Top 10 albums of 2013

I came up with my top 10 of 2013 about a month ago, as part of this epic WOW247 feature. The temptation to tinker with the rankings has been defeated by general festive laziness, so here’s the original. I wonder if any of these would have made your list?

10. Omar Souleyman – Wenu Wenu

Forget the fact that Four Tet produced this new album, or that Pitchfork and VICE are lavishing the Syrian star with hipster points. Souleyman may have landed an unlikely audience of western musos, but Wenu Wenu is still one of those records that grabs your attention from a first listen. Whether it remains on your playlist or not will depend on your tolerance for dabke and its incessant, non-dynamic keyboard lines.

9. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

Dev Hynes, first known under his Lightspeed Champion guise, saw his new project Blood Orange bear fruit (geddit?) this year. Cupid Deluxe is a deliciously funky collection of modern pop songs, and merits all the great reviews it’s getting.

8. There Will Be Fireworks – The Dark, Dark Bright

The Glasgow band took their time about it, but when the follow-up to 2009’s astounding self-titled debut LP did arrive in November, it rewarded their fans’ patience with the same passion and bombast, but with an added degree of clear-eyed control.

7. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

By the time this came out we’d all been reading for so long about Chvrches that it felt like lifting the lid off a simmering saucepan and taking a first look at its contents. The consistency of their singles was matched by the record as a whole, with Lauren Mayberry’s deceptively barbed vocals undercut by faultless electronic pop.

6. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

One of many long-awaited comebacks in 2013, Tomorrow’s Harvest did not disappoint the Scottish duo’s committed fans (myself included). I’ve been listening to Boards of Canada since I was a teenager studying for my maths exam (is it ironic that a band obsessed with maths seemed to complement equations and sums?) and in those 15 years they’ve remained as elusive and magnetic as ever.

5. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

While the promotional campaign was expertly orchestrated, it was nothing compared to the luxurious production of the record itself. It may be a thing of excess, but why is that necessarily a bad thing? Beyond ‘Get Lucky’ and the Moroder monologue, it was probably the album I listened to most in 2013. Gems like the Panda Bear collaboration ‘Doin’ it Right’ and ‘Beyond’ eventually got a chance to sparkle.

4. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

It’s easy to dismiss bands with the level of hype that Vampire Weekend generate. But oddly, while a large swathe of the music media initially let their third album slip off the radar, it rewards repeat listens. They are, dare-I-say-it, going for a more mature sound, and it’s arguably their best record yet. I’d struggle to pinpoint one weak song.

3. Everything Everything – Arc

Still one of the most inventive bands in the UK, their follow-up to their 2010 debut Man Alive kept up the dizzyingly high standards. The indie music equivalent of popping candy, this came out almost a year ago, but it just sneaked into 2013.

2. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Electronica has rarely been done so well. It’s a beautiful record that really benefits from being blasted out of a decent hi-fi system.

1. John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

I have to admit I was ignorant to the talents of John Grant until the first time I heard his second album upon its release in March. The fact that Grant is anything but a newbie only compounds my ignorance: in the ’90s and early 2000s he was the founding – and ultimately the sole remaining – member of Denver band The Czars, before going on to release a fine solo record (with the help of members of Midlake) called Queen of Denmark in 2010.

But while that debut laid the groundwork, Pale Green Ghosts is the extraordinary pay-off, an album that hits you like a sledgehammer to the solar plexus from the first listen. Grant, now based in Reykjavik, enlisted the help of Biggi Veira of electro-pop group Gus Gus, and his impact is abundantly clear from the first swarthy keyboard stabs of the title track. The late-night, underground club mood, far from being an arbitrary accessory, fits Grant’s songs as snugly as a Savile Row suit, especially on the likes of ‘Black Belt’ and ‘Sensitive New Age Guy’.

Let’s not overstate the sound of the record though (and it does sound incredible), because Grant’s bludgeoning lyricism and cavernous soul-searching is the beating heart of Pale Green Ghosts. Largely the extended tale of a break-up, Grant, whose first album covered similarly emotive terrain, takes a crossbow to his ex-lover on ‘GMF’ (“I am the greatest mother-f***er that you’re ever going to meet”) and ‘Vietnam’ (“Your silence is a weapon, it’s like a nuclear bomb, it’s like the Agent Orange they used in Vietnam”) and confronts the shell-shock of his recent HIV diagnosis on ‘Ernest Borgnine’ (“Doc ain’t lookin’ at me; says I got the disease / Now what did you expect? You spent your life on your knees”).

It’s often said that creativity is a form of therapy for the damaged and downtrodden. On Pale Green Ghosts Grant has transformed his personal traumas into an album that’s alive with passion, sadness and pitch-black humour. Even as a new fan, Pale Green Ghosts was by some distance the finest album I heard in 2013.

So there you have it. I’d be keen to know what you think.

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