TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2013
…Plus 25 others!
75. Jim James- Regions of Light and Sound of God
74. Deep Purple- Now What!?
73. Fidlar- Fidlar
72. Eels- Wonderful, Glorious
71. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- Specter at the Feast
70. Iron and Wine- Ghost on Ghost
69. The Weeks- Dear Bo Jackson
68. Deap Vally- Sistrionix
67. Phoenix- Bankrupt!
66. Dr. Dog- B-Room
65. Midlake- Antiphon
64. The Moondoggies- Adios I’m a Ghost
63. Wolf People- Fain
62. Connections- Body Language
61. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds- Push The Sky Away
60. Foxygen- We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
59. Black Star Riders- All Hell Breaks Loose
58. Futurebirds- Baby Yaga
57. Glasvegas- Later… When the TV Turns to Static
56. Royal Bangs- Brass
55. The Fratellis- We Need Medicine
54. White Denim- Corsicana Lemonade
53. Buddy Guy- Rhythm & Blues
52. Surfer Blood- Pythons
51. Cold War Kids- Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
…And now the Top 50:
50. The Features- The Features
It pays to be buds with rock royalty in the Kings of Leon as The Features gained momentum touring and opening for them multiple times. Now they’re stepping out of the shadow with their best record yet in their self-titled effort backed by standouts like the indie disco of, “This Disorder,” the crashing “Won’t Be Long,” the early morning sprint of “Fox on the Run,” or the deceptive funk of “Ain’t No Wonder.”
49. Josh Ritter- The Beast in its Tracks
Josh Ritter released his seventh studio album The Beast in its Tracks in the wake of a divorce from his wife Dawn Landes. But this is not the venomous and vitriolic break-up album you might expect. This is further down the line in the acceptance stages and it shows in tender cuts like “New Lover,” “In Your Arms Again,” “The Appleblossom Rag,” and “Joy to you Baby.” Presenting this subject matter with benevolence rather than in an acerbic way, Ritter proves once again he’s still in the upper echelon of modern day songwriters.
48. The Tossers- The Emerald City
Many may think The Tossers are Chicago’s answer to Boston’s Dropkick Murphys but they actually predate the Murphys by a few years. With The Emerald City, The Tossers continue to be a model of consistency on the Irish pub rock scene with peers like The Pogues, the Murphys and Flogging Molly.
47. Foals- Holy Fire
On their third record Holy Fire, Foals have finally found the bombast that may become their calling card. With a fusion of guitars and synths they have created a type of stadium-sized intergalactic disco that could take them a long way. Inescapable cuts like “Inhaler,” “My Number,” “Bad Habits,” “Milk & Black Spiders,” and “Providence” could see them transforming the biggest arenas and stadiums into giant dance parties.
46. Local Natives- Hummingbird
Although not as spontaneous or immediately engaging as their 2010 debut of Gorilla Manor, Local Natives’ sophomore effort Hummingbird does show a certain level of maturity and introspection beyond its predecessor. With that said, the album still embodies their affection for rampant percussion and multi-part harmonies but they’re filtered as flourishes woven together with a sense of somberness, no doubt influenced by The National’s Aaron Dessner who produced the record.
45. Black Joe Lewis- Electric Slave
Black Joe Lewis has done a wondrous job melding vintage blues, R&B, and soul music and into a modern marvel. Although this year’s offering of Electric Slave isn’t quite as bathed in the lavish brass arrangements as 2011’s Scandalous it does accentuate the feral stripped-down alley cat nature of a record that can sting and strut.
44. Franz Ferdinand- Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
You might’ve thought that a few years away from the scene might’ve dulled the limelight of Franz Ferdinand. But with 2013’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions the Scottish lads return sluttier than ever as indicated by songs like “Right Action,” “Evil Eye,” “Bullet,” and “Treason! Animals” which are as sharp as the shards of a shattered disco globe.
43. The Strokes- Comedown Machine
The Strokes returned in 2011 with their most daring sounding (and criminally underrated) record to date in Angles. Trending that same way, 2013’s Comedown Machine is even stranger. Front man Julian Casablancas has perhaps the heaviest influence with the same ‘80s new wave sound that populated his solo album Phrazes for the Young. Even though it lacks the NYC afterhours danger of their previous work it’s an interesting departure none the less.
