The Music Fix Albums of 2013

Who doesn't love a list? Add the good old annual 'Best of...' to our (and yours, right?) list of favourite festive indulgences. Like every other outlet, we don't claim for a moment that it's definitive. Whose is? But as a pithy indicator of the music that reminded us, day after day in 2013, why we do this, it's pretty much on the money. Out of the hundreds of albums we reviewed this year, these are the 30 that mattered more than most. Some you'll know, some you might not. From the nu-country stylings of Jenn Bostic, and the impossibly unfashionable but truly mighty Purson, to the unexpectedly revitalised Sky Larkin, 2013 brought surprises aplenty.

And it's those left-field options we encourage you to dig into next time you're flipping through the racks. (Virtual ones don't count, by the way. Stand up, walk out of your house, go to a record shop. Seriously. It'll be good for ya.) Oh, and worth noting: we raised that rarely seen number 10 on just a couple of occasions, which suggests we're still properly hard to impress. And we went as low as 2 on just one. Which confirms we're not easily fooled when gobby brats promote tits over talent and further limit the chances of every young girl sat in her bedroom struggling to form that first F chord. Eh, Miley?

Enjoy! And, as ever, thanks for reading.

Arcade Fire - Reflektor

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Indulgent and overlong, they said. We don’t see it. From some of the year’s sharpest hooks in the title track and ‘It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus)’ to the carnival thrills of ‘Here Comes The Night Time’, via the punk rock gem of ‘Normal Person’, Reflektor really is an album that offers every listener a different favourite. It might not be Arcade Fire as you remember them, or even as you might potentially want them, but there’s no doubting the audacity to not just knock out an album of ‘Wake Up’ and ‘The Suburbs’ clones. Consistently evolving and unpredictable, the real joy in following Arcade Fire is that Reflektor offers no clue as to what costume album number five will sport. (Ian Sandwell)

Arctic Monkeys - AM

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You're sexy and you know it. Who predicted that the spotty herberts from the 'I Bet You Look Good ...' video would transform into the cool-as-fuck Arctic Monkeys of 2013? Sure, they had something but five number one albums later, Alex Turner and co. have cemented their position as one of the few UK guitar acts able to unite critics and audience alike. AM has something of the PM about it: Los Angeles after dark, slow car rides to nowhere, neon lights reflecting in blacked out windows, and while the music has a hard rock swagger, the first three singles from the album are questions, suggesting a vulnerability in spite their success. Maybe they can't believe it either, eh? (Douglas Baptie)

James Blake - Overgrown

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This Mercury Prize-winning follow up to 2011’s self-titled debut is an example of growth over reinvention, evolution over revolution. Blake develops the strengths of that debut: haunting vocals and loops are still order of the day, yet Overgrown is more confident, assured. This is late night music, probably best enjoyed alone (through headphones, scotch-on-the-rocks in hand) and is as unsettling (‘Voyeur’) as it is comforting (‘Digital Lion’). That curse of the Mercurys dies here. (Max Mazonowicz)

Jenn Bostic - Jealous

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Equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming, Jenn Bostic's debut may have been borne of tragedy ('Jealous of the Angels' is one of the most requested funeral songs of the past year), but doesn't wallow in the singer's grief. There are moments of pure joy - and even those tracks that do focus on the death of her father have a positive edge. Born in Philadelphia, she's now a Nashville native and a rising star on the US country scene; non-stop touring both sides of the pond will hopefully lead to a wider acceptance here. Jealous is a debut strong enough to offer enough cross-over appeal to make this a real possibility. (Colin Polonowski)

David Bowie - The Next Day

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It's not as good as Hunky Dory. Hmm. Shall we move on? The Next Day had so little going for it, even the added oomph of its head-spinning provenance (they kept a lid on the secret recording sessions for 18 months) might have only kept it afloat for a matter of days. If, of course, it had been as ropey as albums released by decade-absent pensioners are wont to be. But Bowie's latest trick was worth the wait. From out of nowhere, and with the internet peddling worst-case scenarios re: his health, the Dame emerged connected and inspired, drop-kicking rumours of his demise via a collection that deservedly garnered universal acclaim. Always one step ahead, forever re-writing the rules of the game, Bowie made fools of us all. (Gary Kaill)

Billy Bragg - Tooth & Nail

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He may not appreciate the banner but Billy Bragg’s latest is as finely tuned a slice of Americana as you could hope to hear. Mixing pop, politics, heart breaking lyrics and songs about, of all things, DIY, the Bard of Barking may no longer be the angry young man of yore but with Tooth & Nail, he matures ever more into the role of grizzled, political troubadour - a role that suits him to a tee. (Greg Belton)

