the songs that she sang in the shower: last year’s records, 2013;

Yesterday I was pulling together some of my highlights of 2013, and things that I am most looking forward to in 2014, for TYCI. I was asked for my resolutions going into the new year, and as I started to write them out (to learn to like myself, to take better care of my mind and body, to fall back in love with writing again) I felt that little niggling creep of deja vu. I think part of it is my age – for the most part, I’ve grown out of the headline-grabbing resolutions that get dropped before the end of January, or of waiting until the turning of the year to similarly turn over a new leaf. For a number of years now, my only resolution is to be myself the way that I want to be.

I felt that same sense of deja vu as I reread last year’s countdown of my favourite albums, complete with a short summation of my year. Working too hard? Sniffling away with an end-of-year cold? Sounds about right, although if the artist behind the worst thing I heard this year ends up down the same road as last year’s I think my head might just explode.

I liked this little automatically-generated video of my most popular posts on Instagram from this year. At first I was a little concerned that it would be nothing but “Biggie in places where he does not belong”, but it reminded me of what I achieved in my freelance career this year. Double page spread in the Sunday Herald and media pass for T in the Park! Sorry, but my 15-year-old self is pretty chuffed right now, even if my 31-year-old self is exhausted. While I would like more of the same going into next year, I’d also like to build this little site of mine back up into something that I can be properly proud of again. It’s felt a bit like going through the motions this past couple of months, coming as an afterthought once I’ve done everything else, and that’s not what the reason I even have any of those things – and many of my friends – should be about.

According to the wee list I keep, I heard 117 new albums this year – and probably wrote about a fair few of them. Here are my 50 favourites, along with some of the better words I wrote about some of them (and links to just about everything else, if you’re bored or that much of a fan of me).

50. Dropkick Murphys: Signed and Sealed in Blood review | live review | buy
49. Deap Vally: Sistronix review | buy
48. Blood Relatives: Deerheart buy
47. Ben Marwood: Back Down buy
46. Keith Top of the Pops and His Minor UK Indie Celebrity All-Star Backing Band: TOTP2 interview | buy
45. Laura Marling: Once I Was an Eagle review | buy
44. Marnie Stern: The Chronicles of Marnia buy
43. Of Montreal: Lousy with Sylvanbriar buy
42. Two Cow Garage: Death of the Self-Preservation Society buy
41. Laura Veirs: Warp and Weft buy

40. Kate Nash: Girl Talk live review | buy
39. Upset: She’s Gone buy
38. Reverieme: With Up So Floating buy
37. Dave Hughes & the Renegade Folk Punk Band: In Death Do We Part? buy
36. Sarah J Stanley: The Earth is Flat interview | buy
35. Golden Grrrls: Golden Grrrls review | buy
34. Amanda Shires: Down Fell the Doves buy
33. eagleowl: This Silent Year live review | buy
32. Savages: Silence Yourself review | buy
31. Califone: Stitches buy

30. Mazzy Star: Seasons of Your Day review | buy
29. Emily Wells: Mama interview | buy
28. The Knife: Shaking the Habitual buy
27. Caitlin Rose: The Stand-In review | buy
26. Colour Me Wednesday: I Thought It Was Morning buy
25. Giant Drag: Waking Up is Hard to Do buy
24. Lissie: Back to Forever review | buy
23. Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo: Dear River review | live review | buy
22. Old Earth: Small Hours interview | buy
21. The History of Apple Pie: Out of View review | buy

20. RM Hubbert: Breaks and Bone
“Hubbert’s inspirations may come from the darkest of places, but his deft touch and clever use of melody tend to sweeten the blow. The affectionate, playful opener ‘Son of Princess, Brother of Rambo’ (a tribute to Hubbert’s canine companion, D Bone, whose image adorns the album’s cover) could have snuck onto instrumental album First & Last as a kind of happy-ever-after, but simple stories are rarely told so beautifully. Conversely, the opening lines of ‘Bolt’ – so startling and yet so cryptic in their violence, and the first words Hubbert has sung during this incarnation of his career – come like a sucker punch.” review | buy

