Top Ten Albums of 2013 & Year in Review(s)

Merry Christmas! I figure that at least a few of you are going to have gift cards to blow, so I thought I’d give you a HUGE list of music to spend them on. 🙂

2013 was a big year for me as a music fan. Discovered a lot of new (to me, anyway) stuff and reunited with some old favorites. I got very seriously back into metal this year. I never completely checked out from being a metal fan, but this year I hit it hard. Re-bought some of the classic stuff I’d lost track of (or loaned out and never saw again, or whatever), bought some of the stuff I always MEANT to have on file, and started exploring stuff I’d never heard of or given a chance before. And I did that with some of the rock/pop/etc stuff too…but with an extra slant toward metal this year. There are four in the top ten that you can call “metal” or a variant thereof (ie – Nine Inch Nails is better classified “industrial,” but if someone calls them “metal” I don’t get mad–though the record they released this year is really neither one). When you stretch the list to 15, you can add another two metal records. Metal was a recurring theme for me this year.

That’s not to say that’s all that was important to me though. You also see some country, classic rock/alternative, and a borderline folk record in my top ten. I bought a ton of music this year and it was tough to narrow it down to just ten, so I’m doing an “unofficial” 15 again this year. And I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the “honorable mentions” might find their way into the top ten in the years to come, when I look back. There was a lot of stuff that I loved this year…but let’s get going with honoring the stuff I loved the best at the time of writing. 🙂



1. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

I didn’t do a great job of giving Jason Isbell a chance when he parted ways with Drive-By Truckers. My mistake. I think I just decided to ignore him–like I had somehow chosen a “side” in the split. Then when (Jason’s ex-wife) Shonna Tucker left DBT, I figured maybe I needed to give Jason another shot. He put out “Southeastern” this year, so I picked it up and gave it a spin. I was immediately in love with the relatively sparse and deeply introspective music that floated out of my speakers. Some of these songs are so good they make me want to cry. Country mixed with rock and overflowing with emotion, there’s not a moment on this record I don’t enjoy. I wouldn’t have guessed in January that this would be my #1 record this year…but it is. I really had no choice, once I heard it. If you need to gauge just how significant this record is to me, think about what you know of my musical taste, and then check out what I listed at #2. THAT’S how good Isbell’s record is…it put DAVID BOWIE in SECOND place!

Favorite Tracks: “Cover Me Up,” “Traveling Alone,” and “Flying Over Water”


2. David Bowie – The Next Day

When I heard the announcement that there would be a new David Bowie record this year, I was flat-out overjoyed. It buoyed my spirit in a way I didn’t even know I needed and I immediately started counting down the days. On the release day, I took a long lunch (on a day I should’ve stayed at my desk) and picked it up at the local record store. I played it and played it and played it in the days that followed until I knew it almost as well as I know “Diamond Dogs.” It’s a great record, but almost TOO great. My brother described it pretty well… Bowie went away for 10 years, and this sounds like the compilation you’d have made for a friend of all of the best songs from the albums he WOULD have made in that time. It’s ABSOLUTE Bowie. Almost TOO MUCH Bowie. TOTAL blam-blam! To some that’s probably overwhelming. To me, it’s heavenly.

Favorite Tracks: “The Next Day,” “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” “Where Are We Now,” and “Valentine’s Day”

This album cover comes in one of four variants. This is the vinyl one, which I have and like the best.

3. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

Nice to see Bowie’s name next to Trent’s again, isn’t it? Even if only on my list, there’s something very right about that. Like many NIN fans, when I heard that Trent Reznor would be resurrecting Nine Inch Nails ALREADY after the “Wave Goodbye” tour he did, I was skeptical. Even a little irritated. “I thought he was done. Was it all just a stunt? Come on Trent…you’re better than that…” All that. Then I listened to the first three tracks on Spotify and immediately ran out to buy a copy. Blew me away. It’s different from a lot of what Trent’s done in the past, but you can say that about every record. This one leans a little more on the electronic side of the act than the heavy side. But it has the atmospheric qualities that are unmistakably Reznor. A welcome add that I never should have doubted. I keep going back to this one, and I love it more every time.

