City and Colour - Thirst
To celebrate featuring on our mid-year Best Of 2013 list, Canadian singer-songwriter Dallas Green, known as City and Colour, plays an exclusive acoustic set of Thirst.PT4M53S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2q6z4 620 349 July 18, 2013
We know what you’re thinking: yes, everything goes faster these days, but sorting out the best of the year halfway through the year is a bit premature, isn’t it?
Maybe, but like half-time in an intense football Grand Final, after a torrid beginning it pays to pause, evaluate the mistakes and successes and gird your loins for the next wave. To quote from some super coach or other, in yet another year when there will be thousands of albums released, fatigue will set in, mistakes will be made and only the fittest and most prepared will be able to hold back the tide of the Christmas album rush.
So what else do we know? We know from Justin Timberlake, Kanye West and Daft Punk that for all the talk of savvy consumers being resistant to hype, that massive marketing campaigns can still sell an album. We also discovered that hype doesn’t necessarily mean no substance (if we ignore the crushing disappointment of the Empire of the Sun album, Ice on the Dune).
Laura Marling produced one of the year's best albums so far, Once I Was An Eagle. Photo: Michelle Smith
Daft Punk’s reimagining of disco gave us one of the songs of the year in Get Lucky, with Timberlake’s sex-on-a-stick title track from the otherwise disappointing album Suit & Tie not far behind. Yeezus, West’s I-am-a-god attempt to distract us from the embarrassing name given to his child, was fierce and powerful. If David Bowie managed to escape the stigma of marketing, despite a clever campaign of wordless tease and poignant memories (for us as much as him) it was probably because nobody had an inkling he was making an album at all, let alone one as intriguing and thoroughly satisfying as The Next Day.
A little less surprising was that Mavis Staples, eight years older than Bowie at 74, could still rouse us with gospels traditional and modern on One True Vine, or that Gotye, this time paired with Melbourne musical comedians rather than a Kiwi, would make something special of an a cappella version of the Reels’ beautiful Quasimodo’s Dream.
Black Sabbath’s return notwithstanding, there were young and new acts making music worth holding onto. English band Chvrches swapped the ‘‘U’’ for a ‘‘V’’ and guitars for a synthesiser for the electro-pop hit Recover; SHINee gave us that hit of South Korean sugar with Dream Girl; and a pair of barely 20-somethings, Laura Marling (Once I Was An Eagle) and James Blake (Overgrown) took folk and soul to new heights.
Gotye with Perfect Tripod did justice to an Australian classic in Quasimodo's Dream
The best things to come out of Melbourne, Vance Joy, and Sydney, Jagwar Ma, proved you could use a ukulele or a metaphoric bucket hat to climb the charts without any hype at all.
That’s not bad eh? And, it’s only half-time.
BEST SINGLES SO FAR IN 2013
God Is Dead?
One of the most eagerly anticipated song releases of the past three decades came from the band that 40 years ago changed the face of popular music with the their own brand of riff-heavy, chart-topping rock'n'roll. God Is Dead? signals the return of the original Black Sabbath line-up and they've pulled out all the stops to raise hell on Ozzy's return. Thundering drums and Tony Iommi's signature guitar licks punctuate the opening of this nine minute colossal return to form with a massive back end boogie. "Give me more wine, I don't need bread," sings Ozzy. Classic. Martin Boulton
Like much from one of last year's best albums, Alpine's debut, the UK's u-avoiding Chvrches build from an '80s synth-pop base and just keep adding hooks. Rolling keyboard bass, bouncy chords and echo-laden electronic drums hold the ground while a perky synth hook dances. Over them all a female voice is just pushy enough to suggest urgency, “I'll give you one more chance to say we can change or part ways .... I know you don't need me”. The song nags at your head but then you realise it's also nagging at your feet. It doesn't sound like a dance song but yet it makes you want to dance. Bernard Zuel
CITY AND COLOUR
Canadian Dallas Green, former lead singer of post-hardcore band Alexisonfire, goes from strength to strength in his solo career as folk-rock outfit City and Colour, with his fourth album the hurry and the harm reaching number four on the ARIA charts in Australia. The acoustic version of first single, Thirst (shot in our studios yesterday) shows off Green’s vocal range and his fine songwriting while the official version has far more grunt. A classic grower that only reveals its many layers after several listens, Thirst is a beautifully-crafted piece of songwriting. Peter Vincent
