I haven’t been here for a while. Again. This year has been hugely busy and time to write has not been mine. Aside from from keeping busy and exploring fjords, my wife and I welcomed our son to the world this year. I wouldn’t swap that for the all the time to write blog posts about music in world.
That being said, let’s chew over some music from 2013 – setting aside the big Pearl Jam discussion…
In the same way as this year is starting strong – another post or three right there – 2013 was also a strong starter with Sigur Ros announcing Kveikur, hot on the heels of their ‘comeback’ album Valtari. I have a huge amount of love for Kveikur – the lead-off EP Brennisteinn got a lot of rotation en route to Cambridge for a day out with my wife, the aesthetics of the packaging and the vinyl quality were all top notch and the album itself was great: a real, powerful, snarling beast of intent (especially compared to the relative damp squib Valtari) that bought a new ferocity out in them and saw them stamping their name heavily onto a genre that they’ve so massively inspired. A lot of plays of this in the car, in the house, in the ear-buds..
On the subject of suprise, early wins AND comebacks – My Bloody Valentine‘s bombshell started the year off well. I ordered my vinyl as soon as I could load the MBV website and was glad I did; it’s easy to dismiss a band that releases new music after such a long period, to complain that it’s not as good as Loveless (what could be?), to say they should stick to the reunion / reissue circuit (I WILL talk about the Pixies EP but that’s going to need a post of its own)… but to my mind MBV was a slab of greatness. It has all the wall of reverb and wash of guitar, the thump of drums against dropped tunings that you’d expect.. but there’s something new in there too. It’s a great connection from what was and what could be. A shame that it came out so early in the year in a way as it almost got lost in the noise created by other releases as the months went by.I suddenly feel the need to put it on again, in fact.
The National‘s album Trouble Will Find Me was sublime; deep, absorbing and multi-layered. I picked this one up fairly soon after it came out back in May. Hugely transfixing (even the artwork is one of those addictive images that I have trouble pulling my eyes from) and a real move forward from High Violet – a band that genuinely seems to get stronger with each release. It got many a spin on my turntable, through the iPod and more than one track found their way onto different mix cds through the year. All the callings of a good purchase for me.
Following a stroke of luck in which – following a win on Xfm’s Quizee Rascal, followed by a bit of admin blunder and recompense – I found myself with 400 iTunes downloads I got to exploring a lot of new music this year.
Having read a few strong reviews and after hearing a track (not to mention my enjoyment of previous album Empros) or two I downloaded the Russian Circles album Memorial. A pretty solid, and quality effort but most of note in rounding up this year as it introduced me to Chelsea Wolfe. Her album Pain Is Beauty is one of the year’s strongest for me – dark, haunting and hugely hypnotic. Like P J Harvey’s To Bring You My Love dipped in David Lynch atmospherics and sung with a soul-chilling beauty.
I also used a fair chunk of those downloads to absorb more back-catalogue and the new album Walking on a Pretty Daze by Kurt Vile. I’ve recently started to really fall for the particular groove that Mr Vile so effortlessly taps into. It took a while – his previous album Smoke Ring For My Halo had sat in my collection for a while but didn’t really ‘click’ until this year but now that it has… can’t get enough. There’s something so enveloping about the sound and style that it’s more like a continuing journey than a new album, familiar yet still full of development and surprise to keep rewarding. Of course, from here I then read and stumbled back a little further to his work with The War On Drugs and then their work without him – Slave Ambient in particular getting a few plays at the tail of this year.
Also getting a lot of play – though not quite so much as those above (but that’s more down to my not having been able to allocated enough time to listen) – were Silence Yourself by Savages, Antiphon by Midlake, Junip‘s self-titled album, last year’s excellent Kill for Love by Chromatics, My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters & Men (thanks to getting addicted to “Dirty Paws” via the Walter Mitty trailer) and Pirameda by Efterklang.
Strangely enough my new commute has put me into constant tuning range for Xfm – I’ve been able to hear a lot more ‘new’ music of the ‘not pop’ variety for once. It meant that along with those usual suspects and bands listed above, I got into music by the slightly more mainstream acts like the catchy, pure-fun music of Haim who’s melodic, solid and good-80’s leaning Days Gone By also found a happy listener in my wife, the perhaps even more ‘Radio 1’ Ben Howard who’s album Every Kingdom got a fair bit of play this year (Devon-based chap playing mainly acoustic, chilled, beach-like tunes in the manner of Mojave 3 – it’s not that bad) but more so this track, “”, from The Burgh Island EP:
This got lodged in my head early in the year and I’ve been addicted to it since.
Also of note – Boards to Canada and Tomorrow’s Harvest got spun a fair few times but then only after I’d grabbed it using my download haul. To be honest, while I enjoyed it I was glad I hadn’t sprung for the vinyl.
The same “glad I didn’t pre-order” could also be said for this year’s two other BIG HYPE releases – I used to like and have a fair bit of time for Arcade Fire. Reflektor, the surrounding hype and the essentially dire nature of the single and the extra-hype over the most pointless guest contribution from David Bowie (was this another of the mutterings from the same retirement home his own boring-as-death comeback album was recorded?) They may well have been trying to capture a fun, exciting element but something in the execution of the idea didn’t work and to me it sounds flat and uninteresting when they’re trying so obviously hard to do otherwise. Not only that but when stretched out over the seven and a half minutes of the single and EIGHTY-FIVE minutes of the album… I’d more happily listen to Funeral and the half-dozen crackers from Neon Bible and The Suburbs in that time.
Then we have BIG HYPE release 2…. I found Random Access Memories to be hugely bland and uninteresting after having been pummeled with “Get Lucky” from every radio station in the Universe and thought Daft Punk could have done, nay SHOULD have done a whole lot better in the seven years since their last ‘album proper’. The only track I’ve listened to more than once is “Giorgio by Moroder” and I don’t think that’s down to their input as much as it is Giorgio’s. Although, in fairness, “Instant Crush” came on the radio recently and managed to sound fresh – the perils of having your comeback single played to death and flogged when your album is only a 6/10 at best, I suppose.
Still, I’d not like to finish this wrap up on a downer – to be honest I’ll probably remember more to write on last year’s music when my mind settles – so I’ll leave with the last song I downloaded from my iTunes haul, don’t judge….