music / Columns

The Album Of The Year, Every Week: 2013

October 5, 2015 | Posted by David Hayter
Lorde

Incase you missed last week’s column I (David Hayter) am going back through time to discover my all time favourite records. One album and one single a week, taking you all the way from 2015 to 1960.

Feel free to play along as we discover how tastes change as our perspective shifts. Think about this task honestly. Ask yourself: if I could take any record from a given year what would it really be. Pick the one that truly resonates with you as a person, not the trendy selection or critic’s choice.

You can catch up on the 2014 column here, because this week we’ll be tackling 2013: the year Daft Punk and Justin Timberlake returned from indefinite hiatus and Robin Thicke pissed off just about every human being on the planet earth (and probably a few animals too).

So, before we reveal the “winners”, let’s look back at what I wrote at the time and where the weight of critical thought lay in 2013. Let’s get going!

Welcome To 2013

In hindsight 2013 was a very strange year indeed, both my and critic’s selections seem rather random. If anything the year was dominated by larger than life singles and supersized returns rather than high end, start-to-finish, LPs. Perhaps this explains my last gasp album of the year selection:

My List (Published Jan 2014):

1. Beyonce – Beyonce
2. Kanye West – Yeezus
3. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
4. Lorde – Pure Heroine
5. Rhye – Woman
6. Arctic Monkeys – AM
7. Drake – Nothing Was The Same
8. Danny Brown – Old
9. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
10. John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

The Critic’s Choice (Via Metacritic):

1. Deafheaven – Sunbather
2. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Jama Ko
3. Nils Frahm – Spaces
4. Ashley Monroe – Like A Rose
5. Russian Circles – Memorial
6. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
7. Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
8. John Murry – The Graceless Age
9. My Bloody Valentine – M B V
10. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Absolutely zero crossover (I legitimately didn’t see that coming). Looking at the critic’s list I’m gob-smacked at how few of their selections I’ve actually heard. The Pistol Annies debut album is one of my favourite modern country records and I’m stunned that I never got round to checking out Ashley Monroe’s Like A Rose [update: I’m listening now while editing this piece and it’s excellent].

Julia Holter’s Tragedy will feature in an upcoming column, but the really rather good Loud City Song didn’t quite make the cut for me. Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer Different Park would almost certainly replace Drake’s excellent third album in my top 10 were I to rewrite my list today. But what do the critics selections tell us about 2013?

There is only one conclusion to draw: 2013 was a year for the specialists and obsessives rather than big mainstream game changers. Even Daft Punk’s money spinning return is hardly ubiquitous – instead it rewards life long fans of dance music and not recent EDM converts looking for booming new beats. The consensus choice for album of the year, Sunbather by Deafheaven, is a fantastic record and I had a great time interviewing the band last year, but even they seemed surprised that an album so niche in appeal could capture so many people’s imagination.

 

What about my list? Well I’d love to fit Kacey Musgraves in there and today Modern Vampires Of The City would without question shoot into the number two spot (especially after seeing Vampire Weekend’s brilliant and inventive take on an arena headlining show). Oh and most importantly my number one choice has changed.

Why am I ditching Queen Bey? Beyonce’s eponymous overnight release did “stop the world” and, while I still love the record, I prefer it as a murky collection of killer hooks and sumptuous beats rather than as a flawless full length listen. “Haunted” and “Flawless” are staggeringly good tracks that bring me back to the album again and again, but “Pretty Hurts”, “Blue” and even “XO” haven’t held up so well.

Anyway, that’s enough reflection, let’s reveal the true album of the year.

Pure Heroine by Lorde

Leaping to the top of my list is the debut album from a teenager who brashly let it be known that she’d didn’t seek approval from (or care for the opinion of) anyone outside of her immediate peer group. In 2012 she sang about dislocation and the pace of change, stating, with dead eyed certainty, that pretty soon she’d be getting on her first plane and, indeed, in 2015 Lorde is a global superstar (and Taylor Swift’s BFF to boot).

At the time she appeared too perfect: a serenely understated avatar of teenage distance, virility and affected apathy, capturing a sense of bruising intimacy. Her small town New Zealand home was brought to life through back alley (or behind the tennis court) trysts and sneering yawns at the tedious, unthinking opulence of mainstream, celebrity driven, culture.

