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The best music of 2013

Here are the 15 albums I enjoyed most this year, in no particular order of quality, with two or three standout songs listed below if you want to get a feel for what they sound like and why I liked them.

Action Bronson – Blue Chips 2

Essential tracks: Silverado, Contemporary Man, Flip Ya

Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip – The Abstract And The Dragon

Essential tracks: Thank You, Come On Down, Vivrant Thing

Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

Essential tracks: The Mother We Share, Gun, Night Sky

Danny Brown – Old

Essential tracks: Side A, Clean Up, Smokin and Drinkin

David Bowie – The Next Day

Essential tracks: Valentine’s Day, I’d Rather Be High, You Will Set The World On Fire

Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost

Essential tracks: Refuse To Be Saved, Come The Meantimes, Viceroy’s Row

Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge – 12 Reasons to Die

Essential tracks: Beware Of The Stare, I Declare War, The Rise of the Ghostface Killah

Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady

Essential tracks: Givin Em What They Love, Electric Lady, We Were Rock & Roll

Marnie Stern – The Chronicles of Marnia

Essential tracks: Year Of The Glad, Immortals, Proof Of Life

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Essential tracks: I’m From Nowhere, City Swan, Local Girl

Pusha T – My Name Is My Name

Essential tracks: Numbers on the Board, Nosetalgia, Pain

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels

Essential tracks: Banana Clipper, Sea Legs, A Christmas Fuckin’ Miracle

Suede – Bloodsports

Essential tracks: Barriers, Snowblind, It Starts And Ends With You

Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob

Essential tracks: Closer, I Was A Fool, I Couldn’t Be Your Friend

!!! – Thr!!!er

Essential tracks: Even When The Water’s Cold, One Boy/One Girl, Meet Me At The Station

 

And here’s link to my top 50 tracks of this year, with streaming links for your listening pleasure.

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Album review: Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

It’s already been an incredibly rich and fertile year for music, with established acts delivering fine additions to their back catalogues, while newcomers crawl out of the woodwork to surprise us on a regular basis. The 2010 version of my personal Top Ten list of albums is already full, a little over halfway through the year. There will no doubt be some intense jockeying for a position in the list as the year wears on, but one album is already a dead cert to stay.

Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid is that rarest of beasts these days: a pop album that’s genuinely unafraid to push boundaries and take risks. The album’s influences are myriad and worn on its sleeve – Prince, Motown, Moroder/Summer disco, and a host of fearsomely theatrical divas from Bassey to Beyonce – but the near-omni-talented Monae mixes them into a concoction that’s all her own.

The concept-album weirdness of The ArchAndroid doesn’t detract one bit from its ridiculous catchiness, even as it segues from the infectious bangers “Cold War” and “Tightrope” to the downbeat-yet-beautiful “Oh, Maker”. Monae contains multitudes, and is as much at home with hip-shaking dancefloor jams as she is with jazzy vocal improvisation or impeccably arranged ballads. In that way, it’s almost a quintessential American record: building from the varied roots of its musical traditions a work that celebrates the past even as it looks to the future.

In an era where Lady Gaga-ish empty-calorie posturing is held up as the best pop music can aspire to, Monae combines a well-crafted image with genuine talent and an independent-minded spirit that takes her to wonderfully imaginative new places. This joy in invention is something that’s been missing from mainstream music for a long time. The ArchAndroid heralds its return.

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