2013. What a year, right?
It kind of petered out towards the middle before kicking back into high gear during the final six weeks or so, there were far too many blockbuster albums that YOU MUST HEAR RIGHT NOW that weren't actually all that good, and it did bring us that fucking Daft Punk song, but overall it was pretty solid.
Solid? It was pretty fucking great, and - here's a shocker to exactly no one paying attention - the Breeders owned it with their year-long LSXX celebration.
But there was new music, too. Here are ten albums that tickled my fancy during the past twelve months.
10. Suede - Bloodsports.
I was initially Not Impressed by the sixth Suede longplayer that should not exist, but once you get over the idea that this is the sound of Brett "getting his demons back" (these are some pretty tame demons if that's the case) or that this is supposed to be some amazing mutant hybrid of 'Dog Man Star' and 'Coming Up' - it has moments that approach both but nothing that quite makes it, certainly to 'Coming Up' pop-trash status - this is actually quite good. If this had come out in place of 'A New Morning' in 2002 as the sound of Suede going "back to basics", no one would have thought twice about it. As it stands, I still want to hear the album that "Attitude" and "Love The Way You Love" teased, but this is a reasonable substitute.
Key tracks: "Snowblind", "Always", "It Starts And Ends With You"
09. Cian Ciarán - They Are Nothing Without Us
SFA's electronics wizards picks up a guitar, gets angry and makes a racket about it. Mostly. The supposed noisy counterpart to 2012's more subdued 'Outside In' gets a little sleepy halfway through, but it's never less than fascinating. If we can't have a proper SFA album, at least we're getting gems like this.
Key tracks: "5c Cotton 40c Beef", "Sewn Up"
08. Bright Light Bright Light - In Your Care EP
Impossibly charming Rod Thomas tides us over until the second proper Bright Light Bright Light LP with a quartet of delicious heart-on-sleeve pop-synth songs he does so well.
Key tracks: "In Your Care", "An Open Heart"
07. Big Black Delta - Big Black Delta
This is kind of cheating since the core of this was on my 2011 list in its 'BBDLP1' incarnation, but the way that Jonathan Bates makes it look so easy putting everyone else to shame earns it a place here as well. Slightly touched up, track list re-jigged to fit some newly recorded tunes, this is a rare case of an album expansion not diluting its impact.
Key (new) tracks: "Money Rain Down", "X22"
06. Annie - The A&R EP
Another EP? Cheater!
It's Annie and Richard X, so duh. And they didn't even put the best track - the Little Boots-penned "Tube Stops and Lonely Hearts" - on it! (Bonus points for the garish artwork, used to fantastic effect on the 12" picture disc format.)
Key tracks: "Invisible", "Back Together"
05. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
More of a sort of post-relationship bloodletting than an album per se, John Grant's second solo album isn't an easy listen but it's certainly an emotionally rewarding one. The lyrics get a bit clunky in places - and a lame attempt at a four-to-the-floor backbeat behind a terrible vocal delivery, including a horrific mis-pronunciation of "Wagner", completely sinks "Sensitive New Age Guy" - but his heart-on-sleeve earnestness covers for that most of the time. Side note: it's great to have Biggi back delivering some fantastic straight-offa-'Polydistortion'-and/or-'This Is Normal' backing tracks here. If we're going to be honest, it's what brought me to this record in the first place.
Key tracks: "Pale Green Ghost", "Blackbelt", "Why Don't You Love Me Anymore"
04. The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law
It's no 'The Big Roar' and there's no "Whirring" - though "Bats" comes pretty damn close, despite the lack of an epic back-half - so let's get that out of the way. That said, this doesn't stop the second Joy Formidable album from being an absolute triumph. More refined than the debut and almost distractingly obsessed with nature, especially in the second half, 'Wolf's Law' is the sound of a band settling into themselves and strapping in for the long haul. I can't wait to hear what comes next.
Key tracks: "Bats", "Cholla"...did I mention "Bats"? Because it's really fucking good.
So, "Bats" then.
