After a week of listing (aka listageddon 2013), you've heard our tracks of the year, found out which gigs shook Dom's derrière this year, and heard from our favourite musicians about their favourite albums of 2013. This 'listmas' has also provided you with guides from our specialist columnists to the finest ambient/drone, hip-hop, electronic and shoegaze releases of 2013, which you can find compiled here.
Last week we revealed 100-21 of our favourite albums of the year, and now, listing season must finally end. Here is the
much anticipated Drowned in Sound albums of the year list for the year 2013... Oh, wait, hang on, before we begin, DiS' editor has a few words to share...
2013 was a year dominated by massive comebacks. If you had asked any of us at DiS HQ earlier in the year to predict our top ten then My Bloody Valentine, Boards of Canada, Daft Punk, Nine Inch Nails and that David Bowie chap would all most certainly have featured at the top of our pile. It's somewhat surprising then that none of them appear in our (the combined hive-mind of DiS' readers and staffs) top 20 albums of the year.
Also jostling for the discerning music fan's time and the media's attention these past twelve months were some of modern music's biggest acts. The Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend delivered two of the year's most talked about releases. Initial reception perhaps wasn't quite as 'oh my gosh this is amazeballs' from all corners but repeated visits beyond the eye of the hype-storm found many folks around these parts happily nestled in the belly of these records. For many, including several members of our senior staff, each listen was a realisation that these indie-behemoths might just have harnessed their strengths and captured their finest songs to date.
It's been a hideously busy year, and Vampy Wkd and Win Butler's troupe weren't the only big guns firing records into our collective bosom. DiS' top 20 also features the sixth full-length from The National and the fifteenth studio album from Nick Cave & The Badseeds. In any other year these would have been massive events, as well as dead-certs to top our annual listing season extravaganza. They were not the only notable names with more-than-a-few albums under their belts releasing records to much acclaim without the tsunami surge of hype. DiS-championed acts such as Future of the Left's fourth, Los Campesinos fifth and 65daysofstatic's sixth record all make an appearance in the upper echelons of this years selection. All of which meant that the task of putting these releases into any kind of coherent order, was nearly as hard as keeping up with all the downpour of great things that the music gods unleashed on us this year. Well over 300 different albums received a nod in my staff poll of their top 5 albums of the year, and far more than that have been mentioning in the read poll, which is open for a few more days.
Musically, there's very little that coherently binds these twenty records together. No one genre or style of music dominates either. Throughout this year's list you will find euphoric beats, lush loops, badass guitar riffs, giddying glitches, breathtaking pianos; sombreness, anger and utter joy; gooey lyrics, gory lyrics and one song that name-checks both Kim Kardashian and Michael Winner; contemplative-reflective-meditative, frustration, elation and there's also some strings that will make you feel like you've got the bends (although Field of Reeds is more like TNP's OK Computer moment...).
In the weeks and months since initially hearing each of these twenty records we are well aware that there's still plenty more to admire and explore in the months and years to come. Every re-visit is a reward in itself, so you could say it's music fans who are - once again - the real winners... Oh, but you really want to know who topped our albums of the year list? Read on to find out who "won".
(@seaninsound), Founder/ Editor
Chance The Rapper
20 - Kyle Ellison wrote: Probably this year’s most notable breakout success, Chance the Rapper is a twenty year-old Chicago kid standing on the verge of superstardom. The plaudits are justified too; Chance has proved equally impressive in eager bursts of intricate lyricism, or more sombre moments that might haunt your sleep. "Everybody's dying in the summer," he sings mournfully on 'Pusha Man', "pray to god for a little more Spring". Acid Rap, is full of intricate details like this, displaying a poise that wasn’t present in his material a year ago; the scary part is that I get the impression he’s only just getting started. Chance is lucky enough to be blessed with one of those instantly recognisable rap voices, so whether or not you’re familiar with his yelpy, pitched-up sing-rap, it surely won’t be long before that choice is taken out of your hands.
