So far as full-length recordings were concerned, 2013 seemed to be the year of the long overdue release. In certain instances, the wait was anything but worth it (ARTPOP; MGMT; Seasons Of Your Day and so on) while in others, and recurrently in the case of the début album, it was quite emphatically vindicated. And this inauguration of Dots & Dashes’ Records of 2013, running through numbers sixteen to twenty-five, for one reason or another comprises several of said endeavours, including efforts from Londoners Kwes. and Factory Floor, both of whom feature among further firsts from John Wizards, HVOB, Empty Pools, etcetera. Chocks away then, eh?
Kwes. must be the most reticent British songsmith I’ve yet to meet, and yet his collaborative ability knows no bounds. But in spite of having recently worked alongside such internationally renowned names as Damon Albarn and Solange, it was his tardy début – taciturnly entitled ilp – that proved itself to be his crowning work.
In keeping with the bucolic aesthetic favoured by Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory in recent times, Tales Of Us was, unlike the Seventh Tree to have been germinated a few years before it, a record initially withdrawn as Kwes. himself that went on to become increasingly personable with repetition. Which felt meet and right, given that its every track derived its title from a name, or a noncommittal Stranger.
If overdue débuts proved themselves to be a key factor in the sonic complexion of 2013, then the harp was arguably its instrument du jour. Released what now feels forever ago last winter, Serafina Steer’s The Moths Are Real became an early contender for self-effacing, off-kilt folk effort of the year – a mantle it managed to maintain all year round.
Had The Knife cut into the murky Berlin underground and not whatever lurid monstrosities Shaking The Habitual may have been forged of, the Swedes might have come up with a record as idiosyncratically, so too insistently compelling as HVOB’s eponymous début foray into refined euphoria. An ill-advised Bombay Bicycle Club cover aside, HVOB married neo-classic minimalism together with heavy house with nonpareil guile.
There could’ve been few surprises surrounding Bristol-based four-piece Empty Pools’ first, Saturn Reruns, given that we’d already been let in on 70% of its finalised tracklisting long before it was eventually released just last month. But, if like a provincial heathen you know what you like, and you like what you know, the ploy was likely providential so far as Leah Pritchard et al. might have been concerned. For when it comes to shrewd yet scintillating indie that’s astute as it is erudite, nobody currently does it better.
An unlikely inclusion by virtue of its having been released pretty well contemporaneously to this list, but Get There has yet to get away from the proverbial needle, and I struggle to hear it doing so any time soon. For the introductory collection from Minor Alps (better known as Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws of Nada Surf), just as their moniker might insinuate toward, towered high, if not exactly mighty over the remainder of the year, having been released just last week. “If I wanted trouble, I could find it” they sang in dulcet harmony during one of umpteen peaks, but Get There suggests they’re well aware of the source of triumph, too.
From the most recent release to one of the year’s earliest masterpieces, Local Natives’ Hummingbird may have heard the Californian five-piece continue on their course through doleful Americana, the album very much written in the same vein as Gorilla Manor of 2009. But its lavishly hi-fi recording, and the immaculate calibre of the songs contained within, ensured it was widely remarked upon as less a step, and more a gallant stride in the right direction. From the restive stomp of Heavy Feet to the sprawling grandeur of Colombia; the sprightly Breakers to the porcelaneous sparsity of Three Months, thus textured with a vivid panoply of vibrant tones, their time fast approaches.
Seemingly removed from time altogether, if loosely fixed to South Africa, multinational ensemble John Wizards’ eponymous début (another – apologies) crossed more genre borders than Jacob Zuma might during a state visit world tour. We heard anything and more or less everything from Shangaan Electro-styled synthesised mania (Limpop) to slick ’80s spark (iYongwe), and never were we left disenchanted.
London trio Factory Floor formed in 2005; Factory Floor has thus been eight years in the making. In short, even the mildest disappointment would therefore have left many, if not everyone feeling irreversibly disenchanted. Although over ten tracks and fifty-three irregularly punitive minutes, Gabriel Gurnsey, Dominic Butler and Nik Colk afforded the listener not one moment to even so much as contemplate any lingering ennui there might have been, tearing through everything from brutal industrialism to rigid post-punk with as much precision as they did vigour. “Did it feel like you were going to fall underground?” Colk quizzed during a pneumatic Fall Back, but much, if not most of the album made you feel as though your body was being pummelled clean through onto a Northern Line platform by an immeasurable wrecking ball not even Miley Cyrus would dare ride. And a pulsating ride was exactly what it all made for.
Even from an inaugural play, it felt inevitable that Fade, the umpteenth full-length release from Hoboken trio Yo La Tengo, would feature relatively prominently in this particular ranking. To my ears, it’s their best to date, and although superficially simple, it proved warm and rich enough to inspire repeated listening irrespective of season and the phenological shifts thereof.