We've polled our writers on what ruled 2013.
There's just over a week left in 2013, another year packed full of great music and one which has probably prompted a little more heated discussion about the biggest albums than ever before.
With the media storm caused by albums from the likes of Daft Punk and Kanye West, through to the somewhat unexpected worldwide triumph of a 16 year old New Zealander Lorde, it seems music of a high quality has actually enjoyed a fair whack of time in the spotlight this year.
Like so many of our peers, we can't help but collate a list of our writers' favourite records, songs and artists of the year. So we have asked all of our contributors - over 100 of them - to give us what they felt to be the finest releases of 2013 and this is what happened. Check out their individual poll results here.
Read on, listen to the playlist, tell us where we're right and where we're wrong and, if you see something you're not familiar with, throw it on your iPhone and give it a shot.
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Here we go…
Few artists have courted controversy in 2013 like Kanye West; but, love him or hate him, he's been an entertaining figure who we've loved to write about. Firstly, he called his new album Yeezus, then he made some pretty amazing statements in a big New York Times interview. He named his daughter North West and released a film clip that basically looked like he was having sex with his partner, Kim Kardashian, on a motorbike.
To add a little extra controversy, the album initially debuted at number two on the ARIA Album Charts, but that chart was later recalled and the album was added to the top of the chart.
But let's talk about the music.
Yeezus is forward thinking hip hop at its finest; it manages to push the envelope while remaining intensely popular and – like all good art – it attracts almost as much heavy criticism and brow furrowing as it does acclaim.
“The beats are distorted and barely even exist a lot of times. Sections of songs are crash edited together hard. Synthesiser sirens and loud sample bursts hit the pain threshold at high volumes, and lyrically it's a confusing mess.
“While clumsy missteps and awkward references have always been part of his charm, lines of cringe-inducing agony sit right beside some of his best writing, which is infuriating. It's pretty easy to get past this and focus on the goosebump moments – when the second half of Black Slaves kicks in with the soul sample, when the brilliant change in Bound 2 reveals itself, the entirety of I Can't Control My Liquor.”
“It's almost exactly the album Kanye had to make; with less lyrical gaffes it would have been perfect.”
James d'Apice was equally besotted and encouraged people to spend some time on its often slow burning tracks.
“Yeezus, defined by collaboration and discovery, is majestic. Well worth your time.”
There was huge pressure on British young gun James Blake to deliver something pretty special on album number two; he set the world alight with his eponymous debut back in 2011 and there were no doubt plenty of people doubting if he could return with something as fresh and vital as that record.
When he dropped Retrograde back in February , he just about melted the internet. The song was quickly trumpeted as a masterpiece and, while it didn't chart very well anywhere, it built huge anticipation for an ensuing LP. Overgrown was released in April to enormous critical acclaim and went on to win the prestigious Mercury Prize in October.
Helen Lear praised Blake's “step up here to something a little more mainstream with some interesting new sounds.”
“It's good to hear Blake hasn't been stifled by 'second album syndrome', but rather seems to have flourished under the pressure,” she wrote.
While Cam Findlay encouraged those who had enjoyed the lead single to spend a little time with the record as a whole piece of work.
“Retrograde was an easy pick for lead single; it's the most accessible track here. But while the rest of the album is a slow-burner, it creeps in and out of identity and psyche with passionate grace. Well worth the effort.”
Blake himself told us that the stripped back nature of the album was only going to be achieved after spending an enormous amount of time making it.
“I got a real sense of how minimal and intricate it actually feels in a way that could have only been made if I really spent a long time on my own making this music,” he said.
One of the biggest indie rock bands on the planet finally gave fans something to replace High Violet in their stereo with in May and proved that, even six records in, they're still capable of developing musical ideas that are interesting but easily digested by an almost mainstream audience.
“It's pretty strange, it's like we've made a fun record about dying,” guitarist Aaron Dessner told theMusic.com.au's Anthony Carew upon the album's release. “There is a lot of references to passing, to the afterlife, to heaven, whether [frontman Matt Berninger] believes in it or not.
“For me, he seems to be exploring this idea that as you get older, you get more responsibilities, you have children, you start to think more about how your time here is not just your own life. The impact you have is felt in other people. When he says 'we'll all arrive in heaven alive', I think what he means is that even when you pass, your children are still alive, your friends are still behind, the things that you've made are still there.”
Huge acclaim, both commercial and critical, greeted the album's release as the record debut in third spot on both the US and UK charts. It managed one better here in Australia, only debuting behind a little record called Random Access Memories by a little French duo called Daft Punk, released in the same week.
Our writers raved about the band's somewhat introspective, lyrically bleak LP.
