Best albums of 2020 – Top 25

..and what a year that was indeed. None of us working and living in the so-called First World countries have never experienced such a thing but who are we to complain really? This is a music blog so I do not have neither the skills nor the knowledge to write any particular relevant comments. What I can confess though is that more than ever listening to music has been a blessing, especially in a context with (almost) no live action. As with all lists, it is done to be challenged and commented. And as will all lists, it should be considered as a picture in time. I selected the following 25 albums after a pre-list of 53 of them but this is not the end (as an example, I already have regrets not to have included Cornershop‘s “England Is A Garden“…). I guess though my number 1 album of the year actually makes sense with what our world is today and I hope it will be remembered as such.

I also wanted to thank Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie for all his many at-home sessions. These were a real treat and made the first lockdown a not so bad time (well, you know what I mean…). Go and catch them on line!

#1 Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”. Released in: June 2020. I must confess that it was a very close call and that, depending on the mood of the day, my top 3 could have been differently sequenced. What made the difference probably came from the emotion felt every time I listen to this amazing record. Everything is in its right place and the attention to detail given by Phoebe Bridgers in her lyrics and arrangements is really awesome. I could of course add that she is a young lady of her time, with the hopes and issues women face today but this is more a consequence than the actual reason of recording such a piece of music. Final track “I Know The End” also happens to be my favourite song of 2020 so I guess the choice was pretty obvious. RECORD OF THE YEAR!

 #2 BC Camplight – “Shortly After Takeoff”. Released in: April 2020. This record is the third and probably final one of the so-called Manchester trilogy. BC Camplight is actually the sole project of American musician Brian Christinzio who finally found a bit of peace of mind in the North of England. His personal story and struggles would need an entire book to write but what is more important here is the way he balances dark and funny lyrics with an incredible sense of melody and musical skills. Discover this album (and his previous efforts too) and the rewards will be immense.

 #3 Fiona Apple – “Fetch The Bolt Cutters”. Released in: April 2020. Fiona Apple is an extraordinary talent and having her as number three in this list is just confirmation of all the greetings she received this year from musical reviewers all around the world. I do not have much to add vs. the review I did when she was my album of the month in April, except that this is really an record to discover if not done yet…and if you like dogs!

 #4 Happyness “Floatr”. Released in: May 2020. This album was a real grower for me throughout the year; the kind you find better and better after each listening. Happyness are a London trio and this record sounds like what kind of music Elliott Smith would have done in 2020, mixing psychedelic sounds with incredible beautiful melodies.

 #5 Childish Gambino – “3.15.20”. Released in: March 2020. Those curious enough to look more closely at the cover will spot the ‘Donald Glover presents’ mention but this is the only clue about this record which was released on digital form only on the 15th of March, hence the title… For some reason, this album is nowhere to be seen in any end of the year list while I think this is his best so far. All tracks are good and collectively have this very naked sound and inventiveness… which reminded me of the best Prince records.

 #6 Ghospoet  “I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep”. Released in: May 2020. This is the fifth album of London born musician Obaro Ejimiwe and the least one can say is that he is getting better and better with each release. Ghostpoet is to me the kind of people we need in today’s musical world, questioning society without losing sense of what a great track should be.

 #7 L.A. Salami – “The Cause Of Doubt & A Reason To Have Faith”. Released in: July 2020. This blog does not want to differentiate on purpose and promote artists you will not find in any other list; as a reminder my main goal is to share those records which genuinely moved me last year and that is no exception. Also from London, Lookman Adekunle Salami is a very active figure on the local musical scene. When he does not collaborate with others, he releases his very personal blues rock songs, making them instant classics.

 #8 Moses Sumney  “Græ”. Released in: May 2020. I am not afraid to state that Moses Sumney is probably one the greatest artists of our times and when life goes back to normal, catching him live is almost a compulsory thing. Released in two parts in 2020, “Græ” is a very ambitious record and one may sometimes feel that releasing twenty tracks was too much. However, I must say that what one lacks in immediacy, one gets it back in terms of being rewarded on the long term. A future classic?

 #9 Benjamin Biolay  “Grand Prix”. Released in: June 2020. First of all, let me confirm to all that this is not Romain Grosjean on the cover after his horrendous crash but this is indeed quite disturbing to have this man in flames. I was not that enthusiastic about his latest ”Argentinian” records but with “Grand Prix“, Benjamin Biolay is back on pole position (I know…). This is a very interesting record for 80’s post punk British music lovers and also for those attracted by smart lyrics in French. The best of both worlds really…

 #10 Lianne La Havas  “Lianne La Havas”. Out in: July 2020. This is the third album from London-based former Prince protégée Lianne La Havas and without any question her best so far. It took me a bit of time to get all this album’s subtleties but when you get there, you are quite addicted to it. For those Radiohead fans, her cover of “Weird Fishes” may be the best ever done. Your favourite record for all summers to come!

Also not to miss, the next 15!

  • 11. Arbouretum“Let It All In”
  • 12. This Is The Kit“Off Off On”
  • 13. Jetstream Pony“Jetstream Pony”
  • 14. Laura Marling “Song For Our Daughter”
  • 15. Paul McCartney“McCartney III”
  • 16. Blake Mills – “Mutable Set”
  • 17. Andy Shauf – “The Neon Skyline”
  • 18. Elvis Costello – “Hey Clockface”
  • 19. Ichon – “Pour De Vrai”
  • 20. Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes – “What Kinda Music”
  • 21. The Apartments – “In And Out Of The Light”
  • 22. Khruangbin – “Mordechai”
  • 23. Kevin Morby – “Sundowner” (very popular in Bordeaux, France!)
  • 24. The Avalanches – “We Will Always Love You”
  • 25. Fontaines D.C. – “A Hero’s Death”

Other voices’ (websites, magazines, records stores, etc…) Top 10.

