As is our yearly tradition here, I hope all of you were “Down with the Christmas” this week, no matter what festive holiday you celebrate:
Stream: The Paybacks – “Down with the Christmas” (3:55)
I decided to break this entry down into 3 components: the Jom Expansion Pack (25 albums that missed my Top 25 for whatever reason, mostly because a) they’re good albums that had a lot of playback value for me this year, but paled in comparison to my Top 25, and/or b) I totally missed these albums by a nautical mile and heard them way too late in the year to give them ample consideration for the staff year-end feature), my 5 favorite EPs this year, and then my Top 25 Albums of 2013.
In the Expansion Pack, the albums are in alphabetical order by artist name — if I tried to organize this into a Top 50, it’d be 2016 by the time I’ve figured it out (given my typical output, anyway). When cultivating the Jom Expansion Pack, I tried to not pick albums that already appeared on the Staff’s Top 50 Albums of 2013, but as you’ll note, I had to make a couple exceptions for reasons I’ll explain a bit later (actually, who am I kidding? Nobody reads words anymore, so consider all the reading “optional”).
As far as my personal Top 25 is concerned, I have a strict list of completely arbitrary protocol and rationale for why albums are where they are, and it would do everybody a favor if I didn’t have to explain my whimsical logic.
That said, that’s enough of an intro. I wish you all good luck, good health, and good times in 2014!
Jom Expansion Pack
1. A Wilhelm Scream
Listen if you like: Strung Out, Propagandhi, This is a Standoff
Optional reading: Six years removed from Career Suicide, there was some concern that A Wilhelm Scream were never returning, and if they were, they would sound neutered or outdated. Not so. Brilliant guitar work and a frenetic rhythm section (if you don’t dig bass drum kicks, take a pass here), along with Nuno Pereira’s razor-sharp, acerbic barks, make for a captivating record. See also: “Boat Builders”.
2. All Pigs Must Die
Nothing Violates This Nature
Listen if you like: Nails, Trap Them, Converge
Optional reading: Start with “Chaos Arise” and segue into “Silencer” for just a sampling of this intense grind- and crust-influenced hardcore record. See also: “Silencer”.
3. Alter Bridge
Stream: “Peace is Broken” (4:40)
Listen if you like: Shinedown, Stone Sour, Volbeat
Optional reading: It’s a shame that this record has gotten overlooked due to some readers being all “lol Creed” or “lol mainstream”, because there is a huge disconnect between not just this record and any Creed-released album, but Fortress is heads-and-shoulders above anything Alter Bridge have released. Somewhat progressive in nature, the songwriting sports marked improvements can be heard in Myles Kennedy’s vocals and especially in the instrumentation. See also: “Waters Rising”.
4. Barenaked Ladies
Stream: “Odds Are” (3:00)
Listen if you like: They Might Be Giants, Guster, Great Big Sea
Optional reading: The lack of smiles and playfulness on the album cover might seem off-putting to those familiar with the band (and if you look at the album title), but Grinning Streak is better than All in Good Time as we hear the Canadian quartet continuing to excel in paint-by-numbers pop hooks while still sounding refreshing. “Odds Are” is arguably their best song post-Stephen Page. See also: “Best Damn Friend”.
5. Caligula’s Horse
The Tide, The Thief, & River’s End
Stream: “A Gift to Afterthought” (6:19)
Listen if you like: Fair to Midland, Karnivool, Opeth
Optional reading: For a self-produced record, each element in the band’s sound rings crystal-clear, and its accessibility to nearly all fans of rock and metal make for a compelling listen. Jim Grey is a superb vocalist with considerable range, and the songwriting is eclectic as it effortlessly oscillates between softer, acoustic-laden passages with technical, heavier-hitting sections. See also: “Water’s Edge”.
Stream: “Metatron” (5:07)
Listen if you like: Forest Swords, Nicolas Jaar/David Harrington, Moderat
Optional reading: It was a nearly-too-close-to-call choice between this or Obsidian by Baths, but I quite like the ambiance and almost ethereal soundscapes that Psychic emanates throughout its runtime. There’s plenty of celestial imagery here, with enough twists and turns to satisfy most art pop aficionados. Be sure to find some place comfy and have a nice pair of headphones to really capture the experience. See also: “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen”.
