Skin Back Alley’s Top Albums of 2013

2013 has been a fine year for music. It started with a bang in January, when David Bowie surprised everyone on the planet by releasing a new single – and then album – without having made any prior announcements. Beyonce pulled off the same trick just last week, proving that’s she’s not averse to pinching ideas with pride. But rather than huge pop releases from the likes of Katy Perry or Lady GaGa, it has felt as though the real gold has been found around the fringes, away from the monumental marketing budgets, proving that the death of the music ‘business’ certainly doesn’t mean the death of great music. Below you’ll find our favourites from the past year. As ever, let us know what you think, and which artists and albums have been tuning you in and turning you on.

My Ruin The Sacred Mood1. My Ruin – The Sacred Mood
In recent years My Ruin have had one hell of a ride. Hugely promising beginnings, great albums, ups, downs, mistreatment at the hands of music labels and near death experiences. All of which makes it even more extraordinary that they are still here, let alone that 2013 saw them release the finest album of their career. With The Sacred Mood, My Ruin delivered a slab of molten metal that sounded like a band well and truly in control of their craft. Here were artists creating something recognisably their own, but with new depths and textures previously uncharted. Mick Murphy’s guitar is dextrous and deadly, inventive and involving, ably augmented by Luciano Ferrea’s heavy bass workouts. And Tairrie B has never sounded more beguiling. Her trademark mix of honeyed spoken word and splintering metal screams delivered a dark poetry that touched on themes of death, rebirth, stamina and survival. If ever there was a metal band deserving of wider recognition, then My Ruin are it. We wait with baited breath to see how they take on 2014.
Buy it at: Amazon or iTunes | Read our 5/5 album review: here

BATINTE2. Baby Animals – This Is Not The End
Survival and triumphant return were also themes of Baby Animals’ first album of new material in 20 years, the aptly titled This Is Not The End. Suze DeMarchi and co. were well on their way to global domination in the 1990s before circumstances intervened and the band seemed to go out with a whisper rather than a scream. Never fear, for May saw the release of a barnstorming new album packed to the rafters with just the sort of high-octane rock n’ roll that the band’s supporters have been longing to hear. DeMarchi’s pipes sounded as strong as they ever have, and Dave Leslie’s guitar work was in rude health too. In Invisible Dreamer they reached dynamic new heights in their song-craft, carving out an epic centre that pinned together a quality collection. The imminent release of a new live DVD should have fans around the world baying for more.
Buy it at: Social Family Records | Read more about our love for Baby Animals: here

HWTH3. Holly Williams – The Highway
Column inches about Holly Williams have tended to focus on her family history. Perhaps understandably, as in the firmament of American music they don’t come any more prestigious than Hanks Jr or Sr. But in 2013 it was the sound of Holly’s album, The Highway, that had us enthralled. As her soulful, smoky voice navigated the terrain of relationships gone awry, the emotional push and pull of the heart and yes – how she explores and interprets her own heritage as part of American music royalty – the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end as they realised this was the sound of an extraordinary talent all of its own. Vivid stories and a wonderful way with a melody cemented The Highway as one of the highlights of the year.
Buy it at: Amazon or iTunes

LGIYW4. London Grammar – If You Wait
Those who were inclined to be skeptical about ‘the next big thing’ were forced to eat their words upon the release of London Grammar’s eagerly anticipated debut album. If You Wait presented a very fine brand of intimate and minimal pop over which Hannah Reid’s voice soared like the proverbial eagle. At once sounding both classic and yet utterly contemporary, the overall effect was bewitching, and in single Strong, the band had created a heart-stopping beauty of a song that was enough to make anyone forget the world around them for 3 minutes at a time. The trio rounded out the year with a series of shows that had all in thrall. Highly recommended.
Buy it at: Amazon or iTunes

TJWH5. Tony Joe White – Hoodoo
Tony Joe White proved in 2013 that if you spend all your time paying attention to nothing but the newcomers, you’ll miss some of the finest music being made. In Hoodoo, the septuagenarian guitarist and singer released a never less than engaging swampy, atmospheric album of blues numbers featuring plenty of his trademark guitar fluidity and Louisiana drawl. There were also touches of gospel and country, and lyrics concerned with big themes of darkness, danger and spiritual ambiguity. Recorded largely in first takes, live and direct to tape, the album was proof that you don’t need to work in the digital domain to create moody, affecting masterpieces. Although perhaps 50 odd years of writing and recording experience helps.
Buy it at: Amazon or iTunes

Honourable mentions for: Anna Calvi’s One Breath, Lindi Ortega’s Tin Star, Fuck Buttons’ Slow Focus, Savages’ Silence Yourself, Kurt Vile’s Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze, Alter Bridge’s Fortress and David Bowie’s The Next Day.

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