Posts Tagged ‘queens of the stone age’

 

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(I do not own this image)

Well, ladies and gentleman, it’s that time of year again.  The winter months are upon us as is the end of the year, bringing snow, holiday spirit, eggnog, and countless “Best of 2013” lists. 2013 has come and gone and left us with an expansive library of new music through which to sift.  Naturally, as has been the case in the past two years, I have compiled my list of the absolute best albums of the past year as well as a list of other solid releases.   This year’s list proved more difficult to compile than those in the past for several reasons.  2013 saw the return of many long-absent artists, releasing massively hyped comeback albums that, often times, simply did not meet the high expectations set.  Case in point: David Bowie’s The Next Day, The Strokes’ Comedown Machine and Black Sabbath’s 13.  Additionally, as exemplified by the weak Grammy nominations, the quality of music simply was not as high or consistent as it has been in the past years.  While many, many decent albums were released in 2013, only a few were truly stupendous.  Moreover, the “best of” a mediocre year could include several mediocre records.  Thus, I believe that to make this list, an album has to truly be remarkable, which explains the awkward number of albums included. Keeping that in mind, below are the Sound Hound’s six favorite albums of the year from bottom to top.

#6. True – Avicii

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(I do not own this image)

This past year certainly saw a change in the electronic dance music world.  The genre continued to dominate the musical world, but dubstep was pushed aside for rap and more experimental releases.  That being said, don’t write off the Swede’s newest album just because you have no interest in hearing any more now standard fist-pumping dance numbers like his first hit, “Levels.” On the contrary, on his full-length debut, Avicii, in a bold and unprecedented move, mixed country, disco, funk and soul into his increasingly popular house music.  The record includes many incredible standout tunes such as the enormous lead single, “Wake Me Up,” the dramatic “Hey Brother,” “You Make Me,” the classic-sounding “Dear Boy,” “Shame On Me,” and the instrumental “Heart Upon My Sleeve.”  The album is unique in this world of consistent electronica that seems to blend into each other from one song to the next.  True shows that Avicii knows no limits, feels restricted by no musical guidelines and is a tremendously talented songwriter.

#5: Paradise Valley – John Mayer

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(I do not own this image)

John Mayer has come a long way from being that obnoxious pretty-boy with an acoustic guitar he was on the eve of the release the try-hard sensitive pop hit, “My Body is a Wonderland.”  We have all watched as Mayer has evolved to the point of embracing country-roots on his previous and underrated record, Born and Raised.  However, on 2013’s quick and direct Paradise Valley, Mayer combines his newfound love of country with his pop and blues beginnings.  From the first jangling notes of the opener, “Wildfire” through the delicate “Paper Doll,” the beautiful duet with ex-girlfriend Katy Perry on “Who You Love” and the acoustic noodling of the penultimate “Badge and Gun,” Mayer shows of his chops and his incredible ability to write a beautiful love song.  The album is consistent from start to finish and wonderfully exemplifies the songwriter’s wide range of musical tastes, while maintaining an unmistakably Mayer-esque vibe.

#4: Yeezus – Kanye West

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(I do not own this image)

I needed a few listens to properly digest Kanye West’s Yeezus, and when I compared it to Jay-Z’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail in The Brandeis Hoot I was still not a fan.  However, after listening to the album many more times and seeing it performed live, I finally was able to appreciate the genius of Yeezus.  What Kanye West has done on this record will change rap music forever.  Many rap artists will release a record with 12 to 15 heavily produced tracks highlighted by catchy hooks sung by other superstars.  However, Yeezus stresses minimalism in its musicality and anger and strength in vocal delivery.  While much of lyrical content leaves a lot to be desire, that combination becomes very powerful.  West and producer Rick Rubin pooling from electronic house music, reggatone, grueling electric guitar, swirling indie rock and bass-heavy gangster rap to create backbeats that are unlike anything the rap game has ever heard before.  The only reason Yeezus is not at the top of this list is the lack of lyrical focus, poorly written punch lines and its general theme of arrogant self-worship.  Otherwise, the record is a true work of art.

#3:  Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

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(I do not own this image)

Random Access Memories, French electronic duo Daft Punk’s first album in eight years, was met with mixed reception.  The music world was , if not expecting, then hoping, for a record filled with classic electric dance synths, Daft Punk’s crazy samples and plenty of funky beats.  Much to everyone’s surprise, Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter strayed from their usual tendencies and recruited an army of experienced studio musicians including Chic’s Niles Rogers, and drum kings of the recording world (get names) to track a mellow disco-pop album with a hint of electronica.  After listening to Random Access Memories objectively and accepting the fact that Daft Punk has not released another standard electronic album, it becomes clear that the record is simply fantastic.  The Parisians put out a solid stream of tightly delivered pop songs that both display their love for disco and funk and their sheer brilliance in composition.  The musicianship is simply outstanding and mixes many genres including traces of classical orchestration.  Nearly every song is a winner, but some standout moments include the dramatic opener, “Give Life Back to Music,” “Fragments of Time,” the jam section on “Giorgio by Moroder,” the hit of the summer, “Get Lucky,” the slow whirrings of “Beyond” and the team-up with Animal Collective’s Panda Bear on “Doin’ It Right.”  While totally different from Daft Punk’s earlier material, Random Access Memories is the band’s best work, second only to 2000’s Discovery.

