Saturday, January 25, 2014

New : September Girls - 'Cursing the Sea'

New Year! Out with the old and in with the new!! I was gonna forsake listening to the debut by Irish fuzz kittens September Girls on the grounds that it sounds quite a lot like loads of other records I already own and instead devote my time to discovering new styles of music like Surinamese nose flute polka metal but in the end I decided to give it a go just in case it was any good after all. A risk worth taking as it turns out - 'Cursing the Sea' won't be unchartered territory for all you folks out there who got a buzz from the Vivian/Dum Dum/Best Coast gaggle of shoegazey chick bands that surfaced at the end of the noughties but the gals have a few aces up their own collective sleeve to mark themselves out as a juicy prospect. There's a cheeky splattering of Farfiza organ chucked in there for good measure which gives the material a kinda gothy batcave twist - it reminds me a bit of the Horrors' ratchety debut before they knew how to play their instruments properly, smoky and simple but packed with catchy riffs and reverberant underground charm. I'm not sure whether they've cooked up an image to go with the music to rival the skinny jeans Hammer Horror shtick Faris Badwan and co were rocking back in 2007 but to their credit they don't really need one, the tunes are more than capable of doing the talking for them and they bash out a dozen loveable bass-heavy bliss bombs pitched somewhere between the Go-Gos and the Raveonettes, mired in feedback and fuzz but still packing enough hairspray and Friday night spark to stay above the doldrums. There's even a shade of 'Different Light' era Bangles on here, something about the harmonies and chiming pop hooks - it's perhaps no coincidence that Susannah Hoffs and co covered the very same Big Star tune from which the band take their name back in their 80s heyday. It took me a couple of spins to get into this but once I did it stayed on my headphones like the first Vivian Girls record back in the day, sweet enough to play again and again - thereby hangs perhaps its only weakness, the Vivs' debut was a rush of energy that burnt out before losing focus and whilst 'Cursing the Sea' clocks in at an economical 37 minutes there's still room for a bit of filler, the flair of its opening and closing salvos giving way to a slightly directionless midsection. But the strongest passages are good enough to make up for the shortfall, the opening flurry of activity dropping in anthemic fuzz pop like 'Another Love Song' and single 'Heartbeats' whilst the LP's coda is even more appealing, ending things with the stylish swish-off of 'Secret Lovers' and 'Sisters' bolstered by the almost impossibly catchy 'Someone New' which is good enough to become their own 'Jail La La' if things take off. There's plenty to look forward to already this year and this is a thoroughly promising debut to get things off to a flyer.

Check out : 'Someone New' if you can find it online (I can't) or the promo for 'Heartbeats'.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Best Albums of 2013 : 5-1

5. Watain - The Wild Hunt
We've all experienced musical epiphanies, the moments where you suddenly hear a certain genre for the first time and fall instantly in love. If Metal ever piqued your interest then chances are you'll remember being thrilled and slightly frightened by it on first encounter, the spellbinding nightscapes of 'Master of Puppets' or the caustic occult menace of 'Legion' or 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' sending shivers down your spine and opening up a world of illicit pleasures to explore. Senses may dull over prolonged exposure to blastbeats and shrieking but occasionally a band turns up to bring you right back to the first date awakening you felt back then, one that suddenly turns everything else into stilted irrelevance and takes over your schedule completely. Watain are the only metal band I'll take time to introduce to friends on the grounds that they NEED them in their life, a blackened band of crusaders whose message should be spread far and wide so nobody misses out on their unholy genius. 'The Wild Hunt' is another fine entry in an already spellbinding canon and sees them evolve and diversify into new areas of menace, the scorching Black Metal assault tempered in places with 'Black Album' epic romance and tantalising forays into dark experimentation - the stylistic changes may serve as potential inroads for newcomers to the genre but their incorporation takes nothing away from the raging black flame at the heart of the album and purists will come away smarting from the rabid menace on show here across another bevy of devilish delights. If you're in any way drawn to the murkier end of the musical spectrum then this is one album you cannot afford to ignore in your quest for fulfilment.