19. Sarah Blasko: I Awake
“Across its 12 tracks, I Awake tackles the most intimate of themes – self-discovery and, yes, awakening – but with their startling orchestral arrangements providing plenty to listen to, the personal nature of these songs reveals itself only slowly, with repeated listens.” review | buy

18. The Fauns: Lights
“Their sound is an amalgam of many of the things I have enjoyed in 2013: The History of Apple Pie, all guitar fuzz and sweetness; the shimmer of the newly-reunited Mazzy Star; the soundtrack to an early Sofia Coppola film; and, on ‘Point Zero’, the buzz of the crowd at an open-air rock show as imagined by somebody who decided to stay at home on a Friday night.” review | buy

17. Frightened Rabbit: Pedestrian Verse
“Set to the backdrop of some of the brightest, most upbeat music that the band has ever produced (on ‘Housing (In)’, ‘Oil Slick’ and album standout ‘Late March, Death March’ in particular), Pedestrian Verse keeps its considerable darkness well hidden. To existing fans the album will rank among the band’s best work, but as a major-label debut it’s a masterstroke.” review | buy

16. Frank Turner: Tape Deck Heart
“[T]he rest of the album … contains some of the rawest songs Turner has ever written. On ‘Plain Sailing Weather’, with its clever pop culture references, the pain is in the delivery – a quiver in the voice, a nihilistic curse in the chorus. On ‘Tell Tale Signs’ it’s everywhere; poetic lyrics telling of scars both literal and metaphorical.” review | interview | buy

15. CHVRCHES: The Bones of What You Believe
CHVRCHES make incredibly upbeat, danceable synth-pop about the saddest things. While that’s not particularly unique, even in the context of this list (apart from the thing about the synthpop), nobody could have anticipated the perfect alchemy that came from combining three of the most talented musicians you could have picked from Glasgow bands that sounded nothing like this. buy

14. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
“With the exception of ‘Demons’, a wonderfully understated song the bridge of which only ever hints at the primal, giddy release of earlier material, Matt Berninger’s famous, evocative baritone is barely present on this album. Instead, songs like ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’ and ‘This Is the Last Time’ showcase his ability to sound melodic while practically monotonous, rooting the song the way a traditional bassline would to let the melodies breathe.” review | buy

13. Haim: Days Are Gone
“Missing the point of Haim is easy to do if your awareness of the band stretches to the Fleetwood Mac-aping, radio friendly singles that saw them tipped BBC Sound of 2013. When they open with ‘Better Off’, all classic California chords and Stevie Nicks vocals, you’d be forgiven for thinking the same applied to them live. By the end of the song, when the three sisters join drummer Dash Hutton in ripping the innocence right out of it with percussion, it’s a very different proposition.” live review | buy

12. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down: We The Common
“A sense of community, of participation in something bigger than the introspection of albums gone before is the most startling thing about We The Common: first person singular becomes first person plural in almost every case, even on songs like ‘We Don’t Call’ that could conceivably be about personal departures and disappearance.” review | interview | buy

11. Marnie: Crystal World
“This is still the same Marnie of the sometimes sultry, sometimes glacial persona she adopts on the best known of Ladytron’s work but these songs – as well as containing some of her prettiest performances – demonstrate a fragility born of emotional depth rather than brittleness.” review | buy

10. Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob
“[T]he sisters Quin are not the sort of broken hearts who hide behind the living room curtains feeling sorry about the girl this time around. These are deeply sad songs, yes – but also empowering in their own way. Like Robyn’s ‘Dancing on My Own’ before them, they’re the soundtrack to that part of the breakup where it’s fine to sing into your hairbrush and dance yourself better in your pyjamas.” review | live review | buy

9. Rick Redbeard: No Selfish Heart
“On first play No Selfish Heart, the solo debut from The Phantom Band’s stately baritone Rick Anthony, sounds a world away from the sonic experimentation often played out in the singer’s work elsewhere. Take the time to listen closely, however, and a collection that seems to take its cues from traditional folk songwriting reveals itself to be far more complex: beautiful, menacing and darkly comic.” review | buy

