Have you tried the brisket yet? We’re back, with part 2 of our review of the 2013, with thoughts on some of the year’s best music from Mr Moth (on pop singles), Matt Poacher (on the underground scene), Jim Eaton-Terry (on all the stuff in between), and Spank the Monkey (taking a break from watching movies in languages he doesn’t understand, on the 32nd year of his traditional year-end compilations).
The Year in Pop – Mr Moth
2013 was a good year for pop, and I managed to miss a lot of the best from my semi-regular Mostly Pop columns. So this top ten includes a lot of great stuff I didn’t manage to review at the time.
=1 Janelle Monae – Dance Apocalyptic: Play this loud, please. If it doesn’t cause you to shake your ass then you have no right to an ass and should report to the ass requisitioning centre immediately. Your ass was issued to you in error. This should’ve been this year’s Hey Ya, it’s just beyond great, it’s euphoric. Janelle Monae is my favourite artist this year, and that’s against strong competition.
4 Justin Timberlake – Mirrors: Yeah, all eight minutes of it, baby. Suck it up. It’s brilliant, all the way through. I love the first part of the song more than I love the first part of the video, though it’s an economically told lifelong love story thing that works fine. When the song and video flip, though, it’s beautiful. I could watch the hall of mirrors stuff endlessly.
5 Daft Punk ft Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers – Lose Yourself to Dance: Ha! Not the obvious one. I’m not doing this to be difficult; I honestly think this is better than Get Lucky. Within ten seconds it’s great. Within a minute it’s unbeatable. Pharrell needs to do more Daft Punk and less Robin Thicke.
6 Kanye West – Black Skinhead: Though Bound 2 made more headlines, this is the best track from the patchy, deranged Yeezus. Black Skinhead glam-stomps and clatters around like The Sweet being pushed down a well full of razors. Can be seen as a counterpart to Yung Rapunxel as part of a wave of frightening, dazzling hip hop just breaking over our charts.
7 Lily Allen – Hard Out Here: Lost in the controversy over race roles in the video was the fact that Hard Out Here was a punchy, catchy, fun, sharply feminist pop song. I think the boldness of it, as a return, is laudable in many ways. Let’s ignore that Keane cover.
8 Lorde – Royals: Didn’t expect to find this in my top ten, but here it is anyway. Oddly moreish, Lorde’s strange delivery over minimal beats turns out to be a combination that doesn’t let go once it’s in your head.
9 Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Store: worth a place on the list just for the last 30 seconds, which are glorious.
While you’re here, why not enjoy the Mostly Pop Spotify playlist? Over 100 tracks, including these – almost every song I’ve ever reviewed…
The Year Underground – Matt Poacher
You could try and construct a narrative around this collection of great records from 2013; something drawing on new listening habits, on the diminishing gap between the underground and the mainstream, on the collapsing of genres, on the yawning chasm of total availability and waning of affect. You could.
Paul Jebanasam, Rites
2013 was another big year for the Bristolian Subtext label. It’s becoming the kind of label you buy from unthinkingly – a byword for quality and originality. Rites, Jebanasam’s debut album, is a monstrous thing, a vast liturgical tract full of treated guitars and colossal metallic drones; an album that explored the ultimate sonic and practical possibilities of dread.
Mary Lattimore, The Withdrawing Room
The Withdrawing Room, another debut album – this from a Philadelphia based harpist – is full of the austerity and questing vision of Emily Dickinson, but thanks to its warmth and generosity ends up being a throwing open of the doors of solitude and a bathing in onrushing sense impressions.
Robbie Basho, Visions of the Country
A reissue of a 1978 record that sank without trace, Visions of the Country might just be the best thing Basho ever recorded. It’s built around his remarkable, dextrous guitar figures, but the dominating force is his voice – a giant, trembling device that’s equal parts John Jacob Niles and Nina Simone.
I have a half-baked entropic theory that all genres tend towards emo – even black metal. And whatever Sunbather is, if it even is black metal, it’s definitely got the emo taint. Nevertheless it’s an incredibly alluring album, raw-throated and romantic, full of dynamism and light.
Lubomyr Melnyk, Corollaries
Yet more evidence, if more were needed, of the shrinking of gaps, of the cross-pollination of scenes and genres: a Lubomyr Melnyk album appearing on small indie label Erased Tapes. What a thing though. Full of the signature ‘continuous piano music’ that Melnyk perfected in the early 1980s, these five tracks rolled and swept into the far distance, eventually becoming like aural landscapes.
The next best 10:
Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse
William Tyler, Impossible Truth
Endless Boogie, Long Island
Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle, Perils From the Sea
Wooden Wand, Blood Oaths of the New Blues
Boards of Canada, Tomorrow’s Harvest
The Incredible String Band, Live At the Fillmore 1968
The Haxan Cloak, Excavation
William Onyeabor, Who Is William Onyeabor?
The Year in Mostly Records – Jim Eaton-Terry
I covered a lot of my favourite records of the year in MercuryFest, but there are a couple of albums which haven’t appeared on any such lists:
San Fermin – San Fermin
Chamber pop is a horribly difficult thing to pull off. Mostly you’ll either end up with a polite background noise, a basic pop record with some classical gestures around the edges, or at best the rickety charm of Tindersticks (which only works for Tindersticks). San Fermin’s debut is very different, and very beautiful. Veering from the sunshine pop of Sonsick, to songs which sound like Swans at their most tuneful, it’s endlessly inventive and surprising; I haven’t been so blindsided by a debut album since the Fiery Furnaces’ Gallowsbird Bark.
