RoundOnEndHiInMiddle
Alabaster Jones
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Last Active 03-19-16 3:32 am
Joined 06-28-13

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5.0 classic
Aesop Rock Labor Days
Amebix Arise!
American Football American Football
American Football, for all intents and purposes, is a "cult band", a band which is heavily influential to their respective genre despite only hanging around long enough to release one or two things. American Football undoubtedly had a huge influence on emo and math rock, and their self-titled proves why. From the unmistakeable classic opener known as "Never Meant", to the wonderfully written "Stay Home", American Football is an exercise in emotion and nostalgia. Even the two instrumental tracks, "You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon" and "The One With The Wurlitzer" are emotionally poignant, and that is without Mike Kinsella's angelical voice. The trademark twinkly guitar sound is likely the best we'll ever hear from any band, and the drumming is stellar as well as fun. For every time you have ever reminisced about your past, American Football has created the soundtrack, one that would serve to cement the legacy of the man (rather, the legend) himself, Mike Kinsella.
Atmosphere Overcast! EP
August Burns Red Messengers
August Burns Red Constellations
Here is where the Pennsylvania quintet really started to distance themselves from the rest of modern metalcore scene. While Messengers does have an extreme amount of sentimental value to me, Constellations is objectively a better album. The album does have the technical, fast-paced riffage that August Burns Red is known for with songs such as "Thirty and Seven", "The Escape Artist", and "Meddler", but where the album really shines is the experimentation. Songs like "White Washed" and "Marianas Trench" employ fantastic build-ups not usually seen in metalcore, while other songs have nice acoustic/ambient breaks that provide a rest from the hectic atmosphere. Where the experimentation really comes to a head is "Meridian", a chilling track bordering on post-metal. If there is a better mainstream modern metalcore album, I have yet to hear it.
Avenged Sevenfold Waking the Fallen
People throw the word "sell-out" around a lot these days, but most of that is bull. It's not selling out if the band makes some money and is played on the radio. Selling out is when a band changes their style to get more money and exposure. Before Avenged Sevenfold sold out (Which only worked on "City of Evil"), they made what has to be a metalcore classic. The atmosphere on it is so dark, sometimes in a depressing way ("I won't see you tonight Part 1"), or in an urgent and passionate way ("Second Heartbeat"). Jimmy Sullivan's drumming is fantastic, and the dueling guitars are excellent. Shadows' vocals are decent; singing clean is his strongest point. The songs seem to take on a life of their own in the bleak, black void that is the atmosphere. It's great, and looking at Avenged Sevenfold now, they needed this album.
Blessthefall His Last Walk
Bob Marley and The Wailers Exodus
Being politically active as a musician can be dangerous, as Bob Marley and his wife Rita would find out after being shot at in December of 1976. As a result of this attempt on his life, Bob was exiled to the U.K. under protection, and it was in London where he recorded Exodus, his most revered album. Though Natty Dread changed the way reggae was played, namely, from a bare-bones style to a style rich with instrumentation and backing vocals, Exodus is arguably the better album. Each song has its own clear identity while also being firmly rooted in the familiar aspects of the genre. It also helps that the instrumentation, lyrics, and especially the backing vocals are wonderful, as well as the stoned and peaceful atmosphere. As such, each song is phenomenal, but the closing trio of "Turn Your Lights Down Low", "Three Little Birds", and "One Love/People Get Ready" is absolutely legendary. Truly, then, Exodus is another masterwork of reggae from Marley, being the culmination of everything Natty Dread set into motion.
Bob Marley and The Wailers Natty Dread
It is fitting that this album opens with a song titled "Lively Up Yourself". Everything The Wailers have done, from the old ska gospel days up until Catch A Fire had consisted of a sparse but effective formula. The music was simple, there weren't very many instruments, and variety wasn't exactly the strongest card they played. On Natty Dread, though, improvements are made that take them to new heights. For one, there are more instruments, such as horns and harmonicas and they are used with frequency. This helps the music have a much needed variety that a lot of their previous work lacked. Female back-up singers accent Marley's unmistakable voice, and there just seems to be a whole lot more going on with this record than ever before in the discography. Therefore, some of the best songs The Wailers ever crafted appear here, such as "No Woman, No Cry", "Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)", "Talkin' Blues", and "Revolution". Truly a masterwork of reggae, Natty Dread cannot be missed by any fans of the genre, or fans of smooth, laid-back music altogether.
Botch We Are the Romans
Botch American Nervoso
Burial Untrue
Charles Mingus The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
Converge You Fail Me
I feel as if there is nothing left to say about Converge. Everything they've done has been documented, explained, reviewed, and loved to high heaven. So all I really have to say is this: I love Converge, and I love You Fail Me. When I listen to it I somehow feel any troubles I may have fade in to the background. And that, at least for me, is the purpose, the reason, the trophy, and the meaning.
Converge Jane Doe
Converge When Forever Comes Crashing
This really is Converge's forgotten masterpiece. It may be their most varied release, and while certain songs like "The Lowest Common Denominator" and "Ten Cents" initially seem very strange for a Converge album, they're actually some of the most unique pieces they've ever made. "Conduit", as it stands for me right now, is the greatest metalcore song ever written. Literally everything you could want in a metalcore song is found there and done to absolute, stunning perfection. And it may be a hardcore album, but make no mistake: this is as metal as hardcore gets. The record, through the atmosphere and lyrics, reeks of paranoid anxiety and unstableness, and the music, while incredible, reflects that notion by sounding as if it's ready to fall apart into unbridled chaos at any moment. I know Jane Doe is seen as an angry album, but there are some frighteningly angry moments on here, too, as opener "My Unsaid Everything" and the terrifying "The Lowest Common Denominator" will so gladly show you. And yet, their most beautiful sounding song in their discography is on this record too in the form of the acoustic "Ten Cents". I remember watching an interview with Kurt Ballou in which he said that Jane Doe was the first Converge album he was truly 100% proud of. That man is a extreme perfectionist if that is the case, and I don't think he gives himself enough credit for the songwriting he did on this record. Because, in all honesty, I'd be very proud if I was the creative force behind a masterwork of hardcore such as this.
Converge Axe to Fall
I know it's cliche to start a Converge soundoff mentioning Jane Doe, but bear with me. From a purely emotional standpoint, Jane Doe is far and away Converge's best album. But from a songwriting standpoint, I think that honor goes to Axe To Fall. This is because on it Converge mixes intense, technical hardcore with dirty sludge metal, soul-crushing post-metal, and even some thrash metal. The band manages to perform each of these styles as if they'd been doing them since they were born, and are helped along by the incredible production that gives a nice full feeling to the album. If I've ever had any criticisms of Converge albums, it's that sometimes they don't flow as well they could've, and that was an issue for every album of theirs (sans Jane Doe) before this one. Axe To Fall obliterates this problem, flowing so perfectly from one song to the next and ending on a wholly satisfying note rather than just abruptly stopping. They make up for these issues usually by virtue of their emotion on record, but here they don't even have to worry about that. Also, they added solos, all of which rule face. Put simply, Axe To Fall is Converge at their songwriting peak, and that obviously means it's can't miss material for any fan of hardcore.
D'Angelo Voodoo
It's not easy to come up with something to say about Voodoo. People have already covered basically everything there is to know about it; its influence, its flawless tracklist, its seamless combination of neo-soul and funk, D'Angelo's angelical vocals and sexy production, Questlove's smooth drumming, the distinct hip-hop flavor that comes in on several of the tracks, and the perfect bass throughout the record are all things that went into Voodoo being one of the greatest and most critically acclaimed neo-soul albums ever made. For me, an hour and fifteen minutes flys by like it's only twenty when I hear it. I guess I'm having too much fun, but can you really blame me?
Death Individual Thought Patterns
I'm not going to waste your time with this soundoff, because my brain is a bit scrambled by this album. It'll probably be better after a nap or something but I digress. All you really need to known is that this is Death's magnum opus, and that as such, it riffs. Maybe there's a solo or a slower-paced instrumental section every once and a while but it's mostly just riffs. And the bass is alive. It's a living breathing thing. If it could it'd reach out of my headphones and shake me around like I was made of paper. You feel that bass as much as you hear it, too, and you can hear it very clearly. And almost every moment of every song is top-tier Death too. The chorus to "Overactive Imagination"? Incredible. That riff and bass wank around a minute-twenty into "Trapped In A Corner"? Insane. "Destiny"? Seminal. How this has the lowest rating out of the final four, I'll never understand. In all seriousness, if you want Death at their finest, Individual Thought Patterns is the album for you.
Discordance Axis The Inalienable Dreamless
Yeah, that album cover sure is beautiful and quite misleading, but I'm sure plenty of beaches have looked just like that before a tsunami came crashing through and drowned everything in sight. The Inalienable Dreamless is everything Discordance Axis could be; a cacophonous whirlwind of realized potential. Of course it's enraged and powerful and blisteringly fast, but many, many grind records are. Amongst everything else, however, this album is haunting. I mean, Jon Chang sounds like a wailing banshee when he's not roaring like a man possessed, and the lyrics make many references to ghosts and to death in general. Even the name of the album more or less alludes to the dead or dying. For all the memorable riffs or insanely addictive drum fills, there's things about this album that stick into your head as something jarring and even unnerving. It's a work never to be duplicated, if simply for the notion that it's one of the scariest things ever put to wax by any band before or since. It's completely unexpected; just as its own album cover faked out those first listeners sixteen years ago, so too does it surprise listeners who go in expecting a grind record full of mindless fun. It's sure as hell not mindless, and although it is fun, it's fun in a way much more satisfying than you'd believe.
DJ Screw 3 'N The Mornin' (Part Two)
DJ Screw Bigtyme Recordz Vol. II: All Screwed Up
Besides the hip-hop essential Three 'N The Mornin' (Part 2), this is probably Screw's most famous record. And honestly, it has every right to be. Musically, this album is a chopped and screwed DJ mix, and it just oozes from your speakers. "Ethereal" is a word people (like me) throw around a lot as a description of sound, atmosphere, and aesthetic. This is the album that holds the standard to what "ethereal" really is, at least in my eyes. Besides one unfortunate misstep, this record is impeccable. All of the tracks with 20-2-Life and Point Blank are incredible, and everything from "After I Die" onwards is pretty much perfect. The atmosphere is constantly changing, with the first few songs after the intro actually being kind of terrifying. There also tracks that are pretty melancholy too, with "Inside Looking Out" and "My Mind Went Blank" comprising one of the greatest one-two punches in hip-hop. Mostly, though, the tracks are smooth, laid back, easy to listen to, and generally flowing with good vibes. If you love that type of hip-hop, or just want to know what "ethereal" actually is, listen to this record as soon as possible. Edit: I lied, there is no misstep. Album is perfecto.
Dragged Into Sunlight Hatred For Mankind
Usually, when one feels hatred, it's directed at someone or something. The times are rare when people feel an all-consuming hatred that would indiscriminately steamroll everything in its path if it could. How Dragged Into Sunlight got five guys who all felt this way together at the same time and made this is beyond me; this is one of those "lightning in a bottle" releases that sometimes simply can't be explained. A veritable Eden of extreme metal styles are explored here that include blackened death metal, death-doom metal, grindcore, and sludge metal, all filtered through an absolutely sickly production job. The vocal performance is an absolute monstrosity, and for what it's worth, is one of my favorites of all time. Also, I swear, the drummer must've gone through four kits when they recorded this because he is very audibly beating the daylights out of it at every juncture. The riffs are something to behold as well, most notably on the ferocious "Buried With Leeches", which doesn't have a riff on it that isn't gold, and the monolithic "I, Aurora". Truly, Hatred For Mankind is an all-out extreme metal assault, and surely one of the best metal albums of the 21st century.
Eminem The Slim Shady LP
I often ask myself, what tortures a man's soul so that he doesn't want to live? Whatever the reasons, in 1996, Marshall Mathers, an aspiring rapper from Detroit, attempted suicide. From the ashes of the failed attempt, another part of him was born, and he called it Slim Shady. Slim's sole reason for existing? To piss the world off and upset the order. We all know this now, but when this album came out, few had expected anything like it. The angry, tortured, frustrated, sad, and pretty funny songs that appear on this LP are nothing short than the raps of a man who, as one of the classics on the album states, "Just Don't Give A F***"
Explosions in the Sky The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
Explosions in the Sky Those Who Tell the Truth...
Since Godspeed was the first post rock band I ever listened to, I assumed other post rock bands would sound similar. They actually play a pretty strange style of post rock, now that I've listened to other bands. Explosions In The Sky, alternatively, are pretty straight-forward with what they do. Whereas Godspeed drops a bomb on you and burns the whole city down, Explosions In The Sky moves by like a forceful hurricane, and "Those Who Tell The Truth..." is a fantastic example of that.
Fleetwood Mac Rumours
Flying Lotus Until the Quiet Comes
Ever the underrated album in Flying Lotus' discography, Until The Quiet Comes isn't as haphazard or endlessly layered as past releases, but the truly enthralling atmosphere the album has is definitely the strongest of all of them. Dealing with themes of sleep, dreams, nightmares, and astral projection, the albums concept is strong. That said, it would be nothing without the music, and FlyLo definitely has that covered. It bears repeating that it doesn't have as many layers to the sound as in the past, but it's still quite layered regardless, with all sorts of melodies interweaving with each other as fluidly as dancers. It's sound is so easy to get lost into due to this constantly dreamy atmosphere and it never becomes boring or oppressive at any point. At many points throughout the album, it's easy to forget you're listening to electronic music at all, such is the organic and evocative feel to it all. It's an album that very easily invites you inside and takes you somewhere completely different than where you are, which is just about the highest praise one can give any album. It's FlyLo's masterpiece, and it's one of the most intimately beautiful and positively rewarding records out there.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
Everything that can be said about how incredible this album is has already be said, so anything from this point on is redundant. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor F♯ A♯ ∞
Sometimes we find something we cherish and appreciate during a time in which we are restlessly seeking an escape from. I was sick with the stomach flu, which isn't the worst thing in the world by a million miles, but still, vomiting in a pan for three weeks with nothing but ramen noodles and sports drinks to sustain myself isn't too fun. Anyways, I was aimlessly browsing YouTube while on a concoction of Vicodin, anti-nausea medication, antibiotics, and Gatorade, and I came across this album in its entire length on a single video. I remembered that this was the band and the album that had "East Hastings" to its name, and I'd heard that song while watching a movie called 28 Days Later. Now it was time to hear the whole album. It was thunderstorming outside when I wrapped myself in blankets, put my headphones on, and pressed play. The minute those first drones and the spoken word passage began, I knew I was going to be in for a ride. The strings soon accompanied the voice and the drone, and soon guitars and cellos and wailing violins joined in. When it all died down with the whistle of a train, I was left in shock. The album is hard to describe in words from thereon after. When it was over, I really honestly felt as if I had experienced something, rather than just having heard an album. I replayed it again with the browser light off and the covers up to my chin. The thunderstorm still raged on in the background as I drifted off into an induced sleep, with this album playing all throughout my dreams. TL;DR: Album is a trip, yo. Jam it when you can.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada
Hiatus Kaiyote Choose Your Weapon
Utilizing a gorgeous combination of neo-soul, electronic, funk, rhythm and blues, jazz, world music, and the occasional sprinkling of hip-hop, Hiatus Kaiyote has released one of the most ambitious and gratifying records of the year so far. Though extensively eclectic, each song from the album contains a style, an image, that never wavers. This is a good thing, because that style is something all their own, dubbed "future soul", and it never fails to impress. From Nai Palm's sublime and intimate vocals to Perrin Moss' smooth-as-butter drumming, everything here sounds so passionate and involved that is hard not to fall in love with it. The lyrics might be written about simple things, like old video games for instance ("Atari"), but they're backed by a musical ensemble that is as complex and carefully structured as the newest video games out there. All this being said, it would be a sin to miss this record, as you might just be missing the evolution of "future soul."
Iced Earth Burnt Offerings
Kendrick Lamar good kid, m.A.A.d city
Compton, U.S.A made him an angel on angel's dust.
Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly
I can't tell you how big of a fan I am of good kid, m.A.A.d city. Ever since the first listen in late 2013, I thought it was a classic record, and knew Kendrick Lamar was an excellent artist, what with that and Section.80 in his discography. To Pimp A Butterfly is much different. There is so much to digest, so much to catch on this thing, and so much that needs to set in that there is no way that one listen will suffice to call this a "classic". Some time needs to pass, many listens will be needed, and no amount of comparisons or hype will change that. However, the notion that this could potentially be a classic in the future is both a valid one and an incredible one. All three of his LP's, then, will have had the focus of the rap game firmly on them for a time. The interesting thing here is, his rhyming ability and flow are at a peak for him, the production is a beautiful blend of jazz and funk that FlyLo, Thundercat, and Sounwave are all in their zone on, and his lyrics have never been as relevant and hard-hitting as they are on this. With that said, the possibility this ends up as a classic record is very strong, and that is truly impressive.
La Dispute Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair
La Dispute Wildlife
As I get older, one thing among others has become increasingly apparent: that the vast majority of people, maybe even everyone, has a story that when told to you by them in person can reduce you to tears. And Wildlife, among other things, is about figuring that out. Musically, the band's combination of post-hardcore, emo, post-rock, and spoken word sounds excellent as always, with their songwriting remaining at a high level from their last full-length. But, also as always with La Dispute, the concept and lyrics surrounding it are a huge part of the album as well. It's about a man figuring out how to cope with his pain, which in turn becomes a study of other people's pain, and in what different ways they react to it. Whether it be having their schizophrenic son try to murder them, witnessing a drive-by murder of a child and the subsequent police standoff, or losing their seven-year-old child to cancer, the people around the man's hometown in Michigan have felt a massive deal of pain. Thus, again among other things, the album is about healing, and how others who have felt or even shared pain with you can help you get better, you in turn helping them. It's definitely a ride, but in the end, it's well worth it.
Linkin Park Hybrid Theory
Lorde Pure Heroine
Massive Attack Mezzanine
You need not an introduction to Mezzanine from me, because you've probably already had it from several others. Mezzanine has been talked about, dissected, analyzed, praised, and loved for so long that it's hard to say anything new about it. My own personal feelings toward this record are strong, as during a week-long stay at a hospital, this was the record played at least once every day. The intimate nature of the album is readily apparent throughout, as the synths and guitars and the atmosphere seem to reach out of the speakers and cover and caress you like a blanket. It's remarkable how something so expansive and consuming comes from a place of relative minimalism and sparseness. The lyrics on every song have at least one immediately quotable line, and no song overstays it's welcome or does nothing in the way of progression. It's exterior is cold, but once some time is spent with it, it's warm and altogether hopeful. It's a classic, not only in the world of electronic music, but within the realm of music as a whole. It's immensely rewarding when attention is paid, and smooth and soothing even when none is given. To be short, it's Mezzanine, and it's truly an incredible album.
Nas Illmatic
You could say that this record is a template for everything east-coast hip-hop is all about. And you know what? You'd be right. Illmatic is undoubtedly one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever recorded, but I'm sure you knew that already. Personally, I can't get enough of it, especially from the first half. There are so many songs and lines on this thing that are etched into hip-hop history, as well, serving to illustrate how truly widespread and intense the acclaim and love of this record went and still goes. "N.Y State Of Mind", "The World Is Yours", "Memory Lane", and "One Love" alone make this record excellent, but everything else here is just as good. Simply put, absolutely essential, impeccable, and wonderful east-coast hip-hop.
Neil Young Tonight's the Night
People often think that the man on the cover of this album is Neil Young himself. It's actually Danny Whitten, a longtime friend and rhythm guitarist for Crazy Horse, one of Neil's bands. He died of a drug overdose a few months before these songs were written. In order to capture exactly how he felt, Neil recorded all of these songs within one day in the studio, keeping a raw and passionate feel throughout the record. There really isn't a record quite like this one in Neil's discography, and the dark and gloomy atmosphere has a lot to do with that. Here, we see Neil at his most vulnerable, his most stripped-down, his most angry, and his most sad. You can tell just by his vocals that he's troubled, and at this point in his discography, they are the roughest by a nice margin. Bookended by part 1 and part 2 of the title-track, the album follows a clear concept of grief, introspection, loss, and hope. His fifth essential album in a row, Neil turns in a truly incredible performance in honor of his late friends.
Neil Young After the Gold Rush
Neil Young Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
New Order Substance
It's weird when a band can have as many full-length releases as New Order does and still have their most well-received album be a compilation. But that's exactly the kind of weirdness you deal with when it comes to Substance. It compiles all of the non-album singles the band had released up until 1987, and I don't know how or why these songs didn't end up on a full-length proper. Even the worst song here would be among the best on any of their full-lengths at the time, and the best song here (the illustrious "Blue Monday") blows everything else they've done away (that is, except for several of the tracks found on this very album). It's a flawless mixture of new wave, alternative dance, synthpop, and post-punk that sounds absolutely divine. The vibes of the songs can vary from melancholic to determined to apathetic to upbeat, and the lyrics are memorable as well. It's truly one of the best compilations of all time from any band, and truly a cornerstone of new wave and synthpop any way you look at it. And those basslines, holy hell those basslines
Night Birds Born To Die In Suburbia
This sophomore full-length from Jersey punk royalty Night Birds eclipses everything they had done up until this point, but not by doing things differently. The Night Birds you hear on Born To Die In Suburbia are still the same Night Birds from The Other Side Of Darkness. The only difference is, here they're just on steroids. The riffs are more killer, the pacing is smoother, the lyrics more clever, and the songs even better written than before. Even the instrumentals, which aren't usually all that fantastic if we're not talking about "Squad Car", are wonderful, opener "Escape From New York" being one of the best covers of that classic of all time. Of course, the raucous and self-conscious attitude with which the band plays every note with mixed with that undeniable blue-collar passion takes everything up a notch as well, and though it may not be their catchiest record, there's still plenty of memorable material to go along with the overall raise in songwriting and even production quality. Simply put, Born To Die In Suburbia is the quintessential Night Birds album, and that should be enough for a fan of hardcore surf punk to want to hear this. Also, damn you Trump!
Orchid Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow!
Chaos Is Me was the dynamite that exploded Orchid onto the forefront of the screamo genre, but Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow! was the raging, intense fire left in the wake. Of course, all the sonic insanity that made their debut what it was finds itself a welcome home here ("To Praise Prosthesis", "Black Hills"), but they're most certainly not the only thing the album has in store. The brooding and doomy "...And The Cat Turned To Smoke" and the eerie-yet-immaculate "I Am Nietzsche" are proof enough of that, as well as the bizarrely catchy moments like the noisy intro to "Destination: Blood!", the infectious, thick bass of "Lights Out", and the perfect breakdown at the end of "Victory Is Ours". It's a seamless marriage of eerie and tense passages with spastic bursts of aggression; a marraige of the dynamic range of the self-titled with the unbridled punk intensity of the debut. Fifteen minutes of some of the best screamo you'll ever have the pleasure to hear. Tu est adorable, and I wholeheartedly concur.
Radiohead Kid A
I think that there isn't much left to say about Kid A. It's just amazing to me, even after hearing the greatness that is OK Computer, that Radiohead could make something equally as ambitious and interesting. Just those two albums alone contain 22 unforgettable songs. The 10 here are often seen as some of the bleakest written by the band, but underneath Kid A's cold exterior lies something truly hopeful and beautiful that never really gets to come out in full until "Motion Picture Soundtrack". I've heard a lot of people say that it grew on them, but this album clicked instantly for me. Kudos, Radiohead, for two unforgettable records.
Radiohead OK Computer
I was hearing this for the first time when LeBron James decided he'd come back to Cleveland. This album now holds a special place in my heart, 5'd so hard for every reason.
Red Hot Chili Peppers By the Way
Sadistik Flowers For My Father
It might sound cliche, but I hate this record. I hate how perfectly it says all of the things that I can't say when I feel that crushing helplessness that every last minute of this album was born from. I hate how badly I wish I could say these wonderfully crafted words myself, but can't. I hate how the ethereal, melancholy production provides the backdrop for my own fears and mistakes. I hate how this record would just be made of these beautiful instrumentals if I was the rapper. I hate that I know others have problems much larger and more important than Sadistik's and I's, and yet we both treat them like they're the worst thing to ever happen. The truth is, it's the worst to happen to us, so I guess in our world, it is the worst thing to ever happen. It sounds selfish, and it totally is, but that's all part of the disease known as depression that we, and millions of others across the world, carry. And I can't speak for those millions, but to me, this album portrays depression down to the last inch. All pretentious, sad-time, sobby-weepy crap aside, all I really want anyone to get from this soundoff is that I find this album to be absolutely incredible, even if I hate it.
Suffocation Effigy of the Forgotten
Contrary to what I was anticipating, Effigy is not an immediately gratifying record. The production of the album and the speed at which the members play their instruments make the record sound truly suffocating. It's like the whole thing is played under dirt and debris. Once your ear is trained to the production style, though, you're able to appreciate the impeccable musicianship and songwriting skills from the band. Multiple metal subgenres were pioneered by this record, and while most have come to be reviled by many, Suffocation knew how to do everything tastefully, making the breakdowns and slams (two terms that would earn the metal community's scorn years after the fact) seem like natural progressions of the songs. It's immensely technical, but not in a flashy way, as there's very little showboating to be found here. Rather, it is the malevolent riffs, solos, and slams that do the talking, and when backed by a truly excellent drum performance and vocals straight from the garbage-filled mud, make this pioneer of a record one of death metal's finest.
Suffocation Breeding the Spawn
Wait a minute, I thought this was supposed to be worse than Effigy Of The Forgotten? One of the things often criticized about Breeding The Spawn is its production. And while it does lack Effigy's underwater guitar tones and smothering, claustrophobic atmosphere, I'd be hard pressed to call Breeding's production job "bad" or "amateur". Because aside from a few shoddy parts that probably only take thirty seconds out of the total runtime, Breeding's production is pretty good, though not as good as Effigy's, whose personality was lost on Breeding The Spawn. What does Suffocation do to make up for this lost personality? The only thing they can do: improve their songwriting. And that they do, implementing the malicious riffs, devouring slams, a dynamic-adding bass, the relentless workhorse drumming, and of course the vocal monster that is Frank Mullen. The songwriting is more efficient also, and clearly more is going on during these tracks than ever before, with all parts working towards the singular and ultimate goal of brutal tech-death metal annihilation. So, both Effigy and Breeding have the same endgame, but the difference is in how they got there. All this said, Breeding The Spawn is another masterpiece of brutal technical death metal from Suffocation.
Sunny Day Real Estate Sunny Day Real Estate
I'm not going to sugarcoat it: Sunny Day Real Estate is a depressing affair. And it might not even be readily apparent to the listener, because it's emotions are pretty thickly veiled and distant. The whole thing sounds almost like they didn't care enough about it or anything else while doing it. This is pretty slow-paced emo, and the circumstances surrounding the albums creation renders it almost unfinished. It sounds like they didn't want to go through the trouble of getting up, getting dressed, driving to the studio, and recording the songs. It sounds like they wanted to stay in bed all day with the covers up to their chin and sleep. And whether or not this was intentional is irrelevant. The point is, they've essentially made the soundtrack to feeling that way. It's not incredibly obvious on a first listen either, but some patient listens betray this overreaching vibe of saddened disinterest and disassociation that makes the record extremely intimate and cathartic, ironic considering how it initially sounds.
The Dillinger Escape Plan Calculating Infinity
Good Lord... This album is twisted, unrelenting and punishingly heavy. Way ahead of it's time, a true classic.
The Pogues Rum Sodomy & the Lash
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra Born Into Trouble As the Sparks Fly Upward
I've always considered TSMZ to be GY!BE-lite, always sort of hanging in the shadows of a much larger project. While this is by no means a bad thing, it can cause struggles with a bands own identity. That is, if you don't make an ambitious, beautiful record such as this. The follow up to 2000's He Has Left Us Alone..., Born Into Trouble is exactly the type of record TSMZ needed to separate themselves from their parent band, and it is done expertly. This album can certainly get some tears out of the listener with songs like "Sisters! Brothers!..." and "Built Then Burnt", but it also has songs that display a sense of urgency, like "Take These Hands And Throw Them In The River" and "C'mon COME ON". The true highlight is "Could've Moved Mountains", which just may be one of greatest post-rock songs ever made. Though on the whole TSMZ tends to stay in the shadow of GY!BE, this album proves that they are most certainly their own band, and are capable of making fantastic records, too.
Thomas Newman Wall-E
Trophy Scars Darkness, Oh Hell
I feel like Trophy Scars' style of music should not work. A mixture of blues, punk, jazz, and small bits of post-hardcore doesn't really seem like it would sound that good. Yet, it does. I don't really even know why it works, it just does. Every piano note, every guitar lick, every pained lyric, and every throaty croon. And each song flows seamlessly into the next, like we're listening to one twenty-eight minute play. The fact that everything they've done since releasing Bad Luck has been this well-received is really impressive. I mean, it's hard enough to make four straight releases that are acclaimed, but the fact that they've done it using a style all their own is simply astonishing. However, this album is perfect. While Bad Luck suffered from some cringe-worthy lyrics here and there, and Holy Vacants had a few melodramatic moments, everything on Darkness, Oh Hell is done perfectly, down to the last detail. One hell of a release, indeed.
Vektor Terminal Redux
The times are rare when an album hyped to hell and back actually delivers on its hype. This is one of those times. It's not just that the musicianship is phenomenal or that the emotional range explored here is large, or that it's an hour-and-fifteen minutes long concept album that actually works. No, it's how everything, down to the last detail, serves a purpose and ultimately connects together like the most delicate strands of DNA. The concept here actually has a story with actual depth. I mean, is it about a bunch of supernatural transcended beings that reap the stars and try to control time itself? An allegory of the world today and all the political power struggles? Or is it simply the insane ramblings of someone experimented on to test and study the effects of long-term isolation? At any rate, each of these theories hold weight. The songwriting makes sure to follow the lyrics and the storyline to make absolutely sure the desired emotion is evoked, which means the music tells the story as much as the lyrics do. And with a story with depth, the music follows suit, with riffs on top of riffs, a pronounced bass presence, an endlessly entertaining drum performance and vocals that are simply so unconventional for the genre that it's perfect for the job. Whatever you want to call them; blackened thrash, technical thrash, progressive thrash, or any combination thereof, Vektor has put together a mind-scrambling record that passes both the initial eye test and further examinations. And for a while, I presume, it will warrant even more.
