Best albums of 2013: Musicians pick their favourite records of the year

From Antony Hegarty to Anna Calvi and Rufus Wainwright, top musicians reveal the music that has been the soundtrack to their 2013

Rufus Wainwright: Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle

Not just because I’m biased (Kate McGarrigle was my mother), but also because I believe these are some of the best songs ever written, period, Sing Me the Songs is my choice for best album this year. Plus, performances by Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Linda Thompson, Antony Hegarty, but to name a few, make this collection a singer’s paradise. Martha and myself aren’t chopped liver either, and she and I are so happy we made mom proud.

Hint: it’s a great album to listen to during dinner, exquisitely elegant.

Yannis Philippakis, Foals: Jai Paul – Demos

My album of the year is the collection of songs by Jai Paul that surfaced online earlier this year. The confusion surrounding the release does nothing to diminish the power and vision of the music. It sounds simultaneously exotic and British, timeless and futuristic. His voice and production skills are inimitable and each track is a pop gem.

Anna Calvi: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

This is a beautiful record. It has so much space and air. There is only a minimal amount of guitar – Warren Ellis seems to use the instrument like a faint pulse; you can hear his loops in the distance, pushing the music forward, but they never distract from the voice. There’s a hymnal quality to this record, it’s hypnotic and calm in a way that seems incredibly new for the Bad Seeds. Cave’s lyrics seem like streams of consciousness, the sort of stories you might imagine as you drift into sleep. I love the production of this record too, it sounds like an amazing band, in a room, playing beautiful music together. Which is what it is.

Conor O’Brien, Villagers: Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

This is music which is so completely unpretentious and playfully stream-of-consciousness that it makes me feel so very chilled out, even when she’s singing about panic attacks and the like in that signature dry conversational tone of hers. It’s recorded perfectly and the band really adds to the songs. Courtney opened up for us on our last Australian tour and it’s been a real pleasure to watch her slowly come to the attention of the world and the universe and beyond.

Dan Reynolds, Imagine Dragons: Tame Impala – Lonerism

Not only is this album incredible sonically and melodically, but it also is just a glimpse at how amazing Tame Impala’s live show is. The band and I went and saw them recently and were blown away. They are wonderful dudes as well which is a plus. My close second place goes to James Blake’s Overgrown. This is an album that gets better and better with every listen. His voice is one of the best of this generation in my opinion.

Antony Hegarty, Antony and the Johnsons: Paul Corley – Disquiet

Influenced by William Basinski’s Variations for Piano & Tape and Brian Eno’s The Plateaux of Mirror, this environmental record has worn its way into my heart. A series of lilting piano melodies move amorphously through subtle soundscapes. It’s the kind of thing I can leave on all afternoon, it settles around me like a mist. It’s just beautiful; a balm for the mind.

Ed Harcourt: Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

I know this is an obvious choice and usually I’d be inclined to choose something more obscure that deserves the recognition, but I haven’t been able to stop listening to this. Ezra Koenig sometimes writes lyrics that can seem a little too clever, but here they’re witty and poetic; the production is so inventive and modern and it seems like they’ve shaken off the Paul Simon obsession and come into their own. A truly lovely record.

Ben Little, Wild Beasts: Kanye West – Yeezus

On first listen I remember feeling totally gripped; Kanye’s domineer was in overdrive. Initially I was a little confused by the rawness and sparseness, but eventually really grew to appreciate the concept of the record, a man wanting to be the controller rather than the controlled. Clearly not intended as background music but instead demanding full attention, Yeezus is full of confrontation, ignorant wit and balls-out confidence. It’s certainly one of the most polarising albums of 2013, but for me it showed a true artist at the peak of their creativity, and highlighted Kanye’s ability to keep pushing boundaries by posing questions both musically and lyrically.

Frank Turner: Larry and His Flask – By the Lamplight

I spent the end of last year and the start of this touring with this band, around the release of this album, so I’m slightly biased, but I genuinely think it’s a thing of wonder. It captures the sheer insanity, the mad energy rush, of their seven-piece punk-bluegrass live show, but also lets the subtlety of their songwriting and harmonies come to the fore. “The Battle for Clear Sight” is the song of the year for me, by some distance. They’re a truly unique band.