You will find below a selection of other lists but there are so many of them that you may also want to go to the albumoftheyear.org website to get an aggregation of them all.

  • Mojo (UK music mag): 1. Bob Dylan Rough And Rowdy Ways 2. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 3. Fontaines D.C. A Hero’s Death 4. Bill Callahan Gold Record 5. Fleet Foxes Shore 6. Cornershop England Is A Garden 7. Jarv Is… Beyond The Pale 8. Run The Jewels RTJ4 9. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 10. The Flaming Lips American Head
  • Uncut (UK music mag): 1. Bob Dylan Rough And Rowdy Ways 2. Fleet Foxes Shore 3. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 4. Drive-By Truckers The New OK 5. Thundercat It Is What It Is 6. Waxahatchee Saint Cloud 7. Bill Callahan Gold Record 8. Jarv Is… Beyond The Pale 9. Shirley Collins Heart’s Ease 10. Laura Marling Song For Our Daughter
  • NME (UK website): 1. Run The Jewels RTJ4 2. Taylor Swift Folklore 3. Dua Lipa Future Nostalgia 4. The Strokes The New Abnormal 5. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 6. Kelly Lee Owens Inner Song 7. Rina Sawayama Sawayama 8. Haim Women In Music Pt III 9. Beabadoobee Fake It Flowers 10. J Hus Big Conspiracy
  • Rough Trade (London, Nottingham, Bristol and Brooklyn stores): 1. Sault Untitled (Black Is) 2. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 3. Rina Sawayama Sawayama 4. Laura Marling Song Four Our Daughter 5. Jarv Is… Beyond The Pale 6. Dream Wife So When You Gonna… 7. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Viscerals 8. Bdrmm Bedroom 9. Porridge Radio Every Bad 10. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Sideways To New Italy
  • Sister Ray (London Soho store): 1. Juniore Un Deux Trois 2. Andy Bell The View From Halfway Down 3. Billy Nomates Billy Nomates 4. Freddy Gibbs & The Alchemist Alfredo 5. Bdrmm Bedroom 6. Laura Marling Song Four Our Daughter 7. Kate NV Room For The Moon 8. Four Tet Sixteen Oceans 9. Thurston Moore By The Fire 10. Working Men’s Club Working Men’s Club
  • Greg Kot (Sound Opinions radio DJ #1): 1. Sault Untitled (Black Is) & Untitled (Rise) 2. Run The Jewels RTJ4 3. Melkbelly Pith 4. Angelica Garcia Cha Cha Palace 5. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 6. Bartees Strange Live Forever 7. Coriky Coriky 8. Idles Ultra Mono 9. Porridge Radio Every Bad 10. Jyoti Mama, You Can Bet!
  • Jim Derogatis (Sound Opinions radio DJ #2): 1. Shemekia Copeland Uncivil War 2. Ganser Just Look At THe Sky 3. Angelica Garcia Cha Cha Palace 4. Jason Isbell Reunions 5. Run The Jewels RTJ4 6. Lucinda Williams Good Souls Better Angels 7. Drive-By Truckers The Unravelling 8. Margo Price That’s How Rumors Get Started 9. Lydia Loveless Daughter 10. Sault Untitled (Black Is) & Untitled (Rise)
  • Pitchfork (US music website): 1. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 2. Waxahatchee Saint Cloud 3. Moses Sumney græ 4. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 5. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately 6. Bob Dylan Rough And Rowdy Ways 7. Yves Tumor Heaven To A Tortured Mind 8. Haim Women In Music Pt III 9. Jessie Ware What’s Your Pleasure? 10. Bad Bunny YHLQMDLG
  • Paste (US music website): 1. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 2. Waxahatchee Saint Cloud 3. Run The Jewels RTJ4 4. Sault Untitled (Rise) 5. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately 6. Porridge Radio Every Bad 7. Soccer Mommy Color Theory 8. Rina Sawayama Sawayama 9. Adrianne Lenker Songs 10. Moses Sumney græ
  • Les Inrocks (French mag): 1. The Strokes The New Abnormal 2. Working Men’s Club Working Men’s Club 3. Andrea Laszlo De Simone Immensita 4. Fontaines D.C. A Hero’s Death 5. Helena Deland Someone New 6. Chassol Ludi 7. Bob Dylan Rough And Rowdy Ways 8. Gorillaz Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez 9. Ela Minus Acts Of Rebellion 10. Damso QALF
  • The Guardian (UK daily newspaper) : 1. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 2. Dua Lipa Future Nostalgia 3. Rina Sawayama Sawayama 4. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately 5. Sault Untitled (Black Is) 6. Waxahatchee Saint Cloud 7. Haim Women In Music Pt III 8. J Hus Big Conspiracy 9. Taylor Swift Folklore 10. Moses Sumney græ
  • The Independent (UK website) : 1. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 2. Dua Lipa Future Nostalgia 3. Waxahatchee Saint Cloud 4. Laura Marling Song For Our Daughter 5. Moses Sumney græ 6. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately 7. Haim Women In Music Pt III 8. Sufjan Stevens The Ascension 9. Adrianne Lenker Songs 10. Taylor Swift Folklore
  • Magic rpm (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Cabane Grande Est La Maison 2. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 3. Fontaines D.C. A Hero’s Death 4. Car Seat Headrest Making A Door Less Open 5. Mary Lattimore Silver Ladders 6. This Is The Kit Off Off On 7. Adrianne Lenker Songs & Instrumentals 8. Oneohtrix Point Never Make Oneohtrix Point Never 9. Matt Elliott Farewell To All We Know 10. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
  • Noise Magazine (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou May Our Chambers Be Full 2. Human Impact Human Impact 3. Oranssi Pazuzu Mestarin Kynsi 4. Napalm Death Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism 5. Hum Inlet 6. Nothing The Great Dismal 7. Butch McKoy The Sick Rose 8. Tar Pond Protocol Of Constant Sadness 9. Higher Power 27 Miles Underwater 10. Untitled With Drums Hollow
  • Resident (Brighton very cool store): 1. Working Men’s Club Working Men’s Club 2. Porridge Radio Every Bad 3. Sink Ya Teeth Two 4. Moses Boyd Dark Matter 5. Bdrmm Bedroom 6. Juniore Un Deux Trois 7. Craven Faults Erratics & Unconformities 8. Fontaines D.C. A Hero’s Death 9. BC Camplight Shortly After Takeoff 10. Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes What Kinda Music

