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Foam Hands 2013 review : Albums, EPs and tracks of the year


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When I found out I was going to be a father, I panicked; about all the usual things, of course, but also because I assumed that parenthood would leave me with no spare time to listen to music. Luckily though, my daughter was born at the start of a long, glorious summer that allowed for lots of early evening walks with the stroller and my iPod, and once we eventually settled into a routine I ended up with an hour or two to myself every evening whilst Mrs. Foam Hands fed and put her to bed. All of which meant that, if anything, I got to hear more new music in 2013 than I have since the days when I used to work in a record store and, as always, there was a hell of a lot that I liked and a fair amount that I loved. You know it’s been a good year when solid efforts from old favourites like Deerhunter, The National, The Thermals, Cass McCombs, Frog Eyes, Queens Of The Stone Age, Marnie Stern, White Denim, John Grant, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Julia Holter, Matmos and The Men missed the cut, not to mention headline-grabbing comeback records from My Bloody Valentine and David Bowie; there were also several new and less established bands and artists – Beach Fossils, Grumbling Fur, Ejecta, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Axel Boman, Youth Code, Power Trip, Ensemble Pearl, Volcano Choir, Pure X, Var, Missing Monuments, Kevin Gates, A$AP Ferg, Youth Lagoon, Zs, The Julie Ruin, Son Lux, Raum, Special Request, Wymond Miles, Nedelle Torrisi and others – who released excellent albums that it pained me to have to exclude from my final countdown. So here we are, 2013 boiled down to a numbered list of 100 albums (and a few honourable mentions, EPS, compilations, mixtapes and standout tracks); click on the links to see what I had to say when they came out, and to listen to samples, and please feel free to comment if you agree, disagree or think I’ve left anything out.
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100. Pharmakon Abandon
99. Diamond Terrifier The Subtle Body Wears A Shadow
98. Lumbar The First And Last Days Of Unwelcome
97. J. Roddy Walston & The Business Essential Tremors
96. Clipping Clipping
95. Autechre Exai
94. Black Pus All My Relations
93. Hoax Hoax
92. Thee Oh Sees Floating Coffin
91. Kirin J. Callinan Embracism
90. Daughn Gibson Me Moan
89. About Group Between The Walls
88. Rhye Woman
87. Four Tet Beautiful Rewind
86. Melt Yourself Down Melt Yourself Down
85. Happy Jawbone Family Band Happy Jawbone Family Band
84. Connections Body Language
83. Milk Music Cruise Your Illusion
82. Jenny Hval Innocence Is Kinky
81. True Widow Circumambulation
80. Lord Dying Summon The Faithless
79. Corrections House Last City Zero
78. Touche Amore Is Survived By
77. Gardland Syndrome Syndrome
76. James Holden The Inheritors
75. Bill Orcutt A History Of Every One
74. Cate Le Bon Mug Museum
73. Pure Bathing Culture Moon Tide
72. The Wave Pictures City Forgiveness
71. Omar Souleyman Wenu Wenu
70. Cut Copy Free Your Mind
69. Toro Y Moi Anything In Return
68. Janelle Monae The Electric Lady
67. Maxmillion Dunbar House Of Woo
66. Jessy Lanza Pull My Hair Back
65. Savages Silence Yourself
64. Fuck Buttons Slow Focus
63. Forest Swords Engravings
62. Matana Roberts Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile
61. No Age An Object
60. Drake Nothing Was The Same
59. Kelela Cut 4 Me
58. Waxahatchee Cerulean Salt
57. Kurt Vile Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze
56. Miles Faint Hearted
55. Tim Hecker Virgins
54. Dirty Beaches Drifters/ Love Is The Devil
53. Leverage Models Leverage Models
52. Blood Orange Cupid Deluxe
51. Haim Days Are Gone
50. Kvelertak Meir
49. Light Heat Light Heat
48. Holy Ghost! Dynamics
47. A$AP Rocky Long Live A$AP
46. The Field Cupid’s Head
45. Boards Of Canada Tomorrow’s Harvest
44. DIANA Perpetual Surrender
43. Colin Stetson New History Warfare Vol 3: To See More Light
42. Majical Cloudz Impersonator
41. Swearin’ Surfing Strange
40. The Necks Open
39. Dawn Of Midi Dysnomia
38. Radioactivity Radioactivity
37. Oozing Wound Retrash
36. DJ Rashad Double Cup
35. Death Grips Government Plates
34. Oneohtrix Point Never R Plus Seven
33. Purling Hiss Water On Mars
32. M.I.A. Matangi
31. Mutual Benefit Love’s Crushing Diamond
30. Julianna Barwick Nepenthe
29. The Baptist Generals Jackleg Devotional To The Heart
28. Earl Sweatshirt Doris
27. Pusha T My Name Is My Name
26. Iceage You’re Nothing
25. Disclosure Settle
24. Sky Ferreira Night Time My Time
23. CHVRCHES The Bones Of What You Believe
22. Phoenix Bankrupt!
21. His Electro Blue Voice Ruthless Sperm
20. Pissed Jeans Honeys
19. Neko Case The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
18. Sun Kil Moon & The Album Leaf Perils From The Sea
17. Darkside Psychic
16. Heatsick Re-Engineering
15. Danny Brown Old
14. Phosphorescent Muchacho
13. Hey Colossus Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo

A decade playing together has evidently done little to stop the creative juices flowing for London/ Somerset psych-rock crew Hey Colossus whose eighth long-player Live Life Like Cuckoo found them rising up from the primordial swamp and stretching their bony, calloused hands out to the sun. With their arsenal expanded to include synths, samples, turntables and tape loops, the band that Julian Cope once described as “Can vs Fudge Tunnel” continued to find increasingly exciting new ways to hammer krautrock-shaped pegs into sludge-metal holes: the manic, raging “Hot Grave” sounded like a glam-rocking Captain Beefheart, whilst “How to Tell Time With Jesus” strapped Damo Suzuki and the Boredoms to a rocket, fired them into space and watched wide-eyed as the glittering fragments drifted back down to earth. Quite how these guys managed to fly under the radar is baffling, but on this basis it’s safe to say that strange mutant life-forms continue to flourish underground.

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12. DJ Koze Amygdala

Eight years after the release of his debut LP, German DJ and producer Stefan Kozalla returned in 2013 with a sprawling follow-up that surprised and delighted at every turn, and continues to do so nine months on. As one might expect from an artist who chooses to be photographed in a crash helmet and dressing gown riding a reindeer for his album cover, Koze sprinkled every track on Amygdala with quirky touches (sampled car horns and animal noises, backwards voices, marimba, funk guitar, off-key strings and free jazz brass) that pushed his larger-than-life personality to the fore, even when guest vocalists like Matthew Dear, Caribou, Apparat and Rhye’s Milosh took centre stage.

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11. The Knife Shaking The Habitual
The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
Apparently the product of extensive research into “queer theory” and established gender roles, and its creators’ desire to challenge existing environmental and sociopolitical conventions, Shaking The Habitual was a 90-minute beast of a record that took the creepy industrial atmospherics of its predecessor (2006’s critically acclaimed Silent Shout) and the pop nous of the Swedish siblings’ earlier work, spiked them with bad acid and left them to get jiggy with it on an S&M club dancefloor. Informed heavily by the clanging polyrhythmic techno of Olof’s solo Oni Ahyun guise, this was the sound of The Knife having fun again: fun in the dark, admittedly, but then that’s the best kind, right?

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10. Chance The Rapper Acid Rap

When Chance Bennett got suspended from school he didn’t just waste his ten days at home getting high: he also put pen to pad and found a positive way to voice his frustrations via the trusted medium of old-school lyrical skills. Dedicated to a close friend Bennett saw stabbed to death on the streets of Chicago, the 20 year old’s second self-released, free album Acid Rap felt like the antithesis of Kanye’s cold-hearted Yeezus: a playfully scattershot retro-futuristic trip through his hometown and its musical history – from blues and jazz through R. Kelly and West himself to juke and footwork, courtesy of producers like Peter Cottontale, Stefan Ponce and Nate Fox – pulled into sharp focus by hip hop’s most energetic and enthusiastic new superstar.

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9. Bill Callahan Dream River

If Bill Callahan minds being perceived as the prickly lone wolf of alternative roots rock, he certainly doesn’t put much effort into changing the general consensus of opinion: his fourth post-Smog LP Dream River opened with him drinking alone in a hotel bar in the afternoon, and ended with an ode to “just keepin’ on” sung with all the enthusiasm of a terminally ill sewage worker. As always, though, his dry wit and novelist’s eye for detail captivated, and the sparse but sensual, jazzy arrangements were intoxicating. There were traces of a smile, too: hearing the disarmingly tender “Small Plane” for the first time was like watching Oscar The Grouch falling in love and stuffing his trash-can full of flowers.