19 - Dave Hanratty wrote: Wild Light is less concerned with ferocity and punctuation marks that previous 65days releases. A sense of aftermath hangs heavy over a record that gives little away, preferring to pose questions rather than answer them. Songs pulsate rather than scream. The emotion is here, but it requires deciphering.
18 - Russell Warfield wrote: Nils Frahm’s last album Screws drew strength from its sparseness. Written and recorded with a broken hand, Frahm was forced into developing more skeletal performances at the piano. The resulting half an hour of music was a gentle exploration of simple melodies, with a devastating sadness at its core. Two years later, Spaces feels the liberation of his physical recovery, and is the sonic antithesis to his last album in many respects: swelling to over an hour and a half, reintroducing electronic and percussive elements, and laying bedrocks of continual, rolling piano beneath the twinkling melodies. But with Frahm’s ear for melancholic melody still its guiding principle, the results are just as exquisite.
17 - Kat Rolle wrote: Justin Timberlake’s latest record demonstrates that he has his finger firmly on the pop zeitgeist - The 20/20 Experience, like most of 2013’s pop, wears its EDM influences proudly and, inevitably, has taken a few pointers from channel ORANGE. To be fair to JT, there’s not a single neo-house synth progression or a dubstep wob to be found, so he can hardly be accused of the same mainstream pilfering as many of his popworld compatriots. Instead, with Timbaland’s ever-effective help, Timberlake has embraced the more experimental end of electronica, with looping echoes, weird sound effects and sub-bass all layered with his trademark crooning falsetto, lush string arrangements and boom-click-boom percussion... The 20/20 Experience is another interesting inter-genre move. It’s a little too self-indulgent – the 'serious' work of a man who’s starred in an Oscar-winning film, rather than the energetic pop of a successful boyband escapee.
Trouble Will Find Me
16 - Marc Burrows wrote: After years of slog, The National are currently enjoying the type of reverence previously bestowed upon the holy and sacrosanct Arcade Fire (what’s known in the trade as 'beatification by Pitchfork'), and sharing a spell of 'good-on-them' respect with the likes of Elbow that only ascension through hard work and consistency can bring. They’re a good band, made good. Each song feels like a beautifully wrought, quiet gem. ‘Demons’s subtle darkness, ‘Sea Of Love’s sad, insistent hammering, the Cure/Interpol-ish spacey pop of ‘Graceless’... they’re all beautiful, full of space and melody, everything placed just so. The wonderful ‘Pink Rabbits’ uses surprisingly few distinct sounds, yet has an emotional weight that pulverises most proper ballads, weaving Matt Beringer’s lost-soul lyrics (”You didn’t see me, I was falling apart/I was a television version of a person with a broken heart”) with a simple piano and clackety-clack beat. ‘This Is The Last Time’ in other hands would explode into something epic and Coldplay shaped - in the hands of The National it’s more circular, warmer and sadder, its poppy beat offset by cellos and double bass. It’s music you can sink into.
15 - Rob Leedham wrote: Not only is Holy Fire utterly sublime, it’s a record that’s been six years in the making. A record where Foals have focussed their many triumphs and missteps into one cohesive statement. Trace ‘Inhaler’s surge of grungey scuzz back to its roots and you’ll find Yannis Philippakis screaming “cosine waves" as ‘Mathletics’ reaches its chaotic climax. Add a righteous wave of life-affirming positivity to ‘Miami’s searing funk and ‘My Number’ fizzles into life. Even ‘Moon’ is ‘Alabaster’ reincarnated as a more melancholic beast.
Related: Back in January, DiS chatted to Yannis about Holy Fire. In our archive you can also find Yannis in conversation with Philip Glass and even further back there's Mike Diver's brilliant guide to Foals' math-rock roots.