October 2020 Album of the month: This Is The Kit – “Off Off On”

As every year, the month of October is very busy in terms of releases in all genres and I must admit having listened to hours of music before deciding which records should be kept in this selection. So apologies to Gabriel Garzon-Montano, Bartees Strange, Andy Bell (from Ride), Matt Berninger (from The National), Jeff Tweedy (from Wilco) or again Eels because all their records are quite amazing and could have been in this list.

Album of the month: This Is The Kit – “Off Off On” – Pop Folk Rock – Based in Paris for a few years now, Kate Stables is the leader of this wonderful band (This Is The Kit was actually her nickname…). I personally discovered them on stage at the 2015 edition of the End of the Road festival and I must admit being a fan since then, not missing them once on stage when I could afford to do so. The more it goes, the better Kate Stables and her great musicians reach musical excellence and serenity in their art. This album may really be one of the classics because everything sounds immediate and obvious without losing a sense of urgency. This is the perfect record to discover this major (and very humble) artist.

  • Runner-up: Elvis Costello “Hey Clockface” – Pop Rock – Elvis Costello has been a constant presence for me in 2020 but I must confess getting such a fantastic record was not something I was expecting. Despite being recorded in such different places as Paris, New York or again (almost) alone in deep Finland, there is a sense or urgency, modernism and craftmanship here. It may appear surprising to get such a masterpiece from a 66-year old man who had strong health issues a couple of years ago but those familiar with his art and career know what he is capable of doing. One of his best records!
  • Also recommended:
  • Kevin Morby “Sundowner” – Pop Rock – Like meeting again a familiar old friend, you will immediately feel at home while listening to this record.
  • Laura Veirs “My Echo” – Pop Rock – A special record for Ms. Veirs who experienced a recent divorce, making this record probably sharper than her previous efforts.
  • Bruce Springsteen – “Letter To You” – Pop Rock – Recorded in five days at his New Jersey studio with his old E-Street Band compadres, one of his best records of the 21st century.
  • Gorillaz – “Song Machine, Season One” – Cartoon Music – Damon Albarn is an amazing creative musician and this new Gorillaz LP (which was not supposed to be one by the way) will put a smile on your face every time you play it. And Robert Smith sings the first track!
  • Songhoy Blues – “Optimisme” – African Blues Rock – Recorded at Iggy Pop‘s collaborator Matt Sweeney NY studio, this is the third and best record from this Bamako, Mali band. You will not find a more energizing music this month.
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – Sufjan Steven – “The Ascension
Already 10 months behind us… Enjoy this playlist with 70 records from the year so far!

Something for the weekend – Episode #28 – Elvis Costello And The Attractions “This Year’s Model”

It looks that after all my last ever concert will be that of Elvis Costello at the Eventim Apollo on the 13th of March 2020. I hope this will not be true but if it were to be, there are worse artists to finish such a story… Let’s revisit one of his many masterpieces this week.

Elvis Costello And The Attractions – “This Year’s Model1978

Born Declan McManus, the artist known as Elvis Costello has never been more present in my life than during this lockdown weird period. There was of course the above-mentioned concert but I also watched YouTube videos of his great “Spectacle” show which he did a few years ago on Canadian TV, not to mention “This Year’s Girl” as theme song of “The Deuce” series or again him appearing in the first season of New Orleans-related “Treme” series. Elvis Costello’s first musical steps were in 1976 and he published his first album in 1977, backed by the American band Glover.

