Albums of the Year – numbers 20 to 11

So now we’ve got the top 20, and into albums that I’m sure I – and many others – will be playing for years to come. Here we go...

20. David Bowie – The Next Day

A surprise and welcome comeback, with clever, self-referential but very listenable songs, from the second greatest British songwriter of the last 50 years. Maybe not quite as amazing as some critics made out, and still in the greater scheme of things about his 7th or 8th best album. But hey, great to have you back David.

19. Queens of the Stone Age - Like Clockwork

The most rock album – so far – on our list, but lightened with decent tunes and a sense of playfulness (you can’t take yourself too seriously if you write a song called ‘If I Had A Tail’) and real variation – even Elton John on one track! Still pretty heavy in places, but Josh Homme manages a smart move into the mainstream without selling out via this excellent album. Headliner at Reading 2014? We think that’s quite possible.

18. Laura Stevenson – Wheel

I have a penchant for female indie- folk singer- songwriters and Stevenson (who is also lead singer in a fairly punky band) was a very pleasant surprise this year. Quite raw in places, rather beautiful at other times, and influenced by country, rock and folk. But it all sounds like it really means something to her, if you know what I mean.

17. Public Service Broadcasting – Inform – Educate - Entertain

So, let’s take spoken soundtracks from old films, public service broadcasts or radio shows. Then we’ll take samples and set them to instrumental, largely electronic, dance backing tracks. That’ll work, won’t it? It’s a crazy idea and yet it spawned one of the year’s best and certainly most original albums. Unique, very listenable, fascinating and apparently there is a great live show too.

16. The National – Trouble will Find Me

It gets hard to think of anything new to say about The National. This is their sixth album and fourth excellent release in a row - every time, I listen initially and think, yes that’s pretty good. Then on about the 4th listen, you realise that you know all the songs and they’ve wormed their way into your brain with their intelligent, somewhat lugubrious, indie-rock. Totally identifiable, with their own sound, yet they find something subtly different to say every time.

15. London Grammar – If You Wait

What a debut, from a band no-one had heard of 18 months ago. The most stunning new voice of the year in Hannah Reid - Florence Welsh crossed with Joan Armatrading is my analysis. The carefully produced, sparse, XX- style instrumentation gives her amazing vocals room to breathe in a collection of strong songs. They met at Nottingham Uni – can you imagine being a young student songwriter, you tell a very pretty girl on your corridor that you write songs, she says “I sing a bit”...  and then you hear that voice! Wow.

14. Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In

Another wonderful female voice from the country /folk / soul / pop artist Ms. Rose. She’s not a million miles from Neko Case in style (see number 21), but this is even better than the Case album. It is a little more overtly country at times, but you don’t need to be a Nashville fanatic to love this. As well as a great voice, these are classic songs that you can imagine other people covering and being sung for many years to come.

13. Suede – Bloodsports

A comeback just as impressive as Bowie’s in a way. Who would have expected Suede to sound quite so vibrant, so upbeat, so joyful as they do here? The recognisable mannered vocals of Brett Anderson are a highlight, but it’s just a hugely enjoyable indie rock album that sounds very much of 2013. It didn’t get quite the credit it deserved - if this had been a new band’s debut, the media would have been raving about it!

12. Foals – Holy Fire

Getting into serious best of the year territory now, with the Foals third straight excellent album as they move inexorably towards festival headlining and O2 arena status, with their driving indie-dance rhythms, quite complex songs and obtuse lyrics. Not sure anything is quite as stunning as Spanish Sahara off the last album here, although Inhaler comes close and was a huge song at the festivals this summer.

11. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

My favourite band of the last ten years probably and I thought this was going to be well into my top ten, until I sat down to do this list. I think it suffers by being quite recent – I haven’t listened to it enough maybe. It is a sprawling, 70 minute epic, with some dull bits, but Here Comes the Night Time is one of the very best songs of the year. Disco influenced, not an easy listen, but may be re-evaluated as a classic in a few years' time.

See you tomorrow for the top 10! Who will it be? Can you guess? Will Robbie Williams pip Britney and Katy to that coveted top spot?

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Voices (4)

  1. Mark Hubbard:

    Sent no.1 daughter out with a copy of the list to shop for CD’s..

    1. Peter Smith:

      should have waited for the top ten – up at 5am tomorrow!!

  2. Ian R:

    Absolutely love Arcade Fire, but Reflector didn’t do much for me, and I felt they had started to bask in their reflected (no pun intended) glory somewhat, I must admit though I haven’t given it many listens so it may be that it’ll grow.

    Talking of recent releases, if White Denim’s Corsican Lemonade had come out a bit earlier in the year it would be well in my top ten – wonder if it made yours Peter?

  3. Alphabet Bands:

    An interesting and varied list so far Peter, with a few there fior me to check out as well.

    I can also confirm that the Public Service Broadcasting live show is amazing and, judging from recent gig photo’s, they have recently expanded the onstage set-up as well.

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