Violent Femmes Violent Femmes
If there were ever a soundtrack to being a horny, angsty, pissed off, stoned teenager, this record would be it. Musically, it's full of addicting bass, sparse drumming and guitars, and an emotional vocal performance. It's generally in the style of folk punk, which works excellently as the band channels both the youthful passion of punk and the beautiful wisdom of folk. The lyrics are probably the best part about the whole record, and I say this as someone who doesn't put a massive amount of stock into lyrics. They are humorous, nostalgic, witty, and yet tantalizingly simple. "I'm high as a kite, and I just might, stop to check you out" or "Why can't I get just one screw? Believe me, I'd know what to do, but something won't let me make love to you." So many bands since 1983 that write about teenage angst and experiences secretly wish they could write lyrics that good. What they don't understand is that Violent Femmes caught lightning in a bottle with this record, one that influenced several genres en route to becoming an undeniable cult classic.
Weezer Pinkerton
Weezer Weezer

4.5 superb
A/T/O/S A/T/O/S
Wow, did this thing sneak up on me. I don't know why I put off listening to this, but I'm glad I finally did. This is the debut record from A/T/O/S, which stands for "A Taste Of Struggle". The way the group mixes trip-hop and R&B is basically perfect, and though it may run slightly long, this is definitely one of this years chillest releases. The closer, "Variations", could possibly be my favorite song from this year. "What I Need", "Roses", and "No Heart" are also incredibly dope tracks. The chilly atmosphere on here is pretty great too, accompanied by soulful vocals and melancholy lyrics. With a debut like this, A/T/O/S makes me very optimistic for what the future holds for them, and they are certainly a group that people should keep their eyes on.
Ad Nauseam Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est
One of the things that appeals to me most about death metal is that it's not afraid to explore the darkest and most surreal areas of our minds, and isn't afraid to show us things we otherwise would be reluctant to see. It's this sentiment that permeates this record in bulk, sounding like a fierce case of dementia and sporadic rage that combines to create something quite unnerving. This is true even in the beginning seconds of the album. "My Buried Dream" starts with relatively calm, contained strings that quickly spiral downward into a chilling and atonal chasm. The band rushes forth from thereon out, and though they are influenced by the likes of Gorguts and Deathspell Omega, they keep these influences under wraps in favor of showing their own style and abilities. In general, what you'll hear is some of the most twisted, interesting, and really, really fun metal that this year has to offer. Quite a start for the Italian quartet, indeed.
Aesop Rock Music For Earthworms
Aesop Rock Daylight
Aesop Rock is undoubtedly one of the kings of underground hip-hop, and possibly the biggest reason for that is because his lyricism is second to none. On this EP, Aes reworks his most famous song ("Daylight") on a track called "Night Light", spits wonders over an El-P produced track on "Nickel Plated Pockets", and even shares the spotlight with fellow rapper Blueprint on "Alchemy". But perhaps the greatest moment on this EP is one that isn't even included on the tracklist. A hidden track called "One Of Four" that ends the silence after "Maintenance" is easily Aes' most confessional and heartfelt song. It is a self-produced track that is dedicated to four people that saved his life during a time of depression. It is surely not as lyrical as other Aesop Rock songs, in fact likely being his least lyrical, but nowhere else do we find such a straightforward, personal, and emotional Ian Bavitz. This EP is a must-have for all of Aes' fans, and a rewarding listen for underground hip-hop lovers.
Agalloch From Which of This Oak
This is the first official recording from famed folk metal band Agalloch, and it's as good as a demo can be. It's always cool to me when bands show immense skill and abilities on their initial projects, but also show a large amount of promise, too. That is definitely what happens here, to the nth degree. From my own standpoint, I'd consider it even better than their great debut LP, Pale Folklore. The best moments on this demo are just as good and sometimes better than the best ones on Pale Folklore, and that's apparent even through phenomenal opener "The Wilderness". The fact of the matter is that this is concise, wonderfully written folk-influenced, melodic, and introspective black metal that is brimming not only with emotion but with nuances that show the band was a special group of guys full of ideas even back nearly two decades ago.
Ampere All Our Tomorrows End Today
When Orchid broke up in 2002, it signified the end of one of screamo's greatest bands, but the beginning of another screamo staple in Ampere. Led by ex-Orchid guitarist Will Killingsworth, Ampere's attack of short, intense, and dynamic screamo was and is a winner. Nowhere is that more apparent than on their debut EP All Our Tomorrows End Today. The songwriting here, to put it simply, is unbelievable. Some of the most well-rounded and subtly technical screamo ever put to wax is found here, juxtaposing emotive blasts with moments of subdued melancholy seamlessly, and usually in under a minute. The passionate sound that so enveloped Orchid is still very much alive here, and this makes the music both imposing and emotive all the same. In only eleven minutes, Ampere prove that they have songwriting skills usually reserved for gods, and all of the furious passion one would need to pull it all of without a hitch. Fantastic.
Arca Mutant
Arca has been on the scene for a couple of years now, but this is his first true full realization of his sound. Everything on this LP is equal parts expansive, subdued, loud, experimental, and interesting. He combines IDM with industrial techno and glitch, and as a result it has a wonderfully layered and full feeling to it, but also a flexible one as well. The use of stop-time on several of these tracks is sleek, and in general there's a lot of dynamics to the music. The album flows very well, giving adequate breathing room when needed, but pouring on the progressively loud and explosive electronics after the downtime. There is nary a bad track to be found throughout the hour long runtime, and though it may seem daunting to get through, it is actually surprisingly smooth and seamless. You never feel like it's been an hour, essentially. In short, Arca creates one of the best electronic releases of the year, one that is as gratifying on a first listen as it is rewarding on several more.
Arca Entranas
With last year's project Mutant, on which Arca expanded his glitchy electronic take on post-industrial and simultaneously demonstrated that he could make a concept work. This new tape, known as Entraas (which is Spanish for entrails), is exercise in visceral, depraved post-industrial, almost reminiscent of the darkest days of acts like Skinny Puppy. It's twenty-five minutes long and flows like it's one whole song, and each moment of it is absolutely riveting. Through the booming beat work that is hard hitting, yet ostensibly fragile all the same, an atmosphere of unease is created. The samples thrown in are all excellent as well, as some are almost smooth and unchallenged by the surrounding music, while others are sonic representations of terror and pain that are constantly rattled by the bass and the noise. It offers commentary on the collective schadenfreude of humanity, whether it be focused on ideals, or each other. Truly, Arca has cemented his status as one of the most interesting artists in the industrial/electronic scene today with this truly harrowing project.
Arctic Monkeys Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
It's hard to pin it down, but something about this album screams "nightlife" to me. Maybe it's the guy smoking on the album cover. Maybe it's the riff-driven fun packed in the tracks of this album, which seem as if they're being played inside a smoke-filled bar between drunken bouts. Either way, I'd love to listen to this thing on a night on the town.
Arctic Monkeys Favourite Worst Nightmare
Atmosphere Sad Clown Bad Dub II
August Burns Red Thrill Seeker
August Burns Red Rescue & Restore
Between the Buried and Me Colors
Colors marks when BTBAM went from a more progressive style of metalcore to toeing the line between progressive death metal and technical death metal. The experimentation was still very much alive, but the sound was tighter, faster, and more expansive than ever before. Having the entire album connect together like one whole hour-long song helped the fluidity of the compositions, and transitions like the one from the mid-tempo ending to "Sun Of Nothing" to the frantic and epic beginning to "Ants Of The Sky" are more than exceptional. There isn't much left to say about Colors, though, being the loved album it is. In my opinion, Colors was BTBAM's first truly superb record, and though they'd top it later, it's still an excellent listen.
Between the Buried and Me The Great Misdirect
This is beyond the shadow of a doubt Between The Buried And Me's magnum opus. While Colors was certainly a fascinating record, The Great Misdirect is more focused, more concise, more efficient, and less bumpy than its predecessor. The band's downfall has always been that they've wasted some time noodling and wanking around aimlessly with their guitars. However, aside from a couple of minutes during closer "Swim To The Moon", the technical noodling has been tempered down to a tasteful and tactful amount, making it all the more easy to sit through. It helps that "Fossil Genera - A Feed From Cloud Mountain" is on par with the bands' best cuts, featuring flawless experimentation and progression. Even the acoustic songs, which seemed like afterthoughts on The Silent Circus and Colors, are done to excellence, with "Mirrors" easily being the best song they've done in that style and a phenomenal opener. In short, if you're going to choose any BTBAM album to hear, The Great Misdirect should garner heavy consideration.
Bob Marley and The Wailers Catch A Fire
Bob Marley and The Wailers Kaya
When it comes to music that is considered "easy-listening", reggae is one of the first genres that come to mind. Bob Marley & The Wailers are the undisputed kings of the genre, and Kaya is their most "easy-listening" album the group ever released, and that is definitely saying something. Some classic Wailers tunes are on this thing, most notably "Is This Love", "Sun Is Shining", and "Time Will Tell". The re-recordings of the title-track and "Satisfy My Soul" are great as well. These tracks were recorded when Marley was in the U.K., and were from the same sessions as the immortal Exodus, which speaks a lot about their high quality. It lacks the more militant ideology of earlier records, essentially being an album about getting high with the ones you love. Sounds like a good time any way you put that, right? In this sense, it ends up being the perfect counterpart to its predecessor, and one of the gems in Marley's discography.
Bob Marley and The Wailers The Wailing Wailers
Brian Eno Ambient 1: Music For Airports
Brian Eno Another Green World
Another Green World marks a change in Brian Eno's style, namely from the Bowie-esque art rock with glam sensibilities to the ambient soundscapes people know him better for making. Although it's not purely ambient, some tracks on the album give insight into what he would eventually become widely known for, such as the addictive "The Big Ship" and the breathtaking "Becalmed". "Zawinul/Lava" even has piano similar to "1/1", the opener of Ambient 1: Music For Airports. Only a handful of tracks even have lyrics here, and those that do are pretty subdued in comparison to his previous work, as "Golden Hours" and "Everything Merges With The Night" while show you. He still hasn't lost his art rock ways, though, as opener "Sky Saw" and the lovely "I'll Come Running" are both catchy, upbeat, and unique. In all, a huge transition album for Brian Eno ends up becoming one of the crowning achievements of his storied career.
Brian Eno Here Come the Warm Jets
Brian Eno, as we know him today, is one of the undisputed kings of electronic music. However, in 1974, it was a bit of a different story. Rather than making fantastic ambient electronic or art-pop, he was creating art-rock with glam rock sensibilities and a bit of an influence from synth-driven electronica. Almost every song on his debut album, Here Come The Warm Jets, is as catchy and as fun as they come. The lyrics on this record are very memorable, and Eno delivers them with an interesting inflection that makes the record sound very unique. The obvious highlight here is "Baby's On Fire", but "Cindy Tells Me", "Some Of Them Are Old", and the title track are also gems that can't be missed. Here Come The Warm Jets is unlike any other album Brian Eno has ever made, and in that regard, any fan of the man should listen to it without delay.
Burial Kindred
This is the first in a line of EP's that have been album-quality from Burial, each of which adds a new twist to the established formula that he so professionally works with. In this case, it makes use of some ostensibly danceable rhythms, something that was explored, but never fully developed on previous efforts. The only one that isn't danceable is the last rhythm on closer "Ashtray Wasp", but this is made up for by some of the most gorgeous music in the discography, with the use of a xylophone making a ridiculously catchy jingle that the record itself ends on. Complete with the use of airy sampled vocals, the near-omnipresent atmosphere of bleakness, and the notion that not one minute is wasted throughout the entire EP makes Kindred a needed listen for any fan of atmospheric electronic music.
Burial Truant/Rough Sleeper
It speaks volumes about Burial that we expect nothing less than excellence from him every time we listen to one of his new cuts. Many believe that everything he's made is at worst very solid and at best otherworldly. On this EP, that sentiment does not change, and he delivers once again. "Truant" is a pretty sparse and atmospheric track, one that conjures up the feeling of the seedy London underground and its issues, something that Burial has always been able to provide with little trouble. It is messy without feeling completely disjointed, and it's clear a lot of ideas were explored in the creation of this track. "Rough Sleeper" is a bit of different territory for Burial, as there are certain segments during this track where the music is upbeat and hopeful. Overall, it carries a certain charm, with bells coming in that can remind one of a snowy, comfortable Christmas. It's actually pretty interesting to the see the contrast between these two styles put up against each other on a two-track EP. Surely, this is a record that you could show to anyone who wants to get into Burial, or atmospheric garage/dubstep in general.
Candlemass Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is one of the most revered albums, not just in doom metal, but in metal as a whole. It's been discussed to high heaven, but it's worthy of its praise. In my opinion, "Solitude" makes its mark as one of the greatest metal songs ever written, and though every other song is great, they just miss the opener's prowess by mere inches. That said, this record is one every fan of doom metal (and metal in general) should hear.
Candlemass Nightfall
When you think of Swedish metal, you probably think of melodic death metal a la At The Gates and Dark Tranquility. Yet, one of the best metal albums ever to come from Sweden is this, a doom metal album that takes what makes the sub-genre so great and amps it up. From the fantastic and memorable riffs, to the dreary yet wonderfully chimeric atmosphere, this is a top-tier doom metal record through and through. Some of Candlemass' best material is on this thing, not least of which are "The Well Souls", "Samarithan", and "Mourner's Lament". Despite having four instrumental tracks, which are all excellent at building atmosphere and suspense, the album is dominated by captivating frontman Messiah Marcolin, who is not only at the top of his game vocally, but lyrically as well, as each of the songs he's in tell interesting and entertaining tales. All in all, an absolute cornerstone of doom metal, recommended to metal fans everywhere.
Caravan In the Land of Grey and Pink
Celtic Frost Morbid Tales
Chelsea Reject CMPLX
The first full-length record from female emcee Chelsea Reject is faithful to the roots of female-fronted hip-hop, blending jazzy production with R&B hooks and slick rap verses. The production here is rife with positive vibes and jazzy synths that really gives the album a laid-back and smooth feeling. The guest spots here are used to optimum proficiency, whether it's Kirk Knight's introspective rapping as seen on "47", or Atownomas' trap-influenced chanting on "So High". Chelsea herself is quite good, dropping some really tight verses on this thing, especially on a small, yet impressive track "Tree". The quality of this record is notable, as it starts at a high level and never wavers from that point throughout the whole thing. There may not be a track I'd classify as a standout, but there are definitely some wonderful songs to be heard from this record. If you're looking for some more great hip-hop this year, or just want a record with some good vibes, look no further than CMPLX.
Chinx Legends Never Die
If 2016 has taught me anything from a musical standpoint, it's that death, whether it is of the artist or of someone very close to the artist, is a context impossible to ignore when listening to the material they had last worked on. It's the same for Chinx. Right off of the bat, the first thing that strikes you about Legends Never Die is that it succeeds where so many posthumous releases fail; rather than being a compilation of unreleased or rare material of questionable quality that doesn't flow like an album at all, Legends Never Die sounds and flows like an album proper, with plenty of phenomenal tracks. Musically, it's melodically-inclined trap, which by virtue of its melodic stylings lends itself to a hybrid R&B sound as well. The production here is excellent, with banger after banger slamming effortlessly through the speakers. Chinx himself sounds wonderful, with his versatility on the microphone being chief of his many great qualities. It's bittersweet; while he's left behind this accomplishment, he's also left behind his family in his wife and children. It's a tough reminder of sobering nature of death. Shit ain't always all good.
Chthe'ilist Le Dernier Crépuscule
"but it just feels so empty" - http://live.drjays.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/large_lebron-james.jpg The list of bands I have heard that truly evoke the spirit of Lovecraftian horrors is but of a precious few, but I believe I've found my newest entry. Simply put, other bands simply wrote about these terrifying mystic creatures, while these compositions seem to be written by terrifying mystic creatures. The production is thick and dirty, and the guitars and drums seem to swirl around in the muck with a strikingly perfect balance of angular dissonance and technical proficiency. The vocals are unholy and low, sometimes sounding froggish and very reminiscent of Antii Boman. As far as songwriting goes, a downright nefarious mix of unrelenting technical death metal, smothering doom metal, and eerily dark ambience makes the album sound very fresh and while it can be stylistically compared to albums by Profound Lore labelmates Portal, it's definitely its own, more accessible beast. In a nutshell, Le Dernier Crepuscle is an enthralling and immensely satisfying foray into the otherworldly and unspeakable. And, for what it's worth, it has taken an early lead as my MAOTY as a result.
Clarence Clarity No Now
Noisy, ambitious, and entirely unconventional, Clarence Clarity's debut full length is really something to behold. To call this album "alternative R&B" is not doing justice to how varied and eclectic these tracks are. The one-two punch of "Off My Grid" and "Those Who Can't, Cheat" is absolute can't-miss material, and the former easily stacks up as one of the best songs of 2015 so far. The amount of experimentation that works within these songs transforms something relatively simple into a cohesive piece made up of layers of instrumentation and vocal chops. Aside from a couple of unstructured and needlessly abrasive interludes, and some similar pointlessness that completely interrupts "With No Fear", the record is a fantastic representation of how well someone with an ear for experimentation, catchy melodies, and layered production can make music. If you are a fan of those formerly mentioned qualities, do yourself a favor and listen to this record.
Converge Petitioning the Empty Sky
Converge No Heroes
Converge have always been one of the most forward-thinking bands in hardcore, never making the same album twice. Acting as the follow-up to the bleak You Fail Me, No Heroes is the band at their most uncomplicated and simplistic, but also their most primal and brutal. The album makes use of short bursts of intense, noisy hardcore with tons of guitar feedback and longer, more atmospheric numbers. It's easily their most sparse and stripped down, but therein lies its charm: it's their tribute to their roots of in-your-face hardcore, to the immense and sloppy punk-tinged metalcore from whence they were born. The standout tracks are the swift punch to the face "Hellbound", the post-metal influenced "Grim Heart/Black Rose", and the anthemic "Trophy Scars", but all of these tracks have at least something to take from them, no matter how short. With all that said, No Heroes may not be Converge's best work, but it is definitely not one to be overlooked.
D'Angelo Brown Sugar
It's hard to believe that it's been two whole decades since the release of D'Angelo's debut album, Brown Sugar. It sounds like it could've been made days ago. That, I suppose, is a testament to how much influence D'Angelo had over the budding neo-soul movement, and how much of his influence is heard throughout the genre even today. So what, exactly, made him worthy of this? This album, for one, as it is an absolutely sublime slab of neo-soul and rhythm and blues that is addicting to listen to. From the opener, the title-track, we find what it's all about: smooth rhythms, soulful vocals, sexy lyrics, and that oh-so-important bass undertone. The only bad thing I could say about the album is that it does not stray far from the formula set by the opener at all. However, when you're putting out songs like "Jonz In My Bonz", "Me And Those Dreamin' Eyes Of Mine", and "Lady", who cares? All in all, a fantastic debut from one of the leading artists in neo-soul.
D'Angelo Black Messiah
Famed neo-soul and R&B artist D'Angelo was beginning to become a bit of an afterthought for a lot of people during his fourteen-year-long hiatus. But, to those who love soul music and R&B, D'Angelo would remain in their hearts for decades. Now, things are starting to change. D'Angelo is now back on the forefront of soul/R&B, titillating dedicated fans, making former fans refocus, and making many new fans in the process. The reason for this refocusing is simple: Black Messiah is one smooth, soulful, and (for some) nostalgic record. From the opening spaceship-like noises on "Ain't That Easy" to the final piano strokes of "Another Life", Black Messiah showcases everything D'Angelo's about. From smooth bass lines, soulful singing, and lyrics that have just as much relevance today as they did when they were written, Black Messiah is a fantastic comeback album. If you're going to listen to one more record in 2014, make it this one.
David Bowie Blackstar
Anyone who complains that this album is only getting high praise and acclaim because of his death is a tool and is merely stating the obvious. Of course that's why it's getting such lauding praise; it's literally his farewell album, and the new meanings brought to the lyrics after his death are inescapable. It would've been received well anyhow, but with this context, the album is brought to dizzying new heights. The jazz-influenced electronica makes this one of his most experimental works in some time, and his voice is simply heartbreaking to hear. It's one of those things that is hard to describe. When one listens to "Lazarus" or "I Can't Give Everything Away", it's like hearing his last messages to people, whether they be people he knew personally or his adoring fans. I didn't even listen to much of his previous work, even before his death, but it's safe to say that I must now, if this record is any indication of how wonderful his others must be. R.I.P., David Bowie.
Dead in the Manger Cessation
There's always been something mystifying about bands that can play to the extreme side of both spectrums. In the case of Dead In The Manger, a mysterious and anonymous band, they play a mix of black metal, grindcore, doom metal and a hint of sludge metal. The main draw of this, however, is not the styles they play, but how passionate and emotional their playing is. The riffs shift from sinister to heart-wrenching, and the pained and distressed vocals echo that sentiment in spades. There's a very deliberate and calculated feel that backs up the emotion too, especially in the case of the drumming. It's over quickly, though, as the album only clocks in at a half-hour. Still, there is tons of replay value to be found here, as there aren't many moments during its runtime that aren't engaging, both mentally and emotionally. There really isn't an image to these guys, or a discernible reason they have for being a band, other than just to play the furious and impassioned tunes they love to play.
Dead Moon In The Graveyard
You know how The White Stripes did the whole minimal garage rock/punk/blues thing and popularized it immensely despite only having one album anywhere above decent to their name? Dead Moon did the same thing, only a decade-plus earlier, twice as good, and comparatively unknown. With a bass. Raw production, sloppy playing, catchy hooks, infectious riffs, lovably average vocal ability that makes up for it in passion, and a delicious bass presence makes In The Graveyard quite the debut. The original material here is all excellent, but the covers are awesome as well, making the songs their own. And when those songs are "Can't Help Falling In Love" and "Hey Joe", that takes some real talent. The album happens to be one of the best infusions of rock and roll, punk, and blues because it takes the parts of those genres that go well with each other and combines them seamlessly, putting it through a garage filter that is authentic as it is a joy to hear, and churning out tune after tune as if it were child's play. This was only the first album of many of theirs to perfectly showcase this formula.
Deafheaven New Bermuda
There has always been a weird mystique surrounding the Bermuda triangle. Tales of aliens, supernatural forces, and just about anything the mind can conjure have been told all stemming from this particular place. This mystery and eeriness is how Deafheaven have decided to approach their new record, New Bermuda, through tightened black metal dirges, beautiful and melodic post-metal swoons, and introspective lyrics. Things are much darker than on their previous opus Sunbather, as opener "Brought To The Water" will immediately show you, but that doesn't mean there aren't any pleasant and hopeful moments. Take the endings to "Come Back" and "Gifts For The Earth". The former makes use of an evocative post-rock passage to get the feeling across, whereas the latter makes use of a loud crescendo of black metal that eventually just becomes piano and acoustic guitar. In all, the refusal to stagnate is a great sign for the band, and by utilizing this tweak of sound, they've added another dynamic record to their discography and certainly cement their status as the premier "blackgaze" band.
Death The Sound of Perseverance
It's easily the most divisive record out of the famous "final four" of metal innovators Death, and that in and of itself should warrant it a listen, but one cannot deny the significant shift in songwriting heard on The Sound Of Perseverance, regardless of how one feels about the quality. What was once a technical death metal band with progressive leanings was now deeply entrenched in the progressive side of things, with the technicality on display only to bolster that. One need only hear "Spirit Crusher", considered by many to be Death's finest moment, to understand this songwriting prowess (though most every other song here displays this almost as well). The entire song is built from the addicting bass riff in the beginning, segueing into an onslaught of urgent riffs, unbelievable drumming, and chilling vocals. The only things holding the album from perfection are "Scavenger Of Human Sorrow" and "Flesh And The Power It Holds", two very good, but not great, tracks that simply pale in comparison to the rest of the record, including the cover of Judas Priest's "Painkiller". And so ended the output of one of the most important metal bands to ever record.
Death Leprosy
One of the most important death metal albums ever recorded, Leprosy is just one of the those fantastic albums that have been praised to the ends of the earth and back again, with little more to be said. In my opinion, the first six tracks and the closer are death metal perfection, with "Primitive Ways" being a good song, but not quite up to snuff with the others. With that said, "life ends so fast, so take your chance and make it last."
Death Symbolic
Symbolic has made its mark as one of the most treasured death metal albums ever made by way of its progressive stylings and superb songwriting. As such, there isn't much I, a person born very soon after its creation, could say regarding its immediate impact or the waves it made that couldn't be said better by someone who experienced it first hand. For my part, I find Symbolic to be behind Individual Thought Patterns in Death's string of phenomenal records. The less pronounced bass presence hurts things a bit, and though the guitar production is amazing, it doesn't quite make up for it. That said, Symbolic is still an essential listen in the death metal realm, and another in a string of albums that cemented Death as one of the greatest bands to ever play metal in general. Of course, you didn't need me to tell you that.
Death Human
One of the marks of a truly superb band is that they try, with each and every album, to give you a new spin on their established sound, or to shift sounds completely. Human is definitely one of those albums for famed metal band Death, who pioneered the death metal genre with their early death metal style. On Human, instead of playing old school death metal, they play a lethal mix of progressive death metal and technical death metal, with Chuck Schuldiner keeping his wonderful vocals from past records. Things are technical, but never overly so, as the guitars and bass strike a nice balance between breakneck riffing/soloing and melodic leads while the drums keep time perfectly as well as utilizing quick and enjoyable fills. Essentially every song is more than great, but "Secret Face" and "See Through Dreams" stand out in particular to me. In short, if you haven't heard Human, you need to, as you're missing out on one of Death's and death metal's finest.
Death Grips Exmilitary
What can I say? Before the group began to deviate further and further from hip-hop, they had a truly incredible sound that refused to be pigeon-holed into the industrial glitch-hop they've been releasing lately. Before it seemed less like the MC Ride show and more like a project with equal footing in both rapping and producing. Exmilitary is a deranged, off-kilter hip-hop record, that enough is certain, but the best thing about it is that it's deranged and off-kilter because of necessity in the songwriting rather than just for the sake of it. It just wouldn't work if it didn't sound so messed up. The mixtape is worth hearing for the first three tracks alone, a three-headed hydra of abrasive, unique, and strangely catchy hip-hop. The rest of the record is only slightly beneath those three, but the ending one-two punch of "I Want It I Need It" and "Blood Creepin'" are able to match them. In all, Exmilitary is a whirlwind of spastic experimental hip-hop only bested in the band's discography by its successor.
Death Grips The Money Store
Genre-transcendent hip-hop or poorly-executed shock rap? Moreso the former than the latter if you ask yours truly, but that's part of what makes The Money Store a fascinating album: it does more than enough to be polarizing, isn't short on rewards, and has sparked plenty of discussion regarding what this strange beast could be. It has that type of love-it-or-hate-it quality to it that comes with many groundbreaking and thought-provoking records, and definitely acts as a poster child for the sound of experimental, glitchy hip-hop in the 2010's. Everything that was great about Exmilitary is here, but there is something a bit more complex about this one. Whereas before the group would relentlessly bludgeon the listener with an all-out barrage of sounds, this record sees the combination of genres through more clearly and refined, while still managing to retain some of the rawness and all of the one-liners. As such, it is unequivocally the best material Death Grips have to their name, and thus, it's definitely an album you should at least try out.
Death Grips The Powers That B - Part II: Jenny Death
I suppose it is fitting that Death Grips (presumably) end on their most rugged and abrasive set of tracks to date, and which is certainly their best work in years. MC Ride is up to his usual tricks, but he still sounds as angry and schizophrenic as he ever has. The production on the album is extremely heavy, making use of booming drums, thick basslines, dissonant guitar samples, and industrial noises. It's a bit of an acquired taste, like most of their records, but I wouldn't say it's fully inaccessible. Take the awkwardly catchy and memorable hook of "Pss Pss" for example. And of course, it wouldn't be a Death Grips album without some quotable one-liners scattered around, "The Powers That B" being an obvious example. If this is truly the end for Death Grips, at least they left with a massive and spectacular bang.
Deniro Farrar Rebirth
I'm always going to be a fan of storytelling in hip-hop. For some reason, a story told over metal riffs or smooth acoustic guitar just doesn't have the same emotional effect that hearing the story told through rapping and looped beats does. There are storytellers that are very cryptic with their lyrics and meanings, and then there are storytellers that don't mince words, get straight to the point, and let you know that every word that escapes their mouth is unabashedly real. The latter describes Deniro Farrar, who, instead of crafting a painting symbolic of his life, takes a picture of his life with a camera of the highest definition. No photoshop here. Mixing introspective questions and thoughts with immediate existential surroundings and flowing masterfully over excellent cloud rap/trap production, Farrar lays himself bare on this 25-minute EP. The guest spots are used to optimum proficiency here as well, showing that Farrar is smart with choosing artists that compliment his aesthetic and overall theme. An overlooked gem, Rebirth is a fantastic hip-hop EP that is dying to be heard.
Denzel Curry Imperial
Zel still has a ways to go before he reaches this status in the genre, but in a lot of ways he's comparable to another certain Curry that has taken his respective profession by storm with what he's been able to accomplish. Like Steph, Denzel has a game that is rapid, fluid, and wholly entertaining and captivating. His flow is impeccable, and lyrically his blunt, yet clever wordplay paints a vivid picture of all the events and feelings he relates. The hooks here are hard hitting and catchy as well. Also like Steph, Denzel has a marvelous supporting cast. Ronnie J, FNZ, Lino Martinez, and even $uicide Boy$ make excellent contributions to the project through their psychedelia-influenced trap production. Rick Ross and Joey Bada$$ show up and drop a couple of swell verses as well, backing Zel up wonderfully. If there's one misstep to be found, it's on "This Life", which isn't really up to par with the other tracks here. Ultimately, on Imperial, Denzel Curry shows why you should be listening to him if you're a fan of hard-hitting, energetic hip-hop.
diSEMBOWELMENT Transcendence into the Peripheral
DJ Screw Chapter 214: Old School
It's a general consensus that DJ Screw was best when chopping some stuff from the south, preferably stuff from his hometown of Houston. But, as this tape so effortlessly demonstrates, he was great at screwing pretty much anything with some bass and a beat. In this case, it just happened to be late 60's/early 70's funk music, which sounds amazing when under his influence. From a sonic standpoint, there isn't much in the way of chopping (besides Yarbrough & Peoples' "Don't Stop The Music") or really any other technique other than screwing, but that's not the point here. Honed ears will note the practically flawless mixing and transitioning that takes place throughout the entire runtime, showing that Screw knew what music to use when honing his skills at differing facets of DJ skill sets. Perhaps the best song here is James Mtume's "Juicy Fruit", which would, later that year, be the main sample of a timeless hip-hop classic in The Notorious B.I.G's "Juicy". The vibes coming off the tape are very positive and enjoyable, and it's overall a blast to listen to. In all, DJ Screw's foray into early funk music is a truly essential screw tape.
