2013 has been a great year for music listeners. Here are my ten favourite albums this year.
10. Atoms for Peace: AMOK
I buy every album Thom Yorke makes. While AMOK lacks the emotional intensity I like from Yorke’s work with Radiohead, it certainly has good electronic tracks that I like.
9. David Bowie: The Next Day
Personally, The Next Day is the Bowie album that introduces me to David Bowie. Listening to its leading single "Where are we now?" this January piqued my interest of the legendary artist, and very soon I was submerged in the back catalogue of his; Ziggy Stardust, Station to Station, and of course, the Berlin trilogy that in my opinion has the most beautiful ambient materials I have ever heard (try "Moss Garden" from ‘Heroes’). Back to this record. I like all of the singles that have been released so far, especially the James Murphy remix of Love is Lost (Hello Steve Reich mix by James Murphy for the DFA), which is absolutely punchy, catchy, and some “Ashes to Ashes”.
8. James Blake: Overgrown
Compared to Blake’s self-titled LP, Overgrown is certainly more accessible, yet still retains the deep gloomy sounds. It starts strong with the first few tracks, and unfortunately the ending is forgettable, to say the least.
7. HAIM: Days Are Gone
When I first saw the album cover I thought they were Hannah and the co in TV Series “Girls”, and that feeling of mine permeates through my listening of this album. Poppy, but with good rock instrumentation, Days Are Gone has some really good pop tracks unlike the usual pop songs we usually heard, with more depth and focus on the overall presentation rather than the vocals.
6. Arcade Fire: Reflektor
I love the title track “Reflektor" when I first heard it on Youtube, where they premiered their single. Produced by one of my favorite producer James Murphy, it is certainly more dancier than previous Arcade Fire release and the sound of the songs are so South-Americanish (reminds me of the music in Haiti) that I think they achieve what Paul Simon has done with Afromusic in Graceland. However, I think the album is a little long, and towards the end it gets slightly boring IMO.
5. Kanye West: Yeezus
Unlike “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, Yeezus is primal, simple, and gory. I love “Black Skinhead”, “New Slaves”, and “Bound 2”. In my opinion, it lacks the cohesiveness in MBDTF that made it so great (in fact, it’s my #1 in 2010). Instead, Yeezus is a collage of good hip-hop songs that are ahead of its time.
4. Disclosure: Settle
While this album has been sitting in my iTunes library since released, I didn’t went into it seriously until November, where I started rediscover the good music this year. The thing that I like about this LP is its catchiness embedded in a retrospective way, bubbled with vocals that I think sounded very much like the dance track in the 80’s and 90’s (my favorite track here is Voices, featuring Sasha Keable). I love this album so much that I felt like dancing groovily while I was commuting. Why go to the club (which most play shitty pop dance music) when you have a copy of Settle and speakers in home? That pretty much sums up my feelings with this release.
3. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
Oh my, oh my. When I first listened to this I thought it was so different from their last two LPs, which the sound I like, and the first few listens didn’t really went well. However, once I got past through the “I love the Afrobeat in Contra” phase, the album really started to grow on me. The black-and-white mysty NYC album cover really depicts the tone of the music here, darker, grounded in more solid instrumentation. My favorite track here is “Hannah Hunt”, located at the middle of the album, which tells a story of a girl named Hannah and the car trip the singer and Hannah went through. I loved the latter part of the song where the beautiful piano playing kicks in and Ezra Koenig shouting in parallel. It is also my #1 favorite track this year.
2. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories
I was very excited when the duo behind Daft Punk, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Man, announced a record deal with Columbia earlier this year. I knew something huge was coming. Indeed, in the several months that followed, the duo released snippets of their new song, most notably the mega-hit this year, Get Lucky, to the press and also some very interesting The Collaborators Video, where musicians like Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder, and even Panda Bear were featured. While not as forward-thinking as their previous Discovery album, RAM certainly goes back to where it all got started, using mainly live instruments instead of computer samples. As a result, the music felt warm at times, which I like really much.
1. DARKSIDE: Psychic
Never has someone blended rock and psychedelic with electronic music in a catchy and danceable way. The project duo, Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington, are the first one to do that. Many critics have called the record “Floydian”, and it is certainly true, especially in the closing track “Metatron" where the guitar riff is so nostalgically beautiful, resembling some of the tracks in the Pink Floyd records. My favorite track here "The Only Shrine I’ve Ever Seen" has a nice flow from the beginning to the end, with building ups from the intro to the long, silent outro that seems to engender a visual scenic of visiting a Japanese temple, with white-robe monk and huge golden bells and of course the SHRINE at the very end. Conceptually similar to the music video of Kanye West’s "POWER”, by removing the Greeks and Angels and replacing them with Zen Temple and Austere Monk, you have yourself a video for this track.
I can listen to this album from the beginning to the end with no sign of boredness, and this can’t be said for the rest of the albums in this list. Psychic is unequivocally my #1 favourite album this year.