As ever, there are no losers here. Since I’ve cut this list down from around sixty albums, just to be on here means that I think the album will enrich your life, wherever it is on the list.
Each band name is a hyperlink to their page on Last.fm so go ahead and click away!
2013, thank you for all the great tunes! 😀
40. The Heights – Old Lies For Young Lives
Raw, ripping. They are fucking amazing live, mesmerising.
39. Daniel Avery – Drone Logic
Where this year’s Boards and Hopkins’ albums fell off the bottom of my list, Daniel Avery made it because this album is chocker with melody.
38. Thee Oh Sees – Thumb Buster
Effortlessly poppy and grungeypsychweird. Thank you.
37. Russian Circles – Memorial
Enormous, bludgeoning. If there was a soundtrack to get me up a mountain, this would be it.
36. The Story So Far – What You Don’t See
TSSF steer a little too close to USAD on their follow up but it still has some marvellous tunes on it!
35. Samiyam – Wish You Were Here
Loping, lolloping beats and the occasional laconic rap. Wish there were more.
34. Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
Catchy hooks, rites-of-passage lyrics, classic pop punk.
33. Pelican – Forever Becoming
It’s that Pelican swagger I love. Pure rock, pure T-800 putting his motherfucking shades on.
32. Prodigy & Alchemist – Albert Einstein
P, A and illustrious guests deliver brick-heavy hip hop.
31. Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! – Pardon My French
Wherein the cheeky French chappies show the world of poppunk how to make an album that is both poppy *and* a progression from the previous one. Take note, connardzzz!
30. Dick Diver – Calendar Days
There’s so much simple pop here: Richman, Herman Dune, Pastels but DD do their own twist. Instant indiepop disco love.
29. Knockout Kid – It Comes With The Job Description
KK make stupidly catchy poppunk – riffs, choruses, the whole lovely, meaty mess. Mmmm…
28. Crystal Stilts – Nature Noir
More reflective than their last album but still plenty of glowering, twangy grooves to do your best existentialist twist to.
26. Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence
Genres are funny things, aren’t they? If Mixtapes were Brits, they’d probably be touring with Martha and playing Indietracks. As it is, they remain a cruelly-slept-on and wonderful poppunk beat combo.
25. Kid Tsunami – The Chase
El Da Sensei, Kool G, Kool Keith… coupled with Tsunami’s frankly ridiculous beats, hip hop heaven?
24. Deafheaven – Sunbather
Metalgaze may seem like a peculiar genre for me to embrace but all I know is that this album makes my head hurt in a quite beautiful way. I’m surprised it doesn’t give me nosebleeds.
23. The Pastels – Slow Summits
How the fuck have The Pastels kept making sublime pop songs for over thirty years now? MOTHERFUCKERS!
22. Disclosure – Settle
I first heard Disclosure out clubbing and having their beats shake my guts is the best way to experience them, I fell in love then. Thankfully, so did Radio One so you’ll know most of this album of hooky electropop already.
21. Kettel – Ibb & Obb
I think this is the first ever time I’ve had a soundtrack album in a best of and one for a video game at that. I haven’t played the game but I can tell you that this one hour and fourteen minutes of Kettel is magical.
20. Rogue Wave – Nightingale Floors
I can’t believe I’ve loved Rogue Wave for a decade now. Fuck. I also can’t believe they can still make pop songs as effervescently summery as ‘College.’ Looking forward to the next decade, peeps.
19. Moderat – II
Apparat’s 2013 album was on my list but fell off the bottom but his second collab with Modeselektor makes it because it’s shitloads poppier. You know, for kids.
18. Black Milk – No Poison No Paradise
Steady-footed, sureshot hip hop that is, like all the best hip hop, unafraid of fucking with you, your ears or your lyrical and sonic preconceptions. If you prefer your genres monolithic, best avoided.
17. Altars – Something More
This is my top shouty album this year and it’s because I’ve listened to it the most, mostly on emowalks. I’ll skip through my iPhone, trying to find something heavy but also something that’ll involve me over the length of the album. An actual album rather than a collation of potential singles.
