Let me get this out of the way. I'm gonna say it once, I won't explain myself, and we can all swallow hard and face the wind. Vista Chino's Peace is not included in my self-indulgent write-up honoring the best of 2013. Please direct all dissatisfaction to your nearest deadbeat uncle and share a drink with him, 'cause I don't give a shit.
Still with me?
Actually, I'm not gonna call these 2013's "best." That seems a tad overstated, considering there are likely countless albums I never dusted off. I've still got an inbox full of links and downloads that may stay sealed until my ears stop bleeding. But when I fell for an album, I fell hard. Though sludge and doom glaze me over thick and drunk, I also dip my wick in the trippy, the fuzzy, the dusty, the ice cold, and the downright weird. Signal the hounds, these are 2013's favorites.
Sludge / Doom
Here are the brass tacks, ten reasons that wake me before dawn every Sunday to get lost before the sun finds my window. Notice the bulk of these are albums featured as Sunday Sludge. I'll leave my comfort zone shortly, don't worry.
There's absolutely no moral ambiguity here. Scorn was my favorite release of 2013, due not in small part to its staggering embrace of all things bleak and malevolent. The stretches of pause are as stomach-churning as the clobbering sludge filth. This one's for the sadists and the masochists.
Sadly, the sticky blooze can hardly hold a dripping candle to Dorthia Cottrell's coven of vocal grips. Between the woodshed and the timber, these six cuts swell, sway, and swing with dominance. I laced up with this wax and my feet got stuck. Holy fuck... this ghastly, viscous Virginia-based doom is my captor. With wrists aimed skyward and faith smeared, I swoon.
Amid the sludgy psychedelia, finding Helena Goldberg's intoxicating coos made this album stick. That tingle might not be the buzzing sub-woofer; it could very well be a distant whisper intent on extracting your best smile and heaviest heart. You're all webbed up with nowhere to go. But there's that buzz again. I'm still lost in this.
Ah, it's just a stain. Blackout announced their presence with mesmerizing, filthy crumblers lacing fuzzy doom among the sludge clamor. For as weird as We Are Here can be, it'll have you dazed with its focus on doling out cavernous doom. The grind relents before it reaches bone, but fuck... I can't feel my face.
I might argue Dead Ends is the year's most complete sludge album. Shroud Eater know when to hit puree and they never push into the red. Every rhythm is barbed with savage riffs, and we see a band emerging from their own skin to rule with an iron fist. From thick bog to icy peak, Dead Ends is a flooring effort that bleeds with you..
Smoke and riffs. With their second release in as many years, ITCOS make no haste doling heady repetition and a shade of creekside introspection. The sludge wisps skyward, a slow-motion repetition booted backwards. Patience took these cats into another realm, while the swelling walls let us know there's an entrance nearby.
There's no real start or end here. Circadian Meditations may as well run on a loop. Not because the sound doesn't expand and flee (it does), but because you'll need to circle the perimeter to find your footing. The injected psychedelia slips home and steals this already magical release, spinning and spitting rocket licks amid astral mysteries.
The only surprise here was that Ultraviolet was even better than I'd anticipated. A siren's confidence melted atop progressive Georgia mud-sludge should be marquee material among this list, but the complexities contained herein mark stellar songcraft from a band that makes it look effortless.
Imagine time travel without the stupidity and you'll believe Black Seal may be onto something. Rhythm shifts and we're not sure where we're being led. Black Seal wear a punk skin here and there, but the stoner sludge terrain remains underfoot, while listeners are unsure which way to turn. Pyre may be a flashback, which blurs the line between progress and tradition.
This debut was a pleasant wintry surprise, balancing sullen drone with some incredibly massive atmospheres. The vocal tandem works far better than it should, and the archaic mood delivers a unfamiliarity that's been bottled since the dawn of time. If one release left me without words, descriptors, or a clue as to how to share my thoughts, it was this one.
Lord Dying aren't here to redefine metal, but they're certainly boiling down the sub-labels. Summon The Faithless transcends genres and delivers endless riffs, huffing the heavy from every calculated sneer. Playing fast and dirty, Lord Dying appear poised to make the leap. Burned skin and all, I couldn't possibly ignore this seething sludge.
Austrian deserts may not exist, but nobody told Witchrider. This EP shot straight into the back of my skull when the barbed guitar licks grated through the desert rhythms. Witchrider fuzz out and burn with QOTSA-esque patience and repetition. Cool jams descend to balance the numbness, and my only complaint is that this wasn't a full-length.
Pairing stoner trademarks and 90's grunge elements might seem like the latest thumbs up, but these songs roll so easily that they open themselves to criticism about accessibility. Don't get trapped, Plan B met the kid in me and opened a buzzing nostalgia that's still got me nodding along. These fur-coated jams hit deep and maintain cool timelessly.
The violent twists and jagged screeches may steal top-billing, but they never detract from the larger picture. The low-slung noise highlights a band rising from adversity and having the sack to step back into the ring. Idolize left me with burning eyes and bug-filled teeth. Fast, furious, and absolutely vile.
There's nothing clean about it. Noise rock isn't supposed to be this catchy, is it? Amid the torrid clips and crushing rhythms is a groove that'll make you forget about wet pants. The lip-curled snips and massive riffs help the hooks stick, while the songcraft puts Whores. at the nose of the best in the sludge-noise genre.
Favorite Live Album
How can the world's best live band harness that same energy to tape? I don't know anyone more passionate about what they do than Steve Moss. As the claps deepen over the course of this record, you feel that Steve's not letting you walk home without feeling that same burn. Spin this and it's as close to being at Roadburn as you can get.
3D glasses, posters, and multiple options for multiple budgets. Easy Rider Records hit the nail on the head with this spooky psych-doom whizzer. The art and packaging trips as much as the evil embers offered on the record's two tracks. If the songs sucked I'd call it tchotchke, but the goodies only made my Sweeden experience that much sweeter.
Jesus, even their artwork is loaded with beefy psychedelia. Monster Magnet pull us for a trip before this wax even spins, evidenced on the dark, space-driven nebula of John Sumrow's colors and tones. The bullgod staple is hardly lost in the cosmos, but you may struggle to free yourself from gazing.
Neil Fallon's free-form stream-of-consciousness is on full display, while the now taken-for-granted groove rolls for the five best minutes of 2013. Trademark Clutch, I know. But the land-roving passages splitting the verses are undeniably delicious. The balance of Earth Rocker is no slouch, either. In fact, Gone Cold could just as easily occupy this space.
Favorite "Fuck You!"
Queens of the Stone Age - Smooth Sailing
It's pretty clear who Josh Homme targets with his tongue-in-cheek jabs, but these lyrics are pretty-well applicable anywhere. He faces the jaded winds head-on, even acknowledging his own miscues before snarkily outlining his plans to leave the past where it belongs and not rub his dick on something seminal and majestic.
StoneBirds and Stangala - The Infamous Kreiz-Breizh Sessions Vol. 1
Serving bluesy stoner-sludge and washing it down with wet-pavement chants, this split was two trips in one. I'm not sure how the marriage works so well, and I'd love to showcase separate releases from each band. Eclectic and haunting, downtuned and psychedelically primitive, this split offered as much fun as anything I heard this year.