4. The Range - Nonfiction
Techno seems to have supplanted indie as the young musicians' go to genre, a lifetime's stylistic history now freely available to all online enabling teenagers born in the 90s to pore over the creative debuts of Derrick May, Richie Hawtin and Carl Craig as they forge their own identities and pick up the mantle for themselves. There's no shortage of studio noodlers out there producing music for the Pitchfork generation, kids already young enough to have bypassed the noughties guitar boom to instead come of age in the post Fuck Buttons/Animal Collective utopia of the last five years where loops and drumbeats superseded riffs and lyrics to create a musical culture for the new era. Exactly how many of the electronic records produced in this wave will stand up to the passing of time is yet to be fully established, the Witch House/Dubstep booms of yesteryear now sounding somewhat hollow but we are in the privileged position of having a surfeit of fascinating releases to choose from and The Range's intriguing debut was the one that stood out for me at the end of a year whose harvest was particularly rich. 'Nonfiction' isn't built around floor fillers nor is it spread across a universe of abstract electronic dreamscapes, the tracks are typically trimmed to bite size chunks and no idea is overcooked but what's served up is a tantalising introduction into a sonic dimension worthy of much future exploration - shades of Detroit Techno, Madchester Acid House, late 90s Trance and noughties Urban Bass Music all filter  seamlessly into the melting pot and different memories of rave culture bubble to the surface of each enthralling track as we take in a museum tour of electronica past and present. 'Nonfiction' resists nailing its colours to any particular mast and as such acts as the doorway into a realm sure to yield bigger and better thrills in years to come - its charms are subtle but run deep enough to keep you picking new favourites on every repeated listen and the passing of time may well reveal this to be the first chapter in an epic musical journey.

3. My Bloody Valentine - MBV
2013 was a year of comebacks largely welcomed by the music press, the recently issued best album lists creaking under the weight of familiar faces back in the ring for one more round. I've been leafing through said lists and pulling faces at the lack of new bands on the receiving end of the highest accolades but it's becoming an increasingly harsh environment for new music, one where artists are perceived as naive to expect even the smallest return on their endeavours against a tidal wave of indulgent nostalgia and vapid middle age complacency suffocating the creative spark that should be shining through modern music. My Bloody Valentine's long-awaited return in the midst of all that could easily have been chalked up as yet another exercise in 90s revivalist box-ticking but they were never a band to do things the easy way and 'MBV' did its level best to avoid over-exposure and flatulent media hype, surfacing almost invisibly early in the year to suddenly envelope everything like an overnight onset of impenetrable velvet fog. Those looking for a return to the lysergic love rush of the 'Loveless' era were catered for with a gorgeous triptych composed in those halcyon days but this was no mere exercise in regurgitation and the main body of the album saw them drift even further into abstract waters, shedding skin after skin to morph into enthralling new shapes informed by the catalogue of musical genres to have come and gone since their last release. Their return to the spotlight was warmly welcomed and handled with consummate grace for a band whose creative void outstrips even the gestation period of 'Chinese Democracy', self-releasing the album on their own website to avoid label interference and involving streaming services without the crotchety self-righteousness of Thom Yorke and co, leaving the record up on YouTube for free whilst politely pointing out that a better quality version was available for purchase if you wanted to hear the real deal. There was nothing calculated about their re-emergence as a creative force but in a way it couldn't have been better timed, 2013 having signalled a shift from song to soundscape that provided the perfect backdrop for a new rush of compositions from the one band you can cite in arguments for guitar music's status as genuine art. 'MBV' was like going back to sleep and reliving the best dream you've ever had with a new director's cut ending - Kevin Shields and co are still out there in there own category, timeless and untouchable forever more.

