There was certainly no dearth of great music to listen to in 2013. Albums from both new bands and old mainstays shone a light on music-lovers moods, attitudes and deep-seated emotions. Although there were great albums, I remember thinking that new music left me a little wanting in 2012. Misguided or not, this year more than made up for that thought with strong offerings from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The National, Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire.
With so many fantastic sounds echoing through speakers, ears and minds, it was a tough ask to whittle my love of 2013 music down. As always, I found myself gravitating to the albums and songs I listened to the most throughout the year. They’re the ones that stood out from the rest – and a common theme seemed to emerge: surprise.
Here then, after the jump, are my top five albums of 2013.
Biff Bam Pop has been sharing Top 5 Album lists each year for five years now. It’s a bit of crazy thought that we’ve ben doing it for so long, but we do love our music and we do love to share it with our friends.
The great thing about coming up with these sorts of catalogues is the discussion it stimulates with other music lovers. Andy Burns, BBP’s Editor-in-Chief, generally has a distinctly different compilation than what I put together at the end of every year. 2012 was no exception. You can read his thoroughly rockin’ list here.
When listening to music, and deeming it “best of” – I have one criteria that rates above all others: it’s got to be music that stays with me, an album that plays on repeat all throughout the year. It’s got to be something that stands the test of a sound bite as well as a second single: a musicianship that lasts a full album, a sound that entices, surprises and elicits emotion.
Here then, are my top 5 albums of 2012.
I love creating these lists but they do stress me out. It’s inevitable that I’ll miss listening to or completely forgetting about certain albums but that’s not necessarily something than can be avoided. The fun in the “best of” lists is that one can be drastically different from another. With the exception of one album below, witness Andy B’s list here and see how different his is from mine. Yes, we debate the accuracy of our lists. And really, that’s the point. My “best of” list is different than his. It will probably be different than yours. And that is the beauty of music.
I found that 2009 was not as prodigious a musical year as 2008. It was difficult placing albums namely because I found that many left less of a mark on my consciousness this year. 2009 had some pretty big expectations following 2008 and in many regards, didn’t quite live up to them. That isn’t to say there wasn’t great music released.
Witness, then, the Top 5 Albums of 2009:
5. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
Moody church organs, fat guitar riffs, bold, upright bass rumblings and a driven drum track. A lyrical narrative wherein multiple singers play multiple characters in multiple character arcs.
The Hazards of Love is the story of a stag by day turned, by the Queen of Nature, into a man by night in order for him to lie with the human woman whom he loves. The Decemberists turn a fable of adoration and avarice into a concept album that is truly meant to be played on the stage with actors, a choir and a full orchestra.
Won’t Want for Love is a bold introduction to Margaret, the female love interest as she audaciously declares her love for the stag/man and how nothing will quell this emotion. A barely audible guitar string, heightening in intensity as the song progresses, warns the listener of the follies of desire. A standout track, The Rake’s Song naturally alludes to the sordid history of the antagonist of the nearly sixty minute tale. Here, we learn of this character’s murder of his own children as he was so “shamefully saddled with three little pests.” It’s a three-minute epic of drum-fuelled depravity that begs the listener to sing along. A strange attraction, no?
The Hazards of Love is a wonder marriage of music and story and, given its seventeen tracks, feels too short. There are probably 3 or 4 songs missing before perfection can be obtained, each absent track shedding light on a particular character or situation. Still, meant to be heard from beginning to end, the album is a wonderful thrust forward by a band with a propensity for stage drama. Perhaps more of a wonder was the concern fans had when the Decemberists moved from an independent label to Capital Records a few years ago.
The band has not lost any of their ambition or integrity. If anything, that decision, as heard in The Hazards of Love, has seen them grow as both artists and musicians.
4. Muse – The Resistance
Leave it to Matthew Bellamy, lead architect of Muse, to write fascinating operatic prog-rock songs about dying alien races sent into deep space to repopulate the species and still have said songs allude to relevant, current world events. Yes, in The Resistance, the band’s fifth album, he’s talking about the human race amidst a time of war, dissolving political borders, pandemic and global warming.
Recoded in the northern lake district of Italy, The Resistance undeniably has a distinctly European flavour. Whether it’s the piano-driven, French-infused language of I Belong To You (Mon Coeur S’Ouvre A Ta Voix) or the previously mentioned space opera of Exogenesis: Symphony (parts1 through 3), the band never lose their rock roots. Even with the audacity of employing groovy slap base on Undisclosed Desires, The Resistance is always inviting to the ear, getting stronger with each subsequent listen.
With a song included in the latest Twilight movie and a heavy hitting, guitar, bass and drum live show which penetrates North America in the new year, Muse are set to be a household name. Once half-heartedly shrugged off as Radiohead and Pink Floyd knock-offs, Muse are entrenched in being no more than that which they always wanted: themselves in a perfectly fitted, conspiratorial musical niche wherein they can do whatever it is they want.
