Album which made me a bit emotional about how amazing bells are
Pantha du Prince and the Bell Laboratory - Elements of light
I got really excited about this album late last year, when I heard the single 'Photon'. Pantha Du Prince's incredible 2010 album 'Black Noise' has never been far from my ears since then, and this sounds a lot like that, only with the addition of bells.
The actual album, while less dense and catchy than Photon, is full of incredibly beautiful moments — you just have to have patience and wait for them. If you don't have patience and can't wait for them, skip to 5.14 of Particle or 7.32 of Spectral Split... But I'll think less of you for it. The joy of this album is in it's prolonged build ups and slow, elegant climaxes. At only 5 tracks long, it's almost easier to think of it as an EP, but with two tracks breaking the 10 minute mark (one at nearly 20 minutes) it demands the attention of an entire album.
Album which I said from the start should win the Mercury
James Blake - Overgrown
We listened to this in the office the other day, and halfway through the first track my colleague Dave said "He's a bit weird this one, isn't he. I can imagine him singing this alone in his bedroom like a weirdo."
There's no denying that on first impressions, he can come across a little… intense. But I'd be happy for him to sing to me in his bedroom any day of the week. (Sorry James.)
I loved his first album too, and this seems like a natural growth and development from that. It fills me with those whooshing, swooping sensations in my chest that make my hair stand on end.
From the moment I heard 'Retrograde' on Gilles Peterson's wonderful 6 music show, I was in love. He just has a knack for crafting the most incredibly beautiful, moving, minimal soundscapes that build into something quite dissonant and wonderful.
For a couple of bonus delights, here's a version of one of the album highlights 'Life Round Here' with the addition of Chance the Rapper…
And here's his version of Destiny's Child's 'Bills Bills Bills'
Album which I missed on vinyl and haven’t bought because I’m bitter
Debruit - From the Horizon
This was the year I decided that I'd start buying all music I really love on vinyl. And I really love this. Unfortunately I got really excited about this album close to payday and so didn't buy it, and then by the time I next got round to looking it had sold out. Grump! So I haven't bought it and that probably makes me a bad person because he definitely deserves my (and your) money for this. He does what he does well, and that's glitchy, vaguely African, messed up sampled bouncy electronica. There are many reasons why I'm not a music journalist and that last sentence is one of them. But anyway. Give it a listen.
Bonus - he also put out a second album this year, Aljawal, with female vocalist Alsarah. I'll be honest, her voice is outside my comfort zone, but with the exception of a couple of tracks it's something I've really come to love, and a fascinating collaboration.
Album which actually isn’t that great, but hey, it’s Four Tet
Four Tet - Beautiful Rewind
So I got really excited when Four Tet released his new single 'Kool FM'. It was pretty good during the 'BONSH BONSH BONSH' bit at the start, and it was all going well until 2.06, when suddenly, there's just some guy, shouting 'Hey, Hey Hey' at you, like you've accidentally dropped your hat in the street and he's trying to get your attention. I question the wisdom of that sample, and despite quite liking the song, I don't think I'll ever like the 'hey hey hey' man.
And you know what… There are a lot of bits like that on this album. It's Four Tet, the man is a genius, I think he's made a lot of wonderful albums, and this is almost certainly one of them, but I don't think I'll ever actually manage to sit through the first two minutes of 'Aerial' without getting incredibly annoyed and having to skip over it. And I'm sorry, I know the track is called 'Buchla', but that man is quite clearly shouting 'Boob-la', and it will never be anything other than that to me.
I'm being mean. The rest of the album is basically flawless, so I'm just griping, but seriously, less of the random shouty men samples next time, eh Kieran?
Album which I fell in love with after hearing it described in words
Daedelus - Drown Out
So until fairly recently, Daedelus was one of those musicians I'd meant to listen to more, but somehow never quite got round to. His picture kept appearing in the 'if you enjoyed XXX then you'll probably like XXX' section of my Spotify, and I'd frequently admired his snappy Victorian dress sense and impressive sideburns, but whenever I started off on his then most recent album 'Bespoke', I always got to about the first five seconds of the second track and switched it off. I should know better now than to write off an incredibly prolific artist with a vast back catalogue on the basis of the first 30 seconds of one track, but clearly I have much to learn.
