David Bowie – The Next Day
Well, obviously. Some years belong to certain artists, and so 2013 was Bowie’s. His surprise comeback record sounds like the great album he didn’t quite get round to making in the 1980s — ‘Dancing Out in Space’ might have been rediscovered in an archive of 1988 recordings (in a good way) — and best of all, this was a revival which just kept going, via some inexplicably controversial videos, the happy coincidence (?) of the V&A’s David Bowie Is exhibition, and an EP of remixes and bonus songs to close out the year.
Savages – Silence Yourself
It sags slightly in the middle, but this is a fine debut from a studiedly cool — but no less enjoyable for that — new band. There’s something almost quaint about the band’s overt attention to its public image (moody photography, monochrome LP sleeve and stage outfits): not for nothing is their best song here a declaration of the new band’s intent: ‘I Am Here‘. Also responsible for two of my favourite gigs this year (one with Iggy Pop: quite the lineup).
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Overlong by far, though that’s hardly a new problem for Arcade Fire, who like to bludgeon you into believing their choruses are as good as they think they are. The title song contains at least three points where it could come to an end — but no. That said, there are some lovely songs here, as always; it’s just that the sheer length of each one, and the double LP as a whole, detracts (detrakts?) significantly from their impact.
Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Harsh and scary, and very good indeed. Olympics nothing: most particularly on the concluding ‘Hidden Xs‘, Fuck Buttons need spaceships to land and disgorge hordes of hostile creatures fore these songs to find appropriate action to soundtrack.
Barn Owl – V
I wandered around heatwave-struck Glasgow this July with this record on repeat on my headphones. Utterly inappropriate: it’s better-suited to clambering through dilapidated buildings on stormwhipped industrial islands. Which I also did (but without the appropriate soundtrack).
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Though it contains some of The National’s weakest ever songs, where the customarily excellent lyrics are supplanted by banal rhyming couplets (‘She’s a griever, a believer / It’s not a fever, it’s a freezer’), Trouble also contains some of their finest in the wonderfully intense ‘Sea of Love‘ (in which they set out to demonstrate how many crescendos a song can have) and the lopsided, near-unbearably melancholic ‘Pink Rabbits’.
Songs and singles:
Two of these don’t actually have videos, and Cut Copy’s will drive you swiftly insane, but the Youtube links are there for the intrepid.
Glasser – ‘Shape‘, from Interiors
Julia Holter – ‘Into the Green Wild‘, from Loud City Song
Cut Copy – ‘Let Me Show You Love‘, from Free Your Mind
Neko Case – ‘Man‘, from The Worse Things Get The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight The More I Love You
Annie – ‘Invisible‘, from the A&R EP
Frightened Rabbit – ‘Backyard Skulls‘, from Pedestrian Verse
Julianna Barwick, London St Giles Church, 29th August (photo: kDamo, from Flickr)
The Knife, London Roundhouse, 9th May (photo: Passetti, from Flickr)
With its dubious dance routines, lipsynching and stagecraft gags, The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual tour didn’t really provide gigs per se, and backfired as much as it prompted questions about what a gig should be. Nonetheless, it’s the show that’s stayed with me most this year — even if it did feel, as the smoke rose, multicoloured lasers streaked out, and ‘Silent Shout’s familiar bubbling keyboard line emerged, that the whole thing was a 90-minute warm-up we’d had to endure before getting to hear the big hit.
Swans/Ben Frost/Grouper/Xiu Xiu, London Koko, 4th April (photo: DGJones, from Flickr)