The Burning Of Rome - With Us

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Referencing the likes of Little Shop Of Horrors and Psycho, The Burning Of Rome’s debut album With Us is a weirdness tour-de-force. While a full UK tour sadly never transpired during 2013, the five-piece played SXSW and you suspect they’d be a special prospect live. After all, With Us veers from operatic rock to screamo and climaxes with 20 minutes of feedback (Muse on proper drugs, basically) exploring many other musical avenues along the way. It won’t be for everyone, but if you start faulting albums for being different, then you might as well give up on music. (IS)

The Civil Wars - The Civil Wars

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If this second album does turn out to their swansong, then country duo The Civil Wars are going out in style. Fortunate, really, as it’s hard to see their hiatus ending any time soon. As the album reached number one on the Billboard charts, Joy Williams and John Paul White posted separate messages of thanks on their website. It’s a shame as The Civil Wars built on Barton Hollow's auspicious foundations. It might be darker, but it contains some of the duo’s most exceptional work in the form of the devastating ‘Same Old Same Old’ and the sublime stripped back closer ‘D’arline’. Rarely is the sound of break-up so beautiful. (IS)

Daughter - If You Leave

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From the almost off-puttingly awkward monicker to their echoing, spare arrangements and predeliction for mood over melody, Daughter might not have connected at all. And yet Elena Tonra's shadowy confessionals clearly speak to the many, non-stop touring in 2013 evidence of a properly global fanbase. Much of If You Leave favours arrangement and deft pitching of quiet against loud: few hooks emerge. It is somewhat dry, under-dramatised and unspectacular but Tonra tests the lingering tremors of heartbreak with that combination of courage and foolishness that both you and I know so well. The likes of 'Smother' and 'Shallows' bristle with hurt. They might initially appear slight or fey, even, but look again: Daughter are immense. (GK)

Equinox The Peacekeeper - Birdsongs On The Wasteland

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Words softly spoken, acoustic guitars gently strummed, a dripping tap, barking dogs, deep throated bass, African market stall singing, harmonica: Belgian musical auteur Wouter Buyst throws the lot at his second album. One of those beautiful things that comes from nowhere, Birdsongs On The Wasteland has made zero impact on the music buying public but their loss is our gain. The feel good factor gained from Buyst's positive outlook is off the scale. (MM)

Everything Everything - Arc

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Everything Everything

captured our attention with their writhing sophomore album Arc back in January. A year (and a well received world tour) later, the Manchester act has been on constant rotation on the office stereo, each play revealing the detail within the intricate arrangements. The likes of Foals and Bombay Bicycle Club offer similarly offbeat (literally) shapes, but that difficult line between eccentric and radio-friendly is still owned by Everything Everything. (Holly Newins)

Glasser - Interiors

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Interiors

is an intensely sophisticated record, full of mazes and loops of thought as Cameron Mesirow undertakes a musical/architectural analysis of the human body as an urban object. There’s a constant interchange between metropolitan cold and vulnerable warmth - thematically, vocally, instrumentally, as the record alternately glides and thrashes through the grey waters between the organic and synthetic. Consequently, as a listening experience it’s simultaneously immersive and icy, witty and frank, sumptuous and sparse. Most significantly, though, it’s frequently extraordinary. (Christopher Sharpe)

Luke Haines - Rock And Roll Animals

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It is doubtful you would find many artists releasing a psychedelic fairy tale with three old school rockers as its furry protagonists but, as the perennial rock 'n' roll outsider, Luke Haines is never one to be constrained by the boundaries of the music biz. Rock And Roll Animals fuses his usual acerbic wit with some wonderfully orchestrated arrangements, the result of which is a darkly humorous and sinister tale that is the best damn ‘fun for all the family’ album you'll hear all year. (GB)

Houndmouth - From The Hills Below The City

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Organs? Harmonies? The drummer singing? Check, check, motherfucking check. We’re not talking The Band here, but there are similarities. A great live act, their 2013 didn’t take off as it should have done due to the cancellation of a UK summer tour but From The Hills Below The City is a fantastic debut, full of stories (‘Casino (Bad Things)’), rocking love songs (‘Hey Rose’, ‘Palmyra’), and just straight ahead, cracking tracks (‘On The Road’, ‘Comin’ Round Again’, ‘Penitentiary’). Quality American bands of this ilk are ten-a-penny at the moment but Houndmouth have something different, a bourbon-scented freshness, a hook-laden uncluttered sound and a way with a melody that should carry them far. (MM)