2. White Poppy - s/t
Where've we got to now with the whole chillwave thing? Is it officially dead? Has post-chillwave established itself as a genre now? I'll admit I've kind of lost track over the last year or so - the glut of effects pedal reliant bands of the late noughties have by and large ceased to arouse interest and the 'maturing' process of the school of 2010 saw bands like Beach House return with pleasantly subdued follow-ups that were probably best suited to an afternoon wandering aimlessly around your local Ikea. The public taste for ethereal soundscapes seems to have waned to the point where artists can paddle in the warm waters of feedback and fuzz without being pigeonholed into some none-existent scene, free to indulge their fixation with sensory displacement and hypnotic dream weaving in creative isolation. In that sense the genre has packed its bags and gone back to live in the forest in terms of mainstream exposure but that might just be the trigger for some even more fascinating releases to creep in from the leftfield. There's not a great deal online about the pulsating brain behind White Poppy (although internet research will lead you to the greatly undervalued peace symbol from which the band takes its name), what's available indicating that one reclusive chick from British Columbia is responsible for this perplexing brain bath of sublime soundscapes. 'White Poppy' is dream pop for the sleep deprived, music for the sort of numbing headspace you enter after fighting off fatigue for a day and a half and resort to powering down your sensory reflexes to the bare minimum, the cotton wool embrace of total rest shimmering before you like a mirage in the middle distance. There's echoes of Slowdive's majestic 'Pygmalion' on here, reverberations from a melodic planet only slightly out of focus to the human eye - the band describe their sound as 'experimental therapeutic pop' and there's more than a shade of Jason Spaceman's medicated high points as they glide through ten memorable slabs of gilt-edged cloud pop. Instruments and vocals remain low in the mix but there's consummate pop songwriting at the heart of each morsel to keep you coming back for repeated listens, be they first thing in the morning or last thing at night. This might take a few spins to get under your skin but like the finest slow release medicine it'll floor you once its effects fully permeate and prolonged exposure to this intoxicating debut might well see you craving a follow up dose before too long. Mesmeric and utterly gorgeous.

1. Deafheaven - Sunbather
How do you pick one record above everything else? Why reserve special praise for any one particular release when there are so many that have made the year more bearable? Should we even realistically expect to be stunned this late in our musical lifetimes? Folks, truth is that there's always a new sensory thrill lurking round the corner to remind you why music takes up so much of your life, dominating conversations and greedily devouring time and energy like a malevolent spirit hellbent on keeping you prisoner in protracted adolescence. Music can still come along and encapsulate a feeling you've never truly put your finger on before, a state of mind that somehow eludes definition suddenly pinned down through sound to be confronted and processed like never before. The emotional momentum of Shoegaze's most cacophonous moments and the scorched earth catharsis of Black Metal's peaks of venomous nihilism seem to be only fractions apart from each other on the dial but the distance between them has always been like the Beiring Strait, a chasm separating two continents facing opposite directions frozen in perpetual self-denial. Deafheaven's mission to sail down this central channel was pinned as pompous hipster posturing by many and decried by pillars of both the Indie and Metal communities but 'Sunbather' proved to be a voyage worth taking, drawing on the subdued emotional release of 'Dreams Burn Down' era Ride and the desolate rage of Darkthrone at their most waspish for an end product that offered both empathy and resolution in one exhausting rally. The bright pink cover was deliberate, not just as an antidote to the black and white DIY fetishism of BM but almost as a tribute to daydreaming itself, the warm glow of the sun shining through your closed eyelids as you isolate your mind for a moment of pure reflection - love and hate wage a bitter war as the record unfolds, giving voice to frustration, disappointment and the frantic search for meaning but still offering solace and hope in passages of fragile intimacy. The dry throat rasp and stone chisel guitar screech of cult BM spews forth like the roar of a wounded animal but it flits intermittently into focus amidst a cloud of numbing fuzz, the swathes of effects pedal almost consoling the venom and bringing what could turn to overkill back into the realms of solace and redemption. There are three calmer passages to sooth the tension but it's over the course of four ten-minute frescos that they achieve true splendour, each track offering a soundtrack to falling in and out of love over a relentless barrage of joy, pain and unfiltered emotional catharsis. 'Sunbather' is a record that courts pretentiousness at times but channels enough true blood and guts feeling to rise above all potential slights and emerge as the only record this year to grab you by the throat and demanded your undivided attention - listening to this will leave you psychologically exhausted and potentially close to tears but it is worth every second. Lay your cynicism aside and immerse yourself in the year's most gracefully savage journey through the pinnacles of human emotion.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Best Albums of 2013 : 10-6

