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 411mania » Music » Columns

411's Top 25 Albums of 2013 (#10 - 6)
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 01.23.2014

Welcome to 411's Top 25 Albums of 2013! Are you burned out on year-end lists yet? Well, hopefully not as we have one more for you! 2013 saw the release of many great albums from a variety of genres, from pop and rap to rock, alternative, even country and electronica. The field of popular music has continued its trend this decade of diversifying; when it's all said and done however, there were some albums that just rose to the top and deserved to be honored as the best of the year. We of the 411 music zone chose to honor those efforts.

To present this list, every 411 writer had the opportunity to share their top 25 albums that were released during 2013. After the staff provided their lists, the results were tabulated and compiled into one single top 25 list. Writers took several things into account, from chart performance and individual sounds to the personal tastes, the album's progression (for good or ill) of the artist's catalog and much more. Keep in mind when reading this list that it is one that spanned all genres, and every staff member of 411 has different tastes. Some value certain criteria more than others do. We don't all agree on what albums deserved the top spots, but we all respect each other's choices and hope you can do the same. We begin our list today with the five albums that just missed the cut, a recap of what's come before and and then #10 through #6.

Danny Brown - Old
Disclosure – Settle
Atoms for Peace - Amok
Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer, Different Park
The Weeknd - Kiss land

The List So Far:
#25: Jake Bugg - Shangri La
#24: Drake - Nothing Was The Same
#23: Elton John - The Diving Board
#22: Motorhead - Aftershock
#21: Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2
#20: The National - Trouble Will Find Me
#19: Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
#18: J. Cole - Born Sinner
#17: Orphaned Land - All Is One
#16: Lady Gaga - ARTPOP
#15: HAIM - Days Are Gone
#14: Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
#13: Arctic Monkeys - AM
#12: Beyonce - Beyonce
#11: Black Sabbath - 13

#10: Queens of the Stone Age – ...Like Clockwork

Daniel Wilcox: It was almost impossible for Queens of the Stone Age's new studio album to not be a massive critical success. Let's take a minute to just examine the talent involved. Outside of Josh Homme and the rest of the band, you have Dave Grohl on drums, Trent Reznor guesting, Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner's input, vocals and piano work from Elton John, additional vocals from Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears, plus the likes of Mark Lanegan and former band member Nick Olivieri. I don't think so much talent has been involved in the make of any other album in the last year. That's a shit load of talent. But it's still a Queens of the Stone Age record, and one of the band's very best at that. It's packed with everything you would expect from such an album, it's loud, it's in your face, its groves are damn sexy and it's packed full of crunch.

The album takes a slightly darker, more evil sound than any of the band's previous efforts, and that should come as no surprise when you take into account the difficult few years Josh Homme has been through. Even outside of the usual in-fighting with various band members, Homme had some very real and very scare health issues over the past three or four years, which took their toll on the frontman and as such it took some persuading before he even agreed to make this record. And such hard times are reflected in the album's lyrical themes – as well as being the darkest Queens album, it's arguably their most powerful to date, moreso than the legendary Rated R and Songs for the Deaf. Thankfully, everything comes together wonderfully, no guest artists overshadows the quality of the songwriting, and the songs range from brilliantly depressing to terrifyingly uplifting, and it happens mostly down to Homme, one of the greatest song writers and producers of the recent times. Thankfully, the band are already working on new material and one more album like this may cement the band as one of the all-time greats.

Chad Nevett: I come not to tell you why ...Like Clockwork is 411mania's tenth-best album of 2013; I come to tell you why ...Like Clockwork is my favorite album of 2013. It landed at the very top of my list for reasons that I still don't fully understand. If you were to ask me in early December what my favorite album of the year was, I probably would have paused, strained to think, shrugged, and mumbled "I dunno." When it came time to create my list, I sat down and looked at the various albums that I got this year and gave them some listens and found myself putting ...Like Clockwork on repeat. Then, I remembered how, when it came out, I listened to it almost nonstop for a few weeks. I mentioned this to my wife and she said without surprise that it was clearly the album that I enjoyed the most and that she was a little sick of hearing it so much already. But, I wasn't. I'm not.

