Top 30 best albums of 2013 (20-11)

20. Soulwax – ‘GTA V OST’

Soulwax continue to hold a very special place in the hearts of anyone who’s had the incredible fortune to have see them live. Further vindication of Soulwax’s genius came this year, with a fantastic set that formed the Radio Soulwax station in GTA V; the show-stealing highlight being their great collaboration with Pulp for this year’s record store day, ‘After You’.

19. Nine Inch Nails – ‘Hesitation Marks’

Trent Reznor and his search for perfection has led him to some fascinating places in his career, with 2013 being a huge milestone. ‘Hesitation Marks’ is the first of two records from Reznor that feature highly in this year’s list and heralded a long overdue return to the ‘Nine Inch Nails’ moniker. A complex and surprisingly emotional record, the core of ‘Hesitation Marks’ is in it’s frank and honest lyricism. There are a number of stand-outs that make it an essential listen; ‘Come Back Haunted’ is now one of finest songs in the NIN canon, ‘All Time Low’ chews and spits you out and ‘Satellite’ is ‘Let’s Dance’ meets wikileaks!

18. Queens of the Stone Age – ‘Like Clockwork…’

QOTSA had been working on a follow up to their poorly received (but actually pretty good) ‘Era Vulgaris’ for what felt like forever, with their new material being repeatedly started and scrapped a number of times. Luckily for everyone concerned the immense effort was worth it as Josh Homme has made his most cohesive record since QOTSA self-titled debut. Few of these songs are radio friendly singles (unlike their past records), but this different focus matters little, as ‘Like Clockwork…’ is a hugely satisfying album that rewards a full and patient listen. It’s a shame that many people have focused on Arctic Monkey’s ‘AM’ over ‘Like Clockwork…’, ‘AM’ is a record that has Homme’s influence all over it and isn’t for better because of it. It’s far better to listen to the man from the source!

17. Towa Tei – ‘Lucky’

Towa Tei is a legendary DJ and producer hailing from Yokohama, who has made waves this year with this superb dance record. Featuring a record sleeve and music video collaboration with infamous pop artist Yayoi Kusama and a stunning vocal contribution from Shiina Ringo, ‘Lucky’ is a hugely entertaining listen. A great throwback to 90s Shibuya-Kei dance, the music here is peppered with well selected cut and paste samples and some very charming and upbeat melodies. All in all, a fantastic listen.

16. The History of Apple Pie – ‘Out of View’

The History of Apple Pie are a shining example that despite the endless parade of ‘popular’ lacklustre american dance and RnB, we are still capable in the UK of making exciting and vital new indie music. ‘Out of View’ has everything you want from a debut record, a flowing and consistent set of songs, an unique band ‘sound’ and a number of superb standout singles. The fact that it was also produced by a member of The Horrors tells you all you need to know really.

15. Tommy Heavenly6/ Tommy February6 – ‘Tommy Ice Cream Forever’/ ‘Tommy Candy Shop Sugar Me’

Tomoko Kawase is the ultimate musical heroine! At the peak age of 38, she not only has the energy and appearance of a 20yr old but also beats everyone at their own game producing some of the best pop music ever written. Originally the lead singer of ‘The Brilliant Green’, over the last few years Tomoko has focused on two projects, the first (Tommy Heavenly6) is in the pop punk genre and the second (Tommy February6) is inspired by Pete Waterman 90s pop. Both monikers have been relatively successful and have enabled her to write some great songs, however it wasn’t until this year that I felt that Tomoko had fully nailed the sound of these two acts. ‘Candy Shop Sugar Me’ finally got the heady balance right, melding together meticulously recreated nostalgic production (recorded on analogue tape and then reconverted to digital), dollops of subversive irony, camp fun and the creeping influence of modern dance beats. The result is a guilty pleasure record that features at its heart my favourite track of the year ‘Spacey Cowgirl’, a delirious neon lit camp disco post-apocalyptic showdown that inexplicably climaxes with a dubstep drop-heavy bridge section! ‘Ice Cream Heaven’ is equally as impressive and sets the bar so high that I really wonder if it will be possible for Tomoko to carry these projects on further. An essential and enormously impressive set of albums, they demand a listen from a western audience.

