Friday, 6 December 2013

2013 - the yummy bits. The best albums and EPs of the year

The very best and truly most edifyingly scrumptious bits of 2013.

Top 10 Albums
So, it seems it's de rigeur for the world, his wife, significant other, lodger and gimp under the floorboards to thumb through the hamper of mouthwatering musical morsels and give everyone their opinion on what constitutes the very best. Not that anyone really gives a flying coffee bean-laden civet shit about what anyone really thinks. But here goes.

Now, I'm sure I've left some out. And forgotten some. But here's my tastebud tingling top ten. Rock tastic.

10. One Of Us Is The Killer - Dillinger Escape Plan

First in the hamper this year is DEP's latest firecracker pot of curious Gentleman's Relish. A whole heap of complex flavours, textures and piquant burning sensations. A terrific progression for New Jersey's mathmess magicians. There's familiar fare with feverish, febrile metallically-tinged mayhem but then a freshly tempered experimental lush jazz fusiony butteriness. 

Tasting notes: Not for the basic palate. Sophisticated but enormously spicy, challenging and fiery. Will cause indigestion on an unsuspecting and empty stomach. 

9. The Blackest Beautiful - Letlive
On opening the latest can of Letlive bisque, you kind of expect a rough and ready, heavy, huge but often indistinct flavoured melange. But this time there's a million different challenging and often bewildering reference points. Swinging wildly between high voltage metalcore/hardcore to hi-nrg dance-infused-auto-tuned, multi-layered-popcorny-pop-schlock. And even rappy/dubby bits. 

It really shouldn't work. But it does. There are huge swathes of Fall Out Boy-esque harmonic complexity, infused with Glassjaw and Minor Threat then put into the blender with Enter Shikari and Whitechapel. But the most lingering aftertaste is honesty. Bollocks-out, peeled back transparency. A truly wonderful if not wholly unexpected experience.

Tasting notes: Like one of those crazy and wanky restaurants serving ragoux and ballotines of animals that you'd normally find in a zoo, on the face of it, potentially unpalatable and downright weird. But the result is an enormously raw, powerful and, at times, strangely beautiful dish.

8. Mother's Ruin - Max Raptor

Right, poncey bisques and relishes to one side, time to pop open a can of foaming punky pilsner. And what a kick. Intelligently brewed with the initial wife-beater headiness and numbing punky strength hiding a brooding and cynical sharpness and sophistication, this is world class brain damage.

Politically and satirically as impossibly sharp as those bastard carpet grippers, any superficial froth or head is soon blown off a deep and curious but heart-warming brew. Heavy in parts but fused with wonderfully familiar anthemic and chest-beating abandon. This Midlands ale gets you all Glaswegian and stripping down to the waist and yelling out of windows pointing fingers like bag ladies and grimacing like you've got yer nob caught in your zip. 

Tasting notes: Powerful, lively, fun, surprisingly sophisticated with a real punch. The strongest, overproof rum-soused in yer face fuck off party punch. You looking at me pal?

7. Wild Light- 65DaysofStatic

After the heady brutal brew, it's time to mix grain with grape. Time to ease the cork out of the latest vintage offering from these most consumate of twiddlers, fiddlers, tweakers and soundscape seducers. 

This is new world zinginess and cleverness mixed with a mind-expanding depth and beauty. Real beauty. There are so many swirling flavours, top notes, base notes and every hemi-demi-semi quaver in between. At times beyond description, smoothness mixed with erratic and jaggedy acidity and full-bodied, hairy-testicled grunt. 

Tasting notes: Seriously heady and mind-altering potency underpinned with a delicious smooth, sophisticated but never clinical or synthetic sterility. Lose your head. Lose your inhibitions. But, whatever you do, don't lose your king sized rolling papers. Man.

6. Muscle Memory - Jamie Lenman
Where do you start? Where do you finish? Superficiality first; this is  the most sumptuous and beautifully crafted packaging in this year's hamper by a mile. But once the packaging is peeled open, what a thing. What a two things. 