Anyway, Alex was asked if he'd like to meet and interview Daedelus before a gig in Brighton, for a friend of his who runs a music website. You can read the results of that interview here.
I went along too, to take some (terrible) pictures, and you know what? I was utterly charmed. Alfred Darlington is, as Alex describes him at the start of that interview, "an eloquent, kind and gentle man"
He is also incredibly honest, open and forthcoming about his experiences and history, and I found him one of the more fascinating people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. He talked in some depth about his current album, and I found myself wracked with guilt that I'd given it little more than a cursory listen prior to the interview. It's his exploration of bereavement and grief, having experienced his fair share of both in the time since he'd released his previous album. His words on that, combined with insights on the process of making and performing electronic music, followed by the incredible live show he put on left me itching to go back and give it a more thorough listen, along with the rest of his back catalogue.
And there is SO much to discover there. This probably isn't even my favourite of all his albums, but it's definitely one of my favourite releases of 2013. It does a lot of different things in a lot of different ways, and his entire body of work does even more different things in even more different ways. And his live show is something else entirely. YES.
Album which I feel a bit guilty about loving quite so much
Disclosure - Settle
So every year in the office we listen to all the Mercury albums from start to finish. Even if we hate them, we stick with it, in the name of… I don't know, musical education? But this is the first time that an overwhelming majority of the office have insisted on an album being switched off before the end (just three tracks in, in fact!)
I was pretty gutted, because after that abysmally dull Bowie album (CON-TRO-VER-SIAL), this felt like a breath of wonderful fresh air!
Initially I thought my love of it was purely based on the fact that it was a relief from the likes of Bowie and Bugg, but I carried on listening. A lot. And goodness. It's just wonderful, in a way that I feel a bit guilty about. It feels sort of trashy, and light, and silly. Even on tracks like 'You & Me', which make me cringe a bit, I'm singing along and bopping about on the inside. They just have a way of pulling things back from the edge of being a bit too poppy… It reminds me a lot of the excellent SBTRKT album from a couple of years back. If you like that, you'll probably like this. Although to be honest, if you like that you'll probably already know about this… I feel I was a little behind the game on this one, only hearing it after it had been nominated for the Mercurys!
Album which I feel a bit guilty about not loving quite enough
Jon Hopkins - Immunity
So this is clearly a masterpiece. But I haven't given it enough time. I find it quite dense and intense, and while the first side is so compelling I find it hard to switch off, there have only been a handful of times where I've put on the second record to listen to the last 4 tracks. And every time I have done, it's been great, but it's heavy going in some ways, and I have to be in just the right mood. But this definitely deserves a place in my list. I recommend it very highly.
Best 'concept' album AND best artwork
Machinedrum - Vapor City
I can't actually find the piece I originally read about the 'concept' behind this album, but this Drownedinsound review does it nearly as well…
"Vapor City is a fictional metropolis visited regularly in Stewart’s dreams, and each of the ten tracks represents a specific district within the city."
As someone who experiences vivid dreams which often feature recurring fictional locations, I really like the idea of someone taking these places in their head and attempting to convey them via music. And somehow the tone and mood of this album captures some of what I experience in my own sleeping head, a certain minor key, sinister dissonance. Not enough to wake me up in a cold sweat, but enough that, some mornings, I spend much of the day feeling subtly unsettled by what I've experienced. The beautiful album artwork probably helps too. It is both detailed and vague all at once, and is a great example of an artist really making the most of the vinyl format, with 12 page insert printed on lovely paper stock, featuring a beautifully drawn illustration for each 'district' (track). (I'm a sucker for that kind of thing)
Album which made me and Alex pull frowny faces at each other on first listen but which turned out to be quite good
Mount Kimbie - Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
So we and Alex listened to this album together on headphones on a long train journey up to Glasgow. Alex didn't know them that well, and had never heard their first album 'Crooks and Lovers' while I would definitely describe myself as a fan.
