It is that time of year when the new releases stop coming out at a nearly unobtainable rate and just trickle out every so often. So we don’t really have too much to mention lately. Lots of vintage is still arriving all the time and new vinyl is getting re-stocked from the madness of the holidays.
So for now we will turn our attention to you, our great customers that are passionate about music. We will feature some reviews from our customers of the albums that made up 2013 and their views and thoughts of the past year, which in my opinion was an amazing one. You can find my look back at 2013 here: CLICK ME!
We would love to hear from more of you, if you have a review of your favourite albums of 2013, just send us a message and we would love to read and possibly feature it on our website.
First up is Rick Medland. It’s a great read and we hope you will enjoy reading it as much as we did. Just remember, this is their personal view
013: A Great Year In Music
…isn’t just about having reams of good tunes across a 12 month period, although yes, it can also be that. If Western Culture and it’s media has ingrained one thing into our delicate psyches, it’s that “More Is Better”. Like, often. Mostly. Always more and more, all the time. It’s bloody unsustainable.
But even more importantly and deeply resonant than mere quantity in a great year in music, is Volume. “Volume” in a sense being how exactly their contents fill us and for how long. A great year in music is all these fantastic recordings we will be playing, deciphering, admiring, relaxing to, and fully enjoying for decades to come. It’s the first time I’ll extend my 10 selections to 20. Because these are staggeringly good records**. So I don’t think numbering them is a good idea – they’re just all so brilliant, regardless of genre or influences, that believing one record to be “better than another” comes down to which one happens to be on/in the player at the moment. “Yep. That’s the one! That’s the BEST RECORD OF THE YEAR!” Too tough to call, sorry to say.
(** A Record as in “a recording of music”, you know? Not specifically vinyl, which is currently enjoying a OCD hipster revival and the reverence of an uninitiated, deprived youth; not specifically the shiny, yet dull and so antiquated medium of the Compact Disc; nor the ethereal and amorphous MP3; not the artist robber barons of streaming radio, satellite and pay-per-listen sites; especially not the torrent booths of Jack Sparrow near a pirate bay. Nope. A record simply being ‘A Recording’, in any format that moves sound waves into a human ear. Records being – recordings of music.)
I’m not sick of this music, not by a long shot and several years, but I am of this list – it keeps changing and being edited, shortened and copy/bloody pasted. Repost, send off, print and burn but please include all text. Thanks! Semantics and media formats aside: here’s to it! To the music, the records and recordings of 2013: A truly great and wonderful year in Music.
Jonathan Wilson ø Fanfare
‘Fanfare’ is meticulously recorded using a Steinway and lush direct-to-analog tape, uncompressed recording techniques sounding eerily like CSN from Laurel Canyon circa 1972, with a voice and tone not unlike Dennis Wilson’s lost classic ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ and with shadings and chord progressions from classic Pink Floyd too. And indeed, Crosby and Nash, Jackson Browne, a few of The Heartbreakers and Roy Harper (hats off!) and other notable luminaries, all offer back up vocals and instrumentation. Wilson brings his expertise and renaissance man attentions to the finest of audible detailing and arrangement. A wonderful, soulfully expressive collection of meandering, suite-like songs that plays like an unearthed gem to those who experienced the era and something quite refreshing for younger music lovers who wish they could have been around when such craft was at it’s apex. This double length record feels like a thoroughly modern masterpiece to me. #firstplace
Kurt Vile and the Violators ø Wakin’ On A Summer Daze
I played this record all summer as the car wound round the sun dappled roadway or as a humid breeze blew in the screen door. The long and hazy guitar jams on this record seem sweetly genuine, imbued with a kind of kindness without any distracting irony, avarice or hidden ambitions and it’s all the warmer and endearing for that. Golden tones that take you on a journey of winding slacker anthems that are droll, funny and surprisingly articulate. There’s so much to hear here, so many different levels to Vile’s music, from his clever lyrics to the loping production, to his seemingly effortless way around a well placed solo. This is a record to play for summers to come. #firstplace
Laura Marling ø Once I Was An Eagle
