[Mixtape]: Every Time The Sun Comes Up

“The mountains and the canyons start to tremble and shake / The children of the sun begin to awake”

A long hot summer is officially underway and nothing goes better with good weather than sultry jams playing through the long days and warm nights. I’ve kept this mixtape pretty current with choice cuts from the last year, but there are a few oldies in there too which are celebrating birthdays this year. Whether you’re on the move to sunnier climes, or simply lazing with no particular place to go, this mixtape will see you right wherever this summer takes you. Set off, plug in and enjoy.

Tracklist:
1.
 ‘Song For Zula’ – Phosphorescent – Muchacho
2. ‘Paris’ – Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
3. ‘Red Eyes’ – The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
4. ‘Fever’ – The Black Keys – Turn Blue
5. ‘Magnolia’ – Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean
6. ‘You’ve Got Nothing To Lose’ – Michael Kiwanuka – You’ve Got Nothing To Lose [Single]
7. ‘Going To California′ – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
8. ‘The Sing’ – Bill Callahan – Dream River
9. ‘Last Goodbye’ – Jeff Buckley – Grace
10. ‘Love Is To Die’ – Warpaint – Warpaint
11. ‘Every Time The Sun Comes Up’ – Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

Got any summer mixes of your own? Link them in the comments, I’d love to hear them.

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[Cover Me]: Gil Scott-Heron, Nils Lofgren & The White Stripes

There are good covers, and there are bad covers. These are some I think belong in the former category.

Gil Scott-Heron – ‘Me and the Devil’ (Originally by Robert Johnson)
Appearing on his final album, I’m New Here, Gil-Scott Heron transposes Robert Johnson’s stark ‘Me and the Devil Blues’ from the haunting Mississippi delta of the 1930s to the ghostly concrete structures of 21st century New York, trading six strings for brooding synths. As an artist who had only just returned to recording following sixteen years of multiple incarcerations and crippling addiction, the malevolent atmosphere and strained vocals on the track reflect that Scott-Heron knew his devils all too well.

Nils Lofgren – ‘Like a Hurricane’ (Originally by Neil Young)
As Neil Young readies to release A Letter Home, a covers album including songs by Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson and Bert Jansch which chimed personally with Young, it seems appropriate to post a cover by sometime Crazy Horse member and current E Streeter, Nils Lofgren. Over nearly fifty years in music working with some of the 20th century’s defining musicians, Lofgren has proved himself to be rock’s most gymnastic guitarist, both in technique and on-stage antics. In this extended take from his own cover album of Neil Young songs, The Loner: Nils Sings Neil, Lofgren strips down the howling pain of Young’s electric original into a plaintive acoustic tearjerker with him soloing at his spellbinding best.

The White Stripes – ‘Baby Blue’ (Originally by Gene Vincent)
The White Stripes were never averse to taking old blues and injecting them with some garage-punk adrenaline, and here they crank up Gene Vincent’s slice of rock n’ roll gold to deliver a spine-tingling rendition in one of John Peel’s legendary sessions.

[Artist Spotlight]: Eels

eels_large“The road that I’ve been taking heading for a dead end, but it’s not too late to turn around”

Yesterday, Eels issued their eleventh album of close-to-the-bone pop, The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett. In recent years Eels have had a prolific outpouring averaging an album a year, and this may have something to do with Eels main man Mark Oliver Everett having lain old bones to rest with 2005’s life-encompassing album Blinking Lights & Revelations, the autobiography Things The Grandchildren Should Know and a BBC documentary on his physicist father who died when Everett was nineteen. But, with the direct and counselling title of their latest record it seems that Everett still has some things on his mind.

