#20: The Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk
The Front Bottoms landed on my radar last year thanks to a recommendation by my fellow LAmb writer Mary Bonney, so I was ready and waiting when they released their fourth full-length album in May of this year. To say it met my expectations is an understatement. Arguably the New Jersey duo’s best offering to date, the hook-heavy Talon of the Hawk combines emotional lyrics centered on such heavy themes as depression, drug abuse, and loss with a youthful punk-rock sensibility complete with driving guitars and percussion so upbeat you don’t even realize you’re dancing like a Charlie Brown character to a song about the devastating repercussions of an abortion. Hands down my favorite rock album of the year. – Kristin Houser
Listen: “Funny You Should Ask”
#19: Portugal. The Man – Evil Friends
When I reviewed Evil Friends months ago, I initially pegged it as the best album yet of 2013, and that was around the same time albums were being released by Daft Punk, My Bloody Valentine, Vampire Weekend…the list goes on. 2013 was an amazing year of new music, and I fully expected the second half of the year to challenge my statement, but while I listened to and loved those other releases (all of which also earned places on our top albums list), I found myself constantly putting Evil Friends back onto my record player.
The new album had a heavy hitter on the liner notes with Danger Mouse at the helm. The artist has an uncanny ability to produce amazing albums, and Evil Friends is no exception. If anything, it’s the shining example. Granted, the Grammy-winning producer did have a lot to work with as John Gourley’s songwriting and unique vocals never come close to lacking on the album. Evil Friends is not a major change from previous Portugal. The Man albums; it’s simply a continuation of the musicianship that’s earned the group respect and love nationwide. – Angelica Corona
Listen: “Evil Friends”
#18: Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
…Like Clockwork is Queens of the Stone Age’s sixth record, released after a six-year hiatus after the incredibly underrated Era Vulgaris. But if you had ever had the notion that this gap between albums would have resulted in the band producing something less-than-stellar, you were immediately proven wrong after one listen to the opening track’s smashing bottles — a sign that QOTSA were ready to smash your expectations.
…Like Clockwork is a QOTSA album in every way, with the hard rock style that made Rated R and Songs For The Deaf so indelible in its every note, but it’s also a decidedly more down-tempo attempt that sees the band at its most mature and focused. Sure, there’s “My God Is The Sun” and “If I Had A Tail” here, which feature the bruising chords and devilish instrumental antics QOTSA is known for, but their overarching sense of dread and dirge is contrasted by the balanced, softer moments. With guests aplenty and Josh Homme’s tenure, …Like Clockwork runs, well, like clockwork. – David Fisch
Listen: “I Appear Missing”
#17: Cold War Kids – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
In 2013 Cold War Kids brought us into their bubble of emotional complexity once again with Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, and the album stands alone as a pleasurable listen infused with the intricate storytelling we have come to know and love from the Long Beach-based band. The efort is built around very high, memorable tracks like “Miracle Mile,” while tracks like “Water & Power” provide the connective tissue that makes the album come together so perfectly.
While Dear Miss Lonelyhearts stands strong as a representation of Cold War Kids’ intrinsic talent, it can also be played in succession with their previous albums — Robbers and Cowards, Loyalty to Loyalty, and Mine is Yours — to tell a full story. It pushes the listener into a place of vulnerability we would not often go alone, forcing us to feel those emotions we might prefer to forget. – Christine Perez
Listen: “Miracle Mile”
#16: Arctic Monkeys – AM
The Arctic Monkeys were barely 20 when they released their debut album. They have experimented with their sound a bit since then and return seven years and four albums after that debut with their most dangerous-sounding record to date. The dance rockers started with a fun and bouncy version of pop-punk and syphoned it through layers of Brit rock and ’70s metal.