7. Dark Tranquillity
Stream: “Immemorial” (5:00)
Listen if you like: Insomnium, In Flames, Be’lakor
Optional reading: Where it seemed like We Are the Void was a bit of a misstep for the legendary Gothenburg outfit, Mikael Stanne and company return with a much more pleasing return to form. It goes without saying that the Niklas Sundin/Martin Henriksson dyad once again craft some gorgeous melodies, but what really stood out to me was Anders Jivarp’s drumming (see: “Uniformiy”, “What Only You Know”), which seems more imaginative and pushes the rhythm section with a little more vigor. See also: “What Only You Know”.
Stream: “Quest for Glory” (5:49)
Listen if you like: Wintersun, Parasite Inc., Moonsorrow
Optional reading: Although the storyline (what a clan of warriors is thinking about as the group embarks on a long journey to save a faraway village from being invaded) is a bit typical, the instrumentation is sublime alongside Juho Patinen’s multifarious vocal delivery. Reminiscent of Shade Empire and Ensiferum (and I’m not kidding when I suggest Wintersun as an influence here) as well, fans of epic instrumentals might enjoy album opener “Winter’s Call”. Spoiler alert: the warriors are defeated, which adds another dimension to the album. See also: “Winter’s Call”.
À l’âme enflammée, l’äme constellée…
Stream: “Dil” (7:35)
Listen if you like: Sombres Forêts, Xanthochroid, Make a Change… Kill Yourself
Optional reading: As a double album, À l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée… is brooding, melancholic record that might be a bit suffocating (especially with the vocals, which strike a delicate balance between soaring beauty and virulent misery), but repeated listens allow for the melodies to shine through. I’ve read that this sounds like Godspeed You! Black Emperor-meets-Tool if the two bands played dense, poignant depressive black metal. See also: “Les forges”.
Stream: “Atlas Stone” (4:59)
Listen if you like: Kaipa, Sky Architect, Dream Theater
Optional reading: While I’m sure a lot of prog purists will snuff bands that have pop tendencies, Haken is less like Dream Theater (who are almost always cited as a “They sound like [INSERT BAND HERE]” when it comes to “Who do Haken sound like?”) and are more akin Kaipa-meets-Anathema. The production is outstanding, too. I love albums where the bass and keyboards aren’t pushed so far down in the mix that they’re incomprehensible or ineffectual, and while the transitions between passages aren’t always seamless, they are nevertheless interesting and alluring. See also: “Pareidolia”.
11. Have Mercy
The Earth Pushed Back
Stream: “Let’s Talk About Your Hair” (3:54)
Listen if you like: Seahaven, Captain, We’re Sinking, Brand New
Optional reading: I suppose that, if you’ve made it this far or if you casually skimmed this before going back to read the blurbs, that there are a lot of Topshelf Records-represented bands here. I’m undecided if it’s coincidence or just a logical progression through my listening patterns this year, but The Earth Pushed Back is certainly emotive: it’s haunting, aggressive, and rife with broken hearts. If you combined the three bands above and mixed it with Explosions in the Sky gone twinkle-twinkle, you have a pretty good start with the instrumentation heard here. See also: “The Gates”.
From the Bird’s Cage
Stream: “Cardboard Houses” (4:30)
Listen if you like: Polyenso, Circa Survive, TTNG
Optional reading: HRVRD are continuing to toe that line between post-hardcore and indie on From the Bird’s Cage with pleasing results. There is a little more experimentation and genre-bending here compared to their debut (when they were typecast as Harvard), but with enough pop sensitivity to spark interest across casual listeners as well. See also: “Kids with Fake Guns”.
13. Hugh Laurie
Didn’t It Rain
Stream: “Careless Love” (5:20)
Listen if you like: Band from TV, Eric Clapton, Seasick Steve
Optional reading: Hugh Laurie reprises his reinterpreting-the-blues persona that emanates soul and showcases his chops at the piano (as well as some lovely support artists to boot), although I’m undecided between this and Let Them Talk as his best work. See also: “The St. Louis Blues”. Also, this:
14. Illusion Suite
The Iron Cemetery
Stream: “Orpheus’ Quest” (5:03)
Listen if you like: Circus Maximus, Wuthering Heights, Pagan’s Mind
Optional reading: When it comes to progressive metal with power metal tendencies (or power metal with progressive tendencies), Norway’s Illusion Suite tend to do a little bit of both, along with some thrash and NWOBHM elements interspersed throughout the record as well. The guitar craftsmanship displayed here is intriguing because of how gorgeous Iron Cemetery’s melodies can be, and while the vocals are a bit hit-or-miss in spots, I appreciate how the instrumental breaks were concise and to-the-point, rather than minutes-long wankery that tends to go nowhere. See also: “Nostradamus’ First Prophecy”.