Rustic, smooth and full of passion. Matt Corby's Resolution captivates you from that first rhythmic note to the last introspective lyrics. Penned in the Sydney boy's LA apartment, his first release from his forthcoming debut album falls and rises in a way that leaves you hungry for more and desperate for release at the same time. Corby has become highly skilled in the art of anticipation, not only evident in the arrangement of this song but even more so in the desperation felt by his fans, who have waited through four EPs for the promise of an album. If Resolution is the entree of what they can expect, they will be more than satisfied with the main course. Katie Carlin
GOTYE AND PERFECT TRIPOD
A cappella might not be everyone's cup of tea but when you put together a collection of some of Australia's finest musician's for a good cause it should be. Still riding high after last year's stratospheric success Gotye teams up with some unlikely allies in musical comedians Tripod and actor/singer/musician Eddie Perfect to support the Save Live Australia's Music campaign with a remake of the Reels' 1981 classic. A beautifully made track with luscious harmonies, it is released as a limited edition 7-inch vinyl with artwork by renowned Australian visual artist Patricia Piccinini (of Skywhale fame). Andrew Benson
You wouldn't have expected a couple of North Sydneysiders that had failed to take by storm Australia, let alone anywhere else, in previous incarnations (Lost Valentinos and Ghostwood between them) to come up with the tune of the year so far. Yet such is the euphoric bliss provided by only their second single that Jagwar Ma are already on the way to international acclaim of Tame Impala-like proportions. With Gabriel Winterfield's falsetto and twanging guitar floating along on the kind of irresistible, shuffling groove last heard on Primal Scream's Screamadelica, The Throw lodges itself in your head and hips and refuses to move on. George Palathingal
Melbourne's Vance Joy has poured out his fears of the dark, dentists and starting conversations with pretty girls in this addictive single Riptide. It's a light, harmony-filled, ukulele-driven song that's so catchy it wouldn't be out of place in a Hawaiian bar that serves cocktails 24/7 on palm fronds. With only an EP under his belt, Vance Joy – also known as James Keogh – has nailed his musical debut. Riptide is fun listening that's not challenging. At times it's even overtly repetitive, but perhaps that's why we just can't get enough. Keogh should have no problem meeting attractive girls with this single. Sarah Whyte.
This is the best song Justin Timberlake never sang. It's replete with hooks, harmonies, throbbing bass, sparkly guitar and handclaps. It's a perfectly polished ball of sonic joy. The term "K-Pop" is used as a meaningless catch-all for the wide variety of popular music being produced in Asia. The hip-hop and house is often forgettable; but when it comes to pure pop, the region reigns supreme. The five-piece group SHINee belong to the incredibly successful SM Entertainment roster: watch SBS's Pop Asia on the weekend and you'll see a bunch of their acts singing impossibly catchy tunes. Most of them are good. Dream Girl is irresistible. Gabriel Wilder
The best thing to come out of a big No.1 smash has to be that it clues up the kids on the music that came before it, that shaped it. In the case of Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines (featuring cameo cat of the moment Pharrell Williams), the song doesn't so much reference Marvin Gaye's Got to Give It Up, as it wouldn't exist without its predecessor. To be fair Thicke has acknowledged he wanted to imitate that song. Either way, it's encouraging that in 2013 a track with such a funk and soul sound spent a mighty eight weeks at No.1. Lyrically, it's hardly angelic but it's fairer to call it "adult" content than the "rapey" allegations squared at it. The video clip is another matter – but no worse than most major pop videos today. Peter Vincent
Suit and Tie
From one of 2013's most mediocre pop albums comes one of its swaggest singles. The 20/20 Experience is Justin Timberlake's futile attempt to position himself as Frank Sinatra 2.0 but among the 12 tracks of unremarkable jazz-infused pop is one absolute stunner. Suit & Tie is a smart, sexy fusion of pop, jazz and hip-hop woven together with a groove that's tighter Timberlake's skinny tie. The trumpets are crisp, the bass is heavy, the vocals are smooth as caramel. JT might have lost his mojo but he brings sexy back with this one. Rachel Olding
WE ALSO LOVED:
Lorde, Royals; Kanye West, Black Skinhead; Savages, She Will; Neko Case, Man; Frightened Rabbit, The Woodpile; Falling, Haim; The Knife, Full of Fire; Deap Vally, Lies; A$AP Rocky, 1 Train; Janelle Monae Q.U.E.E.N. (Featuring Erykah Badu).
