Last week, I posted TLW’s Best Albums of 2013, numbers 11-20. Here, I stop procrastinating and finish it off. As always – holler back. Lets talk musics.
10: Major Lazer – Free the Universe
There’s a lot of fun to be had on a Major Lazer album. The electronic dancehall DJ project from producer Diplo offers something for everyone: reggae, hip-hop, EDM, dubstep, you name it. And the list of guest stars he collaborates with is pretty cuckoo nutsos, too: Bruno Mars, Peaches, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman, Wyclef Jean, Shaggy, Danielle Haim, Ms. Dynamite and more. Like other Lazer releases, Free the Universe undulates to and fro, surging with energy and thumping beats, pinballing from one genre to the next as each track passes by. Plug in your best speakers and party.
9. Tomahawk – Oddfellows
Mike Patton came back this year. (This entry should end here with no further explanation.) You might remember Patton from Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, or from his many, many film scores over the years (when does this guy sleep?), but Tomahawk is perhaps my favorite non-Faith No More project of his. Oddfellows was one of the best (Alt-) Rock albums of the year. Sure, diehards might find it to be a little too accessible for Patton, but that in no way means it doesn’t rock. Hard. Look no further than “Stone Letter,” “South Paw,” and “White Hats/Black Hats” for proof of that.
8. Capital Cities – In a Tidal Wave of Mystery
This indie pop band from Los Angeles (formed by Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian) might have been one of my favorite live shows this year. It’s an ecstasy-filled danceparty of epic proportions: hand claps, dance lessons, trumpet solos, lights, raving, and pimp 80’s jackets. You don’t leave a Capital Cities show not covered in your own sweat. “Safe and Sound” took a while to permeate throughout the Web, but with consistent touring and great word of mouth, the band attracted some deserved attention this year that should help catapult them in ’14. But don’t let that stop you from listening to them now.
7. Portugal. The Man – Evil Friends
There’s just something so sincere about Portugal. The Man. Their entire package is like a warm blanket of comforting goodness – their lyrics and melodies joining together to create indie-rock perfection. For a band that’s only been kicking since 2004, the fact that Evil Friends is their 7th album is super ambitious, and makes me feel horrible about how I spend my own time. This album is a grand slam and other sports references, too. With help from producer Danger Mouse (Yahtzee!), Portugal. The Man has delivered one of the most consistent start-to-finish albums of the year. It’s challenging to recommend songs here because they’re all so damn snazzy. And that’s a great sign.
6. Lorde – Pure Heroine
The Lorde and savior of Pop in 2013. Lorde is so refreshing for so many reasons. It’s cool that such a young artist can make a splash on the scene while staying true to herself at the same time. Lorde is like Pop’s darker, hipper cousin who still made her way into the mainstream…and frankly, it’s great that youngsters have Lorde around among the sea of Mileys and Katys. You’ve heard “Royals,” but Pure Heroine has so much more to offer (“Tennis Court,” “Team,” “White Teeth Teens”), with each song accurately portraying her calm and collected demeanor over thumping beats and searing synths. I hope where she goes next will be just as exciting as her debut.
5. Holy Ghost! – Dynamics
Synthpop and electronic acts have made the 80’s cool again, but it was Holy Ghost! that perfected the decade’s revival this year. Some of the tracks drop listeners right back into 1986 (“It Must Be the Weather,” “I Wanna Be Your Hand,” “Don’t Look Down”), while others tie in contemporary sounds to keep the album grounded (“Dance A Little Closer,” “Bridge and Tunnel”). As a whole, it’s a massive, era-spanning behemoth that’ll make you feel both nostalgic and with it. When an album’s slower jams are just as strong, if not stronger than its energy-infused ragers, you’ve got a real winner.
4. The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law
The Joy Formidable is the most underrated Rock band that completely deserves more mainstream love. Sure, “Whirring” made a small splash on Modern Rock Radio a couple years back, but the band’s Arena-worthy sound can fill any room, large or small. They’re one of the most energetic live acts I saw this year, and Wolf’s Law has an incredible amount of heart and LOUD GUITARS. Any Rock fan should check out the seven-minute headbanger “Maw Maw Song.” Bonus points for being a trio and pulling off such an amplified sound. Gold stars for not sounding like any other act out now. These guys have really perfected their own sound and that’s so rare nowadays.
3. Haim – Days Are Gone
Ugh, fine, you guys. Their SNL performance kind of sucked, but this album is a knockout. The three sisters from LA are all multi-instrumentalists and they harmonize like whoa. Like a folky, Fleetwood Mac-ian group of Dixie Chicks. Their influences are all over their sleeves, but that doesn’t discredit them one bit. Days Are Gone is one of those albums I stand so strongly behind. It being one of the year’s best isn’t an opinion of mine really – because it just flat out is. They’ve got a cool alt-rock/folk base, but still sound contemporary in their melodies. Bonus points for Este Haim’s bassface and for flipping off the dude from Los Campesinos. I’ll be perpetually tapping my foot to “The Wire” well into 2014.
2. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
Listening to Janelle Monáe can be such a powerful and positive experience. Her message, one that our society (and world) really needs right now: love, respect and equality for all. She’s a fierce performer, a vocal perfectionist, and in my opinion, an icon in the making. The Electric Lady brings retro soul and funk back to the playing field, but it doesn’t stop there. Hip-hop, Rock ‘N Roll, R&B…Ms. Monáe does it all. Being the genre-bender that she is, she even got the attention of Prince, who guests on the album’s opener “Givin Em What They Love.” The result is pure auditory bliss. Lady continues her Metropolis concept (it comprises Suites 4 and 5 of a 7-part story) and picks up right where The ArchAndroid left off. There are movers-and-shakers (“The Electric Lady,” “Q.U.E.E.N.”) and jaw-dropping ballads that will tug at your heartstrings (“Primetime,” featuring Miguel, and “What an Experience”). An experience, indeed. Just what great art should be.
1. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
It’s been six long years since Queens of the Stone Age’s last album, Era Vulgaris, but most fans would surely agree that it’s been well worth the wait. Frontman Josh Homme and co. upped their game, adding so much more to their now-renowned desert-stoner rock. “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” and “My God is the Sun” bring a classic Queens vibe, while also being some of the year’s best Rock tracks. But it’s the departures from the norm that really demand your attention. “Kalopsia” starts as a sweet lullaby before exploding into a hailstorm of madness and peacefully segueing back into its ballad form. On “Smooth Sailing,” the band has a shitload of swag. Homme’s lyrics are fun as hell, too: “I’m burning bridges, I destroy the mirage/ Oh, visions of collisions Fuckin ‘bon voyage / I got bruises and hickies, Stitches and scars / Got my own theme music , It plays wherever I are.”
The best track though is “I Appear Missing” – another rock-ballad hybrid. It’s these in-betweens where Queens really shows its strengths. The melodies are tight as hell and transition so quickly, and with tangible emotion at times, too. The lyrics are dark and personal; morose enough to give you chills. But the track is a masterpiece, and one of the best that Queens of the Stone Age has ever written and recorded. Words can’t do it justice.
This album is a #1 pick for so many reasons: it show’s progression from the rest of the band’s discography, it rocks hard, and it feels deeply personal. That personal side may be bleak at times, but so is life.