Music & clubs

2013: A Top 10 Records

D. "Decks Berliner" Strauss delivers his annual appraisal of 2013's album output – in the usual preferred format of the Top 10.

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Julia Holter: Loud Song City

I’m getting used to going small ball with my favourites. Although I appreciate that major R’n’B artists during the collapse of the music industry, like Yeezy and Beezy, feeling that they have to differentiate themselves from the EDM USBers who are defining the future of ‘pop’, are continuing to emotionally invest in trap, break-ish beat and 2010s nü-goth and horror-synth revival, the CEO-ification of The Artist has led to a concurrent upswing in bad taste. I’d say at this level of wealth and exposure we’re Bound 2 it. But bad taste is often the mother of invention, and even if Kim Kardashian had nipples that artpopped, it wouldn’t be as silly as those witch haus artists of a few years ago moaning as if their student loans were due. Not that I couldn’t relate… But that’s the mainstream. What follows reeks of the specifics of potential love. Or not.

1. Julia Holter: Loud Song City (Domino)

A June Christy for the age of global warming and Ritalin, Holter gives good theory, and you can thankfully ignore it. Her languorous, if slightly forced, sense of timing, and recent attempts at showing a little knee, suggest an uncanny rapport with attempted humanity. All this touring has been good for her Turing.

2. Dean Blunt: The Redeemer (Hippos In Tanks)

Incapable of discarding his smart-ass persona, Blunt instead discharges it, to give charge to a broken heart. Unlike Holter, there’s a cynicism to his conceptualism, but he sounds truly wounded and, if it’s a trick, I want to learn it before I head to the Amt again. Still, even if all dogs go to heaven, they continue to lick themselves.

3. The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits (Night School)

A sad and spooky spectre of the San Francisco scene, The Space Lady’s street synth serenades screamed an end to the Aquarian Age during the 1980s and 1990s. This is exactly the sort of music that’s supposed to disappear into memory so that by the time you reach your deathbed, the angels are serenading you with it while you’re not even certain you can confirm your memories. But she made a tape.

4. My Bloody Valentine: M B V (MBV)

One of the benefits of self-releasing your album and controlling the narrative is that no one asks you if you recorded it in the mid-1990s – the sub-Spring Heel Jack D’n’B at the end gives away the game theory. But, like Axl Rose, Kevin Shields’ excessive gestation period mirrors an aesthetic of general excess. And, like Rose, personal excess. That this record is so satisfying while breaking no new ground is testament to whatever its influence – and it sure seemed totemic during early Blair – the lessons didn’t stick. Except for those in excess, of course. But that’s late Blair.

5. Keith Jarrett: No End (ECM)

Two CDs of a previously unreleased 1986 guitar-and-percussion solo session from the famed maestro of piano, humming and prickliness. It’s woozily reminiscent of horse-dark 1970s Miles, without the virtuosity which I’m proud to say I wouldn’t appreciate anyway. Because Yeezus wasn’t sloppy enough and you don’t think I’m old enough.

6. Devendra Banhart: Mala (Warner Brothers)

The Jeepster turns out to be a classicist, even as time has passed most of Banhart’s concerns: from glam to Tropicalia to psych to whitewashed R. Kelly – it’s only a small trip from classicist to archivist. But while we wait for songwriting to come back into style, Banhart has gone some ways toward perfecting his own. The risk is that the hint of irrelevancy brings camp – think Mick Jagger in the 1970s (Banhart certainly does). Studying the footnotes can get you marginalised as you wait for your comeback, as the late Lou Reed was more than aware.

7. Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument (Awesome Tapes from Africa)

Only about 70 albums have come out of Ethiopia and each one has been exploited into a special edition fetish object for Record Store Day. This 1985 ‘cassette’ from the keyboardist is less timeless-sounding than the 1970s releases from his homeland, in the manner that jazz on electric piano from the 1980s emotes turtlenecks and the scent of pipes. But the rhythm-box-and-waterfall tones might have seemed like a change of pace from the minor-keyed James Brown aping of a previous era. Not that anyone knew Ethiopian music had eras back then. We’re rediscovering the rediscovered.

8. Wicked Witch: Chaos 1978-1986 (EM Records)

There are actually only a few tracks on this funk-punk (as opposed to punk-funk) compilation that are truly sublime, but the act was so chaotic they made Ornette Coleman’s Dancing in Your Head sound like Demi Lovato (that’s a collaboration I’d mark a guestlist spot for). Defunkt is something of a template, but there’s the feel of generations transitioning between dark disco and electro, with the drugged-out Black Power vocals adding to the feeling of an entire set of optimistic societies failing at once. Which they did.

9. Willis Earl Beal: Nobody knows. (XL)

The title of this sophomore record suggests he’s been listening to Leonard Cohen and the period implies that he’s finished with him. You can’t really call Beal an outsider at this point – he’s on Adele’s label, singing with a greater empathy – but his bohemianism is self-taught and not mediated by H&M. Which means he risks embarrassment in sentiment and ambition, but his talent never fails him, at least vocally. The duet with Chan Marshall is the most conventionally ‘soulful’ of the tracks, but her attempts at the mainstream always seem to force the return of the repressed, so this bodes well for Beal. The more he fails, the more he’ll succeed.

10. Lucrecia Dalt: Commotus (Human Ear Music)

Like Juana Molina’s new release, which almost made my cut, this record feels like an accumulation of details sculpted into songs that could start or stop at any time, though it’s less compulsive. More likely, Dalt has internalised song structure to the extent that everything seems to come out shapely. If only history was working in a similar manner.