Monday, 6 January 2014

Dragons of Disgust's Top 10 albums of 2013

Yep, 2013 has come to an end so I figured I should put together one of those list things everyone seems to do. Read on for my top ten albums and a further selection of recommended records that didn't quite make the cut...

10. QOTSA - ...Like Clockwork
 There is something about QOTSA's ever changing line-up that, beyond singer/guitarist Josh Homme's instantly recognisable vocal and guitar work, you never quite know what you're going to get and ...Like Clockwork throws some interesting collaborations into the mix, including Elton John, Scissor Sister’s Jake Shears and Alex Turner along side old band mates Nick Oliveri, and Dave Grohl who haven't recorded with the group since Songs for the Deaf. Despite the large list of collaborators Josh Homme is still running the show. Whilst in the past he sometimes hid behind a veil of lyrical obscurity, here he is more upfront, introspective and honest than he has been before, giving a versatile and emotive performance throughout. Much more leaner and more focused than their last few records, ...Like Clockwork is as essential as the albums they first made their name with.

9. My Bloody Valentine – mbv
After taking long enough for everyone to believe that the rumours of a comeback album were unfounded out of nowhere Kevin Smith dropped the latest My Bloody Valentine. Stacked against the reputation of they predecessors the mbv stood up surprisingly well. Bringing back hazy memories of loveless but still pushing the sound forward into unknown territory with meticulous production. Smith continued to push the guitar sonically into places it had never been before with submerged drum and bass of wonder 2 whilst the shimmering dream pop hooks of tracks like new you reintroduced us to Belinda Butcher's gently sensual vocals. After a wait of twenty-two years I don't think anyone expected a follow up to be this good.
My Bloody Valentine - Only Tomorrow (youtube) 

8. KA – The Night's Gambit
Sometimes tribal, sometimes soul stripped to its bare bones, the beats on The Night's Gambit help to sculpt KA's raw and grainy aesthetic. Filled with samples of samurai films, referencing another great New York hip hop album, GZA's Liquid Swords and covering grim reality, religion and street life with a mellow and subdued delivery free of any posturing, that adds weight to his words, a man wise to the way of the world. Never relying on a chorus, his song use hooks and repeated mantra's; on Nothing Is he lays out his resolve repeating 'If this ain't meant for me nothing is'. Though he can seem self assured, KA is still figuring everything out, searching for spirituality and life in the darkest hours in New York and its that search, that journey, that is so compelling. 
KA – You Know It's About (youtube) 

7. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salts
With Cerulean Salts Waxahatchee have stepped out of the bedroom and into the garage, allowing enough room for some drums and distortion to add to her sound. The addition of a full band hasn't changed Katie's concerns for this project, and the additional instruments are often used in sparse and interesting ways, from the country shuffle on Lips and Limbs to the slow noise pop of Misery over Dispute, never getting in the way of the emotional core of the album. Rough around the edges and charmingly messy, listening to Waxahachee still remains an intimate, engaging experience, its simple and unabashed approach demands your attention and holds it with ease.
Waxahatchee – Peace and Quiet (youtube) 

6. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
Nick Cave & the Bad Seed's have been around long enough to be a rock institution, responsible for numerous classic albums, they've earned the right to take it easy though as Push The Sky Away shows, they're as restless and vital as they were in the days of The Birthday Party. Part social commentary, refreshingly free of cynicism, part meditation on life, It's everything Nick Cave does so well, bringing pop culture on Higgs Boson Blues, alienation on We Know Who U R and barely contained sexual tension on Water's Edge. It all blends together in a surreal melting pot as the songs build and develop much like The Dirty Three's best material. Push The Sky Away proves The Bad Seeds are as vital and relevant as they have ever been.
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Jubilee Street (youtube) 

