20. Majical Cloudz: Impersonator (Matador)
‘Impersonator’ might just be the most uncelebrated treasure of 2013. It’s uneasy combination of stark, unmasked vocal and off kilter production (best demonstrated on the title track) made for a sound we truly hadn’t heard before. Whilst it is the second LP from the Canadian duo, ‘Impersonator’ is a stirring realisation of their sonic vision. The LP was largely recorded in a basement belonging to the father of vocalist and songwriter Devon Welsh. The songs would be slaved over once Welsh’s father went to bed and the pair perfected their minimalist, nearly motionless take on synth pop songs. The focus on exposure and stripping back exposes the fact that Welsh writes really beautiful songs. Cuts like ‘Bugs Don’t Buzz’ and ‘Childhood’s End’ are inarguably driven by melody and a desire to say a lot by doing very little. By the end of ‘Impersonator’ this is achieved without doubt. In a year of drip-fed marketing campaigns and more sensationalism than the last 10 years of music put together, Majical Cloudz delivered an album that is distinctive, ambitious and enduringly rewarding.
Words: Duncan Harrison
18. Bonobo: The North Borders (Ninja Tune)
Simon Green had set the bar high with his 2010 full length ‘Black Sands’, and it was with eager anticipation that his fifth album ‘The North Borders’ first graced our ears on 1st April this year. Far from a cheap April fools gag, the album hit us as a work of masterful production. The organic sound of strings, woodwind and breath-taking vocals fit effortlessly within the liquid, ethereal grooves for which Bonobo is so well known. Drawing on strands of garage, house, trip-hop, jazz and soul, the album has real breadth, and collaborations with RnB singer Erykah Baduh, Brooklyn-based singer songwriter Grey Reverend and new talent Szjerdene serve to add more layers of intricacy and maturity. ‘The North Borders’ is proof that electronic music is not always soulless. It is a record of real depth which transports the listener on a 59-minute voyage through mountainous atmospherics and curious, subtle flourishes. This album not only betters ‘Black Sands’, but, with each release, Green continues to set a precedent for all other producers out there.
Words: Arthur Bradley
16. Katy Perry: Prism (Capitol)
People really rush to remind us how silly and pointless Katy Perry’s brand of music is. They’re right, Perry hasn’t progressed much from being the woman who compared herself to a plastic bag on ‘Fireworks’ but getting hung up on these details will make you miss the point entirely. Katy Perry is one of the biggest females in pop and her job is to write and perform radio-crafted singles that are infectious and, at some level, irresistible. Fulfilling this criteria makes ‘Prism’ yet another perfectly crafted offering from the best real pop star we have. Individual tracks are unique enough from previous releases to feel fresh yet immediately identifiable as a product of Katy Perry. Every catchy, rhythmic or stirring beat on this album is a gift from a team of producers at the top of an ever-changing game. Not only does this LP have the best radio single of the year in the form of ‘Roar’ (seriously it is impossible to deny that that song is an absolute jam) but cuts like ‘Birthday’ and ‘Legendary Lovers’ are testament to a gimmick-free pop star who has talent enough to rely on her songs to sell thousands of records and tickets. ‘Prism’ is a pop LP from a classic breed of popstar; happy-go-lucky, hit-heavy and perfectly pointless.
Words: Georgette MK
19. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories (Columbia)
This record sounds like money. When lo-fi and bedroom are established genres, ‘Random Access Memories’ harkens back to a time where big budgets from big labels made big records. ‘Random Access Memories’ is a specifically planned and expertly executed rumination on the radio sounds of the seventies, from the soft adult contemporary rock of ‘Instant Crush’ and ‘Fragments In Time’ to the chicken scratch funk of ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Lose Yourself To Dance’ (courtesy of album MVP Nile Rodgers.) The true highlight of the record lies in the nine minute opus ‘Touch’ where a fabulously utilized Paul Williams manages to make a song that is personal, robotic, magnificent, and miserable with time for a ragtime piano breakdown. If you clear your mind of the hype surrounding the album's massive promotional campaign, the admittedly unlikable slower cuts, and the fact that you probably heard ‘Get Lucky’ in a McDonalds bathroom this year - Daft Punk have made a remarkably creative work of art that few artists have the talent to pull off and even fewer have the means.
Words: Nick Boyd
17. Drake: Nothing Was The Same (Cash Money Records)
It was in 2013 that “Drake” became an adjective. Whether it was through the instantly iconic artwork or the schmaltzy old-time melody of ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’- his engaging middle ground between being the biggest pop star and the biggest rapper in the world all at the same time became the catalyst for the most “Drake” album we could have imagined. From the sniggering braggery that snaps and jumps on ‘Worst Behaviour’ to the sincere lyricism and characteristic flow on ‘Too Much’- this is Drake doing Drake. The thrilling thing about ‘Nothing Was The Same’ is the lack of conclusions. Everything is exploratory, it’s as if Drake knows how young he is and how much potential he has so flexes his muscles with complete free reign. It’s this carelessness and blasé approach that leads to a hookless 6 minute opener (‘Tuscan Leather’) on the same LP as meticulously produced RnB love songs ‘Own It’. It marks the start of Drake’s season as one of the commercial and critical juggernauts. He's is having the last laugh after all.