14 - Marc Burrows wrote: With each record the band’s sound seems to concentrate, shedding the puppy fat of their messy early days at the coalface of the international tweecore underground for leaner, more melodically robust pop. They sound tougher now, less cute than they were on 2008’s Hold On Now, Youngster... and less self-consciously difficult than on Romance Is Boring. Their fifth album continues the work done on their last, 2011’s Hello Sadness, the emotional context and sentiments much sharper, painfully so in some cases, with big, lovely pop hooks on even their starkest tracks. Some of the band's best choruses are here: ‘Cemetry Gaits’ has an absolute smasher, ‘What Death Leaves Behind’ is practically all chorus, and ‘Avocado, Baby’ stomps itself so indelibly into your brain you’ll carry its baby-sized footprint forever. This album may break them into the big time - who knows? It’s good enough. It doesn’t need to though, because despite the American TV appearances, the big shows and the widening fan base; in a far corner of a foreign field that is forever England (or, okay, Wales) Los Campesinos! are genuinely and deservedly treasured. Wonderful.
13 - Andrzej Lukowski wrote: One suspects that if Andy Hung and Benjamin John Power had opted for more of the same on the follow up to Tarot Sport, then they might have assured themselves a few more pounds from a few more Match of the Day soundbeds, a sweeter slot at next year's Glasto, a headline slot at Brixton Academy. Credit to them, that after fours years away they've not done that. After the joyous surge of 2009, there’s a palpable air of menace to the duo’s third album, which slows down the beats and cuts out the ravey high-end in favour of a hip-hop style tempo, rumbling percussion, and a strange, alien detachment. Slow Focus isn’t alienating, it’s other, and it’s a pleasure to take a wander around its unfamiliar landscapes.
12 - In a powerful piece about why this is his album of the year, DiS singles editor Rob Leedham wrote: Before The National’s ATP festival in frosty Camber Sands, I’d dismissed Local Natives as intimidatingly talented and difficult to warm to. Musicians who could pen a dazzling four-part harmony and come undone when stretched beyond the confines of off-kilter scales. Then came the falsetto-lead swoon of ‘You & I’ and ‘Breakers’’ minor key tumble towards infinity. Like the finest moments from Boxer or Alligator, these new songs bristled with downtrodden melody and murky allusions to untold grief. This transformation was more than an accomplished pastiche, though. There was something unguarded in the way keyboardist Kelcey Ayer cooed, “When did our love. When did our love grow cold?” In December 2012, I was far too tired to appreciate this moment’s significance. A weekend's merriment had numbed my appetite for grandiose emotions. It would be several months until Hummingbird's onslaught of unsparing sentiment truly hit home.
Related: Derek Robertson's recent in-depth conversation with Local Natives.
The Night’s Gambit
11 - In his guide to the rap/hip-hop albums of the year, Champion Sound columnist Kyle Ellison wrote of his album of the year: Over the course of his last three records Ka has invited us to Brownsville, Brooklyn; the block on which he was raised and spent over two decades surviving. Brownsville has never felt as real as it does on The Night’s Gambit, from the familiar shadows of public housing that loom in the day to the echoes of violence that chill the night air. The silences can be just as menacing, peaceful to outsiders perhaps, but Ka knows otherwise – “We ain’t speak, clicking heat is our morse code,” he raps in his signature monotone. Lines like this are dropped in continually, with nearly every bar offering double or even triple entendre, and deadly rhymes hidden within deadly rhymes. If Ka doesn’t spell something out for you, then it’s almost certainly there in the mise-en-scène – the tense percussion of ‘You Know It’s About’ evoking a chase, or the swelling strings of ‘Jungle’ the midnight wander of another lost soul. It’s a strictly cinematic approach to production, keeping you locked in its mood with barely a whiff of a rap beat to break the fourth wall. Although best enjoyed as a whole, you can drop the needle onto any of the record’s grooves and land back in Brownsville – the pulsing heartbeat behind every story and every simile. Ka’s muse is a source of both sadness and pride, and the rapper does it justice with the most vivid and all-encompassing rap record I’ve heard this year.