5. Hookworms – Pearl Mystic
The only debut album in the list comes from Leeds based Hookworms with Pearl Mystic. A rioting beats of a record that brings trends together like Spacemen 3's distorted incantations, Velvet Underground's scruffy swagger with Neu!'s hypnotic repetition. The eight minute long Away/Towards starts the album of with ferocious intent, after a drone lulls you into their world a crashing drum beat breaks through alongside clouded vocals awash in effects, all delivered with a punk rock cool. Form and Function blends rock organs and messy psychedelia into a glorious rock 'n' roll cacophony whilst the lazy slide guitar and tambourine hits send the album out on a peaceful tone, winding down after the chaos before it. Hookworms have made the kind of album that leaves you stunned on first listen, and still stunned after ten more spins, one of the years best surprises.
Hookworms – Form and Function (youtube) 

4. Haxan Cloak – Excavation
A soundtrack to some surreal science fiction nightmare. I think that is the best way to describe Haxan Cloak's music, or at least how I see it, there is something evocative to it that lends itself to an active imagination. It's rhythmic and ominous, stretching samples and twisting sounds around detached beats and rumbling sub bass and Strings that sound like they are trying to escape from the music before being pulled back in. Crackles of static shift around, like Burial's late night soundscapes if they existed in perpetual twilight. There was something alien at play here, the sounds are abstract, you can't quite figure out the noises at play here. The album is full of smart sound design and production, it something that can be appreciated for how its been put together, as if as much time went into the placing and arranging of the sounds than the composing itself, whether its the spliced voices on Miste or the almost physical rushing waves of static on the title track. And its isn't all horror, there are small, genuinely pretty refrains, little synth lines that break through and offer some tangible moments of light before getting dragged back into the darkness. There's something to these haunted sounds despite making for an uncomfortable listen they still manage to draw you in to it's spectral strangeness.
The Haxan Cloak – The Mirror Reflecting (Part 2) (youtube) 

3. Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On

Spencer Krug has found himself in a number of bands over there years, including Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade and a whole host of others, never sticking around too long before moving onto the next thing. On his latest album as Moonface he has decided to go it alone with just a piano and his voice and it might be his best release yet. Julia With Blue Jeans On is often gut wrenchingly honest, full of melody, classical flourishes and lyrically playful, creating a lot with a simple set up.

Krug has a penchant for the bold, whether he is confessing is more animal instincts on Barbarian or in the soaring outro of November 2011, swathed in echo as if it was sung from deep inside of a valley. Everything is carefully constructed, like the moment in the title track when he sings 'I see you there/standing at the bottom of the stairs/obliterating everything I've ever written down/Is there any other way you could have been found?/Julia With Blue Jeans On' admitting his words fall short of those indescribable moments of simple beauty in life but still bringing the weight and impact of that moment across in this perfect scene.

It's an album full of sentiment, sincerity and real heart-on-sleeve vulnerability. It comes a little close to melodrama at times and may not suit everyone but Julia With Blue Jeans On might just be the best written album of the year and possibly the most human too.
Moonface – Everyone Is Noah, Everyone Is The Ark (youtube) 

2. Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Somewhere between a composer and producer, Jon Hopkins has spent the last decade or so pursuing his own form of electronic-aided classical music. After creating the soundtrack to the 2010 film Monsters, alongside three previous more classically inclined albums, he has made an effort to embrace more direct elements of left-field dance music into his sound with his latest record.

Immunity's first single and album highpoint, Open Eye Signal, that really lays out Hopkins' dance floor intentions. A pounding 4/4 rhythm surrounded by deep and heavy bass morphs and progresses gradually over the track, pulsating and rising like a crescendo, before giving itself up to the beat for it's last two minutes.

The effect of incorporating current strands of electronic music whilst fitting in with the texturally focused neo-classical that’s the speciality of labels like Erased Tapes, can at times be jarring, though he clearly understands both of these different musical worlds and fans of either will find much to appreciate here. On Immunity its hard not to admire the faultless production and beautiful ambience that Jon Hopkins seems to deliver with ease.
Jon Hopkins – Open Eye Signal (youtube) 

1. These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
Having already shown themselves to be one of Britain’s most interesting bands with 2010s markedly percussive and experimental album Hidden, These New Puritans continued to develop, with their latest album Fields of Reeds. They make the transition into the classical realm with assured ease, bringing in minimalism and subtly encroaching electronics, managing to be smart but never showy in execution. Drums are used sparingly, like a string section adding weight to the emotional core, and hardly feature in the albums second half, in fact the piano seems to be the most consistent instrument, often providing the backbone for the songs.