What made 2nd LP “This Year’s Model” a greater record though is by far the quality of The Attractions, the band that would back up their leader for many years to come. They are Bruce Thomas on bass, Pete Thomas on drums and Steve Nieve on keys. They are extraordinary musicians and should be recognized as such. You will find in this record everything which makes Elvis Costello such a good rock singer and performer (as there is also the jazz player, the country singer, the classic composer, the one collaborating with The Roots, etc…). His talent is immense but I personally prefer him in his rock classics, such as “No Action” or “I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea“. There are umpteenth reissues of this record but I really recommend to stick to the original 12-track UK version. In one of the episodes of “Spectacle“, Bono and The Edge mentioned that the two gigs that changed their lives and made them want form a band were The Clash and Elvis Costello And The Attractions. Enough said I guess…

Format: LP Bought in: 1986 To be noted: 1993 “2 1/2 years” box set is also recommended as it includes Elvis Costello’s first three studio albums plus the legendary “Live at El Mocambo” concert. Rating: 9.5/10

‘Waiting for the end of the world’ – Elvis Costello & The Imposters – 13th March 2020 – London, Eventim Apollo

…that was an easy one but actually they did not play that particular song (from 1977’s ‘My Aim Is True‘ album). So, remember a time when one could go to gigs, have a couple of beers and enjoy live musics? This is a review of an event that occurred around two weeks ago but it really felt like from another age… I was actually waiting for this gig to be cancelled but it looks it was one of the last which took place in London. Always a difficult choice to do but I considered that because the venue did not break any government rules, there was no real reason not to go.

So, yes, the concert was a bit…special to say the least… This concert was sold out for a long time but around ten percent of the seats were empty. Elvis Costello really played the game and gave us a tremendous performance but one could feel he was very much overwhelmed by what was going on in the UK and in the world, having also in mind the serious health issues he had two years ago. That was actually the last date of the tour and he posted a very moving message on his Facebook account two days later.

But let’s focus on the music and the performance, shall we? I had high expectations from this gig as to me, although his works in the fields of jazz or classical music are not without interest, Elvis Costello really excels when he plays good ol’ fashioned rock music. I would also add he is at his best when playing with his old compadres Pete Thomas on drums and Steve Nieve on the piano, the other ‘new’ member of The Imposters being the excellent Davey Faragher on bass. That night’s performance was one of the best I have seen from the great man. The way they played old and new classics was close to the bone and could have been the work of under 20’s youngsters. I also could not emphasize how much the inclusion of American soul backing singers Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee was a good idea as very often it gave a different feel to the songs (…and it also brought a welcome female touch in this men’s environment). If you are not convinced, catch the setlist on this link and read the review of The Guardian.

October 2018 Album of the month: Neneh Cherry “Broken Politics”

Another busy month with lots of records to listen to, hence the slight delay. Without further due, a great woman gets rewarded this month.

Album of the month: Neneh Cherry“Broken Politics” – Protest soul songs – I am very happy and proud to have Neneh Cherry as my album of the month. First, it shows that you can be a woman in the music industry and not only be judged on your past when you are in the urban and pop music field. Secondly, she is also a fantastic example of someone who is more than a musician: an international citizen (Sweden/USA/UK), a mother but also mainly a human being who has an interest in today’s world. A few faithful collaborators like her partner Cameron McVey, Massive Attack‘s 3D and Four Tet‘s Kieran Hebden, fresh news sounds and angry/sad lyrics about the state of our current world…well, here you go for album of the month. Great cover as well which has been recently taken around Notting Hill., London.

Neneh Cherry - Broken Politics

 

  • Runner-up: Kurt Vile “Bottle It In” – Pop Rock – I guess it would be very easy to get with Kurt Vile what I would call the R.E.M. syndrome, i.e. one could get very much used to great new records from a particular artist every two years. Of course, the excitement is probably not as strong as when I discovered the first records from this Philadelphia musician but I must admit to be impressed by the quality and musicianship of every song…as usual. I went and saw him this week on stage at the sold out Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the feeling was a bit the same. So, let’s all cherish our best long-hair friend in a world where the number of such authentic musicians is getting thinner every day…

 

  • Also recommended:
    • Kristin Hersh “Possible Dust Clouds” – Pop Rock – 10th (!) solo record from the former Throwing Muses singer. One of her best; beware, she is quite angry!
    • Petite Noir – “La Maison Noir / The Black House” – Noisy African Soul – Latest mini LP from the very unique and singular voice of the South African / Belgian Yannick Ilunga.
    • Connan Mockasin “Jassbusters” –  Indie Rock – A rather good album but the opening song “Charlotte’s Thong” is a killer and one of the best of the year.
    • Elvis Costello & The Imposters “Look Now” – Pop Rock – Elvis Costello is always at his best when he plays with Messrs. Nieve and Thomas. A few tracks are on par with his best work.
    • Cloud Nothings – “Last Building Burning” – Rock – A great return to form from Dylan Baldi and his band. To the bone and not one ounce of fat.

Elvis Costello, London Royal Albert Hall, 29th October 2014

Elvis Costello, Royal Albert Hall 2014, alone

… and yes dear readers, the blog is back! After years of tremendous world-wide success and aggressive buying offers from equity funds, Virgins and Philistines Senior Management have regrouped and concluded that the only way for the blog to keep its independency and stay focusing on the pure musical side was to cross the Channel and set up our Headquarters in London, one of the few major rock cities.

Elvis Costello, Royal Albert Hall 2014, with Georgie Fame

And there is probably no better way to re-start our chronicles than seeing live one of our favourite artists of all times (ranked #8 in our Top 100) in one of the most beautiful and famous music theatre of the U.K. (I did not find out though how many holes could fill this place…). Despite having reached the honourable 60-years old threshold which is by the way something amazing as I am still seeing him as this enraged young punk rock musician from the 70’s, Elvis Costello – real name Declan McManus – is currently in a very dynamic energy. To my mind, he has much clarity and vision about what he wants to do about his musical life than, say, 10 or 15 years ago.

