Any Decent Music is a great website. This article is a rundown of the highest rated albums of the year.
The comparisons with the rankings afforded to albums in the ‘end of year’ lists is very different and interesting, and the analysis of this has been provided in this article.
There is obviously no fool-proof way of objectively measuring the ‘album of the year’ (as I have demonstrated in my blog posts recently), but I am grateful that somebody is trying.
Read this article, it is very interesting.
Incidentally, the top ranked album here - by Deafheaven - wasn’t included in my favourite albums of the year for the simple reason I hadn’t heard it at that the time of compilation. If anyone wonders the value of end of year lists, it is the opportunity to discover albums that passed you by originally.
Probably the most misrepresented album of the year by the critics, as it was hailed a triumph because it sounded ‘edgy’, ‘industrial’, ‘menacing’. I found this collective myopia confusing and a little patronising to Sigur Rós. Having experienced their live shows throughout their career, I’ve never doubted the band were capable of intense volatility, but the critical acclaim appeared to be driven by surprise and relief that it wasn’t another Valtari (which in itself was ludicrous because Valtari was their best record since () in my opinion).
But regardless of my misgivings about how others perceived it (which really shouldn’t matter), Kveikur is a superb achievement. Sigur Rós are a band more than any other that can give you a genuine, overwhelming surge of adrenalin purely through the force of their conviction and ability to dictate mood and emotion in spectacular ways. This is arguably the greatest and most vital band working today, and Kveikur highlights their continued restlessness and desire for perfection. It could be argued that they have already made the album of their careers on several occasions, but Kveikur proves that there is an ever-present, almost unbelievable probability that the band writing consistently flawless music will continue to get even better.
#AlbumsOfTheYear, no.2: Night Beds - Country Sleep
This album was very enjoyable upon first listen, but it is after multiple listens that it really reveals itself as a collection of wonderful depth and complexity. I think what makes this album such an achievement is that it is a debut of a 23 year-old, Winston Yellen, and it has a composure and maturity that belies this. This is the kind of album that I would expect to hear from a three or four album veteran and the control that Yellen possesses makes him such a special talent in my opinion. The prospect of what he could achieve on his next record makes impatience inevitable, but that shouldn’t distract from what is a genuinely brilliant record here in the present.
Penned as the ‘homage to the live album’, Spaces is a collection of ‘field recordings’ that Nils Frahm has recorded over the last three years. Released towards the end of the year to almost universal acclaim, it appears to me that many reviewers are simply bamboozled by the concept that any one person can be this talented, creative and young, all at the same time. Seriously, watch the video above to the end, it is absolutely astonishing. Sometime label-mate on the excellent Erased Tapes and collaborator with Ólafur Arnalds (see #9 in my list), ‘Spaces’ just outdoes ‘For Now I Am Winter’ in my view because it is a more meditative record, which allows the audience to live inside the record for a prolonged period of time. I find this a virtue and I frequently get to the end of this record’s 75 minutes and feel I have to press ‘play’ again from the start, which is really one of the biggest complements that can be bestowed upon a record.
#AlbumsOfTheYear, no.4: Camera Obscura - Desire Lines
This album felt like the realisation of what they have been trying to achieve through a decade of precision song-writing and constant, gradual evolution. There is joy and melancholia in equal measure (often in the same song) and album flows and fits together perfectly. The band’s records and songs have grown and evolved much like the rest of us do: subtly, slowly, towards maturity and into the place where the decisions have chosen for themselves. No radical reinventions, no surprises. ‘Desire Lines’ feels like the inevitable conclusion of this process: the songs seem effortless, natural and exactly what they are supposed to be.
In truth, this and any of the other four albums in the top five could have been #1 in my list, and all have been throughout the course of writing this.
