Honourable Mentions (or, albums I really liked but didn’t really listen to enough to feel like I have the authority to really write that much about):
Holy Fire – Foals: It took me until this album to finally cave and give in Foals’ student-cool genre of indie rock (DID YOU KNOW THEY ALL WENT TO OXFORD?!!?!?!!!?), but it was definitely worth it. The brilliance of “My Number” can’t be denied, and “Late Night” might genuinely be my favourite song of 2013.
Howlin – Jagwar Ma: A better version of Tame Impala, for me. Striking just the right blend of indie, techno and elements of “house”* music, Howlin drew me in. Kind of a modern Stone Roses (one of my favourite bands, so I don’t throw that around lightly), I’m really looking forward to what Jagwar Ma do next.
*At the risk of drawing the ire of five panel wearing MDMA enthusiasts, i’ll openly say i don’t really know much about house music. And by much, I mean pretty much nothing. I have listened to a couple of Eton Messy mixes though. That counts, right?
Reflektor – Arcade Fire: I was, and still am, an enormous fan of this band, and of Neighbourhoods, their previous effort. Embarrassingly, I just haven’t listened to this album enough. From what I have though, it sounds interesting and pretty strong, although I haven’t found myself wanting to listen to it again. So, this album is either far too low or high, but giving the pedigree of the band, I think it definitely warrants a mention.
Bass Drum of Death – Bass Drum of Death: Bass Drum of Death might be one of the coolest bands around at the moment, and this self-titled album does nothing to make me think any different. “I Wanna Be Forgotten” and “Crawling After You” are among my favourite tunes of the year.
Sleeper – Ty Segall : The most productive man in rock, (he’s released an album every year since 2008, as well as numerous EPs and side projects, not to mention his collaborations and the SIX other bands he’s in according to Wikipedia) Ty Segall has an astonishingly high standard; he’s pretty much incapable of being in any way associated with bad music. One of his numerous releases through various avenues in 2013, Sleeper is a beautiful collection of psychelic-twinged folk. “The Keepers” could be snuck into The Velvet Underground and Nico and nobody would blink.
Drenge – Drenge: The debut album from the young, hard rocking brothers from Sheffield is a blast of fresh air, not to mention a great bastion of hope for those of us worrying about the future of rock music. Listen to “Bloodsports” and “Backwaters” and try not to start a mosh with the girl in Uggs sat next to you in the library, I dare you.
Long.Live.A$AP – A$AP Rocky/My Name Is My Name – Pusha T: Again, Hip Hop and Rap is not a genre I know a great deal about, so i’m not going to attempt any analysis of these two great albums, other than to say that “Fuckin’ Problems”, “Numbers on the Boards” and “Nosetalgia” are mad dope yo.
#7: Save Rock and Roll – Fall Out Boy
I AM TOO EMOTIONALLY INVESTED IN THIS BAND TO OBJECTIVELY WRITE ABOUT THIS ALBUM AND EXPLAIN WHY IT’S THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I’VE EVER HEARD.
#6: Days are Gone – Haim
Every year, there is one or maybe two albums that manages to have their cake and eat it, to receive both critical and popular acclaim. Days are Gone was that album in 2013, and it deserved every accolade it got. Skilfully ignoring the pitfalls that have torpedoed other all girl bands that have even dared to ring the doorbell of the frat house behemoth of “rock” music, Haim let their music speak for them; no theatrics, just sunglasses, leather jackets and stupidly infectious songs that draw just as much from Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie era Fleetwood Mac as it does from late ‘90s/early ‘00s pop and R&B. The result of which is maybe the most entertaining album of the year, as well as a single, “The Wire” that pushed the very top of many end of year lists – some of which weren’t even Pitchfork.
