Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part One

13. Queens of the Stone Age
...Like Clockwork
(Matador Records)

There was a six-year stretch between Era Vulgaris and Queens of the Stone Age's latest LP, ...Like Clockwork. That mighty gap may not seem so long when you factor in how leader Josh Homme spent part of it honing his chops in Them Crooked Vultures, but it was time spent going under the knife for knee surgery, and almost never coming back, that informs the band's most haunting and surprisingly subtle offering.

Songs For the Deaf these aren't: there's the masterfully menacing slink and spiritually off-the-rails lyricism behind slow and eerie opener "Keep Your Eyes Peeled," for instance, or the almost Flamingos-informed "shoo bop, shoo bops" laced around the kaleidoscopic psych-out of "Kalopsia." "The Vampyre of Time and Memory" hazily plays out as a percodan-popping, '70s-striving goth-glam fantasy, while Elton John sprinkles pearly piano lines alongside Homme's guitar leads and effortlessly sexy, oak-aged vocals on the inner-circle questioning "Fairweather Friends."

The one-two finale of "I Appear Missing" — despite its hallucinogenic, octopus-armed mid-song drum fills — and strings-assisted ballad "...Like Clockwork" bring things to a ruminative, spacey, and ultimately soul-damaged close. "Not everything that goes around comes back around you know," Homme theorizes in the most heartbreaking of falsettos on the latter; "One thing that is clear: It's all downhill from here."

Make no mistake, the Queens can still crush it when the amps sear amber-alert red (see the sky-cracking "My God Is the Sun," or the down and dirty funkiness driving "Smooth Sailing"), but the veteran desert rockers' newest masterstroke champions their famously moody melodies at all volumes. (Gregory Adams)