Find out NME's 50 top albums of 2013 here.
Ever since the disappointment of 2004’s ‘Bam Thwok’, it's been prudent to adopt a ‘be careful what you wish for’ approach to new Pixies material. With ‘Indie Cindy’ Black Francis showed that not only was he still capable of writing songs that sound like the Pixies, he could write songs that were worthy of them, too.
Dodgy facial hair aside, the Eno & Ferry obsessed fourpiece's debut single was a near perfect slice of Buzzcocks brilliance. Singer Matt Saunders' Welsh lilt was full of sleaze and venom, but really it was the twinned assault of drummer Jordan Cook and guitarist Matt Wood that carried it.
Written years ago, ‘Leather Jacket Love Song’ featured Johnny Marr’s last contribution to the band. The opening “it was 10 years on” was an accidental nod to the band’s anniversary and, said frontman Ryan Jarman, “The nostalgic element was something we recognized and played up.” A fitting tribute to the band’s 10 years of DIY punk rock.
The first single from ‘Overgrown’ set the tone for the entire album and marked James Blake as a man in love, but full of questions. Written in anger at 7am after a bad phone call, ‘Retrograde’ directly addressed his lover, continuing their conversation. Crescendoing synth added to Blake’s sense of deep frustration.
Over a sample lifted from Donny Hathaway's cover of Lennon's 'Jealous Guy'. Chance has proved he can be the "pop smash" rapper now that fellow Chicagoan Kanye has gone weird.
Flipping through magazines, reading ingredients and wandering round Queens: just some of the things Parquet Courts got up to when they were feeling high and indecisive in 2013. Luckily it only took two chords and a jumped up drumbeat to turn that feeling into a coiled spring of a song that distilled the stoners’ ennui.
On which the Kettering band shed the glam-rock of debut track ‘Shelter Song’ in favour of some delightfully warm harmonies, topped off by frontman James Bagshaw’s soft vocal. This was less T-Rex and more The Byrds, and set up the quartet as connoisseurs of modern psych rock.
The best thing on his debut, 'Easy Easy' was everything that's great about Archy Marshall. Bitter and sour to the last, it was as conversational and thought provoking as all the great British social commenter's – from Ray Davies to Mike Skinner. But it was threatening too, and the emotion poured out of him when he hollered the hook.
This rocked because of Kendrick Lemar using his guest verse to have a pop at 11 other rappers, including Drake and Tyler, The Creator.
Kelis found a worthy collaborator in TVOTR’s David Sitek on ‘Jerk Ribs’, a sparkling rejuvenation of her sound. Starting as a tentative, sultry tumble and whipping into a glorious brassy chorus that evokes Stax, Michael Jackson and Solange, it was the sound of one woman refusing to limit herself.
Kay B doesn't like the party to end. Yet on the second single from album two she was caring the next best thing to soothe her. This pulsing number was the opposite of a sedative.
MIA signalled her return with a sonic rabbit-punch. The most thrilling and erudite comeback of the year.
A lot was made of Yannis Philippakis' more accessible lyrics on 'Holy Fire', and it was on 'Bad Habit' where he really offered a passport into his heart. "I'm a bad habit / One you cannot shake / And I hope that I change / Don't follow me.". Their stellar festival run gave it extra fuel too – reducing crowds to teary-eyed colonies.
Kanye’s searing meditation on race and consumerism in America took inspiration from the obvious as well as the obscure, quoting the lyrics to Billie Holliday’s civil-rights standard ‘Strange Fruit’ over a sample lifted from a ‘70s Hungarian prog-rock band. Which was very Kanye, come to think about it. As bleeding-edge as pop music got in 2013.
The saloon-door stomp of ‘Leaving You’ first introduced Wolf Alice to the world in 2012, but this year’s ‘Fluffy’ marked their real arrival. The riffs squealed magnificently, but it was frontwoman Ellie Rowsell switching between soft coos and abrasive roars that made it.
Phoenix's return arrived as a payload of pure gloss, galloping in on an oriental riff. It somehow managed to pull off the trick of sounding as melancholy as three gins alone in a low-quality hotel room, yet also like standing on a downtown rooftop late at night shouting “I'm alive you fuckers!! I'm alive!!!” at no one in particular.
'Fall Back' radiated warmth: the skittering, synth-powered juggernaut captured the fizzy feeling you get in your stomach when you’re about to plummet. If pure, brutal noise had been Factory Floor’s old weapon of choice, then ‘Fall Back’ was them beefing up the armoury: hell-bent on finding ways to shake the whole body.
This track swaggered like 2001-era Dr Dre, but was drenched in the sort of rock'n'roll sleaze that even Josh Homme would stand aside for.
