1- Wisdom of Crowds – Wisdom of Crowds
2- Clutch – Earth Rocker
3- Anneke Van Giersbergen – Drive
4- Gov’t Mule – Shout!
5- Hank Williams III – Brothers of the 4×4
6- Ministry – From Beer to Eternity
7- Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind
8- Dark Tranquillity – Construct
9- Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
10- Black Sabbath – 13
This is the 10th time that I’ve done a blog and/or a countdown for my Albums of the Year. Last year, I wrote the difficulty I had choosing the top album, as Katatonia and Lacuna Coil both put out such strong albums. This year, I found myself with a similar dilema, as well as a new one. I’ll discuss the new dilemma after I do the run through of the top albums. And to give you a slight hint about the dilemma, let me just let you know that this year could have been the “Year of Jonas Renkse.”
Jonas Renkse is the lead singer of Katatonia, and it’s no secret that they’re one of my favorite groups. They’ve been awarded my Album of the Year honors twice (2009 and 2012) and have come close in other years. I heard that Jonas was going to be doing a project with Bruce Soord, whom I had never heard of. He has his own band, the Pineapple Thief. But, I’ve never heard of them either. Their project was called Wisdom of Crowds and I was curious to hear it. When I finally got the album, I could not believe what I was hearing. The music was a perfect fit for Jonas’s mellow tone. And on some tracks, I thought I was listening to early Nine Inch Nails stuff, especially with the emotion, and even with musical style. It’s a progressive album, and sometimes sounds a little poppy, but it’s still a solid album from beginning to end and I enjoy the ride it takes me on every time I listen to it, which is often. I look forward to more collaborations with Jonas Renkse and Bruce Soord, and I may even check out some of Soord’s other projects. But, as a result of this effort, I think Jonas Renkse has definitely solidified a spot as one of my favorite male vocalists working today.
I recommend every track on the album, but if I had to pick a few as a sample for people to check out, I would suggest “Wisdom of Crowds,” “Radio Star,” “Frozen North,” “Pleasure,” and “Pretend.”
One of the things I liked so much about Lacuna Coil’s album last year was that they “returned to form” after a few albums that disappointed me (to say the least). Clutch is a band that I’ve been listening to for over 20 years, and only once did they put out an album that I genuinely didn’t like, and that was 2009’s Strange Cousins From the West. I’m not alone in my dislike for it, and I’ve discussed it with friends a few times. The album never “grew on me” is a common statement about it. I think that’s the issue with it right there, it shouldn’t have had to.
However, Clutch’s 2013 album, Earth Rocker is definitely a return to form for them. It’s everything a Clutch album should be. If people ever ask me to classify Clutch, I can’t put them into a specific genre, but I do use the title of their 2001 album to describe them. They’re simply “Pure Rock Fury” and that’s exactly what Earth Rocker is. I couldn’t believe how much I liked the album when I was listening to it for the first time. And just as I was thinking “wow, this album rocks, there isn’t a mellow song yet,” I heard “Gone Cold” for the first time. That very well me the best blues song Clutch has created. That’s a bold statement, but I stand by it. It pulls at my heart’s strings, which is what a good blues song is supposed to do. It’s nice to see a band such as this return to what I want them to be.
Tracks from Earth Rocker that I believe you should check out include: “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “Crucial Velocity,” “Gone Cold,” “The Face,” and of course, the title track, “Earth Rocker.”
In last year’s blog, I mentioned that I felt Anneke Van Giersbergen had finally found HER sound as a solo artist. She expanded on that with this year’s realase, Drive. The album has some significant emotion in her voice, and sometimes it’s anger, but it works. And if Jonas Renkse is my favorite male vocalist at the moment, Anneke Van Giersbergen is definitely my favorite female vocalist.
Tracks to check out include “We Live On,” “The Best is Yet to Come,” and my favorite track on the album due to hearing the anger and emotion in it is “Treat Me Like a Lady.”
