Well what a year it has been for music. 2013 has thrown up plenty of surprises, controversy, some good things and some bad; there have been some really good albums and the odd good song too, and some amazing tours. It’s also at this time of year where people like the good folks at NME, or Rolling Stone are paid, or in a few cases not paid to give their opinion on what the highlights of the year were musically. You get the annual end of year best albums and best song lists, all of which tend to follow a similar pattern. British magazines and online sites will root for British artists, while their American equivalents will do the same for their own acts. The end result being that these lists really don’t go anywhere in establishing a definitive list of best albums and best songs of the year, and that apart from a select few top rating selections such as Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”, or Kanye’s “Yeezus” these lists are a matter of opinion and taste on the part of the reviewer, editor, or writer.
Which brings me to my album highlights for 2013. Now I am not going to follow the norm of all the music publications and bore you to death delving into the merits of my twenty favourite albums, but instead I will keep it nice and short in giving you my New Zealand album of the year, international album of the year, and what I like to describe as my two eye-catching surprises of the year on the album front.
New Zealand album of the year
Fat Freddy’s Drop – Blackbird
What a fantastic comeback album this was for the Wellington band. Now initially I hadn’t been too excited at the prospect of listening to their new album as it had been so long since their last, but curiosity in the end got the better of me and boy oh boy am I glad I did decide to give it a whirl. This album was fantastically good, their best in my opinion, with some great songs combining reggae, jazz, R&B, and electronica. The songs on “Blackbird” had more body and soul than a lot of their other work, which I find at times can get a bit too laboured for my liking. Here they got the formula spot on in what turned out to be a super listen and my New Zealand album of the year.
Key Tracks: Blackbird, Mother Mother
International album of the year
David Bowie – The Next Day
When I heard Bowie was coming out of the wilderness and releasing a new album I was shocked, surprised and excited all at once, as the announcement came completely out of the blue. After hearing the first single off the new album “Where Are We Now” I didn’t know what to expect to hear on the album, as I thought the new track was good without being amazing. Thankfully the album was beyond anything I could have fathomed, as Bowie came back with an album as good as anything he has released in thirty years, and arguably what is now his best album since 1980s “Scary Monsters”. This album had everything from dance pop, rock, keyboard laced new wave, while some tracks even conveyed shades of his wonderful Berlin period, in fact as I listened I was convinced I was listening to a remake of “Heroes” (cover included). For a man who had supposedly been out of music for a decade to come back with such a strong offering, it makes me hope that there is more to come from this music genius, and that any more material Bowie decides to release will be just as good as this.
Key tracks: Love is Lost, Boss of Me
Surprises of the Year
Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)
The latest release in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series “Another Self Portrait” is my first candidate for surprise of the year, a release which focussed mainly on Dylan’s ill-fated “Self Portrait” album. This great compilation is made up re-released tracks, demos, new mixes and some unreleased songs and does a brilliant job in conjuring up a new sense of life to a period in Dylan’s career which has its detractors. Many of the tracks are superior to the originals, while some of the unheard tracks are gems highlighting why the late-60s and early-70s period for Dylan was arguably his best despite the initial mixed reaction to “Self Portrait”. A definite candidate for compilation of the year, with plenty of variety on display and heaps of songs to keep you interested across the two discs.
Key Tracks: Bring me a little Water, This Evening So Soon
Wise Up Ghost – Elvis Costello and The Roots
My second choice for surprise of the year goes to “Wise Up Ghost”, the album which came out of the unusual collaboration between Elvis Costello and The Roots. When I first heard about this collaboration occurring I was a bit unsure how it would go and what the results would be like. It would either be a confused train wreck and an example of how often famous collaborations never work, or it would be a genius paring of two completely different artists. Thankfully, and from my own perspective surprisingly the latter came through, with the album being a wonderful concoction of R&B, jazz, pop and experimental, and with both artists equally bringing their own styles and influences to the table on the songs. The end result was a fantastic chill-out groove-laden album, with some tender moments from Elvis thrown in for good measure. If there was a category in all the big awards ceremonies for hipster album of the year, “Wise Up Ghost” would stand a good chance of winning, as this beauty of an album certainly had me pleasantly surprised.
Key Tracks: Walk Us Uptown, Stick Out Your Tongue