DjRum Mountains
Eluvium False Readings On
If this isn't the feel-good album of the year so far, then it's second only to Awo. Because this is some of the most downright gorgeous ambient that has graced this year with its presence, believe it or not. Eluvium has been at this modern classical/ambient/drone thing for a while now, but I don't know if it's ever sounded as beautiful and heart-warming as it does here. The melodies on the first two tracks alone are simply lovely, and "Movie Night Revisited" is like the ambient representation of ocean waves, constantly rolling in and back out to a calming effect. Closer "Posturing Through Metaphysical Collapse" is a seventeen-minute monolith of a song that constantly blankets you in warm drones and the lightest of fuzz, never once offering a sound that is uncomfortable to hear. That's one of the great things about False Readings On: it's sound is comfortable, but not in a "heard this before" type of way, if you catch my drift. Beautiful and uplifting without feeling cliched, Eluvium's eighth full-length might just be his finest hour.
Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP
Epidemic (Hip-Hop) 4 Dimensions On A Paper
In the year of 2016, this right here is everything about how to do an old-school boom-bap record right. The production, while certainly drawing a lot of inspiration not just from boom-bap, but from mid-90's east coast hip-hop in general, is modern in the sense that it sounds very clean and clear. Jazzy flavors fly across the beats, and provide an excellent backdrop for Hex One and Tek-Nition to spit some phenomenal stuff over. The lyrics here are fantastic throughout, constantly dropping gems of wit, knowledge, and personality. The amount of topics dealt with seems daunting at a glance: addiction, daily struggles, death, our place in the vast universe, labels abuse of signees, and more. Yet, it's all handled with tact and precision, with the type of dexterous storytelling that is foolish not to covet. This is the type of record that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that fresh and enjoyable boom-bap can still be made in this day and age without sounding dated. It's the type of record that will assuredly please old-school fans while still appealing to modern ones. With 4 Dimensions On A Paper, Epidemic have firmly established the sound of boom-bap in 2016. RAOTY? We shall see.r
Explosions in the Sky All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone
I've always been a fan of how Explosions In The Sky do post-rock. While I do love the louder, dronier stuff like Godspeed, there's something to be said for the simple, yet effective way EITS play their music. Unfortunately, this also has garnered them some flak for having a been-there-done-that feel to their music on occasion. While that is true in the case of All Of A Sudden, I Miss Everyone, it never gets to the point where it will bother the listener. In fact, EITS add a different feeling to this record: darkness. This is evident even from the opening notes of "The Birth and Death of the Day". "It's Natural To Be Afraid" adds to this feeling, but it does have an uplifting crescendo the likes of which only EITS can create. "What Did You Go Home To?", with its melancholy piano, does a perfect job of setting up "Catastrophe and the Cure", which might just be the best song on the album, despite not being as dark as the rest of the album. A return to form from the disappointing The Rescue, EITS really deliver on this record, and no fan of post-rock should pass it up.
Fire! She Sleeps, She Sleeps
Fire!, the famed Swedish jazz trio central to the experimental big band ensemble Fire! Orchestra, turns in a delicate, dark, very tense, and occasionally dissonant performance of the avant-garde with She Sleeps, She Sleeps. It's definitely a slow burner, but it's remarkably nuanced and the constant feeling of anxiety felt throughout the album with only minimal breaks ("She Bid A Meaningless Farewell") means that the listener never feels disengaged or bored with it in the slightest. The dissonance is brought on heavily in the title-track, with Mats Gustafsson's saxophone seemingly flailing in the otherwise minute atmosphere set up by the easy bass and light drumming. It's a very patient album as well, as heard during the closing piece "She Penetrates The Distant Silence. Slowly", an extremely slow-moving and incredibly on-edge song that doesn't skimp on build-up or climax, resulting in one of darkest, most anxious jazz songs this year. Truly, Fire! is a trio to be reckoned with when they put together albums such as this.
Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac
Flying Lotus Los Angeles
It seems as if, no matter what style he employs, that Flying Lotus creates some of the most textured, intelligent, and engaging electronic music that always has layer upon layer of wonderful sounds to peel back every album. There are plenty of subgenres explored on Los Angeles, including trip-hop, wonky, IDM, instrumental hip-hop, and even glitch-hop. It's a very urban record, not unlike Burial's full-lengths, but the difference here is a rather relaxed, playful sentiment rather than a detached and paranoid one. Things are constantly swirling around in the space-like atmosphere, whether they be the kick drums you can feel in your bones on "Breathe Something/Stellar Star", the tribal drums of "Melt!", the simple and smooth guitar on "Riot", or the beautiful vocals on "Roberta Flack". In a nutshell, FlyLo's second full-length is a unique and refreshing take on trip-hop, as well as other aforementioned genres, that shouldn't be missed by fans of electronic music or fans of beat-driven music in general.
Flying Lotus Cosmogramma
Always a man with his head in space, Steven Ellison, through evolutions spanning whole albums, is a savant of many electronic subgenres. The minimal, wonky instrumental hip-hop and trip-hop that permeated Los Angeles was certainly pleasing and amazing in its own right, but Cosmogramma let it be known that Flying Lotus was evolving further, consuming more ideas and experimenting with an illustrious palette. Layers upon layers of nu-jazz, trip-hop, IDM, and the like enrich each track with all sorts of electronic sounds and subtle, short-lasting melodies. Though many tracks barely exceed two minutes, it's impossible to hear everything going on inside them on one listen. It definitely requires some patient listening, but ultimately the rewards waiting to be reaped by such listening make Cosmogramma an excellent listening experience and another notch in the ever-growing belt that Flying Lotus so proudly wears.
Flying Lotus You're Dead!
Flying Lotus, also known as Flylo, has truly made a name for himself in the past eight years. His work, being of the experimental electronic and jazz fusion genres, have garnered a large amount of critical acclaim. In terms of the quality we all expect from him, he delivers once again on You're Dead! The production on this album is stunning, making use of so many different instruments and styles. For instance, on "Tesla", he makes use of very skilled bass, mixing it with xylophone and piano to create a great jazz fusion track. On "Cold Dead", the use of trumpet and electric guitar is seen along with piano. Elsewhere, we find very ethereal and euphoric tracks like "Coronus, The Terminator", "The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep", and "Obligatory Cadence" make this release as fun to listen to as it is ambitious. All I know is, if I'm really dead, at least I've got You're Dead!
Frank Ocean channel ORANGE
George Clanton 100% Electronica
I suppose if "electronica" is a term applicable to a wide range of electronic genres, then this record pretty much has the perfect title. I say that because this release is a surprisingly eclectic collection of songs of all sorts of electronic genres, including synthpop, downtempo, vaporwave, chillwave, and ambient pop. In terms of relativity, it's eclecticism is somewhat similar to Pastel Ghost, just more subdued, with male vocals, and not swamped in reverb. The whole album, while certainly produced wonderfully, also has catchy hooks scattered throughout, with Clanton's voice being quite adept for the job. The album has a watery, fluid texture due to all of this, and it's quite relaxing, yet also very fun. It's a remarkably enjoyable listen, and though it can get slightly samey near the end, it's also a consistent effort. Needless to say, more albums from this man are a tantalizing thought.
Gnaw Their Tongues Abyss of Longing Throats
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Yanqui U.X.O.
Goldie Timeless
If being timeless is what Clifford Price was aiming for with his debut, then he just may have attained it. What is now seen as a groundbreaking drum and bass release, Timeless was one of the first records ever to mix the genres trademark hard-hitting breakbeats and deep bass lines with atmospheric strings and synths, along with a slew of angelical female vocals. The album gets off to an incredible start with the title track, which is one of the best electronic tracks I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. The entire first half of this record is absolute can't-miss material, the best of it being on another wonderful track in "Sea Of Tears", and on the lethal "Jah, The Seventh Seal". Though the second half of the record does stray a bit from the perfect path set by the first half, there are fantastic moments here as well with "A Sense Of Rage", "Still Life", and "You & Me". It's nearly two hours long, so there will be some time and patience needed to digest everything that appears on this album. However, I believe it is well worth it, and though I can't quite say it's a 5 for me, it's the closest it can possibly be without being one. If you call yourself a fan of drum and bass, jungle, or electronic music in general, make sure you give this beast of an album a well-deserved listen.
Gorillaz Demon Days
Here Comes the Kraken Here Comes the Kraken
Hiatus Kaiyote Tawk Tomahawk
While it sometimes lacks the endless dynamics that its successor, Choose Your Weapon, has, Hiatus Kaiyote's debut is still a wonderful journey into a style of neo-soul and R&B that they deemed "future soul". Things are buttery smooth on this LP, with what might be their best track in album closer "Nakamarra" being the gold standard. Small instrumental interludes are still a common occurrence, and manage to be entertaining enough to warrant a spot on the record. Nai Palm is much more subdued than she would end up sounding later, but she's still got the vocal chops to take the music behind her to the next level. Needless to say, this isn't quite as good as their follow-up, but this project is most certainly worth checking out if you want a better look into what exactly went into creating Hiatus Kaiyote's incredible modern soul sound.
Horrendous Anareta
In astrology, the term "anareta" means "the killing planet" or "a planet capable of great destruction." When you pair that name with that album cover, you're expecting some pretty gnarly death metal to say the least. Yet, Horrendous doesn't go that route, rather opting to be merely ominous and, more often than not, beautiful. And it's really quite the ride. The production here is pretty much perfect. It's cleaner than a lot of death metal production jobs, but it still lets the sound ebb and flow and be organic. Don't be surprised to see more death metal bands in the future employ a similar production style to this one. The bass is audible, the drums sound lively, and the guitars are astounding, both in sound and in skill. The vocals are excellent, and the songwriting here improves from the stout OSDM-revival style to a better amalgamation of old school and new era influences. Needless to say, this results in a sound that is distinctly Horrendous, and the record is all the better for it. In short, it's a wondrous display of death metal, helped along by masterful production.
Horrorshow The Grey Space
Howls of Ebb Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows
Adopting the ethos and production style from the strange beast that was The Marrow Veil and placing it into slightly more accessible, yet still twisted songwriting, Cursus Impasse is another study in psychedelic, incensed misery, and the complete deconstruction of many of the laurels of death metal. It's hard to describe the sound in layman's terms, so I'll submit this image for your approval: imagine yourself stranded upon the volcanic plains of Venus, lava spewing forth from the underbelly of the planet. The massive, yellow mountains leer and the atmosphere burns with intensity. The fires begin to speak to you of the unholy secrets of the cosmos, and you for all your experience cannot even begin to comprehend what these things mean. That's basically what this album sounds like, more or less. It's ironic, though, that such a band that turns death metal on its head like this cannot escape one of the most important laurels of it: that it take us to places we cannot see, and probably were not meant to. All the more reason why Howls Of Ebb is one of the most interesting, fascinating, and endlessly entertaining that metal has to offer.
Iced Earth Night of the Stormrider
Interpol Turn on the Bright Lights
Inverloch Distance | Collapsed
I'm sure I'm not alone in the sentiment that Transcendence Into The Peripheral was quite possibly the greatest death-doom metal record ever made, and a pretty unique record from an atmospheric and production standpoint. Now, 23 years after the release of that record, one-half of diSEMBOWELMENT, bassist Matt Skarajew (who handles rhythm guitar here) and drummer Paul Mazziotta, have grouped together with a few upstanding gentlemen in guitarist Mark Cullen, bassist Chirs Jordan, and vocalist Ben James, and have released the spiritual successor to the 1993 classic. Musically and conceptually, the two records have the same mission statement. However, what separates Distance / Collapsed from its predecessor is the decidedly modern production job, which gives less of an ambient feel in favor of oppressive grimness. It is, in effect, a modern take on a classic sound, which ultimately works in every way. It's not quite up to the greatness of Transcendence, but Distance / Collapsed is a very engaging and, of all things, nostalgic death-doom metal record from the masters of the genre.
James Blake Enough Thunder
I don't know why, but Enough Thunder hits me right in the feels every single time. Objectively, his self-titled or The Colour In Anything is his best work, but there's just something about this one. It does what Klavierwerke did in its very minimal, autotune-as-an-instrument approach, but about ninety times better. The piano ballad tracks he does here are absolutely phenomenal as well. His cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You", which is definitely one of the better covers I've ever heard, makes me tear up almost every time I hear it. Every song here is fantastic in its own way, though, and though this is probably his most sparse work, it's also the most evocative and personal to this point in his career. I don't know if he'll ever release something like this again, but a man can dream.
James Blake The Colour in Anything
For all intents and purposes, The Color In Anything is James Blake realizing his true potential, the album he's always had within his power to create. It's a brooding, vocal-heavy, wholly engaging producer/songwriter escapade with the most heavy-hitting and full-sounding production he's ever worked with. It's quality remains unwavering from the opener "Radio Silence", where melancholy piano and angelic vocals set the tone for the rest of the record, all the way until the autotune-drenched closer "Meet You In The Maze". Yet, with the quality being unmoving and the album being a nice seventy-six minutes, there is a slight issue with the songs bleeding into each other, which happens more towards the back end of the record. That being said, the individual songs are excellent, and this is true of each one. In all, The Color In Anything, in all its melancholic beauty, is James Blake's greatest achievement so far in his young career.
Johann Sebastian Bach Harpsichord Concerto No. 1, BWV 1052
John Cage 4'33''
As far as experimental music goes, I suppose this would be the pinnacle, given that it is an experiment conducted through music, or through what one would perceive to be music. A lot of thoughtful discussion has been generated as a result, and that's pretty cool, even if it is just varying degrees of silence and background noise. As such, it's completely arbitrary to rate something like this, so since 4'33" converts to 4.33 in decimal form, and 4.33 rounds up nicely to 4.5 within this rating system, a 4.5 looks as good a rating as any.
John Coltrane Blue Train
Adhering to the hard bop of the era that molded his playing style in the 50's, John Coltrane put out an absolute staple of the genre and one of his best albums in Blue Train. Utilizing the already tried and tested rhythm section of Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, a pair of steady hands in pianist Kenny Drew, and a top-notch horn section in Coltrane, Lee Morgan, and Curt Fuller on the tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone respectively, the personnel on the album are excellent. The songwriting, done entirely by Coltrane save for the slower-paced "I'm Old Fashioned", is quite wonderful, with many great solos and incredible interplay between the horns. The title-track is one of those jazz songs that you've definitely heard before even if you're just only a little familiar with jazz, undoubtedly due to its unmistakable intro/outro. Altogether, if you're looking for a way to get into the hard bop style of jazz, Blue Train may be the best album for the job.
John Coltrane Ascension
Dave Liebman, who was a great saxophonist in his own right, recalled Ascension as "the torch that lit the whole free jazz thing". And while men like Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and Pharaoh Sanders certainly got things rolling, John Coltrane set it firmly in motion. Ascension is a study of many things; the creative minds of some of jazz's greatest artists, the inner workings of dissonance and freedom as opposed to melody and structure, and just plain having a good time. And all of this was done pretty much at the drop of a hat, which is impressive if I do say so myself. I think, because it was done in such a way, that it's hard to say what Coltrane's purpose behind this record was. To make a statement regarding jazz, improvisation, and structure? Or to just create with some of his most trusted colleagues? Maybe that's why Ascension is so enticing; it doesn't really have an inherent meaning, so you create one for yourself if you so choose. Whatever the case may be, this is a truly beautiful, impressive, consuming listen, one that every fan of jazz owes themselves to hear.
Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around
It's rare that anyone puts out enough music to have eighty-seven records, but it's even rarer that the eighty-seventh record is as good as anything ever put out by the artist. That's what Johnny Cash accomplished, though, with his last recording before death. Full of classic Cash songs and several truly incredible covers, Johnny delivers one of his most heartfelt and emotional performances he ever lived to do. It was this album that taught me that covers of already written songs can still be original if performed correctly, that the best covers are the ones that add the covering artists personal flair and context, and that sometimes they're so good they get mistaken for the original (I'd venture to say that more people know "Hurt" as a Cash tune rather than a Reznor one). Cash's voice is so potent on this record that not only do some lyrics have new meaning, but clearer images are conjured up when they're heard. Truly, in his eleventh hour, Johnny Cash forever reminded the world why he was one of the greatest, if not they greatest, country artist to ever live.
Johnny Cash American II: Unchained
The man in black is often considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, country artists that ever lived. It's not hard to understand with records like this, his second stint with Rick Rubin and the second album in the American Recordings series. This album features a bit more than just Johnny and his guitar, making fantastic use of strings throughout, and containing more drumming than the original American recording. This album contains several of Cash's best songs, like "Rusty Cage", "Southern Accents", and "Meet Me In Heaven". However, the best song on the album (and in my opinion Cash's best song) is the riveting and tearjerkingly beautiful "Spiritual", which features some of the most emotional singing the cashman ever recorded. Truly, this album is not to be missed by fans of country music.
Johnny Cash American Recordings
Johnny Cash American III: Solitary Man
I know that hearts were loving long before I was here, and I'm not the first to ever cry in their bed or in their beer. There were songs before there was radio about love that stays and love that goes, they were writing melancholy tunes and tearful words that rhyme. Before my time. There were songs in old dusty books of love that's always been, sweet lovers in their glory who are now gone with the wind. Old fashioned love-words spoken then keep coming back and around again, nothing's changed except the names, their love burns just like mine. Before my time. And in the dim of yesterday I can clearly see that flesh and blood cried out to someone as it does in me, and there was some old song that said "I'll love you 'til you die." Before my time. But what the old-time masters had is what I feel for you, love is love and doesn't change in a century or two. If someway they had seen and knew how it would be for me and you, they'd wish for love like yours and they'd wish for love like mine. Before my time
Joy Division Closer
Ian Curtis was too good for this world. One of his lines on "The Eternal" really speaks to me. He sings, "Try to cry out in the heat of the moment; Possessed by a fury than burns from inside". He makes a few references to burning on Closer, another being the hook of "Heart And Soul" in which he sings, "Heart and soul: one will burn". I can't help but be reminded of that famous Neil Young lyric, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." Perhaps Ian Curtis felt it too, or perhaps not, I cannot say. What I can say is that the impact he had on the music world, and the impact he had on the millions of fans of Joy Division, cannot be understated. For all the excellent contributions on this record, especially from bassist Peter Hook, Curtis steals the show with a vocal and lyrical performance for the ages, capturing the struggle of depression in every line. The record represents an end for Curtis, his parting gift to the world. A slight solace is found in that it also represents a new beginning for the remaining members, who went on to form New Order. Simply put, Closer is legendary for many reasons, which are all reasons why any fan of music should hear it.
Justin Timberlake The 20/20 Experience
It's hard to believe that Justin Timberlake took seven years to make this. He's a multi-faceted guy, and what with his acting career and his great sophomore LP Future Sex/Love Sounds, people have been taking much more seriously than just "that guy from N*Sync" for a while now. But, if this is the result of seven years of work, then by all means, J.T., take your sweet time. He sounds very confident, but doesn't come off as narcissistic. He sings with a soothing and oftentimes beautiful voice, but never lets it become overbearing. The production on this thing is top-notch, and though a few of the songs stay a little past their welcome, this album is excellent RnB/pop. The lyrics here follow a pretty common theme: women. Still, there are none that are bad, and he honestly sounds like he's putting emotion into them when he sings them, "That Girl" being a fantastic example. The highlight of all this, of course, is the ending duo of the insanely catchy "Mirrors" and the smooth "Blue Ocean Floor." So, yes, the praise for this album is most certainly justified.
Kamasi Washington The Epic
If nothing else, this record should win the "Most Aptly Titled Album Of The Year" award. You probably already know the deal with this album. Yes, it's three hours long, and yes, that is a bit of a daunting task if you want to grasp the entire thing. That being said, the album is surprisingly accessible, using a fusion of spiritual jazz, post-bop, and soul that grooves in and out of a wonderful ensemble. The compositions are immense, but they're pretty easy to listen to, especially when tracks are catchy, like "Cherokee". It's hard to choose a best song off the record because of its remarkable consistency, but if I had to choose it'd be "Clair De Lune". It's not the most original jazz album in the world, but it is so well done, down to the last detail, that it's hard to fault anyone involved for being "unoriginal". What stands up as the jazz album of the year (for me, and I'm sure a lot of others), The Epic is truly its namesake, establishing Kamasi Washington as a force to be reckoned with.
Kendrick Lamar Section.80
Kraftwerk Trans-Europe Express
One could say so many things about the influence and importance of Trans Europa Express that one measly soundoff would never be enough to suffice for Kraftwerk's genius. For my part, the album sounds a bit like this: You're riding on a train, one of those high-end ones that are only ridden by those rich enough and arrogant enough to have no societal perspective based in reality. All of their faces, voices, names, and clothes become indistinguishable from one another, and the same mundane phrases and conversations bleed into each other one day after the next. Meanwhile, the train races onward at thousands of miles per hour, passing the entire world by. Maybe that's a pretentious load of crap but you get my point: this album rules.
Krallice Ygg Huur
Avant-garde black metal band Krallice have received their fair share of praise and criticism over the years. Many praise their abilities with their respective instruments and appreciate the anti-traditionalist view they hold of black metal. Others dismiss them as self-indulgent, with no understanding of what black metal actually is or what it stands for. For my part, I've considered Krallice quite talented, but occasionally directionless. That being said, this new record of theirs is far from directionless, and offers a new take on the established Krallice sound. Yes, there are hyper-fast tremolo riffs and blast beats galore, but one of the coolest things about this record is how it constantly walks the line between black metal and death metal, never straying too far into one style. This means that slower, more atmospheric playing is incorporated, especially on the opener "Idols". The vocals, though sparse, sound wonderful, and the guitars are as absorbingly fun as ever. With this release, Krallice tighten their game, and the end result is quite enjoyable.
Lil Ugly Mane MISTA THUG ISOLATION
It's funny actually, from an objective standpoint Lil Ugly Mane's rapping on this record is kind of crappy. He has little technical skill and constantly falls off beat. Yet, when he spits lines like "bitch you heating up like a bagel in the microwave", you can't help but wonder if it's all completely on purpose. Thus, there are some people who believe that Lil Ugly Mane plays the whole Memphis rap scene and much of the south in general for laughs on MISTA THUG ISOLATION. He totally does, but make no mistake: the man clearly understands and enjoys the style he's satirizing. The production is made up of jazzy samples and ominous synths, while the hooks are usually just several samples from other southern artists spliced together. It's sounds simple enough, but it can't be understated how intricate the production actually is. It's also one of the funnier albums out there, given the ironic nature in which everything on this album is delivered in. It's satire by a guy so talented it's almost not.
Lil Ugly Mane Oblivion Access
Right from the beginning track of Oblivion Access, you know this album is going to be different from his other projects. The album is noisy, uncompromising, and absolutely scathes lyrically. There are no inherently catchy songs, and things are even more unpredictable than before. The production is excellent, as usual, but we also see one of Ugly's most enraged moments both from a rapping standpoint and a producing one on the ending trio of songs. He sounds absolutely vicious on "Slugs", and his production is cacophonous on "Compliance". "Intent And Purulent Discharge" mixes those two qualities in addition to being quite unnerving. In the end, it's all about what or who's oblivion we are given access to. In this case, it's Ugly's, and it is truly an excellent album from all fronts and a perfect send-off for one of the best artists in the underground from this decade.
Linkin Park Meteora
Little Simz A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons
Women can be kings. That is one of the predominant themes of Little Simz' sophomore LP, one that paints a masterful picture of her fascinating life and the place women are unfairly relegated to in hip-hop. With her distinct British voice and skilled lyricism, Little Simz herself is pretty easy to get into. The production, which is at some points hard-hitting and loud and at others subdued and melancholy, is an excellent backdrop for her to spit her wonders over. Though it might be sonically accessible, Little Simz' message spends time confronting what few people in hip-hop are willing to confront: the mistreatment and societal stereotypes against women. She also has an introspective point of view, as well as telling stories of the people around her. This sounds so much more convincing when coming from the mouth a woman who has experienced this first hand, which is part of what makes A Curious Tale so interesting and worthwhile. We might, and bear with me on this, might be witnessing one of the most important female emcees to ever pick up a microphone, and thus, it would be a sin to miss this record.
Loma Prieta I.V.
This record is truly the culmination of everything Loma Prieta had been working up to their entire careers. They steadily improved their craft on each release, took everything that was great about those releases, shed the fat off of them, and made I.V. as a result. The explosive, almost dirty production of Life/Less makes a return here to excellent effect, giving the same sense of power to the compositions even when more subdued in tone, as closer "Diamond Teeth" will show you. The juxtaposition of intense discordance on songs like "Trilogy 4 "Momentary"" with melancholic melodies reminiscent of Last City on songs like "Biography" really shows how far the songwriting quality of the band has come. It's all wrapped up in a quick twenty-four minutes, but compared to the other material the band has released, this is a long record for them, and it's structure and intensity is such that it's pretty much the perfect length. It's the final product of phenomenal screamo sound, and the defining moment of their careers so far.
Loma Prieta Self Portrait
I know many of us, myself included, have either been through or are currently going through depression and anxiety. For all its wonder and intricacies, music cannot cure something like that. It can, though, in my experience at least, take the edge off a slight bit. That's why records like Self Portrait exist. The album is a cacophonous, angry, sad, hopeful, and at some times beautiful collection of screamo that ranges from pulsating, loud hardcore riffs with a sound like that of locusts and quieter, more melodic post-rock crescendos. Emotionally, it begins giving off a feeling of uneasiness, but this quickly tailspins into anger and finally into melancholy by "Nostalgia". Yet, "Never Remember" is surprisingly upbeat, and by the time closer "Satellite" begins to soar, the uplifting nature of the record is revealed. It manages to map out this range of emotions in only thirty-one minutes, but it feels quite a bit longer, and I say that in the best possible way. In all, Self Portrait will probably end up being the screamo album of the year for many people, myself included. It has its bevy of cathartic moments to thank.
Manners Pale Blue Light
This album is one of the most depressing albums I've ever heard. The lyrics are heart-rending and the dissonant guitars are both haunting and sorrowful at the same time. The vocals sound as if the vocalist is pleading with every tormenter he's had to stop his torture. It's a true, soul-bearing melodic hardcore release, that succeeds in all it tries to accomplish. Listen here: http://mannersct.bandcamp.com/album/pale-blue-light
Maribou State Portraits
I don't think that Maribou State could've picked a better title for this record. Whether it be wafty, beautiful downtempo electronic with sublime vocalization in the background or piano-driven downtempo pop, each song paints an incredible picture with its textures and atmosphere. Sometimes they paint portraits of people, like an estranged lover ("The Clown"), or an addict struggling for a way out ("Steal"). Other times, they paint portraits of landscapes, or the simple daily pleasures we find in life. The quality of these songs never waver for a second, always remaining as professionally done as possible. The tracks with vocals often deal with melancholy subjects, but the instrumental tracks serve as a reminder of anything you find gorgeous, or any memory that brings a smile to your face. In all, Maribou State work wonders with their debut LP, one that shouldn't be passed up. Absolutely wonderful.
Marxman 33 Revolutions Per Minute
Massive Attack Blue Lines
Massive Attack is one of the most famous groups to ever come from the UK, and are considered to be the essential trip-hop outfit. Their excellent beginnings are seen here on Blue Lines, and album widely considered to be the first trip-hop record. Their work with sampling is the shining aspect of the album, as each and every song contains an array of expertly woven sounds, backing the vocals of Shara Nelson and Horace Andy beautifully. There is some rapping here by Tricky Kid, like on "Daydreaming", and it's actually not half bad. The highlights are many on this album, but the middle trio in "Be Thankful For What You've Got", "Five Man Army", and "Unfinished Sympathy" is absolutely astonishing. Big props to Neneh Cherry, who, as Daddy G said, "kicked our arses and got us into the studio." Who knew it would result in this?
Massive Attack Heligoland
After several years of downtime, the seminal trip-hop/downtempo duo known as Massive Attack returned with a sound unlike anything they had previously operated with. It's a sound much more organic and a bit less hip-hop based than its predecessors, but the endless subtleties that on their own are minimal but together create a swirling ether of gorgeous sound is definitely still there. Some of the most beautiful moments in their entire discography are found within Heligoland most notably the blissful melancholy of "Paradise Circus" and the tear-jerking "Saturday Come Slow", on which Damon Albarn sings in heartbreaking fashion. The consistency and synergy of these tracks cannot be understated either, nor can the hauntingly beautiful lyrics, especially on opener "Pray For Rain". The album is a grower as well, which is patented Massive Attack, as tracks like "Splitting The Atom" and "Atlas Air" reveal their greatness over several listens, due to how low-key and subtle they are. Really, it's Massive Attack (and friends) doing what they do best: make some of the most subtle, engaging, and beautiful downtempo/trip-hop there is.
maudlin of the Well Bath
I can only ever take baths when I'm already fully clean, purely as a relaxation technique, because otherwise I feel like I'm laying in my own filth. Just as rare are the times when I can listen to Bath and truly capture everything Maudlin Of The Well wanted me to hear. It's a dense record, seemingly one part of what appears to be a two-piece puzzle. In reality, this piece is made up several other smaller pieces, which are made up of even smaller pieces. Re-occurring melodies, vague and sometimes even nonsensical lyrics, watery ambience, and a battle against the soft and loud all contribute to this puzzle in ways as individually rewarding as they are as a whole. Yet it's meaning, if it has one to begin with, remains esoteric. Fifteen years have gone by and no one truly knows what Maudlin Of The Well was trying to say. Yet even still, there are times when I listen to the record in one sitting and feel as if I do know the answer. That's Bath for you: endlessly captivating and wholly rewarding, even when the reward doesn't appear to be there.
maudlin of the Well Leaving Your Body Map
Part two to the avant-garde metal/art rock masterpiece Bath, Leaving Your Body Map is a darker incarnation of an already immaculate style. While not as cohesive as its predecessor, it makes up for this by being the peak of maudlin of the Well's musicianship and songwriting talents. It retains a similar atmosphere to Bath, but once again under a much darker umbrella. The meaning behind this record is just as vague as the first, but after listening to both records over time, I've formed my own interpretation of it, which goes as follows: both albums are about the afterlife. Bath is about someone dying suddenly and unexpectedly and wanting to escape from the afterlife. Maybe they succeed, but it's just as likely they don't. Leaving Your Body Map is about someone who wants to die and commits suicide, and they let the afterlife envelope them and take them away. It's probably not correct, but that's how I see it regardless. Whatever it all means, Leaving Your Body Map is an exhilarating conclusion to a phenomenal duo of albums.
Maxo Kream The Persona Tape
Houston's very own Maxo Kream is back for the first time in over a year, and if you haven't peeped ol boy by now, you're doing yourself a disservice. That's because The Persona Tape is, among other things, his most consistent work by a mile, and several songs here match the greatness that were "Thirteen" and "1998" from his previous opus. He's always been a presence on the microphone, but here he's an absolute force, sounding more comfortable and confident than ever before. He employs some very good flows over the oft-chilling trap production, and his lyrical aptitude has never been higher. With visceral and intense stories of gunfights and gang life, it's hard not to notice where the mans hungriness blooms from. The production makes quite interesting use of horror-movie-esque strings and intimidating synths and bass, giving the whole tape a sense of dread and, ultimately, power. Simply put, purple city's in good hands.
