The Year That Was – Part One

As another year draws to a close we’re resurrecting our ‘The Year That Was’ blog segment to allow us to cast a nostalgic eye over the previous twelve months. If you are struggling to view this blog, we have both audio and brail versions available that have been provided for us by a very reliable South African gentleman who comes highly recommended.
Our first instalment comes from Callum O’Donnell:


Modern Vampires:
Vampire Weekend’s third album Modern Vampires of The City was probably their best yet, full of catchy songs and seriously clever lyrics. However it was only my second favourite release by Ezra Koenig and Co. in 2013, beaten by this review of Drake’s album Nothing Was The Same written by Ezra in October.  How disappointed I was to discover that the webpage at the end of the review doesn’t actually exist.

The genius of Jon Hopkins:
Before this year, the only thing I knew about Jon Hopkins was that together with Brian Eno he wrote the instrumental to Coldplay’s ‘Life in Technicolour.’ However his individual vision and ability is evident throughout his spectacular album Immunity, an exciting release full of fresh ideas and creativity. As mentioned in our Mercury Prize preview, Immunity is very much an album of two halves, the first containing fierce organic techno and the second minimal piano based ballads. It’s a cut from the first half that I have chosen as personal highlight, Open Eye Signal is the rare kind of track that gives me goosebumps all the way through. The bass twists and pitch-shifts unexpectedly, the synths howl and reach crescendo after crescendo, and when the beat finally drops after six whole minutes it is in the words of a Youtube commenter “menacing.” To top it all off there is a an official video that is one of the best I have ever seen, as the song soundtracks a young skateboarder’s journey through some unbelievable scenery. What a trip. 

Badfinger’s Baby Blue in Breaking Bad’s Final Scene:
The perfect soundtrack to a perfect ending to the perfect TV series. There’s really nothing more to say.

Annie Mac Presents… at the Warehouse Project:
Far removed from your average club night, the set lengths and sheer amount of artists can make Warehouse Project feel like an entire festival condensed into one night, there’s not really anything else like it. When the 2013 calendar was released in the summer showing some incredible lineups as usual I had listed about 8 events I was ‘definitely’ going to. Of course, the combination of a meagre student budget and rapid sell-outs means it never works out like that, and I was gutted to miss out on the night curated by electronic behemoths Caribou and Four Tet. However I did manage to get my hands on a ticket to the event headlined by Radio 1’s legendary DJ Annie Mac, which proved to be one of the best live experiences I’ve ever had.

The best thing about Warehouse project is that within a 30 second walk you can move between three different rooms with three different acts so it’s easy to switch between sets. Upcoming producer T.Williams and prolific remixer Cyril Hahn were early evening highlights, before slick disco-funk duo Chromeo brought along a slice of New York style. Then came big hitters in the form of Major Lazer, Annie Mac and seasoned veteran Erol Alkan. With Major Lazer on first it was almost too much to handle. Despite hearing second hand of their intense performances, nothing prepared me for the number of straight-up bangers they managed to cram into their 90 minute set. Completely sapped of energy (unlike the majority of the substance fuelled crowd) the rest of the night passed in a haze; I only have vague recollections of Annie Mac’s brash and bold drum and bass selections, and stumbling to Erol’s eclectic techno choices. Maybe by next season I’ll have finally recovered from the hangover.

Burial’s Surprise EP:
In a year where so many of my favourite artists have released new music, I was feeling content a few weeks ago with the thought that 2013 surely had nothing else to offer. Then barely a week ago this early Christmas present arrived. Like most Burial fans I’ve pretty much given up on the elusive south Londoner ever releasing a full length follow-up to 2007’s Mercury-Prize nominated Untrue, but that is no bad thing if he continues his streak of releasing incredible annual EPs. In the past Burial has had to deal with the criticism faced by all artists who emerge with a fully formed sound; where do you go from here? His response was the bigger, bolder, darker Kindred EP in 2012, his best work yet and the sound of someone not looking to stick to repeating the same formula (take note The xx). Rival Dealer is another leap forward. The halfway point in ‘Come Down to Us’ feels like the moment his entire musical output has been leading up to, genuinely bright and hopeful melodies that have only ever flickered at the edges of his tracks finally burst into the foreground. The end result is almost Christmassy.

The conflicted Kanye West:
Where do you start with Kanye. For one reason or another he was impossible to escape in 2013, and I

probably could have used examples of his insanity to fill this entire list.

The Bad
Walks into Pole: As if walking into a pole isn’t bad enough, imagine the whole scene being caught from three different angles by Paparazzi. An uncomfortable start to the year.

Zane Lowe Interview: In case you are worried the post-marriage Kanye is too humble and sensitive.

Bound 2 Video: I’ll admit it, I think the wild white horses on the plain clip is genius. But viewed side by side, it’s hard to tell which the spoof is and which is serious.