42. Blitzen Trapper- VII
After having their most unorthodox record with 2010’s Destroyer of the Void, Blitzen Trapper have been working on getting back to a rootsy vintage Americana type of sound. This first started in 2011 with American Goldwing and even further now with 2013’s VII. Here the band comes off sounding dustier and looser than ever before, at times mirroring the ramshackle open frontier of The Band. And as far as emulating an Americana act, you can’t get any better than the one that perfected it.
41. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats- Mind Control
In terms of the genre of sludge metal/stoner rock goes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a release better than Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats’ Mind Control in 2013. A thick cement mixer of menacing riffs and psychedelic vocals, K.R. Starrs (Uncle Acid) sounds like a twisted blend of John Lennon and Billy Corgan in their darkest hours.
40. Fuzz- Fuzz
Garage rock wunderkind Ty Segall has had a part in a prodigious amount of projects in just a handful of years with Fuzz being amongst his best. While the spotlight remains on Segall, Fuzz is a legit power trio as his friends Charles Moothart and Roland Cosio more than hold their own banging out fierce slabs of proto-metal.
39. Ghost B.C.- Infestissumam
Ghost B.C. are one of the best things going in metal. They have a unique look and aura and hey… they actually create great metal songs! Coming from Sweden and having regalia resembling the church of Satan or a dark carnival of souls you would think this outfit is the most evil church-burning band on the planet. There’s a certain tongue-and-cheek to their eerie pageantry however. The crowning achievement on Infestissumam comes in the muscular nocturnal chug of “Year Zero” that sounds like a something Batman would blast as a pump-up anthem in the Batmobile on a late night crusade against crime.
38. The Avett Brothers- Magpie and the Dandelion
Magpie and the Dandelion was recorded during the same sessions as The Avett Brothers’ 2012 output The Carpenter. This does not feel like a collection of outtakes or B-Sides from The Carpenter however. Quite the opposite as Magpie is actually a better record from start to finish than its predecessor. Beginning with the exuberant sunshine of opener “Open Ended Life” through closing grace of “Clearness is Gone” The Avetts prove once more that few can touch them when it comes to earnest new age folk rock.
37. Motörhead- Aftershock
With Motörhead you know what you’re going get in advance. Really loud, really gritty, tough as nails rock with front man Lemmy Kilmister’s trademark scorched earth gravel bark. Over the decades Motörhead has become the workingman’s hard rock band and they’ve turned this predictability into a strength in the sense that they’re reliable. Motörhead stick to their guns once again with the onslaught of Aftershock and show that they have plenty of bourbon left in the tank.
36. Smith Westerns- Soft Will
The Smith Westerns may have turned down the Mott the Hoople gloss a bit on Soft Will but this is more than a worthy follow-up to 2011’s Dye It Blonde. The blankets of guitar still shimmer and singer Cullen Omori’s voice is whimsical as ever. And one of this year’s best titles, “3 A.M. Spiritual” hits it head on. How many of us have felt spiritual at 3 A.M.? Plenty of us.
35. The Strypes- Snapshot
There are homages to retro rock and R&B and then there are records like Snapshot by Irish lads The Strypes that go all in. Their ages range from only 16-18, but these guys sound like veteran archivists, mining inspiration from acts that their grandparents (Maybe great grandparents?) probably listened to. Anyone from Chuck Berry, The Yardbirds, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, and The Rolling Stones just to name a few. And they do this expertly as illustrated in their incendiary cover of “Rollin’ and Tumblin.’” This record sounds so much like a classic early Stones LP, you’re almost surprised they didn’t call it Ireland’s Newest Hitmakers.
34. Swim Deep- Where The Heaven Are We
British four-piece Swim Deep burst onto the scene in a big way this year. Their debut record titled Where The Heaven Are We is a fantastic slice of wayward dream pop as singer/guitarist Austin Williams even proclaims, “Don’t just dream in your sleep it’s just lazy,” in the song “Honey.” Their finest moment though comes in the hooked-load, irresistible “King City” that is one of the catchiest anthems this year. An enduring flame of vibrancy and youth.
