Top Twenty of 2013. Number 1 – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

Well, here it is.  My album of the year.  Not by much, as I said yesterday, but it wins simply because it is the record I have gone back to over and over during the year.  It’s not often that records like that come along.  From start to finish, inspiring.  I’ve had two this year.  This and the Flaming Lips.  So it was a toss up I admit and my opinion on which is the number one has fluctuated throughout the year.  However, at make your mind up time I went for ‘Push the Sky Away’.

Those massive Nick Cave fans of the world may hate this – I don’t know, but I doubt it but for me it’s a simply brilliant record and possibly the best I own by Nick Cave.  I love his work with the Bad Seeds as much as I love his soundtrack work with Warren Ellis.  This record kind of feels like the point at which the two collide.  There is a much more filmic feel to the music underpinning the usual wonderful vocals by Cave.  It’s more delicate than some of the recent Bad Seeds records and harks back a bit to earlier times whilst embracing the experimental nature of modern music.  You can read my review from earlier this year and perhaps try the videos below just to see just why I love this record.  Or, you can do yourself a favour and buy it on vinyl. The art is stunning and the whole thing feels like a wonderful composition.  Treat yourself.  It’s Christmas.

Top Twenty of 2013. Number 2 – The Flaming Lips – The Terror

I have to be honest, the top two has been uncertain for a long time.  I always knew my top two records of 2013 – I just couldn’t figure out the order and so I based it on the album I go back to more.  Not much more, but more.  And so, missing out on the top spot by a very small margin are The Flaming Lips with the simply awesome ‘The Terror’.  (Awesome, despite a Beatles cover!)

I’ve always been a Flaming Lips fan.  I’ve seen them live and have loved their work since ever I first saw them perform tracks of ‘The Soft Bulletin’ on Jools Holland.  Fantastic showmen and so creative my admiration for them has perhaps always outweighed my love of their work.  And yet this record is amazing and I cannot get enough of it.  There is this old thing in music that artists get less exciting the older they get – but I cannot see it.  I think this album proves that even in your 50s you can still create exciting, challenging works that continue to make you hugely relevant and important in music circles.  This record inspired me during the writing of the second Graveyard Tapes and Kays Lavelle records.  I go back to it time and again for inspiration and I know it will stand the test of time.  All the best records do.

So, whilst I did think it would make the number one spot on my list it has ended up at number two – through no fault of its own, other than the number one album has been on my stereo more.

Top Twenty of 2013. Number 3 – The Alvaret Ensemble – S/t

I LOVE this record. I mean LOVE.

Greg Haines was always an artist I admired.  A brilliant composer and pianist I had followed his work for a while and had the pleasure of a conversation piece with him for the blog earlier this year.  We discussed this record a bit with particular focus on the improvised nature of this work.  Improv is something quite exciting. It’s an approach that Matt Collings and I adopted, along with Talvihorros for the making of Graveyard Tapes album two – not all improvised but the session of improv we did generated some of the tracks on the record.  The fact that the whole of S/t is improv though is quite remarkable.  Even more remarkable is that it has spoken word elements, something I normally hate through my music.  This is different though.  The delivery of the spoken word is not over the top, overly dramatic nor does it interfere with the music, flitting in and out beautifully and adding to the wonderful tension of this sparse, delicate and exciting piece of music.  Maybe the delivery is helped by being hushed, almost whispered and also being in Dutch.  I don’t know.  I just know that this is a brilliant record and I really do hope this lot get together again in the future, when their various schedules allow, to produce another record.  In the meantime we can enjoy the work of them as individuals but this is sublime and a triumph.

Top Twenty of 2013. Number 4 – Mat Riviere – Not Even Doom Music

This was one of the first records I heard in 2013.  At the time I said it would be hard to find a record more exciting in the year and this has proven to be the case with only 3 records surpassing it in my opinion.  To add to the excitment of this record, Mat came up and played a few shows with Old Earth in August and hearing some of the album tracks live – especially Gardens – was just amazing.  Whilst he lacks a little in terms of vocal quality the songs and the delivery are special.  A gifted song writer with a brilliant ear this album won’t stop being a favourite as 2013 ends.  My review described the record as ground-breaking and I would stand by that claim.  It’s a bit shouty, a bit mad, hugely challenging and massively complex but if you don’t like your music easy listening then the chances are you are going to like this.  And most excitingly, it looks like mini50 will get to work with Matt in 2014 – so all good.  In the meantime, do check this brilliant record out.

Top Twenty of 2013. Number 5 – Gideon Wolf – I Am Wolf

This one just kind of jumped at me when I was listening to something else on Chemical Tapes bandcamp site.  I was drawn in by the art for the record, which I love, and ended up falling in love with the record.  It comes on cassette and is just a brilliant piece of vocal manipulation and creativity that everyone should own.  I don’t know much about Gideon Wolf if I am honest but everything about this record is class.  If I could have him on mini50 I would, in a flash.  This is a record to be proud of as an artist and one to be inspired by as both a musician and music fan.