Songwriting sessions for Cautionary Tales actually started before the recording of last year’s Wonderful, Glorious, with Eels members gathered to make a highly personal record. The sessions were shelved though, with Everett citing the reason as the songs “made me uncomfortable… but not uncomfortable enough”. He reveals “If I’m not uncomfortable, It’s not real enough. I needed to dig a little deeper.” And deep he did go, with intimate lyrics looking back on a life misspent and addressing a pining heart, echoing the bruised airs of Tom Waits. “I grew up very fast in some ways, and very slow in others,” Everett says. “These are some of the trials and errors.”

While Wonderful, Glorious revelled in effusive, scuzzy rock, Cautionary Tales focuses on wistful, meditative tunes centred on Everett’s gruff vocals and sparse guitar, augmented by Eels’s sprinklings of orchestration. And although much of the album can be preoccupied with “Who-said-what” and “What-did-I-do?” moments, ‘Mistakes Of My Youth’ is a self-effacing and open-hearted moment of understanding that floats on lazy rhythms and uplifting string arrangements. Standing at the crossroads between the past and the future, where self-acceptance is key to moving in the right direction, the song is a cathartic and comforting moment on a collection of songs dedicated to the ones that got away. Things The Grandchildren Should Know Pt. 2? Possibly…

The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett is available now through E Works/Vagrant and can be streamed in full on Soundcloud.

[From The Cutting Room Floor]: The Beatles, Marvin Gaye and The Gaslight Anthem

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Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.

‘Don’t Let Me Down’ – The Beatles
I’m going straight for the jugular this week. Gracing the other side of the Get Back single, this should really qualify as a double A-Side. Written by John Lennon as an ego-free plea to Yoko Ono, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is The Beatles at their most soulful, in my opinion. Lennon and McCartney’s hollering vocals channel Otis Redding, oozing with conviction alongside a Stax influenced keyboard that gives a soul-tinged vibe, while the intelligent countermelodies during the alternate verses and George Harrison’s slinky lead guitar gesture to the psychedelic leanings of their middle period. It was one of the songs played during The Beatles last public performance on the roof of Apple’s Saville Row headquarters on 30th January 1969 and remains a testament to the power and inventiveness of possibly the 20th century’s defining band.

‘I’m Going Home’ – Marvin Gaye
A studio outtake from the recording sessions for Gaye’s seminal soul masterpiece What’s Going On (read why it’s a masterpiece here), ‘I’m Going Home’ took fifteen years to surface until it was featured on 1986’s  Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye and served as a reminder to the talent which had been lost only two year’s previously. In many ways, ‘I’m Going Home’ condenses a lot of What’s Going On‘s narrative themes 0f family, urban strife and homecoming into five minutes, but musically it has a lot more in common with the emerging funk sound which Gaye would explore on his following albums Let’s Get It On and I Want You. Either way, it’s an irrepressibly catchy slice of funk which should not be missed.

‘She Loves You’ – The Gaslight Anthem
Not a Beatles cover, as I initially thought it to be. ‘She Loves You’ appeared on the flip side of their vinyl-only Tumbling Dice single (their last release with SideOneDummy) and is probably Brian Fallon’s most simple and direct love song. Backed by a simple guitar figure and a shuffling beat, Fallon achingly rhapsodises about rainy nights, broken love and the small certainties that pull us inexorably towards tomorrow, like flotsam and jetsam cast ashore on the tide.

What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.

[Cover Me]: Richard Thompson, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Tim Buckley

There are good covers, and there are bad covers. These are some I think belong in the former category.

Richard Thompson – ‘Oops!… I Did It Again’ (Originally by Britney Spears)
That right there was the sound of you double-taking. As part of his ambitious 2003 project 1,000 Years of Popular Music, which traced a common thread through music from 1068 all the way up to 2001, folk-rock luminary Richard Thompson closed with this Britney Spears mega-hit (though not without taking a slight detour to the 16th century towards the end). It’s clever, tongue-in-cheek and damn if it isn’t catchy!