Future of the Left
How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident
10 - Sean Thomas on the unofficial lyricist of the year: This is (arguably) the band's finest hour. Freed from label interference and buoyed by public support, the four let rip as if it's their first - or indeed last - ever record. Falco has never sounded better; his vocals are varied in delivery, range and content. The comedic edge to the words that so few bands ever find a way of passing off are more subtle than ever yet even more smile-inducing; the Stewart Lee if you will to his peers' Comedy Roadshow attempts. The amount of personality he injects throughout is a masterclass in frontmanship; there are obvious examples such as his gravely faux-country delivery of the album closer and the public announcement styling of 'Singing on the Bonesaws', but it's the little touches that get better with subsequent listens - the way his natural voice echoes certain lines within the aforementioned to lend extra clout, the tightening up and growling on the opener to add drama, his delayed delivery of lines within (the quite fabulous singalong) 'Donny on the Decks' for humorous benefit, the more melodic harmony that unveils itself on 'The Male Gaze'. It's all incredibly succinct too; no word is wasted, no topic over-laboured.
Related: Future of the Left's best ever lyrics.
Pale Green Ghosts
9 - John Watt wrote: This time Grant's principle collaborator and co-producer is Birgir Þórarinsson of Iceland's tech house chameleons GusGus. Recorded entirely in his studio in Reykjavik, Þórarinsson serves as an interesting and largely effective foil and guide for Grant's excursions into electronica. 'Why Don't You Love Me Anymore' is Pale Green Ghost's haunting highpoint. Atop a bed of stuttering beats, with Sinead O'Connor's haunting backing vocals echoing behind him, Grant rakes through the ashes of a failed relationship, plumbing the depths of despair and acerbic self-flagellation - "the knowledge that I can't be what you need is cutting off my air supply." It's the deepest Grant delves into his emotional trauma and one of the best tracks he's ever written.
These New Puritans
Field of Reeds
8 - Jazz Monroe wrote The record is epic, brave and divisive, sufficiently conceptual and vast to invite comparison to Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock. It’s a thing of few choruses and much abstraction, structures meandering and alpine, a confusion of sustained brass notes and drawn-out intros. At times there is breath-snatching pomp. Others it’s like watching The Thin Red Line in slow-motion.
7: The musicians' choice for album of the year. Here's what some of our favourite musicians had to say about it in a survey we conducted last week:
Tom Fleming, Wild Beasts: "Mercury nominated and rightly so, this is definitely a career high so far. Wonderful sounds, exquisite development. It's actually something of a masterclass."
Polly Scattergood: "I have always loved the way he uses samples and puts electronics next to acoustics until everything melts into a piece of sound art which is so uniquely his, and so incredibly special. This album is very atmospheric and delicate in places, then big and uplifting in others, each track take you on a journey, it's an album of to halves - highs and lows - it feels like we are being allowed in, to what is a truly beautiful world.
Kelcey, Local Natives: "I'm not as interested in the more dance-driven side of electronica, so I think that's why I like this so much. It puts me in the most amazing-feeling trance, like I'm on drugs or on another planet."
Maria, I Break Horses: "Hopkins has such a rare feel for mood and texture. It's a hauntingly beautiful album and the production suits the music perfectly."
Conor, Villagers: "This record constantly astounds me. It feels like it moves with a body, or in a body. It feels like it sweats and feels and cares and caresses. It's a classic record in my humble opinion."
Russell, Editors: "A modern immersive record. The combination of acoustic sounds and samples creates the best textures heard this year."
Olafur Arnalds: "There is not many people who do production better than Jon. And when that is combined with the great song writing on this album you have easily got the album of the year for me."
Andy, Frightened Rabbit: "The most sonically engaging electronic record I've heard for a long time. The way this thing boils the natural and synthetic together into some kind of aural ketamine is unbeatable."
Related: Russell Warfield's review.