15. New Model Army
Between Dog and Wolf
Stream: “March in September” (4:18)
Listen if you like: Levellers, Killing Joke, The Chameleons
Optional reading: There is a loose theme found in Between Dog and Wolf, comparing contemporary times with the immediate (and not-so-immediate) past, but it is nice to hear Justin Sullivan once again move onward and upward for the band’s 12th studio album. See also: “I Need More Time”.
16. Night Birds
Born to Die in Suburbia
Stream: “Born to Die in Suburbia” (1:55)
Listen if you like: Psyched to Die, Career Suicide, Government Warning
Optional reading: Straightforward, no-frills surf/skatepunk-meets-Dead Kennedys with the intensity and menacing snarls cranked to the proverbial 11. See also: “Maimed for the Masses”.
How to Draw a River, Step by Step
Stream: “Departure” (5:50)
Listen if you like: Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate), The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, American Football
Optional reading: You might be surprised to find out that Rika are from Austria, because they sound like they were somewhere in the American Midwest circa 1990s with somber piano, sparkly guitars, and forlorn vocals. For fans of bands that have post-rock influences, twinkly guitars, and obscenely long, borderline obnoxious band name lengths (I say this in jest, kinda). See also: “October”.
18. Russian Circles
Stream: “Deficit” (6:41)
Listen if you like: Pelican, Isis, Caspian
Optional reading: Although I like their earlier records a bit more, I do like the riffs and atmosphere here. I find it a bit curious that Memorial is so short, too, but “Deficit” slays when it comes to the chugga-chugga. See also: “Ethel”.
Flowers for My Father
Stream: “A Long Winter” f/ Ceschi (5:05)
Listen if you like: Kristoff Krane, Input, Atmosphere
20. Secret Pyramid
Movements of Night
Stream: “A Descent” (5:55)
Listen if you like: Hakobune, Painted Caves, Stars of the Lid
Optional reading: A beautifully-constructed ambient/drone record that necessitates the aforementioned comfy chair and quality headphones. Whenever I had a stressful day at work or needed some white noise to calm myself down, this was my go-to record. If you have any other recommendations, I’d be happy to read them. See also: “Move Through Night”.
21. Sigur Rós
Stream: “Brennisteinn” (7:44)
Listen if you like: Explosions in the Sky, Parachutes, Ólafur Arnalds
Optional reading: I really liked the darker, arguably industrial tinges heard here, especially after the relative snooze-fest that was Valtari. I don’t think their crescendos and climaxes will ever scratch the surface of those heard on ( ) or Takk, but the arrangements themselves on Kveikur harken back to how I felt about Ágætis Byrjun’s imaginative construction when I was going through the Icelandic group’s discography. See also: “Yfirborð”.
22. Sulphur Aeon
Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide
Stream: “Where Black Ships Sail” (3:38)
Listen if you like: In Mourning, Fallujah, Helcaraxe
Optional reading: I’d also recommend this for fans of Hypocrisy if they had an extreme love affair for Cthulhu (“Hear me, O Titan of the Sea, Great Cthulhu”). The hooks on this German outfit’s album are truly outstanding; the riffs are energetic, powerful, and ultimately catchy, and the production is pretty memorable as well. The vocals are a bit of an adjustment – I think I was taken aback at first because I was expecting clean vocals at some point, rather than an album full of blackened death snarls and guttural growls – but the atmosphere here is quite remarkable. See also: “Incantation”.
23. Ulver with Tromsø Chamber Orchestra
Messe I.X – VI.X
Stream: “Son of Man” (8:24)
Listen if you like: Arcturus, Burzum, Agalloch
Optional reading: I’m kicking myself that I missed both this and The Norwegian National Opera this year until it was too late, but I really didn’t know what to expect coalescing a string section with electronic music, but it’s a wonderfully eerie and melancholic record. I might not have minded an all-instrumental record, but contrary to most reviews I’ve read, I feel that Rygg’s vocals augment the songs they are featured in quite well. See also: “Shri Schneider”.
