In 2013, the internet was riddled with lists. Hate them or love them, vertically organizing our ideas is currently humanity’s pastime. The end-of-the-year album roundup, however, is the original “listicle”– and the most challenging form. From atmospheric metal masterpieces to haunting folk lyrics and sickeningly catchy dance anthems, there was never a dull moment in music this year. 2013 also saw the loss of Jackie Lomax, Ray Manzarek, JJ Cale and Lou Reed, among so many others; Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! brought transgender issues to the mainstream; politics and music crashed in The Yellow Dogs’ East Williamsburg studio and also in Pussy Riot’s Moscow prison. There for it all, mxdwn picked our favorite albums of the year.
40. Vista Chino – Peace
Fans will not be denied the most strenuous efforts of Peace. The desert inspired rock that is Vista Chino is imaginative and inspiring. With heavy and lighthearted elements, Peace has earned its spot on the board.
39. Hidden Masters – Of This and Other Worlds
A concentrated slice of late ’60s style guitar blasting rock with modern flair. The propulsive “Nobody Knows That We’re Here” and “Perfume” are particular highlights of this excellent debut.
38. GWAR – Battle Maximus
Gwar’s latest offering, entitled Battle Maximus, is arguably one of the strongest moments in their discography. With memorable guitar riffs, exceptional songwriting and ear-splitting guitar solos, it’s worth buying and appreciating.
37. Serj Tankian – Jazz-iz-Christ
Jazz-iz-Christ cements System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian as a master of composition. Drawing from hard bop, folk, and more, Tankian has crafted an anachronistic soundtrack with some of the best instrumentalists in the game.
36. Grave — Morbid Ascent
Brutal thrash/death metal combo. Snarl n’ growl vocals, merciless lyrics, epic guitar solos. Equal parts early-Metallica, Pantera, and Death create a potent mix for this savage EP.
35. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend and the 2010 follow-up, Contra, were, quoting frontman Ezra Koenig, “Upper West Side Soweto.” Modern Vampires of the City is still New York, but it is more Graceland than Graceland.
34. The Bronx – The Bronx IV
Ten years into their career alternating between personas The Bronx and their mariachi band alter egos Mariachi el Bronx, The Bronx IV is their most polished effort yet. IV is a razor sharp, adrenaline fueled romp through the best elements of their punk, ’70s rock and hardcore sounds.
33. Killing Joke – The Singles Collection 1979-2012
British post-punk godfathers Killing Joke celebrated their 35th year as a band by releasing The Singles Collection: 1979-2012, a must have for newer and life long new wave fans alike.
32. Stephen Brodsky – Hit or Mystery
From Cave-In to Converge and beyond, Stephen Brodsky never seems to stop moving. Hit or Mystery features droning noise rock and acoustic touches to create an atmospheric, ambient treat.
31. Rabbit Rabbit – Rabbit Rabbit Radio Volume One
Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi, the married duo behind Rabbit Rabbit, want to get under your skin. On Rabbit Rabbit Radio Volume 1, they bridge experimental folk with electronic accents and jazz balladry. Kihlstedt’s shredding violin acts as her second voice, alternately soothing (“The Curious One”) and frenetic (“Paper Prison”). Her singing voice ranges from a soulful croon (“Home Again”) to Bjork-level caterwauling (“Hush, Hush”). But no matter how the song may unfold, they all lead to a haunting end.
30. Dethklok – Metalocalypse the Doomstar Requiem A Klok Opera
The Doomstar Requiem is Metalocalypse’s cartoon gods Dethklok’s latest offering, which is a one hour rock opera. It goes without saying that the concept and plot behind the opera is reason enough to check this out, but apart from that, the vocals are killer and the guitar riffs are memorable and capturing.
29. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Electric is the key word here. Monae is electrifying, the music is charged and guitars reach voltages that could induce seizures, or at least make you dance which for some may look like a seizure. Monae has moved in a different direction from her previous album and it makes on curious we she might go next.
28. David Bowie – The Next Day
What can anyone say about Bowie that hasn’t already been said? Legend? Chameleon? Both apply. On this surprise “comeback,” following ten years of radio silence, Bowie doesn’t so much as do anything different, just show others how it should be done. On the surface it’s all catchy stuff, but there is darkness within the words.
27. Disclosure – Settle
Disclosure’s debut album Settle made a huge impact in the dance scene this year with hot tracks on it, such as “Help Me Loose My Mind” and “Latch.” The British siblings, Guy and Howard Lawrence, caught much of everyone’s attention by reassuring that a decent dance track was still able to be produced. You can bet your bottom dollar that the duo has raised the bar.