Modern Vampires of the City
6 - Marc Burrows wrote: Ezra Koenig and co-producer Rostam Batmanglij blend jugfulls of disparate musical ideas into a wonderfully refreshing pop smoothie, squelchy at the bottom, sweet and fruity at the top and all weird and fizzy in the middle. It doesn’t sound like any of the bands’ textbook influences or any of their imaginary ‘Brooklyn Scene’ contemporaries, it doesn’t sound of the past- it sounds how twenty-first-century pop should sound: completely of its time - released 20 years ago it would have been utterly baffling. The confidence here is staggering. Do you know how much confidence it takes for a hip indie band to use ”Baby, baby, baby, baby” as a hook? Unironic ”babies” are the property of Elvis, of Motown, of Madonna, of Prince, or Jacko, R Kelly and Mrs Carter, not guitar-toting NYC skinny boys, but that ”Baby, baby, baby, baby” warps, twists and pitch shifts its way through the 'alternative' pop record of the summer, and it works beautifully.
5 - Reviews Editor Andrzej Lukowski on his album of the year: We’re a little bit like a Steiner School here at DiS – where writers are concerned, there is no incorrect answer, and while less enlightened publications would be prefacing the high end-of-year placement for a record recently awarded 4/10 with some sort of ‘hands up, we got it wrong’ piffle, there’ll be none of that here. Dan Lucas’s review was a perfect snapshot of his feelings about Arcade Fire’s Reflektor at the time, listened to under circumstances he was unusually honest about, and if it annoys the type of tedious person who cares about metacritic scores then so much the better.
This is not a re-review, but a quick swoon over Reflektor – the bottom line is, a lot of DiS’s writers, really liked it, so here it is.
Anyway, for me Reflektor works because it almost totally changes the band’s palette while remaining that sense of, I dunno…. innocence? naivety? sweetness? that characterises all Arcade Fire’s best work (ie not you Neon Bible). It takes a special type of magic to make a 75-minute, 13-track double album of wildly diverse songs with song titles like ‘Porno’ sweet, but dammit they do it. Yes, there are a lot of long songs here, but with the exception of that magnificent, almost standalone disco inferno title track, the seven minute running times are nothing to do with juggernaut crescendos or chorus after chorus, everything to do with the gorgeous ebb and flow of neon synths, delicate vocals allowed room to unfold like night blossoming flowers. If Arcade Fire’s previous work felt suburban, the James Murphy-produced Reflektor is a city record, but it’s got the ambience of a big city at 4am, dazzlingly lit but disorientatingly desolate.
From the nervy outsider pop of ‘You Already Know’ – does any sound better evoke the fucked upness of fame than that creepy sample of Jonathan Ross laughing? – to the second half’s radiant invocation of Orpheus and Eurydice, two lovers doomed to be alone even with themselves, it’s an album swooshing and swirling with discombobulation, a band leaving its musical comfort zone writing songs about being out of their emotional comfort zone. It is huge and it is intimate… it is Arcade Fire.
4 - DiS editor/founder Sean Adams on his album of the year: Paramore are an easy band to dismiss. They make arena-perfect, emo-derived, sugary rock & roll with saccharine-dripping fizzy-pop melodies. In Hayley Williams they also have a singer who looks not unlike Ariel from the Little Mermaid wearing a Cure t-shirt, and she has a voice that's only a few notes removed from Kelly Clarkson. On the face of it, Paramore must seem less like the natural successors to GreenDay, or like Jimmy Eat World fans turned mega-stars, and more like Avril Lavigne/Hanson/[insert ridiculed alternative gateway artist here] for the current crop of Kerrang-munching mallrats. Throw your snobbishness to one side for a moment, listen to the actual records, and in pours this glorious rush of youthful energy that paradoxically thrives off its own misery. With ukelele interludes and genuine 'mega-hits', the trio's self-titled fourth studio album clearly is not one for loop-pedal loving snobs, but with a fast-paced feast of hooks and a couple of melancholic heart-shakers, it's easily the most refreshing, energising and accomplished record I've heard all year.
