What a 12 months. While the mainstream acts have floundered and the major record labels have struggled to find any new talent, and in a year when sensation again appeared to have won over sound, a host of acts you will not hear on the radio and will have to dig out for yourselves bloomed. The following list is more or less chronological and in no particular order of merit, but if you can only buy just one, then William Onyeabor is this writer’s choice.
My Bloody Valentine – mbv
Winter’s icy blasts were dissipated by February’s mbv, initially available only online, and later in record stores, if you could find one.
Fans muttered about Kevin Shield’s workrate but turned the volume up to 11 all the same. And the genius himself came out of his shell a little in a series of interviews.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
Three days later came this sublime offering, arguably the greatest album to emerge from New Zealand, even if there’s a strong American influence in the partnership. It’s alternative pop, rock, swing, psychedelia and exquisite harmonies that haunt and hug you at the same time.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky away
A vintage February continued with Old Nick’s latest seeing the devil cast aside, or at least back in the box a bit as he stretched his melodic side somewhat more than of late to produce a thing of real beauty at times. The Seeds have rarely sounded so happy at what they do, perhaps because Nick now wrecks the joint a whole lot better with his Grinderman combo.
Woodkid – The Golden Age
French produce genuinely competitive international pop act NOT from Paris! Since Air and Daft Punk there has been little to get excited about, but now an in-demand video clip director from Lyon based in the US has turned musician to lay down one hell of an opening gambit, with a dizzyingly ambitious attempt at technicolour dance-pop
Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork
Josh Homme must have heard those of us who howled after his last two lumpen efforts took the shine off the Greatest Hard Pop Band in the world, and came back in 2013 with the strong melodies, killer hooks and electrifying harmonies that have made the Queens so indispensable these last 20! years.
Portugal. The Man – Evil Friends
Followers of the prolific Dangermouse will not have been surprised when he took a band from Portland with seven albums under their belts that had previously failed to raise much of a buzz, and brought out this bombshell. More evidence of something stirring in the great state of Oregon.
Arctic Monkeys – AM
The Monkeys, it seems, will be less brown-ale boys and more like a good wine after all ; some duff bottles but a fertile terroir capable of producing great vintages. 2013 is one of them, a grande cru.
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Miley, Rihanna et al take note. In 2013, a woman doesn’t need to get her kit off to make compelling, exciting, body-poppin’ platters like this one. She does need, however, talent, songs, a voice, and something to say, which Janelle has in spades, even if it is a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi narrative that harks back to the George Clinton mothership days.
Sleaford Mods – Austerity Dogs
White trash black ties big songs no lies no-nonsense street wise toilet humour sticky thighs – More than a hint of the spirit of Ian Dury beats at the heart of this Nottingham combo who lay down a post-punk vibe packed with grimy and often hilarious observations on the 21st century Britain around them.
William Onyeabor – Who is William Onyeabor?
Who indeed? This years’s Rodriguez, Onyeabor is a Nigerian afrobeat/funkster who was forgotten by music history until now. The jaw-dropping album is very much of Africa, but also Cologne, New York, and Basildon as in the late 1960 Onyeabor produces sounds years ahead of their time, sounds that may have filtered their way through to Can, Studio 54, or Depeche Mode. In 2013 they sound fresh as a daisy.
The Fall – Re-Mit
37 years and 30 studio albums on The Fall remain inimitable and continue to blaze a trail for uncompromising rock n’ roll. Are they still relevant? Is Mark E Smith now terminally pissed beyond repair? To write them off may be understandable, but to ignore them is a crime.
Photo credit: Flickr CC @scragz