This year, as well as a list of albums that I’ve liked and would recommend, I’m also going to try and narrow it down to 10 that are interesting, that I think people really need to hear, and that define 2013 for me.

This is going to be a challenge. And whilst the top three are definitely in an order, I really can’t differentiate between the rest.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

This record would have been my number one any year since I started keeping detailed stats about what I listen to, and it is number one this year because I’ve listened to it the most, like it the most, and really feel that it soundtracks my year perfectly. Yes, it’s mournful and introspective in places, but it explores emotions that I’ve felt intensely this year, and as such there really isn’t another record that compares. Everyone reading this should listen to all of it, but if I have to pick songs then I’d go with Demons, Heavenfaced and This is the Last Time (as the three that mean the most to me right now). Musically, I’d say it was a grower, but if you’re a sucker for mournful alternative rock with a gorgeous baritone then you can’t go wrong with this, and I’ve generally had pretty good take up with people I’ve foisted it on already.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

If The National represent my introspective side, then Vampire Weekend are the other side of the coin. This is the music I play when I want to feel positive and energised, and it is the record where they take their influences (Talking Heads, Paul Simon) and forge them into something new, unique, and surprisingly modern. This is another grower, and another one where I struggle to pick a favourite song, although if you have to pick three then go for Unbelievers, Diane Young and Everlasting Arms.

Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety

And just when you thought this was going to be a list of American alternative bands, then along comes something totally different. I don’t even know what genre this is, except to say that it’s a stunning vocal performance on top of beautifully minimal instrumentation, and that I can’t listen to it without having to stop and actually listen to it. This is a recommendation from someone who knows my taste very well, and probably represents one of the biggest shifts in my musical listening habits this year. Listen to all of it, and accept that I’m terrible at recommending individual songs.

Moonface – Julia with Blue Jeans On

I wonder if anyone reading this has heard this album. It’s certainly not mainstream, and is could be considered quite musically difficult as it’s just vocal and piano. This speaks to me in much the same way Trouble Will Find Me does, but it is sparser, and more intimate. I’ve heard pretty much every note this man has recorded, and I think this is by far the best collection of songs, and the one that feels like it is telling a definite story. It sounds like there was heartache and heartbreak involved in this record, but it also sounds like the kind of catharsis that allows someone to move on. Definitely a record for 2013.

Ghostpoet – Some Say So I Say Light

I’ve listened to a lot of rap and hip hop this year. I could quite easily talk about one of the superstars like Drake or Jay-Z here, but instead I’m going to pick Ghostpoet, for making a highly accomplished record that manages to avoid sexism, racism, and the kind of lyrics that this genre really needs to move beyond. I listened to this record for the first hour of my working day for weeks, and it takes me back to a time of being very productive in the quiet hours of the morning before descending into a day of stress and chaos. It’s also really thought provoking, and would act as a good introduction to people who are not too familiar with this kind of music.

Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe

This is what I listen to if I want to become as disconnected from the real world as it’s possible to get. I’m not sure how this music is made, or what it means, but it takes wordless vocals and instrumental textures are forges them into something spellbindingly beautiful. It reminds me of a Cocteau Twins record in some ways, but also has even more spaces between the sounds, and it is the sort of record that makes me interested to meet the person who conceived it, because I think she must have seen or otherwise experienced something of otherworldly beauty. The title is also absolutely fitting.

Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film

This is a band I never thought would make my top 10 again. I love their earlier stuff, but have not really found a lot to inspire me in what they have released recently. This record is an exception to that, although (as with The National) I suppose they are of my generation, and they sing about things that are relevant to my life, but this time round they do it well enough to warrant a mention. I’m particularly impressed that they have made a largely acoustic record that doesn’t sound acoustic at all, and that there are new ideas here, from a band who have not had many new ideas in the best part of 20 years.

Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Putting this list together is a fairly solitary process, but I do talk to other people over the course of the year. The week before this record was released, I couldn’t find anyone who would disagree with my top 3, although we were all excited that a new Los Campesinos! record was due, as it was likely to shake things up a little. I don’t think it has, although I do like it more with every listen, and I can’t really pass over a record that I listened to pretty much constantly for days. It also makes me feel alive and energised in the same way Vampire Weekend do, but with a definite UK slant to the things they sing about. That is important, right?

Barbarossa – Bloodlines

I know even less about this one that I do about Autre Ne Veut, but it occupies a similar place in my heart. It’s soulful, tuneful, and in some ways quite commercial, but it also taps a deep emotional vein that epitomises this year. I think this is another one most people will not have heard, but it’s definitely worth a listen.

Darren Hayman and the Short Parliament – Bugbears

Another one I’m not sure if anyone will have heard, but one that nicely epitomises my love of folk music, and of songs that tell stories. And yes, it’s the same Darren Hayman who was in Hefner all those years ago, although you wouldn’t know it from this. I’d very much recommend his whole back catalogue, but this is a good enough starting point, and a record I found myself coming back to over and over again in the latter portion of this year. Which is largely why it is last on the list.

But there are plenty of other things I’ve listened to this year that have caught my ear, and the list below is just some of them.

  • Jay-Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail
  • Villagers – {Awayland}
  • Breathe Owl Breathe – Passage of Pegasus
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
  • John Zorn – The Mysteries
  • Shearwater – Fellow Travelers
  • Tomahawk – Oddfellows
  • Drake – Nothing Was the Same
  • Mark Lanegan – Imitations
  • The Fall – Re-Mit
  • Jesu – Everyday I get Closer to the Light from Which I Came
  • Midlake – Antiphon
  • Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle – Perils from the sea
  • British Sea Power – Machineries Of Joy
  • Bill Ryder-Jones – A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart
  • Ed Harcourt – Back Into The Woods
  • Julia Holter – Loud City Song
  • !!! – THR!!!ER
  • Phoenix – Bankrupt!
  • Mark Lanegan – Black Pudding
  • These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
  • Primal Scream – More Light
  • My Bloody Valentine – mbv
  • John Zorn – Dreamachines
  • Blouse – Imperium
  • Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day
  • Kanye West – Yeezus
  • Mark Mulcahy – Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You
  • Joseph Arthur – Redemption City
  • Daughter – If You Leave
  • Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Mark Kozelek & Desertshore
  • Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer – Child Ballads

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