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Tower of Song’ (Originally by Leonard Cohen)
It was a toss up between posting this and The Bad Seeds’ haunting cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘The Singer‘ from Kicking Against The Pricks, but for sheer full-tilt energy and originality I had to plump for this. Leonard Cohen has been Nick Cave’s mentor in many ways (the first Bad Seeds album even opens with a cover of Cohen’s ‘Avalanche‘), so it is not surprising for Cave to pay tribute to the man “gifted with a golden voice”. Rather than sticking to the blueprint though The Bad Seeds rip it up with a frantic race through almost every conceivable genre of the 20th century. The result is as if you were plummeting between the floors of the eponymous Tower of Song and hearing the noises made on different floors on the way down.

Tim Buckley – ‘Martha’ (Originally by Tom Waits)
This track is taken from Tim Buckley’s penultimate album Sefronia, and while much of the album is a mixed bag there is no doubting the grandness of his version of one of Tom Waits’s earliest heartbreakers. In fact, Waits’s Closing Time (the album the original appeared on) had only surfaced two months before Sefronia was released, and this says something for the immediate connection Buckley must have felt with ‘Martha’ to record it and really get where Waits was coming from. While musically Waits’s original is soused in the dissatisfactions of the present, Buckley’s sweet, string laden version brims with the optimism of a young love which the song’s Tom Frost hopes to rekindle with Martha. By being the first prominent artist to cover songs by the then largely unknown Waits, Buckley drew public attention to him and thereby helped him on his way to becoming one of the truly defining artists of the last fifty years. For that alone, this version of ‘Martha’ deserves attention and appreciation.

[From The Cutting Room Floor]: The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys and The Doors

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Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.

‘Let’s Shake Hands’ – The White Stripes
Not a B-Side, but given that only 2,500 pressings of this release exist and that it wasn’t featured on any of The White Stripes’s studio albums it certainly qualifies as rare. Landing in 1998 on a limited 7″ run of 500, this single marked The White Stripes’s first recording and as a statement of intent they don’t come more definitive than this. Racing along on Jack White’s frenetic riffing and Meg White’s relentless drum pounding before clocking in at just over two minutes, this is taut, visceral garage punk at it’s best. It was paired with their ragtime version of Marlene Dietrich’s ‘Look Me Over Closely’, showing that the band had more than one string to their bow and singled them out as one to watch

‘You And I’ – Arctic Monkeys Feat. Richard Hawley
Crediting themselves as The Death Ramps on the B-Side to 2012’s Black Treacle, a pseudonym the band had used previously to anonymously release limited singles, Arctic Monkeys shift into fifth gear on this speeding road anthem. Sheffield’s elder songsmith, Richard Hawley, gives his meanest whisky-and-cigarettes-stained vocal delivery before the band head full-pelt into some scuzzy and searing solos. The whole track drips with attitude and quite frankly blows A-side ‘Black Treacle’ out of the water.

‘Who Do You Love’ – The Doors Feat. Albert King
When you can tour with blues giant Albert King as your opening act, you know you must be doing something right. Although their live acts courted much controversy in the preceding year and Jim Morrison would suffer an apparent breakdown onstage later in the year, forcing the band as a live unit into early retirement, performing here in June 1970 in Vancouver it is impossible to deny the elemental force The Doors wielded onstage. With Albert King invited onstage to provide slide duties and powered by Ray Manzarek’s groovy organ hook, the band burn their way through Bo Diddley standard ‘Who Do You Love’. While during this period Morrison’s performances were something of a crapshoot depending on how intoxicated he was, during this concert he is at his roaring best, a blues shaman channeling energy from somewhere else. As one of the last recorded performances and with Morrison dead within a year, this concert remains a testament to The Doors’s short lived greatness live.

What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.

[Cover Me]: The Band, The Nighthawks and Nina Simone

The Band – ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’ (Originally by Marvin Gaye)
Groovy, bluesy and impossibly catchy, The Band’s souped up version of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song hits you square in the guts. The Band recorded it multiple times (it most notably opened The Last Waltz) but this recording snatched from a 1972 show at the Academy of Music, NY for me is the most powerful. Levon Helm’s barking vocals are at their most desperate, Robbie Robertson’s guitar solos are at their most searing and the dramatic break before the band come back in full unison showcases an iconic band at the height of their powers.