Mello Music Group Self Sacrifice
I think that there's something to be said for albums that have several different artists contributing to the project and yet put out something cohesive and engaging. It's so difficult to have that many artists on the same page when it comes to ideas, sounds, and aesthetic that albums like this aren't always possible. Yet, Mello Music Group does it as if every artist is working within the same mind. That's not to say you don't know who's who on the record, but they generally work so seamlessly with each other that it all seems part of a collective effort. With simple, yet soulful boom-bap production, wonderful storytelling, buttery flows, and an insatiably confident mindset, Self Sacrifice harkens back to the golden era of hip-hop, and intends to show you that there are those who have remained loyal to the style while also adding a distinct modern flavor. If you know any of the guys on the label (which you should), or just enjoy some outstanding hip-hop, don't hesitate to try this one out.
Mello Music Group Persona
Mello Music Group is an independent hip-hop label that has been making waves recently in the underground scene. Featuring rappers and producers like Open Mike Eagle, Oddisee, Apollo Brown, yU, and L'Orange, the label certainly has some talented artists under their name. Understandably, when an album made of original material from the many members of the label dropped in March, people had reason to be excited. It all stacks up as a fantastic hip-hop release that, as described by the label itself, is "Boom-bap at its best: evolving and expanding the art form, capturing stories of the struggle, upholding the tradition, and keeping the crooked honest." The production on tracks like "Requiem", "Pnt", "Celebrity Reduction Prayer" and "No Future" is top-notch, and the rapping on this thing is solid at all times and more often than not brilliant. Fans of underground hip-hop, or just hip-hop in general, should not pass this one up.
Michael Jackson Thriller
Mick Jenkins The Healing Component
Mick Jenkins likes his projects to form around a central theme. The Water[s] concept was easy enough to grasp, but what's dealt with on The Healing Component? The overarching theme here is love; love for yourself, love for one another, love for pleasures, and the dangers of love for money. While that's not exactly a topic rarely touched on, Mick's approach to it is stunningly well-done. With production that is smooth and clear, and yet intricate and shifting, Mick is able to tell his carefully-crafted stories of how he has come to embrace love and how it affects his and the people around him's lives with ease. Though the production may be mellow for the majority of the record, Mick prevents it from becoming a boring affair by switching up his delivery, sounding laid-back and almost stoned on one song and then incensed and frustrated on the next. The guest spots here all do wonderfully, and Mick even showcases some really good singing chops on a few tracks here. All of this and more is what makes The Healing Component a fantastic hip-hop album. Oh, and the kids name was "Rocket".
Microwave Much Love
One of the stereotypes of emo/pop-punk is that the vocalists aren't the best of singers. And as with most stereotypes, there are people that reinforce them. That said, Microwave thinks you can take your stereotype and shove it, because their vocalist Nathan Hardy can really, really sing. Not only that, but their backing vocals are lovely as well. Yet, the vocals are but one facet of the excellence of Much Love. It's got a nostalgic sound, with song after song of emo/pop-punk perfection coming through the speakers, the only knock being that it's not the most original stuff on the planet. But, when you can write songs like "Dull" and "Vomit", that really doesn't matter too much. It's like this: Much Love is every time you've locked yourself out of your house on a rainy day, smiled, shrugged, and thought "well, at least I have a house in the first place". It's every time you have one of those days where nothing seems to go quite right, where every little thing seems to screw up, until someone tells you how much they appreciate you and makes all of those things irrelevant. Gotta love it.
Miles Davis Cookin' With the Miles Davis Quintet
It may only be four tracks totaling thirty-three minutes, but don't let any of that fool you: this is a varied and engaging hard-bop listen. That should come as no surprise considering the likes of Davis, John Coltrane, and Paul Chambers play the trumpet, tenor sax, and bass respectively. With its smooth and memorable piano intro and outro played by Red Garland, "My Funny Valentine" starts things off excellently, segueing into "Blues By Five", a group jam featuring a wonderful bass solo by Chambers. "Airegin" speeds things up, with Davis and Coltrane each getting two minutes to show what they have over Philly Joe Jones' quick drumming. Everything culminates in the strangely catchy but wonderfully composed closer "Tune Up/When Lights Are Low", which shows a more subdued quintet similar to the second track, but with arguably the best playing on the entire record. This record is quite interesting and beautiful despite its short runtime, and is immediately accessible and enjoyable. Needless to say, fans of jazz should definitely listen to this one.
Miles Davis 'Round About Midnight
Miles Davis is one of, if not the, greatest jazz innovators of all time. Many albums of his have been christened as classics of the genre, and throughout his career he dabbled in the many sub genres jazz had to offer. Here, he plays hard bop, and with himself on the trumpet and John Coltrane on the tenor sax, some melancholy yet gorgeous music is made. Featuring songs arranged by jazz greats Thelonius Monk and Stan Getz, this record is a forty-minute excursion into smooth, sad, and altogether endearing jazz, with songs such as "'Round Midnight", "All Of You", "Bye-Bye Blackbird", and "Dear Old Stockholm" stealing the show. Though it was initially received rather lukewarmly, 'Round About Midnight has proved itself to be one of the essentials of hard bop, and an all-around great record for fans of jazz everywhere.
Ministry Filth Pig
On Filth Pig, Ministry goes sludge. Do I really need to say anything more than that? No, but anyways, the band up until this point had been known for their fast-paced, manic take on industrial metal, and were one of the sole most influential bands in the genre. Filth Pig is like if you took the music that made them influential, like Psalm 69's, slowed it down a decent lot and added a mucky, ugly production job. The bass has a thunderous presence here, and the riffs are effectively simple and full of sludge. Al Jourgensen turns in a wickedly pissed off vocal performance, and the drums feel as organic and powerful as ever. Slowing down what once was a blistering pace, seething with rage at every juncture, and sounding as murky and unwashed as the man on the cover, Filth Pig also served as a musical symbol of the height of Al Jourgensen's heroin addiction, and through every tortured snarl or yell, you can clearly hear this. It's truly a shame the album is as polarizing as it is, because the band would never again do something like this. It's definitely the oddball in Ministry's discography, and as such is a phenomenal record.
Moderator The World Within
An eclectic producer of Greek heritage, Moderator sets out on a soulful, chilled, and beautiful journey that is teeming with good vibes on his newest full-length. Using a wonderful array of trip-hop, jazz, and funk, Moderator uses a half-hour to put you under his spell. From the hazy "Harlem River", to the jazzy and caressing "It Wasn't For You", to the middle-eastern beauty in "Vasai-Virar", and finally to the ethereal boom-bap of "Space Vandals", there really isn't a moment here worth passing up. And though it is on the short side, there is certainly enough to appreciate here to warrant many listens, especially from those with an ear for the laid-back and chilled out.
Mr. Bungle Disco Volante
One of the strangest and interesting bands of their time, Mr. Bungle created some puzzling, yet gratifying, music across three albums. This, their sophomore full-length album, is unequivocally their most experimental, but is also their most inaccessible as a result. In fact, the nature of the album makes it very hard to pigeonhole into one genre. There's all sort of genres touched on this record, including experimental rock, punk, jazz, world, and progressive rock. A lot of it is pretty risky, like not having charismatic vocalist Mike Patton present on every track, and the constant time signature/genre changes that seem to happen at the drop of a hat. It's not really an album you can just listen to once and catch everything there is to hear. It's a pretty dense album, but one that rewards patient listening with a plethora of experimental greatness. Truly, there was never really a band quite like Bungle, and there isn't really a record like Disco Volante.
Mr. Bungle California
"The best way to live in California is to be from somewhere else. Probably the best way is to be from Mars" - Cormac McCarthy. For all of Mr. Bungle's avant-garde intricacies on their first two releases, it would've been preposterous to call them an accessible band. California proved that they could be. It opens the floodgates for people turned away by the ceaseless experimentation of Disco Volante and the brashness of the self-titled. With songs like "Retrovertigo" and "Pink Cigarette", the two most conventional songs the band ever made, it's much easier to get into their sound. The band doesn't sacrifice their personality, though, as those songs both deal with some heavy topics through subtle lyricism. Elsewhere, the band morphs surf rock and doo-wop with some jazzy experimental rock, and it generally sounds as refined and focused as ever. Mike Patton, of course, is a force to be reckoned with vocally, especially on the one-two punch to end the record. Regardless of whether you've loved Mr. Bungle for a while or if you're just getting into them, California is a fantastic album, so have at it.
Nas It Was Written
In retrospect, It Was Written was doomed from getting proper recognition before it was even conceived. That is to say that when in the shadow of a hip-hop masterpiece like Illmatic, it's obviously not going to look that great in comparison. Yet, in a lot of ways, It Was Written is like if Illmatic got fed through a mainstream filter, meaning that the sound of the record was even more accessible to the masses. That's not to say Illmatic isn't or wasn't accessible, but it wasn't exactly the greatest mainstream success when it was released. It Was Written, on the other hand, is ready to roll in that regard, but admirably doesn't sacrifice the gritty lyrical content or completely abandon the boom-bap roots of his previous outing. Some of Nas' greatest songs can be found here, like the bone-chilling "The Message" and the paranoid "Watch Dem Niggas". One thing that was transferred from Illmatic was the remarkable consistency with which Nas operated, with the quality remaining at a high level throughout the entirety of the record. As a sequel to Illmatic, it is more than worthy, and as a standalone project, it is excellent in and of itself.
Neil Young Harvest
Neil Young On the Beach
Despite having great financial success with his 1972 album Harvest, Neil Young found himself depressed. One of his best friends, named Danny Whitten, had overdosed on heroin in 1972 after being fired from Young's band, Crazy Horse. And so, in 1974, when On The Beach was released, audiences were met with dreary production and a pessimistic Neil, in stark contrast to Harvest. Lyrically, Neil is at the top of his game, with the hopeful "Walk On" and political "Vampire Blues" as obvious examples. However, it is side B of the album, containing three of his best songs, lyrically and instrumentally, in "On The Beach", "Motion Pictures", and "Ambulance Blues" that cement this record as one of Neil's best. For Neil, this is the fourth record in a row, chronologically speaking I might add, that has been hailed as a classic by critics around the world, something as challenging as it is impressive.
New Order Movement
New Order Blue Monday
There really isn't much left to say about "Blue Monday". It's just one of the greatest dance tracks ever made, no question. It's importance cannot be understated either, as it is often seen as one of the strongest links between the disco of the seventies and the dance/house music that permeated the late eighties. The B-side remix known as "The Beach" is really cool as well, but nothing can compare to the greatness of the original.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree
I read the soundoffs for this album and thought "there's no way it's that good." This is me admitting I'm wrong. Yes, maybe his voice does stray into more melodramatic territory sometimes but this is pretty much the only issue and given the context of the record it's an issue easily forgiven. Compositionally it's sparse and uncompromisingly bleak and melancholy. And yet, there's a strange, but totally incredible sense of catchiness as well. Opener "Jesus Alone" has a harrowing hook that's as wrought with fear and uncertainly as it is immediate and memorable. The backing vocalizations in "Rings Of Saturn" are forlorn and saddening but also catchy as they come. It's not every year you get what is essentially a singer-songwriter album with pop sensibilities that is truly as dark, frustrated, and hopeless as this one. Even if you haven't heard anything from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds before, you owe it to yourself to hear Skeleton Tree. You may feel drained and maybe a bit down afterward, but that's to be expected: nothing is for free.
Nickelus F and Shawn Kemp Trick Dice
It's funny to me that the NBA's Shawn Kemp is one of the most underrated dunkers to ever pick up a basketball, while this Shawn Kemp, better known as Lil Ugly Mane, is one of the most underrated artists in hip-hop, criminally so given his impact on the underground. His production here is, as expected, superb, using an array of samples and production styles throughout the record. The record is lifted to new heights by Nickelus F, who sounds absolutely furious and hungry on all of his verses. The wordplay and metaphors on display are definitely up to snuff, and the lyrics tend to focus on one thing: depravity. Whether it be drugs, violence, prostitution, poverty, or pain, you can trust Nick Fury has it covered. The record is split up into two sides acting as one song each, but both play out similarly, with several smaller songs within each. The second edges out the first in terms of my own personal enjoyment, but the quality is unwavering. Altogether, it's another gem from Ugly production-wise, and very entertaining, clever, and endearing lyrically thanks to Nickelus F's bars.
Night Birds Fresh Kills Vol. 1
It might be just a compilation of Night Birds' demos and EP's before their debut LP The Other Side Of Darkness, but it's just so great. One of the things that amazes me about it is that this comp dodges the very thing that kills most of them: it actually flows and feels like an album proper. Musically, it's some of the most strikingly consistent, absurdly fun, and wonderfully nostalgic surf punk you'll ever hear. Vocalist Brian Gorsegner is as charismatic as they come, and the endless surf-influenced riffs by Mike Hunchback are the perfect counterpart. It's a bit tough to call this comp mindless fun, though, as it's actually a very smart and nuanced affair as well. Everything from the music to the lyrics adhere to an aesthetic and an ethos that is decidedly for the working man, the pissed off, the people who long to be somewhere else other than their current place, the people who just want to have a good time. Put simply, it's punk as hell, and Night Birds embody it as well as any modern punk band out there.
Night Birds The Other Side Of Darkness
After a dearth of smaller, yet awesome releases, New Jersey hardcore punk quartet Night Birds unveiled their debut LP, and began to cement themselves as one of the active best and brightest in the genre. With short, immeasurably catchy, yet still impressively intense tracks, and with surf-influenced riffing and lyrics wonderfully inspired by B-movie horror lore, The Other Side Of Darkness is an excellent representation of what Night Birds are all about. They've got the songwriting chops, they've got the necessary emotion to pull it off, and perhaps most importantly, they've got the undeniable attitude. What attitude exactly? I think the quote from Brain Damage that ends "Paranoid Times" and begins "Oblivious" says it best: "The whole world's gonna come to an end. If it's gonna go, man, it's gonna go! And I'm gonna enjoy seein' this whole friggin' world blow up! And I'm gonna be smilin' having my beer! And I'm gonna see this last blast, baby! I'm gonna see it go!"
Nujabes Metaphorical Music
Oasis (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
Opeth Morningrise
Ophidian Blackbox
Conrad Hoyer, better known as Ophidian, is a name easily recognized in certain underground techno circles and pretty much nowhere else. Likewise, Blackbox is an important and overlooked masterwork of techno that gets its due diligence in the underground, and little exposure elsewhere. It specializes in the "gabber" style of techno, a very energetic, fast-paced, even abrasive style, and mixes that with industrial tech and a penchant for eerie ambient backdrops. Thus, it happens to be aggressive and relentless while also being intricate and nuanced. While songs like "Asphyxia" and "Strychnine" bludgeon the listener with pulsing and scratching beats at 200+ bpm with little else, these are the minority. On most of the material here, while the jarring beats pulsate away, the background is filled with a discernible ambient soundscape, made either by synth work or sample work. The beats shift in their aggressiveness a couple times in-song to give the listener a break, and overall the work is varied well enough to neither bore or overload the listener. It's truly a landmark album in gabber, and one of the best hardcore techno albums ever put to wax.
Orchid Chaos is Me
Orchid were absolute masters of their craft and continue to have a legendary status in the screamo genre. They played with such passion and intensity, with a speed that made their music dangerously close to powerviolence. A very aptly-titled debut full-length, Chaos Is Me is chock full of just that. It's hard to put it layman's terms how chaotic and violent this album is, always writhing and flailing with rage. Just take "The Action Index" for example. The beginning seconds are a blast of frenetic noise, which is immediately killed when a singular, tense bassline comes through, only lasting about fifteen seconds before a guitar accompanies it. Then the pace builds rapidly until it reaches "Death Of A Modernist", when the pace matches the beginning seconds of the previous song. It's this vehement songwriting that made Orchid a massively influential band in screamo, and what makes Chaos Is Me an absolutely essential listen for all fans of the genre, and fans of heavily passionate and angry music in general.
Orchid Gatefold
Orchid, who are screamo royalty, and as such rule face, went through a lovely and pronounced evolution over their three full-lengths and numerous splits and demos in between. What was once a band operating on pure aggressiveness and raw emotion turned into a band as subtle and as carefully crafted as any band the genre has ever seen. Their final record, known to many as Gatefold and to others as the self-titled, is made up of the most nuanced music the band ever put to wax. You still have the fiendish anger of records past, but the revamped songwriting that made Dance Tonight! a screamo classic is only more pronounced here. Put simply, you're not going to hear songs like "We Love Prison" or "Tigers" on any other Orchid record. While it's certainly their least out-and-out explosive record, Orchid are at a songwriting peak here, and it would simply be a sin to miss out on that if you're a fan of the band or screamo as a whole.
Orchid Totality
In compiling all of their non-LP material, mostly stuff from splits, you can hear how much they've progressed throughout the years. Totality is broken up pretty cleanly into sections that are distinct from each other, but connect with each other as well, giving the compilation an excellent flow. For instance, the first four songs are all clearly from around the time they made Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow!: bassy intros leading into massive bursts of screamo energy. The next set are from the Chaos Is Me period, and so on and so forth. Point is, even if you didn't know this material from the splits, you can clearly tell when it was made in the band's career. Not to mention that pretty much all this material is fantastic, whether it be the late-90's hardcore they played or the short, spastic explosions of chaotic screamo. It's actually quite impressive that even the most obscure material from Orchid is this good, because it lends credence to the notion that Orchid, pound-for-pound, may have been the greatest screamo band of all time.
Paramore Riot!
Paramore Brand New Eyes
Pixies Doolittle
Pixies are a band that I had a hard time getting into at first. Surfer Rosa had some of the greatest material ever written in alternative rock, but felt a bit jumbled and messy to me. After getting used to them, I realized how much genius really went in to the Pixies music. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in their magnum opus Doolittle. They turn in their most coherent work here, but also their funnest and most memorable. Songs like "Here Comes Your Man", "Monkey Gone To Heaven", and "No. 13 Baby" are catchy and brilliantly written. Even the shorter songs, which for me were Surfer Rosa's weakness, are much improved this time around with songs like "Mr. Grieves", "There Goes My Gun", and "Crackity Jones". Altogether, Doolittle is a cornerstone of alternative rock that every fan of the genre must have.
Preoccupations Viet Cong
Formed from the ashes of experimental post-punk band Women, Viet Cong's self-titled album was one of the most anticipated records of 2015, and it was released in January. Does it meet expectations? I would say so. Granted, it is not Public Strain, but it is still a great listen and it is easy to tell the two bands apart. That is not say that there is no experimentation one here, quite the contrary in fact. The strange noises the guitars make while the bassline swirls inside of them is a highlight of "Pointless Experience". The odd, staticky buildup in "March Of Progress" gives way to oriental instruments and a thumping drum beat. It's a droney record, but it still manages to be very catchy, as opener "Newspaper Spoons" and "Continental Shelf" prove. The highlight of the record, though, is massive closer "Death", a fantastic amalgam of all that is great about the record. All in all, a superb listen, as if anyone expected anything different.
Pretend Tapestry'd Life
I never would have guessed that one of the best albums from this year would be a post-rock one considering the staleness of the genre as it stands today. Still, Tapestry'd Life isn't exactly a typical post-rock album, is it? Rather than focus on build-ups and crescendos, Pretend is unpredictable, sometimes exploding in a fury, and other times being as subdued and quiet as they come. There is a distinct emphasis on vocals and drumming here that you don't often get with other post-rock records, and the bass is audible and incredibly fun to hear. The crown jewel of the record are the guitars, which are as mathy and complex, neither of them functioning as a rhythm guitar, but both working with each other with the utmost precision and beauty. Just take the opening minutes to "Paternless Tide" for instance. The album is so easy to get lost into, what with the dreamy guitar work and the incredibly jazzy drumming, and the lovely vocals that permeate the songs. It's definitely an album that requires many patient listens, but the payoff for such patience is amazing. At least for me, this is the post-rock album of the year.
Primordial To the Nameless Dead
The word "epic", at least when used to describe music, is often said with a derisive, sarcastic tone. True, the meaning of the word has been downtrodden and oversaturated, but in the case of Primordial, I don't know if any word fits better. There's an old saying that still rings true today: "Only the dead see the end of war." It's with this bleak, solemn outlook that Primordial injects their record with, not only thematically and lyrically, but also in the tortured, powerful sound they've established. The riffs are swift and all-encompassing, and the tom-heavy drums accentuate a dark, monumental atmosphere very well. Nemtheanga is once again absolutely phenomenal vocally, sounding as if all of the dead of which he speaks are speaking in unison with him. It manages to be completely serious without ever going overboard or having even one morsel of cheese, an impressive feat considering the base sound is black metal-influenced folk metal. To The Nameless Dead is a wondrously captivating record, being both hopeless and fearless at the same time.
Protest the Hero Kezia
When I first heard this album, I thought it to be the work of geniuses that would be remembered for decades afterward. Though I don't necessarily same opinions two years later, I will say that a great amount of credit should be given to the then-18-year-olds from Protest The Hero for making this album. Guitar wankery and Rody Walkers' puberty vocals be damned, this album is a socially conscious shredfest that tells a gripping story from four different perspectives, and poses some pretty interesting questions that might cause cognitive dissonance in some listeners. But, the story and message would be diluted were it not for the music in front of it, and the band has that covered in spades. The guitars sometimes get a bit lost within their technical ability, but overall they do a great job of keeping things interesting, especially during the many tempo changes. The drums are ambitiously fun, but can become ferocious when needed, like on the one-two punch of "Turn Soonest To The Sea" and "The Divine Suicide Of K." The bass is audible in some parts, and it's great when it is. Walkers' vocals are raw, but he does well, even though he often goes from cringe-worthy to angelic in seconds. Overall, it is clear a lot of time, passion, thought, and skill went into the creation of this record, and while transcendal it isn't, it's still an awesome listen.
Radiohead The Bends
Raw Poetic and K-Def Cool Convos In Quantum Speech
I adore records that can make me feel nostalgic even though I hadn't heard them before then. Two albums this year have done that for me: Tenement's Predatory Headlights, and this album. Raw Poetic, the emcee of overlooked and underrated hip-hop duo Panacea, teams up with an esteemed producer in K-Def and makes some great things happen. In general, the production is minimal and jazzy, and holds a soulful charm. The rapping here is as smooth as can be, and the flows are excellent. The lyrics are generally just observations and musings about daily life and the questions they pose, but Raw Poetic goes about it very chilled and confidently. Add some surprisingly catchy hooks into the formula, and you've got thirty-six minutes of easy-listening and enjoyable hip-hop with tons of replay value. There isn't a bad track to be found on here either. I personally enjoy "Easy Way Out" and "No Difference" the most, but the quality remains pretty much the same throughout the entire record. If you're familiar with Panacea, or just love hip-hop with great vibes, give this record a listen.
Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Richmond Fontaine You Can't Go Back if There's Nothing to Go Back To
I'm certainly not the biggest country fan on the planet, but there are certain things about well done country records that you will rarely find elsewhere. Richmond Fontaine is a band well-versed in great country albums, and this, their swan song, is another in a great line. It pulls off this sad, drunken working man aesthetic perfectly, and it fits whether their talking about life in the rural plains or life in the bustling city. The music itself is tearjerkingly beautiful, with sparse acoustic guitars and drumming forming the perfect backdrop for vocalist Willy Vlautin to use his half-sung, half-spoken delivery. It's almost as if, rather than singing a folk tale, he's narrating real events that are most certainly brought to life by the lyrics. It's quite the somber album, too, with lovely pianos and heartbreaking stories around every corner. It's an appropriate and phenomenal end to one of the best bands in alt-country.
Rush Moving Pictures
Of all of the albums they've released in their vaunted careers, there's really only four albums you choose from when someone asks what your favorite Rush album is. Obviously you know which four I'm talking about, and for my part the answer would have to be Moving Pictures. There's plenty of reasons why, pretty much all of which have been covered in one way or another on this and many other music-reviewing websites, so I won't bother reiterating them here. This album contains my very first driving song, which was funny because my driving instructor didn't even like Rush. He said Geddy Lee annoyed him so much he couldn't appreciate the musicianship, which is totally understandable. Yet, the first song that came on the radio when he turned it on was "Tom Sawyer", and he appreciated the coincidental humor enough to let it play. I did very well that day.
Rush A Farewell to Kings
I think the title of this record is a bit ironic looking back on history. That's because this album cemented Rush as the kings they were, the kings of progressive rock. This album is everything great about Rush in a thirty-seven minute package: great riffs, inventive drumming, audible and wonderfully skilled bass work, enjoyable vocals, interesting song structures, and so much fun to be had. Pretty much every track is wonderful, the best of these being the immortal "Xanadu", and although "Madrigal" isn't exactly up to snuff with the rest of the tracks, it's still a pleasant listen. Alas, so much has been said about this record by others that it's redundant to state anything more after this: this record rules, and Rush rules. Just listen to it.
Rush Permanent Waves
It was here that a distinct shift in sound occurred for everyone's favorite prog trio. While certainly staying within the ballpark of progressive rock, things took a hookier, more poppy route, reminiscent of their early days as hard rock up-and-comers. This is evident early on, as "Freewill" has one of the catchiest choruses they ever penned, but still contains plenty of prog trickery courtesy of the godly rhythm tandem of Peart & Lee. When things do become more clearly proggy, like on closer "Natural Science", it's clear they're still at a very high level in the songwriting department, going toe-to-toe with albums like A Farewell To Kings. Permanent Waves was the first of several albums for Rush in this so-called "pseudo-prog" style, and it laid an excellent blueprint for the eventual perfection of the style on Moving Pictures. In essence, it's Rush still very much in their prime, and thus, no fan of progressive rock should miss it.
Rush Hemispheres
In what is recognized as the extent of Rush's progressive nature, Hemispheres is quite the prog-rock epic. Whether it be the two bookending beasts in "Cygnus X-1 Book II" and the quite self-aware and jokingly-named "La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise In Self-Indulgence)" (a song which they evidently spent more time recording than they did the entirety of Fly By Night), or the more conventional numbers in "Circumstances" and "The Trees", you simply can't go wrong. Apparently, the intense stress of writing and recording this album is what led the band to take a considerably more accessible approach in later albums. As such, this is Rush more stretched out and more markedly detailed than any other incarnation of the Canadian trio, which makes Hemispheres an unmissable record for any fan of rock.
ScHoolboy Q Blank Face LP
WHen it comes to tHe Black Hippy collective, it's easy to tHink tHat Kendrick Lamar is Head and sHoulders above tHe rest of tHe group. THere's always been potential in tHe otHer members, but none of tHem Have realized it yet. Until, of course, ScHoolboy Q released tHis record. He's always been a pretty versatile rapper, Having tHe ability to sHift into wHatever style of Hip-Hop He pleases seamlessly. THe only issue was tHat he didn't do any of tHose styles particularly excellently. Again, until He released tHis record. Blank Face is one of tHe most well-rounded Hip-Hop albums of tHe year so far, witH a dominant west coast feel tHat gravitates between gangsta rap, trap, and even some pop rap witH R&B Hooks. WitH the cHarisma that Q operates witH on tHe mic, He's able to paint some pretty good pictures despite His lyrics often being blunt. THe features Here really tear it up as well, as Heard on "Ride Out" witH Vince Staples and "Dope Dealer" witH E-40. And last but not least is tHe pHenomenal production, wHich very fluidly adapts to wHatever style Q's going witH and providing top notch beatwork regardless of style. Truly, tHen, Blank Face is ScHoolboy Q's first record tHat one Has no qualms calling "excellent".
Self Defense Family Heaven Is Earth
When it was released as a seven inch earlier this year, "Talia" wrote a pretty big check for Self Defense Family's then-upcoming LP, Heaven Is Earth. I believe it's safe to say the check has been cashed, because it's quite a great record. From the one-two punch of post-punk that is "In My Defens Self Me Defend" and "Talia" to the subtle punk of "Ditko" and the title-track, to one of the tracks of the year in the sentimental "Basic Skills", the album is filled to the brim with wonderful moments. The trademark "gruff old man" vocals of Patrick Kindlon are still very much intact, the instruments are all soulfully played to a high degree, and the album is easily replayable at only thirty-one minutes. What stands out as a surprisingly subtle yet still beautifully emotional record, Heaven Is Earth is well on its way to being one of the most respected albums in the family's discography, and rightfully so.
Shape of Despair Monotony Fields
A comeback of monolithic proportions, Monotony Fields is exactly what you want from a funeral doom metal record: bleak guitars, thundering drums, pained vocals, and some great piano work with female vocals to boot. Though the album doesn't stray very far from the blueprint set by opener "Reaching The Innermost", every track here has something to appreciate, like the beautiful endings to "Descending Inner Night" and "Withdrawn", both utilizing evocative and airy vocals to create excellent dramatic effect. All of the tracks here are slow burners (the average track length according to the review is about nine minutes), but even with the albums immense length, this record is engaging enough not to bore the listener halfway through. A serious contender not only for the album of the year in metal, but also the comeback record of the year.
Simon and Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water
I'll always remember how the tandem of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were able to do amazing things in the world of basketball despite not being on good terms. Similar is the story of Simon & Garfunkel, because they were able to release absolutely seminal folk albums without enjoying each other's company. Arguably their magnum opus, Bridge Over Troubled Water is a full realization of the eclectic stylings of records such as Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, And Thyme, taking in a variety of influences from folk pop, Andean blues, piano-driven folk ballads, blues rock, and even bossa nova. There are a bevy of classic tracks to be found here, not least of which are the heartfelt title-track and a masterpiece in "The Boxer". Horns and strings permeate the first half of the album, adding even more personality to the tracks. The second half is much more conventional, but the songwriting chops are still ever-present. It's a phenomenal swansong for one of the greatest duos folk ever saw.
Simon and Garfunkel Sounds of Silence
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were a once-in-a-lifetime tandem, and together they put on wax some of the best albums in folk music. What is often seen as the beginning of their run of classics, Sounds Of Silence truly is a wonderful album. It may only be twenty-eight minutes long, but it evokes a lot of emotion and is pretty varied nonetheless. Just take the catchiness of songs like "Leaves That Are Green" and "I Am A Rock", the sparse beauty of tracks like "April Come She Will" and "Anji", the somber loveliness of classics like the title-track and "Kathy's Song", and the immense story telling genius in songs like "Richard Cory" and "A Most Peculiar Man". All of this and more is what makes Sounds Of Silence an album that should not and cannot be missed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of folk.
