The 20 best albums of 2013

by Nick Bollinger / 02 December, 2013
Jim Pinckney and Nick Bollinger's picks range from Connan Mockasin to Kanye West – via, of course, Lorde.
Anna Calvi

CARAMEL, Connan Mockasin (Phantasy/Because). Summoning up the spirit of psych soul, Te Awanga’s finest commandeered a Tokyo hotel room to record this mutated, woozy, intimate confection that could only sound slightly normal after a debut like Forever Dolphin Love.

DEDICATION, Zomby (4AD). In a year awash with quality electronic releases from Forest Swords, Laurel Halo, Four Tet et al, it’s the moody, mysterious and notoriously unreliable Zomby who stole the show with his insidiously absorbing double album.

DEVILS, Kody Nielson (Bandcamp). Brother Reuben may have grabbed the limelight with Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s impressive II but this low-key release from Kody Nielson surprised and delighted with its depth and unified tone. Heavy on the horns and rattling percussion, it’s an all-instrumental affair that suggests scruffy jazz and limber afrobeat but defies categorisation.

EGOSPECT, Sheep Dog & Wolf (Lil’ Chief). He calls it jazz-folk, but 19-year-old Aucklander Daniel McBride makes music as though genres simply don’t exist. On his entirely self-performed debut, jazz rhythms crash into angelic choirs, saxophone arpeggios chase fingerstyle guitars and somehow it all makes musical sense.

THE ELECTRIC LADY, Janelle Monae (Bad Boy/Wondaland). Monae champions the marginalised – women, African-Americans, gays – in songs that pay homage to Stevie Wonder, Prince and early Motown, while presenting the whole thing as an unfolding suite with a Blade Runner-inspired storyline.

FANDANGO, the Phoenix Foundation (Universal). Playfully combining the sublime and the ridiculous, the Wellingtonians deliver an audacious 78 minutes of lush, lyrical pop, sharing their skewed thoughts on subjects ranging from evolution to black mould.

INFORM – EDUCATE – ENTERTAIN, Public Service Broadcasting (Test Card Recordings). Utilising audio from vintage documentary, safety and propaganda films over a compelling and varied musical bed, this British duo conjured up one of the year’s most straightforward, enjoyable listens.

NEWS FROM NOWHERE, Darkstar (Warp). The UK trio have deftly augmented their electronica foundations with a shift towards the Albionic pastoral folk of the Canterbury scene and the classy pop of Metronomy and their ilk.

NOMAD, Bombino (Nonesuch). Desert bluesman Omara “Bombino” Moctar cut this breakthrough album in Nashville – and, yes, it probably is the first time West African trance music has included a pedal steel guitar.


ONE BREATH, Anna Calvi (Domino). Echoing her Italian and English heritage, Calvi’s music has both extravagance and reserve. Her lyrics hint at big emotional dramas while leaving the particulars unsaid; her choruses have the operatic feel of 60s Italian pop, with the brittle edge of a PJ Harvey.

PURE HEROINE, Lorde (Universal). Even if Royals hadn’t taken her from schoolgirl to megastar in what seems like minutes, Lorde’s album would stand out for its creative lyricism, uncluttered beatscapes and a wisdom that is refreshing in a Miley-and-Selena world.

PUSHIN’ AGAINST A STONE, Valerie June (Sunday Best). Memphian Valerie June Hockett has a voice you could imagine cracking glass; a diamond tone more often found in African music or old Southern gospel. On her Dan Auerbach-produced album, she sets that voice against hip-hop loops, Ethiopian grooves and her own neo-primitive banjolele-driven blues.

THE REDEEMER, Dean Blunt (Hippos in Tanks). Blunt’s explorations into postmodern cracked electronic balladry get stronger, stranger and more fragmented with each release. Whether he is playing for you or with you remains debatable, but the quality doesn’t.

A SERIES OF OOPSIE DAISIES AND VARIOUS OTHER FLORA, Christoph El’ Truento (Bandcamp). The best of the next wave of domestic delicacies can be found first on Soundcloud and Bandcamp, with such diverse artists as Naram, Totems, Fis, Arthur Ahbez and Jane Deezy among those threatening to spread beyond. @Peace producer El’ Truento is already there and blossoming with his latest release, which transports him further away from genrefied territory and off into his own musical stratosphere.


