In this little piece, I have attempted to put forward a list of albums that I’ve loved the most out of the many albums that have come out this year. Loving an album is one thing but ranking them against another album which you love just as much is probably the hardest part in this business. Of the eleven albums I’ve listed here, I love all of them a lot. But where’s the fun if there’s no competition via an opinion? Therefore the rankings. I have given my customary disclaimer and now you can delve into the list. As always, good or bad, would love to hear all opinions. Happy new year!
Honorable Mention: In a Time Lapse
Artist: Ludovico Einaudi
Breathtaking. There are artists that make you contemplate on things you never would have thought much about, that make you see the abyss of despair and the heights of glory like few other and then there’s Ludovico Einaudi, a man who is out to give you joy. There are many way to describe Einaudi, acclaimed and renowned that he is. But to me, it’s too much information, too much noise. At its pure undressed crux of matter, Ludovico Einaudi has always been a man devoted to give you pure and unbridled joy. And that’s what In a Time Lapse does.
It would sound a bit funny if I proclaim that this may well be Einaudi’s most fulfilling work yet but I would proclaim the very same. Because it is. Many times in his studio pieces, a bit of dullness used to creep into his creations as the album grew. Not this time. He seems to have done away with such pieces and instead focused on polished perfection. With violins ever so beautifully complementing his kingly piano work and the album continuously tiptoeing into various recesses of your mind, this is an album that is impossible to stop once you’ve started playing. A joyous beauty.
10. Evil Friends
Artist: Portugal. The Man
Genre: Psychedelic, Progressive
Could it be we got lost in the summer?
I know, you know, that it’s over
But you’re still there
Most addictive start I’ve had to an album of 2013, after Sigur Rós’ Brennisteinn. And as they say, morning shows the day. This is PTM’s eighth studio album but it might as well have been their third, an album number where artists and bands usually create their most fresh as well as polished work – such is this album’s magnificence.
The album, before you’ve caught your breath after Plastic Soldiers, marches into Creep In a T-Shirt. This one is catchy as well and very joyous and free-spirited. By this time, you are fully hooked. Danger Mouse’s inputs for Evil Friends has obviously been bang on target. One by one PTM pile on beauty and imagination through lots of rock, pop, psychedelic and electronica. The variety of thought and content throughout the record is simply breathtaking. A splendid splendid album.
Artist: God Is An Astronaut
God Is An Astronaut is probably my favourite post-rock band by some distance. It’s my go-to band when I’m in the mood for some of this genre. It’s been like that for years now. So every GIAA release is a pretty big deal for me. What was most surprising for me with Origins is the induction of synth elements into their repertoire. Initially I wasn’t too keen into it but by the time I was done with the album, I totally got what they did and why. I’m not sure if they will retain it for future releases but for this particular album, it seemed appropriate. It dealt with science fiction. And such music just felt right. What’s great is it falls right inside the ballpark of music GIAA specialize in so it wasn’t a very stark change. It’s just an addition and if it persists, an evolution.
The album is majestic. The concept of the album is very well elucidated though their trademark brand of music with a picture of humanity in an era too far ahead of our own very well painted. The tracks aren’t too long or too short. Just about enough to convey a segment of the story and quickly, we’re onto the next segment. It’s like fast-paced blood-pulsating futuristic sci-fi, except, through music. And it’s brilliant. Transmissions, Spiral Code and Red Moon Lagoon are particularly great.
Artist: Arcade Fire
Genre: Indie, Art Rock, Disco
As it starts, it sounds like a cross between The National (minus the baritone) and an electronic music group. The Arcade Fire album that I cherish the most is of course The Suburbs – a masterpiece. Compared to that album maybe just “You Already Know” comes close, in style. But bravely enough, they have moved on. Point is if it’s for the better or the worse. Clearly it’s been for something really good, if not better. (Sorry, how do you better The Suburbs? Just how?) And when I say something good, I mean it. It’s different but no less iconic than The Suburbs. They have picked a central theme (reflectors) and have woven a web with it, around it, around you and around me. It’s like an all-night seventies’ disco with reflectors instead of exits. You are not allowed to exit once you’ve entered their disco and thankfully, you don’t feel the need to. And just when you think of calling it off (which happens almost never except maybe as the album nears its end), you walk into a reflector, have a hard look at yourself in disbelief of your insanity and walk right back to the centre of the maddening engrossing frenzy and the disco goes on into the night. Beware, this album is an addiction.
