1 Apparat – Austerlitz
2 Arcade Fire – Reflektor
3 Amateur Best – Ready For The Good Life
4 Pet Shop Boys – Love Is A Bourgeois Construct
5 Everything Everything – Duet
6 Phosphorescent – Song For Zula
7 Sebastian Rochford & Brian Eno – Dream Nails
8 The Flaming Lips – Look… The Sun Is Rising
9 Julianna Barwick – Look Into Your Own Mind
10 Califone – Stitches
11 Youth Lagoon – Dropla
12 Au Revoir Simone – We Both Know
13 Laura Veirs – Sun Song
14 Serafina Steer – Night Before Mutiny
15 Colin Stetson & Justin Vernon – Warm Shadow
16 Zola Jesus – Fall Back
17 Rachel Zeffira – To Here Knows When
18 David Bowie – Sound And Vision (2013)
1 Deco Child – Skinless (part 1)
2 Atoms for Peace – Amok
3 Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Sacrilege
4 Daft Punk – Get Lucky
5 Sebastian Rochford & Drew McConnell – Mostly Harmless
6 Kanye West – Black Skinhead
7 Jagwar Ma – The Throw
8 Washed Out – It All Feels Right
9 Shearwater – Hurts Like Heaven
10 Explosions in the Sky & David Wingo – The Lines On The Road That Lead You Back Home
11 Moderat – Bad Kingdom
12 Low – Just Make It Stop
13 Califone – Moses
14 Everything Everything – Arc (James Rutledge album remix)
15 Sigur Rós – Rafstraumur
16 My Bloody Valentine – Wonder 2
17 Arcade Fire – Afterlife
18 Julianna Barwick – Adventurer Of The Family
‘Cut the connection / Just to stitch it together / Again, again, again, again’
Having spent the entire year looking back through my old soundtracks, I didn’t really pay attention too much to what this year’s one would sound like. I didn’t think I was listening as much to new music as I would like; partly as a result of keeping this blog going, and also because being just a 10-minute walk from work now means that my usual music-listening time has been frittered away. So it was a nice surprise to create a longlist for this year’s compilation and find that there was 93 songs on it. That 93 was cut down to 36, and this is the result.
We kick off with Sascha Ring, aka Apparat, with a piece from his score of Kreig Und Frieden (War And Peace). It’s then into the comeback single from Arcade Fire, the title track from their new Reflektor album. It took me a while for this to grow on me, initially thinking that it sounded too much like an LCD Soundsystem song with Arcade Fire guesting on it, but then is that really a bad thing? The album it’s from is also growing with each listen. Next is a song that I actually forgot to put on my longlist for the soundtrack to 2012 – Amateur Best’s ‘Ready For The Good Life’ actually came out in the autumn of last year, but it was only possible to buy it as part of some weird comic-book package and it passed me by altogether. Still, it was given a proper release at the start of this year.
The biggest surprise of the year (other than the appearance of an actual, bona fide My Bloody Valentine album) was the quality of the Pet Shop Boys’ latest, Electric. Their previous album, Elysium, was desperately poor, and with them leaving their long-term label Parlophone, it looked very much like the end of the road for them. Instead, they started their own label, recruited Stuart Price as producer, worked on an album of dancefloor-oriented songs and the result was the most unlikely of triumphs. And Electric’s crowning triumph was ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Construct’ – easily their best song of the 21st century.
Two of the best albums of the year came from Everything Everything with Arc, and Phosphorescent with Muchacho – the Everything Everything album was a particular favourite of Nat’s, maybe because it reminded her of the bands that she was listening to at university. Muchacho came completely out of leftfield, with the beautiful strings of ‘Song For Zula’ featuring on pretty much every one of my friends’ end-of-year CDs as well as mine.
One of my favourite songs of 2013 actually came out in the death throes of last year. Throughout 2012, Polar Bear drummer Sebastian Rochford released a series of singles, one a month. ‘Dream Nails’ was December’s single, featuring Brian Eno and a brilliant spidery guitar line by Underworld’s Karl Hyde in the first half before Rochford’s batshit drum breakdown in the second. It’s followed by a similarly experimental song, but from a more familiar source – the Flaming Lips. Previous Lips songs to feature on my soundtracks include the state rock song of Oklahoma (‘Do You Realize??’) and a song from the Austin Powers soundtrack (‘Buggin”). There are no such concessions to populism on their album The Terror, which is almost suffocatingly bleak throughout, with ‘Look… The Sun Is Rising”s cyclical drumming and Wayne Coyne’s post-apocalyptic lyrics. I don’t anticipate balloons raining down on festival crowds for this one. After that, it’s time for some welcome mid-album relief, and so we have the blissful multi-tracked one-woman choir that is Julianna Barwick.
Califone made a typically low-key return in 2013 – their tour for their Stitches album involved playing in various people’s living rooms across North America. I hoped that I could offer the same hospitality in London but their dates here were a little more conventional. Trevor Powers expanded on his introverted sound on his second album Wondrous Bughouse, while still sounding as fragile as ever, no more so than on ‘Dropla’, while the synth sheen of Au Revoir Simone was a nice new discovery.
Folk singer Laura Veirs has been around for years, but nothing of hers had properly registered with me until ‘Sun Song’, taking a much more optimistic take on the sun rising than the Flaming Lips were able to. It’s followed by harpist Serafina Steer, with a haunting nautical tale ‘Night Before Mutiny’.
‘Warm Shadow’ is originally a folk song by Brighton singer-songwriter Fink. Passed into Colin Stetson’s hands, it’s given a saxophone makeover with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on vocals. This was one of my songs of the year – the dizzying bass saxophone will test out any speaker system’s low end.
