It’s been a great year for rock and indie, with a decent number of big-name releases and very few instant turkeys.
Double-albums, disco flourishes and drop-ins from famous friends dominated the agenda. It was a tough call picking a number one, but that’s exactly the tradition I’ve started here, so for the sixth year in a row, here goes…

1.) Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Oozing effortless cool, irresistible riffs and a roll-call of big-name cameos as long as your arm, QOTSA’s sixth studio album is a proper stunner. Every track warrants its place in this blockbuster of a record, which boasts guest appearances from the likes of Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl, Alex Turner and Elton John (no, seriously!). In fact, pretty much the only thing I don’t love about this album is the punctuation of the title.

Download: Smooth Sailing, If I Had A Tail and Fairweather Friends

2.) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

It took eight years for the world’s favourite French electro duo to get back in the studio to record another LP, but it was easily worth the wait. Teaming up with Chic‘s Nile Rogers inspired a new sound that was more based on live instrumentation than samples. ‘Get Lucky’ was the single of the year by miles, but the record is book-ended by the barn-storming ‘Give Life Back To Music’ and the phenomenal drum-led instrumental ‘Contact’.

Download: Give Life Back To Music, Contact and Touch

3.) Biffy Clyro – Opposites

Only a truly special band can release a double-album that doesn’t feel flabby and overblown. Biffy Clyro aren’t quite at that level just yet, but they’re getting awfully close. ‘Opposites’ is their biggest sounding record yet – leaving aside the numerous singles, ‘Woo Woo’ is life-affirmingly anthemic, while ‘Different People’ is their most ambitious track in years.

Download: Victory Over The Sun, Little Hospitals and Different People

4.) Arctic Monkeys – AM

That this album should bear Arctic Monkeys’ initials seems utterly fitting, since ‘AM’ is where the band showcases the sound they’ve been building up to over the past five years. Alex Turner is back to his lyrical best on ‘Arabella’ and ‘RU Mine?’, although the most effective moment comes when he borrows the poetry of John Cooper Clarke on touching finale ‘I Wanna Be Yours’.

Download: Do I Wanna Know, Knee Socks and I Wanna Be Yours

5.) Editors – The Weight Of Your Love

On their fourth studio album, the Birmingham gloom-mongers get back to what they do best, ditching the euro-synth stylings in favour of guitar and piano-led love songs. Tom Smith’s voice sounds more urgent and monumental than ever, and while the record trails off towards the end they’ve more than made up for this slight let-down with a string of euphoric live shows.

Download: Nothing, Formaldehyde and A Ton Of Love

6.) Scholars – Always Lead, Never Follow

The temptation to rush out your first album must be overwhelming, for reasons of pride, passion and pure finance. But the long gestation period truly paid off for Scholars, whose debut is a thrilling affair, packed with acrobatic vocals, punchy riffs and even some At The Drive-In style experimentation.

Download: Hydrochaesin, Bad For Business and Scaredy Cat

7.) Arcade Fire – Reflektor

With a little discipline and some judicious editing, this could have been the album of the year. Hell, it really should have been the album of the year. However, by teaming up with hipster-in-chief James Murphy, Arcade Fire allowed their fourth studio album to drift into self-indulgence in quite a few places, which is a real shame because when they hit the mark, it’s truly electrifying stuff. Glastonbury is in for a real treat in 2014.

Download: Here Comes The Night Time, Flashbulb Eyes and Joan Of Arc

8.) Everything Everything – Arc

The eclectic indie rockers have refined their sound on this their second album without losing their exuberant and experimental edge. Elaborate melodies and inscrutable rhythms make for 2013′s most adventurous album, this side of Daft Punk.

Download: Cough Cough, Radiant and Duet

9.) Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

The Hampshire songsmith’s world domination plans gathered some serious pace this year with a clutch well-written singles that littered the alternative airwaves for most of the first half of the year. But, as ever with a Frank record, scratch beneath the surface and there is real depth and true heart to discover.

Download: The Fisher King Blues, Four Simple Words and Plain Sailing Weather

10.) City and Colour – The Hurry and The Harm

Dallas Green is clearly settling into his stride here on his fourth solo album and with his former day job Alexisonfire sadly bisbanded, there is nothing holding him back from becoming this generation’s Elvis Costello.

Download: Harder Than Stone, Thirst, and Ladies And Gentlemen

11.) Placebo – Loud Like Love
12.) 65daysofstatic – Wild Light
13.) Jamie Lenman – Muscle Memory
14.) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
15.) Jimmy Eat World – Damage
16.) And So I Watch You From Afar – All Hail Bright Futures
17.) Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
18.) Electric Soft Parade – IDIOTS
19.) Travis – Where You Stand
20.) Sam Duckworth – Amazing Grace

Looking forward, 2014 should be just as jam-packed, with new records from Blink 182, the FoosMaximo Park and Brand New (hopefully) all in the works. Until then, I’ll leave you with my video of the year, enjoy…

An interesting trend has sprung up in the cash-drenched and often-pretentious world of music videos, one that has huge potential.

