It’s hard to believe, but it’s time for my Top Ten Albums list for 2013 already. With only two weeks left of the year (edit: geeze it’s taken me nearly two weeks to write this post), the next notable album releases (at least on my agenda) aren’t until next year, and with a longlist of over forty albums, which took two attempts to cut down to just ten, I think it’s safe to say 2013 was a great year for music.
As usual I’ll post a song clip for each album, but most of these albums need to be heard from start to finish to be fully appreciated. And also as usual the styles of music here do jump around a little, but I’d like to think there’s at least one album on this list that each of you would like.
Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Enjoy!
Josh Pyke has been one of my favourite Australian singer/songwriters for quite a few years now, and as much as I hate to use this phrase it is true that this, his fourth album, is a return to his roots. It’s easily his most upbeat album since his debut and the eleven songs throughout contain his usual mix of thoughtful lyrics, beautiful and increasingly harmonised vocals and deeply layered and colourful music. I don’t know many people who play an instrument and don’t look up to Pyke as a gifted songwriter and musician. Give his music a go, you won’t regret it.
Aussie band (I know it’s been all Aussies so far, I promise there’s bands from the rest of the world very soon) Eskimo Joe have always been ones to reinvent themselves which each new album. On their sixth album though, they seem to shift genres entirely from the indie rock/alternative rock they are known for to…I don’t really know what to call it. A little bit retro and 80s, a little bit funky, a little bit dancey and electronic…and yet still definitely Eskimo Joe. Although I must admit on my first listen I thought I’d bought the wrong thing somehow, after a couple of listens through the whole album I found myself thoroughly addicted to their new, upbeat sound. A bold move, and one that I hope pays off.
I’m not enough of a hardcore Bowie fan to place this much higher on my list, but I think a lot of ‘Top albums of 2013’ lists will include this surprise hit of an album. At the age of 66, this was Bowie’s first album of new material in over a decade, and the recording of it was kept secret for a long time before he announced the impending release on his birthday. Upon its release, it went number one in 20 countries, number two in a handful more countries, and it made its way into the digital charts in over 60 countries – the critical reception was mostly positive as well. More of a rock album, it’s quite easy to get into while still as quirky as one would expect a Bowie album to be. Seems there’s plenty of life in him yet! Just a note regarding this film clip – the song doesn’t actually start until two minutes into the clip!
As long time readers of my blog will know, I have been drawn to the darker, thought provoking sounds of prog rock music for some time now. My curiosity in this genre inevitably led me to Riverside, a brilliant band from Poland (I think) who earlier this year released their fifth album. It manages to keep a great balance between emotions such as anger and melancholy, while being intelligent in thematically and lyrically and producing highly evocative music to capture all of this. I also love the singer’s voice, which adds to the depth of the music. A great album, even if it’s not necessarily one to make me smile.
Jake Bugg has just recently released this, his second album, barely a year after his debut, which is quite impressive for a 19 year old. I didn’t mind his first album, but it did sound like he was still trying to find his feet musically and only half of the songs on the album were particularly memorable or notable. But this second record works much more holistically and Bugg sounds more in command of his music. While the obvious influences, such as Bob Dylan, are still there, he is also starting to push out into new territory as well. The music is naive and nothing ground breaking, but it’s a lot of fun and full of energy. Bugg’s reputation is growing rapidly, and he’s definitely a name to look out for in future years.
Although Iron & Wine (which is just a stage name for Sam Beam) began his musical life as a folk artist, in recent years he has moved into increasingly diverse territory. While the last album was dipping its toes in the water of other genres such as jazz, in this album he has just dived straight into the lake with no boundaries. The result? One of the bravest and most exciting releases all year. Sure, it might alienate some listeners who love only his old stuff. But really, he couldn’t have made five albums of the same thing over and over, and the shift has been coming for several albums now. I for one love this, and consider it his finest work so far. If you don’t at least try it, you are missing out. It’s that simple.
Volcano Choir are a band which, to be honest, I only noticed at all because I knew Justin Vernon (the creative force and frontman of Bon Iver) was among the band members. There is a certain similarity to Bon Iver, and perhaps to the bands of the other members, but on this second album they are definitely striking out with their own unique sound. And, as much as I’m surprising myself by saying this, I prefer this album to anything by Bon Iver so far (and I love both Bon Iver albums). Can I describe what the music sounds like? Erm. Not really. Thoughtful, complex and deeply layered. When you listen to this album, don’t do things while you listen – just lie down and soak in the music. It’s one of those albums. The song I’ve included doesn’t have a video clip to go with it, but it is my favourite song on the album, Acetate.
The Cat Empire are an Aussie jazz/ska/latin/indie/whoknowswhatelse band who have been wowing Australian audiences for over a decade now. Though I’ve always loved them, their last album from a couple of years ago was the first time I felt a little disappointed. So it was a nice surprise to find this year they really returned to form, releasing their most solid, upbeat, danceable album since their debut all those years ago. This is just an amazing album that perfectly captures everything the band is about, and as a result serves as a pretty good introduction to them if you’ve never heard them before.
Steven Wilson’s second solo album took the top spot in my 2011 Top Ten Albums list (which was on another website which is sadly no longer with us), and his collaboration with Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt, under the name of Storm Corrosion, took the top spot in my 2012 list (which can be found on this blog). So it comes as no surprise really that his third solo album would rank so high this year, as well. In fact, so far as I’m concerned, this album is the best thing the prog-rock genius has ever made. Containing six songs, three around the ten minute mark and three a bit shorter, each song tells its own story as Wilson’s arrangements pull us through more genres of music than we can count, but most notably a strong fusion of jazz and prog-rock – this is easily the jazziest record he has ever made. It was on rotation in my car for several months earlier this year, and the song The Watchmaker is probably my favourite song of the year. Listen to it from start to finish and you’ll see why.
At the age of 23, Laura Marling has released her fourth (yes, fourth) album, and blown the competition clean out of the water. Not only is this album much deeper and more mature than her previous works lyrically, but musically as well. The album begins with an incredible four song suite that sets the tone for the remaining twelve tracks on the album, as she darts around ferociously with that deep, almost growling voice to the backing of a complete melting pot of instruments, from eastern music to celtic sounding moments to a whole host of seventies influences. The album does tell a running story, which is interesting in itself as well, but it really is the music that pulls you in on this album. Just watch When Brave Bird Saved – a short film backed by the opening song suite of the album, and you’ll hopefully see why this album just had to be at the number one spot this year.
What are your thoughts on this list?
Did you enjoy any of these albums this year?
What would you add to the list?