Zola Jesus re-recorded some of her back catalogue with composer JG Thirlwell in the unusual surroundings of New York’s Guggenheim Museum. The astonishing ‘Fall Back’ was the only original song she recorded there – the girl has pipes, and as she sings of her total dedication of love, the strings seem barely able to keep up with her.
Disc one finishes with a couple more startlingly reworked versions of old songs, this time both by artists who made welcome returns at the start of 2013. My Bloody Valentine’s ‘To Here Knows When’ is one of the all-time great shoegaze songs, and one that I thought damn near uncoverable because of its otherworldly tremolo effects. Here though, Canadian singer Rachel Zeffira strips back the sheets of noise to find a beautiful lullaby at its core. Similarly, David Bowie’s ‘Sound And Vision’ was stripped back to a short piano ballad by producer Sonjay Prabhakar for a Sony advert. As it happened, Nat was about to begin her job working for Sony in Basingstoke when the advert was released – a new career in a new town, as another song off the same Bowie album was titled.
Tom Ravenscroft’s radio show on 6 Music yet again proved the source for much of what you hear across this soundtrack. Deco Child, who opens disc two, recorded a ‘guest mix’ for him which included the operatic two-part Skinless – part one of which is included here. Thom Yorke – whose influence you can hear clearly in Deco Child’s work – follows up with his supergroup Atoms For Peace, whose album Amok was a mixed bag but the title track was incredible, driven along by the urgent bass by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Not someone you would naturally fit on a Thom Yorke album.
Following next are two brilliant lead-off singles from albums that promised so much but delivered little. You can always depend on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to make a big statement with their first single, and ‘Sacrilege’, with the completely OTT gospel choir outro, was incredible. Sadly the album it preceded, Mosquito, failed to deliver – and that album cover, Jesus Christ. There was also much to love in Daft Punk’s comeback single, ‘Get Lucky’. I know it’s become completely overplayed, but the song represented 2013 in pop culture more than anything else, and it reminds me of dancing away to it at 5am at Primavera Sound in Barcelona. Good times. You’ll never convince me that the rest of Random Access Memories is anything other than extremely dull, though.
Another Seb Rochford avant-garde drum workout, this time with Babyshambles bassist Drew McConnell, break up ‘Get Lucky’ and another soaring pop highlight of the year, Kanye West’s ‘Black Skinhead’, with a glam stomp in the background showing that the disgraced Gary Glitter’s influence still remains on pop music.
Australian duo Jagwar Ma were a very late discovery for this soundtrack, appearing in several end-of-year lists for best single. ‘The Throw’ is a proper throwback to the days of the baggy era – its second half in particular might well have come straight off Screamadelica.
Ernest Greene, as Washed Out, recorded my favourite album of 2011 in Within And Without. Its follow-up, Paracosm, was an attempt to recreate his chillwave sound with ‘real’ instruments, and while not quite reaching its predecessor’s heights, he’s still managed to create a wonderful slice of psychedelic rock in ‘It All Feels Right’. Shearwater released a covers album towards the end of the year, and included on it was an interpretation of Coldplay’s ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ – one of the least Coldplay-sounding songs of them all – as something that sounds more like a Coldplay song than ever. For me though, this is no bad thing. And it reminds me of a lovely couple of days spent in Belfast and a walk around its Christmas market. Given the amount of times that British bands have adopted American imagery in their songs, it’s a welcome treat to hear a band from Texas sing a line like ‘the power of lights on the M25′.
After another brief mid-disc breather, from Explosions In The Sky’s soundtrack to the film Prince Avalanche, we have my song of the year. Moderat was a collaboration between German producers Modeselektor and Apparat (who features at the beginning of disc one). Their single ‘Bad Kingdom’ was a favourite late-night pacing-the-streets song of mine. It leads into an old perennial favourite of mine, Low, with a typically low-key single ‘Just Make It Stop’, and a second Califone song, ‘Moses’.
One of the more unusual inclusions on my soundtracks is up next as we make our way towards the close. James Rutledge saw fit to remix the entire Everything Everything album into a single track, and there are snatches of every song from the album on it (including the cellos that you hear on ‘Duet’ on disc one). It’s not available for sale anywhere and I had to rip a copy from Soundcloud to get it on to here (sorry, James, but I love it so much).
Sigur Ros followed up the first poor album of their career, Valtari, with the rawer (and much better) Kveikur – although the track included here, Rafstraumur, is one of their poppier efforts that you can expect to hear on an X Factor montage before too long. Unlikely to suffer the same fate is the uncategorisable ‘Wonder 2′ by My Bloody Valentine – with its super-flanged drumming, wind-tunnel guitars and Bilinda Butcher’s unusually frantic vocals, it’s a song that sounds like it was recorded on board a plane immediately before it was about to crash. I was grateful for any new My Bloody Valentine material at this point – but I didn’t expect anything quite like this.
Rounding us off for another year is the second Arcade Fire single from Reflektor, ‘Afterlife’ – they always seem to leave their best songs for the penultimate slot on their album’s running orders. Ending this soundtrack is another cut from Julianna Barwick’s Nepenthe album. I was listening to ‘Adventurer Of The Family’ when I took the picture that features at the top of this page, a blissful post-sunset scene on Negombo beach in Sri Lanka – the music fitted in so well with the surroundings. And as we leave 2013 I’m hoping for a few more new adventures next year.
I hope you enjoy having a listen. And thanks for following this site through the past twelve months.