After the musical juggernaut that was 2012, it stands to reason that 2013 would seem slight in comparison. And, yes, on the surface it was. Few landmark releases and too many terrible albums by once-decent artists (cough…cough, Arcade Fire). However, careful research yielded dozens of brilliant records, some being merely pleasant entries into an artist’s oeuvre, while others were career-reaffirming masterpieces.
Anyway, without further adieu, my Top Thirteen Records Of 2013:
Biffy Clyro: Opposites
It’s rare for a double album to not seem overwrought. Fortunately, Biffy Clyro is one of those bands who can’t write a bad song. Even the b-sides associated with this album are as good as anything on the proper. Among the many highlights are “Black Chandelier”, “Biblical”, “Sounds Like Balloons”, and the beautiful title track.
Pearl Jam: Lightning Bolt
The Jammers prove they still got it on their tenth studio offering. Songs such as the propulsive “Mind Your Manners” and “My Father’s Son”, to the more pensive “Sirens”, this is Pearl Jam’s most consistent (and consistently satisfying) album in over a decade.
Dr. Dog: B-Room
Inspired by everything from the Beach Boys to My Morning Jacket, with a healthy dose of Philly Soul thrown in, the result is an instantly-lovable sound that is unlike any other band on the planet. “The Truth”, “Minding The Usher”, and “Phenomenon” are just a few of the reasons to listen to this wonderful album.
The Weeks: Dear Bo Jackson
This is a good time for Southern Rock, with bands like Drive-By Truckers, Kings Of Leon, and Alabama Shakes making waves. Another worthy contender is this excellent Mississippi outfit and this, their 4th album, is all the proof you need, especially after hearing “Brother In the Night” and the title track.
Paul McCartney: New
It’s common knowledge that Sir Paul has hit some potholes in his solo career. Occasionally, however, he strikes gold, and his latest, appropriately titled New, sits at the top of the heap. Songs like “Save Us”, “Queenie Eye”, and the title track are all good enough to be lost Beatle classics.
The Last Bison: Inheritance
The Last Bison offer a sort of post-Mumford folk music that is big and grand timeless and speaks to the heart and the soul, thanks to Ben Hardesty and his eloquent pen. “Switzerland” is one of the best songs I’ve heard in recent years, and others such as “Dark Am I” and “Quill” are sure to move you.
Valerie June: Pushin’ Against A Stone
Valerie June takes country, soul, folk, blues, old-time, and even African vibes, and combines them into a stew that is completely different from anything else out there. So many highlights on this album, but “Workin’ Woman Blues”, “Somebody To Love”, “Tennessee Time”, and the title track are front-runners.
Motorpsycho: Still Life With Eggplant
This Norwegian trio’s latest is as eclectic as ever, from the dark epic “Hell, pts 1-3” to the folk-tinged “Barleycorn” to the 17-minute ‘Ratcatcher”, which is the meeting/melting point between Live/Dead and Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. Throw in a spot-on cover of “August” by Love and you can’t lose.
Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)
The Porcupine Tree mastermind continues his string of solo albums with this prog masterpiece. Recorded quickly with his live band, this set further cements Wilson’s visionary status. While shorter numbers like “Drive Home” sound familiar, others such as “Luminol” blow the door wide open.
Black Sabbath: 13
Sabbath didn’t invent metal but they might as well have. 35 years after parting ways, Ozzy and Sabbath drop this new disc that reminds the world what heavy metal is all about. As good as the best album from their heyday, and the best thing either party has done since.
The Dear Hunter: Migrant
The Dear Hunter steps away from their series of concept albums to deliver this concise collection of cleverly-written-and-arranged standalone numbers, such as “Bring You Down”, “Sweet Naïveté” and “Shame”. This album should propel this band into the stratosphere, if there were any justice.
Big Country: The Journey
Big Country reconvened with Alarm vocalist Mike Peters to create this excellent late-career offering. While no one could replace Stuart Adamson, songs like “Hurt” and “In A Broken Promise Land” reveal a band still on a mission.
Tired Pony: The Ghost Of The Mountain
Members of Snow Patrol & REM team up to create a body of work much grittier than any of their main bands’ work. Thanks to songs like “I Don’t Want You As A Ghost” and “Blood”, this second album is one for the ages.
There you are, thirteen of the best records I’ve heard this year. As always, there are many, many notable omissions and if I had more room they would definitely be here.
Among those highlights are offerings from Josh Ritter, Bosnian Rainbows, 10,000 Maniacs, States, Guided By Voices, Spock’s Beard, The Devil Makes Three, Placebo, Speedy Ortiz, Suede, St. Lucia, Richard Thompson, Beady Eye, San Cisco, Arctic Monkeys, Wild Leaves, Kodaline, Jagwar Ma, Little Green Cars, Bear’s Den, Califone, Son Volt, Shearwater, The Riverside, Touchstone, The Flower Kings, Big Big Train, The Launderettes, The Wild Ones, Midlake, Dream Theater, Avett Brothers, Elton John, Bad Religion, Lorde….oh, and some bloke called David Bowie.
I must also give props to my friends from Sweden, Hellsingland Underground, and their fantastic album, Evil Will Prevail. Exempt from this list because it came out in 2012, it was nonetheless my go-to album of 2013. This time next year, they will have a new one and, unless they screw it up, it will surely be on this list. Along with anticipated new ones by U2, Phish, Marillion, Yes, Bruce Springsteen, and others.
Lastly, we must stop and pay homage to those musical visionaries we lost this year: Phil Chevron, J.J. Cale, Ray Manzarek, Jeff Hanneman, George Jones, Richie Havens, Jason Molina, Peter Banks, Alvin Lee, Donald Byrd, Patti Page….and the daddy of them all, Lou Reed. Rock & Roll Heaven has gotten a little more eclectic. Play on forever.
Written by: Chris Anderson