Personally, I still haven’t gotten much into “Awful Sound” and “It’s Never Over” and it is those two I meant to refer to when I said you might think of exiting the disco midway. But apart from those momentary lapses of sanity, there’s not a single negative you can put your finger on. It’s brilliant, vintage and beautiful. Some tracks are genius (We Exist, Normal Person), some are catchy (Here Comes The Night Time, You Already Know) and the rest are plain classy indie.
07. Trouble Will Find Me
Artist: The National
Genre: Indie, Post-Punk
More than class and beauty, The National have always been an enigma. Like an unsolved puzzle you want to solve, to put aside your work and get ready to solve and somehow between trying to figure them out and sitting in amazement one hour after, you are just never able to fully solve. Maybe that’s their charm that keeps testing you and pulling you back again and again. That and the sheer genius of every single of the songs and albums. Trouble Will Find Me is just another marvellous feather in their much decorated
cap fedora. If you are familiar with their previous works, you don’t need an explanation about this one, not because of the obvious reason that you know how good they are but because this is just like how they are. Classic National. To the uninitiated, first rule of listening to these guys, just like I’d advise regarding listening to The Cure, is to pore properly into their lyrics. That’s their specialty, their unique brand of magic that separates them from all petty musicians of the world. Poignant and piercing lyrics delivered right into the centre of your heart through the dagger of Matt Berninger’s timeless baritone. It’s hard to pick a favourite because they are all so good but I’d like to point Graceless for special attention because it’s the one I come back to again and again. An all-round perfect and satisfying album, one that you can play in loop while you forget about the world.
06. Ghost on Ghost
Artist: Iron & Wine
Genre: Indie, Folk, Jazz, Blues
More than being pleased or outraged, I was stunned by Ghost on Ghost. With every track I was getting past, my disbelief grew into amazement and by the time I was done with the album, I was positively stunned. If I had to bow before any musician this year for being brave, it is Samuel Beam. And he wasn’t just brave but unbelievably successful. He had built a world of solitude within austere walls and inside these walls, he and his fans had long been warm and comfortable. Many big bands spend their entire lifespan within similar walls of their own brand of music. Yet only a few curious and brave musicians dare to explore beyond their comfort zone. For Samuel Beam, it was more of a necessity. He says his last two albums contained an anxious tension he wanted to move away from. And he did. Unshackling himself from the melancholy and the gloom, the sober and the quietude, he lets himself soar like never before into an indie sky littered ever so casually with jazzy clouds. He soars further and he breathes the blues in. A bit further and there’s a bit of obvious Sam Beam folk and even R&B in the air. And it’s a very relaxed day under a joyous sky. The sun is bright, the clouds are smiling and I’m lying down on this Samuel Beam Sunday in a Samuel Beam beach, casually flicking through these Samuel Beam songs, being happy with myself and life. Basically Samuel Beam has killed it. He has killed me and he has owned music with this masterpiece, his genius.
In my opinion, this album is right up there with his very best and more importantly and amazingly, it is the polar opposite of his very best works. Highly recommended.
Artist: Nils Frahm
Genre: Contemporary Classical
Nils Frahm’s Spaces is not a brand new LP since it contains both old and new stuff nor is it a live album per se although it does contain live recordings of his performances in different spaces. It’s somewhere in between all of them and wherever it is, it’s perhaps a really beautiful space. And that’s what album is about, exploring various spaces.
