Curious, playful and boundary-defying, these are the brave releases that spoke loudest to us in the last 12 months. The thread that seems to weave its way through all of Dummy's favourite albums of 2013 is nuance; curious and sensitive, many of these 20 releases explore the spaces between extremities, breaking free of the lust/heartbreak pop dichotomy and expressing familiar emotions in unfamiliar ways (and vice versa). The Haxan Cloak did it with his depiction of the descent (or ascent) into the afterlife, shaded with as much light as darkness; Laurel Halo did it by communicating the unspoken in the haphazard sound of 'Chance Of Rain'; Connan Mockasin did it with his blurring of person and character, of sensuality and strangeness, of reality and fiction in 'Caramel'. Even 'Yeezus', explicitly an album of extremes, sits uncomfortably on a knife edge between those extremes, cherry-picking elements of different cultures and forcing you to listen in new ways, while 'The Redeemer', on the face of it Dean Blunt's most accessible work to date, moves masterfully between frank expression and buried sarcasm.
Read on to find out more about the wonderful records that were our favourites of 2013.
Connan Mockasin is one of those rare types of artist that can adeptly build a world for themselves and make music that seems to uniquely inhabit that space - a space that goes beyond simple influences and references points. Where his astonishing debut album ‘Forever Dolphin Love’ had a tendency to drift into extended passages of quiet introversion and psychedelia, on ‘Caramel‘, Connan reinvents himself as the seduction supremo, a lothario writing the smoothest and most sensual, soft-focus soul and R&B.
The album’s title came before the songwriting, so it sounds as silken, golden, and smooth as you’d expect a caramel record to sound. The lyrics reflect that. “Book that hotel, and I’ll please you” is one of the more memorable lines from Do I Make You Feel Shy?, while the gorgeous, e’d up album closer I Wanna Roll With You sees Connan spilling his guts with a spoken word monologue buried so low in the mix you really have to strain to hear it. It’s all a ruse, though, because while ‘Caramel’ might seem lascivious at first, by the album’s second half it slips back into delicate, beautiful music with the instrumental suite of It’s Your Body 1-5.
Through this reinvention, Connan Mockasin made an extremely satisfying second album that never felt like he was retreading familiar ground, and yet never felt like a radical departure. While it may not be an album that defines 2013, for Connan’s personal artistic development, it was a triumph. - Selim Bulut
Success is often the quickest route to failure. Make the mistake of writing a hit debut and you’ll be rewarded with the task of tackling that difficult second album. Fans want more of the same. Critics want something new. Who to please? South London duo Mount Kimbie didn’t just pen a hit with their 2010 debut ‘Crooks & Lovers’, they crystallised the sound of post-dubstep and became its poster boys in the process. All of which left ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’ with a lot resting on its shoulders. Thankfully Dom Maker and Kai Campos shrugged off any outside pressure with not so much as a backwards glance, and the result is all the richer for that. Where ‘Crooks & Lovers’ zoomed in close on a specific tone, its sequel splinters off into a dozen different directions: pop, country, cosmic boogie. It is restless, curious and contrary - and it is for these reasons that ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’ has spent so long in my ears this year.
The album’s compelling energy springs, in a roundabout way, from the response to ‘Crooks & Lovers’. They’ve been on the road practically non-stop since it came out and, unsurprisingly, their live set has grown and evolved. It’s more “live” in a traditional sense now than it ever has been, having added a full-time drummer to their guitar and bass. There’s a jamming quality to much of ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’; analogue and digital instruments bounce off one another, melting into an indeterminable blur. That mix is not new, but in Kimbie’s hands it feels radical. For all the breaking down of genre boundaries in 2013, there still exists a chasm between the laptop legion and the guitar-wielding gang. The bonkers-on-paper but brilliant-on-record decision to work with King Krule rams the message home: that was then, this is now. The old rules are no longer relevant. All that matters is feeling, something that ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’ teems with. - Ruth Saxelby