The New Yorkers announced their return this year with punnery (“If Diane Young won’t change your mind” – dying young, geddit?), a frenetic production style and a silly hook that repeats the word “bay-buh”. ‘Diane Young’ was the song that proved their last album’s Number One success was no glitch in the universe. A pop anthem for clever clogs.
‘Recover’ started life sounding like a plea for comfort, but actually masked an ultimatum from someone sick of being messed around: “I’ll give you one more chance to say we can change our old ways,” Lauren Mayberry sang firmly, though the stratospheric icy synths that glinted with desperation.
In what proved to be another of ‘AM’’s strokes of genius, Alex Turner acknowledged his longstanding lyrical debt to John Cooper Clarke by setting the Mancunian punk-poet’s words to this sumptuous, last-dance-of-the-night soundtrack, crooning about wanting to “be your vacuum cleaner and breathe in your dust” like a slightly-too-forward date.
'Open Eye Signal' was a banger all the better for coming straight from a leftfield guy: like Autechre writing Fedde Le Grand’s classic house tune 'Put Your Hands Up For Detroit'. As much as its churning central riff compelled movement of the arse, Hopkins also deployed tiny side-sounds to stroke your IQ into purring like an ickle kitty.
A sun-drenched rocket, with a chorus so glorious big bands would pay good money for it. “Does it reach your heart when I touch you that way?” winked singer Ben Romans-Hopcraft over a baggy bass riff, before the track united in a moment of euphoria. Hazy, this track set the Londoners up as more than just Palma Violets’ tour mates.
If Russell Brand’s revolution needed an anthem, it was Primal Scream’s state-of-the-nation wake-up call ‘2013’. Taking in corporate war crimes, Thatcher’s legacy, “the peasant underclass” and the crushing of the rock’n’roll counter-culture, it created a dystopian hellscape of modern Britain choking in corruption.
“Wrestling the rope from darkness is no fucking life that I would choose,” Marling spat on ‘Master Hunter’, where she asserted her newfound control over her life in no uncertain terms; sardonically repelling needy weeds and steeling herself for independence as she made her acoustic guitar rumble like a collapsing cliff face.
It sounded like an epic, life-threatening trek across the Himalayas, with a band of tiny supernatural mountain sprites as guides. Vampire Weekend and Ezra Koenig giving over of the catchiest chorus hook of their entire ‘Modern Vampires…’ album. A heavy subject matter, dealt with in five breezy minutes.
‘The Throw’ was a seven-minute banger that built around a lolloping groove straight out of Madchester. It started minimal, before exploding into an arms-aloft floor-filler complete with an acid-house outro and a giant drop. It became Jono Ma, Gabriel Winterfield and Jack Freeman’s showstopping moment at this summer’s festivals.
In Kanye's mind this is what constituted a pop song: sped up '70s soul samples, a totally unconventional structure and lyrical gems.
Anyone can cobble together a manifesto, but it takes smarts to deliver it so powerfully it bypasses your brain and enters your bloodstream. And therein lay the brilliance of 'She Will': a perfect marriage of Savages' fiercely intellectual agenda (female agency, sexual liberation) with the fuck-you swagger of one of 2013's best guitar line.
The pitch-shifted vocals of A$AP Rocky and the intergalactic bass overload of Skrillex were at odds with one another, yet the rapper and producer combined to make 2013's biggest mongrel banger. ‘Wild For The Night’ was brash and obnoxious, but by defying convention this odd couple gave both the hip-hop and EDM kids their anthem for the year.
Over a creeping, predatory bass Josh Homme proposes all kinds of sinister sucking and licking, not forgetting to mention the ensuing pleasure and pain. Like ‘50 Shades Of Grey’ for metalheads, ‘If I Had A Tail’ also chucked some beastial overtones into the mix for a perfectly perverted bastard of a rock song.
Mesmeric in its arrogance and undeniable in its greatness, only Kanye would’ve had the stones to attempt a song like this with such poker-faced seriousness, and only he could’ve managed to pull it off. Then there’s that lyric, somehow both sublime and ridiculous. The food of the gods is a flaky French pastry, and Yeezus wants his fill right now.
Pulp and James Murphy were a dream team when they marked the band's reunion with the original 'After You'. This year, a Soulwax remix proved too many cooks needn't spoil the broth. An industrial pop smash.
There were heavier moments on Queens Of The Stone Age’s epic sixth album ‘…Like Clockwork’, but this was the sexiest. From the pimp roll bounce of the opening bassline to Josh’s effortless falsetto, this was Queens at their most irresistibly sleazy – and that’s pretty fucking sleazy.
