So we’ve come to the end of 2013. Good times have been had, resolutions forgotten and – most importantly – music has been made. There’s been the good, the bad, and the downright weird (here’s looking at you, Miley Cyrus), and right now I’m going to walk you through my picks for the best alternative albums released over the course of the year.
1. Deaf Havana – ‘Old Souls’
Topping my list is Deaf Havana’s latest album ‘Old Souls’, released in September. Deaf Havana’s reinvention and resurgence, ever since parting ways with guttural vocalist Ryan Mellor in 2011, has been nothing short of staggering. Deaf Havana may have released a tonne of records prior to ‘Old Souls’, but to me 2011’s ‘Fools and Worthless Liars’ will always be their first album. It was a fresh start for a band losing themselves in a sea of similar artists, and the drastic chance of direction from post-hardcore to indie/folk rock is what brought them to the fore of British rock music, and it’s this signature sound that continuously marks them as one of England’s most exciting prospects. ‘Old Souls’ is more refined than its predecessor, and boasts soaring choruses with intricately nuanced songwriting, everything glossed in Deaf Havana’s signature brand of nostalgia. ‘Old Souls’ is the sound of a band hitting their stride and growing in to who they have become, and it’s as flawless as a record as has been made in the past year.
2. The First – ‘Take Courage’
Snapping at the heels of Deaf Havana is Cambridgeshire’s The First, perhaps a surprise inclusion on this list given their lack of notoriety within the alternative scene. However, this is set to change with their second full-length release ‘Take Courage’. It’s a huge-sounding record, more befitting the band that they may one day become rather than the band that they currently are, and it has all the hallmarks of a modern rock classic. Heavy riffs and sing-along choruses dominate, with The First taking the instant impact of their debut release ‘Swimming with Sharks’ and adding depth and variety to all corners of their songs for a more rounded sounded that shows technical ability and songwriting beyond their years. If ever you were looking for a fun, punchy, straight-up rock album this year, look no further than ‘Take Courage’.
3. Mallory Knox – ‘Signals’
Mallory Knox have done nothing but surprise us since they burst on to the alternative scene in 2011 with their EP ‘Pilot’, and two years later they’ve followed it up with their debut full-length ‘Signals’, released at the beginning of the year. In their fledgling career Mallory Knox have managed to draw comparisons to some of their better-known contemporaries, such as We Are the Ocean and Young Guns, but for me they have an incredibly unique sound exemplified by ‘Signals’. Each song pulls its weight throughout the course of the record, and indeed each one could have been written specifically as a single, and such is testament to the songwriting abilities of the quintet. Upbeat, infectiously catchy and innovative, ‘Signals’ is as perfect a debut album as you could hope to hear from a band, and will whet your appetite for whatever’s to come from Mallory Knox in 2014. Let’s hope it’s more of the same.
4. Bring Me the Horizon – ‘Sempiternal’
The ‘heavy-hitters’ of the list are the infamous Bring Me the Horizon, who have been polarizing opinion since their debut album ‘Suicide Season’ was released back in 2008. But since then they have grown in to one of the superpowers of mainstream alternative music, having played (and smashed) numerous festival appearances both across the country and internationally. They were also considered unlucky not to receive a Mercury Prize nomination for 2011’s ‘There is a Hell, Believe Me I’ve Seen It. There is a Heaven, Let’s Keep it a Secret’, which transformed them from much more than just an angsty metalcore band, showcasing incredible innovation and vision that really did shed a new light on the genre. ‘Sempiternal’ is much the same, once again mixing metalcore riffs with eerie synth layers to create a dark atmosphere that engulfs you with every song. If ‘There is a Hell’ was the sound of a band standing on top of the world, ‘Sempiternal’ is the sound of a band looking to conquer it.
5. Midgar – ‘The Holographic Principle’
The biggest surprise of the year, for me, came from London-based quartet Midgar. My first introduction to them came in the form of their thrashing lead single ‘Lead Your Children to the Sky’, which appeared on the EP of the same named released in 2010. It’s an incredibly misleading introduction, since it’s the only song of its kind in their repertoire, and as such their debut album ‘The Holographic Principle’ – released in August – blew me away when I heard it. When I first sat down to listen to it I was expecting an ear-thrashing of epic proportions, but instead what I heard was more akin to a symphony. Midgar have a rare talent for blending rock riffs and sensibilities with beautifully Gothic piano melodies, and the result is nothing short of mesmerising. ‘The Holographic Principle’ throws you in to fantasy, and you really need to listen from start to finish to get the true effect, and to truly appreciate it. While it may not be your traditional fists-in-the-air rock record, it’s one that puts you in a place of awed tranquility that will leave you sighing in satisfaction when the last notes play. With ‘The Holographic Principle’ Midgar have refined what is undoubtedly the most individual sound in modern alternative music, and here’s hoping that one day they get the chance to bring their unique gifts to the mainstream.