Spiral includes multiple vocalists taking over from one another, including a choir of children, whilst Dream also uses vocals to startling effect with Portuguese jazz singer Elisa Rodrigues giving in intimate performance surrounded by spectral and spaced arrangements reminiscent of the quieter moments of the stargazing jazz of Sun-Ra. The propulsive Organ Eternal typifies their approach, coming across as simple and complex in equal measure.

Despite frequent time signature changes and obscure instruments it never feels inaccessible with some of the most effective moments being when they use simple piano melodies. Proving themselves to be adventurous and bold, These New Puritans have made themselves into a genuinely unique act that defies easy classification, which is a rare thing in this day and age, and it'll be interesting to see where they go next.
These New Puritans – Organ Eternal (youtube) 

I just couldn't bring myself to leave it there with so many great albums released this year so here's 20 more recommended albums (in alphabetical order):

Danny Brown – Old
One of hip hops most interesting characters goes from strength to strength this time adding an introspective streak to his party persona.

Deerhunter - Monomania
Fans of the band's more spacey moments may be disappointed but the hook filled garage rock performed with more than enough scuzzy cool to make up for it.

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Still sounding cataclysmically huge, for their third album the duo have developed fully fledged beats alongside those distorted synths that could soundtrack an apocalypse.

Forest Swords – Engravings
One his first full-length forest swords continues to develop the distinctive lo-fi dub sounds from his acclaimed EPs built up with samples and layers of percussion.

Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind
Kieran Hebden's latest was indebted to the dancefloor but not necessarily cut out for it, taking his beats to a spaced-out and murky place full of new age bleeps and grainy grime samples.

Future Of The Left – How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident
This crowd-funded new album from the welsh punk band shows how satire should be done in music, full of dark humour and bite that would make Jello Biafra proud.

Grouper – The Man That Died In His Boat
A collection of recordings from the time of Grouper's 2008 album Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, dreamy experimental folk that’s hard to describe but easy to like.

Jessy Lanza – Pull My Hair Background
An assured debut of electronic R&B and dance, minimalistic production and a charismatic vocal performance at it's centre.

Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Continuing her sci-fi concepts Janelle Monae's second record brings in countless styles and collaborators and effortlessly makes the them all work and fit into her unique and soulful universe.

Julia Holter – Loud City Song
Expansive and unashamedly literary in its influences, Holter's latest was her first to be studio recorded and her new musical arrangements ring out as loud as he prose-like lyrics.

Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
Utilizing her voice, a loop pedal and a fair bit of reverb Julianna Barwick turns her voice into an enchanting, ethereal and surprisingly versatile choir.

Nadine Shah – Love Your Dum and Mad
A great little debut, rough around the edges, unfussy and heartfelt, with a voice that's brimming with character.

Nils Frahm – Spaces
The German composer proves himself to be a special talent as his grasp of texture and melody shine forth on this unique live album.

No Joy - Wait To Pleasure
No Joy have crafted an album of hugely enjoyable, restless noise pop as their catchy harmonies sit at ease amongst the swirling guitars and energetic beats.

Nosaj Thing – Home
Continuing in a more ambient direction, the L.A beatmaker continues to shine, especially on the stand out collaborations with Toro Y Moi and Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino.

Omar Souleyman – Wenu Wenu
The Syrian wedding singer realeses his first studio album with some help from Four Tet, and it might be one of the most joyous party ready releases this year.

Roly Porter – Life Cycle of a Star
Intense orchestral electronica that is just as epic as the album title suggests from the former Vex'd member.

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
Brash and bold hip hop from two veterans of the genre, who share an infectious sense of fun throughout.

Thought Forms- Ghost Mountain
The Bristol three piece take bring everything from hazy shoegaze, indie rock and eastern-tinged drones and craft it into one complete whole.

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – Uzu
Epic prog rock without the cliché, endless solos and pointless time signature changes, opting for an inspired anything-goes approach to genre.

Now, onto 2014!

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