The Loveless brothers’ debut single was evidence that the British countryside ain’t all cream teas and quaint village fetes. Straight outta the Peak District, ‘Bloodsports’ was a feral blues explosion that saw Eoin rasping about racehorses and dicegames over Rory’s brutal drums. Filthier than a roll in a pigsty.
In 2006, David Bowie appeared on Ricky Gervais’ Extras and casually improvised a song about the comedian’s “pug nosed face”. In January 2013 he released what is essentially the same song, but swapped the original’s comedy insults for the solemn reflections of an ageing man. It reminded us why Bowie is still unmatched as a songwriter.
Those bombastic drums, the staccato vocal, the slap bass – nothing was left out of ‘Falling’. When Haim first wrote it, it was a gamble, because Danielle had to turn down an offer to tour with Cee Lo Green to stay home and write. When it was finished, its sound – from the tribal drumbeat to the slick approach to production – paved the way for ‘Days Are Gone’.
A brief moment of Glastonbury history was made when a demon rose from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' crowd, took Cave's hand and attempted to steal his soul with her unblinking eyes. The normally unflappable frontman looked enrapt - a sensation he had explored on 'Jubilee Street', where he trembled in awe of a mysterious woman named Bee.
‘Anxiety’s Door’ finds frontman Carson Cox wandering the streets of his native Tampa, surrounded by crashing poverty, but with a song in his heart: “With no chains on my heart,” he sang. “It’s so easy to be free.” Here was the quintessential example of Merchandise’s ability to transmute basic materials into something transcendent.
There isn’t a more fascinating pop star in the world than Kanye West right now. ‘Black Skinhead’ was a microcosm of why that’s the case: three breathless and almost-punk minutes that covered the central complexes – ego, messiah and persecution - of his dark and twisted psyche.
There was no denying that Ella Yellich O'Connor used dubious racial clichés (“Cristal, Maybach”) to signify her weariness with pop's wealth obsession on 'Royals'. When it came to songwriting, however, she was savvier. Although her lyrics concerned teenage malaise, the eye-rolls didn't carry through to the music itself, which was inventive and addictive.
The second single to be lifted from ‘Holy Fire’ was an all-caps, in-italics TUNE of the sort we never would have reckoned Yannis Philippakis’ cerebral math-rockematicians capable of, even after their dalliances with grandeur on ‘Total Life Forever’. A song so bold and brassy it takes just seventeen seconds for the first chorus to arrive.
If Jesus Christ Superstar had been made entirely on prescription downers, it might’ve sounded like Pond’s psych-prog masterpiece. It sounded like frontman (and ex-Tame Impala bassist) Nick Allbrook had built some kind of psychedelic Large Hadron Collider in order to smash together Jimi Hendrix funk-rock noise, 70s hippy musical choruses and hallucinogenic fuzz.
A story about having a panic attack while gardening, ‘Avant Gardener’ became an instant classic when it crept off the Australian singer-songwriter’s second EP in August. The deadpan, relaxed feel of the track made its narrator sound almost nonchalant. It was a spirit of the age song, too – an ode to boredom and unemployment.
On which the pioneering New Yorkers realised, 13 years into their career, that they were big enough, bold enough and brazen enough to say, "Yeah, okay, we probably can get away with using a gospel choir". And on this first single from their fourth album ‘Mosquito’ they didn’t just get away with it, they nailed it.
Few club tracks this year had the success of ‘White Noise’, a song that was written about an argument Aluna Francis had with a man called Pink Boy. It resonated, and bounded into the Number Two spot in February. The Lawrence brothers’ most triumphant moment to date sprayed garage-house beats and sugary R&B vocals all over the place.
On this heaving beast of a song, Arctic Monkeys conjured up one of the all-time great riffs, and a lick even Keith Richards would have to give a deferential grumble of approval to. The opening track of ‘AM’ was also the first to be recorded for it, and in both instances, it set the tone for what followed: predatory, lust-crazed, and slightly askew.
The title track from Arcade Fire’s fourth album was a puzzle, wrapped inside an enigma, hidden in a hall of mirrors where Haitian conga-funk played on a seemingly-perpetual loop: no wonder David Bowie wanted it for himself. In the end, however, The Dame’s vocal cameo is pretty low down on the list of remarkable things about this song.
Chic meets Daft Punk? Have you ever imagined something so perfect? Decades of perfect dance music and R&B distilled into one luscious brew. 'Get Lucky' brimmed with liquid grooves, silky vocals, robotic breakdowns, cut-glass guitars and a randy hook that infiltrated every cell of the brain. Disco was reborn and making people dance.