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8. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels

Michael Render and Jaime Meline – Killer Mike and El-P – make the best double act: two guys with shared interests, a similarly sick sense of humour and an obvious rapport who together last year just happened to make two of the finest hip hop long-players of the decade so far. Capitalizing on the success of El’s comeback album Cancer 4 Cure, Mike’s monstrous R.A.P. Music (produced entirely by the former) and their subsequent joint headline tour, the pair decided to grab some last-minute studio time and knock out some more collaborative material, again with beats by Meline but this time with vocal duties split 50/50. That they then decided to give the resulting album away for free may have implied a sub-standard document of best buds messing around, but Run The Jewels was about as far from throwaway as it gets: with its hard-as-nails production and infectious tag-team rapping, Mike and El-P gifted us yet another brand new old school classic.

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7. Factory Floor Factory Floor

As befits a group influenced in fairly equal measure by Throbbing Gristle and New Order, the long-awaited eponymous debut album from London trio Factory Floor evoked both the mind-numbing monotony of the daily grind and the precious moments of ecstatic release in between. Four years in the making, every detail was pored over meticulously, and it shows; but for all the fine tuning, these sonic sculptors also wanted to make people dance, and they succeeded spectacularly with these ticking, clicking, hissing, shuddering, bell-ringing, booming techno-voodoo spells transforming indie kids, gear fetishists and hardcore ravers alike into blank-eyed, cold-sweating, limb-twitching zombies.

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6. Autre Ne Veut Anxiety

Listening to former jingle writer Arthur Ashin’s second album as Autre Ne Veut, one would never guess that the Brooklynite suffered from an anxiety disorder so serious it prevented him almost entirely from promoting his wonderfully strange 2010 debut. In fact, Anxiety was such a bold, confident follow-up that the title seemed almost tongue-in-cheek: a collection of sleek, sensual 21st century R&B songs combining Ashin’s love of Prince and ‘80s pop (and his deliciously dirty diva vocals) with programmed electronic beats, chopped ‘n’ screwed samples and unpredictable, experimental arrangements (influenced by contemporaries like Oneohtrix Point Never) that were somehow still accessible enough for one to imagine them soundtracking the climax of some major Hollywood blockbuster. Plus, it featured a love song to his grandma, so there’s that too.

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5. Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires Of The City

If Vampire Weekend have spent the last half-decade getting peoples’ backs up, we should bear in mind they probably haven’t done so intentionally; it’s all too easy to hate things we don’t know or understand, but whilst it’s fair to assume this quartet of Ivy League graduates knows and understands a whole lot more than a fair chunk of their audience, we shouldn’t assume they have written songs about punctuation and summer homes and referenced music from exotic locations we’ll never visit just to rub our noses in it. Third album Modern Vampires Of The City lost some of the youthful exuberance of its predecessors – along with most of the ska, punk and African influences – and as a result it felt as though the band were being more honest with us, more inclusive. With a couple of exceptions, the arrangements were slower, quieter, indebted to classic rock and chamber pop; in short, a more fitting accompaniment to the of kind of arty, intelligent songwriting at which Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij excel. Less “look at me!” than “let me tell you a story”, this was Vampire Weekend’s take on the great American novel, a sprawling meditation on faith, disillusionment, mortality and the passing of time that you could lose yourself in for weeks at a time.

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4. Deafheaven Sunbather

I don’t know enough about heavy metal and its various sub-genres to confidently say that Deafheaven’s Sunbather was the best metal album of 2013; I’ve read a few comments from die-hard head-bangers suggesting that the group – built around the core founding duo of George Clarke and Kerry McCoy – aren’t even a “real” metal band, that their target audience are indie hipsters who just want to grab some punk rock credibility, and coming from an indie background myself who am I to argue? All I can say is that Sunbather, with its spectaculary intense combination of blackened howls, thunderous blast beats, apocalyptic post-rock guitar noise and gentle, almost ambient interludes, was probably my most played record over the last six months, the album that moved me most and the one I fell back on when all else failed. A landmark metal album, whether metal-heads like it or not.

