Good day, reader. So here we are, the end of another year. Twelve months of new music complete, it is now the time to sit and take a nostalgia trip back to the entirely memorable recent past with a mix tape collecting songs from what I considered to be the best records released in 2013.
As I have said in previous articles, it has been a great year for music. Some immensely beautiful, challenging, shaking, progressive, intelligent, abrasive, and transcendental music has been produced and we can only desire 2014 to conclude with a similar eulogy being made. There are a lot of artists who did not make it on to this list, for no other justification than to condense this article and mix. But in order to share the love and be more egalitarian, please, please track down and listen to these artist who made brilliant records this year and all have equal merit to be on this mix tape: Nosaj Thing; Wooden Wand; Unknown Mortal Orchestra; Waxahatchee; Jerusalem In My Heart; Rokia Traoré; William Tyler; Deerhunter; Baths; No Age; Julia Holter; Julianna Barwick; Sebadoh; Nadine Shah; Devendra Banhart; Richard Youngs; CHVRCHES; The Black Tambourines; Savages; Oneohtrix Point Never; Tim Hecker; Cellular Chaos; Huerco S.; Benjamin Clementine; Laurel Halo; Moonface; Glasser; Zola Jesus; Anna Calvi; Death Grips; Stara Rzeka.
A special mention must be made to two albums that have not made it on to this mix, purely because they are not available on spotify, but are two of my favourite albums of this calendar year. Firstly, Bill Callahan has spent over twenty years compiling one of the most impressive songwriting portfolios in American music. His latest Dream River is a beautiful journey through an American musical landscape that is as brilliant as it is irresistible and demonstrates his penchant for mastery of the craft. And secondly, after a twenty-two year absence from recorded music, My Bloody Valentine finally returned with their immensely anticipated follow up to their masterpiece Loveless: the simply titled, MBV. Although any judgement as to whether it is the equal to Loveless would be premature, MBV is a phenomenal record. Kevin Shield’s ability to craft dream-like sonic soundscapes is unparalleled. Though we all hope we do not have to wait as long for the next record, if it as good as this it will be worth it.
I hope you enjoy the mix, and, for now, I shall say farewell and enjoy your holidays.
If it were demanded of me to choose my favourite album of the year, I would have to select The Knife’s Shaking The Habitual. It is difficult to describe, but upon listening to Shaking The Habitual for the first time the listener is aware that something significant is happening. The album has a monolithic quality; the ambition is palpable, each track is infused with a revolutionary passion, steeped in gender and poststructural theory, and musically The Knife have travelled further than perhaps we had anticipated them to. A statement for our generation, a march against banality and mediocrity, a protest against apathy; we are privileged to exist with this album.
I do not know what more I can say about this track aside from it is the single best riff of the year that cannot fail get the heart beating faster. The second track from the excellent Floating Coffin album, this one is to be turned up loud at parties while drinking with your friends.
Starting off as a hardcore band, The Men have widened the pool of influences and are incorporating more diversity into their styles whilst their songwriting and performance becomes increasingly accomplished. Without wanting to draw needless comparisons, their trajectory at this point is beginning to resemble that of The Replacements, which, as one of the best bands of the ‘80s, is an enormous compliment. If The Men keep up this level of quality they could well be spoken of as their equals; with this as current evidence it is looking good they will.
Trading in the nocturnal, strung out sound of Smoke Ring For My Halo for an album that sounds designed for sun soaked road trips across America, Vile has firmly established himself as one of America’s best songwriters around.
And talking of the best around: Yo La Tengo. If consistency made fortunes they would be the wealthiest act going. I cannot recall who said this but their albums where once described as being like the best mix tapes you’ll ever hope to make. Every song is to be cherished.
How welcome it was to have Fuck Buttons return this year with the enthralling Slow Focus record, losing none of their bite or brilliance. The Red Wing plays like an exercise in how to build a song. By the end it feels as is you have watched a time lapse of the construction of the Empire State Building, so massive, staggering and architectural does the song become.
With his debut album Earl Sweatshirt has launched himself in one fell swoop to the position of the most promising artist in hip-hop, and, I would say, has surpassed his mentor Tyler, The Creator. Demonstrating a lyrical sophistication and production above many of his peers, his greatest quality is to avoid the tropes of modern hip-hop by crafting an intimate and personal record. If his next album progresses from this, Earl Sweatshirt will be the automatic response to any rapper who claims to be the greatest around.
There really is not anyone around like Colin Stetson at the moment. A baritone saxophonist who has mastered circular breathing, allowing him to play continuously without pause for long periods of time, this small trick has allowed him to craft an unmistakeable sound. On the third installment of his New History Warfare series, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame (Stetson is now a band member of the group) adds his remarkable vocal dexterity, providing another layer for Stetson to explore. Firmly rooted in American roots music, Vernon provides a magnificent accompaniment to Stetson’s hypnotic playing. A truly beautiful record.
Similar to Stetson, in being a bluesy jazz saxophonist whose latest album is another installment in a series, Matana Roberts is, in no uncertain terms, amazing. Coin Coin Chapter Two oozes from its every pour the sounds of African American culture, drawing from the blues, gospel, soul and jazz. A remarkable album from a remarkable talent. (One side note: the album plays almost continuously throughout its duration, so the track on the mix tape sounds like it is a snippet. To fully appreciate, listen to the album all the way through.)
I sermonised the magnificence of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor a few weeks ago. I don’t take back a single word; the album is wonderful.
What a talent she has emerged as. On her last few albums her potential was self-evident, even the unobservant listener would be able to hear that this girl has songwriting talent to the hilt. Luckily for us she has begun to realise and mature her talent on the beautiful album Pain Is Beauty. It is with complete confidence I believe she will have many more albums of this quality to come.
This album kind of wandered into my life unexpectedly. I had never heard of Dustin Wong before and only heard a little from his previous band Ponytail, but the title of his latest album, ‘Mediation of Ecstatic Energy’ perked my curiosity instantly. And what a gorgeous, mysterious and beautiful album exists here. Weaving intricate patterns of looped guitars, the transcendental aura evoked in the titled is perfectly apt for the sensation one leaves with after the final notes of the record fade. A masterful, beautiful album that will not leave ones mind for a long time.