2013 was another bumper year for amazing new music. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by so much of it. As soon as you let go of the NEED to hear it all, it just becomes this amazing immersive creative environment that, if you’re at all like me, invigorates your own creative journey.
So there are LOADS of things that could’ve been on this list, but here are the main things that inspired me this year:
Throwing Muses – Purgatory/Paradise – let’s start with The Muses. Kristin Hersh has such a remarkable work rate. She’s one of the only artists in the world who makes me feel like perhaps I’m not nuts after all for releasing so much music. She’s constantly updating the demos section of her site, and has three main projects in rotation – her solo records, 50 Foot Wave and Throwing Muses. This album got SO much amazing press, if that meant anything, it’d sell half a million copies. It’s cropping up in a ton of people’s lists of favourites for 2013, and there’s a damn good reason for that. Throwing Muses are making the best music of their almost-30 year career. Unlike
ALL so many of their peers, the magic never went away. The writing, singing and Kristin’s ever-brilliant guitar playing (she’s up there with David Torn, Nels Cline and Bill Frisell in my biggest guitar-playing musical influences list) are all running at an all time creative high. What’s even more remarkable about this is that even they love this one. Packaged as an exquisite book, beautifully designed by drummer Dave and chock full of words to cherish and pour over by Kristin, it really does feel like a gift, a treasured message from three people who’ve arrived at this point because of all the joy and pain of being in a band for so long, and no longer give a shit about any of the stuff that doesn’t matter. It’s amazing, and you really should own it.
KT Tunstall – Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon – you’ll know from previous years if you’re a long enough reader that I’m a MASSIVE fan of KT Tunstall. She’s so far ahead of anyone else doing anything remotely similar, it’s not even funny. I loved her last album and its excursion into weird spikey electronic grown-up pop, but this one, made in the desert with piano-wizard Howe Gelb is truly exceptional. Recorded beautifully, written through all manner of life upheaval, stripped back. The two versions of Feel It All (single and album) tell such markedly different stories they even had two different videos. She’s amazing, and she’ll no doubt continue to be amazing for many, many years to come.
Jon Gomm – Secrets Nobody Keeps – one of my favourite solo gigs of the year (perhaps my favourite) was opening for Jon Gomm in Birmingham. Jon has been VERY good for a long time. The archetypical road-warrior, he built exactly the kind of career and fan base an artist needs to properly capitalise on the kind of attention that comes with a massive viral youtube hit. What he also did was make a truly mind-blowingly great album, and assembled a live show to match. Right at the top of his game, the world is definitely his for the taking. Also, supremely nice bloke, shockingly talented collaborator/wife (Natasha plays sax and sings beautifully on the album), deserves every bit of success that arrives…
Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen – this years metal triumph. I’ve loved all of Ihsahn’s last 4 albums (and finally bought Emperor’s last album this year too, and that’s fab) – this is his best yet. Calling it ‘progressive’ doesn’t really do justice to how natural the genre-hopping sounds in his hands. There’s no sense of any of the many disparate elements being shoe-horned in. It sounds like the record he’s been building up to. There’s still a whole load of properly scary black metal in there, but also entire suites of music that without the screaming to bookend it, sounds entirely unmetallic. Properly brilliant writing, singing, arranging, recording and guitar playing. All good, nothing bad.
Prefab Sprout – Crimson/Red – a NEW Prefab Sprout album?? Felt almost too good to be true. It’s beautiful, though if I was being picky – as a huge fan of Wendy Smith’s voice – I’d love to have heard the rest of the band on it, rather than just Paddy’s playing and singing. But that hardly dents the beauty of the record. All the great things about Prefab Sprout are there (except Wendy’s voice) – the songs, the combination of grand vision and resigned patheticness (I’ve never come up with a decent way of describing the combination of world-changing ambition and parochial intimacy of Paddy’s writing… One day I’ll actually put some proper time into it, the music deserves it!)
Richard Thompson – Electric – New Richard Thompson! Sounds like Richard Thompson being amazing! Because it is! Bought this in the first week of release. Which is a very very rare occurrence in my life. Happy that I did.
Yvonne Lyon – These Small Rebellions – this is Yvonne’s forth album in a row that I’ve loved. She has an uncanny pop sensibility about her melodic writing, but never sacrifices the depth of the song itself to that pop-ness. Nuance, beauty, and a huge investment of self seem to be the hallmarks of Yvonne’s writing and recording. Also an exceptional live performer. One of those artists whose albums I’ll buy without having heard a note, read a review or seen the artwork. And I can’t imagine ever being disappointed. Wonderful.
Tiger Darrow – Aqua Vitae – Tiger’s first record since leaving Texas moving to NYC and doing incredibly well at music college. When I first tweeted about this, Jonatha Brooke tweeted back that she’s a fan (having taught Tiger for a songwriting class at NYU) – lots of people have fallen in love with this album since I encouraged them to check it out. Falling loosely into that Imogen Heap/Bjork/clever electronic singer/songwriter world, Tiger has both a sound of her own, and a huge breadth to her talents, as a writer, singer and instrumentalist. Scarily gifted.
Sunna Gunnlaugs – Distilled – “new album from Sunna Gunnlaugs, and it’s fantastic” – I could just cut ‘n’ past that after everything she releases. Huge fan, always happy to get new music from Sunna, whatever the format she’s playing in, but I think I particularly enjoy the interplay in her trio. She’s a firm favourite of mine.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing – there was a huge amount of expectation hanging over this record, hype built up around it, and for good reason. Steven assembled an amazing cast of characters to make it, and clearly spent an awful lot of time and energy making it. And it paid off. Everything that’s great about progressive music with none of the absurdity. Adventurous, exciting, emotive, expansive. Exhilerating stuff.
There were other albums I really enjoyed this year – Billy Bragg, The Fierce And The Dead, Sam Philips, Scott Barkan, Søren Bebe Trio, Steve Uccello, Danny Barnes, Darkroom, Emmalee^Crane, Janek Gwizdala and a load of others all released excellent records this year. Like I said, a bumper crop. Best place to go crate-digging is my bandcamp collection, which has everything I’ve ever bought:by