So, I’ll say one thing about this list–it certainly is testosterone-filled, anger-laced and aggressive. This is probably the first time I’ve had a Top Music list that didn’t include a female-fronted act in the top 10. It was not done intentionally; trust me, my favorite vocalists are female rock artists, and I’m already sensing that Within Temptation’s “Hydra” will be my favorite album of 2014 (unless Cyanotic’s “Worst Case Scenario” can knock it off the pedestal), based off of their newest duet with Tarja (Nightwish). As I began to review my favorite albums of the year, I noted a subtle drift in my own tastes since I last reported in 2012, not necessarily away from a certain style in general, just back to a darker clicktrack.
2012 was my Dubstep year, a year of exploration and sonic adventure. And I loved the adventure, every step of it. Dupstep (and all its variations) is a happy, undeniable part of me now, even if I gravitated toward edgier acts like Bassnectar, Liquid Stranger, Excision, Pixel Fist and Bare. This list reflects some of those styles. I dipped my toe into the waters last year, and those styles have influenced this list, and continue to color my sonic landscape.
However, 2013 returned me to the edge, whether as a result of the contrition of my life, frustrations, growing older, loneliness… whatever the case may be, the rage was back in full force this year. I may not be back to the death metal-lovin’ self that I once was, but this list definitely represents a darker deviation and a return to the comfort of the shade.
This year was truly an amazing year for music beyond popular trends and nauseating orbits of corporate overexposure (see Five Finger Death Punch and Avenged Sevenfold). In previous years, I felt myself cobbling the year’s great music together into a useful list of recommendations, sometimes stretching to fill slots with albums that, in hindsight, probably weren’t as good as I thought. This year however, I am solid about the Top 10 of this list. In fact, this Best Albums list originally only included my Top 10 favorite albums of 2013.
But 10 just didn’t capture all the great music this year, so I had to expand the discussion. Here are my Top 20 albums of 2013. I hope you take some time to check out these trendsetting and art-bending creators. I love these artists and albums, and I’m sure you will too, if you give them a try. They may not be ALL to your liking, but some of them may. Expand your musical identity and adventure with me.
Thank you for your consideration, and rawk on!
20__Free Dominguez – “The Volcano + The Sea”
(album that I sponsored via Kickstart)
19__Toad the Wet Sprocket – “New Constellation”
(album that I sponsored via Kickstart)
18__Morcheeba – “Head Held High”
17_Liquid Stranger – “Elemental EP”
16__Skinny Puppy – “Weapon”
15__Bassnectar – “Take You Down EP”
14__Ministry – “From Beer to Eternity”
13__Alice In Chains – “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”
12__Killswitch Engage – “Disarm The Descent”
Fave songs: “In Due Time”, “The Hell in Me”, “Time Will Not Remain”
Why: Great to see a band go back to its roots. With “Disarm”, Killswitch brought back Jesse Leach, former lead singer of the band. I didn’t grow tired of old vox master Howard Jones, but I’m fine with his departure. After hearing his yawner of a duet with Within Temptation, I think Killswitch Engage made the best choice. I look forward to what’s to come from them.
11__Scar The Martyr (self-titled)
Fave songs: “Soul Disintegration”, “Blood Host”, “Effigy Unborn”
Why: Producer Rhys Fulber (Conjure One, Delerium) + Drummer Joey Jordison (Slipknot) = A blissfully edgy and fresh metal attack with clean production, dark Fulberesque programming and horrific undertones.
10__Destroid – “The Invasion”
Fave songs: “Wasteland”, “Crusaders”, “Flip the Switch (feat. Messinian)”
Why: Excision + Downlink + DJ Sawka (Pendulum) = Dubstep Supergroup. Brilliant, sci-fi dubstep by three extremely talented musicians. Powerful, boppin’, and out of this world.