The Nighthawks – ‘Sixteen Tons’ (Originally by Merle Travis)
While the most famous version of this song is arguably Tennesee Ernie Ford’s version, this full pelt rendition by Washington, D.C. bluesters The Nighthawks has had a wide circulation due to its appearance in The Wire. While the slight swing vibe and slightly cheerful clarinet motif in Ford’s version might seem a bit disingenuous given it’s subject matter, this version bristles with rage. Rattling drums, harmonica honks and blistering guitar make for one hell of a ride.

Nina Simone – ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ (Originally by Blind Willie Johnson/Traditional)
Appearing on 1969’s Nina Simone and Piano, this earthy spiritual emphasises just how powerful a performer Nina Simone was in isolation. Each note in her raw vocals bleeds emotion and her bold piano playing echoes the conviction of one who has sensed the devil breathing down their neck. A spine-tingling song from a force of nature who could make any song her own.

[From The Cutting Room Floor]: Eels, The Rolling Stones & Tom Waits

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Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.

‘Your Mama Warned You’ – Eels
A funky slice of ska influenced rock n’ roll appearing on the deluxe edition of last year’s aptly titled Wonderful, Glorious. Vitriolic and spitting feathers, E delivers a gruff reprisal against a backdrop of snarling guitars and pounding drums.

‘No Expectations’ – The Rolling Stones
Hard to believe this was ever pitched as a B-side to ‘Street Fighting Man’, for me it is one of the most enduring and emotive Stones songs. Brian Jones’s slinky and resonant slidework here is one of the last contributions he made before quitting the band and his death which swiftly followed, giving added poignancy to the line “Our love is like our music, it’s here and then it’s gone”.

‘I Want You’ – Tom Waits
Appearing on the Early Years Vol. 2 collection, which compiles glimmers of Waits’s early Kerouacian balladry that didn’t make the grade, ‘I Want You’ is a short and sweet throwaway ditty. It’s beauty is in it’s simplicity, for Waits distills into just over a minute what centuries of artists have spilt gallons of ink, paint, sweat and tears over. Tender, sincere and utterly sublime.

What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.

[From The Cutting Room Floor]: Bruce Springsteen Special

bg-postcard_1119104652755“Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact, / But maybe everything that dies some day comes back”

It looks like Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes, a collection of session outtakes and unreleased material from the millennium years, is set to reach the No.1 spot, making it Springsteen’s tenth No.1 album. I am very partial to a bit of Brooce and his unreleased tracks are often beauties, but unfortunately after a few listens High Hopes falls just a bit short for me and I think I may have narrowed down the reason why. Springsteen’s previously released four disc collection of B-Sides and rarities Tracks (which was out of print for years, but has recently been reissued) covered a good thirty years from his early days as a New Jersey bar bandleader in the seventies right on through to the years in the wilderness without the E Street Band during the nineties. As such, the collection reflects a variety of periods and styles of Springsteen’s career as a maturing musician and songwriter. Compared to Tracks, High Hopes has a relatively meagre selection to draw from, with only thirteen years and four albums (seven if you count the solo and Seeger Session Band releases). This is Springsteen as a fully matured songwriter and while each of the four E Street Band albums is compelling in its own way, there is a clear oscillation in tone between bristled outrage (Magic, Wrecking Ball) and enduring hope (The Rising, Working On A Dream) in reaction to what was going on at the time (Bush administration; Post-banking crisis and recession blues; Post 9/11; And Obama’s rise to power, respectively). This means that while there are some fine moments on High Hopes, it just doesn’t have the gamut and variety of Tracks. With that in mind, I thought this seemed a prudent time to pull up some of Springsteen’s finest diamonds in the rough for a Cutting Room Floor special.