Social Distortion Social Distortion
Son Lux Bones
Somehow, trip-hop producer Ryan Lott, better known as Son Lux, was able to turn shimmering rays of light into sounds. That's really what I can gather from this record, it sounds like it's alive with beams of light. From the stellar and beautiful trip-hop production on the tracks, that all seem to have some sort of weird noise as the crux of their beat, to the pianos and strings that are always put to great use on Lott's records, we have a lot going on here. It's not overbearing, though, as the album paces itself pretty nicely by having some great stuff in the beginning ("Flight", "You Don't Know Me") and some absolutely masterful tracks at the end ("Undone", "Now I Want"). It all manages to be pretty catchy as well, as single "Change Is Everything" will so eloquently point out after the intro track. For me, this is probably Lott's best work yet, and I'm very interested in what he can do to push the envelope after this.
Soundtrack (Film) O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Suffocation Pierced from Within
Were it not for a couple of unnecessary re-hashes of songs, Pierced From Within might have been Suffocation's finest hour. The original material found on this LP contain some of brutal death and technical death metal's greatest moments, with each song being a carefully crafted, hateful explosion of downright nefarious riffs, spidery bass, obliterating slams, dastardly vocals, and one of the better drum performances in metal as a whole. The songwriting is on par with Breeding The Spawn, meaning that it's insatiably fun to listen to, and the production job is only a shade below Effigy Of The Forgotten, retaining some of the vileness while also adding a dash of clarity. It feels like being dragged through a volcanic wasteland by some abhorrent beast while lighting and thunder endlessly strike and boom on the bleak red horizon. Is it better than its predecessors? Again, without the remakes of previously released songs that unfortunately don't add anything to them, it would've not only been better than both of their previous LP's, but better than nearly all of the metal in this style.
Sunny Day Real Estate Diary
As far as Midwest Emo goes, this was the album that started it all. Everything is here: the twinkly guitars, strained vocals, melancholy lyrics, and a sense of youthfulness growing up into something more. It also has one of the greatest trio of songs to ever start an album in "Seven", "In Circles", and "Song About An Angel". As such, it has been discussed and lauded by fans of emo and post-hardcore everywhere, and ultimately launched a recognizable and beautiful style of emo music. I believe Dylan Matthesien of Tiny Moving Parts describes it better than I ever could: "I did not know what steps to take after graduating high school. I never knew much of anything. The Midwest has blessed me with great friends and unforgettable relationships, and still hits my head each and every day."
System of a Down Toxicity
Aside from the nostalgic Linkin Park and the atmospheric Deftones, I've never really been a fan of nu-metal. That is, if I discount System Of A Down. Their style of nu-metal is my favorite of them, mainly because the band plays it with such a schizophrenic and punky attitude that caries the spirit of Los Angeles hardcore with the aesthetic of a delusion-suffering wearer of tinfoil hats. Just take the rebellious "Prison Song" for an example. Serj's frenzied yells, complete with a thick bassline, strange guitars, and a staunch message, set the tone perfectly. Essentials like "Chop Suey!" and the title-track are more of the same greatness, but the band can slow things down, like on "ATWA", and "Aerials", and make their sound more subdued, yet still forceful and excellent all the same. Altogether, Toxicity isn't an album to be missed by those who love fun, energetic, and sometimes just insane music.
Talking Heads Remain in Light
I've never been the biggest fan of Talking Heads, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't respect them. Remain In Light is the Heads' most treasured album, and for good reason, as it's head and shoulders above pretty much everything else they've ever done. The experimentation is wonderful, with sounds coming in from new wave, funk, post-punk, and even afrobeat. Opener "Born Into Punches (The Heat Goes On)" is an absolute triumph, with funky bass, danceable rhythms, and catchy hooks. David Byrne is at his best, but probably also at his most subdued, which effectively eliminates certain qualities about him that I found sort of obnoxious. Though the rest of the album doesn't quite reach those heights, it's still a great listen. It's compositionally tight, it's experimental, it's personal, it's engaging, it's funky, it's Remain In Light, which, for Talking Heads, is unequivocally their best work.
Tempel The Moon Lit Our Path
I love albums that can tell a story without using many, if any, words. I also love albums that sound like their covers. Tempel's sophomore effort is both of those things. The album tells a tale of a perilous journey with only hope and determination leading the way. At least, that's what I've gotten from it. That's part of what's so fascinating about this album and those like it: the music has no centralized, inherent meaning, and thus can be put to anyone's context if they so choose. Your imagination does a lot of the work here. In terms of sound, it's a tale of two halves. The first two songs and the first half of the third are in a more progressive metal style of post-metal, whereas the second half of the third song and the last two have much more of a folky black metal feel to them. The latter style is wrought with uplifting riffs and solos, while the former relies on aggression to make it work. In all, this is a pretty dynamic record, full of emotions and wonderful sounds just begging for someone's, anyone's, context.
Tenement The Blind Wink
I watched all of those others pass me by. Pretty faces and shallow minds. A frozen lock, a broken key, for reassurance I'd do anything. You're the most intriguing thing I've seen; so many colors and shapes in your eyes have long since left you be. But your kaleidoscope is pointed straight at me. Will this ever end? I need you here again. The shelter from the storm is the cage that keeps you in.
Tenement Predatory Headlights
Tenement are not a pop-punk band. They're so much more, as a matter of fact. This notion is reinforced in spades on this, their second full length LP. It's an interesting affair, to say the least. It opens with a strange piano piece, but quickly transitions into six straight punk jams, "Feral Cat Tribe" being the highlight from this. It then throws a curveball with "Ants + Flies", a somber, yet hauntingly beautiful piano-driven track. The next three songs are all perfection, what with the incredible catchiness of "The Butcher" and the anthemic "Whispering Kids" being a part of the trio. Elsewhere on the album, we find more of these great songs, but some songs like "A Frightening Place For Normal People" come totally out of left field, and really surprise. Alas, an album with 23 songs on it has too much material for one soundoff, so really all that's left to say is: this album rules, so jam it as soon as possible.
The Black Crowes Shake Your Money Maker
The Black Crowes The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
People often point to The Black Crowes' debut as their best record, but this is truly the definitive Black Crowes album. It's everything Shake Your Money Maker is and more, with small upgrades made in several places that take their southern blues rock sound to new heights. Female vocals sing beautiful harmonies, harmonicas and keyboards play wonderful lines, and pianos add soul to the whole concoction. The album ends with four straight classics in the gritty combo of "Black Moon Creeping" and "No Speak No Slave", which segue into the wondrous romp that is "My Morning Song", ending with the beautifully made cover of Bob Marley's "Time Will Tell". Sure, it's still the Robinson brothers' show, but this time around the music is not nearly as dependent on those two as before. That being said, they too arguably turn in their best performances here, making this record a collection of the best that The Black Crowes have to offer, and a cornerstone of 90's hard rock.
The Black Keys Rubber Factory
The Body No One Deserves Happiness
I believe that, among other things, No One Deserves Happiness is The Body's study of irony. Ironic how something as thick, bleak, and uncompromising as sludge/drone metal can yield moments of beauty and even catchiness. Ironic how a couple of nihilists are helping to ensure that their accomplishments won't die. Ironic how an album with the title it has actually makes me, and I'm sure a lot of other sludge fans out there, happy. Why so? Because, as usual, The Body's malleable and deconstructionist take on doom, drone, and sludge metal really packs a punch, as well having the perfect little subtleties that add so much personality and texture to their music. Take for instance the choir of beautiful vocals in "Prescience", or the jarring power electronics of "For You", or the tasteful use of 808's on "Two Snakes". It's moments like those that make No One Deserves Happiness such a captivating, interesting, and thoroughly entertaining experience. Oh, and Chip King's vocals still rule, in case anyone was wondering.
The Crinn Shadow Breather
A mathcore/grind group from the twin cities, The Crinn has been making music since 2004, and take heavy influence from bands like SikTh and The Dillinger Escape Plan. Though they've been active for a decade plus, the band didn't really grab much attention until 2010's Dreaming Saturn. This album, the follow up, is decidedly better and more entertaining than its predecessor. The sound of this album is very reminiscent of early Dillinger, and while it's not exactly as good, it still packs a mean punch, as ferocious opener "Wanderman" will show you. What follows is a consistent, well thought out beast of a mathcore album with a couple of instances of melody and experimentation. The crown jewel of the record is "Deaf Effort", the penultimate track, which makes use of the best riffing on the album and a bassy build-up to craft an incredible song. Still waiting for new Dillinger? This should tide you over and then some.
The Cure Pornography
For as melancholy and brooding as records like Faith and Seventeen Seconds are, they don't come very close to Pornography in terms of bleak, hopeless compositions and lyrics. And yet, things are still catchy, though it'd be a stretch to call this pop. Utilizing what is a collection of the saddest and most drab melodies and atmospheric, cold production, The Cure used everything in their arsenal to conjure a depressed, borderline nihilistic feel. And that is exactly what happens here. From Robert Smith's tortured vocals and poetically dejecting lyrics, to the steady drumming hand of Lol Tolhurst, to the dispiriting and sometimes even unnerving bass guitar lines and synths from Simon Gallop, Pornography is a full realization of a dark sound, one that while depressing is also beautiful and endearing. In all, The Cure put to wax their first masterwork here, and any fan of gothic rock should immediately give it a spin.
The Dillinger Escape Plan Ire Works
The Dillinger Escape Plan Option Paralysis
Whereas TDEP peaked in intensity on their sonically insane debut Calculating Infinity, they have peaked in creativity on their fourth full-length album, Option Paralysis. Whereas the former of those two can be described as chaos, the latter can more accurately be described as organized chaos. For while their debut was certainly innovative, that innovation took a backseat to the sheer intensity of the record. Here, the intensity is still very much alive, but the spotlight is on the innovation this time around. And with such songs as "Farewell, Mona Lisa", "Gold Teeth On A Bum", and "Widower", it's very easy to see why. This album often feels like a more realized version of Miss Machine, which can only be a good thing in this case. With this release, The Dillinger Escape Plan has certainly cemented themselves as one of the most unique, creative, and interesting bands in the world today.
The Dillinger Escape Plan One of Us Is the Killer
An underrated beast in Dillinger's discography, One Of Us Is The Killer features the band at their most frenzied since Calculating Infinity, but also at their most subdued since Ire Works. Opening with "Prancer", the record gets off to a fierce start, a staple of Dillinger albums. The technical, blisteringly played songs are as good as they've been, but the album does very well in the experimental department to boot. Songs like "Hero Of The Soviet" with its weird backing vocals, and "The Threat Posed By Nuclear Weapons" with its immediate quiet-loud bursts show that the band still has a great edge to them. They just refuse to phone it in, which is all I hoped for this album and all I can hope for with the next.
The Dillinger Escape Plan Dissociation
It had to happen at some point, but I just didn't think it'd happen this soon. No matter what happens to them from here on out, The Dillinger Escape Plan will be remembered as a group that pushed the envelope. Disassociation cements that statement firmly as the band leaves on a massive, triumphantly powerful note that is unequivocally the best thing in their discography since Ire Works. All of the things the band is known for are here: the jazzy, relentless guitar work, the dizzying drumming, the experimentation with electronics and slow-burners, the ferocious vocals, and the intense passion that blazes through entire records. Yet, there's something about this one, with its songwriting near the best of their careers and Greg Puciato's best vocal performances to date, that makes hearing Disassociation feel special. If I had to guess, I'd say it's because what we're hearing is the end of one of metal's most intense and ambitious bands going out on top, with all 2,000 volts of their electric chair execution surging through it unabated. It's kind of hard to describe really, but one thing is for sure: the boys will be missed.
The Faceless Planetary Duality
The Hotelier Home, Like NoPlace Is There
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Are You Experienced
The Prodigy Experience
The Sisters of Mercy First and Last and Always
The Strokes Is This It
The War on Drugs Lost in the Dream
My vote made this go from a 4 to a 4.1. Thank me later, Adam Granduciel.
The Weeknd House of Balloons
I think it's pretty ironic that while this tape was in constant rotation at parties all throughout 2011, it's actually an indictment of that lifestyle. And by lifestyle, I mean this one: "They say my brain meltin', and the only thing I'll tell 'em is I'm living for the present and the future don't exist. So baby take your clothes off..." The production is ethereal and expansive, and fits the drugged-out, ambivalent aesthetic perfectly. Abel is, of course, excellent here, with his airy voice wafting over the reverb and synths. It can get a slight but samey, but each individual song presents its own idea musically while staying the course topically. The lyrics are pretty subtle in that while they seem to be all about nameless women and undisclosed substances they're more of a cry for help, a way of expressing loneliness even when in a crowded room. It's the apathetic, almost completely transactional way of viewing these things that gives The Weeknd the ability to speak to those disillusioned by the scene. Thus, House Of Balloons is musically, aesthetically, and conceptually an excellent mission statement by The Weeknd.
The Weeknd Echoes of Silence
For all intents and purposes, this is The Weeknd's magnum opus so far. Abel Tesfaye puts together his best vocal performances here (the cover of Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana" is unbelievably good), and the production, mostly handled by Illangelo, has never been so masterfully consistent (the production on "Initiation" is some of the darkest I've ever heard in R&B). The concepts explored on the first two mixtapes of this trilogy are still here, but they've never been handled in such a tactful way as on this tape. The references to women are still very plentiful, but whether or not Tesfaye is actually singing about women is up for debate. The representations are many; these "women" could be drugs ("D.D."), the music industry ("Next"), or even Tesfaye himself (the title-track). None of these concepts are particularly original, even for this project, but the execution is top-notch. In this way, Echoes Of Silence is an end befitting for this excellent trilogy of tapes that have helped make The Weeknd one of the most recognizable and loved R&B/pop acts of the decade.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra This Is Our Punk-Rock, Thee Rusted Satellites Gather and Sing
It's a testament to how eclectic Thee Silver Mt. Zion is that they decided to implement a new style on this record that neither they or their sister band GY!BE had previously explored: a choir. How much of a difference does that really make, though? As it turns out, it's an excellent and freshening addition to an already great band. This is shown in full on "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom", the opener, and easily one of their best songs. The use of these choir-backed harmonies, emotionally potent vocals from Efrim Muneck, and the classic somber-string/beautiful ambience combination that characterizes the band, permeates the record and makes a gripping experience. Since moving out of the shadow of Godspeed with the post-Rock essential Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward, they've made sure they stay out of it with this one, even if it is a slight step down from their previous effort.
Thomas Newman Finding Nemo
Thou/The Body You, Whom I Have Always Hated
Though it is only twenty-seven minutes long, this split full-length from Thou and The Body is chock-full of great moments. From the monstrous opener "Her Strongholds Unvanquishable", which features vocals reminiscent of a banshee, to the short but powerful "The Devils Of Trust Steal The Souls Of The Free", and even on to the eerie ambient track "He Returns To The Place Of His Iniquity", the album is ridden with pummeling drums and sloth-like riffs. The closer, "Lurking Fear", is truly something to behold, taking a punishing start and a subdued middle (complete with clean vocals) and smashing them together in the end, creating an unnerving yet strangely beautiful concoction. My only gripe with this album is that it could be a bit longer, but as stated before, there is still enough on this record to keep the listener satisfied. All in all, a superb release from two of the leaders in modern sludge metal.
Tiny Moving Parts Pleasant Living
One of the best emo/math rock combinations ever put to wax. How has no one 5'd this yet?

EDIT: Well, after repeated listens this has grown off a little bit, but it's still AOTY for me.
Tiny Moving Parts Celebrate
Tiny Moving Parts always seems to be there. I heard Pleasant Living, which is probably my favorite album from the Midwestern emo revival, at a pretty transitional period in my life. And while the last month has been turbulent, once again the band pop up right when I need them. It seems they've grown up as well. The songwriting is much more geared to a combination of equal parts standard emo, twinkly math rock, and emotive post-hardcore, and consist of some of the best songs the band has ever written. The stark improvement comes in the lyrics, which have become much more subtle and relatable (the latter of which seemed impossible), and almost every song here has a lyric that sticks in my head. The vocals have also improved tenfold, with the perfect combination of melody and passion that they are one of the driving forces behind the music. That's probably the best part of this album: all of the instruments, vocals, and lyrics are a driving force on their own, but make each other better when with each other. All I know is, if Tiny Moving Parts weren't seen as one of the best emo revival bands before Celebrate, they certainly will be now.
Touche Amore Stage Four
It may not be the most original thing musically but goddamn do those lyrics hit home. That alone raised this .5. The melodies here are quite easily the most beautiful melodies the band has written, surpassing even "Face Ghost" and "The Great Repetition". The unbridled energy that made their debut demo and full-length isn't present all that much here, but the embracing of melody and an emphasis on poetic lyricism has never been better. As such, the band have finally and fully made their transition, and it results it what just may be the band's best work. Perhaps this is best exemplified on closer "Skyscraper" in which Julien Baker makes a lovely appearance, when the songs explosive and memorable chorus acts as a culmination of everything the album is about both musically and lyrically. If you liked the direction Touche Amore has been going, or just want to hear some heartfelt and emotional post-hardcore, you can't go wrong with Stage Four.
Trophy Scars Bad Luck
Trophy Scars Never Born, Never Dead
At this point, if you haven't at least checked out a Trophy Scars record, you're doing something wrong. I'm not going to sit here and try to explain the appeal of the band, but in context, it's easy to explain the appeal of this EP. What I mean by that is, if you've heard the counterpart to this EP, 2010's Darkness, Oh Hell, it's obvious enough why you should listen to this record, which is a very evocative and effective sequel. Though it's not quite as good as its predecessor, it's got some great material on it, especially the wondrously engaging love song "Never Dead". The use of samples is very fitting and gives everything a timeless feel to it. All this being said, it works well standing alone, but within the context of its predecessor, it's just that much better, everything connecting very well throughout its runtime. It's probably their most bluesy album, and the use of strings has diminished a bit, but the horns are better this time around as well. In essence, this is just another great outing from one of the leading bands one experimental rock.
Trophy Scars Holy Vacants
Ukandanz Awo
Sometimes it's a bit harder for me to truly grasp the full meaning of translated lyrics from bands foreign to my native tongue. Some of it gets lost in translation. But, when the music is thoughtful and focused, and the vocalist says what they have to say in a passionate, heartfelt way, that doesn't matter that much. I think I end up making my own lyrics sometimes if that's the case. It's most certainly the case with Awo, an album that perfectly juxtaposes Ethiopian jazz with jamming post-punk. The use of saxophones and trumpets throughout the album take the already catchy and fun post-punk instrumentals to new heights, but what really sets this record high on the bar are the wonderful vocals. They're sung with so much soul, so much passion, that's it's impossible to ignore. Even though you may not understand what he's saying, you can tell he means it. The high, forceful vocals mix amazingly with the thick bass and smooth sax, and the complex and interesting drums are ever-present, providing the backbone of the record. In all, Awo, with its fun, impassioned, catchy ethio-jazz/post-punk combination, is quite an accomplishment for Ukandanz.
Ulcerate Shrines of Paralysis
It's kind of embarrassing to admit, but before Shrines Of Paralysis, I had never heard an Ulcerate album in full before. Seems like the kind of thing someone who very much enjoys this style of tech-death should've done ages ago, but what can you do? Anyways, this record sounds absolutely marvelous. It's got a full, but not overbearing production job and the songwriting is top-tier, tastefully mixing dizzying and speedy technicality with atmospheric and slow-burning moments. The vocals are an absolute force, doling out punishment almost as heavy as the riffs. What makes the album truly engrossing is its magnificent sense of pacing and atmosphere. It's an atmosphere hard to put into words, but here goes: basically, the album sounds like a war between amorphous creatures made of blood, ebbing and flowing, almost dancing as they battle, inside a never-ending maelstrom of fire and lightning. Or something like that, I don't know. More or less, though, Shrines Of Paralysis is definitely one of the best metal albums of the year, and may be the best tech-death in a year which has a stable of wonderful albums in the subgenre.
Warm Brew Ghetto Beach Boyz
West coast hip-hop outfit Warm Brew may have released this record in January, but make no mistake: this is a summer album to the nth degree. Backed by some fantastically swirling and upbeat production, Ray Wright, Manu Li, and Serk Spliff spit stories of the good times they share in California, and prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that they deserve their new spot on Dom Kennedy's label, OPM. With a bevy of soulful anthemic hooks and that endless summer vibe, this record has a very high replay value, especially with songs like "Hold On To Her", "Whispers", "W$ Phonk", and "Live From Wimbley" on the tracklist. Ultimately, this is one of the most overlooked records from this year, criminally so. Warm Brew is definitely worth your time if you want some nice west coast hip-hop, or even if you just want an album to jam perpetually in the summer.
Winter Into Darkness
Wire Pink Flag
Wolves in the Throne Room Black Cascade
Diminishing their use of ambient, folky acoustic passages and female vocals and replacing them with a shoegaze influence and rawer, more furious playing, Black Cascade might just be the best record WITTR has released so far. Impassioned riffs are the bread and butter of the album ("The Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog"), but the notion that Nathan Weaver turns in his best vocal performance so far and his brother Aaron Weaver is an unstoppable, ferocious beast on the drums throughout the record make it so much more. Sure, this is the most bare-bones release the band had made in their discography so far, but therein lies its charm: it's relentless, windy, and altogether beautiful melodic black metal, even while being so simple and stripped-down from past releases. The album also does a nice job of keeping within the environmental and earth-centric lyrics and aesthetic that the band employs so well, which helps make this a fantastic release for the American trio.
Zealotry The Last Witness
Albums from Chthe'ilist and Howls Of Ebb have already taken the death metal world by storm this year through their untraditional, uncompromising, and unique takes on the genre. Zealotry's The Last Witness will be next to join them. Coming from a place more ostensibly alien, Zealotry's style conjures images of extraterrestrial beings and planets unlivable by humans. It's production backs this up very well, with the guitars sounding angular and strange, with an atmosphere that feels tense and otherworldly. The vocal performance is pretty good, and the lyrics are surprisingly one of the coolest things about the album, describing the complete and total eradication of Earth and its people through the will of a nefarious "Overmind". Nothing new, sure, but it's done expertly. And though the album is not as varied or quite as satisfying as the aforementioned bands' records, it's still very much in the same echelon, as exemplified by moments like the ending of "Mutagenesis" and the entirety of tracks "Progeny Omega" and closer "Silence". In all, it's an album that accomplished the goal of pushing death metal's boundaries even further, which is an impressive feat in and of itself.

4.0 excellent
21 Savage Savage Mode
Dark, minimal, almost zombified trap from the mecca. I don't know what it is about Atlanta and why it continues to birth some of the most prominent faces in trap, but I'm certainly not complaining. The beats Metro provides on Savage Mode are some of the darkest he's made, but also some of the most imposing and threatening as "No Heart" and "Mad High" will show you, providing the perfect backdrop for 21 Savage. The guy sounds so barred out and disillusioned that the impression he gives, one of a man so tired of and used to the dangerous and paranoid life he leads that he's grown emotionless and cold, comes across very smoothly and most importantly believable. It's really great to hear a rapper-producer collaboration like this that features both performers at a high level and both performers complementing themselves in ways that just wouldn't be there if one were to be replaced.
A Day to Remember For Those Who Have Heart
A Tribe Called Quest People's Instinctive Travels & The Paths of Rhythm
Abstracter Wound Empire
With a venomous combination of smoky sludge metal and blackened crust punk, the sophomore LP from Abstracter is yet another excellent addition to this years slate of slower, punishing metal music. Utilizing a formula of crafting sludgy build-ups around single, memorable guitar riffs and then exploding forth in a fury of punky energy, the way the band goes about this album is excellent in and of itself. Each song is incredibly solid, and while there isn't a truly standout moment on this record, the quality of the compositions stays at a high level throughout. The vocals have a black metal feel to them and are very well done even while remaining unchanged, except for the droning chorus vocals in "Glowing Wounds". In short, a really good concoction of sludgy crust here with a lot of replay value.
Abyssal Antikatastaseis
Hailing from the UK, the multi-instrumentalist known only as G.D.C. has been working at his atmospheric blackened death metal craft for four years now in the one man project called Abyssal, but several notable improvements have been made on this, his third LP. His use of melody in these tracks is impressive, with the eerie, ominous riff that dominates "Chrysalis" and the strangely uplifting end to "The Cornucopian". He also hired a studio drummer, Timo Hakkinen, to replace the drum machine implemented on his previous works, which turns out to a worthwhile investment, as the drumming seems much more natural and fluid this time around. Experimentation is also at work here, most notably on the track "Veil Of Transcendence", which features a music box-like piano which establishes itself just enough before being swallowed by massive riffs and low, unsettling vocals, but manages to survive the whole ordeal by the end. In short, this is a great release from Abyssal, who manages to shed some of the fat present on his previous releases to excellent results.
Aerosmith Toys in the Attic
Aerosmith Get Your Wings
Aesop Rock Bazooka Tooth
Aesop Rock has made quite the name for himself in the underground, due to his penchant for surreal lyricism, complex rhyme schemes, and obscure references. The follow up to the underground classic Labor Days, Bazooka Tooth sees Aes with his most ambitious production job (even if sometimes it sounds like El-P-lite), with some more lyrical acrobatics. The result is a remarkably consistent effort that doesn't lose quality throughout the runtime. Granted, the album is quite long at one hour and ten minutes, so there is quite a lot to digest here. Still, you can't go into an Aesop Rock record expecting everything to become readily apparent, and as always the record opens up much easier with patient listening. No one track is better than the others, but rest assured, the majority of them are high quality. In all, it's another dense, interesting record by Aesop Rock, and one that is surely worthy of a spot in his discography.
Aesop Rock Float
Aesop Rock Appleseed
Why is this record not noticed? Aesop Rock is too dope!
Aesop Rock The Impossible Kid
Aesop Rock is a pretty polarizing fellow, mostly stemming from his lyrics. While some praise them as interesting and fun to decipher, others lambast them as nonsensical or needlessly verbose. Whatever the case, The Impossible Kid is territory only barely charted for the San Fran wordsmith. With his most upfront and confessional lyrics yet, and a collection of instrumentals that harken back to early 2000's El-P while still keeping a personal edge to them, the record is much easier to digest than any album of his before it. Though easier to understand, I'd be lying if I said the songs were straightforward, as they're decidedly not, but the story-telling here is wondrously vivid and the wordplay is sharp. He takes the listener on a personal journey of his hometown, his important memories, and his makeshift home in a barn far away from the city, a place that he stayed for one year while composing this record. At the end of it all, the listener knows the man better than ever before, motives, feelings, and all.
Agalloch The Mantle
Going further towards the cleaner, yet still wholly windy and cold, side of folk-influenced black metal and neofolk that Of Stone, Wind, And Pillor established so well, The Mantle sees Agalloch transforming to a more folk dominated sound, while still retaining some of their black metal roots. The thing to recognize, I believe, about this record is that it's not some massive monolith of raspy folk metal epics. Rather, it's a quite delicate and nuanced album, with the moments of freezing ambience meaning just as much as the tranquil strumming of acoustic guitar or the drifting riffs. Thus, the songs are not at all difficult to digest, and while some might overstay their welcome, for the most part everything is tactfully written in a smart and almost progressive manner. Yet, for all the coldness it wishes to portray, I feel that the record brings the feeling of emptiness across well. I never thought I'd say something like this, but the album pretty much ends up exactly where it began, and that is a good thing.
Agalloch Pale Folklore
I think that the reason folk and black metal work so well together is that they are both, at their core, relatively simple, and make fantastic use of atmosphere and aesthetic to help give the simplistic nature of the music texture and depth. Agalloch is one of the premier bands that use this combination, even mixing the folk elements with atmospheric metal in general to create soaringly beautiful folk metal. There isn't anything that technically impressive on the record, but what it lacks in technicality it makes up for in its pronounced sense of atmosphere and melody. Occasionally, the vocals can stray into cringeworthy territory, but on the whole they are solid and alternate between screamed and cleanly-sung depending on the style. Yes, Agalloch would eventually go on to do bigger and better things, but the blueprint for those achievements was laid very well by Pale Folklore.
Agalloch Of Stone, Wind and Pillor
It's kind of interesting when you compare Agalloch to the rest of the American black metal scene. Because besides Weakling and perhaps Wolves In The Throne Room, no band is even close to being as influential in that scene as Agalloch was. The interesting part is that black metal is but one piece to Agalloch's large puzzle, which this EP displays very well. The opener/title-track and the very well done cover of Sol Invictus' "Kneel To The Cross" are both examples of rich folk metal mixed with atmospheric and evocative black metal, not only instrumentally, but vocally as well, echoing their efforts on Pale Folklore. "Florium Voridium" and "Haunting Birds" are two dark folk songs that show that Agalloch doesn't need to be constrained to metal to write great songs, and closer "A Poem By Yeates" is an emotionally vibrant and brooding neoclassical piece. Overall, Of Stone, Wind & Pillor shows Agalloch's large range and songwriting capabilities that would only be expressed more later on in their careers.
Agalloch Ashes Against the Grain
Agalloch records, at least for me, have always been pretty immediately rewarding as well as rewarding after subsequent listens. Ashes Against The Grain breaks that mold, as on a first listen it seems to be less dynamic and nuanced than its predecessors, but it later reveals itself as quite possibly their strongest outing. While it is true that it is less atmospherically potent than records like The Mantle, the songwriting heard here is nothing short of stellar. Some of the melodies on this thing, like the several memorable ones heard on the tandem of "Fire Above, Ice Below" and "Not Unlike The Waves", are truly beautiful and tear-jerking. The folk sections are less frequent this time around, but when they show up, they're at their best (the section that intersects "Limbs" at the seven-minute mark is phenomenal, as is the entirety of "Our Fortress Is Burning...I"). The lyrics, as always, are very good, as is the vocal performance, but the surprise here is the drumming, which is not only a memorable performance but also much more dynamic and fun than the predecessors'. Truly, it is because of all these things that Ashes Against The Grain may just be Agalloch's finest work.
Al Cohn, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, and Zoot Sims Tenor Conclave
Do you like the sound of the tenor sax, especially when in an upbeat hard bop style? Then man oh man do I have one swell record for you! All four of the men featured on the cover of this record play the tenor sax here, and the bulk of the forty-three minute runtime is made up of various lines, solos, and some truly excellent interplays from them. It features two original Hank Mobley numbers, but also a 1920's standard in "Just You, Just Me" and a 1930's standard in "How Deep Is The Ocean", which receives a marvelous rendition on this record. Tenor Conclave isn't all just tenor sax, though; there are a few piano and bass solos (most notably in "Bob's Boys") by Red Garland and Paul Chambers respectively, which adds a nice variety to it. The first three tracks are done in a very upbeat style that is hard not to move to, whereas aforementioned closer "How Deep Is The Ocean" is done in a slower, more bluesy style that brings some relaxed and chilled vibes with it. Really, it's some of the most well done tenor-heavy hard bop out there, as is most of John Coltrane's early material.
