20. Deafheaven - Sunbather
Sunbather is the album on everyone’s tongue – they know it’s good, but they don’t quite know how good it is. Well it’s good enough for our top 50, and it just makes the top 20. Deafheaven are one of the few metal bands taking their sound to the alternative sphere of shoegaze and post-rock. They have kept the screaming nonsensical vocals, and it all seems to work here. Sunbather sounds like the outcome of Burzum and Sun O))) meeting at a My Bloody Valentine reunion concert. The progressions are Mogwai-esque, and dynamically, Sunbather is the most tactically constructed metal / post-rock album of 2013.
19. Phoenix - Bankrupt!
In a barely cared-about corner of the web, a list of the 'happiest' albums places Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix among the hierarchy. Phoenix are indeed a 'happy' band - happy in the sense their music always instils a kind of positivity I myself never feel could be salvaged, even in the most darkest of periods. Bankrupt! may have been a little more obscure in such approaches, but the synthesizer playfulness didn't prevent a deliverance that used such confidence to inspire a rebirth of overwhelming emotion. Their fifth album brought back the atypically Phoenix moments, but the paradigm between past work never felt rehashed or lazy: the colourful pop of lead-single Entertainment a la 1901; the just-as-striking accomplices of SOS In Bel Air & Trying To Be Cool (Lisztomania & Fences); the seven-minute multi-part eye-widening of the title track (Love Like A Sunset); the melancholic slap of reality in Bourgeois (Rome). Bankrupt! borrowed but never stole; Phoenix's mesh of rock hooks and crystallising synth pop giving the French four-piece a record that was uplifting, mesmerising, but focused more-so on expanding its sound to that of electronically dizzying heights.
18. Jagwar Ma - Howlin
Revivals are always interesting to read, write, and hear about. Jagwar Ma are leading the 80s / 90s baggy / house revival with electronics, guitars, and a whole lot of passion for their inspirations. Cut Copy belongs to this revival, Django Django are there, somewhat from their debut last year – and there’s more around the corner. There’s a reason why people take influence from Primal Scream’s Screamadelica and the Happy Mondays’ albums – it’s because they’re good, really good actually. Howlin defines Jagwar Ma’s sound in just the opening segments of “What Love”. There are hazy vocals, a slow tempo, and a hell of a lot of percussion and bass to take the track through ‘to the other side’. Howlin is like this for its entirety, and Jagwar Ma are showing how they can influence the future generations with their own sound which heavily takes from what came before.
17. Beach Fossils - Clash The Truth
It feels like an eternity since I reviewed Clash The Truth back In the early months of 2013. The singles released from Beach Fossils sophomore album were in public domain in 2012, which means we couldn’t include any on out singles list – we would have picked both “Careless” and “Shallow” – two outstanding tracks bridged by “Taking Off”, one of the leading tracks. To be honest, Clash The Truth is a 90s post-punker kid’s dream. It lights a flame between the post-punk revival bands and indie rock, with a little reverb and a whole lot of guitar skill. Beach Fossils are not missing guitarist Cole Smith, as Clash The Truth excels in the area’s where they’re lacking the former original member. Credit must be given when due, and damn does Clash The Truth deserve some credit. It’s not at all innovative, but Beach Fossils find that hole where The Fall and The Libertines left off in the 80s and 00s respectively – this is it.
16. Autechre - Exai
Not since the days of Confield & LP5 have Autechre's attempts been proficient on both rhythm and mental analogy. Not that the records succeeding them haven't left a sonic mark on my appreciation of their music, but given the scale of Exai's efforts this year, I'd empathise with anyone who declares the years between 2002 and 2012 felt like an implosive capsulation or a decade that simply never happened. Because the experience we got from Autechre's eleventh album this year, felt overly Universal to a reality of experimental song-writing, glitching textures and daring pushes of musical extremity. Throughout the two-hour, seventeen-track payload, Autechre perfectly captured the height of their influence into a signature cold-but-thoughtful analysis of music as a model of in of itself. Whether that be the concrete 4/4 techno and glitch, the irregular signatures of their experimental intrigue, or even the expansive questioning of tone and placement about a particular composite, Exai was a musical Mount Everest and philosophical Grand Canyon; an album that stood as the duo's highest achievement in well over a decade, but also an album seductive in its depth and curling questioning - repeated listens often bringing abstract answers but always a contingent excitement.
