10. MATT POND – THE LIVES INSIDE THE LINES IN YOUR HAND (buy)
Whenever it snows here, I gaze longingly at the ghostly peaks of the Campsie Fells and stick on Matt Pond PA’s 2005 single Snow Day. It’s a ritual that has ensured the effortless talents of this American man with band has never been allowed to escape my consciousness despite the fact his albums – including this, his ninth (and first without the ‘PA’ suffix) – rarely get distributed in the UK. Thankfully, determinedly upbeat indie-rock songs know no such boundaries.
Matt Pond – Love To Get UsedLove To Get Used
9. QUICKBEAM – QUICKBEAM (buy)
Quickbeam’s music is the antithesis to modern, urban living. Theirs is a soundtrack to a world in slow motion, one of sleeping under the constellations, time-lapse photography and sobbing at the end of the most moving book you’ve ever read. It’s heartbreaking, it’s precious. It’s turning your mobile off and logging out of Facebook.
Quickbeam – Seven Hundred Birds
8. SIGUR RÓS – KVEIKUR (buy)
In keeping with their resolute quest for evolution and experimentation, Kveikur finds Sigur Rós once again thrusting their sound in new directions, particularly industrial rock. Being honest, it’s not the Icelandic group’s strongest album when compared to a transcendental back catalogue, but standout tracks Stormur and Rafstraumur are enough to remind you that Sigur Rós are still the kings of heavenly euphoria.
Sigur Rós – RafstraumurRafstraumur
7. VAMPIRE WEEKEND – MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY (buy)
As an internet buzz band turned multi-million sellers, Vampire Weekend are ripe for post-hype resentment. You’d almost half-expect the New Yorkers to assume any new release will be met with indifference or aspersion, yet their third album has been a critics’ favourite. And for very good reason. Few pop records manage to pack so much elaboration, both in the lyrics and melodies, yet still maintain its own groove… well, a groove on loan from Africa. Modern Vampires Of The City is the sound of a band comfortable in its own skin, maturing with finesse.
Vampire Weekend – Everlasting ArmsEverlasting Arms
6. KEVIN HARPER – KINGDOM OF WIRES (buy)
The desperate clamour of cred-seeking musicians to designate their practices ‘DIY’ must make Alloa singer-songwriter Kevin Harper despair. For how many of them genuinely, literally, demonstrate Do It Yourself principles to the extent he does? Here is one guy using his multi-instrumental talents to create the sound of a four or five-piece band, self-recording songs in his home studio, designing his own artwork, releasing an album with no label or PR backing. But if you’re expecting cheap’n’nasty lo-fi, think again. Kingdom Of Wires bursts out the speakers with full-bodied, warm production and 90s American indie-rock influences.
Kevin Harper – Kingdom Of Wires
5. FRIENDS IN AMERICA – WHAT IT IS TO BE (buy)
If I didn’t already inhabit the city Friends In America gig most frequently in, I suspect I may have moved house by now. There’s no-one else I’d happily criss-cross the country to watch again and again. If you’ve not had the privilege of experiencing this extraordinary band live, 27-minute mini-album What It Is To Be does a fine job of letting you into their social club of articulate pop. Given how painfully slow the music industry is to catch on these days, Friends In America should be huge in 2020.
Friends In America – Quietly Quietly
4. BLOOD RELATIVES – DEERHEART (buy)
Known as Kitty The Lion until this summer, Blood Relatives’ flair for upbeat folk-pop is undeniable, hooks executed with aplomb, changes in vocal pitch employed to expert perfection. But it’s the depth of Deerheart’s plethora of radio-ready songs that puts this debut album a class apart, with Anna Meldrum’s ingenious lyrical wordplay boasting an acute grasp of the subtleties of language. Like Admiral Fallow and Prides before them, the curious case of Glasgow bands magically striking gold when they change their name continues.
Blood Relatives – Fowl Mouth
3. NOAH AND THE WHALE – HEART OF NOWHERE (buy)
Given that Noah And The Whale’s most known songs (5 Years Time, L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.) are their most irritating, the Londoners’ fourth album is all the more impressive by virtue of being so relentlessly unskippable. The choruses consistently hit the mark, the record’s lyrical themes of time and personal detachment never feel contrived, and they even manage to rip off Sting basslines without sounding naff. A miraculous, confounding album.
