I can’t say that 2013 was a particularly great year for music. At least not for me. I connected to very little of what was released and outright hated the vast majority of what was popular or was critically-acclaimed (I still can’t believe anyone likes Vampire Weekend or that no one called bullshit on Arcade Fire’s collection of dance-ish turds, let alone thinks that they put out the best album of the year).
Of course there’s a ridiculous number of albums I have spotted on year end lists that I plan on getting to, but there’s not enough time to give them their due for this list’s publishing.
So, in the immortal words of Otis Day, hit it!
10. Kanye West – Yeezus – 2013 may be known more as the year Kanye lost his god damn mind for good, and Yeezus suffered for it commercially. In all honesty, the Jesus comparisons in the title alone are hard to stomach. But this is a crazy, powerful wallop of an album – not entirely great, but never short of captivating for its brazenness and for its reach. I can’t say I even like the album as a whole, but its parts that fire straight make up for the ones that veer off into crazy town. I can’t abide that “Bound 2″ video, either – but gotta give it up for SNL’s Waking Up with Kimye. A note to Kanye: Get your head out of your ass (and Kim’s ass, too).
09. How To Destroy Angels – Welcome To Oblivion – Trent Reznor released two albums this year, but this project’s first full-length was much more satisfying thant Nine Inch Nails‘ “comeback” for me. Reznor, along with wife Mariqueen Maandig (singing lead), frequent collaborator Atticus Ross and the band’s art director, Rob Sheridan was a weird ride. This was one of the most disturbing sounding albums I’ve listened to with any frequency in quite a while (there’s another one, stranger than this, that made this list). I’m hoping that Reznor doesn’t forget about this group once NIN finishes their huge international tour.
08. David Bowie – The Next Day – Dropped out of nowhere as if by the Gods themselves, Bowie’s first album in about a decade was an immediate and clean attack. Though sounding a bit weaker of voice than he did the last time we heard him, The Next Day was nothing short of confident, even strident, though I could have used more of the title track’s raucousness at times. It’s by no means a perfect album, but it’s probably the strongest Bowie album since Earthling and, as a Bowie fan, I’m just happy there’s some more music.
07. The Flaming Lips – The Terror – I can imagine that this wackadoo album from the Oklahoma freak rockers shed many of the “Do You Realize?” fans for good. I mean, this is the Lips’ modern day equivalent of Pink Floyd‘s Zabriskie Point. There’s nothing festival friendly on here, just a lot of skronk, scary sounds and general craziness. And somehow I loved all of it. It scares the hell out of me every time I listen to it and considering that it elicited that strong of a reaction and kept me coming back has to say something. Talking to Forbes, Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd basically agree with the interviewer that they wanted the album to be disturbing and unrewarding. At this point I haven’t a clue just where they’ll go next. And I love it!
06. Moby – Innocents – There’s not much to distinguish Moby‘s latest release with most of his post-Play output, it’s very familiar, indeed. Yet, in that familiarity there is something so beautifully comfortable. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an artist returning to a template over and over again as long as it doesn’t feel as if they’re going through the motions. This is a gorgeous collection of songs – an album that, on its release I had on repeat about ten times. Moby‘s not changing up his game much here, but he’s digging in deeper and delivering a heartfelt statement, especially on the below cut, “Almost Home” featuring Damien Jurado on vocals.
05. Futurebirds – Baba Yaga – This Athens, GA band’s debut full-length, Hampton’s Lullaby, was one of my top five favorites in 2010 and their follow-up is almost as amazing. These guys are really laid back, everything’s steeped in this incredible reverb and it’s all delivered in this way that makes you want to live inside of the music. I don’t know how vague that last statement is to some, but others will understand what I’m getting at. All I know is that I haven’t seen them live yet and I need to remedy that the next time that they’re in Chicago.
04. The Wild Feathers – The Wild Feathers – Hands down one of the best debut releases I’ve heard in a long while. Caught this Austin, TX band by chance performing “The Ceiling” on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and was hooked instantly. This is roots-rock done perfectly. Three guys singing, which brings to mind The Band, the whole band performing that good, clean, bar-rockin’ country sound. I love how they kick into “American,” the album’s second track, the swinging from the hip ease of “I Can Have You,” and the easy way that “The Ceiling” unspools. Eager to hear more from these guys.
03. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time – This full-length debut from the 21-year old phenom delivers on all of the promise of her singles and EPs. Ferreira is a dazzler, an amazing musical stylist that blends the best of pop/alternative/new wave/R&B’s past and filters it through her worldview. “24 Hours” feels like you’re floating in a disco bubble, “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)” is propulsive and angsty, and “Heavy Metal Heart” is a pounding number that is filled with a longing desire. Outdoing Miley (the NSFW album cover not shown in full to the right) at her own game, Ferreira deserves the same level of attention from the media and music audiences.
02. Lorde – Pure Heroine – Lorde’s success is at once a surprise and somehow not at the same time. It takes someone very unique to cut through the crap and find love from multiple genres and this New Zealander burned slow before starting a fire. Expect the copycats to flood the market in 2014. Combining a meld of hip-hop beats, alt-rock/riot grrl sensibilities and mystical folk sensibilities, Lorde has the music world in the palm of her hand. Her song “Royals” answers to the beat of the very things she sings against (something Spin.com stupidly tried to assign as racism in their “Hall of Shame”), creating an interesting juxtaposition. It’s hard to know how success will change Lorde’s humble perspective, but as long as she stays true to herself she can go beyond this incredible high water mark of a debut.
01. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork – Like 2012’s best album, this is the one I listened to over and over again like some sort of mental patient. After the 50th listen I knew there would be nothing better released in 2013. Josh Homme and his crew made the only pure rock record of the year and the only rock record worth a damn. QOTSA brought that sexy swagger to …Like Clockwork, something seemingly no one bothers to do anymore (never mind hardly anyone rocking, did everybody in rock bands all collectively get neutered?) Dave Grohl, Trent Reznor, Elton John, Nick Oliveri, Mark Lanegan and Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys) and more make appearances here and it’s still a band effort despite the large ensemble. It’s a tight 46 minutes, getting out before overstaying its welcome. The group ditched the majors for Matador, losing none of their bite in the process and not letting more freedom go to their heads. If anything, they reigned that shit in, making a much tighter record than they have in a long while. And the damn album has liner notes written by Anthony Bourdain fer chrissakes! How cool is that? (“Whatever kind of strange and terrible mutation slouched out of the irradiated California wasteland in 1996, it’s evidently still around. It lives. It breathes. It can’t be stopped.”) This is dangerous, this is sexual, this is rock and roll with a pulse. This isn’t a band playing nice and asking if it’s okay to say something or saying it and then apologizing. This is rock ‘n roll, my friends. Everyone who claims to be in a rock band needs to hear this album and figure out just what in the hell they’re doing wrong. Because Queens of the Stone Age are doing everything right on …Like Clockwork.
2012’s Top 10:
01. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
02. School of Seven Bells – Ghostory
03. Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania
04. Jack White – Blunderbuss
05. Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
06. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
07. Beach House – Bloom
08. Sera Cahoone – Deer Creek Canyon
09. Tame Impala – Lonerism
10. Purity Ring – Shrines
2011’s Top 5:
1. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
2. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
3. The Black Keys – El Camino
4. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
5. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
2010’s Top 10:
01. The Roots – How I Got Over
02. Futurebirds – Hampton’s Lullaby
03. Hole – Nobody’s Daughter
04. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards
05. Beach House – Teen Dream
06. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
07. The Black Keys – Brothers
08. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
09. Massive Attach – Heligoland
10. Neil Young – Le Noise