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.

 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 : Part Two : 86 – 90

I know you have been waiting eagerly for weeks now so here you are with our second episode of our TOP 100 !

90. Blur

 from : Colchester, England / first great sounds : 90’s / style : brit-pop with a soul / essential albums : Modern Life Is Rubbish (1994), Blur (1997)

Not many bands of the so-called Britpop movement of the 90’s have had the honour of being in this Top 100. Why so? Mainly because these bands had a gift to craft good albums and took opportunity to be included in a movement that did not really exist, apart from the will of a few journalists from the N.M.E. in a desperate attempt to pretend that all great was still coming from the UK, but had not real talent. After a traditional and not so promising start, Blur quickly made the difference thanks to two amazing personalities in the band with Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon. In a career made out (for the moment) of seven LP’s, they embraced all kind of styles with passion and envy. Damon Albarn went even further exploring African music and creating other bands and in particular the great Gorillaz. Recent “21” box-set is a must for all those who want to discover one of our great contemporary bands.

89. Sufjan Stevens 

 from : Detroit, Michigan, USA  / first great sounds : 00’s  / style : melodic pop / essential album : Illinoise (2005) / click for more on the blog

Sufjan Stevens is one of the musical joy of this new millennium and would probably never have appeared in the 20th century. The guy is so much representative of musicians we like in our ages : difficult to describe, very much educated and talented, nerdy but nice-looking at the same time, quite shy in real life but exuberant on stage, … With “Illinoise”, Sufjan Stevens had created one classical record which one can listen every other week.

88. Spoon

 from : Austin, Texas, USA  / first great sounds : 90’s  / style : easy/not-so-easy pop/rock / essential album : Transference (2010)

Led by Britt Daniel and Jim Eno (a good start with such a surname!), Spoon is one of those hidden-gem bands which built a strong following amongst music lovers in the last decade. They get better and better with every new LP and their music is at the same time very easy to listen to but with weird and original hooks that really make the difference. I only saw them once in Paris at the Elysée-Montmartre theatre a few days before it went in flames and got closed…

87. The White Stripes

 from : Detroit, Michigan, USA  / first great sounds : 90’s  / style : guitar and drums blues rock / essential album : Elephant (2003) / click for more on the blog

Jack White is a fantastic musician ; I have written it down in shows’ reviews but do not have issue in saying it again. The way this guy came in the 21st century with a very clear view about what his band was about is amazing : precise set of black/white/red colours choice, the mythology between him and Meg White (former wife ? sister ? The Velvet Underground Moe Tucker’s cool reincarnation?), his love of ancestral and authentic blues,…. The White Stripes were never as good as on stage and wrote as well one of the last hymns of our times (“Seven Nation Army”). The group disbanded a few years ago and I am not sure we will hear anymore about Meg whereas Jack is a musical force to bear with, either with his other bands (The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather) or with a new promising solo career.

86. Prefab Sprout

 from : Newcastle, England / first great sounds : 80’s  / style : poetic pop / essential albums : Steve McQueen (1985), Jordan:The Comeback (1990)

Paddy McAloon was one of the idols of my youth as the music he created with his band Prefab Sprout was so dreamy at a time when the charts were full of horrors. Paddy was for sure the creator and leader of this band but it would never have sounded the same without the soft drumming touch of Neil Conti or without the ethereal singing of his (then) girlfriend Wendy Smith. Their career had been relatively short in albums considering the fact that Paddy was a real perfectionist. They were famous for a couple of years but came back with the 1990 masterpiece “Jordan : The Comeback” which was to ambitious a piece of work to get on par with the charts. Paddy McAloon sort of disappeared from business life due to a rare illness that made him almost blind but everyone should hear “When Love Breaks Down” if not done yet and (re)discover a tremendous band.

1985, a fantastic year for records: 10 golden eggs!

The general idea here is not to show once more a subjective best of concerning a past year but scientifically proving that one has to go further than the regular clichés about music related to a specific period in time. For anybody, 1985 could appear as a kind of void, stuck between the early 80’s post-punk period and before the arrival of the Madchester era (Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and many others). WRONG! 1985 is a amazing year for records as you may see below (in no particular order). And frankly, apart maybe for a few tracks, major part of these records could have been made at any other decade.

Please click on covers to get more news on albums from the “All Music” site.