Gov’t Mule is the quintessential rock/jam band and their front man Warren Haynes is one of the best guitar players in the world. The first disc of Mule’s album Shout! would be a strong contender for anyone’s album of the year list by itself, but it’s the second disc of this double album that puts it over the top. The second disc has all of the songs from the first album redone with different singers. It’s interesting to hear the different interpretations of the songs, but in all honesty, the album would be in my top 10 even without the second disc.
I recommend tracks such as “Stoop So Low,” and I either version is excellent, but the second disc version with Dr. John is unreal. I also really liked “World Boss,” “Funny Little Tragedy,” and “Whisper in Your Soul.”
Hank Williams III put out two albums in 2013 and one of them was a double album. For some people that’s quite an accomplishment, but I consider it slacking for him. He put out 3 albums in 2011, and one of them was also a double album. Regardless of that, his double album, Brothers of the 4×4 is the 5th best album of 2013. Hank knows how to write a country song in the style that his legendary grandfather wrote, but still puts a modern take on it. The songs on the this album are slightly longer than I’m used to from him, and that just adds to the enjoyment. Brothers of the 4×4 is what I expect to hear from Hank, when he’s doing a country album, that is.
Track recommendations from Brothers of the 4×4 include “Nearly Gone,” “Hurtin’ for Certin,” “Toothpickin,” and “Loners 4 Life.”
I didn’t think I would be reviewing another Ministry album, especially since I saw their retirement tour in 2008, but they’re back with their second (and likely last) album since then. This album, From Beer to Eternity, like their previous, 2012’s Relapse is a fun album to listen to. You can seriously tell that they enjoyed making it. If this is indeed their final final album (and yes, I did mean to write “final” twice), it’s a good reminder of how good Ministry can be. Some of the songs on this album remind me of their peak from the late 1980s and early 1990s. If you like Ministry, or industrial music at all, you should check out From Beer to Eternity.
“Hail To His Majesty (Peasants),” “Permawar,” and “Side FX Include Mikey’s Middle Finger (TV 4)” stand out to me.
Made Up Mind from Tedeschi Trucks Band is a great mix of rock, blues, and funk. If you take those elements and through in the amazing guitar skills of Derek Trucks and the soulfull voice of Susan Tedeschi and you should have a great album. I can’t say enough things about Derek Trucks’ guitar skills. I truly believe he IS THE BEST guitar player alive today and watching/hearing a solo from him is just amazing at times. If you’re a fan of Trucks or Tedeschi, or the Gov’t Mule, or the Allman Brothers Band, this is an album you need to hear.
The title track, Made Up Mind is a great track, as are “Sweet and Low,” “All that I Need,” and “the Storm.”
It’s unfortunate for Dark Tranquillity that so many other bands that represent “The Gothenburg Sound” have fallen off and put out such incredible dreck over the last few years. It almost makes me afraid to hear a Dark Tranquillity release, but luckily for me, they have not disappoint me. Construct is another good release from them. I’m always so relieved when I hear that they haven’t lost the sound that makes them distinct. There’s a few times when listening to this album when I said “oh yeah, that’s Dark Tranquillity.” And that’s a good thing.
The opening track, “For Broken Words,” along with “Weight of the End,” and “State of Trust” are some of my favorite songs from the album.
Depeche Mode is on my list of Top Albums of the Year. Who saw that one coming? I know I didn’t, but here they are with Delta Machine. I don’t have a tremendous amount of Depeche Mode’s catalog, but I do have a few “best of” albums and a few of their other releases. I think there’s two or three songs on Delta Machine that could end up on a “best of” one day, and for a band that’s been around for over 30 years with as many hits as they’ve had, that’s saying something.
The songs I was referring to are “Welcome to My World,” “Heaven,” and “Soothe My Soul.”