Altars have delivered that with ‘Something More.’ And, like all my fave albums this year, they wrongfoot me continually. On ‘Sent To Destroy,’ the song morphs into an almost DM bridge before the coda. Lovely!
16. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Maaaan, if I could see a gig with these, Deafheaven, Pelican and Russian Circles, I think I could easily die and be transported straight to the Valhalla of marvellously epic soundtracks to asteroid storms. FB’s synths peep out of their flight cases, longing to taste your vanilla marrow.
15. Factory Floor – Factory Floor
Stark, naked electronics that eschew dreaminess for pounding icicles into your ears. Semiquavers all over the fucking shop, hardsynced arpeggios that enrich in their passing-note minimalism. I love the dancefloor imperative here, so often avoided by chin-stroking IDMers. Fuck that shit.
14. The Front Bottoms – Talon Of The Hawk
Again, dunno where these bleeders would be if they were Brits, they’re so hard to pigeonhole. Of course punk, of course indie in the non-NME-haircut-band sense. Ultimately, it’s the narratives that draw one in, as voyeur and conspirator.
“I wanna be stronger than your Dad was for your Mom.”
13. Gesaffelstein – Aleph
Listen to ‘Pursuit’ off ‘Aleph’ and it’s everything I love about electronic music: it’s robotic, funky, machined, precise, relentless, repetitive and undeniable. It’s the kind of track I avoid listening to when I’m driving on motorways because it makes me want to drive faster and faster, searching for some road/strobe synchronicity. ‘Hellifornia’ reminds me of Huroratron at his stupidest but even bleaker and even less human. Beautiful.
I seriously wish I had made this album.
12. Everything Everything – Arc
I’ll admit, it took me a while to get into ‘Arc.’ I emowalked it a few times and nothing really clicked. But gradually, I found myself singing bits from it in my very awful fractured falsetto. It crept up on me like the NSA, rifled through my brain and left behind a series of pictures of cats and Manchurian Candidate trigger words.
“And that eureka moment hits you like a cop car.”
11. CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe
Argh, this album makes me mad. Firstly, because I’m jealous that Chvrches have melded a beautiful, delicate female vocal with rich, melodic synthpop. I’ve been trying to find a female singer for over a decade now but one just can’t find the staff nowadays, donchaknow.
Secondly, Chvrches annoy me because they’re too good. I’ve never seen Mayberry’s bands but I saw Aereogramme live and they were also awesome at what they did, the fuckers. And The Twilight Sad are beautiful! How are Chvrches equally good? It really isn’t fair, is it?
Thirdly, and lastly, you may think you’ve heard all the popness from this album on the radio. You haven’t. It’s all fucking poppy. ‘We Sink’ is easily as catchy as any of the singles.
10. Latyrx – The Second Album
Wherein Lateef and Lyrics Born shit over their biters, detractors and debtors with a hippo-sized spray of ideas, any one of which most other artists would stretch out for a song rather than for a line.
‘Deliberate Gibberish’ is a masterclass in saying, ‘oh, you want to go there ~ sure, we can go there… huh, why?’ Contrast that with tracks actually about the non-rap world, less meta and more matter and that will give you the breadth of this album.
All of that would leave me interested but cold if it wasn’t laced up with some simply golden soundscapes. It all fits together, no gaps, no filler, no fucking about.
9. The State Champs – The Finer Things
As you can tell, this has been a fine year for new poppunk. The State Champs album builds on their earlier super-catchiness with more riffs, cleaner, clearer dynamics and lyrics that bleed poppunk:
“I fell asleep in a city that doesn’t
Thought I was special but you know I wasn’t.”
They sound more assured, more focussed and like their heads are up and they’re ready to take on the world.
8. Cloud Control – Dream Cave
This album wraps me up, it’s kept me warm on cold walks. Cloud Control lazily brilliant in that these songs don’t sound written, they sound like they’ve been discovered. In the saucily-titled ‘Dojo Rising,’ the slamming car-door drums form a perfect anchor for the stacks of harmonies, guitar noodling and almost gospel piano figures.
But through the album, Cloud Control pull this magic trick again and again, directing the listener in one direction, making us think we know what’s going to happen but they they sneak all kinds of twinkling frippery in to the soundscape. It’s often harmonies but it might be a cheesy organ arpeggio or even a super-wibbly guitar solo.
