Queens of the Stone Age marched to the top of 2013
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
There probably wasn't more music made this year than in any year before. When I first started to write that, I had "certainly" in place of "probably," a reflection of the firm belief that the thought I'd had before I ever sat down at this keyboard must have been wrong.
I keep track of how much I write and where it all goes, whether it's on assignment or here or just for myself or in the notebooks I carry, and by my count, I wrote more this year than in any year prior. Most of that was about music, and the initial, self-aggrandizing section of my brain attributed that to the fact that there must have been more music made this year than any in history. Imagine.
There's no way that instict could be right, and even if it were, the method at which I'd arrived at it is definitely self-important and flawed. But on the more scientific side of things, there are more people in the world today than there were yesterday, and there will be more tomorrow. There are more avenues for creative people to make beautiful sounds and more methods of delivery for them to eventually hit our collective ear. There might have actually been more music this year.
A lot of the music I wrote about were from known quantities and familiar sources, and some of it was even old. But there were new, exciting sounds in there to accompany the faithful, and it all worked to create one of the more interesting and pleasing years in music I can remember.
This is not everything, obviously. This is just what I happened to like.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Queens of the Stone Age — ...Like Clockwork
Not that Josh Homme took anything resembling a sabbatical, but the six years between 2007’s Era Vulgaris and ...Like Clockwork was a mammoth gap in the band’s desert rock cannon, and the man himself reported having difficulty in finishing this record, dealing with myriad health and personnel issues, losing drummer Joey Castillo along the way.
But Dave Grohl popped back behind the kit, and the personal strife that held up so much of the music began to give the songs a shape that was unseen on a Queens record until now. Those robotically smooth rhythms remained and glued the dark monologues with insane tangents that have resulted in a mesmerizing final product. Queens of the Stone Age didn’t just record their first record in six years, they crafted arguably the best chapter of their musical history. They were a terrifyingly powerful band before ...Like Clockwork. Now they’re limitless.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
David Bowie — The Next Day
The old trope about a comeback is that the artist in question never really went anywhere, but that the rest of the world decided to once again take notice. But it has felt as though David Bowie crept into the shadows for a decade after 2003’s Reality. But out of that darkness, “Where Are We Now?” shook listeners with its biting honesty and before long, The Next Day was in our laps, reminding us of Bowie’s unending brilliance.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR
Arctic Monkeys — “Do I Wanna Know?”
Taking their best traits — catchy tunes, heavy guitars, innate danceability — and distilling them down into 4:32, Arctic Monkeys shook listeners this summer when they unleashed the most mature single of their young careers. They kept up that motif on the full AM, but the silky rhythms of “Do I Wanna Know?” set the stage for the feature presentation.
CONCERT OF THE YEAR
Pearl Jam — July 19, Wrigley Field, Chicago
This could have easily been a night that buckled under the unrealistic expectations my friends and I heaped on in the months before. In an instant, the band was firing off buried gems — “Nothingman,” “Present Tense” “Hold On” — sending the fanatics and recent converts into spasms.
And then the rain came, and the thunder and lightning, and more than two hours of cramped, uncomfortable waiting as everyone in the park wondered if this night was over before it started. But as the roadies cleared the tarps off the stage and fans flooded back onto the field, the band came back and delivered another furious set, never relenting and eventually sending us all home after 2 a.m. whipped dry. I’ve never seen a band play harder or with more purpose than Pearl Jam did on this night.
BEST ARCHIVAL RELEASE
Mad Season — Above [Deluxe]
As record companies become more savvy in reissuing back catalog and artists grow more personally invested in their own histories, the number of great archival albums and box sets grow every year. This spot could have easily gone to the 20th Anniversary Edition of Nirvana’s In Utero or the 10th volume of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Another Self Portrait, among others. But this deluxe treatment of Above, Mad Season’s only album, was essential for the band’s history. It finds the original record in pristine sound, updated tracks sung by Mark Lanegan from a never-to-be-finished second album, and a treasure trove of the band’s brief live history. It’s an artistic high point for everyone involved, especially the late Layne Staley, and this treatment gives the band their due.
BEST OF THE REST
The Strokes — Comedown Machine
Owners of a sound that nearly defined a decade, the Strokes reconvened to add touches of decades past to their template to craft an amazing example of rock music that sounds as good through the car speakers as it would in a club.
Pearl Jam — Lightning Bolt
Following the celebration of their first 20 years as a band, Pearl Jam pulled together their strongest album in a decade, where the searing (“Mind Your Manners,” “My Father’s Son”) is matched by the serene (“Sirens,” “Yellow Moon”). Rather than sounding out of ideas, Pearl Jam again sounds like a band with miles to go.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Specter at the Feast
Saying BRMC works within their strengths would sound like a backhanded compliment, were it not for the fact that everything they attempt is a point of strength. The trio again sounds like an army, and the closing couplet of “Sell It” and “Lose Yourself” may be the strongest one-two punch on any record released this year.
Mudhoney — Vanishing Point
And if ever a band worked within their own set margins, it’s Mudhoney. But rather than becoming a stale representation and replication, the songs on Vanishing Point are startling for their freshness and ferocity. Mudhoney is nearly as pissed off as in 1988, but the band is so happy to relay that information that the record plays like a gleeful mosh pit.
Bass Drum of Death — Bass Drum of Death
The Oxford, Miss., duo throw their sludgy sound at the speakers and leave the residue of an instant classic. The Stooges would be proud of the racket these guys make so confidently. There's a pop understanding to accompany the dingy roar.
The Flaming Lips — The Terror
Finally, the Flaming Lips took their penchant for the weird and turned it evil, channeling the darkest moods and tones of their long career for an album that isn’t depressing as much as it is tragic. There’s a sense of despair created on The Terror that’s hard to explain without listening, though that might well end in tears.
REST IN PEACE
Pearl Jam — “Release,” July 19, Wrigley Field, Chicago
Cycling back to Chicago, the march to that show was pocked with days cross-off calendars and imaginary setlists crafted, mp3s shuttled back and forth and grand plans made for the week we’d spend in the second city. It was discussed in full here, but the years in following this band have created a community that never fails to amaze me.
Within that community, I’ve found some lifelong friends that mean the world to me. Almost more than the concert, it was the other moments in bars and backyards that I think of when I think of Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field. And I thought of all of it the moment the band walked out and started to play “Release,” a song they've carried with them from their earliest days, the first song they played at their first show 23 years ago, and a song I've seen them open with more than any other in all my time following them. In a year of renewed creative energy, it was an appropriate rebirth.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org