Looking back on it, 2013 had some orgasmic music releases, and it actually took me a while to ultimately narrow down this list – the only one that I was positive about with its placement was #1.
# 5. Alter Bridge – Fortress
# 4. Kajiura Yuki – Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica The Movie
# 3. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
# 2. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
# 1. supercell – Zigaexperientia
#5: Alter Bridge – Fortress
Alter Bridge have managed to put out yet another fantastic album, and this one just might be their best yet. While definitely a bit more on the metal side, they manage to incorporate incredible vocals – from both Myles Kennedy’s voice of gold and Mark Tremonti – with a powerful rhythm section and dual-guitar attack for an awesome end product that delivers from beginning to end.
Compared to AB III, Alter Bridge have massively improved two things. First, the album doesn’t sound as awfully compressed as AB III was, which makes it much easier to listen with headphones without getting a headache. Second, Fortress is not bogged down by filler songs. While One Day Remains and Blackbird didn’t suffer from this much either, AB III felt like it was half songs with a lot of effort put into them, and half songs meant to fill space.
Ultimately, Fortress was a tremendous continuation for Alter Bridge, and it proves that they can only keep getting better.
Highlight: Calm the Fire
#4: Kajiura Yuki – Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica The Movie
Compared to the other albums on this list, I included this one for a different context – rather than as a standalone album to listen to, I included this one based on what it added to the movie releases of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica.
If you’ve heard the soundtrack for the original series (or any of Kajiura Yuki’s work for that matter), you’ll have an idea about the general sound of this album, which is a set of 37 new tracks used in conjunction with the original anime soundtrack. While the original series soundtrack was a stronger standalone album, this one contributes a few of the most important songs needed to improve upon how things were originally in the TV series – the greatest example being at the end of the first movie.
Kajiura Yuki manages to deliver yet another set of amazing music, resulting in a massively enhanced listening experience within the first two Madoka Magica movies, overwriting what were sometimes repeated tracks in the anime series with a more dynamic and emotional soundtrack.
Highlights: she is a witch and, while not released as a part of the album, it is still the ending theme of the first movie and the best part of the aural experience, Magia[quattro]
#3: Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
With a star-studded lineup including Dave Grohl, Elton John, Trent Reznor, Nick Oliveri, and Joey Castillo, among several others, Queens of the Stone Age set the bar high for themselves with this release. And fortunately, they did a great job of kicking the bar square in the face.
While not quite as quirky as Era Vulgaris, …Like Clockwork sounds definitively like QOTSA while not sounding quite like any of their past albums. Smooth Sailing also happens to be one of the grooviest songs I have ever heard. The only thing that disappointed me about the album was that the drums were a bit underwhelming, especially compared to Songs for the Deaf, another QOTSA album where Dave Grohl played drums – A Song for the Dead is a good example of his playing on that album.
While …Like Clockwork may not measure up to Songs for the Deaf, QOTSA still know how to groove. And groove they do.
Highlights: Smooth Sailing and I Appear Missing
#2: Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
After the success of Grace For Drowning and the addition of drummer Marco Minnemann and guitarist Guthrie Govan to his roster, this album was not only bound to be one of the best of the year, but also ended up exceeding already high expectations. With expert musicianship from all involved, Wilson and co. present a dynamic listening experience that sounds both reminiscent of prog from the 1970s and like a completely new entity.
Another thing this album has going for it is that is simply an amazing experience sound-wise. Between Steven Wilson’s own skills in production, mixing, and mastering, and the contributions of Alan Parsons, best known for his work on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, towards engineering, the sound quality of the album is as close to perfect as possible. Coupled with Wilson’s best musical output to date, this album demands listening in high quality.
While some are bitter that Steven Wilson put work with Porcupine Tree on hold for his solo project, you won’t hear me complaining – not when he’s releasing albums this good.
Highlights: The Holy Drinker and The Raven That Refused to Sing
#1: supercell – Zigaexperientia
Zigaexperentia is a massive departure from supercell’s last album, Today is a Beautiful Day, but rather than simply feeling like there is a jarring difference between the two, Zigaexperientia manages to sound like an entirely new band. But that is far from being a problem – the album becomes an entity greater than the sum of its parts, which is saying a lot when it contains fantastic vocals, a massive rhythm section (the bass guitar on this album sounds awesome), guitar and piano that carry the songs wonderfully, and additional instrumentation to ramp up the sextasticness.
The vocalist for Today is a Beautiful Day was Yanagi Nagi (listen to Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari for a good example of the album’s music), but for Zigaexperientia, it is Koeda, a 17-year old who was chosen from an audition of over 2,000 people. One of the reasons the change in tone between the two albums works so well is because of Koeda, whose voice works perfectly in a heavier setting – and this is made apparent right off the bat. Of course, the entire album isn’t rock-oriented, made obvious by tracks such as My Dearest, Giniro Hikousen, and my favorite, Jikan Ressha.
Since supercell is a Japanese group, most westerners have probably never heard of them outside of the anime community, so more than the other albums on this list, I think you should definitely give this one a listen (of course, you should listen to the others too).
Despite how much I’ve already said about this album, if someone were to ask me for a succinct summary of Zigaexperentia, I wouldn’t need to think twice about an answer – it’s badass and beautiful. Easily my album of the year, and it leaves me excited for what supercell will do next.
Highlights: White Seiyaku, Hakushu Kassai Utaawase, and above all else, Jikan Ressha
Honorable mentions for the year – all of these were great, just not top 5 material.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Maximum the Hormone – Yoshu Fukushu
Plini – Other Things and Sweet Nothings
The Reign of Kindo – Play With Fire
Exivious – Liminal
Sawano Hiroyuki – Shingeki no Kyojin
Karnivool – Asymmetry – only mentioning this one because it had bass tone of the year