03. Little Boots - Nocturnes
Definitely a grower more than a shower, Victoria's self-proclaimed "dark disco" album takes time - and, perhaps, a live show or two - to reveal itself, but once it sinks its claws in its there to stay. The Big Pop moments of 'Hands' are all but gone, replaced by sweeping soundscapes, making it all a bit impenetrable at first, but repeated listens reveal more goings on until it won't leave your head. As with Annie, she left the best track off - what, no "Headphones"? - but it actually makes sense here as the joyous bounce of said single is a little out of place with the 10 tracks here.
Key tracks: "Broken Record", "Crescendo"
02. VV Brown - Samson & Delilah
In which VV Brown comes out of nowhere and convincingly pulls off the greatest artist reinvention in years, all while making the album that is everything that These New Puritans' 'Field of Reeds' was supposed to be but just wasn't.
One word: WOW.
Key tracks: "Igneous", "Samson"
01. Primal Scream - More Light
Don't count Bobby out. After a series of fine if not wholly spectacular records following 2000's mighty 'XTRMNTR', the Scream Team regroups and delivers what is probably the ultimate Primal Scream album. They pull from all of the sounds they've tried on in the past and meld them into one glorious, overreaching whole. From the nightmare horns that open "2013" to the seemingly-lazy-but-ultimately-redemption-filled 'Screamadelica' pastiche of "It's Alright, It's OK", 'More Light' is fucking glorious.
Key tracks: "Invisible City", "2013", "Turn Each Other Inside Out"
10. Kim Deal - Hot Shot / R. Ring - Salt
(YouTube only has a live version of the latter, but it makes it even more fantastic.)
09. Primal Scream - Invisible City
08. Big Black Delta - Money Rain Down / X22
07. Bright Light Bright Light - In Your Care
06. Little Boots - Broken Record (Nocturnal Version)
05. Annie - Tube Stops & Lonely Hearts
04. The Joy Formidable - Bats
(The studio version is already above, so here's a live version from the UK. Sadly, it didn't survive the trip over the ocean and the US was denied "Bats" in the live setting.)
03. Emiliana Torrini & Steve Mason - I Go Out
02. Mutya Keisha Siobhan - Flatline
01. The Hidden Cameras - Gay Goth Scene
The Breeders - LSXX.
What it has: 'Last Splash' plus the four associated EPs. (I've always lumped 'Safari' in with 'Pod' but now it's officially part of the 'Last Splash'-era.) The (almost) full set the fanclub 'Live at Stockholm' disc was sourced from. (Where's "No Aloha"?) A set of demos and a set of radio sessions. The vinyl box is pure record porn.
What it doesn't have: "No Aloha" live from Stockholm and a cleaned up demo of "Go Man Go". Other than that, if you're unhappy with this you may as well give up on life because there's no hope for you.
The Monkees - The Monkees Present (Rhino Handmade Edition).
What it has: As with the other Rhino Handmade Monkees boxes, we've got 3 discs dedicated to their eighth LP. The first disc is dedicated to the main album plus stereo outtakes and alternate versions, the second focuses on period mono mixes and outtakes, and the third is a bit of a grabbag for what else was going on in Monkees land during the time period. Far more dedicated to the album than it probably actually deserves, but good for Rhino for giving the fans exactly what they've been asking for.
What it doesn't have: Frankly, I have no idea. I can't imagine wanting any more from the Monkees - at least, post-Peter Tork Monkees - than we've been given with this and the 'Instant Replay' set, though I'm sure there's some long lost take or song that's still not on one of these sets.
My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult - El Infierno: Songs from the Original 1989 "Inferno Xpress Tour"
What it has: A digital reissue of a previously fanclub only cassette release that featured seven tracks from the Kult's 1989 tour, where they mashed up their songs over backing tracks of disco hits. Theoretically it features a previously unreleased track in "Crime Xpress", but it eventually evolved into "Dope Doll Jungle" off of 'A Crime For All Seasons'.
