Looking back, 2013 has been a good year for music; new albums from My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails and Daft Punk being just three reasons why the past twelve months have been a real treat for people like the writer, who goes practically nowhere without a pair of headphones and his trusty 160GB iPod. Given this, it has been exceptionally difficult to compile a top 5 albums list for the past year and perhaps a testament to the quality of albums released this year is the fact that none of the three artists mentioned at the top of this article made it into my top five (although two, possibly all of them, would have made it into a top 10).
Prepare for a six-minute thrill ride as Joel Atkin counts down, from five to one, naturally, his favourite albums of 2013…
5. !!! – THR!!!ER
When I was around fifteen years old, I used to delight in playing !!! (chk chk chk)’s ‘Pardon My Freedom’ as loudly as possible. The refrain of ‘like I give a fuck about that motherfucking shit’ was particularly pleasing to my family and, I imagine, my neighbours. Aside from that possibly unnecessary anecdote on teenage rebellion, !!! have always had some sort of dirty groove behind them that made their music infinitely danceable and Louden Up Now typified that kind of strut missing from conventional guitar music.
What was, and still is, fantastic about Louden Up Now, has translated very well on to THR!!!ER. The one weakness of the album is lead single ‘Slyd’, which sits as a slightly annoying aside to the near-faultless grotty disco-punk of the album, and tracks such as ‘Get That Rhythm Right’ and ‘Station (Meet Me at the)’.
4. White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade
Corsicana Lemonade was a late entry into my ears for 2013 and sees White Denim somewhat eschewing their more purist garage rock roots and opting for a more complicated bluesy/southern rock sound (seen most effectively on ‘Come Back’ and album opener ‘At Night in Dreams’), complimented by the presence of Jeff Tweedy of Wilco as producer on two tracks to reign some of the chaos in.
Corsicana Lemonade reminds me of Groundhogs’ Split, an album my father recommended to me around ten years ago that has stuck with me ever since. Initially I thought that I only enjoyed White Denim’s sixth album because of this nostalgia, but its reasonably high Metacritic score has confirmed my belief that it is actually a very good album.
3. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Dave Grohl. Nick Oliveri. Alex Turner. Trent Reznor. Jake Shears. Elton fucking John. That is a (not exhaustive) list of contributors and guests on QOTSA’s sixth studio album, for starters.
A lot has changed since 2007’s so-so Era Vulgaris, including re-issues of Queens’ first two albums, the removal of Joey Castillo from the drum stool and a near-death experience for Joshua Homme. All of this, plus an intervening six years, has resulted in some of the darkest material performed by Queens of the Stone Age.
It is clear to see that Homme has taken influence from his time fronting Them Crooked Vultures (also in the space between Era Vulgaris and …Like Clockwork) and this is evident on tracks such as ‘I Appear Missing’ and ‘I Sat By the Ocean’ which could easily be mistaken for Homme, Jones and Grohl stepping in to the ring for round two of The World’s Most Epic Supergroup. That is not to detract from the fact that this is a QOTSA record through and through, of course, and certainly the best since Songs for the Deaf.
2. Arctic Monkeys – AM
Let us imagine, twelve months ago, that Alex Turner and co. sat in a room and said ‘right, let’s take the moody, dark bits of Humbug and our proven ability to write a meaningful slow song from Suck it and See and make the best album we’ve ever made, yes it will be better than Favourite Worst Nightmare.’
The funny thing is that I think that conversation happened.
The four singles released from the album thus far, ‘R U Mine?’, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ and ‘One for the Road’, are all examples of the band’s increasing musical maturity and the latter, in my opinion, is one of the songs of 2013 (accompanied by an extremely confusing music video which sits somewhere between The Straight Story and Eyes Wide Shut). The best thing is that there is no filler on this album, album tracks such as ‘Knee Socks’, ‘Arabella’ and ‘Mad Sounds’ work as well as the singles for diving into the album and picking a song at random.
1. Kanye West – Yeezus
The man is clearly insane, but he may be right when he says that his greatest pain in life is being unable to see himself perform live. Kanye is undoubtedly a genius and Yeezus is a brash, bold and abrasive statement that literally proclaims ‘I am a god’. Even the recent mockery and general astonishment over the ‘Bound 2’ video has failed, for me at least, to overshadow just how good this album really is.
With a few carefully-used samples, including a reworking of Nina Simone’s ‘Strange Fruit’, a song about lynching, into an MDMA-fuelled relationship turned sour, and bombastic drum-synth combinations (see ‘Black Skinhead’, the album’s stand-out track) Ye melts together his contrasting approaches to his previous two albums (the minimalist 808s & Heartbreaks and the maximalist My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) to produce something that I would not hesitate to call the best album of this year.
See you in the new year bitches.