For a quick grasp of Spaces, although unwise advice in more ways than one, one might try the 4-odd minute Hammers. It won’t disappoint you because it’s beautiful. But why would you do that? Instead, if time is of the essence in making up your mind on whether or not to give it a try but at the same time you are prepared to have the best possible peek into Nils Frahm’s Spaces, you should look for something more. His 17-odd minute masterpiece – For – Peter – Toilet Brushes – More is just that track. Either way, by this time, I’m hoping you are hooked with Spaces. Lucky for you, this album is so much more than those two. With a total one hour and sixteen minutes of contemplative, engaging and downright mesmerizing music that can set the day’s tone in the soothing quietude of early morn or lift the day’s pains in the arms of a haunting night, Nils Frahm has yet again created a masterpiece for the soul.
04. The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)
Artist: Steven Wilson
Genre: Progressive, Prog Rock
Few things sadden me more than the lack of new Porcupine Tree albums and while I love almost everything Steven Wilson creates, I take every non-Porcupine Tree release of his with a sigh, knowing the wait just got that much longer. The only non-Porcupine Tree creation that I’ve loved like a Porcupine Tree album was Insurgentes. So when the year began with *another* Steven Wilson album, I was lukewarm towards it.
Until I was blown away.
Luminol, The Holy Drinker, The Watchmaker – three jam tracks that exemplify what Steven Wilson’s progressive style is all about although not what the album is all about because the album has both progressive presence with these long jam tracks but also Wilson’s song-oriented prog ballad presence with the shorter ones. It’s like watching Steven Wilson juggle six balls of two different colours and he does that with flying colours.
The concept of the album lies in ghost stories. Wilson has cited the 19th century ghost stories as literary influences. The bass-heavy jazz fusion opener Luminol captivates the listener with the long jam, waving in and out with macabre lyrics. It is followed by Drive Home which is the ballad-y side of Wilson at work. It’s pretty good though you feel you want to have more of those sensuous jams. Before long, the wish is granted. The Holy Drinker is perhaps the best track of this album and one of Steven Wilson’s all-time bests. With a myriad of instruments used ever so liberally and all the energy poured into this ever so profusely, with lyrics so dark and the jams so stark, there really was no other alternative. It is the song of the album. Then comes, again, a ballad-y counterpart, The Pin Drop. Again, quite pretty but I really love those jams. Enter, The Watchmaker. This is perhaps the track, from the viewpoint of the nature of the album, which is the most complete – balanced perfectly by the tranquility and the gravity of prog music – all the while unfurling a very Poe-like saga of a watchmaker murdering his wife. And then comes the finale – The Raven That Refused To Sing. This is perhaps the only ballad-y track that doesn’t make you yearn for the jams. In fact, you feel sad while listening to it, even though it has been a journey of death and horror, it still was a beautiful one. And Wilson is now waving a silent goodbye. It’s over. What an album.
Artist: Russian Circles
It starts with what seems like an eulogy for loss and loss is what I feel the central theme of this album is. Deficit unfolds with a crushing punch as if with a singular motive to project before you a godforsaken world at its end. It reminds me of scenes from Viggo Mortensen’s The Road. Their ability to create such rich textures for the imagination is strong as ever and with every ensuing track they seem to build on their seemingly unsurpassable pieces of pure untouchable and unforgettable art.
1777 is quite simply and deservedly, the best song of this album. Drums welcome you and lead you to guitars and bass and just as you get familiar with your surroundings, they thrust upon you, for an engrossing seven and half minutes, a world full of loss, and towards its end, resignation. It’s so morose and sad it’s beautiful. Nothing that follows is as great as 1777 and there isn’t a need to. They have picked a central theme, an emotion, a space in your mind and they have set about building a Russian Circles theme park in it. Where Deficit and 1777 intend to blow you away with your sudden realization of life-changing loss, a sober and melancholic beauty like Cheyenne intends to wash away all your fears into the lake of eternal gloom and make you accept your doom. Burial is angry. It is where you and Russian Circles become one and seem to object together against all the sorrows of the world but in fact they are just moving you further closer to death. Ethel is more like an ode for afterlife, with the music in it suggesting a peaceful heaven. It’s too beautiful to be about loss and death. Which means Russian Circles have successfully killed you. Lebaron is about you, in heaven, contemplating on your life before the afterlife and trying to make sense of everything that transpired. That angers you, gets your blood racing and this is reflected in the rocky elements of this piece. This brings us (me, you and Russian Circles) to the final piece of the saga – the Chelsea Wolfe-featuring Memorial. As Lebaron suggested, even in afterlife you couldn’t find peace and this song sets about to give you just that. The voice of Wolfe brings about the beautiful finality of the story as an angel touches your forehead and puts you into eternal restful sleep. The angel sheds a tear as she puts a rugged stone in the garden of Eden, your memorial.
