These were the albums that most floated my boat in 2013, in rough order of how much. I don’t have any devastating insights to offer about the year in music (when do I ever?) except to note that I don’t seem to like male singers anymore. Not a geezer in this bunch.
Those of you with a Maths O-Level will notice that there are six albums here, not the usual sort of number you get with these things but I couldn’t choose between two of them so, fuck it, it’s my list and can be as long as I want.
Charli XCX – True Romance
Earlier this year I described Charli XCX’s debut album as “Britney Spears going through a Goth phase” and with her catchy dance-pop songs cloaked in moody, darkly-lit electronics it hit a magical sweet spot of being both radio-friendly while still having a cultish, underground edge. Her biggest success this year was co-writing Icona Pop’s massive smasheroo “I Love It” and giving away a song as good as that is a sign that this sassy young lass is bursting with a confidence and talent that shone through in great big purple neon letters on this endlessly poptacular album.
Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
Laura Marling and Charli XCX battled it out in my ears for the coveted top spot on this list but in the end I chose the latter because it was sonically more forward-thinking which always gets you extra Brownie points in my book. But on every other level this was a classic album, sometimes of Joni Mitchell-esque proportions. Four albums into her career Laura is still only 23 but sounds like a much older soul, and you wonder with awe how good she is still going to get. There is no truth to the rumour that this was originally going to be called Once I Was A Doobie Brother.
Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals
I’m baffled at the frosty reception this album got from critics because it was about the most aggressively entertaining album I heard all year — guess I didn’t get the memo that Sleigh Bells weren’t cool anymore. Far as I was concerned this was their best collection of tunes yet, adding new wrinkles and sophistication to their sound while still keeping their hyper, guitars-going-to-11 sonic attack that sounded like being attacked with chainsaws by cheerleaders on a sugar high.
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Janelle is nothing if not an ambitious girl and The Electric Lady was a grandly omnivorous, futuristic concept album about renegade androids (complete with Philip K. Dick references and a subtext about “queer” sexuality) told against a backdrop of soul, funk, jazz, pop, and anything else that took her fancy. It was also a whole lot of sexy, bouncy, booty-shaking fun which you can’t say about most concept albums. If Prince made Ziggy Stardust it would have sounded like this.
Purson – The Circle & The Blue Door
I don’t believe in the concept of a “guilty” pleasure anymore but a little voice in my head kept telling me that enjoying this kind of Proggy Occult-Metal was like being caught voting Conservative or something. But, Satan help me, I loved it (Up yours, little voice in my head.) A large part of Purson’s appeal lies with their vocally (and visually) striking lead singer Rosie Cunningham who brought a full-blooded, sexual edge to their psychedelic heavy riffage. Like some Glam witch she wove a spell that owed as much to Bowie, Pentangle, and The Beatles as it did Deep Purple and Hammer films. But let’s just keep this between you and me, OK?
Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
If this was a list of my favourite sounds of the year then Cate Le Bon’s sleepy Welsh voice would easily come top. The obvious comparison is to Nico but Cate has a warmth to her that suggests she’d rather have cup of tea than a syringe full of smack. Her third album was slightly more spare and focused than before but relocating to California hasn’t changed her Velvets-ish psych-folk sound all that much and Cate remains as idiosyncratic as ever. Best album title of the year too.
David Bowie – The Next Day
Various Artists – After Dark 2
Disclosure – Settle