Hear them out, now
So many great albums have dropped in the past year that I don’t know how to even make a list of the ones that I liked. How many can I list? Fifty? Sixty? More? Music blogs and magazines have already put out their top albums of 2013 lists. Some, such as Rolling Stone, have listed 50; NPR has 100 favourite songs and 50 favourite records; PopMatters lists 75 best albums of 2013; and many others have lists for every genre (tip: if you want to get a smattering of what was happening in metal last year, do check out Stereogum’s top 50 in that loud genre; I was happy when I took a peek there to see the only metal album of last year that I bought, Deafheaven’s Sunbather, was No.1).
Tons of good music got released this year. Refreshingly, many of them were from bands that broke their silence after years. Celebrated Irish shoe-gazers, My Bloody Valentine, came out with their first album in 22 years, m b v, which makes the band’s old fans happy because it’s so predictably their brand of music but it also works as a good introduction if you’ve never heard them.
Other older musicians who reappeared in 2013 included David Bowie whose quiet launch of The Next Day stole the show. It has some stunning tracks – check out Where Are We Now? and The Stars (Are Out Tonight). Even Iggy and The Stooges had a new album as did Pearl Jam who offered their 10th studio album, Lightning Bolt, and Nine Inch Nails, the angry American industrial rockers, came up with a remarkably (for them!) mellow album, Hesitation Marks, to which you can actually dance. Beatle vet Paul McCartney had an album called New and so did Elton John, called The Diving Board.
Overall, I had quite a ball through the year. I heard The National’s Trouble Will Find Me, which didn’t disappoint but fell short of being spectacular. But among more established bands, I was knocked out by The Flaming Lips’ The Terror, which could well be these inveterate experimenters’ best album in 30 years. It’s one album that pushes the limits of creativity in rock music and I’m sure I’ll be listening to it for a long time into the future. Two of my other favourite bands had albums out in 2013: Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit (Pedestrian Verse) and America’s Vampire Weekend (Modern Vampires of the City), the latter an extraordinary album.
But the real fun was in discovering a few new artists that I’d never heard before. Here are six of them. First, the women…
It’s tempting to classify UK’s soul singer Laura Mvula as part of the Brit retro-soul of the likes of the late Amy Winehouse or the popular Adele. She’s not. Mvula has an originality that is difficult to classify. Listen to Sing to the Moon, her first album and you’ll see what I mean. You can hear influences of great soul singers but most of all, you will hear Mvula in her uniqueness.
Lorde is the stage-name of Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, a 17-year-old singer from New Zealand whose debut album, Pure Heroine, is a powerful set of genre-busting songs that stand out for her surprisingly mature sounding vocal range and effortlessly literate lyrics. Just before the album came out and fame hadn’t touched her, the story goes that Katy Perry had invited Lorde to open for her shows, an invitation that was politely declined. Or so I’ve heard. Not surprising if true. Lorde’s new-wave dark vibes would hardly sit well with Perry’s music, whatever that is.
Sky Ferreira nearly became a victim of the music industry. More than six years back when the American singer was just 15, she signed a recording contract for the first time and then recorded, hold your breath, at least 400 songs in the next few years. Sadly, only around a score of those were published, including the 11 on her debut album, Night Time, My Time, which came out only now. Dark, brooding and grungy, I’d watch this new artist.
And the men…
Jake Bugg is just 19 and the British singer’s take on folk rock of the kind that evokes Bob Dylan and The Everly Brothers but comes with a snazzy contemporary tweak (his Nottingham accent helps). Some of his songs on the debut album, Shangri La, remind me of Blood on the Tracks.
King Krule (aka Archy Marshall) is also British and also 19 but he looks like a skinny little boy. Till he sings. That’s when he sounds as old and seasoned as Tom Waits. On his debut 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, the songs reek of blues and indie rock and hip-hop and the lyrics talk of street life – romance, anguish and anger. All delivered raspily in yet another Brit accent (South East London). Like Bugg, Krule is full of promise and both singer-songwriters are worth keeping a close tab on.
Omara ‘Bombino’ Moctar isn’t from Britain. Nor for that matter from any English-speaking country. He’s a Tuareg musician from Niger. But his blistering guitar could put many western blues and rock guitarists to shame. A guitar sensation who also sings, Bombino lived in a series of refugee camps after his family fled Niger. The 33-year-old honed his guitar style watching videos of Jimi Hendrix and other rock guitarists. His third album, many would call it a break-out release, was produced by none other than The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. A must-have.
Download Central appears every fortnight