Favorite Tracks: “Copy of A,” “Came Back Haunted,” and “Everything”


4. Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob

I did not know that I love Tegan & Sara. I found that out this year, kind of by accident. I don’t remember what band I had entered into Spotify (maybe Rilo Kiley?), but they built me a radio station that kept playing Tegan & Sara. I kept finding that I’d think “I like that song,” and I’d look to see who it was…and there they were again. I found out that they put out the new record this year and picked up a copy. It’s dancy, poppy, and the kind of thing that a grown man in his 30s should be a little embarrassed about liking…but fuck that. I’m gonna dance!

Favorite Tracks: “Closer,” “I Was a Fool,” and “Drove Me Wild”


5. Hatebreed – The Divinity of Purpose

…and in a complete left turn from Tegan & Sara, the next entry is a full-on hardcore metal act. In fact, Hatebreed is kind of the gold-standard for the genre. And I’d written them off for a long time as being “just” a hardcore band. Oops. This record is so heavy and screamy…and yet it’s a melodic and catchy screaming. Really great. The band’s lead singer described the album as “all pit, no shit.” That’s about right. Every song makes me want to start a fight in the best possible way. Throw this on and then throw the horns in the air. And if you’re driving, be prepared to look down and realize you’re doing 80. It’s a common side-effect.

Favorite Tracks: “Put it to the Torch,” “Honor Never Dies,” and “Nothing Scars Me”


6. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

This one isn’t quite as good as “England Keep My Bones,” but it’s still great. “Plain Sailing Weather” was my song of the summer, and has been carrying me through the winter as well. There’s not a lot that’s “different” from Turner’s usual pissed off acousta-punk sound on this one…but why should there be? He does what he does, and he does it very, very well. The really long piano-based song doesn’t do much for me…but to be honest, if the only song on the record I liked was “Plain Sailing Weather,” it’d still make it onto the list. And I like WAY more than just that one. 🙂

Favorite Tracks: “Recovery,” “Plain Sailing Weather,” and “Polaroid Picture”


7. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

Pearl Jam are back, and–good news!–they still sound like Pearl Jam! It’s not their best record blahblahblah…but twenty-plus years into their career, Pearl Jam is releasing solid rock records when so many of their contemporaries have given up or died. They won. They are your champions. This record sounds exactly how it should, and if you’ve ever been a fan, you’ll like it. I sure do.

Favorite Tracks: “Getaway,” “Mind Your Manners,” “Sirens,” and “Let the Records Play”


8. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Spectre at the Feast

BRMC released a truly wonderful record with “Spectre at the Feast.” Robert Levon Been (the band’s singer/bass player) lost his dad suddenly last year. His dad was also the band’s sound engineer and a former member of the band The Call. He was their promoter, their sound-man, their friend, and from what I understand a father-figure not only to Robert, but to most-everyone in the outfit. His loss was a HUGE blow to the band. The album’s title makes a lot of sense…and yet it isn’t just an album of mourning songs. There’s hope and there’s fun, highlighted by an outstanding cover of The Call’s “Let the Day Begin.” It’s a funeral piece, to be sure…but it’s the type of funeral where it’s okay to feel things other than just sad…even if you can’t quite pinpoint what those things are.

Favorite Tracks: “Let the Day Begin,” “Lullaby,” and “Rival”


9. Coheed & Cambria – The Afterman: Descension

I’d been aware of Coheed for years, but my fandom skyrocketed this year, largely thanks to my friend Brandon. Proggy, but on the heavy side of it. Catchy, but on the complicated side of it. And what with my love of concept pieces, I can’t believe I haven’t been RABID over Coheed for years. (Their whole deal is a long-assed concept piece with every record filling in a part of the story…and there are comic books…and so on…) This record is a lot of fun and seeing them live made it that much better. (Thanks again for the ticket, Brandon.) Knew it was headed for the list on my first listen, and look at that! Here it is!

