Darko’s Top 10 albums of 2013

af10. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

My least favourite Arcade Fire album to date and yet it still squeaks into the top ten for this year. Why? The title tracks is a rolling juggernaut of anxious reflections and “Normal Person” is the nearest thing we have to a new Talking Heads song this side of LCD Soundsystem. Co-incidence? I think not. James Murphy’s influence looms large here.

 

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9. Future Of The Left – How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident

Self-funded via Pledge Music and thus free of record company interference, Future Of The Left deliver their crunchiest, most guitar-driven album to date. This is post-punk (or whadeveryouwannacallit) that barks with wit and derision. Miss their January 2014 Australian tour at your peril.

 

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8. A Sagittariun – Dream Ritual

For anyone who bought a Black Dog record in the 90s. For anyone who thinks Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1 is Aphex Twin’s best album. For anyone who can still lose themselves in the majestic beauty of Global Communication’s 76:14. Future-facing with an eye on the past.

 

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7. Savages – Silence Yourself

For anyone mourning the death of indie rock – y’know, songs with guitars and angst – go listen to this. It tugs hard on its influences: The Cure, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Joy Division.

 

 

 

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6. James Holden – RA 367 podcast

I’m cheating here. This is isn’t an album per se but a podcast released to promote Holden’s second album, The Inheritors. Here’s the rub: the DJ mix is FAR superior to the album itself. It’s weirder but not as alienating. Listening to this is akin to taking a long drive along an empty highway. You’ll zone out and then find yourself coming to, not being able to recall the previous five minutes; it’s that hypnotic. Best of all, the mix remains a FREE download – just Google for it.

 

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5. Low – The Invisible Way

Have these guys ever made a bad album? Probably not; although some die-hards might point to Drums And Guns as a minor wobble. Mimi Parker’s domination and Jeff Tweedy’s more elegant production dials back the dramaticisms of 2010’s (also superb) C’Mon but The Invisible Way is just as potent.

 

 

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4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Coffee table Cave, a more sedated affair, nowhere near as gloomy as any Bad Seeds album that came before it. Push The Sky Away sees Cave and his cohorts use lightness of touch and delicacy to light up the darker corners. A good number of pundits have raved about “Jubliee Street” being the standout cut but for this fan it’s “The Higgs Boson Blues” that anchors the album for me. These songs sound MUCH better fleshed out at live shows too. I’d still peg Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ show at The Enmore Theatre in March this year as the GREATEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN. Ever.

 

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3. Boards Of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

Hard not to be impressed by how much variation these guys squeeze from such a self-limited palette. The John Carpenter comparisons are somewhat obvious but Tomorrow’s Harvest goes deeper. Much deeper. Loping rhythmic structures (again) underpin cinematic tropes, yes, but for this album BoC mine an eeriness similar to that of their debut without falling back on distorted samples of children laughing/counting. Not that we would have minded if they did.

 

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2. Pet Shop Boys – Electric

Day glo pop music that slaps you upside the head with chunky synths and snaps with Neil Tennant’s terrific wordplay. One could probably advance such observations about most PSB albums but Electric is larger than life, less cerebral and more physical anything they’ve done in a long while. I’d pretty much written them off after 2010’s tepid Elysium…but Electric is easily PSB’s best long player since 1993’s Very. I hammered this album to death in July and August. So much so that Electric was July and August. In an interview I read some years ago, David Byrne had stated he wanted to write a song that could make you sad whilst you danced. Pet Shop Boys have nailed exactly that with “Vocal”, Electric‘s epic closer.

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1. David Bowie – The Next Day

On the back of ten years of silence, most David Bowie fans would’ve been chuffed to bits with a record even half as good as The Next Day. Bowie didn’t just meet expectation, he shoved a rocket up its arse and fired it to Mars. It’s a slow burning record though. The Next Day started life in my headphones as a fairly ho-hum affair: the first few listens had me reaching for the skip button on at least four songs: the whole thing was just too damn long and “Dancing Out In Space” seemed kind of feh. It wasn’t until I’d been nailed several times by the double whammy of “Dirty Boys” and “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” that everything else clicked into place. “Dancing Out In Space” is still kind of feh.

If that weren’t enough, on the back of November’s Mercury Music Prize nomination yet more songs were released from the same secret recording sessions that begat the album proper. The Next Day Extra 3CD expanded edition took the track count from 14 to 24 meaning Bowie effectively released TWO album’s worth of material in 2013, almost all of it without peer. Go listen to “Atomica” and wonder (as I do) why it didn’t make it through the first cull. Bowie didn’t NEED James Murphy’s ten minute mangle of “Love Is Lost” to check boxes marked ‘contemporary’ and ‘relevant’ but he got it anyway – and it’s stunning. And it’s just been released on vinyl.

We should thank our collective stars on a daily basis that David Bowie hasn’t become some old codger touring endlessly, slowly draining the life out of the past. I couldn’t care less if he never played live again but the world of recorded music would be a lesser place without albums as masterful as The Next Day.

