We’ve become accustomed to a skimpy summer in our London office. Usually we receive about three hours of weak sunshine sometime in August followed by an immediate plague of flying ants, the corpses of which are soon seen flowing into the gutter once the rain swiftly returns. So the recent bout of blazing sunshine has not only left us in the mood to celebrate, but also with brains too frazzled to write anything but lazy, arbitrary lists.
Luckily, being roughly halfway through the year, these circumstances can be neatly combined to justify publishing our ‘Top 25 Albums of the Year So Far’. Catch up with what you might have missed, have your distinguished taste validated, or call us a sloppy bunch of losers for not including These New Puritans, Kanye West, RP Boo, Suede, Vampire Weekend, David Bowie or any of the other hugely overrated records of the year [/trolling]. So, in ascending order, the records that have floated our boats the mostest so far in 2013…
25. Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat (Kranky)
Y’know what I treasure most about Grouper, aka Liz Harris? It’s her effortless ability to conjure startling, vivid images with her music, song titles and artwork. Case in point, the title of this record, ‘The Man Who Died in His Boat’, referencing a moment from her childhood where she and her father came upon an empty boat that drifted to shore after the person in it disappeared. The unmistakable music Harris harnesses stemmed from this idea and feeling, and is filled with confused wonder and utter dread in the attempt to try to understand and articulate these emotions. She manages to convey it absolutely perfectly.
24. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze (Matador)
“Anyone unfamiliar with Kurt Vile would be forgiven for expecting him to be some sort of snotty punk upstart, perhaps playing alongside Bertolt Brat, Perving Berlin and Cole Aborter. Yet, almost unbelievably, it turns out to be his real name. And for those who believe in pre-nominative determinism there’s only scant satisfaction; Vile is no agit-thrash three chord wonder, but a purveyor of warm, inviting Americana that’s more likely to offer you a glass of lemonade and a stick of homegrown grass than spit in your face and shove sulphate up your hooter.”
Kier Wiater Carnihan
23. The Last Skeptik – Thanks for Trying (BBE Records)
The mysterious, sometimes bearded hip-hop connoisseur has gathered some great musicians to create a brilliantly eclectic album ranging from authentic funk to filthy beats. Following in label BBE’s footsteps of releasing instrumental-led hip-hop albums from J Dilla, Pete Rock & Will.i.am, Skeptik put out “Thanks For Trying” in May, although we’d personally like to thank him for succeeding. For a bit more insight into this master check out this documentary on the myth and the legend that is The Last Skeptik…
22. Deptford Goth – Life After Defo (Merok Records)
Hipster electro gets some much needed heart and soul injected into it by this South London producer. Sparse synth arrangements come together in moving fashion with Daniel Woolhouse’s tense and isolated lyrics.
21. Implodes – Recurring Dream (Kranky)
“You’d imagine that any recurring dream that this band suffers is probably a darn sight scarier than the one I’ve been having about caravanning with Mark E. Smith and some talking mice. Well, maybe. Yes, it’s a veritable hive of buzzing synth distortion that occasionally pushes you right up against the wall, but it presses against you in a way that feels like it’s seeking empathy rather than squeezing the life out of you.”
20. Thundercat – Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
“He shifts through a huge range of styles, but like Gok Wan rummaging through a charity shop bargain bin he somehow always emerges in smooth style. The ensemble that Bruner sports on opening track ‘Tenfold’ is particularly slinky, with dark, murky and seriously sexy synths and bass combining to create something fast-paced yet deliciously languid. His faultless falsetto and a similarly Prince-like guitar solo are then stirred in to paint a picture that’s utterly purple.”
19. Low – The Invisible Way (Sub Pop)
20 years on from their first release, Low drop their strongest record since, well… the last one. Having enlisted Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy in the control room, it sees the group retaining their sparse, haunted lullabies (file under: slowcore) but with a feeling of liberation, assurance and contentment. The return to stripped-down songs presented with honesty and confidence is a joy to behold. With its sublime production values and carefully thought out arrangements, the record showcases a group two decades in the making but still in a very real state of evolution.
