This is my official Top Ten album list for 2013:
10. Elephant Stone Elephant Stone
One of the themes that appears to have emerged from my favourite albums this year is appreciation for the latest crop of jean-jacketed psych rock. This Elephant Stone record exemplifies that perfectly, drifting between Brit-pop and something more kaleidoscopic thanks to Rishi Dhir’s deft use of the sitar in various places.
9. Midlake Antiphon
I wavered numerous times about putting Antiphon on the list because there’s no real anchor moment that I love. But the album’s subtle Moody Blues-meets-Pink Floyd vibe has a beguiling effect and I found myself going back to it a surprising amount.
8. Murray Lightburn Mass: Light
The other major theme that appears from this year’s list revolves around adventure and experimentation. We’re not talking Wire magazine-style experimentation, rather it’s about relatively conventional musicians doing something bold and brave. The Dears’ lead singer Murray Lightburn’s album Mass:Light certainly fits that description. For a guy known for epic rock songs to switch up and make a one-man electro record that doesn’t blow is an achievement.
7. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats Mind Control
A sludgy triangulation of early Sabbath, Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter and the Harvard Psilocybin Project, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats’ Mind Control represented a rare spot of true danger.
6. D-Sisive The D.ark Tape
It’d be easy to pass off D-Sisive’s The D.ark Tape as another “indie rapper has sour grapes” album, but that does this record a tremendous disservice. The D.ark Tape is a diary of frustration, loss, false hope and failed promise. Through it all, though, D-Sisive remains defiant, lashing out at critics, biters, haters and anyone else in his line of fire. Which is exactly the fighting spirit you want him to have.
5. Kanye West Yeezus
I hate myself for putting this on the list, but there are so many fascinating things about Yeezus. The lyrics are ridiculous, the production borders on bizarre and Kanye’s peculiar sense of self-worth is head-shaking. But for a mainstream pop-rap album this is worlds removed from anything else that came out this year. And it’s that audacity, that oddly guileless sonic adventuring that I appreciate.
4. The Highest Order If It’s Real
For most of this year I thought The Highest Order’s If It’s Real was my #1 album and it’s only on deeper scrutiny where it’s dropped down just a bit. The cosmic Unintended-style country rock supplied here by Simone Schmidt and her gang hits all my trip-out buttons, but the individual songs are a bit less successful than the “vibe.” That said, being in the neighbourhood of perfect is still a great place to be.
3. Austra Olympia
My three favourite Depeche Mode albums are Black Celebration, Music For The Masses and Violator. Those three albums define that band and they’re the blueprint for a certain melancholy dance-your-pain-away sort of electronic music that’s just so moving. On Olympia‘s best moments I get that same swirling, twirling feeling.
2. The Black Angels Indigo Meadow
The Black Angels’ Indigo Meadow pretty much defines the term “psychedelic outlaw” music.
1. M.I.A. Matangi
M.I.A.’s Matangi was the only album put out this year by a pop star that had any streak of rebellion. It’s actually embarrassing when you compare her to other contemporary pop stars and starlets (Bieber, Drake, Thicke, Perry, Spears, Gaga, etc). For the most part they stand for nothing. Or, at best, some conveniently benign social and/or charitable cause. I’m not 100 per cent with everything Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam stands for, but at least she stands up for something. She takes sides and does so without fear. I love that.
It also doesn’t hurt Matangi‘s production is so contemporary and worldly. There’s no other album I heard this year that feels this “now.”
Other album lists…
2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1