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in Berlin, Germany. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also a very occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
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22 Comments

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  1. You know that feeling when you seem to be the only person in the world to have made an awesome discovery? Yeah? Well that’s me currently.
    Might I implore each and everyone who reads this to check out Thomas Blug? I discovered ‘The Best of Thomas Blug Band’ on Spotify and have lashed out and purchased nearly everything by Herr Blug. If you haven’t heard of him I am not surprised. If you don’t check him out it will be your loss as he is a wonderful guitar player who should be known wordlwide. The aforementioned ‘Best of’ contains not a single dud track: 25 out of 25 musical delights, yes, musical delights, all played masterfully.
    Give the Blugmeister a chance.

  2. For sure “The Higgs Boson Blues”. I’m giving the #1 right now, but making my way through a lot of the “Best of 2013” lists. Thanks Darko1

  3. Gotta love end of year lists. Give’s the punter a chance to be aggrieved whilst also enjoying the opportunity to expand their horizons.
    For mine, Jason Isbell’s “Southeastern” and The Drones “I See Seaweed”.

  4. I agreed with two of them. Some of the others I’ve heard, and some I haven’t.
    Here’s a partial list of some albums I enjoyed this year:

    Dale Watson & His Lonestars – El Rancho Azul
    Little Wings – Last
    Wheeler Brothers – Gold Boots Glitter
    Camper Van Beethoven – La Costa Perdida
    Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic
    Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
    Rhye – Woman
    Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail
    Boards Of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
    Daniel Romano – Come Cry With Me
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – The Speed Of Things
    Eels – Wonderful, Glorious
    The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
    Jason Isbell – Southeastern
    The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
    Phosphorescent – Muchacho
    Darkside – Psychic

  5. John,

    Are RA Podcasts considered albums now? Not that I’m complaining or anything – I’ve heard that particular mix, and actually prefer it to the album Holden was promoting it with – but the topic title did have “albums” in it.

    Tomorrow’s Harvest isn’t quite up there with MHTRTC and Geogaddi, but I agree that it would make the list if of most electronica fans. Jon Hopkin – Immunity should be up there as well. Ditto for Vakula – You’ve Never Been to Konotop.

    As for mixes, DJ Sprinkles – Where Dancefloors Stand Still would probably be my pick of the year, along with his/her remix collection, Queerifications & Ruins. Lush stuff.

    Bowie’s latest work is pretty stellar, I must agree. Haven’t checked out the new Pet Shop Boys album yet. Will make a note. Can’t say I’m surprised to see Nick Cave on your list. As Obi-Wan would say, “the Oz is strong in you”.

    Lastly, thumbs up for not castrating your list with DSD reissues of grandpa-jazz and forgotten-rock reissue albums. Stick it to them audiophiles!!

  6. Okay but where’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Tubular Bells’ and at least one U2 album?
    Only joking. Sorry. At least I’d heard of David bowie…

  7. The new David Bowie is near impossible to listen to… Ill have to disagree there but I will check out the other stuff on your list. Thanks!

  8. GREAT list John!
    That Low record and Tomorrow’s Harvest would definitely make my top 10!!
    I reviewed Tomorrow’s Harvest – should tackle the Low record.

    I also LOVED Holden’s Resident Advisor mix!
    I’m still trying to let that record find its way to my heart (Inheritors)

  9. Good list! How about Moderat’s “II” , Dj Koze’s Amygdala? Those two and Jon Hopkins’ Immunity made my electronica list for sure. On the “analog” side me thinks The National delivered with Trouble Will Find Me.

    • Moderat II was such a disappointment for me. Hopkins though, he would be in my list of near misses. Perhaps I should list those albums that *ALMOST* made it into my top 10?

      The National and Kurt Vile, both overrated IMHO.

  10. Tomorrow’s Harvest is the deal. I kept buying BoC albums and basically liking them, but this turned out to be the one I didn’t know I was waiting on. It *might* even belong in the same conversation with Moon Safari by Air.

  11. Lucretia Dalt – Commotus I’m going to put way up there. Somewhere up on the still TBD list is: Mazzy Star – Season of your Day and Aidan Baker – Already Drowning.

    Blood Orange did less than nothing for me… It’s the Channel Orange for 2013? Hyper-overratted.

    Back to listening… Fun!

  12. No Daft Punk?
    +1 Tomorrow’s Harvest. The best BoC album IMHO. Some of those arrangements of just stunning.
    Would also recommend Fade by Yo La Tengo.

  13. Some nice picks thar darko.

    In the mode of James Holden mixes I would also recommend heartily his NYC Beats in Space mix from this year. Enjoyed it even more than the RA mix. Yeah John Hopkins – Immunity and Donato Dozzy plays Bee Mask were someof the best electronic sounds of the year. I will be checking out A Sagittarian for sure! Voices From the Lake LP has actually been my most spun disc of 2013 but technically it was a late 2012 release.