Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Best Albums of 2013 : 40-31

40. Rotting Christ - Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy

When you’re saddled with a name implying that quick-fix sensationalism was the only card you have to play it’s unlikely fans will still be tuning in over twenty years into your career but Greece’s Rotting Christ are no ordinary metal band. ‘Kata…’ was the result of many a late night spent in the library, serving up a deafening archaeological dig through ancient cultures with a different civilisation used as inspiration for each savage morsel. The band weave between rip snorting aggression and oppressive sinister ambience over ten slabs of eclectic extremity mixing ancient language and legend with the laser-sharp delivery of a well-drilled metal band for a brutal cocktail of devastating force.

39. The Field - Cupid's Head

Four long players in and it's beginning to feel like Axel Willner is not a human being but rather an ever present electronic frequency that can only be tuned into when the moon is in the right quadrant - us mere mortals are only offered that possibility once every other year at present but it's always worth the wait. 'Cupid's Head' is a more lucid offering that 2011's planet-shaggingly fantastic 'Looping State Of Mind' but there's still plenty to dazzle and intrigue on this latest offering at the Altar of Loop, each track surfing a hypnotic trajectory around your head until you become entranced by the endless stream of star-gazing Techno tweakery. His galaxy continues to expand outwards to reveal new and fascinating worlds.

38. Factory Floor - s/t

You can't move for 90s revivalism right now in the electronic world but I'm not gonna be the one to start complaining. 'Factory Floor' harks back to the era when producers didn't need to pander to the album market, they could just lay down a string of cracking 12" releases instead of building everything up to the perfect LP. Fortunately this long-awaited debut spreads its weight evenly between certified bangers and more complex flutters across the rave spectrum, amping it up enough to satisfy the thrill seekers but keeping enough range to entice those looking for something bigger. If Fischerspooner and The Rapture had started a decade later then they'd probably sound something like this.

37. Merchandise - Total Nite

I don't know what in the Seven Galaxies of Holy Fuck was going on here but I liked it. A lot. Merchandise spread themselves between Trash Can Sinatras, 'Nowhere'-era Ride, Captain Beefheart and an acid-frazzled Dire Straits over five perplexing tracks held together by a keen ear for fuzz pop and a very vivid imagination. 'Total Nite' is like Pink Floyd's 'Animals' reborn for the filesharing generation, the soundtrack to a confused and slightly worrying dream that leaves more questions than answers. This won't satisfy impatient visitors but if you're prepared to stick around for repeated listens then this bizarre gem of an EP might just turn out to be one of the year's most rewarding experiences.

36. Portal - Vexovoid

If you ever wanted to know what the entire universe collapsing and disappearing up its own bottom would sound like then Portal have come through with the answer. ‘Vexovoid’ isn’t just brain-curdlingly heavy, it pushes at the boundaries of music itself to make for a harrowing yet utterly compelling listen. Like a Death Metal answer to French BM enthusiasts Deathspell Omega, Portal dispense with traditional song structure in favour of an unsettling barrage of gurgles, rumbles and vocal effects that sound like they’re drawn from some new genetic hybrid forged at the bottom of a swamp. This is a blistering assault blending the warped genius of old school legends Possessed and Morbid Angel at their freeform freakiest.

35. Foals - Holy Fire

There’s absolutely no reason Foals shouldn’t be headlining festivals across the globe right now with the tunes they’ve got in the tank. ‘Holy Fire’ is a third successive triumph of nimble indie dynamics and effervescent electronic sheen that only strengthens their case for nabbing those main stage slots typically sucked up by cash-strapped 90s stalwarts on the comeback trail. They’ve still yet to produce a genuinely flawless LP but this was a more than ample addition to their canon and proves that five years on from their debut they’ve still got plenty of new ideas left to dazzle and delight.

34. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away

Old dude makes killer new album shocker! It should come as no surprise when someone like Nick Cave pulls a cracking record out of the bag but he somehow keeps coming out with new ways to thrill and tantalise. ‘Push The Sky Away’ is more of what he does so well, delicate and poetic with dashes of his trademark sleaze and menace plus a few tangents into the creative leftfield that will intrigue even long term fans. He went through the whole thing with a full band and even a kiddie choir this February when he came to Paris and by all accounts played another blinder last month with a totally different setlist – the boy’s no slouch and this latest platter shows that his best years may yet be ahead of him.

