My Top Ten Albums of 2013!

Alright. Here we go. The annual list! This is my top ten albums of 2013. Lots of albums were considered, and though I liked certain albums more than some of the ones presented here, these are the ones that I felt I enjoyed the most, showed the most improvement in bands, or for whatever reason felt deserving to be acknowledged here. Feel free to disagree.

10. Kvelertak – Meir [Roadrunner Records]

I first saw Kvelertak live, opening for Converge, and they gripped me with their solid stage performance and for how much fun they really seemed to be having. But after that, I kind of forgot about them for a while. It’s not that I didn’t like them, they just didn’t stick around much in my head long enough to revisit them on an album setting, on my own time. Then the band kind of exploded in popularity when I wasn’t looking and the video for Bruane Brenn came out and I was hooked. It’s really kind of low-hanging fruit to hate on the “black-and-roll” bands out there, and I know it’s not super-heavy metal, it’s not super-thrashy, it’s not super-technical or even super-memorable in the long run, but it’s got great vibes, fun leads, great songs, and plenty of sing-along chorus-y goodness (if you can understand and sing Norwegian). It’s got a lot of things that it lacks in, but it makes up for it in one category that placed it on this list: It’s a FUN album. For Fans Of: Mastodon, Baroness, Red Fang
Standout tracks: Bruane Brenn, Kvelertak, Månelyst


9. Expire – Pendulum Swings [Bridge Nine Records]

When I first discovered Expire, a few weeks after this LP dropped, it was in constant rotation for weeks. Some metal purists would make the argument that hardcore isn’t metal, but I’m not one of those people, and I fully embrace the hardcore scene for being every bit as violent, heavy, and full of heart as any mosh pit ever was, sometimes even more so. This album rules, and it relies on its generous portions of heavy riffs, great amounts of tact, and spitfire lyrics to prove that point. My only real complaint with the album is that a few of the tracks sound a bit same-y, but it’s nothing incredibly difficult to bear. Sometimes, more of the same is perfectly acceptable. Get ready for the gang vocals. For Fans Of: Backtrack, Take Offense, Trapped Under Ice
Standout tracks: Just Fine, Abyss, Pendulum Swings


8. Protest The Hero – Volition [Razor & Tie Records]

There’s a lot of people who just don’t “get” Protest The Hero. For a very long time, I was one of them. I didn’t like the vocalist, I didn’t care for the over-the-top-ness of it all, I didn’t get the endless soloing. But then I saw the video for Clarity and I was instantly interested in the album that was garnering SO much buzz. When I finally got around to checking it out, I didn’t have to question my allegiance to this band. Whatever they’ve changed since the last time I heard them, I’m incredibly happy that they did. They just sound better. It’s concise, but with lots of room for play. Clean, without being sterile. I don’t have much to say about this album because of the fact that I have so little to compare it to, but suffice to say that it’s GOOD. It’s memorable. It’s melodic. It kicks off on high gear, and stays there for, pretty much, the duration of the course. A slew of great guest work spots (thirteen guests over eleven songs!) and drums by Chris Adler of Lamb of God (which incidentally, puts his work in his own band to shame by a certain stretch) really bring this album over the top. For Fans Of: The Safety Fire, Coheed & Cambria, Between The Buried and Me
Standout tracks: Clarity, A Life Embossed, Drumhead Trial


7. Carcass – Surgical Steel [Nuclear Blast]

Carcass. No seriously. Carcass is on this list. It’s 2013 and we’ve got a new Carcass album. Swansong was released in 1996. It’s 2013. Do you feel old? I was in kindergarten when the last Carcass album dropped. Before this year, I had no business calling myself a fan of the band because any shows were reunion shows and the music was nostalgia for times I wasn’t musically conscious for. To reiterate: I WAS EATING DIRT ON THE PLAYGROUND AND ORDERING HAPPY MEALS WHEN THE LAST CARCASS ALBUM DROPPED AND NOW THERE’S A NEW ONE. You know what else came out in ’96? Space Jam. Surgical Steel is awesome. It’s seriously awesome. Reunion albums usually suck. This one…Well, not so much. Great leads aplenty, epic riffs on par with the some of the finer moments of eras past. It feels a little long, maybe even a bit nostalgic (and some tracks, like the opener I could probably do without), but the tracks that NAIL it are there, and in full force, with plenty of that undersold humor a la Keep On Rotting In The Free World. It’s not QUITE as good as Heartwork, but after 20 years, Heartwork is now a staple album in any metalheads collection, and so, this is a respectable attempt in my book. I would bet that if it was released in ’98, it could potentially rival Heartwork as their career-defining album. For Fans Of: Death, Grave, Suffocation
Standout tracks: Unfit For Human Consumption, The Master Butcher’s Apron, Mount of Execution


5. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us is the Killer [Party Smasher Inc., Sumerian Records]

The Dillinger Escape Plan is one of my favorite bands ever. Filled with visceral riffs and sheer chaos on the stage, they write some of the best music on the strange side of Faith No More. As they step further and further away from the sheer abrasions of Calculating Infinity, they only prove that they’re refining their craft, not changing it. There’s a lot going on in here, for as stripped back as some of the production elements have become, as opposed to the bombastic horns found in some of the other albums (granted, there’s still weirdness and experimentation here, but it’s not quite so up-front-and-center as say, in Ire Works). In fact, if there’s only one constant in the frantic insanity that is Dillinger; it’s that they’re not afraid to experiment. Greg’s voice is front and center, and there seems to be a lot less time for noodling around like in some other records, but the real commendation goes to Billy Rymer and his incredible drumming performance the entire way through. The guy’s got chops, and though he’s restrained at times, he comes through in full force with every single one of those laser-precise beats. For Fans Of: Every Time I Die, Converge, Protest The Hero
Standout tracks: Prancer, One of Us is the Killer, Hero of the Soviet Union


