Thom Yorke’s voice may be one of the seven wonders of the rock’n’roll world, but that hasn’t stopped him trying to disembody it in increasingly ‘avant’ electronica. This casual band collaboration involving Nigel Godrich and Chili Peppers bassist Flea may be time out from Radiohead, but that doesn’t mean time out from abstract lyrical angst, apocalyptic Stanley Donwood artwork or his love affair with things that go ‘bleep’ in the night.
The Next Day
Given the dearth of true talent working in the medium of rock at present, there’s every chance you’ll hear your favourite guitar solo of the year on this LP – not to mention the deepest lyrics, the best chord changes or the most catchy choruses. That His Davidness can trounce the meagre competition around him in 2013 is no surprise. The crucial thing though is that The Next Day stands proud when judged against his own exceptional back catalogue.
Pale Green Ghosts
‘To say that I’m a man undone,’ sings John Grant, ‘is understatement at its worst’. He’s right – there are barely words to describe his day-to-day struggle with addiction, depression, unrequited love and his recent diagnosis as HIV positive. But on this second album, the Reykjavik-based American singer manages a feat of honesty and intellect to find them. Like the Colorado trees that are referenced in its title, the album is as starkly beautiful as it is sad.
The 20/20 Experience
Music has become smarter since JT last released an album, with the Frank Oceans and Weeknds of the world setting a higher standard for modern R&B soloists. Timberlake, and his producer Timbaland, recognise this, and while it’s not excessively minimal or modern, the album they’ve made together is both blissfully nostalgic and coolly new. The 20/20 Experience is pure pop for grown-ups.
Light Up Gold
Attention anyone awaiting the return of guitar music – Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts have quietly rolled up the new sound of rock’n’roll and handed it to us on an astonishing debut LP. And that new sound is… exactly the same as the old sound, of course. Metronomic drums meet powerful, single-note basslines, while guitars wail freely and slurred lyrics make simply bumming around sound cool as anything.
Of all the musical responses by Malian artists to the political and humanitarian crisis in their homeland, you won’t find one more defiantly and vividly alive than this. Determined not to ‘sing my sadness’, Rokia Traoré recruited PJ Harvey producer John Parish and drummer Seb Rochford for her typically extraordinary fifth album, where Western guitar and African n’goni work together as fluidly as her lyrics in French, English and Bambara.
The Legend of Mike Smith
Alto sax master and rapper Kinch hasn’t produced a homage to former Radio 1 DJ Mike Smith, or indeed the vocalist and keys man with the Dave Clark Five. This Smith is a fictional everyman, sent on a Dante-inspired jazz journey through modern-day manifestations of the seven deadly sins. It’s a trip long and richly textured enough to make up a double album – a record which is Kinch’s best work to date. Jazz and hip hop are seamlessly blended, without Kinch ever compromising either style.
Shaking the Habitual
If you’re trying to make an album that questions the structure of modern society, where do you start? How about deconstructing the whole idea of the album? This is what Karin Dreijer Andersson, and her brother Olof, have done on their third LP – a 98-minute beast that hides its moments of poppier genius among tracts of sonic wasteland. This is not an easy listen, but that’s the very obvious point. After all, you have to work for the things that matter in life.
Writing a classic album on your first attempt creates a strange pressure on a band. The Strokes have released three so-so albums since they reinvigorated indie rock with 2001’s Is This It?. Feeling unenthusiastic this time around? If only you had more faith. Comedown Machine is a gem – smart, poppy and one of the most accomplished records you’ll hear all year. Where those intervening LPs displayed a suspect desire to prove their musical virtuosity, the band have finally started marrying their flare for riffing to great songs.
Second album syndrome? Pah. Try making an LP when you’re an originator of the grime underground. There are ravey euro-pop-esque beats, piano-fringed digi balladry and collabs with the likes of Tulisa and Emeli Sandé, but this is still an album that takes time to embrace its creator’s roots. Grime wunderkind Preditah contributes and there’s a slew of the scene’s harder-edged MCs and filthy, trap-esque beats. A record that admirably bridges the gap between grime and pop.