While I wouldn’t want to wish misery and heartbreak on anyone, the fact that Matthew Houck continues to make poor choices regarding the ladies in his life has furnished the rest of us with a collection of fantastic records. ‘Muchacho’ is a slightly uncomfortable listen at times, particularly during ‘Song For Zula’ when he appears to threaten his audience for gawping at his pain, but over time you realise that his music is what keeps him grounded and sane, such as in ‘Down To Go’ when he sings ‘I ain’t got much choice now, do I?’ when he is confronted with the accusation that he will ‘spin his heartache into gold’. So, in that case, if he’s singing I’ll still be listening and routing for him.
Daniel Lefkowitz is the kind of person who evidently has no long-term plan. Living day-to-day he encompasses the classic vision of the ‘troubadour’ and his live shows at this year’s End of the Road festival were a communal experience akin to what I imagine the 1960’s American folk scene would have been. This album is Lefkowitz’s commentaries on the modern world: politicking, the digitization of our lives, the threat of annihilation, etc. It offers a perspective on the 21st century from somebody who really exists outside of the capitalist system, and holds a mirror up on its folly without ever being too judgmental or critical. Simply, the album feels important, as does it’s author.
#AlbumsOfTheYear, no.7: John Murray - The Graceless Age
Technically this had limited release in 2012, but it took off in 2013 around the world, so I’m counting it. This record, which deals with his battle against substance abuse, feels like an exorcism more than any other record I’ve heard. It sounds like it simply HAD to be made to save himself. But the world is full of people who turn to art to save themselves. What elevates this record to the realm of brilliance is that John Murry is simply an astonishing songwriter with the vision to craft a diverse, coherent and inspiring album seemingly in-spite of himself.
#AlbumsOfTheYear, no.9: Ólafur Arnalds - For Now I Am Winter
Ólafur Arnalds is quite extraordinary. In between scoring TV shows and Hollywood movies and collaborating with other modern classical composers, he released this brilliant, beautiful and ambitious record. If one were to be slightly pedantic, the range of styles and ideas on show mean the album lacks the flow and coherence of previous albums, but every song as a stand-alone piece is wonderful and there you sense that this kind of creativity is going to give rise to something truly miraculous in the future.
#AlbumsOfTheYear, No.10: John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
The 30 minute, five song set John Grant performed at the KEX hostel in Reykjavik was probably the musical highlight of my year, and there are moments on this album – ‘Pale Green Ghosts’, ‘GMF’ and ‘Vietnam’ especially – where he seems to have perfected his art in confessional and direct song-writing. That said, I feel that he is yet to make his masterpiece and that both of his solo albums so far have been as much about the producers’ identities (Midlake on ‘Queen of Denmark’ and Biggi Veira of Gus Gus on this record) as his own. He occasional gets pulled off track on this record (‘Sensitive New Age Guy’) and means it falls just short of greatness. He will reach it though, and I’m very much looking forward to the day.
Arguably the TV show of the year here in the UK was The Returned on Channel 4. Mogwai provided the original soundtrack and released it here in advance of the show airing in the summer. This was a good record before seeing the programme, but it is only after hearing the songs in the environment they were designed for do you get a real sense of just what a wonderful job the band did. The atmosphere, script and music combine perfectly, and only serves to enhance enjoyment of the record release.
An ode to a recently deceased father with an acoustic guitar might not sound like a completely original concept, but the songwriting talents of Jonas Bonnetta elevate this to one of the year’s most honest, reflective and absorbing releases. The record is further enhanced by the experience of seeing him perform live, where he talks at great length between songs to explain the background that add an extra dimension to the listeners’ understanding and empathy with the songs.
#AlbumsOfTheYear, no.13: Songs:Ohio - The Magnolia Electric Company
Originally released in 2003, it was re-released following the death of Jason Molina earlier in the year. I will ashamedly hold my hands up and say that I only really started listening to his records following his death, but this record in particular is a masterpiece and worthy of a re-release. I feel the need to apologise for not appreciating this wonderful songwriter during his lifetime.