Young or old, there was a moment of collective rapture when this sixteen year old starlet stared the world unflinchingly in eye and declared that she’s “kind of over being told to throw [her] hands up in the air”. Sure, it might be a contrived affection, but it spoke to the condescending certainty of being a teenage know it all.

Lorde’s greatest gift is her ability to put up and drop her guard in an instance. One second she’s stony and cold, too cool and too quick witted for the world she inhabits, the next she’s that vision of adolescent immediacy, naively diving into first hand experience. “Team” sees Lorde in a state of revelry, creating alluring, romantic images while, in the same breath, adding pinpoint details proving that her analytical eagle-eye never loses focus.

Unabashedly romantic cynicism: what could be a truer expression of youth?

 

It’s hard not laugh looking back at my review of Pure Heroine. Every word of it resonates, but then I reached the conclusion and fall into the trap every reviewer eventually writes themselves into: Lorde’s debut was too perfect, apparently. Here’s what I said:

“If there is a problem with Pure Heroine it’s that it stays defiantly in the pocket. The entire album feels like the product of a slavish vision, every track drifts at a sumptuous mid tempo pace. This makes for a cohesive start to finish experience, but it rarely affords either harrowing lows or exhilarating highs. Therein lies the problem with disaffection – as powerful as a sigh or an eye roll might be, it’s still a display of icy detachment and they can only move the listener so much. The beautiful pacing and Lorde’s remarkable control of melody goes a long way to overcoming these limitations but, as much as Lorde may endeavor to elevate her postures and “real” romances, they still feel trifling.

I fear for Lorde. Where can she possible go from here? Pure Heroine is so fully realized that she has effectively painted herself into a corner. The trouble with being an ambitious 16-year-old aesthete, and such an old soul on young shoulders, is that Lorde can hardly now embrace the typical tropes of growing older. The drugs, the sex, the hedonism, are apparently no go areas. She’s already burning bridges with her peers and Pure Heroine is the kind of album that is destined to be cherished like a holy relic by her admirers. Any evolution or deviation from the credo outlined here will likely be met with a ferocious outcry.

Pure Heroine is a perfect artifact; a magnificent snapshot of estranged youth, but a fleeting one. Lorde is a girl of sixteen, she is in a constant state of flux and, tellingly, she has already stepped on her first plane. She can never go back to Pure Heroine but she will almost certainly have to go back on its every last sentiment. Say hello to hubris my dear Lorde.”

Yes, as you may have gathered, I am now one of those people who cherish Pure Heroine like “a holy relic”. Those trifling concerns and aesthetic deceits that concerned me in 2013 are now transformed into beacons of resplendent youth. Lorde’s certainty is her great strength and Pure Heroine’s flippancy is its depth. Perhaps the gift/curse of aging has afforded me a perspective I then lacked. Lorde now appears as a crystalline of image of a way I once felt and a person I once was, but who neither I, nor Lorde, could ever be again. This kind of sensation is irreplaceable and should be revered whenever it is found in art: a snapshot of something lost – the pristine preservation of the truly fleeting.

 

Lorde is woman who fully appreciates her youth, her talent and her surroundings, and, what’s more, she’s a total badass; jumping to the defense of her friends and backing herself to the hilt creatively. There’s an unflappability to each and every track on Pure Heroine and to Lorde’s every action. Even “Ribs” (which thrives on vulnerability) feels frighteningly assured – she never loses control, not even for a second, as she indulges in nostalgic recollections of childhood (she feels old at 16, of course she does!).

Lastly, and this is the most important point of all, Pure Heroine is stacked from top-to-bottom with brilliant pop songs. Sure they are immaculately produced, archly posed and cooler than a cucumber, but each track is an unashamedly addictive hit hiding in plain sight. So many artists (young and old) spend so long constructing icy edifices that the hooks and melodies become obscured. Lorde deftly sidestepped the pitfalls of pretension (artistry for its own sake) to create an album that is both poignant and undeniably addictive. In one feel swoop Lorde sent shiver into the heart of mainstream; ensuring her own superstardom, while showing the wider world what youth in rebellion really looks like.