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3. Kanye West Yeezus

Ever since the president himself criticized Kanye West for upsetting poor little Taylor Swift the rapper has seemed to revel in his status as “the man the world loves to hate”. As such, sixth album Yeezus was relentlessly (and at times almost comically) confrontational, a barrage of angry rants, sly digs at former friends and lovers and outrageous verbal shock tactics – including some nasty and particularly graphic sexual content – that was often more punk than hip hop. That he chose equally harsh production – largely from electronic artists like Daft Punk, Arca and Hudson Mohawke, influenced by industrial noise, acid house, dancehall and heavy metal among other things – might have been a “fuck you” to the rap community (or anyone else that found themselves on his bad side), but it only served to further endear him to the music press, who lavished praise on the record for its boundary-breaking forward thinking. One imagines West is probably scrolling through year-end lists as we speak, lapping up all the cheers and boos and – quite rightly – feeling very pleased with himself indeed.

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2. Arcade Fire Reflektor

Truth be told, I didn’t expect to like the fourth Arcade Fire record too much. Having loved their debut Funeral to the point of obsession and then been increasingly disappointed by subsequent efforts, I was ready for another “event” album that turned out to be, well, a non-event. I’ve never been so happy to be proved wrong. Reflektor was both a return to form and a reinvention, featuring arrangements as ambitious and unpredictable as the band’s early material AND a brand new coat of experimental paint, courtesy of former LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy, who helped them build on the electronic foundations laid on 2010’s The Suburbs. A monstrous but surprisingly flab-free 80-minute double set featuring angular Talking Heads funk, bouncy dub, glam rock, jangling Smiths guitars, billowing ambience, lush Sgt. Pepper pop and David Bowie on backing vocals, Reflektor wasn’t just an event album: it also bumped Arcade Fire a couple links further up the food chain, confirming them as one of the biggest bands on the planet, and deservedly so.

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1. Daft Punk Random Access Memories

Okay, let’s be honest: nobody expected Daft Punk’s big return to sound like Random Access Memories. We expected samples and sleek, shiny synths, processed beats, house and techno rhythms and robot voices, but whilst we received some of those things, in some capacity or other, we didn’t get the space-age stadium rave-up we had hoped for. What we did get was so much better: a classic album in the classic sense, a loving homage to soft rock, funk and disco – played entirely by real musicians with real instruments – that took the French duo’s old club-friendly sound back in time to its late ’70s beginnings (with help from founding fathers Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder) and then pulled it into the present with ridiculously catchy vocal turns from Pharrell Williams, Julian Casablancas, Todd Edwards and Panda Bear. In an age where bands try to sound as lo-fi as possible, such an ambitious, luxurious recording felt reassuringly timeless. Oh, and “Touch” and “Doin’ It Right” never fail to put the biggest smile on my baby daughter’s face, and for that reason – and countless others – Random Access Memories is my album of 2013.

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13 honourable mentions
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Antwon In Dark Denim
Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys Ready For Boredom
Classixx Hanging Gardens
Doldrums Lesser Evil
Faux Fur Faux Fur
Lonnie Holley Keeping A Record Of It
Iron Chic The Constant One
Joanna Gruesome Weird Sister
Kevin Morby Harlem River
Muscle Worship Muscle Worship
Nine Inch Nails Hesitation Marks
The Range Nonfiction
Young Galaxy Ultramarine
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The 13 best EPs, compilations and mixtapes…
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Arca &&&&& (mixtape)
Burial Rival Dealer (EP)
Demdike Stare Testpressings 001 – 004 (EP series)
Guerilla Toss Gay Disco (EP)
Helm Silencer (EP)
Johnny Jewel/ Various Artists After Dark 2
Kode 9/ Various Artists Rinse 22 (DJ mix)
Koreless Yugen (EP)
Merchandise Totale Nite (EP)
Jai Paul Jai Paul (leaked tracks/ demos)
Various Artists (L.I.E.S.) Music For Shut-ins
Viet Cong Cassette (EP)
Young Thug 1017 Thug (mixtape)
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And finally… 13 for 13
(Or, because I’m pretty anal about taking songs out of their original context within an album, a mixtape’s worth of tracks that do not appear on any of the releases already listed but shouldn’t go unobserved)
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A$AP Ferg ft. Shabba Ranks, Busta Rhymes & Migos “Shabba (remix)”

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Courtney Barnett “Avant Gardner”

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Big Sean ft. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica “Control”

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David Bowie “Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Remix By James Murphy For The DFA)”

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Boxed In “All Your Love Is Gone”

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Ciara “Body Party”

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Condominium “Carl”

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Dessert “Lovelink”

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Mas Ysa “Why”

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Shit Robot ft. Reggie Watts “We Got A Love”

Sophie “Bipp”

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Todd Terje “Strandbar (Disko)”

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2 Chainz “Feds Watching”

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About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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