Algiers Algiers
Formed in Atlanta, Algiers is a trio that mixes industrial and post-punk instrumentals with soul vocals. Franklin James Fisher is the frontman on this record, and he possesses a wonderfully versatile voice. This is best exemplified in two of the last tracks on the record, "Games" and "In Parallax", the former of which features a soothing and subdued Fisher, and the latter of which features a wailing and heavy-voiced Fisher. The instrumentation is plodding and dark, but can speed up when called upon. The deep feedback from the guitars creates a great atmosphere, and overall the record is a pretty ambitious affair. Absolutely recommended for fans of experimental music, especially when based in the dark clutches of the industrial genre.
Aluk Todolo Voix
It's been four years since the band that made Occult Rock has seen daylight, but VOIX proves that they're still on their game. The universe VOIX takes place in is a strange one, one where spidery bass and liquid drumming swirl around in a mass of drones and noisy guitar riffs. The production on this thing makes the guitars really come to life, with a lovely barrage of noise coming in some places, and eerie, lingering tones coming in during others. There's even a few moments on this record where the guitars sound like a locust swarm. The rhythm section is the true backbone of this project, though, as without the steadying hand of the drums and the familiar, wonderfully repetitive bass, this would all sound directionless and without thought. It does get somewhat samey towards the end, but they switch it up enough throughout the runtime to keep that notion from ballooning into a problem. In all, VOIX is an album easy to get lost in with its eerie, yet sometimes beautiful, atmospherics.
Amebix Monolith
Amebix has been credited with creating the genre of crust punk, a lethal fusion of heavy metal and anarchist hardcore punk that few bands can pull off successfully. Thankfully, Amebix is one of them, and their sound is still great on their sophomore LP Monolith. The riffs here are pretty reminiscent of speed metal bands like Motorhead, but still retain the crusty edge they had on Arise. The songwriting has taken a bit of a hit here, though, as they don't usually stray away from the formula of melodic intros and speed metal riff passages. The production gives it a very murky feel, and though it pales in comparison to Arise's atmosphere, it is still good enough to hold its own. And with great songs like "Nobody's Driving", "Time Bomb", "I.C.B.M.", and "Coming Home", Monolith proves itself a worthy successor to the essential Arise, and is an excellent listen in and of itself.
American Football American Football EP
Anberlin Cities
Anberlin has always had a great reputation for being one of the more consistent alt-rock/pop-punk acts of this day and age. Their music is simple, but insanely fun and undeniably catchy. Nowhere is this more apparent than on their third record, Cities. The band gets off to a roaring start with "Godspeed", an absolute romp of a song that sets the tone of the record perfectly. The band tries their hand at some synths on this record, and they actually work very well, like on "Reclusion" and "Hello Alone". The vocalist, Stephen Christian, is at the top of his game here, both in the performance aspect and the lyrics department. The album is absolutely rife with infectious choruses, and they make the album as memorable as it is a good time. The highlight of the album are the two final tracks, "Dismantle. Repair.", and "(*Fin)", the latter of which is the best song Anberlin has ever written. Surely, if you love alternative rock with heavy pop sensibilities, you can never go wrong with Cities.
Anberlin Devotion
Imagine if later-day The Killers were ten times as catchy and, you know, good, and you generally have an idea of what this record sounds like most of the time. During the times it doesn't sound like that, it sounds like top-tier Anberlin, which can't be a bad thing. Devotion is a beefier, better version of Vital, and while the original eleven tracks are definitely highlights here, the added seven are pretty great as well, with the one slip-up coming early in "City Electric". The use of electronics is a nice change of pace from the bare-bones instrumentation of Dark Is The Way, and it helps to give the music an extra dynamic that really works on songs like "God, Drugs, And Sex". Of course, Stephen Christian puts on an expectedly excellent performance, and the pop-sensibilities of the band are as strong as ever as they continue to churn out catchy hook after catchy hook. The fast-paced songs are great, but the songwriting on the slower songs is where they've really shown an improvement, really balancing out everything on this record. Put simply, Devotion is a fun and sometimes even heartwarming effort on all fronts from Anberlin.
Anderson .Paak Malibu
Anderson .Paak, who generated some buzz after providing some of the better vocals on Dr. Dre's thoroughly-covered comeback record Compton, has two of the most important gifts as a vocalist, especially in neo-soul: it's immediately recognizable, and also immediately enjoyable. This, combined with the sunny and chilled production, make Malibu a great sophomore effort. Highlights include a wonderfully personal split track with "The Season/Carry Me", "Without You", which is essentially a reworking of Hiatus Kaiyote's "Molasses", and features an excellent verse from Rapsody to boot. The album does suffer a slight bit from longwindedness, but for the most part it is a nicely varied and rich neo-soul record,mwithnsome great influences coming in from west coast hip-hop. It seems like it will only be a matter of time before we see .Paak being associated with Frank Ocean and the like, as well as doing hooks on many more major hip-hop albums coming out of the west coast.
Andy Stott Too Many Voices
I don't know what these voices are saying to Andy Stott, but if they had anything to do with how this album turned out then he should listen to them more often. I've always understood techno as a more or less "clean" genre, just based on the way it sounds. It's repetitive, seamless, and very rarely has any dents or dings to speak of. Stott kind of subverts this notion on Too Many Voices in that it thrives on those dents and dings. Thus, what is usually very repetitive lends itself to some more variation, and the songs definitely do not suffer from lack of structure or pacing despite this. Everything is very meticulous in its development, and it all comes together so beautifully, especially when there's vocals involved. It takes some measure of U.K. bass along with it, but Stotts ambient tech/dub tech style is one not hard at all to appreciate, and is ultimately refreshing when you take in just how human these electronic sounds can be.
Anenzephalia Noehaem
Anenzephalia is one of the more recognizable names in the completely inaccessible genre of death industrial, and while they tend to mix this style with dark ambient, the end result is not only an interesting listen, but a worthwhile one as well. The track names are just sequential Roman numerals, further pushing the mechanical, yet subtlety of the record. "I" starts with an eerie drone which repeats seemingly ad infinitum. The next three songs are all impenetrable, with huge amount of static, background noise, and drones engulfing them. The music barely forms what can be heard as notes, but it all comes together quite nicely. By the time "VIII", which is a slightly more demented reprise of "I" comes around, you feel like you've been there a while, even if only thirty-six minutes have gone by. That shows how tense and unnerving this record can get, especially on tracks like "V" and "VII". A challenging yet rewarding listen, Noehaem should be checked out by anyone interested in death industrial/dark ambient.
Animal Collective Spirit They're Gone...
What a couple of goons these two are. I mean really, who do they think they are, mixing folk pop and noise? Visionary? Or the result of a few acid tabs too many? I don't know, but whatever the case may be, Spirit They're Gone is quite the listen. With layers of delicate noise put over lovely folk pop compositions, the experimentation is definitely nice. The vocals don't seem to rise up from the level of the noise too often, but they don't have to, almost acting as another sheet over the acoustic guitar and twirling pianos. The drumming, as you probably already know, is excellent. No surprise there, but one still can't help but be taken aback at the skill displayed on closer "Alvin Row". And yet, for all of this, the best track on the album was one created years beforehand, known as "Penny Dreadfuls", which is a beautiful, affecting piece in all respects. Animal Collective would grow after this, both in persons and in scope, but their roots cannot be forgotten, especially when they're this unique and lovely.
Anonymuz Vice City
Though the storyline and themes presented here aren't the most original at all, they can still be effective tales depending on the way they're told. Fortunately enough, Anonymuz understands that well, and puts together a synth-heavy trudge through drug abuse and acts of violence. His skills as an emcee are quite honed, as he's got a picture-perfect flow throughout the entire record, can sound either charged up or barred out depending on the setting of the song, and on top of it all can really spit some great lines. The production of the record really ties things together, as it has a hazy, synth-drenched sound that permeates the entire album, really giving it a cohesiveness that is rare to see on a debut full-length. All of this makes Vice City a excellent debut from a guy that you should definitely keep your eye on if you're a fan of this kind of hip-hop.
Apollo Brown and Skyzoo The Easy Truth
I'd be lying to you if I said that I hated a style of hip-hop. There's pretty much no style of the genre that I can say that I hate or even merely dislike. In terms of this kind of throwback boom-bap style, there are plenty of guys out there that aren't stuck firmly in '94 and do it with a very much appreciated modern flair to it. Apollo Brown and Skyzoo are two of those guys. Brown is an excellent producer and he's really on his game on The Easy Truth, effortlessly mixing soulful samples with lovely piano lines and strings, all the while operating with a clarity that makes the whole record sound beautiful. Not one to be outdone, Skyzoo drops some very nice verses left and right, and his hooks are easy-going and even sometimes memorable. Lyrically, a picture of life and lessons learned in the Bronx is wonderfully painted, and though nothing here is all that original, it's still a professionally written and produced east coast record. If you need some easy-listening hip-hop in your life, Skyzoo and Apollo Brown have you covered with this excellent collaboration.
Architects All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
Architects, at least for me, makes some of the best angry music around. Not necessarily incredible, but enough breakneck speed, relentless aggression, and passionate vocals to satisfy vexation. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us is similar, but is also loomed over by a cloud of uncertain melancholy. Some of the lyrics here betray a sense of unease about the future and begin to question thoughts that had up until this point remained unchallenged. Tom Searle, the guitarist who wrote these songs and lyrics, undoubtedly felt these feelings. He was battling cancer at the time of recording, and he eventually succumbed to the disease in August of 2016. The unfortunate passing of Searle gives an entirely new meaning to the record, echoing the weeks before and after the release David Bowie's Blackstar and Bowie's untimely death. The closer, "Momento Mori", is particularly moving in this regard. It's another on the unfortunately ever-growing list of albums marked by death.
Archy Marshall A New Place 2 Drown
Archy Marshall has certainly made a name for himself under the King Krule moniker, and it's easy to see why, as he creates a cloud of hazy trip-hop, indie pop, alternative R&B, and even sprinkles of post-punk here and there, doing everything himself. This record, released under his given name, is a bit different. That is to say, he got someone's help this time, that someone being his brother, Jack Marshall. Together, they make a subdued and detached trip-hop record, but one that is also subtly intelligent and personal. The vibes coming off of the record are relaxed, chilled, and almost disinterested (I mean that in a good way, of course). However, it's the lyrics that betray just how smart the record actually is. "We just smoke and let days roll by" from "Ammi Ammi" show that these vibes are wholly intentional, and the verse to "Sex With Nobody" touches on the issues with casual sex and those unwilling to face the consequences, whatever they may be. Many songs also relate personal experiences and anecdotes that give you insight into who Marshall is as a person. Though it suffers from sameyness a bit, A New Place 2 Drown is a great record from one of the freshest young minds in music.
Arctic Monkeys Humbug
Arsonists Get All the Girls Portals
As Blood Runs Black Allegiance
Four-piece Los Angeles deathcore outfit As Blood Runs Black owes a lot to melodic death metal bands like The Black Dahlia Murder, as their sound on this record is essentially TBDM, just with ungodly fast double-bass, romping breakdowns, and Wu-Tang quotes. And if none of that sounds appealing to you, then I'm sorry. Beginning with the triple-headed medusa of "In Dying Days", "My Fears Have Become Phobias", and "Hester Prynne", the band make it known that they can write some good riffs, especially in the case of "Hester Prynne", and also have a fantastic drum performance. Essentially, the first six songs (including the intro) are perfect deathcore, sans "Pouring Reign", which is still incredible, but rather than deathcore it is a surprisingly beautiful acoustic interlude that provides a nice break from the relentless action. But, once "The Brighter Side Of Suffering" ends, things never get back to the quality they used to be at. The next four songs are unimaginative and unmemorable, and they do no justice to the first half of the album at all. Despite ending on this sour note, the albums' first six songs are basically perfect, and had they been released as an EP, it likely would've been the greatest deathcore EP ever released.
Atlas Losing Grip Currents
I'd imagine it's a tough life for sailors, rarely being able to see your family and constantly being out on the ocean or lakes. Of course, Atlas Losing Grip uses this as a metaphor for losing your way in life (lost at sea) and righting yourself again (finding your way home). Musically they sound like a faster, punkier, and darker Anberlin, and though they're excellent at making fast-paced songs with catchy choruses, they are really on their game with slower, sadder songs as well. Take for instance "Closure" and "Kings And Fools", back-to-back songs that are easily relatable and make great use of atmospheric guitars. The back end of the album is particularly good, though, with the impassioned "Through The Distance" paving way for the closer, "Ithaka", which ends the album on a hopeful and endearing note. Though the first couple of songs aren't as good as the rest of the album, this record is strikingly consistent throughout and is a pretty fun listen. I'd recommend this if you're a fan of melodic punk rock or just fast-paced, energetic rock in general.
Autechre LP5
I believe the flagged review said it best: "Whether you prefer the ethereal warmth of Amber, the alien sound scapes of Tri Repetae or the quasi-formlessness ofConfield, Autechre?s music is invariably distinct." This statement is true any way you look at it, and it's the curious nature of LP5, that being it is like an amalgam of those mentioned records, that lends further credence to it. It's not quite moving into virtually inaccessible territory just yet, but it's not the easiest listening in the world either. As with all of their material, there's so much going on here that one listen, no matter how intently, can suffice for the entire thing. As such, LP5 and it's counterparts are albums that can be dissected in any number of ways, and makes them as interesting as they are pleasing. Of course, it's excellent as background music as well, with very few moments here being too jarring or too boring to listen to while doing whatever. It's some of their best material, really, and in many ways is a fantastic starting point for those wishing to be initiated into the mechanized worlds they've created.
Autechre Tri Repetae
Tri Repetae is undoubtedly some of the strangest music out there. I say this for more reasons than one, too. First off, it's some of the least visceral music ever composed, as the entire thing sounds like a top-secret supercomputer calculating an answer to solve the most complicated mathematical problems imaginable. It sounds like it itself is a robotic entity and that it is trying to simulate music that can evoke emotions and feelings, but ultimately failing in its endeavor. Secondly, I've never heard something that can pull this cold, emotionless, robotic aesthetic off so thoroughly while also creating something that is at the very least slightly enjoyable to listen to, even if it has to be taken in doses. Lastly, depending on how you listen to it, this thing is either a breeze to get through (background listening, using for study music, etc.), or completely impenetrable (attentive, focused listening), which is actually fascinating. Maybe the album is more interesting than entirely loveable, but the concept here was executed to the utmost perfection. And even if I didn't like the music, I'd still have to give Autechre credit for that.
Autechre Amber
I'm really not sure what to make of Amber at this point. It's definitely Autechre at their most minimal and subtle, and I can appreciate that, but the way it expresses its subtlety is weird. By that I mean that Amber doesn't really try to suck you into it or grab you, as it's remarkably distant and smothered with cold and rigid textures. It seems like it's just "there", but for some reason it's perfectly aware of that notion and is completely content with it. It almost works better if you're not paying full attention to it. It works its way into your head, not with visceral melodies, but with an entirely synthetic repetition and sparseness. It's unstructured, undoubtedly on purpose, with the only thing really holding it together being repetitive synth lines and subtle rhythms. It honestly sounds alien, like it doesn't know how to communicate what it wishes to. That being said, it's likely that was the intent in the first place. It really does show that even in their most subdued and minimal days, Autechre made some pretty challenging and rewarding albums.
Autechre Chiastic Slide
I swear I can feel the roof of my mouth tingle during the ending minutes of "Nuane". It's a bit misleading to call Chiastic Slide a transitional album for Autechre, as if their sound all throughout their discography hasn't been a constantly-evolving beast of glitchy, textured IDM, but it's certainly the closest one they have. This does not, however, make it lesser in quality (for my part, it's slightly better than Amber but not quite as good as Tri Repetae). Rather, the album is an amorphous ocean, swelling and quelling with a balance of pulsing, layered IDM teetering on ambient techno and free-form electronic spasticness complete with explosive noise. The importance of this record in the Autechre catalog is that it is the first attempt at combining Autechre's two main styles, an idea that would later become perfected with LP5. Again, though, this is an unmissable album if you consider yourself an Autechre fan, and a very worthwhile listen if you're into heavily mechanized and glitchy IDM.
Autechre Garbage
Autechre Anvil Vapre
Autechre have had their fair share of great EP's in their time, with the Anti EP and Garbage being two obvious examples. Here, the masters of IDM release the follow up to Garbage, using buzzsaw-like noises, static, and a lot of awkward synth passages. The whole thing sounds very spacey, and you can often feel the noises and static in the back of your head. Despite this, the songs are actually kind of catchy, especially "Second Scepe". "Second Scout" is probably the most sparse of the tracks, being very atmospheric in nature. The closer almost sounds industrial, with many of the aforementioned buzzsaw noises whirring in the background. The overall sound, though a bit subdued in relation to something like Tri Repetae, acts as somewhat of an entranceway into their more well known records, and is an important listen in Autechre's discography.
Avenged Sevenfold City of Evil
Baroness Red Album
Baroness is quickly becoming one of the few stoner metal acts that do anything for yours truly, and they are doing it in style. Because while Red Album lacks the massive, infectious choruses that they'd go on to do so well on Purple, it's still a great record for reasons less obvious. The songwriting here is a pretty smooth amalgam of post-metal, stoner metal, sludge metal, prog rock, and even some southern rock as well. None of these individual parts are particularly original on their own, but the combination and execution of it all lets the album have a unique take on these styles. Partly instrumental, the album doesn't have many dull moments in its runtime, utilizing a very dreamy and somewhat uncertain atmosphere to its full potential. The musicianship is excellent, and one need only hear the final minutes of "Aleph" to know this. All of this combines to create an interesting and fun take on sludge/post/stoner/whatever, and exemplifies Baroness' ambitious nature very well.
Baroness First & Second
This is definitely not the Baroness that made Purple. Hell, it's barely the Baroness that made The Red Album. The first impression one had of this compilation of their first two EP's was that they sounded like a psychedelic, lead-heavy Fall Of Efrafa from the Owsla days, with just as much punk infused into the music as metal. Even the vocalists sound similar. Thus, Baroness showcases their forward-thinking songwriting whilst firing away with bursts of strong emotion and energy, and it really doesn't sound quite like anything else in their discography. It's Baroness still in the process of evolution; definitely not an amoeba, but not quite a full-fledged macroorganism. As such, it's the rawest the band has ever sounded, both from a songwriting standpoint and a production one. That also makes it charming as hell, and definitely a great listen for any fans of energetic, psychedelic post-metal.
Baroness Purple
What some may call a return to form for Baroness is the first form I've heard them in, as this is the first of their color-coded albums I've listened to. As such, I know not if this is truly a return to form, but after listening, I can say that I definitely understand the hype for this band and why people like them. It's a mixture of psychedelic, stoner, and progressive rock that contains lovely dueling guitars, fun drumming, charismatic vocals, great underlying bass, and just the right amount of fuzz. The pop sensibilities are aplenty here as well, with three of the best songs in "Shock Me", "Chlorine And Wine", and "If I Had To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain?)" all containing very catchy choruses and uplifting passages within them. The record just feels triumphant, and with the band surviving an accident that almost killed them, it is kind of heartwarming that it's this good and this full of good vibes.
Baths Cerulean
Will Wiesenfeld has always had a soft spot for his home. Even his stage name is derived from his love of relaxing in his home bathtub. His debut was recorded over a period of two months in 2010 in the bedroom of his house. What came from this is an interesting take on electronic music that features influences from experimental electronic, downtempo, and even small doses of glitch. His chops with faster paced songs are seen on tracks like "Apologetic Shoulder Blades", "Indoorsy", and "Plea", but he is also crafty with the slower songs as seen on "Rain Smell" and "Departure". However, "Maximalist" is the true highlight of this album, combining great atmosphere and skippy samples to create a very fun song. Some of the samples may get a small bit irritating after a while, and a couple of the slower songs overstay their welcome, but this accounts for only a couple songs off the record. All in all, a debut that shouldn't be overlooked by electronic music fans.
Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack
I don't know if it's right to call this album the quintessential disco album, but it is certainly one of the most recognizable releases in the genre. It has some bonafide disco classics such as "Stayin' Alive", "A Fifth Of Beethoven", "You Should Be Dancing", "Boogie Shoes", and "Disco Inferno". It also has a few romantically tinged songs that are just as good, with the slower "How Deep Is Your Love", and the incredibly catchy duo of "More Than A Woman" and "If I Can't Have You". That being said, there are a couple of filler songs, as any seventeen-track album will likely have. Still, it's a pretty consistent release, and the first six songs alone could've made this album a great one. If you haven't heard this yet, you either missed the late seventies/eighties entirely or don't have parents that were around in the late seventies/eighties.
Bell Witch Four Phantoms
A doom duo of only smothering bass and thundering drums, Seattle born Bell Witch's sophomore full length is as dense and foggy as the city they hail from. The four tracks on this record deal with one thing: the elements, or, more specifically, death at the hands of merciless Mother Nature. The tracks are split up into two parts: the "Suffocation" tracks and the "Judgement" tracks. It is a tale of two halves here, as the two "Suffocation" tracks, especially "Suffocation, A Drowning.." are monolithic, evocative dirges that encapsulate the atmosphere and feeling of what the wonderfully descriptive lyrics portray. However, the two "Judgement" tracks are relatively lackluster, and just sound like the standard fare. They aren't bad, but they don't really do anything. That said, two thirds of the album are comprised of the "Suffocation" tracks, so you're hearing great stuff more often than not.
Beneficence Basement Chemistry
Beneficence is one of a stable of very underrated emcees that have released some really great projects in the past five years. On this, his follow up to 2012's wonderful Concrete Soul, he drops nineteen knowledge-laden east coast cuts that are firmly rooted in mid-90's boom-bap while also having a nice modern, urban tinge to it. Often, the sampled instrument on the beats is the electric guitar or a trumpet, giving a soulful vibe to the music, which when coupled with Beneficence's dexterous flow and introspective lyrics makes a wonderful tandem. The quality is steadfast and though there isn't necessarily a standout track on the record, there is most certainly not a bad one. The features on this thing are also at a high quality, with the best coming from Masta Ace on the track "When The Sun Comes". In a nutshell, Basement Chemistry is a really great east coast hip-hop record, with a filler-less nineteen tracks.
Between the Buried and Me The Silent Circus
BTBAM has always been a polarizing band among fans of metal in general. I've never really understood why that is. Sure, Tommy Rogers isn't exactly the most talented vocalist, and there certainly is some guitar wankery, but "faux prog"? Hardly. Taking what made their debut an interesting listen and expanding on it, The Silent Circus is a much more tight, focused, and fun BTBAM. "Camilla Rhodes" and "Mordecai" form a massive one-two punch of progressive metalcore, while the ambient "Reaction" is a nice break from the relentless action. "Ad A Dglgmut" fires the engines right back up from a relatively dull acoustic piece, and "Aesthetic" is quite possibly one of the funnest songs the band have ever made. The lyrics here are pretty interesting as well. Just to list a couple of examples, "Aesthetic" deals with the last moments of the RMS Titanic, and "Mordecai" tells the story of a desensitized man reconnecting with human emotion. Though they'd go on to do bigger and better things, The Silent Circus is an important album in BTBAM's history, and is a great listen even today.
Between the Buried and Me Alaska
Alaska is seen a transition album for polarizing progressive metalcore band Between The Buried And Me. Albeit a bit more inconsistent than The Silent Circus, the album has better moments than its predecessor, the best moments they've had as a band pre-Colors. The album does take a minute to kick into gear, though, as opener "All Bodies" isn't that great until the final uplifting thirty seconds. Those seconds transition perfectly in to the title-track, which features a fantastic and memorable opening riff. Staples like "Selkies: The Endless Obsession" and "The Primer" make their impact known fairly quickly and confidently, though nothing quite touches the former in terms of songwriting ability on the record. Usually, I've found the heavier BTBAM tracks to be less enjoyable (such as "Roboturner"), but "Autodidact" is an outlier, being one of the finest tracks on the album due to its tactfully aggressive riffing and drumming. The record also features one of their best slower songs in "Medicine Wheel", with great ambience and spacey guitars. With all this said, this is the peak of BTBAM before Colors, so if you want to jam an early album of theirs, this is the one for you.
Between the Buried and Me The Parallax II: Future Sequence
Acting as a sequel to The Hypersleep Dialogues, Future Sequence is a risky record. Having the average length of non-ambient and non-acoustic of songs be ten minutes, fitting an entire concept around these songs, all while playing the dexterous style of progressive death metal they play, didn't initially sound too promising, as BTBAM has always struggled when it comes to ten-minute-plus songs. That said, these songs, especially "Lay Your Ghosts To Rest", "Extremophile Elite", and "Telos" are among the most tight, well-structured, and fun pieces the band has ever written. The shorter songs, like "Bloom" and "Goodbye To Everything" are also two of the best shorter tracks BTBAM has made. Though it definitely does lose steam during the final three tracks, there's still enough solid moments during that time that keep the listeners attention to the end. Were it not for this unfortunate lull in quality this might've been their best record. But, while it's not their best, it is certainly a welcome addition to their ever-growing discography.
Birdy Beautiful Lies
Jasmine Van Den Bogaerde finally came into her own with her sophomore record Fire Within, as she began writing her own songs and singing her own melodies. Beautiful Lies shows how far she's come, as at only nineteen, she's released one of the more mature and enjoyable chamber pop albums so far this year. It really hits the ground running with the immeasurably catchy "Growing Pains", and from then on the tone is set. The instrumentation is nice and sparse, but not drenched in reverb or heavy bass. It's delicate and sweet, and Bogaerde's voice takes center stage as the defining aspect of the album. She does very well on most every song here, but it's penultimate track "Unbroken" where she really kicks it into a gear few singers her age can get to. In the end, Beautiful Lies is Birdy's first truly great record, and if it's any indication of what's to come in the future, that can only be a good thing.
Bladee Eversince
Eversince is unlike any album I've ever heard in the sense that it takes the whole "autotune-as-an-instrument" style of R&B to the furthest extent. The album is like some sort of crystalline sing-rapping monument to indifference; Bladee himself sounds so detached from everything it's like he's not even there. The lyrics switch back and forth between blunt expressions of suicidal intent/general apathy and purposefully empty lean-soaked brags, ultimately serving to further portray the atmosphere of cold indifference. The production here, handled almost exclusively by whitearmor, is the perfect backdrop for Bladee, providing a shivering, icy sound with sharp bass to accentuate the bitingly frigid and wintery aesthetic. All of this makes Eversince a unique entity that follows all of the way through on its mission statement, making it one of the must-hear records of 2016 so far.
Blessthefall Awakening
Blood Incantation Starspawn
Sweet lord the production on this thing is delicious. And you best take a good hard look at the crater on the cover because that's exactly how you and anything within a five-mile radius is going to look after this thing is over. From the opening seconds of Starspawn, Blood Incantation race forth with a bevy of angular riffing, thick bass, drums with a sizable punch, and low, cavernous vocals. There are equal parts technical and progressive stylings to this death metal, and though comparisons are made to bands like Timeghoul, the band manages to sound like their own selves, with spacey atmospherics and haunting progressive passages trading off with hungry, organic technical assault. It's unfortunately a bit short, and ends somewhat abruptly after starting out with their best track in the monolithic opener, but the album nonetheless manages to be a satisfying listen. Needless to say, if you're a fan of death metal, this album definitely warrants a listen and this band definitely warrants an eye being kept on them.
Blood Orange Freetown Sound
If this is what Freetown really does sound like, I may have to call my travel agency pretty soon here. Blood Orange has really keened in on consistency on Freetown Sound, because throughout the hour-long runtime, there isn't one song that is a dud or doesn't serve a definitive purpose. The mellowed, laid-back alternative R&B sound is still very much at play here, but it sometimes strays into more artsy waters. For instance, "Augustine" sounds extremely influenced by synthpop, and there is no doubting the sophisti-pop that also comes through when mixing the warm synth lines with jazzier elements. Of course, one could make the argument that it's simply not variant enough to make a lasting impression, but one could also look at it this way: it's totally smooth, easy-going take on this style gives the record a really welcoming and wholly enjoyable atmosphere, and definitely gives off really nice vibes of positivity and hope. Really, Freetown Sound is an interesting and altogether easy listen, but it's also a very enjoyable experience.
Bob Marley and The Wailers The Best Of The Wailers
This has got to be one of the most misleading album titles out there. This isn't a "Best Of" compilation. This isn't even a compilation to begin with. This is all original material unavailable anywhere else that the group recorded in late 1969 to early 1970. Thus, this record is a needed listen if one is to be familiar with everything the famous group have done. What's awesome about it is, more than anything, how perfectly simple it is. Ten really catchy, bouncy roots reggae tracks totaling about twenty-five minutes in length. It marks a transitioning period from the upbeat, often uptempo style of the gospel Wailers and the slower, rawer pre-Island Wailers. It's truly a shame that this material, which is all high in quality, is often completely overlooked due to people being led to believe it's just a comp by its own title. By all means, give this one a listen, as it's truly the pleasant surprise.
Bob Marley and The Wailers Soul Revolution
Bob Marley and The Wailers Rastaman Vibration
Following in the footsteps of the reggae classic Natty Dread, Bob Marley & The Wailers continue expanding their sound past the raw, simple, bare-bones reggae of the early 70's, and turn in another wonderful record here. Classic tracks like "Johnny Was" and "Who The Cap Fit" feature the most instrumentation out of any song created by the band at this point in their discography, with pianos, various synthesizers, and female backing vocals all adding a fantastic texture to the songs. Though some of the tracks on the latter half, such as "Night Shift", are a bit lackluster, they are certainly not bad, and the whole album is generally well written and full of instrumentation that simply would not have been there if the album was made four years prior. Marley himself turns in an excellent vocal performance, per usual, and though the album doesn't quite stack up to its predecessor, there are plenty of classic moments and wonderful songs to warrant this record a spot in The Wailers' discography.
Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago
I'm sure you already know the backstory of this record, what with Justin Vernon stowing himself away for some time and writing songs in the wilderness. It shows in that the album is woodsy and charmingly moody. The songs are all at least some degree of melancholy, and although others can be happier than others ("Skinny Love"), there are some really heartbreaking tracks here ("The Wolves", "For Emma"). Justin Vernon himself brings a lot to the table, as his voice is truly wonderful, taking merely competent acoustic playing to new heights. It's not the most original music in the world, and it's been known to some as a boring experience, but For Emma, Forever Ago really shines in the sense that it has a lo-fi indie charm, poetic lyrics, beautiful vocals, and lovely ambience. It's a record tailor-made for connecting with; to what degree, of course, is up to the listener. In my case, most of the moments were beautiful, but a select few truly did speak to me on a different plane.
