The Best of 2013 (10 – 6)

Mindblowing avalanches of hip-hop, a (whisper it) indie renaissance and the ever-growing dominance of an endlessly inventive electronic scene: by anybody’s standards, 2013 has been the best year for music in some time. As everyone’s music taste has steadily melted into one gigantic crossover success, the genre divides have seemed less important than ever. In a year where ‘Get Lucky’ led a disco revival, Kanye went full space-cadet, and Bowie had a number one album, these were my favourite records.

Thanks for reading, see you in 2014!

10. Psychic – Darkside

Nicolas Jaar’s woozy, skittish techno made a longform return in October, as he returned with guitarist Dave Harrington in his side-project, Darkside.  Having early in the year released their gorgeous album-remix of Random Access Memories, their third LP was a more experimental affair, adding dub beats and fuzz to the cyclical, disjointed Jaar sound. It’s minimalism calls to mind the 90s techno elite (Hawtin, Villalobos etc), but it also incorporates the space-prog and psychedelia alluded to in the band’s name – it’s techno-progrock fusion, undulating on whirring beats and strung out riffs, looping through the dark side of your mind.

9. Settle – Disclosure

Omnipresent thanks to its inescapable string of singles, the Lawrence brothers’ Settle was just one of the years’ fantastic mainstream successes. Brain-wiping repetitive beats, giant hooks, and a raft of excellent guest vocalists allowed the album to dominate the summer, zinging dance-pop, heavily indebted to late 90s garage, that was as suited to drivetime sing-alongs as mindless gurnathons. Get past the singles’ over-exposure, put it back on, and just try and sit still.

8. FIDLAR – FIDLAR

Dumb surf-punk will always have a place in my heart, and in 2013, FIDLAR did it best. Though Light Up Gold beat the Strokes at their own game and Wavves put out a decent second LP, only these LA boys were operating at a Black Lips level of debauchery and young-dumb-fun. Pure sex, drugs and rock n roll, I’ve played this again and again since February and thanks to its stellar hooks and sheer euphoric delivery, it’s still fresh. If you enjoy getting buzzed and shouting, this is the album for you.

7. Zomby – With Love

Following in the footsteps of Actress and Pantha du Prince, 2013 brought us a newly delicate, emotive Zomby – on record, if not in reality. Dark paranoia, lush instrumentation and beats from jungle, garage, dubstep and hip-hop pulsed through this double album, interspersed with miniature symphonies that were more classical than electronic. Spacious, beautiful and complex, With Love only grows with each listen.

6. Arc – Everything Everything

Taut, rhythmic indie has been stuck on the back-burner since Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand were relevant, but in January, it hit boiling point again with Arc. Stuffed with riffs, witticisms and creativity, it was a colossal follow-up album for the Mancunians – all electronic-influenced indie with wordplay worthy of the most tongue-twisting MCs. The gun-fire percussion and razorsharp guitars combine to hysterical effect, building complex songs that are catchy enough to be termed pop.

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Album Review: Everything Everything – ‘Arc’

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There have been on-going claims of the death of guitar-music over the last few years; a perceived deterioration in the standard of indie particularly, as all everyone enthuses about continues to be electronic. I have to include myself in this supposed trend, as I’ve noticed a huge swing in my listening habits over the last year, away from indie and alt.rock and headlong into hip-hop, house, and techno.

However, claims of the end of indie are doubtless hugely exaggerated. There have been some truly great indie records lately; and though the NME may be desperately holding out for the supposedly due ten-year revival a decade after the Strokes and the Libertines changed it up in 2002 – the best “indie” record so far of 2013 is undoubtedly Everything Everything’s second record Arc.

Less relentlessly try-hard than their debut Man Alive yet still a challenging and interesting listen, Arc is an album with an essentially pop sensibility, dressed up with complex rhythms and orchestration – but this time it’s just restrained enough to be able to pull it off. A combination of weird Radiohead-like tracks (an inevitable comparison when you sing in falsetto over agitating, odd time signatures) and Wild Beasts-esque ballads, structurally it most reminds me of an Arcade Fire release. Consistently thematic lyrically (dealing with technophobia and the threat of a dystopian future), the songs are all clearly separate and memorable, but united under a presiding style, drawing the album together.

The first half of Arc is a particularly strong statement of intent. First single ‘Cough Cough’ will have caught many attentions, with its stuttering, rapid-fire lyrics and percussion, leading into a soaringly euphoric chorus; “I’m coming alive, I’m having now!”. Despite a slight sense of hysteria, it’s undoubtedly uplifting, even as the lyrical themes make themselves evident (“…and you wake up just head and shoulders in a glass jar”). Second track ‘Kemosabe’ is equally gripping – more skittish percussion, this time backed up with grinding guitars and a straight-up pop chorus, complete with clapping and “Hey!”’s. Reining it in slightly, next is the fantastic ‘Torso of the Week’; minimal percussion, synths and (yes!) guitars build as Jonathon Higgs’ intelligent lyrics pick at the dark side of celebrity culture, “Girl you’ve been hitting that treadmill like a freak, maybe you’re not quite the torso of the week – hollowest cheeks in the county, time to tweet” “, and then another ear-worm of a snarled chorus smashes in. And it doesn’t end there. Tracks like the beautifully melodic, looping dream of ‘Undrowned’ or the jerking,trickling minimalism of ‘Armourland’, which resolves into a restrained ballad, stud the album, with barely a filler track to be found.

With its evident focus on rhythm and percussion, like Metronomy’s English Riviera and the first xx album before it, Arc is in another string to the bow of electronic-influenced indie. Rather than harking back to brit-pop and piling pressure on bands like the Vaccines, Tribes, and (current “next big guitar band”) Palma Violets – we should accept that indie doesn’t have to be straight-up guitars, and embrace the alternatives. Clever lyrics, check. Guitars, yes, check. A slight sense of despair, check. As indie as indie can be. Given the leap forward between albums one and two, I can only eagerly anticipate what the next release will bring from Everything Everything.