In what must seem like a bid for the tardiest best of 2013 music list, here are my picks of the year. I had it ready to go back in January, but refrained from posting it as I felt that I hadn’t quite grasped the shape or sense of year.. I’m not particularly convinced that I have any better sense of it now, but if I look over any of the things from 2013 I’ve discovered since then, none of them elbow any of these original selections out of the way. So, for the historical record, here’s how I saw 2013:
10. Yo La Tengo. Fade. (Matador) I could be accused here, perhaps, of venturing a nostalgia pick given my long-term affection for YLT, yet there’s no LP from 2013 that was better at delivering both utterly beautiful moments of quiet contemplation (“The Point of It”) and propulsive Germanic workouts (“Ohm”).
9. Cate Le Bon. Mug Museum. (Turnstile) Sure, I would rate Le Bon’s previous LP, Cyrk, my number 2 in 2012, a little higher, but her latest confirms her as a genuine talent whose idiosyncratic voice continues not simply to surprise, but to astonish.
8. Jeremiah Jae. Bad Jokes. (Warp) Cheating a bit here with this semi-official mixtape, but there’s no way I could leave it out. The FlyLo connexion helps, but Jae’s voice is unique and all his own. The German vocal sample on “Guns N Butter” was, for me, the most mesmerizing loop of 2013.
7. Neon Neon. Praxis Makes Perfect. (Lex) A concept LP about an Italian socialist publisher from the 70s who died under suspicious/tragic circumstances might not appeal to all, but I’m hooked on Neon Neon’s ambitious series of musical/biographical projects. Working alongside Boom Bip, Gruff Rhys proves himself, once again, to be the renaissance man of pop.
5. Four Tet. Beautiful Rewind. (Text) Kieran Hebden has generated such a staggering string of remixes, productions and original works over the past few years that he really should be, cumulatively, at the top of any list. Initially, BR seemed a little underdeveloped, a series of sketches rather than fully developed tracks, but what further listens revealed was a keen editorial hand at work and a tremendous sense of restraint. Far from being underdeveloped, the tracks here are precision tooled.
4. Holden. The Inheritors. (Border Community) A densely difficult and frequently obscure LP that demanded multiple listens to reveal its pleasure. “Blackpool Late Eighties” was a fitting sequel to his sublime remix of Caribou’s “Bowls” from a few years back and “Renata” ranks him among the best producers of uncanny electronica anyway. The runic stone on the cover suggests a deeper, occult significance that haunts and unsettles every song on the LP.
3. John Grant. Pale Green Ghosts. (Bella Union) It took me a while to grasp the force and significance of Grant’s work, but when I did, I fell hard for it. The moments of darkness are pierced by both rays of joys and shudders of pleasure. Grant himself radiates both intelligence and generosity and I deeply regret that our paths didn’t cross when I was in Reykjavík in December.
2. Boards of Canada. Tomorrow’s Harvest. (Warp) Evoking environmental catastrophe and ecological collapse, Tomorrow’s Harvest is a genuinely unsettling LP. It extended the band’s thematic preoccupations (memory, apocalypse, decay) and broadened their sonic palette.
1. Jon Hopkins. Immunity. (Domino) Hopkins’ LP stands head and shoulders above everyone else this year, not least for the way in which several of the tracks kick in harder and faster just when you think that they’ve reached their full force and development. “Open Eye Signal” is a kind of sequel to “Light Through the Veins” from 2009’s Insides and it shares with that track a stunning sense of architecture, of beauty unfurling over the course of nine or ten minutes. “Collider” is Hopkins at his most ecstatic, with the steady thump of the beat accompanied by cascades of tones and textures that colour the sound in an altogether extraordinary manner. The latter half of the LP grows more sombre and contemplative, but never loses its sense of sonic exploration and discovery. Compulsive listening.
I promised to be more timely with my 2014 list.