2013 has been an interesting music year and I’m going to categorise it as “tamed and changed”.
The reason for this is that many of my favourite artists that released something during in 2013 released a calmer, soothing, tamer side of themselves and as a broad stroke statement, they failed to impress. Only four of the top 10 artists are ones I’ve been following for longer than two years.
That brings me to change. This year has been one where I’ve discovered how much I enjoy ambient and folktronica. It’s also where I discovered more music from around the globe by joining a global song contest as a UK judge. It also continued to show me how artists can use different mediums to communicate as I happily crowd funded my favourite artists. Lastly I was blown away by the update to Bandcamp. Being able to follow fans of similar music and have a timeline of what they are all buying is fascinating and I fully advocate it.
There were two albums that so nearly made it onto this list and I’d like to give them a shoutout. They are Bibio – Silver Wilkinson (an electro-acoustic album full of wonderful sounds but I’ve only had it a week and I couldn’t judge it in time) and The Black Clouds – Better Days (a hark back to Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots in the early 90’s at its finest). Go find them if you enjoy the rest of this list…
10) Tunng – Turbines
Tunng are a band that have been around for a few albums but I discovered them thanks to Amazon recommendations and thinking “that’s a cool sounding name”. Turbines is the perfect blend of beer induced folk music that’s been given a synth side and plenty of warm lush vocal harmonies. It’s like they’ve remastered some of the psychedelia of the 70’s into crisp modern-day natural instruments. Having only had this album for a few weeks, it could have ranked higher had I been given more time
09) Faun – Von Den Elben
Faun caused uproar with their long-term fans by signing with Universal and then making their most commercial album to date. Whilst there are two questionable tracks that feel like comic sailor tracks, the rest of the album is still pagan folk at its utter finest. Yes, there’s higher production and a gloss to the music and there are less instrumental pieces but in their place are tightly woven, catchy melodies and some utterly beautiful workings. I believe this is a step up from the last album Eden as its more immediate and after the European success the band have had, I hope that allows them to straddle somewhere in the middle of their past and present for the future.
08) Lisa Miskovsky – Umea
The Sweedish pop rock queen continues to release amazing albums that dance back and forth between full on rock and intelligent retro pop. Umea is possibly the quietest of her albums and one that tries to push its way across all her genres all at once. The result is a tour-de-force that shows her individuality and song writing capability whilst never feeling like she’s already done it before. It’s the perfect balance between keeping old fans happy and pushing new soundscapes and for that we salute you Lisa! Without doubt one of most stable pop songstresses in the last 15 years. What is it with Sweeden and their good pop?
07) illion – ubu
Three quarters in English and a quarter in Japanese, illion is such a difficult artist to pigeon-hole into a genre. Whilst his piano, guitar and voice are present throughout sometimes it’s in angry rages, others it’s in the emptiest melancholy – then he’ll hit you with a grande traditional Japanese chanting rock track. illion appears to be a man so hell-bent on his own art that sometimes it’s uncomfortable and sometimes it feels a little too raw for its own good – but that’s what makes me enjoy it more. Plus is also has one of my favourite music videos of 2013 for the track BEEHIVE.
06) Oh Land – Wishbone
Danish pop quirk Oh Land burst onto my radar a couple of months ago and admittedly this was the last of her three albums I grabbed and whilst I prefer her previous entry, this album is full of more creativity that most mainstream acts can muster in an entire career. From the heady drums of Renaissance Girls, to the sass of Sleepy Town and the dirty My Boxer, it feels like Oh Land created an album where she allows herself only one track per “sound”. It’s an album that you’ll certainly have favourite over others but no one can deny there isn’t some major talent at play.
05) Juana Molina – Wed 21
One a singer/songwriter that is clearly making music on a different planet ditches her bizarre song structures and goes for proper verse/chorus styled tracks I wondered if Juana Molina would be able to harness all her charm and place it in a four-minute song. Wed 21 is proof that she certainly can. It’s every bit as random, psychedelic and abstract as I’d hoped but with added choruses! The bitchapong is an excellent instrument (sounds like a waterphone to me) and adds an off kilter alien quality to the whole affair. Having seen her live this year too cemented her as a classic for me. There’s simply no one else like her.
04) The Peter Ulrich Collaboration – The Painted Caravan
Peter Ulrich – the unsung old percussionist from Dead Can Dance has very slowly released two albums on his own and then in March released his third in collaboration with many other artists. Most of them take over his vocal leads, which have always arguably been the weakest part of his package (although I’ve always liked the vulnerability in his voice). Essentially the album is this years hippy must have. Over the three and half years of it being made, the album feels like you’re travelling through Country, time and with a troupe. Different cultures are touched upon from Celtic to Asian to African and the odd bit of 60’s rock. It’s rare that such a diverse collection works so well but it’s amazing what you’ll find in this caravan…
03) Kz Livetune Featuring Miku Hatsune – Re:Dial
My controversial decision to include an album that has several tracks that have been retouched (redialed) was not one taken lightly. Vocaloid has become a massive force in my musical catalogue since my introduction to it just over two years ago with the Project Diva games and Kz Livetune has always been a favourite of mine. Kz’s pure Europop cheese goes for the jugular for every single track. You cannot escape the melody. You cannot escape the beat. You cannot escape the amazing manipulation of the digital voice that is Miku Hatsune as she sounds as natural as she ever will be in these tracks. I simply could not leave it off being on this list even if some of the tracks are just retouched. God bless Miku and long live Kz to provide music far better than any Eurovision entry.
02) Vienna Teng – Aims
Thank you Vienna Teng for not deciding this year would be the year you’d release a quiet album like every other female artist out there. Teng in many ways went the opposite and traded her introspective and clever production for something more electronic in the boldest move she’s done to date. Aligning herself more to Imogen Heap than anyone else, she crafted witty and catchy numbers that appeal to the inner geek and all those souls that were lost. Her voice never fails to rally me and her ability to use it in new and impressive ways, such as the entirely vocal only “The Hymn of Acxiom”, blew me away. Indeed its in the production and the space she creates in her music that she excels and Teng has never released a weak album and looks in no danger of ever doing so. Each one is unique and beautifully crafted. Check out the kickstarter backed video too! Best female artist of 2013.
01) Son Lux – Lanterns
Son Lux over his three albums has grown into an artist that commands your ears with his deceptively complex experimental electronica. There are multiple vocal layering, multiple drum tracks, tons of synth melodies and plenty of brass, strings, choirs, explosions – you name it – it’s thrown in their somewhere. It’s all underpinned with Son Lux’s lethargic and dying vocal delivery that’s so achingly ripped to shreds you can’t help but fall madly for the juxtaposition of the tired and weakness of the vocals against the explosive treats the music normally holds. It’s also one of the few albums this year where I can listen and find something entirely new to tune into and that’s something magical and if you can get the two-track single Tear which is not included on the album but is the perfect accompaniment.
Simply put – Lanterns by Son Lux is my album of the year for 2013!
Whose your favourites of 2013?