Top albums of 2013: 3

Overview | Part 1 | Part 2 | Mentions | Longlist

Buke & Gase  General Dome

Buke & Gase - General Dome

My favourite part of the latest Buke and Gase album (the buke is Arone Dyer’s modified baritone ukulele and the gase is Aron Sanchez’s guitar-bass hybrid) is called ‘Split Like a Lip, No Blood in the Beard’. The song is made up of regular twelve beat sequences, which shift irregularly and entertainingly between rhythmic sets of three 2/4 bars and two 6/8 bars. Like this (each number or dash is a beat, and it goes fast – listen here):

1-2-1-2-1-2- | 1-2-1-2-1-2- | 123123123123 | 123123123123 | 1-2-1-2-1-2- …

And this isn’t the only place that they produce the kind of holy laughter-inducing musical shift that I probably shouldn’t be allowed to listen to in public.


Daughn Gibson  Me Moan

Daughn Gibson - Me Moan

Slide guitar: check. Hazy electronics: check. Lone bagpiper: check. Semi-comprehensible Elvis-type baritone: check. Here the descriptions end, and your compulsion to seek out Daughn Gibson’s second album is supposed to begin. Meanwhile, I’m off to find the debut.


John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts

John Grant’s second solo album should probably be unlistenable; it’s intense and confessional, an unpleasant cocktail of heartbreak, loathing (for both Grant’s former lover and himself) and upfront acknowledgement of his recent positive HIV diagnosis. But it’s compelling – Grant’s voice, smooth and resonant, and changes of pace between piano and guitar led ballads and quasi-dance tracks like ‘Sensitive New Age Guy’, kind of escape as well as convey the pain and anger.


Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light

Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 3

The final part of the New History Warfare trilogy continues where the previous left off, with bass sax virtuoso Colin Stetson’s thrilling technique. Accompanied this time by occasional vocals from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Stetson’s music is an onslaught of deep saxophone notes, harmonics, grunts, wheezes and the percussive clicks and thuds of sax keys.

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Top albums of 2013: 2

Overview | Part 1 | Part 3 | Mentions | Longlist

The Knife  Shaking the Habitual

The Knife - Shaking the Habitual

In a time when social inequality is widening, it’s depressing that indie music is so lacking in protest. By explicitly challenging the status quo on matters of the environment, feminism, gender and the ‘problem of extreme wealth’, The Knife’s latest is the great anti-establishment album of the year. The thrilling opening three tracks provide a microcosm of the kind of music contained on the album; electronic sounds dominate as ever, but amid the wilder techno workouts, there’s room for acoustic bells and strings in its darker, ambient moments.


The Revival Hour  Scorpio Little Devil

The Revival Hour - Scorpio Little Devil

Another duo, The Revival Hour is made up of DM Stith (occasional Sufjan band member) and John Mark Lapham (formerly of The Earlies). Their low-profile debut album marries present day electronics to a soup of earlier influences from 1960s R&B and pop, and elements of gospel that might betray Stith’s church music based upbringing.


Bill Callahan – Dream River

Bill Callahan - Dream River

Since moving from Chicago to Texas about a decade ago (he stopped recording as Smog soon after), Bill Callahan’s output has been intimidatingly consistent. Dream River begins and ends earthily, with unobtrusive percussion and acoustic guitar complemented by a folk fiddle. The middle six songs meander softly through images and emotions like a river through landscape. They replace violin with guitar effects and a flute that flits about, pinned down only by Callahan’s regular lyrical motifs of birds, flight and rivers.


These New Puritans – Field of Reeds

These New Puritans - Field of Reeds

I was reading this interview with TNP auteur Jack Barnett a couple of weeks ago, about the same time I decided to include Field of Reeds in this list. Barnett reminds me a bit of Björk, working with instrumental forces traditionally used in a way different to the one he envisages – his work here is led much more by instinct than training. It’s the combination of classical instrumentation and non-classical songwriting that makes the album sound “simultaneously ancient and futuristic”.

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Top albums of 2013: 1

Overview | Part 2 | Part 3 | Mentions Longlist

Van Dyke Parks  Songs Cycled

Van Dyke Parks - Songs Cycled

Prolific composer of Americana and orchestrator Parks (probably best known for his work on the Beach Boys’ Smile and Joanna Newsom’s Ys) turned 70 in January. His joyful compilation of recent 7″ singles mixes new songs with revised versions of older compositions, including a Saint-Saens orchestration for steel pans. What’s not to like?


My Bloody Valentine  mbv

My Bloody Valentine - mbv

It’s satisfying when a band that was meant to be good 20 years ago (this was the first time I’d really listened) turns up unannounced still making the right noises. Bits and pieces of modernisation emerge as the record progresses from an introduction of classical shoegaze, but there’s nothing on mbv that feels dated.


Neon Neon – Praxis Makes Perfect

Neon Neon - Praxis Makes Perfect

With Super Furry Animals’ hiatus still ongoing, it’s comforting to hear Gruff Rhys’ voice. He and his Neon Neon collaborator – American producer Boom Bip – have lately cornered (created?) the market in ’80s pastiche synth pop biographies. Their second album is all about Italian communist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the original publisher of The Leopard and Doctor Zhivago.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away

Nick Cave’s trademark lyrical themes – sexual depravity, the apocalypse and searches for knowledge from God to the ‘God Particle’ – are all there on his latest album, on which he’s backed by a light-handed Bad Seeds. At least musically, this is among their least aggressive albums, although the tension is maintained by the quiet juddering of Warren Ellis’ loops.

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