Continuing the Top Ten countdowns, it’s my turn to give you my highlights of the year’s releases. In truth it’s been one of the most difficult ones for me with fourteen contenders vying for position. It’s been a really good year in my opinion even though I don’t think I listened to that much considering my fellow Scramblers lists and how different mines is. To top it off, if it didn’t breach the top ten rules there’s a good chance my number one would have been a ten-year old remaster.
For a change my top three wrote itself, but it was deciding which four wouldn’t make the grade that I found most difficult this year. So without further ado, I present the countdown in the traditional reverse order
10. Deaf Havana – Old Souls
The follow-up to the excellent Fools and Worthless Liars continued the evolution of Deaf Havana’s sound displaying maturity beyond their years and, quite simply, the ability to write a damn good catchy song. Truth be told Old Souls is not a million miles away from its predecessor, but that isn’t a bad thing by any means.
The album is tighter, though lyrically has the same post-emo despair, but the addition of some interesting female backing gave a new dimension to a some songs, albeit a subtle one. The backing singer made it to the stage too when they played in Edinburgh earlier in the year at the soon to be defunct Picture House. One of my favourite gigs of the year likely helped cement its place in this chart over Signals from genre mates Mallory Knox.
9. AFI – Burials
Back in 2011 an announcement was made that AFI were to split. Shortly thereafter it was revealed to be a hoax as someone had hacked their forums and posted the split using front man Davey Havok’s account. Unfortunately, I missed this vital piece of news and so when I realised there was a new AFI album out I was overjoyed. Following the vein of 2009’s Crash Love, Burials is a considered affair having long since shed the anguished shouts of 2003’s Sing the Sorrow and its predecessors favouring a smoother vocal. It’s a mixture of infectious pop such as the excellent ’17 Crimes’ balanced with the more traditional Gothic stylings of ‘I Hope You Suffer’.
8. Bring Me the Horizon – Sempiternal
Now I’m sure this choice will surprise a few people, most notably the guys on the Musicscramble writing crew. I’ve always had a curious listening relationship with BMTH. When they appeared on the scene at first they were derided by everyone everywhere; They couldn’t play. The singer barked. They had no timing. That might’ve been true to an extent, but I loved their debut. Yeah, it’s rough, but’s it had an element I couldn’t quite place. As the band grew they calmed down a lot and that for me made them less interesting to my ears, but then Sempiternal came along.
To me this album is the band reaching where they always wanted to be. The furiousness of the debut album is left far far behind, but in its place is a bunch of guys who’ve honed their craft into something special. It’s loud, but not fast. It’s cautious but energetic at the same time. It’s almost like if you slowed Meshuggah down and put a better vocal on it. It surprised me and I’m sure it will surprise many others too, especially the folks who’ve long since written the band off.
7. How to Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion
This was the album I found hardest to place in the chart. As I said in my review, it’s a bit of a mood piece in that if you’re in the mood for something a bit esoteric then this is the place to go, but if you’re not in the mood it’s easily mistaken for a bizarre succession of beeps and bloops. But when I’m in the mood, man do I love this record.
Mariqueen Maandig’s voice is hauntingly beautiful and when teamed with husband Trent Reznor’s skill as a digital sculptor makes for a powerful album not easily forgotten. If it didn’t have the ‘not in the mood’ thing then I suspect it should’ve placed higher in this chart.
6. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
Pearl Jam have managed something astounding over the years in that they have experimented with their sound ensuring that no two albums sound truly alike, yet they never sound like simply retreading over old territory. Once again Seattle’s finest returned this year with a hell of a record. Lightning Bolt is an extremely easy album to listen to.
It’s well produced, nicely levelled with great clarity on all instruments. I wrote about it at length earlier in the year which you can read in full for all the details, but suffice to say it’s one of the best rock albums of the year. It’s got a bit of everything really and simply sounds great, proving that old dogs don’t necessarily require new tricks to remain fresh and exciting.
5. Various Artists – Sound City – Real to Reel
The rules of the top ten must be unique artist releases and can’t include compilations. This album is the exception that proves the rule. The soundtrack to the movie of the same name directed by Dave Grohl is a film of two halves, the first half detailing the history of the Sound City studio, the second half seeing the old analogue sound desk moved into Grohl’s home studio where he calls up his rock star buddies and records a completely unique album on it.
Each song is a bit of a master class in classic rock sound featuring the likes of Stevie Nicks, Paul McCartney, Rick Springfield, Josh Homme, Trent Reznor and a much vaunted reunion with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. It’s one of the best compilations I’ve ever heard and since every song is a unique creation that will only ever feature on this soundtrack, it totally fits in the top ten rules.
4. Kvelertak – Meir
Noisy, growling punk antics, fast, very loud, and as it’s entirely in Norwegian, I don’t understand a goddamn word of it. But I do not care as I love it. This has been my surprise hit of the year after stumbling across the excellent video for ‘Bruane brenn’ which features kids in place of the band before one of them ends up with an owl on his head. You did not read that wrong. An owl.
In places it reminds me a bit of American mob The Bronx which is no bad thing. If you like thrashy punk and hear one foreign language album this year (unless you’re Norwegian, obviously), make it this one.
3. Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Descension
The fact that this album was released in February and still made it to my top ten is a definitive statement. One of Coheed’s best albums to date, The Afterman: Descension is a perfect accompaniment to its sister album Ascension released December 2012 which funnily enough made last years chart. It’s a curious mix of sounds ranging from the signature crazy-titled Coheed epic ‘Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant’ to the trad-jazz infused ‘Number City’ and the delightful pop cheese of ‘2’s My Favourite 1′.
If you are unfamiliar with the band it’s not a bad starting place at all. Either that or it’ll confuse the hell out of you. But for me, as a long time fan, I think it’s amazing.
2. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
It’s no secret that I believe Trent Reznor to be one of the last great original musicians left. The fact this is his third mention on this chart should tell you that. Ironically though, Hesitation Marks has a lot in common with the twenty year old The Downward Spiral yet with the original flair I would expect from Mr Reznor. Once again, for all the details you can read my review.
The “Cliff notes” version is it’s involving, personal, experimental, sometimes daring, exciting, depressing and lots of other superlatives that end in -ing.
1. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Every so often a record comes along that blows you away. ...Like Clockwork stole my heart the first time I listened to it and it rejuvenates my soul a little with every subsequent play. Honestly, it’s that good. The thing is, I’m not even much of a Queens of the Stone Age fan and I only listened to it because I wanted to hear something new. Thank goodness I did. I’m not lying when I say that on the first listen I knew this was going to be my album of the year. It has a curiousness to it that I just find utterly encapsulating and it has never lost that appeal on every repeat. It’s not bold, it doesn’t have a huge bombastic sound, nor does it demand to be heard. It just subtly slips its way into your conciousness.
The last record that did that to me is Brand New’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me which remains one of my firm favourites. …Like Clockwork is destined to do the same; I’m sure of it.
Runners up: The following albums deserve honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the grade but so very nearly did. Mallory Knox – Signals, Killswitch Engage – Disarm the Descent, Sons of the Sea – Sons of the Sea, and Evile – Skull.