33. Tribes- Wish To Scream
London quartet Tribes had an ambitious sound on their debut record Baby but on their follow up, Wish To Scream the band aimed for even loftier heights. They cut a large swath between shout-a-long pub rockers and the shoot-for-the-moon chiming of bands like Oasis. It’s lush and bold nature suggested the band had their sights set for grand visions for the foreseeable future. Sadly we’ll never know what was to come as the band announced their split in November 2013, but they went out crafting one blinding and glorious supernova.
32. The Wild Feathers- The Wild Feathers
The Wild Feathers are destined to be forerunners in terms of 21st century Americana roots rock. They’re from Austin, TX but they sound like they were ripped right from the marrow of the Midwest. Like laboring over a fine craft beer their debut self-titled output was brewed with just the right amount of The Band, Petty, Springsteen, Crazy Horse, Black Crowes, wheat, grain, and grit. A great road trip record especially boot-stomping “The Ceiling” that’s so infectious its 6:20 run time feels like it’s only a third of its actual length.
31. Ivan & Alyosha- All The Times We Had
The Dostoevsky inspired band name may not roll right off the tongue but Ivan & Alyosha’s All The Times We Had is one wide-eyed and inspired debut. Lovely harmonies and melodies propel them into the stratosphere and the band seems like a more celestial version of Fleet Foxes. If this is what they’ve concocted for their first record, there’s no telling what’s next. You can’t even say “The sky is the limit” because they already sound like they’re out amongst the stars here.
30. The Winery Dogs- The Winery Dogs
One of the best acts to emerge on the hard rock scene in 2013 was the legit super group power trio of The Winery Dogs. Combining the talents of guitarist/vocalist Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big), bassist Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Steve Vai) and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) The Winery Dogs released a record that’s steeped in classic rock with no frills and no bullshit. Kotzen sounds like a long lost Golden God, a howling siren that can send shock waves for miles, eerily similar to Chris Cornell. Think of Led Zeppelin blended with Soundgarden with a rhythm section that can get down in a groove as good as Cream did. Burly and scorching rockers like “Elevate,” “Desire,” “We Are One,” and “Six Feet Deeper” prove The Winery Dogs have the power and might of a raging tempest. A prolonged future is never a sure thing with super groups, and it seems a split would be the only way to halt their momentum.
29. Treetop Flyers- The Mountain Moves
There’s nothing really groundbreaking about Treetop Flyer’s debut record The Mountain Moves but that’s in part what makes it so endearing and outstanding. They expertly delve into a classic folk rock sound particularly the California regions from the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Their pronounced and poetic guitars carry the load down sunshine highways through standouts like “Things Will Change,” “Houses Are Burning,” “She’s Gotta Run,” and the climactic jam of “Haunted House.” Mining the past sometimes proves to be fruitful rather than cliché, The Mountain Moves is a testament to that.
28. Mikal Cronin- MCII
To say Mikal Cronin stepped out from behind behind Ty Segall’s shadow in 2013 is an understatement. But unlike Segall this is not the fuzzed-out garage rock effort you might expect. Instead MCII delivers some of the most insistent and catchy power pop this side of Ben Kweller. It’s short and compact but that only adds to its immediacy. A delectable record that’s hard to stop spinning multiple times once you’ve started.
27. Editors- The Weight Of Your Love
Editors aim big on The Weight Of Your Love and their guitars ring as loud as anyone around. There’s an equality of ‘80s post-punk sadness and beauty that effortlessly blends with the epic sound reminiscent of early U2. Lead singer Tim Smith’s velvet baritone is as soothing The National’s Matt Berninger, and maybe just a (little) bit more optimistic.
26. The Joy Formidable- Wolf’s Law
Welsh trio The Joy Formidable harness a big sound and bigger ambitions on their sophomore record Wolf’s Law. They’re distinguished by firecracker front woman Ritzy Bryan who howls with a purpose and intensity that would make most front men wilt. Running the gamut of sweeping arrangements like the palpitating “This Ladder Is Ours” and monumental closer “Turnaround” with pulverizing cuts like “Little Blimp,” “Bats,” and “Maw Maw Song” Wolf’s Law provides an adventure that guarantees The Joy Formidable’s staying power.
25. The Head and The Heart- Let’s Be Still
After a stunning debut with their 2011 self-titled effort, The Head and The Heart return with a sophomore record that is anything but a slump. More blissful sunshine folk pop percolates throughout Let’s Be Still, sounding like the band can crank out records like this for decades without breaking a sweat.
