This is the end, friends. Clash’s top 10 albums of 2013, as voted for by our team of writers.
Click artist names for more content and longer reviews. Click the artwork above to cycle through the album covers.
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2013 saw a lot of albums projected for global domination, though ‘Random Access Memories’, ‘Artpop’ and ‘Reflektor’ all drooped onto the scene in a remarkably flaccid fashion. Lorde was the proverbial dark horse, and her debut album ‘Pure Heroine’ was the year’s definitive ‘blockbuster’ album. With producer Joel Little she carved out a minimal pop marriage of satire and youth that went stratospheric. Joe Zadeh
Best Bit: The outro to ‘White Teeth Teens’ is a master class in subtlety, as a lonely vocal harmony plays out like a folk choir.
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‘MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY’
Scoring three for three with each of their albums in Clash’s end-of-year charts, Vampire Weekend’s ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ fares better than 2010’s ‘Contra’, as the group evolves with layered aural subtleties, more delicate electro-baroque adventures, and brooding considerations of mortality. Beautifully poignant in parts, invigorating in others: who knew songs about death could be such fun? Simon Harper
Best Bit: The pitch-shifting “baby”s in ‘Diane Young’.
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Modeselektor meets Apparat for round two of their widescreen cinematic melodrama. It’s a cruising narrative, which sees them kiss us harder on the lips, and even slip in some particularly rhythmic tongue. Stretching out Apparat’s expansive emotions over Mdslktr’s tough schooling in drums wins out. Again. Matthew Bennett
Best Bit: Their elephant’s roar that launches their stampede of clipped drums and emotive bass on every repeat listen.
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A cosmological stew of evolutionary ideas, self-built instruments and trance inducing beats. Loftily named after a Golding novel, it’s a concept album more visceral than cerebral, its techno twisted into almost inconceivable shapes. Shamanistic in spirit, it’s a mysterious, drone-propelled delight, straddling ancient and far-future galaxies. Magical. Anna Wilson
Best Bit: The unapologetic analogue Armageddon of the incandescent ‘Blackpool Late Eighties’.
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BOARDS OF CANADA
Of all the year’s comebacks, few were as immaculately executed as Boards Of Canada’s unexpected – yet joyous – return. ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ found the band gently nudging their sound forward: from concept to execution, this is nigh on perfect. Robin Murray
Best Bit: The final 10 seconds as the album fades out in the perfect stillness of the night sky.
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‘6 FEET BENEATH THE MOON’
Like some postman of youth disillusionment, Archy’s bourbon-flecked baritone delivers messages about Tesco robbing him and cold pavements on his debut LP. More often than not, it’s atop intriguing soundscapes that effortlessly coil jazz/blues and J Dilla pitter-patter. Praise KK’s ambitious attempt to make this exist as a truly unique dissection of his austere headspace. Errol Anderson
Best Bit: The disregard for anybody with a pulse on ‘A Lizard State’.
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ATOMS FOR PEACE
Thom Yorke remains busy. Revelling in his casserole of emotional lyrics, his tinkering with 60 years of bass culture and his ascendant steps into the electronica canon keeps this diminutive wailer youthful. ‘AMOK’, with its seductive post-hardcore breakbeats and Flea-sponsored bass work, sits throbbing as one of the most dense and channelled alternative statements of 2013. Matthew Bennett
Best Bit: The chiming allure of ‘Dropped’ neatly transplants the rave inspiration of Thom’s rave muse Modeselektor.
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(DEF JAM / ROC A FELLA)
After crafting rap’s Sistine Chapel with 2010’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ (a “backhanded apology” for Swift-gate) Kanye West polarised music fans this year with his latest solo outing, ‘Yeezus’. Incorporating staple elements of Kanye’s career – the Chipmunk soul of his early work, the Daft Punk sampling of ‘Stronger’, the Auto-Tune of ‘808s & Heartbreak’, his outspokenness as a celebrity, the porn-obsession of ‘Hell Of A Life’ and the reggae-trap fusion of ‘Mercy’ – ‘Yeezus’ takes these elements and strips away the excess, which was so prevalent in ‘MBDTF’.
The result is a truly relentless Kanye West experience. Jarring on initial listens, only small pockets of beautiful sci-fi cinematic soundtracks are offered as shelter from the electronic-punk adrenaline of the record, with the listener being paid off at the close by the familiarity of ‘Bound 2’, a cut that is reminiscent of the early work that many fans crave.
However, like many of the greatest albums it takes a while to really sink in, and once it does it soon becomes an addictive and cathartic listen. Grant Brydon
Best Bit: When ‘New Slaves’ finally breaks down to reveal the most beautiful part of the album.
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‘Retrograde’ was the first track to drop from this back in February. The repeated vocal hook and post-apocalyptic sub-frequencies were earworms alone. A rubato technique gave the track expressive and hypnotic undertones, as the tempo drifted up and down; locking back into groove before it could gently tear apart. It was the most beautiful auditory calling card one could drop, and it confirmed Blake’s return, unshackled by major label pressures and the ghost of ‘Limit To Your Love’. The scene was set. The album charted at eight, but then slipped inexplicably out of sight, until November’s Mercury Prize.
Sometimes these things happen in music. The planets don’t align commercially. Thank God, they did creatively. ‘Overgrown’ is a simultaneous continuation of the ambition set out by his debut, but with a more direct purpose. It’s a collection of ambient hymns and bass ballads, framed in respectful odes to the tonal scales of early jazz. It’s written at night, under moons that could bring the devil out in bunny rabbits, in the far-cast shadows of a long-distance relationship, but never more than an arm’s reach from an excitable cowbell and an undulating bassline. Joe Zadeh
Best Bit: RZA’s rap on ‘Take A Fall For Me’ is spine tingling.
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We guess that this is growing up. Earl’s time away from the circus of hip-hop horrors that is the Odd Future collective only elevated anticipation for this debut studio collection proper, after the spotlight-stealing 2010 mixtape ‘Earl’. Time to grow, time to know – and every ounce of knowledge that this young rapper and producer had accumulated across his break from public attentions was poured into ‘Doris’.
Says Clash’s reviewer, Joe Zadeh: “Unlike his debut mixtape, Earl is here telling truths rather than forging fantasy, and ‘Doris’ is a disturbed and penetrating journey into the mind of the boy that came back from Samoa.” In short, ‘Doris’ combines a greater appreciation of the world around its maker with his innate ability to make the minutiae of the everyday interesting to outsiders, and set to production from the likes of RZA, The Neptunes, Tyler and BadBadNotGood, alongside several self-productions, this is a set that truly smashes all of the pre-release expectations into splinters.
It’s much more than another Odd Future LP. It’s by far the greatest Odd Future LP, and one of the very best rap albums, full stop, this side of ‘Illmatic’ and ‘36 Chambers’. Mike Diver
Best Bit: It opened the ‘Doris’ dialogue, but ‘Chum’ still burns with a lingering, bittersweet scent, showcasing the newer, more mature yet still uncompromised sound of this immense talent.
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Catch up with the rest of Clash’s top 40 albums of 2013:
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