Cover (Meat Is Murder:The Smiths) The Smiths: “Meat is Murder” Morrissey and Marr at their top with probably their best LP with “The Queen is dead”.  Contains two of their best songs with “The Headmaster Ritual” and “Barbarism begins at home”. One should never insist enough on the quality of the Morrissey/Marr songwriting and the intensity they both created. As time passed and as our musical knowledge maybe a bit higher than when listening this record at seventeen (!), the diversity of styles is amazing too. (9/10)

Cover (Steve McQueen:Prefab Sprout) Prefab Sprout: “Steve Mc Queen” For the cover, the melodies, the warmth, the weirdness, the genius in 4-minute pop songs and for “When Loves Breaks Down”, thank you Paddy McAloon. (9.5/10)

Cover (Psychocandy:The Jesus and Mary Chain) The Jesus And Mary Chain: “Psychocandy” Ah the Reid brothers…. William and Jim, the internal fights (reminds you of another band?), the accent from Glasgow, the fuzz noises, the Beach Boys melodies, the hits! This record could really go out at any moment in time and has been so influental to musicians and music lovers everywhere.  And contrary to one of our best French journalists forecast at the time, it has aged as well as Jacques Brel. (9.5/10)

Cover (Our Favourite Shop:The Style Council) The Style Council: “Our favourite Shop” After the success of The Jam, Paul Weller surprized all his fans by creating The Style Council with Mick Talbot with the will of more freedom and being able to go a bit away from rock and get closer to his jazz/soul roots. This is their best album and every track is a winner, mixing left-oriented messages (the Thatcher years in the U.K.) amidst great dancing music. And what a great cover, one on which to spend hours (shoes, ties, actors, Curtis Mayfield,…)! (9/10)

Cover (Rain Dogs:Tom Waits)  Tom Waits: “Rain Dogs” First part of Tom Waits’ career was excellent but one was finding in it what one was expecting: piano-bar-late-night-drinking-wolf songs. And then Tow Waits met his wife-to-be Kathleen Brennan on the set of “One from the Heart” from Francis Ford Coppola, changed his approach to music and became the artist we all cherish now. After first groundbreaking LP “Swordfishtrombones” in 1983, Tow Waits went on with “Rain Dogs”, one the best LP’s ever done, mixing atmospheres, weird stories and an incredible musicianship (Keith Richards plays on a couple of tracks). Nobody has ever done such beautiful sounds and everybody should have this album in their records’ collection (if such a thing still exists…) (10/10)

Cover (Don't Stand Me Down:Dexys Midnight Runners) Dexys Midnight Runners: “Don’t stand me down” Apart from the aficionados, who does really know the genius of Kevin Rowland? Three amazing LP’s only but such classy music. I have been listening for “Don’t Stand Me Down” for years and everytime with the same joy and emotion. The LP is based on a kind of dialog betwen Kevin and Bill Graham and bears the most euphoric song I know with “This is what she’s like”. Discover this LP and you will be rewarded (10/10).

Cover (This Nation's Saving Grace:The Fall) The Fall: “This Nation’s saving Grace” The late and great DJ John Peel favourite bands, The Fall has made thousands of records so it may sometimes be difficult to recommend one of them. This is the supposed Fall “peak” period when Mark E. Smith acid words were followed by great music (file under “psychobillypostpunkpsychedelic”…).  As John Peel once said : “The Fall, always the same, always different…” (9/10).

Cover (Low-life:New Order) New Order: “Low Life” Please refer to Peter Hook’s concert review for a brief story of Joy Division and New Order. Just to write down this is to my mind the best New Order record as a LP (and “Perfect Kiss” my prefered New Order song) (9/10).

Cover (Fables of the Reconstruction:R.E.M.) R.E.M.: “Fables of the Reconstruction” The first LP you hear by one of your top bands is always special so I was afraid of not being objective regarding “Fables”. But no, last year reissue with plenty of bonus confirmed that this is singular music, mixing Americana weirdness, jangle-jingle sounds with a huge post-punk UK influence (the fact that this album had been recorded in the U.K. is not a coincidence). When Stipe/Mills/Berry/Buck were cutting edge music makers… (9/10)

Cover (Virgins and Philistines:The Colour Field)  The Colourfield: “Virgins and Philistines”  Terry Hall’s third musical project after the Specials and Fun Boy Three, The Colourfield is probably his less famous as it only lasted for a few years and two LP’s. I may not have the talent neither in English, nor in French to express my feelings about this glorious LP so please listen (or alternately click on the cover to read a nice review about it). Amazing out-of-time music, like a musical comedy where everything could hang suspended in the air. The fact that the blog you read bears this name is self-explanatory (10/10)

Also more than recommended:

The Cure “The Head on the Door”, Madness “Mad not mad”, Nick Cave “The first Born is dead”, Sonic Youth “Bad Moon rising”, Prince And The Revolution “Around the World in a Day”, Tears For Fears: “Songs from the Big Chair”, The Pale Fountains “…From across the Kitchen Table”, Hüsker Dü “New Day rising”, The Pogues: “Rum, Sodomy and the Lash”, The Dream Academy “The Dream Academy”, Kate Bush “Hounds of Love”, Microdisney “The Clock comes down the Stairs”, Propaganda “A Secret Wish”, Talking Heads “Little Creatures” and Big Audio Dynamite “This is Big Audio Dynamite”.

And here is a summer 2011 update! All Music had done as well as the same time I did this 1985 selection their records of that same year. Click to find out the results!