The 10 Best Albums of 2013

I realize it’s a little late into 2014 to be writing this, but I didn’t get the idea until mid-way through January & it took me a while to compile this list, so I’m going ahead with it anyway even if the post seems a bit belated.  A few of these albums were actually released in 2012 but didn’t become truly popular until 2013, or at the very least I didn’t discover them until 2013 so I’ve included them anyway.  I’ll be upfront & tell you that 90% of these albums are rock albums, so if you don’t like rock music I guess this post isn’t for you.  But I challenge you to read it anyway because you never know what might trigger your interest.

Aside from #1, these are in no particular order.

I’ve included links to at least one of my favorite songs from each album because I’m awesome like that.  🙂  At the end I’ve also included some of my most anticipated album releases for 2014.

1.       The House of Gold & Bones, Volumes 1 & 2 by Stone Sour

It’s nigh impossible for me to pick a favorite album of all time but if I had to do it, I think this dual-album would be my choice.  There are a lot of reasons I say that, not the least of which is that I find myself subconsciously judging other albums based on this one.  I don’t mean to do that because consciously I realize that a concept album such as this is not THE standard for all albums ever made & yet this one is just so breathtaking that it’s become my point of comparison for just about everything.  I didn’t know a lot of Stone Sour music before this dual-album debuted, but when I started hearing Absolute Zero on the radio I fell in love immediately.  I was at Best Buy purchasing another album one day & just happened to see Volume 1 of The House of Gold & Bones & decided to take a chance on it.  Best decision ever.  Within a few weeks of purchasing Volume 1, I was completely entranced.  Every single song is just so perfect & they all flow together like a rock symphony so that often it is difficult to tell where one song ends & another begins.  Volume 2 is exactly the same way.  Between the two Volume 1 is my favorite but honestly they are both phenomenal.  From ballads to harder songs that are more Slipknot in feel, the vocals, the lyrics, the music itself, everything is in top form.  Just about every emotion human beings can experience is touched on in these songs.  There is so much more I could say about this dual-album but I’ll stop now for fear of boring you.  Just buy the albums.  You won’t regret it.

Volume 1:

Volume 2:

2.       Same Trailer, Different Park by Kacey Musgraves

May I just say that I am really proud of myself for having this album months before Kacey Musgraves started garnering national attention & winning a very well-deserved Grammy?  I used to be so behind the times when it came to music & popular culture & I still am in a lot of ways, but with music I am often quite ahead of my time nowadays, at least in certain genres.  It’s often been said that Kacey Musgraves sings country music for people who don’t like country music.  I think the reason for that is that Kacey’s lyrics are so profound while also being extremely wittyShe also isn’t afraid to write about the nastier side of small town life.  While most popular country stars are singing about pick-up trucks, fishing, & drinking beer, Kacey is penning such scathing & controversial but inspiring songs as Merry Go Round & Follow Your Arrow.  Every single song on this album is a real winner & it’s rare for me to say that, especially about a country album.  If you don’t want to buy the album or don’t typically like country music, just look her up on YouTube.  You might end up buying the album after hearing some more of her songs, just like I did.  (Also of note, Kacey has written many popular songs sung by other country artists including the recent Miranda Lambert hit Mama’s Broken Heart.  No offense to Miranda, but I like Kacey’s version of it even better.  Again, look it up on YouTube.)

3.       The Wrong Side of Heaven & the Righteous Side of Hell, Volumes 1 & 2 by Five Finger Death Punch

FFDP is one of those rare bands whose songs I almost always fall in love with immediately upon hearing them.  They are just that good.  From ballads to thrashing rock & roll anthems, Ivan Moody’s voice is mesmerizing & the band behind him is top-notch in every way.  When you hear a FFDP song, there’s never any question about whose song it is.  You just know.  Like Stone Sour, FFDP released a dual-album in 2013.  These are not concept albums but they are fantastic nonetheless.  There are plenty of the traditional “angry” songs for which FFDP is famous, but there are also plenty of powerful ballads.  The titular song on the first album is one of my favorites along with Battle Born & Cradle to the Grave on Volume 2.  Volume 1 contains several compilations with other artists including Rob Halford from Judas Priest & Maria Brink from In This Moment.  There is also a remake of the LL Cool J song Mama Said Knock You Out featuring the rapper Tech N9ne.  A hard rock/metal band remaking a rap song?  Yes, that’s right.  And it’s amazing.  There’s a reason FFDP is the number one band I listen to on the way to work: their music is just so energizingIs it ironic that what most people would consider to be “angry” music energizes me to provide compassionate care to sick people?  Maybe, maybe not.  There’s a lot more to this kind of music if you just take the time to listen a little deeper.  Bottom line: whether you are already familiar with FFDP or not, check out these albums today.

