Review of 2013 (Part Two)

So here’s the second part of my review of 2013. Part one’s here.

The Decent Album By Great American Bands Of Their Generation

Not featured – The National or Arcade Fire. For The National, buck your ideas up, chaps. You can only moan for so long, especially when you are critically acclaimed and loved internationally by legions of fans. For Arcade Fire, without meaning to sound rude, they really were a one-album wonder, weren’t they?

Runners Up

Yo La Tengo – Fade

Not a great Yo La Tengo album, but a good one.

Low – The Invisible Way

Not a great Low album, but a good one. Ok, maybe I should say a little more. I realised earlier this year that Low are up there as one of My Favourite Bands Of All Time. They’ve been part of my life, on and off, since the late ’90’s, but I never quite got fully – as in, obsessional – into them until The Great Destroyer. With that album, something clicked, and off I went scurrying into their back catalogue. C’Mon was a fantastic album as well. Problem with Low is that they’ve set themselves such a high bar, that anything that jumps gracefully but catches the bar on the way down can only be seen as a failure. Terrible metaphor, I know.

MP3: Plastic Cup by Low

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City

This lot are slowly becoming global superstars. Ok, so their debut made them stars, kind of, but this is the kind of album that cements you in that firmament. Can’t say I listen to it that often though; it’s a record that I admire more than I love.

MP3: Unbelievers by Vampire Weekend


Midlake – Antiphon

Well, blow me down with a jazz flute. I, well, no-one, expected great things from Midlake after the departure of singer/songwriter Tim Smith. And they didn’t deliver something great, but they did deliver something pretty good. Without meaning to damn them with faint praise, Antiphon was a much better record than anyone could have hoped for, and in “The Old And The Young”, showed that they had the talent left in the band to make a truly special song.

  • The Decent Album By Great American Singer/Songwriters Of Their Generation

    Runner Up

    Laura Veirs – Warp and Weft

    Made me realise just how good July Flame was, that an album as good as this pales in comparison.

  • Joint Winners

    Bill Callahan – Dream River

    In which Bill Callahan demonstrates, as if he needs to, that he’s the finest lyricist of his generation. The line “The only words I’ve said today are “Beer” and “Thank you”” paints the kind of picture that a million poets, singer-songwriters, screenwriters and novelists would give their small intestine for. Bill knocks this kind of quality out on every single record. Amazing. What’s even more, the world seems to be slowly, slowly wakening up to him. He sold out a night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in 2014 so a second night was added, and Amazon happily tells me he’s the #1 seller in “Americana and Country”. There is hope in this world, my friends.

  • Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost

    After Kiss Each Other Clean, I had real worries about our ol’ bearded chum Sam Beam. The over-instrumentation, the easy rock production, the running away from everything that made his records so damned special. But on Ghost On Ghost, it all made sense. Whatever impulse he’s got to step away from beautiful, sparse acoustic records and turn to massively detailed, lush soundscapes finally came good. Just listen to “The Desert Babbler”:

  • The way his vocals rise into the chorus, man, that gets my arm-hairs rising every single time. But I’d pay good money for an acoustic set any time. Make it happen, Sam.

  • The We’re Not Metal, Honest Album

    Joint Winners

    Russian Circles – Memorial

    As ever, fucking majestic. Lighter and heavier than their last record, and just as addictive. Even features vocals, for the first time, for that early Cocteau Twins aura.

  • Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

    This should, by rights, have sounded their death knell. A series of disappointing records, serious illness, and other such malaise, made me wonder if Josh Homme’s time had finally come. But the brush with mortality, just like it did for Kurt Wagner’s Mr M album last year1, invigorated the fuck out of Mr Homme, and this is the best thing QOTSA have done in years.

  • The Album Of The Year

    Ok, ok, so I said before that I didn’t have a favourite album. But listening back through all these albums I came to realise something. Whilst 2013 hasn’t been a vintage year, there’s been some pretty fine albums. And the two that got me smiling the most are these:

    Iron and Wine – Ghost On Ghost
    Bill Callahan – Dream River

    And there you have it. Who’d have thought that my two favourite records of the year would be by two of my favourite artists? Predictable, me?

    As for gigs and the like; well, I didn’t see much this year. But two shows that I did see were Mew and Television, both at the Roundhouse. Whilst the view was terrible for the latter thanks to train trouble and the like, it was great to finally see Venus and Marquee Moon played live. And Mew were reliably superb.

    Until next year, folks. Thanks for reading, and for commenting. Hope you have a great New Year.

