Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Top 50 Albums of 2013 (Expansion Pack)


The Top 50 Albums of 2013 (Expansion Pack) - Chapter 1: My Super Secret Process Of Album Listening
Chapter 1:
My Super Secret Process Of Album Listening

As fascinating as this won’t be, I’ve been doing this whole “50 Albums Of The Year” thang for, like, a million years now (read: four), and I feel like I have got pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. My process of listening to and reviewing music has developed into such a streamlined ordeal, that it is a joy rather than a chore to experience (which wasn’t always the case before, believe you me you me). Which is why I feel like I am in a good position to share with you how I (in 2013) reached some sort of an apex of chewing, swallowing and spitting out as much music as any one person could possibly survive on, granting each release the attention it needed and reaching the end with a nice neat little package of the 50 best, all suited up, reviewed and ready to force feed to you like the pathetic baby bird you are. This, my friends, is my super secret process of listening to albums, in seven easy steps.

(1) I started right away, putting my ear to the musical ground the moment January hit 12:00AM. Finding music to listen to has never been a problem, and I would always discover something by paying extra attention to Metacritic, Rate Your Music, Pitchfork’s best new music (shock!), and of course, my friends’ suggestions. There were other spices in the mix too (following the twitter accounts of NME or the Guardian Music or Stereogum, for example) but what’s important is that my list of Must Listens grew faster than I could pick away from, and as discouraging as that concept is, it was imperative to shoving my mind full of tunes. And shoving, I did! My goal was to hear between 12-16 new releases a week, which isn’t too difficult when you break it down to a day-by-day-play basis.

(2) Now here is a real shiny slice of advice for you: whilst listening to each and every single one of these albums, I took notes. This was important because it meant that after each said experience, I had a little disjointed review detailing my journey. Such a process was invaluable to the eventual top 50, because when it came time to write their more detailed reviews, most of it was already there. But even above that, by taking notes on every album helps you remember what you thought, as it can be quite hard to recall how an exact song goes, but much easier to recall what you wrote down about it. Finally, to keep the important ones tickling my mind, I saved every 2013 song I loved into a Spotify playlist which I would also listen to on a daily basis, keeping my memory fresh. Oh, you want to hear that playlist? Here you go (sort by Date Added to mainly surface this year).

(3) As everyone knows, one simply cannot judge an album by one listen. That’s why I played by the “third time lucky/three strikes you out” rule, ensuring each album got three chances to convince me, all the while taking notes on each listen. Now, some may argue that this is not enough listens either, but I don’t care what people say, because I was on a mission that didn’t include them. Furthermore, while I’ll admit certain albums were thrown aside after LESS than three listens, others were listened to MORE than three times, because I could tell I was nearly there but not quite there yet. Add that up with the countless individual songs saved into the aforementioned playlist, as well as the albums which made the finals who received even more listens, and I figure I had a pretty decent grasp on the whole thing.

(4) Great, so after a few weeks I already had quite a large amount of entries. I would organise these albums by month, and then within each month, order them from best to worst. Furthermore, I would colour code them: Grey = Never Listen Again (I don’t care for it); Light Purple = Reserved (wouldn’t be too upset if it made the final list); and Dark Purple = Definite (it passed the audition and would inevitably make the final list).

(5) After a few months of utilising this method, it became obvious that the reserves meant nothing as there were more than enough Definites to meet the top 50 quota. But then, after another few months, it became obvious that I had far too many Definites too and would have to let some of them go. This is when I introduced the Red colour code = Imperative. That’s the albums we see in the main article. Now, I can’t express this enough, do not start the year with Imperatives in mind. I would only label an album Imperative a few months AFTER I had listened to it three times, because while some albums were incredible whilst I was in the middle of them, I found that after a while, I couldn’t even remember what they sounded like. You need a cooling off period to really know what an album is made of. Which is why some technically superior albums didn’t get selected for my list. It was the ones which truly impacted my mind which made the final cut, for better or worse.