Look, if you hate Cali harmonies and sunshine, you’re going to loathe this album. But if you’ve ever sung along to the ‘baa-baa-baaaaaa’ bit of any pop song ever, this album is pretty much an essential purchase.
7. Serengeti – Kenny Dennis LP
Serengeti expands on the debut EP of his alter-ego Kenny Dennis with a whole album. When I first heard Kenny, I didn’t know who the fuck it was. I actually thought it was Carl from ATHF. Or maybe big moustache dude from The Lordz of Brooklyn But while there are undoubtedly similarities in the Fauvist declamations these characters make, this album takes KD’s character to a different place.
We get a lot more of Kenny’s story and a lot of it isn’t played for laughs. It’s a strange journey, I started listening to the album expecting more lols and by halfway through I was genuinely sad for the dude.
Even though he doesn’t exist.
6. Bastille – Bad Blood
This is a vast, muscular steamroller of a pop album. Look, you’ll know all these songs from their breakthrough ‘Pompeii’ through ‘Laura Palmer’ and the other singles.
They are undeniably poppy. I’ve sung along to this album so many times in my car, trying to match singer dude trill for trill, serious face for serious face. Can’t do it. I can almost do it but… no…
And that’s where Bastille overtake their mainstream indie peers. The other bands nipping at their heels may have the looks and the quiffs and the pipe cleaner bodies de-rigeur for the genre but Bastille have better songs.
One thing, though ~ if they don’t release ‘Weight Of Living II’ as a single, they’re idiots. C’mon!
5. The Little Ones – The Dawn Sang Along
The Little Ones take the US alt-indie-rock blueprint and stuff it as full of melody, twiddly bits and harmonies as Bastille do for the UK counterpart. Now, whether they over-egg the pudding is a matter of taste. For me, they’re spot on. Sounds like ‘Boy On Wheel’ are just the right side of smug to still be winsome. But then, I love indiepop, which is blatantly what this album is, albeit with different production values.
This is an album for picnics, road-trip singsongs and pretending your life is actually way more fun than it is. Often, as I’ve been walking, soaked by the rain and whipped by the wind, just hearing the synthbass of ‘Little Souls’ will cheer me up with its Sailor-like joy.
I guess the most obvious comparisons would be old MGMT or now Vampire Weekend but that’s only an approximation. I find The Little Ones to be way poppier and less arch than either of those acts. That’s both refreshing and liberating.
4. Real Friends – Put Yourself Back Together
I guess I’m pretty fucking emo because I’m hooked on Real Friends’ brutally, despairingly honest lyrics. You can’t be this honest in mainstream indie because everything there is arch / ironic / a Duran Duran reference. What poppunk bands like Real Friends do is flense the flesh from their skinny mallrat bodies to provide some kind of zomboid emotional meat for us to swallow.
Sometimes… well, most of the time, that is disturbing. I find myself singing along to something like:
“Maybe I’ll run away from it all and fake my own death, see if you really care
A week goes by and I doubt if you’ll be waiting at all…
…because everything you said was a lie.”
..and I catch myself and think, what the fuck? I’m not a kid, why does this connect? But like their peers TSSF, Real Friends have a way of singing what you feel and making you deal with it, even though it’s often ugly, stupid and clumsy.
But at least it’s honest.
“I write songs about you all the time,
I bet I don’t even run through your mind.
…It’s been a lonely year…”
3. Ghettosocks – For You Pretty Things
Very, very nearly my fave hip hop of 2013, Ghettosocks’ ‘FYPT’ is a solid monster, seventeen tracks of intricate beats, deft rhyming and IDEAS. It doesn’t matter if he’s over a Premier-style minimal jazz beat like ‘Youth In Asia’ or feelgood Ugly Duckling groove like ‘Human Sacrifice,’ Ghettosocks remains unflappable, unstoppable. And he’s also a great relationship counsellor:
“I’m down for trips to the zoo and boob touching,
but ain’t you heard the old saying: fools rush in?”
