Saturday, December 28, 2013

THE BEST OF 2013 - The Best ROCK Of The Year


- Last year at this time I declared that rock n' roll was alive and kicking. I felt musically energized by great new music from old favorites and up-and-comers. This year, I'm not so sure. It's a sad state of affairs when LA's world-famous KROQ's entire playlist consists of Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, and Lorde. And it's even sadder when literally the only place to hear actual rock n' roll on the radio is on your local classic rock station. It's a strange musical landscape when you throw the odd mainstream metal act like Avenged Sevenfold into the mix. Rock radio is now so toned-down for the hipster crowd that I can only imagine what they must think when something with an actual pulse plays over the airwaves. But the heavy stuff is now grappling for air-time against the elevator music of tomorrow. Maybe it was just an off year for new rock music. Maybe so many big rock albums came out last year that there was nothing left for this year. Maybe part of this is just me being decidedly underwhelmed by the new rock music we did get, from acts like Pearl Jam - whose new album made me long for their 90's-era prime, or Arcade Fire - whose latest, in my mind, failed to live up to the promise of their last couple of albums. Maybe the good stuff is out there, and I just haven't found it. Last year, I made a few great musical discoveries, like Foxy Shazam and Dead Sara. This year, not so much. Oddly enough, pop music is where a lot of the best rock-in-disguise can now be found, from the guitar-lick heavy samples on Eminem's Beastie Boys-style "Berzerk" to the Joan Jett-esque, arena style pop-punk of Avril Lavigne's "Rock n' Roll." Meanwhile, folk-pop continues to dominate the rock-radio scene, with no end in sight. It's not that I hate it, but there's too much of it, and it's not what I want rock music to be. I want something that is rebellious, dangerous, and yes, fun. Not music for depressed hobos. There's a distance and a coldness and a lack of authenticity to a lot of the folk stuff that I don't relate to. Where's the fire? I want to give Mumford and Sons a shot of adrenaline.

Enough negativity though. The group that ruled 2013 in my view were longtime favorites of mine, Daft Punk. "Get Lucky" felt like the perfect pop-song, a throwback to the days when kings-of-pop like Michael Jackson regularly came out with new music that was both innovative and universally-appealing. It's funny, because before Random Access Memories came out, I'd been listening to a lot of Daft Punk's older stuff. So I felt disappointed when I realized just how much of a departure this new album was for the group. But the more I listened, and the more I heard the songs in the context of the album, the more I loved it. Daft Punk are true storytellers, and Random Access Memories tells a quintessentially Daft Punk-ian sci-fi love story. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to call it rock n' roll. To me, Daft Punk is rock through and through. Not just because of the future-sound guitar licks that pop up on many of their songs, but because they embrace the showmanship, the larger-than-lifeness, the spirit of rock in my eyes. They remain thoroughly iconoclastic even with mainstream success.

2013 also saw some great new music from rock legends. Few thought we'd ever see a new Ozzy Osbourne-fronted Black Sabbath album, but we got one this year - and it rocks. The tunes are vintage Sabbath - sludgy, dark, dreary, driving rock. Meanwhile, Joan Jett released a great new album that I thought was very underappreciated. Top to bottom, the songs on it are excellent - lots of up-tempo, cleverly-written rockers that are a nice reminder of why Jett is true rock n' roll royalty. And hey, I haven't made a habit of paying attention to new Paul McCartney music for as long as I've been alive, but Sir Paul made me sit up and take notice with "New." This seems like McCartney's freshest, most lively, most rocking album in many years, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed a number of its songs. Oh, and David Bowie came out with his first new album in years. Not my cup of tea, by and large, but there was something undeniably awesome about having Ziggy Stardust back in the pop-cultural conversation.

I'll also give a shout-out to the Dropkick Murphys. The boys from Boston came out with a great, rocking new album this year that features some of their catchiest, most memorable songs yet. The Murphys were one of the few shining lights this year in terms of modern-rock bands who brought their A-game with great new material.

It was a relatively quiet year for me in terms of concert-going. The one big rock show I saw was in celebration of my brother's birthday. We saw the legendary Pat Benatar (with Cheap Trick) at the equally legendary Greek Theater, and it was an awesome show. I also have fond memories of seeing classic rock cover band The Wayward Sons this September as part of my birthday celebration. Those guys kicked ass, and really brought the house down. It was a nice rock n' roll reminder to stay young at heart even as I get older. My hope for 2014 is to see more shows on par with some of the epic concerts I caught in 2012. But, I did meet one of my musical idols in 2013, as I snagged a photo with none other than the iconic "Weird" Al Yankovic. It was a pleasure to meet the music and comedy legend at Stan Lee's Comikaze expo. I told him that, along with The Simpsons, he was one of my biggest comedy influences growing up. Al was humble and appreciative - truly a man deserving of "American Hero" status.

