Find out NME's 50 top tracks of 2013 here.
Daughter’s first triumph came in 2012, when their track ‘Youth’ soundtracked Channel 4’s Tour de France coverage. ‘If You Leave’ was their second, and marked the London trio out as a band capable of injecting heartbreak and defiance into their lyrics, and shining a progressive light on modern folk with their delicate music.
Executive produced by his G.O.O.D Music boss Kanye West, 'My Name Is My Name' was the moment Clipse member Pusha T finally hit the home run he promised for so long. The beats snapped hard, the guests including Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross and 2Chainz glittered and the overall vibe was dirty but triumphant.
Archy Marshall’s debut was released on his 18th birthday, and listening to it was like pushing open a teenager’s bedroom door and being hit by a smoke fog of dub, soul, hip-hop, jazz and electronica. Also in there was Marshall's vocal, an unmistakable growl lamenting the peaks and troughs of London life.
The most important music chimes with the times, and no 2013 record did that with more impact and insight than Primal Scream's barnstorming 10th. Arabian horns and demon beats illuminated Bobby Gillespie’s trawl through throttled culture, political atrocities and domestic abuse, and built to the redemptive finale of 'It's Alright, It's OK'.
Their relationship with the music industry has often been fractious, so Future Of The Left bit the bullet and asked fans to fund their fourth album via Pledgemusic. The result more than rewarded the generosity. A pop sensibility was constant, but ‘How To…’ was the Cardiff band’s heaviest and most acerbic work.
Speedy Ortiz’s debut album drew eyes and ears to Massachusetts, where Sadie Dupuis, Mike Falcone, Matt Robidoux and Darl Ferm were channeling the discordant grooves of Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. The enchanted guitars were layered with Dupuis’ saccharine snarl, and the poetry lecturer’s remarkably eloquent and detailed stories.
They may as well have called it ‘Shaking Off The Hipsters’, so effective and bracing was The Knife’s fourth album in scaring off fairweather fans and the faint of heart. Yet for all its hellish terror, it also contained the sorrowing, chilly beauty of ‘Raging Lung’ and the sexy fury of ‘Full Of Fire’. Never predictable, always compelling.
There was a slow-burning, rural air to Cate Le Bon’s first two albums, perhaps because of her upbringing on a west Wales farm. For ‘Mug Museum’ she moved to LA and recorded with producer Noah Georgeson, who Cate described as “the perfect combination of calm and brutality”, but her music retains its blurry, out-of-time psychedelic wonder.
After 2011’s 'Angles' vanished in a cloud of inter-band uncertainties and drug habits, few things seemed less likely than a new Strokes album this year. Then came 'Comedown Machine'. No interviews, no tours, no festival slots, barely any cover art – just 11 gleaming tracks and Julian Casablancas' high-pitched vocal among them.
Fuck Buttons’ music was beamed all over the world in the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, but ‘Slow Focus’ didn’t sound like a victory lap, exactly. Fuck Buttons’ third long-player was a moody and truculent beast. Benjamin John Power and Andrew Hung toning down warm waves of bliss in favour of snarling synth and synapse-searing crescendo.
The fluorescent, punky spit of ‘Run Fast’ was Kathleen Hanna’s first release since recovering from Lyme disease, an experience that made her confront her mortality and reputation as riot grrrl’s de facto leader. There are still radical feminist statements on ‘Run Fast’, but it’s more complex than that: the sound of one woman celebrating survival.
The lyrics on Barnett's debut saw her eking out a whole song from a gardening-induced panic attack and another one about penning "the best song ever written" then forgetting it.
Kurt Vile's the kind of guy you can imagine strumming a steel-string guitar on a porch somewhere. This album, bookended by two monstrous tracks (‘Wakin’ On A Pretty Day’ and ‘Goldtone’) that hovered around the 10-minute mark, distilled his ability to take a single, simple musical idea and stretch it into hypnotic mega-jams.
This debut from LA duo Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards was bold and fearless. It wasn’t just the riotous rock n' roll clatter that was gutsy, though. It was also the messages within the music: an assault on misogyny and sexism in the music industry that sat alongside storming jams about peace, love and understanding.
Newly engaged and following the serene path laid out on 2011’s ‘Apocalypse’, Callahan’s 15th album was stunning for its simple contentment: “I really am a lucky man,” he sang on ‘Small Plane’. The only advance singles were two dub remixes – but the genre’s warped lope permeated the gentle Americana Callahan whittles here.
Received wisdom goes that Monáe is a better concept than popstar, but on her second studio album, she dropped her guard to confront her personal limits and sounded more fully realised than ever for it. ‘The Electric Lady’ was funky and glittering, and slipped out the odd humanising tear. Power up.