10. Surfer Blood - Pythons

If the mark of a great record is for it to make you grin from ear to ear upon first listen then ‘Pythons’ was an undisputed success. Brimming with sunshine and melody, Surfer Blood’s debut outing on a major label saw their breezy indie pop polished up and transformed into an irresistible end product up there with early Weezer and They Might Be Giants, full of awkward charm perfectly streamlined into radio gold. If Parquet Courts are looming large as the indie band most likely to dominate festival bills and student union dancefloors in 2014, the Surfers are perfectly poised to enjoy ever bigger success if they can reproduce the quality here – all the tracks on show here could easily find their way onto a film soundtrack or mainstream radio playlists and transform the band into overnight megastars. In the meantime the rest of us can simply enjoy the sweetest prospect in guitar pop with this luscious slab of candy-coated indie rock.

9. Minks - Tides End

Those of us old enough to remember the 80s have been largely responsible for ruining them for everyone else with wave after wave of tactless nostalgia and humourless parody, carelessly glossing over the fact that the decade heralded a golden age for pop songwriting and studio invention. Minks’ Shaun Kilfoyle wasn’t interested in simply aping Duran Duran’s gaudiest moments on ‘Tides End’ and instead devoted his time to cooking up streamlined electropop elegance on a par with Talk Talk and Pet Shop Boys at their creative peak, gliding through ten tracks of effervescent radio pop with more than a hint of Morrissey-esque black humour and decadent melancholy. He avoids the creative pitfalls encountered by his less graceful peers by walking around in his signature sound until he feels totally at home, stepping into the skin of ‘True Faith’-era New Order and charting his own intriguing course. This was electro pop done to perfection and stayed on my stereo for pretty much the whole year.

8. Bleached - Ride Your Heart

Babes, guitars, fuzz pedals….some things just never get boring. Bleached popped up in the wake of every other killer girl band out there but pared back the post-shoegaze scuzz pop formula to its most appealing ingredients for a brisk energetic rush of gorgeous energy. ‘Ride Your Heart’ was up there with the Vivian/Dum Dum debuts of yesteryear but had plenty of individual qualities to set it apart from the pack – this was a driving rush of sunbaked energy without a wasted second, packed with hooks and harmonies like a perfect marriage of old skool Go-Go’s and lost US shoegazers Black Tambourine. It might have been nice if some of the hype dolloped on Haim’s disappointingly conservative debut had been saved to promote Bleached’s infinitely more enjoyable offering to mainstream recognition but in truth we’re all better off seeing these gals in small venues while we still can – I managed to miss them twice this year but their gold-flecked guitar pop is sure to keep them on the road winning over new fans everywhere they go for the foreseeable future.

7. Jagwar Ma - Howlin

All you festival dads out there are spoilt for choice these days, what with the plethora of reformed early 90s acts dragging the average age up to about 107 at open air events across the continent. But don’t let your enthusiasm for the imminent Northside reunion blind you to the quality of younger bands drawing from the same well – Australia’s Jagwar Ma were merely a glint in their parents’ eyes when Madchester was at its peak but manage to encapsulate the loved-up dynamics of the original wave of indie dance hybrids without resorting to simple plagiarism. The euphoric throb of ‘Howlin’ captures the rush of guitar music’s union with Acid House in technique but also in spirit, bringing back a joyous bounce not seen since The Music’s similarly indebted debut a decade ago and providing 2013 with a slew of irresistible party anthems to soundtrack the year’s unbeatable heights. They absolutely kill it live as well so chalk this one up as one of the year’s most welcome debut offerings.

