2013 in Music: My Top 10 Albums of the Year

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

Genre: Classical

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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.

Recommended.

10. Evil Friends

Artist: Portugal. The Man

Genre: Psychedelic, Progressive

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Could it be we got lost in the summer?
I know, you know, that it’s over
But you’re still there
Treading water.

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.

Recommended.

09. Origins

Artist: God Is An Astronaut

Genre: Post-rock

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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.

Recommended.

08. Reflektor

Artist: Arcade Fire

Genre: Indie, Art Rock, Disco

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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.

Highly recommended.

07. Trouble Will Find Me

Artist: The National

Genre: Indie, Post-Punk

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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.

Highly recommended.

06. Ghost on Ghost

Artist: Iron & Wine

Genre: Indie, Folk, Jazz, Blues

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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.

05. Spaces

Artist: Nils Frahm

Genre: Contemporary Classical

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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.

Highly recommended.

04. The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)

Artist: Steven Wilson

Genre: Progressive, Prog Rock

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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.

Highly recommended.

03. Memorial

Artist: Russian Circles

Genre: Post-Metal

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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.

02. Kveikur

Artist: Sigur Rós

Genre: Ambient, Post-Rock, Dream-Pop

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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

Artist: Hammock

Genre: Ambient, Post-Rock

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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.

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Upward Over The Mountain

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It is not always that you find what you’re looking for. And it is even rare to love madly something which you weren’t looking for. Let’s face it, as you try to get yourself high or let yourself drown, in music, a song about your school, college or your parents isn’t always your favourite option. This has nothing to do with how you or I feel about our mothers. You aren’t going to love an artist singing softly about how amazing your mother is when others out there are hypnotising people with stairways leading to heaven or highways leading to hell. Not unless you’re listening to a man called Samuel Beam. I still maintain, this isn’t a theme I was madly scrounging my iPod for. I do that for the Floyds and the Zeppelins, the Cures and the Smiths. They make me happy, they make me sad. They talk to me about things I want to talk about, things I want to listen to, things I want others to take note of and things I want to outrage about. And they do that outrageously well.

But here I am quietly lost in thoughts, when I could be doing a million other things, while listening to Samuel Beam talk to his mother. Thinking about Samuel, his mother, myself and my mother, while Samuel is serenely strumming his guitar away in the soft background of my mind. The softness of the piece creates a sense of calmness, of happiness, of peace and being safe, things you’d associate your childhood and especially your mother with. But this song isn’t about mine or Samuel’s childhood. It’s about our mothers and their lives. So it’s not always calm or peaceful. Not always happy. And herein lies the beauty and the genius of this piece. There isn’t a single instance where you’re agitated while you’re listening to it. Not once will your blood pressure spike as you get charged with adrenaline. You’re always at peace. You’re listening to some really shit stuff that our mothers face as they live their lives but the atmosphere is never violent, never beyond breaking point. It’s just…calm. Like an ocean. Like your mother, like my mother.

This song absorbs our sadness as we get lost in the sorrows of our mothers, just like our mothers absorb her and our sorrows all into herself and still manage to smile when there’s nothing in our lives worth smiling for. You smile back for her and moments later you smile with her. It might be for a moment but you’re in that peaceful shrine of your childhood again. Man hasn’t been able invent the time machine. These words I speak are immortal. Maybe someday some blessed soul chances upon these words of mine when man has in fact managed to make his own time machine. But, although highly backward, we people, of this era, have always been able to travel back in time, if even for the smallest of moments. Those moments you spend with your mother in the evenings of her life and you in your noons, and you get to watch her smile, every single of those moments takes you back in time and believe me, she must have time travelled innumerably more than you ever will.