24. Andrew Stockdale- Keep Moving
Ever since 2009’s Cosmic Egg it’s been a murky, uncertain path for Wolfmother’s brain trust Andrew Stockdale. An ever-evolving cast and eventual (Albeit temporary) disbanding of Wolfmother lead to Stockdale to release is debut solo record appropriately titled Keep Moving. Although it’s a little more groove oriented than the Wolfmother outfit it’s still undeniably fearsome. Tracks like “Somebody’s Calling,” “Year of the Dragon,” “Meridian,” and “Ghetto” are as heavy riffing and meaty as anything he put out under the Wolfmother moniker. It’s clear after listening to this record that Andrew Stockdale and Wolfmother are just names, as long as Stockdale is at the helm he’ll steer them to Valhalla no matter what.
23. Paul McCartney- NEW
Paul McCartney seems to have found the serum that few else have his age in the music industry, rolling through senior citizenship with continued youthfulness, vibrancy, and relentlessness. Of course, it helps when you’re a Beatle too! This tireless work ethic to create timeless pop and rock transitions easily to his aptly titled LP NEW. He’s out of almost everyone else’s league and seems to only be competing now with himself. As for that competition, this is Macca’s most daring record he’s made in years, if not decades.
22. Free Energy- Love Sign
The rambunctious spirit of Free Energy seems like it just won’t fade out, lighting the way through a perpetual night of partying. Love Sign is a soundtrack to that never-ending night and its charm lies in its ability to never be pretentious or take itself too seriously. Free Energy hit home run after home run here, and those balls they’re hitting out of the park are cheeseballs. Just try not to sing along with house party rave-ups like “Electric Fever,” “Girls Want Rock,” “Hey Tonight,” or “Street Survivor” and power ballads like “Dance All Night” and “True Love.” Play Love Sign, slam beer, bro/gal grabs, repeat.
21. Okkervil River- The Silver Gymnasium
Okkervil River has kept busy in the new millennium as The Silver Gymnasium marks their seventh record since 2002. As a loose concept record based around front man Will Sheff’s hometown of Meridian, New Hampshire, it also may be Okkervil River’s best to date. Sheff and crew’s stunning indie pop sensibilities are on full display with highlights like, “It Was My Season,” “On A Balcony,” “White” and the centerpiece the shimmering, appropriately flowing “Down Down the Deep River.”
20. David Bowie- The Next Day
The Thin White Duke returneth. You had to know David Bowie’s unofficial retirement wasn’t a permanent scenario. Ten years after his last album, Bowie is back with The Next Day. Bowie shows no sign of rust as this is one of his finest batches of songs to date. The title track, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” “Valentine’s Day,” and “Dancing Out In Space” amongst others are destined to be latter day Bowie classics.
19. Dropkick Murphys- Signed and Sealed in Blood
The Dropkick Murphys have carved out a niche for themselves that few else have. Each record is a blast of adrenalized uncompromising and unpretentious Celtic punk rock. Signed and Sealed in Blood is no different as the boys from Boston stumble in from the streets again with another set of boozehound belters and pint-slamming anthems. Irresistible tavern shouters like “The Boys Are Back,” “Prisoner’s Song,” “Rose Tattoo,” “The Battles Rages On,” and “Out on the Town” feel like a warm maudlin embrace from your favorite whiskey-breathed mate.
18. Iggy Pop & The Stooges- Ready To Die
Iggy Pop is one of the grittiest icons in rock history. The godfather of punk is now in his mid-60’s which makes it even more incredible how brazen and audacious Ready to Die is while still balancing it with a rugged maturity. It’s a collaborative effort with The Stooges that proves to be their best since 1973’s Raw Power. Conflagrating rockers like “Burn,” “Job,” “Gun,” and “DD’s” are juxtaposed by edifying ballads “Unfriendly World” and “The Departed” that feel like they’re still covered in the fresh soot of nuclear fallout.
17. Frightened Rabbit- Pedestrian Verse
One of Scotland’s finest exports Frightened Rabbit return in 2013 with their fourth LP Pedestrian Verse. These Scottish sad sacks continue to do what they do best: Brood mightily. That’s not to say this isn’t a triumphant effort, quite the opposite. The Rabbits find splendor in their sorrow as usual albeit with a bigger scope with their most vivid statement to date.