Volume 1:

Volume 2:

4.       Amaryllis by Shinedown

This is definitely a 2012 album but I love it so much that I decided to include it anyway.  I know a certain segment of rock/metal fans think Shinedown isn’t “hard-core” enough for their taste, but I’ve always found that to be a rather superficial & undeserving judgment.  Shinedown is one of those rare rock bands who have somehow found that “sweet spot” of writing songs that are “tame” enough to be played on mainstream radio (sometimes even on stations that aren’t pure rock stations) while not becoming a pop band.  I’ve seen Shinedown in concert twice & each time my respect for them has only increased.  Amaryllis is an album that covers a vast amount of subject matter as well as an impressive range of musical styles.  There isn’t even one song on this album that I would give less than 4 stars.  If you don’t usually like rock music, I’d recommend Shinedown as a great place to start.  It’s not necessarily that their music is “softer;” they just seem to have a way of reaching out to people across all genres of music.  Even in their more angry/cynical songs, Shinedown has a way of inspiring hope.  Perhaps that is what makes them so powerful.

5.       The Strange Case Of… by Halestorm

I had the privilege of seeing Halestorm live in 2013 & the best way to sum up that experience is this: I can’t wait to see them again, preferably on a head-lining tour.  A hard rock band with touches of metal here & there with a seriously bad-ass female lead singer?  I mean, what is not to like here?  The Strange Case Of… is a great follow-up to Halestorm’s first album.  From the fast-paced Grammy award-winning Love Bites to powerful ballads like Break In & Here’s to Us, Halestorm is in top form in every way on this album.  In the traditionally male-dominated world of rock & roll Lzzy Hale makes female rock fans like me feel right at home.  At the same time, her music is far from “feminine” & many of her top fans are actually guys.  And it’s not just because she’s sexy.  She, & her band which includes her brother Arejay on drums, is seriously talented too.

6.       Blood by In This Moment

I had never heard of In This Moment until 2013.  As soon as I heard the titular song Blood, I knew I had to have the whole album.  Maria Brink & her band are just that talented.  This isn’t music for the faint of heart; it’s raw & sometimes a little raunchy.  But, wow, it is powerful!

7.       Onyx by Pop Evil

I am proud to say I owned all three of Pop Evil’s albums before they became more mainstream this past year with the success of their hit singles Trenches & Deal With the Devil off of their 2013 album Onyx.  I first started listening to Pop Evil after the moderate success of  Monster You Made in 2011.  It was that song that prompted me to buy their first two albums & I was thoroughly impressed with both of them.  Then came Onyx.  Each album Pop Evil has released gets better & better so I can only imagine what their next album will be like.  Pop Evil is definitely on my list of bands that I most want to see live in the next year or two.  (P.S. Ladies, the lead singer Leigh Kakaty is a sight for sore eyes.  Do a quick Google image search & I promise you’ll thank me.)

8.       Fortress by Alter Bridge

Alter Bridge is one of those American bands who have actually had greater success in Europe than here in their own country.  But I’ve been a fan since high school, thanks originally to my husband.  In any case Fortress has made it on many lists of top albums for 2013 & rightfully so.  This isn’t an album that you’ll fall in love with at first listen.  Or at least you might not.  Alter Bridge isn’t known for writing songs with super catchy tunes; in other words they don’t always get stuck in your head immediately.  But what marks them as a truly great band is that their music gets better & better the more you listen to it.  Their music is like an onion; there are so many layers & each time you listen you hear a little more & a little more.  To me that is the mark of great musicianship & these guys have it.  I think Alter Bridge has always resonated with me because they aren’t a flashy band & their music somehow walks the fine line of facing the harsh darkness of life while always retaining a bit of hope.  To me they are a band that will stand the test of time, & I won’t be surprised if fifty years from now they are more respected & popular than they are now.

9.       Brave, Bold, & Broken by Mindset Evolution

I first heard ME at Uproar Festival in Raleigh in Sept 2012.  At that point they only had a 5-song “album” out but I bought & loved every song on it.  So when their first full-length album debuted in 2013 I purchased it the very day it came out.  And I’ve been nothing short of pleased.  Why these guys don’t get more radio-play I’ll never understand.

10.   Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies by Volbeat

Ok, here’s a rock album that evokes the feeling of the American Wild West.  As if that isn’t a great enough feat on its own, consider that Volbeat isn’t even an American rock band.  They are actually a Danish band!  I’m not sure that this album really qualifies as a concept album, but all of the songs are about characters from the Wild West.  Volbeat is another of those bands whom you can never mistake for anyone else, yet somehow they manage to really evoke the sound of the Wild West in these songs while still remaining true to their own unique sound.  It’s seriously impressive stuff.