Miles Kane - Don't Forget Who You Are

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Miles Kane

follows his savvy debut with an even smarter second effort. Modelling his tried-and-tested 60s retro sound, Don't Forget Who You Are is as cock-sure as his electrifying live shows. The tunes - a boisterous mix of rockers and ballads - are as sharply tailored as his suits. Kane, a seemingly constant presence on the circuit in 2013, puts the fun back into rock 'n' roll. (Olivia Schaff)

Kids In Glass Houses - Peace

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These Welsh alt.rockers made headlines for all the right reasons in 2013, with fourth album Peace barging its way to the front of UK rock pack. The likes of the beats-driven 'Drive' and the more classically-hewn indie of 'Black Cloud' saw them flip styles effortlessly. Few bands emerge from label collapse quite so re-energised, but Kids In Glass Houses came out fighting, delivering an arms-aloft, anthemic mix way smarter than your average rock/indie crossover. (Josh Williams)

King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath The Moon

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King Krule

’s debut is bursting at the seams with vitality amidst his melancholy. Whilst fellow (irritatingly talented) teenager Lorde found solace in contemporary down-tempo minimalism, ruminating on the pressures of youth, Archy Marshall employs a confidently incongruous hodge-podge, a misshapen lurch between trip-hop, ska, and lo-fi blues. Poring over his romantic failings, strife-ridden habitat and the purpose of his art, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is a record full of emotional investment and as a result, deserving of yours. (MM)

Little Green Cars - Absolute Zero

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It’s not been a bad breakthrough year for Dublin five-piece Little Green Cars with Absolute Zero topping the chart in Ireland, and a well-received showcase at SXSW alongside tours in the UK & Ireland, Europe and the US. Their debut album isn’t flawless – ‘Red And Blue’ remains a major misstep – but it's as confident as debuts come, packed with soaring anthems and intimate, heartfelt epics. Stevie Appleby’s lyrics are engaging and characteristic, but the band’s MVP is Faye O'Rourke, who not only delivers one of the singles of the year in ‘My Love Took Me Down To The River To Silence Me’, but also the album’s emotional centrepiece, ‘The Kitchen Floor’. They might not have made as much impact in the UK as they did in their homeland, but Absolute Zero oozes with enough potential to suggest that will change with future outings. (IS)

Lorde - Pure Heroine

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What more to say about this astonishing debut? By now you’ll have heard ‘Tennis Court’ or ‘Royals’, probably multiple times, but that’s the beauty of a properly solid album - you never get bored with it. Contrast ‘White Teeth Teens’ with its story of trying to fit in with the cool kids, and dark closer ‘A World Alone’, a loner anthem for the disaffected, modern age. Pure Heroine's universal reach stretches beyond de rigeuer teen angst, grasps something broader, deeper. And Pure Heroine closes the loop perfectly, from the opening “Don’t you think it’s boring how people talk” to its closing line “Let ‘em talk”: just perfect. (MM)

Manic Street Preachers - Rewind The Film

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There was a point, as their post Everything Must Go stadium-filling glories ebbed away, when the Manics seemed to almost shrink in stature. Lesser works (This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, Lifeblood), dropped the agit snarl in favour of reflection and an uncomfortably commercial sheen. Rewind The Film, as engaged and playful (tone and method flip throughout) as they've ever been, served notice on the whiny detractors. It dared face up to the trials of growing older and the Manics' own disorientation within an ever-shifting market, and in doing so, it re-built their grandiosity, that peculiar and unique identity - simultaneously self-aggrandising and self-mocking. All of a sudden, buoyed by these songs of experience, the Manics mean as much as they ever did. An allegedly noisier, experimental companion piece follows in the new year and as class divisions grow, the common man ever more marginalised by the establishment, the Manics recognise their place and, with it, their responsibility, almost. We need them now more than ever. (GK)

Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle

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Laura Marling

always seems to figure in our Top 30 list, and with good reason. Once I Was An Eagle is impeccably crafted, if not as immediately accessible as her earlier work. Marling, as ever, wisely eschews social commentary in favour of affairs of the heart and its tug-of-war power struggles. Sombre and introspective, yet immensely engrossing, the album cements her growing position as of one our best, and best-loved, song writers. (OS)

Janelle Monáe - The Electric Lady

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For the third 'suite' in her ongoing Metropolis sci-fi soul saga, Janelle Monáe pulls out all the stops for a schizophrenic, sublime entry in the series. Even a guest turn by Prince can't compete with Monáe's star wattage, her talent shining through on everything from soulful slow jams to funky girl power anthems and visionary R&B. Fact: the loopy 'Dance Apocalyptic' is your New Year's party piece. (Luke McNaney)