6. FIDLAR - s/t

Indie’s ongoing lapse into premature middle age continued in 2013 with endless industry hype piled on the overcooked returns from seasoned vets like Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire but I’ll take a brash scrappy debut LP laid down in a few hours over calculated career progressions any day of the week. FIDLAR’s stonking full-length fit the bill perfectly, landing early in 2013 and staying on my speakers for most of the year with its quickfire blasts of skate punk extolling the merits of cheap booze, street drugs and general raucous behaviour – the band’s sound lands somewhere between Black Lips, Andrew WK and the late 90s UK Bratpop (Bis, Tiger, Kenickie) to provide a deeply satisfying dose of day-glo amusement. It’s hardly surprising given the band’s pedigree – their parents include a member of LA street punks TSOL plus a famous surfboard designer and their splenetic debut packs in a lifetime of grotty West Coast underground culture to deliver the year’s finest hit of young, loud and snotty punk rock.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Best Albums of 2013 : 20-11

20. Public Service Broadcasting – Inform, Educate, Entertain

The blueprint for ‘Inform, Educate, Entertain’ was deceptively simple - splicing soundbites from old public information films with modern day indie electro to produce something innovative and widely accessible. In a way it sounded too perfect, the sort of idea an over-achieving A-level music student would come out with on their way to another glowing report, an intelligently balanced formula that ran the risk of sounding too clinical and polished. Upon reflection PBA’s approach was actually more incisive that it initially appeared, taking modern indie’s TV-friendly tendencies and subverting them by drawing its material from the world of broadcasting itself and perhaps ironically setting themselves up as the last band you’d pick to soundtrack the next Panorama special. These guys come across like the younger, hungrier cousins of Boards of Canada in the harsh light of the modern age - ‘Inform….’ harnesses its subject matter in much the same way as the legendary Scottish duo but pitches its case for business in bolder and more convincing terms. One to watch, that much is certain.

19. Melt Banana – Fetch

The world didn’t necessarily need another dose of frenetic Japcore butchery from these demented noiseniks but it was certainly a better place once ‘Fetch’ had made a gaping crater in 2013’s musical landscape. Exploding like a plague of brightly-coloured gremlins amped up on LSD and Smarties, Melt Banana’s latest sounded like Napalm Death on Helium careering around a china shop in an out of control monster truck – there’s no muscle-flexing bluster here, just a freeform violation of the senses that will leave your head spinning round like a wood vane in a thunderstorm. They will surely spontaneously combust at some point but until then we should treasure them and their gloriously perplexing catalogue of aural atrocities . 

18. Blondes – Swisher 

Techno had a pretty good year in 2013 with sizzling platters from Seams, The Range and Factory Floor to titillate the senses and Blondes were frontrunners in that particular pack, their debut emerging to heightened expectations after a raft of cracking standalones earlier in the year. ‘Swisher’ initially came across as somewhat of a disappointment, lacking the full frontal appeal of any of the duo’s singles but ultimately chartering depths inaccessible to short form releases over a series of ponderous electro soundbites. In keeping with current trends the material swirls and cascades as opposed to sticking rigidly to the hook/comedown formula and the nine tracks on show here chronicle a fascinating voyage across a sea of crackling static, bleeps and loops resonating out from what sound like hollow TV sets as the tracks ebb and flow over lifespans around the seven minute mark. Techno’s quest to save itself from self-referential navel-gazing goes on and Blondes are clearly on the right side and come strapped with an arsenal of subtle yet disarmingly effective weaponry.

17. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – Mind Control

Swathed in reverb and caked in garage scuzz, ‘Mind Control’ was an irresistible splurge of electric energy and lurching riff propulsion. Uncle Acid and co pack a sound heavy enough to appeal to the most ardent Sabbath acolyte but are sprightly enough to entice indie listeners partial to a bit of infectious retro rock – ‘Mind Control’ is triple distilled in smoky occult ambience and acid-fried 70s rock but boasts a generous supply of riff-heavy hooks to wean its way onto any playlist alongside peers from across the musical spectrum. Stomping along in the vein of Acid Mothers Temple, Ghost and the myriad Ty Segall projects currently underway, ‘Mind Control’ was the year’s most irresistible fuzz bomb.

16. Filthy Boy – Smile That Won’t Go Down

Pleasures of the flesh were very much centre stage on Filthy Boy’s lascivious debut which provided a catchy soundtrack to the discerning pervert’s trundles around sexually frustrated suburbia. They broach the topic with the eloquence and grace of Neil Hannon and Nick Cave but aren’t afraid to delve into graphic detail on occasion, ploughing depths that would make R Kelly blush as they fondle their way through eleven cuts of witty indie pop. This stuff is smooth enough that they could play it over the radio in Tescos without anyone batting an eyelid until they started listening to the lyrics – these boys could probably have gone the Mumford/BublĂ© route if they liked but their talents are put to much better use on this sordidly splendid debut.

15. Mazzy Star – Seasons Of Your Day

Amidst the avalanche of comeback records this year Mazzy Star’s first release for 17 years kinda got lost in the rubble but they were never a band hellbent on maximum publicity and ‘Seasons’ was probably better suited to surfacing gradually from amidst the murkier waters of indie’s hinterland. Hope Sandoval still sounds like no other vocalist alive right now and their knack for fragile melancholy and velvet-cloaked beauty has only become stronger with the passing of time – this is up there with ‘She Hangs Brightly’ and might even be the best thing they’ve ever done. Nick Cave and David Bowie seem to be sweeping up the plaudits for graceful returns to form but for my money neither of them measure up to the nocturnal elegance of Mazzy’s new masterpiece – if you’re looking for a soundtrack to the winter then this is where you wanna start.

14. Free Time – s/t

Mellow doesn’t have to mean twee - you can soften the edges of indie rock nicely without descending into full on chunky sweater Talulah Gosh territory, it just takes a little delicacy and texture. Free Time warm it up the same way Teenage Fanclub did later on in their career, strictly Sunday afternoon in tempo but shot through with enough charm and gentle energy to save this from complacency. They pick up on the milder side of 80s Scottish indie in the same vein as fellow revivalists Milk Teddy (whose ‘Zingers’ LP is also well worth a go and would have made this list had it not slipped out in late 2012) and handle their charge with the velvet touch of seasoned veterans, slipping gracefully into each gem of laid-back abandon like they’re easing themselves into a warm bed. You didn’t have to rage hard this year to score points and these dudes may have landed the year’s most casual masterpiece with this corking debut.

13. The Men – New Moon

Last year’s winners didn’t rest on their laurels and knocked out another stonking record in early 2013, ‘New Moon’ allowing more equal footing to the band’s diverse range of musical personalities as their softer elements came to the fore on golden country gems like ‘I Saw Her Face’ and ‘The Seeds’. However they still found time to kick a few doors off their hinges with some of the most satisfying garage rock in the business and their live show back in March saw them push their ragtag bluster to the limits of endurance for another unforgettable performance. As if that weren’t enough already the acoustic ‘Campfire Songs’ EP from later in the year only strengthened their status as the most fascinating band of the moment.

12. Carcass – Surgical Steel

One of the few metal bands to quit while they were ahead first time round, Carcass burst back into life with ‘Surgical Steel’ like they’d never been away. Their savage hybrid of Death Metal and melodic Thrash has been widely aped but never equalled since the release of ‘Heartwork’ 20 years ago but their new platter of splatter sounds every bit as nasty as they did back in the day and comes packed with barbed wire gems guaranteed to put a slobbering grin on the face of every metalhead out there. Any doubts over whether they’d be able to deliver a return to form stonker in the wake of their reformation for live dates should be silenced by this brutal resurgence which was streets ahead of much of the year’s metal output.