(6) And then round about July, I started to panic. I had far too many albums coming in at such a rate that by the time the end of 2013 approached, I would not have enough time to listen to all of them three times. I solved this by changing my daily approach, where for every two new albums I listened to, I would make sure I listened to a further three albums for their third time. Which basically meant: for every two shoved into the system, three would get shoved out. So each day that passed, there was one less album I had to worry about, and by adding that up over the course of six months, you can see how I effortlessly rounded everything up nicely, each release still receiving the attention they deserved.

(7) That said, my list of “Must Listen To” albums still grew faster than I could keep up with, and so around October I set up a clever spreadsheet to keep track of these releases. Within said spreadsheet, I set up the formula “=SUM(A2*20+B2)/2”. A2 was any given album’s Rate Your Music score (a rating set by general users like you and me) out of 5, times by 20 to give it a percentage. This number would be added to B2, which was the same album’s Metacritic score (a rating set by professional critics) and then halving the sum of the two, once again giving us an overall percentage based on the combination of general public and qualified expert opinions. Ordering this spreadsheet in descending order provided me with all the information I needed as to which releases I had to listen to, and which ones were decidedly less important.

By using this system I managed to get through 458 albums by the end of it all, which beat last year’s 234 by a substantial amount; obliterated 2010’s pathetic 159, but still fell short of my crazy 2011 year when I listened to 580 (which was ridiculous in hindsight, and I would never even attempt something like that again for my own sanity). Regardless, 2013 proved itself to be yet another incredible year of music, and I am ecstatic over how everything all turned out.

However (and as I already mentioned in the introduction of my final product), I am allowing access to the quick “first impression” reviews I wrote for every single album I listened to this year, over here. So if you are gutted that your favourite didn’t make the cut, you can look there to find out why, and also accept my apology here: sorry.

I hope this helps you listen to more music next year, and here is some more stuff you can read in the mean time:

The Top 50 Albums of 2013 (Expansion Pack) - Chapter 2: Here, Have 50 More
Chapter 2:
Here, Have 50 More

Putting together a list like this is never without its agony, and as if murdering my own little children, I had to mercilessly hack down many worthwhile albums which narrowly missed the ladder for one reason or another. However, I will honour those fallen soldiers here, as putting together the following list was as painstaking to organise as the A-team, and took almost as long. This is very serious:

51. Gorguts - Colored Sands (I actually wrote a review for this one)
52. Touché Amoré - Is Survived By (I actually wrote a review for this one)
54. Woodkid - The Golden Age
55. The Haxan Cloak - Excavation
56. Savages - Silence Yourself
57. Juno Reactor - The Golden Sun of the Great East
58. Dawn Angeliqué Richard - Goldenheart
59. Jenny Hval - Innocence is Kinky
60. Iceage - You’re Nothing
61. Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety
62. Goldfrapp - Tales of Us
63. Melt-Banana - Fetch
64. Lorde - Pure Heroine
65. Celeste - Animale(s)
66. Danny Brown - Old
67. Autechre - Exai
68. R.A. the Rugged Man - Legends Never Die
69. Janelle Monáe - The Electric Lady
70. Oathbreaker - Eros|Anteros
71. Letherette - Letherette
72. The Field - Cupid’s Head
73. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe
74. The Dillinger Escape Plan - One of Us Is the Killer
75. Applescal - Dreaming In Key
76. Drake - Nothing Was the Same
77. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
78. These New Puritans - Field of Reeds
79. Stara Rzeka - Cień chmury nad ukrytym polem
80. Elton John - The Diving Board
81. Eluvium - Nightmare Ending
82. Dean Blunt - The Redeemer
83. Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
84. Vàli - Skogslandskap
85. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2
86. Gary Numan - Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)
87. Daniel Romano - Come Cry With Me
88. Jagwar Ma - Howlin'
89. Chelsea Wolfe - Pain Is Beauty
90. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
91. Haim - Days Are Gone
92. Sleigh Bells - Bitter Rivals
93. Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile
94. Ashley Monroe - Like A Rose
95. Body/Head - Coming Apart
96. Death Grips - Government Plates
97. Blue Sky Black Death - Glaciers
98. Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana
99. The Wonder Years - The Greatest Generation
100. H.A.M Squad - Instant Classic
(I just couldn't do it!)
101. Suuns - Images du futur
102. Anna Calvi - One Breath