14. M.I.A – ‘Mantangi’

M.I.A. is one of my all time favourite artists, constantly on the run and under attack, her perpetual underdog status makes her a great source of admiration for a growing cult following, even if many of her enemies and problems are mainly those of her own creation! Being able to identify and tell the difference between enemies that are both real and imaginary is a theme that runs as thick as blood throughout ‘Mantagi’, much like it had begun to in her previous record ‘Maya’. A hard record to really love, like it’s predecessor, ‘Mantagi’ is nevertheless brimming with musical and intellectual ideas that run the gauntlet of the sublime and the ridiculous. Many critics have pulled out the terrible clanger of ‘I’m tangy like Mantagi’ for flogging but few have noted lines such as ‘the bombs go off when I enter the building’ or ‘There’s no other things I want to feel’, which betray a dark paranoid pessimism that lies beneath all the posturing and play fighting. As with all great artists, ‘Mantagi’ is, at times, an intimate snapshot of a person going through a great deal of personal problems and turmoil. Accused of being contradictory, naive and having ‘sold out’, M.I.A may be bruised but never more fierce when backed into a corner. It’s incredibly telling that when a woman single-handedly reinvents musical genres she gets accused of being a social climber and ostracised (New York Times hang your head in shame!) but when Kayne West shameless copies her, he gets lauded as a ‘genius’ and credited with the album of year by the music press.

13. How to Destroy Angels – ‘Welcome Oblivion’

In his second appearance on this list, Trent Reznor turns in an exemplary record with his How to a Destroy Angels project. A darkly intelligent piece, ‘Welcome Oblivion’ is remarkable for its ability to evoke an atmosphere that envelopes you with its subtle shifts from despair to the seductive and hopeful. Taking a strongly collaborative approach, Reznor designs an environment in which the other performers are given the space to individually flourish, with his wife (Mariqueen Maandig) notably stealing the show with her hushed vocals at the forefront. A work that deeply rewards repeated listens, ‘Welcome Oblivion’ commands respect.

12. Giant Drag – ‘Waking Up Is Hard To Do’

Annie Hardy is a true rock and roll survivor, for the past eight years she has battled a rare nervous disease, drug addiction, bankruptcy, constant band member issues, domestic abuse, almost entire mental collapse and being dropped by a major label. Her band Giant Drag was (in her own words) ‘cursed from the start’ with this sophomore record actually being mostly completed in 2011 before a series of major disasters struck. Thanks to her small but deeply loyal fan base and Icarus Line hero Joe Cardamone however, ‘Waking Up Is Hard To Do’ was resurrected, it’s surprising arrival enabled Annie to carry out a ‘farewell tour’ of Europe and hopefully gain some closure on this difficult part of her life. An extraordinary piece of songwriting, there’s much wisdom and inspiration to be found here. Tracks like ‘Seen The Light’ and ‘Garbage Hearts’ are great examples of Annie channelling her hardships into uplifting moments of clarity. If there is one thing that counts against ‘Waking Up Is Hard To Do’ it’s the obvious pain that Annie had clearly gone through, songs like ‘Meowch’ are heartbreaking and at times can make for an uncomfortable listen. Nevertheless, this is one survivor story worth celebrating, I for one am hoping that Annie will continue to fight against the odds and do what she was born to do!

11. Cornelius – ‘Ghost In The Shell Arise OST’

A geek marriage made in heaven earlier this year saw Cornelius (one of Japan’s most influential artists who has worked with Beck, The Beastie Boys and Blur to name but a few) hired to score the soundtrack for the latest instalment in the Ghost in the Shell series (one of Japan’s most influential pieces of science fiction). The result is ‘Ghost in the Shell Arise’, a dense, fluid and eclectic selection of compositions that rank among some of the artist’s best works. A notorious perfectionist, Cornelius typically spends years between albums experimenting, with this dedication to his craft being evident in every sound presented here. The best way to experience ‘Arise’ is on the most expensive headphones you can find, as it’s layered intricacies reveal themselves gradually and are positively awe-inspiring when you reflect on how they were made. In the past Cornelius has employed water drops, the rustling of leaves and even cicadas in his production, so the mind boggles at what he has used this time! Regardless of the process, ‘Arise’ is an unforgettable experience that features at its heart a standout contribution from unique singer Salyu (Cornelius wrote and produced her last record ‘Salyu X Salyu’).

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