My Favorite Albums of 2013

2013 was absolutely amazing for music. So much good stuff hit this year, from old favorites and new discoveries, that putting together my favorites for the year was actually legitimately difficult. The way I narrowed it down was essentially determining which records I went back to over and over and over again since they released. There are some notable omissions that at the start of 2013 I would’ve expected to be sure bets for favorites of the year –the new Pearl Jam and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, for instance.

I created Joey’s Best of 2013 Playlist on Spotify, if you’d like to check out 27 of my favorite songs for the year (in an effective playlist order, not ranked), nearly all of them from the ten records below and the honorable mentions that follow. I also included my favorite tracks for each record on the list if you want to give ’em a listen, and the other links all lead to digital downloads on Amazon.

Read on!

1. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

If ever there was a record I had unreasonable expectations for, it was this one. After the stellar Era Vulgaris, Them Crooked Vultures, and Eagles of Death Metal’s Heart On, I was fiending for some new Queens of the Stone Age. Remarkably, …Like Clockwork exceeded all of those astronomical expectations. It’s a real progression for the band and for Josh Homme as a songwriter — just listen to “I Appear Missing” — leaving the facade of the unkillable sex rocker in the past and opening up to face mortality. Behind that fragile new approach, though, are cutting riffs and complex harmonies that give QOTSA a new sound without scrapping their signature style. This record, man.

Favorite track: “I Appear Missing”

Other standouts: “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” “The Vampyre of Time and Memory,” “Smooth Sailing”

2. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

What a great freaking surprise this was. While I don’t think anyone expected NIN to disappear forever, it appeared Trent Reznor was busy with plenty of other things like winning Oscars and touring with How to Destroy Angels. But it seems we underestimated. NIN returned full force, with a new record and an epic world tour. Hesitation Marks doesn’t disappoint, exploring a new side of Reznor in tracks like the Joy Division-heavy “Everything” and the sexified “All Time Low.” Hesitation Marks is interesting in context of Reznor’s other projects; there’s a noticeable vacuum of instrumental tracks, which seem to be exorcised in film scores and HTDA these days. What’s left is stripped down expression that makes this record feel like Reznor’s most personal since With Teeth.

Favorite track: “Copy of a”

Other standouts: “All Time Low,” “Satellite,” “Everything,” “While I’m Still Here”

3. The Bronx – The Bronx IV

It’s always appealing to me when a band can manage punk rock fury without the fear of being utterly melodic. The Bronx’s fourth record doesn’t quite reach the heights of magic of The Bronx II, but that’s a tall order indeed. However, it has quickly taken its place as my second favorite of their albums, with ferocious riffs, clever lyrics (“are you the anti-christ or the holy ghost/do you wanna die or just come real close”), and the pounding, chaotic drums of Jorma Vik thumping you over the head track after track.

Favorite track: “Style Over Everything”

Other standouts: “The Unholy Hand,” “Too Many Devils,” “Pilot Light”

4. The Night Marchers – Allez Allez

Loud guitars, gruff vocals, thumping drums. The Night Marchers’ latest is pure stripped down rock and roll with great riffs and catchy, unrefined melodies that will punch you in the gut and leave you for dead. There is a respite mid-record with the muddy ballad “Pain” that breaks up the ferocity of the album without losing its reckless attitude. Allez Allez is filled with panache from top to bottom.

Favorite track: “Thar She Blows”

Other standouts: “Tropical Depression,” “Ned Lud,” “Fisting the Fanbase”

5. Agnes Obel – Aventine

The most bone-chilling record you’ll listen to this year, Obel’s Aventine is full of haunting melodies, crushing lyrical prowess, and truly impressive musicianship. The record is melancholy but beautiful and honest. It’s the kind of record that’s hard to listen to when you’re happy but powerful and sympathetic when you’re anything but. If you’re (un)fortunate enough to live in a place with a harsh winter, this is the record to put on while you watch the snow pile up.

Favorite track: “The Curse”

Other standouts: “Fuel to Fire,” “Dorian,” “Words Are Dead”

6. Red Fang – Whales and Leeches

The latest from Red Fang feels like the band has reached some next level shit. Their records have gotten progressively better, but Whales and Leeches is a big jump in songwriting from Murder the Mountains. The harmonies on tracks like “Dawn Rising” and “Every Little Twist” alone prove that the band took melody a bit more seriously this time around and it definitely pays off. I doubt it was a mistake the first single “Blood Like Cream” is probably the most radio friendly song the band’s ever had. There are still metal riffs aplenty, but there’s a bit more swagger to this record than on albums past and I love every bit of it.

Favorite track: “No Hope”

Other standouts: “Blood Like Cream,” “Dawn Rising,” “Every Little Twist”

7. The Julie Ruin – Run Fast

The new band from former Bikini Kill members Kathleen Hanna and Kathi Wilcox sounds like an amalgam of their 20+ years of making music, fusing the fuzz energy and crassness of Bikini Kill with the electric sounds and danceable beats of Le Tigre into something new. There are jarring changes song-to-song, frequent stylistic change-ups, and experimentation but fans of Hanna’s other projects will feel right at home, especially with the tracks I’ve spotlighted here. “Ha Ha Ha” in particular feels like a perfect blend of Hanna’s career.

Favorite track: “Ha Ha Ha”

Other standouts: “Oh Come On,” “Just My Kind,” “Girls Like Us”

8. Hanni El Khatib – Head in the Dirt

The second record from Hanni El Khatib chucks the concept of sophomore slump out the window and is an infinitely better album than its predecessor. It feels like he’s settled into the blues-influenced garage rock that he heard in his head, got comfortable with it, and finally delivered on the promise of it. The record is chock full of fuzz fueled riffs and sweat and swagger. Only “Penny” tosses the record off track briefly; it’s a catchy tune on its own but its clean and innocent melody is sorely out of place on an otherwise dirty record.

Favorite track: “Skinny Little Girl”

Other standouts: “Head in the Dirt,” “Nobody Move,” “Pay No Mind”, “Sinking in the Sand”

9. The Computers – Love Triangles, Hate Squares

My friend and partner-in-crime on Captain Ultimate Ben Bailey sent this band to me and said it was like hardcore punks playing doo-wop, and that’s pretty accurate. To me, this record feels like what would’ve happened if Marty McFly stayed in 1955 and kept making music there. It’s a mix of 1950s ballads, power pop, and the Rolling Stones (listen to the title track “Love Triangles, Hate Squares” and tell me it’s not a long-lost Stones tune), but it’s all rough-around-the-edges in the way that your favorite punk band decided to be a wedding band for a night. It’s a ton of fun and it’s catchy as hell.

Favorite track: “Nothing to Say”

Other standouts: “Bring Me the Head of a Hipster,” “Disco Sucks,” “Single Beds”

10. Lady Gaga – ARTPOP

I was shocked to listen to this record and then see the majority of the reviews trash it — from the same outlets that loved Born This Way. Perhaps our Gaga tastes are just different, but I thought ARTPOP was infinitely stronger than Born This Way and far more diverse; a return to why we all fell in love with her in the first place. There are dance tracks, hip-hop tracks, club tracks, ballads, and rock tracks. It’s a pop record that comes with everything and does all of it well.

Favorite track: “G.U.Y.”

Other standouts: “Do What U Want,” “ARTPOP,” “Gypsy”

There was so much great music released this year. Like, SO MUCH. Here are a few other favorites in no particular order:

What were your favorite records of 2013?

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