Stream: “Nordavindens Klagesang” (3:00)
Listen if you like: Havnatt, October Falls, Woodland Choir
Optional reading: This is the other album I’m really annoyed about missing the boat on by a nautical mile. Honestly, with a name like Skogslandskap (“Wooded Landscape”, apparently, whose movements invoke walking through Norwegian woods from dusk to dawn), I think I might have just ignorantly wrote it off by name alone (rather than seeing that it’s a neo-folk record). While poor judgment on my part (mostly because it would have climbed up the Staff’s Top 50 list), I am thrilled to have stumbled on the record when I did, as I’ve played this record the most often this month (and will undoubtedly be returning to for sure come September/October next year – hooray for having four seasons!). See also: “Langt I Det Fjerne”.
25. Vatican Shadow
Remember Your Black Day
Stream: “Not the Son of Desert Storm, but the Child of Chechnya” (4:10)
Listen if you like: Prurient, Raime, Rob Dougan
Optional reading: Rather fierce industrial/dark techno, marred only slightly by its bludgeon-you-over-your-head repetition and somewhat hollow proselytizing with all the war propaganda. When the movements do gain traction, though, it’s quite scintillating stuff. See also: “Enter Paradise”.
Top 5 EPs
I wanted to call attention to some notable EPs this year, so without further ado, here are my 5 favorite EPs this year, in reverse order:
5. Wil Wagner
Stream: “Laika” (4:25)
Listen if you like: The Smith Street Band, Arrows, City and Colour
Optional reading: “Laika” is fucking depressing if you love dogs and/or are familiar with the titular character, and “Song About Why I Suck” is unabashedly honest and scarily relatable. See also: “Song About Why I Suck”.
4. The Smith Street Band
Don’t Fuck with Our Dreams
Stream: “Don’t Fuck with Our Dreams” (5:00)
Listen if you like: Wil Wagner, Milhouse, Frank Turner
Optional reading: If you’re wondering why there’s some overlap in the past two “Listen if you like” sections, Wil Wagner (above) fronts this band. There’s a discernible level of playfulness and hope found here that I gravitated to, and it’s quite pleasing to vicariously live through the band’s tour diaries (even though the album title is derived from Jules Rozenbergs of Melbourne’s The Bennies, who shouted this just after being stabbed near-fatally at a gig). See also: “Ducks Fly Together”.
3. Mars Module
Stream: “Comet Collapse” (4:00)
Listen if you like: Chimp Spanner, The Flashbulb, “spacerocktronica”
Optional reading: In case you missed this in September, check out my Artist Spotlight and interview with Mars Module here (link opens in new window). See also: “Androids & Astronauts”.
If You Have Ghost
Stream: “If You Have Ghosts” (3:33)
Listen if you like: Blue Oyster Cult, Mercyful Fate, Blood Ceremony
Blurb: The squeaky-clean sheen as a result of the Dave Grohl-influenced production might be a turn-off to some, but I find it to be a wildly entertaining EP. The ABBA cover isn’t anything new (although some of the creepiness seems to have worn off with the cover compared to the original, it’s still quite good), and the band does the little things well (for example, the way Papa Emeritus II rolls his ‘r’s on “Crucified”, originally by Army of Lovers, showcases this attention to detail). See also: “Crucified”.
1. Butch Walker
Stream: “Coming Home” (4:04)
Listen if you like: Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Shovels & Rope
Optional reading: Butch Walker is arguably the greatest multi-faceted songwriter of this generation who happens to handle loss with impeccable grace (see: the entirety of Sycamore Meadows as it relates to his residence, and all of his belongings, perishing in the Malibu fires). Earlier this year, Butch’s father passed away, and Butch went on at length to explain how much his father supported him through his successes (and especially when Butch faltered) at gigs and in the press. For instance, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Butch commented, “[L]earning to deal with the death of your father is as heavy as to be expected – especially when you were best friends. When he finally passed away, one week before the release of ["Coming Home"] . . . well, he proved again to be always the king of timing.” Despite the heartache and anguish, Peachtree Battle is filled to the brim with love, appreciation, and celebration. See also: “Let It Go Where It’s Supposed To”.
Jom’s Top 25 of 2013
Alright, the moment approximately 47 of you have been waiting for! Again, I have a strict list of completely arbitrary protocol and rationale for why albums are where they are, and it would do everybody a favor if I didn’t have to explain my whimsical logic.
