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Both Bars On: Top 20 Records of 2013

Masters

2013, eh? Not Both Bars On’s favourite year, though the music kept us going. OK, so one of us (the soft southern one) slipped a bit, but we seem to have survived and have reached the end refreshed and ready for another year’s inappropriate email submissions.

So here are our Top 20 Albums of 2013, our fifth end of year list(!). It’s a strange mixture, even to our eyes: electronica, psych, songs with words and (gasp) tunes, slabs of noise, country & western. We point this out not to boast of our eclecticism but to remind you that this is no averaging out of the choices of a vast team of staffers – it’s the list of two blokes whose tastes overlap but who occasionally accuse each other of having cloth ears. Sorry to whisk the curtain away, but this is just what what we like. But we really like it. Hope you like some of it too. Merry Xmas!

In our bubbling under and reissues category we have: Billy Bragg – Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy [30 year reissue]; Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail; Savages – Silence Yourself; The Outer Church/Front&Follow compilation; Fresh Snow- I; The Indelicates – Diseases of England; The National – Trouble Will Find Me; and Chop – Illuminate.

And our top twenty is…

20. Café Kaput – Applied Music Vol​.​1: Science & Nature

Jon Brooks explores analogics with dutiful and masterful attention. Time to cover those textbooks with wallpaper.

19. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II  

A lovely record of poppy, hook-filled, lo-fi psychedelia from Ruban Nielson and his Ffunny Ffrends.

18. Emptyset – Recur

An institution of grinding interference. Not for the feint-hearted.

17. Mogwai – Les Revenants

Mogwai’s soundtrack for the French TV series was appropriately chilly, but also a slight departure from their usual style; this track is great, but untypical of the album.

16. Whirling Hall of Knives – Devisions

Whirling and swirling maelstroms of joyfulness. A true ‘experience’ of an album.

15. Way Through – Clapper is Still

Pastoral punk postcards from somewhere a long way from Constable Country. Songs of loss for things we’d forgotten we once had.

14. Vision Fortune – Mas Fiestas con el Grupo Vision Fortune

Tension and repetition. Repetition and tension. Brilliant début.

13. Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – What The Brothers Sang

If you’d told us in January that one of our favourite albums of the year would be a set of covers of Everly Brothers’s songs we would have shown you the door. But they did write great songs and McCarthy and Oldham do them proud.

12. No Age – An Object

Randy Randall and Dean Spunt displayed a more controlled but still experimental sound on this record, which seems handtooled for the listening pleasure of at least one of us. Full album streamable here:

11. Gnod – Presents…Dwellings & Druss

A few fools decried Gnod’s move to solely electronics; at BBO terraces we put out the bunting. These Salford based maestros can do little wrong in our ears.

10. Il Sogno del Marinaio – La Busta Gialla

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Post-punk hero Mike Watt teamed up with Stefano Pilia and Andrea Belfi to write and record this album, and while the songs may have been quickly written and recorded, in the hands of these ace players they sound great.

9. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

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It might not have had as much wide-screen weirdness as previous outings, but Slow Focus has enough innovation, sweeping gestures and unrepentant noise to pleasure us.

8. The Polyphonic Spree – Yes, It’s True

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It went awfully quiet there for a while – last proper album The Fragile Army came out in 2007 – but yes, it’s true – the Spree are back! And god we needed them – if you don’t need a shot of pure joy like this, then congratulations, you’ve had a better year than either of us.

7. Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In

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The second album from the woman with a sweet voice and a broken heart. It’s not quite as consistently brilliant as the first album, but it’s still better than almost everything else in this list.

6. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation

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An absolute master class in darkness. Incredible nocturnal and necro-electronics. And the most intense and roof-shaking live experience to boot.

5. Superman Revenge Squad Band – There Is Nothing More Frightening Than The Passing Of Time

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A very welcome return for SRS’ Ben Parker – one of the best lyricists of his generation – this time with a ‘big band’, some lovely new songs and re-recordings of old ones. The whole album is here:

4. Factory Floor – Factory Floor

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Old-skool has never been so futuristic. Minimal explorations in sweat, mingling with four tons of tarnished glitter. Shut the fuck up and dance.

3. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

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Beyond the ridiculously contrived build-up campaign, beyond the usual fanboy gushings and stupendous hype, Boards of Canada managed to produce an album that is pure electronica at its absolute finest. And hats are doffed to any band that will drive hundreds of miles to purchase a rare synth only for it to play a few notes across the whole album.

‘Cold Earth’ (unofficial video):

2. British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy

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The fifth album from the band who have been BBO’s fantasy band-in-residence since before there was a blog was intended to act as a counter to the grim realities of life in 2013, or as Yan put it “a nice game of cards in pleasant company”. It was much more than that, of course, because it also contained its fair share of adventures into the K Hole, and the band were pretty much at the peak of their powers live this year. We salute them.

‘Machineries of Joy’ [Radio Edit]:

1. Teeth Of The Sea – Master

Master

For the second year in a row a Rocket Recording’s product tops our chart. We got very excited when we reviewed it (leading to some wordy twaddle), but we stand by the sentiment we were trying to express. Master is an astounding lesson in genuinely innovative, yet carefully respectful and intelligent, rock music in its broadest definition. Magnificent.

‘Reaper’:

So there you go. As we said, we hope you found something here to enjoy and if not, we apologise for clogging your earholes.

Sometimes we can’t believe this blog is still going when so many have disappeared, but it is and will be for the foreseeable future. And the only reason we continue is because every now and again somebody somewhere says something nice about our wordy nonsense. We really, really appreciate all that continue to support us. Thank you.

Now bog off and buy some or all of the above albums.They are available from shops – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones (who pay their tax), ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too.

JKneale and angrybonbon

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Emptyset: Recur

recur

When I lived in Bristol I would often walk past a building akin to a garage that carried a small sign indicating it contained ‘The Institute of Grinding Technology’. Approximately every thirty seconds, without fail, the building would emit an ungodly hissing grating sound. Lord knows what went on therein. I could probably find out, but I don’t want to. That sound, that weird mechanic emanation, was and remains a source of fascination.

I give you this as a contrived introduction to Emptyset’s latest offering. Hence, if ‘The Institute of Grinding Technology’ are looking for some background music to their next staff party they would find much comfort in Recur.

Throughout Recur Emptyset seemingly act as conductors of a murmuration of mechanical locusts. Armed with serrated wings and antenna, these nine tunes swoop, contract and change shape. The most jagged of noises continually pierce and shred all that is comfort and fluff, leaving only sharp edges and abrasive surfaces behind. It’s relentlessly and incredibly intense like Demiurge, but all the more brilliant for it.

Recur is an album that composes emotions that others steer well clear of. This is why you should buy it.

Album preview:

‘Recur’ (Raagthma re-edit):

‘Order’

Emptyset: Demiurge

Emptyset are Paul Purgas and James Ginzburg. The latter is the founder of Bristol based label collective Multiverse whose excellent Dark Matter compilation – reviewed here – brought together a series of post-dubstep/future bass ventures. Here Ginzburg seems to be attempting to neuter and enfeeble the current move to make dubstep chart friendly through an antidote of extremes. Paul Purgas, from what I can garner, was once director of the Arnolfini in Bristol, a sound artist of some repute and apparently an expert in Dr Dee. So listen up Mr. Albarn – although I think I’ve said enough on *that* issue by now.

Consequently, this is not for the fainthearted or those in search of anything remotely resembling songs or melodies or tunes. Instead Emptyset’s Demiurge is all about the boundaries of what you can do with bass. First track ‘Departure’ consists of a build of static that is released by a colossal bass note that is as forbidding as it is huge and skull shaking. ‘Void’ and ‘Plane’ use more unforgiving interference as rhythm and the hammer drill of ‘Function’ reveals the pair tweaking the absolute hell out of whatever it is they are using. Throughout, the now infamous wobble of dubstep is taken to an intimidating dimension so far beyond the dance floor it hardly seems worth mentioning it. In fact, using the descriptor dubstep here is something of a misnomer considering the experimentalism on show.

Demiurge is equally cerebral and visceral, demanding and brilliant. It’s abstract and in no way an easy listen. But you like a challenge don’t you? Purchase.

Sphere

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