If Depeche Mode on this list is surprising, so is Black Sabbath, especially since it’s the Ozzy Osbourne incarnation. If only for the fact that nobody ever thought that would happen again. And like Metallica and a few other acts before them, Black Sabbath went to Rick Rubin to produce the album and he made sure to capture the Black Sabbath sound that we expected and wanted to hear. Rubin has a way to get bands to sound like they should, which of course bothers me, because maybe they shouldn’t have strayed from that in the first place, but that’s a different rant for a different time. But, 13, the first album that Black Sabbath released with Ozzy Osbourne singing since 1978 is a solid Black Sabbath effort. As I’ve said, it has the sound we want and it is a good album to close out my 10th Annual Countdown.
Tracks from 13 that I suggest include “God is Dead?,” “Pariah,” and “Loner.”
Some notes on some other albums that came out in 2013:
For a few consecutive years I wrote in these blogs that Steven Wilson was a genius. His albums with Porcupine Tree and Blackfield usually ranked very high on my lists. However, over the last few years, Porcupine Tree has begun to disappoint me, Blackfield is fading, Wilson’s solo projects didn’t do much for me, and I don’t want to get into his Storm Corrosion collaboration. However, that didn’t stop me from getting his newest solo album, The Raven That Refused to Sing and Other Stories. Let me state that I don’t belive the album is nearly as bad as some of the other things I’ve heard from him over the last few years, but it didn’t do it for me. And seeing him perform some of the tracks live made me like them less than before, and that’s not supposed to happen. I would say that his music has become quite pretentious, but that wouldn’t insult him or the music, since he’s described it that way himself. If you like progressive albums, you may like this one. It just wasn’t for me.
Another progressive act that I enjoyed over the past decade was Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon project. Lucassen will assemble a large cast of musicians to basically tell a story in a rock/prog opera style. 2004’s Human Equation was a masterpiece and 2008’s 01011001 brought Jonas Renkse and Anneke Van Giersbergen together for some songs, so how could I not like it? But Ayreon’s 2013 release, The Theory of Everything is really lacking where the others succeeded. It bothers me to say that, as one of my all-time favorite singers, Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia is on the album in a prominent role. It’s just that the story in this album isn’t that good and unlike other albums from Ayreon, there aren’t many (if any) songs on this album I would go out of my way to hear. Maybe Lucassen can rebound next time.
Nine Inch Nails came out of retirement and released Hesitation Marks. It’s okay, at best.
Carcass also resurfaced and put out Surgical Steel. It’s just not my thing.
Mike Patton’s Tomahawk released Oddfellows and like Nine Inch Nails, it’s okay.
The other release from Hank Williams III was a Hellbilly album called A Fiendish Threat. It’s not bad.
And that brings me to Katatonia. I struggled with this decision, but neither of Katatonia’s two released are eligible for consideration based on the rules I’ve previous set and followed for these lists. Katatonia won album of the year last year with Dead End Kings. They re-issued that album this year after changing up the musical style of it and called the album Dethroned & Uncrowned. While it is a new take on songs, it’s not new material and therefore, not eligible.
The other release from Katatonia was a 10th anniversary edition of Viva Emptiness. I always liked Viva Emptiness as it was, even though I always felt is sounded a little bit different from the rest of the Katatonia releases. Well, the band thought it did too, but they were never happy with it until now. They remastered, re-mixed, and re-released it this year. I now feel like the album I had been listening to since 2003 was nothing more than un unfinished demo-tape and I’ve finally been able to hear the final (and much better) product. However, it is still not new material, and can’t be considered for this list. Although, if either album from Katatonia were eligible, they would likely be very high on the list, and that would explain my previous comment that this could have been the “Year of Jonas Renkse.”
I don’t know many bands releasing albums in 2014, but I do know that 2011’s Album of the Year winner, Within Temptation will have a new album out early in the year. Scott H. Biram, Lacuna Coil, Anathema have also had some studio time soon, so I expect releases from them as well. All of those acts have had some stong albums recently, let’s hope that continues. I look forward to hearing what 2014 will bring me.
A note about eligibility for my 2013 Album of the Year:
– the album must have had a United States street date in 2013
– the album must be new material (for the band or artist)
– live albums are only eligible if they’re new material