Self-indulgent top 10 albums of 2013

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Kanye West Yeezus Tour

What would any music site be without its contributors identifying the 10 albums they most loved in the year?

My colleague Alfred Hermida has weighed in with his choices elsewhere on the site, but for the time being I thought I’d try to justify 10 choices in the year.

I had more time on my hands in 2013 to listen to music and I wasn’t disappointed in spending the time listening. Even though I’m not sure any of these albums will be in my rotation five or 10 years from now, they offered a great deal of joy, intrigue, envy and energy. Which, when you’ve been listening for a half-century, is an accomplishment in itself.

What surprised me was how my tastes might have de-aged in the last few years and how my choices reflect how little pure rock music I can enjoy now (Queens of the Stone Age did produce a strong album, though).

My list and some reasoning:

1. Kanye West, Yeezus: This is a fairly common choice, but it was mine because it was the most sonically interesting music I heard all year. I didn’t put the album in high rotation the way I did his earlier albums, mainly because I found it more challenging than nurturing. But for its ambition and derring-do, I couldn’t find anything to match it.

2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away: A bit of an indulgent choice with bias attached, because I’ve found great refuge in Cave’s music over the years and treat each of his albums a little gently. But even with that conflict declaration aside, I thought he delivered an exceptional album with a smart variety of sounds, a couple of wonderful melodies, and great heartache.

3. London Grammar, If You Wait: Plaintive music in a decisively British setting is great bait for me, and this début delivered a half-dozen gorgeous songs on a very consistent album with a somewhat nascent sound. The album’s title almost alerts you to a challenge, because this is a band with utmost promise if it continues to mature.

4. Valerie June, Pushin’ Against a Stone: Like London Grammar, June is a great artist in the making, possibly even a larger one, with a depth at an early stage of honouring tradition with that rich voice and nicely grounded production from the Black Keys’ guitarist. My most mainstream choice in the mix.

5. Sky Ferreira, Night Time My Time: I kept looking for a great pop album this year, but not one that was going to occupy airwaves and atmosphere, and I think I found one with Ferreira’s long-awaited first album. The complexity of the tunes, but their familiarity, fed me repeatedly with slightly jarring and dark takes on sounds that suggest her real insight.

6. Lucius, Wildewoman: As pure pop, without much dressing to it, I spent a lot of time with this album featuring two tremendous vocalists. The album peters out a bit, but its first two-thirds is as formidable as any music in the year for durability, earworm-producing moments, and beauty. Another début album, too (I liked a batch of new artists in the year).

7. James Blake, Overgrown: This made a lot of lists and, interestingly, made a lot of worst-of lists. He’s an acquired taste because the minimalism of some of the material and its eccentric pacing can marry unconventionally with a voice not to everyone’s liking. But I thought elements of it were among the most compelling sound I encountered in the year and that the album demonstrated growth and promise. Not every Mercury Prize winner pans out, but I think he’s a safe bet.

8. Tim Hecker, Virgins: This is my only Canadian pick (no Arcade Fire, in other words), and given the time I gave over to electronic and ambient music in the year, this was the album that most connected (although Jon Hopkins’ Immunity was also terrific). Hecker is exploring such interesting ground in such an accessible way, and (like the Kanye album) I enjoyed the challenge of regular listening.

9. Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow, Trios: This was not a year I found many great jazz albums, but Trios was an instantly enjoyable and durable (if somewhat simpler) package. Bley is a lovely but unflashy pianist, and she anchored often gorgeous and reflective work here.

10. Migos, Young Rich Niggas: For its influence on hip-hop, for its audacity, and for its promise, I chose this album in the same way Lamar last year or Kanye the year before offered an interesting path for the most interesting music of our time. I can’t say it was a regular listen, but every time I found something demonstrably memorable, and that can’t be said for so many albums I heard repeatedly.

Some honourable mentions: CHVRCHES (very likeable, my colleague’s fave), Lorde (just a tad repetitive), Torres (stark and smart), Chelsea Wolfe (commanding), The National (always good), Paul McCartney (yes, really), Arcade Fire (brilliant in places, flabby in others), Kacey Musgraves (smartest country I heard), Quercus (pretty folk), Craig Taborn (dazzling jazz).

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