 

Just to prove I’m not captain hindsight, we’ll finish this retrospective on Pure Heroine by going back to my very first impression (where, ironically, I make fun of people for reading too much into Lorde’s music):

“Lorde’s story is well documented. Spotted by talent scouts at the age of 12, she’s the closest approximation of Truman Show-eque, born and bread, pop star as we are ever likely to see (Gattican genetic manipulation notwithstanding). Despite this early indoctrination, Lorde won the world’s heart by defiantly separating herself from the sex, the drugs and the luxury brands that dominate both pop and hip hop culture. On “Royals” she stood alone as a resolute dreamer stuck in small town; who could fantasize, but never relate to A$AP Rocky’s champagne popping reality.

“Finally”, the Sinead O’Connor’s of this world no doubt screamed, “a pop star who is not afraid to buck the trend”. Of course, those who praised Lorde for what she supposedly stood for entirely missed the point. Over sexualization might be an essential teenage conceit, but so is so the stoic aesthete who rolls her eyes and refuses to take part, employing the unmistakable air of condescension. The killjoy, the stick in the mud, the pretentious wanker; Lorde is simply living out a different but equally contrived vision of teenage life.

The point, to put it plainly, is that Lorde should be praised to the high heavens, not for what we want her to stand for, but for the quality of the music she produces. Luckily for Lorde, Pure Heroine is set to join the echelons of the great fully formed debut albums. Not only has Lorde created a perfectly paced, sonically coherent, and thematically consistent record, but Pure Heroine is loaded with irresistible melodies and honest to goodness pop songs.”


Let’s turn our attention to the best tracks of 2013 and revisit my original Top 10.

My List (Published Dec 2013)

1. “Flawless”/“Haunted” by Beyonce
2. “Open” by Rhye
3. “Q.U.E.E.N” by Janelle Monae
4. “Team”/“Tennis Court” by Lorde
5. “Paranoia” by Chance The Rapper
6. “Hold On We’re Coming Home” by Drake
7. “Venus” by Lady Gaga
8. “Blood On The Leaves” by Kanye West
9. “I Wanna Be Yours” by Arctic Monkeys
10. “Step” by Vampire Weekend

This is the toughest call yet. Speaking honestly, “Team”, “Open”, “Hold On We’re Going Home”, “Blood On The Leaves” and “I Wanna Be Yours” get played way more regularly than the track I’m going to pick as my number one. However, when it comes right down to it, I get more out of listening to my top choice, than I do out of any of the other tracks.

Would anything else sneak into my top 10 today? Quite possibly. “Nosestalgia” by Pusha-T (my No.12) certainly would. “Chum” by Earl Sweatshirt (no.16) would also be a strong contender – I’m staggered how often I put that track on. I’d stick on “Play by Play” by Autre Ne Veut (No.22) in a heartbeat before I’d play “Venus”. “Built Pryamids” by N.O.R.E (No.44) is not an all time classic, but certainly a personal favorite that I played as recently as yesterday.

…but let’s stop revisiting the past and reveal my top track of 2013:

 

“Haunted” by Beyonce

After briefly sticking it to her record label, Beyonce launches into “Haunted”, an intoxicating slow wind full of breathy seduction that comes laced with illusion. This cerebral gem toys with expectation. Beyonce slips from near silent confrontation straight into a selection of sumptuous club beats and silken vocals. It’s hard to avoid marvelling at the production. There’s plenty of lingering lean and snap, there’s that gorgeous tribal inspired percussion, hell there’s even a dose of glitchy maximalism thrown into the mix, but it’s all sewn together by Beyonce’s swirling spectral presence.

She inhibits the track and the subject matter, playing a cat and mouse game of mutual suspicion with her long distance lover. Beyonce’s brilliance is in the way she implicitly infers that this is both a pivotal struggle for power within a relationship and an act of overt seduction (as well as an inescapable commitment). It’s a credit to both the quality of the amorphous beat and the strength of characterization that Beyonce’s intonation carries, that “Haunted” stays thematically tight even as Bey breaks the forth wall with spoken word asides.

“Nosestalgia” came within a whisker of pinching this spot (it’s one of my go to rap around an empty house jam), but “Haunted” is simply too masterful, too daring and too modern. This is the moment when Beyonce transitioned from the ubiquitous face of the careerist mainstream and joined the creative vanguard.


Next week we head to 2012 to revisit my all time favourite record. Below you can see a graphic that we’ll be filling in each week as we reveal new selections.