The first layer of this delicious and dizzying cake is jam-packed with grenades, evil incendiary devices, trip wires, polonium, 7" stiletto blades, Bazooka shells, shit-tipped sharpened sticks and, well, tears. The emotionally saturated ingredients are blitzed with gravel, double-coil pick ups, drain cleaner and red fire ants and the results are outstanding. Challenging? Yes. Easy on the ear? Not always. Outré? You bet. But outstanding? Thoroughly.

Then we move onto the second layer of this Lewis Carol-like Hadean gateau. And it's buttery. Creamy. Delicious. Sumptuous. Clever. Heartfelt. Honest. Bizarre. But like the top layer, equally outstanding. Swing, bluegrass, George Formby, big band, Burlesque. All in the magimix with the accent on magi.

The former Reuben chef has outdone himself. Such brave and challenging cuisine deserves to be at the top table and Muscle Memory is without a doubt one of the bravest, cleverest and intriguing offerings of the year. 

Tasting notes: A seemingly vile and incompatible marriage of nob-melting chilli and tongue mollifying buttery Victoria sponge. A brave and challenging triumph. 

5. Letters Home - Defeater

Next in the hamper are an overseas delicacy from the Americas. And it's certainly not in an aerosol, a blister pack or smothered in syrup. A jagged rusty can filled to the brim with raw hardcore punk flavoured pork and beans with an haute cuisine twist.

Massachussetts may have given the world chocolate chip cookies and cranberries, but this is far more rarified and sophisticated fare. Ok, you can't dip it in your tea and it won't help with cystitis, but Letters Home should be in everyone's food and medicine cupboards. An unholy union of hardcore and concept album sounds like ship's biscuits smothered in finest caviar. But, it produces a wholly original and stunning sensation.

Moving stories from the Civil War are told through family letters and the effect is jaw-dropping. Whereas most lyrical ingredients in hardcore are sublimated to the effect of the overall visceral output, this masterpiece captivates from the first delicious mouthful to the last. And takes you on an historical, eye-opening journey on the way.

Tasting notes: savage and uncompromising delivery, mercifully short on foam and froth, a surprisingly deep and beautiful delicious heart wrapped in searing and acidic heat, meat and gristle. Bloody delicious. And thought-provoking.

4. You're Listening To The Hell - The Hell

Fried cunt. Cooked by cunts. For cunts. Shit. But addictive shit.

Tasting notes: Cunt.

3. Sempiternal - Bring Me The Horizon
After opening with care and, to be honest not much expectation, this assortment box of metal(core?) biscuits has to be the surprise taste sensation of the year. 

To be honest, BMTH are a bit like sprouts to me. I've never been that keen. They don't taste great, make the living room stink and give you unpleasant grumblings in the gut. But loads of people swear by them and have seen something in them that, like sprouts, fail to get my tastebuds dripping.

Until Sempiternal, that is. What a pleasant and unexpected taste sensation. Brutal in parts. Obnoxious in others. But so skilfully blended into an almost perfect example the dream selection tin with sweetness, spice, crunch, layers and surprises. Metal may not be my personal thang, but this is as good as the dark art gets. A true masterpiece of its genre.

Tasting notes: Salty as a sailor's dick, as sweet as Rachel Riley's peachy butt cheeks, as heavy as a lead box full of weapon's grade uranium or Chris Moyle's lunch box and as hot as Dave Lee Travis's brow every time the doorbell rings. 

2. - TTNG
As we get to the very best stuff in this year's groaning hamper, it's time to get all truly sophisticated and reach for a seriously vintage, premier cru glass.

So, they changed their name as a sensitive fuck you to gun nuts, weirdos, NRA ignoramuses and AK47 toting survivalist rednecks, but what else did this most revered and classy producer bring the world this year? 

