My musical tastes are varied and wide, but this year, it seemed like my favorite albums of the year were vastly more varied. Here's the list of albums that kept me hitting repeat in 2013.
10. Black Sabbath - 13
I was one of the naysayers that believed Rick Rubin producing this album would lead to something terrible. I was one of the many who said "NO BILL WARD, NO BLACK SABBATH." I was one of those that said "Brad Wilk's on skins? That sounds dumb." I was proven OH...SO...WRONG. 13 was another return to form, a "reunion" that I was happy to hear creating new music. From front to back, it's a tour-de-force of retro-inspired Black Sabbath where Geezer's rhythm and Tony's leads seer your eardrums with prime doom and gloom. They were able to capture the magic of Volume 4 and Paranoid while keeping it modern, making it work for this generation as well as previous ones. Rarely do you see a band come back together to produce such a fantastic piece of music.
9. Run The Jewels
Thanks to the Giant Bomb community, I learned about this project through the forums. I really enjoyed it on my first listen, but I found myself constantly coming back to it time and time again over the year. Something about the flow, the beats, and the homemade feel of the album is so addicting. There's a lot of great wordplay, but at the end of the day, it just comes down to the fact that it's a pleasure for the ears to take in the sounds produced by El-P and Killer Mike. Every time I hear "Sea Legs," it just puts me in a good mood for some damn reason.
8. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
When we heard that Daft Punk would have a new release this year, the fervor was massive. When the album finally released, we were presented with a funkadelic EDM album that really went outside of the normal Daft Punk parameters. There was actual bass being played, production from Pharrell Williams, and one hell of a feel-good song in "Get Lucky." However, digging deeper into the album, we are presented with a greater concept: the robots want to make human music. What makes music "music?" How does EDM present itself to the mainstream as "actual music" rather than constantly being tossed aside by many naysayers who believe in the archaic philosophy of "no instruments, no music?" Random Access Memories is the solid answer to that question.
7. Sevendust - Black Out The Sun
It's been a long time since I liked a Sevendust album. After Seasons, things just seemed to go downhill and sideways with these guys, trying to dig into a well that was long tapped and just not themselves. With Black Out The Sun, the boys in Sevendust have returned to full form, creating what is arguably the best album of their career. Much like with Norma Jean's Wrongdoers, Sevendust take their classic formula of hard-hitting metal, mix in some melody from efforts like Animosity and Seasons, and somehow bring in some modern flavor to create a pounding and brutal album. This was indeed one of the most pleasant surprises of 2013.
6. Carcass - Surgical Steel
Part of me really wanted to put Death Angel's The Dream Calls for Blood or Annihilator's Feast on this list overall, but when it came down to metal - true, earnest, hard-edged bleeding metal, Carcass's Surgical Steel was THE...FUCKING...EPITOME...of metal in 2013. No album that came against it could stand on two legs without toppling to the ground in a gory mess. Steer and Ash deliver some of the grindiest riffs ever with a fantastic rhythm section from Walker and Wilding. However, it's the eccentricity of the music, the grandiose nature of the sound and the violence that really amplify this album above any other metal released this year.
5. Protest The Hero - Volition
Speaking of metal still, let's talk about Volition, the fourth effort from Protest The Hero. Ever since they released Kezia, Protest has been marching to the beat of their own drummer. They marched so hard to that beat that they left their record label (Vagrant Records), decided to crowd-fund their new album, and even had to deal with their drummer leaving (to venture into other interests) and replace him with Chris Adler (drummer, Lamb of God) in the studio. Volition itself is a fun album, but it has its serious moments. More than anything, though, it's one of the few albums released this year that felt homegrown, like it was a labour of love, that it was a creation for the band more than the fans. If anything, Volition is the first time since Kezia where it felt like the guys were just jamming out, making some killer music, and having a good ol' time.
4. Big KRIT - King Remembered In Time
There are few rappers out there who honestly claim to be truly great. However, Big KRIT proved with K.R.I.T. that he is among them. His beats are original and eclectic. His flow and lyrics are genuine and heartfelt. His ability to create a SONG rather than just a beat with a flow is magnificent. Everything on K.R.I.T. is just truly spectacular. It's an actual orgasm for the ears, and if anything, it's a damn shame that something this good isn't embraced by mainstream radio because it refuses to follow the "formula" for popular music. Big KRIT aims to be different, but it's not for the sake of being different. It is a genuine want to create something more than just bullshit. Moreover, K.R.I.T. is a rap album that literally ANYONE from any walk of life, genre of music, etc. can listen to and enjoy.
3. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience Part 1
Timberlake is cool. That's just a fact. He has this magical power to create pop music that is literally just excellent. With The 20/20 Experience Part 1, he did a lot to push pop music into a different direction than it is currently following. He decided to write songs that were experimental, songs that broke the 3:30 - 4:00 formula, songs that were highly personal, and songs that brought back the vibe of old R&B. By doing so, he created an abnormality in the pop industry: a pop album that clocks in at 79 MINUTES LONG featuring nothing but smashes and hits. At 40 minutes, that would be expected, but when you start breaking the 7 minute mark on some songs, you go outside of the pop norm and find yourself in legendary status. Timberlake has now proven that he can withstand the test of time, and The 20/20 Experience (at least Part 1) will be a classic pop album.
2. Tesseract - Altered States
Words cannot describe how much I fucking love this album. Very few bands approach "albums" as being one full piece quite the way that Tesseract has come to perfect. Despite having a new singer, the band's latest album offers soaring and existential music that breaks all boundaries and conforms to no one. It's impossible to not listen to the album from start to finish, and with every swooping melody and addicting chorus, Tesseract refuses to let go of you. It is seriously an album that stands all tests of time.
1. Coheed and Cambria - The Afterman: Descension
GOD...DAMN! There were plenty of rock albums this year that helped revive my faith in rock 'n' roll overall. Bowie, Volbeat, Clutch, Stone Sour, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam... There were so many that made me flip shit. However, not a single one of them held a flame to the second part of Coheed's grand and epic tale of Sirius Amory, the legendary figure in their Amory Wars storyline who discovered the Clockwork. Rather than just telling that tale, Claudio and company dig deep into the personal side of Sirius Amory, how his travels take him away from the one he loves, puts him in the shoes of fantastic characters, and leads him down a personal journey that is beyond most mortal comprehension. The sting of betrayal, the lament of love lost, the pain of filling burdened shoes... Claudio's lyrics pierce through your soul, touching a deep part of your heart that rarely gets attention. I cry every time I hear "The Dark Side of Me," as its sadness is already something immense. Once you look at the story that is being told, the realization that it's a song of recognizing within yourself rather than just love lost...goddamn, I'm getting weepy just writing about it. This album gives me goosebumps, literal goosebumps. You don't necessarily need the first part of The Afterman (Ascension) to see how beautiful, eclectic, and fantastic this album is.