“Trouble Will Find Me isn't The National's first success story – but it is their most effortless,” wrote Brendan Telford. “It continues [their] carefully calibrated move forward, and as such is their most assured, awe-inspiring set of songs yet. Born from guitarist Aaron Dessner's late-night musical sketches made while embracing the trials and tribulations of a newborn daughter, the album ebbs and flows with beauty and chagrin.”
“The National could sometimes be misunderstood as band of doom and gloom, but the genius thing about this band is that they make sad sound so great, and it somehow makes you feel happy,” wrote Annie Brown in her review.
While Ross Clelland praised the evolution of the band's music.
“The music has evolved a degree as well,” he wrote. “There's a little more variety in the background noise. Bryan Devendorf's muffled machine gun drumming more textured – Sufjan Stevens adding a bit of drum machine work, apparently. The guitars and other keyboard layers mesh and overlap. It swirls in its more energetic moments, like Slipped, jangling then occasionally throwing in a jarring percussive clank, just to shake the reverie.”
Arctic Monkeys are still a huge proposition in the rock'n'roll world, and September's A.M. made sure that this would continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. They teased fans with a few YouTube clips earlier in the year, before eventually revealing their fifth record would drop and getting people very excited indeed.
That excitement was more prevalent than ever, apparently, as the album was a smash hit commercially upon its release. On top of that, critics were falling over themselves with praise for the record (it has already made an NME Top Albums Of All Time list) and the band are playing mammoth shows all across the world (they'll be in Australia soon) in support of it.
Sevana Ohandjanian saw the album as a transformation from the Arctic Monkeys of then to the Arctic Monkeys of now and praised the band's sharpness on this new release.
“Since Humbug it felt as if they were stuck in a musical rut, focused on changing direction but wandering aimlessly. AM is transformative in that regard – a sharp, clever record that thumps around one's brain with authority. Unassumingly catchy with moody sensuality oozing, AM charts the uncertainty of new romance, from the thrilling tension of mutual attraction in Do I Wanna Know? and the obvious question of R U Mine?”
Drummer Matt Helders told us that there wasn't as much focus on making this record something that could be perfectly replicated on the live stage.
“This time we went back, just adding extra interesting layers to it,” he said of the process. “We weren't as precious about being able to play it live the next day. We used to be like, 'If we can't do it tomorrow then we shouldn't record it'. Same with backing vocals. Now we just want to make this record sound the best that we can, still sound like us, but a more original sound.”
Daft Punk owned the start of 2013 in a way that no act has managed to do for as long as we can remember. Yes the hype was largely due to an incredible marketing campaign, and partly to do with the fact that people actually really wanted a new record from the French electro duo, but it worked. Your grandmother knew who Daft Punk were at the start of this year, your little brother wanted to go to Wee Waa to drop pills and dance to a recording of the album and every single music media outlet – us included – reported every single little detail we could about Random Access Memories.
Did it live up to the hype? Of course not! It was never going to. But it's probably one of Daft Punk's better moments and its high points provide some of the best pop music we have heard in years. Lead single Get Lucky was the smash hit of the year for those of us who found Blurred Lines a little rapey, and follow up tracks Lose Yourself To Dance and
After her first listen, Bryget Chrisfield said:
“Nine-plus minute album highlight, Giorgio By Moroder, which can best be described as Studio 54 meets Midnight Express, incorporates interview excerpts from the suave 'father of disco'. On composing music, Moroder reveals, “There was no preconception of what to do,” and Daft Punk – when they sat down to craft this, their latest and fourth, album – certainly didn't feel pressured to create more of the same.”
While Chris Yates espoused that the record felt like something of a summary of the three Daft Punk albums that had preceded this monster release.
Random Access Memories is the culmination and progression of those three works distilled into a new record where the only boundaries are those set by The Robots. It's a long record – each track has enough time to be its own thing. Nile Rogers' guitar playing and The Robots' signature synth arpeggios are really the only consistent sonic themes throughout – in fact, Rogers' Chic sound is the biggest influence on the record and the main ingredient that separates it from their earlier records.”
Kris Swales wasn't so kind, though. His opinion-piece Where Were You When Daft Punk Ram-Rolled The World? was a cutting piece of writing that made him equal friends and enemies upon its publication.
“Still, the yacht-owning, coke-snorting, popped collar-wearing millionaires of this world deserve a soundtrack to their lives as much as anyone, so I'm stoked for them that Random Access Memories has stepped up to provide the background noise while they and their rich buddies swan about the deck like douchebags,” he wrote.
After visiting us on the Big Day Out tour early in the year, Vampire Weekend got Australian audiences very excited about the imminent release of their third LP, and they didn't let those fans down, delivering another incredibly accomplished release.
The third LP came over three years after the acclaimed Contra, but many fans who were perhaps waning in their adoration for the band due to this extended period of time were well and truly won over with the strong and sharp lead single Diane Young, which surfaced online in March. It was clear that Vampire Weekend were going somewhere slightly darker for album number three, a point that our writers all embraced.