The Good
Yeezus: Critical opinion of the album has been the definition of divisive. Personally I don’t agree that it was fantastically brilliant or fantastically mediocre, probably somewhere in between (comfortably settled on the fence). There are more missteps than usual but that is an inevitable side effect of his experimental nature, the fact is not many musicians are attempting to push boundaries in the way that Kanye is. And there’s no denying “Slightly scratched your Corolla…Ok I smashed your Corolla” is the lyric of the year.

Live Performances: Somehow, his performance of Black Skinhead on Saturday Night Live elevated the song to whole new level despite the questionable ad-libbed lyrics. He then brought the same energy to the performance of album highlight New Slaves on Later with Jools Holland.

Reflektor: Do you like Rock and Roll Mus-sic? Cause I don’t know if I dooo…
On paper the partnership between Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy seemed like a match made in heaven. However the long and drawn out build up to the release, and the associated douchebaggery had me feeling a bit apprehensive about the first listen. Had they finally been swallowed by their own pretensions?  Noel Gallagher certainly thought so. In the end there was nothing to worry about as for the fourth consecutive album the band delivered in a big way. Where the resolutely mid tempo songs on The Suburbs’ mid-section occasionally threatened to induce a light doze, Reflektor bounces with energy.  The sparkling production that worked so well on ‘Sprawl II’ permeates all the songs here. And for as long as they keep on producing runs as strong as ‘It’s Never Over,’ ‘Porno,’ and ‘Afterlife’ I guess I can cope with the fact they now like to dress up like Alton Towers employees during scarefest.

Chvrches (Live)
Probably like most other people, Chvrches caught my attention early this year with the single ‘Lies,’ and by the time they had released ‘Gun’ in the early summer I was a big fan. Considering how produced the songs are on record I was actually quite surprised with how good they sounded in a live setting. Some album tracks that I wasn’t really sure about such as ‘Under the Tide’ were completely transformed in the small venue, and watching Martin Doherty pour his heart and soul into bashing out the melody on his synthesiser was quite inspirational. There was even time for singer Lauren Mayberry to discuss in detail the porn addiction of an unnamed Keane member. Bizarre.

The Knife return:
I think my first reaction upon hearing Shaking the Habitual, the fourth offering from the Swedish electronic pioneers, was something like shock, disappointment and anger combined. I’d looked forward to this album for 3 years and all I was hearing was bathroom duck sound effects and soundscapes so ambient it might as well have just been silence. I’m glad that few weeks later I gave it another chance, as now I’ve decided Shaking the Habitual contains some of The Knife’s best work (as well as some of their worst) so far. The cold and bleak brilliance of 2006’s Silent Shout lingers on in tracks such as ‘Raging Lung’ but it’s clear the Knife are starting to inject some humour back into their music (remember this masterpiece from 2002).The monstrous beat to the epic ‘Full of Fire’ seems barely under control, and Karin Dreijer’s vocals in ‘A Cherry on Top’ are disturbingly other worldly. Proof that The Knife are still several steps ahead of everyone else in the game.

Kasabian at the Olympic Park:
Summer 2013 kicked off with a trip down to the capital for Hard Rock Calling festival. A sweltering summer’s day in the impressive surroundings of the Olympic park was topped off by a completely relentless set from Kasabian. Against a backdrop of giant upside down and seemingly random words (Black Pudding, Sick Bag and Febreeze a few examples), the headliners demonstrated the incredible consistency in their back catalogue, rattling off hit after hit. From opener ‘Days are Forgotten’ to the exhausting encore of ‘Switchblade Smiles,’ ‘Vlad the Impaler’ and ‘Fire,’ there was no let-up in intensity, especially as the Leicester lads did their best to cause maximum mayhem in the already raucous crowd (Serge’s repeated chant of “Mosh Pit!!” being the most bluntly direct). Although there were inevitable moments of panic that come in hand with an excitable male dominated crowd, such as “If that massive bald guy jumps on me I’m good as dead” (Empire) to “I really hope that was cider,”(from about 30 minutes in), it was impossible not to be swept up in the music.

What made it feel like such a special performance was the fact the band were clearly enjoying the night just as much as we were, summed up by a deadpan Serge declaring midway through “I’m buzzing my tits off!” The enthusiasm shone through in the introduction of rare performances of ‘Reason is Treason’ (“Who remembers this one!?”) and Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’ (“Off our new album!”). I think my personal highlight might have even been the band making their first appearance on stage, the memory of thousands of people singing along to the BBC’s nostalgic Grandstand theme tune will stay with me for a long time.

Callum O’Donnell

Tomorrow, part two of our The Year That Was series.
Let us know your highlights of the year in the comments below or by talking to us on Facebook or Twitter.

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