Marisa Rose Ficara
26. Samantha Crain – Kid Face
Samantha Crain’s Kid Face entices and exposes – one of her finest achievements indeed. Her raspy voice immediately pleases on contact as she conveys compelling personal narratives backed by enjoyable melodies. Some of her lyrics bite with raw honesty, whereas others simply soothe the unassuming ear with romantic or comedic relief.
25. Washed Out – Paracosm
Showing the world that the sophomore slump can be avoided, Georgia’s Washed Out returned with a dreamy and dance-y follow-up to Within and Without that shows increased nuance and flair. A track like “All I Know” is the perfect kind of beach cruising song, with playful synth work, a comfortable inviting beat, and airy vocals.
24. Secret Chiefs 3 – Book of Souls: Folio A
The first of a trilogy, Book of Souls: Folio A has left an impressionable mark in the world of music. By amazing instrumentation and wondrous design did this album assuredly secure its place on the chart. With a blaze of warm sounds and a few sharp renditions, such as the interesting “Personae: Halloween,” surely recognition for Secret Chiefs is adequately due.
23. Bad Religion – True North
After 30 years, Bad Religion is still going strong. True North, the band’s 16th album, will cement itself deep into the hearts of many punk fans. Keeping true to the spirit of many great Bad Religion songs, the tunes of True North are loud, catchy and fast. Turn it up!
22. Kate Nash – Girl Talk
Long a champion of female fronted indie rock, Kate Nash comes through with new album Girl Talk, leaving behind pop and bringing in angsty garage punk grunge. Each song is reminiscent of teenage diary entries or convos between girls in high school hallways. “Rap for Rejection,” “Fri-end?” and “You’re So Cool, I’m So Freaky” are definitely highlights.
21. Matmos – The Marriage of True Minds
This San Francisco duo can be one long walking experiment, their catalog full of collaborative albums and targeted electronic themes. This album, however, manages to echo Brian Eno’s flirtations with sound collage, structured noise, and supple electro. It hinges on everything from smooth jazz delivery to eerie, extrasensory interviews, and it ends up a lyrical, consistently fascinating release, a peak of their career alongside A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure.
20. Bosnian Rainbows – Bosnian Rainbows
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez returns with yet another shade to his creative palette. Backing the confident and harrowing Teri Gender Bender, this eponymous debut rollicks all over the sonic landscape whether with the flamethrowing opener, “Eli,” or the vocal showcase, “Dig Right In Me.” A delightful new path.
19. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Belying their roots once again, Boards of Canada open Tomorrow’s Harvest on a perverted low-budget interpolation of the Universal Studios anthem and kick into another album for alien documentary scores. They’re as strange as ever, pushing sounds that sink midway between rhythmic and ambient, like a dance hall at the bottom of the ocean. Be patient and listen. Step into the moccasins of an extraterrestrial visiting Earth, and walk a mile or two. Let individual tracks blur into one another like day into night. This elegantly friendly foray into avant-garde picks up where others never made it far enough to leave off.
18. The New Regime – Exhibit A
Though most famously known as a drummer for Nine Inch Nails and Paramore, The New Regime’s frontman Ilan Rubin continues to set himself apart with his new EP Exhibit A. Instead of searching for a quick buck, Exhibit A royally delivers. It is a melange of atmospheric and ethereal hints of Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, rhythm like The Killers and harmonies like Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump. The album delivers a well-thought out, progressive rock piece so lacking in today’s music charts. Rubin soars over tracks like “Say What You Will” and “Hope Is Gone”, but “Know How It Feels” demonstrates his diversity and legitimate talent, stripping away all of the synth, roaring guitars and his thunderous signature drums.
17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito
Mosquito infuses gritty post-punk with swaggering art rock and electro-pop, moving away from the sleek sound of “Maps” or “Heads Will Roll” to something with a little more attitude. “Sacrilege” aims for the epic, with an apocalyptic gospel chorus, crashing crescendos, and Karen O’s caressing croon, while the title track shows off with tribal percussion, a dark, slinky bass, and vampiric vocals. Mosquito is raw and evocative, forgoing the polish of Fever to Tell or It’s Blitz! for messier tracks like “Slave” and emotional ballads like “Despair” and “Wedding Song,” where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs let down their proverbial hair.
