[Tori Pederson is a staff reviewer at Punknews.org.]
2013 was a weird one. Metal albums had pink and purple covers, with titles like Sunbather and Ultraviolet. Bands I worshipped as a youth put out records I listened to once and forgot about entirely *cough* Alkaline Trio *cough* AFI * cough*. Carcass put out their first album in seventeen years, and their first good record in twenty years. Kanye West put out a chaotic, noisy, aggressive album, while the noisiest, most chaotic band in the land, the Dillinger Escape Plan, mellowed out a bit, and Nine Inch Nails got back together, making me regret the $100+ I dropped on their "farewell" tour a mere half-decade ago. As in the last two years, I have been attending college in Moscow, ID, and didn't attend a single punk show all year. Kind of a drag, but it gave me a lot of time to listen to (and write about) music. These were my favorites.
OWTH tried their hand at a few experiments on Home, and for the most part they paid off splendidly. It's not their most consistently solid effort, but the highs are as high as they've ever been. You can finally understand what the fuck Ryan is yelling about in the re-recorded "Janie," and "Stolen Away" is just gorgeously heartbreaking.
Bringing in a full band to augment Katie Crutchfield's brutally honest songwriting was a brilliant idea. Lots of bands are trying to sound like they belong on â90s rock radio in 2013, so many in fact that we're nearing oversaturation, but Waxahatchee bring to mind some of the best elements of that bygone era while injecting enough spunk and personality to give the project its own unique identity.
For a band with such a rapid turnaround rate, it's amazing how different and fully realized everything they do comes out. The Men somehow manage to become both weirder and more accessible with every release and this record is no exception. No two tracks sound alike here, and there's not a skippable number in the lot, but my personal favorite is the Tom Petty-aping stomper "Without a Face." I can't wait to hear what they do next, and I know I won't have to wait long.
Black metal imagery and spooky spoken word intros mask what is one of the best pop-punk records in recent memory. The extremely academic anti-religious lyrics make Bad Religion sound like Guttermouth. Black Sails-era AFI seems to be the go-to comparison for these fellas, but the absolutely chill-inducing harmonies on "The Transport of Intrepid Souls" come off like the Menzingers gone goth.
Some assumed that with the jump to a major label, Frank Turner would churn out some Mumford-aping pile of mainstream faux-Americana nonsense. Those fears were quickly quieted upon the release of Tape Deck Heart. While this record might not be as magical as say, Love Ire & Song, it's got the sharp-witted, emotionally biting folk rock we've come to know and love, with some of Turner's best sing-alongs yet.
Ignore the ridiculous band name. Imagine Morrissey and Danzig had a lovechild that went on to front a band that listened to a lot of Ghost BC and you're halfway there. Beastmilk combine all these disparate influences into something uniquely their own, and ended up making one of the coolest, weirdest, most unclassifiable records in recent memory.
Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, Trent Reznor and Elton John all on the same record? You have my attention. It was a long wait, but it was worth it. Most of these tracks are slow-burners, building tension gradually, which makes groovier old-school QOTSA barnburners like "Smooth Sailin'" and "I Sat By the Ocean" all the sweeter.
Kylesa cut back on some of the experimentation that made 2010's Spiral Shadow so interesting, but the more direct approach they takes here is great in its own way as well. They're still trying new things however, as the dreamy "Quicksand" would fit right in on Smashing Pumpkins' classic Siamese Dream, in terms of both style and quality. This band can do no wrong.
A Wilhelm Scream cut back on the over-the-top shredding of their last couple releases and step up the hooks in a big way. It might be blasphemy to some, but I fully believe this is their strongest record. The chorus of "Devil Don't Know" hasn't left my head since this record dropped in early November.
Imagine Mercyful Fate had a jam session with the Sisters of Mercy. Actually don't, that makes it sound dorky – it isn't. Sister is one of the strongest metal releases in one of the best years the genre has seen in some time. The hooks take some time to grab hold, but once they do, they refuse to let go.
I was a casual fan of RVIVR before 2013, but they stepped their game up more than I ever imagined possible on The Beauty Between. Erica Freas has one of the best voices in punk rock. Matt Canino... doesn't, but they find a way to make it work. The fast pop-punk tracks are great to shout along to, particularly "Spider Song," and the slower, more experimental jams like "Paper Thin" and the epic three-part "Hunger Suite" prove there is much more to this band than one would have thought when they first burst onto the scene.