Favorite Tracks: “Pretelethal,” “Number City,” and “Iron Fist”


10. Dream Theater – Dream Theater

I can’t BEGIN to describe how happy I am to have a Dream Theater album in my top ten. It has been YEARS since that last happened! (Was the last one “Octavarium?” That was in 2005!) Their previous offering (“A Dramatic Turn of Events”) was good, but left me feeling like they were trying too hard. This one feels organic and effortless. THIS is the record they NEEDED to release on Portnoy’s exit from the band. THIS is the statement that the fans were waiting for them to make. It’s solid. It’s got a few earworms. It’s heavy, but pulls back into piano-ballad moments as well. It’s a Dream Theater record the way I REMEMBER them being. And I am so, so THRILLED to say that!

Favorite Tracks: “The Looking Glass” and “Along for the Ride”

EXPANDED LIST: The Top Fifteen…

11. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
One of the first records I really fell in love with this year. You’ll get lost in it and drive right through traffic lights if you’re not careful. True story.

 12. Stone Sour – House of Gold and Bones Part 2
If they’d released it all as ONE record in the same year, I’d be touting it as a masterpiece. But since they split it…well…part one is just way, way better. There’s GREAT stuff on this disk too, but it suffers from feeling like a rehash, when the truth is it’s a continuation. A great record, hurt by the presentation. Nevertheless, I listened to it again this past week, knew most of the words without having made the intentional effort to memorize them, and felt the urge to start a pit. So we’re good.

 13. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell – Love Has Come for You
Maybe the best Bluegrass record you’re going to find in the modern era. There’s a sweetness and a warmth to what Steve and Edie have created here that’s difficult to explain. But boy am I glad they did it.

 14. Those Darlins – Blur the Line
I wrote about this one on my vinyl blog in greater detail. Every Darlins record is something different, and I’m always glad to hear it.

 15. Norma Jean – The Wrongdoers
Nice and heavy hardcore. Melodies weave in and out of the screaming. Has all the anger you want out of this kind of thing with some real skill in there to back it up.

 Honorable Mentions:

  • Sound City: Real to Reel
    Ineligible because it’s a sound-track. And that bums me out. This is a truly great record and would be in my top five–probably top THREE–if it weren’t a soundtrack. Great stable of musicians. The first five songs on this record alone make it more than worth hearing. “From Can to Can’t” (featuring Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, among others) is a truly great rock song. “Cut Me Some Slack” (featuring Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana) is brilliant. “Mantra” (featuring Josh Homme and Trent Reznor) is epically hypnotic. You should really own this. One of the best rock records of the year…and I CAN’T LIST IT!!! Stupid rules! (Which I made! And could probably alter at any time!)
  • Shooter Jennings – The Other Life
    Really enjoyable–although I wish he’d get off the “white-trash” lyrical kick he’s been on lately. Starts off Floydian. Gets country. Does a few other things. A good companion piece to the “Family Man” record from last year.
  • Beady Eye – Be
    Well…it sounds like Oasis. Which is a shame, because “Different Gear, Still Speeding” was a fun, raucous, great rock record…and this one is FINE…but so what? I’m hoping it’s just the “sophomore slump” and the next one kicks ass. This one has some good moments…but it needs a few more of them.
  • Metallica – Through the Never
    Soundtrack/live album, so it doesn’t count…but MAN did I love hearing it. The parts of it that tie in to the movie don’t work on CD very well…but in all, it’s an enjoyable listen and makes me want to dig out the old records/CDs and throw up the horns. And that’s really all I ask.
  • Hugh Laurie – Didn’t it Rain
    Yes, it did. And it rained down some really great bluesy, jazzy tracks. The Doctor is in. (If they haven’t given him the Blues-nickname of “The Doctor” yet, I’m claiming credit for that. Tell your friends.)
  • Christopher Lee – Charlemagne: The Omens of Death
    It finally happened. Christopher Lee released a ballsy, genuinely really, really GOOD heavy metal record. Long-time fans have been aware of Lee’s singing ability since at least The Wicker Man (the 70s version, not the latter-day disgrace), and that booming voice has always been begging for a really heavy backdrop. And here it is. It’s not a joke and shouldn’t be treated as one. Horns way, WAY up for the White Wizard. (Watch the YouTube video about it here.)
  • Motorhead – Aftershock
    It sounds like Motorhead. That’s all you need to know.
  • Elvis Costello & the Roots – Wise Up Ghost
    WAY better than I thought it was going to be. I doubted it, and I shouldn’t have. It’s true Elvis Costello music, but it would be wrong to call it anything else than true Roots music as well. It’s a really, really good marriage of the two acts, and you really do have to hear it to believe it.
  • Steven Wilson – The Raven that Refused to Sing
    Really good, proggy, ambient, almost hallucinogenic record. I had it on the top ten for a while, but realized that it’s so unclassifiable that I almost don’t know what to do with it…and I know I’m not going to give it a ton of listens. I’m going to listen to it in the moments where I need to escape myself. When I feel haunted and want to hear songs about being haunted. (Every track on the record is in some way a ghost story.)
  • Pixies – EP
    Kim Deal leaves the band and they immediately release new music. Those two things probably explain each other. The new EP is great, though it sounds more like a Frank Black/Black Francis release than a Pixies release. But whatever. It makes me happy. (Not on the top 10 only because EPs are ineligible.)
  • Deer Tick – Negativity
    I liked it a lot. I just liked the previous one a lot more. This isn’t quite more of the same or anything different, either. It’s a band that does what it wants when it wants…and some of it works and some of it doesn’t…but either way, it’s a fun ride.

 SEVERE Disappointments:

  • Anthrax – Anthems
    AKA – Anthrax Cash-Grab 2013! Five cover songs that sound exactly like the songs they are and don’t bring anything new to the table, so why did I buy it? “Worship Music” is a really good album, and I’m looking forward to the next (original) album they release…but this? Ugh…
  • Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork
    I was immediately underwhelmed by the packaging that is a single, poorly printed tray card that doesn’t even give proper credit to the hordes of guest musicians they had on this thing…and then when I popped in the CD, I was even LESS impressed. I’ve read review after review that says this one grows on you over time and you need to give it several listens before you like it. Back in my day, we just called that a shitty record. I wanted to like it. I really, really did…but I’m done. I’ve tried and tried and haven’t liked ANYTHING since “Songs for the Deaf.” Fool me once, and all that… Bye, bye QOTSA.
  • Arcade Fire – Reflektor
    What…? What? What the fuck is this disco shit that just keep going and sounds like it’s all one song? Why is this awful? What happened? I like the first three records…but…what is this? Seriously…can anyone tell me what the fuck this is supposed to be???
  • Newsted – Heavy Metal Music
    It’s not bad. It’s not. It’s just not as good as I’d hoped. Needs a few more hooks thrown in, and I hate to say it, but Jason needs to hire a different singer. There’s just not any BALLS to the sound. Maybe a re-mix/re-master would change my mind on it…but I was hoping this would be an epic metal record…and it’s just okay.
  • Son Volt – Honky Tonk
    I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t Son Volt. I like Jay Farrar’s solo stuff and I love the old Son Volt stuff, and I love Uncle Tupelo…and this just isn’t ANY of that. I haven’t liked anything he’s done under the “Son Volt” name since he relaunched it (without the original members–very Axl Rose), and I wish he’d just called it “Jay Farrar vaguely country thing #8” or something. I’m not sure if I’d like it any better…but at least I wouldn’t feel like he’s pissing on the ashes of something I loved.

And that’s it! That was 2013. If you’re still reading after all that, you must like me way more than I do. It took me three damn sittings to write this post. Good for you!

Next time: Something!