This is passionate and intense acoustic music – and something more too. An acoustic song cycle symbiotically produced by the most excellent Ethan Johns that flies high with folk music, literate chamber pop tastefully peppered with cellos and tablas, with Marling confessing her heart poems in the process. ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ reminds me of a muskier Joni Mitchell in vocal phrasings, Joan Armatrading’s tender confessionals, but mostly of Led Zeppelin’s folk infused 3rd record, sung and immaculately played by a freaky, geeky gal who just tells it us how it is. A record of honesty and confidence from a musically fluent, generous young woman, wise beyond her years with a bright and legendary future. #firstplace
Daft Punk ø Random Access Memories
Sure ‘Get Lucky’ was everywhere and it made us feel ‘Crazy’ all over again in its ubiquity, but this entire record was basically a love story: to musical influences and pioneers, their techniques, personas and their funky analog standards. I suppose either this or J. Wilson’s ‘Fanfare’ are the black waxes to get if you’re an audiophile simply for reasons of analog-to-tape purity in mixing and mastering. Danceable songs and luminous ballads show that disco maybe didn’t suck as much as the rockers declared in the 7o’s and that Paul Williams is still alive and well, eating squid somewhere in paradise and that Nile Rodgers still chops the funk…a gentle and deep record between hip shakes and The Groove Eternal. This is fun, uplifting music! #firstplace
Foals ø Holy Fire
A consistently diverse collection of rock, dance, pop and indie styles put through an exciting filter of quality control, passion and the wholehearted attempt to impress with it’s diversity and powerful song craft. This is modern music, being both visceral and concise even as it denies any easy categorization. One song reminds you of the hippy influences of Alt-J and on the next the cool, danceable electronica of Cut Copy or Hot Chip, and yet the band will not be pigeonholed. ‘Holy Fire’ is a sharp and streamlined record and a suave distillation of 21st Century influences. Brilliant, uncompromising and invigorating pop nuggets. (Say it! Say it aloud…”pop nuggets!” Feels good huh?) #firstplace
Arcade Fire ø Reflektor
In my rare and unpopular opinion this is the Arcade Fire’s best record ever. I also happen to dig the work of James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem fame) who produces this with a bump bouncing murkiness, inspiring enthusiasm and a funky accessibility that’s immediately obvious. But that doesn’t detract from ‘Reflektors” epic and mysterious depth of detail. As Win Butler explores identity, mortality, memory and the myths of human connection via the reflecting screens we all seem to be staring at these days, this sprawling double disc becomes a potent musical metaphor for our widescreen age. Big questions with burrowing album tracks of hook-laden perfection taking courageous experimental detours via charged Haitian folk polyrhythms along the way, ‘Reflektor’ achieves the potential I’ve been waiting a decade for. Amazingly not everyone agrees, but time will bear out this record’s impact and daring, firmly securing a prominent place in the bands oeuvre. I just hope those swollen heads in the title song’s video don’t explode from the endless hype. #firstplace
Elton John ø The Diving Board
One recording from an aged and increasingly irrelevant superstar this year achieves a poignant kind of redemption. Much like his earlier ‘Songs From the West Coast’, Sir Elton pares it all down to ‘the song’ and a relatively small ensemble. With his piano playing finally to the fore, these are wonderful songs and the most accomplished playing he’s shared in decades. As it all intimately plays out with T Bone Burnett’s acoustically sympathetic production, we’re reminded of that familiar mastery that made Elton a monolith in the pop canon in decades past. This record shows seasoned craftsmen playing for the love of it all, with really nothing left to prove. With 3 solo piano interludes, ’The Diving Board’ is an intimate, poignant and reassuringly familiar record. If you admire any of Elton John’s formidable back catalog, which from travelling brick roads to chalets, making tumbleweed connections with captains and cowboys, drowning the addictions of madmen, surviving and strangling crocodiles, paying early homage to Marilyn as a tiny flickering flame of dancing fickle fame…and if you long for a glimpse into his past, look no further than this present. And as usual, that lyricist getting half the royalties ain’t no slouch either. A quiet, mostly taken for granted, much overlooked triumph. #firstplace
John Hopkins ø Immunity
Drifting, sinewy beats and slinky house grooves take us on a moody journey from the ecstasy to the inevitable come down. With haunting allusions to movement, repetition and revealing an immersive sonic display, this musician who’s production flourishes on Coldplay’s last two “experimental” records helped that band to grow creatively to stay relevant – sure, that was Eno. And quietly also…John Hopkins. With swashes of subtle palettes he’s able to mesmerize and engage the listener almost below the threshold of hearing. But here, on ‘Immunity’, he brings us into his neon world – with aural hues of surprising urgency and a languid richness of urban rhythm.