18. When Saints Go Machine – Infinity Pool (!K7)
Any album which kicks off with a guest spot from Killer Mike is likely to be a winner, and so it proves with the third album from When Saints Go Machine. Unlike fellow Danish electro-pop dukes WhoMadeWho, they imbue their masterfully composed songs with a soulful sadness, spinning this into a sometimes captivating, sometimes confounding patchwork quilt of a record.
17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito (Interscope)
“A glance at their latest album, ‘Mosquito’, indicates that a regression of sorts has taken place. Blessed with the most atrociously lurid cover of all time, it’s an album that returns to the band’s roots, although the geographical stability hasn’t quenched their thirst for invention. Lead single ‘Sacrilege’ is the best example of that. While the idea of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs going Gospel sounds like they’re about to jump over an entire aquarium full of harmonious, robe-wearing sharks, it’s actually one of the best songs they’ve ever written.”
16. Alex Calder – Time (Captured Tracks)
“Whether you’re recording in Abbey Road or onto a sheet of soot-coated paper, it’s the quality of the music that counts. This is why Alex Calder‘s Time stands out so vibrantly amid a sea of similar-sounding toss. Whereas others use a lo-fi aesthetic to disguise the flaws in their songwriting, Calder employs home-recorded warmth to enhance what are already fantastic songs. Reverb is used to make things sound deeper rather than just bigger, semi-intelligible vocals conjure mystery rather than mumblewank, and instruments are subtly detuned to create a specific atmosphere rather than just out of fecklessness.”
15. Jon Phonics – Rugers (Prism Tracks)
“With Clams Casino having been a bit off the boil of late, Jon Phonics may well have the pluck to take over his mantle, and without the danger of being locked into a trademark style either. “Rugers” gave fifty people a reason to hunt down AA batteries for their old tape players. Here’s hoping that next time he’ll release on a more convenient format, but if he decides to put out a sodding laser disc then we’ll still be bloody buying it.”
14. Oliver Wilde – A Brief Introduction to Unnatural Lightyears (Howling Owl)
I’m not normally one for things that sound like they could soundtrack my slip into the abyss, but with the heart and soul which manages to radiate from such a considered record like this I’m nearly ready to jump. Howling Owl seems to have just got a breakthrough act, Bristol just got its new poster boy and the rest of us just got one the most rewarding albums of the year.
13. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest (Warp)
“The hype that preceded ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ had many fans salivating like kids being driven to a theme park. For some, finally hearing the album was a bit like arriving only to find the theme park had actually closed years ago and was now lying in ruins. But ruined theme parks can be all more magical for their dereliction. It may still just sound like a Boards of Canada album -but since when is that a bad thing?”
12. Savages – Silence Yourself (Matador)
Even if the sheer weight of expectation dimmed the actual outcome of this gloomy pan-European-via-London debut effort, there’s enough spite in Jehn Beth’s vocals, fierce riffing on ‘Strife’ and comedown-friendly vibes in ‘Marshal Dear’ to show that the promise of excellence wasn’t a complete lie.
11. Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth (Warp)
“Surpasses ‘Crooks and Lovers’ in almost every way… Post-dubstep always seemed like a slightly disposable term, saved only by the fact that the music being made by Mount Kimbie and their peers often wasn’t disposable in the slightest. Yet the music Maker and Campos are now making is so much deeper, fuller and richer (perhaps the result of it being professionally mixed this time around) that the genre they helped define is no longer a satisfying description of their sound. And no one wants to coin the phrase ‘post-post-dubstep’.”
10. FIDLAR – FILDLAR (Mom + Pop Music)
This LA punk four piece have more abandon than the final scene of Thelma & Louise and are more fun than a night on cheap tequila, though give you the same results: bruises, headaches and lots of memories you’d rather forget. The closest you’ll get to being an angsty, cider-swigging teenager again all year, in the best way possible.
9. PVT – Homosapien (Felte)
“This isn’t one of those records where the tracks smoothly segue into each other; instead it feels like they’ve made a compilation album featuring only their own tracks. The stated influence of Gilles Deleuze’s rhizomatic philosophy and the ball-of-string documentaries of Adam Curtis make sense in this way – all the tracks feel like separate stories that can’t quite escape the larger narrative.”
