It’s about that time. That time of year where everyone and their mom gives out awards and makes top lists of the year. My problem with these awards/top lists is always the same, they are not fair. They will always be unfair, because of the factor of time. Time bias skews our perception, and it is difficult to overcome. A movie that comes out in January/February will almost never win film of the year, because by the time the Oscars come around everyone has forgotten how awesome it was because a different awesome movie just came out a week ago. It doesn’t help that award shows are pretty much giant marketing ploys for their corresponding industry, so selecting more relevant choices (time wise) is to the advantage of the people who do the selecting. Blah Blah our society is ruined by our obsession with currency, you get it.
I am going to try and ignore time bias as best I can. However I do realize most of these are releases from the past few months. Musical artists don’t necessarily have consistent schedules, but they do tend to release albums near the holidays (just like every other product on earth) and tour during the summer when the weather is appropriate for outdoor shows. So like I said, I will ignore time bias as best as I can.
Obviously, I am going to make a top 10 albums of the year. This list DOES NOT mean that they are the best 10 albums, they are MY favorite 10 albums. This means there is a strong bias towards progressive metal, bands that demonstrate superior songwriting, and use of harmonic progressions. Let’s get to it, this is going to be a long one.
Starting at the end, for dramatic effect, we have the only album that is not considered rock by any means. Maybe it’s more of a shameless plug for the god of trance Armin Van Buuren and my enjoyment of his weekly radio show A State Of Trance, but this album actually was pretty cool. EDM fan boys will tell you how this album redefined trance and is a giant step forward for the world of EDM, I think it’s hard to make an argument for EDM making any headway in the last 5 years aside from Skrillex introducing the mainstream American world to wubstep (not a typo). The reason I included this album on my list is because of how defined it is by its style. Trance is all about the buildup, the layering, along with positive uplifting feeling-chords and sounds. EDM artists try too hard to sound unique and stand out instead of embracing their music for what it is – it’s for dancing. Sure, it’s about expressing yourself and doing drugs also, but EDM (electronic DANCE music) is for dancing at clubs. It was the reason it was created, it is the reason people enjoy it. Armin combines catchy melodies with dope beats and satisfying drops like his one true purpose in life is to make people move their bodies, and that you just might find yourself doing next time you hear one of his tracks.
OK, that’s enough techno for this year.
9. Altered State
Of Matter – Resist
Of Mind – Nocturne
Of Energy – Singularity
The number 9 slot was difficult to fill. I always knew number 10 would be an obligatory inclusion of some sort of EDM, because it deserves some representation, but number 9 is where I essentially had to pick the last album, and not pick so many others.
Well, progressive metal wins again. TesseracT has always been a more unique band because of the vocalists soft and high ranged voice over the typically lower octave chords from the instrumentals. There is a lot of use of multiple vocal tracks (all same guy) for filling harmonics on this album, and it sounds really cool on the album. After seeing them perform and being disappointed with the amount of singing the vocalist can actually do by himself in a live setting, I have to put this at the bottom of my top albums. This is definitely a better recording band than a performing band. There is nothing wrong with that, using modern recording techniques is a great way to improve your sound, they just need to work on integrating this into their performance.
The album has themes of self-worth and struggles with addiction, both are things we all struggle with at some point in our lives. It has a consistent tone throughout, and all of the songs connect together, especially the ones in each section of the album (matter, mind, energy) and each section has its own ideas and style. It’s a really cool album, I just wish it had some more versatility to it aside from the vocalist. Off-beat rhythms in odd-metered time signatures gets tiring if you use similar chords and key most of the time. Still worthy of the list, just not a higher spot.
8. A Lot Like Birds -No Place
No Nature/No Nurture
Hand Over Mouth, Over and Over
This is the most time-biased album on the list. I want to believe if this had come out in January I would still remember it today, but we will never know… To be safe I put it lower than my actual opinion of it right now.
Also, perhaps the most surprising album to me that is in my top ten, because the vocals are a bit…I don’t want to say whiney, but I just did. They sound a bit whiney at times, there I said it, but at other times his voice seems to soar above the instruments and is very throaty, giving it a proper full sound opposed to the more nasally sound that I don’t really like.
The flexibility of his voice says it all, the vocalist really is the key member of this band, it’s all about the lyrics and the message, that’s not to say the instrumentals aren’t amazing also. Each song has powerful emotional moments that climax both thematically and instrumentally together, my favorite being in Hand Over Mouth, which is really a continuation of Myth Of Lasting Sympathy (a spoken word poem with instrumental background). When he hits that note, you will know which one, uhg, stop it feels go away, I’m trying to write a blog post.