Ty Segall ø Sleeper
A restless and prolific noise punk who goes the unplugged route and channels T Rex, early Lennon and all points in between, this is indeed a real sleeper record. With rough edges and contained aggression that plays like Neil Young if he was born in 1990, infused with Kurt Cobain’s MTV performance, this is a talent reckoning with the elemental basics of his music. Paring it all down and containing his electric energy this is potent listening.
Roy Harper ø Man & Myth
A folk icon who’s a favourite of everyone from Joanna Newsom to Led Zeppelin with a huge catalog over 5 decades but who sporadically releases recordings from the fringe. His last collection of original material was in 2001. No doubt the man has dedicated fans of all ages from all ages as he began his recorded history back in 1966. With Jonathan Wilson co-producing, the lyrical warmth of Harper’s voice is preserved, the integrity of his poetry properly translated and intact like a troubadour or minstrel from the High Courts come to tell us the state of our social union. Harper tackles big themes but that’s his strength. The songs wind at their own pace and there’s nothing less than 4 minutes and ‘Heaven Is Here’ coaxes us along for over 15. That it is all so conversational, nuanced and wise and the delicate age of 72, perhaps offers the life force a hope of it’s own. To be this lucid and this accomplished with communicating we should all hope to be.
Queens of the Stone Age ø …Like Clockwork
Another riff-monger who brought the noise, finally brings the pain too. He gets all vulnerable and opens up to his…wait for it – feelings! Homme still rocks but cries into the mic too. A solid record that has great songs and the humility brought about with age and the decadence of the sensitive rock star, reconsidering his place in the whirled. Kyuss with a kiss?
Portugal, The Man ø Evil Friends
Danger Mouse strikes again. His imprint usually brings signature chords, familiar melodies and vibe along with his production flourishes no matter who he’s working with or for – which is everyone who’s anyone these days. He’s in the process of quietly defining this century’s soundscape. This is vibrant, indie-pop and a smart, weird music.
Boards of Canada ø Tomorrows Harvest
It’s a rather aimless, somber and lacking their usual bounce and joy, kinda record. Not necessarily a bad thing with these Scottish sound sculptors. Utilizing noise/collage arrangements here on their fourth full length. It sounds circular and half-formed yet is still as organic as electronica can ever get, but the brothers seem troubled nonetheless. It probably has to do with their intuitive concerns regarding environmental collapse. There’s not a lot to grab hold of here if only compared to the duo’s sublime prior releases, but that was intelligent dance music whose stature in the genre has grown with every year. And with good reason – the Boards Of Canada are enigmatic as well as ambient beat maestros. It’s mystery and cinematic themes are compelling though and there is much to decipher in its wandering ebb of interludes, clips and tracks and I keep returning to it’s washes and muted pastel tones…it’s like that sometimes, harvesting tomorrow. You give a recording the benefit of considerable doubt based on the bountiful yield of yesterday.
The National ø Trouble Will Find Me
According to The National trouble will find us all. And they can’t do any wrong in their musical archeology of our first world problems, second world fears and unearthing our third world guilt. The National compose with such class, restraint and effective repetition to drive home an idea. These guys release a record – it appears on my list. Simple. This is their sixth and is as menacing and eloquent as any in their past catalog of romantic, baritone-burned, mope rock. The melodies and chants worm their way into your life, for reflective moments when you may not need answers to life’s quandaries, but a translator. My familiar complaint, is wishing they would explore spatial arrangements and instrumentation, stretching out. Still it’s hard to find fault with another powerful set from a band of brothers who join the kin of My Morning Jacket, Wilco, the Flaming Lips, The Roots and The Drive By Truckers as one of the consistently best bands now playin’ in the US of A.
Lorde ø Pure Heroine
She’s only 16 years old. It begs repeating and it is said again. The songs are so genuinely good – the world is hers.
Vampire Weekend ø Modern Vampires of the City
1. I love continuity in artwork packaging! They nail it again.
2. They’re taking New York City by strum with a renewed credibility in a mature record and new quivering form of pop music.
