Tuesday 17 December 2013

The Metaphorical Boat's Top Albums of 2013 - 5-1

5. Girls Names - The New Life
(Tough Love Recordings)

And so our favourite album from a Northern Irish band in 2013 comes courtesy of the blogosphere's favourite Belfast band, Girls Names. Their sophomore album "The New Life" might not be the most original or contemporary sounding records to be released this year (almost every review of the album has compared it to either Joy Division or The Cure), but there is no doubting its brilliance. Every irresistible guitar hook hypnotizes you, drawing you into the foggy world created by Cathal Cully & co over tracks such as "Pittura Infamante", "Hypnotic Regression", and the close-on eight minute masterpiece "The New Life". They may sound familiar, but they sound like nothing else coming out of Northern Ireland in 2013.

4. Eels - Wonderful, Glorious
(E Works/Vagrant)

"Wonderful, Glorious" is an album of great duality, showing that ten albums in, Eels can still find the right balance between comfort and shock, light and dark, and rough and smooth. The album contains moments that might be familiar to fans of the band, such as the wounded ballad "On The Ropes" and the scuzzy "Peach Blossom". However, it also contains some surprising new musical developments for E & co, like the 'this needs to be the theme for a 70s game show' moments on "Stick Together" or the title track, which is a fantastic funk-meets-psychedelia moment. 

At this point in their career, unless you've been a fan of Eels up until now it's unlikely that you've given this album much thought. Don't let that put you off - "Wonderful, Glorious" is a worthy addition to the Eels discography, easily their strongest and best album since 2008's "Hombre Lobo". 

3. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
(XL Records)

"Modern Vampires of The City", the third album from Vampire Weekend, sees the band tackling the big topics in life, such as religion, death & the nature of humanity, yet doing so in a way that's not preachy, dour, or sounding like they've spent an extended amount of time living up their own posteriors. 

The upbeat tracks are the highlights of the record - from the defiant sounds of "Unbelievers" and "Worship You", through to the doo-wop helium-pop of "Diane Young". But the slower songs, which form the majority of the album, also have their charm too - the mechanical crunch of "Step" was so much loved it was released as a single twice, whilst "Ya Hey" is such a beautiful, thoughtful track. 

It's a million miles away from the much-aped 'Upper West Side Soweto' sound that helped the band to break out in 2008, but their evolution on "Modern Vampires of the City" shows that Vampire Weekend are one of the most intelligent, thought-provoking, forward-thinking indie bands in the world today.

2. Suede - Bloodsports
(Warner Brothers)

Well, they're the greatest band of all time, so Suede were always going to feature in this year's list with "Bloodsports", their first studio album in eleven years, but in what position? When I reviewed "Bloodsports" back in March, I'd indicated that although I liked the album, it wasn't the instant classic I'd expected it to be, and was disappointed that it seemed to tread too close to the sounds of previous albums.

So what changed in the intervening time to make it The Metaphorical Boat's #2 album of the year? Well, I realised three things:

1) I dismissed the album based on what I wanted to hear, rather than what I did hear - Suede seemed to roughly channel a different sound on each of their albums - glam-rock on "Suede", proggy-rock on "Dog Man Star", pop-rock on "Coming Up", electro-rock on "Head Music", and forgot-how-to-rock on "A New Morning". So when "Bloodsports" didn't fit into the neat little box I liked to put the band's album, I suffered from cognitive dissonance, as I wasn't hearing the album that I expected to hear. 

I now realise that was unfair - Brett and Mat from the band have said in interviews that it was their intention to make an album that sounds like Suede, rather than trying to reinvent their sound or try new things. With this perspective in mind, it's much easier to enjoy the album.

2) The new songs sound fantastic live - When I saw Suede in Belfast over the summer, I was amazed at how great "Sometimes I Feel I'll Float Away" and "For The Strangers", two songs I'd dismissed when I'd heard the album", came across incredibly strong in between the more familiar songs, with the crowds singing along to them as if they'd known them for years. If that isn't a testament to how great the new material is, then I don't know what is.

3) Suede are awesome - this point does not need clarifying. 

So Suede gave us a fantastic album in "Bloodsports", a record that in most other years would have been the #1 album hands down. Unfortunately for them, 2013 is not most other years. So The Metaphorical Boat's Top Album of 2013 is:

1. Public Service Broadcasting - "Inform - Educate - Entertain"
(Test Card Records)

They've done the double.

The Metaphorical Boat's album of the year is "Inform - Educate - Entertain", the debut full-length from Public Service Broadcasting. When an artist takes such a specialised approach to their music, in PSB's case building songs around samples from public information films, there's a risk that it can sound samey over the course of a full album. It's a testament to the writing skills of J. Willgoose Esq. and Wrigglesworth that "Inform - Educate - Entertain" offers a rich tapestry of sounds throughout its eleven tracks,. Whether it's the Krautrock vs WW2 dogfight on "Spitfire", the soundtrack to the road movie from hell, "Signal 30", through to the dreamy, bottom of the bottle musings of "Lit Up", the album takes you on a journey to many different places, eras, and states of mind in less than 40 minutes.

"Inform - Educate - Entertain" is the album of the year for four reasons reasons. Firstly, there is not a single bad track on the album. Secondly, it sounds like nothing else that has been released in 2013. Thirdly, it shows an amount of innovation that should help inspire and influence other musician for years to come. And finally it is an album that I intent to revisit and listen to again for many years to come, and each time find something new to love about it. 

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