The long gap since 2007's Era Vulgaris was filled by albums by Eagles of Death Metal and Them Crooked Vultures along with the reissue of the first Queens of the Stone Age album, but there's nothing quite like a new Queens album. Hard rocking, funky, dark, creepy, sad, joyful, and usually with a bit of swagger… yeah, that's ...Like Clockwork. It's also a fun(ny) album. Listening to it usually puts me in a good mood. Given that it partly came out of a very dark period in Josh Homme's life, that's surprising. But, there's a definite sense of the band having fun playing these songs that comes through. While meticulous in many ways, there's enough ‘happy accidents' of rough edges or weird bits that give it an improvised feeling. My favorite such moment is the way that "Fairweather Friends" ends mid-lyric as Homme simply stops playing, mutters "I don't give a shit" and ends the song right there. It's fitting to the meaning of the song and, yet, seems like one of those moments that came about by chance and everyone realized that it's better than the planned finish to the song.

"Smooth Sailing" is so funky and funny. It's hard to tell how serious a song it is, but the music is so damn catchy and compelling. And what wrestling fan can't love a line like "Got my own theme music / Plays wherever I are?" That it shares a vinyl side with "Fairweather Friends" is fitting. While the title song that closes the album is so somber and surprising with its piano. It's not at all what you would expect to end the new Queens of the Stone Age album and, yet, it's absolutely what the album needs to end on...

But, the song that gets played most on this 2013 album that gets played most is "If I Had a Tail." It's become a favorite of my three-month old son, actually. I can start singing it for him at almost any time and it prompts a bit of dance-like movement and a whole lot of smiles. Turns out he's not sick of hearing the new Queens of the Stone Age either.

#9: Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Daniel Wilcox: A new Arcade Fire album was something on new was on the cards in 2013, and it was something I was very much looking forward to. I mentioned in a previous blurb how Arcade Fire are one of the most consistent bands in the world at the moment as they go from strength to strength to strength with Funeral, Neon Bible and The Suburbs. With Reflektor the band developed more and showed more creative depth than they ever have before, and that means delving deep, like seriously deep, into the doldrums of creative despair to drag out hidden treasures long-lost years ago. It's difficult to say they've topped their previous works, but it's unquestionable that Refletkor is their most ambitious release to date as it attempts to take their proven indie-rock into 2013 with an audacious mix of electronic and more typical Arcade Fire sounds.

Arguably the best move the band with this album is bringing in James Murphy of LCD SoundSystem fame to assist on the production, and what an unbelievable job he does, taking Arcade Fire from the most obvious and important indie band, to the most inspiring, genre bed-hopping titans of the music business. Four albums in and the band has proven they're among the very best of making accessible albeit bafflingly good, indie music. They seriously have nothing left to prove. Is it possible that at 75-minutes long the album over stays its welcome? Did Arcade Fire fall into the trap of the difficult double album? Absolutely not. The record manages to hold your attention from the opening bars of its eager title track right the way through to the bitter end, and if there's the slightest hint of a reprieve, Win Butler grabs you by the scruff of your neck and pulls you straight back in. Haters are going to hate with their claims of pretentiousness, but the fact remains that this is a band that has succeeded through hard work and good music, nothing more, nothing less. Reflektor isn't their best work, but I can imagine it being their most gratifying. Another stunning album, but then what did you expect?

Jeremy Thomas: I mentioned this in my own personal list last week, but Arcade Fire really had everything to lose with Reflektor. It seemed to be the way they were going; following up on their breakthrough album in The Suburbs by taking three years off and coming out with a double LP that they were describing as "Studio 54 and Haitian voodoo music" while doing silly things like instituting a dress code for concerts. But damn if they didn't deliver in a big way. Reflektor acheives so many different things that the mind boggles a little; it is quintessential Arcade Fire without being a rehash of what they've done before, and it is a big, expansive album that manages to reach mainstream audiences while maintaining an indy aesthetic. I honestly don't know how they managed it, but they make it look easy. There was a point immediately following The Suburbs' Grammy success when the inevitable anti-Arcade Fire backlash began. And that was the point when they really hit "make or break" status. With Reflektor the Canadian group continues to prove why they are more or less bulletproof; when it comes to indy rock, there is quite simply no one better than them. In fact, I would say that they're not just an indy rock band. They're now making their way toward rock and roll royalty.

