My Favourite 25 Albums of 2013: Part Six - 5-2

My Favourite 25 Albums of 2013: Part Six - 5-2

Direct Links to Albums (updated as they become live) : 25 - 22 // 21 - 18 // 17 - 14 // 13 - 10 // 9 - 6 // 5 - 2 // 1

5. David Bowie - The Next Day

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It's fair to say that David Bowie wins the award for best music surprise of the year (and possibly worst album cover art too). I think even the most optimistic of fans were probably thinking to themselves that perhaps finally David had quietly retired then wham, out of nowhere on his 66th Birthday (I know) we get not just a new track but news of a new album The Next Day too. That teaser track was better than it had any right to be, "Where Are We Now?" is a reflective and philosophical beauty full of brooding mood and a whispered vocal that reminds me of some Heathen work, full of experience, depth and a genuine beauty, it introduced a Bowie who'd seemingly gained much during his ten years of 'retirement'.

The Next Day kicks off with the stomping title track, one of the years most punchy, spiky and dirty rock song full of driving rhythms and with lyrics seemingly full of self mockery/observation (the repeated cries of "here I am, not quite dying..."). It's an album that sounds warm and is full of character and soon it imposes itself on you in its own right rather than for the initial shock value of its existence. "Dirty Boys" is another great track full of funky horns and a superb chorus while "The Stars Are Out Tonight" is probably the most accessible and perfectly formed tracks on the album (and was followed by a similarly glittery video), shimmering instrumentation and bright, beautiful vocals, it's timeless Bowie through and through.

"Valentine's Day" is another winner, combining vulnerable lyrics with timeless instrumentation and possibly the albums best melody and vocal delivery, "How Does The Grass Grow" contains more ideas in its four minute length than some bands come up with in their entire existence and I absolutely love the last track "Heat" too, as haunting and reflective moment as The Next Day offers, a defiant and emotive stunner that hits right at your guts.

Now then David, how about announcing a couple of UK shows for your 67th Birthday?!



4. Caitlin Rose - The Stand-In

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I've long documented my love of Caitlin Rose and her debut album Own Side Now (my album of 2010). I've seen her live well into the high teens (not bad for a non-UK artist) and I think her voice is the most soulful and flawless of our generation. To say my expectation for her second album The Stand-In was high would be an understatement, thankfully Caitlin has delivered above and beyond what I could possibly have hoped for.

The album highlights that of a maturing, progressive artist and the addition of a full band is a natural one, the result is stylishly crafted and full of velvety polish with a much stronger, defiant sound after Own Side Now's introspective melancholy. It kicks off with its biggest moment of all, the fantastic "No One to Call", immediately highlighting that grander scope with a kicking, percussive heart and fantastic hooks, there's a real sense of fun throughout which was previously only touched on the live version of "Shanghai Cigarettes". Caitlin's voice is at the top of its game too, smooth, expressive and when combined with the masterful arrangements it gives the track a timeless, classic feel.

As well as being a classy affair, The Stand-In is also a varied one "I Was Cruel" (a cover of The Deep Vibration) is a beautiful, aching ballad which highlights Caitlin's exceptional vocal range amongst rich, warming pedal steel and slide guitar and "Waitin'" finds Caitlin in defiant mood, delivering a wounded, country-tinged song with the ballsy edge of a rock band - the ringing melody sees heavy drums and deep bass rhythms propel Caitlin's ever impeccable vocal which soars some pretty dark emotion with such effortless ease.

The highlight is perhaps "Only a Clown", a bright, smooth pop song that sounds gorgeous stirring around chiming guitars and a luscious vocal delivery before "Pink Champagne" delivers the most lonesome and beautiful moment on the record, a faultless emotive vocal and guitars that pluck at your heart-strings. It gives the perfect reminder of why I fell so hard for Caitlin.