#5: Afraid of Heights – Wavves
Nathan Williams, the mastermind behind Wavves and purveyor of Wavves branded cannabis paraphernalia (currently 100% sold out), has been around a surprisingly long time, and Afraid of Heights is actually the fourth album from the stoner/lo-fi/garage/surfer indie band, and they’ve been getting better at every attempt. Whilst King of the Beach, which preceded Afraid of Heights had some undoubted highlights, the songwriting maturation and progress made here make Afraid of Heights something pretty special. The Pet Sounds-esque instrumental intro to the album’s opener “Sail to the Sun” give a hint of what’s to come, before bursting into the enormous indie rock epicness that Wavves fans know and love. It’s a perfect introduction to the band’s new polished, more professional sound. On “Demon to Lean On” and the title track “Afraid of Heights”, Williams busts out some riffs that Rivers Cuomo wishes he’d thought when writing the Blue Album. There are actually a few comparisons to early Weezer here, notably the contrast of super upbeat, rocking music with super downbeat, depressing lyrics. Can a failing relationship ever be summed up as wittily, succinctly and truthfully as Williams does in “Afraid of Heights”? “I’m ugly//You’re boring//I can’t act like I care” Incidentally, that same song also contains maybe my favourite lyric from any song I heard this year, “I think I’m dying, maybe I’m thirsty//I think I must be drunk//Woke up and, found Jesus//I think I must be drunk”.
#4: AM – Arctic Monkeys
From the moment that Arctic Monkeys dropped ‘R U Mine’ in February 2012, nearly a year(!) before the release of AM, anticipation was through the roof for whatever the band were going to do next – only making the wait for the album even more agonising. AM finds Arctic Monkeys assuming their newest identity; whilst they started out as spiky indie rockers, then trippy desert rockers, and subsequently americana, cadillac, coiffed rockers, what the band are now is an amalgam of all three – but seemingly only existing at night. There isn’t a song on here that doesn’t pertain to at least some portion of an extremely heavy night out; Alex Turner is on a dancefloor prowl at one moment (“R U Mine”/“Arabella”), wistfully watching the sun come up the next, (“Mad Sounds”/“I Wanna Be Yours”. Whilst not the most consistent of the albums, AM makes up for its inconsistencies through sheer force of will and downright fucking cool.
#3: Yeezus – Kanye West
Yeezus was almost certainly the greatest album of 2013. Yes, I know I have two albums rated above it in this list, so allow me to explain myself. There were a couple of albums that I preferred more to Yeezus through the lens of my personal music taste, but i’d wager the filter coffee that’s getting me through this list that ten years from now, Yeezus will be the album that critics will still be raving about. Once again, Kanye demonstrated that he’s maybe the most talented musician in the bizz, able to to turn anything he touches into gold plated Benzes. Name me one another person who could follow up something as beautifully rich and majestic as Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – which was triumphant in its excess, full of orchestras and cameos from all artists under the sun – with something as monochromatic and primal as Yeezus… and make it just as goddamn good. Only Yeezy could. One theme i’ve realised when writing this list is that many of the albums on it, whilst being incredible standalone works, make me really excited to see what’s coming next. For nobody does this apply more than Kanye, and that’s what made Yeezus the greatest album of the year.
And now, on to number 2.
#2: …Like Clockwork – Queens of the Stone Age
Josh Homme is the only real rockstar left on planet earth. In 2011, a routine knee operation went horribly awry and the QOTSA frontman died on the operating table… but only for a bit. Once recovered, Homme beckoned his bandmates to “come into the fog” with him and record an album that turned out to be of the most titanic hard rock albums of the last decade. Drawing from the experience of their frontman, Queens venture into some incredibly dark territory here. But it’s in such strange, uncomfortable places that they excel like absolutely nobody else. When …Like Clockwork emerged, Black Pearl-esque, it seemed mysterious, if somewhat muted and devoid of the balls to the wall craziness of a “Millionaire” or “Song for the Dead”. But just like the Vampyre on the album’s cover, …Like Clockwork will take a bit of time before the effects of it’s bite become apparent. “Fairweather Friends” and “I Appear Missing” are epics that only Queens could write; “Smooth Sailing” and “If I Had A Tail” are dancehall groovers from the deepest ring of peyote disco hell (that’s a good thing, by the way), and “I Sat By The Ocean” might be the perfect rock radio song.
#1: FIDLAR – FIDLAR
ME AND MY FRIENDS IN A HUNDRED DOLLAR VOLVO
BUSTING DOWN THE STREET WHILE CRUISING ALVARADO
GETTING FUCKED UP ON THE 101
SHOOTING OUR GUNS AND HAVING FUN
40 BEERS LATER & A LINE OF SPEED
8 BALL OF BLOW & A HALF A POUND OF WEED
HEADING DOWN THE TRACKS TO MEXICO
FUCKED ON BEER AND STAYIN’ GOLD
I. DRINK. CHEAP. BEER. SO. WHAT. FUCK. YOU.
I. DRINK. CHEAP. BEER. SO. WHAT. FUCK. YOU.