#8: Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks

Sean Walker: Hesitation Marks is the strongest and most cohesive album Nine Inch Nails has released since The Downward Spiral. They haven't experimented with a new sound, or pull any new tricks to wow the listener. What you have here is a band releasing an album that combines the sounds of their previous albums and blending them to make Hesitation Marks. Normally comeback albums could either be a nice return to form, or dead on arrival. It's lead single "Came Back Haunted" cleared any doubt of the skeptical. Long time fans will notice that it, along with second single "Copy of A," opens up a wave of synth pop nostalgia from the '80s NIN. Along with those pulsing beats comes the dark lyrics and themes from The Downward Spiral and The Fragile. I wouldn't exactly consider this an "industrial" album. In fact, I haven't thought of Nine Inch Nails as an industrial band since 1999. This is more of a techno-rock album. There are shades of funk and metal along with the central sound. The highlight comes in the song that would make most claustrophobics uncomfortable. I'm referring to "Various Methods of Escape" which is five minutes of pure nirvana. Other than that, this is an album that must be listened to in whole to get the full experience of their come back.

Jeremy Thomas: In many ways, Nine Inch Nails' Hesitation Marks feels and sounds like Trent Reznor taking his sound full circle while expanding his thematic consciousness. The album, which is Reznor's eighth studio album with the NIN moniker, manages to be both forward-thinking and reminiscent of Reznor's past while keeping on the relevant edge of electronically-inspired rock. I completely understand Sean's stance (which has been echoed by many) that NIN is no longer an industrial band, but to me he's the very essence of industrial music, which has always been about that fusion between electronica and rock. It is certainly a fine line between industrial and other genres, but I don't think that he's ever crossed it and Hesitation Marks, at the very least, is his most inspired album since the mid-1990s.

On Hesitation Marks, we see the continued evolution of Reznor as an artist. Fans wishing for a return to the days of Downward Spiral and The Fragile-era NIN were likely disappointed by this LP, but for those of us who have been watching his music evolve and have been interested in where he's taking it this was another great step. "Copy of A" is one of my favorite Reznor tracks in a long time...and that's coming from someone who found a lot to like in Year Zero and With Teeth. "Came Back Haunted" matches the Reznor aggression and paranoia with the perfect melding of new and old and "Everything" is, while incredibly divisive among Reznor fans, a brilliant change of pace for him. Reznor will continue to flit between his film work, his side projects and Nine Inch Nails as inspiration strike him wherever he is, but Hesitation Marks proves that he hasn't lost any of his inspiration as a musical artist.

#7: Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City

Daniel Wilcox: Modern Vampires of the City is perhaps the least surprising album of the year. Vampire Weekend released a debut five years ago of pure indie pop excellence. It was gorgeously constructed with ample hooks and an entourage of haphazard instrumentation. Two years later came Contra, of similar impressiveness. If anything the band's second album was slightly more melancholy, but it was as Vampire Weekend as you can get. And then we come to Modern Vampires of the City, the band's third album and you won't be surprised to hear that the wheel hasn't been reinvented. It does, however, see the band develop a freedom that has never been as present on previous efforts. Everything here feels just that bit more spontaneous.

The album as a whole is slightly more ambitious than ever before. Lyrically it's all over the place again, and I absolutely mean that in a good way. Ezra Koenig explores city life and themes of struggle and exploration. What's so brilliant about the lyricism is their ambiguity, you can take from it whatever the hell you want, it all makes sense to the individual. The pop sensibilities help bring those lyrics to life, and then the music takes over. Everything's so outlandish. I can't quite fathom who came up with the idea of "Diane Young" or indeed why, but it's just so brilliant, from the pun-centric lyrics (if you need "Diane Young" explaining, don't bother) to the "Faith"-esque breakdown, it's so superb. The beauty of "Everlasting Arms" and "Ya Hey" washes over you like an unbreaking tide and takes you away to the world of Vampire Weekend. What makes this band so impressive is how every song they've ever written cannot be mistaken for anybody else. It's a sound all their own, and it's been every so slightly tweaked in a way that takes something as pure as their debut, roughs it up a bit and produces something even more spectacular. It's impurities are what make it so delightful; Modern Vampires of the City is the pop album of the year.

