It is the middle of March. I have survived a literary behemoth, Middlemarch, in my first semester of university. 2013 is a bygone era. I am devouring a bowl of Fruit Loops when I am struck by something of an epiphany: my blog is wilting through existential crisis, deprived of an inane list that ultimately means nothing but seems to be a requisite for every blog on the blogosphere to truly function, to become not just a blog, but a blog. Today, I will not let bygones be bygones, I will make a stand, and I will rectify this gross violation of music blogging etiquette with a belated (and pithy) evaluation of the last year. Because, well, the best things come to those who wait and all that hokum. So here:
10. Veronica Falls – ‘Waiting for Something to Happen’
Veering away from the gloom-and-doom gothic pop of their debut and instead relaying lighter, romantic themes, much of Veronica Fall’s sophomore effort derives from their penchant for airtight boy-girl harmonies and twinkling hooks, and is all the better for it.
9. Crocodiles – ‘Crimes of Passion’
Psychedelic, shimmering pop music was at a premium last year, what with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Smith Westerns and Foxygen all letting their babies run loose in the wild. But it’s Crocodiles who take the cake, with their indelible melodies and wonderfully weird lyrics (‘Her graveyard eyes / they lured me in’) helmed into a tight reverb-laden affair (courtesy of The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner). Striking the right balance of bubbly effervescence, prickly risqué humour and sticky sweetness, Crocodiles more than found their bite.
8. Jagwar Ma – ‘Howlin’
‘Howlin’ is a classic case of revivalism, reinterpretation – whatever you want to call it – ultimately surpassing the original movement. With their feet firmly on the dancefloor of the Hacienda and their heads high up in the clouds, Jono and Gabriel put the Bez in the Australian psychedelic renaissance, fusing ’60s pop sensibilities with the ’90s acid house rave into a distinctly fresh, modern sound, trading Noel Gallagher’s notoriously acerbic bite for an uncharacteristic, gummy gushing of praise.
7. Arctic Monkeys – ‘AM’
Alex Turner’s lyricism continues to evolve at a rapid pace (see: ‘Arabella’), bolstered by the slinky R&B grooves offered by his bandmates (see: ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’) who continue to exercise their stoner-rock muscle (see: ‘Knee Socks’). A phenomenal album from a phenomenal band. It’s possibly even more phenomenal live.
6. Los Campesinos! – ‘No Blues’
The rambunctious, endearingly verbose Welsh indie poppers’s last album ‘Hello Sadness’ was – predictably according to its title – punctured by darker, introspective lyrics, knocking their gleeful, maniacal streak of punchy indie pop records where you’re unable to digest much other than the kitchen sink being thrown at your ears, well off balance. This was actually a bad thing. And thankfully this has been rectified by ‘No Blues’, featuring as many obscure footballing references as ever and presenting a cleaner-cut, spacious sound without extracting that quintessentially Los Campesinos! essence.
5. My Bloody Valentine – ‘m b v’
Cast your mind back to the beginning of 2013: lingering in the chasms of perpetual nothingness, fretting to and fro in foetal position in the corner, probably sucking a thumb if it had ever formed limbs, was My Bloody Valentine’s forgotten third album, abandoned innumerable times by Kevin Shield’s reluctance to ever release a follow-up to his band’s seminal, shoegaze-defining 1991 magnum opus. Fast forward to March 2014, and a new piece of the MBV mythos has been embraced. That should tell you all you need to know about how good this comeback truly was. Six tracks of some wobbly tremolos, submerged reverb and androgynous, ethereal vocals that frolicked and fucked about in the distinctive ‘Loveless’ aesthetic, followed by three tracks of modern psychedelia. Yep, not satisfied with merely redefining his own mythology, Kevin Shield decided to create a euphoric, psychedelic shoegaze rave that continued to push the boundaries he had set 22 years prior. 2nd February, 2013: the date innovation saved our nation.
4. Kanye West – Yeezus
I subscribe to the view that Kanye West is one of the few embers still burning in the true spirit of punk. Beneath the layers and layers of egomaniacal narcissism that shape his public image, a nucleus of unwavering creativity and provocatively paradoxical genius lies. None more so is this evident than on ‘Yeezus’, an often graphic, always intense satire of the hyper-sexual, materialistic, nihilistic, secular, post-modern society that we inhabit – a society that Kanye is a key component of. On a purely sonic basic, ‘Yeezus’ is a far cry from the oddball sophisti-soul revisionism of his early career (excluding the thankfully brilliant nostalgia-fuelled closer, ‘Bound 2’), it’s an abrasive beast replete with crunching industrial synths and piercingly warped, distorted vocals, a beast that the late, great Lou Reed – with his tongue presumably firmly in his cheek – referred to as ‘majestic and inspiring’. The record essentially plays out like a high-power drill, relentlessly burrowing its way through both society and Kanye’s own persona. Take ‘Blood on the Leaves’, a debauched tale of eroticism and alimony precariously treading on the toes of a Civil Rights anthem, Nina Simone’s ‘Strange Fruit’, and an explicit reference to apartheid. Hypocritical? Of course, but that’s what makes the enigma of Kanye West fascinating. Aggressively alienating but inevitably complex: that is ‘Yeezus’ down to a tee.
3. Peace – ‘In Love’
Falling head over heels for the denim-dipped pop panache of ‘In Love’ felt like falling in love under the pastel shade of a robust oak tree; a fairytale romance of boy meets band choreographed meticulously by the perpetually fanciful Taylor Swift. They ‘vibe so hard.’
2. British Sea Power – ‘From the Sea to the Land Beyond’
The sea is a timeless, richly evocative mistress, a background figure of divine beauty, ever ebbing and flowing, ever watching the development (and degeneration) of the island we call home. British Sea Power, throughout their career, have grasped this with both hands. Reconstructing songs from their past decade and imbuing them with an even denser atmospheric quality, echoing the ethereal transcendence of our favourite azure mistress, BSP masterfully, poignantly match Penny Woolcock’s arresting yet sombre visuals from her celebratory documentary of the same name. This is a hauntingly beautiful, pervasively melancholy and intermittently traumatic score that eulogises our great heritage and triumphantly pays the debt we owe to Mother Nature.
1. Vampire Weekend – ‘Modern Vampires of the City’
I have been wholly enamoured with this album since its release in May last year. Rather than trying to detail why this is, I’ll simply take the apex of the album, the apex of Vampire Weekend’s career thus far: ‘Hannah Hunt.’ It’s far and away the best song the band have ever put their name to, and far and away the best song released last year. Sweepingly melancholic, building subtly and graciously through soporific swoops and a gentle piano chord, the song bursts into life with vigor and vivacity just after the halfway point; Ezra’s anguished wailing in the final chorus – controlled beauty, anomic at its core – is Vampire Weekend.
Honourable mentions: Toy, Foals, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Queens of the Stone Age, David Bowie, Suede, King Krule, Pond, Arcade Fire & Chvrches
Sidenote: Cheatahs’ self-titled debut is my favourite release of 2014 so far, edging out St. Vincent’s self titled fourth*, since you didn’t ask. *subject to change
Sidenote #2: Here is a bonus playlist featuring the best SONGS of 2013.