When I was initially tasked with writing this article I thought “I’ll be lucky if I’ve listened to 10 albums released this year”. How wrong could I be? Turns out I was very wrong.
After completing my search through the various 2013 release schedules I was pretty surprised to find that my list consisted of 24 albums. That’s almost one album for every fortnight of the year. For all that it was quite a struggle to whittle it down to ten, it was very satisfying to see that so many bands and artists were releasing material that is of such a high calibre that it took me such a long time to create this list.
10. Scarlet Shift – Found
Found opener ‘Clouds’ is one of my favourite individual tracks this year. It’s one of those songs that just makes me smile and tap my foot. From the opening keys to the fade-out lyrics “we have all the time in the world” it’s a beautiful song. With Janine Shilstone of Vukovi making a guest appearance to help bring the story of a young couple, facing the struggles of relationships and rash decisions, to life.
The rest of the album is catchy and has you toe-tapping along. Standouts from those other tracks are ‘Lion Needs Courage’ which has been changed slightly from its initial release on their EP Give Up The Ghost. ‘Smell The Roses’, a beautifully arranged ballad about taking the time to enjoy and take stock of certain things in your life. Lovely stuff. ‘Sparks’, recently used on a promotional video by the SFA which may have served well in getting their sound out to the fans of Scottish football who weren’t aware of this group of talented youngsters that I consider to be local lads having grown up in the Southside of Glasgow myself. I’m really looking forward to seeing them live next year and the possibility of some new material.
9. KT Tunstall – Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon
I reckon you’d have a seriously tough task ahead of you if you were to try and find a more soothing, calming album out there. Every track is beautifully crafted and although you could say there is a very familiar acoustic feel and sound throughout the album, each song is very different. The reason this album makes it to my top ten is that it helped me shake off any stresses and strains at the end of a hard-working day. It almost has medicinal qualities. If you are suffering from any stresses in your life, don’t waste time at the doctors, just fire this record on and let KT sort you right out, because I’m telling you, it works!
8. Stone Sour – House of Gold & Bones Part 2
The first time I heard Part 2 I was in work and couldn’t give it my full attention so I switched it off and decided I was going to wait until I got home, lock myself in the man-cave, get the big cans out and give it the time and attention it deserved. I am so glad I did because this album is epic. It’s like a massive production that lifts you out of your body and takes you on a journey. There’s something about Corey Taylor’s strained vocals and ability to make every word sound that bit more dramatic that helps elevate your being to the point where you are captured in the story that Stone Sour are putting across. Stone Sour know how to produce an album that can be as heavy or soft as you want it to be, this is no exception. I still think that last years Part 1 is the better all round record but this one isn’t too far off the pace and a very worthy entry to my top ten of 2013.
7. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
A bolt from the blue (no pun intended) in the form of frantic guitars and Eddie Vedder’s beautiful and soulful voice. Personally I had grown distant from my Pearl Jam collection besides a few songs that will always sweep me back to the days when I was jamming with my pals in their bedrooms. So when I heard about the new album I wasn’t anticipating it to be the standout it has turned out to be. A return to their former self, in fact, this album could be straight from the days of Ten, Vitalogy and Vs but mixed with wisdom and maturity expected from a band that’s taken in more than two decades together. Album opener ‘Getaway’, first single ‘Mind Your Manners’ and ‘Sirens’ being the standout tracks for me. Pearl Jam have raised the bar yet again and I hope they follow this up with another release sometime soon. I wonder if they’ll EVER come back to Scotland? If so, I’ll be first in line for a ticket.
6. Alice in Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
This album picks up exactly where Black Gives Way to Blue left off and could easily be an extension of the 2009 hit album which ended the 14 year hiatus from the studio. It does exactly that from the offset with crunching guitar riffs, rattling drums and the fantastic vocal mix offered by Cantrell and DuVall. The album starts off quite dark and it isn’t until ‘Voices’ that we see a lift in the mood. ‘Scalpel’ is the pick of the bunch when it comes to the latter tracks which don’t quite hold up the early promise in the album and that’s what keeps this one from climbing higher on my list. It’s not obvious that DuVall’s input is increased on this outing but he does seem to be getting a bit more airtime here than on the previous record which can only be a good thing for any future releases by this beast of a band. Can I just add that I seen them in Glasgow recently and they were outstanding from the first minute to the last.
5. Alter Bridge – Fortress
Before the release of Fortress I was expecting it to build on the foundation set before it with the impressive AB3. I wasn’t disappointed. An instant favourite with a track-listing that has the heart rate jumping and plummeting all over the place. Holding the instantaneously Alter Bridge sound throughout as well as showcasing Mark Tremonti’s singing talents as he takes lead vocal duty on ‘Waters Rising’, something I was hoping to see more of on this release as he’s not just a very gifted, technical guitarist. To sum this album up, I’ve played it from start to finish more than any other this year and it was only released 2 months prior to writing this which pretty much says it all.
4. The Bronx – The Bronx (IV)
Recommended by a friend, The Bronx were a complete revelation for me. Having already released 3 studio albums prior to this years iteration of the ‘self titled’ albums and discounting the two albums released under their alter ego Mariachi El Bronx, this one being The Bronx (IV). I was late to the party but I think I arrived just in time to see the best part! IV comes screaming out of the traps and doesn’t let up. Bursting from one song to the next, this album only lets up, from the rampant surge from start to finish, once to bring us the sombre and raw ‘Life Less Ordinary’. It really does leave me wondering how I’ve managed to miss this band until now??
3. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us Is the Killer
I wasn’t overly-enamoured with this album at first. I felt the pace was a bit off just didn’t flow well at all. But, it turned out to be the proverbial grower and after a good few listens, as well as seeing a few of the tracks played out live which is expanded on in my Dillinger gig review from last month, it’s firmly in my top 10 for this year. ‘Prancer’ opens up the album by going straight for the jugular. A high tempo and shorts harp punchy riffs, it is an explosive start. There are a few more accessible tracks for those non-initiated in the world of math-metal. ‘One of Us is the killer’ and ‘Nothing’s Funny’ being two I’d recommend to folk looking for an introduction to the genre. An album full of off-beat drums, screeching, multi-layered guitar tracks and vocals ranging from melodic to incomprehensible, it has something for everyone.
2. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
This album almost makes it into my top 10 just by having ‘I Sat By the Ocean’ alone. That one track has probably been my most listened to since it was released. Almost all other tracks on the album have that well-known and affiliated stoner-rock sound that QotSA have built a career on for the past 17 years. There’s the odd exception in amongst the bass-heavy stuff too, with ‘…Like Clockwork’ providing Homme the opportunity to showcase his softer side, a beautifully haunting performance that finishes off the album nicely.
1. Biffy Clyro – Opposites
Biffy have managed to do the unthinkable and produce a double album absolutely packed with great songs. Catchy hooks and the ability to write some of the most unique and modern lyrics is just a couple of things that Biffy can do with little effort. With Opposites, there is no difference. I find it difficult to pick songs that I see as highlights on the album as I don’t believe there are any weak songs to make others stand out. To say that about an album featuring twenty tracks – twenty two if you buy from iTunes – is a bit of a statement. I guess that is the exact reason why this album was the easiest one to position in my top ten. I can understand that some folk out there can’t get past the accentuated colloquial singing style of Simon Neil because when I first heard Blackened Sky back in 2002 I too struggled to get past it but now I can only see it as part of Biffy’s draw. If you haven’t done so already, give this album a careful listen from start to finish. It’s all killer, no filler and therefore my number one album of 2013.
I can only hope that 2014 can keep up with the pace of the last year in music and create an even bigger headache for me come next December.