16. Frank Turner- Tape Deck Heart
Frank Turner would like us all to believe he’s a devout atheist but we know better than that. He unpretentiously kneels at the Alter constructed by guys like Jerry Lee Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, and Joe Strummer just to name a few. The suitably titled Tape Deck Heart finds Turner playing it close to the chest, perhaps his most personal record so far. Anti-hymns and rally cries like, “Recovery,” “Losing Days,” “Plain Sailing Weather,” and “Four Simple Words” flood Tape Deck Heart and are sure whip listeners into an ecstatic frenzy, exactly the way Turner had it planned.
15. Deer Tick- Negativity
Deer Tick’s front man John McCauley has been widely known in many circles as one of the last true wild men in Rock & Roll. To no one’s surprise McCauley hit rock bottom as his drinking and drug abuse as well as his personal life spiraled out of control. It’s no doubt the title of Deer Tick’s fifth record Negativity is influenced by McCauley’s pitfalls. After 2011’s booze-fueled Divine Providence Deer Tick’s Negativity is much more cultivated. Although there are still rockers like “The Curtain” and the scorching “Pot of Gold” the sentimental moments “Just Friends,” “The Dream’s in the Ditch,” “In Our Time” and “Big House” are more affecting and visceral. Deer Tick hasn’t lost their barfly fortitude they’re just becoming a better-rounded band… and maybe a tad more responsible.
14. Dawes- Stories Don’t End
With Stories Don’t End Dawes have become one of the best and most reliable folk rock acts of the modern era and it’s only their third record. This reputation is built on the backbone of a sturdy debut with North Hills in 2009 and one of the best sophomore releases maybe ever in Nothing is Wrong in 2011. Stories Don’t End finds Dawes in a comfort zone, breathing a sigh of relief in the pocket they’ve created. It also further exemplifies front man Taylor Goldsmith’s continual evolution into one of the best storytelling songwriters on the planet. His characters are so poignant, each track plays like a dynamic vignette or novella allowing listeners an immersion into Goldsmith’s captivating mind.
13. Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend are an anomaly in the world of indie rock. They’re albums seem to get more eccentric with each release which in turn continues to garner them critical praise and yet their fan base continues to grow as well. Modern Vampires of the City continues with that trend as it’s their most unorthodox record yet. As unconventional as it is Vampire Weekend prove to be a band that’s charming and clever enough to synthesize this type of futuristic pop into something instantly accessible with intoxicating hooks on cuts like, “Unbelievers,” “Diane Young,” “Hannah Hunt,” “Everlasting Arms,” “Finger Back,” and “Ya Hey.” No telling where the band will venture off to after this, but they’re pretty sure you’ll dig it.
12. Palma Violets- 180
Palma Violets crashed the scene in 2013 with their raw debut of 180. The whole record has an overwhelming aura of adolescent angst and chaos, unabashedly it seems like the wheels could come off at any moment. But that is the allure of 180 in that its unpredictable nature leaves you thrilled and salivating for more. The sound of a band playing for their lives and it’s going to make every last death rattle count.
11. Jake Bugg- Jake Bugg
The term “New (Bob) Dylan” has been thrown around for so long it usually draws groans and eye-rolling from most people. Enter English-born singer/songwriter Jake Bugg whose debut self-titled record hit the states in 2013. With its vintage sepia-toned folk rock sound and balance of introspective acoustic numbers (“Simple As This,” “Broken,” “Slide,” “Someone Told Me”) with troubadour roadhouse rockers (“Lightning Bolt,” “Two Fingers,” “Taste It,” “Seen It All,” “Trouble Town”) it wouldn’t be out of bounds or irreverent to call this Bugg’s stab at a modern Bringing it All Back Home.
10. Jake Bugg- Shangri La
Apparently one stellar stateside record in 2013 wasn’t enough for Jake Bugg. And even more impressive than the quantity is the quality of material from Bugg in 2013 as Shangri La actually exceeds its predecessor. Bugg continues his precocious ways although this is a much more feral output than his debut. Under the tender care of producing Guru Rick Rubin, Bugg begins Shangri La in high-octane fashion with the pistol-fire trio of “There’s A Beast And We All Feed It,” “Slumville Sunrise,” and “What Doesn’t Kill You.” It’s like Highway 61 running right through CBGB’s.
