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CD Reviews:
The Top Albums of 2013

21st Century Media/Digital First Media, @GraffonMu

Posted: Monday, December 23, 2013

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Some lasting impressions of music in 2013...

Miley Cyrus twerking.

Justin Bieber, his monkey and his marijuana.


One Direction's screaming fans.

Taylor Swift's practiced look of shock at every awards ceremony.

Beyonce slipping out a surprise blockbuster at year's end.

There was more -- and better -- than that for the ears, however.

The past 12 months brought welcome returns (David Bowie, Queens of the Stone Age, Justin Timberlake) and equally welcome newcomers, even if the Recording Academy didn't deem New Zealand's Lorde worthy of a Best New Artist nomination. There were big sellers (or whatever passes for big sales in the digital downloading age) that made the creative grade, and, as always, plenty of under-the-radar acts who only tasted precious musical metal in backstage catering.

The year's best? Read on -- a dozen choices, in alphabetical order, of those who rocked, rapped and, in some cases, twanged our world during 2013:

*Arcade Fire, "Reflektor" (Merge): Expectations were high after the Grammy Award-winning triumph of 2010's "The Suburbs," and the arty Canadian troupe delivered. Letting LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy co-produce proved a stroke of genius, bringing new textures and grooves that only made an already good thing better. And getting David Bowie to guest on the title track was no small deal, either.

*Bombino, "Nomad" (Nonesuch): The Nigerian-born blues artist makes a joyful noise, even when he's singing about suffering. The Black Keys's Dan Auerbach, who produced, helps Bombino (real name Goumar Almoctar) add a bit of grit and Western-style soul without losing the indigenous flavors that make his music so distinct and disarmingly fresh.

*David Bowie, "The Next Day" (ISO/Columbia): A decade after his last album, Bowie came, unexpectedly, and conquered with this lusty, hard-hitting return that sounded like a) he hadn't been away and b) he'd actually gotten younger and edgier than the last time we saw him. Welcome back, and here's hoping we don't have to wait quite as long for whatever comes "Next."

*Daft Punk, "Random Access Memories" (Daft Life/Columbia): For its fourth album the French duo makes EDM that anyone who sported polyester during the disco era an relate to -- and unapologetically so. Working with hip collaborators such as Pharrell Williams, Panda Bear, the Strokes' Julian Casablancas and especially Chic's Nile Rogers, Daft Punk delivered the true song of the summer with "Get Lucky" and, as the opening track suggests, gave life back to the music on this 13 songs set.

*Bob Dylan, "The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 -- Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)" (Columbia/Legacy): Another revelatory dig into Dylan's archives, this two-disc set offers original, stripped-down versions of songs that wound up being fleshed out for the controversial "Self Portrait" and the more "New Morning." A fascinating and revealing look at Dylan's prowess, even in the workshop stages of creativity.

*Jason Isbell, "Southeastern" (Southeastern Records/Thirty Tigers): The most fully realized of the former Drive-By Trucker member's four solo album is dark, angsty and stoic, tragic at times (keep a few hankies handy when listening to the devastating "Elephant") but still kicking up a rockin' storm on tracks such as "Super 8" and "Flying Over Water."

*Johnny Marr, "The Messenger" (Sire): After a decorated career with the Smiths, Electronic, Modest Mouse, Paul McCartney, Bryan Ferry, Pet Shop Boys and more, Marr drops his first true solo album at age 49. This near-perfect rock set, with its layers of shimmering guitars and sturdy melodies, was well worth the wait, a stellar "debut" from an accomplished veteran.

*The Mavericks, "In Time" (Valory Music): The country iconoclasts sound rested and revived on their first new release in eight years, continuing to throw out the genre rule books and embrace a kitchen sink of styles -- all to good effect. This rivals David Bowie for the year's most welcome return.

*Queens of the Stone Age, "...Like Clockwork" (Matador): A bout of depression after near-fatal surgery resulted in some deeply reflective moments for QOTSA founder Josh Homme -- and exceptional music that conveys the emotional heft. With QOTSA's most potent lineup yet and a stellar guest list (Elton John, Dave Grohl, Trent Reznor and more), "...Like Clockwork" fully serves those who waited the six years since the group's last album.

*Volbeat, "Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies" (Universal): Strengthened by the addition of Anthrax alumnus Rob Caggiano as co-producer and guitarist, the Danish quartet hits a new high on its fifth studio album, effectively straddling the lines between heavy metal, hard rock, punk and rockabilly. Frontman Michael Poulson's continuing fascination with Americana results in masterful narratives such as "Pearl Heart," "The Hangman`s Body Count," "Black Bart" and "Lonesome Rider."

*Kanye West, "Yeezus" (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam): He's bold, brash, bodacious and has a unique gift for rubbing people the wrong way, but on his sixth studio album Kanye West was absolutely right. The uncharacteristically modest (10 tracks) brim with next-level sonics and arrangements, and West's vocalizing is stronger than ever alongside cameos from Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and the Gap Band's Charlie Wilson.

*The Wild Feathers, "The Wild Feathers" (Warner Bros.): This Austin, Texas quintet debuts with a brash blast of Americana that rocks more than it twangs but stays richly melodic throughout. The Feathers have a flair for the epic on tracks such as "The Ceiling" and "How," but really get wild with "Backwoods Company," "Hard Wind" and "American."

The Second Dozen: Danny Brown, "Old" (Fool's Gold/Warner Bros.); Jake Bugg, "Shangri La" (Island); Clutch, "Earth Rocker" (Weathermaker); Steve Earle, "The Low Highway" (New West); Black Sabbath, "13" (Universal); Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., "The Speed of Things" (Warner Bros.); John Fogerty, "Wrote a Song For Everyone" (Fantasy); Eminem, "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope); Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, "Old Yellow Moon" (Nonesuch); Paul McCartney, "New" (Hear Music); nine inch nails, "Hesitation Marks" (The Null Corporation/Columbia); Pearl Jam, "Lightning Bolt" (Monkeywrench).

Metro Detroit's 20 best concerts of 2013...

* Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Jan. 17, Royal Oak Music Theatre

* Ed Sheeran, Jan. 24, Fillmore Detroit

* Soundgarden, Jan. 27, Fillmore Detroit

* P!nk/The Hives, March 4, The Palace

* Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band/Joe Walsh, April 13, The Palace

* Metallica, June 8 (Damage Inc. Stage) and June 9 (Orion Stage), Orion Music + More festival, Belle Isle

* Infectious Grooves, June 8 (Fuel Stage), Orion Music + More festival, Belle Isle

* Wire, July 9, MOCAD

* Bruno Mars, July 11, The Palace

* AmericanaramA (Bob Dylan, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Richard Thompson), July 14, DTE Energy Music Theatre

* Justin Timberlake and Jay Z, Aug. 6, Ford Field

* Black Crowes/Tedeschi Trucks/London Souls, Aug. 15, Meadow Brook Music Festival

* Kid Rock (with Bob Seger guesting), Aug. 20, DTE Energy Music Theatre

* Goat Rodeo, Aug. 22, Meadow Brook Music Festival

* Queens of the Stone Age, Sept. 12, Fillmore Detroit

* Michael Buble, Sept. 17, The Palace

* The Eagles, Sept. 21, The Palace

* nine inch nails, Oct. 7, The Palace

* Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Nov. 3, The Palace

* Elton John, Nov. 29, Joe Louis Arena

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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