David Hayter: Vampire Weekend found themselves at the forefront of one of 2013's strangest hobbyhorses: the pre-midlife crisis, crisis. Yes, I still haven't come up with a name for it, and neither has anyone else, but it's a topic that wormed its way on to cinema screens (Frances Ha) and, if Lena Dunham's recent interview are anything to go by, it will be shaping the new season of Girls.

So what is this crisis? Well it hits like a brick between the ages of 26 and 28 and represents an on rush of anxiety about the fact that, as Erza Koenig put it on "Diane Young", "Nobody knows what the future holds, it's bad enough just getting old". The lives of friends become encased in certainty and routine, paths are chosen and stuck to, and that sense of drift that seemed so alluring in the years of extended adolescences now seems terrifying. Escape routes are closed off, paths narrow and potential becomes a past tense concern.

Modern Vampires Of The City seems trapped between optimism and depression, even its brazen nature is underwriting by apprehension and all these themes come together beautifully on "Step": "Wisdom's a gift you'd trade it for youth/Age is a number, it's still not the truth". Queue the sound of a thousand hearts breaking.

Behind all this conflict lays one of the years most innovative and daring albums (from a compositional point of view). Modern Vampires is loaded with ultra-modern and naturalist juxtaposition, which can feel alienating but, ultimately, makes for a challenging and invigorating listen. This is music that recalls the past but could only have been made in the here and now: it strikes a contemporary nerve, and comes loaded with soul crushing poignancy and brilliant, brilliant, pop songs.

#6: David Bowie - The Next Day

Joseph Lee: David Bowie shocked the world when he suddenly, with no prior announcement, dropped the first single for The Next Day onto an unsuspecting world. There was shock followed immediately by awe, as Ziggy Stardust hasn't lost a step into his old age. The entire album is full of catchy hits (The title track, "The Stars Are Out Tonight"). It's a testament to Bowie's talent that he's able to take ten years between solo albums and be just as good as he used to be. Not a single song really sounds like another one and yet they all flow together nicely. In today's world where acts like Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus are getting by on...whatever it is they get by on (it's not talent), Bowie has proven that real music is still out there and can still be a huge success. If you're a fan of anything Bowie's ever done, you should definitely give this album a listen. I'd put it next to any of his work over the years, it's that good.

Chad Webb: David Bowie's The Next Day was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2013, at least in terms of music anyway. I remember when this album was sprung on the public. I was interested, but have never been an avid Bowie fanatic. His contribution to the music industry is inarguable, but I look at him as a very hit and miss artist if I'm being truthful. That being said, this album, his 24th and his first set of new material in approximately 10 years, is really magnificent.

Prior to this, Bowie's legions of fans were still devoted, but even they would have to admit that his material was not that consistent or the most satisfying of his long career. This is a very melodic, committed piece and you can hear The Thin White Duke giving each song 110%. There is an enigmatic quality to his music and his sound that is alluring and inviting. What makes The Next Day so extraordinary is that not only does it remind you of the musician's best work, but it is also right on par with his finest contributions. Each track is magnificent, but the stand-outs are "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)," "Valentine's Day," and the title song just to name a few. The lyrics are bold, intelligent, and offer compelling modern commentaries. One of the traits I adore about David Bowie is that you never know what to expect, sound and style-wise, from his compositions. The Next Day only reaffirms that each song is bizarre but fulfilling, precisely what makes Bowie so distinct and memorable. And even though he asked to double-dip with The Next Day Extra, this is still a great album that is worth repeated listens.

And there you have it! Come back tomorrow as we reveal #5 - 1!


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