December 20, 2013

hmv's Albums Of The Year…#10 - #1
by Tom
Tom

by Tom Goodwyn

hmv London; 20/12/2013

Bio

hmv.com Editor. Peanut butter, punk rock and pillows.

hmv's Albums Of The Year…#10 - #1

Over the last month, we've asked all our staff members to vote for their favourite albums of 2013 and they've responded in droves. Over 500 albums received votes, but, after every vote has been counted, we have our final tally. Here, in all its glory, is hmv's Albums of 2013...

The Marshall Mathers LP2

Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2

#10

Only released in November, the sheer aggression and power of a rejuvenated Eminem has seen him snag the Number 10 spot in our poll.

Written as a sequel to the rapper's groundbreaking The Marshall Mathers LP, the album saw Eminem move away from the more polished, radio-friendly sound of his previous efforts and back towards aggressive, motormouth rapping and heavy breakbeats.

Lyrically, Eminem is on electric form, turning his ire equally on himself and various targets, he's candid about his troubled relationship with fame, the women in his life and the shadow of his own legacy. Words tumble out by the hundreds, spat out like he's on a mission; this is the sound of a rejuvenated Eminem, an Eminem with purpose, drive and something to say once again.

Dr Dre is back behind the boards, with super producer Rick Rubin also brought in to provide focus and direction to the record.

There are plenty of high-profile guests too, with Rihanna adding her unmistakable vocals to 'The Monster' and Eminem's regular collaborator Skylar Grey, who sings on 'Asshole'. Kendrick Lamar also steps up to rap on 'Love Game', while Fun.'s Nate Ruess also gets involves on 'Headlights'.

Although 2009 and 2010's pair of albums Relapse and Recovery both sold well, they felt like Eminem by numbers, this record feels vital again.

Best Track: 'Asshole'

You can read hmv.com's full briefing on The Marshall Mathers LP 2 here and download it here.

The 20/20 Experience - The Complete Experience

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience – The Complete Experience

#9

It is perhaps no surprise to see Justin Timberlake featuring in our Top 10: his album is 2013’s biggest selling at 3.4 million copies and counting worldwide, outstripping runners-up Daft Punk by around 650,000. His efforts have also landed him 7 Grammy nominations for 2014.

Since his last album in 2006 Timberlake has been busy with his acting career, as well as co-purchasing Myspace, but in 2012 he began working with Timbaland on some new material for the first time in over 5 years.

The 20/20 Experience was released in two parts, then later as a compilation of both, boasting a total of 22 new songs that find JT in fine form. There are two collaborations with Jay-Z and another with Drake, but other than that it’s strictly Justin all the way.

There are some great moments on the record too, with standouts including ‘Suit & Tie’, ‘TKO’ and ‘Take Back The Night’, showing he has lost none of his ability to crank out smooth, funky R&B. Elsewhere, Timbaland’s work behind the desk ensures things stay interesting and inventive.

Critical reception to the album has been good, but the numbers speak for themselves in this case and with over 3 million units shifted, Timberlake shows why he is still box office gold.

Best Track: 'Take Back The Night

You can download The 20/20 Experience here.

 

Reflektor

Arcade Fire - Reflektor

#8

Released in late October after months and months of hype, endless teasing previews and a supremely clever marketing campaign, the Canadian band's fourth album has quickly muscled its way into people's hearts and not left their stereos since the day it hit.

Produced by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and Coldplay/Bjork producer Markus Dravs, the album is a radical departure from the band's previous LPs, with the anthemic, guitar-driven tracks giving way to a more rhythmic and percussive sound. Eight of the album's 13 tracks pass the five and a half minute mark, with brooding basslines and driving drums powering them along.

The album's epic title track, which is a full seven minutes and 34 seconds in length, is the perfect distillation of the record's boundless ambition. Murphy's influence is clear, with the nagging, disco-inspired undercurrent and rhythmic drums brought to the fore. Other highlights include the starry 'Here Comes The Night' and the supremely inventive 'We Exist'.

It already felt like Arcade Fire were peerless, but with Reflektor they've truly proved it. 

Best Track: 'Reflektor'

You can read hmv.com's full briefing on Reflektor here and download it here.

Trouble Will Find Me

The National - Trouble Will Find Me

#7

Hailing from Ohio and now based in New York, The National have been steadily carving out a niche in the public’s consciousness for over ten years now. In that time, they have graduated from the humble beginnings of their eponymous debut, recorded before the band had even played any live shows, to unlikely chart-storming success with their 2010 album, High Violet, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 100 and No. 5 on the UK Album Chart.