The album is sort of a concept album, about a house inside a man’s mind that traps all of his personal baggage, and that the only way to come to terms with these memories is opening the door and letting them all out. Naturally it’s a very emotive journey that will reach out to even the sourest souls, like mine, and relate with them at some point along the way. It’s very singable and even a bit catchy at times, but the tension and release is really what makes this a top 10. Instrumentally, harmonically, lyrically, even the vocal style, all cause the climaxes hit hard. I dare you to feel nothing as you listen through.
There are only four of them, so all of them.
For those who aren’t aware, this is one person, not a band. I don’t think it’s fair to give him an unfairly higher opinion just because he has to do all the work himself, the music has to be just as good as a fully stocked band. Nobody cares how many instruments you play or how good you are at recording, they only care what it sounds like.
Which is why Cloudkicker has surprised me over and over again.
What I have always liked about CK is his uplifting powerful progressions that just make you smile as the song hits its climax. It does tend to take a while to get there, but it is always worth it. This album is a lot darker to me than his previous work. It’s hard to analyze exactly what he intends for it to be about without any lyrics, but only the listener’s interpretation matters. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder.
This could hardly be considered a full album at first glance, it wasn’t exactly released as one, but the length is comparable to some full lengths, with one track clocking in over 16 minutes long and others being over 8 minutes. None of the tracks feel like they drag on, even the 15+ minute track is divided up into section nicely to keep the momentum going and the ear interested. This ‘single’ tops most of the full lengths released this year for me, so take a half hour out of your day to enjoy it.
Children Of The Corn Syrup
Do You See Him
This is the heaviest album on the list. It is heavy in the sense that the chords are dissonant, the vocals are full of rage, and the rhythms are fast and articulate. It is also heavy with emotions, which seems to be a recurring theme in the music I listen to.
All of the songs are about real world issues and real problems with our society. They include environmental destruction, the dark side of human nature, our obsession/addiction to processed food, careless youth who get pregnant, things that we could all agree are flaws in the society we call humanity.
Each song by itself is amazing, but the album didn’t really hit me until listening form start to finish. The Great Gift of The World starts off explaining how we as humans don’t value the planet we live on, or care what happens when we die. Each proceeding song is about a separate issue, and then the final song The Travelers brings it all together, showing the world from the point of view of a race not from our world observing our society and destroying it because of those same flaws. It seems like an idea that’s been done before, but never like this.
Perhaps the reason the finale hits so hard is because of the way the songs inter-connect. The song Do You See Him, about the dark side of human nature (the devil inside of you) repeatedly asks “do you see him?” First time I heard it I was thinking meh, society sucks, I get it. In The Travelers, as the final progression slowly builds, he asks one last time “do you see him now?” and it hits me, Fit For An Autopsy has really stepped up their game here. They aren’t just mindlessly writing rage filledl lyrics about society, they are trying to send a message to all of us.
Also, THOSE BREAKDOWNS OH MY GOD. So heavy, in every way. I wouldn’t typically consider a band that has any amount of breakdowns to be an actual good band, but this is how its done. Combine the heavy themes with the heavy riffs and it will hit harder than ever before. Thank you for restoring my faith in breakdowns.
Well, DO YOU SEE HIM?
Bathyalpelagic iii: Disequillibrated
Benthic: The Origin Of Our Wishes
Hadopelagic ii: Let Them Believe
I’ll be a lazy shameless blogger and just leave a link to my full, more in-depth review of this album from much earlier in the year.
4. The Hands That Thieve
The Three Of Us
The Hands That Thieve
With Any Sort Of Certainty
This album should have come out a long time ago. Tokay (lead vocals/guitar) has thrown a fit over the contract he signed with his record label and other sorts of drama that gets ska/punk fans all excited and riled up. My opinion, he’s an elitist who fails to see the benefits his label has given him over the years, and even though record companies are awful companies in terms of fairness for the artist, why should he get benefits that other artists on the same label don’t get? Its all a big marketing ploy for his fans who eat that sort of thing up and make them believe that Streetlight is some supreme band sent down from heaven to fight for the freedom of artists everywhere. What these same fans fail to notice is that this drama has caused this album to get delayed time and time again, over a year of delays (not that a release date was ever set in stone) building up artificial hype.
Basically, he’s not wrong, he’s just an asshole.
With that said, this album has a lot of killer tracks on it. The strength of this group is how singable their music is and how light-hearted it is in tone, but with darker annotations in the lyrics. Its catchy, its full of emotion, and the instrumentation is superb. All of the wind instruments are amazing players who are capable of taking the spotlight at any time, but the way they play together during the extended instrumental sections is some of the best melody writing I have heard from any band. This band is completely consistent at producing good songs, good albums, and good live performances. I could go into detail about each song, and why it’s good, and every moment in the album that hits you right in the feels, but there are so many. Just listen to it, and at the request of the god of music on earth Tokay, illegally download it so that the label doesn’t get any money, because that’s a good marketing strategy.