More and more bands (well-funded bands, I might add) are seeing the potential to make videos that their fans can interact with in one way or another, so that no two people experience the same video.

It all started back in the summer of 2010, when Arcade Fire teased the launch of the third album ‘The Suburbs’ with an “experiment” with the then novel technology of HTML5, as supported by Google Chrome.

The result was ‘The Wilderness Downtown’, a half-constructed music video for ‘We Used To Wait’ by Chris Milk, which fans could customise by putting in the name of their hometown.

Tapping into Google’s burgeoning Street View image library allowed the video to superimpose imagery from the viewer’s hometown into the scenes, reflecting the themes of the song in an intelligent and, to my knowledge at least, completely innovative way.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to try it. It’s quite an eye-opening and rather personal experience, as you see places you remember from your childhood overlayed with a music video.

arcade fire the wilderness downtown we used to wait interactive music video

After that it all went quiet for a few years, but Arcade Fire brought back the idea this summer in anticipation of their fourth album, ‘Reflektor’.

The new project, called ‘Just A Reflektor‘, goes one step further by asking you to turn on your webcam so that you can star in the video, as well as tracking the movement of your mouse so that different sections of the screen come into focus.

In truth, the effect created was pretty cheesy and seeing my gormless face staring back at me during the climax of the song was hardly gratifying and a bit of an anti-climax.

Thankfully the torch has now been picked up by two more acts, who have refined the idea into something simpler, more easy to adapt, but no less impressive.

Queens of the Stone Age’s new single ‘The Vampyre of Time and Memory‘ is played out across several rooms of a haunted house, with the band playing in one room and some actors creating a cryptic scene in another.

In the areas between, you can click through a book of lyrics, click through to iTunes to buy the accompanying album ‘…Like Clockwork’ and plenty more besides.

This is a huge improvement on ‘Just A Reflektor’ as you feel in control and curiousity compels you to explore and even start again in case you missed something.

For what it’s worth, the band have published their own Director’s Cut on YouTube to draw people into this eerie world:



Not to be outdone, even dear old Bobby is getting in on the act, and with quite a fitting choice of song.

This is partly because ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was released in the days before music videos, but also because it was part of Dylan’s controversial electric period, where he departed from his bluegrass acoustic protest music roots.

In the video, which was posted online this week, you are given 15 TV channels to flip through, and on all of them the actors are lip-synching along.

This allows for brilliant, often comic, juxtaposition. When I watched it through, I laughed at a street reporter asking a random member of the public: “How does it feel to be on your own, like a complete unknown?”

In the end, I settled on an East Coast rap rendition for its sheer unlikeliness.

Give it a try for yourself and you’ll find that making up your own music video as you go along is a very addictive and empowered experience.

I can only hope more bands take this idea and run with it. My money’s on Muse going one better than their live videos that allow you to simply switch camera angles, but the possibilities are literally endless…

Bloc Party Nextwave Sessions ep cover artFollowing on from the announcement that they are due to go on an indefinite hiatus at the end of the summer, Bloc Party have given their fans one last treat before their (hopefully temporary) break-up.

‘The Nextwave Sessions EP’ shows the kind of inventiveness and experimentation that you might expect from a band with nothing to lose and nothing to prove.

‘Ratchet’ kicks things off with Kele Okereke spitting lyrics with his usual blend of urban slang and punk attitude, but with a noticeably hip-hop cadence as he references Kanye West in the second verse.

All four band members get a chance to show off their skills on this fantastically flamboyant track, but it’s Gordon Moakes’ earthy bassline that will really make this an indie club floor-filler.

‘Obscene’ brings things back down to earth, with Kele openly confessing his past wrongs to a former lover as the throbbing synth and lilting vocals hark back to 2008′s ‘Intimacy’.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Jimmy Eat World Damage album cover artIn the turbulent world of rock music, emo veterans Jimmy Eat World are a reassuring constant, with the same line-up sustained for nearly 20 years now and a new album arriving more or less every three years.

For their eighth studio album, the Arizona quartet has gone back to basics, recording on analog tape in producer Alain Johannes’ Los Angeles home.

Former Nine Inch Nails collaborator James Brown was brought into digitally mix the record, but Trent Reznor-inspired grunge this certainly ain’t.

The result is a fuzzier, rougher edge but with the same warming centre, particularly on opening track ‘Appreciation’ and standout song ‘How’d You Have Me’, which both chime nicely with their 1999 album ‘Clarity’.

That said the band have not completely turned their backs on the atmospheric rock sound curated on 2010′s ‘Invented’.

‘Byebyelove’ builds to a distortion-drenched finale, before ‘You Were Good’ strikes a mature, peaceful and reconciliatory note at the close of the record.

As always, there’s something strangely comforting about the sound of lead singer Jim Adkins‘ brave optimism against a backdrop of melancholy…

To read the rest of this review at Virgin Red Room, click here.

