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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.