Daniel Avery – Drone Logic
Daniel Avery’s Drone Logic, on the other hand, only missed out on the Mercury due to release timing, I suspect. Slab after slab of pure techno nostalgia, the album is squarely aimed at middle-aged former ravers. I first heard Water Jump while watching the sun rise over Glastonbury Tor, and although I was driving to work rather than staggering through a field it still provoked some kind of transcendence.
In no order, then, the other 8 of my 10 for the year:
These New puritans – Field of Reeds
The most glaring oversight of the Mercury list, a brilliant, sprawling, baffling record that sounds like nothing else.
James Blake – Overgrown
Mercury Winner! I’ve written enough about how fantastic this is, but it really is the best thing I’ve heard all year.
Dizzee Rascal – The Fifth
It doesn’t matter whether it’s over a bog standard Guetta style pop house beat or his original style of a PS2 falling down a flight of stairs, there is no sound in contemporary pop as undeniably joyous as Dizzee in full flight. One track is actually called Arse Like That.
Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister
Worst band name of the year. But the most convincing take on Sarah Records I’ve ever heard, and a hell of a lot jollier than Haim.
My Bloody Valentine – MBV
OK, so he spent 22 years flicking off to Trisha and about 3 months knocking together the record, but who cares? Guitar record of the year, obviously, and barely worth anyone else turning up. See you in 2036, Kev.
I’ve linked above because there’s one record on the list worth buying sight unseen, it’s Frisk Frugt. It has to be heard to be believed how much fun this really is. Like Tuneyards last year, Frisk Frugt just create mental pop music by colliding styles (I think at one point there’s a fisher-price trumpet and a thumb piano, but I’m genuinely not sure
John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
Will certainly be top of a lot of lists this year, and absolutely deserves it. The best lyrical album of the year, zigs from the tragicomedy of I Hate This Fucking Town to the pure drama of Glacier, without ever ringing less than 100 % true. Glorious.
Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Again, talked about in the Mercury lineup but like the James Blake this has grown on me through the year. A techno album that really does the taking-you-on-a-journey thing we’ve been writing about since forever.
Other great moments of the year:
2 elder statesman cameos; “Everybody calls me…Giorgio” was the most euphoric 30 seconds of the past couple of years, and Bowie’s outright theft of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor was better than anything else on that album or The Next Day
Krautrock and Leslie Howard on Public Service Broadcasting’s glorious Spitfire.
Laura Marling lifting the tune of Tangled Up in Blue shamelessly – and getting away with it – on Master Hunter.
The Pet Shop Boys reminding everyone why they always win with the majestic, hilarious Love is a Bourgeois Construct. And there’s no better way to finish a list for the year:
The Year in Bonus Content – Spank the Monkey
For an unspecified number of years now – oh, who am I kidding, it’s 32 – I’ve been spending part of December going through all the music I’ve bought in the previous twelve months, picking out one CD’s worth of favourite tracks. This year’s CD is called Hanging Out With Various Riff-Raff, and full justification of its track listing can be found here.
1. Prefab Sprout – The Best Jewel Thief In The World (from Crimson/Red)
2. Youngblood Brass Band – 20 Questions (from Pax Volumi)
3. Petula Clark – Cut Copy Me (from Lost In You)
4. Dizzee Rascal – Bassline Junkie (from The Fifth)
5. The Duckworth Lewis Method – Third Man (from Sticky Wickets)
6. Kate Miller-Heidke – Humiliation (from Heavenly Sounds Live)
7. Billy Bragg – Handyman Blues (from Tooth And Nail)
8. David Byrne & St Vincent – Marrow (from Brass Tactics)
9. Jaga Jazzist & Britten Sinfonia – Oslo Skyline (from Live With Britten Sinfonia)
10. Pet Shop Boys – Love Is A Bourgeois Construct (from Electric)
11. Love Psychedelico – Beautiful World (from In A Beautiful World)
12. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Furisodeshon (from Nanda Collection)
13. David Bowie – Where Are We Now? (from The Next Day)
14. Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip – You Will See Me (from Repent Replenish Repeat)
15. Deltron 3030 feat. Jamie Cullum – Do You Remember (from Event II)
16. Devon Sproule & Mike O’Neill – Nobody Tells Me A Thing (from Colours)
17. Daft Punk – Contact (from Random Access Memories)
Short version? Considering that I hit my half-century this year, it’s amusing to see how many of these selections were influenced by memories of gigs I went to in 2013. Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall pulling magic out of a loop box in the tiny back room of a North London pub. Devon Sproule playing in some guy’s flat in Edinburgh. Youngblood Brass Band making the prospect of sharing space with an audience of Shoreditch wannabes actually bearable. Scroobius Pip, temporarily Sac-less (ouch), selling out an entire run at the Edinburgh Fringe by reading poetry. Duckworth Lewis Method relishing the chance to play their cricket-based pop in a conference room at Lords, even though there was no way you could tell you were in Lords at the time. David Byrne and a horde of brass players forming two lines on the Roundhouse stage, as St Vincent waddled between them on impossible heels.
My one regret of 2013 (to bring this back to what I wrote here one year ago) was not getting tickets for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s London debut, and having to make do with a video featuring her getting pissed and throwing up at her 20th birthday party.