16. The Flaming Lips – The Terror
To say that The Terror is a direct result of Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne’s reported split from his partner of 25 years is to reduce the Lips’ comedown of an album as simply suffering for your art. A masterful work ushering in a new era of psychedelic soundscape, The Terror pivots like the Soft Bulletin and envelopes in a genre-bending mix of the ethereal and the sinister. Standout track “You Lust” features Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel and is The Terror‘s mission statement. Tender vocals, faded harmonies and droning fuzz swirl through the post-apocalyptic.
15. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
The story behind The Civil Wars is almost as intriguing as their haunting folk sound. The duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White skyrocketed to renown after their 2011 full-length debut Barton Hollow. Since then, however, their feuding has torn them apart (whether or not they were romantic is not confirmed).
The cover art for their second full-length album couldn’t be more perfect. That anxious tension is felt in every song. This album rocks harder and sounds more atmospheric than the first—soaring crescendos and the buildup and breakdown of eerie harmonies make the hair on your neck stand up. Fans are begging the pair to bury the hatchet so they can continue to soundtrack our heartbreaks and support the Americana reawakening.
14. SISU – Blood Tears
If the old trope “drummers aren’t songwriters” isn’t dead yet, Sandra Vu of the Dum Dum Girls is here to put the final nail in that coffin. Under the moniker SISU, Vu’s Blood Tears is a debut that culls its sound from a variety of electronic genres. Vu experiments with ‘80s new wave on “Cut Me Off,” krautrock on “Harpoons” and trance with “Sharp Teeth.” As a singer, she can sound detached, always within the sound engulfing her, never looking to rise out of it. Blood Tears is almost orchestral in its electronic unity. And the drums sound pretty great too.
13. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
In the five years between Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! and Push The Sky Away, Nick and the boys have seen and experienced a lot with the dissolution of side-project Grinderman and the departure of Mick Harvey. This latest adventure feels like an exploration of the cinematic work done by Cave and Ellis in the past couple of years with the trademark storytelling poetry which ties together every Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album. Understatement is the name of the game, musically, with occasional violin swells and sparse guitar work to emphasize Cave’s vocals. The result is morose, mature and compelling.
12. Corrections House – Last City Zero
Corrections House consists of Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Mike IX Williams of eyehategod, Sanford Parker of Nachtmystium and Bruce Lamont of Yakuza. They released a furious album entitled Last City Zero, which features industrial, noise and electronic elements. The atmosphere on the album is very desolate and melancholic. The songs conjure up images of smokey grey skies and depressive landscapes, evident that the tracks are passionate and full of feeling. The most memorable elements are the dissonant bass, the angry vocals and the electronic industrial sounds that emanate darkness. If hearing distinctive, dark music is your aim, look no further than this album.
11. Junip – Junip
Soft and sweet, this album succeeds in every facet. Its mellow vibe transcends the basic psych indie rock products with a more full sound, employing strings, African-inspired percussion elements, keys and choir echoing vocals. Jose Gonzalez’s howls and Tobias Winterkorn’s electric buzzes also add an intense element that is rich enough to make the Junip’s story worthwhile. Their first single, “Line of Fire,” draws any listener in with a snappable beat, and by the time “So Clear” hits, the album exhibits pure addictive qualities. From the perfect echoes in “Villains” to the catchy teardrop twinkles in “Walking Lightly,” each Junip track is utterly satisfying.
10. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Random Access Memories is a triumphant album at a time when albums aren’t supposed to matter and when live instruments are nearly anathema to popular music. These modern times—filled to the brim with laptop recordings and when what’s left of live instruments are fed through a dizzying array of ProTools plugins—this is an era Daft Punk fostered, if not created. Perhaps because of this role, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter were well-poised to destroy, rework, and recreate the zeitgeist in any way they saw fit.
That Daft Punk put out an homage album was not surprising. Records with nods to genres from the ’80s and ’90s were endemic this year (just ask Sky Ferreira, Blood Orange, Active Child and Kavinsky, to name a few). Those artists put out great albums, but they were paraphrasing passages out of the history books. Daft Punk went full Bill-and-Ted: It was not enough to try to conjure up Michael Jackson, Chic and Giorgio Moroder. They brought the key historical players to the show with them. “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” don’t just remind the listener of Chic or early Jackson. Nile Rodgers is there. Some of Jackson’s session players are there. Even Moroder shows up: In an interview backed with a soundtrack that conjures up the bulk of his career, performed by artists of the era. Daft Punk outdid themselves and we all benefited from it.