Not a single beat is wasted. Every riff has a purpose. There's a clarity to this songwriting that has all the pizazz of Weezer's most thrilling moments but with an ear for melodies that are so undeniably potent that it wouldn't seem totally ridiculous to call them a modern day Fleetwood Mac (although I'm sure the band's marketing department would much rather them be compared to The Smiths or The Cure). With Paramore, they've made a record that wouldn't sound out of place in Rilo Kiley or Pretty Girls Make Graves' back catalogues, but equally, won't seem out of place years from now on a list of the biggest selling albums of all-time.
3 - Alexander Tudor wrote: At the centre of the album, 'Pyrrhic' is the best thing Barwick has ever written: the choral voices more urgent, the soloist more mournful at the outset, before the violins and an aching cello enter with a melody that writhes and pushes the voices away. Jonsi’s distinct voice enters, offering consolation, but only after the multiple parts have completed several bars in a strange dance, does the chorus take over and the strings harmonize with the voices, expressing some kind of peace: the nepenthe of the album’s title.
This is the exquisite album we were promised, and perhaps an important one. Don’t mistake its simplicity or repetition of motifs from song to song, for a lazy formula. It’s a bold gesture to reject the basic assumption that listeners need dramatic departures to feel like we’re not being conned; to trust the listener that they can find the subtle variations that make each song sincere. To offer the consolation of dissolving into other voices rather than striving to be heard above the rest. Voices that seem to be saying: we're here; everything's good.
Related: DiS meets Julianna Barwick.
Nick Cave & The Badseeds
Push the Sky Away
2 - Andrzej Lukowski wrote: Push the Sky Away boasts many of the trappings of the pointedly sombre late record by the borderline elderly rock star – strings, gospel, slow tempos, black and white cover – then equally it does a fine job in subverting most of them.
Cave, now 55, has already done his stark, earnest album about love and mortality: The Boatman’s Call, released back when he was a stripling of 40. He also indicated that he felt uncomfortable at its emotional openness, and if Push the Sky Away shares a certain sense of gravitas with Boatman’s Call - and is almost certain the least preposterous album Cave has put out in a decade – then it also filters it all through a prism of post-Grinderman irony. This is nicely demonstrated by lead track ‘We No Who U R’, an austere, half-vulnerable, half-threatening pastoral whose vaporously lovely form nonetheless takes on the slight air of a smirk, if only by dint of that text-speak title (which in turn underscores a relatively insubstantial lyric).
1 - Dom Gourlay on his and DiS' album of the year: Rewind the clock back 12 months when numerous publications were already sounding the death knell for guitars, particularly where UK artists are concerned. Their premature eulogy couldn't have been more wrong if they'd tried, as within just nine short weeks of 2013, along came a record to blow all others out of the water.
Pearl Mystic, the record in question, sounded like a culmination of the past present and future all rolled into one. Strip each of its nine pieces into individual segments and there's elements of Spacemen 3's driving psychedelia, Hawkwind's expansive space rock, Pink Floyd's experimental urges and Can's powerful repetition. Only as re-imagined by five twenty-somethings reared on a diet of hardcore punk and post-rock, those being the catalyst for Hookworms existence. A band whose members would rather shun the limelight, even now preferring to be known only by their initials than full names.
From the calm introduction of opener 'Away/Towards' before the storm that eclipses its climax through to the grand finale of 'What We Talk About' and 'iii', Pearl Mystic is the record that reinvigorated guitar music. Already, bands have either formed or changed their approach, citing its influence forthwith. As records go it exudes perfection from every pore, an even more remarkable achievement considering its also the band's debut. Rarely has a record captured my imagination in such a way, with only 'Psychocandy', 'The Holy Bible' and 'Turn On The Bright Lights' being others that would also merit a perfect 10/10. To these ears at any rate.
So without further ado, I give you Drowned In Sound's album of the year for 2013...
Related: Dom's interview with Hookworms.
DiScuss: Correct? DiSagree? Join the discussion on our music forum
1) Listen: on Spotify to a playlist of all of the above or here on RDIO or in the YouTube playlist below.
2) Look: All of our end of year coverage including our favourite artists' favourite albums of 2013, each of our staff members' number one choices.
3) Bash your mouse: To see our album of the year lists from the past 12 years.