1967, 1971, 1976, 1986, 1991 and 2001 – these years are legendary for the number of game-changing albums they spawned by bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Ramones, The Smiths, Nirvana and The Strokes. And you know what? The year 2013 is up there. It’s had everything…
When 2013 was eight days old, David Bowie released the song ‘Where Are We Now?’ and announced that his first album for a decade, ‘The Next Day’, would follow in March. It was the great man’s first record in the social media era, and news of his 24th album resonated around the world. As Pixies frontman Black Francis told NME: “There probably isn’t another musician who could have had such an impact. Not even Sir Paul McCartney.” Daft Punk had a go, though, with a series of teasers for their first album in eight years, ‘Random Access Memories’: a 15 second advert on Saturday Night Live on March 2, a video preview of ‘Get Lucky’ at Coachella on April 12 and an announcement on May 17 at the 79th Annual Wee Waa Show in a rural Australian town. Again, social media went into meltdown. These two releases were more than just albums: they were cultural events.
Six months after ‘Yeezus’ came out, it seems absurd to suggest that Kanye West was in a precarious position as an artist in 2013. But his last solo album, 2010’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’, only went to Number 16 in the UK Albums Chart. And even though his 2011 Watch The Throne collaboration with Jay-Z did better, if anything he’d used Jay-Z’s status to resurrect himself as a mainstream concern. So when news kept trickling out that the recording of West’s sixth album was going badly and Rick Rubin had been drafted in to sort it out, it added to a feeling that maybe Ye had had is day. But on June 18 Kanye West delivered. ‘Yeezus’ was a ferocious record that started hundreds of conversations about racial and sexual politics, Kanye’s celebrity/rock star status and the state of his fragile ego. He’s made statement after statement since, culminating in the video for ‘Bound 2’ that West says is his take on “white trash”. With ‘Yeezus’ he wanted to infiltrate, take on and send up white America, and he’s done it on an album that sounds like the future of hip-hop. MIA, too, had a point to prove. Her last album, 2010’s ‘Maya’, was rubbish. And she’s currently being sued for $1.5 million for sticking her middle finger up when she performed at the 2012 Super Bowl. On ‘Matangi’ she attacked anyone who’d had a pop at her in the previous three years, and blended in Hinduism, reincarnation, Karma and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Her arguments were occasionally incoherent, but she landed plenty of punches.
How long do you have to be away for a new record to count as a comeback? Let’s say minimum three years, which is how long it was since Arcade Fire’s ‘The Suburbs’. In 2013 they’re more theatrical than ever, putting out a disco record, masquerading as alter ego band The Reflektors at gigs and asking everyone to come in fancy dress. Then there’s Franz Ferdinand who, four years since the not so great ‘Tonight: Franz Ferdinand’ released the actually pretty great ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’. Also released was Queens Of The Stone Age’s first album in six years, the fragile ‘…Like Clockwork’ that featured Alex Turner, Dave Grohl, Elton John Jake Shears and various other pals of bandleader Josh Homme. But the king of them all was My Bloody Valentine, whose brutal ‘m b v’ came a mere 21 years after ‘Loveless’.
That Arctic Monkeys continue to improve with every album is, five records into their career, ludicrous. That Bobby Gillespie still has enough fire in his belly to commit a meaningful diatribe to Primal Scream’s 10th album ‘More Light’ is admirable. That Nick Cave, now on his 15th album with the Bad Seeds, is still in his prime aged 55 is remarkable. That Jon Hopkins finally found, on fifth album ‘Immunity’, the peak of the jittery and warped dance music he’d been working on for so long is heartwarming. That Foals worked out that their future sounded like the stadium-ready metal riffing on ‘Holy Fire’ rather than the intricate math-rock of previous albums seems obvious now that they’ve triumphed at Latitude, but it was a risk.
Great years in music are nothing without new artists. Peace resurrected good-time ‘90s indie on ‘In Love’. Palma Violets became a party band with substance thanks to ‘180’. Haim made a slinky pop record. Savages’ fury translated perfectly into the 11 raging slices of post-punk on ‘Silence Yourself’. Chance The Rapper’s debut mixtape ‘Acid Rap’ saw the emergence of a trippy new hip hop star. Earl Sweatshirt’s debut album proper (following his 2010 mixtape ‘Earl’) was articulate and unsettling, and hit harder than the album fellow Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator released this year.
Fertile DIY Scenes
In Philadelphia, sisters Allison and Katie Crutchfield were, until recently, living in the same house. In the basement, Allison recorded ‘Surfing Strange’ with her band Swearin’. More powerful was Katie’s second album as Waxahatchee, ‘Cerulean Salt’. Both were made with the minimum of outside interference. Elsewhere in America, Merchandise are a product of the DIY scene in Tampa, Florida, and this year’s ‘Totale Nite’ is the most magnificent sounding thing they’ve ever done. And Speedy Ortiz, part of a scene in Boston, Massachussets, released the alarmingly lyrical ‘Major Arcana’. Here in the UK, Hookworms are leading the DIY scene in Leeds and their album ‘Pearl Mystic’ is a masterclass is painfully intense psych-rock.
Find out NME’s 50 top tracks of 2013 here.
Find out NME’s 50 top albums of 2013 here.