No, this is not a post about my album Contact (in some alternate universe it would be, I like to think). It’s my annual list of the best albums of the year! Which each year seems to be getting shorter and shorter, as I age and my bands break up and new music all sounds like noise to me, etc.
So expect, like last year, to see a few records by bands you thought broke up in 2002 (they probably did, but got back together again, or they never did and you stopped paying attention).
The advantage of a shorter list I guess is being more inclined to say a few words about each one.
Anyway… here we go!
1. Beady Eye – BE
If you had told me a decade ago I’d rate a post-Oasis band led by Liam Gallagher over an unadulterated Noel solo record… yeah. So I’m as surprised as anyone at how good BE turned out to be. Particularly coming after the decent, but unspectacular first record.
Of course it didn’t get amazing reviews – it’s not exactly groundbreaking music – instead just a set of really f**ing great songs, with a sprinkle of psychedelia on top.
And like Weezer’s recent albums, some of the best songs are dumped at the end of the record as bonus tracks! (Yes, I’ve made it to the end of Weezer’s recent albums… it’s actually worth it in a few cases.)
Best tracks: The World’s Not Set in Stone, Start Anew, Flick of the Finger
2. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Like Beady Eye (surely that’s the first time anyone’s used that phrase in talking about QOTSA), the best songs on the Queens’ new record were the ones that stripped things back and toned down the rawk.
Except If I Had A Tail, which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Songs for the Deaf.
Best tracks: If I Had A Tail, The Vampyre Of Time And Memory, I Appear Missing
3. Arctic Monkeys – AM
What is this, the year of bands releasing records titled after their initials? (See #1 above.) I’ve never been the biggest Arctic Monkeys fan – Prior to this album I could probably have counted the number of songs of theirs I liked on one hand.
But after hearing this album a number of times thanks to Tariqa, who’s a bit of a bigger fan than me, and the presence of a song that sounds exactly like early post-Beatles John Lennon, I realised this album – at least – was pretty damn good.
Best tracks: No. 1 Party Anthem, I Want It All, Knee Socks
4. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Not so much a Daft Punk record as a collaboration between Pharrell and Nile Rodgers, masterminded by the robotic duo, with an android stepping in when Pharrell was busy writing the 1000 other hits he pens each year.
I’m not sure what hardcore EDM fans made of it, but if you weren’t demanding another record like their last two, then it’s a welcome diversion.
Best tracks: Giorgio by Moroder, Get Lucky, Lose Yourself to Dance
5. Suede – Bloodsports
Usually the bands who have the best latter-day records are the ones who stick it out through the fallow periods and get their mojo back, but Suede showed that’s not always the case with Bloodsports. I never totally bought into the criticism of their last album before the split – A New Morning – which many found limp and uninspired, but I thought was a decent lsiten.
But in a strange way Bloodsports somewhat retroactively ruins A New Morning by being so damn good and raw, yet imperfect in a way that suggests there’s plenty left in the tank.
Best Tracks: Snowblind, For the Strangers, It Starts and Ends With You
6. Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film
To be honest, a year in which the Manics release an album and it’s not in my top five is a strange year. I’m not convinced it was because there was so much other great music this year, but that Rewind the Film is a bit of a sub-par effort.
Still, a sub-par effort from my favourite band in history (I’m not sure you’re legally allowed to call anyone the best band in history if you’re not referring to the Beatles) is still better than 95 percent of shit out there, and Rewind the Film certainly has its moments – though its almost exclusively acoustic focus does serve to grow anticipation for the upcoming Futurology, which promises a return to the angry flipside of the Manics’ sound.
Best tracks: Show Me The Wonder, This Sullen Welsh Heart, 3 Ways To See Despair
7. Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
It took a few listens to realise this, but the new Franz album is easily better than their third, and may even be better than their somewhat underrated second. Of course it’s not as good as the debut, but what is?
They didn’t change their sound a bit while they were away, so while it sounds a little 2005, in amongst some of the dross 2013 served up, that’s no bad thing.
Best tracks: Right Action, Love Illumination, Treason! Animals
8. Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
Depeche Mode’s last three albums have been three of the best they’ve ever done, and though Delta Machine‘s probably the weakest of the trio, that much of it holds up against career highpoint Violator is impressive for a band in their fourth decade.
Oddly enough the album’s at its best when it strays from its central motif of electronic blues and into Songs of the Universe and Playing the Angel territory. Sure, Dave Gahan has the voice, but he – and most Depeche Mode fans, I’d wager – are synthpoppers at heart.
Best tracks: Secret to the End, Soft Touch/Raw Nerve, My Little Universe
9. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
It actually saddens me a little to put this album so low. Yeah, it made the top 10 – must be a good album – but like the Manics, I expect better of Arcade Fire. And not just Arcade Fire – it’s Arcade Fire produced by James Murphy, with special guest David Bowie – so it’s a wonder Reflektor isn’t the greatest album ever made, just #9 in 2013.
Still, Arcade Fire on a bad day is still able to produce epic songs like the title track, so despite a clear downhill trend from the masterpiece that was Neon Bible, I suspect there’s life in the band yet.
Best tracks: Reflektor, We Exist, You Already Know
10. Gary Numan – Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)
It was a toss-up between this and Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks, which is somewhat apt considering Gary Numan’s been making the music everyone thinks Trent Reznor’s been doing all this time. Reznor’s effort contains a couple of absolutely brilliant tracks – think Copy of A and Come Back Haunted – but can really drag outside of those peaks.
Splinter, on the other hand, has all the beats, digital distortion and despair you’d expect from Nine Inch Nails, plus Numan’s absolutely unique vocals – no one in the history of music sounds anything remotely like him – and catchiest batch of songs he’s written in decades.
Best tracks: Who Are You, I Am Dust, Love Hurt Bleed
So what almost made the list, aside from Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks? Paul McCartney’s New, Travis’ Where You Stand, David Bowie’s The Next Day and Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City were all pretty decent. There was also good stuff on Pearl Jam’s Lightning Bolt, Johnny Marr’s The Messenger and Atoms for Peace’s Amok.
Some of the year’s disappointments – aside from the still pretty good Reflektor – included Joy Formidable’s Wolf’s Law (more of the same, just not as good), Duckworth-Lewis Method’s Sticky Wickets (a rare misstep from genius Neil Hannon, particularly when his first cricket-themed album was so good) and Primal Scream’s More Light (a bit of a mess, really).
But the year’s biggest letdown had to be the MGMT self-titled album. There’s a good chance you didn’t even realise there was one – it had nothing even remotely approaching a hit single, and the one that was released barely scratched the two-minute mark, and was probably the only listenable part of the record.
People slammed Congratulations – which I actually thought was an improvement on their debut, and the best album of 2010 – but pretty much everything wrong that record was wrongly accused of can be applied here.
Then again, perhaps I just haven’t listened to it enough – only managed to make it through the entire thing once or twice. It’s no Lulu or Metal Machine Music – far from it – but I get the feeling MGMT don’t actually like any of the music that made them famous!
So that’s 2013, then. I wonder what’s out there I completely missed that’ll force me to revisit this list in the future…