Onward with the albums, in reverse order:
25. Modern Life is War
Stream: “Cracked Sidewalk Surfer” (1:55)
Listen if you like: Ruiner, Killing the Dream, Blacklisted
Optional reading: Pretty much what you’d expect: massive, melodic, anthemic songs tightly wrapped in a bombastic, aggressive package. Powerful vocals, incendiary riffing, and one genuinely vitriolic attitude. It’s great to see the Marshalltown quintet back with a return to form to their slower-paced, somewhat unorthodox songwriting style they perfected with Witness. Don’t get me wrong – I quite liked Midnight in America – but nothing will touch Witness, and Fever Hunting is a nice hat-tip to it. See also: “Media Cunt”.
24. Sara Bareilles
The Blessed Unrest
Stream: “Brave” (3:40)
Listen if you like: Michelle Branch, Ingrid Michaelson, Fiona Apple
Optional reading: “Brave” is far and away her best song to date (which, for me, is pretty bold, considering how much I loved “King of Anything”), and I really like the introspective flair she showcases here. Also a highlight for me is her increased use of antiphony: everybody here knows how much I love a well-placed hand clap section. See also: “Chasing the Sun”.
Stream: “Spring Fra Livet” (3:35)
Listen if you like: Baroness, Turbonegro, Black Tusk
Optional reading: Quite easily one of the most fun listens this year (and the video for “Bruanne Brenn” is quite humorous to boot), although I find it a bit amusing that the Norwegian sextet have been dubbed “hipster metal”. Really? They strike me as a band that doesn’t seem to care for being bound by convention, and of other reviews I’ve encountered, I think it’s a bit of an odd criticism to say that they haven’t expanded their sound. What else would they need to do? Wear over-sized ironic eyewear, flannel, and skinny jeans and concoct a bluegrass metal genre? Whatever, hipster. Don’t go drowning in the mainstream. See also: “Kvelertak”.
22. Solar Bears
Stream: “A Sky Darkly” (3:07)
Listen if you like: Letherette, Pretty & Nice, Team Ghost
Optional reading: There’s quite a color palette here, with “A Sky Darkly”’s vivid brushstrokes being an album highlight. Speaking of, that might be one criticism about Supermigration: it’s more rewarding to cherry-pick the passages rather than listen to it in one fell swoop, but the atmosphere the Irish duo create is quite radiant. See also: “The Girl That Played with Light”.
21. Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels
Stream: “A Christmas Fucking Miracle” (4:20)
Listen if you like: Cannibal Ox, Danny Brown, Deltron 3030
Blurb: Deceptively fun (I smiled when I heard the dolphin on “Job Well Done”) and all-killer, no-filler. If you’ve missed this somehow, feel free to enter the fray at any time. See also: “Sea Legs”.
20. Basarabian Hills
In the Stillness of the Codrii
Stream: “In the Stillness of the ‘Codrii’” (9:59)
Listen if you like: Lykathea Aflame (“Walking in the Garden of Ma’at”), Lustre, Appalachian Winter
Optional reading: The presentation is all a bit silly (hailing from Moldova, an individual known as “The Spirit of the Forest” is the lone band member in this atmospheric black metal/ambient hybrid), but the musicianship is rather lovely. The title track reminds me immediately of the above Lykathea Aflame song, and while there are lyrics to three of the four songs, they just sort of pass through unimpeded. It’s a bit odd to have all four tracks end on or around the 10:00 mark, making me wonder if the record would be better served as one giant song, but the soothing music is borderline medicinal to my ears. See also: “Wanderer Through the Melancholy of the Woods, Part I”.
19. Bad Religion
Stream: “True North” (1:56)
Listen if you like: Pennywise, Anti-Flag, NOFX
Optional reading: 16 albums in and the Los Angeles-based quintet keeps on keepin’ on. I have a soft spot for bands who remain steadfast and consistent in their melodies and songwriting without lapsing in repetitive, paint-by-numbers wheel-spinning. Quite a few songs remind me of Stranger than Fiction, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year. See also: “In Their Hearts is Right”.
18. The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die
Whenever, If Ever
Stream: “The Layers of Skin We Drag Around” (1:33)
Listen if you like: Dads, Dowsing, Pity Sex
Optional reading: I don’t think it’d be much of a stretch to call this a modern emo classic, even with the quite short run-time. Then again, as a grown-ass adult, I might just be relapsing yet again into one of my insane, crazy, stupid infatuations with twinkly nostalgic emo again. I’m probably torturing myself again, because here I am thinking about what-could-have-been again. Guilty as charged. See also: “Getting Sodas”.
