeming a lot more confident by the end. Moments like this remind me quite a bit of Robyn.
5 Cloud Control – Dream Cave
It’s nice to have Aussie music in the top ten, but I never particularly try to do this. A good album is a good album, no matter where it’s from. And so Dream Cave doesn’t sit here as my ‘favourite Aussie album’; it is a true top tenner. While their earlier music lacked unity, Cloud Control have found their sound during the development of this album. And I loves me rock, with a touch of soul.
Cloud Control were also one of the few bands I saw live this year, and it was a nice mid-week set, I must say!
4 Arcade Fire – Reflektor
A combination of disco, surfer rock and almost operatic in theme, Arcade Fire are still revealing themselves to us; a difficult thing when you’ve been established for so long. The album apparently focuses on an old movie or some such, but lyrically it all draws towards the death of romantic relationships and coming to terms with that. Perhaps timely because the Western world still seems to be scratching its head over what marriage is.
3 Kurt Vile – Walking on a Pretty Daze
I never thought I’d fully appreciate Kurt Vile. Then one day, I was record shopping for a friend’s birthday, and it dawned on me that this was my mate’s style of music; a bit country, a bit dirge-y (which isn’t usually my thing), a bit stoner-esque and rough around the edges. Given how dissimilar this friend’s taste can be to mine (note the prevalence of electro pop on this blog), I rushed home and listened to Kurt Vile over and over to see if it would fit the bill. I was pleasantly surprised at the depth and guitar skill in each song. Kurt Vile is a bit angry, I swear he’s got the potential to go punk rock… But for the most part he is breezy and care-free-zy, reminding me somewhat of Fionn Regan, in his better days.
My friend and I listened to Kurt Vile, particularly, Girl Called Alex, over and over one afternoon in my hotel room, while I was high strung over some drama. It was a soothing retreat towards our solid friendship.
And this is what Kurt Vile’s music is made for.
2 Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
Introduced to me by a friend (while she was suffering the weight of her work), Anxiety is perhaps one of the most under-rated, yet top ten list hitting, albums released in 2013. The nineties and R&B, world feel, combined with Arthur Ashin confidently pushing his vocal range, sets this album ahead of the rest. Coming from a psych background, Ashin enjoys breaking convention throughout the album to keep his listeners guessing.
It is an understated, effortless and progressive album.
1 James Blake – Overgrown
James Blake’s debut didn’t even make a blip on my top ten of 2011 list. And it’s not because it was a rubbish album, or because I simply hadn’t heard it; it was because, for all its efforts, Blake’s debut felt cold and alienating, his experimental side dominating good melody. Overgrown makes up for Blake’s cold temperament; the album is soul-driven, melancholic and there’s an air of desperation in the music this time, which adds to the mood, rather than fracturing it. Overgrown is an album that really resonated personally for me this year.
“Everything feels like touch-down on a rainy day…”