Top 10 Albums of 2013

SW

Top 10 Albums of 2013 –

  1. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing (and other stories) – No other release struck me in quite the same way this year. Wilson’s disconsolate songwriting reaches its apex throughout the album’s six mini symphonies, and, as a response to those who criticize prog-metal as lacking the emotion to complement its awe-inspiring musicianship, it stands as one of the most definitive statements to come along in years. Add to that a Murderer’s Row of players such as guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Nick Beggs, keyboardist Adam Holzman and drummer Marco Minneman, and the picture regarding why it tops my list becomes crystal clear.

 

  1. Savages – Silence Yourself – The debut album from this UK-based post-punk quartet is aggressive in all the right places, as vocalist Jehnny Beth lets her Patti Smith flag fly with provocative lyrics and full-throttle yowling worthy of anything released during the genre’s creative peak. I actually dislike the label post-punk, because, to me, the ideas and irreverence in the face of outdated societal mores espoused by the artists never really went away. In a mainstream vacuum, punk may have fallen out of favor once its style was co-opted by the culture at-large, but these four women have brought it back in a way that is dripping with credibility.  Listen to the clarinet solo on Marshal Dear, and you’ll hear a band in total control of its collective powers.

 

  1. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork – In a year when Black Sabbath dropped its first studio record featuring Ozzy Osbourne since 1978’s Never Say Die, only Queens frontman Josh Homme could have created an album that out-Sabbaths the godfathers of heavy metal as we know it. His voracious playing and downright sinister vocal performance anchor an album whose crunch is meant to be listened to at law-defying decibels. It’s easily the finest collection of the band’s career, because every song builds on what came before it while shifting back and forth between the light and dark aspects of human experience.

 

  1. David Bowie – The Next Day – Leave it to one of our most beloved shape-shifters to churn out an album bathed in thematic and stylistic resonance at a point when he was assumed to be all but officially retired from the game. Bowie has never been one to cater to expectations, but he does a stellar job of mining all phases of his musical evolution throughout these 14 songs. While tracks such as Where Are We Now? and Valentine’s Day stand among his best, what stands out most to me is that he still comes off as a restless spirit unwilling to rest on the laurels of his past genius given that so much work is yet to be done.

 

  1. Alice in Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here – If there’s any residual chatter regarding whether or not William DuVall is the right fit to replace Layne Staley, this metal masterwork should silence it once and for all. DuVall settles into his role as the man behind the mic with graceful precision on this record, something which he never received enough credit for on 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell relishes his post as harbinger of doom with a grim worldview and delectably sludgy riffs, and, if you close your eyes, the harmonies he and DuVall generate sound like 1992 all over again.

 

  1. The Flaming Lips – The Terror – When I interviewed Wayne Coyne earlier this year, he described how the band drifted into a darker recess of their collective mind when bringing their latest masterpiece to life. It’s a riveting piece of apocalyptic psychedelia from a band whose love-conquers-all mantra is put to the test during 55 minutes of electronic fuzz that registered a more emotional impact on me than any noise Kanye West made on Yeezus.

 

  1. Elton John – The Diving Board – Welcome back, Sir Elton. Yes, he’s finally returned to making music of consequence, something which his Vegas residency left me questioning whether or not he would ever do so again. He and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin turn in a focused, stripped-down work capable of eliminating any stench remaining from Elton’s overwrought Hollywood days.  Easily the best thing he’s done since the early 1970s.

 

  1. Black Sabbath – 13 – Tony Iommi’s wicked manipulation of the guitar on this comeback record makes up for the fact that it doesn’t feel like a typical Sabbath release. Ozzy’s vocal is brought much higher into the mix than the Vol. 4 days and the production lacks the frightening glare that Sabbath is known for. That said, I still responded to every minute of the album’s rhythmic strang and durm as well as the lyrics hinging on an age-old struggle between good and evil.

 

  1. Volbeat – Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies – The introduction of ex-Anthrax shredder Rob Caggiano adds yet another explosive element to a band already riddled with them. I’ve been leading the Volbeat train for a few years now, so I’m glad that this album has finally brought them greater outside attention.

 

  1. Walking Papers – Walking Papers – Technically, it was released near the end of 2012, but I didn’t dive into it until earlier this year. It’s a down-and-dirty rock record in an era where such a concept isn’t really appreciated anymore. Vocalist Jeff Angell emerges from Seattle as an impassioned howler who takes the best parts of Michael Hutchence and Rory Gallagher to create something wholly his own.

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