And lastly, my most anticipated albums of 2014:

The Outsiders by Eric Church (debuting tomorrow, February 11!)  I have a soft spot in my heart for this NC native because he is passionately devoted to his MUSIC above all else.  He comes across as kind of rough around the edges, but in reality he’s a family man who travels with his wife & infant son on his tour bus.  I admire his willingness to speak whatever’s on his mind even when it’s not always popular & his refusal to bend to the whims of popular opinion.  I’m also partial to his music because of its rock & roll feel.  Going to one of his concerts felt like being at a redneck rock concert.  Needless to say, I loved it & would love to see him live again someday.

Magic Mountain by Black Stone Cherry (coming May 6)  BSC is a band I discovered in 2013 after seeing a picture of an Alter Bridge member wearing a BSC sweatshirt.  I figured if Alter Bridge liked them, they had to be good.  And they are!  The 2011 album Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea by these small-town Kentucky rockers is fabulous & has me eagerly anticipating their new album this year.  I love the fact that BSC’s music has a very Southern rock feel while still being very hard-core.  I also must point out that the current Florida-Georgia Line hit Stay is actually a BSC song from their 2011 album mentioned above.  It really grinds my gears that BSC isn’t getting credit for that song.  (Sorry FGL fans, but their version sucks anyway.)

10 Steps to a Healthier, Happier Life in 2014

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, naturally I have been spending some time thinking about how to make this a happier, healthier year than the last.  It’s cliché of course, but it’s important to think about these things because positive change isn’t something that just happens.  It has to be deliberate.  After some consideration I’ve come up with what I believe are the ten most important things for living a healthier, happier life in 2014.  Since physical health is only one component of overall health, I’ve included measures regarding emotional and spiritual health as well.

  1. If you’re trying to lose weight or eat/be healthier in 2014, be sure to set small, measurable, attainable goals.  It’s fine to have your overall big goal of losing 50 pounds or running a marathon or whatever it may be, but if you don’t set small realistically attainable goals along the way, you will never achieve your larger goal.  It will always remain some unreachable pie in the sky and you’ll end the year depressed and wondering why you never accomplish what you set out to accomplish.  Here are some good examples of small goals you can set:
    1. This week I will drink at least 4 glasses of water each day (instead of sodas).
    2. This week I will eat at least one vegetable and one fruit every day.
    3. This week I will walk one mile 3 days a week.  Next week I’ll do it 4 days a week.

The point is to make SMALL changes every day because if you try to drastically change your lifestyle you are almost certain to fail.  But if you take small steps every day, eventually you will be amazed to find that you have truly changed your life!  Indeed, this theory is true for so much more than just weight loss, so you can apply it to all kinds of goals you might have for 2014.  I can tell you from personal experience that this is how I gradually lost 15 lbs over the course of late 2012 into early 2013.  I was only trying to lose 10 lbs but by making small realistic changes every day, I ended up losing more weight than I even hoped to lose!  And I’ve consistently kept it all off, minus 2-3 lbs that I regained over the holidays, but I know I can lose that again quickly by making the same small changes for better health every day.

2. Find those people who you really love and hold them close.  Some of them might be hundreds or even thousands of miles away, but in today’s technology age that no longer means you can’t stay in regular contact (with some exceptions for the military or people in areas without consistent internet access, of course).  For example, one of my best friends is in England.  I have only met her once in real life and it wasn’t until a year or more after that that we actually became close.  But we have managed to BECOME and STAY close via Facebook chat & Skype, and I am now planning a trip to see her in England sometime this year.  As a nurse I am constantly reminded that what really matters in life more than anything is the relationships you build with your family and friends.  If there’s a relationship in your life that is broken or just isn’t as strong as you wish it was, make 2014 the year you try to repair and rebuild it.  Not every relationship can or even should be saved.  (For example a woman whose ex-husband beat her probably shouldn’t try to reignite that relationship in any way.  It just wouldn’t be safe.)  But if you have a relationship you think should be salvaged, don’t let pride stop you.  Stay in regular contact with those you love as much as you can, and never forego a chance to say “I love you.

3. Do something at work that scares you.  As a nurse for me this often means trying an IV on someone who seems to be an impossible stick.  If I didn’t try everyone I thought was going to be a hard stick I’d have started a LOT less IV’s than I have in my career.  In 2013 I also trained for and starting working as a charge nurse on my unit.  It was scary at first (and still is occasionally), but I’ve learned to really enjoy this new role because I see it as a way to help my fellow nurses.  So whatever it is at work that scares you, make a real effort to tackle that this year.  You might not succeed 100% at everything (I certainly don’t get every IV I try), but you will probably succeed more often than you think.  And your greatest confidence is built in doing those things you thought you couldn’t do.

