There’s been many great albums released in 2013, so it was a struggle to narrow it down to just ten, missing out great music by some of my favourite artists. But that’s life, and here’s my list…
10 – Beyonce – Beyonce
A very late entry this one, Beyonce won’t be featuring on many Top Albums Of 2014 lists because no-one knew she was going to release one until it was out last Friday, long after print deadlines and even most websites had published theirs. The initial reaction was ecstatic, so I’m trying to stay removed from that here. The way it was released doesn’t impact the quality of the music. And that’s what gets it in the top 10, because the music is brilliant, with the lyrics eschewing her crowd-pleasing bland feminist platitudes for an album that veers towards the bedroom so often it could be an early-90s Prince album. With the production and the songwriting inventive enough to push the likes of Janelle Monae into the shade, which is no mean feat. Her best album yet.
9 – Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Sometimes a hit can be too big and Daft Punk can possibly attest to that. Get Lucky’s Chic-tastic vibes were perfect for early summer and it was a huge success, but raised expectations to stratospheric levels for Random Access Memories. So, when the album came out and wasn’t packed with similarly anthemic pop, the world looked confused for a bit and moved on, with Nile Rodgers benefitting more than from his involvement than the mercurial French duo. But it’s still an excellent album regardless, even if lengthy spoken word pieces from Giorgio Moroder didn’t do it for most people. Daft Punk are musicologists as much as musicians, and this is another love letter to the dancefloor.
8 – Mark Lanegan – Imitations
A covers album in the Top 10? This list is obviously all personal choices, but I seem to feel more positively about this one than most. Maybe it’s just the time of year, but hearing Lanegan’s deep vocals singing these classic torch songs is just perfect on long, dark evenings. My absolute favourite is Autumn Leaves, which should be played every day during Autumn for the rest of time, but his takes on the likes of Nancy Sinatra and Nick Cave are also excellent. The production is suitably wistful and reflective and never goes too far down the ‘doom-laden’ path, making it too close to easy listening for some, but just fine by me.
7 – Ashley Monroe – Like A Rose
It was a great year for Ashley Monroe, with her group Pistol Annies also releasing an excellent album, but LiKe A Rose was the real classic. Her second album may have only been just over half an hour long, with just nine songs, but that makes it a lean and slick effort that manages to sound like exactly the kind of thing country purists love while having lyrics that would make most of them want to burn her at the stake. The playful You Ain’t Dolly (And You Ain’t Porter) with Blake Shelton is fun, but the highlight is the delicious Weed Instead Of Roses, which manages to be kind of romantic as well as sleazy and outrageous.
6 – My Bloody Valentine – m b v
When My Bloody Valentine last released an album, the World Wide Web was still in its infancy and used by four or five people in Switzerland, so it wasn’t a surprise that the follow-up to Loveless had a few hiccups when it was launched abruptly one weekend in February. But when people could finally get it, there was no sign that time had withered the ability of Kevin Shields and Co to create distorted magic and it was nowhere near the anticlimax that 22 years of waiting could have made it, overshadowing other impressive comeback albums by the likes of David Bowie and Mazzy Star by being everything you wanted it to be and more. Come back sooner next time.
5 – John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
On first listen, Pale Green Ghosts was a bit of a shock after the perfection that was Grant’s first solo album, with the sonic tomfoolery making some of the tracks hard-going. But there were enough more straightforward classics like GMF to ease you in and once it had you, this was an album that didn’t let you go. Lyrically it’s possibly even more dark and confessional than its predecessor, but again not without moments of sly levity, and who couldn’t love someone who follows up an album containing a song called Sigourney Weaver with another containing a song called Ernest Borgnine?
4 – Manic Street Preachers – Rewind The Film
The first part of a double header of Manics albums, this quiet, reflective and mostly acoustic album is one of their best. With Nicky Wire’s lyrics focusing inwards rather than outwards (apart from the Thatcherite-baiting 30 Year War) and James Dean Bradfield joined by guests like Richard Hawley, Cat Le Bon and Lucy Rose, it takes the most promising moments from This Is My Truth and builds on them in much more consistent manner. They’ll be back next year with some Krautrock apparently, but it’ll have to be very good to match this.
3 – Kasey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
Edging out Ashley Monroe for best country album of the year in my list, Kacey Musgraves covers a lot of the same territory, taking a traditional country sound and making it unashamedly modern without ending up making pop music. Her lyrics are funny, sad and clever, while her sweet voice carries tracks like Dandelion just as well as the rockier stuff like Blowin’ Smoke. There’s a lot of great young female artists in country at the moment, but Kacey Musgraves has put herself right up there at the top of the pile.
2 – Kanye West – Yeezus
Where to even start with this one? Who knew what kind of album Kanye would come out with now that he’s entwined with the Kardashian Kar Krash, but no-one really expected it to be something as uncompromising and uncommercial as Yeezus. With an anti-cover (a picture of a CD) and relatively few big name guest stars (compared to his last album, which had EVERYONE on it) plus a title that put his Messiah complex front and centre, Kanye West was taking no prisoners. And it’s brilliant from start to finish, even when he uses samples of Strange Fruit to have a bit of a moan about his love life. When you make music as startlingly impressive as this, you can get away with pretty much anything.
1 – Tegan And Sara – Heartthrob
Sometimes the first new album you hear is the one that stays with you all year and that was the case for me this year and Heartthrob. Coming out at the end of January to signal that the worst was over and everything could be ok again, the Canadian twins delivered their best album to date by taking themselves further down the indie-synth-pop route that they’d been edging towards, with near-perfect results. Lead single Closer remains one of the best songs of the year, but everything is so well done, particularly the likes of I Was A Fool and I’m Not Your Hero.