As Samuel points out, we can tell our mothers not to worry as much we want, it’s futile. She’ll worry. We may have gone just outside the house for a walk in the evening or million miles away fighting a war in some foreign land, she’ll worry. She might worry more or she might worry less, depending on the gravity of the situation, but she’ll worry. We may be rich or we may be poor, we may be kids or we may be 60-year-olds, as long as she’s able to breathe and able to think, she’ll worry. Leave her alone, when you could’ve been with her and she’ll take it in her stride and relive the moments she spent with you back in the old days, the good days. Leave her alone as go out to play as a kid or leave her alone as you fly upwards over the mountain, she won’t complain. She’ll keep her world to herself, keep us in her heart, keep the memories she made with us, from the time we breathed from within her body, in her heart. She’ll keep and relive every single such moment for as long as the Almighty would let her. And even when the Almighty too gets tired of His game and wishes to take her away, she still won’t hold it against Him or us. But whenever He does do it, she’ll still worry. About us. There she is, moments away from having everything she cherishes snatched away from her, yet her eyes and heart can only worry about us. You’d think He really messed up when He created Her. That nobody should be as good and as selfless as Her. No-one deserves to have someone like Her. But He gave us each other and that is something which you or I can’t ever thank Him or Her enough. Life has been a privilege of the highest order, however hard shit might hit us in life, because of that. Nothing can change that. The joy is forever.

“Mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to
Mother forgive me, I sold your car for the shoes that I gave you

So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
Sons could be birds, taken broken up to the mountain”

Of Beard and Beauty

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You look at Samuel Beam for the first time. You are impressed. You are thinking. Samuel Beam is an ordinary man with an extraordinary beard. You are intrigued. You come to know that he makes some music as well. You are impressed. You listen. You remember the moment you looked at him for the first time and what you thought of him. You are thinking. You are sure you were the stupidest thing on this planet at that moment. Then you listen some more. You look at the clock. It’s confusing. You take a peek outside the window. You are amazed. The sun is coming up. But it was night just a mo…ah. You understand now. You smile. Many years pass. Life keeps changing, sometimes for the good, and sometimes, for the worse. But one day, you realise something. At the end of the day, however good or bad, you are still listening to Samuel Beam. And you’re still smiling.

Homesick

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You’re sitting and you’re thinking. The mind just wouldn’t stop, would it? At least not in my case. There’s always a bit of chatter going on somewhere in my mind’s back alley and it’s relentless. Like a bee buzzing near the ears, close enough for you to listen but just out of your reach so you can’t get rid of it. Round and round, it hovers around you. But then, a song starts. The number of things that may go through your mind, depending on what kind of song it is, are endless. But when Homesick begins, everything stops. Time stands still. The mind thinks nothing. Nothing. As it starts, it tickles your senses sensuously. That’s probably where the trance is set in motion. I wouldn’t know for sure, I’ve never managed to break free from it. Slowly, the walls begin to close around you. The Cure are trying to strangle you, to drown you. They’re pushing you deeper and deeper. Where? I don’t know. But the voice is breaking down. The air is getting thinner. I’m at the bottom. I see nothing, hear nothing. I’m still alive and floating in the deep dark sea. But in that dark, from somewhere, a tune is rearing its head. The sea shivers with a sense of anticipation. I’m excited. What could it be? I wonder. Then, it starts. The Bang! The hair on the skin stands on edge as The Cure throw all modesty to the wind and let the music go wild. A chill rushes through the spine. But the tune is still picking up! It’s filling my world. It’s everywhere now. It’s above me and its below me. Its ahead and its behind. I see it now, see everything. The Cure have created an all-out concert at the bottom of the damned ocean! The lights are blinding and the noise is now deafening. The crowd is out. They are drowning in Smith’s melodious sorrow but they don’t even care. Their eyes and ears are all taken. The boys are already on stage. The stage is floating. We are floating. The concert is floating. The cheers, the noise, it just wouldn’t stop. The hands just wouldn’t go down. “Hey hey! Just one more and I’ll walk away…” The noise reaches a crescendo. It’s pandemonium. Robert Smith is killing everybody. He is hitting every single one of the crowd with darts drugged with overwhelming sorrow. The trance is complete. We are all linked. It’s just the band and us now. Nothing in between. Now nothing can break the atmosphere. We follow them to the end of the earth. And back again. The underwater procession of euphoric depression is all-encompassing. That’s the only thing in our minds and nothing else matters. There’s just one world, the world of Robert Smith. It’s tragic and dead and in that we’re alive. Rhythmically, we all nod and we all sing. It goes on for hours, days, weeks. We never kept track of time. It felt both like an age and a second. And within that time, the moonlight had managed to trickle down every single layer of Smith’s melancholic symphony and had finally made its way to the bottom of the ocean. It hits us. We bathe in it. It wakes us up. We open our eyes. We look up. The Cure are taking a bow. Smith is bidding goodbye. We blink. They’re gone. The night is over.