17. Captain, We’re Sinking
The Future is Cancelled
Stream: “A Bitter Divorce” (3:48)
Listen if you like: The Lawrence Arms, Banner Pilot, Off with Their Heads
Optional reading: The lyrical content here seems to be ripped from a busy psychotherapist’s progress notes, which might hit close to home for some listeners. Being able to relate to another’s struggles is the hallmark of empathy, and it’s hard to not feel compassion with some of these dark and dismal stories. I also appreciated, despite the heavy lyrical content at times, how inspired the guitars sounded throughout the record, and simple songwriting elements like time signature changes helped me keep interest. Perhaps The Future is Cancelled is a casual reminder about how good I have it in life. See also: “Shoddy Workmanship”.
16. Janelle Monáe
The Electric Lady
Stream: “Victory” (4:12)
Listen if you like: M.I.A., Solange, Lauryn Hill
Optional reading: I’m admittedly not very keen on the “concept” behind her work (if I tried to articulate what I think it’s about, my brain would short-circuit, and to be honest, I don’t think it matters in the grand scheme of things. What’s up with the skits, though?); however, I am perpetually dazzled by how powerful she is as a singer and as a collaborator. Even though The Electric Lady is a bit more straightforward, I like how there’s something for everybody on the record, be it soul, R&B, pop, rock, funk, and so on. See also: “We Were Rock & Roll”.
15. And So I Watch You from Afar
All Hail Bright Futures
Stream: “Big Thinks Do Remarkable” (3:50)
Listen if you like: Adebisi Shank, BATS, Three Trapped Tigers
Optional reading: Do you like pedal board set-ups that border on preposterous? Do you like meticulous technicality in your math rock, copious amounts of genre-bending, and gang shouts? Did you like Gangs? If yes to any of the previous, then I think you’ll enjoy this more. See also: “Young Brave Minds”.
Stream: “Sleeper” (6:16)
Listen if you like: Stars of the Lid, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Library Tapes
Optional reading: Gorgeous, almost ghostly soundscapes that are ideal for relaxing (which might be a bit antithetical to the album title). The music seeps into each channel quietly and unobtrusively, layer by layer, in such an untroublesome manner. Although it is a bit long (it’s a double album, after all), there’s enough variety in this electronic/post-rock/minimalist/classical smorgasbord to make it a palatable listen without it being too distracting (and subtle enough to be interesting without it being relegated to random white noise in the background). See also: “Unknown Variation”.
13. The Red Paintings
The Revolution is Never Coming
Stream: “Rain” (4:10)
Listen if you like: The Dresden Dolls, The Pineapple Thief, Something for Kate
Optional reading: I wrote a review for this album here, you can see the contest we did here, and a gig review can be seen here (all links open in a new window). See also: “The Streets Fell into My Window”.
12. Frank Turner
Tape Deck Heart
Stream: “The Way I Tend to Be” (3:50)
Listen if you like: Ben Marwood, Chuck Ragan, The Gaslight Anthem
Optional reading: Before addressing the man himself, it’s critical that I mention how amazing his backing band, The Sleeping Souls, are on his two most recent albums. That said, Frank Turner is definitely one of the hardest-working and seemingly sincere musicians in the business today, and his earnestness percolates throughout Tape Deck Heart as he navigates towards a less-punk/folk and more pop/rock-oriented sound. He continues to be immensely quotable – even on occasions where his clever quips fall flat – and it’s tough to pick just one, so I’ll settle for the bridge and outro chorus in “Polaroid Picture”:
Let go of the little distractions
Hold close to the ones that you love
Because we won’t all be here this time next year
So while you can, take a picture of us
We all want you to see where time goes
So in the stillness of the moment
Make sure you take a Polaroid picture
And keep it with you forever
To remind yourself that everything changes
But there was this one time
When things were okay
The album’s three opening songs (“Recovery”, “Losing Days”, and “The Way I Tend to Be”) are all brilliant, and while the quality does taper off a bit towards the end, I did like a number of the bonus tracks (“Time Machine”, “Cowboy Chords”, “We Shall Not Overcome”). See also: “The Fisher King Blues”.
11. Dropkick Murphys
Signed and Sealed in Blood
Stream: “Prisoner’s Song” (2:47)
Listen if you like: Flogging Molly, Street Dogs, The Tossers
Optional reading: I wrote a review for this here (opens in a new window). See also: “End of the Night”.