The guests flesh out the album but always complement rather than dominate. Some albums suffer from acute guesteritis, hoping to cover over deficiencies with a list of known names. This isn’t one of them. Whether it’s El Da Sensei, Sadat X, Moka Only or whoever, the collab is always natural and fun. Less business, more smiles.
Hats off to the track ‘Poutine’ for combining the Canadian delicacy with delicious synth blarts. It’s these little jumps and skips, turning left instead of right that make ‘FYPT’ consistent, stupid fun.
If you like UK hip hop, you’ve probably been listening to Verb for years, even if you didn’t know it. Whether it’s with Braintax, Food Records, Low Life or, now, High Focus, he’s been consistently brilliant. And on this new album, he’s even self-producing the beats, a fact he plays up nicely on the middle skit of ‘Toast Jazz.’
Just watch this vid for ‘Old And Grumpy’:
This is why I fucking love Verb T:
“Ooh, you getting fucked up?
Cor, that’s exciting!
Gang of weird kids on horse tranquillisers,
False advertising, saying that it’s popping off,
Dancing about dressed up like a proper knob,
Wear what ya want,
But i don’t see why your kid,
Tuck his jeans in his socks,
If he ain’t a cyclist
Frame ain’t changed but you wear tighter shit
Once XL, now you’re medium, why is this?
Why is it relevant who your designer is?
Oh I see!
Cos there’s eager kids buying this.”
More than anything, I love Verb T because he is who he is. So many Brits sing in fake American accents, so many Brits rap with fake American twangs or drop slang no bugger who lives here uses. Verb T, on the other hand, drops ‘cor’ and ‘proper knob’ into his rhyme and I’m laughing as I’m listening as I’m loving as I am understanding.
He also pulls off the same trick Braintax managed with aplomb: he preaches truth whilst never, ever, for even a nanosecond claiming he’s better than the divs he’s criticising. That’s a move of some finesse, those are acrobatics most rappers flail at, flip-flopping from self-proclaimed messiah to proud fuck-up, all the while their eyes on the headlines.
I cannot believe he’s come out with this whole new album in a year. It makes me feel stupidly un-productive in that he can maintain this quality level and output. All I want now is a new Four Owls album. Maaaaaan.
If you buy only one hip hop album from 2013, make sure this is it.
1. Baths – Obsidian
Okay, I’m a sucker for synthpop, electro, whatever you goddamn kids call it this week. I’m also a sucker for immaculate, perfect pop songs that are as unsettling as they are catchy. That’s why Baths’ ‘Obsidian’ is my number one album of 2013. Will Weisenfeld, the genius behind Baths wraps the most painful of private confessions in the most perfect sugar coatings. If there is a modern-day heir to Gore’s ‘Black Celebration’ electro-goth noir, it’s Baths. Look, if you really want a cookie-cutter, easy-sell handle about it, imagine a very depressed, maimingly honest Postal Service with 100% more lyrics about needy erections.
This is my top album partly because it’s been the key to my lock. When you’re walking around your suburb hoping you’ll be Regina Georged by a passing bus, you need lyrics in your ears that aren’t facile. You don’t care if they’re uncomfortable or scratchy, crawling into your head and tickling alive memories you thought you’d drowned, as long as they’re real. You need lyrics like this:
“You don’t do anything with your life
Fascinating, terrible – your stupid idling mind
I can prod your hurt all night
Or resign and find
Any other stupid thing to do with my time
I was never poetic and never kind
Scared of how little I care for you
Scared of how little I care for you
Scared of how little I care for you
I am elsewhere.”
Please check out ‘Miasma Sky’ if nothing else from this album. I cannot believe any human who has ever loved pop music will be immune to its skittering, baleful charms.
Apart from that, I find it hard to single out what to recommend from an album of such riches. A lot of people have and will call this a depressing album. I don’t feel it to be. On the contrary, at my lowest ebb, this album has come to me at random times and punched me on the arm and made me feel a little less ridiculous and ugly.
“It gets all in the way, the pit in my throat
This isn’t the adulthood I thought I wrote
And I never see your face, but I just might be okay with that
I have no eyes, I have no love, I have no hope
And it is not a matter of
If you need it
But it is only a matter of
Come and fuck me
And it is not a matter of
If you love me
But it is only a matter of