Top 10 albums of 2013
Featuring Boards of Canada, My Bloody Valentine and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
What, no Arcade Fire? No Biffy Clyro? No… Chvrches? Boiling down one year’s musical output to ten records is always a difficult task, but here’s The List’s round-up of the records we think deserve praise, repeat listens, and your attention. Local heroes, returning legends and undiscovered gems all feature in our list, which features our favourite nuggets of sample-heavy hip hop, acid-flecked techno, gauzy shoegaze guitars, Nigerian funk and warped pop from 2013. And feel free to chip in with what you consider to be any scandalous omissions at the end.
Boards of Canada – Tomorrow's Harvest
Eight years on from The Campfire Headphase, the Edinburgh brothers engaged in a remarkable pre-release album campaign that had fans listening to album streams in the Mojave Desert and watching video broadcasts on the sides of buildings in Japan. Quixotic promo aside, Tomorrow's Harvest remains as enigmatic and bewitching as ever, with Mike and Marcus Sandison utilising their personal radiophonic workshop to make analogue astral projections a sonic reality. The album is heavy with typically portentous synth swashes, ominous drum programming and has an ambience that is pregnant with BoC’s benign yet creepy fatalism. (Mark Keane)
Various artists – Music Language Compilation
As an introduction to some of the finest under-radar, off-kilter and outsider music Scotland has to offer, this compilation is priceless. All proceeds go to Music Language (a not-for-profit festival which took place in September, run by Cry Parrot). It features techno-punk deviants Golden Teacher, Alex Neilson’s a cappella madrigal troupe, The Crying Lion, spellbinding warm-machine side-projects (Conquering Animal Sound’s Anneke Kampman, alias ANAK-ANAK), vital solo endeavours (Tattie Toes’ Howie Reeve), and other treats including riveting avant-garde extracts from anti-supergroup Asparagus Piss Raindrop, and the sublime ‘Bradford Threadfest (excerpt)’ from Jer Reid, Stevie Jones, Aby Vulliamy and George Murray. Roundly surprising, entertaining and enlightening. (Nicola Meighan)
My Bloody Valentine – mbv
It was the 22-years in the making follow-up to one of the most acclaimed and influential guitar albums ever, Loveless. While m b v does renew, reinvigorate and recontextualise certain recognisable My Bloody Valentine tropes, importantly, it doesn’t pretend not to bask in the full glow of its insurmountably revered predecessor. In that simple and quite honest regard, it’s probably the most generous possible gift frontman Kevin Shields could have given to fans who have patiently waited all this time for an album that, while never likely to fully meet expectations, had to and does deliver a certain vital quotient of eardrum-vaporising noise, head-scratching strangeness and outright, dazzling beauty. (Malcolm Jack)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
(Bad Seeds Ltd)
Nick Cave, the feral sex-wolf of legend is largely absent here, but in these tarnished lullabies there remains a strong sense of sadness and bitter menace. The dark growl of ‘Water's Edge’, straining under Warren Ellis’ keening violin, comes closest to a forceful virility, but this commendable change of pace from Cave and company remains true to its sense of powerfully established restraint on the noirish diptych ‘Jubilee Street’ and ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’ or amidst the title track’s crystalline, trance-like splendour. (David Pollock)
William Onyeabor – Who Is William Onyeabor?
Who indeed? After self-releasing eight albums between 1978 and 1985 Nigerian musician William Onyeabor became a born-again Christian, refusing to speak about his funky past ever again. Thanks to David Byrne's label Luaka Bop, Onyeabor's eccentric funk and electro gems are a collector's secret no longer.
An early adaptor of new technologies, Onyeabor laces his oddball tracks with squelchy analogue synths, spaced-out electronic effects and Kraftwerkian robo-riffs, matched by equally curious lyrics. 'One day you'll be lying dead!' he warns on the eerie Old Testament Afro-funk of 'Something You Will Never Forget'. Wigged-out funky magic. (Stewart Smith)
Julia Holter – Loud City Song
LA chamber-pop diviner Julia Holter has long reflected urban landscape, society and architecture in her music, so Loud City Song is a particularly resonant, fitting title for her third LP. It sees Californian sound artist Holter refine her singular knack for filtering avant-garde ideas through mesmeric, beautifully arranged classic(al) pop – from spectral, universal opener ‘World’ (‘all the cities of the world’), through jazz-imbibed, gorgeous lead single ‘In The Green Wild’, to the brassy claustrophobia of ‘Horns Surrounding Me’, a song agitated by experimental pulsing-pop that evokes Kate Bush or even a dream-sequence Pat Benatar. A sublime reminder that even amid the biggest buildings in the busiest cities, silence, and loneliness, can be deafening. (Nicola Meighan)
Conquering Animal Sound – On Floating Bodies
Glasgow-based Conquering Animal Sound’s mosaic aesthetic bristles with invention on this second album; an assemblage of audio curios that retains a resolute kernel of songcraft and electronic-pop sensibility. At its centre is the voice of Anneke Kampman, itself something of a curiosity, full of Björk-ish flights of fancy that variably soar and sink, sometimes relying on bare-bones recital, and at others offering a full range of brisk harmonies full of declarative intent.
The musical esprit de corps between Kampman and other half of the duo James Scott reveals itself in album opener, ‘Ultimate Heat Death of the Universe’, a gradual throbbing plaything that emerges from a knot of electronic detritus. It’s a good primer for what is to come. Risk taking drives the record, one with a gloriously rich palette, maybe most evident on the lonely echoed vocals of ‘Mimese’. Who dares wins, as they say. (Mark Keane)
As if their breakthrough release of Tape One earlier this year on groundbreaking Los Angeles intelligent hip hop label Anticon wasn’t vindication enough of the promise that Edinburgh trio Young Fathers have been putting in the bank for some years now, this equally worthy follow-up less than six months later is a strong demonstration of their ability to turn out good tracks rapidly.
‘Come to Life’ is surely one of the most radio-friendly songs they have at the moment – a sleek, thumping slice of electro-soul of the kind Kele Okereke was making before Bloc Party got back together, while the closing ‘Ebony Sky’ is a measured anthem; another textured and immediately intriguing track from a group who have come of age at last. (David Pollock)
Neil Landstrumm – Dragon Under
(Sneaker Social Club)
Squelching acid, ravey davey beats, dark disco and pleasantly pummelling techno, from the man once described as ‘Scotland’s rave warrior’. It’s album number ten from Edinburgh’s Neil Landstrumm, and if sounds intoxicatingly, deliriously familiar, it’s because he’s been obsessing over electro and techno styles since 1995. His tough claps, kicks, hats and buzzing synths sound fresh, complex and highly danceable, all at once. (Claire Sawers)
Jaisu – A Short Album
What were the people of Edinburgh listening to on Bandcamp this year?? A hell of a lot of Jaisu, apparently. Edinburgh-based producer Olly has been making hip hop for years, and more recently, quietly making a name for himself with production work for artists including Danny Brown and Guilty Simpson. His unique, 100% sample-based and synth-heavy production style (he sounds like a hyper-talented, Scotland-raised descendant of DJ Shadow, Madlib and Yeezy) gets a showcase on this debut A Short Album, put out on Jon Phonics' UK label, Astral Black. Limited to 100 red cassette tapes (now sold out), his album has been attracting radio support from DJs such as Plastician (Rinse FM), Eclair FiFi (Radio 1) and Scratcha DVA (Rinse FM/Hyperdub). (Claire Sawers)