3. U2 – No Line on the Horizon
Somewhere in the mid nineteen nineties, I either lost U2 or they lost me. I blame Pop, an album I disliked so much, I simply gave it away to a friend. Of course, the band and their music were always heard – there’s no escaping U2. Still, I hadn’t bought any U2 music since then. I’m not entirely sure why I rushed out to purchase No Line On The Horizon. I can only say that, knowing the band had stalwart producers Eno and Lanois in the camp, it was simply a feeling I had that this album would be different – that I would enjoy it.
That feeling was spot on.
Not their highest selling or most accessible album, here, Bono has found his musical-poet self, seen only fleetingly since 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire. Musically, the album is a mix between the experimental folk-rock of that recording and the seminal, dance-floor inspired, 1991’s Achtung Baby. Bad is the introduction to Unknown Caller while Even Better Than The Real Thing promises Magnificent; Moment of Surrender is the sequel to So Cruel while I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight completes Pride (In The Name of Love). The musical colours that make up the album are echoed incessantly as one song leads to another: the sounds of a plucked guitar string are echoed in a subsequent song, a bass groove resonates later in the record. The whole is more important than the pieces, the band professes.
Along with The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby, No Line On The Horizon completes a trilogy three decades in the making.
What an amazing musical journey it has been.
2. Manic Street Preachers – Journal for Plague Lovers
Journal was advertised as the lyrical return of troubled Richey Edwards, the poet-songwriter (and soul) of the band, after having disappeared in 1995 by probably committing suicide. Declared officially dead late last year, his body has yet to be found.
Instead, with Edwards journal of half-formed lyrics and poems in hand, given to his band mates on the eve of his disappearance, the Manics have found their old raison d’être: gritty, political, nihilist, twenty-first century life-picking swagger embraced by stadium-sized rock riffs. Produced by Steve Albini, the album sounds deliciously like Nirvana on one song and Rush on another but thoroughly like Manic Street Preachers throughout. This is the evolution of their magnum opus, The Holy Bible, a grown up, sophisticated and, often, introverted look at human existence.
At once, it’s softer – with a childlike naivety inherent in the lyric “Oh mommy, what’s a sex pistol?” in Jackie Collins Existential Question Time but the cut is far deeper in All is Vanity which promises that “It’s not what’s wrong, it’s what’s right, it’s a fact of life sunshine” suspiciously sung with enough vitriol to sound like “it’s a fucked up life sunshine.” Make no mistake. Edwards, ever the player with words and sounds knew this when he wrote the poem/lyric.
And those big electric guitars are absolutely amazing. Journal For Plague Lovers is the Manic Street Preachers return to post-punk, anthem-rock glory.
1. Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
The first time I heard anything from this album was when the band, on a late winter promotional tour, played a riveting live version of first single Ulysses on MTV Canada. That one song got my blood pumping, my head nodding and my foot stomping and, nearly twelve months later, those body parts haven’t stopped.
I’m not sure what else there is to say since I said so much about how that song and then the rest of the album made me feel here. Actually, the rest of the album is just as hot as that single. It’s music to listen to before and after a night out at the club. Not to mention while writing or vacuuming or just puttering around the house.
Songs from Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, the band’s third album, were heard en masse in movie trailers and Apple iPod commercials everywhere during 2009. They even hit the niche markets. No one else on this Top 5 list released a dub version of their album this year. Franz Ferdinand did and it sounded pretty good too.
Still, the musical maturity of the band, their confidence and the successful dance-pop/synth experimentation found in this album boils down to simple communicable infection.
And doctor, I don’t want the cure.
It’s the last day of the year so it’s time to write up the obligatory “best of” list.
If you’re anything like me, the last 365 days have had you listening to loads of songs by both new and veteran musicians. 2008 will go down as a year with a number of fantastic album releases, but really, like all “top” lists, we really just want to know what the number one album is, don’t we? To whet your appetite a little, I’ve also listed the next best four. They all deserve to be spoken about, debated and heard and heard and heard again.
I’ve included links to standout tracks from their respective albums – which also happen to be some of the best songs of the year.
Without further ado then, here are my top five albums of 2008, ranked in descending order, of course:
It’s rare for a debut pop album to contain more than two bona fide singles. To have four on a ten track album is rarefied brilliance indeed. This Jacksonville, Florida based band found their groove straight away. Instantly hummable, singable and danceable, the pop sounds of Partie Traumatic hide the fact that the band writes clever lyrics to echo clever hooks. “If I ever bother to tell you the truth, oh, baby, you’re too much sugar for my sweet tooth” wails lead singer Reggie Youngblood before I’ve Underestimated My Charm (Again) shifts gears into ba-ba-beep-beep-boo melodies. Sure, there are moments that sound like Electric Light Orchestra or New Order or Duran Duran or Pulp but those influences meld into an entirely singular sound that reminisces funk, soul, alt-garage, emo and electronica.