The Top 50 Albums of 2013 (Expansion Pack) - Chapter 3: Hall of Fame
Chapter 3:
Hall of Fame

Now that we have now finished the fourth year of the decade so far (as well as the fourth one of these articles I've written), a few of the more superior artists have begun to rear their pretty heads, and I want to praise them lot here.
How it works is that I scoured my last articles to see which names appeared more than once. These entires included those from 2010; 2011; The 25 Albums That Narrowly Missed The 2011 list (Part 5 of this article); 2012; the near 2012 misses from the bottom of that same article; 2013; and the 2013 extra 50 above this section.
The order was calculated by adding said album's positions together (e.g: 19 + 23 = 42) then dividing it by the amount of years it featured (e.g 42/2 = 21) to give it a score. The lower the number, the better the artist. Simples!

James Blake (2011’s James Blake #01; 2013’s Overgrown #09)
The Caretaker (2011’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World #04; 2012’s Patience (after Sebald) #15)
Deftones (2010’s Diamond Eyes #10; 2012’s Koi No Yokan #16)
Kanye West (2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy #25; 2011’s Watch The Throne (with Jay-Z) #19; 2013’s Yeezus #01)
Frank Ocean (2011’s Nostalgia, Ultra #27; 2012’s Channel Orange #03)
The National (2010’s High Violet #06; 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me #25)
St Vincent (2011’s Strange Mercy #10; 2012’s Love This Giant (with David Byrne) #27)
Crystal Castles (2010’s (II) #19; 2012’s (III) #23)
Arcade Fire (2010’s The Suburbs #09; 2013’s Reflektor #33)
The Black Keys (2010’s Brothers #23; 2011’s El Camino #21)
Die Antwoord (2010’s $O$ #04; 2012’s Ten$ion #40)
Nick Cave (2010’s Grinderman (as part of Grinderman) #22; 2013’sPush the Sky Away (as part of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds) #28)
M.I.A (2010’s /\/\ /\ Y /\ #29; 2013’s Matangi #23)
Tame Impala (2010’s InnerSpeaker #43; 2012’s Lonerism #13)
Vampire Weekend (2010’s Contra #41; 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City #21)
The Roots (2010’s How I Got Over #32; 2011’s undun #36)
Janelle Monae (2010’s The ArchAndroid #01; 2013’s The Electric Lady #69)
El-P (2012’s Cancer For Cure #53; 2013’s Run the Jewels (as part of Run the Jewels) #18 )
Killing Joke (2010’s Absolute Dissent #28; 2012’s MMXII #47)
Anais Mitchell (2010’s Hadestown #05, 2011’s Young Man In America #76)
Jack White (2010’s Sea of Cowards (as part of Dead Weather) #46; 2012’s Blunderbuss #36)
Sleigh Bells (2010’s Treats #03; 2012’s Reign Of Terror #45; 2013’s Bitter Rivals #92)
Killer Mike (2012’s R.A.P. Music #74; 2013’s Run the Jewels (as part of Run the Jewels) #18)
Nicolas Jaar (2011’s Space Is Only Noise #50; 2013’s Psychic (as part of Darkside) #43)
Death Grips (2012’s The Money Store #06; 2013’s Government Plates #96)
Matana Roberts (2011’s COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres #13; 2013’s Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile #92)
Sigur Rós (2012’s Valtari #86; 2013’s Kveikur #30)
Chelsea Wolfe (2011’s Apokalypsis #32; 2013’s Pain Is Beauty #89)
Anna Calvi (2011’s Anna Calvi #28; 2013’s One Breath #103)
Eminem (2010’s Recovery #47; 2013’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 #85)
Suuns (2011’s Zeroes QC #59; 2013’s Images du futur #101 )

The Top 50 Albums of 2013 (Expansion Pack) - Chapter 4: Unlistened to Albums on My Radar
Chapter 4:
Unlistened to Albums on My Radar

I am only one guy, but even if I was a hundred guys, I still could never listen to every album released in the year. It's impossible, try it! However, I took note of every single album which was suggested to me by one source or another, which inevitably meant there was this tragic list of left-behinds left behind. Maybe one of these albums were actually the Album Of The Year, who knows? I don't know. I can't even think like that, man, I'm nearly dead as it is.