There's a loping, spare bassline which Bernard Edwards would have happily claimed back in Chic's heyday and that familiar high, chunka-chunka guitar which Nile Rodgers made his signature. You can feel your lapel and trouser bottoms widening within seconds. Pharrell Williams sounds smoother than a velvet jacket and silkier than a high price tie as he predicts a night ahead where “I'm up all night to get some, she's up all night for good fun, I'm up all night to get lucky”. And he's not talking at the casino. Then three and half minutes in the vocals get all vocodered and the last three minutes are all about the way your hips are moving independently of your mind. Yeah it got overplayed but you know what, it's still killer pop music. Bernard Zuel
The disappointment in Bernard Fanning's first single from his second solo album, the first since the break-up of Powderfinger, wasn't in the basic quality of the song. Solid, mid-tempo rock which hinted at electronic beginnings at the start, dropped in some strings for drama, carried an easy-to-learn chorus and shook its long hair in the middle eight, it hit every radio single mark. Which in the end was the frustration. This could have been Powderfinger and hadn't we already had that? More disappointingly, it could also have been a dozen other adequate acts imitating Powderfinger. We expected more. Bernard Zuel
10 BEST ALBUMS SO FAR IN 2013
For Now I Am Winter
Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds chose to work with a vocalist for the first time on a handful of the songs on For Now I Am Winter. And although there is plenty here that will be familiar to fans of his elegant minimalist instrumentals, it has an energy that is new to the work of the 26-year-old. That's most evident on Reclaim, one of the collaborations with singer Arnor Dan, and the album's tour de force. Arnalds slowly builds the foreboding strings, galloping percussion and muted horns into a glorious symphonic crescendo, while Dan's delicate voice dips and glides above. It shows just what Arnalds is capable of, and hints at a still more exciting future. Gabriel Wilder
Ever-maturing UK wunderkind James Blake backs up his game-changing 2011 debut album with the equally spectacular Overgrown. His voice has inched closer to the operatic stylings of Antony Hegarty while the pulsating bass and barely audible murmurings are never far away in Life Round Here and main single Retrograde. He frays the edges, turns hardened boundaries into malleable experiments and masters the masochism of a withheld climax. If it takes a great musician to make a great debut album and an even better one to follow it up with something better, what about an artist who leaves you desperately intrigued for their third? Rachel Olding
The Next Day
Bowie is a part of the culture, as the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's off-world version of Space Oddity proved this year. But where are we now, as Bowie sang in his first new music in nearly a decade. Turning 66 at the album's release, Bowie is without doubt looking back. The melancholy leadoff single Where Are We Now? was a walk down the Memory Strasse of his Berlin days. (You Will) Set the World on Fire is a fiery song set in the Greenwich Village folk dens of the early '60s, dropping the names of Dylan, Baez and lesser lights. Not everything works. Boss Of Me is every bit as petulant as its title suggests, with what sounds like old-time sexism. Some songs are more squall than tune. But much of the music has great spark. At least one track, Heat, proves that Bowie has not shaken off the influence of Scott Walker, after all these years, perhaps his most worthy rival in the art-rock field. Oh yeah, the sleeve design is bloody annoying, putting it mildly. Mark Sawyer
Heirs and Graces (Mushroom)
Like a love child of Kraftwerk and the Temper Trap this half Australian, half South African five-piece has created a stunning sophomore album of pure joy and fun. From the opening track, My Shadow, this splendid release takes the best of the '80s and mixes it with modern indie pop. While it is quintessentially a light, fresh and melodious pop offering the beats, as you would expect from the band's name, are infectious and hard to resist. Other highlight tracks include the beautifully balanced pop-ballad-duet Heartbreak, which combines the understated vocals of Clubfeet's Sebastian Cohen with the silky tones of guest artist Chela, and party anthem Cape Town. Andrew Benson.