Noah And The Whale – All Through the NightAll Through the Night
2. THERE WILL BE FIREWORKS – THE DARK, DARK BRIGHT (buy)
Four years in the making. Why hurry when the outcome is this exceptional? The rush comes when you listen to The Dark, Dark Bright on headphones – you pick up the meticulous layers of instrumentation, the sporadic recitals of poetry between tracks, the incidental sounds. Described by singer Nicky McManus in a Pop Cop interview as a “labour of love” and an “obsession”, his sentimental lyrics about home and place give There Will Be Fireworks’ second album a distinctly Scottish feel. The band’s considerable overseas fanbase, however, will ensure this masterwork of guitar-rock travels far and wide. Worth the wait? You better believe it.
There Will Be Fireworks – Roots
1. FRIGHTENED RABBIT – PEDESTRIAN VERSE (buy)
The year saw them gatecrash the UK’s top 10, sell out venues of ever-swelling capacity and rack up invitations to play on America’s most-watched chat shows… yet Frightened Rabbit’s greatest achievement of 2013 was something many would have taken for granted. Few bands these days survive ten years and four albums with no dip in the quality of music that got them to this point. That’s the bare minimum Pedestrian Verse delivers. At its peak – and you could argue The Oil Slick is among the most affecting songs they have ever written – the band’s grasp of triumphant indie-rock and fearless, emotion-wrung lyricism renders them peerless.
Frightened Rabbit – The Oil SlickThe Oil Slick
Congratulations, Scott Hutchison, your band’s record Pedestrian Verse is the winner of The Pop Cop’s Best Album of 2013 award.
Scott: “I’m very, very pleased because nobody else has really recognised the record much this year [laughs]. Even though it has seen us make steps into a different kind of arena, I still feel like we’re an unknown band in a way, so I didn’t really expect to get high up in any of the end-of-year lists. It’s a huge honour – it is literally the only award I’ve ever been given!”
Didn’t you get a Tartan Clef award in 2011 for Best Live Band?
Scott: “Yeah, but I don’t have that personally, I don’t know where it went. So I can actually keep this one in my house.”
Pedestrian Verse came out in February… you don’t hate it yet?
Scott: “No, absolutely not. I don’t listen to it often, but with every other record we’ve made I’ve found more mistakes by this point in time. You never know until you’ve got a bit of distance from it, but I still feel positive about it, more so even. I think this is the real move away from [second album] The Midnight Organ Fight because we didn’t quite do that last time [with third album The Winter Of Mixed Drinks]. This one stands on its own, without being compared to it, without that looming over it, and it’s a really nice feeling. It’s been totally gratifying seeing the change at gigs from the start of February when people were like, ‘I don’t really know these songs but I’ll still clap’ to the last three months and people genuinely saying the new stuff was sometimes the highlight of the set.”
You’ve picked up a lot of new fans this year – maybe they don’t know The Midnight Organ Fight songs so well?
Scott: “That’s the thing. My theory is that usually your favourite album by a band is the first one you arrive at. And I think a lot of people have arrived through this record and have maybe gone back, but this will still be the one for them. It’s nice to feel like this record has bought us more time as a band [laughs]. We’re going to be allowed to do this for a wee bit longer.”
Is there anything you’d change about Pedestrian Verse?
Scott: “I never really wanted Late March, Death March to go on the record. I still stand by that. I don’t mind it, I just don’t think it’s right for this one. There were a couple of darker songs I was more interested in having on there, to set that tone properly. It’s still a little bit too jolly for me, even though it is dark.”
Were you surprised the album didn’t make it on to this year’s Mercury Prize shortlist?
Scott: “I don’t know if we were even put forward [by their label, Atlantic]. Maybe the whole tone of the band is not right for that. I’m not really bothered about missing out because it confuses me. I don’t really understand what their system is. Looking at the list, I don’t get it. I don’t really know why Jake Bugg is on there. I haven’t listened to his record but I’ve heard a couple of songs and I don’t think something like that represents the forefront of British music.”
What’s the next target for Frightened Rabbit? ‘Biffy Clyro’ levels of popularity?
Scott: “I don’t think I want to make the type of music that will allow that. Having said that, maybe Biffy is the wrong band to compare it to. I look to bands like Elbow and The National – they’re playing arenas with very subtle music, without big bangers, and that’s admirable. I don’t know whether that’s something that’s even available or possible for us. At a certain amount of the shows we did this year I’ve found myself thinking that if this is where it plateaus, if we just stay where we are, then that’s fine by me. Hopefully, with the way this band has been built over such a long period of time, there’s a much more solid staying power.”
Finally, what’s your favourite album of 2013?
Scott: “Phosphorescent – Muchacho. It’s incredible. Our label has been trying to get in touch to see if he [Matthew Houck] wanted to do something with the band, but the reply we got back was, ‘We can’t even get him to do a video… good luck!’. Apparently he just lives in his own planet, which everybody likes the idea of anyway. He’s brilliant.”