Friday, 31 January 2014

2013: The Year in "Normal" Music - Tracks

Um, I've just realised it's nearly February, and everyone knows you can't do "Best of Last Year" lists in February. I might as well still have my Christmas tree festering in the corner.

For that reason, and also because I feel like I am writing this list for the sole interest of about 5 people on my Twitter feed (hello Jake, Richey, Moray, Tim, um... others) - here is my somewhat abridged "Best of 2013 in Normal music" roundup. By "Abridged", I mean I'm just going to give you a list, a load of album art and a few comments, because, let's face it, most times that's all anyone looks at on these things. And by "normal" I mean, relatively mainstream - things that people outside my tiny world of gig friends might have heard of, things with samples and distorted guitars and enough electronic percussion to give the hardened progger an aneurysm on the spot.

But before we actually get to the top 20 albums - here's a randomly ordered list of odd tracks from albums which didn't make the main list, either because I didn't necessarily like all of the songs, I didn't really get to know them well enough, or they just plain don't exist yet (which makes things slightly tricky.) And at the end there's a handy Spotify playlist of them all.

Gigging Forever's "Top Tracks of 2013 which weren't on my top 20 albums for some reason"

Chrome Hoof: Knopheria (from the album Chrome Black Gold) - Massive disco-Knifeworld smash, like the Cardiacs meet the Scissor Sisters. I've not heard any more of this album and suspect the rest may be a bit less mental than this, but hope not, for the sake of all that is wonderful in this world.

I Break Horses: Faith (single) - Icy, deliberately obtuse, menacing, hypnotic electro track with a killer tune. The album is already one to watch in 2014.

Jennie Abrahamson: Phoenix (single) - Lovely Swedish electronica/singer-songwriter stuff from Peter Gabriel's latest backing singer - and what a voice. Some wonderfully squelchy keyboard bass too, and someone in a polar bear costume on the cover. What more could you want?

Haim: Forever (from the album 'Days are Gone') - This was probably better live on Jools Holland where I first heard it, trading the slightly overproduced sheen of the album for a healthy dose of New York punk attitude but still a fun tune from a good album nonetheless.

Bastille: Pompeii (from the album 'Bad Blood'). A song. That was quite good. Sung by a man. With some nice close harmony vocals and chanting choral effects. Will that do?

Jon Hopkins and Natasha Khan: Garden's Heart (from the OST 'How I Live Now') - Way less bizarre than you'd expect from the Mercury Prize-nominated sound pioneer and the bonkers frontlady of Bat For Lashes, but just as beautiful.

Delphic: Baiya (from the album 'Collections') - Yeah, the album was a bit dodgy, or at least misunderstood because it no longer sounded like New Order, but at least this was a superb single.

Depeche Mode: Angel (from the album 'Delta Machine') - Menacing and dark. Cracking live. Not entirely convinced about the rest of the tracks, though...

Teagan & Sara: Closer (from the album Heartthrob)- In which the indie duo get a makeover from Greg Kurstin and turn into a fun pop band with kick-arse attitude. If you like this, you'll probably like the whole album. Which I did. And do.

Jagwar Ma: Let Her Go (from the album Howling) - Summery, cheery, shimmery, jangly, spangly, chimmery, jummery, okay that'll do now. This year's only tip from my friend Mark - who went and got himself a girlfriend, the fool. Possibly the most guitarry and least electronic sounding song I've chosen in my entire list.

Moby: Saints (from the album 'The Innocents') - Say, Moby, can you make us a song that sounds exactly like 'Unfinished Sympathy' by Massive Attack? You can? Great! Do you have anything original, or even just better, to fill up the rest of the album? You don't? Oh dear.

Röyksopp featuring Susanne Sundfør: Ice Machine (from the mix album 'Late Night Tales') - A wonderful Depeche Mode cover with just the right amount of Nordic melancholy and analog synth wonder. I've actually never heard the original and not convinced I want to now...