#2: Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

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(I do not own this image)

Vampire Weekend has never been cited for creating the most technically complex music.  However, as the band’s excellent third release, Modern Vampires of the City shows, the group possesses a talent for building and experiment upon the standard “indie” sound, adding African rhythms, deep organs, electronic synths, vocal effects and utilizing a general appreciation for Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel.  With the help of such creative devises, Vampire Weekend have crafted a composed group of songs ranging from terrific rockers “Unbelievers,” “Worship You” and “Diane Young,” gentle and beautiful numbers including “Step” and “Hannah Hunt” and the bizarre, reggae-influenced “Ya Hey.”  Each song on the album is quite beautifully composed, both lyrically and musically and shows that the boys of Vampire Weekend are in fact quite talented songwriters.  Though not as poppy and straightforward as the band’s self-titled 2008 debut, Modern Vampires of the City is Vampire Weekend’s most mature, well-developed and finest work to date.

#1: …Like Clockwork – Queens of the Stone Age

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(I do not own this image)

In 2011, The Sound Hound named The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light the best album, without a second thought.  Similarly, as soon as I first listened to Queens of the Stone Age’s newest, …Like Clockwork, I knew nothing could possibly surpass its greatness.  Maybe a couple records would come close, but like Wasting Light, …Like Clockwork was consistently fantastic from start to finish.  The musicianship on …Like Clockwork is literally perfect.  The quintet have unparalleled musical chemistry and are able to establish killer grooves with various superstars all across the record including Elton John, the Arctic Monkeys’ Turner, drummer Dave Grohl and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, amongst others.  Furthermore, Homme displays his weathered talent for writing vivid, intense and poetic lyrics on every song that perfectly reflect each song’s musical mood. Every song brings a new perspective on rock music to the listener’s attention while retaining a unified sound throughout.  Yes, you can sift through the album looking for standout tracks that resemble the band’s earlier hits, like “No One Knows” or “Little Sister,” but …Like Clockwork is best appreciated as a full album. The record starts with the slow and ominously grueling “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” shifting quickly but cohesively into the faster-paced “I Sat By The Ocean.”  While the two first tracks both sound as different from each other as they do from the stellar and epic “I Appear Missing,” or “Smooth Sailing,” every song on …Like Clockwork sounds unmistakably like a Queens of the Stone Age song.  Lately, many alternative rock bands have begun to all sound the same, but Queens of the Stone Age have managed to release a evolve internally and establish a sound distinct from their contemporaries, while simultaneously maintaining a familiar vibe that “goes down easily,” per se.

 

Honorable Mentions

I feel as though several fun and solid albums that perhaps are not quite legendary enough to fit into the above list hit the shelves this past year and I’d like to take a moment and mention them now.

Magna Carta…Holy Grail ­– Jay Z:

Notable tracks: “Holy Grail (feat. Justin Timberlake),”Picasso Baby,” “Tom Ford,” “Oceans (feat. Frank Ocean),” “Nickels and Dimes”

Old – Danny Brown:

Notable Tracks: “25 Bucks (feat. Purity Ring),” Side B (Dope Song),” “Dip,” “Smokin & Drinkin”

Sound City – Real to Reel – Dave Grohl & The Sound City Players:

Notables Tracks: “Mantra,” “The Man That Never Was,” “From Can to Can’t,” “Cut Me Some Slack,” “Your Wife is Calling,” “Centipede,” “You Can’t Fix This”

20/20 Experience – Parts 1 & 2 – Justin Timberlake:

Notable Tracks: “Pusher Love Girl,” “Let the Groove Get In,” “Mirrors,” “That Girl,” “Take Back the Night,” “Gimme’ What I Don’t Know (I Want)”

Settle – Disclosure:

Notable Tracks: “When A Fire Starts to Burn,” “F For You,” “Stimulation,” “Latch (feat. Sam Smith),” “White Noise (feat. Aluna George)”

Save Rock and Roll – Fall Out Boy:

Notable Tracks: “The Phoenix,” “Save Rock and Roll,” “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em’ Up),” “Alone Together”

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action – Franz Ferdinand

Notable Tracks: “Love Illumination,” “Evil Eye,” “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action”

Signed and Sealed in Blood ­– Dropkick Murphys:

Notable Tracks: “The Boys are Back,” “Rose Tattoo,” “Jimmy Collins’ Wake”