The Fever
An early cut from 1973, first recorded during the sessions for The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle and performed many time since then, but only officially surfacing in 1998 on the 18 Tracks compilation. In the meantime, Springsteen gifted the song to his Jersey Shore friend and contemporary, Southside Johnny, for his 1976 debut album I Don’t Want To Go Home. It kickstarted the career of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes and Springsteen and other E Streeters have performed in the band with him down the years. The song itself is a slow bluesy ballad of longing with the E Street Band creating simmering tension while Springsteen’s croon is on smouldering form.

Born In The U.S.A. (Demo)
Probably the most well known and most commonly misunderstood of Springsteen’s songs. Like John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, where the causticly anarchistic message is thinly veiled behind a plaintive piano melody and uplifting chorus, ‘Born In The U.S.A.’s heavy irony has often been misconstrued by casual listeners who only hear the militaristic fist-pumping beat and the refrain “I was born in the U.S.A.”. In other words, they hear a call to arms rather than the cry of desperation and sorrow of a disillusioned Vietnam War veteran with “nowhere to run, nowhere to go”. The song was famously appropriated in a jingoistic way by Ronald Reagan’s 1984 presidential reelection campaign. Had they first heard the original version of the song, birthed during the sessions for Springsteen’s starkest record, Nebraska, they might not have been so keen. As the song pounds along on Springsteen’s jittery acoustic rhythm the wiry twang of an electric guitar rises in the distance like helicopters over Vietnam. From the breathless desperation of Springsteen’s delivery and his high and lonesome cries there is no doubt that this is about a man being hunted down; running, but with nowhere to run to.

Murder Incorporated
A rollicking barnstormer of a song, which rose to prominence during the E Street Band Reunion Tour in the late ‘90s. Describing the everyday dangers and pressures of living in New York during the Murder Inc. period of organised crime, it is the little vivid observations such as keeping “a little secret deep inside your dresser drawer” that make Springsteen such an accomplished songwriter. Recorded during the Born In The U.S.A. sessions, Springsteen even considered naming the album after the song before cutting it from the tracklist and going with Born In The U.S.A. instead. What a different album it would have been with that title.

‘Swallowed Up (In The Belly Of A Whale)’
And to finish where we started, here is a bonus cut from Springsteen’s last album, Wrecking Ball. Although there is a lot of rage and darkness on Wrecking Ball there is also a lot of hope, and ‘Swallowed Up’ must have been left off for fear of overtipping the balance towards the former. While bitter anthems on Wrecking Ball like ‘Death To My Hometown’ or ‘Jack Of All Trades’ had moments of galvanised rage or redemptive hope, ‘Swallowed Up’ is consumed by a resigned sorrow as Springsteen envisions the world swallowed whole by a dark beast and the bones of the dead sailors that lie within its guts, despite the true courses they held. It is allegorically bleak and without a sliver of hope seeping through into the belly of this beast.

This is just a small crop, but if you want to go further into Springsteen outtakes then I suggest checking out ‘Fire’, ‘The Promise’, ‘Iceman’, ‘Wages Of Sin’ and ‘Sad Eyes’. Also, if you liked this Bruce Springsteen special, why not check out last year’s Neil Young covers special?

[It Was A Very Good Year]: The Best Of 2013

Well, 2013 is officially over, which means its time to cast an eye back over the year’s finest moments. There were so many albums I loved last year that they would easily fill up a top twenty, and even then there would be pushing and shoving. However, there can only be ten (for arbitrary reasons) and so with that in mind I have chosen the albums which impressed me most and continue to impress me long after luring me back for repeated listens. So, without further ado…

The Best Albums

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10. Kwes – ilp
On his hypnotising debut Kwes blends pop, ambient and electronic influences into a gluey fog of emotion that clings to you, giving it the deeply immersive quality of Portishead’s Dummy. While the understated melodies and blurred beats don’t immediately grab attention, it is the quiet confidence and kaleidoscopic nature of the music which is ilp’s strength. It will be interesting to see where he goes next.