Elvis Costello, Royal Albert Hall 2014, with Steve Nieve

After being on stage with the legendary opening band Georgie Fame and the Blue Fames for one track, Elvis Costello came back later to open his own set that was supposed to be solo… but with a great surprise as the pianist Stevie Nieve was on stage for a good part of the show. On top of having the pleasure of seeing these two great musicians working together, this was fantastic as well to see how they both are not people only watching in a rear-view mirror but always eager to go towards the future when the art of arrangement is concerned.

Elvis Costello, Royal Albert Hall 2014, on guitar

The set list was extraordinary and really well-balanced with all musical periods of his life and you will find all details in the set on this link. When Elvis Costello played on his own, he only had to choose one of the beautiful six guitars that were surrounding him but once again for me the real magical moments came when he revisited all songs with Steve Nieve on the piano. Songs such as “I don’t want to go to Chelsea” or “Shipbuilding” were really extraordinary that night. See you soon again Elvis and you dear blog readers for more frequent news than the last months.

Elvis Costello, Royal Albert Hall 2014, on air

Best of 2013 : Top 20 !

2013 was one of these years… Every year is great when you are a real music fan as there are reasures to discover in pop, soul, rock, metal, hip hop,…any style. But 2013 was special and I had to put apart excellent records that would have been here other years (hello My Bloody Valentine, Iron & Wine, Franz Ferdinand and many others…). Difficult as well for newcomers to join the crew so good were the more famous artists who had been there forever and/or made unexpected comebacks.

Albums

 

Album of the Year – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Push the Sky away”

 Nick Cave has made so many great albums that a new one is sometimes seen as “another excellent Nick Cave album”. That was my reaction at first and although I liked it a lot, it became slowly but surely my number one throughout the second part of the year. Amazing songs, great lyrics, less guitar, more melodies, Warren Ellis more and more present as lieutenant…and that’s it. We have with Nick Cave an amazing musician and singer, who keeps a very humble attitude and tends to simplify his art with age (as many great painters did in the past) so discover him if not done yet and cherish his music.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Paris Zenith 2013, holding hands

From Paris, November 2013 concert

The rest of my top 20 (by alphabetical order)

  Arcade Fire“Reflektor” Arcade Fire have been back in 2013 and the least one can say was that indeed difficult to miss them being back. Lots of hype around the name (they took the fake “The Reflektors” tag to play here and there), around their new sound (more rhythm thanks to LCD Soundsystem James Murphy), around their mystery guests (hello again David Bowie)… but at the end of the day how were the songs and the LP? Well,…good enough to be in this Top 20 but probably not as good as their previous LP’s “Funeral” and “The Suburbs”. They remain though one of the most interesting bands of our times, the way they are looking for new ways to do music is refreshing (despite the quite irritating marketing plan around it) and with the song “Reflektor” they had an amazing hit.

 Arctic Monkeys – “AM” The little boys from Sheffield are now mid-20’s adults living in California and AM is already their fifth (!) LP. I hesitated a bit before putting this album as well but not anymore after a few recent listening as such powerful and melodic their music still is. For those who love at the same time Brit-pop and stone-rock (me!), this album is a must (and quite well ranked everywhere in the UK).

 David Bowie“The Next day” What can I say except that 2013 was a weird year with the totally unexpected come-back from such a great artist to the music biz but as well amongst the world of the living whereas my indestructible other idol Lou Reed left us in October… The 8th of  January in particular had been an important day with David Bowie showing to the world a new single the day of his 66th birthday and the fact that a new LP was to arrive in March. The Next Day is a superb album, as good as the last ones he had done in the early 00’s and with the usual great partners, such as for instance Toni Visconti at the production wheel or Gail Ann Dorsey on bass. Amazing 10-minute remix of “Love is lost” from James Murphy (again!) available on the limited edition of the album mixing typical LCD Soundsystem and a few musical phrases from “Ashes to Ashes”.

Image result for bill callahan dream river Bill Callahan“Dream River” A new LP by Bill Callahan might be the equivalent of new Woody Allen or Coen Bros movies : very regular in production, you go there more by habit than will, it sounds or looks familiar at first sight or listening but then you realise that these guys are real masters in what they do and that their art is always on top of the rest. No revolution here in Bill Callahan’s music but very humble and funny lyrics with beautiful melodies and a very crafted way to make it sound modern. If you do not know yet this artist, “Dream River” is the album to start with.

Image result for wise up ghost Elvis Costello and the Roots“Wise Up Ghost” I tend to be suspicious and to freeze my enthusiasm when two of my favourite artists from different horizons join forces to make music together as this is often deceptive. Fortunately the association of Elvis Costello with what might be the best hip-hop band of the last fifteen years has given beautiful results. The strength of this album is that both these artists collaborate on a kind of “intermediary” music (say neither rock, nor hip-hop) giving what could be the Tamla Motown sound of today. The most unforecasted collaboration of the year for a very recommended album.

MCII Mikal Cronin“MCII” One of the rare newcomers in this Top 20 list, Mikal Cronin is a young American part of the Ty Segall garage-rock frame. However, his music is more balanced than the rest of his fellow friends with a mix of folk sensitivity and indeed sometimes heavier garage-rock sounds. Melodies are superb throughout this album, which explains its presence in our Top 20.

