My Top 6 Albums of 2013…So Far

I’m just back from a week’s holiday during which time I’ve listened to a lot of music. With the next HR Carnival being hosted by Matt Stollack, a man who once named a series of blogs after New Order songs, it seems like a good opportunity to take the old #HRMusicShare hashtag into the blogosphere. After all, he’s left the theme open 🙂

I’ve always been an album person. One of my biggest interview gaffes was to tell the interviewer that iPods were for people who didn’t like music. (Turns out she was very keen on her iPod). My rationale was that they mostly seemed to be used for playlists and shuffle songs…an anathema to an album ‘purist’ such as myself 😉 Times change and I have my own iPod now.

The album format has always appealed to me more for solo listening than random songs as I find them a more complete work – the collection may or may not have a theme, there is almost certainly a reason why the songs have been sequenced in a certain way, there is often a range of styles and playing – are just some of the reasons. And unlike an individual track, an album usually has to be listened to many times to make sense…an investment of time that can bring its own rewards.

So here are my favourite 6 from the first half of 2013…in no particular order. The tracks I’ve used for each one aren’t necessarily my favourites from that album but are illustrative of the type of music therein…

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

Not really an orchestra, but 3 US/NZ chilled, psychedelic troubadours. Lovely guitars, simple themes with fuzzy, melodic twists give this a laid back, blissful feel. There’s space, and there are beats, some good 60s vibes, even a Sly Stone feel on a couple of tracks.

These New Puritans – Field of Reeds

Probably the name on this list that most readers would never have heard of, so I’ll describe them a bit. They are a labour of love for two 25 year old maverick twin brothers from Southend and almost impossible to characterise as their music is often more soundscape than recognisable songs. (Think Talk Talk’s final two albums, some spacier Miles Davies moments, a touch of Steve Reich and Aphex Twin). On stage they comprise bass, keyboards, synthesiser, trumpet, trombone, 2 drummers and either a fado or jazz singer – on record they are supplemented with orchestral strings and woodwind (particularly bassoon). Vocals are part spoken, part mumbled and part sung atonally…somehow combining with the (often dissonant) music to create eerie, evocative melodies.

Their previous album (Hidden) was more accessible, with the songs usually driven along by militaristic drum patterns. This album is more complex to fully appreciate.

Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle

Incredibly accomplished and mature fourth album from a rapidly developing folk artist, who is still only 23! The opening 16 minutes, in which the first 4 songs fit seamlessly together as one magical piece, are her best moments to date…with a further 12 songs showing a lyrical depth (there’s a lot of soul baring here) and musical diversity from which it’s easy to believe that she may yet develop in to her generation’s Joni.

Matthew E White – Big Inner

An uplifting country/soul/gospel mix from a new, breakthrough artist (although he’s 30 and has already founded a record label and worked with a number of musicians), combining powerful yet understated (at times almost whispered) vocals with a strong emotional and spiritual punch. The album uses over 30 musicians, including a horn section, string section and 10 person choir. I love this warm, powerful and intoxicating mix.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

I wasn’t sure about this band at first. Maybe I got influenced by the online commentary about their Ivy League, preppy origins, but I’ll own up to finding their knowing riff pilfering and name checking more than a little contrived both on record and the one time I saw them live. A kind of Strokes gone afrobeat.

Not so on this third album though. It’s mature, intelligent, literate, exuberant, fun pop music that’s a lot more about modern living than having a hip record collection. More varied influences too – with track 3 owing more than a little to Whiter Shade of Pale.

Queens of The Stone Age – Like Clockwork

I was a big fan in the early days, with Josh Homme’s effortless cool particularly alluring when I saw them live. Recent years have seen me less enamoured, though something about this album reeled me in. Maybe it was having Dave Grohl back on drumming duties, with a diverse range of collaborators including Alex Turner, Trent Reznor, Jake Shears and Elton John (about time the queens had a real queen he’s alleged to have said). And maybe it was the early reviews alluding to a Bowie influence – with Mojo magazine even re-creating the Hunkydory album cover using Homme’s face instead of Bowie’s. Can’t really see it myself…though I acknowledge that Kalopsia’s stand out chorus is quite a close relative of Bewlay Brothers.

I’m glad I did investigate though. It’s a sexy, glammy, sleazy, funk and grind of a hard rock album with sharp guitars, sharp hooks and a real sense of fun…not to mention a title track ballad that’s crying out to be the next Bond film theme!

So there you have my fave albums of the year so far – why not share yours in the comments…or maybe blog about them…

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