Amorphis - Circle
Armory - Empyrean Realms
Avatarium - Avatarium
Avenged Sevenfold - Hail to the King
Avril Lavigne - Avril Lavigne
Ayreon - The Theory of Everything
Bastille - Bad Blood
Birdy - Fire Within
Boy George - This Is What I Do
Britney Spears - Britney Jean
Chase & Status - Brand New Machine
Childish Gambino - Because the Internet
Crystal Antlers - Nothing Is Real
Crystal Stilts - Nature Noir
Cut Copy - Free Your Mind
Da Mafia 6ix - 6ix Commandments
Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip - Repent Replenish Repeat
Deap Vally - Sistrionix
Dennis Johnson - November (R. Andrew Lee)
Dizzee Rascal - The Fifth
DOTT - Swoon
Earthless - From the Ages
Eliza Doolittle - In Your Hands
Factory Floor - Factory Floor
Fat White Family - Champagne Holocaust
Fates Warning - Darkness in a Different Light
Fen - Dustwalker
Frankie Rose - Herein Wild
Glasser - Interiors
Hammock - Oblivion Hymns
Hopsin - Knock Madness
James Blunt - Moon Landing
John Mayer - Paradise Valley
Jonwayne - Rap Album One
Katatonia - Dethroned & Uncrowned
Katy Perry - PRISM
Las Kellies - Total Exposure
Less Than Jake - See The Light
M+A - These Days
Moby - Innocents
Morcheeba - Head Up High
Motorhead - Aftershock
Mount Eerie - Pre-Human Ideas
Night Beds - Country Sleep
Oliver Wilde - A Brief Introduction to Unnatural Light Years
Peter Brötzmann - Long Story Short
Pity Sex - Feast of Love
Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends
Progenie Terrestre Pura - U.M.A.
Qwel & Maker - Beautiful Raw
R Kelly - Black Panties
Scar the Martyr - Scar the Martyr
Sebastien Grainger - Yours To Discover
Shearwater - Fellow Travelers
Special Request - Soul Music
The Besnard Lakes - Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO
The Child of Lov - The Child of Lov
The Internet - Feel Good
The Men - New Moon
This Routine Is Hell - Howl
Tindersticks - Across Six Leap Years
Travis - Where You Stand
Ulcerate - Vermis
Violent Soho - Hungry Ghost
William Tyler - Impossible Truth
Wooden Shjips - Back to Land

The Top 50 Albums of 2013: Beyoncé - Beyoncé
Beyoncé - Beyoncé
Contemporary R&B
December 13

And then my greatest fear happened: two days after my cut-off date, one of the most original R&B records I've ever heard leaped out of the shadows from one of the most unlikely candidates I could have ever predicted. It was like, first Justin Timberlake, now this?? Beyoncé actually released a better album than Jay-Z this year??? I don't even know you anymore, music! Because here is an album unconcerned with hits, much more concerned with creativity, coated in unexpected tricks and unorthodox melodies, little samples from Beyoncé's musical career cleverly tying the dynamic unit together, boldly moving into regions so much darker than she'd ever dared to venture before. And more than anything, it owns every other female artist out this year, reinforcing her strength as a woman made from pure determination—from the unconventional business model (no promotion, no hype, exclusively released on itunes), to the imagination (each song has its own short film ffs), to the sexual freedom (which, truthfully, can get a bit cringy at times), and yet never losing her human element, surrendering frequent glimpses into the personal insecurities which come with married life and parenthood. Honestly, if this was released a month earlier, it could have been the Album Of The Year, and that is heartbreaking.

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