10. Jimmy Eat World
Stream: “Damage” (3:06)
Listen if you like: Taking Back Sunday, The Get Up Kids, The Dangerous Summer
Optional reading: I wrote a review for this here (opens in a new window). See also: “Appreciation”.
9. Blue Sky Black Death
Stream: “I” f/ Child Actor (14:26)
Listen if you like: Metaform, Little People, Emancipator
Optional reading: My favorite album to chill out to this year. Find that comfy chair and quality pair of headphones and savor the experience, because I was pleasantly surprised as to how excellent this record is (and I adored NOIR). The layering, seamless transitions, and gelid pace are impeccable. I wouldn’t hesitate to start new listeners with this record. See also: “II”.
The Living Infinite
Stream: “Spectrum of Eternity” (4:02)
Listen if you like: In Flames, Scar Symmetry, Omnium Gatherum
Optional reading: Who knew that these guys would deliver a double album that absolutely slays? I admittedly did not, based on their immediate past works, and was blown away by the technical prowess, ridiculously catchy hooks, well-placed electronics, and Björn “Speed” Strid’s vocals are positively magnificent. As much as it pains me to say it, in a time where In Flames seem to be showing their age, Soilwork have delivered an unbelievably astonishing album that’s fantastically heavy and laden with addictive melodies. See also: “This Momentary Bliss”.
7. Von Hertzen Brothers
Stream: “Flowers and Rust” (4:22)
Listen if you like: Porcupine Tree, Kingston Wall, Pink Floyd
Optional reading: Tightly written, cleverly arranged, and flawlessly produced, the Von Hertzen Brothers’ fifth album is their finest to date and a pleasant surprise. There’s certainly some commercial appeal here, which might detract some purists, but I’ve also recently learned of the “crossover prog” genre (again, not sure if this is a new fad or a label that will stand the test of time), and their sound seems to describe the basic tenets of crossover quite well. The shorter songs are superior by just a small margin compared to the more progressive pieces (“World Without” is the best one here), but I was blown away by the personality and eclectic variety displayed on Nine Lives, and it sounds like the brothers are having a ton of fun. Highly recommended. See also: “Insomniac”.
6. Misery Signals
Stream: “Reborn (An Execution)” (3:43)
Listen if you like: It Prevails, Life in Your Way, Solace
Optional reading: Exemplary, tightly-wound instrumentation with screams and shouts that have character and depth, Absent Light is an ever-engaging listen and a solid counter to Controller. The 1-2 punch of “A Glimmer of Hope” and “Luminary” is an appropriately forceful way to kick off the album, and I was very impressed with the arrangements. Recommended for anyone on the outside looking in when it comes to metalcore. See also: “Departure”.
5. Streetlight Manifesto
The Hands That Thieve
Stream: “The Three of Us” (5:17)
Listen if you like: Big D and the Kids Table, Reel Big Fish, anything that Tomas Kalnoky touches
Optional reading: There’s a not-so-subtle irony in the New Jersey-based septet’s fifth studio album title (their vitriol towards their former label – where the band wound up boycotting themselves – is well-documented). Not counting (but not discounting) 99 Songs of Revolution, we’ve waited six long years for new material, so here are three quick facts: (1) Streetlight easily have the most imaginative and complex horn and saxophone sections in the music business; (2) Frontman Tomas Kalnoky’s vocals have improved without sacrificing his sardonic wit (e.g. “The Hand That Thieves”, “They Broke Him Down”), hope-vs.-despair dichotomies (e.g. “If Only for the Memories”, “Toe to Toe”, “Ungrateful” [my favorite bass lines are featured here], “Your Day Will Come”), and frenetic guitar riffs; (3) Not to get all Shrek-like here, but the level of layers and seamless transitions in and out of genres feels and sounds so effortless (“The Three of Us” may be the album’s strongest straightforward cut, but the bouncy, Latin-infused flairs and bombastic gang vocals on select songs is impeccable). I give the band credit: they could have easily phoned it in on their label, but the lads have too much pride and integrity to make excuses or release anything but their best work. The Hands That Thieve may sound comfortably familiar in spots, but its listenability and playback value is immense; I hear something new and exciting with each listen. In sum, if you’re interested in continuing to support the band, purchase their merchandise directly from their webstore. See also: “If Only for the Memories”.