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9. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
Not usually my thing, but there was something very compelling and mesmerising about Loud City Song which called me back for repeated listens and made me dig deeper each time. Each layer of Julia Holter’s avant-garde pop intrigues with moments of tension and release, forming dense collages of sound. Meanwhile, her flexible voice adopts different guises and moves eerily between seeming faint in the distance or uncomfortably close, as if you were listening to a radio which could tune into different rooms of a city.

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8. Charles Bradley – Victim of Love
After the overwhelming success of No Time For Dreaming, Charles Bradley’s debut at sixty-two, Victim of Love sees Bradley spreading his wings and finding his own (loud) voice. Aided by the capable Menahan Street Band, Bradley moves effortlessly between Temptations style psych-funk on ‘Confusion’ and ‘Love Bug Blues’, and slow-burning soul ballads on ‘Give Love A Chance’ and earnest album closer ‘Through The Storm’. It is an album brimming with gratitude and he gives as good as he gets (better, I’d argue).

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7. Jim James – Regions Of Sound And Light Of God
Jim James’s first out-and-out solo LP came up trumps, inspired by Lynd Ward’s Good Man and exploring themes of living life in an age cluttered by technology. Away from My Morning Jacket’s expanded alt. country, James blends genres to great effect from new-age rock ’n’ roll to electro-gospel. As ever though, at the centre of this extended sonic horizon is his cavernous voice, which sounds more than ever like a man sending messages into outer space.

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6. Eels – Wonderful, Glorious
No other album I heard this year was quite so aptly labeled, or half as fun. Wonderful, Glorious is the sound of E revelling in finally being in a band that can keep up with him, dishing up outrageous, scuzzy rock and gentle, mellow pop in the process. A golden slice of life affirming rock and roll!

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5. Josh Ritter – The Beast In Its Tracks
An album of dark nights and new mornings, The Beast In Its Tracks is the result of Josh Ritter retreating into songwriting to exorcise his demons from divorce, alcohol and insomnia. While much of the album sees Ritter happy in the arms of a new lover, songs like ‘Evil Eye’ and ‘Nightmares’ bounce along on cheerful melodies which disguise harrowing lyrics documenting his night terrors. Between bitterness and newfound happiness, Ritter evokes a long road to recovery experienced by many and perfectly captures the turning point onJoy To You Baby’. Ritter’s Blood On The Tracks? Possibly…

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4. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
Twenty-three years and ten albums in, Pearl Jam could be forgiven for showing signs of age. But, on Lightning Bolt they prove themselves to be as lean and hungry as ever, equally comfortable delivering full-throttle punk (‘Mind Your Manners’, ‘Lightning Bolt’) and gentle ballads (‘Yellow Moon’, ‘Sleeping By Myself’). The only signs of age are a mature perspective on love and mortality, with ‘Sirens’ seeing Eddie Vedder “overwhelmed by the grace with which we live our lives with death over our shoulders”. Lightning Bolt shows Pearl Jam ageing gracefully; still angry and still at the top of their game.

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3. Poliça – Shulamith
Hot on the heels of their critically acclaimed debut, Poliça build on its momentum with their difficult second album. The basic elements of echoing vocals, glacial synthesisers and effervescent percussion are still present, but Shulamith is more confrontational than its predecessor (much like its namesake, Shulamith Firestone). The music is less introverted; the synths are brutalising and the pulsing beats are feverish. Meanwhile, Channy Leanaegh’s vocals and lyrics, concerned with conflicts of identity in relationships, are direct and forthright. Rather than courting mainstream success, you get the sense that Shulamith is the sound of Poliça staying true to their beliefs.

