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11th December 2013

Albums of the Year 2013: Top 10

A countdown of the best of 2013.

10. Vakula – You’ve Never Been To Konotop (Selected works 2009-2012)

On You’ve Never… the Ukrainian producer draws upon a staggeringly wide palette of influences to paint a personal masterpiece. Whether exploring bubbly 303 acid on the title track or ambient space on ‘Hope Soon To Be There’, everything’s very Vakula. Maybe it’s the weirdness: snippets of dog barks and foreign voices punctuate tracks. ‘For Juju…’ continues the theme, combining eerie dissonance with pompous brass to sound like a UFO nationalist anthem. Maybe it’s the live feel. Yes, real instruments are played by those rare things, musicians. The end result is a sound Vakula can feel proud to call his own. Ben Glover

9. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

Cerulean Salt is the second offering from Alabaman songwriter Katie Crutchfield. In far less dramatic circumstances than Bob Dylan, Waxahatchee have gone electric. Although it embraces a (slightly) more defined sound than American Weekend, at its roots this is still a pretty bare and lo-fi album. Simplistic fuzzy guitars are the backdrop over which Crutchfield lays intricate melodies, with her voice just on the edge of breaking up. Sonically it harpers back to grungier times but also manages to balance the rough with soothing and rather delicate moments; ‘Swan Dive’ could comfortably find its way onto a Rilo Kiley record without any hoo-ha. At just over half an hour, this painfully honest and nostalgic account is totally engrossing and rather grand, in a small-scale sort of way. Tom Ingham

8. Queens of the Stoneage – …Like Clockwork

…Like Clockwork comes six years after Queens of the Stone Age’s previous album, Era Vulgaris, and bursts with the disparate influences and inspired guest appearances that have taken more than half a decade to ferment. There are typical moments of sleaze alongside softer moments of reflection, and the gorgeous arpeggios of what sounds like a guitar played through pink bubble wrap feature in the bittersweet ‘Kalopsia’. The stomping lead single, ‘My God is the Sun,’ is like driving down an arid Californian highway in a whiskey soaked soft top. Dark and disco, anthemic and personal, …Like Clockwork was worth the wait. Bernadette Chapman

7. Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob

Heartthrob is a cohesive and coherent piece of pop bliss from Canadian duo Tegan and Sara. Ditching their guitar orientated brand of indie, the pair have come up with their most reflective and relatable album yet. Tracks like ‘I Was A Fool’ and ‘Now I’m All Messed Up’ are a little bitter thematically, but backed up by warm beats and lush synths the results are super sweet. ‘Closer’ introduces fans to a brighter and fresher sound T&S; full of 80’s glow but without any of the podge. Don’t let the Taylor Swift duets put you off; this is a serious slab of pop perfection. Tom Ingham

6. Darkside – Psychic

To call Nicolas Jaar a genius is no exaggeration. At 23 he has a literature degree from Brown; the extraordinary Space is Only Noise; countless acclaimed remixes; and record label ‘Clown and Sunset’ under his belt. Now Jaar has teamed up with classmate Dave Harrington and formed new label ‘Other People’ to broaden his musical horizons. Psychic is the product of this duo. Informed by a varied catalogue of influences, Darkside have created a sound like nothing else in contemporary music. The minimal electronic influence of Ricardo Villalobos that characterised Jaar’s solo work is still apparent, but it is infused with Santana-esque, Latin-American guitar on ‘Paper Trails’ and ‘Metatron’ and the whole album is permeated with an experimental sound reminiscent of CAN’s early albums. Psychic is the sound of some strange future. Rachel Connolly

5. Jai Paul – Jai Paul

Surfacing against a backdrop of confusion and mystery back in April, the origins of this release remain unclear; the official line is that it’s a leaked collection of demos from a stolen laptop. One thing that we can be certain of, however, is that it sounds amazing. Jai Paul’s song writing prowess impressively shines through the compression issues and varying bit rates. He beautifully combines instrumentation, vocals and an array of samples into a collection of tracks that are often dreamy and mellow, with flashes of jaggedness and crunch. Quite something for unfinished demos. Patrick Hinton

4. Bonobo – The North Borders

Simon Green (aka Bonobo) returns in form through delicate bells, hints of string and a well-constructed series of tracks. With an ambient, downbeat vibe, The North Borders is certainly well produced. The gentle use of bells creates a mellow, dream-like feel, reminiscent of a semi-conscious Sunday morning sleep in. This is encapsulated in the sounds of ‘Sapphire’, where the delays compliment a truly pleasant, well-spaced sound. Whilst the album offers more vigorous beats in ‘Emkay’ and ‘Know You’, it still maintains the equilibrium, as the album ticks all the chill out boxes. Alex Fenton

3. DJ Koze – Amygdala

The 8 years it took Stefan Kozalla aka DJ Koze to release the follow up to his debut album doesn’t seem all that unreasonable when you consider what a masterpiece his second full length, Amygdala, is. The album is packed with an impressive roster of collaborators, yet the sound still remains unmistakably Koze. The mesmerizing productions on the album have a mentally displacing effect. It’s impossible not to get lost in the shimmering synths that build and fade around Apparat’s soothing vocal melody on ‘Nices Wölkchen’; Matthew Dear’s similarly emotive feature on ‘Magical Boy’ is profoundly complemented by the orchestral accompaniment. Anatomically, the amygdala is a part of the brain that helps you feel emotions. Musically, Amygdala does just the same.  Patrick Hinton

2. Kanye West – Yeezus

It’s been a rough year for Kanye. Controversial BBC interviews and mocking videos of Bound 2 by comedians alike, it’s easy to forget that Yeezus was one of the most groundbreaking albums of 2013. Driven by dissonant samples, distorted drums and synthesizers that underline West’s social commentary, the album was met with critical acclaim but a certain level of public confusion. However, it is this continued determination of West to push the boundaries of hip-hop that will ensure Yeezus is an album that has secured its place in popular music history in many years to come. Phoebe Clarke

1. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Jon Hopkins may be better known for his collaborations with Brian Eno and Coldplay, but his best work is to be found with his fourth solo album. Hopkins locked himself away for nine months to produce Immunity and the results are stunning. Essentially an album of two halves, the album’s first four cuts provide some of Hopkins most floor-focused material to date. ‘Open Eye Signal’ is a standout, a hypnotic listen propelled by pummelling percussive strikes and awash with analogue synths. Throughout the album Hopkins excels in instilling atmosphere into his work. At times – most often in the album’s increasingly ambient second half – it’s almost cinematic. In the hands of lesser musicians such a dramatic change could result in a disjointed feel and detract from the album’s overall aesthetic, but Hopkins manages to change pace masterfully. By the time mournful chord stabs of ‘Abandon Window’ signal this transition, it’s just what we’re craving. Immunity is a captivating listen, able to make sense whether it’s heard at home or in a club context. Full appreciation may require a few listens but Immunity is without doubt one of the most immersive and rewarding albums of the year. Matt Gibney

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