Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Best of 2013: My Favorite Rock Albums

And on the 8th day...of 2013...the Thin White Duke reappeared.

Kind of.

Ten years after his last studio album and about six since he made any type of public appearance or granted an interview (to my awareness)—prompting speculation about his well-being—David Bowie surprised just about everyone.

On the night of January 7, I went to bed planning on posting a classic Bowie song to Facebook the next morning in honor of his 66th birthday, while wondering if he would ever re-emerge.

The next day I awoke to find that—sans any social media rumors or hints that his silence might be broken—Bowie released a brand new single/video, “Where Are We Now,” and announced a forthcoming album, appropriately titled The Next Day.

Especially as it was preceded by seemingly universal praise, and another fine single/video, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” I could hardly wait for The Next Day to be released on March 12. Though it doesn't quite match any of Bowie's many 1970s masterpieces—Honky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Aladdin Sane, Station to Station, Low, Lodger or Heroes, which the new album cover riffs on—it is a rather exemplary work, particularly given the circumstances.

And at a time when rock 'n roll is in a slumber in terms of no more than a handful of great new acts or recordings, The Next Day served to remind that—and why—David Bowie is truly an “Artist,” something that was further enunciated by the David Bowie Is exhibition I saw in London and which is coming to Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art in Fall 2014.

Although throughout the year I purchased some album downloads and listened to a number more on Spotify—which enabled me to hear several others over the last few weeks with an eye toward compiling this list—The Next Day was one of only four albums I cared enough about to buy on CD (something I still do for any artist I truly relish).

The other three CDs I bought were Paul McCartney's New, Pearl Jam's Lightning Bolt and Arcade Fire's Reflektor, all released in October.

But with the aid of Best Albums of 2013 lists from several other sources, as well as suggestions from friends, I did a deep dive recently—and some albums I hadn't heard or even heard of have wound up rather high on my list. Which, as my post title denotes, covers albums in the key of rock, although I use the term rather loosely.

My tastes start with electric guitar driven hard rock, but extend well-beyond, yet while I in no way mean to disparage the artistry many others have praised, my list won't include Kanye West, Daft Punk or Beyonce. In other words, these are simply the albums of 2013 that I liked best.

I can't provide any greater criteria, except to suggest that—as with the Bowie album—I like albums that seem to be substantive, not just in the present, but that I'll look forward to hearing years down the road.

A number of albums I checked out sounded alright, but just felt slight, or nothing likely to seem special in retrospect. Hopefully, some of those I deemed worthy enough to make this list, will not only merit your discovery, but stand the test of time.

And with that preamble, here are My Favorite Rock Albums of 2013:

1. David Bowie - The Next Day (Spotify link)
2. Johnny Marr - The Messenger (Spotify link)
3. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse (Spotify link)
4. The National - Trouble Will Find Me (Spotify link)
5. Arcade Fire - Reflektor (Spotify link)
6. Paul McCartney - NEW (Spotify link)
7. Hey! Hello! - self-titled (Spotify link)
8. Franz Ferdinand - Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action (Spotify link)
9. Matthew Sweet and Susannah Hoffs - Under the Covers, Vol. 3 (Spotify link)
10. Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt (Spotify link)

Honorable Mention (in preference order)

Dawes - Stories Don't End (Spotify link)
The So So Glos - Blowout (Spotify link)
Elton John - The Diving Board (Spotify link)
Lee Ranaldo and the Dust - Last Night on Earth (Spotify link)
Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks (Spotify link)
Willie Nile - American Ride (Spotify link)
Cage the Elephant - Melophobia (Spotify link)
CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe
(Spotify link)
Haim - Days Are Gone
(Spotify link)
Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
(Spotify link)

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