AM is a comprehensive realization of Arctic Monkey’s true look and sound. The single “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” grooves with a dark and menacing head bob, while “Arabella” exhibits a clear and deliberate borrowing of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” I was lucky enough to see the band at The Wiltern and was blown away by their live show. Their debonaire bad-boy look was the perfect complement to their latest record. – Gerry Doot
Listen: “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”
#15: Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
After Frank Ocean’s stellar channel ORANGE ran away with the #1 spot on last year’s list, I found myself paying more and more attention to 2013′s R&B releases, and with good reason — many were excellent. Near the top of the pack at our #15 spot is Autre Ne Veut’s sophomore effort, Anxiety. From the opening strum of a synthetic harp in the superb “Play By Play” to the album’s resigned closer, “World War,” Anxiety is a consistent stunner in terms of both production and lyrical contest. Arthur Ashin fearlessly tapped into emotions few acknowledge, let alone express with such fearlessness and clarity, resulting in one of the most emotional and masterful albums of the year. – Kristin Houser
Listen: “Play By Play”
#14: Darkside – Psychic
While the artists comprising Darkside — electronic musician Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington — have each surprised listeners with their solo works, nothing they’ve done previously has been as unexpected as this experimental-techno project and its debut album, Psychic.
Fantastically spacey and proggy and featuring some of the year’s most textured beats and hypnotic compositions in the vein of Pink Floyd’s pre-peak works, Darkside’s Psychic fulfills everything it sets out to do without pretension. That it consists of such contrasting tones and yet flows so naturally is its greatest success as an album, covering a plethora of genres through varying degrees of instrumentation that are expected to clash, but in the hands of Jaar and Harrington, are accurately distanced. When the marriage of these elements enter play — from foggy drums to bluesy guitars to dark synths to amplifier feedback (I could go on and on) — Psychic works like a floating head trip that you won’t ever want to escape. – David Fisch
Listen: “Golden Arrow”
#13: James Blake – Overgrown
When James Blake released his debut album back in 2011, the effort exhibited a rawness and a feeling that the artist was still trying to reconcile the two sides of his musical personality: the cutting-edge, forward-thinking post-dubstep producer and the more traditional singer-songwriter. With Overgrown, Blake triumphantly found a way to merge the two sides into a seamless whole.
Songs such as “Life Round Here” and the gorgeous “Retrograde” display Blake’s ear for eerie, buzzing production, but the songs also contain real soul and reveal his burgeoning talent as a vocalist. That once fragile voice now sounds like the real deal, especially in a live setting, and as such, Overgrown was a wonderful coming-of-age album. It was not lacking in surprises, either. Who would have expected the Wu Tang Clan’s RZA to pop up to rap about fish and chips with vinegar? – Jay Chirinos
#12: Kanye West – Yeezus
“Soon as they like you make ‘em unlike you,” Kanye West proclaims on “I Am a God,” the now-infamous single off his 2013 release, Yeezus. It’s clear Kanye isn’t afraid to be disliked, but on Yeezus, he takes his arrogance and overstated bravado to new heights in order to shock people into really listening to his messages. Yeezus shows us a new, more intense Kanye. He is no longer messing around. He is angry, aggressive, and in your face, and he certainly isn’t afraid to scare or disturb you. He pushes hard enough to evoke a myriad of emotions — usually dismay, disbelief, and even terror — as evidenced by his line “put my fist in her like a civil rights sign,” the pinnacle of the album’s controversial, unsettling nature.
As with the best of Kanye’s work, the album’s production shines. However, while listening to Yeezus, it is clear that this new music is unlike anything he has produced in the past. There is a rawness to it with each song packing so much power, you feel as though you’ve been punched in the face with each listen. Yeezus also marks a new path for the dramatic music personality. While he is chronically cocky yet insecure, Kanye is forever musically dynamic and even oddly prolific. Love him or hate him, Kanye is here and as strong as ever. In his own words, “I’ve been a menace for the longest / But I ain’t finished, I’m devoted / and you know it.” – Sarah Bellman
Listen – “Black Skinhead”
#11: MS MR – Second Hand Rapture
I’ve been searching for an adequate way to describe why MS MR’s Secondhand Rapture has captured my attention so completely. I think it’s because the album is a herald for the second coming of alt-rock. Which is excellent news. The record is dramatic and dark, but weirdly familiar. “Hurricane” in particular sounds like it could’ve been released circa 1991. Whether or not that prediction plays itself out, Secondhand Rapture has at least allowed that type of sound to exist in popular music again. That is a feat that I respect and am grateful for. – Marcus Slater