SILENCE YOURSELF, Savages (Matador). Seventies post-punk produced such pioneering all-women bands as the Slits and the Raincoats. Savages take whatever declarations of independence those bands made and file them to a sharp point. Vocalist Jehnny Beth chisels her lyrics into a set of harsh commands, and the other three back her with muscle and blood.

STAND UP, PEOPLE: GYPSY POP SONGS FROM TITO’S YUGOSLAVIA 1964-1980, Various Artists (Apshalt Tango). On a different tack to the usual Balkan compilations and gypsy grab-bags, there is not much trad but instead a whole heap of outside influences, including Bollywood soundtracks, mariachi horns, Anatolian psych and Western pop, on this riotously enjoyable collection.

WHO IS WILLIAM ONYEABOR?, William Onyeabor (Luaka Bop). This enigmatic, heavily bootlegged Nigerian recorded only between 1978 and 1985, before renouncing secular music. Legitimately licensed for the first time, hypnotic grooves like the ebullient Fantastic Man and the proto-acid Let’s Fall in Love are far fruitier than most afrobeat gear, with wickedly wayward electronic touches amid an infectious blend of sumptuous afro electrofunk.

WISE UP GHOST, Elvis Costello & the Roots (Blue Note). Costello’s collaborations often make better ideas than listening experiences, but this meeting with hip-hop’s hottest live band is exceptional. Recontextualising his old lyrics – and adding new ones – Costello, with the vital assistance of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Roots producer Steve Mandel, conjures a broodingly funky apocalypse.

Elvis Costello & the Roots. Photo/Danny Clinch

A WONDER WORKING STONE, Alasdair Roberts and Friends (Drag City). Roberts wears his folk emblems loudly on his sleeve, singing in his natural Scottish accent and drawing his melodies from the deep well of traditional song. He’s a superb solo guitarist and the more elaborate constructions here recall, and build upon, the 60s innovations of Fairport Convention.

YEEZUS, Kanye West (Universal). The most contrary figure of our times is just the man to deliver an album that is often hard to listen to and enjoy yet also impossible to ignore and frequently startlingly brilliant. Whether or not you care to embrace West’s lyrical conceit, sketchy misogyny and confused racial politics, the artistic reach and sonic architecture is undeniable.

See also: The 50 best children's books of 2013.

Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


The troubling rise of Australia's new Attorney-General
85835 2018-01-17 00:00:00Z World

The troubling rise of Australia's new Attorney-Gen…

by Bernard Lagan

The relatively young Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter has a track record in law and order that unsettles many.

Read more
The film-maker who risked death by sugar is fighting fit again
85890 2018-01-17 00:00:00Z Health

The film-maker who risked death by sugar is fighti…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For his documentary That Sugar Film, Damon Gameau consumed 40 teaspoons of the sweet stuff a day.

Read more
Auckland's best cafes 2018
84457 2018-01-17 00:00:00Z Dining

Auckland's best cafes 2018

by Metro

A swarm of new entrants elbow their way onto Metro's annual list of outstanding places for coffee and so much more.

Read more
Does anyone really know how to cut the number of deaths on our roads?
85708 2018-01-16 00:00:00Z Social issues

Does anyone really know how to cut the number of d…

by The Listener

The road toll for 2017 was 380 – 53 more than for 2016 and the highest figure since 2009.

Read more
How trauma incident data can be used to prevent future injuries
85876 2018-01-16 00:00:00Z Social issues

How trauma incident data can be used to prevent fu…

by Donna Chisholm

On a map are hundreds of brightly coloured dots, each colour signifying a type of incident: red for assault, cyan for motorbike crashes.

Read more
Donald Trump appears to have the wits of Homer Simpson
85895 2018-01-16 00:00:00Z World

Donald Trump appears to have the wits of Homer Sim…

by Bill Ralston

Trump may be “stable” and “smart”, but Americans need to decide whether to fire their leader.

Read more
The often-windswept Neil Oliver is headed indoors for a live NZ show
85873 2018-01-16 00:00:00Z Culture

The often-windswept Neil Oliver is headed indoors …

by Russell Baillie

Neil Oliver's live shows are based on a prolific career of making the past come alive on television and in print.

Read more
Hilary Barry takes Mike Hosking’s spot on Seven Sharp
85857 2018-01-15 13:40:27Z Television

Hilary Barry takes Mike Hosking’s spot on Seven Sh…

by Katie Parker

Hilary Barry takes over Seven Sharp and ex-Green candidate Hayley Holt replaces her on Breakfast. But not all are happy at the seat shuffling.

Read more