It's that time of year when I buy more albums than usual, due to the ubiquitous "end of year" polls where I end up discovering all the great albums I missed and need to catch up with. Luckily Spotify lets me check out most albums before buying... which, I'm sure, doesn't benefit the artists at all, but it saves me a few bob.
Anyway, what an amazing year for albums 2013 has been. There's been many highs, and as expected there's been a couple of disappointments too.
DJ Koze - Amygdala
Every element seems to have come together for this second album from Stefan Kozalla aka DJ Koze to forge the perfect whole; quality collaborators, amazing songs, the right amount of goofy charm and so many great melodies. By far the best album of 2013
Boards Of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
With no shortage of hype prior to it's release, the first new music from BOC since 2005's The Campfire Headphase thankfully delivered. Like Amygdala, the combination of all the factors that count, quality production, meaningful ideas behind the songs, sweet melodies are all there in abundance. Up there with their best.
Steven Tang - Disconnect To Connect
Deep and luscious in parts with the right level of chunky beats to balance things out; this is a housey, techno album which everyone should own. I really love it.
Moderat - II
Second album from collaborators Modeselektor and Apparat is even better than their debut! So cohesive and packed with melancholy, attitude and catchy tunes... what more do you want?
Vessel - Order of Noise
This album actually came out at the end of 2012 (too late for last year's "best of" consideration) but has remained a highlight for me all year, hence it's inclusion now. Like Steven Tang, Vessel's debut manages to deliver the perfect blend of melancholic, soulful moments with more upbeat compositions. Works well as a whole.
Natasha Kmeto - Crisis
This woman is the real deal: a great singer who writes catchy electronic music and looks like a model. With many standout moments, her fourth album challenges and delivers in equal measure, using her catchy R&B-tinged vocals to great effect.
Johann Johannsson - Copenhagen Dreams
This is the soundtrack for a documentary (of the same name) by Max Kestner, from the Icelandic composer and producer Johann Johannsson. Made up of nineteen light and joyful compositions that use piano, strings, electronic instrumentation and lots of lovely textural percussion, the song titles themselves tell a story (e.g. He Hit Her on the Head With "The Wind in the Willows").
Recondite - Hinterland
A bewitching journey inspired by the wintry and atmospheric Rottal-Inn, the Bavarian hometown of Lorenz Brunner aka Recondite. Stick it on when it starts snowing outside... perfect!
Julianna Barwick - Nepenthe
You can hear the contributions from Icelandic stalwarts Mum and Sigur Ros in the American's third long-player; they introduce ghostly textures that marry so well with the Barwick's piano and beautiful choral singing. A joyous listening experience.
Four Tet - Beautiful Rewind
Such an improvement on his last official album release There Is Love In You, Kieran Hebden's new album manages to deliver all the charm and lo-fi aesthetic of his earlier albums (like Pause and Rounds) while retaining the vital, dance-focussed slant he's become known for.
Roly Porter - Life Cycle of a Massive Star
At once electronic and orchestral, this emotional, and sometimes terrifying, musical journey guides us through the genesis of a star. Oh... so good!
Gesaffelstein - Aleph
Packed with well-produced tracks and oozing attitude, the French beat-maker has certainly delivered a memorable debut album. Not as hard and "banging" as you might think either, he's got a fine balance of punchy dancefloor tunes and pleasant melodies.
Maya Jane Coles - Comfort
Like Amygdala, the debut album from Maya Jane Coles is all about the songs; singing on half the tracks herself while her collaborators provide the highest quality support. No filler, all essential.
oOoOO - Without Your Love
It's impressive how a few excellent tracks can turn a good album into an amazing one; this is the case for Chris Dexter's Without Your Love. It's lo-fi, moody and packed full with great bass lines.
James Blake - Overgrown
Deserved Mercury Music Prize winner, James Blake's sophomore album really is a thing of beauty... like a few other albums in this list, successfully blending great vocals with electronic instrumentation.
Sophie Hutchings - Night Sky
Even though their musical styles and output differ I tend to bunch together Sophie Hutchings with Julianna Barwick, Johann Johannsson, Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm. Her music is pretty much just piano, albeit the most beautifully-played piano and the most sublime melodies. Top class.
Ólafur Arnalds - For Now I Am Winter
More stunning piano-led music from Iceland. Like Recondite, Ólafur Arnalds produces atmospheric music that brings to mind a roasting open fire and dark, wintry conditions. Stick this on when it's snowing.
Nils Frahm - Spaces
An album compiling two year's worth of live performances, presents itself as a sort of "best of" release. Taking in his full range of styles, from delicate piano to soaring electronic compositions, the music is always emotional and always an enormous pleasure.
Daniel Bortz - Patchwork Memories
There's no other way to describe this album than deep pop. There's a strong seam of mournful melodies running through the eleven tracks, with each melody slowing building and dropping with skillfully crafted subtlety. A slow grower.
Nightmares On Wax - Feelin' Good
George Evelyn maintains his incredibly high standard with his sixth album as Nightmares on Wax. So perfectly formed.
A few near misses
From over 130 albums I made a shortlist of 44.... and it was tough cutting that list down to just 20. In no particular order, here's the releases that didn't make the cut:
- Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven
- Debukas - I Am Machinery
- The Field - Cupid's Head
- Vector Lovers - iPhonica
- Special Request - Soul Music
- Segue - Pacifica
- Blue Hawaii - Untogether
- Fabric 69: Sandwell District
- Footprintz - Escape Yourself
- Balance Presents Jozif
- DJRUM - Seven Lies
- John Beltran - Amazing Things
- House of Black Lanterns - Kill the Lights
- The Haxan Cloak - Excavation
- The Black Dog - Tranklements
- Jon Hopkins - Immunity
- Walton - Beyond
- Kölsch - 1977
- John Roberts - Fences
- Jessy Lanza - Pull My Hair Back
- Forest Swords - Engravings
- The Stranger - Watching Dead Empires in Decay
- Nosaj Thing - Home
- Daniel Avery - Drone Logic
I wouldn't normally go out of my way to be negative about a music release, but I feel quite strongly about one particular album that really disappointed me this year: the unlistenable, behemoth Shaking the Habitual by The Knife. Yes, I appreciate they were tackling issues/subjects important to them but did they need to do so in such an uncompromising manner? There's no real tunes, just massive, unstructured soundscapes. And why so long? In short, a bloody mess. Well done guys, you win, art defeats entertainment!