10. James Blake: ‘Overgrown’
‘Overgrown’ treads new ground on the periphery of the alt-RnB path trod by a growing number of artists recently (think Frank Ocean and The Weeknd) and at times wandering surprisingly close to Radiohead’s recent work.
Atmospheric, hauntingly beautiful and more soulful than Yorke’s vocals, Blake’s sophomore album is immeasurably superior to his debut. Nowhere is this clearer than on the album’s lead single ‘Retrograde’, a soulfully sparse but attention demanding ballad. Lyrically endearing and personal, tracks such as this and album opener ‘Overgrown’ quickly lend themselves to becoming soundtracks to personal stories and circumstances. Not an album you’re likely to forget and one that becomes intensely personal within a few listens, Blake is certainly one to watch.
9. Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks
Reznor’s time as a producer and soundtrack creator is an obvious influence on Nine Inch Nails’ incredibly complex eighth album built up bit by bit to become a Jenga tower of sound, barely balancing itself. The instability and discordant nature of the songs has many similarities with Kanye’s ‘Yeezus’ as does the heavily industrial electronic sound that permeates the record. One major misstep aside (‘Everything’s pop-punk interruption mid-album), ‘Hesitation Marks’ was a veritable success and a worthy addition to Reznor’s impressive canon.
8. Arctic Monkeys: ‘AM’
Opening with ‘Do I Wanna Know’, an aggressive bluesy riff-driven track that takes its lead from Queens Of The Stone Age’s latest effort, AM makes it clear from the outset that this is not the same band we all remember. More mature, more capable but with the same lyrical wit we loved so much from their 2006 debut. They never sound quite as dangerous on the rest of the album but they certainly still have a lot to say. Tracks like ‘R U Mine’, ‘Arabella’ and ‘I Want It All’ reminded us how much fun they can be but still maintained the polish that distinguishes this album from their previous efforts. A watershed moment for the group, in 2013 they ruled Britain, next album it might be the world’s turn.
7. Violent Soho: ‘Hungry Ghost’
Violent by name, violent by nature. Violent Soho’s, ‘Hungry Ghost’ burst from our speakers this year and raised the bar for Australian rock this year. Written with intent and progressing audibly from their previous studio efforts, it was immediately clear this was a band on a mission. Catchy, powerful and musically tight, this was a coming of age for the young lads from Brisbane. It was also a timely reminder that Australia is capable of producing its own bands that can match it with the like of Japandroids for raw intensity and quality songwriting. Keep an eye on them in the years to come, they won’t disappoint.
6. Daft Punk: ‘Random Access Memories’
With one of the most memorable songs of the year in ‘Get Lucky’, Daft Punk returned from the studio to conquer. They changed the playing field by turning away from samples and instead bringing in session musicians, including Chic’s Nile Rodgers to add an unpredictable element to their sound. It is the humanity of this album that strikes you, despite being electronic, despite a narrative arc that lacks humans, it is definitely human. From the jazz-style noodling on ‘Giorgio by Moroder’ to the sense of fun that permeates the whole disc, ‘Random Access Memories’ saw Daft Punk create their most personal and greatest album to date.
5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: ‘Push The Sky Away’
Push the Sky Away is a late and unexpected masterpiece from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but in hindsight, we should have seen it a mile off. After the formation of Grinderman, an endlessly entertaining, gritty Bad Seeds spin-off, and releasing albums Grinderman and Grinderman 2, there was little to be heard of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. But Push The Sky Away silenced any doubters and proved once again that Cave is one of the most consistently reliable song-writers Australia has to offer.
4. Atoms For Peace: Amok
When we first reviewed ‘Amok’, the debut album by Thom Yorke’s new group Atoms For Peace, we were disappointed that more wasn’t made of the band’s other members, particularly Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame). With almost 10 months having passed, we’ve gotten over our misguided expectations and have found this album impossible to put away. Complex, layered and certainly an album that benefits from your upper end speakers/headphones, this is a record to wallow in. Restrained enough to be background music, particularly with Yorke’s unassuming, relaxed vocal delivery it nevertheless continually draws you in, demanding attention and deserving of this year’s number 4 spot.
Heavily indebted to David Bowie, Reflektor saw Arcade Fire return with their most ambitious album to date. Indeed, the great man even makes an appearance during the album’s opening track and was a vocal fan of the band in their early days. The other key influence was producer James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) whose dance credentials meld beautifully with the group’s work together. Not a short album (2 discs, 75 minutes), Arcade Fire managed the difficult feat of creating a coherently epic album that never lags. Perhaps the key to that success is the diversity of the tracks here. At times akin to New Order (Afterlife), Bowie (‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’ and ‘Reflektor’) or Velvet Underground (‘Normal Person’), they reference so many influences it’s testament to singer Win Butler’s vocals that this even sounds like one band. Yet one band it is and one bloody tight band they must be to pull this off. Their best album to date, ‘Reflektor’ managed to give the people deliver what people wanted before they even knew they wanted it.
2. The Drones: ‘I See Seaweed’
The Drones are not a new band and yet you could be forgiven for thinking they were.
- having released six albums previously;
- winning the inaugural Australian Music Prize for their phenomenal and phenomenally named sophomore album ‘Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By’;
- Beating Wolfmother to win that prize; and
- Having their song ‘Shark Fin Blues’ voted best Australian song ever by a collection of contemporary Australian songwriters
Their name is still not one that is widely known in Australia.
Their seventh album, ‘I See Seaweed’ brought an intensity to it that was missing from much of 2013’s music. Standoffish, pissed off and going off, Liddiard holds court for 53 minutes as he spews his bilious rage over all that frustrates him in a lyrical stream of consciousness filled with wit and scathing derision. A carthartic listen and the best album for driving home after your boss has left you with a pile of his work to finish off, this is deservedly the best Australian release this year and one that you won’t forget any time soon.
Queens Of the Stone Age: ‘Like Clockwork…’
With their sixth album, Queens Of The Stone Age kicked things up a notch. Always there on the periphery of rock royalty, in their 17 years of existence they had never quite managed to surpass 2001’s ‘Songs For The Deaf’ and its phenomenally successful lead single ‘No One Knows’.
Until ‘Like Clockwork…’ that is. Making a gigantic leap from Era Vulgaris, their last album before going on hiatus, this is an album of incredible maturity, depth and intensity. Deservedly hitting number one on the charts, for future generations this will be the ‘Queens…’ record they are introduced to first. Outstanding tracks like the swaggering ‘If I Had A Tail’, the pounding ‘Kalopsia’ and lead single ‘My God Is The Son’ are instantly memorable and on par with anything they’ve released in the past.
Building upon everything that has come before and yet sounding like a completely different band, ‘Like Clockwork…’ proves that QOTSA are a band worthy of mention among the great rock acts of our time.