1. FIDLAR – FIDLAR
I remember first hearing about FIDLAR last year and giving ‘Cheap Beer’ a listen. I liked it, thought that its in-your-face bratty silliness was a bit contrived, and didn’t give it a second thought. When the band’s self-titled debut rolled around at the start of 2013 I thought what the hell, downloaded it and at first received much the same impression. But as I listened to it more and more I realised that, far from being a collection of lazy but slightly enjoyable punk throwaways, it was actually a masterpiece. FIDLAR never aim at anything more than stupid lyrics and fast, simple riffs, but they achieve what they aim for so completely and consistently that the result is irresistible. FIDLAR doesn’t have a weak moment, just rattler after rattler, and it’s the best album of 2013.
2. AM – Arctic Monkeys
Of all the albums in my top five, and possibly my top ten, AM is definitely the most inconsistent. After starting off with a stunning one-two, it dips to mere greatness, then to a couple of tracks so boring that you’d be in danger of nodding off if it didn’t then pick up again for a strong set of closing songs. As a result of this, it perhaps doesn’t deserve a place so high on this list, as an album. But ‘R U Mine’ and ‘Arabella’ are two absolutely perfect pop-rock monsters, and ‘Do I Wanna Know’ is, for my money, the best song of 2013. The power of those three alone – a handful of other great tracks aside – is enough to merit AM’s place here, though the relief of seeing one of my favourite bands back on form after a long time off plays a part too.
3. Yeezus – Kanye West
I find it hard to believe that now, at the end of the year, some people are still denying that Yeezus is a brilliant album. It’s not Twisted Fantasy, but then it wasn’t meant to be; Kanye stated in his now-infamous interview with Zane Lowe that whereas the 2010 album was him doing perfection, this was him doing him: taking his music in a bold new direction, rebelling against power structures, and screaming a lot. I can’t be arsed to go into detail about why and how it is as great as it is, partly because many, many others have already done so, but partly because if you don’t already know then you should just listen to it already. If you have, and you’re one of the people who still deny its brilliance, then you’re a lost cause.
4. Blue Chips 2 – Action Bronson
I only got into Action Bronson late last year, so I was still playing catch-up with his excellent back catalogue until about June, but by the time Blue Chips 2 dropped in November I was a confirmed fan of Bronsoliño. Nonetheless, with hindsight I can see that I clearly had no idea what I was dealing with. Bronson is the most exciting rapper in the world right now, and this mixtape (!) is proof. Drab production spoiled Saaab Stories somewhat, but here Party Supplies’ schizophrenic, cartoonish beats bring out the best from Bronson; his lines are wilder, more bizarre, and more fucking hilarious than ever. He’s still overlooked in the game at the moment, but throughout BC2 he raps with the confidence of an acknowledged vet, which is exactly what he deserves to be.
5. Like Clockwork… – Queens Of The Stone Age
Queens of the Stone Age probably don’t have it in them to make a bad record; since their debut sixteen years ago they’ve made nothing but bangers, so it was no surprise that …Like Clockwork was excellent. Nor was it a surprise that it was sultry (‘If I Had a Tail’), bittersweet (‘I Sat By the Ocean’) and bone-crunchingly brutal (‘My God is the Sun’) in equal measure. Finally, it was no surprise, when seeing the group perform in Poland during the summer, to find that they’re still arguably the best live band on the planet.
6. Modern Vampires Of The City – Vampire Weekend
I always accepted that Vampire Weekend were a good band, but I also always thought they were a bunch of preppy c*nts; having a very visible Ralph Lauren logo on the cover of their second album, among other things, didn’t help. When Modern Vampires of the City dropped, though, the reviews were so good that I decided it was time to give them a chance. Six months, a load of spins and a fair few moody walks home listening to ‘Step’ later, and I’ve realised how wrong I was to judge. Vampire Weekend are a great band, Modern Vampires is a phenomenal album, and you should never judge an album by its cover.
7. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
I’ve been listening to El-P for a minute now and Company Flow are one of my all-time favourite hip-hop groups, so El could pretty much fart on a record and I’d probably like it. But it helps that he’s one of the best rappers in the game, that he’s definitely one of the best producers in the game, and that his partner in Run the Jewels is Killer Mike, a man whose raps can level buildings and melt faces. The duo’s self-titled debut was lyrically the hardest-hitting rap album of the year, and was a gloriously fun ride to boot.
8. Doris – Earl Sweatshirt
Single-handedly proving that Odd Future weren’t a complete flash in the pan (let’s face it, Wolf wasn’t very good), Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris bettered anything the group had done so far. It’s complex, nuanced, thoughtful and understated – in other words, the polar opposite of what you would normally expect from Odd Future – and, both in terms of themes and lyricism, it completely surpasses what you’d expect from a rapper who’s still in his teens.
9. My Name Is My Name – Pusha T
This year many major league rappers have taken to showing their sensitive sides, many have watered down their lyrics to near-nothingness, and a whole load have done both, so it was refreshing to see one veteran refuse to compromise, keeping his raps as raw as the cocaine he never shuts up about. Pusha T is a true all-rounder, and MNIMN saw his endlessly entertaining wordplay and vicious delivery matched with stellar production throughout. ‘Numbers On the Board’ and ‘Nosetalgia’ are cases in point: both are among the hardest hitting tracks of 2013.
10. Holy Fire – Foals
Stronger than the band’s previous effort – if not stronger than Antidotes – Holy Fire almost merits a place on this list solely based on the strength of second single ‘My Number’, a flawless slice of joyous indie pop that stands in sharp relief against the darker, tenser bulk of the album. But Holy Fire is strong as a whole: it’s a mature and intricately atmospheric release from a band who have always known exactly what they’re doing and where it will take the listener.
You can read Otis’ blog here: http://sweetpremium.wordpress.com/