Albums of 2013!

Dec 20, 2013 by

Albums of 2013!

To be fair, there’s no reason why you should give a sugar-coated damn what records I listened to this year.  On the other hand, you may be one of those beautiful, selfless idiots who gave me some money to press a record of my own, and you might be curious to know what things might end up influencing that record.  Or you might just be looking for some decent new music to listen to.  I dunno.  To be honest, it’s quite unlikely that anyone reads this at all, let alone with a particular goal in mind, so I should probably just carry on pretending that someone’s reading.

I’m drivelling.  In summary: I listened to some records this year (mainly on vinyl, intriguingly), and I have now decided that some of them were better than others, and you can find which ones by reading on…

Nick’s top 10(ish)

11= Field of Reeds (These New Puritans) & Shaking the habitual (The Knife)

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]I go back and forth on Field of Reeds.  Sometimes I’ll really enjoy it, and sometimes it just sounds like an untrained, insecure composer trying to prove that they know what they’re doing, and ending up overcomplicating things.  More often than not, though, I think it’s pretty damned good, with tracks like Organ Eternal making it worth the price of admittance.

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /] I have similar feelings about Shaking the habitual – both albums are ambitious in what they’re doing with instrumentation and harmony, but both just slightly miss the mark.  The Knife make wonderful music, and a lot of their 2013 album is truly great (‘Wrap your arms around me’ and ‘Without you my life would be boring’ are damned good); the lengthy, ambienty things don’t really do anything for me, though, and I’m exactly the sort of person they should do something for.


9. Hard rubbish (Lower Plenty)

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /] Australian indie-folksters record an album on 8-track tape, with what sounds like the bare bones of songs. Somehow, it’s pretty wonderful, in a kind-of bleak and worn-out way.


8. Dalmak (Esmerine)

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /] I’ve always had time for Esmerine. In truth, they’re not one of those groups that I can put on, and they’ll draw me in to whatever their record wants to do; but if I’m in the mood for it already, there’s little to top them; in the words of the splendid Neil Walsh, ‘they love a good meander, don’t they?’. Dalmak, recorded in Istanbul with some Turkish musicians is, as you might expect, more Eastern in tone, and more direct than some of their earlier albums. An absorbing blend of instruments and influences.


7. Shapwick (Jon Brooks)

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /] A new find for me this year is Clay Pipe Records – annoyed to find out that Jon Brooks’s CD on a theme of ‘getting lost in the country late at night’ had sold out, I was in time to get a copy of the LP and it’s been a woozy, occasionally spooky accompaniment to a lot of ‘sitting on the sofa reading technical manuals’, which is how I seem to spend my leisure time these days.


6. Hero Brother (Sarah Neufeld)

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /] Solo violin (for the most part), and consistently wonderful. Sarah plays with Arcade Fire, Belle Orchestre, and probably a lot of other amazing people I’ve forgotten. I’ve waxed not-quite-lyrical-enough about her in a previous post, so I’ll leave it at that.


5. Dysnomia (Dawn of MIDI )

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /] Bass, drums and piano; jazz, but not much like I’ve heard before (and, though I’m not a fanatic, I think I’ve heard a fairly broad spectrum of jazz playing).  Dawn of MIDI’s Dysnomia seems very different to their earlier work, which has a much more traditionally-improvised sound to it – this album is repetition and variation refined to a sharp point, as the three players lock into a patterns that slowly change in tiny ways as they progress.  Jazz that fans of electronica could get excited about.


4. Slow walkers (Slow Walkers)

Did the near-impossibility of trying to actually buy a copy of this record create so much anticipation that loving it was inevitable? Or do I love it just because it’s great? Very hard to disentangle all these things, as ever, but I’m pretty sure that I would have loved this woolly, distant and evocative wave of fuzz even if it had been stuck through my door on a CD-R. Not a cassette, though. Bloody cassettes.


3. Tomorrow’s Harvest (Boards of Canada)

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]As it turns out, having LP copies of earlier BoC albums is quite unusual; truthfully, I’d half-forgotten I had them, until the brilliant internet frenzy around the discovery of a couple of records kicked off a trail of wonder leading to a new BoC album. So, while waiting for the new arrival, I went through the back catalogue in some depth. Totally worth it – you should give it a go.

Tomorrow’s Harvest has fewer guitar-based sounds than their later stuff, and is (in some ways) much more like their earlier stuff, albeit more sonically developed. There are the usual elliptical hints at conspiracy theories, and the feeling that it’s crossed from an alternative, apocalyptic present, as imagined by musicians from the Radiophonic Workshop. It’s a fantastic record, and I suspect it’ll be even more woozy and pleasing now that we’re entering the depths of winter.


2. Nepenthe (Julianna Barwick)

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]I’m not sure I have a lot more to say about this than has already been said. A progression from her previous solo-vocals-and-loop-pedal albums, Julianna’s expanded the instrumentation and made a more acoustically-recorded album this time, without losing any of the drifting, indistinct, reverb-heavy, mantra-like vocals that are her hallmark. It’s a great progression, and there’s been no attempt to make the simplicity of her compositional method seem more portentous or clever: it’s the same harmonically simple, emotionally direct music that she’s been making for a while now, and the little instrumental additions and production tweaks have just kicked it all up a notch.  Very lovely.


1. New History Warfare Vol. 3 – To see more light (Colin Stetson)

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

If you’ve talked to me about music at all this year, it’ll probably come as no real surprise to find out that this is my clear favourite for album of the year.   Colin Stetson does things with a saxophone that are absolutely incredible, but on this particular album (number three in his New History Warfare series), it feels as if the technique is now just a conduit for the musical ideas:  Volume One felt a little like a showcase for his (phenomenal) technique and abilities, and Volume Two was clearly a more fully-developed album of music, but Volume Three is an absolute fucking masterpiece.  I’ve wittered on about him in another blog post, so I’ll just leave you with a hearty recommendation that, if you like “music”, there’s no way you shouldn’t own this record.  


Worthy mentions to…

Faint (Taylor Deupree) – lovingly mangled guitar tones and textures
The man who died in his boat (Grouper) – fuzzy and lovely songs sung from miles away
Loud City Song (Julia Holter) – complex and needs a few more listens
Kveikur (Sigur Ros) – back to rock, and some great noises
I thought it was us but it was all of us (Saltland) – lovely, lovely, lovely
Untogether (Blue Hawaii) – some great electronica-tinged songs, only spoilt by a few track of repetitive, tedious dance
Partygoing (Future Bible Heroes) – only just edged out


And the two albums that disappointed me most in 2013…

Trouble will find me (The National) – just hasn’t grabbed me at all, and seemingly recycling their previous tropes.
Reflektor (Arcade Fire) – just couldn’t get into it.  And I really wanted to.

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  1. Chris K

    1. The only ones I bought are the two disappointing ones.
    2. The only ones I have heard from the Top 10 I either ripped from your CD or you took me to see live.
    3. What about Matt Berry?

  2. nick

    1. Did you enjoy them?
    2. Um. Yep, that sounds about right.
    3. Obviously, Matt Berry is awesome, but it’s not creeping into the Top 10-ish, I’m afraid. I’m sure he’ll survive the disappointment.

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