 Daft Punk“Random Access Memories” Like Arcade Fire, Daft Punk‘s return has been precisely prepared and implemented and one could feel concerned about what was really at stakes. But who cares when the music is so good… and so different vs. what the band had done before. To make it short, let’s stay that Daft Punk went with this record from the numeric to the analogic age with subtlety, envy and creativity. You have been dancing and listening to “Get Lucky” for almost a year now so I will not dare tell you that this single is indispensable and probably the best hit song since Gnarls Barkley “Crazy”. What makes this LP so amazing as well is the way the band and their guests managed to get the best from each others. The real master of this album by far is the fantastic drummer Omar Hakim ; he is the one keeping this heartbeat rhythm throughout the album and making it the work of robots starting being human. (almost) #1 record of the year…

 Darkside“Psychic” Darkside is a project held by the American-Chilean dance music producer Nicolas Jaar with the (great) help of guitarist Dave Harrington. Together, they do produce fantastic electro music, succeeding to make it sound at the same time very fresh and very 70’s. This is probably not by chance that their project’s name is a part of Pink Floyd most famous album. I personally had an amazing experience when I saw them live at the Paris Pitchfork festival so euphoric and dreamy their music is.

 Junip“Junip” Junip is a Swedish trio lead by semi-famous pop/folk singer José Gonzalez and this album is their second LP after “Fields” in 2010. They clearly played tougher with this album, not in the sense that they suddenly starting making death-metal guitar riffs but more in the fact that they mixed their usual beautiful folk songs with new repetitive rhythms not far from those made famous by 70’s German bands (CAN, NEU!, etc…). A real grower too as each new listening make this album better and better.

 Mark Kozelek and Jimmy Lavalle“Perils from the Sea” One of the four (!) LP’s offered this year by the great Mark Kozelek and all surprisingly fresh and different (one is live “at Phoenix Public House Melbourne“, one is a covers LP “Like Rats” and the other one is a collaboration with US band Desertshore). This one is for me the best of the four probably because Mark Kozelek had not been involved in such fresh sounds for years. Jimmy Lavalle is more famous as leader of electro-pop band The Album Leaf and one can feel all what he brought to this collaboration. Red House Painters fans will find Mark Kozelek’s voice as beautiful as ever but probably in more dynamic and smiling environment (do not get wrong, I am the #1 fan of his usual depressive songs…).

 Laura Marling“Once I was an Eagle” Laura Marling is a young 23-year old British singer and this album is already her 4th album (!). I guess I never talked about her before in this blog whereas her music has been a constant pleasure for years now. She put herself in danger here by letting her UK band behind her to record this album in Los Angeles with new musicians. But I would tend to say that the real star of the show is her in all her records so impressive is her maturity and voice for such a young lady. The first four tracks of this record are a kind of post-break up suite when one can really feel the 3 am mood of serene hope after difficult times. If these comments remain unclear, think Laura Marling as the Joni Mitchell of our times, no less.

 The National“Trouble will find me” The National are really getting better and better with each release. This might seem too affirmative a sentence in relation to their last LP’s that have been regularly in our best of’s of former years but this album is a good as all previous ones regarding chords and arrangements but probably stronger in terms of melodies and emotion (“happy/sad”). If you are familiar and attracted to their music, you really should catch them on stage. I saw them live twice in 2013 and this has been every time an amazing moment.

 Nine Inch Nails“Hesitation Marks” Another excellent come-back as the band was on infinite hiatus since 2009 but it looks like the different very good projects Trent Renznor was having on a parallel side were not rewarding him enough compared to the thrill of being back on record and on stage with his main band Nine Inch Nails. Very long and deep album which will request many listening to get over all its treasures. Same as for The National with Nine Inch Nails ; if you like them, seeing them live is a must.

 Prefab Sprout “Crimson/Red” Talking about comeback, this one was probably the most surprising of them all. Of course, there had been a few albums since Prefab Sprout’s great years (basically the 80’s) but more often these good records were recordings from the past. This is not the case with this new album which has been made alone by Paddy McAlloon. After many serious health issues, he is looking now like an old wise man with long white hair and beard but his songs (and voice) are that of a young man in his late 20’s in love. Probably the most moving album of the year.

 Queens Of The Stone Age“…like Clockwork” Amazingly enough, it had been six years since the previous QOTSA album and one did not feel such a long time due to their leader Josh Homme’s presence in many projects. However, he had disappeared for a few months in 2012 as he faced a surgery that did not go well and had a near-death experience. After double-thoughts about his career and the meaning of life, the big man came back to what he is famous for : music that rocks like hell ! Well, sort of as this album is probably the most melodic and quiet one and should bring new fans to one of the greatest bands of our times.

 Trentemøller“Lost” Our favourite Danish dance artist/producer has been back recently with this very good album which did not make a lot of noise amongst the specialists. This is a shame as one can find the post-punk mixed with electro kind of music for which he is so good at (say This Mortal Cole with a Daft Punk Vibe…). Many great guests as well on this LP, including Mimi Parker from Low.

 Kurt Vile“Wakin on a Pretty Daze” This blog’s author is quite a fan of Kurt Vile and I have seen him live twice this year. What makes this young man so good and above the rest of all the fine American rock writers? Probably the way he has of not playing 100% of the biz game and being naive at the same time. Musically speaking, those who like their songs long and repetitive as in the best Neil Young LP’s will get love at first sight with Kurt Vile.