    1 I absolutely guarantee you I am the only person who has found a link between these two records.

    Review of 2013 (Part One)

    Funny old year. To be quite frank, there’s not been a single outstanding album of the year, just a bunch of good albums I’ve enjoyed. Nothing’s massively stood out from the pack, and it says something that much of the music I’ve listened to this year isn’t from this year.

    This is probably for three reasons. One, I’m getting older, and simply don’t have the inclination to seek out new music which, by and large, is either overhyped or just not as good as what’s come before. Two, now that Popular Music has been around for about sixty-something years (let’s not get into how old jazz and blues are; this ain’t a jazz or blues blog), pretty much anything released now has to be viewed in a sixty-year history of music. Tough to make something great that’s not been heard a billion times before. Third, I’m lazy.

    Very, very lazy.

    Here’s some albums.

    Best Album By The Miserable Scots

    Runners Up

    Mogwai – Les Revenants

    Not a great Mogwai album, but a good one.

  • Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

    Not a great Frightened Rabbit album, but a good one. You can see where this is all going, can’t you?

  • Winner

    RM Hubbert – Breaks and Bone

    In which our charming friend finds his voice, and you know what? It’s pretty damned good. Let’s hope he’s right and that he’s worked through his issues on his first three albums, and now he can go and make the superb album that’s certainly in him.

  • Best Fingerstyle Americana Instrumental Guitar Whatsit Album

    Joint Winners:

    William Tyler – Impossible Truth

    I once got drunk with William Tyler, many years ago. Lovely chap, far too modest for his own good, and it’s great seeing him step out from under the Lambchop banner to make a record of luminous beauty.

  • Glenn Jones – My Garden State

    A deeply personal record about leaving home, and returning, and what home really means. This is an instrumental album.

  • The Elliott Smith Award For Beatles-Tinged Singer-Songwritering

    Runner Up

    Josh Rouse – The Happiness Waltz

    Perfect for those darkening autumn evenings. As ever, gently soothing.


    Harper Simon – Division Street

    Meant, like many things this year, to post about this album, but never did. By rights, this should have been terrible – famous dad, hugely influenced by the joint greatest singer-songwriter of his generation1 – but turns out to be a great listen. He could really do with finding is own voice rather than just making a very good Elliott Smith pastiche though.

  • The Best Song Titles In Post-Rock-Jazz-Noise, Often Involving Jim O’Rourke

    Joint Winner

    David Grubbs – I Started To Live When My Barber Died

    Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke/Oren Ambarchi – Even That Still Here And Unwanted Can You And I Love It Just Like Us It Was Born Here Too

    Errrr, quite.

    The Mark Lanegan Growling Alcoholic Miseryguts Award For Drunken Lonesome Growling

    Runner Up

    Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood – Black Pudding

    Just too nice. There’s still a strong whiff of 3am barroom, and Lanegan is reliably growly, but this is far too pleasant to win the award. Same goes for his covers album2

  • Winner

    John Murry – The Graceless Age

    Ok, so it was originally released in 2012, but give me some leeway here. I hold no truck for grumpy sods going on about drug abuse unless it’s done exceptionally well and then I love it(see: Mark Lanegan, Elliott Smith). I come close to loving this album, and if I’d heard it in my twenties I’d have worn the record out.

  • That’s it for Part One. Please join me tomorrow for Part Two.

    1 The other being Jeff Buckley. Shame on you.

    2 Which wasn’t a patch on I’ll Take Care Of You

    Who Knew?

    Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
    But how can they know it’s time for them to go?

    Indeed. Been one of those years, again, and sadly I’ve not been willing or capable of spending time posting stuff here. There’s been music, sure, but much of what I’ve been listening to is old. Either it’s music by artists I know and love and I’ve been digging into their back catalogue, or it’s stuff that I’d either never heard of (Jim Croce?) or I’d never in a million years thought I’d like.

  • Yep, Fairport Convention. That got me too. Reading the marvellous Electric Eden by Rob Young, I thought “Ok, maybe I should give Fairport Convention a go” and listened to Unhalfbricking on YouTube.

    Twenty minutes later, I’ve bought the album, and I’ve now listened to it more than almost anything this year.

    Shit, I’m turning into a hippy. People died in The Punk Wars for this kind of thing.

    Oh, and believe it or not, but I’m writing my end of year report. Two posts worth. Come back tomorrow.

    MP3: Who Knows Where The Time Goes by Fairport Convention

    Buy Unhalfbricking here. Go on, you’ll not regret it.