9. How to destroy angels_ – Welcome Oblivion
Nine Inch Nails frontman and constant innovator in industrial music Trent Reznor has released the debut studio album for his side project, How To Destroy Angels_, started with his wife Mariqueen Maandig and other frequent collaborators of his. Exactly as you’d expect a project of Reznor’s, without the major label control that Nine Inch Nails is under, to sound, Welcome Oblivion is a darkly synthesized look into the future of industrial and post industrial music. This record sounds nothing like anything else being released right now, and isn’t just a copy of his more successful work, utilizing his wife’s unique and beautiful voice and lots of looped computerized noises, letting How to Destroy Angels_ make a name for itself outside of its so well known predecessor. Even those who haven’t found themselves a fan of Reznor’s past work will undoubtedly appreciate the layers these new musicians bring to this kind of music.
8. Earthless – From The Ages
By combining a series of different elements, Earthless unleash distinctive music in their From The Ages album. Though entirely instrumental, each track displays mastery of instrumentation and dissonant atmospheres. It is evident in the intricate guitar solos that Earthless have evolved greatly from their first album. In exchange for vocals, the listener is treated to technical guitar leads, ear catching bass lines and varied drum patterns. The album also fails to disappoint in terms of atmosphere. The songs contain a prominent psychedelic atmosphere that is combined with a cosmic vibe, making the music sound like a soundtrack for space traveling. Additionally, the tracks are organized in such a manner that it sounds like the band is jamming along in a natural state. In summary, each track combines psychedelic traits with heavy doses of sludge and doom metal, making for a mixture that is sure to attract a variety of music lovers.
7. The Staves – Dead & Born & Grown
British trio The Staves encountered massive success with their debut LP, Dead & Born & Grown, in 2013. The sister group capitalizes on their ability to harmonize beautifully with every song on the album. Acoustic folk rock and similar types of music have been gaining popularity for the past few years, but The Staves stand out in this genre. Dead & Born & Grown is a refreshing take on the sound, with a mix of traditional and modern musical and lyrical stylings. The opening track “Wisely & Slow” sounds primarily like an a cappella harmony but picks up the pace – and volume – toward the end. “Facing West” is a catchy, upbeat yet mellow song that would be right at home in a TV commercial, with the aforementioned harmonization as well as some melodic whistling. Each song is strong enough to stand alone, but it’s a treat to listen to the whole album in its entirety, from beginning to end.
6. Pelican – Forever Becoming
To describe the sounds of Chicago-based instrumental band Pelican is truly a challenge. Combining the best elements of thrash and doom metal, it’s a surpise to hear. The power behind each song on Forever Becoming is immediately noticeable—it is a product of careful production and pure talent. But many of the best metal albums are those that are multifaceted. There are also creeping harmonies that echo in the mind for hours after the record ends.
“Lathe Biosas” is a standout. It features riffing that any hard rock fan can appreciate, bordering at times on pop punk turned sour. But there’s nothing shallow about the song or the album. You’ll also want to check out the music video for this track, which is a brilliant manifestation of that marriage of power and beauty that centers the album. “Deny the Absolute,” released as a single, will also follow you around for days. It is furious, both pounding and rolling for more than five minutes. Bet on Pelican—they’re not slowing down anytime soon.
5. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty
In a pounding drone of darkness Chelsea Wolfe offers up her next collection of sorrowful songs, and true to form she makes a case for wallowing with a beautifully orchestrated record. The sounds are varied in tempos and tones, and skirt the edges of grunge, EDM, darkwave and a many others. With tasteful layering and pacing she builds a proper machine to transport her passions, allowing a proper marriage of guitars and electronics to nurture her lovely voice. From embittered disappointment to cautionary apathy she tells the story and tells it with an authenticity often missed in the “moody female rock” genre.
Pain is Beauty is her most refined and yet expansive release to date and is both cryptic and cathartic. Though decidedly dark, Chelsea makes beautiful music and is much much more than any goth label some might choose place on her. Pain is Beauty could not be a more fitting title to this great record.
4. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
At 23 years old, Laura Marling sings and writes with a grace and skill far beyond her years. The Brit singer songwriter has already notched four stellar albums in five years, winning acclaim from even the most polished of singers from the modern folk generation (Ryan Adams is a huge fan). Once I Was An Eagle might be her finest work to date, letting the instrumental accompaniment be as sparse and minimalist as possible. The forefront is her even parts angelic and fearless vocals coupled with her nimble but subdued fretwork. Marling spins folk like she was the first to invent the genre, wisely taking the simple mechanics of the genre and re-inventing it without getting lost in the trappings of the long-established conventions of American bluegrass, ’60s troubadour or the last decade’s psych folk movement.
