2013 was, as it turned out, a good year for music. However, since the Mercury Prize was a bit of a washout why not see who made the much coveted Hubris Lost top 20 albums of the year long-list?
Here are numbers 20-11…
20) Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
It felt good to have Franz Ferdinand back in town after a five year extended absence. ‘Right Thoughts…’ saw them hark back to the earlier work that had catapulted them to their initial successes, and there were tracks that would have happily nestled in amongst the likes of ‘Take Me Out’ on their eponymous debut. A blink-and-you-miss-it running time and absence of deep cuts were both to the record’s detriment, but if their modus operandi was to revive the old Franz Ferdinand fun, then ‘Right Thoughts’ certainly lived to fulfil its purpose.
19) New Young Pony Club – NYPC
New York Pony Club (or NYPC to give them their new official moniker) have slimmed down their lineup as well as their name. Now consisting solely of lead singer Tahita Bulmer and producer Andy Spence, ‘NYPC’ goes a long way to combine the tongue-in-cheek fun of debut ‘Fantastic Playroom’ with the creeping sophistication of underrated sophomore ‘The Optimist’ – singles ‘Hard Knocks’ and ‘Things Like You’ are slick little ear worms that probably deserved more attention than they received upon release.
18) LITE – Installation
Battles was arguably the first band to show the world how to make proggy, technically advanced musicianship sound fun, though it’s Japanese instrumental quartet, LITE, who are taking these eccentric competencies and really making them their own. Although lacking the consistent quality of 2011’s ‘For All The Innocence’, ‘Installation’ is still an incredibly entertaining record, from the giddy guitar duelling of ‘Echolocation’, to the bass-funk-trance-rave monster-type-thing, ‘Alter Ego’.
17) Los Campesinos! – No Blues
No Blues is Los Campesinos’ fifth full-length release in as many years, yet their work, by and large, still shows little sign of diminishing in quality. Opening track, ‘For Flotsam’, reintroduces us to their panache for melodramatic reminiscence and uncanny capability to instrument surprisingly compelling choruses. Thematically, ‘No Blues’ treads the thin line between irony and pretension a little too often, but when he gets it right Gareth Campesinos produces some of the best lyrics in music today – “A heart of stone, a rind so tough it’s crazy, that’s why they call me the avocado baby,” may well be the line of the year.
16) Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty
For those disappointed that Zola Jesus’ only fresh output in 2013 was an album of string re-workings of old material, Chelsea Wolfe’s got your back. Brooding in a way that no album other than one with that title could be, ‘Pain Is Beauty’ does a very good job of being gothic without becoming mawkish. Reverberating guitar, cloudy beats and Wolfe’s devastating vocals tell tales of heart-felt desperation and broken romance, no more so than on lead single ‘We Hit A Wall’.
15) Tera Melos – X’ed Out
Tera Melos have long been on my prefatory, though they’ve tended to flatter to deceive, often producing intricate, clashing noise rock without ever making proper songs. With a slight line-up alteration, their second album ‘X’ed Out’ finally saw Tera Melos realise their potential. The trademark giddiness is now joyful rather than nauseating – tracks such as ‘Bite’ and ‘Tropic Lame’ display more mainstream sensibilities without ever eschewing quirkiness, while closer ‘X’ed Out And Tired’ sees the band go acoustic, with surprisingly pleasing results.
14) Haim – Days Are Gone
When bands come to release their debuts with as much pent up hype as Haim did this September, it makes me suspicious. But there’s only so long that one can resist a bass face like that – the truth of the matter is that ‘Days Are Gone’ is an exceptionally accomplished record. Yes, the production is unrelentingly slick – between effected vocals, 80s beats and burbling Este-bass – and with the exception of the slightly meandering ‘Honey & I’, Days Are Gone is an album of singles (choosing a highlight for this blog was far from easy), but there is depth – especially on the filthy ‘My Song 5’ and ‘Let Me Go’, a rare foray into minor key territory.
13) The Strokes – Comedown Machine
The final release in fulfilling The Stroke’s contract agreement with long-time label RCA, one might have expected ‘Comedown Machine’ to be a bit of a half-arsed effort, especially in the light of the tepid reception to their comeback record, ‘Angles’ (and especially with that cover). Yet the more you listened to ‘Comedown Machine’, the more it became apparent that The Strokes managed to go a long way in recapturing the fun that made their first releases so endearing – ‘Tap Out’ and ‘Partners in Crime’ would sit very comfortably on ‘Room on Fire’ The record is rife with hooks, full of seductive vocal turns, and perhaps most importantly, is totally devoid of pretence.
12) Surfer Blood – Pythons
Surfer Blood probably wouldn’t care when charged with failing to break musical boundaries. Rather, on the evidence of their debut record, ‘Astro Coast’, and their sophomore, ‘Pythons’, the Florida quartet’s modus operandi concerns taking existing surfy-indie tropes, and doing them very, very well. Album opener ‘Demon Dance’ follows one of rock’s most common chord production, but is so lyrically charming and wholesome in its production, you find yourself enjoying the simplicity rather than lamenting it. ‘Weird Shapes’ soon follows with crunchy guitar interplay, and pleasing vocal melodies, while ‘Say Yes To Me’ is one of the most joyous, uplifting tunes you’ll hear all year.
11) CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
CHVRCHES (so spelled to assist with Google searches – how thoughtful…) were another band that put out a debut LP in 2013 on the back of immeasurable expectation. Happily, ‘The Bones of What You Believe’ is worth its buzz. That a third of the tracks have already been released as singles should come as no surprise – there’s a quality in depth here often absent from the output of many of their electro-alternative compatriots. CHVRCHES’ primary trump card comes in the form of lead singer, Lauren Mayberry, whose glacial vocals adds heart to compliment otherwise synthetic instrumentation – one would need a heart of stone to remain unaffected in the face of ‘We Sink’s bitter refrain.