The best of the rest, in alphabetical order:
Altar Of Plagues, Teethed Glory and Injury:
Nobody had any idea this would be the final album by the genre-bending Irish band, but what a note to go out on, as they took their black metal/post-metal influences and turned that sound on its ear with a surreal, atonal, martial style that felt mechanical and sensual at the same time.
Essential tracks: “God Alone”, “A Remedy and a Fever”
Atlantean Kodex, The White Goddess:
The German band did the unthinkable in 2013: they made old-fashioned, epic heavy metal cool. And they deserved every accolade too, as their colossal, meticulously researched songs, accompanied by the most beautiful album packaging of 2013, reminded us all what proper, true heavy metal is.
Essential tracks: “Sol Invictus”, “Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown”
It was going to be tough to follow up the stunning debut Feel it Break, but Katie Stelmanis and Austra did so in classy fashion with the new wave-influenced Olympia, a sleek and ornate record that reminded me of all those obscure, weirdo Canadian bands that MuchMusic used to always play in the mid-‘80s. Yet somehow I still liked it.
Essential tracks: “Painful Like”, “Annie (Oh Muse, You)”
Typical of metal musicians, this side project by Hexvessel’s Matt McNerney is hopelessly passé and lacking in subtlety. But although it’s 11 years too late, although its Joy Division worship is painfully obvious, this album scorches, a gritty, edgy, forceful take on post-punk that embraces Sisters of Mercy bombast that “cool” bands were afraid to do a decade ago.
Essential tracks: “Death Reflects Us”, “Genocidal Crush”
Best Coast, Fade Away:
Best Coast’s 2012 album was a nice enough follow-up to 2010 Album of the Year Crazy For You, but it felt too measured, too high-gloss, too sterile compared to the charming debut. This seven-song EP rights the ship wonderfully, Bethany Cosentino’s vibrant new songs returning to the bubbly, energetic, hooky songs that made Crazy For You so special.
Essential tracks: “Who Have I Become”, “I Don’t Know How”
Louise Burns, The Midnight Mass:
I was a big fan of Louise Burns’ 2011 solo debut Mellow Drama, which shed her Lillix past and established her as a talented singer-songwriter. The brooding follow-up, though, is even better, produced by Sune Rose Wagner and awash in Badalamenti atmospherics and Scott Walker grandiosity. This is a lock for my 2013 Polaris Prize ballot.
Essential tracks: “Emeralds Shatter”, “The Lodger”
Daft Punk, Random Access Memories:
What a delight it was to not only see Daft Punk return with the best album of their career, but to score a viral hit in the instant classic “Get Lucky”. Random Access Memories has it all: Julian Casablancas’s best performance since 2000, a resurrected Paul Williams, and an absolutely delightful tribute to Giorgio Moroder. Anyone who dislikes this album has no pulse.
Essential tracks: “Get Lucky”, “Instant Crush”
Darkthrone, The Underground Resistance:
Of all metal albums that came out this year, this was the one that felt specially made for old headbangers my age. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto set aside the crust punk of their recent work to pay homage to the music of their, our youth, and in all its sloppy, Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost-worshipping glory, it felt honest, sincere, and as powerful as metal in 1984.
Essential tracks: “Leave No Cross Unturned”, “Valkyrie”
Ghost surprised a lot of people by following up the near-perfect Opus Eponymous with the lavish, diverse Infestissumam, but I loved the earnest way it tried to recreate those old, high-gloss, coke-fueled blockbuster albums of the late-‘70s, and the way it blended sumptuous melodies with blasphemous lyrics was devilishly subversive. After all, you catch more flies with honey.
Essential tracks: “Year Zero”, “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen”
HollySiz, My Name Is:
This was a kooky discovery, recommended to me by a friend, one that inexplicably clicked. Hollysiz is actually French actress Cécile Cassel (Vincent’s sister) who scored a French pop hit with “Come Back to Me”, and has put together a fun, surprisingly adventurous little album that buoyantly bounces from genre to genre.
Essential tracks: “Come Back to Me”, “Tricky Game”
Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park:
It takes a great album to make me pay attention to mainstream country, and this did it. Kacey Musgraves comes across as a more down-to-earth, more mature, less entitled version of Taylor Swift, an endearing singer capable of poetic lyrics, sly wordplay, sweet melodies and genuine soul. This album is a total charmer, and Musgraves is a major talent.
Essential tracks: “Merry Go ‘Round”, “Follow Your Arrow”
Purson, The Circle and the Blue Door:
This was a debut album I was waiting a long time for, and it didn’t disappoint. Led by young guitarist Rosalie Cunningham, Purson delves into occult-themed psychedelic rock of the late-‘60s, but with a decidedly English slant, pastoral sounds leading you down the garden path only to turn over a stone and show the writhing ugliness underneath.
Essential tracks: “Leaning on a Bear”, “Tragic Catastrophe”
Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork:
The first Queens of the Stone Age album in seven years was a different sort of beast many were expecting, but despite its seeming lack of immediacy it has a sly way of wriggling into your head. For all its guest musicians it’s a remarkably concise album with a bevy of riches lurking under the surface, a testament to Josh Homme’s songwriting.
Essential tracks: “If I Had a Tail”, “I Sat By the Ocean”
Shooting Guns, Brotherhood of the Ram:
The instrumental psychedelic doom stalwarts returned with a new record that expanded on the doom/space/krautrock formula, blowing it up sky high, recorded on analog but sounding far filthier than, say, an overpriced Rise Above vinyl fetish object. Brooding, monolithic, explosive, it was best described as, “a diesel train going off a buffalo jump.” Indeed. Put this record on, if you were lucky enough before it sold out its first printing, strap yourself in, and prepare for carnage.
Essential tracks: “Motherfuckers Never Learn”, “Go Blind”
Vulgar Fashion, Vulgar Fashion:
Remember electroclash? Well, it was never this dark, this sultry, this dirty. The mysterious duo from Denton, Texas, of all places manages to fuse pop music, coldwave, and high art in a way that Fischerspooner never could have imagined, an intoxicating five-song record that doesn’t so much as pulsate seductively than throb menacingly. Disturbing and brilliant, it’s haunted me for nearly the entirety of 2013.
Essential tracks: “Golden Showers”, “Krystal Tearz”