The National - Trouble Will Find Me

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No one fuses stately subtlety and raw emotion quite like The National, but on their sixth LP they reach a near apotheosis of poise between the two. The results are devastating. ‘This Is The Last Time’ and ‘Humiliation’ move gently through the gears, sneaking up with their calm opulence and quiet tugs on the heartstrings until a full-blown wrench leaves you breathless. The trouble that’s found them is often the same basic angst and anxiety Matt Berninger’s been plagued by for their entire career, but when delivered from this wiser, hardened (but all the more disaffected and disheartened) stance, it’s even harder to take. That it does so without ever being all too much, artificial or alienating, is perhaps the greatest testament to the consistent excellence of this superb band. (CS)

Paramore - Paramore

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In which the newly trim trio ditched much of their previous methodology, that genre-defining racing pop-punk, in favour of something more cerebral, more fully realised. On reflection, perhaps "Fuck with us at your peril" ate up too much thematic real estate, but Paramore's snarling disregard for anything much beyond itself gave it much-needed bite, and the band a renewed focus. From the sleek pop of 'Still Into You' to the almost shapeless eight minute growl 'Future', Paramore redefined Paramore. Previously sniffy detractors finally took notice. Growing up in public ain't for the faint-hearted but their new-found swagger was as credible as it was infectious. (GK)

Primal Scream- More Light

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Here's a challenge: prove Bobby Gillespie wrong. Prove that you've not been "inducted, corrupted, seduced and reduced" and that music can still be a force for change - or at least a platform for political expression - and that you're brave enough to make art that reflects your Twitter stream. If 2014 doesn't throw up a 'Ghost Town' or another 'A Design For Life', then just give up and go home. Please. Heck, it's not as if you need look far for inspiration. An eclectic exploration of the agit-rock, funk and soul influences that always lifts their game, More Light is easily the Primals' best work since XTRMNTR in 2000 and, as a rare modern example of a successful band fronting up an explicitly radical platform, a blunt reminder of how wearily naval-gazing most pop music is. (DB)

Purson - The Circle And The Blue Door

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We love our resident doom-monger Dominic Hemy, we do. But it’s very rare that the rest of us follow him into music's darker recesses. Not so with Purson, whose mighty debut album The Circle And The Blue Door united TMF Towers. Their particularly fine psychedelic folk doom blend (it works, trust us), driven by frontwoman Rosalie Cunningham, drew enough interest for a PledgeMusic campaign to help them tour the UK and Europe to comfortably reach its goal. To top it all, early December saw them perform a live session at Maida Vale for Marc Riley's BBC 6 music show. If Purson can unite the frequently divided Music Fix, anything’s possible. (IS)

Sky Larkin - Motto

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A genuinely startling leap, as unexpected as it was bold. Sky Larkin's third album stomped on the familiarity of their solid guitar pop, a clued-up take on the 90s US alt. epoch, and demonstrated uncommon striving. Its rampaging musicality was some way ahead of most indie guitar slingers, as were Katie Harkin's lyrics - a collison of offbeat wordplay and thematic ambition. Is its tone, in line with its fuller, harder sound, that much more abrasive? Certainly, months after release, it continues to emerge and reveal: Motto is complex, intelligent and multi-layered. Sky Larkin were never ordinary but they were some distance off being properly, notably distinct. No longer. They give the lie to the accepted wisdom that bands emerge burning bright and fully formed. Building on the support of an attentive following and an equally supportive label, Sky Larkin dared develop. (GK)

Richard Thompson - Electric

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As the nights draw in, many albums released during the early months of the year tend to get forgotten, but there was no chance of Electric slipping through the net. The legendary Thompson delivered a master class in song writing and guitar playing that gives yet more proof, if it were needed, that some of our veteran rockers still have the skills and temperament to out-perform the pretenders to their thrones. (GB)

Ulver - Messe I.X-VI.X

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Ulver

seem to delight in taking both fans and newcomers by surprise, and Messe I.X-VI.X did exactly that, again. In an industry obsessed with trends and uncovering the next big thing yesterday, the Norwegian experimentalists took their time in producing an album that spins spiritual orchestral music and twisting electronics into a web of breath-taking beauty. No one else does what Ulver do, because no one else can. (Dominic Hemy)

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City

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As statements of intent go, “The gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out” is about as Vampire Weekend as you can get. That it’s followed up by “(What you on about?)” is even more on point. Within one line, we have a reference to clothing, an idiosyncratic metaphor, a self-aware disparagement which ties in with three albums' worth of criticism for their lyrical and sonic smart aleck-isms, and depths of significance to plumb for those who care to answer the question. Modern Vampires Of The City is an intelligent, buoyant, delicate and free work, created by a band who not only know their own strengths, but are resolutely ever-adventurous in their search for new ones. It's a record oozing with complex simplicity and utterly remarkable on every level. (CS)

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