9__I Am Legion (self-titled)
Fave songs: “Make Those Move”, “Loose on the Leaves”, “Powerplay”
Why: Noisia + Metropolis + Foreign Beggars. Many thanks to Cyanotic brainchild Sean Payne for turning me onto this intriguing, captivating collaboration between European rappers and electronic dance music veterans. Once I started listening to this album, I knew I’d stumbled across sonic gold. Like Destroid, I Am Legion should be considered a super-group, a thumpin’ mix-tape of sweet beats and solid rhymes that will have you steppin’ in no time.
8__Acucrack – “The Mawn Reproduction”
Fave songs: “Xtro”, “Pineal Splitter”, “The Swan”, “Russian River Conspiracy”
Why: Jason Novak + Sean Payne. To be fair, I don’t know the full history of DJ? Acucrack, a brilliant musical collaboration of Chicago industrial/glitch veterans Jason Novak and the late Jamie Duffy. Tragically, Jamie committed suicide last year, ending his underrated and undervalued contribution to glitch and dark industrial/electronic music on the planet. DJ? Acucrack created around 9 albums over a ten-year span, and while they never achieved a level of deserved national attention, the passing of Jamie Duffy has spurred a cyclone of interest in Chicago glitch/electronic music, culminating in this year’s “Cold Waves Electronic Music Festival II” in Chicago. The event was dedicated to Jamie, and featured “a dedication album”, of sorts, developed by remaining member Jason Novak, the ghost of Jamie and featuring programming by Cynaotic founder Sean Payne. If Terminator had sex with The Fly, and their offspring was hatched with a headset and turntables for arms and wings, while being serenaded by the screams of a mechanical underbelly, the rugged hybrid would look and sound something like a mawn reproduction. If you’re into dark industrial, such as Front Line Assembly or Skinny Puppy, you’ll marry Acucrack.
7__Korn – “The Paradigm Shift”
Fave songs: “Never Never”, “Love & Meth”, “Mass Hysteria”, “Prey For Me”,
Why: I’ll be honest with you–I wanted to hate this album. Their attitude post-Path of Totality, almost dismissing what they did with that album and those of us that appreciated the experimentation with a different style, seriously irritated me. I wouldn’t listen to this album for months. It’s only because of my BFFL that I gave it a chance, and I’m glad that I did, because it is an extremely solid Korn album. When it comes down to it, I’m more a Jonathan Davis fan than I am a Korn fan now, regardless of whether or not Head is back in the fold. JD’s side projects with J Devil and Killbot show range that is far beyond Korn, and keep me coming back to what has become relatively mainstream rock, instead of the “All In The Family”, “Blind” and “Adidas” -version Korn that I grew up loving. Korn is now a radio-friendly, big-time band that I suppose has a responsibility to work more in the middle than when they were fringekids, but I can’t accept the level of “selling out” that I feel Korn has accepted. “Path of Totality” threw aside what was expected of them, and was a favorite musical adventure of mine of 2011. To me, their eleventh album doesn’t represent any kind of real “shift”, unless it is in reference to shifting away from their dubstep experiment. They don’t represent a paradigm shift in any sense of the word, and the songs on “Paradigm Shift” aren’t anything that Korn hasn’t already done on previous works. But Korn does angry, unbridled aggression well, and I can’t complain about a record that slays from beginning to end.
6__Alter Bridge – “Fortress”
Fave songs: “Farther Than the Sun”, “Cry of Achilles”, “Addicted to Pain”
Why: I want to thank Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti for helping me forget about my “Creed phase”. Sure, their sound helped usher in a soulful darkness with “My Own Prison”, back in the day. But does anyone really miss Scott Stapp? I sure as hell don’t, not with Myles Kennedy continuing to create far more powerful music than self-important Stapp ever did. “Fortress” is surprisingly powerful. I go into every Alter Bridge album expecting cheesy, re-done rock, but am continually awe-inspired with what Tremonti comes up with. I loved “ABIII”, and thought that was their best. “Fortress” definitely challenges that well-held position.