 Kanye West“Yeezus” You all know Kanye West, one of the richest musicians ever, with an ego the size of a continent, his celebrity-life, his ridiculous videos, the way he talks to the media basically about …anything. But this is not the Kanye West I like ; the one I know is one the greatest artists of all times, making fantastic albums in a row, always changing style, inventive and creator of superb melodies. This LP was tougher after the first listening (almost sounding like the NY 70’s band Suicide for those familiar) but deserved attention as this was as good as his best work. Funny as well to hear Daft Punk on many tracks playing dark and scary electro whereas they chose soul sounds for their own LP.

 Yo La Tengo“Fade” Another great LP from Yo La Tengo with as usual the same beautiful split of cool ballads and furious saturated rock songs. Having seen them live this year was as great as before and having the honour to get a 5-minute chat with them at the Paris Pitchfork Festival made my year. In this sad 2013 year where our rock master disappeared, there is no better band as Yo La Tengo to bear the Velvet Underground sounds.

Other top 5’s :

  • New Musical Express (UK weekly mag.): 1. Arctic Monkeys “AM” 2. Kanye West “Yeezus” 3. Queens Of The Stone Age ”…Like Clockwork” 4. Foals “Holy Fire” 5. Savages “Silence Yourself”
  • Uncut (UK monthly mag.): 1. My Bloody Valentine “mbv” 2. David Bowie “The Next Day” 3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Push The Sky Away” 4. John Grant “Pale Green Ghosts” 5. Laura Marling “Once I Was An Eagle”
  • Mojo (UK monthly mag.): 1. Bill Callahan “Dream River” 2. Daft Punk “Random Access Memories” 3. David Bowie “The Next Day” 4. Arctic Monkeys “AM” 5. John Grant “Pale Green Ghosts”
  • Paste (US web mag.): 1. Phosphorescent “Muchacho” 2. Mikal Cronin “MCII” 3. Foxygen “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic” 4. Janelle Monae “The Eletric Lady ” 5. Deerhunter “Monomania”
  • Pitchfork  (US website): 1. Vampire Weekend  “Modern Vampires Of The City” 2. Kanye West “Yeezus” 3. Disclosure “Settle ” 4. My Bloody Valentine “mbv” 5. Danny Brown “Old”
  • Les Inrockuptibles (French weekly mag.): 1. Arcade Fire “Reflektor” 2. La Femme “Psycho Tropical Berlin” 3. Daft Punk “Random Access Memories” 4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Push The Sky Away” 5. Jagwar Ma “Howlin”
  • Magic rpm (French monthly mag.): 1. Aline “Regarde Le Ciel” 2. Phoenix “Bankrupt!” 3. Minks “Tides End” 4. La Femme “Psycho Tropical Berlin” 5. Arcade Fire “Reflektor”
  • New Noise (French bimester mag.): 1. Jessica 93 “Who Cares” 2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Push The Sky Away” 3. Fuck Buttons “Slow Focus” 4. Ventura “Ultima Necat” 5. Marvin “Barry
  • Sound Opinions (US music podcast)   Greg Kot’s 1. Parquet Courts “Light Up Gold” 2. Chance The Rapper “Acid Rap” 3. Allen Toussaint “Songbook” 4. Darkside “Psychic” 5. Savages “Silence Yourself”     Jim DeRogatis’ 1. Savages “Silence Yourself” 2. Parquet Courts “Light Up Gold” 3. Chance The Rapper “Acid Rap” 4. Foxygen “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic” 5. Lorde “Pure Heroine”
  • Fargo (Paris records store): Top 2013 records in no particular order
  • Ground Zero (Paris records store): Top 10 in no particular order
  • Other Music (NY records store): Top 30 in no particular order

Reissue of the Year

Nirvana “In Utero” Much more than “Nevermind” or “Unplugged”, “In Utero” was Nirvana‘s masterpiece. No need to argue beloved readers ; this is a fact ! This magnificent box-set include 3 CD’s of the original album with the mix we all know plus mixes of what it could (should?) have been plus a lot of alternate versions and a tremendous MTV live show (also including as a DVD) which shows all the power of the band and the genius Kurt Cobain was. Read in particular the letter that producer Steve Albini wrote to the band to convince them to work with him to understand what love of music is about.

Music Movie of the Year

Dave Grohl “Sound City” Very moving and energizing movie from Dave Grohl explaining how such a great studio Sound City, California was (home of many historical records such as Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” – great reissue as well this year by the way – and Nirvana “Nervermind” for instance), how it slowly got less famous vs. new technologies and how he bought the mixing desk and brought it back to life. The music is extraordinary throughout the movie and there are many guests bringing back this place to life. Watching in particular Paul McCartney with the surviving members of Nirvana or Josh Homme playing with Trent Renznor is a must. Watch the movie and buy the album.