No one else is making music like this right now.
Listen to: Hurricane Jane from Black Kids’ Partie Traumatic
Coldplay took a chance. They recruited producer Brian Eno to push them in a new direction. They wrote lyrics that spoke more about our world, our politics and our philosophies than simply writing melancholy about failed relationships. They ultimately became true artists, crafting an album for the ages. Listen to the piano on Lovers In Japan. That sound is strings being hit by nails. Note the lack of guitar, the stark beauty of the title track. Pay attention to the “fish” lyric in Lost!
It could have all gone horribly awry. Instead, they created something brilliant.
Sure, we may have fond memories of Yellow. We may even hear Clocks on the radio every other hour or discover that The Scientist is background music on some teen drama television series. Mark my words: in five, ten, even twenty years from now, it’s Viva La Vida that we’ll all collectively agree is the bands strongest.
And we’ll still be listening to it then like we are today – like it was just released. And that’s reason enough to be on this list.
Listen to: Lost from Coldplay’s Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends
3. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
The sophomore recording from this Montreal-based band saw them grow to new heights as musicians. They told their record company “no singles!” and indeed what we got instead was simply a brilliant whole of an album.
At times, one might mistake their sounds for seventies legends Television, but Wolf Parade never let you forget who they are. Their arty-indie sounds are still evident throughout At Mount Zoomer – which probably means they share even more with Television than the swirling, jingly guitars and driving drum beats would suggest. Fine Young Cannibals is a highlight of interplay between piano and electric guitar while An Animal In Your Care reaches for the stars, guitar becoming more frenetic with each passing moment. Make no mistake – the album is still Wolf Parade through and through. Both Soldier’s Grin and Bang Your Drum evoke the pop brilliance of their debut album.
Still, there aren’t many bands that can get away with an eleven-minute rock epic to end a nine-track album while still keeping an audience thoroughly enthralled for the entire duration of that song. Wolf Parade does it with ease. You don’t want the dazzling, the special, Kissing the Beehive to ever end.
And luckily for us, it doesn’t.
Listen to: Kissing the Beehive from Wolf Parade’s At Mount Zoomer
The fourth offering from Elbow, the Mercury Prize winning The Seldom Seen Kid, sees an encapsulation of the band’s entire musical career. It is a defining album of eleven beautifully crafted songs that range in scope from the delicate lullaby sounds of Weather To Fly to the raucous and venomous Grounds For Divorce. These are the sounds of a band at the height of their powers.
Praised by critics and fans alike, the release was, for the first time, entirely self-produced and the results are startling. The band has lost none of their indie leanings with sharp guitars that pierce the tranquil soundscapes on Starlings that sees Guy Garvey whispering “Darling is this love?” and they’ve not lost their sense of humour either, as evidenced on the scoundrel-as-protagonist song, The Fix.
Stadium-sized sing-along, the glorious One Day Like This is the big finish. Elbow has always had a way with an epic-sized track and this effort does not disappoint. With lyrics like “Holy cow I love your eyes” it is, perhaps, one of the most heart-warming, inspirational and truthful songs ever written.
A magnificent finish to an extraordinary recording.
Listen to: One Day Like This from Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid
Although the album was released via download-only in late 2007, the physical release of Radiohead’s In Rainbows was not until early 2008, making it eligible, in my mind, to fit into this “Best Of 2008” list. Posterity will remember the album for the pay-what-you-want business model but listeners will remember it as the bands strongest offering since the acclaimed OK Computer. It’s an example of shimmering brilliance through and through.
In Rainbows sees the band stretch their creative legs once again, sounding fresh and accessible, yet still distinctly Radiohead. The band is playing in their very own sandbox and the castles they are constructing are truly astounding. Jazz-tinged guitar elements flit throughout opener 12 Step while symbols pick up that same feel on Reckoner, one of the greatest songs ever recorded.
There are components of electronica here, of course, coupled with rocking beats and atmospheric strings, all elements that play in unison with Thom Yorke’s angelic voice. Radiohead, it would seem, want you to be able to sing their songs once again. No sounds are wasted here. There are no extraneous notes. In Rainbows is a perfect, timeless recording.
One for the ages.
Listen to: Reckoner from Radiohead’s In Rainbows
As mentioned, 2008 was a year of great releases. Here are a few of the other, more memorable albums:
Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs
Only Death Cab could make melancholy so pop-memorable. The eight-minute prog epic I Will Possess Your Heart is a standout as is the two and a half minute gem No Sunlight. Everything in-between those lengths is great too.
Hey Rosetta! – Into Your Lungs
There’s An Arc and Red Heart are stand-out tracks on an album full of stand-out stadium-sized tracks by this east-coast Canadian band.
Ryan Adams And The Cardinals – Cardinology