Best Albums of 2013

This was a weird year for music for me.  I didn't listen to a lot of new releases.  Instead, I picked up a few things that had slipped by me over the last couple of years.  I also revisited a lot of music from my past, including a bunch of albums I bought on vinyl for the first time.  In other words, the list of albums I bought this past year that actually came out in 2013 is pretty short.

In the end, I bought a decent amount of music, but not enough stellar music for anything beyond a Top 3 list.  I know, I'm as shocked as you are.

Let's get this party started...

Honorable Mention

Pearl Jam -- "Lightning Bolt"

Pearl Jam certainly did a media blitz for this album, didn't they?  It's been years since I'd seen them on TV shows, online, possibly on the radio (which I never listen to).  And they had reason to get out there and celebrate, as "Lightning Bolt" marks their 10th full length album.

I enjoyed some of the songs on "Backspacer," but as a complete album it fell a little short.  "Lightning Bolt" feels like a more complete venture.  The opener "Getaway" is a great song, a classic grown-up Pearl Jam rock song ("grown-up" being anything after "Vitalogy").  And while "Mind Your Manners" and "Let the Record Play" sounds like PJ trying to be other bands, "Infallible" might be the most innovative song they've produced in some time and the title track rises and rises and make the perfect anthem for the album.

Top 3

3. Minor Alps -- "Get There"

Take Nada Surf at their most moody and atmospheric and you have (almost) this entire album.  Consisting of Matthew Caws from the aforementioned Nada Surf and Juliana Hatfield, Minor Alps' debut dark without being sad, peaceful but still conflicted.  There's a wonderful dichotomy at play on nearly every track, from the beautiful duel vocals in "Buried Plans," to the imagery in "I Don't Know What to Do With My Hands," to incredibly singable "Lonely Low."

I'd even go so far as to say this album feel like a concept album which, now that I think about it, is going to stick in my brain and force me to look into that.  The one seeming odd duck among these tracks is "Mixed Emotions," not unlike the way "Electioneering" felt kind of out of place on "OK Computer."

I'm sure a blog post is coming about this whole "concept album" thing.

2. Minus the Bear -- "Acoustics II"

"But Kyle," you say, "there are only two original songs on Acoustics II.  All the rest are just new versions of older Minus the Bear Songs."  To which I say to you, dear reader, that you are correct, and that it doesn't matter, because these new versions do amazing things with those older songs.

Yet again, Minus the Bear has released an album of acoustic tracks and made me appreciate songs from albums that I've long since dismissed.  "Planet of Ice" disappointed me a great deal, but the acoustic version of "Burying Luck" from the first "Acoustics" is one of my favorite Minus the Bear tracks.  With this release, it's a few of the songs from "Omni" that the band resurrects, namely "Summer Angel" and "Dayglo Vista Rd."  Both songs are fantastic and both are songs I'd given up on because I didn't care for their original versions.

"Riddles" and "The Storm" are the two original tracks and they're both wonderful, but the stand out has to be "Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse."  It's always been a favorite of mine, but it's taken to another level in this new form.

1. Queens of Stone Age -- "...Like Clockwork" 

The Queens of the Stone Age are, for me, one of those bands that I don't realize I missed until they release another album.  No one does dirty, gritty rock n' roll the way Queens does.  No one captures, in both music and vocals, both hating yourself and thinking you're a god the way Josh Homme does.

There aren't whole lot of barn burners on this album, but what that's fine, as we get plenty of amazing grooves with layered instrumentation.  Besides, straight ahead rock songs would be out of place on this album.  This record is a slow burn, meant to be imbibed as a whole, not piece by piece.  "If I Had a Tail" and "Smooth Sailing" are the album's best rock songs, but the slower numbers are every bit as good.  "The Vampyre of Time and Memory" sounds like it could have been written by Aimee Mann, which is a good things.  The title track is perfectly balanced, a sincere, 70's style ballad that is a perfect closer.

Honestly, listening to the album again as I write this, it's hard to pick just a few songs to talk about.  "Keep Your Eyes Peeled" is a slow, grinding song, with trademark guitar riffs that stop a bar short for effect.  "My God Is the Sun" is nearly upbeat, but it's core riff is covered in that Queens dirtiness.  From start to finish, this record is phenomenal.

And that's why it's my pick for best album of 2013.