Röyksopp (again) featuring Susanne Sundfør (again): Running to the Sea (single) - One of only 2 original tracks the R-men released this year - but there should be music AND a tour in 2014 and I'm staking my entire happiness on it. No pressure, guys. (Oh, and if you feel like bringing Susanne along on the road, I wouldn't complain.)

Rob & Chloe Alper - Juno (from the OST 'Maniac'). Chloe (ex of the much-missed Pure Reason Revolution) released a lovely song on Soundcloud about a year ago, and then promptly took it down. I miss that song. This isn't it, but it's still good. Not sure who this Rob guy is, but apparently he can write a decent song.

Austra: Home (from the album 'Home') - Austra's Katie Stelmanis has rather a strange, deep, almost bleating voice - and I'm not sure yet whether I like it - however this album is full of very interesting, even peculiar music. I picked the most electronic, upbeat number of course. I'm so predictable.

Porcelain Raft: It Ain't Over (from the album 'Permanent Signal') - Ooh, they've woken up a bit. If last year's album was like a soak in a hot bath, this is perhaps more like gently jogging through a field on a summer's day, tossing dandelions around your head in soft focus.

M83 featuring Susanne Sundfør (again): Oblivion (from the OST 'Oblivion') - Ok, Susanne, stop hanging out with the boys and get on with your new album, will you? Come to that, M83, you're quite possibly my favourite current band so can you pull your finger out on the proper follow-up to 'Hurry Up, We're Dreaming' so that I can rightfully award it the 'Album of the Year' spot it was so cruelly robbed of in 2011?

This soundtrack nonsense is all very well when you can make songs this downright life-affirming, with majestic strings and thumping percussion underpinning the vocal performance of Susanne's life, but it's a bit of a shame to find the rest of the album just filled up with variations on the theme... Merci and Tak!

The Feeling: Blue Murder (from the album 'Boy Cried Wolf') - A more mature sound on this whole album has attracted some rave reviews in respected quarters, but it's still growing on me at the moment. Still, this opener is a pretty good statement of intent.

Emiliana Torrini : Speed of Dark (from the album 'Tookah') - A most intriguing album of soft, largely acoustic, breathy songs underpinned by gentle beats and chilled electronica. And then there's this banging mama of a tune which wakes you up in the middle. My second favourite Icelandic album of the year, and would have made the main list if there weren't already so much on it.

Foals: Prelude... Inhaler (from the album 'Holy Fire') - More bands should put an instrumental piece as track 1 before their first song, it's a largely dying art. Anyway, I lied, perhaps this little pair of tracks is the most guitarry thing here, albeit underwritten by some Stone-Roses ish drum patterns and odd distorted keyboards. A very promising start which isn't quite matched by the entire album (not yet, anyway. Maybe there's still time.)

Empire of the Sun: Lux...DNA (from the album 'Ice on the Dune') - Oh look, an instrumental piece leading into the first track proper. I told you more bands should do that. This second album didn't quite hit the highs of their legendarily good first effort (a modern classic of electro-pop) from a few years back, but in any other year it would have been on the main list for sure. It's not my fault there were so many who did better. Please don't stab me with your pointy hat.

MGMT: Mystery Disease (from the album 'MGMT') - Having pretty much abandoned the kind of breezy indie-synth-pop that made their name, MGMT have settled into a more minor key, obtuse prospect which doesn't always hit the mark, but when it works, such as with this menacing number where what sound like tiny Casio keyboards doodle over a hypnotic drum beat, it works.

SOHN: Bloodflows (single)- An extremely late entry thanks to whoever was picking the music before last week's I Break Horses gig, this sounded absolutely immense over the PA and is similarly engaging at home - a sort of gentle R&B number to start with, the track soon builds up with skittering beats and synths to become something totally different by the end. An exciting discovery.

Next time: The big one. 20 cracking albums from 2013. 

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