It’s not for everyone, but it’s for me. Field of Reeds is a step above These New Puritans previous album Hidden. Producer Graham Sutton has been working with TNP for a number of years now, and his post-rock beginnings and ambient structures are apparent in TNP and their own blend of post-rock, art rock, and modern classical. Field of Reeds is a concept album at heart, with two important characters acted out by vocalists Elisa Rodrigues and Jack Barnett. They combine to form a unitary Adam and Eve wish in a dystopian world which is left to the imagination. With Field of Reeds, TNP extend their neoclassicism beyond that of Hidden.
14. Mikal Cronin - MCII
As Ty Segall was mellowing out in 2013 with Sleeper, his trusty right hand man Mikal Cronin was off releasing his sophomore album MCII on Merge Records. MCII is far from mellow, and it downright elevates Cronin’s status from a back-up band member, to a fully-fledged solo artist. His self-titled debut album wasn’t the completed concept, but MCII took that step, and made it in to a stairs to the top of the West coast 2013 albums – surpassing Segall in the process. MCII is very reflective of Cronin’s own personality, life, and fears. Tracks such as “Weight” are devastatingly beautiful in the power pop / garage rock genre, while “Shout It Out” offers that bit of pussified pop punk. You won’t find a better garage rock album that borders pop than MCII.
13. Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven
Ever since I first heard the destructively torturing cries and crunching distortion on Nil Admirari, I've never once dismissed Daniel Lopatin's music as anything but eye-opening. From the cinematic void of Returnal, to the episodic stun of Replica, R Plus Seven was always going to be OPN's next step into extracting sound and challenging the very principle of music to something far more ominous. Lopatin orchestrated the same principle as his brilliant 2011 sophomore, in that each of the album's ten tracks stood more as glimpses rather than outright connective themes. The nature of these choices in sounds may have had all the hallmarks of shapeless extracts with little purpose of being. Yet whether it be a tirade of organ chimes or sweep of synthesizers, inhuman choir sounds or jittering beat patterns, there was an order to this chaotic meddling. It may have been short-lived and fairly secretive between each track, but R Plus Seven seemed to fit to that methodology superbly. And as with most of OPN's 'music', there was emotion to be found and passion to be praised in the structures. Daniel Lopatin hoped to reshape the concept of sound, but one thing he dared not to interfere with, was his listener's capacity to connect and engage on a mentally stable/unstable level. Thus when it came down to it, R Plus Seven only pushed its semantic of narrative intention, ever deeper.
12. Lorde - Pure Heroine
Lorde is young, talented, and has something to say. Pure Heroine reflects her teenage years with a bit of maturity and pain, while her comraderies are still chasing attention from boys. You all know “Royals” now, I’m sure, but Pure Heroine is so much more than one single. The abrupt minimalism is a continuous theme on Pure Heroine, composed by Lorde and her operative producer Joel Little. Little’s ear for the ambient / dubstep recordings of South London’s past has found its way to New Zealand, for what is the quintessential pop album of 2013.
11. Cut Copy - Free Your Mind
House music in 2013 has never been more effective since the days of Happy Mondays and Primal Scream. I mentioned it in the Jagwar Ma summary, and it’s a testimonial to what’s a rejuvenation of electronica and dance music outside of the popular fashion. Cut Copy has unofficially dedicated their fourth album Free Your Mind to this mind-set of reckless love and psychedelia held up inside a capsule. Elements of Free Your Mind are flawed, but overall, the concept and vibe of Free Your Mind is among the best Cut Copy has created. Better yet, they and their sound is feeling new for this acid house love – the third summer of love.