If High Violet was the point at which the band finally crystallised their sound, this year’s follow-up, Trouble Will Find Me, represents a refinement of that achievement. As with their last album, the new record is entirely self-produced by the band - chiefly by one of the pairs of brothers in the line-up, Aaron & Bryce Dessner.

While this might be one of the more surprising entries in our 2013 Top 10, it doesn’t take long to understand why they have become so popular. The songs are well-crafted, the lyrics are honest and emotive while the arrangements are extremely well-balanced; this is band which has mastered the art of knowing when to let a chorus bloom, and when a little more restraint is required.

The result is a finely honed album that reached No. 3 in the UK and the U.S., also reaching Top Ten positions in a further twelve countries. For any newcomers to the band, fans of acts like Iron & Wine and Wilco should find plenty to enjoy on this record. Highlights include the shuffling groove of ‘Demons’ and the delicately mournful ‘I Need My Girl’, but all 13 songs are very strong and if this kind of thing is your bag, Trouble Will Find Me should be finding its way into your record collection in the near future.

Best Track: ‘Graceless’

You can download Trouble Will Find Me here.

The 1975

The 1975 - The 1975

#6

Of all the success stories that occurred in 2013, very few felt like they truly came from nowhere, but Manchester quartet The 1975 certainly did.

At the start of 2013, in the annual fest of tipping the year's brightest hopes, they were nowhere, with no spot on the BBC's Sound Of… list and no place in most publications' tips for the year. But then, in late January, their single 'Chocolate' emerged and it felt like everything changed…

Eventually releasing their debut album in September, the band's sound, although clearly tipping its hat to classic 1980s pop and 1990s indie rock, stood apart completely from the icy synths and stripped back guitar rock that most of the year's newest arrivals were peddling. Their debut album, produced by Arctic Monkeys' collaborator Mike Crossley, is richly layered and very polished, with the zingy of the guitars all the better for it.

From start to finish this is a brilliant pop album, with so many catchy choruses and hooks crammed on to it. Every track sounds like a potential single, each as hummable and as much of an earworm as the one before.

This is an outstanding debut album. We can't wait to hear what this band does next. 

Best Track: 'Girls'

You can download the record here.

 

The Next Day

David Bowie - The Next Day

#5

For an artist to maintain a career that spans four and a half decades is a rare occurrence. To do that and still be making music that is challenging, innovative and relevant is unusual in the extreme, but then they don’t come much more unusual than David Bowie.

Announced on Bowie’s 66th birthday in January this year – without warning, fanfare or any real promotion to speak of – The Next Day heralded the return of one of our most unique and enduring talents, with his first album in a decade.

Before we get to the music, there are some points worth noting. First of all, Bowie hasn’t given a single interview in 2013 to support the album, or given one at all since 2007. The sum total of any communication regarding his 24th studio album has been a list of 42 words he sent to author and music critic Rick Moody, a list that featured words like ‘vampyric’, ‘Balkan’ and ‘miasma’.

Then there’s the cover artwork. Bowie has, in his long career, produced some pretty iconic album covers – Aladdin Sane springs to mind – but for The Next Day he decided to recycle the cover of his 1977 album Heroes, crudely but deliberately repurposed with a white square covering his face, the album’s title in plain black type.

Were it anybody else, all of the above might seem like a gimmick, a contrived marketing ploy designed to create an air of ‘mystique’. But this is Bowie; surely one of the most enigmatic figures in music. Instead, he has chosen to let the music on the album speak for itself, free from interview soundbites or even any visual representation on the cover of the work that lies within. So does it work?

The answer, we’re pleased to say, has to be an emphatic ‘yes’. Working once again with long-time producer Tony Visconti and recorded sporadically over the last two years – in closely guarded secrecy – Bowie sounds as vital and relevant as he ever has. Lead single ‘Where Are We Now?’ could have fooled some into thinking that The Next Day would be a downtempo, introspective affair, but on the whole the record is actually pretty upbeat musically, though there is a recurring theme of mortality in the lyrics.

The title track is a spiky, guitar-led stomp that wouldn’t be out of place on Scary Monsters…, leading into the sleazy saxophones of ‘Dirty Boys’ before giving way to ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ with its echoes of Heroes-era Bowie in it’s Fripp-esque guitar parts. Other highlights include ‘I’d Rather Be High’ and the excellent ‘Valentine’s Day’, but the overall strength of the songs on The Next Day conspire to make this Bowie’s best album in a long, long time.

As comeback albums go, this has to rank as one of the best in living memory and it’s more than good value for its place at No.5 in our 2013 poll.