8. Neko Case: The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
“I have little patience with those that link mental anguish with creativity, glamorising the former as if the latter were any consolation. That said, there is comfort to be drawn from songs that spin the blankness of depression into something desolate and beautiful. It’s why I’ve had ‘Night Still Comes’, the second track from Neko Case’s new album, on repeat for the past week: it slips in, hopeless and otherworldly after a typically strident album opener, and runs on unchecked like the internal monologue of the depressive.” review | live review | buy

7. Chris T-T & the Hoodrats: The Bear
“Chris T-T should really have been offered a knighthood for services to English underground music by now – if only so he could tear up the letter and write a bite-your-lip funny protest song about it. The album’s title track (“also called ‘The Bear’, because that’s how these things work”) is one of the bitterest things he has written in a while – a raucous, rabble-rouser of a thing packed with pertinent pop culture references that makes full use of the fact that the songwriter is fronting a five-piece band these days.” live review | buy

6. Kid Canaveral: Now That You Are a Dancer
“This week has seen me fast coming to the conclusion that Kid Canaveral’s David MacGregor has one of the finest voices in indie pop. It’s apparent all over Now That You Are a Dancer the Fifers’ newly-released second album, on which he takes lead vocalist duties on all put two tracks: his voice is bright enough to make a song with a title like ‘Breaking Up is the New Getting Married’ as danceable as the name of the album acknowledges, and warm enough to deliver the line ‘who would want to be loved? it’s just awkward’ without descending into an all-too-knowing cynicism.” review | buy

5. Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt
“It could be Katie Crutchfield’s voice: in the moment, its ragged timbre packs the punch of a cross-my-heart whispered secret. It could be the songwriting itself: stories half-told in two minute bursts, frank and funny and even contradictory the more you listen to the album as a whole. Or it could be some combination of the two that makes Cerulean Salt feel like an undiscovered treasure, a 33-minute mystery between you and your headphones.” review | live review | buy

4. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper: Ripely Pine
“It opens in contemplative mode; Spaltro part-Sharon van Etten, part-vintage soul singer crooning ‘love is selfish’, before ‘Hair to the Ferris Wheel’ explodes with half-crazed guitars and Kate Bush-style wailing – ‘let’s crawl all over one another like crows on a carcass’. That line is the earliest example of Spaltro’s love of gore, drama and horror movie imagery: a collection of curiously effective ways to describe the intensity and sheer abandon of love even when it goes well.” review | live review | interview | buy

3. Adam Stafford: Imaginary Walls Collapse
“It stands to reason that some of the immediate impact of Stafford’s live performance is lost on Imaginary Walls Collapse – but that’s probably just as well. It makes for a leaner, more compelling sound that, in its own way, is as easy to get lost in.” review | interview | buy

2. The Julie Ruin: Run Fast
In which Kathleen Hanna returns to making music after illness, amidst the media tributes to a 20th anniversary of the Riot Grrl movement that none of them gave a crap about first time around, and makes an album as feisty, ferocious and thoroughly forward-looking as any of her best work alongside band members and collaborators old and new. buy

1. Jason Isbell: Southeastern review | buy

[W]hat edged this album – the songwriter’s fourth either under his own name or alongside his band the 400 Unit – above The Julie Ruin’s Run Fast in my choice of best of 2013 was its consistency. While previous Isbell albums have featured some of my go-to, favourite-ever songs, the sucker punches were usually held together by filler pieces of generic country rock.

But it’s hard to find a track on Southeastern that fits that description: “Super 8”, the album’s strangely flat rocker, probably comes closest but as its most uptempo track and one where the bluster is there only to distract from some pretty desperate lyrics it’s still one I keep coming back to.



  1. January 7, 2014 / 1:37 pm

    Great selection, thank you! Most of the songs I’ve heard for a first time but I really liked it. 🙂

    • January 7, 2014 / 2:26 pm

      Happy to help! Thanks for stopping by x

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