Album Reviews

Top 25 Albums of 2013

5. Daft Punk-Random Access Memories


House music veterans Daft Punk have finally returned, and their music is vastly different. Before, we were left with the repetitive and extremely mechanical Human After All, and here it finally feels like we can agree that Daft Punk are just two humans very fond of music on Random Access Memories. Their most organic album yet, Random Access Memories calls on the dead spirits of disco and Californian rock to “Give Life Back To Music”. With expert production, Daft Punk have created a retro album that they intended on being sampled by others in the future just like Daft Punk have created songs with clips from their own personal heros. This hour plus dive into nostalgia is celebrated with many note worthy names, ranging from greats like Nile Rodgers, Paul Williams and Giorgio Moroder to modern day contemporaries Julian Casablancas, Pharrell Williams and Noah Lennox. The funky bass, hooking guitar licks, and mind controlling drum beats keep this a signature Daft Punk album in catchiness, but it’s always nice to see people considered some of the best at their genres expanding (or reflecting) outside of their comfort zones. Once this album ends on the only classic-like Daft Punk song (Contact), you’ll want to relive the past all over again just to be rocketed back into now.

4. Arcade Fire-Reflektor


Another group wanting to revisit the past, Arcade Fire have taken their own approach on disco music here with the help of LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy. They’ve done more than just that, though. Reflektor is a spellbinding concept album that combines the life of a rock star through out the night with the depressing tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Even that isn’t all they’ve done. They’ve created easter eggs that can only be accessed when you listen to this album enough times to want to make it your own. Supersymmetry, for instance, is a song that can be experienced in a whole new light when played forwards and backwards at the exact same time (gives a new light on the song name now, right?). Then there is, of course, the ten minute ambient summary of the entire album found when the beginning track is rewound (how are you supposed to know this again?). The themes of mirrors, self reflection and history repeating itself dominate this album underneath arrangements that are both rocking and exceptionally moving. You’ll find Arcade Fire at their most alive on songs like the dingy Flashbulb Eyes, the Smiths-like You Already Know, and the exhilarating Here Comes the Night Time. Then they will take a look back on songs like Afterlife and It’s Never Over. Reflektor is deep, it’s energizing, and it’s yet another brilliant album in Arcade Fire’s flawless discography.

3. Kanye West-Yeezus


Yeezus starts with a very loud clusterfuck of noise, and suddenly you begin to realize that this album will be an ever deeper dive into Kanye West‘s inner demons than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was. Unlike that album, Yeezus indulges itself in its own hatreds and lack of humility. Its messages are loud and blaring, and its music is minimalist and visceral. With a rap album unlike any before it (the comparisons to Death Grips are slightly understandable but vastly way off), Kanye West has done it again. He’s tried to challenge himself even more than before, and we are given yet another album with its own clear identity with Kanye West’s signature touches. The themes of racism and self worth (or worthlessness) are a thousand times more poignant than the kind of statements West makes to the media that he gets the most flack for, which furthermore confirms that West is the smartest in the recording studio. With rattling bass, gothic industrial synths, controversial lyrics and the odd breath of fresh air (the ending of New Slaves and Bound 2), Yeezus is a short and impacting listen that further solidify West as a masterful producer of our time that is willing to take as many risks as possible (which you kind of have to give kudos to whether you like him or not). Now, we ask what Kanye West will do next musically. Until then, you have Yeezus to dive deeper into, as, while the lyrics and music may be as minimal as possible, the album is much more full than you’d imagine.

2. Deafheaven-Sunbather


Black metal. It’s cold. It’s vicious. It’s scary. What a lot of people who are intimidated by the genre miss is that black metal is also one of the more emotional genres of heavy metal. Deafheaven may be one of the few bands to be spinning black metal on its head, along with Wolves in the Throne Room, Alcest, Nachtmystium and more. What they haven’t forgotten is that black metal is vulnerable. Their second album Sunbather combines the edge of black metal with the openness of post rock, the daze of shoegaze, and the lyrics of a falling hero. It consists of four lengthy songs and three ambient transitions. The entire album is pained. It is a challenge to combine heavy music with beauty, and many metal bands try and fail. It takes a raw connection to human anguish to pull this off, and the struggles with finances are the push here that George Clarke screams about; His lyrics full of poetic fear deal with power struggle, failure and even death. The album, inspired by Clarke seeing a woman sunbathing on her lavish front yard and Clarke’s hurt wonder as to how some people are luckier than others, is a visceral trip and is the best metal album since Converge’s opus Jane Doe back in 2001. Its abstract lyrics, powerful production, shifting music and flawless unity will leave an impact on any music listener, not just metal heads.

1. My Bloody Valentine-mbv


Anyone that knows me well enough knows that My Bloody Valentine is my all time favorite band. That’s it. “This list is illegitimate. It’s biased. A sham. No wonder such a weird song like wonder 2 made the top of his Songs of 2013 list. Show’s over.”

Having said that, I would be the first to say when a musician and/or band I hold dear to me has put out a horrible product. David Bowie is my favorite solo male musician and he’s not very high up on the list. I think that new Pixies ep is diabolical and they are a band I blast in my car as much as possible. Hell, I’d be the first to say that Björk, my all time favorite singer, really missed the mark with Volta. What m b v is to these ears is a comeback album that beat the impossible. It is that return that doesn’t sound like a return at all. It isn’t half assed, nor is it dated.

We waited years and years for this new album, 22 to be exact. Singer and guitar player Kevin Shields promised that we could kill him if he didn’t release the album within a month and he said this over ten years ago. Last year we were promised this album constantly. Suddenly, in February of 2013, we get dropped an image of this blue cluster of images. The album was released on the band’s own site, and because of the swarm of people waiting to hear it, the site kept crashing. Two hours later, we finally managed to hear the album. The very first strum on opener she found now was unlike anything. Whether you waited years, refreshed for hours, or just got introduced to the band, this introductory song will have the same effect on everyone: Elation.

The album doesn’t work in a balanced way. It does something new and unique. The album starts off with a familiar My Bloody Valentine song and works with three segues. The first third is a modern rendition of their old style. The second third is a floaty relaxing bit that experiments outside of the lines. The last third is an all out drum and bass warzone of noise, jazz and chaos. The album gradually gets more and more unique and refreshing, so when you start it all over again, you know you are going on one hell of a ride. You’ll remember the diving intro of who sees you, the happiness brought on by new you, the work of subtle production genius in nothing is, and the guitar onslaught of wonder 2. This sonically precious album is full of highlights that you may only discover after many listens.

Since Loveless dropped in 1991, many have tried to copy its shoegaze style and have failed. Now, m b v have not only wondered “why’s no one been able to do this yet? we’ve done it again”, but they’ve made the challenge ten times harder. The formation of the album is original and it works. The layers are as deep as a well. The emotions are unrestrained. This is the album of the year that has pulled off musical capabilities that none other have this year.  It may very well end up being another sleeper success like Loveless, whose genius was only discovered years later when people became comfortable with the unusualness of it all. It just happens to be from my favorite band.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.