At this time of the year music sites are full of lists of the top albums of the year. My colleague, Kirk LaPointe, has written about his self-indulgent top 10 of the year.
I’m taking a different tack, instead highlighting albums that caught my attention in 2013 for very different reasons.
Most enjoyable of the year: The Bones of What You Believe by CHVRCHES
CHVRCHES came fifth on the BBC’s Sound of 2013. The list identifies the most promising new acts for the coming year. With their debut album, CHVRCHES fulfilled expectations and much more. The Bones of What You Believe is a triumph from the opening echoes of The Mother We Share. The warm vocals of Lauren Mayberry play against a background of synth-pop. Songs like We Sink, Gun and Lies have captivating pop hooks, while Science/Visions sounds like it could have come from the pen of Giorgio Moroder. This was my album of the year.
Most promising yet frustrating: Reflektor by Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire’s double album has made it onto many top 10 lists of 2013 and with good reason. It is a remarkable work, drawing on the past yet sounding contemporary. For me, the standout track is Afterlife due to its dance echoes of New Order. But it is also a frustrating album, self-indulgent at times with tracks overstaying their welcome. Despite its flaws, Reflektor stands out as one of the best albums of the year.
Most intense: Silence Yourself by Savages
Savages were building up a reputation for their snarling, post-punk sound throughout 2012 that was cemented with the release of their first album. Silence Yourself was an excitingly aggressive debut reminiscent of the sound of Siouxsie and the Banshees, with bold, jagged edge. My only regret was the decision to exclude the 2012 single, Flying to Berlin.
Most irresistible: Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
Yes, Get Lucky is the tune that worms itself into your psyche. The single provided the soundtrack for the summer of 2013. But there is so much to enjoy on Daft Punk’s star-studded album, featuring collaborations with Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder, Pharrell Williams, Julian Casablancas and more. It is a rollercoaster ride through disco, electronic, jazz and musical hall. Admittedly, some of these excursions into other musical genres fare better than others – I’m thinking of you, Touch. Random Access Memories showed how dance music could be exhilarating and innovative, and still have mainstream appeal.
Obligatory obscure indie dream-pop that deserves wider exposure: Northern Automatic Music by Panda Riot
Here is a band where the name seems at odds with the music. Northern Automatic Music is full of catchy, delightful dreampop numbers. Not quite what I expected from a group called Panda Riot from Chicago. The ethereal vocals and shimmering, distorted guitar riffs pay their dues to Asobi Seksu and My Bloody Valentine, while at other times, the ghost of Jesus and Mary Chain hovers in the background. Panda Riot are a band to watch.
Lost gem: Soundtrack to Les Revenants by Mogwai
The existentialist French drama Les Revenants (The Returned) was one of the TV highlights of the year. The return of the dead to an isolated village was a disturbing treatise on what is life and what is death. The soundtrack by Scottish post rockers Mogwai beautifully complemented the unsettling tone of the series. The band turned down the guitars and cut back on the feedback for a much more low-key, haunting sound that added to the sense of dread that permeated The Returned.