From the first delicious drop to pass the lips from this wonderful magnum to  the very last fading bubble, delivers a sublime and almost orgasmic complexity and beauty. With new vocalist Henry 'Hank' Tremain joining the family, there was a slight nervousness that previous vintages couldn't be matched. We needn't have worried.

The technical wizardry and complexity that underpins this sublime deliciousness never gets in the way of its immediacy and breathtaking gorgeousness. There's light, shade, energy, seduction, pathos, spit and beautiful balance throughout. A truly world class and de luxe bottle of sparkling originality and genius.

Tasting notes: not for lager drinkers, Lambert and Butler smokers or ready meal eaters. This is sophisticated, frail, wonderful and sparkling nectar and should be drunk with absolute reverence and care. Cheers indeed.

1. Blood & Chemistry - Arcane Roots

So, here we are. The biggie. The last box in the hamper. And what a box. Of all the delicious goodies in this year's hamper, Blood & Chemistry is the one for me that stands out for so many reasons.

Not the least, because it has been purposely and meticulously prepares as an entire feast. Not a selection of nibbles, tapas or two or three big numbers surrounded by burger helper or lips and arseholes. This is premium mouth-watering fare throughout. And with all the trimmings.

The very way the album has recurring motifs (lyrically and musically with back references, arcs, repeating chord progressions and themes) sets it apart from so much of the vanilla and pot boilers rammed with prescribed numbers of tracks that so much output laboriously conforms to.

Marry that with the fact that it's been constructed as a single flowing listen with the tracks cleverly and beautifully merged and segued into each other with drones, decaying notes and clever transitions seamlessly leading one from course to course and, hallelujiah, we actually have an album. A complete multi-course considered and lip-smacking banquet. 

In an age of playlist and mixtape dominated listening mores, it's such a beautiful and rare thing to find such a wonderfully conceived and concocted masterpiece. And that's what Blood & Chemistry truly is. 

Veering from sheer power and mind melting riffs to lighter cadenzas and melodic reveries, this, for me is so clearly not only the best album of 2013, but the only true album. Of course the songs all stand alone (and there's not a slack track on it) but the total effect outweighs the individual brilliance and diversity. 

Astonishing. Truly astonishing.

Tasting notes: An 11 (or 12 if you've got the deluxe version) course banquet of astonishing and unrelenting quality. Huge flavours, beautiful, more delicate moments and heady, mesmerising technical skill and flamboyance married with an earthy, raw power and strength that all comes together to produce a perfectly balanced and tantalising mix. Perfection. Bloody perfection.

Honourable mentions.
It's really tough putting together just 10. So, here are a few more world class albums that didn't quite make the hamper:

Siganals - Mallory Knox
A Dan Lancaster-produced slick pop rocky masterpiece with anthems and hooks aplenty. As near to a commercial version of Proceed as we'll ever get. God, I miss them.

Dreamoirs - Dave McPherson
A wonderful, heartfelt, dreamy (funny that) and personal anthology from rock and roll's hardest working and most likeable bloke, InMe front man Dave McPherson. All made possible by his dedication, ridiculous work ethic and dedication to the outstanding Pledge music scheme. 

Asymmetry - Karnivool
The latest chapter in the Tool-inspired Aussie proggers' masterworks collection. All slick, big-boned, grown up serious stuff with the obligatory sing-a-long bits taking more of a back seat in this sophisticated and complex volume.

Great Lakes - John Smith
As good as folk gets. Just wonderful throughout. Plaintive, fragile, beautiful, joyous and uplifting stuff from the bastard living son of Jansch, Martyn and Drake. Spellbinding stuff.

Opposites - Biffy Clyro
A true epic from the Caledonian epic mongers. A lifetime of couch sessions with Mr Neil couldn't get anywhere as near as this window-opening, soul searching, organ and emotion-revealing journey into his oft tortured and unsettled psyche. Brilliant stuff.