Frank Turner - Tape Deck HeartIn the week that his fifth studio album ‘Tape Deck Heart’ was released, Frank Turner was in a distinctly upbeat mood.

The former frontman of hardcore punk outfit Million Dead hasn’t always had an easy ride since he made the transformation into folk-rock troubadour seven years ago. Overnight sensation, he is not.

But with a hit single (‘Recovery’) under his belt, not to mention a headline show at Wembley Arena and a cameo at the Olympics opening ceremony, he is now well-equipped to not just sell out, but truly own venues like the Kentish Town Forum for many years to come.

Warm-up act Larry and His Flask did a tremendous job of getting the capacity crowd moving with their turbo-charged hobo blues. If Seasick Steve ever joined Gogol Bordello, it would sound something like this.

After a minor technical delay (possibly relating to a live YouTube stream of this gig), Turner took to the stage with standout anthem ‘Four Simple Words’. This looks set to become a fan favourite with its dynamic juxtaposition of dancehall waltz, chest-beating punk and the irresistible refrain: “I want to dance”.

From here on the show progressed like a greatest hits compilation, with Turner freely flitting between all five of his studio albums. Recent album cuts ‘Polaroid Picture’ and ‘Good & Gone’ were met with the most muted responses, suggesting…

To read the full article on Virgin Red Room, click here.

It’s been a hit and miss year for rock music, with just a handful of high-profile releases, but plenty of surprise packages. In keeping with tradition, here’s my Top 20 rundown. Click on the links to take a listen on Grooveshark or Spotify.

1.) Dry The River – Shallow Bed

There were a few difficult decisions in the Top 20, but picking a top album was not one of them. Dry The River’s highly engrossing blend of folk and emo is nigh-on irresistible and sets the standard for their contemporaries to aim for.

2.) Bloc Party – Four

A triumphant return to form from Kele and his cohorts who remembered just how effective distorted guitars and thunderous riffs can be.

3.) Muse – The 2nd Law

Taking the ‘kitchen sink’ approach to songwriting, Muse threw everything at this third album and the result is a thoroughly adventurous record which improves with every listen.

4.) Jim Lockey And The Solemn Sun – Death

The record I’ve been waiting four years for Jim Lockey to record – Death throbs with powerful tunes, and excellent production values underpin this meaty new sound.

5.) Sonic Boom Six – Sonic Boom Six

Running Muse close to the wire as Britain’s most inventive band, SB6 went for an electro approach on their self-titled fourth album, resulting in some hard-hitting tunes and a bit of a classic ska-punk thrown in for good measure.

6.) Mumford and Sons – Babel

More of the same from folk-rock’s darlings – they may have cracked America with Babel, but will need to display more invention next time around.

7.) Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

Five months ago I called this a strong contender for album of the year, and whilst it has faded in appeal after a few dozen listens, Handwritten remains a solid album full of big riffs and bigger choruses.

8.) Baddies – Build

First Danananaykroyd then these guys – for the second year running, I tip a band for big things, then they split up. Nonetheless, Build will stand as a fitting swansong for this dynamic quartet.

9.) Maximo Park – The National Health

Going back to their roots, a return to forum, call it what you like, this album is Maximo Park playing to their strengths and hitting heights not seen since their 2005 debut.

10.) Maps & Atlases – Beware & Be Grateful

Perhaps the most confusing album in my Top Ten – Maps & Atlases manage to blend together math rock and 80s pop into a delightful combination of charm and sheer technical brilliance.

11.) The Futureheads – Rant

12.) The Cribs – In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull

13.) Frank Turner – The Second Three Years

14.) Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – Maps

15.) Pulled Apart By Horses – Tough Love

16.) The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio

17.) The Killers – Battle Born

18.) Air – Le Voyage Dans La Lune

19.) Green Day – Uno!

20.) Tenacious D – Rize Of The Fenix

So, what can we expect from 2013? Well the year will surely get off to a great start with Biffy Clyro due to unveil their double album, Queens Of The Stone Age will return with Dave Grohl on drums, and Lostprophets will… oh, wait.

Until then, I leave you with my favourite video of the past 12 months, enjoy:

Dry The River Shallow Bed AcousticNine months ago when Dry The River released their debut album ‘Shallow Bed’, it was met with widespread positive reviews, but a handful of critics accused the folk-rock quartet of somewhat overdoing the production values.

So as if to prove them wrong and show that these songs can stand up on their own two feet without the bells and whistles, the band have decided to release an acoustic version of the album.

It’s an interesting choice for a band with just one album to their name, since some of the most effective acoustic albums (Foo Fighters - ‘Skin and Bones’, Nirvana - ‘Unplugged In New York’) have worked as greatest hits retrospectives.

Despite sticking to the track listing, ‘Shallow Bed (Acoustic)’ sees Dry The River do much more than just unplug the amps. Many of the tracks are cleverly re-arranged with instruments switched and tempos altered.

The recording style has a real ‘live session’ feel to it, so much so that you might expect warm applause to greet the end of each track.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

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