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2. Anna Calvi – One Breath
Grander in scale, but more vulnerable than it’s predecessor. Anna Calvi still has a flair for the dramatic, but she seems to let down her guard more on One Breath, not letting the façade get in the way of expressing mortal frailty on the title track or brutal honesty on ‘Love Of My Life’. Calvi’s symphonic ambitions still remain intact on ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Sing To Me’ though, and that astounding voice continues to grip the imagination, even when it is but a barely audible whisper.

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1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
With the departure of guitarist Mick Harvey in 2009, Nick Cave’s right-hand man for nearly thirty years, the sound of the next Bad Seeds record seemed uncertain. As a result, the Bad Seeds embrace disarmingly minimal and intimate soundscapes on Push The Sky Away, focusing on textural instrumentation and contemplative lyrics delivered with conviction by Cave. The album looks both backwards and forwards on the band’s legacy, with the cataclysmic ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ seeming an answer to their ‘Abattoir Blues’ prophesied nine years earlier, while the spiritual communion of ‘We No Who U R’ and personal mantra ‘Push The Sky Away’ gesture to the artistic boundaries which they continue to push and transcend.

The Best EP

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Sampha – Dual
A genre defying EP; part electronic and hip-hop, part soul and singer-songwriter. While Morden based musician/producer, Sampha Sisay, has been lending his skills to high-profile artists such as Jessie Ware, SBTRKT and Drake, here on his second solo EP he shows that he kept the best ideas for himself. The songs themselves, based around Sampha’s soulful vocals and commanding piano melodies, are accomplished and would make enjoyable listening by itself. However, the extra layers he constructs on these solid basics indicate a measured artistry and that Sampha has a clear direction in mind. Brief interludes such as ‘Demons’ and ‘Hesitant Oath’ brim with creative enthusiasm and give the EP a cohesiveness which is missing from many full-length releases, while the intricate composition of clipped samples that weave in and out of the ‘live’ instrumentation keeps Dual unpredictable and imbues it with a compelling sense of depth. And yet for all its intricacy Dual still manages to sound pared down to its lean essentials, with no flab or unnecessaries attached. Evocative and simply captivating.

The Best Single

David Bowie Performing

David Bowie – ‘Where Are We Now?’
Released silently on Bowie’s birthday in January, ‘Where Are We Now?’ announced the Dame’s return to recording as the leading single to The Next Day. In many ways indicative of the album’s musical introspectiveness, evoking and pastiching the diverse phases of Bowie’s career, ‘Where Are We Now?’ is the quintessential post-Bowie Bowie song. While only four minutes long, the song’s sweeping scale and slow-burning energy feels like a lifetime condensed into a single moment, as Bowie casts a forlorn backward glance at his Berlin days. Over twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall things have changed yet remain the same, as old names and places spark memories and are filled with hurrying people crossing their fingers as they traverse busy intersections “just in case”. In the midst of the commotion which leads us nowhere, a childlike Bowie finds some solace and resolve to carry on in a few fundamentals: “As long as there’s sun, as long as there’s rain, as long as there’s fire, as long as there’s me, as long as there’s you”.

The Biggest Surprise

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Apart from Beyoncé dropping a killer pop album unannounced, Miley Cyrus’s twerktastic antics sparking mass debate on female autonomy in the music business and the early release of Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, probably the single piece of news that caused widespread shock and disarray across the music world was the sudden death of Lou Reed on 27th October. Lou died of liver disease at the age of 71, having undergone a liver transplant earlier in the year, and I guess the reason his death came as such a shock was that his body had been through so much abuse that people expected him to be one of the few things to survive a nuclear armageddon, along with the cockroaches and Keith Richards. Black humour aside, the effect Lou’s songs had on music and peoples’ lives is immeasurable and his sudden death took many off-guard as they realised there would never be another like him. So rest in peace, Lou, this satellite has gone way up to Mars.

What were your best music moments of 2013? Let me know in the comments below.

— Elements of The Best Albums appear in extracted form over at Hercules Moments.