Lily Allen producer Greg Kurstin’s influence shone through on the twins’ seventh album. It saw Tegan and Sara Quin ditch their usual new wave sound for sugar-rush songs influenced by “great contemporary pop”. It was golden moments like the Gwen Stefani-indebted ‘Drove Me Wild’ that helped the pair outgrow their cult status after 20 years of trying.
Recorded during two weeks of party sessions, Palma Violets’ debut was a snapshot of a band who made you want to be in their gang with every hedonistic howl. The album teetered on the edge of chaos, but rescued itself with songs as heart-warming as opener ‘Best Of Friends’ that were catchy and bright enough to shine through the madness.
Merchandise drew inspiration from everything from eastern philosophy to the experience of coming of age in a post-boom America tearing at the seams when making 'Totale Nite'. Not bad for a group that notionally, at least, you could categorise as a punk-rock band.
With its unchristian gospels, swampland treks and ballads built around the real-life rattle of underground trains, ‘Mosquito’ was a malevolent neon monster intent on spiking the pristine buttock of pop and sucking it dry. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ fourth album took Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase’s funk-punk to previously unexplored extremes.
After 22 years, many had all but given up hope of Kevin Shields finishing My Bloody Valentine's third album. Yet 'm b v' was a worthy successor to 'Loveless' and then some, wandering off into a murky drum'n'bass hinterland.
Released three years after NME’s album of 2010, ‘Hidden’, These New Puritans’ third album featured 40 musicians, a Portuguese fado singer and a hawk. It was also a brave slice of game-changing experimental music from the Southend-On-Sea band. On ‘Fragment Two’, ‘V (Island Song)’ and ‘Dream’ they sounded like no other band on the planet.
‘Doris’ confirmed sleepy-eyed Thebe Kgositsile as Odd Future’s most talented wordsmith, a man capable of twisted and wickedly funny wordplay. Owing a large debt to the surreal rhymes of MF Doom, the ingenuity of tracks such as ‘Whoa’ and ‘Hive’ suggested a student on the brink of overtaking teacher.
While Daft Punk and Arcade Fire yoked their wagons to opulent disco to make a statement about how accomplished they were, Factory Floor’s long-awaited debut album got inside the genre’s nerves and bones. Their intense arpeggios seemed to irradiate the fleshy parts of your body – less catchy than utterly mind-controlling.
The pressure was on Haim sisters Este, Danielle and Alana to deliver an album as good as their raucous gigs. Six years of work was condensed into 11 tracks that weren't the raw rock their gig-goers had come to expect. Instead the record brimmed with bright ideas and pop hooks – a twist in their narrative that became another reason to go Haim mental.
So evocative of New York that sewer steam seemed to vent through the speakers whenever you played it, Parquet Courts’ debut was low in fidelity, but high on everything else. These 15 tracks were imbued with a wit and charm of Pavement, REM and Television that instantly endeared itself. Andrew Savages lyrics were laugh out loud funny.
Chvrches managed to deliver on the early hype with a debut album full of heart, attitude and - above all - massive tunes. Here's was a synth pop band you could hold close to your heart; intimate and endearing, but also stuff full of hooks.
‘Monomania’ was an ugly record about ugly feelings - of inadequacy, of desperation and, above all, of betrayal – that wasn’t so much a break-up album as a falling-to-pieces one. Don’t let that put you off, however: Cox brought some remarkable songs back from his personal abyss. ‘Monomania’ was searingly honest and brilliantly uncompromising.
If the songs of Iceage’s 2011 debut ‘New Brigade’ felt veiled and cryptic, there would be no confusing the contents of ‘You’re Nothing’. Across 12 tracks, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt wrang his soul dry. We also heard a band evolving beyond the Joy Division moves of their debut, adopting a new heaviness and vigour. Magnificently abrasive.
The National’s summer release was decidedly unsunny, a tearjerker of a record that should be hidden well out of sight of the recently broken-hearted. Delivering unadorned, Merlot-infused passion alongside asymmetrical time signatures, 'Trouble Will Find Me' was busy and'Sea Of Love' was awash with rolling waves of uncertainty.
Settle helped introduce underground house music to a generation of clubbers more familiar with David Guetta than genre pioneer Ron Hardy; it mixed that sensibility with the 2-step swing of ’90s UK garage; and managed to be so glossily chart-friendly that the brothers scored a Number One album in June. Clean club beats never sounded so cool.
The DIY punk and hardcore that inspired Leeds quintet Hookworms to make music may not be obvious in their tranced-out, glowingly psychedelic garage rock, but it’s essential to their ethos. This unexpected smash of a debut album offered repetitive riff monolithia and reverbed tenderness akin to a less pompous Spiritualized.