Boris Cosmos
Boris has always been a force to be reckoned with when it comes to drone music, but to just call them a drone band sells them far too short. They're one of the most inventive, original, and eclectic drone bands out there, and their 2012 EP Cosmos illustrates this very well. One of the most accessible releases they've ever made, Cosmos is an exercise in ambience and atmosphere as much as it is in the classic, heavy droning we've come to know. "Cosmos Part 1" kicks things off with a shroud of ambient samples and ethereal cymbal work, and "Cosmos Part 3" ends things in a similar, but much more minimalistic way. The highlight of the album is "Cosmos Part 2", which works fantastically as a catchy pop song shrouded in noise, drone, and echoes, complete with weird electronic noises. All in all, a great EP by Boris that can serve as an easy entry point into the bands' lengthy discography.
Botch An Anthology of Dead Ends
Brian Eno Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
I think one of the strangest things about Here Come The Warm Jets was that the music was always upbeat and bouncy, but the lyrics were more often than not pretty dark. That being said, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) follows both sonically and lyrically after Brian Eno's debut earlier that same year, but does have a more melancholy and experimental side to it this time. Eno's goofy-yet-endearing vocals are backed this time by a full rock ensemble, and it shows, as the instrumentation here outdoes Warm Jets pretty handily. He loses some of his catchy hooks from his debut, though, but that doesn't mean the album is not memorable for other reasons. Enter the classic title-track, which would serve to show what was in store for the rest of Eno's career, as well as being one of the best songs he's ever written. All this said, Taking Tiger Mountain is an excellent follow up to his debut, and shouldn't be missed by fans of art rock.
Brian Eno Discreet Music
Many people often cite Music For Airports as the true beginning of Brian Eno's ambient escapades, but that's simply not true when this album exists. David Bowie himself said that Discreet Music was the album that made him want to work with Brian Eno, a collaboration which would eventually lead to the revered Berlin Trilogy. The dominant piece here, which is the title-track/opener, is a full realization of the ambient experimentation that Eno toyed with on albums like Another Green World, and plays out more akin to something off of his collaborations with Robert Fripp than his previous solo output. The other tracks are all classical variations of Johann Pachelbel's impeccable "Canon In D Major", and though most of their goodness comes from the merit of the original song, they're all quaint and lovely interpretations that fit the atmosphere of the album very well and almost act as practice for his own compositions in the future. A fine work of ambient classical, Discreet Music marked a glorious evolution for one one of the most forward-thinking minds in music.
Bruno Sanfilippo Inside Life
I'm sure it's hard to make different emotions come across through ambient minimalist classical piano music, but that's exactly what Bruno Sanfilippo, a man who has always been fascinated by the parameters of what music can do, has done here on Inside Life. Probably the best instance of how he weaves these emotions into the music is shown on "The Place Where Dying Crows" and the subsequent "Tea Leaves At The Bottom Of A Cup". On the former, an eerie, ominous, and uncertain atmosphere is created first by the cascading piano intro and then by wafting ambience. On the latter, an uplifting, calming, and reassuring atmosphere is expertly made by beautiful piano segments and an airy, wonderful ambience. Altogether, the album plays out a lot like this, and though it doesn't necessarily do new things, it is executed very well.
Burial Burial
Burial Ghost Hardware
In the months before releasing a seminal garage/dubstep album in Untrue, Burial set about making sure the focus of the electronic world would be squarely on him by releasing Ghost Hardware, which is an excellent showcase of his skills as a producer. The title-track/opener, which is a Burial classic and would go on to be one of the best tracks off of Untrue, does just as well on this EP. "Shutta" is an extremely solid track, one that could've easily been phased into Untrue with little trouble. Closer "Exit Woundz" is in contrast to the other two tracks in that it is easily one of the most minimal and sparse tracks in his discography, which is certainly saying a lot. Thus, the variety and professional skill shown on Ghost Hardware set the stage wonderfully for Untrue, and is an excellent EP by its own merits.
Burial South London Boroughs
The humble beginnings of Burial are quite enjoyable, unsurprisingly. The two middle songs, "Southern Comfort" and "Broken Home" are much more well known as being a part of the self-titled debut, but they are just as beautifully brooding on here. The title-track on this EP is a magnificent start for Burial, showing that he was able to bring a fresh sound to the table even if you can still hear traces of the artists that influenced him. The closer, "Nite Train" is decent enough, and continues from the sounds of the tracks preceding it very nicely. In all, a great start for a man who would go on to mystify the electronic world with future releases.
Burial Street Halo
Burial Rival Dealer
"Don't be afraid to step into the unknown..." A woman's voice says around the four minute mark of "Come Down To Us", expressing the sentiment of Rival Dealer as a whole. Whereas in his past work Burial's sound always seemed to have this paranoid vibe to them, the tracks on here feel extremely comfortable and unabashedly natural. That's not to say these tracks have somehow lost personality; Burials staticky intros and beautifully woven samples of sublime female vocals still permeate the runtime length, but there's a distinct sense of contentness here, something that had only previously been explored by Burial in one or two songs, "Rough Sleeper" being the most obvious candidate. Altogether, the title track is a nice starting point, but "Hiders" and "Come Down To Us" is where things really get cooking. I don't feel uncomfortable saying that the latter is one of his shining moments as an artist, and a definitive turning point for him if he continues on this path. In short, Burial isn't afraid anymore. What that means for his music, we shall see, but if it's anything like this, it will be welcomed.
Burning Kitchen Det Langtande Djuret
I am by no means an expert on the punk scene in Sweden. Quite the contrary, in fact, as what I know about it doesn't extend past an excerpt on Bandcamp for this very album. Even so, Burning Kitchen is a name that has come up before even to me, which speaks not only to the influence they've evidently had over their own countries' punk scene, but to the extensive reach they have even to countries across the Atlantic. Det Langtande Djuret shows exactly why this is. There's something to be said about the ability to write and play songs that are emotionally charged, energetic, and catchy at the same time. Burning Kitchen not only know how to do this, but they know how to do it quickly and efficiently, never letting any idea or moment overstay its welcome. The result is a very fun eighteen minutes, and any language barriers that may arise for listeners are lessened by the emotion and intensity behind their voices. Even thirteen years after their debut, Burning Kitchen seem to still have what it takes to make a fun and addicting punk album.
Cage The Elephant Melophobia
Candlemass Ancient Dreams
A third straight album of delicious old-school doom metal riffs and perfectly over-the-top vocals? So it shall be. Granted, the riffs may not have the undeniable personality they had on Nightfall, but they're still very good. The album is carried by Messiah Marcolon's wonderfully operatic and melodramatic vocals, which fit the lyrical themes and general aesthetic of the album perfectly. A great example of his abilities is heard on "Darkness In Paradise", where the verses are sans guitars, leaving him to carry the melody. It's pretty much a spiritual successor to Nightfall, as the song structures remain similar to it here. That said, there are no instrumental tracks, but each track still has a great personality to it. The lack of a standout track gives way to a bit of monotony, but when the compositions are this good and the music this fun, it's not a big problem at all. In all, Ancient Dreams is the third in a line of great releases from Candlemass.
Caravan If I Could Do It All Over Again...
Cerberus Shoal Homb
On Homb, Cerberus Shoal return to the beachfront that was the home for all of their records in the late 90's. This time, it's during the hours before a hurricane, where the air is one of uneasy anticipation and tension. The album sounds like a beefier, more delicately crafted version of their previous opus Elements Of Structure/Permanence, but with its own atmosphere. It really helps the album along to have "Omphalos" as its second track, as the song is rivaled in greatness only by the self-titled's "Elena" when it comes to 90's Shoal. The track is an intense ride even at its slower pace because of the urgency heard in every drum beat and the sudden, loud drones that pop in every now and again just to keep you on your feet. The rest of the album is similar, though it unravels itself much slower and more intricately than ever before. While personal affections bind me to self-titled more than this, it's hard to say, objectively speaking, that the definitive Cerberus Shoal record of the 90's is not Homb.
Cerberus Shoal ...and Farewell to Hightide
There's always been something nautical about Cerberus Shoal, even in their early days. Whereas their self-titled debut gave off imagery of an overcast, windy beachfront, ...And Farewell To Hightide shows that same beachfront in a different time, perhaps during a sunrise. The Slint influences seen on the debut still make their way onto this, but they're much less prevalent than before. Now, especially on tracks like "J.B.O. Vs. Blin", the music is slightly more twinkly, and has more stuff, like horns and pianos, going on it. It's very much like a prototypical, jazzy Mogwai. The spoken word parts here have taken a dive from the self-titled, as the ones you can hear are almost hilariously nonsensical and melodramatic. Still, the improvement in the instrumentation and the change in atmosphere make up for that, and make the album a logical progression from the self-titled. It's these changes that would ensure Cerebus Shoal never made the same album twice in their vastly underrated careers.
Cerberus Shoal Cerberus Shoal
If Cerberus Shoal has sold the rights to this album to Slint, and they released it marketed as some old demos, no one would be any the wiser. That's not to say that Cerberus Shoal rips off or copies Slint, but the influence is obvious. Seriously, this album sounds like if Slint had a rawer sound and also played emo/screamo. And it really is quite beautiful and, in some sections, heart-wrenching. Bands like La Dispute owe a lot to Cerberus Shoal, as the gorgeous mixture of spoken word and post-rock/emo is a huge, lovely part of the bands' sound, especially on songs like "Elena". Unfortunately, sometimes what Chriss Sutherland says is too quiet to hear over the guitars, and occasionally songs will overstay their welcome a bit. However, this record is an important listen, if only for the notion that it doesn't quite sound like much else in Cerberus Shoal's discography, which would experiment with countless genres as time went on.
Cerberus Shoal Crash My Moon Yacht
If Homb saw Cerberus Shoal's beachfront in the hours before a hurricane, then Crash My Moon Yacht shows the beachfront in the days after it. The recurring melody on the "Changabang" tracks shows the glimmers of hope through the relatively tense and uneasy post-rock of "Breathing Machines" and "Elle Besh". This glimmer eventually manages to spread itself, and the music on "Yes Sir, No Sir" and truly beautiful closer "Asphodel" sound swollen with happiness with survival and hope for the future. As with most early Cerberus Shoal material, the songs ebb and flow as if they were all separate living beings, building up into crescendos or keeping the same pace while adding various instrumentation (like that wonderfully memorable flute line on "Long Winded"). Needless to say, the band remain at the top of their post-rock game here, and though they'd explore various other genres after this, the charm of records like these is like few others.
Cerberus Shoal Elements of Structure/Permanence
On their first fully instrumental album, experimental rock/folk extraordinaires Cerberus Shoal turns in a subtle, nuanced, and expansive snapshot. Of what exactly? I've always seen each of their albums as representative of the same beachfront, which each album being a different period of time or weather. This time, the incensed atmosphere is indicative of looking out across the sea while the sun radiates in the sky and pounds the beach with sweltering heat. The bass and drums, rather than the guitars, are the driving force on the album, ebbing and flowing almost like waves, while the guitar wanders freely among the sand. The build-up is patient and just lengthy enough to be memorable, while the climaxes of both songs are appropriately beautiful. It would end up being a turning point for the band, which got even more and more creative and experimental afterwards.
Chance the Rapper Coloring Book
Full to the brim with relaxed flows, gospel-influenced production, several excellent guest spots, and some pretty slick wordplay, Coloring Book is Chance's most consistent effort to date. It's a staple of Chance's tapes to be inconsistent, with the best tracks being phenomenal and the worst being merely listenable. This tape subverts that, as pretty much every track beyond the first two has something to offer. Whether it be the somber "Summer Friends", the smooth "Juke Jam", or the endearing "Finish Line/Drown", there's a nice, positive feel to the album, helped along by the sustained quality. There were moments on the tape that got me to crack a smile, and I suspect it's the same way for many listeners. In all, it's a really fun, enjoyable tape from Chance, who hopefully will keep his newfound consistency. Side note: As long as we're all clear in the understanding that there is no such thing as "gospel-rap" and that anybody who says this tape is such is a sensationalist numbskull, all will be well.
Chelsea Wolfe The Grime And The Glow
After writing an album now known as Mistake In Parting, an unreleased record that Wolfe herself seems to despise, she released her debut proper, which seems to be truly what she was aiming for. What that is exactly is a really calming, yet sometimes strange mixture of lo-fi indie folk, drone, and ethereal wave. She displays excellent vocal prowess throughout the record, and her acoustic guitar playing is quite good as well. There's a nice variety that comes with this record too; from the acoustic, lo-fi stylings of "Cousins Of The Antichrist" and "Halfsleeper", to tracks swamped in drones like "Deep Talks" and "The Why's", to tracks that are set to a definitive beat like "Moses", there's a lot to appreciate here. The quality remains much the same throughout the album, and although I'm partial to "Halfsleeper" and "Benjamin", there's really no bad track to be found here. Truly, a promising and enthralling debut from a great musical mind in Chelsea Wolfe.
Chelsea Wolfe Apokalypsis
After what was a worthwhile ethereal wave-influenced dark folk record in The Grime And The Glow, Chelsea Wolfe evolved further into an even darker, more gothic sound on Apokalypsis and wrote some of her richest material in the process. The album has a very full sound to it in all aspects from the production to the songwriting. The echoes of the guitar and Wolfe's voice give the whole thing an otherworldly feel, while the general ambiance is one of cloudiness and uneasiness. Wolfe herself is typically wonderful, as she truly has the perfect voice for this kind of stuff, and she showcases this throughout. The stretch that begins at the re-recorded "Demons" and ends at the re-recorded "Moses" is undoubtedly the best stretch of material she had done up until this point, and is truly a perfection of her craft early on. Put simply, if you want to hear some dark folk influenced by darkwave and gothic rock with a lady that really sing, you're going to want to check this record quickly.
Chelsea Wolfe Abyss
It's kind of hard to pin down Chelsea Wolfe. I suppose you could call her experimental-gothic-industrial-doom-folk-darkwave, but that's a mouthful. Her experimentation is quite apparent on Abyss, being rife with dark, noisy synths and a quite ominous ambience. The one thing that seems to keep everything from cascading into chaos is her voice, which remains a constant, beautiful anchor, keeping some things familiar while the background music becomes increasingly restless. Perhaps the best example of this is closer "The Abyss", which contains a discordant piano line that becomes drowned in guitars and synths before being replaced by equally discordant strings, while Wolfe's voice is strangely comforting and reassuring. It's strange and amazing indeed, but Chelsea Wolfe never intended her music to be anything but.
Chevelle Point #1
Chevelle have always been known for their soft-loud dynamics, which has often garnered them comparisons to alternative metal giants Tool and Deftones in this regard. Their humble, yet very solid beginnings are seen here on the Steve Albini produced Point #1, coming on to the scene with a bang. The best work on this record is an exercise in soft-loud dynamics, with "Point #1", "Dos", and "Long" providing excellent examples. They even manage to get some catchy riffing in on "Mia" and "Peer". The louder songs on the record sometimes overstay their welcome, but they are still decent enough to warrant a listen. Though their debut wasn't a commercial success, it did well critically, and is a great starting point for anyone wishing to get into Chevelle's discography.
City and Colour Sometimes
City and Colour Bring Me Your Love
City and Colour Little Hell
Clint Mansell and Kronos Quartet Requiem for a Dream
When you think of the feelings strings are supposed to conjure, you'd probably think either warm, happy feelings or melancholy ones. Biting anxiety and fear are probably the last things on the list. I'm sure everyone remembers the famous "Shower Scene" from Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece of film Psycho, and those immeasurably shrill strings playing during it. That's a good example, but this score takes that up a notch. Sure, there are spots on this soundtrack that are dreamy and laid-back, and sometimes almost humorous, but the majority of the score is alienating, cold, tense, and sometimes even horrifying. Pieces of music do repeat themselves a lot here, but there's enough variety in the many themes to keep the listener interested. Put simply, it sets the mood for a movie like Requiem For A Dream, an intense, hopeless journey through the perils of addiction, with stunning perfection.
Cloakroom Further Out
Cloud Nothings Attack on Memory
Cocteau Twins Head Over Heels
Cocteau Twins is one of the most influential bands to have ever existed. They were part of a movement known as "ethereal wave", which musically sounded like a much more atmospheric take on The Cure records a la Seventeen Seconds and Faith. They would go on to have a heavy influence on dream pop and even post-rock, a wonderful example of the latter heard in the final minutes of "Musette And Drums". The atmosphere here works very well, and goes through moments of tension, like on "When Mama Was Moth", moments of smooth contentness as on "Glass Candle Grenades" and "Multifoiled", and moments of melancholy, as heard on "Musette And Drums". There isn't necessarily a standout track here, but most of the songs are very good and the album certainly sounds well rounded and complete. In summation, it's a great early release from one of the most influential and under-appreciated bands in the world.
Code Orange Cycles
Colleen Captain of None
For her entire music career, French multi-instrumentalist and experimental electronic producer liked her work to be completely instrumental. That is, of course, until Captain Of None, when she decided to write her own lyrics and sing them as well in addition to manning several instruments that include the cello, the spinet, and a classical guitar. All of this wafts in an ambient downtempo style, keeping the atmosphere free-spirited and engrossing. The album is pretty consistent, and as far as a standout track goes, that honor is held by "Lighthouse", a gorgeous piece that wouldn't be out of place while walking on a beach. As far as her voice goes, she's quite adept, choosing a style that fits the atmosphere very well. All in all, it's an enjoyable release, one that doesn't quite sound like anything she's done thanks to the addition of vocals.
Corb Lund Things That Can't Be Undone
When most people say the words "country music", they generally mean the pop masquerading as country often heard nowadays. It's a shame, seeing as how guys like Corb Lund are full-on, no-frills, old-timey country and tend to be overlooked by many. Lyrically, the man is quite adept, telling stories of his life and times, best exemplified on the trio of "Sadr City", "Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues" ("I've done a lot of singing about sticking it to the man, today's the day he's gonna stick it right back if he can" is so subtlety perfect), and "S Lazy H". Musically, it's excellently executed, even if unambitious, country, with acoustic and electric guitars, occasional backing vocals, and Lund's wonderful voice keeping things authentic and enjoyable. You have your melancholy slower-paced acoustic songs, but you also have your more upbeat, faster-paced jams, and they both generally sound great. Altogether, it's a great country album, thanks to Lund's excellent vocal, lyrical, and instrumental work.
Covenant Dreams Of A Cryotank
One of the pioneers of a more accessible and club-ready style of EBM, Covenant initially started with some pretty straightforward, yet very well executed, EBM tracks on their debut, Dreams Of A Cryotank. Though the sound is a dated for 1994, the danceable and engrossing beats, rich synths, and lyrics more akin to a cyberpunk outfit make the music here very enjoyable. It's much more apocalyptic than Covenant would ever be again, especially on tracks like "Shelter". The crown jewel of the record lies with the absolutely massive closer "Cryotank Expansion", a twenty-six minute masterpiece of tense, spacey ambient, slow-burning industrial build-ups, and a final, chorus-lead trudge with a swampy and heavy beat. Though they'd go on to have a much cleaner and refined sound, Dreams Of A Cryotank is an important listen in Covenant's discography, acting as their darkest record.
Cruciamentum Charnel Passages
I suppose I could start this soundoff with a rant about how a lot of OSDM revival is a bunch of surface-level trite, but when bands like Cruciamentum exist, why even bother? I mean, the riffs are there, the passion is there, the aesthetic is there, everything's there. These guys understand that slapping a really pointy band logo on a macabre album cover and then proceeding to rip off Morbid Angel or Obituary does not a death metal album make. You gotta breathe this stuff, you know? It starts out decently enough, but once "Tongues Of Nightshade" begins, things get serious. It's furious, full of riffs and blast beats, and above all, it's fun. That's what I think is so cool about this: here's a group of guys who obviously get the style and love what it's about, even if it's old. They take that and run with it, and manage to make something old sound fresh and entertaining.
Danny Brown Atrocity Exhibition
The link between Joy Division and Danny Brown is pretty thin, but I think making references to them and having production that sounds somewhat post-punky at times establishes the main theme Atrocity Exhibition: Danny Brown is one depressed dude. This was, of course, explored in both XXX and Old, but never as outright and upfront as here. His sense of irony and penchant for strange inflections are still alive and well, and thanks to this new backdrop, which is both fluid in its instrumental arrangement but crumbling with a tense, paranoid tone, he's never sounded more convincing; basically, the pictures he paints lyrically are accentuated by the production to give the concept a full and rich feel. The guest spots here do excellently as well, especially on "Really Doe", where the likes of Earl Sweatshirt and Kendrick Lamar drop some great verses. In a nutshell, if you were a fan of Brown's previous releases and enjoy some off-kilter production, this record deserves an immediate listen.
Deafheaven Sunbather
Many of the arguments regarding the illegitimacy of Sunbather in the canon of black metal start one of two ways: with references to non-existent hipsters or some sort of extension thereof, or with the words "Black metal isn't supposed to be...*description of album*". Putting black metal, or any genre for that matter, in a box like that would only result in the stagnation of the sound within it, eventually leading to its death. That's why bands like Deafheaven are important, whether you like them or not. They keep new ideas coming into the genre, and that's admirable whether or not those ideas actually pan out. In this case, they did, because the beautiful mixture of atmospheric black metal, shoegaze, and post-rock is an uplifting, gorgeous experience that completely nails what it was going for. It's atmosphere is inviting and warm, and although there's a lot of melancholy in the lyrics, there's a prevalent sense of hope that makes this album a joy to listen to. They'd fall back on genre conventions a bit after this, but the giant leap taken with this album allowed them to combine those conventions with the experimentation heard here, resulting in their best album to date. And that's just one of the reasons history will remember Sunbather fondly.
Death Spiritual Healing
One of the originators of old school, no frills death metal who changed into a seminal technical/progressive death metal band, Death is easily one of the most recognizable bands in metal. This, their third record, marks an interesting turning point for the band. Sure, they weren't quite playing their more technical, progressive style yet, but the signs were definitely there. The songs are longer, the riffs progress more slowly in certain songs like the title track, and can be decently technical on songs like "Low Life". The drumming is competent, but pretty lackluster compared to what's going on around them. Instead of the horrific tales of chaos and destruction detailed on Leprosy and Scream Bloody Gore, Chuck Schuldiner opts for a more serious and interesting lyrical approach, as well as adding some ghastly effects to his voice, that actually work, in certain passages. The solo work here is also very good, and we have James Murphy to thank for that. All this being said, Spiritual Healing is not quite Death's greatest record, but an important record in their discography nonetheless.
Death Grips The Powers That B - Part I: Niggas on the Moon
Death Grips Fashion Week (Instrumentals)
I mean yeah Runway E is pretty good, but Runway E is easily the best here. EDIT: After a few listens, it appears to me that this is Death Grips' most accessible release. That is majorly due to the absence of MC Ride, but a few of the beats on here seem a slight bit more accessible than the ones they've done in the past. Take the second "Runway H" and it's oddly upbeat guitar riff for instance. Also, a couple of rtracks on here have a bit of a vaporwave influence. It's not much, but it's noticeable. The rumors are that this is supposed to be the soundtrack to Zach Hill's movie. That movie is going to be an absolute trip if that is truly the case.
Deer Leap/The World Is A Beautiful Place... Are Here To Help You
There is something to be said for music that is able to make you feel nostalgic even if you'd never heard it before that point in time. That pretty much describes The World Is A Beautiful Place...'s post-rock/midwest emo sound to a T, but it also describes Deer Leap's, a band which does just as well on Are Here To Help You as the better known band they share this split with. Both sides are a lovely, very well-written mix of post-rock and midwest emo, and though TWIABP has the defining moment on the split with "Bread For Brett"'s climax, Deer Leap have a couple more evocative moments than their contemporary, most notably on "We Are Not Who We Are". Even though it's not the most original material in the genre, it sounds positively divine and both bands are at the top of their respective and similar games. Truly, one shouldn't have to look far past this to get a top-notch split of top-notch post-rock/midwest emo.
Deftones Gore
Whether you call it alt-metal or nu-metal or whatever, Deftones make some simple music. Sure, it's much more atmospheric and well-produced than most of their contemporaries, but at its core, Deftones' music has always been simplistic. It relies on emotion and atmosphere to get the job done, and in that sense, Gore is not unlike any other album of theirs. What makes it a winner is just how well-executed and smooth this album runs from end to end, with no bumps in the road when it comes to quality. It strikes an excellent balance between the subtle quietness of the verses, the emotionally charged (and very catchy) choruses, the airy ambience, and the expansive climaxes. It sounds both frail and powerful, juxtaposing these moments wonderfully throughout the record. "Hearts / Wires" and "Phantom Bride" are both perfect examples of this, stacking up as some of the best material the band has written since Chi Cheng's accident. In the end, Gore is just another instance of Deftones showing how masterful they are at bringing complex emotions and ideas out of inherently simple music.
Del tha Funkee Homosapien Both Sides of the Brain
Possessing an unmistakable voice and a penchant for lyricism, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien is one of the more prominent figures in underground hip-hop. His work with Deltron 3030 is seen as classic, and his debut record established him as a very capable rapper. Both Sides Of The Brain is arguably his best work, featuring his most recognized song in "If You Must", some songs dealing with personal addictions in "BM's" and "Skull & Crossbones", and his affront to "fake rappers", something that has always characterized Del. The production on this record is much more varied than on his previous albums, and the guest appearances on here are excellent as well. Though it drags slightly in the middle, Del manages to put his best foot forward on these tracks, and shouldn't come as a surprise that it ends being a great success.
Del tha Funkee Homosapien I Wish My Brother George Was Here
Dendritic Arbor Romantic Love
A twisted combination of experimental grindcore with a distinct black metal aesthetic, Romantic Love is an album that wastes no time in bludgeoning you over the head with a mallet, then dragging you into its decrepit, hollow dungeon. The atmosphere is quite chilling, given that bursts of extremely dissonant grind are interrupted by ambient passages, in which things such as unintelligible voices, far-off screams, and the low hum of machinery swirl around in it. There seems to be something new to catch through every listen of these tracks, and at thirty-two minutes, there's no problem re-listening. The vocals are quite atonal, and though sometimes a bit off putting, really contribute to the atmosphere. With that said, Dendritic Arbor may be on to something here, so if you're interested in the more experimental side of grind, I would definitely recommend listening to this.
Depeche Mode Some Great Reward
In the world of synthpop and electronic rock, Depeche Mode are one of the seminal bands. With this album as the starting point, they would up their game to essential-listening levels, and would be forever cemented as one of the top bands in the genre. Here, we have brooding, yet occasionally upbeat synthpop, and though a few songs are plagued by awful lyrics, it is for the most part a great album. The scathing closer, "Blasphemous Rumors", is one of the bands' crowning achievements, while other excellent tracks like "Lie To Me" and "Master And Servant" really make this record the first truly great one in Depeche Mode's discography. Basically, if you're looking for a great slab of catchy synthpop with slight industrial and electronic rock leanings, you should give this one a spin.
Dethrone (SWE) Incinerate All
Hailing from Sweden, the quintet known as Dethrone is one exciting act, playing a very thrashy form of melodic death metal. And make no mistake, they don't play MELODIC death metal so much as they play melodic DEATH metal, if you get where I'm going with this. The end result is an album that, while not being entirely original, pretty much excels in all other aspects. The songwriting is fluid and organic, with thrashy riffs and drumming rhythms with the occasional melodic lead, tremolo riff and technical solo. The double-bass is blistering, and the bass guitar is audible and even sometimes gets a moment in the spotlight. The weak point would be the vocals, but even they are really solid, if a slight bit monotonous. The quality of the record remains very high throughout the runtime, and though there may be standout moments within tracks, no track really jumps out. This would normally be an issue, but with memorable moments within each track, it's pretty easy to follow. In short, a really great, energy-laden release from some still-young guys, who might still have their best up their sleeves.
Devouring Humanity Devouring Humanity
Artery Eruption has a longstanding reputation within the slam death metal scene as making some of dumbest (in a good way) and off-kilter slam out there. Brian and Grant Moehler, brothers in the band, are back with a new project, Devouring Humanity, and although it's in a similar vein as Artery Eruption, it's truly it's own beast. The production on this thing, simply put, is phenomenal. The slams and unintelligible riffing sounds almost like some sort of twisted ambient backdrop while the drums play some truly incorrigible and insane rhythms on top of it. The tones on all of the instruments are pitch perfect for the style, and the vocals are typically wonderful. There are a few surprise moments here as well that I'd be foolish to spoil, but they're pretty amazing when they happen. If this is the sound of slam in 2016, then it's in a good place. Also, it's delightfully tongue-in-cheek, because who names their songs "Slams To The Dome" and "Brutality Accomplished" and takes themselves seriously?
Discordance Axis Jouhou
In the pantheon of grindcore, the virtue of uniqueness and originality is paramount to creating a truly great record. Of course, originality on its own isn't going to get the job done. You need energy, passion, and a whole lot of explosive, palpable anger juxtaposed with the unique. Discordance Axis embodied this as well as any grind band ever did during their career, with Jouhou being the first of two records that pulled off spastic, riff-centric grind with absolutely unreal vocals from Jon Chang. One of the noticeable things about this record is how it doesn't sacrifice quality riffs for sheer intensity. Rather, it achieves them both with stunning efficiency, with some intense, yet clear, production that allows each instrument breathing room. Chang is an undeniable force to be reckoned with vocally, with a high, piercing scream as haunting as it is impressive. Add to the mix a furious drum performance from Dave Witte, and you have yourself an excellent grind record. It's amazing they were able to top this...
DJ Screw Chapter 51: 9 'Fo Shit
1994 was a momentous year for DJ Screw, as it saw his growth from a simple disc jockey with a great idea to one of the most renowned DJ's in the south, especially in his hometown of Houston. This tape, his final of the year, sees a retrospective Screw, with the tape essentially being a combination and upgrade of Hard Times and Da Funk Is On Your Mind. His skills in both chopping and transitioning are really in excellent form here, especially on one of his greatest screw's, "Ain't No Thang" by Outkast. The first half of the tape is definitely one of his greatest accomplishments, and while the second half is also good, there's a few repeats of tracks he did earlier, though done much better than before, evident in Lady Of Rage's "Afro Puffs" and "So Much Love" by Big Mello. His best years were certainly ahead of him, but his accomplishments during 1994 are summed up very well here, and are definitely nothing to scoff at.
DJ Screw Chapter 119: No Drank
"Drank been dry for about two weeks" says Fat Pat before a verse, and it's true: during this particular stretch of 1995, there was a shortage on the purple in the purple city. What's some guys to do? Simple: get together and bust out some freestyles over some smooth beats and let Screw work his magic on the turntables afterwards. Chapter 119: No Drank is essentially all freestyles bar a couple of joints at the end of the tape, and they're all pretty great. The sound, both smooth and lo-fi, is perfect for the likes of Fat Pat (who spits some of his best freestyles on this tape), 'Lil Keke, 'Lil Boo, and Big Dave to drop some bars over. What's great about it is how raw it all is from the sound to the recordings themselves. These were all done in one take, so it's not uncommon to hear some things you don't usually hear, like how after verses are done you can hear the other people in the room laugh or clap, or how at one point Pat keeps rapping though it's clear he's trying not to bust up laughing. It's awesome because it's all so genuine. It's a pretty classic screw tape because of this, and thus, if you're a fan of the south, it can't be missed.
