For the rest of the year, we’ll be spotlighting our KEXP DJs Top Albums of 2013. View all our DJ’s favorite albums here, and see what KEXP listeners voted for in our 2013 Top 90.3 Albums Countdown here.
Hannah Levin’s 2013 Top Ten Albums
|Queens of the Stone Age||...Like Clockwork||Matador|
|Red Fang||Whales and Leeches||Relapse|
|Big Business||Battlefields Forever||Gold Metal Records|
|Chelsea Wolfe||Pain is Beauty||Sargent House|
|Neko Case||The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You||Anti|
|Lord Dying||Summon the Faithless||Relapse|
|Kacey Musgraves||Same Trailer Different Park||Mercury Nashville Records|
|Sandrider||Godhead||Good to Die Records|
When the new Queens of the Stone Age record was released this past July, I actually waited several weeks to listen to it, simply because I didn’t want to risk having one of my favorite bands disappoint me (I think this must be a manifestation of residual teenage trauma acquired the first time I heard Metallica’s eponymous “Black” album, when I burst into angry tears and began spewing expletives at neutering producer Bob Rock). My fears were utterly unfounded; …Like Clockwork is arguably QOTSA’s masterwork. Every QOTSA record has stand-out tracks, but this is a fully-formed album with a capital “A”, built upon a natural narrative arc that demands sequential listening in much the same way Radiohead’s OK Computer or Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen require full immersion to appreciate. Unsurprisingly, some life-altering events in frontman Josh Homme’s world were the impetus for hitting this high-water mark. If you are curious about the backstory in that regard, I highly recommend listening to Marc Maron’s extensive interview with Homme via his WTF Podcast.
The Northwest in general has always had a thriving community of bands rendering their work in hard and heavy terms, and Portland in particular is a rich source of viscerally thrilling rock artists, so placing the Relapse debut of Lord Dying and Red Fang’s third (and best) record on this list was a no-brainer. Frankly, I could have built a list entirely of Portland-based releases, including Drunk Dad’s delightfully caustic, Am Rep-channeling debut, Morbid Reality, Gaytheist’s crisply produced, ribald riffage on Hold Me…But Not Too Tight, and SOS, Rabbits’ eclectic collection of singles, covers and outtakes. Seattle is still holding down its share of muscular metal, most evident in the sophomore release from Sandrider, an imposing, intoxicating meld of distorted power chords and unexpected, hook-laced melodies. While not on this list, it’s also worth mentioning Lumbar, the harrowing, heartbreaking collaboration between YOB frontman Mike Sheidt, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth leader Tad Doyle, and their mutual friend, Roareth’s Aaron Edge. The First and Last Days of Unwelcome is Lumbar’s first and likely only release—a one-off project that will never be performed live, a consequence of Edge’s ongoing and debilitating battle with multiple sclerosis.
I always appreciate a late-entry surprise, and this year it snuck up on me around Thanksgiving in the form of a fresh-faced, country-pop star named Kacey Musgraves. Cerebrally-centered, sweet-toned, and unpretentious, Musgraves is a truly massive talent, particularly when it comes to song structure and lyrical capacity. Same Trailer Different Park is virtually flawless in its execution and composition, flitting gracefully from mournful ruminations on small town entrapment (“Merry Go ‘Round”), to sunnier endorsements of cross-cultural acceptance (“Follow Your Arrow”), and sultry, smoky observations about the spiritual grind of service industry work (“Blowin’ Smoke”). She’s poised to be huge and this would be a boon for modern country, a genre not particularly known for songwriting dexterity of this degree, nor for nurturing young women this self-possessed and forthright. Perhaps my favorite thing about Ms. Musgraves is the way I discovered her, right here on KEXP when my colleague Don Slack dropped “Blowin’ Smoke” during Swingin’ Doors. Thanks, Don!
Hannah Levin is one of the hosts of Seek & Destroy, on the air Saturday nights/Sunday mornings from midnight-2AM.