3. One Of Us Is The Killer
Hero Of The Soviet Union
When I Lost My Bet
I will preface this section with this: this is the worst Dillinger Escape Plan album. I do not really prefer the vocal styles of Calculating Infinity, but it was the foundation for everything that this group has become. Wow what a cliché music critic thing I just said, but really.
This is still my number 3 this year. I really did like it and listened to it a lot, but I have already spent so much time praising DEP that I am going to take this opportunity to explain why its not number 1, like I was hoping it would be.
I just don’t feel the emotion. Most of the tracks are really good, but I found it hard for myself to relate to them. This is a point I make a lot, how easy it is for a person to listen to a song and understand not only what they are saying but what the song is about. The album art/concept got me really excited, hoping there would be the consistency to this album that DEP has always lacked, but then really only the title track is about that ‘concept ‘of everyone losing in a relationship when emotions are involved. I guess that word consistency is why I couldn’t really fall in love with this album, there are a few really good songs, and the rest were totally forgettable in comparison. I saw DEP two times this year, once right after the album dropped and once headlining summer slaughter, neither time did they play any more than 3 songs off this album. For a band known for their live performances, a lot of these songs don’t translate well into live performances, and they know it. When they performed One Of Us Is The Killer at SS, it was a big yawn, even though most of the fans got to sing along for once.
Still my favorite band, I just hope as they are rapidly gaining popularity worldwide they continue to write great songs.
Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes
Sun Dies/Blood Moon
Norma Jean falls at the bottom of my current top 5 favorite groups, and they wouldn’t even be in the top 5 if it weren’t for this album. Meridional was a great album with lots of very emotive moments, but there wasn’t really any one good song. This album is the opposite, the album overall doesn’t have the cohesiveness or the orver-arching themes like Meridional did, but there are so many killer stand-alone tracks. Sun Dies/Blood Moon is possibly my favorite single track all year, culminating in a chilling, powerful finale, just like last songs should.
Wrongdoers is about many things, commentary on the party scene of American youth, drug addiction related depression, the typical love/loss story, coping with death of a friend, all things I think any member of our society could relate to. The continued use of clean vocals adds a lot of depth to the band, while the riveting screams have the same impact they did before. Some songs are even singable, catchy in their own way, but the lyrics are powerful. Even though they represent themselves as Christians, their messages of faith and self-worth don’t just apply to religion, they instead tell them in a way that it applies to all aspects of life. Are they the most talented band ever? No, they don’t need to be. Sometimes writing good songs is more important than putting as many notes on a page as you can.
And finally, my favorite album released in 2013…
1. The Mountain
Falling Back To Earth
Because It’s Their/The Path
This one was really difficult for me to come to terms with, my favorite album of the year was by a band that I had not even listened to before the beginning of the year. I think that says a lot about just how much of an impact it had on me. The mountain is a ‘concept album’, which means all of the songs take place in the same atmosphere, and they share a common over-arching theme. The concept of the album is that the mountain which the album is about, is the conquest of man to achieve his idealistic dreams.
The Path, the first song, is really what sets the tone for the whole album. The beginning has very uplifting major chords in chorale style. The theme that you hear in this song is very important, as the same theme returns later in ‘Because It’s There’, but this time with multiple recorded vocal tracks for harmony.
The album is structured just like a mountain, and the summit is ‘Falling Back To Earth’, where you hear the protagonist literally and figuratively reach the top of this mountain. I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens in the rest of the album.
What makes this better than all the rest? What made this my favorite album of the entire year? All of the albums listed above have superior harmonic content, powerful and relatable themes, and logical, yet innovative song structure. This has all those things, but the difference is in the writing. The cohesiveness of the entire album, all of the songs together, is what makes the message stronger than NJ or even DEP can express in a single song. Pelagial has similar cohesion, but the themes aren’t as relatable and the style is more limited. Each song is distinguishable by itself, yet is only one part of a whole. This isn’t the first concept album I have ever heard, not even the first on this list, but I can think of no other album to tell a story as effectively as this, even the first time you listen to it. I love listening to things over and over, slowly absorbing all of the information within, but truly good music has an impact the first time you hear it. That is why The Mountain is my album of the year.
War From A Harlots Mouth – Voyeur
Exivious – Liminal
Persefone – Spiritual Migration
Vildhajarta – One Thousand Evils
Animations – Private Ghetto
Protest the Hero – Volition
Still my favorite album of all time: Dillinger Escape Plan – Miss Machine