Words: Duncan Harrison
15. Tyler, the Creator: Wolf (OF Records)
A rising star turned mogul of his own world which has consumed everything that surrounds him, Tyler The Creator is in a place where he is completely free to create as he wishes. The result: ‘Wolf’. Since Tyler burst onto the scene hip hop has travelled through many trends, yet Tyler’s sound stays distinctive and undoubtedly his own. Production wise this is Tyler’s best work to date. His creative range throughout the album is untouchable, from the speaker bursting ‘Tamale’ to the smooth lone guitar ‘Answer’. He opts for gorgeous melodies and pretty chords over the cranium splitting synths which get blindly linked to him. On the album notes he writes “Wolf the Screenplay,” a story which revolves around a love triangle. Through each song an intricate narrative unravels and weaves itself throughout the album, and when discovered with relation to previous work, the realisation hits you that Tyler is a natural born story teller. With a number of self directed videos that followed the album, its clear Tyler has created not just a story but a world for us all to peep into. It would be hard to find an album in 2013 that is as creative and elaborate as this. A storming success of the hypebeast generation.
Words: Jacob Roy
14. Deerhunter: Monomania (4AD)
This vibrant exercise in calculated simplicity from Georgia's finest purveyors of so-called "ambient-punk" finds them practically erasing the "ambient" from their old self-created genre tag. Eschewing the wandering sonics of their previous efforts, ‘Monomania’ reveals a much more mean and lean Deerhunter than the world has ever seen. Captured in the dead of night, the succinct tracks offer snapshots of solemn night like bliss that waste no frequencies in reminding you that Bradford Cox and company are still some of the best songwriters currently creating within this realm of music. Filled with a wealth of memorable moments, the reduced form of the band's sound lets melody take center stage over sonics. It's also worth noting that this is possibly the most Atlas Sound-y sounding Deerhunter Record yet. With Bradford's reduction of the band's sound, he also thinned the line between his two main projects. Because of this, ‘Monomania’ feels like a large step towards a sort of singularity- an exciting window into a potential new era of Bradford Cox's output.
Words: Nick Dalessio
13. Moderat: ii (MonkeyTown)
Moderat. The Berlinian Super-trio consisting of Apparat and Modeselektor, whose second album ‘ii’ has shown the true aptitude of the three producers; fusing bass roars, techno beats and endearing vocals to fashion what can only be described as an original and quirkily distinct collaboration. Raw talent is hidden within tracks like ‘Bad Kingdom’ and ‘Gita’ that emphasize, quite violently the greatly contrasting influences of either producer. With Modeselektor’s heavy, almost jungle-like beats, and Apparat’s lurid vocals, (reflecting that of your typical, breathtaking, main-stage filling, lead singer), we are left with an irresistibly different album of 2013. Further tracks such as ‘Therapy’ and ‘Let in the Light’ illustrate a more ethereal aspect of the album; compositions that are sure to send shivers up your spine, leaving you completely paralyzed in a sense of awe. ‘ii’ is a one-of-a-kind collaboration exercising every facet of what they have to offer. Arena-ready melodies with a production value that’s never truly left the underbelly of it’s native Berlin.
Words: Sam Reevey
12. Foals: Holy Fire (Transgressive)
There isn’t really such a thing as indie music anymore. You either plunge for the oversold packaged accessibility of bands like HAIM or The 1975 or you get so wrapped up in the DIY self-releasing cassette culture of what is left that you end up paying £11 to see a band you don’t know play in a guy’s Dad’s old house. This is what makes ‘Holy Fire’ the trophy at the end of an honest and almost faultless progression from Foals. It’s a record that is ambitious, bombastic and intelligent without compromising one iota of the scratchy dance-rock charm that put the band on the map. The radio-friendly structure of ‘My Number’ is contrasted by the overbearing crescendo on ‘Inhaler’ and their unmatched knack for builds is shown off perfectly on ‘Bad Habit’. It has been a truly pivotal year for the band, and it's been a long time coming. At Reading Festival they played a couple of slots down from headlining the main stage. If it wasn’t for the roadblocking nature of a lot of tireder British guitar bands they’d have been at the top. ‘Holy Fire’ was a victory for a truly great British band. How often can you say that?
Words: Duncan Harrison
11. My Bloody Valentine: m b v (mbv)
No album this year has this massiveness and distinctness. It is sequenced with a narrative that shows three different iterations of My Bloody Valentine. On the first third, the guitars quake like on ‘Loveless’, but the looser song formats on ‘Only Tomorrow’ and ‘Who Sees You’ provide opportunities to really get at the caverns of your ears. The second third is a turn to textures found more closely on ‘Isn’t Anything’. Thematically, it is the return to earth. The guitars drop out and the listener is left with gentle cooing and a sparse keyboard. ‘If I Am’ and ‘New You’ are about as bare and poppy as any My Bloody Valentine song. The album arrives on the earth with a crash. It is a squalling noise freak-out and a pummeling drum showcase. ‘Wonder 2’ sounds like a freaking jet engine. This third reminds me most of the Shield’s produced ‘XTRMNTR’. However, where that album soars, this album sounds trapped to earth by the drum and bass-inspired percussion. This album is an encapsulation of everything My Bloody Valentine has done, and reminds listeners why no other band does it as well.
Words: Harrison Daubert