Kiss My Apocalypse
No longer a blues rock singer but still trouble, Abbe May has found a way to re-imagine Destiny's Child slowed down, greased up and blocking your path out of a nightclub where nobody knows your name but they do have your wallet and shoes. This is R&B given its head on an electronic plate, with thick beats, robotic rhythms and angry, synthetic sounds doing the work of guitars. And at its heart is a dark obsession: sexual and needy, aggressive and pathetic but always aware because May doesn't pretend that there isn't pleasure, just that you've got to pay somewhere. Bernard Zuel
Once I Was An Eagle
A mesmerising start charts a relationship's wonky foundations and crumbling facade across seven songs which mix ragas and English folk with Dylan and cellos. It's not just clever, it's emotionally potent and in its own way pitiless. Then Marling really gets into stride: richly detailed musically as organs and electric guitars invade and rhythms grow more complex; powerfully detailed lyrically as Marling asks herself whether she's really up for sharing any space with others and does she really want to change. The decision? She's in, keener to be a participant than an observer. Four albums in and you'd swear she'd been doing this for 20 years. Bernard Zuel
Trouble Will Find Me
The Americans in suits got a little bit quieter, a little bit higher and even, occasionally, a little bit funnier. But what hadn't changed was the emotional kick of songs which set up where all of us live: messy, vulnerable, contradictory, needy and demanding. The Dessner brothers showed again their guitars could be liquid and beautiful as much as searing. The Devendorf brothers showed again they were a rhythm section of power as much as restraint. And Matt Berninger again sang like he knew something about you. Meanwhile, every play of the album just made you wonder how fabulous this would all sound live. Bernard Zuel
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
Like the great albums that snatch and hold your attention from the opening track to the closing moments ...Like Clockwork was created with far more than a bunch of catchy hooks and a few well chosen words. It grew from a place of deep reflection that founding member and guitarist Josh Homme shared with his bandmates and the wider circle of musicians he's gathered around him – ultimately becoming his strongest moment. Is it "all downhill from here" as Homme suggests on the title track? Well, that depends what you make of the clues he's planting from the outset in Keep Your Eyes Peeled. Martin Boulton
One True Vine
With 73 years of life experience, Mavis Staples is not slowing down. Instead the Chicago native is producing some of her finest work and touring the world (she blew audiences away at this year's Bluesfest). Produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, One True Vine is a spiritual experience filled with gospel songs that embrace slow grooves. Her voice resonates as deeply as the subject matter and there is a wonderful sparseness between instruments – drums, bass, acoustic guitar and clean electric. From opening track (“some Holy Ghost keeps me hanging on”), through to the title track closer (“I was last in line for the One True Vine”), these are hymns for the downtrodden, the sinner and the lost soul. Staples is the prodigal daughter and this album celebrates her homecoming. Daniel Fallon
Kanye West takes his God Complex very seriously. As if it wasn't enough to boost his nickname (Yeezy) to Christ-like proportions for the title of solo album No.6 (the name Yeezus itself taken from a track, I Am a God, “featuring God”), West even found his own Mary Magdalene in his private life. But this is no touchy-feely messiah. It's Kanye at his bristling, brilliant best, the chip on his shoulder unapologetically uglier than ever as he spits his most confrontational rhymes yet to a series of fierce beats and memorable samples. From the rampaging assault of Black Skinhead to the emotive, swelling Blood on the Leaves, Yeezus largely proves as (omni)potent as it thinks it is. George Palathingal
WE ALSO LOVED:
My Bloody Valentine, mbv; Patty Griffin, American Kid; Atoms for Peace, Judge, Jury and Executioner; Josh Ritter, The Beast in its Tracks; Black Sabbath, 13; Fidlar, Fidlar, Matthew E. White, Big Inner, Twenty One Pilots, Vessels; Cloud Control, Dream Cave; Jagwar Ma, Howlin.
Random Access Memories
After the disproportionate levels of anticipation it was granted (had people forgotten the patchy, aptly titled Human After All?) and the marketing genius of Wee Waa, the fourth studio offering from French electronica enigmas Daft Punk almost had to be The Greatest Album Ever. It wasn't – and could thus be considered a disappointment – but now the dust has settled you can still see what all the fuss was about. A blissful and surprisingly warm collection of simultaneously retro and futurist disco, Random Access Memories charmed with the irresistible Get Lucky, slinkily seduced with Lose Yourself to Dance and blew minds with the epic closer Contact. Not the greatest album ever, perhaps, but still not far off a modern classic. George Palathingal
EMPIRE OF THE SUN
Ice on the Dune
First impressions last and DNA, the terrible David Guetta-style big-room opener to Ice on the Dune sets Empire of the Sun's second album on a tragic trajectory. While album one unearthed a fascinating and alluring land between dance and pop that we'd somehow never discovered, album two goes where every other man has been before. Overblown ideas, heavily saturated sounds and unbearably twee hooks manifest in 12 tracks of arrogant, vacuous, cheesy dancefloor fillers. Never the shrinking violets, flamboyant Luke Steele and quiet genius Nick Littlemore fail just as spectacularly as they once succeeded. Rachel Olding