Best post-metal album of the year. Highly recommended.
Artist: Sigur Rós
Genre: Ambient, Post-Rock, Dream-Pop
The grandest album to come out all year and arguably the most other-worldly. It’s trademark Sigur Rós. The moment I plugged my iPod in, pulled the volume full up and Brennisteinn started, there were goosebumps. Lots of them. It was like the last minute of the last march of the last king of Planet Kveikur as he is about to fight the baddest demon of all skies, a battle he has no chance of winning, and the whole wide universe is watching with bated breath. Grander than the grandest scene. The next moment I pulled out my iPod, an hour had passed, Ofbirta had just ended, I had regained my senses and was just transported back to Planet Earth. Since then, again and again have I travelled across space to worlds whose language I understand not but I don’t feel like I don’t understand those worlds. Those are worlds that have been very much my home ever since Sigur Rós created them this year. Something tells me they will forever be.
I don’t have much else to say because such is their music. Kveikur is not just an album, it’s an experience. Highly recommended.
01. Oblivion Hymns
Genre: Ambient, Post-Rock
This was an album I’d been waiting for months. There is no bottom to my love for Hammock. No end. It just goes on and on. So obviously I had been desperately waiting for this album. The wait was both exciting and somewhat frightening. Frightening? I’m not joking. Expectations can be tedious. An album that you would have loved had you listened to it right after you listened to another one of their albums, might not feel the same if there is an added baggage of escalated expectations pulling it down. The longer the wait, the more mythical the band became for me and thus the stratospheric heights of expectations. Finally the day did arrive and I was left speechless. This is not a phrase I’m using to say how good the album was, no sir. I was honestly unable to speak for a while. Heard the album again, and again, and yet again. At the fifth time did I open my mouth and let out a gasp or a cry of joy, I’m not sure which. But I was surely smiling. It was raining outside and I was standing in the balcony and smiling at the skies and the clouds. They had managed to account for my ludicrous expectations and had brought out a package so alien and yet so humane, it really was beyond mere words. Probably why they rarely use words to convey their thoughts. An unnecessary and obsolete medium of conveying emotions of such grandeur and grace. Hammock are beyond all that.
The album starts off just like the names of the first and second tracks say. In fact, the whole album pans out just like the title of each track, in the order of each track. It’s a story. And like most stories, there are various ways to interpret it. My senses can see two possible stories here. The grander version would be the birth and death of the universe. The humane version would be the birth and death of man. Both begin in oblivion and end in oblivion. And these are hymns for every stage of that journey.
You do not remember about the time you were born. It’s just blurry and foggy. The first few months of your childhood are the same, foggy. All this while, your heart has been the most alive it has ever been and will probably ever be. Full of hope and careless wonder at everyone and everything. Then a time comes when you are face to face with the realities of life and within you there is an explosion. It’s quiet but powerful. The pieces of your mind are all in contradiction, in confusion. They float through this empty world which is like a valley with no echo, no answers. You are absent, lost, shored against the ruins, drowning in all directions. Time passes. And then one day, you begin to see pieces of answers everywhere. But there is still no solution and you’re still stuck in the middle of nowhere. Whatever hope you had left or had arisen recently becomes your undoing, it kills you inside even more, becomes your loss. At the end, you are defeated by life (the lyrics of Tres Dominé) but you accept this defeat (the tone of Tres Dominé). You once again return back to oblivion.
Contemplative, sensuous and perfectly ambient – my album of the year.