Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
Chromewaves’ favourite albums of 2013
If it’s the year’s end and this is a list, then this must be a year-end list. You should all know the drill by now: ten albums released this year, listed alphabetically and not in order of preference, that largely reflects my listening habits for the year. No promises that all of these records will remain in favour as the years pass – goodness knows that past lists don’t bat 1.000 for shelf life – but I’ll take honesty over prognostication.
There’s only one debut in the batch, but a few sophomore efforts that reinforce the fact that the artists are no flash in the pans, and that’s arguably more exciting than some rookie who tears up the league the first time out and then fades away. Two – or three, depending on definition – reunion/comeback albums as well, which is also surprising considering most records of this ilk are half-hearted excuses to stage cash-grab tours. Which I’m not inherently against, but to have artists back as genuine creative forces and not just nostalgia machines is obviously better, no?
Either way, pretty good year for music. And many thanks to Christine Kwan for taking the chore of making graphics for this list off my hamfisted hands from concept to execution and dressing them in seasonal finery.
This year was basically soundtracked by Bowie. I finally completed my collection of his ’70s albums on vinyl – a project started six or seven years ago – and began exploring his ’90s/early ’00s output, finding it far more artistically worthy than popular opinion holds it to be. And largely kicking that all off was Bowie’s sneak announcement of The Next Day – a record which manages to encompass both those eras – and his return from self-imposed exile in early January. And I totally went to his old apartment in Berlin.
Video: David Bowie – “I’d Rather Be High” (Venetian Mix/Wasted Edit)
Video: David Bowie – “Love Is Lost” (Hello Steve Reich Mix) version 2
Video: David Bowie – “Love Is Lost” (Hello Steve Reich Mix) version 1
Video: David Bowie – “The Next Day”
Video: David Bowie – “Valentine’s Day”
Video: David Bowie – “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”
Video: David Bowie – “Where Are We Now?”
Calvi’s self-titled debut made this list in 2011, and the follow-up kept just the right amount the same and made the right amount different to make it a two-fer. Powered by Calvi’s stunning vocals and virtuostic guitarwork, One Breath is still rich with drama, but feels like it captures more of the person the work is based on rather than the portrayal.
Powerful in its delicacy, If You Leave takes Elena Tonra’s ability to make a lyric sound defeated, defiant, sullen, and longing all at once and wraps it in space and silence and shadows. The two EPs that preceded this should have been fair warning about how good their debut would be, but the beauty is still staggering, especially at full-length.
Placing less for the specific album than for the multi-year, multi-volume whole that it closed out, I don’t know what The Archer Trilogy is about but have no doubt that David Lehnberg and Elin Lindfors do and will happily spend as long as I need to exploring their fantastical and fully-realized synth-pop world to understand it. And they get points for being maybe the hardest working duo in Swedish pop, touring the world constantly on a shoestring and putting on dazzling shows every time.
Though I appreciated the elegance of their debut, 2011’s Gracious Tide, Take Me Home, I wasn’t at all prepared for the sweep and expansiveness of the follow-up. Bolstering their sound with post-rock-approved dynamics and making Hazel Wilde the sole singer have given the band focus and power that I never would have expected. It deserves to appear on these lists again next year following its official North American release in January.
Detractors argued that for a record twenty-plus years in the making, it sounded an awful lot like something that should have come out in 1994. And yeah, it does exist in very much the same world as Loveless – one terraformed by distortion pedals and colonized by tremulous guitar – but it’s Kevin Shields’ world; everyone else just orbits. m b v is everything I want in a My Bloody Valentine record, and that’s that it sounds like a My Bloody Valentine record.
Stream: My Bloody Valentine / m b v
I’m sure there will come a day where The National are no longer default entries in any year-end list I assemble, but it’s not today. Sly, elegant, and forlorn, course corrections from their past efforts were relatively minor and while there’s a part of me that would like it if they somehow, some way, found another gear, the rest of me is perfectly content with more at this speed.
The twang quotient in my listening has decreased in recent years, but maybe it’s because I haven’t heard many roots records that come with as much sass and tunefulness as the second album from Nashville’s Rose; not even Rose’s first. Purists may not be on board with the amount of pop thats been added to the mix, but if you’re not on board with the wealth of memorable hooks and melodies throughout then I don’t even wanna know you.
Unlike the My Bloody Valentine, this was a record that wasn’t expected to exist and more than a few probably hoped never would, given the patchiness of their last few releases before taking a decade off. But rather than just try to turn the clock back ten years, they turned it back almost 20 and somehow came up with a hybrid of Dog Man Star and Coming Up that may not be the best Suede album, but is arguably the most Suede-like.
People spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to classify the Montreal-Toronto collective’s first album. Was it prog? Metal? Opera? Asian? All of the above? UZU benefitted from having the new creative terrain already broken in by its predecessor, and also for being a more ambitious and realized work, yet more accessible at the same time. They may be a genre unto themselves, but they’re still at the top of it.