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Albums of 2013 so far: Mid-year roundup

Below is a small list of 2013’s finest releases so far as we enter the second half of the year. For the full list, check out this spotify playlist.

inc. – no world

With their of soft synths, smooth vocals and fluid bass work, inc. are the latest victims of overzealous comparisons, but to use inc.’s music as an excuse to play musical bingo is to miss the point. Contrary to the opinion of critics,  it’s not Prince or Sade these brothers call to mind, but fellow 4AD signee Gang Gang Dance, a band whose preoccupation with r&b is strictly sacred, not secular. The pair may have been session musicians for the likes of Elton John and Cee Lo Green, but of greater influence to their debut record is the spiritual power of Gospel – music intended to heal. As a result, no world is incredibly agile, born out of struggle but always looking to transcend it.

Disclosure – Settle

One of the biggest mysteries in UK Garage music lies in Sweet Female Attitude, a pair of sisters whose number 1 single Flowers proved to be one of the genre’s most successful crossover hits. Yet despite echoing out of every Sony Ericsson phone in the country, their popularity nosedived, resulting in perpetual ‘one-hit wonder’ status. After thirteen years, it’s curious that another sibling duo have not only managed to hit that same peak but cement themselves as the UK’s most thrilling dance act in recent memory. As young as 20 years old, Guy and Lawrence Howard have produced a consistent and remarkably mature debut that caters to chart-watchers and club kids in equal measure. A fine introduction.

These New Puritans – Field of Reeds

These New Puritans’ rise from Southend post-punk rockers to fully-formed orchestral ensemble has been nothing short of stratospheric. No other band has matured as rapidly and excitingly as Jack Barnett and co., and as the press release for their third album suggests, the band have finally closed the distance between themselves and their work. Field of Reeds is likely to be a pleasant surprise for those who thought 2010’s Hidden found the band at ceiling-level, for careful listens unearth a meticulously crafted concept album about the Thames Estuary. Trading Taiko drums for delicate swirls of clarinet, french horn and basso profundo vocals, TNP’s latest is certainly the quietest work in their oeuvre, but for those who invest their time it is also their most rewarding.

Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

Maybe it was his foray into film that did it, but scratch away at the totally pompous promotion and you’ll find that The 20/20 Experience does exactly what Timberlake did seven years ago with FutureSex/LoveSounds: approach pop with a cinematic eye. Not only is this a fine comeback from JT, but the record marks a return to form from close collaborator Timbaland, whose work post-2008 felt uncharacteristically uninspired. Yes, the songs may wander aimlessly at times; yes, there really isn’t enough bass work on here, but the promise of a sequel before the end of the year might just see Timberlake take a solid idea and sculpt it into something streamlined and spectacular. For now though, part one is an apt re-introduction.

Tricky – False Idols

Relegated to background music for ‘quirky’ cafés for almost two decades, Tricky’s legitimate return to form finds him with a renewed sense of purpose. Cold and calculated, False Idols is more operating table than coffee table, but all the better for it.

Check out my full review over at the Concrete website.

LE1F – Fly Zone (Mixtape)

If Fly Zone wasn’t free to download, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a major label debut. That’s how good LE1F is. For one, he has so many incredible lines he makes Kanye West look like Pitbull – “I’m not a yoga master but he wanna see how my body fold” or “I might just read you backwards like the holy Qu’ran” to name a few. At times his flow is faster than Eminem’s, and the tone of his voice – thick and sickly – boasts enough braggadocio to knock sense into those who take issue with his sexuality. He also has a keen ear for beats, scouting New York’s finest underground producers in order to go toe to toe with mainstream hip hop. Described by LE1F as his attempt to play rap’s ignorance at it’s own game, Fly Zone is proof that LE1F won’t stay unsigned for much longer.

Iceage – You’re Nothing

By giving a tired genre some much-needed maturity, You’re Nothing mostly succeeds in its attempt to redefine the short-fused punk song. There may be no less than four punk bands using the same name, but musically Iceage aren’t simply going through the motions. That alone makes them smart.

Check out my full review over at the Concrete website.

Kanye West – Yeezus

While My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy remains Ye’s seminal work, Yeezus has its moments too. Much like his public persona, the record plays up its unpredictability: Black Skinhead confirmed early reports that his latest work would take influence from tribal music, On Site has Daft Punk heading up production but sounds more like Aphex Twin, while Blood on the Leaves reaffirms Yeezy’s status as an astute sampler by way of Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit. Songs like Bound 2 might make some listeners feel nostalgic for The College Dropout-era, but Kanye has always been about growth. In the same way as 808s & Heartbreaks felt like a necessary pit stop for …Twisted FantasyYeezus feels similarly experimental.

Sigur Rós – Kveikur 

Last year’s Valtari wasn’t exactly a disastrous move for the Icelandic post-punk band, but at times it felt like the sound of a band – six albums into their career – coasting along. After the departure of multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson, enter Kveikur, Sigur Rós’ most sonically adventurous record since Ágætis byrjun. Lead single Brennisteinn bursts with urgency, all apocalyptic guitar drones and hardcore-influenced percussion. Meanwhile, the triumphant Rafstraumur proves that the band can still pull out a gorgeously catchy pop (!?) song. Easily the most consistently strong record in their back-catalogue.

A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP

Long.Live.A$AP begins with the sound of thunder – hardly a reserved opening by any standards. Then again, Rakim Mayers isn’t exactly the embodiment of modesty either; in recent interviews he proclaimed: “I want people to say he’s the best artist – not the best rapper of his generation, but the best artist”. And while his long-delayed major label debut does not quite step toe-to-toe with his ambition, it certainly makes a strong case for his status as one of hip-hop’s most exciting prospects.

Check out my full review over at the Concrete website.

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