11. Floorplan – Paradise

Hipster studio boffins like Hot Chip and Friendly Fires can spend as long as they like trying to cook up the perfect House record, they’ll still never get anywhere close to the original sound of late 80s Chicago – if you want a modern day update on the genre’s uplifting shimmer then you’re better off getting it from someone who was around when it all originally kicked off. Robert Hood returned to the fore in 2013 with a killer soundtrack of warm blooded clubland joy that brought back the original spirit of Ten City, Joe Smooth et al without slipping into corny nostalgia or crass commercialism. ‘Paradise’ comes packed to the rafters with deep clubland throb, pulsating rhythms and oodles and oodles of pure love.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Best Albums of 2013 : 30-21

30. Grouper - The Man Who Died In His Boat

The desolate woodland thrum of Liz Harris has gone through many variants since 2008’s stop in yer tracks fantastic ‘Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill’ LP and this latest outing for her Grouper project matched the mournful majesty of that breakthrough release, drifting into haunting realms of intoxicating melancholy like a slow motion tumble down a rabbit hole into some anti-Wonderland. 'The Man….' sounds like it was recorded in the same empty, wooden American heartlands that birthed Springsteen’s ’Nebraska’ LP but with a cloud of funereal blue grey mist replacing the Boss’ fug of reflective testosterone - like her spiritual confrere Justin Broadrick, Harris views sadness as a realm worth exploring rather than simply a conduit for emotional showboating and this latest catalogue of melancholy serves as the ideal companion piece to Jesu’s own return to the fray.

29. It Hugs Back - Recommended Record

To drone or not to drone, that was the question in 2013 - the chill wave/dreampop/call it what you will fad having been done to death over recent years and leaving little enthusiasm for another batch of effects pedal mayhem. It Hugs Back managed to emerge from amongst the debris to achieve remarkable results with deceptively familiar tools, fading through subtler dimensions of pastel-shaded sound to reveal intriguing new gems along the way. This LP has everything of the reluctant hit to it, the can't be arsed title and lack of crowd-pleasing triggers masking a razor sharp pop sensibility that carries the tracks through the nondescript peach fuzz into memorable hit territory as further examination yields ever more tricks from within the folds. The year's shoe gaze sleeper hit. 

28. Russian Circles - Memorial

There are plenty of bearded garage tinkerers out there banging out flights of R’n’R fantasy but precious few capable of actually turning their riffs into listenable metal end product without losing the punters’ interest - thankfully Russian Circles know how to expand upon ideas whilst keeping things anchored to one central point, allowing their instrumental post metal soundscapes to bloom and flourish without lapsing into over indulgence or time wasting. The weighty majesty of last year’s Baroness LP is present here but it’s trimmed down into bite size chunks, the band chasing down their prey over eight well-crafted rumblefests that provide tremulous bottom end and epic projections into the riff-o-sphere. ‘Memorial’ beams in from outer space and lands somewhere between mid 70s Rush and the early noughties output of post-Neurosis tykes like Cult of Luna and Pelican - that description will either send you running scared or leave you desperate to hear the results, either way it’s a calculated risk that will doubtless yield them a number of devoted new followers. 

27. Best Coast - Fade Away

Bethany Constantino looked like she’d shot her wad with last year’s ‘The Only Place’ which barely left a footprint in comparison to the sun-soaked kick up the arse of her 2010 debut but she was back on top form here, paring down to the leaner EP format to deliver seven tracks of infectious surf pop magic. My girlfriend always complains that this sounds like Sarah Maclachlan when I stick it on and she’s probably onto something – Best Coast’s sugar-coated guitar rush could easily go toe to toe with radio’s most slickly-produced chart stars as a dorky alter-ego to the likes of Sheryl Crow but that’s part of their appeal – nerds can do sunshine and optimism just as well as the clean cut magazine crew and ‘Fade Away’ provided seven more reasons to feel good about yourself when you wake up in the morning.

