In 2013, I only heard about 11 or 12 new releases (not counting scores or soundtracks) and of them I put 10 in some sort of order of favourite/most listened/most impressive here. The amount of albums I wanted to, but never got around to listening is inexcusably high. 2013 was a great year in music, but I feel I will be spending the next twelve months catching up on it…
10. Alice in Chains – The Devil put Dinosaurs Here
When AiC returned in 2009 with Black Gives Way to Blue – their first album after the death of lead singer Layne Staley, fans rejoiced at the band retaining to their trademark sound and ferocity and the album was a true return to form in many ways. The follow-up doesn’t quite capture the same exuberance or intensity for my money, though amongst the displays of the band perhaps going through the motions slightly, some genuine new AiC brilliance was put down on tracks such as , ‘Pretty Done’, ‘Stone’ and ‘Lab Monkey’. It’s the band sounding as ever like their incarnation of the heyday, so there is little to not admire overall.
9. Kvelertak – Meir
The most eclectic and interesting band in metal right now is Norway’s Kvelertak. After a debut that sent heads collectively spinning and banging, the band dropped the ominous second release to a much similar response; but without question, there was evolve and confidence in their new sound and production worthy of nodding approval. Capitalizing on their amazing ability to blend rock and metal – all the while wailing in their native tongue, allows the music to break through barriers. On Meir, you get punk, black metal, even glam and would you believe it, riffs that sound like Keith Richards came and helped out in the studio on some sessions. Melding the extreme and the classic here, though not really as innovative as the first record, Kvelertak offer a second reason to be lauded.
8. Clutch – Earth Rocker
To call a band like Clutch consistent, would be about as far as an understatement as you could imagine. Over the past twenty years they have not released a single “bad” album and have forever been labelled as an influence or genre defining by many – though ironically, their eclectic blend of blues, rock and metal all the while channeling bands from Faith No More to CCR defies genre most of the time. They are pretty much on ALL the time, so when Earth Rocker dropped, it’s probably understandable that some fans were left a little cold and disappointed. Why? because the band is in no mood for overly intricate here; Rocker is just that; a straight rocker that will blow your head back to the point of multiple listens need to be spread apart – it’s 11 tracks of ferocity (with a quiet interlude on ‘Gone Cold’) with that typical Clutch “no bullshit” attitude. It’s the rawness and simplicity that may surprise most.
7. The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law
Joy Fomidable’s debut, The Big Roar, was a long time coming (from a band already known to locals and peers alike) and didn’t disappoint. The follow-up furthers their intention of becoming the best thing about indie rock. Though not as innovative as the debut, Law sees the band mature and progress without compromise. The soaring vocal gymnastics of pint-sized leading lady, Ritzy Bryan cannot be denied and if the threesome continues on this path, awesome music will always follow.
6. Ministry – From Beer to Eternity
After the loss of Paul Barker in 2003, Ministry’s output has been up and down to say the least. As yet (another) final epitaph for the band and his good friend and main collaborator over the last five odd years, Mike Sccacia, legendary frontman Al Jorgenson was finally able to put it altogether in just the right way delivering a record long-standing (or suffering – depends how you look at it) fans a final, exceptional goodbye. Although not a perfect album, the inclusion of production and attitudes reminiscent of past classics, Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste and Land of Rape and Honey, elevates FBTE to an addictive industrial dub stew that finally sounds totally unique to the band once again. Too bad he had to leave it so late.
5. Yuck – Glow and Behold
Losing your driving force frontman has got to be tough. Yuck did, with Daniel Blumberg moving on to pursue a solo career. This left the remaining three members to stick it out and take control of the songwriting. Is it as dynamic or fresh as the warm and addictive debut? Not quite, but so much remains that is fun and just perfect sounding that the notion of these guys not just recreating an era of alternative music, but living it, is hard to ignore. Fans of the first will be happy, but new fans should be expected as post-rock and occasional pop ditties are all displayed in (new) frontman’s Max Bloom repertoire amongst the typical showgaze grind and acoustic fuzz come to be expected by Yuck.
4. Childish Gambino – because the internet
Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) is unique to the world or “urban” music in that he will appeal to both the mainstream and the underground – and has done for several years now. The likes of Kayne West or Jay-Z could be said fill this void also, but there is something about Gambino’s swagger coupled with his ability to combine Busta Rhymes (as well as Q-Tip and Missy Elliot) type flow and goose bump inducing R&B coolness that transcends even those guys. Not content with producing easy on the ear song structures either, Gambino is at his best when at his most varied and eclectic – because the internet is him putting himself on a big stage and luckily for us, he has brought all those unique eccentricities with him, cementing his place as arguably the most interesting artist that falls under that urban blanket genre.
3. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
Another band that over their two and a half decade career has remained consistent for my money, Pearl Jam’s last few records have however not really contained the spark that infused them with the energy and intensity that defined their sound for most of those years – Backspacer in particular, while consistent, especially. The release of Lightning Bolt shows the band once again back at full strength and retain that spirit which is why it got so much rotation from me this year more than most of my top ten. From the production to the passion clearly exhibited on it, Bolt could easily sit somewhere amongst Vitalogy and Yield – the band arguably at its peak. From soaring quieter numbers to (unfortunately only a few) door slamming rockers, this is the band and Vedder sounding with their hearts and minds at a level not heard in years.
2. Haim – Days Are Gone
Pop music is an acquired taste. Sometimes it’s too cute. Sometimes it blends genres, watering them down to the point of nauseum, but the best of it (and the people behind it) know when to draw lines and create what by definition is “pop” music, but remain devastatingly unique to their influences – making it impossible to ignore regardless of your preferred genre. The three California sisters that make up Haim’s songwriting collective achieve just that with their debut. Ultra addictive 80’s flavoured/90’s styled melodies and just a how-can-you-not-love-them persona make these girls the future of that pop music. An all killer/no filler debut, which is what Days Are Gone is, will only help that cause.
1. QOTSA – …like clockwork
Not everybody appreciates Josh Homme. For whatever reason; whether it be his cocky attitude or his defiance against reproducing himself and make the same first three QOTSA albums over and over again (alienating many early fans), just not everybody is on board to embrace him; a guy potentially the most interesting songwriter in rock for the last two decades. Of course, those that DO, know too well Josh is king and after a seven-year wait between drinks for his primary band (in the middle releasing a jaw dropping ahead-of-its-time ditty called Them Crooked Vultures), he didn’t disappoint. Re-inventing himself yet again stylistically, …Like Clockwork was everything QOTSA defined as well as being a departure from the previous two (poles apart) albums by a long margin. Quite simply, it is a flawless collection of modern rock blending genres and styles so seamlessly, it feels like a brand new sound altogether. Only time will tell if this will indeed be QOTSA in their finest hour, but when you hear tracks such as ‘I Appear Missing’ and ‘Kalopsia’, it’s hard to argue in 2013.