33. Seams - Quarters

It's nice to have electronic music that makes you want to get up and shake that ass but sometimes I'm more in the mood for something a little bit more laid-back that I can listen to on my headphones on the Metro so I can zone out from the inane conversation and poor personal hygiene. To term 'Quarters' as a mere distraction would be to do it a disservice though, the album weaving together neatly trimmed loops and effervescent synths with the finite touch of an experienced surgeon - the results are as smooth as a fridge door but reassuringly infectious as they whirr around your brain like little Techno-fuelled helicopters. This is pharmaceutical grade electronica that'll take the edge off nicely. 

32. Daniel Avery - Drone Logic

Whoever passed on their Trance Europe Express CD to this kid a few years back must have been pretty chuffed when they heard the results. 'Drone Logic' turns the clock back twenty years to the bloopy debuts of Orbital and Underworld but this is no corny nostalgia trip, Avery's take on proceedings showing enough love of the sequencer sound to slot in nicely alongside the class of '93 on this impressive debut platter. There's a didgeridoo player and a flashing pyramid-shaped light rig out there somewhere just looking for an owner that would be a perfect match for this knob-twiddling masterclass, tunes like 'Need Electric' and 'Water Jump' providing some of the year's finest electronic moments.

31. Primal Scream - More Light

There's no shortage of bands scrabbling to lay down the sound of the moment but precious few actually willing to write about the state of things in 2013, directly engaging with listeners at the risk of pissing a few people off along the way. It's sadder still that one of the only bands to actually put their money where there mouth is are about 87 years old and have already carved themselves out a reputation for zeitgeist-nailing over several key releases. 'More Light' wasn't quite on a par with 'XTRMNTR' or 'Screamadelica' but it was aiming for the same territory and succeeded in places, tracks like 'Culturecide' and the savagely accurate '2013' providing a fitting soundtrack to the troubled world we live in today.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Best Albums of 2013 : 50-41

Fancy a few albums of the year? Of course you do. Plenty to choose from this year too - here's the first instalment of my top fifty.

50. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Let’s start off with a REALLY obvious one shall we? This would have been a lot higher on my list were it not for everyone else out playing the cock, arse and bollocks off it since it came out over the summer. Even set against their back catalogue this is a stunning achievement, a flawless torrent of streamlined disco and thumping club anthems that boasts both graceful attention to detail and universally accessible dancefloor appeal. Everyone latched onto this from the snootiest of music journalists to the most gormless of clubland punters which is testament to its potency as a crossover classic and any future retrospectives of 2013 will be woefully incomplete without reference to its many high points.

49. Dutch Uncles – Out Of Touch Into The Wild

Set against the worrying tendency for young bands to hedge their bets by penning music equally suited to bank adverts as indie dancefloors there was plenty of scope for this one to fall flat on its face but these boys managed to pull off an unexpected blinder back in January, coming strapped with polished studio chops and an ear for danceable guitar pop weaned on the cream of 80s Britain (Talk Talk, Orange Juice, early OMD). They’re perhaps a little too polite to warrant any sensationalist press attention but Dutch Uncles are rooted in catchy tunes and stand out ahead of their well-bred music student peers (Alt-J, Everything Everything et al) with their tightly trimmed brand of polished indie pop.

48. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

Half disarming genius and half freeform arthouse bollocks, The Knife’s latest outing should have run away with the ‘Album of the Year’ plaudits and would have done so had the duo been able to focus their charge on bowel quaking voyages through leftfield electronica and epic strobe-flecked performance pieces. Their desire to cultivate and challenge the listener spilled over into pretentiousness in places but even saddling this LP with a twenty minute track of abstract fridge noise couldn’t spoil the ride when set against meticulously constructed rave-ups like ‘Full of Fire’ and ‘Networking’. Not a flawless performance by any means but where ‘Shaking the Habitual’ was good it was bloody brilliant.

47. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

Orbits between BOC albums are getting progressively longer as the duo seemingly glide further out into space but this one was worth the wait, conjuring up a lucid stroll across some barren moonscape at the end of the galaxy. Like Portishead before them the Scottish duo didn’t so much time their return to maximise sales as simply wait for emergent trends in electronic music to dislodge them from the ocean floor and bring them bubbling back to the surface for another well-received bout of knob-twiddling and sense-tinkering. This was like a warm footbath for your mind and reminded us all why they continue to be one of the genre’s best loved acts.

46. Drenge – s/t

Raging slabs from Metz and The Men brought splunderous garage indie back into the spotlight in 2012 and the same tidal wave of spew-infested slurry rolled on into the new year with corking debuts from the likes of Drenge whose hymns to violence, rutting and morbid obsession hit home like an out of control bin lorry. Subtlety isn’t so much sacrificed on here as rejected outright over thirteen tracks of rollicking garage fuzz that have the potential to turn your local toilet venue into scurvy bedlam when they rage through on tour – there’s nothing radically new on here but Drenge bring enough life to the formula to keep it alive and kicking for another bout of sweat, splatter and high volume showmanship.

45. Black Sabbath – 13

The tagline ‘Metal Legends back to their awesome best!’ has been shackled to myriad disappointments over recent years but Sabbath aren’t your average veterans and their back to basics approach proved devastatingly effective on this long-awaited return to grace. The band’s members have done more than enough to torpedo their own legacy since the glory days of the early 70s but ’13’ was a fitting addition to the likes of ‘Vol 4’ and ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’, stripping things back to the planet-crunching basics for a new setlist reminding you why they terrified so many people first time round. If they never do anything else then this will be a more than fitting epitaph for Metal’s founding fathers.

44. Kvelertak – Meir

In the same manner that Yank outfits like Clutch and Mastodon didn’t seem to form so much as emerge from the earth’s crust soaked in rock heritage and primordial fury, Kvelertak sound like they’ve floated to the top of a Fjord after years marinading in Black Metal dogma and imported Motorhead riffs – if their 2011 debut was the soundtrack to their surfacing then ‘Meir’ is them lurching onto the shores and baring down on the nearest village for a feast of terrified peasants, lunging and roaring through a torrent of bone-quaking rock ‘n’ roll and scorching metal delivery. The lyrics may be in Norwegian but they’re speaking a language that any discerning metalhead will understand only too well.

43. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty

Satan’s babysitter came through with the goods again this year with her most diverse offering to date, elaborating on her bone-dry acoustics and tormented garage rock with some poised electronic tangents and more languid passages to thrill and chill all over again. She could easily have turned herself into another gaudy caricature of moon-baked eccentricity by now just to curry favour with the Goth crowd but ‘Pain Is Beauty’ is deftly calculated, the soundtrack to a nervous tour around a mansion whose every room is haunted by a different type of ghost. Wolfe’s morbid visions become ever more vivid and fascinating with each release and four albums in she’s still impossible to predict. Spellbinding stuff.

42. Cult of Luna – Vertikal

Luna’s rise to prominence as part of the post-metal boom in the early noughties looked to have lapsed into complacency by the end of the decade but they burst back into life with this stonking return to form that projected the epic hardcore turbulence of their earlier work onto the far edge of the solar system for something truly spectacular. ‘Vertikal’ sounded like Prometheus-style Titans banging out Neurosis riffs from the inside of a hollowed-out planet somewhere far, far away – like cyborgs disassembled and rebuilt backwards in a terrifying new age, this LP was an earth-shaking roar of staggered alienation that was well worth several years of creative blight and confusion.

41. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

The class of 2008 came back in force this year (Foals, Fuck Buttons) but no-one shouldered quite the anticipation of Vampire Weekend whose third offering seemed to surface in a totally different world to their opening twinset. The rapid-fire festival anthems of yesteryear were dismantled and re-assembled for ‘Modern…’ resulting in a mix that was less immediate but ultimately all the more rewarding - they still have the potential to irritate but these lads are clever enough to balance their shtick between easily accessible pop and PHD quality genre-splicing. They remind me a bit of post-Police Sting with the wit and World Music, easy to hate on but impossible to resist in the long term.