3. Nails – Abandon All Life [Southern Lord Recordings]

Remember what I said about hardcore, and how I said that only idiots would discriminate against an entire genre? Well, if you’re one of those twats, you’ve missed Nails. And my friends, this is NAILS. If you missed out on Unsilent Death in 2010, then you absolutely need to GET. WITH. THIS. PROGRAM. Nails manages to straddle the line between Grindcore, Hardcore, pure, unadulterated death metal and whatever variety of the –core genres that effectively describes two middle fingers aimed directly into your eye balls, hissing and sputtering and calling you names. It clocks in at about 17 minutes, so it feels more like an EP sometimes, and it manages to stuff ten songs into the time frame. Of note, this is the second album on this list thus far to be produced by Kurt Ballou of Converge (the other being Mier by Kvelertak), and the production really reminds me of some of the heavier bits of Converge, which is hardly a bad thing. Suum Cuique is the albums/bands longest song at a whopping five and a half minutes (an entire third of the album, pretty much), and Wide Open Wound is another 3:30-ish…so the remaining 8 songs split the last 7-ish minutes. In other words, this is one WILD and angry ride from the very first note to the last. Everything about this thing bleeds red: the tightly compressed and confined production, the battering ram guitars, and the absolute disregard for anything but a sonic beatdown. The whole package just makes you want to smash the nearest skull in half. And you will. I promise you. For Fans Of: Turnstile, Rotting Out, Weekend Nachos
Standout Tracks: Tyrant, Suum Cuique, Abandon All Life


1. Deafheaven – Sunbather [Deathwish Records]

If you know me, you already knew this was coming. Sunbather surprised me as much as anyone. There is a world of art out there, and everything has a story to tell you. But in the world of art, there is this one, exceptionally small circle of works that, instead of allowing you to come with your preconceived notions, asks you to simply be absorbed and to follow its lead. You’re not obligated. You’re welcome to leave at any time. But you don’t. Sunbather is one of those works. Musically, this is far from one of my favorite albums, but the production is just too stellar. It’s certainly got the expected black metal feel during its dense passages, and the more “open” sections certainly have a lot of room to breathe when the guitars finally thin out, but as a whole the composition all feels like it serves only the purpose of creating textures and soundscapes, rather than serving any one individual song. It goes deftly from one track to the next – long songs punctuated with and alternated by shorter segues. It’s a veritable production primer wrapped in one package: One minute the guitars are hammering away at you, and the next they’re soft acoustics, one song the drums are in your face and the next they’re miked from miles away. Something I really love about many of the lead lines like those in the title track, Sunbather, is that they are often somehow transparent: You hear them, you feel them, but you won’t remember them outright. You remember the emotion of Clarke wailing during the finale of Dream House, or the contrast between the recordings of a street-corner preacher talking about hell, and the very real personal hell of Kerry McCoy’s opiate addiction, put on public display in Windows, are just two moments that leave lasting impressions. I just can’t find much fault in the album. Sure, it’s quickly become easy to hate because it’s too hipster for black metal fans and too black metal for the shoegazing hipsters, but while the internet metal nerds were waging wars over this album, it was still spinning endlessly in my car stereo. In fact, the ONLY negative thing I can say about this album is that it will forever overshadow their previous album Roads to Judah, which is a great album in its own right. It’s also pretty cool that Deathwish Records has put out my favorite record two years in a row (Last year being Converge’s All We Love We Leave Behind). There were a LOT of albums that came out this year, and for me, Sunbather is my 2013 Album of the Year. I invite you to listen to it below. For Fans Of: Liturgy, Alcest, Loma Prieta

The Pen Challenge!

Every once in a while I come across (or create!) some cool little audio exercises, and I’ve got one today for you to take a crack at!

It’s called “The Pen Challenge”, and as the name would have you believe, it involves simply a pen (and a microphone, of course). I very much like restriction, so I’ve put a ton of them on this one. Every part of a pen makes noise, so let’s see what is in there!

Step 1) Record up to five minutes of any sounds you can make using your pen and your pen alone (don’t write or hit it on other things – things you do to it are fine though). Be creative – take it apart, find what makes it tick, blow across tubes, etc.  You cannot go back and record more later!

Step 2) Take your recording into a DAW (I used Audition), and cut it up into small little beats and patterns. Do not use any processing unless it’s room noise reduction.

Step 3) Organize your clicks and pops and sounds into…something. I chose to make a beat pattern out of them. Use panning, gain control, and bussing to affect the mix. YOU CANNOT USE ANY DSP HOWEVER (No reverb, distortion, compression, etc). I preferred working with a time limit so I took two hours.

Step 4) Upload it and show me the link! 🙂

Variations:

  • Allow re-recording of additional sounds
  • You can only add sounds by overdubbing entirely new recordings – you cannot edit the recordings however once they are made.
  • Allow other objects to be incorporated (Write on paper, hit parts on different materials, etc)
  • Using VST’s
  • Avoid making patterns, so that you create some sort of soundscape.
  • Using several pens with different  tonal qualities to get different timbres.
  • Create a dry version with no DSP according to the instructions above, but then go back and make a DSP’d version without changing the placement or track bussing routes.
  • Anything else you can think of.

Here’s two of the ones I made:

In this first one, I focused on a short set of clicks which I used sort of like a drum pattern, then layered other stuff around it.

In this second one, I got a little more complex. I used a lot of the FFT filter that I discussed last week (that’s the chimes you’re hearing) and some other reverby and stretchy goodness.

Anyway – that’s what I got this week.
–Chris