“While not a party album like previous releases, Modern Vampires… is, without doubt, Vampire Weekend's most accomplished record yet,” Dylan Stewart wrote in his assessment of the album. “Even though there's a summery vibe over much over the record, a dark lining covers the tracks. Minor chords, vocal transmutations (see the “baby, baby, baby right on time” refrain on lead single Diane Young), and the hauntingly beautiful Hannah Hunt all contribute to a refreshingly mature step for Vampire Weekend.”
“They experiment with some fun and interesting sounds and effects, creating an ambience and eeriness that's very effective, even when quite melancholy,” Tom Noyes wrote. “However stripped back some songs are, there's still a full sound and a depth that many bands struggle to find in the modern times.”
“It hits an emotional chord that's hard to explain but with angelic choirs, arpeggios of harpsichord and indecipherably picturesque lyrics, you won't find this kind of uplifting despair anywhere else,” Lorin Reid summarised in response to the record.
Perennial critic favourites The Drones released the best Australian album of the year, according to our writers. Our first taste of I See Seaweed came through How To See Through Fog, a kinda surprisingly laid back and unsurprisingly dark piece that had us so very excited to hear more. In true Drones style, the full record was a dark and foreboding piece of art that rewarded many, many listens as you unravelled the narratives from master lyricist Gareth Liddiard.
Repeated listening was something Ross Clelland recommended strongly.
“As always, you'll keep finding new corners as you listen closer,” he wrote in his review of the record.
Steve Bell's review of the album gave particular praise to the sonic brilliance of the band, praising the way they continue to use their unique sonic characteristics.
“Liddiard's uber expressive voice like a bludgeon and his intellect a scalpel, nipping and tucking its way into the very depths of your psyche, while the band offer up a squall of visceral and emotive music in the best tradition of the swampy Australian rock'n'roll lineage to which they belong, he wrote. “More than just a great rock band, The Drones are like a mirror to the soul of our society, or that void where it used to exist. Exhilarating.”
Right at the top end of the year, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their 15th album, their first one to come out independently and their first one to hit the very top of the Australian charts. It had been a long time coming for one of Australia's most enduring artists, and you can't deny that Push The Sky Away deserved all the acclaim it received. Cave is practically peerless as a lyricist and the band who toil behind him are some of the most amazing left-of-centre musicians from across the planet.
“Push The Sky Away is the Bad Seeds at their most unearthly, and Cave at his most obtuse. Together, they create a record that won't go quietly into the night,” Brendan Telford wrote upon the album's release, calling the record “an understated gem that revels in Cave's dark lyrical frivolity, gutter-courting mirth and instrumental gymnastics, all coalescing into a man's laconic post-script as he looks back on an age of hedonism and banality.”
Kicking off with a freewheeling nine-and-a-half minute jam might seem like a strange proposition for an artist attracting as much attention as San Franciscan fellow Kurt Vile, but it set the tone pretty beautifully for his fifth LP and first since the Smoke Ring For My Halo LP, which saw him broaden his appeal beyond record collecting boffins and lo-fi aficionados.
“There is an effortless quality to this album that revels in being unhurried and is unconcerned with causing a commotion,” wrote Chris Familton. “It digs deep into hypnotic grooves, exploring the delicate and subtle possibilities of rhythm and melody with mesmerising results.”
Steve Bell made mention of the almost-but-not-quite-lo-fi sonic aesthetic.
“It's all almost verging on slacker but just a tad too well-produced and conceived for that mantle, proving instead to be just a stellar example of top-notch laidback rock'n'roll delivered by a man rapidly consolidating a reputation as one of the best of his trade,” he wrote.
It's the record the true believers knew Violent Soho had in them. With the craziness of endless overseas touring, expensive studios and renowned producers a thing of the past, the band stepped right back into their comfort zone for Hungry Ghost – recording in their beloved hometown of Brisbane – and made one of the best Australian rock'n'roll records in years.
The band hadn't released an album full of new material in almost half a decade, but wiping the slate clean has worked a charm as Luke Boerdam's songwriting skills have clearly progressed hegely, while the band still play with the kind of hunger and passion that has always made them such an exciting proposition.
“There are harmonies, vocal tricks, eclectic arrangements and a pervading sense of relaxed confidence, and though their influences occasionally bubble to the surface, who and what these tracks may sound like is redundant compared to their unabashed vitality,” Steve Bell wrote of the album. “A band once seen by some as a one-trick pony is now undeniably the complete package. World class.
If you think we're wrong (or, God forbid, right) then you can make your opinions known through our 2013 Readers Poll. You can also win a whole stack of amazing stuff for doing so. Hit the link below to enter.