The album opens with a four-song suite (“I Was An Eagle,” “Take the Night Off,” “Master Hunter,” “You Know”) that all loosely bridge together. The suite re-envisions Marling as the hunter rather than the prey, vivisecting romance and her role in it in her life. Things go darker in “Devil’s Resting Place” and then take a turn towards soul searching on “Where Were You Happy (And How Long Has That Been?)” and “Little Bird” on the album’s final third. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Laura Marling is one of our generation’s finest new voices, true genius being born before our eyes.
3. Arctic Monkeys – AM
Seriously. How sexy is AM. The Arctic Monkeys somehow managed to raise their star even higher in 2013 – far from an easy task, but AM is far from a normal album An alluring mix of after-midnight, stomping guitar riffs, and slurred-but-brilliant vocals, this is one of those albums that manages to take sleaze right up to the point of sordid, but not an inch further.
Alex Turner’s voice is on point as always. And his lyrics? Maybe even better. He’s a silky machine gun on the album, spooling out booze-soaked lyrics with aplomb. AM contains some of the best lyrical turns we’ve heard in quite some time. Whether it’s the tongue-in-cheek drug fueled romance of “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” or the rapid-fire “Arabella,” Turner manages tone and content with pitch perfection.
And the highlights. AM cranked out some incredible songs. We’ve mentioned two of them, but opening singles “Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine” are both brilliant. Epic, dark, and desperate – they’re everything that’s right about the Arctic Monkeys. “Do I Wanna Know” epitomizes AM. Hefty guitar lines and a soaring chorus combine for an almost intolerably infectious song.
2. Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X
After a long run in time and with a new sound to escort into the world the musicians of Ulver have made their mark in triumphant returns. Messe I.X-VI.X ushers in a dark and bold orchestra of intelligence and emotional design that is an expression of icy clear quality that only the land of the Midnight sun could birth.
An album fit for a symphony but made for an auditorium. Songs fit for ceremony but made for audiences. A beautifully haunting escapade of tragedy and hope. Messe I.X-VI.X is a welcome intrusion to mainstream music and a comparable run for independently published bands.
An album that reaches almost 45 minutes with only six songs should be expected to have a hearty artistry to each songs composition. From the first track “As Syrians Pour in, Lebanon Grapples with Ghosts of a Bloody Past” (reaching to 12 minutes) to the last, “Mother of Mercy” (just under seven and a half), each song is an experience and strikes its own singular light.
Unyielding, never dimming, only stronger, forever longer the songs of Ulver captivate and approach the solemn vows of the deepest presence that is the soul of the song.
For this album we think- Hurrah for Ulver! Hurrah for symphony! To this, we raise a chalice, to this we drink!
1. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
After 2012 left everyone exasperated and numb with its stories of mass shootings, a shoreline-altering superstorm, an election riddled with negativity and partisanism and so on, 2013 began exactly as Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork does: breaking glass, breaking glass, breaking glass and an explosion, followed by a slithering rhythm line. Something has been released, something ominous. We just don’t know what it is. But QOTSA did. They knew all along.
mxdwn’s Album of the Year starts off with “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”– strong advice indeed. Following the aforementioned plodding and plotting introduction, Josh Homme feeds us one word/note at a time, warning us to tread trepidatiously through the rest of the album (or the year). The next track, “I Sat by the Ocean,” is light and dark at once, its chorus dripping down at the edge like an unexpected punch line; that’s just excellent songwriting. “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” gives us what we think is going to be a reprieve in the form of a DCFC-esque ballad, but it too insists on denying us any comfort, just like 2013, with its torrential late spring storms.
Stylistically, …Like Clockwork suggests a modern-glam side of rock. The guitar solos offer a Brian-May fire not heard since, well, since Queen. If Bowie had heard “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends,” he may not have returned to the studio. Yet despite these retro touches, the album is modern in its layered arrangements and fresh yet accessible melodies. …Like Clockwork ends like 2013 – with a sigh of exasperated relief in the form of the somber title track, but before congratulating us for getting through the year, but Homme foreshadows 2014 in this final falsetto line: “One thing that is clear: it’s all downhill from here,” to which we can only nod and reply: Oh shit.