What it doesn't have: More songs from the tour. I imagine masters from which this was pulled are long gone, so this is probably all we're ever going to get. That said, more reissues of fanclub cassettes in this manner wouldn't be unwelcome.
Nirvana - In Utero 20th Anniversary Edition
What it has: Nirvana's third and final album, remastered - and, amazingly, not brickwalled to hell - by Steve Albini, plus period b-sides and compilation tracks (some newly remixed yet again) on disc 1. Disc 2 has a brand new 2013 re-imaging of the album by Albini, Dave and Krist, plus a handful of demos.
What it doesn't have: The original mixes of some of the b-sides, leaving the proper version of "I Hate Myself And Want To Die" still stranded on the 'Beavis and Butthead Experience' disc. The new mix, while an interesting listen, takes up space that could have been used for more demos and rehearsal jams. That said, it's a hell of a lot better than the 'Nevermind' set, so we'll take it.
The Smashing Pumpkins - The Aeroplane Flies High
What it has: The CD set retains each EP on its own disc, each expanded with a themed set of extras: 'Bullet' has highlights from the Gravity Demos set, '1979' gets a selection of home demos and alternate mixes including the much sought after "Star Song", 'Zero' features rehearsal tracks from the famous Double Door shows while 'Tonight Tonight' has songs from the shows themselves, and 'Thirty-Three' showcases the 34+ minute journey through "Silverfuck" from Jimmy's final show on the 'Infinite Sadness' tour. (Historically important but not terribly fun to listen to.) There's also a sixth disc of highlights from throughout the 'Infinite Sadness' tour as well as a DVD featuring a live performance from 1997. Honestly, it's everything the 'Mellon Collie' reissue wasn't, and if you walk away from this set still wanting more from the time period you're insane. There's also a prohibitively expensive 5x12" box featuring just the EPs, many of the songs on vinyl for the first time.
What it doesn't have: The original artwork, I suppose, and there's still the matter of a full Double Door show that surely must exist in some sort of releasable quality. That said, we've now got 11 CDs and 2 DVDs dedicated to one album over the two reissues plus all sorts of demo sets that Billy has leaked out over the years, so just let it rest already.
Suede - The Vinyl Box
What it has: The six Suede albums - including 'A New Morning' on LP for the first time, which exactly no one asked for - plus, more interestingly, the vinyl debut of 'Sci-Fi Lullabies' in a nice box with yet another set of song notes from Brett. You had to know this was coming.
What it doesn't have: Nothing, really. It delivers exactly what it says on the package. It was a nice way to get us to re-buy 'Bloodsports' again so soon, though.
Tears For Fears - The Hurting 3xCD/DVD
What it has: 'The Hurting' remastered and sounding quite lovely on disc 1. A disc of b-sides and 7"/12" mixes. A (somewhat slight) disc of radio sessions and live tracks. A DVD featuring the digital debut of the 'In My Mind's Eye' home video. All of this plus fantastic liner notes and a recreation of the tour's program all in a nice box.
What it doesn't have: "Saxophones As Opiates" as per the bands request, and some of the mixes are apparently labeled incorrectly. Not surprising, given how many times some of these songs were released as singles. By no means comprehensive, but as far as a period overview it's hard to walk away disappointed.
Speaking of disappointments...
The Pet Shop Boys album isn't that great, stop going on about it or they're not going to try hard again. (That said, "Bolshy" is great, but I have to hear "Vocal" every tour now I am not going to be happy.) Even worse is the snorefest of the These New Puritans record. I had hope the return of Nine Inch Nails might be worthwhile but that certainly didn't happen. And ZZ Top remixed Depeche Mode, signaling the end that has long been forecasted. That we're still waiting on the second La Roux album, especially after a little bit of action in early 2013, is immensely frustrating. Speaking of getting on with it already, how has the Mutya Keisha Siobhan reunion resulted in exactly one proper single over the course of...2 years? Three? Let's have it, ladies.
Anyways, that's that. 2014, you've got a lot to live up to.