4. The Reign of Kindo
Play with Fire
Stream: “I Hate Music” (5:10)
Listen if you like: Chicago, As Tall As Lions, Sleeping at Last
Optional reading: From the ashes of This Day & Age, this immensely talented and unceasingly creative Buffalo-based quintet play some disgustingly catchy jazz-influenced rock. I highlighted “I Hate Music” for its tongue-in-cheek humor and how sensationally infectious and groovy the instrumentation is; it might very well be my song of the year. See also: “The Hero, the Saint, the Tyrant, and the Terrorist”.
3. Shai Hulud
Reach Beyond the Sun
Stream: “Reach Beyond the Sun” (3:00)
Listen if you like: 7 Angels 7 Plagues, Counterparts, Remembering Never
Optional reading: My biggest complaint is how low the bass is pushed in the mix, but everything else is spectacular. Chad Gilbert is on fire throughout Reach Beyond the Sun, as is Matt Fox. I know I’ll get pressed as for why this is higher than Misery Signals, but the truth of the matter is that I listened to this a lot more throughout the year and I am still impressed by how energetic and passionate the record is. The melodic sections are beautifully placed without sticking out awkwardly, and it’s refreshing to be pummeled by some good ol’-fashioned hardcore punk with some melodic metalcore and progressive frills. The backing vocals are also a highlight, but the heart and calls for perseverance in the face of misanthropy and despondency are simply awesome. See also: “Man Into Demon: And Their Faces Are Twisted with the Pain of Living”.
Stream: “Year Zero” (5:50)
Listen if you like: Blue Oyster Cult, Mercyful Fate, Blood Ceremony
Optional reading: If you treat this like what I think it was intended to be (i.e., a vinyl album with a Side A and Side B), then this is obviously a pretty neat record. “Year Zero” is an absolute classic that personifies the Ghost sound, and the ’70s-ish production adds to the immersive, hypnotic experience. To that end, understanding that there’s some implied theatrics at play is a must, which might beg the question about how long they’ll be able to keep up the shtick as pseudo-Satanists. I mean, really — how evil are you when children interview you and you’re polite as can be?
… and, sure, there’s not a lot of mystery over their identities, but in a year where everybody dressed up as Papa Emeritus for Halloween:
… it makes sense to just enjoy the music more than anything else, I think. See also: “Jigolo har Megiddo”.
1. The Wonder Years
The Greatest Generation
Stream: “Passing Through a Screen Door” (3:33)
“I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral” (7:30)
Listen if you like: Set Your Goals, Polar Bear Club, The Menzingers
Optional reading: Two quick truths: 1) being old sucks sometimes, and The Greatest Generation serving as the third album in a trilogy about growing up (per frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell) does well in bringing the story to a close (while reminding me about how much being old sucks sometimes) and 2) The Wonder Years are one of the most important pop-punk bands operating today.
I could go on and on about why this is my album of the year, but I’m going to invoke my cop-out rule and highlight “Passing Through a Screen Door”’s bridge:
Jesus Christ, I’m 26.
All the people I graduated with
All have kids, all have wives
All have people who care if they come home at night
Jesus Christ, did I fuck up?
Here’s the thing: I’m older than 26 and relatively accomplished in some areas of my life, but at some point, we all kind of have to accept some harsh truths about the world (“It’s all a lie, what they say about stability / It scares me sometimes / The emptiness I see in my eyes”). The world does not care if you’re hurting; it will run you the fuck over without a thought. A lot of walls exist – and there are walls that we can never break down – but some of those walls are the ones you build. It’s you. You have to make your own life, your own luck, your future. Don’t wait for life to happen to you; you have to go out there and rock shit out and make it happen for yourself.
The Greatest Generation is clever and emotional without being saccharine sweet, and a perpetual reminder that things can, and will, get better.
As far as the prizes go, here they are:
The winners have been contacted, and like always, only one of them has actually responded to me. HEY, MAYBE YOU SHOULD CHECK YOUR E-MAIL IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY, YEAH?
Prizes will be shipped as soon as people bother to reply to me… not to mention any names, pwoper and StormChaser. Congrats to PistolPete for winning the Gold Prize!
Anyway, 6,200+ words later without bothering to proofread because reasons, it’s time to officially sign off from this thing. I’ll try to entertain review requests if possible, but first:
Happy [almost] New Year, bitches!