9. Pearl Jam- Lightning Bolt
Pearl Jam continue to be an aberration in the music industry, emerging as the statesmen in a movement where most seemingly weren’t destined for old bones and yet they’ve now endured for over 20 years. They’ve always been more entrenched in the spirit of classic rock though more than most of their other peers which is how their 10th record Lightning Bolt unfurls. This is a fusion of their raging youthful past with a genuine tenderness and wink of the eye that could only come from decades of experience and craftsmanship. Sure it may be considered “Dad Rock” by some, but what a righteous and mature statement it is.
8. Arctic Monkeys- AM
Arctic Monkeys arrive with AM as one of the leading purveyors of guitar rock, proving it’s something that’s not archaic or obsolete. While this is not as soaring or agitated as some of their previous works, that is actually where this record thrives. AM delves deep into late nights with danger and seduction, a smooth transition into a sleazy Red Light District sound. The Monkeys concentrate much more on groove here, but it’s a heavy one to be sure. Gutter guitars gnash, ooze, and pummel especially on sordid rockers “Do I Wanna Know?,” “R U Mine?,” “Arabella,” “I Want it All,” and “Snap Out Of It.” It’s a lot like an all-night bender, one that has you rubbing your eyes not ready for the morning sun evading it like a vampire. Well, perhaps vampires is a bit strong but… you know the rest.
7. Phosphorescent- Muchacho
Phosphorescent’s Muchacho is an immaculate work of art. The maestro behind this grand opus is Matthew Houck who has channeled his pathos into something to behold that few others have accomplished. In the aftermath of a breakup where Houck claimed, “I Lost the place, lost the girl, and lost my mind,” he pulled Muchacho out of the blackness of the viscera and it’s hauntingly alluring. Nowhere is this more evident than the glorious summits of elegance with “Song For Zula” and “The Quotidian Beasts.” Muchacho is by far the greatest release of Houck’s yet.
6. The National- Trouble Will Find Me
The National are sort of like a modern day version of The Smiths. And while some might consider that blasphemous, no one thrives on sincerely sad music better than The National. Trouble Will Find Me is no exception, arguably their most distressing in their canon. Their pain though is certainly rewarding for the rest of us as front man Matt Berninger continues to be one tortured poet skidding off the road and no amount of consumed bottles of wine can stop it. A thrilling crash off the cliff indeed.
5. Portugal. The Man- Evil Friends
Portugal. The Man have kept themselves busy since their inception in 2005 releasing three EPs, one acoustic album, and seven proper LPs. What’s more ridiculous than their insane creative output is the fact that they inexplicably keep topping themselves as proven once again with 2013’s Evil Friends. There’s no telling how they mine this seemingly limitless reservoir of saccharine-sounding indie pop for each record. This is yet another collection of inescapable blissed-out (If not at times bummed-out as well) earworms like “Plastic Soldiers,” “Evil Friends,” “Modern Jesus,” “Atomic Man,” “Sea of Air,” and “Purple Yellow Red And Blue.” Portugal. The Man keep climbing indie rock hierarchy, topping themselves one mellifluous record after another.
4. Black Sabbath- 13
35 years is a long time. And as hyper-evolving and tumultuous as the music industry is, that’s the equivalent to an eon or at the very least an era of mountain-building. That’s the length of time it’s been since Heavy Metal pioneers Black Sabbath have released a record with original front man/madman Ozzy Osbourne. 13 is the long road back from hell for the Heavy Metal pioneers and it’s another all-time classic in their catalog. Like a mythical beast that’s been slumbering for decades, 13 blasts through the Earth’s mantle with a titanic riff releasing all of the demons of the underworld behind it. The beast has awoken, staggered and confused at first, but in a new even more harsh world it soon realizes it shall thrive once more and the hunger creeps back into its gut. Where most bands would get bogged down in the primordial sludge of this pace, Black Sabbath flourish with it and relish it as usual. The militant lurch sounds like billowing storm clouds gathering on the edge of town in a foreboding spectacle. It’s hard to say if they’ll make another record after this, but if this is the grand finale in this macabre career, what a way to bow out.
