The Best (15) Albums Of 2013, So Far…and a few others

6 months into 2013 already, which means it’s time to compile what I believe to be the best album releases of the year, thus far. The “terrible” year I thought it was going to be, new release wise, has turned out pretty darned good. Impressive, even! I am sure there are many, many fine albums that aren’t on this list, probably because I haven’t heard them yet, maybe because what you like I don’t. That’s part of the joy in compiling a list like this; you, the reader, telling me what I’ve missed, how effed up I am, etc. These following long players are the ones that have made the most impact on me this year, and they’re in order of preference…just because it’s fun to see how wrong I was when I do the final “Best Of 2013” at the end of the year. I have not heard the new Edwyn Collins yet, but I am sure when I do he’ll be on here somewhere…In “Countdown Mode”:

 Runner Up #1. Eels, Wonderful Glorious: There is nothing more predictably decent than a new Eels album. This one’s no different. Eels records are never amazing (OK, maybe a couple), but they’re always decent. Chocked full of poppy little ditties all filled with angst and redemption and love and sickness and dying and beauty and always sung in that early ‘90’s slacker voice of E’s. Maybe not glorious, but certainly wonderfully predictable.

Runner Up #2.  David Bowie, The Next Day: This is probably the 2nd biggest disappointment for me this year so far. The Next Day is certainly not a bad album, though. It rates a good 6 out of 10, for me, and is a far better album than I thought Bowie capable of at this point. Just not even close to the hype. Expectations not quite dashed, but certainly battered and bruised a bit.

Runner Up #3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away: To be honest I prefer the weird and brutal guitar attack mode of Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds. Dig Lazarus, Dig! was a brilliant slab, and this is good, albeit reserved Cave.

boards#15. Boards Of Canada, Tomorrow’s Harvest: Here’s a band that I have heard about for years but never bothered with. Stupid me, this one’s pretty great! It reminds me A LOT of The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, released 22 years ago in 1991. This album has more of a Bladerunner vibe going on, that is to say it’s a very dark, very cinematic album. I shall have to investigate the rest of this band’s discography further…

queens of#14. Queens Of The Stone Age, Like Clockwork: This is rock and roll from 1972, plain and simple. Good ’72 R&R, mind. Really good. It’s growing on me, and like the best albums in my collection I didn’t take to it right away. The guitar scuzziness is still there, but this time out it is buried underneath lots of pretty melodies…whaaaaaaaaa? Really? Yes, you bet. Sir Elton John and the Scissor Sisters Jake Shears are guests and even though one would be hard pressed to point out their contributions I think they must have made an impact. Also contains the best lyric of the year so far: “I blow my load over the status quo”. I have a feeling this one’ll grow on me.

yo la#13.  Yo La Tengo, Fade: Another certainty: YLT will never release a bad album. Overly LONG albums, yes, but never a bad album. This one is neither long nor bad; as a matter of fact it’s quite short, and quite good, with some of the best pure pop songs you’ll hear all year. It’s a great summer album even though it was released in January.

suede#12. Suede, Bloodsports: Didn’t see this coming! I have only ever loved one Suede album, and that was the mid ‘90’s Coming Up. This is really like a follow up to that modern glam classic, so if you didn’t like that then stay away from this. If you did like Coming Up, then you’ll be all over this one!

stranglers#11. The Stranglers, Giants: #11 with a bullet!! I can see this one climbing in the ranks, it is really brilliant. A favorite band of mine from the ’80’s, but let me be clear: I haven’t heard  a new Stranglers album since 1984’s Aural Sculpture. I didn’t feel the need. They’d been going downhill since The Raven, and when Hugh left, well, that was the last straw. But since a ton of my old faves from way back when have released some phenomenal comebacks lately I thought I’d take a chance on these old geezers. And man, do they look like my alcoholic degenerate uncle from Lodi, or what? The album’s good, and even though I think it would have been better with Hugh I have to admit the new guy (with them 12 years now) is a pretty great replacement. This is a Stranglers album: loose and loud bass guitar, psycho circus organ, crunchy guitars, sleazy and violent lyrics interspersed with some genuinely touching and sensitive ones as well, just to throw you off guard. Oh, and take a look at these degenerate geezers as they are today:strangers2

jim james#10. Jim James, Regions Of Light and Sound Of God: Being a huge fan of My Morning Jacket, since 2005’s amazing “Z” (a Top 5 album of the decade!), I was quite interested when this was announced. It is quite the unassuming little record, not at all boorish or preachy, which is in direct contrast to the hellishly pretentious title of the thing. It is also short, by today’s standards anyway, and breezes by in a flash. Like MMJ but without the guitar histrionics and voice overdubs. Nice.