Katie Crutchfield’s second album using the Waxahatchee moniker was a breakout independent hit this year – a soulfully scuzzy, bare bones grunge-pop triumph. It could have been plucked from the mid-1990s racks of Empire Records, but was also very now, with Girls creator Lena Dunham amongst the record's champions.
According to Noel Gallagher, “the future of the galaxy” depended on Jagwar Ma’s debut album. No problem: the Sydney trio melded acid house beats baggier than Ian Brown’s trousers with a sleek, contemporary aesthetic that went way beyond mere pastiche. The result was an album that was next to impossible not to dance to.
Peace were the first of Birmingham’s new wave of talent (see also: Swim Deep, Troumaca, Superfood) to release a debut album. In doing so they justified the hype surrounding the city and themselves. With songs such as the psychedelia of ‘Higher Than The Sun’, they marked themselves out as a band full of spontaneity, hormones and natural talent.
In an experiment-or-perish year, Vampire Weekend served their innovation with cracking great tunes on. Their masterfully restrained third album sounded like it was played on wooden chests, antique synths, icebergs and cash registers. But at its core was some of the most consistently artful and intelligent songwriting of the year.
The dark bubbling underneath the predominant paisley wash of this year’s new bands came from Drenge, whose debut heaved with the lurching energy of prime grungers like early Nirvana. Drenge’s take was bratty and witty rather than angsty. Smart and slightly surreal in interview, brilliant live, their debut showed a duo with potential beyond a swift namecheck.
There was a lot riding on MIA's fourth album. 'Mantangi' proved proved that one of music's most fearless and playfully intelligent provocateurs was still as full of ideas as she ever was.
He kicked off with the noise of him opening-up his own studio, and finished by recording the street sounds from his own road at 3am. ‘Immunity’ was Jon Hopkins trying to get beyond the abstract colour-wash of pure techno to build something brainy that also reached out into the imperfect real-world of real emotion, and actually touched you.
2013 socked us in the face with a surprise David Bowie album that probably was his best since ‘Scary Monsters’, eschewing concept and reinvention for the sheer joy of solid, poppy, classic songwriting in the company of prime-era producer ‘Tony Visconti’. Oh ill health rumours, up yours, said Dame Dave, in so many words.
If the basic premise of Once I Was An Eagle - another failed relationship goes under the folk-rock microscope – felt overly-familiar, the results were often surprising. It was an album about self-examination and empowerment, on which Laura Marling refused to let herself be defined by the man she’d just ushered out of her life.
The band's first album since Cave’s longest collaborator Mick Harvey left the band saw violinist Warren Ellis take a more prominent role. The band created an uncharacteristically eerie and ethereal sound of terse guitar throbs and twitchy electronic warbles. It was a lesson in how to experiment by a band at their peak.
It was a heart-in-mouth moment, the release of Arcade Fire’s fourth. A finely judged masterstroke hung on the perfect pairing between a dancier Arcade Fire, inspired by the carnival spirit, and rock scholar and beat maestro James Murphy. They may well be the most important band of their generation and they’re gonna have fun doing it.
This year, Daft Punk returned as robotic superheroes. Their album has since caused a significant upturn in vinyl sales, created a cult of audiophile fans discussing its headphone moments online and made a hit DJ of 73 year-old Giorgio Moroder. And the most improbable thing? They did all this while barely putting in a public appearance.
‘Silence Yourself’ almost never happened – Savages' early management put them in a position where splitting up seemed more appealing than compromising any further. Of course, the quartet’s unfuckwithable nature prevailed, and they fired their managers and channeled their ire into these 10 songs that are as much indebted to absurd metal as post-punk.
‘Holy Fire’ was another giant stride forward for Oxford's Foals. It proved they’re a band capable of being wildly diverse at the same time as still sounding like themselves. A number two chart placing, a Mercury nomination and their first festival headline slot at Latitude followed. ‘Holy Fire’ was the record that tipped Foals into the big leagues.
'…Like Clockwork' became Queens of the Stone Age's highest-ever charting album in the UK. It was the band’s most accessible work to date, featuring appearances from Elton John, Alex Turner, Jake Shears, Dave Grohl and Nick Oliveri. None of that diluted the essence of what Queens Of The Stone Age were all about, though.
Two schools of thought when it comes to Kanye West. One is he's an egotistical fame-gobbling ignoramus. The other is he's all of that, but also a genius. Yeezus was his most sonically challenging album to date. His impeccably selected collaborators would ensure that – Hudson Mohawke, Charlie Wilson and Daft Punk. And some of it ranked among Kanye's best work.
‘AM’ felt like a genuine evolution for the Monkeys, and one that wasn’t without risk. Its success, however, rested on the two things that had always made them special: Alex Turner’s wry way with words, and his way with a tune. ‘AM’ boasted an embarrassment of riches on both counts. ‘AM’ is the album against which everything else will now be measured.