We're only a few months into 2013, but it's already been an incredibly strong year for new releases. Some famous frontmen decided to form side projects, while other bands completed ambitious concepts albums or cemented their comeback bids. Enjoy this survey of the best of the best...
Well into a successful reunion most people probably would have never guessed would happen, the Strokes have moved away (somewhat) from the retro-garage sound that made them New York's hippest band of the early 2000s. On Comedown Machine, they dabble in '80s New Wave and even dance-rock, coming off as playful and carefree while retaining the cooler-than-cool vibe that marked their earlier work.
Late last year, Stone Sour put out House of Gold & Bones - Part 1, the beginning of a double album about uncertainty and self-reflection. This year's conclusion may be even stronger, combining the darkness of this band's starkest moments with the melodic sharpness that's been the highlight of their hit ballads. What could they possibly do for an encore?
Death haunts Specter at the Feast, and with good reason. Michael Been, father of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club member Robert Levon Been, died in 2010, and themes of mourning and grief haunt this beautiful but dark collection. BRMC have always dabbled in shoegazer rock, but they've rarely married the guitar theatrics to such mature statements.
It shouldn't be a surprise that Amok sounds more than a little bit like Radiohead. After all, frontman Thom Yorke steers the ship for Atoms for Peace, which also features Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. On this debut album, soundscapes rule the day, most beautifully and anxiously on "Default." You can let this music play in the background, but its stabbing, jittery energy keeps it from being anything close to easy-listening.
The indie-rock band Eels really consists of just its singer-songwriter E and a rotating cast of supporting musicians. But for Wonderful, Glorious, Eels sound more like a unit that usual. E worked on these songs with his touring band, and the results are a loose-limbed set of garage-rock tunes. It's familiar yet fresh, with buoyant love songs like "Peach Blossom" and moodier cuts such as "I Am Building a Shrine" offering many different sides of the Eels musical personality all at once.
Nine Inch Nails will be making their return in 2013, but Trent Reznor isn't beholden to his old band to prove his artistic worth. His new group, How to Destroy Angels, argues persuasively that he's still making fantastic music, working with his lead singer wife Mariqueen Maandig and frequent collaborator Atticus Ross to craft moody, cinematic tales of despair and loss.
Dave Grohl decided to take a break from Foo Fighters for a minute and focus on making his directorial debut: a documentary about the legendary Sound City Studios. The resulting film has also led to a soundtrack album, Sound City: Real to Reel, that finds Grohl collaborating with his high-profile buddies, including Paul McCartney, to record songs on the Neve console that used to be housed at Sound City. Amazingly, this collection is one winner after another, with everybody getting into the spirit of laying down no-fuss rock 'n' roll. Rather than preach about the value of flesh-and-blood musicians making "real" music, Sound City: Real to Reel just lets the tape roll and the creativity flourish.