I could easily write about every track on the album, the heart-breaker "Golden Boy" or another of my favourites, the shining, sweetly romantic "Silver Sings So Well" and there's even time for a smoky jazzy club track "Old Numbers" but you've probably got lunch to eat or something so I'll just tell you to go and by The Stand-In now, I've even included a handy link above.



3. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

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You'll no doubt be aware of The National by now, their success may have been a relatively long time coming (my first live experience of the band was May 2005 on the Alligator tour - at the 100 Club, slightly different to two nights at Ally Pally!) but now onto their sixth full album Trouble Will Find Me the New York quintet have firmly established themselves as the masters of sincere tales of broken hearts and bruised souls. It's no different this time around.

The album is immediately distinguishable as The National of course, from the maudlin guitar strums of "I Should Live in Salt" you are wrapped in Matt Berninger's deep, baritone vocal awash with a reflective sound that creates beautifully vivid landscapes around rich, plaintive melodies. The National are confident in their craft by now and Trouble Will Find Me is the most self-assured record they've produced yet. "Demons" is another tour-de-force of storytelling, a dark, brooding ballad that builds amongst luscious instrumentation and feeds off a drip of emotive power and lyrical beauty.

Both "Graceless" and "Don't Swallow The Cap" are the next installments to the bands sing-along anthems, thrilling with wall-of-sound exciting as robust percussive beat and glistening keys drive their melodies towards climaxes of outpouring emotion and mood while "Sea of Love" is another exhilarating track which bursts straight out of the gates with a heavy percussive heart around jagged guitar hooks and it keeps getting better as the tempo increases like an out of control steam train.

Their ballads have never sounded more mournful, haunting and subtle than on the exquisite "Pink Rabbits" and "Heavenfaced" is another perfect example of the bands maturing versatility and substance, melancholy has never been so brilliant than with The National in its control.

Rich and deeply layered Trouble Will Find Me grows and grows and rewards with each repeated listens, I'm pretty sure I've said something like this before but this is easily the most complete album The National have produced over an immaculate career.



2. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

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Arcade Fire's reinvention of themselves as The Reflektors and a hype-laden release build-up shrouded in mysterious messages and online videos worked as well as any PR this year (aside from the bang of the aforementioned return of Bowie) and the Canadian mega-group's fourth album Reflektor stands up to every possibly line of scrutiny that can be thrown at it (and as anyone lucky enough to see them on their recent bout of UK shows will testify, it translates perfect to the stage).

An undoubted curve ball, Reflektor takes the bands Haiti roots to heart with more influences coming from dub and disco, it could have ended in disaster (and probably has according to some) but it is an album I keep finding myself listening to and on repeated listens it unveils another layer, that's the mark of an album of the year in my eyes.

You've got to start with the title-track, "Reflektor" doesn't immediately strike you as Arcade Fire, indeed the funk-laden bass-line and shuffling percussion sound more Prince or LCD Soundsystem (James Murphy produced the album after all) but as the track progresses and builds around its wonderful groove, Win Butler's distinctive vocals (equally Régine Chassagne's too) start to shine through (with David Bowie also providing a couple of backing vocals). At almost eight minutes in length the track is the very definition of "epic" and announces itself as the most wonderful of openers.

The dance-floor mood is maintained by the deliciously offbeat groove of "We Exist" with beautiful harmonies and bright multi-layered instruments, it remains an absorbing listen. The carnival atmosphere reaches its peak on the celebratory "Here Comes The Night Time" with deep bass-lines combining with Haitian drums and twinkling piano and on a similar theme "You Already Know" will have you shuffling around in your chair.

It's not all disco grooves, rock heads will be pleased by the crunching riffs on the outstanding  "Normal Person" while "Porno" sounds exactly as dirty as the title suggest, thick 80's inspired chords repeat around Win's seductive vocals. Another highlight is the New Order inspired "Afterlife" which bristles with unadulterated joy that personifies what the album achieves to me. What we have (in my opinion) is a band free to express their own freedom and ideas and Reflektor might just be revered to in the same breathe as Funeral in years to come. I can't pay it a much higher compliment than that.