Miles Kane: Charles Bradley – Victim of Love

This album has been the soundtrack of my year; travelling around on tour and in the dressing room. The song “Love Bug Blues” when played loud always get me in the mood to go out on stage and have it. A great soul voice and lyrics that come from the heart – you just can’t beat it.

Dan Smith, Bastille: Lorde – Pure Heroine

Pure Heroine is such a great album and it feels like it came out of nowhere, which always seems like the best way to hear and enjoy a record. I think Lorde employs some of the most engaging, witty and interesting lyrics of the year, but they’re totally backed up by good songwriting and subtly brilliant hooks. Joel Little’s production is spacious when it needs to be but lush and complex at points as well, complementing the album’s laconic feel. Even though it’s really obvious to mention her age, it’s undeniably impressive to hear what she’s achieved and exciting to imagine what she might come up with next. It’s also nice to hear her bat off the praise she’s received for the observations in her lyrics, which some have seen as profound but she clearly she sees as completely obvious.

Theresa Wayman, Warpaint: Kanye West – Yeezus

The first time I heard Yeezus, I didn’t get it and I didn’t like it. It sounded contrived, trying too hard to be something different. What others were lauding as passion just felt like the need to be loud, like a kid trying to get attention by acting out. But surprisingly, upon second listen, my feelings took a 180. As it turns out, the things I love most about the album are the exact reasons I didn’t understand it at first – its inventiveness, its daring, its ability to break the mould. Now I feel I’ve never heard anything so passionate in my life. It’s supercharged with true and exciting emotions and doesn’t hold back.

Amir Amor, Rudimental: John Newman – Tribute

It’s refreshing to see someone carrying the torch for Northern Soul, and it’s not style over substance here. He has written some truly powerful music and has the voice of an old soul. It’s definitely one of my favourite records. He’s come a long way since we met him in a pub a few years back.

Alexander “Chilli” Jesson, Palma Violets: Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

Light Up Gold was my standout album by miles. I first saw them at SXSW and just fell in love with them. Rock’n’roll at its best sounds effortless and that’s how Parquet Courts sound. Part Television, part Pavement, their songs are tough, smart and funny and in “Stoned and Starving” they surely wrote the anthem of the year.

Jan Scott Wilkinson, British Sea Power: Hookworms – Pearl Mystic

They remind me a little of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Velvet Underground, Can and Bo Ningen, which is nice, but it doesn’t sound like it’s been made from a clever list of influences or belongs in the past – it just sounds like they’re having a wonderful time playing. When I hear it, I think, “blimey, this is pretty groovy for Leeds”, then feel slightly jealous and wish I could join in the fun.

Rachel Zeffira, Cat’s Eyes: Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat

I’ve listened to this album so much this year – I like listening to it before I go to sleep. It’s very layered and distant; in spite of that it has a sharp poignancy that cuts through the layers and fog. I can’t always decipher the lyrics, but it doesn’t matter because Grouper is such a moving storyteller, even through wordless music.

Mary Anne Hobbs, BBC 6 Music: The Haxan Cloak – Excavation

The single most thrilling album of the year, hands down. If you are brave enough to step across the threshold of its gothic gates, into the pitch black vortex beyond, and immerse yourself in this record’s terrifyingly beautiful textures, you will be richly rewarded. Not for the faint-hearted. Thank God.

Felix White, The Maccabees: Primal Scream – More Light

Until now, apart from their radio singles, Primal Scream have passed me by, and More Light has served as a very belated introduction. I love that they can write a song like “It’s Alright, It’s OK” on their 10th album. Its motif – that it’s forgivable to make mistakes – I find genuinely reassuring, like the only teacher at school you like taking you aside and telling you something that you’ll remember forever. “2013” is the most immediate and powerful entry to a record I’ve heard this year – a saxophone plays the hook. “Walking with the Beast” is one of the best things they’ve ever done. Great album sleeve too.

Ghostpoet: Jessy Lanza – Pull My Hair Back

I liked a lot of albums this year. The album I enjoyed listening to the most would probably be Pull My Hair Back. I’m in love with her voice, the production throughout and it’s on [record label] Hyperdub. What’s not to love?

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