2013 has seen its share of blockbuster albums by some of the biggest bands, and we’ve highlighted several with our Album of the Month series. Now, we pick our overall top 10 of the year.
Queens of the Stone Age …Like Clockwork
Desert dark metal has never been so melodic and haunting than on QOTSA’s sixth studio album. With frontman Josh Homme leading the charge with his ferociously screeching guitar licks and a voice that regularly runs into a falsetto range, …Like Clockwork could be considered funky goth. How so? Well, just take a listen to something like the head-nodding “I Sat By the Ocean.” Want a punch in the gut from a heavy low end? “If I Had a Tail” is the track.
And of course, a QOTSA album wouldn’t be complete without a song that makes you cower in the corner with a blanket over your head, as “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” tends to do. All in all, listening to …Like Clockwork feels like a walk around Homme’s Joshua Tree roots, from the start of the trip to the end.
Jake Bugg Shangri La
Touted as one of the faces – and voices – of the next wave of British pop music, the young Bugg stays true to his workmanlike roots with this sophomore offering. Produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, Shangri La is filled with rapid-fire jangly rock hits with a healthy dose of rhythm and blues. Bugg’s fretwork is scorching at times, but he can go understated with acoustic tracks like “Pine Trees” and “Storm Passes Away.”
Bugg’s knowing wail has a troubadour’s spirit, as Shangri La deals with topics like life on the street and growing up in tough circumstances – just cue up single “What Doesn’t Kill You.”
Tegan and Sara Heartthrob
Building up a major following over their many years of heartbreaking folk-rock tunes seemingly (and, sometimes actually) written in their shared bedroom, the sisterly duo expertly smashed through the walls of the Top 40 fortress with Heartthrob.
From the teen make-out party of the lead single “Closer” to the sexy-in-stilettos closing track of “Shock to Your System,” each of the album’s 10 tracks takes another step towards synth-pop and dance music. That’s not a bad thing. While their live shows maintain their rootsy origins, Heartthrob adds yet another layer to the twins’ aesthetic.
Daft Punk Random Access Memories
Sure, Daft Punk could have easily ignited the club kids with a redux of 2001’s epic Discovery, but why not challenge their audience? With Random Access Memories, Daft Punk created perhaps the most perfect disco album we could have seen in 2013. In fact, they even enlisted Nile Rodgers and his legendary “Hitmaker” Stratocaster to play on three tracks. The result was the song of the summer in “Get Lucky,” and the infinitely catchy “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Give Life Back to Music.” In addition, the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas guests on the record, as does Pharrel Williams and EDM pioneer Giorgio Moroder.
In making an electronic album with analog equipment and musicians, the robotic duo truly dipped into the past to move into the future.
The National Trouble Will Find Me
Following the lead of twins Bryce and Aaron Dessner and the deep timbre of singer Matt Berninger, the National yet again captured the hearts and minds of critics and hipsters alike with Trouble Will Find Me. Less bombastic than 2010’s High Violet, the band’s sixth LP is still a hurricane of emotion. Layer after layer peels off after each listen, with highlights like “I Should Live in Salt” and “Demons.” All the while, Berninger wails so earnestly that each verse sounds like an entry from his personal journal.
Musical superman Trent Reznor roared back onto the scene with Hesitation Marks, his most aggressive album since 1999’s The Fragile. The first N.I.N. album in five years, it’s also just as bombastic as 1994’s The Downward Spiral. “Copy of A” starts out with a spare beat that lulls the listener into a trance with its repetitive blips and blurps that are just enough overtones to hide the spare guitar of contributer Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac). Reznor pays homage to his rock roots in “Everything,” which would (and has) fit perfectly on any alternative rock radio station. And in case anyone thought the sleeveless singer was going light on his dark side, just check out the frenetic dirge of “Came Back Haunted.”
Arcade Fire Reflektor
The Canadian indie champions came into the year with heavy expectations, especially after winning a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2011. Wow, did they deliver. Collaborating with ex-LCD Soundsystem sorcerer James Murphy, Arcade Fire put together a movement rather than a record. Singer Win Butler breathes every note into his microphone with the fire and brimstone of a preacher, and the multiple instrumentalists in the band weave together a pastiche that is as introspective as it is in-your-face danceable. Note the LCD-tinged track “Prono,” and try to stand still during “Afterlife.”
Arctic Monkeys AM
Arctic Monkeys walked further down the hall of sinister rock on their fifth studio album with the help of Queens of the Stone Age Josh Homme, who received a co-producing credit on AM, the English band’s fifth studio album. The quartet definitely recalled the helter-skelter rhythms from their earlier releases while keeping an air of mystery. Fans got a taste of what was to come a few years ago with the single “R U Mine?” but the thunder really came down with the release of the brooding “Do I Wanna Know?” The song is led by the mesmerizing drumbeat of Matt Helders, as frontman Alex Turner sultrily croons over his own guitar riff. Turner had revealed in interviews that AM was heavily influenced by hip hop, but there is just enough metal (see “Arabella”) to keep this record on the dark side of things.
The Los Angeles-born and –bred trio have certainly taken the world by storm to close out 2013, appearing on Saturday Night Live and traveling the globe, beginning on the festival circuit before their own headlining tour. And rightfully so. Haim pulls from R&B, a little bit of funk and a heavy dose of Fleetwood Mac in their debut full-length. Each sister is aggressively confident on their respective instruments – one could cower in fear at the fierce rocking faces of bassist Este Haim. Led by the shoulder-swaying single “Forever” and the chest-thumping follow-up “The Wire,” Days Are Gone seems like it should have been released in the 70s. Pick it up in vinyl.
Biffy Clyro Opposites
Hardworking Scottish alternative rockers kicked off 2013 with a blockbuster double-disc in Opposites. Biffy’s catchy riffs and atmospheric choruses are on full display with this album, firmly planting them in the company of current U.K. rock royalty like Muse and Coldplay. There are ballads like “Fog” and “Skylight” that could bring the listener to tears. The lyrics in “Skylight” even talk about the “time to sing the saddest song.” But these are not, in fact, sad songs. There is so much heart behind them – in frontman Simon Neil’s plaintive voice – that one can’t help but enjoy a feeling of hope and inspiration.
To sample all of the albums, check out our Spotify Playlist!