2013 was a pretty strong year for music. From the established artists hitting their late-period straps to newcomers breathing new life into old forms, it felt like a year where a whole range of styles rose to the top.
There were plenty of surprises with new albums appearing out of the blue from Bowie and MBV and also irritating marketing campaigns that felt like they were bleeding their albums dry before they were even released. I’m looking at you Daft Punk and Arcade Fire.
As usual here at DS we kept our ears closely tuned into what was going on in Australia and New Zealand with both countries producing a wealth of great albums. Records from this part of the world make up 40% of our favourite records in 2013. Let us know what seduced and moved you this year and let’s do it all again in 2014.
1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
A record that perfectly blends rich narrative and darkly cinematic sonic backdrops. One of Cave’s finest works and the moment where his and Warren Ellis’ musical collaboration becomes fully realised.
2. Bill Callahan – Dream River
On his exceptional new album, Bill Callahan (formerly Smog) has recorded his most peaceful and meditative set of songs. There is a bucolic, contemplative feel to the eight songs on offer as they weave across percussive landscapes, led by flutes and hypnotic guitars. Sonically the album is rooted in pastoral folk, much of it soaked in dub-heavy reverb and delay. The focus though is firmly on Callahan’s voice, high and focused in the mix as he delivers typically brilliant lines like “All I want to do is make love to you in the fertile dirt with a careless mind”.
3. Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze
Vile has gone from strength to strength with each album and this is his finest yet. Finely tuned hazily motorik songs that sit in the pocket and keep drawing you in deeper and deeper with each listen.
4. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Isbell’s coming of age as a songwriter, though not that he was in any way a slouch in that department prior to Southeastern. He doesn’t waste a word, he builds phrases with economy and poetic grace while encasing them in that rich southern drawl.
5. Houndmouth – From The Hills Below The City
This was a real surprise record that came out of nowhere for me. It was recommended by a fellow Americana fan and reminded me of the best of what the Felice Brothers do when they blend irresistible melodies with sharp yet not overly polished harmonies and an instrumental mix of country and folk.
6. Bryan Estepa – Heart vs Mind
A relatively unsung hero amongst Australian songwriters and possessing an angelic voice, Estepa embraced his inner pop and rock obsessions to craft this record that pulls influences from The Jayhawks to Hall & Oates. This is a superb album that excels in effortless, meticulous and timeless songwriting.
7. Bad/Dreems – Badlands EP
Mix small town pessimism, youthful optimism, suburban nihilism and a lo-fi aesthetic and you have some of the ingredients that make the essential sound of Bad//Dreems. Badlands is another crucial addition to the canon of classic and quintessentially Australian releases.
8. Wooden Shjips – Back To Land
This is the Shjips doing mainly what they always do, locking into psych drone grooves and riding them into the sunset and/or sunrise. Repetition is the key. They’ve let more light into this one and it opens up their sound into some new areas, rewardingly so.
9. Ducktails – The Flower Lane
The solo project of Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile, this is an album built on 80s dream pop with sax solos and warm glowing melodies. Easily the best in show for this kind of music.
10. Kirin J Callinan – Embracism
The agent provocateur of Australian art rock realises his ambition with this wide-ranging album that blends dissonance and a healthy pop heart. Victoria M is one of Embracism’s high points, tempering the intensity with gorgeous, swelling piano and bittersweet baroque pop in the vein of Suede. Elsewhere we get Callinan channeling David Sylvian on Scraps, Bowie on the schizophrenic Chardonnay Sean and Suicide on Way II War. Debut album of the year.
11. Popstrangers – Antipodes
12. Austin Lucas – Stay Reckless
13. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Ready For Boredom
14. Ooga Boogas – Ooga Boogas
15. The Drones – I See Seaweed
16. Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day
17. Vista Chino – Peace
18. Civil Civic – Rules
19. Basko Believes- Melancholic Melodies
20. Sharpie Crows – 12 Omeros
21. Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In
22. Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost
23. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
24. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
25. Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
26. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Mark Kozelek & Desertshore
27. Daughn Gibson – Me Moan
28. The Phoenix Foundation – Fandango
29. Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas
30. Mark Moldre – An Ear To The Earth
31. Anna Calvi – One Breath
32 .Matthew E. White – Big Inner
33. Califone – Stitches
34. The Haxan Cloak – Extinction
35. DJ Koze – Amygdala
36. Zomby – With Love
37. Jen Cloher – In Blood Memory
38. Savages – Silence Yourself
39. Forest Swords – Engravings
40. The Necks – Open