The Blog

Best Albums of 2013 - Numbers Six to 15

It's been a great year for music, and here's my selection of the best of it. I've chosen one 'if you only listen to one...' track for each album, which I think is the best/one you might not have heard of. Feel free to praise or abuse as you want.

It's been a great year for music, and here's my selection of the best of it. I've chosen one 'if you only listen to one...' track for each album, which I think is the best/one you might not have heard of. Feel free to praise or abuse as you want.

6. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Not ones to rest on their laurels - number one albums and widespread critical acclaim - Arcade Fire this year went all disco on our posteriors; at first appearances, a strange move for a band that has, going through the albums, sung about various deaths in their family and community, global and theological doom and suburban ennui. But this kind of disco existentialism, like, totally works, blending the band's thrilling chaotic music and hope-in-hopelessness lyrics with the golden - or, rather, shimmering silver - touch of LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy. An album that should, in its departure from their other material and scale of ambition, put these Canadians somewhere in the pantheon of great rock music. Supersymmetry.

7. Haim - Days Are Gone

These three Californian sisters have long been the critics' next big thing (BBC's Sound of 2013) , and finally released their debut album in late September, living up to expectations. They have an irresistible brand of West Coast guitar pop, like a modern-day Fleetwood Mac, you may well have heard (rightly); intricate Destiny's Child-esque harmonies and funky little drum loops and guitar riffs all manufactured into, at times, pop perfection. There are some good dance remixes too on the bonus disc if you buy the longer album. The only really disappointing thing about the album was that it was released at the end of summer, not the start. Falling.

8. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe

Electronica and dance is often thrilling but a little emotionally cold, and pop often catchy but with little edge - which makes this Glaswegian trio's debut, a brilliant marriage of the two, so impressive. A honeyed Glaswegian accent singing over electronica can sound odd at first but Lauren Mayberry's voice is a nice counterpoint to all the heavy, sometimes discordant synth, giving a warmth to the whole affair. So when she sings, on Gun, "No place for promises here/You better run, you better run so/Hide, hide, I have burned your bridges/I will be a gun, and it's you I'll come for," you still think aah, ain't that cute? Some of that might just because she's a bit of an indie crush for me to be honest, but still, a very recommended listen. Night Sky.

9. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

If their self-titled first album was the sound of living campus life to the full, and Contra the sound of making their way in the big bad world, this, their third, is the sound of the New Yorkers settled and trying to work out what it's all about. A tenuous analogy perhaps, but academia has been a great influence on Vampire Weekend (Oxford Comma, anyone?). Not that this musical step is a bad thing; far from it. There's some more soul-searching songs in here (Obvious Bicycle, Hannah Hunt, Hudson, Young Lion), alongside more the band's more typical, jubilant African-rap-punk (Diane Young, Finger Back, Worship You). Everlasting Arms.

10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave seems to have mellowed a bit with this album, but this is a man for whom the following is pretty typical lyrical fare: "We are violated in our sleep and we weep/And we toss and we turn and we burn/Well, we are hypnotized, we are cross-eyed/ We are pimped, we are bitched, we're sold such monstrous lie." So to say he's mellowed is not exactly saying much - but thankfully so, as you couldn't exactly imagine him doing happy and carefree, could you? Instead of rigtheous anger, this is a more contemplative, soul-searching record; replacing the raucous rock sound with soaring strings and, occasionally, gospel soul. Sounds like what a Cormac McCarthy novel (or film adaptation - No Country for Old Men, The Road) would if turned into music. And brilliantly so. Jubilee Street.

11. Justin Timberlake - 20/20 Experience

The world's favourite ex-boybander returned to music this year from a seven-year hiatus of films, funnyness, fucking beautiful women and celebrity celebrity-ness. And from the wait came (generally) good things - the Jazz-meets-Timberland of That Girl and lead single Suit & Tie, the slightly bizarre but brilliant Gloria Estefan-inflected R&B of Let The Groove Get In, and the sprawling (over 7 minutes) neo-soul of Mirrors, Spaceship Coupe and album closer Blue Ocean Floor. Like Prince, what's great about the 'Trousersnake's music - sex is, characteristically, a fairly common theme here - is the scope and ambition. Where much R&B is fairly identikit stuff, even in single songs the 20/20 Experience feature an array of clever touches, inventive melodies and pops off in various directions. Basically, this is the album Futuresex/Love Sounds tried, but often failed, to be, and one which cements JT's place as the prince to Prince's throne. (Part 2 was also good). Let The Groove In.

12. Janelle Monae - Electric Lady

I'm bemused how this lady isn't bigger, because she's basically like Beyonce, but, as good as Beyonce is, edgier, crazier and just generally better (Beyonce probably shades in the looks department, but that's not exactly a damning comparison, and this is meant to be music criticism). Electric Lady follows on from where the (also brilliant) Archandroid left off, taking in perhaps even more directions - rap, neo-soul, jazz, funk, jazz-funk - and rolling them all into a great album, unified by the concept of Miss Monae being some sort of intergalactic pop megastar...or something or other. One can't complain, as it's a conduit to music this exciting and experimental. Q.U.E.E.N..

13. Rudimental - Home

This Hackney four-piece have certainly amassed quite a collection of friends in the music businesses for newcomers - only one song on Home isn't credited as having someone 'featuring'. They choose well, though, for this is an impressive collection of dance and drum 'n' bass inventive, soulful and varied to be nominated for a Mercury prize, yet with enough of a pop and R&B sensibility to get daytime Radio 1 airplay and a couple of number one spots (for Feel The Love and Waiting All Night, minor summer anthems of 2012 and 2013 respectively). Powerless.

14. AlunaGeorge - Body Music

I don't quite know whether to proud or ashamed of liking this album. Soulful electronica is my bag, but at times, thanks to Aluna's girlish voice and simple lyrics about teenage crushes ("Your body is like music, baby/I wanna play it again", various doo doo doos and na na nas etc), this can seem a little like you're listening to two typical 14-year-olds let loose in the school music room, mucking around with all the factory beats on the school keyboards (we've all been there). But - to overly string out the analogy - they are at least near the top of their class, and certainly get an A for effort and enthusiasm, and George's production creates some expertly-crafted pop songs. It will be interesting to see if they graduate to better things on their next album. Bad Idea.

15. Kanye West - Yeezus

You can say many things about Kanye West - and many have - but you can't fault his ambition. Yeezus - West's "god name", as opposed to "slave name" - is...well, it's hard to tell really, unlike his other albums which have their own distinct identities (College Dropout - angsty backpack hip hop; Late Registration - soulful reflections on life and love; Graduation - celebrity hedonism; and the fairly self-explanatory 808s and Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). This is both Yeezus' great strength and weakness, as West just throws everything, lyrically and sonically, in an aural assault to see what sticks - although it's far more claustrophobic than his last solo effort, the grandiose hip-hopera that was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I think it sounds like Kanye having a mental breakdown after a crazy night in which he ended up in some dirty underground German nightclub with industrial techno vibrating all surfaces. Stuart McIntyre in the Guardian thinks it sounds like "40 minutes of him sonically kicking some saucepans down the stairs and huffing the "God" over and over again like a third-rate Napoleon Dynamite knock-off". Whatever it is, it's fair to say West hasn't found complete peace of mind with Ms Kardashian (and, latterly, daughter North West). And for that, as listeners, we should be grateful... generally. New Slaves.