Of the thousands of bands that have tried to sound like Nirvana in the last two decades, Wavves are one of the few who have gotten it right. Afraid of Heights is a little more polished than their prior work, with sharper songwriting and bigger production. Call it the Nevermind to King of the Beach's Bleach. The experimental material doesn't always work, but when Wavves are ripping into straightforward two-minute grungy power-pop like "Sail to the Sun" or the title track, they're peerless.
Blood Ceremony are my favorite new discovery of 2013. They sound a bit like Vol. 4/Sabotage-era Sabbath with a female wailer who can hit Ozzy's high notes better than he has in decades, with the expansive instrumentation of a group like the Decemberists. Flutes, organs and strings abound. There's songs about witches, black magic and evil sisters, and the Wicker Man. If you're into heavy music at all, I cannot stress enough how cool this record is.
The chaotic bits are as loud and satisfying ever, but when DEP slow down and get weird is where things get really interesting. The title track sounds like the Mars Volta jamming with Metallica. The Mike Patton influence is more apparent than ever, and they've finally managed to incorporate their multiple personalities seamlessly. This is DEP's most diverse offering yet, and dare I say their best?
I never paid much attention to the Arctic Monkeys before this year. I had heard a few singles and like them well enough, but never enough to seek out more. I randomly stumbled upon "Do I Wanna Know?" from AM and instantly fell in love. This record takes the funky-yet-sludgy sound of bands like the Black Keys and Queens of the Stone Age and makes them look like chumps. It's surprisingly diverse, too. There's hip-hop beats, disco-like backing vocals and blatant Sabbath riff ripoffs. I love this album so much that it made me investigate the group's entire back catalog and now I am enamored with all of it. Each Arctic Monkeys release is different and awesome in its own way and this is one of their best.
Don't be too sad about Bomb the Music Industry! breaking up, the Front Bottoms are doing similar things and doing them better. And they don't play ska! Talon of the Hawk pretty much offers more of what they brought to the table on their self-titled full-length, but the songs themselves are so great that it doesn't matter. If you loved them before, you'll love them now. "Twin Sized Mattress" wins the prize for best singalong of 2013 - "I'M CURSED FOREVER TO SLEEP ON A TWIN-SIZED MATTRESS, IN SOMEBODY'S ATTIC OR BASEMENT MY WHOOOOOOLE LIFE!"
Portugal. The Man and Danger Mouse is not a pairing I would have dreamed up in a million years but it works astoundingly well. Everything I've enjoyed about this band on their prior releases is magnified tenfold on Evil Friends. The songs run the gamut stylistically, from grungy rockers to drugged-out electronic bangers to simple acoustic folk songs, but everything they try their hand at is a success, and John Gourley has a knack for vocal hooks that is nearly unrivaled. This is the record I've introduced the most people to in 2013, and not a single one has disliked it. There's something for everyone on Evil Friends, so do yourself a favor and check it out.
I don't have to explain myself to you people. Yeezus is astounding, front to back. It's noisy, it's jumbled, and it's punk as fuck. As potentially offensive as sampling "Strange Fruit" for a breakup song may be, "Blood On The Leaves" is the strongest track of West's career so far. It's breathtaking.
Lots of bands put out great records in 2013, but Deafheaven are the only band I can name that actively changed the way an entire genre of music is presented and discussed. "Dream Home," a brutal nine-minute black metal track, was nominated for Stereogum's "Song of the Summer" alongside "Get Lucky" and "Blurred Lines." The bright pink album cover not only perfectly encapsulates the music contained therein, and evokes My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, an obvious influence, it serves as a middle finger to all the black metal purists that take issue with every move the band make. Sunbather is all over the map stylistically and manages to be the first black metal album that can double as the perfect soundtrack for a hot summer day. Perfect front to back.
These seven songs are perhaps the strongest seven songs we've heard from the band to date. They've never sounded this confident, nor this tuneful. One of the finest releases of 2013 regardless of format.
The "It's Actually Pretty Good, Stop Shitting All Over It" Award
Polar Bear Club have always been a band who write albums with three or four songs I absolutely love and adore, and a bunch of songs that I eventually forget about. That's what I've come to expect from them and that's exactly what they delivered here. Sure, the vocals sound different, but who cares? The choruses of "Blood Balloon" and "For Show" are perfect.
The "Brian Fallon âYo, Punknews. It Ain't That Great' Award"
I am SO SICK of hearing about this record from everyone I know who's into punk rock. The noodly guitars are boring and the vocalist sounds like Chuck Ragan if Chuck Ragan was always out of breath. Pass.