I know that this is such a pretentious, douche-baggy, “first-world-problem” of a thing to talk about, but I genuinely spent an ungodly amount of time sorting and resorting this year’s “Top 10 Albums” list. 2013 was the first year in a good long while that featured more than a dozen albums that have stayed in regular rotation in the CD changer and on the turntable since their release. This is an admitted fault, as there are a bunch of albums that I definitely didn’t give a chance to because the good ones were, well, just that good. The top six on my list are set in stone (pun clearly not intended). The remaining albums are really, essentially, interchangeable. Hell, the order has probably changed a dozen times between when I wrote this and when you’re reading it.
As usual, I don’t include 7-inches, live albums and EPs, because there’d be just too many to list. But check out the new Blacklist Royals 7-inch. It’s great, and a sign of things to (hopefully) come from the band in 2014. Also, Alkaline Trio’s Broken Wing and Face to Face’s The Other Half contain tracks that, I think, should have been featured on the respective bands’ full-lengths that also came out this year. And check out most every release from Pirates Press this year (the Street Dogs and FM359 and The Ratchets and Downtown Struts to name but a few). Oh, also, check out the Warning Shots EP. I’ve also decided for the first time on these pages to not limit the list to just Dying Scene-friendly releases. Hate on, haters.
Anyway, below is the list of my favorite albums of 2013. It’s a long list, but each and every one of these albums would have been a Top-Five album last year.
Honorable mentions: The Bronx – IV. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse. Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve. Drag The River – self-titled. Amanda Shires – Down Fell The Doves. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks.
1. Dave Hause – Devour
In all honesty, this album probably sealed up the #1 spot on my 2013 list a month or so before it had even been recorded. It was upon first hearing “Autism Vaccine Blues” live during Dave’s set opening for Flogging Molly on their Green 17 tour, and had an immediate, jaw-dropping sort of impact. Though the album version is a little less jaw-dropping than just Dave and a guitar, Devour contains enough cathartic moments to put it a full head above anything else on the list. Here’s my full review of the album from earlier this year.
2. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
The first eight songs on this album are as strong, if not stronger, than anything the band has released in over a decade. A PJ fan from day one, I soured on their last album the first time through, and thought that, perhaps, it was time for them to hang it up. I’m glad they didn’t. Still the best live band on the planet.
3. VA – The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute
Every song on this compilation is damn-near perfect. Past, present, and future staples of the punk rock community came out to pay homage to a unique songwriter and friend gone too soon. Hearing old buddies like Jon Snodgrass and Joey Cape and Karina Denike take on classic Sly tracks is haunting at times. Tim McIlrath’s take on “For Fiona” is a total stomach-punch.
4. Face To Face – Three Chords and a Half Truth
While 2011’s Laugh Now, Laugh Later marked the band’s triumphant return to the punk rock game, Three Chords And A Half Truth found Face To Face abandoning much of what you’d call their ‘traditional sound’ yet again. Perhaps it was foolish of us to think that they have a ‘traditional sound’ after all. Not as big a left-hand turn as Ignorance Is Bliss was, but certainly not without its “out of left field” moments. Also, best album cover of the year. Nice work, Nat.
5. Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One – Illuminator
I can’t say enough good things about the debut full-length from Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One project. I really can’t. Written and recorded at the end of a rather tumultuous period in Lashley’s life, the perfectly-titled Illuminator shows that maybe, just maybe, there is a light at the end of a deep, dark tunnel. Another fine Pirates Press release.
6. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart
Another home run for Turner. Tape Deck Heart finds the Wessex boy turning out perhaps some of his most deeply personal work to date. Turner and his band of Sleeping Souls are at their best on the high-energy numbers (“Recovery,” “Plain Sailing Weather”) and though the down-tempo tracks tend to meander a bit, they do provide a change of pace to keep the album from sounding too redundant. Check out the bonus tracks on the Deluxe Edition too.
7. Swingin’ Utters – Poorly Formed
Many people are partial to the Utter$’ first “comeback” album, 2011’s Here, Under Protest. Most people are wrong. Much like my commentary for Three Chords And A Half Truth above, I really think that Poorly Formed is a great example of a band reuniting, hitting their stride, and shaking off any residual dust. That said, I didn’t give it much of a chance earlier in the year. It has since become effectively stuck in my CD changer.
8. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Don’t let that baby face fool ya, kids. Jason Isbell is arguably the baddest-ass of all of the bad asses on this list. Isbell got married and got sober since last we heard from him, and the results are astounding. Ever the consummate story-teller, tracks like “Super 8,” “Cover Me Up,” “Stockholm” and “Flying Over Water” are damn-near perfect.
9. Bad Religion – True North
It’s probably a fair criticism to say that the last few Bad Religion albums are effectively interchangeable. As much as I love everything from the Brooks Wackerman era, True North is the best of the bunch. And their live show is still as vital, and inspired, as ever.
10a. Joshua Black Wilkins – Fair Weather
If you were lucky enough to make it out to Face To Face’s US tour this past summer (with Teenage Bottlerocket and Blacklist Royals), and smart enough to show up early, then you were lucky enough to catch Joshua Black Wilkins’ one-man-show. If you weren’t so lucky, you don’t know what you’re missing. It probably stands to reason to point out that yours truly takes a liking to boozy, bluesy, singer-songwriter music, and J Black Dubs is amongst the dirtiest Tennessee bluesmen going. The live Tom Waits covers were just the icing on the cake.
10b. Broadcaster – A Million Hours
This album has been in my “to be reviewed” folder for way too long (stupid grad school work). I really do owe it to this Long Island three-piece to finish it up. Takes me instantly back to everything that was right about mid-90s power-pop music (somewhere between American Hi-Fi and Weezer, but with better lyrics).
10c. Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True
I’m just gonna come out and say a couple things here. After Skiba’s Sekrets side project, particularly after video of the disastrous show in Chicago surfaced, I was genuinely concerned about the future of the Trio. Then I heard “I Wanna Be A Warhol” the first time through, and was even more concerned. I’ve since become enamored with it, and I think the entire album is some of their best, most mature work to date. Andriano’s tracks shine in particular. It feels weird to have “My Shame Is True” listed so low, given that this would probably be a top 5 album most other years. Speaks to the strength of 2013 more than anything.
10d. Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners
Admittedly slept on this album for too long. Passed on it altogether, in fact. Only due to repeated mentions by the guys in Blacklist Royals did I finally give it a listen. I owe those boys one. Wild American Runners is a dozen songs of expertly-crafted alt-country-infused rock-and-effing-roll that’s not to be missed. They out Drag the Rivered Drag The River this year.
10e. Get Dead – Bad News
So glad these dudes survived rolling their van over earlier this year relatively unscathed. Bad News is yet another album that’s been in my “to be reviewed” folder for a criminally long time. Get Dead have a sound that’s very much their own (especially for a Fat Wreck Chords band). Equal parts Swingin’ Utters and Hank Williams and whiskey. Actually, probably more whiskey than anything else. I think I said to someone this year that “Get Dead sounds like whiskey tastes.”
10f. Off With Their Heads – Home
Another album that’s easily top-five in most other years. Heavy and melodic album. Ryan Young is probably the most rip-your-heart-from-your-chest honest songwriter to make an appearance on this year’s list. Like, so rip-your-heart-from-your-chest honest that you kinda get worried for the poor fella on more than one occasion. OWTH are the real deal.