8. L. Pierre – The Island Come True (Melodic)
“As an album it sounds, in the best possible way, like a rescued 10p charity shop version of his earlier work. At times it feels like a voyage into the memory wastes of dementia. The overall effect is entrancing and affecting where previous L. Pierre albums were simply lush and pretty.”
7. Maston – Shadows (Trouble in Mind)
“As someone who’s worked in a second-hand record shop for several years, I can tell you that people who are obsessive about sixties music are often the most boring, dribbly-lipped morons you could hope to have mouth-breathe all over you while flicking through the racks (their breath usually smells like rotting Decca seven inch sleeves, in case you’re interested). However, every now and then someone comes along who has channeled their love of that much masturbated-over decade into something sublime. Frank Maston is one of those people and his new album “Shadows” could hold its own against the heavyweights of that time…seriously, if I ever see anyone give this guy a synthesizer I’ll fucking shoot them.”
6. Jeremiah Jae & Oliver the 2nd – Rawhyde (Black Jungle Squad / Yellowmask)
“Despite the Wild West theme it’s not all ricochets and spaghetti western samples. ‘Pistols’ has more of a hard-boiled noir vibe, ‘Blood Money’ is all wonky psychedelia and the brutal ‘Get Off The Horse’ makes for an epic battle scene in any genre. Perhaps best of all is the gloriously woozy ‘Billy Kid’, one of the few hip-hop tracks to reference Percocet, molly and purple drank that actually sounds like it was created by someone who’s mashed on all three simultaneously.”
5. Jon Hopkins – Immunity (Domino)
“Classically trained yet fascinated by synths and electronics from a young age, ‘Immunity’ combines his twin obsessions with a clinical yet charming dexterity, like an amiable surgeon cheerfully humming to himself as he removes a particularly hermetical brain tumour. The closing title track is a wonderfully muted piano piece with a rhythm created out of, well, god knows what – considering Hopkins’ habits probably a freezer defrosting, a game of Kerplunk being put away and the creaking of his own knees.”
4. Ghostpoet – Some Say I So I Say Light (Play It Again Sam)
“You can hear everything from Joy Division to Burial across the album’s 11 tracks, which display an attention to detail that indicates many red-eyed nights behind a mixing desk, tweaking tracks and tweaking out. It’s this obvious love of music that permeates throughout and makes it such an attractive proposition to fellow enthusiasts. Mumbling quirkiness never sounded so good.”
3. Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down (The Leaf Label)
Prolific jazz musicians team up to make a Nubian funk, dub and soul influenced smorgasboard of party-friendly chaos. If the sweat dripping from your speakers doesn’t entice you, then the sweat that fills the air at their shows will. If this is the sound inside your head, please seek help immediately.
2. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light (Constellation Records)
“An emotionally loaded piece of work, with an overdose potentially making you feel like you’ve swallowed a funeral…an intensely expressive noise that creeps into your ears and blackens your heart, stopping only to spike your tear ducts along the way…sounds like Stetson’s squeezed all of Sigur Rós into his saxophone. The statements he makes here are as immortal as they come.”
1. Fat White Family – Champagne Holocaust (Trashmouth Records)
It’s kind of ironic that South London’s “scuzziest rag bag of ragtag scrag bags” should top our half-year chart despite being the only act on the list that we’ve never actually written about (although we did discuss their rioutous stage show and dubious hygiene in a recent podcast). Yet after we saw them literally smash the shit out of Tipsy Bar a couple of months ago we’ve been obsessed. “These guys do it properly. Filthily, psychotically, properly,” we posted on Facebook afterwards. “Wytches were great too, but you wouldn’t want to go on after Fat White Family…unless you like being surrounded by broken glass…”.
Fortunately Champagne Holocaust backs up the giggling bellyflop into oblivion that is their live show. From ‘Auto Neutron’ (what this year’s Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album would’ve sounded like if it’d been, you know, good) to the shambolic country sneer of ‘Garden of the Numb’, you don’t doubt their conviction for a second. The fact they wage class war against Foxtons and moonlight as a Charles Manson covers band in their spare time is simply a bonus. In 2013 hardly anyone seems capable of doing rock and roll properly. The Fat White Family do it with a nose full of ketamine and a second-hand strap-on. Assume the position.