TOP 100 Artists/Bands of all Times : 6-10

10. Bruce Springsteen

 from : Freehold, New Jersey, USA / first great sounds : 70’s / style : euphoric rock / essential albums : Born To Run (1975) , Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978), Nebraska (1982), Born in the U.S.A. (1984), The Rising (2002) / Click to read more in the blog

Number 10 in my Top 100… Does this ranking really mean anything ? If  I were to rank Bruce on the number of times I listened to his records and watched his DVD’s and on the emotion and energy I felt at his concerts, he would probably be closer to the number One spot. If I were to make one advice regarding Bruce Springsteen for those who do not really know him and his music, it would be not to do the same mistake I did at first, that is to say go beyond the blue-collar kind of music for typical Americans cliché. His music is indeed very American as he has mixed throughout his career all kinds of influences (pop, soul, rock) but his words must be understood more in a John Steinbeck kind of way rather than George Bush’s one. One word as well on his faithful E-Street Band musicians ; although he is the creative force, they have been the best musical vehicle he could have dreamt of to fulfill his artistic ambitions.

9. Tom Waits

 from : Ponoma, California, USA / first great sounds : 70’s / style : Waitsian music / essential albums : Blue Valentine (1978), Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), Mule Variations (1999) / Click to read more in the blog

Another amazing artist whose art is often reduced to a cliché too… Yes, Tom Waits has a wolf voice and he may be sometimes closer to Brechtian over exuberant music but his world is a fantastic one. After having spent the 70’s doing beautiful but more standard jazz-blues piano-oriented albums, he met future wife Kathleen Brennan in the early 80’s and began a different style of music thanks to her pushing him to really be what he wanted to. The results are genius sounding records full of weirdness (these instruments…) and emotion (these songs…).

8. Elvis Costello

 from : London, England / first great sounds : 70’s / style : from pub-rock to classical / essential albums : This Year’s Model (1978), Imperial Bedroom (1982), King Of America (1986), Blood & Chocolate (1986), Brutal Youth (1994), When I Was Cruel (2002) / Click to read more in the blog

…and the Attractions should I say such a key element his first band have been throughout his career. Declan McManus (real name) started in the mid-80’s as a kind of fusion of classical rock and punk rock and managed to attract fans of both kinds of music. He went on being a major player in the UK scene, every album in the 80’s bringing a fresh approach to a specific genre of music. As in all great artists and musicians, he had a very strong peak period from 1978 to 1986 but kept on making very nice albums . All essential albums mentioned above are really must-haves so do not lose time and listen to them all!

7. Neil Young

 from : Toronto, Canada/ first great sounds : 60’s / style : acoustic/saturated rock / essential albums : Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969), After The Gold Rush (1970), Harvest (1972), On The Beach (1974), Tonight’s The Night (1975), Zuma (1975), Rust Never Sleeps (1979), Ragged Glory (1990), Le Noise (2010) / Click to read more in the blog

We have already mentioned Crosby, Stills and Nash at number 50 in our Top 100. Although Neil Young was indeed a major force in their best albums, it was necessary to dissociate his so-called solo career, which is not that solo as he did his best music with his band Crazy Horse. Do you still follow me ? Well, if not, go directly to any of the essential albums mentioned above as this is like breathing air as far as I am concerned. You basically have two Neil Young songs : the acoustic folkie-ballad one (often with sad words) and the furious electric saturated one (one with..furious words). Both of them are the Ying and Yang of our favourite Canadian and explain why this guy has been doing great music for ages.

6. The Rolling Stones

 from : London, England / first great sounds : 60’s  / style : from blues to rock / essential albums : Aftermath (1966), Beggars Banquet (1968), Let It Bleed (1969), Sitcky Fingers (1971), Exile on Main St. (1972), Some Girls (1978), Steel Wheels (1989) / Click to read more in the blog

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones ! A few of you might have been lucky enough to experience this band on stage either at their peak period (1965-1975) or later. Personally, I am always impressed by these guys and the number of fantastic songs they have been doing. Let’s not forget the importance of this band in the 60’s and overall in the history of the 20th century, as far as society changes are concerned. But moreover Mick, Keith, Charlie, Brian, Bill, Mick (#2) and Ron must be cherished for what they brought to the music world with only a simple love of blues at the start. I would recommend once again Keith Richard’s book “Life” to get the full story.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Paris Olympia, 29th May 2012

My Third Elvis Costello show ever and the third one at the Olympia in Paris after having enjoyed the great man onstage in 1986 and 1994.

Born Declan McManus, now aged 57, Elvis Costello has been one the most talented and diverse artists we have had since the end of the 70’s. I will not say I do not appreciate what he does in fields such a jazz, country or even classical music, but one has to admit that he is never as good as when he plays his typical punchy rock style as he did in his first records (or the ones he sometimes does in this style once in a while).

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Elvis Costello had been a man of many names as well and tonight he was our host, Napoleon Dynamite with his Imposters band, built out from two-thirds of the formerly Attractions (Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums) and of Davey Faragher on bass. And as a welcoming host, he had a spinning wheel on one side (indicating famous songs’ names or words such as “time” – he told us that if the wheel was to stop there, they would play all the songs ever written with the word “time” in it!) and a go-go dancing booth on the other one. The idea is simple but very pleasant : he chooses people in the audience, they have a nice little chat on stage, spin the wheel and enjoy the stage-bar or the dancing booth while the band plays. People from over the world were there but the most recognized fan was no-one else than Antoine de Caunes (of Chorus, Canal + and Rapido fame) dancing like hell on stage when the band was playing “I don’t want to go to Chelsea”.

So the “how” was great but what about the “it”? Well, I must say that Elvis was in great shape, playing with great enthusiasm an almost 3-hour set, ending with my favourite of his songs : “I Want You” from “Blood and Chocolate”. See you next time a bit earlier Declan! Please click on for full setlist.