Old Souls - Deaf Havana
My, haven't they grown up? A Ferrari-like acceleration into adulthood and all its travails both musically and personally see the erstwhile East Anglians produce a truly grown up and thoroughly well-crafted blue collar collection of angst-ridden emotionally charged splendour. And I didn't mention Springsteen once. Oops.

Nation - TRC
Nasty but brilliant and raw British hardcore (none of that whiney trans Atlantic shit to see here people!) at its very best. Much more sophisticated than initially meets the ear. A truly original and challenging album. One of the year's very best. 

The Top 5 EPs and singles:

Right, time for the smaller stuff that's too tasty not to mention. You know, the widows and orphans of the hamper. The weird little sauces and tins of weirdness that don't fit in with the larger family packs - in short, the wonderful tunes and mini anthology EPs that didn't appear on full length albums.

5. #Spomb (Love Me) - Shockmaster
Skate punk, surf punk, pop punk, #spomb punk. Whatever it is, its lively, fun, aggressive and doesn't take itself too seriously. Well, with Mike Foster driving this bin wagon, what else is it going to be? 

4. Glass Cutter - Polar
Guildford's scene has never been healthier and while bands like Palm Reader and Polar continue to mature and develop without losing even a whiff of their appealing ragged edge, things can only get even better. And if this brilliant and fierce track is a taster of what's to come of the much talked about new album, then we're in for a brilliant 2014.

Adam Woodford's growls and screams have been imbued with melody (you 'eard) and the effect is somewhere between While She Sleeps and TRC but retaining Polar's signature originality and appeal. 

3. Funemployed - Gnarwolves
Brighton's bright young things of the skate punk/pop punk brotherhood produced a box bursting with bangers full of rawness, edge, fun and phlegm (and probably a bit of THC eh lads?). Real street music kept real. Wonderful.

3= Management - Delta Sleep
Three letters: BSM. Big Scary Monsters have helped to unearth yet another slice of complete genius. This was so close to being my no1because of its consistency. Every track on Management is a different colour, a different texture. Yes, its mathy. Yes it's complex and brilliantly, technically played. But it's also catchy, a bit dirty, even a bit punky. Whatever the fuck it is, it's original, brilliant and captivating. If you've not caught these chaps (and chapess) live yet, you have a donut hole in your middle. Fill it immediately. 

2= I Could Be Anyone - Yearbook

Too little output from such an original, classy and wonderful young band. But we've had to make do with this single offering during 2013 (assuming the equally wonderful Art Student was 2012 - brain's a bit rubbish - if it was 2013, then make it joint 2nd with this absolute banger). A heavy chugger, all frenzy, puke and muck but glued together by the ever-tight and impressive rhythm section of Mssrs Dickinson and Martin while Brooker and Halloway do what they always do best: stretch, cajole and caress our organs, senses and squishy bits. Can't wait for the impending long player from these loveable tyros.

2= The Move. Shake. Hide. - Marmozets
Sheer brilliance from the mathy tykes. Guitars, huge choruses, melody, counterpoint, menace, grit, smiles and bowel-massaging power. As good as pop rock math mash ups will ever get. Bloody wonderful.

1. You Wanna Know - Don Broco
Slick, sexy, power pop rock imbued with a simmering sophistication that often goes unnoticed. Loveable ladcore loveliness from the clean-cut quartet who can do no wrong. Unashamedly catchier than Chlamydia and guaranteed to put a smile on even the grizzliest bearded hipster face. With the almost deified Mr Lancaster driving the desk again. Go on, I best you you can listen to it without smiling or joining in with the oo oos.

Well, that's it. Purely personal choice. And a year in which we've been pretty spoilt by the recorded output. UK rock in particular is certainly alive and kicking and with new music in the pipeline for next year from bands like Spycatcher, Polar, Yearbook, LTA, Don Broco, Trails, Maybeshewill and Hey Vanity among many, many others, then the future's looking seriously bright.

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