4. Building on number three, don’t be afraid to speak your mind about things that really matter to you.  I started this blog as a way to share my ideas and observations about life, largely in an effort to clear my own mind but also to hopefully encourage and inspire others.  However, it has taken a lot of courage for me to write some of the things I’ve written, being unsure of what kind of reaction I might get even from those close to me.  For example my post The Purity Myth garnered a fair amount of disagreement and criticism (of the idea, not me personally) even from some people close to me.  That is totally fine of course because everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but writing that post was scary for me.  The ideas in it were so important to me but I knew they contradicted a lot of what my family believes, so it was difficult to share something that I knew many would not like.  But I did it anyway.  As it turns out The Purity Myth has been my most popular post to date (I guess sex really does sell, huh?  HA!), and no one has disowned me for having more “liberal” ideas.  I was also afraid to share a lot of my posts about anxiety, but those have all been fairly popular and I have received quite a few messages and comments from people (strangers & friends alike) thanking me for my honesty in writing about such issues.  Knowing that I have not only helped myself but also helped others through my writing is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever known in life.  Yes, I may have offended a few people from time to time by speaking my mind about something (whether on this blog or in “real life”) but that is somewhat inevitable in life anyway.  What I’m slowly learning is that as long as you have a loving, compassionate attitude towards others that will come through to your audience no matter what your actual message is.  The greatest regrets in life are often of what is left unsaid rather than what is said anyway.

5. Listen to music that isn’t on pop radio.  I’m fully aware that I’m a bit of a music snob in some ways, but I’m a former band geek so I can’t help it.  But in all seriousness, do explore music beyond the Top 40.  There is so much more out there with so much more to say about life, love, and everything in between than Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus, and One Direction.  If you don’t think you like country music, try Kacey Musgraves.  You might be pleasantly surprised.  If you don’t think you like rock, try Stone Sour, especially their latest two-part album The House of Gold and Bones.  Again I think you might be pleasantly surprised.  The point is music can be such a huge source of inspiration in life.  I know it is for me in too many ways to count.  So explore it.  Nowadays with YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes we have greater instant access to every kind of music in the world than anyone ever has before, so take advantage of it.

6. Do something for someone who can never repay you.  Whether it’s giving food to a homeless person or volunteering with disadvantaged children or something else entirely, just do it.  You will feel great and the world will be a better place because of it.

7. Don’t let strict gender roles define you.  But on the same token, if you find yourself fitting some gender role stereotypes, as long as you’re happy, don’t feel like you need to change things.  This is the 21st century.  If a man wants to be a stay-at-home dad, great.  But if you can’t imagine doing that as a man, that’s fine too.  If you have a master’s degree but want to be a stay-at-home mom, don’t let anyone tell you you’ve sold yourself short.  At the end of the day, you answer to yourself.  Don’t let other voices run your life when yours are the ones you have to sleep with at night.

8. Be honest about your emotions, with yourself and others.  Don’t bottle things up or try to deny how you’re feeling out of guilt or anything else.  If you’re sad, allow yourself to be sad.  If you’re angry, allow yourself to be angry.  Be an adult and learn how to have strong emotions while not ACTING on them in negative ways.  That’s the key.

9. Find what makes you tick in life.  In other words, the things you are really passionate about.  For me it’s music and writing.  For others it might be photography, dance, art, cooking, interior design, sports, or marketing.   Whatever it is, just find it and do it as much as you can.  Consider making a career out of your passions, but also remember that sometimes your passions can be just as therapeutic as hobbies.  The point is that you find out what they are and seek them out as much as you can.

10. As a follow up to number nine, remember that having fun and making good memories is what life is all about.  The world needs people who are passionate about life because these are the people who inspire others and inevitably make a positive difference wherever they go.  Try not to obsess over little things by asking yourself something like this: “In the course of a lifetime, what will this matter?”  It may sound morbid, but think about what will be important to you at the end of your life and remember that could be any time because none of us is promised tomorrow.  Make decisions and choices in life that align with your values, goals, and dreams.  Learn to cherish the little things because when you look back on your life you will find those were the things that mattered the most.  Take time to smell the roses, to cherish a beautiful sunset, to listen to the sound of the waves on the seashore, and to share it all with those you love.

I wrote this as much to myself as to anyone, but I hope this was of some inspiration to you as readers as well.  I hope 2014 will be a great year for all of us.  Just remember, life is what you make it.  No excuses, no exceptions.  This is both terrifying and exciting, but don’t let the fear of striking out keep you out of the game.