neon neon#9. Neon Neon, Praxis Makes Perfect: Since I can’t have a new Super Furry Animal album this’ll do just fine. Once again the boys mine the early ‘80’s for their sound and come up with a great set of synth-pop songs, minus the horrible rap interludes of the last album, Stainless Style. New Super Furry Animals 2014? God, I hope so!

phoenix#8. The Phoenix Foundation, Fandango: These space rockers from New Zealand are new to me but have been around for a number of years, releasing a bunch of critically acclaimed albums in their homeland. This is my first, and while I hear the Pink Floyd spacey-type thing critics have been lazily throwing around when discussing the merits of this band I also hear a great debt to mainstream and alternative ‘80’s bands as well. No bad thing for a guy with tastes like me. They split this long album into two discs, which makes for a more coherent listening experience, too.

strokes#7. The Strokes, Comedown Machine: Another left field winner for me with this one! Surprise surprise, it’s another homage to the wild and wacky sounds of the New Wave 1980’s, put through the Velvet Underground indebted “chug-chug” filter, and it works amazingly well. The best since the debut, and in my opinion even better! The Strokes a dance band! Who would’ve thunk it?

robyn h#6. Robyn Hitchcock, Love From London: May was my Robyn Hitchcock month. I bought this new album and played it to death, loving every single psychedelic pop nugget and second of the entire disk. I then went back and listened to as much of his discography as I could and was amazed, again, at how damn consistently great he is! Love From London is fantastic, and any fan of his or just good old fashioned British psychedelic pop music in general needs this in their collection. Now!

raven#5. Steven Wilson, The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories): The mega talented Stgeven Wilson decided to go balls-out on this paean to classic progressive rock. There are echoes of Pete Gabriel era Genesis (especially Foxtrot’s Watcher Of The Skies), the musicianship and time signatures of RUSH, the space of YES, and the funk of James Brown. WHAT?!?! You betcha, at times this can be a funky record. Great songs, great melodies, great music overall.

vampire#4. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires Of The City: As I stated in a review of this album a couple of weeks ago, this is the first Vampire Weekend album I have ever owned. It is also the first Vampire Weekend album I have ever listened to. What the hell was I waiting for? I mean, this is some fantastic pop! With brains! And, unlike Arcade Fire (who I, for some weird reason, always likened them to), sound nothing at all like Bruce Springsteen on Prozac!

OMD#3. OMD, English Electric: You can go ahead and call this the comeback of the year right now. Nothing will come close to matching it, I guarantee you. It sounds like the duo went back in time and erased the albums from 1986-through 2010, and dropped this in their place. It is the true successor to the underrated Crush album and a far sight better than their first attempt at a comeback, 2010’s History Of Modern. I love this record, and it belongs in the groups Top 5 for sure, maybe even the Top 3. Time will tell.

primal more#2. Primal Scream, More Light: With Primal Scream you’re either going to be presented with greatness or shitness; there’s really no middle ground with these guys. Luckily, this is the former. There’s also a bit of a pattern you can rely on, give or take a couple of years, and that is that The ‘Scream’s first album of a new decade will be an all out masterpiece. 1991: Screamadelica; 2000, XTRMNTR; 2013, More Light. Nowadays you can pretty much write off anything in between decades off as rubbish (but Vanishing Point was great!). Like an updated Screamadelica, it contains elements of mid ‘60’s British psychedelia, dance music and Stonesy swagger. It’s a hodgepodge of styles, producers and sounds, but like Screamadelica it works beautifully. Maybe it’s #2 out of sentimentality, and maybe I’m just overly excited that a once favorite band has released something that didn’t make me cringe. We’ll have to see where it ends up, but for now I’m playing the heck out of it.

daft#1. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories: I think it’s fair to say that I loved this album immediately, although I have to also say that I had my reservations prior to the first spin. It is, indeed, Daft Punk giving the middle finger to all their faceless disciples who have taken all the EDM glory while the Masked Duo have been away, plotting their triumphant return. “We’ve moved on, mortals!” It’s not the Daft Punk Of old; it’s, as my friend Dave says, and I paraphrase here, “Michael Jackson, a Vocoder, Nile Rogers guitars and Alan Parsons production prowess all rolled into one glorious soul/prog/disco/pop/house sloppy masterpiece.” This shan’t move from its #1 slot.

Best Reissues/Compilations Of 2013 So Far

Not as exciting as last year’s reissues, but some decent one’s nonetheless. Here’s hoping that the last half of 2013 will bring many more forgotten gems into the limelight with some well designed and jam-packed deluxe issues…

ELO ZOOM#1. ELO, ZOOM

david bowie#2. David Bowie, Alladin Sane

ozric #3. Ozric Tentacles, Introducing

shuggie#4. Shuggie Otis, Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love

Biggest Disappointment Of 2013 So Far

Flaming Lips, The Terror

 Most Over Hyped Release Of 2013 So Far

 My Bloody Valentine, MBV

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