So yeah, rock n' roll did not have a great year in 2013, but there was great rock and rockin' pop music to be heard, if you could find it. Who knows what will happen in the year to come, but here's hoping that we get less fiddles and more electric guitars in popular music, less music that puts you to sleep, and more music that kicks ass. To paraphrase the great Lou Reed, who sadly passed away this year, here's to rock once again taking a walk on the wild side in 2014.


1.) Daft Punk featuring Pharell Williams - "Get Lucky" / "Lose Yourself to Dance"

-  Get Lucky got most of the accolades, but to me it and Lose Yourself to Dance were the one-two punch of cyber-pop, robot-rock bliss on Random Access Memories. As good as both songs are individually, they're even better when listened to in the larger context of the album - where they serve as infectiously upbeat counterpoints to some of the album's more melancholy tunes. If even robots can learn to lose themselves to dance and stay up all night to get lucky, then so, I suppose, can we.

2.) Joan Jett - "Any Weather" / "Fragile"

- Any Weather is just a great rock anthem, and it's one of several great new songs from Joan Jett's latest album release. Fragile is the other one that really stuck out to me from the album - it's rock n' roll personified: taking painful subject matter and turning it around into a foot-stomping barn-burner that channels sadness into rebellious anger. On the to-do list for 2014: finally see Joan Jett live in concert.

3.) Eminem - "Berzerk"

- This great track from Eminem's new album calls to mind vintage Beastie Boys-style rock/rap grooves. Sampling 80's rock anthem "The Stroke," the song marks a hard-hitting return to form for Eminem after a couple of lesser albums.

4.) Paramore - "Still Into You"

- Look, a big part of me is sad that the latest evolution of Paramore ditched the sort of hard-driving, aggressive rock that originally put them on the map. At the same time, if Haley William's newest iteration of the band is able to channel old-school No Doubt as well as they do here, well, I guess that their new pop-punk sound isn't all bad. Still Into You is just a completely catchy, fun, bouncy song.

5.) Dropkick Murphys - "The Boys Are Back" / "End of the Night"

- The Murphys hit back hard with their latest album, and these are two of the standout songs. The Boys Are Back is just a great, simple, shout-it-out-loud, get-you-pumped-up rocker that sort of encapsulates the Dropkick Murphys in miniature. End of the Night is just a great barroom singalong song - you can picture it drunkenly sung with pitchers held high. A great duo. Glad the Dropkick Murphys are still kicking ass and going strong.

6.) Black Sabbath - "God is Dead?" / "Loner"

- Who could say if a new Ozzy Osbourne-fronted Black Sabbath album would turn out to be any good? Not only was it good, but it was decidedly heavy, showing that these geezers (and Geezer) could still produce the kind of black-mass metal that made Black Sabbath into legends. God is Dead? and Loner are the two standout tracks - both are bleak, grinding journeys into the abyss. No emo here, this is straight-up darkness, courtesy of the Prince of Darkness himself.

7.) Avenged Sevenfold - "Hail to the King"

- Speaking of heavy, here was 2013's token mainstream metal hit. But it's a good one - a fist-pumping battle-cry of a song that mixes metal and melody to great effect. This was the best counter-programming to the folk fluff dominating modern rock radio this year.

8.) Paul McCartney - "New"

- It seemed unlikely that an aged Sir Paul could provide such a great, utopian anthem at this stage of his career, but here it is: a Beatles-y song that's singable and hummable and just downright pleasant. It's a return to Beatles-era optimism at a time when a little positivity is sorely, desperately needed. As long as McCartney's around, then hey, he's still our leader should we need someone to guide us into a new age.

9.) Grouplove - "Ways to Go"

- Channeling late-90's Savage Garden, Grouplove is one of the few acts in the new wave of hipster rock that I actively enjoy. Mainly because there's a bouncy energy to their music and a cleverness to the lyrics that grabs me. This is a cool tune that made me smile whenever it came on the radio.

10.) Avril Lavigne - "Rock N Roll"

- Yes, seriously. Over the years, Avril has showed her rocker side with guitar-heavy songs like "He Wasn't," classic rock cover performances, and, on her latest album, she's even got a collaboration with Marilyn Manson. But I couldn't help but love Rock N Roll - it's a flat-out fun song that channels Joan Jett and 80's hair metal, and even has a killer, Slash-esque guitar solo. Bonus: the music video is one of the weirdest, craziest rock videos seen in many moons. Maybe Avril is a guilty pleasure, but hey, if it rocks, it rocks.


11. Queens of the Stone Age - "I Sat By the Ocean"
12. Fall Out Boy - "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark"
13. David Bowie - "The Stars Are Out Tonight"
14. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Area 52"
15. Orianthi (featuring Steven Tyler) - "Sex E Bizarre"


1. Eminem (featuring Rihanna) - "The Monster"
2. Lady Gaga - "Gypsy"
3. Idina Menzel / Frozen (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - "Let It Go"
4. (featuring Britney Spears) - "Scream & Shout"
5. Lorde - "Royals"

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