5__Gemini Syndrome – “Lux”
Fave songs: “Mourning Star”, “Pleasure in Pain”, “Stardust”, “Basement”
Why: Epic, through and through. Gemini Syndrome deserves high praise for a debut album that soars, crushes, wails, and inspires. Not to mention, fronted by a very talented albino that has an attention-grabbing stage presence. This is truly a talented new rock/metal band that deserves your attention and spins, even if radio doesn’t fully catch on right away. “Lux” is anthemic, ethereal and awesome, a great alternative for anyone that has just had too much of the repetitive, nauseating overexposed, radio “Death Punch”.
4__Chimaira – “Crown of Phantoms”
Fave songs: “Crown of Phantoms”, “New Apocalypse”, “Wrapped In Violence”, “The Machine”
Why: This album is brutal, unrelenting, unrepentant, and is exactly what I’ve come to expect from one of my favorite metal bands. I’ve stuck with them through it all, and “Crown of Phantoms” is a reward for sticking through lean years and constant lineup changes. True, much of the original band of Chimaira is no longer in tact, but so long as Mark Hunter is fronting this concept, there is a consistency of purpose and artistic direction. While their “Outshined” cover is a fun departure, it shows that even Chimaira has their limits, but as long as they’re wearing a crown of darkness, they resonate a dark energy that can’t be denied. Welcome back, Chimaira. I missed you.
3__Modestep – “Evolution Theory”
Fave songs: “To the Stars”, “Show Me A Sign”, “Time”, “Take It All”, “Evolution Theory”
Why: You probably don’t know who Modestep is, and you certainly won’t hear them get much radio play in the United States. They are an electronic/dubstep band from England, relatively new, but extremely talented. My addiction with Modestep began in July 2012, when my good friend Ola played “To the Stars” for me. I was immediately hooked. Little did I know that I’d already heard a Modestep song played over the final scene of the last episode of Season 3 of “The Walking Dead” (“Show Me A Sign”). Subliminally, I was already hooked. Modestep had released various singles over 2012 in advance of the release of their album “Evolution Theory”, and when the album came out, I was jonesin’ for it. I was fully addicted to this album for the early part of 2013, and while I am not as addicted to it now, at the end of 2013, I have to give it major love for its pop, dynamism, continuous addictive beat and undertow of screaming guitars. They were no slouch live, either: they are a charismatic band with loads of talent that deserves broader play.
2__Nine Inch Nails – “Hesitation Marks”
Fave songs: “Came Back Haunted”, “In Two”, “All Time Low”, “I Would For You”
Why: I would be insane if I didn’t include Nine Inch Nails on this list, and would give it the honorary number one spot, if I didn’t think so highly of Chris Corner and what he does with IAMX. Truly, this year produced two of the greatest albums of this decade in “Unified Field” and “Hesitation Marks”, in my opinion. Eights are everywhere in my world, and this 8th release by Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails is beyond brilliant. It is iconic. “Came Back Haunted” was my theme song before NIN ever released it, and fit perfectly into my life. “Hesitation Marks” is so layered and multivarious that I feel a different dynamic trip every time I listen to it.
1__IAMX – “The Unified Field”
Fave songs: I can’t pick a fave. I love each song on the album for different reasons.
Why: I doubt this album will fall onto many Top Music lists. Chris Corner, genius behind IAMX and formerly Sneaker Pimps, operates in Germany and out of the major spotlight. His artistic turns are never trendy choices, but always artistically brilliant and woefully underrated. What he did with “The Unified Field” must be experienced, instead of detailed. I could easily write a blog about this album and it’s Humanistic undertones that call for unity, grace and evolution. “The Unified Field” is a profound song. It is true, we are one in the unified field, and the sooner humans realize that, the better off we will be as a species. Chris Corner is just light years ahead of the rest of us. And deserves the highest praise for such an effort. Thank you, Chris. You have my deepest appreciation, and artistic admiration.
Wishing you a happy and healthy 2014!