26. Toy - Join The Dots

Toy’s inception as the psychedelic afterbirth of late noughties skinny jeaned irrelevance Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong yielded an absolute belter of a debut last year which was runner up on my 2012 list but following it with a carbon copy would have been a waste of everybody’s time (and probably career suicide given the short attention span of today’s audiences) so it was good to hear them mix it up on this satisfying follow-up. ‘Join The Dots’ was their ‘Going Blank Again’, a more considered affair unconcerned with repeating the infectious thrills of their debut and focussed on delivering material that draws you further in with each listen, hidden complexities and spellbinding detail rising to the surface as the tapestry unfolds. There’s no telling where they’ll head next but I for one will definitely be showing up to find out.

25. David Bowie - The Next Day

Bowie’s first one in a decade was a reminder of how unique he is before we’d even heard the bloody thing – no other artist has intrigued and challenged audiences for so long and losing Lou Reed later in the year only brought home how fortunate we are that he’s still around to maintain his legacy. In an era of seemingly endless revivals and reformations ‘The Next Day’ sounded surprisingly current, Bowie having transcended his previous career phases entirely to seemingly beam in a new manifesto from deepest space, pulling the fabric of time back around to act as the voiceover to his very own life retrospective. Comebacks are ten a penny these days but this was one that felt perfectly timed and expertly crafted.

24. Peace - In Love

These boys were at the front of the pack of British indie’s search for its next great white hope in 2013, rocketing their way to front page of the NME on the back of some infectious standalone releases and this gorgeous debut from back in March. ‘In Love’ is as direct as its title suggests, homing in on the same sunshine indie that lit up the debuts from Tribes and The Vaccines and fusing it with a hearty dose of psychedelic bombast to produce one of the year’s most optimistic bloodrushes – the fickle state of today’s industry may see them dumped by this time next year but for the time being Peace’s charms are the brightest in the business.

23. Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

The fuckers' babbling electronic escapades were the height of fashion back in the late noughties but after a four year lull I was wondering if they'd still have enough pep to hold people's attention. Thankfully I was proven wrong - 'Slow Focus' combined the sky-surfing loopfest of 'Tarot Sport' with the air of sonic mischief running through their 2008 debut for a deeper, more echoic sound resonating from lower sub levels of the imagination. Playing at the world's biggest sporting event might have prompted other acts to tone it down a bit but Fuck Buttons proved unshakable in their quest to delight and distress in equal measures with this new addition to their already impressive back catalogue.

22. Jesu - Every Day I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came

Justin Broadrick never fails to enthral me with each release but this one was particularly special, a reflective affair that chronicles the emotional curves and slides brought about by the birth of his first child. It’d be far too easy to gag in disbelief that the same dude who created ‘Streetcleaner’ and ‘Slavestate’ could come up with something this intricate but in truth it makes total sense – the guy has always worn his heart on his sleeve and striven to lay down his raw emotions on tape with heartrending precision and the industrial rage of his earlier work has simmered with age into a wiser and contemplative form still bristling with intense feeling but calmer in his expression of it. Truly stunning stuff, again.

21. Parquet Courts - Tally All The Things You Broke

If people actually bought new guitar music these days then these dudes would have blown up like The Strokes did ten years ago by now – last year’s ‘Light Up Gold’ album was packed out with anthemic indie guitar tunes and this stopgap EP kept the buzz going with more toe-tapping tunage and a few nods to leftfield influences like Beck and Television. If they can keep this up then it’ll take some sort of global conspiracy to stop Parquet Courts trampling all over 2014 until you’re utterly sick of them – with that in mind let’s make the most of it whilst they remain a Brooklyn hipster secret playing small venues and banging out stone cold quality every time they turn on their amplifiers.