Best Track: 'Valentine's Day'

You can download the album here. 

...Like Clockwork

Queens Of The Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork

#4

It sounds stupid to say that a band with the stature, heft and reputation of Queens Of The Stone Age could produce a sleeper hit, but, in the case of their new album …Like Clockwork, that's pretty much exactly what's happened.

The album, released back in June, was a slower record than many expected, built around the same sludgy, but groovy as hell riffs that Josh Homme & Co. have made their own over the years. It sat with people, demanding repeated listens as the months went on and slowly but surely wormed its way into people's affections.

This is the most complete Queens Of The Stone Age album since 2003's Songs For The Deaf. It's not as bombastic as their early work, but more nuanced and, dare we say, a touch more mature.

The likes of 'If I Had A Tail’, which features guest vocals from Arctic Monkeys' mainman Alex Turner as well Queens regulars Mark Lanegan and Nick Olivieri, is a moody classic.

Dave Grohl is back drumming with the band once more, giving this album the kind of power and presence that only he can, while bassist Michael Shuman and guitarist and keyboardist Dean Fertita, who were making their recording bows with the band, add purpose and weight to many of the tracks.

Lyrically, frontman Homme is on majestic form, confronting his recent life-threatening operation head on in a series of tracks, including the brutally brilliant 'I Appear Missing'.

A real return to form, this is Queens' most vital-sounding album yet. 

Best Track: 'I Appear Missing'

You can download the record here.

Settle

Disclosure - Settle

#3

By 2010, Myspace was already receding in the public’s consciousness, giving way to the more popular social media channels of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. At its peak of popularity, there were various musical success stories such as Lily Allen & Arctic Monkeys, but it had become saturated and it looked as though its days as a platform for launching the careers of aspiring new artists might be numbered. But it still had something to offer for two young brothers from Surrey.

2010 was the year Guy and Howard Lawrence first uploaded tracks including ‘Offline Dexterity’ to the online platform, it’s soulful, garage-influenced sound soon being picked up by online blogs, who nicknamed their sound ‘Lovestep’. By 2012, their song ‘Latch’ was becoming a massive club hit and sneaking its way onto mainstream radio, followed up early this year by the staggeringly brilliant ‘White Noise’, featuring another promising, up-and-coming act in AlunaGeorge. Finally in June their debut, Settle, hit the shelves, crashing straight into the album chart at No.1.

That’s an achievement for any debut, but Disclosure have not enjoyed the promotional benefits of, say, an X Factor contestant, instead taking the time to allow their reputation to build in the clubs and spread via word of mouth, then radio, before releasing their album. This is clearly an approach that has served them well, because the most striking thing about Settle is how accomplished the record is for a debut effort, especially when you take into account that Guy and Howard had just turned 22 and 19 respectively.

The hit rate on this album is phenomenally high and the collaborators have been extremely well chosen. In addition to the already mentioned AlunaGeorge there are appearances from Sam Smith, Eliza Doolittle, Jamie Woon, Jessie Ware, Edward MacFarlane, Sasha Keeble and Sinead Harnett, but the real gem on the record is ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’, featuring the brilliant London Grammar.

Right from the beginning as the track ‘Intro’ segues into 'When A Fire Starts To Burn’, there’s an immediate freshness to Disclosure’s sound: influenced as it is by the UK Garage scene of the early 90s, there’s a lot more going on here, with nods to acid house, dubstep and the deep house of the Chicago scene spearheaded by the likes of Frankie Knuckles.

But it’s also accessible, infectious and irreverent; the brothers seem completely unburdened by any kind of outside expectation and the result is a record that sounds like it was as much fun to make as it is to listen to.

Other highlights on the record include the Eliza Doolittle collaboration ‘You & Me’, the acid-house flavoured ‘Grab Her!’ and deep house banger ‘Stimulation’, but really the entire album is packed with great tunes and our advice would simply be this: just buy it. Because if you let 2013 pass you by without adding this to your record collection, you really will be missing something special.

Best Track: 'White Noise'

Settle is out now, available in stores or to download here. 

Random Access Memories

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

#2

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last twelve months, you will no doubt already be aware of the way the ingenious marketing campaign unfolded: the teaser spots in the ad breaks on Saturday Night Live, the billboard advertisements on Sunset Strip, the Coachella video etc.

But in the case of Daft Punk, the surprise wasn’t just the fact they had re-emerged. It was what they had re-emerged with.

Picture this: you are an artist that has been pivotal in determining the direction of an entire genre. You are responsible for producing not one, but two albums that have been credited for completely changing the game. Your acclaim is so universal, your influence so widespread, that everywhere you look you see your ideas being copied. What do you do next?

