So what have we learned this year? The BBC are informing us that bands are dead, The Guardian are coming back saying that’s nonsense. Was this evident in 2013?
Well less than half the albums in our top 20 are by solo artists, and if, like the BBC, you’re arguing that we’re in a time of the acoustic troubadour and the electro popstar, there’s certainly little evidence here. Then why would there be? Like the Guardian writer who’s piece I read earlier I’ve never been one for picking bands who are going to sell a tonnes of records. I’m not saying no albums that are good get to number one (at least a few of the top 20 reached the top spot) but it’s been a very long time (if ever) since the best records have been the biggest sellers.
There will always be great bands, there will always be great solo artists. Trends go in circles, but talent remains. Music doesn’t often get better or worse, it just flows and evolves, and sometimes people care, and sometimes people don’t. You tell me music was better in your day, and I’ll wonder why your day isn’t still going!
FOR THE RABBITS ALBUM OF THE YEAR
SAN FERMIN – S/T (Downtown Records)
This was the late comer to the party, I’d already started prepping my list by the time this little gem came into the world! Perhaps even more surprising it came from absolutely nowhere. Until Lauren Laverne played them about a month ago I’d never heard of San Fermin, or anyone involved with San Fermin. That said the more I heard about them, the more I realised just how good this record could be. Main man, and the albums writer Ellis Ludwig-Leone, is a classical composer who’s worked with the indie composition genius that is Nico Muhly, and by the sound of it he was paying attention along the way. Then there’s the vocalists, the female sopranos Jess Wolfe & Holly Laessig, recall the best of the Dirty Projectors, while male baritone Allen Tate recalls Bill Callahan or Dears frontman Murray Lightburn. All 3 voices are wonderful! Musically it’s a splendid mix of moments of orchestral pomp and beauty mixed with gentler almost acoustic numbers. The brass section are superb throughout and everything (as you’d expect from a classical composer) is stunningly balanced. So when the dust settles and we take in what we’ve got, what we hear is one of the most fascinating, experimental and frankly gorgeous albums of the year. Expect to hear an awful lot more from them in 2014, especially with the exciting revelation album number two is already in the pipework.
For a in depth preview piece on San Fermin, click HERE
SIGUR RÓS – KVEIKUR (XL Recordings)
Remember when you first heard Sigur Rós? In the days before the producers of Planet Earth discovered Takk… they were seen as a niche act, post-rock in Icelandinc, or even Hopelandic. ( ) was a dark master piece, starting full of hope and joy and descending into something pretty close to despair. It was utterly utterly brilliant! They’ve not in my opinion ever made a better record. The success of Takk… took them from post-rock obscurity to arena sized venues and something resembling the mainstream. At the peak of Hoppípolla’s fame (I discovered today it translates as Hop Into Puddles) you would struggle to go a day without hearing it on something. Since that day they’ve maintained a huge fan base, and despite never quite hitting the level of success again, they’ve kept rolling on. The next step for them? Well apparently releasing the closest thing they’ve ever got to a metal album. It’s loud, brutal and industrial! It takes their trademark sonic beauty and pulverises it with what at time resembles white noise. There’s so many sounds that resemble a workman hitting a pipe with a hammer you could almost call it a donk album if they came from deepest, darkest Lancashire instead of somewhere beautiful in Iceland. What’s more it’s a brilliant sound for them, it turns out they should have been a metal band all along! There’s more than a touch of Tool or Deftones in places, whilst not loosing everything that made them Sigur Rós in the first place. It’s a surprising curve-ball in their career and an utterly brilliant one too!
HOOKWORMS – PEARL MYSTIC (GRINGO RECORDS)
Leeds 5-piece Hookworms debut album is probably the best example of the alleged Psychadelic revolution. Whether or not you think that’s a real thing (I must admit I’m sceptical) shouldn’t detract from one simple fact, Pearl Mystic is one of the most refreshing things that’s come out all year. They took the good bits of Psychadelia, the drones, the repetition, the huge amounts of reverb, and left a number of the more unpalatable factors behind. There’s no wishy washy lyrics about wizards here, and they thankfully stay clear of tie-die and videos that look like a bad impression of life on LSD. The influences of drone rockers like the early days of Spirtualized or even The Verve, run heavy through the album, and there’s even some of the northern brutality of The Fall in singer MJ’s delivery. Tracks like Form and Function, What We Talk About and Away/Towards take these influences and make something fresh and exciting. Now signed to Domino imprint Weird World Records it’s obvious I’m not the only one who’s noticed. Another band who’ve made a great record in 2013 and look set for even bigger things in 2014
VOLCANO CHOIR – REPAVE (Jagjaguwar)
If you insist on calling Volcano Choir a Bon Iver side-project, then you surely must admit that it’s the best album a side-project has made in 2013, in face it’s probably one of the best ever. From the beautiful opening organ blast that introduces the album via one of it’s best tracks Tiderays, you know that you’re onto something of a winner here! It’s wonderfully varied, from slower numbers like Keel and Alaskans to rockier numbers Acetate and Byegone what’s evident throughout is the quality of the musicianship on show. Justin’s vocals are of course brilliant, but if Bon Iver’s records are largely reliant on that carrying some of the songs along Volcano Choir have so much talent it’s just another factor in a superb collection of tracks. It’s adventurous, clever, unique and brilliant!
Turns out they’re pretty darn good live too, check out my review of their Barbican Show HERE
MIDLAKE – ANTIPHON (Bella Union)
Midlakes fourth album and first without former frontman Tim Smith could have been a disaster, the fact it not only isn’t but is actually brilliant is a triumph! The opening salvo of songs, the title track, Provider and The Old and the Young is arguably the best run of tracks on any album this year. The album does admittedly slip slightly into repetition as it goes on, but when it’s so wonderfully done it’s hardly an issue. By the time the albums ends with a reprise of Provider, you’d have to be a very harsh critic to be anything but amazed. A wonderful result, from what must have been a very difficult album to bring into the world, it’s one of the most heroic efforts of the year, and for any fan of the band it’s a joyous result!
For a full review of Antiphon click HERE