Top Twenty of 2013. Number 6 – Sigur Ros – Kveikur

If you had said to me at the start of this year that Sigur Ros would have made my end of year list I would have definitely told you that would be unlikely.  Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved Sigur Ros but after the initial brilliance it has always felt like they were in cruise control and just churning out the thing they were good at.  It all felt a bit lazy and predictable.  Well, Kveikur is far from predictable.  In fact, it’s simply a brilliant return to form that does see them push themselves away from their comfort zone and into a darker territory.   A total triumph from a band who have floated along for far too long.  Let’s hope this is the sign of things to come with future records.

Top Twenty of 2013. Number 7 – Matthew Collings – Splintered Instruments

Following on from Mogwai, let’s talk about an artist who is exceptionally relevant and exciting and yet so under the radar it’s not real.  Matthew Collings releases as Sketches for Albinos.  He releases as one half of Graveyard Tapes.  And here he has released, under his own name, a stunning record.  Produced by Ben Frost this record does have Frost’s mark on it but let’s not make any mistakes here – this is Collings work and showcases him as one of the most exciting and talented composers to be working not only in Scotland but in the UK.   Is there some bias here?  Well, some would say yes because I have had the pleasure, and challenge, of working with Matt as Graveyard Tapes.  But I am being honest when I say that he stands above anyone I know as a musician, as a composer and as an artist.   His gift for sound and sound manipulation is to the fore on this dense and challenging work but like all good composers the balance between ferocious attack and uneasy restraint is perfection throughout.  I don’t throw the word genius about very often and many people will find this work far too challenging – but Matthew Collings has that touch of genius and I don’t doubt his stock will rise in 2014 and beyond.  We should be thankful to have him on our shores and more Scottish magazines and music fans should be talking about him.  But their loss is no big deal.  He has the world at his fingertips and soon his genius will be unleashed.  Of that there is no doubt.

This record is sold out now in physical form but do check out the digital version from Fluid Audio.

 

 

 

Top Twenty of 2013. Number 8 – Mogwai – Les Revenants

Like Thom Yorke, Mogwai just get better and more exciting with age.  That’s not to say that I don’t value their early work – Come On Die Young is still one of my all time favourite records – but they just seem to mature and develop and change all the time, keeping you on your toes whilst always reminding you that they are Mogwai.  Those who criticise them for sounding like other acts – I am not sure how a band who created and have been at the forefront of a whole genre for nearly 15 years can be accused of this.  Instruments change, tone of their records change, but one thing always remains the same.  Mogwai sound like Mogwai and anyone who says otherwise is just wrong.  They have such a distinct sound and tone to their work that it’s impossible to mistake them for anyone else.  And so what if outside influences creep in, it only serves to keep them fresh and energising.  I cannot wait for Rave Tapes in 2014!

This record is mostly based around beautiful piano compositions.  Dark and haunting, short and to the point.  A perfect soundtrack album, much like Zidane was all those years ago.  Mogwai are not going anywhere, and I do believe they will always be exciting and relevant because they want to be and that makes them important.

Things That I Love Today

If you must wait,
Wait for them here in my arms as I shake
If you must weep,
Do it right here in my bed as I sleep
If you must mourn, my love
Mourn with the moon and the stars up above
If you must mourn,
Don’t do it alone

If you must leave,
Leave as though fire burns under your feet
If you must speak,
Speak every word as though it were unique
If you must die, sweetheart
Die knowing your life was my life’s best part
And if you must die,
Remember your life

You are
You are
Oh, you are
You are
All

If you must fight,
Fight with yourself and your thoughts in the night
If you must work,
Work to leave some part of you on this earth
If you must live, darling one,

Just live

Top Twenty of 2013. Number 9 – Atoms for Peace – AMOK

Man I love Thom Yorke.  Radiohead have played a massive role in my musical life since I was a teenager and I would probably class Thom Yorke as a musical hero.  This of course can leave you open to liking something simply because of who produced it.  Hopefully I have grown enough in the past years to not be that way inclined anymore.  So, I approached this album with some trepidation and concern.  ‘The Eraser’ was a good album but not mind blowing.  Thing is, no matter what you think about Mr Yorke’s music – I have plenty of friends who find Radiohead morbid and depressing – nobody can question his creativity and desire to push boundaries.  He’s always challenging himself as a musician and pushing himself to create music that is worthy of attention.  And yet again, with this record, he achieves that. In fact, he produces a record that I think eclipses Radiohead’s last offering.  With Flea and Nigel Godrich along for the ride Atoms for Peace are no Radiohead rip offs.  Yorke’s voice inevitably will draw the comparisons from lazy journalists, but this is fresh and it’s different and it’s challenging and reinforces the importance of artists like Thom Yorke.  Whilst people often say that musicians get worse with age Yorke shows no signs of this and, I have to say, I see similar trends with other artists such as Nick Cave, The Flaming Lips and more – they just get better.  So yeah, a brilliant record packed with brilliant tracks.  Check it out.