Daft Punk’s debut, Homework, is arguably the record that took dance music out of the clubs and onto mainstream radio. Their follow-up, Discovery, was such a leap forward in style and substance it has been described as the genre’s equivalent to Sergeant Pepper’s…, and while their third effort, Human After All, wasn’t exactly lauded as a masterpiece at the time of its release, the accompanying live show for their Alive 2007 tour changed the rules for what a live experience could be for a dance act.

So, after a break of 6 years, they returned….with a disco record. Not only that, but in order to achieve the sound they were looking for, they realised that the way they had been used to working just wasn’t going to cut it. Mastering the use of samplers, drum machines and synthesisers is one thing, but making a live recording from scratch is a another ball game completely. In essence, they went right back to square one.

The first thing that hits you as you listen to Random Access Memories is how expensive everything sounds, and there’s a reason for this: Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo weren’t exactly short of a few quid, but they also didn’t have a record deal. Regardless, they reportedly spent over $1 million of their own cash to make this record. Was it worth it? Yes. Yes it was.

As well as the fact that the sound has been finely crafted in a range of the world’s best recording studios, they have drafted in some heavyweight session musicians like Omar Hakim on drums and Nathan East on bass guitar. But it’s the collaborators they’ve chosen that proves to be the making of this record, particularly Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers.

This record is in part a homage to their heroes, but it’s also an experiment, a gamble even. With a global army of fans expecting another Discovery, making a record like this was always going to risk disappointing some people, but what the French duo have done here is make a Daft Punk record with live instruments instead of samples, and viewed that way, Random Access Memories makes perfect sense.

Best Track: 'Giorgio By Moroder'

Random Access Memories is out now, available in stores or to download here. 

AM

Arctic Monkeys - AM

#1

Unlike most bands heading into the studio to record their fifth album, it felt like Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O'Malley and Matt Helders were on a real upward curve. Their fourth album Suck It And See had been hailed as a return to form (whether this is fair on their 2009 effort Humbug, which has some outstanding tracks, is a matter of opinion), they'd headlined festivals across the world and released a series of one-off tracks, including 'R U Mine?' and the following 'Evil Twin', two tracks which were hailed as some of their best work to date.

Those singles hinted at a dirtier,garage rock-inspired direction, quicker in tempo and harking back to the grimy riffs of The Stooges and MC5. However, the resulting album, previewed in early summer by stomping single 'Do I Wanna Know?' was something different entirely.

From the moment, the ominous kick-drums that begin 'Do I Wanna Know?' swagger out of the speakers, AM doesn't let up in its brilliance. It draws influences from far and wide with Black Sabbath and The Black Keys playing as a big a role as the likes of Outkast and Dr Dre's discography, with towering guitars meshing perfectly alongside a rhythm section that has never sounded tighter.

'One For The Road' is a slinky, brooding love song with some of Turner's best lyrical phrasing to date. Admitting in interviews beforehand that he'd decide to focus on 'boy meets girl', some of the quips are both laugh out loud funny ('From the bottom of your heart/The relegation zone…') and supremely clever ('I knew this would be on the cards'/I knew you wouldn't fold').

'Arabella' is just as witty and catchy, with the singer's descriptive powers reaching new levels of brilliance, same for 'I Want It All'.

This album's quieter moments are just as thrilling as the sauntering rock songs, 'No.1 Party Anthem' and 'Mad Sounds' are tender vignettes full of poise and poetry, while 'Fireside' is a weird, Lennon-esque, ditty.

One of the album's undoubted highlights is recent single 'Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?', a track built around one of the band's groovier riff to date and another that brilliantly captures a tale of late-night bad behaviour that just about everyone can relate to. 
Throughout the album, Turner is on stunning lyrical form; he's grown from the ultimate observationist into something far, far more interesting. As with many of the lyrics on Suck It And See, there's a sweetness and hopefulness tone to his words, but with plenty of underlying darkness.

The playing is just as accomplished. Matt Helders proves once again that he can turn his hand to just about any style, powering some tracks with heavy-set drumming and humming away in the background on others. Nick O'Malley's basslines are higher in the mix than ever, giving the songs a real groove and dynamic energy, while Turner and Jamie Cook's guitars fizz along superbly.

If there was an iota of doubt left that Arctic Monkeys are the real deal, a band who will be talked about in the same breath as the Stones, Oasis and The Smiths, then it's gone now. Sleek, smart and supremely good from the first second to the last, this is an absolute triumph. 

Best Track: 'One For The Road'

You can download the record here.