3. Literate, searching and clever as a band of foxes these four “preppies” inform us that it was all a cover, after all. “We were 28! What university would have had us! C’mon. Ha! Ha!” Fooled me.
4. Accessible tunes but able to warrant closer scrutiny. The record demands it, in fact. As does the universal critical acclaim.
5. They lost most of the frivolity and exuberance they initially had in exploring Afro Beat, ‘Remain In Light’-lite and Peter Gabriel too. Something lost, something gained.
David Bowie ø The Next Day
A true romantic and a man of many hearts and complexities. Here’s another senior citizen (!) who surprised us all with this “next day” reverie, his only studio recording since 2003’s criminally underrated “Reality”. He takes us back to his Berlin of the late 7o’s but Bowie’s not taking any prisoners on the journey, nor is he asking us to directly reference that era – aside from the obvious near duplicate cover art – covered up. Yet Bowie updates and renews with his pessimistic longing for universal justice, a furious sadness and a precise musical production giving us songs that pose more questions than they answer. Is he trying to deflate that trilogy’s accepted mythology? Is he telling us that the dark, heroin-heavy experiments he exhumed back then, reflect the horror and inhumanities he sees in his travels these days? Make no mistake, this can be a dark record but it carries it’s own celebrations too. Multiple listens show ‘The Next Day’ to cohere artistically, delivering on its own terms with Bowie’s usual and unusual sophisticated syntax. A brilliant return to form and quality, both. #firstplace
Christopher Owens ø Lysandre
He broke up his old band – Girls – and no one knew why, yet many cared. In 2011, the Girls’s album ‘the Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ was my ‘Album of the Year’ selection. The mastermind Mr. Owens supposedly needed to stretch out or break with expectations but there was only one other guy in the band, so that was odd. Maybe their moniker was a tad difficult with the search engines? Heheh. Owens gives great backstory but that kinda narrative column-filler too often overrides the music these days. Writers gotta write and it’s all press release blather mimicked from paper to blog to provide weird context or reader relevancy. But those two releases were acclaimed fr a reason and the stopgap 30 minute E.P. was a winner too. The songs on this recording are all joined by a hummable, poignant little coda which gets extended in one cut, and lending this short (28 minutes!) “long player” a thematic flow. But no matter what he calls himself, Owens makes humanity compassionate, retro: brand new, love: into a virtue again. Bold move. Great songs!
Blue Hawaii ø Untogether
Late night mood beats dripping atmosphere, sexiness and urban cool. Tasteful, slightly exotic and yearning. Wonderful music. Quiet throbbing vibes take their rightful, late night place.
Foxygen ø We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Young ironic, hipster rock stars. Here they are. I watched a video of this young band busking on the streets of Paris. And that’s when I realized these pacifist sorcerers had the real goods. Sure, the cute, long haired, lead singer mugged his cocky Morrison moves complete with paisley and beadwork. And the guitarist looked like he fell out out of a self conscious YouTube video as he followed said singer like some random sidekick except that he could play his guitar very, very well – he didn’t miss one energized power strum. Foxygen’s songs don’t just reference, they steal like any genius would freely admit – hooks, lines and no stinkers at all. Minute to minute yr hearin’ The Stones, then Marc Bolan, then Dylan, onto and past Elvis, Bowie, The Beatles and Burt Bacharach with a dash of Simon & Garfunkel, often in the space of just 1 or 3 songs. And yet somehow yr not upset and remarkably Foxygen never sound derivative at all, just fun and alive and hungry. Yr hearin’ young fans emulating and paying homage to musical giants, music reassembled, classic music acoustically twisted around and brought falling and laughing into this century. A vibrant bunch of boho music lovers who just happen to have the best band name in Rock n’ Roll right now. (Foxygen! as in needing “foxy” feelings just to breath; the first generation with casual access to hardcore porn; or as something you inhale every couple of seconds but forgot how groovy that old in/out really is. Foxygen!) #firstplace
Best of 2014 to all of us! Buy real music! Thanks fr reading,
© Rick Medland > firstname.lastname@example.org
This year’s music blathering and yodel dedicated to LOU REED (1942-2013)
Thanks for all the music, man.