3. Kings of Leon- Mechanical Bull
Kings of Leon had a near cataclysmic meltdown in the aftermath of Come Around Sundown. Between the alienation from their most fickle fans and in-band tension things looked grim. Everyone needed to take a break and limp back to their caves to lick their wounds, to heal. The long road back to glory took two years, leading to Mechanical Bull. Kings of Leon make a clarion-call statement that they were out to make a record on their own time and their own terms, devoid of attempting to make mega hits or please anyone but themselves. Not for the casual fans who probably only listen to “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” nor for the apparent diehards who have been crying “Sell outs” since Only By The Night. And really, that’s the approach they should take when making records going forward. They’re still an immensely talented band and the muse will find them no matter how they’re perceived to the masses. Mechanical Bull is the most evenly balanced record they’ve released blending cocksure rockers with their matured ballads. Whatever discord there was in the band in the past couple of years has seemingly now floated under the bridge and they can now concentrate on getting back to the throne to reign as rock royalty for decades to come.
2. Arcade Fire- Reflektor
“Do you like Rock & Roll musik? Cuz I don’t know if I do…” front man Win Butler despondently and wryly snarls on Arcade Fire’s fourth record Reflektor. It’s bold but that may be a summation to how Arcade Fire went on a mission to deconstruct the apparent stench of conventionalism they felt wafting over them, perhaps feeling pigeonholed by their own merits and achievements. They aren’t about to rest on past accolades and acclaim so on Reflektor they forage out into new territories, burning old blueprints to the ground and dancing through the ashes. It’s literarily and musically dense, undoubtedly this is Arcade Fire’s most experimental record. It’s a sea change type of moment, similar to U2 with Achtung Baby or Radiohead with Kid A. It will definitely leave a polarizing resonance in its aftermath as it challenges the audience like nothing else that the band has done previously. It’s as thrilling as it is abrasive, continually revealing new idiosyncrasies and nuances upon each listen on top of the plethora of immediately visceral moments. There are so few established bands taking this type of seismic creative risk and stylistic leap and there’s no band pulling it off on a scale as monumental as Arcade Fire, it deserves to be rewarded. They might stumble at some point, but with their first four records they’ve come nowhere close yet.
1. Queens of the Stone Age- …Like Clockwork
Queens of the Stone Age’s front man Josh Homme is the epitome of Rock & Roll. He embodies the unpredictability and calamity that make this such a joyously savage art form. With his unhinged genius he’s lead QOTSA down a rare path: A sustained wave of critical acclaim and sizeable popularity. Then in 2011 things almost came completely derailed when Homme became bed ridden for four months after complications from a routine surgical procedure on his knee and he fell into a deep depression during this time. When QOTSA bandmates asked him to begin work on a sixth album Homme said, “I had to ask them ‘If you want to make a record with me right now, in the state I’m in, come into the fog. It’s the only chance you got.’ It brought us much closer, because you never really know someone till everything goes wrong.” This became the genesis of …Like Clockwork as Homme found his muse in the darkness, “…I think I was just lost, looking for something in the dark. In that dark I found …Like Clockwork.” This is first QOTSA record in six years and Homme is triumphantly back standing upright with their best record to date. There are 10 tracks on …Like Clockwork and every one of them is an unimpeachable classic. It’s a bi-polar rollercoaster, a gauntlet of emotions that an entombed Homme must’ve experienced from the confines of his bed. The only thing he was sure of was an uncertain future. From inebriating apexes and devastating nadirs, you can’t turn away. Beginning with the opening “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” that is somehow sensual yet at the same time sounds like a bludgeoning, as if you’ve just stumbled upon a homicide scene. There are classic QOTSA touchstones like sweltering desert rockers “I Sat By The Ocean,” “My God is the Sun,” and “Smooth Sailing.” “If I Had A Tail” is absolutely seductive like an evil disco taking place in bowels of hell with Lucifer himself as the DJ and the marauding “I Appear Missing” deserves its own straightjacket. Despite the usual heaviness that thrives on QOTSA records it’s the melancholic, inauspicious ballads “The Vampyre of Time And Memory” and the title track brooding in the cerebral abyss that may ruminate the longest. There are few records that display a commentary of the manic and unstable human condition so brilliantly. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon immediately comes to mind and now …Like Clockwork does too, it’s that good. Six years after Era Vulgaris this is certainly a comeback, all the way back from the brink.