After a first listen of the album we took off our headphones, and both completely agreed that they'd ruined several great tracks with the addition of mediocre vocals, or worst of all, on 'You Took your time' and 'Meter, pale, tone', some terrible rapping. Alex described it as 'a bit like someone trying to rap in the kitchen at a house party'
I felt sad. Mount Kimbie, why have you let me down like this? But I listened more, lots more. And who knows, maybe I wanted to like it so hard that I've come round, but I really have come round. It maybe helped that I found out that the terrible house party kitchen rapper (King Krule) is actually ginger (solidarity!), and only 19 (he was born in 1994. 1994!!!) so I felt like I should give him more of a chance. Plus he's very trendy right now, apparently. Ok, maybe I'm not ever going to be buying his solo album, no matter how critically acclaimed it is (apparently very), but I've come to think that actually he has his place on this album. As do the vaguely Foals-esque unidentified vocals on some of their other tracks, especially the captivating 'made to stray'.
Album which I'm glad is better than his last one
Toro Y Moi - Anything in return'
I love Toro Y Moi. His first album 'Causers of This' is probably in my top 5 favourites of all time. But I was just a teensy bit disappointed with his second album 'Underneath the Pine'. It was somehow… soft, and fuzzy, and although a lot of people said it was a lot better, I never agreed. This album however, takes the best bits of 'Underneath the Pine' and turns them into something I actually like. A lush, rich, poppy masterpiece, which, much like his first album, I find incredibly comforting and reassuring. I'm not quite sure why. But whenever I'm down or tired, Toro Y Moi is the musical answer.
Not particularly fun fact: On my first listen of this album, I experienced my first ever migraine, and had to switch off about halfway through. I then didn't listen to it again for over a month because I was worried there was something in it which had triggered my brain meltdown!
Album which I begrudgingly think is a masterpiece
Kanye West - Yeezus
I probably don't know enough or have enough consciousness of privilege, race, gender issues, or many of the other things which have been flagged up as potentially problematic in this album. I know it has some dubious elements. Probably most obviously his er… interesting re-appropriation of 'Strange Fruit'… But. Well, it's not an album I can ignore. And I wouldn't normally have even bothered listening to an entire album of his.
Album which I forgot to include till the last minute because I honestly couldn't believe it came out in 2013, but which, upon thinking about it is probably my NUMBER ONE album of the year
Bonobo - The North Borders
I've listened to this album so much. It does EVERYTHING. It is the ultimate all purpose album. It's fast, it's slow, it doesn't offend anyone in the office, but it isn't boring either. Is that praise? I mean it as praise. I think Bonobo has created that rare masterpiece of an album that I'm never NOT in the mood for, yet frequently specifically go and put on. I can't believe I forgot this until now. I might even go so far as to say that this is my number one. Yes, I'm going to do it. Well done Bonobo.
BONUS 2014 prediction of goodness
I've been listening to a lot of Com Truise this year. He's not released an album in 2013, but a couple of days ago he posted this single on his soundcloud. And it's wonderful in so many ways.
BONUS Free stuff RIGHT NOW
The wonderful Flying Lotus has just reached 300,000 followers on Twitter, and in celebration, he posted a mysterious zip file. It's a hefty beast.
Hey u guys are gonna share this folder right? Pls pass it around. Pass to the homies. Rt the hell out of it.
— FLYLO (@flyinglotus) December 10, 2013
Well, I'd best do what the man says. Download here. No idea how long the link'll be up, so get on it...
BONUS album I forgot about
Alex just pointed out that I forgot the Boards of Canada album. Now I'm worried about all the other amazing stuff I've forgotten too. The Boards of Canada album is wonderful. Especially good for train-rides through the remote Scottish highlands. Can I add that to my list? Too late? Oops. Oh dear. Another reason why I'm not a music journalist.