Dr. Dre The Chronic
The amount of hip-hop albums made under the shadow of The Chronic are a numerous bunch, and this alone gives it an important spot in the genre's history. It was at least partially responsible for the following things: popularizing G-funk as a style of gangsta rap, bringing a young man by the name of Calvin Broadus, A.K.A. Snoop Dogg, to near superstardom without an album of his own, launching the careers of several other rappers and producers, and establishing Death Row as a very major label in the 90's. Aside from a few hiccups in the tracklist (namely "The Roach", which is just a Parliament song with a skit over it), the album is G-funk perfection, producing such classics as "Let Me Ride", "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang", "Lil Ghetto Boy", "Stranded On Death Row", and "Bitches Ain't Shit". With its far-reaching influence and classic cuts that have stood the test of time, The Chronic is an excellent west coast hip-hop record and an essential G-funk record.
Dr. Dre 2001
It's hard to believe how many classic beats in the west coast vault are from solely this album. Needless to say, Dr. Dre's production on this is some of the most immaculate and consistently excellent in west coast hip-hop. This of course including, but not limited to, "The Watcher" with its sparse horns and thudding drums, "Still D.R.E." with its unmissable keyboard line, "What's The Difference" with its intimidating combination of horns and strings, "Forgot About Dre" with its biting string chords and unmistakable guitar line, and "The Next Episode", with its impeccably funky guitar line. Of course, the second half of the record does have some filler on it, bringing down the album from the incredible heights it had reached in the first, but it ends on a masterful note with "The Message", a heartfelt tribute to his late brother Tyree. The album also features wonderful guest verses and hooks from Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Hittman, and Kurupt, backing up Dre in spades and sounding like they belonged there. Seven years after The Chronic and the loud just as strong.
Dragged Into Sunlight / Gnaw Their Tongues N.V.
Though it's been a quiet three years for Dragged Into Sunlight, it's been a great year for Gnaw Their Tongues, which saw the release of a vicious album in Abyss Of Longing Throats. This collaboration is Dragged Into Sunlight's reemergence (a welcomed one at that), and something of a raising of a victorious glass for Gnaw Their Tongues. Like most collaborations, it seems better on paper than in practice, but here, it's not too far off. Gnaw Their Tongues' Maurice De Jong contributes an excellent vocal performance, while the guitars and drums are handled by Dragged Into Sunlight. The guitars sound forceful and imposing, and the drums, while not too well produced, are competently played. It creates an atmosphere similar to the one on Abyss Of Longing Throats, yet instead of a nihilistic sentiment there is often a murderous one. The samples are very hit or miss. The samples in "Visceral Repulsion" just seem forced, but the ones in "Absolver" are very well placed. In all, it's a great collaboration; maybe not as disgusting and venomous as was hoped, but still great nonetheless.
Drake If You're Reading This It's Too Late
I've never been too fond of Drake. I thought that Thank Me Later was good in spots, but very misguided. Take Care had some great singles and nice production, but I thought it was a bit inconsistent. NWTS was Drake with very little confidence in himself, and it reflected in his music despite the ethereal production. And now? He hits the mark in a totally unexpected release that just might be my favorite project of his. Drake has never been a lyrical rapper, but he drops some surprisingly good lines on this thing, most notably on closer "6 P.M. In New York". The production is similar to that of NWTS, and it's pretty sweet on its own. The biggest improvement here is that Drake approaches things with confidence in himself, while also recognizing he has flaws and turning them around on his detractors. His charismatic boasts don't sound so empty this time around, and his overall theme of getting used to being famous really works here. That is not to say the album doesn't have filler, but overall it is a consistent endeavor that has one thinking if this is just a preview of something bigger and better. We shall see.
Earl Sweatshirt EARL
Earl Sweatshirt I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside
I remember the first time I heard "Earl", back when Odd Future was really starting to blow up and everyone around my town was wearing Supreme hats and constantly quoting lyrics off of "Yonkers". Things were simpler then, for both me and for Earl. As the years go by, he has drifted further and further away from the Odd Future collective, and though he is still technically a member, he's really on the fringe. Gone are the violently entertaining raps of his eponymous debut, substituted now for more introspective and story-telling lyrical escapades. The lo-fi production that permeates Odd Future records is still very much alive, but utilized in a different way. Earl was quoted as saying that he wanted the beats on the record, made by himself under the persona RandomBlackDude, to sound like they're melting. That's exactly what happens here, and it fits rather well with his trademark monotone rapping style. Though the album is a bit samey, Earl openly invites you to explore more thoroughly the personal side of him that he expressed somewhat on Doris, and it makes for an interesting, yet strangely mesmerizing experience.
Earth Pentastar: In The Style Of Demons
In the world of drone music, Earth are living legends. On their third LP, they drift further away from the hypnotic, smothering drone they employed on Earth 2 and decided on a more conservative style. This meant shorter songs, quieter drones, and even some vocals here or there. And in all, it is a very tasteful and enjoyable drone metal/stoner rock album that takes influences from psychedelic rock as well. As such, it is also Earth's most accessible record, but not necessarily their most conventional in terms of drone. Rather, this is relatively unconventional, as it constantly straddles the line between drone metal and stoner rock, never quite sounding completely like either of those genres. Someone once described it as "Aerosmith songs played really slowly", and I can't really argue against that statement. The tightened songwriting is s nice change of pace from the sloppy Earth 3, and rather than being a mixed bag it is very consistent overall. They'd never truly return to this style afterwards, but it was certainly great while it lasted, as a listen to this album will show you.
Earth Earth 2
Earth Hex: Or Printing In the Infernal Method
Being one of the premier bands of drone music, Earth has a reputation for making some of the most influential and enjoyable drone albums out there. Hex is a much different beast from the likes of Earth 2 or Pentastar, as it leans more towards post-rock than drone. Still, there are still droning moments, and when combined with a huge influence from southwestern folk, you have what is essentially the soundtrack to riding through desert plains on horseback. It's like if Godspeed's "The Cowboy" was even more western and made to fit forty-six minutes. Truly, it's one of the virtues of Earth that they are able to change their style of writing and playing and still sound innovative and interesting. It sounds undeniably rural and gritty, and with ambient sections peppered throughout, it really puts you in that desert landscape. Hex is most certainly the culmination of their western-influenced style, and provides soundscapes with smooth and calming qualities.
Earth Hibernaculum
Earth, one of the premier drone metal bands, is very well-respected in the community of noise music. With records such as this, it's easy to see why. Though three of the songs on this record are old songs they've played before, they changed the style of the song from their original fuzzy, heavy drones into the style more prominently explored on Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method, making them sound like different songs altogether. The one original song on the record, "A Plague Of Angels", is rife with psychedelic, yet mesmerizingly thin drones, plodding drums, and a distinct country influence. It's a bit long for an EP, but don't miss it if you are a fan of Earth, or just need some ethereal drone metal in your life.
Earth Extra-Capsular Extraction
Earth A Bureaucratic Desire For ExtraCapsular Extraction
This compilation of early Earth material is exactly what one is looking for if they need repetitive, droning, and oddly catchy soundscapes. The songs contained within are less drone metal than just extremely minimalistic and loud grunge. Either that or the patented tactic of slowing Black Sabbath songs way down, I can't really remember. It works wonderfully as meditative, reflective music, as something to get completely lost inside for a short while. "Ouroboros Is Broken" is probably the best example of this, because not once during the entire eighteen-minute song does the riff or the drumming ever sound played out or long-winded. It is one of the gifts Earth had and a gift seen in only a handful of other bands and projects around: to make repetition into a mesmerizing and worthwhile experience rather than a snooze-fest. It's actually pretty magical.
Earth Primitive and Deadly
Earth is considered one of the premier drone metal bands in existence, and with releases like Earth 2, it's easy to see why. While their early work was mainly droning with little percussion and no vocals, on Primitive And Deadly they change this. Cleaner sounding production, airy vocals and slow, methodical drumming combine with the droning riffage that Earth is known for to fantastic effect here. "Torn By The Fox Of The Crescent Moon" and "Even Hell Has Its Heroes" are two instrumental tracks that show a nice psychedelic rock influence. "From The Zodiacal Light" and "Rooks Across The Gate" show the vocal styling of Earth to be an excellent fit with the instrumentals established, and are as ethereal as they are heavy. Altogether, Earth has another excellent release under their belt, and prove that they certainly still have it.
Emery ...In Shallow Seas We Sail
For a band that had been getting softer and softer up until this point, Emery sure opens with a bang on ...In Shallow Seas We Sail in the form of "Cutthroat Collapse", which might just be the best song they've ever written. Though that may seem like a questionable choice for an opener, the quality of the songwriting stays pretty strong throughout the album, despite a minor hiccup early on. The vocal melodies and layering have never been stronger than here, and the screamed vocals are easily the best they've been too. The potent mix of these vocals combined with the excellent hooks and the seamless transitioning from post-hardcore riffing to alt-rock stylings makes this record the culmination of everything their early sound promised, and as such, is unequivocally their most dynamic and layered record to date. Even the inclusion of electronics that they toyed with on previous releases is used tactfully and adds yet another facet to the sound. It gets better after every listen thanks to these layers of instrumentation and vocals, and because of all of the things, it's in every way Emery's best record.
Eminem The Eminem Show
Eminem The Slim Shady EP
Enigma MCMXC a.D.
Every Time I Die Hot Damn!
Despite improving noticeably from their debut EP The Burial Plot Bidding War to their first LP Last Night In Town, Every Time I Die nonetheless seemed as if they were struggling for an identity, still having yet to find their niche. Hot Damn! put all of that to sleep. The lyrics, production, and playing ability of the band didn't change much at all from their first LP. The real upgrade was in the songwriting department. The music was tighter, faster, and more intense, as well as having a few standout tracks in "Off Broadway" and "In The Event Things Should Go Horribly Wrong". The guitars have that small southern tinge to them, and it gives them a lot of personality. The bands influences begin to appear less obvious as well, and though it's not all that original, the musicianship here is as good as the band has been. In all, with this release, Every Time I Die began to separate themselves from their influences and began running with their own sound to satisfying results.
Every Time I Die The Big Dirty
Subtle intelligence has always been a strong suit for Every Time I Die, as groovy riffs and mosh-worthy breakdowns collide with drunken shouting and scathing lyrics. Whereas Gutter Phenomenon is very subtle in a thematic sense, Hot Damn! is intelligent from a songwriting standpoint more than any other. The Big Dirty is a pretty seamless marriage of these two albums, not only in sound, but in theme and aesthetic as well. The songwriting is definitely less homogenous than last time around, but the strong thematic elements remain as well. One thing that does differ from all of their previous efforts is the presence of a standout track: "INRIhab", which has a more distressed and hopeful sound than anything they've done before. The production is excellent, and the instrumentation is charismatic and fun as always. Keith Buckley shines again both as a lyricist and a vocalist, and in all The Big Dirty is a rousing success for one of the funnest and most subtle bands in metalcore.
Every Time I Die New Junk Aesthetic
In combining the short, spastic bursts of energy from Hot Damn! and the groovy, southern-influenced riffing of The Big Dirty, New Junk Aesthetic is in many ways a statement of the great things the band has done and its desired path from there onward. Keith Buckley is still phenomenal both vocally and lyrically, and the songwriting here is everything Every Time I Die should be about: really fun, really catchy, and dirty in its southern-tinged grooviness. They do, unfortunately, fall back into the habit of not having a true standout track on the album, which ultimately contributes towards the notion that the tracks bleed into each other somewhat. That said, the tracks here are all very solid, with several of them being top-tier compositions for the band. It's pretty accessible as well, with the production sounding organic and hard-hitting, lending a hand to some already pretty heavy material. It's quite a great metalcore record, and is pretty much on par with the bands' best as a mixture of their two distinct styles.
Every Time I Die Low Teens
I am of the party that thinks both Ex Lives and From Parts Unknown were pretty much Every Time I Die on auto-pilot. Not bad albums at all, but stagnant most certainly. It's safe to say that with Low Teens, they've caught a second wind. The songwriting, while certainly taken up a couple of notches from the past couple of releases, is still pretty classic Every Time I Die: groovy, southern-tinged metalcore with mosh-worthiness in spades. Here, though, the band members themselves sound rejuvenated. Keith Buckley, who turns in his best performance both vocally and lyrically since Hot Damn!, is a monster here, and his clean vocals have really improved. Newcomer Daniel Davison is a force on the kit, while Jordan Buckley and Andrew Williams spin some wild riffs. The production sounds really full and very powerful, allowing each instrument needed clarity but a nice punch as well. In addition to possibly being the band's best album in thirteen years, it's yet another album from this year that proves how death, even just the prospect of it, affects the music of the artist affected in unbelievable ways.
Explosions in the Sky How Strange, Innocence
Explosions in the Sky The Wilderness
Being perfecters of a very simple, yet beautiful post-rock style that has influenced countless bands in the scene, Explosions In The Sky, totally undeservedly, have become the staple stereotypical post-rock band. It's through no fault of their own, but history has chosen to see it that way. That said, this change they've exhibited on their newest record, The Wilderness, is definitely the most obvious of their career. Through shorter songs, experimentation with electronics, and a curious lack of crescendos, Explosions In The Sky has tweaked their sound in a nice way. It's still Explosions, as the twinkly and gorgeous guitars show, but there are moments here unlike any other in their discography. The playful electronic melody on "The Ecstatics", or the oddly catchy bass riff and drumming that almost sounds like an electronic song on "Disintegration Anxiety", and the unnerving ending to "Colors In Space" are a few fine examples. Yet, the immense beauty of closer "Landing Cliffs" reminds you who you're listening to, and shows that despite these changes, Explosions In The Sky are still masters at making simple moments evocative and wonderful to hear.
FatGyver Talk To Strangers
Boom Bap used to be one of the leading styles in mainstream hip-hop in the 90's. Nowadays, it has fallen out of the mainstream spotlight, but still retains a dedicated following in the underground. Enter Fatgyver, a producer from Helsinki, Finland, who holds a special appreciation for boom bap, so much so in fact that his debut album, Talk To Strangers, is chock-full of instrumental songs wonderfully crafted from the style. That said, there are a lot of different vibes coming off of this album. From the smooth "Monday Stroll" to the humorous yet jazzy "Ain't Got No Bacon", to the somber and introspective "Interror Design", the album never becomes dull due to its exploration of differing textures. The highlight for me is "Sharkitekt", with samples swirling in and out of its unnerving yet strangely smooth piano tones.
Fela Kuti Confusion
Finsterforst Mach Dich Frei
One of the current leaders in viking/folk metal, Finsterforst craft another journey through distant lands with the use of massive songwriting and several additions to the usual metal formula such as choirs, horns, accordions, fifes, and the like. Their music is loud and attention-grabbing, and there aren't many boring moments on the record. There are several soaringly uplifting sections in songs like "Zeit Fur Hass" and "Finsterforst", making great collective use of guitars, choirs, and horns to create a heroic atmosphere. Though in general this style of music has its cheesy moments (this album is no exception), a lot of the cheesiness usually present in the lyrics will be lost on anyone who doesn't speak fluent German, I presume. All in all, this is a pretty engaging folk/viking metal record, one that fans of the genre have come to expect from Finsterforst.
Fire! Orchestra Ritual
It's not quite a tale of two halves for Fire! Orchestra, but it is certainly an organized and nuanced effort by the ensemble that is pretty evenly split, right down the middle of the album. What I mean by that is, during the first half of the album, that is, the first two and a half tracks, the album flows much like a free jazz album should: all over. There's even some noisy experimentation with electronics on "Part 3". Of course, this is enriched and enjoyable free jazz as per usual from the group, but the second half really shows a different side of them. The last half of "Part 3" is heavily reminiscent of Fire!'s She Sleeps, She Sleeps, and the last two tracks are arguably the most conventional, structured pieces the group has ever penned, really taking less of a free jazz approach and more of an experimental big band approach. Needless to say, this goes over well enough, with the sound nonetheless being fraught with intricacies and beauty. In all, it's another worthwhile outing from the ensemble.
Flying Lotus 1983
FlyLo's debut is an interesting piece of work, and showcases synth-heavy instrumentation and a very spacey atmosphere. The opener (also being the title-track) begins with some alien, spaceship-like sounds before catching fire on a strangely catchy synth line and thumping beat, making a fantastic start to the record. Though the album isn't as experimental as his later work, to say that it is without any experimentation is false. Take "Pet Monster Shotglass" for instance, with its weird basslines moving in amidst a constant swirl of glitchy synth work. And on the closer, "Unexpected Delight", we see FlyLo's affinity for jazz, as a middle-eastern sounding wind instruments and elegant piano lines accent Laura Darlington's voice excellently. Certainly a great debut, 1983 shows FlyLo's humble beginnings, but hints of what he would soon become as well.
Fogh Depot Fogh Depot
A trio of musicians from Mexico City, Fogh Depot is an interesting project that combines smooth dark jazz, ambient, and experimental electronic. It's an album that fits the aesthetic it wants to give (foggy and tranquil), but also manages to do more than that in the process. Opening with "Anticyclone", the foggy atmosphere is set well. From inside this atmosphere, great things are done. On "Nevalyashka", a beautiful piano line turns evocative when surrounded by whirling wind instruments. On "Saggitarius", a fantastic jam session from the members really stands out from the original ambience. And on "Tattoo", an awkwardly catchy, yet wonderfully subdued guitar line enriches the track very well. While ambitious, some songs can get a little too abrasive for the style, and that hurst the flow of the album a bit. Still, the album is an excellent listen for those with an ear for the experimental.
Fort Minor The Rising Tied
Frank Ocean Nostalgia, Ultra.
Frank Ocean Blonde
It's a cliche that is at once life-affirming and perplexing: "live every moment like it's your last." That phrase can be used many ways, many using it as their reason to love out their dreams and others using it as justification for reckless and self-destructive behavior. But no one seems to address the uncertainty that phrase implies. You don't know what might happen tomorrow. For all you know, the world could end. It could drive you crazy if you think about it too much. Blonde is an album that operates with this notion in mind. Frank Ocean, while certain of who he is, is not certain of where this will take him or who he may become later in life. It's an album that embraces that insecurity and turns it into a virtue. It's scary, sure, but life is about the journey, about the little things every day. The music is much more minimalistic this time around, reflecting the introspective mood and shifting between celebratory, melancholy, lustful, and dreamy tones. His voice, simply put, is phenomenal, as if it'd be anything different. It's an expression of individuality and the strange, strange thing that is life, and it only gets better and better upon repeated listens. It's becoming impossible to expect anything less from the man.
Freddie Gibbs Shadow of a Doubt
After the successful year Freddie Gibbs had last year, as well as adding "father" to his list of occupations, you'd think he'd take a step back for a bit. You'd be wrong, as Gangsta Gibbs comes out firing, sounding hungry and relentless, over excellent trap production from a wide array of producers. Gibbs is really in his element here, as he sounds comfortable but never lazy or stagnant, spitting harsh street truths, dismissing his copycats and enemies, and occasionally retiring to his place of perpetual indulgence. The guest spots here are done well, especially Black Thought of The Roots, who shifts into "Extradite" rather seamlessly to drop a couple of great verses. The hooks on this record are pretty good as well, as "Careless" and "Insecurities" will show you, and there really isn't a bad moment to be found throughout the fify-eight minute runtime. In all, Freddie Gibbs refuses to slow down, and makes a fun, yet sometimes dark, trap/gangsta rap record that fits perfectly into his ever-growing discography.
Fripp and Eno No Pussyfooting
One of the precursors to what ambient music and drone music what eventually become, (No Pussyfooting) is an interesting and enjoyable album all the same. King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp and ambient God Brian Eno both make incredible and noteworthy use of looping techniques to create a swirling and entrancing atmosphere. Fripp's electric guitar makes up the entirety of opener "The Heavenly Music Corporation", being used in both conventional and unconventional ways. There's a lot going on on closer "Swastika Girls" as well, with acoustic guitars and synthesizers weaving within each other, looped endlessly, while an electric guitar drones and sometimes even solos over the backdrop. Looking back on it, it was highly experimental for its time, and was one of Eno's first forays into ambient music. In all, the album is not only an enjoyable, relaxing listen, but it is also an important landmark in ambient and drone music.
Fripp and Eno Evening Star
Brian Eno is rightfully credited as one of the main creative forces behind the ambient genre, due to well-known records in his Ambient series and other escapades. Credit is also due to Robert Fripp, however, as his collaborations with Eno are a huge part of ambient's early development. At this point, it was known one could make a dreamy atmosphere out of ambient, as seen in Fripp & Eno's first record, (No Pussyfooting). This is also what the first side of this record does to excellent effect. However, when the second side rolls around, warm calmness gives way to tension and fear. Evening Star is one of the first, if not the first, time when such contrasting atmospheres were set side by side on an ambient palette, which understandably makes it a landmark record in the genre. It may seem somewhat primitive by today's standards, but this was a totally necessary evolution for ambient, and still manages to be a captivating listen even today.
From A Second Story Window Not One Word Has Been Omitted
Full Blast Risc
The name of this European free jazz trio is a bit peculiar before you hear them, but even the most cursory of listens will clue you in onto why they're so aptly named. Peter Brotzmann is the man who brought this together, and he does his thing on the saxophone near-perfectly throughout the runtime, but the real star of the show is Michael Wertmuller. Not only does he handle the drumming on this LP, which is complete with intricate fills and blast beats, but he also puts into use various electroacoustic techniques. While these techniques are sometimes used to bring a further unstructured and haphazard feel to the music, the only times the album ever feels structured is under the spell of these techniques. This is most notable on the second half of the record, which takes an even stranger form than the dissonant free jazz of the first. Throw in some truly excellent and imposing bass work by Marino Pliakas, and you have yourself one of the best jazz records of the year so far.
Funkadelic Maggot Brain
If you and your folks love me and my folks like me and my folks love you and your folks if there ever was folks that ever ever was poor. If your and your thing dig me and my thing like me and my thing dig you and your thing. And we, oh, we got a thing, yeah, and it's a very good thing. But if in our fears we don't learn to trust each other and in our tears we don't learn to share with your brother, you know that hate is gonna keep on multiplying and you know that man is gonna keep right on dying. The rich got a big piece of this and that, the poor got a big piece of roaches and rats. Can you get to that? Tell me where it's at. You want peace, I want peace, they want peace, and the kids need peace. There won't be no peace.
Future DS2
It's a general consensus within a number of (wrong) people that the use of auto-tune is somehow entirely and solely indicative of ones lack of talent and ability with vocals. What these people fail to realize is that if used properly, auto-tune provides quite the enjoyable aesthetic. That's why Dirty Sprite 2 is a good record: it's bursting at the seams with an addicting and insatiably fun vibe, helped along well by the use of auto-tune. If you're listening to this for lyrical ability, you're doing it wrong (That's not to say that a huge chunk of this record isn't immediately quotable, though). The real draw is the production, though, with its trap-influenced beats giving a very druggy feel to the whole thing. There's no shortage of bangers here, but there's also a nice bevy of relaxed, leaned out tracks too. DS2 is definitely worth your time if you're a fan of fun and entertaining trap-influenced hip-hop.
G Herbo Ballin Like I'm Kobe
At first glance, you understandably might think the Kobe that Lil Herb is referring to is Kobe Bryant. Alas, it is not the NBA star, but his late friend Jacobi Herring, who was affectionately known as Kobe to his friends. It's this type of self-aware cleverness that sets G Herbo apart from many of the rappers from the drill scene in Chicago. Lyrically, he's one of the best to come from the scene, and while that isn't saying much, it's actually quite the virtue for him. He paints a more vivid and grimy picture than many of his contemporaries, and though there's no shortage of absolute bangers with chant-worthy hooks here, there's also no shortage of introspective and sometimes even self-deprecating lines. He also has a great, hungry flow that coexists very well with the beat selections, adding to his huge presence on the microphone and solidifying an already good lyrical performance. Even though much of the drill scene is scorned by many hip-hop listeners (undeservedly so), it's guys like G Herbo that are keeping Chiraq a place well worthy of keeping an eye on.
G Herbo Strictly 4 My Fans
The hip-hop scene in Chicago has been one of the most captivating in recent years, not only with the music coming out of it but with the harrowing knowledge that all of these men do in fact live exactly what they say. G Herbo, for his part, has been one of the most captivating members of the scene, due to his uncanny ability to paint a picture of the city and give introspection whilst maintaining a ravenous delivery and blunt street talk. Strictly 4 My Fans sees Herbo continuing a sound similar to his last project, with a production style that shifts from soul-influenced trap to threatening drill bangers providing the perfect canvas for him. The one slower, sparser joint here is "Control", and shows Herbo with his melodic side, which he's got working very well. And aside from one tight Lil Bibby feature, (any time Herbo and Bibby are on a track it's bound to be awesome) it's all Herbo on this tape, unabridged. Thus, this tape is an easy winner. The promise of a debut full-length is exciting as well, and no doubt it will be great.
G.L.O.S.S. Demo
Chances are, if you're a fan of punk, you've heard the name G.L.O.S.S. pop up a few times this year. Even if you're not a fan of punk, you might've heard of the controversy that Whirr started over this band on social media. Truth is, G.L.O.S.S.'s members have had to put up with homophobic and transphobic slurs their entire lives. And they are pretty sick and tired off all that noise, if this record is anything to go off of. Relentless hardcore punk riffs and drumming mix with memorable lyrics and an excellent lead vocal performance by righteously pissed singer Sadie Switchblade on this eight-minute hardcore punk demo, which is right in your face and right to the point. The whole thing comes off rowdy and rebellious, and minds are definitely spoken, which is exactly what a good punk record needs. Point blank, it's punk down to its very core, making for a great demo through and through. Needless to say, this will leave the listeners eagerly awaiting a full length record.
G.L.O.S.S. Trans Day Of Revenge
It's only been a little more than a year and a half, and the wonderful ladies of G.L.O.S.S. have already blessed us with six more minutes of the most pissed-off, violence-endorsing hardcore punk you're going to hear all year. It's a meatier, more well-produced and polished version of their debut demo, but that doesn't mean they skimp on the rawness at all. They still have an attitude that rings out as one of the most undeniable in the current punk scene, and listeners can still hear every ounce of frustrated passion they put into it. Simply put, just please give us a full-length soon!
Get Bent Discography
Get Bent was another one of those short-lived-but-full-of-awesome punk bands that write some of the best music the genre has. In Get Bent's case, this is their discography compilation, which is a tandem of their practically flawless debut demo and their solid sophomore demo, along with their contribution to the split with Jean Claude Jam Band and a bonus track. Musically, it is full of catchy indie-punk with a pop-punk aesthetic. The half-shouted, half-sung vocal delivery is lovely, and the bass on this thing is too fun not to mention. Lyrically, the album focuses on life experiences and questions, and there's no shortage of sing-along choruses and quotable shouts here. Basically, if you need some great pop-punk in your year, Get Bent has you covered and then some.
Ghost of a Dead Hummingbird Sin Forma
I like getting calls from friends rather than texts. It's just something about hearing their voice that gives me a strange reassurance. I suppose I'm happy I know I'm talking to a real person and I know that they're okay. It's like that if you worry about your friends' safety, even if you know they're probably perfectly fine. That's a big part of the emotion that goes into this album. A few moments on the album recount simple phone calls from a best friend and a girlfriend, with much of the sentiment of the record revolving around the feelings for these people, whether they be love, uncertainty, worry, or happiness. Musically, it's melodic hardcore-inclined screamo for the first six songs, and post-rock influenced screamo for the last four. It's nothing all that original, but it's just so well done. There's some subtle things, like the horn on "If You Need A Place To Stay" and the startling burst of energy on "Lover Boy (Balbo And State)", that keeps things from falling into monotony, and it's great these guys understand the importance of those nuances so early in their careers. Great stuff.
Ghost of a Dead Hummingbird Under The Ultraviolet Light
Last year, Ghost Of A Dead Hummingbird came onto the scene with a solid, albeit unoriginal piece of screamo/post-rock in Sin Forma. Lack of originality seems to no longer be a problem for the four-piece, though, as Under The Ultraviolet Light is a fresh and highly enjoyable take on screamo. It combines a gothic rock approach with a screamo base and a new wave aesthetic, and the results are quite good. It's pretty seamless in its combination, and the mixture of the genres manages to be quite tactful, and it's remarkable given how easily it could sound hackneyed. Needless to say, Ghost Of A Dead Hummingbird might be on to something here, and it's going to be interesting to see if this translates well into a full-length record. For now though, awesome jams.
Give Sonic Bloom
Of all the things to choose as an aesthetic choice, Give decides to have an obsession with flowers. I suppose that it serves as contrast, because their music isn't flowery as much as it Self Defense Family-esque hardcore with a particularly groovy edge to it. Despite clearly being influenced by the likes of the family, Sonic Bloom is a wonderfully executed and very fun EP that can be played again and again with little trouble. The standout moments include "Learning To Die", which has a guitar tone that has a distinct groove on it, and "Eat The Rainbow", as the bass is absolutely infectious as well as the chorus. In all, this is a pretty awesome little post-hardcore EP. If you enjoy the family in any capacity, check these guys out.
Gnaw Their Tongues Reeking Pained And Shuddering
A few releases into 2007, Gnaw Their Tongues was an already promising project. Although none of what the project had released until this point could be considered great, there were songs and moments that held the promise of something greater, more sinister, and more experimental than ever before. Reeking, Pained, And Shuddering is the first fulfillment of that promise. Perhaps the best representation of Maurice De Jong's growth as an artist is on closer "Transition". The song plays out like a visceral tour of Ed Gein's house, and builds towards a massive climax that you just know is coming after the ominous description of the discovery of a hanging body, but never comes. The tension is absolutely toe-curling in those final minutes. There are spots where explosive rage reigns supreme over tension, however. On a sinister, strangely melodic black metal assault in "Nihilsm; Tied Up And Burning", De Jong wails over some truly monstrous and evil tremolo riffs, the atmosphere burning with fire-like intensity and misanthropy. The first of several excellent releases under the project, Gnaw Their Tongues' second full-length is an ugly sight to behold, but a riveting album to experience.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Goldfrapp Black Cherry
Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory make up the duo of Goldfrapp, an interesting and well known project that goes through several clear progressions throughout their discography. The first one, seen here in between their debut Felt Mountain and sophomore effort Black Cherry, was one of ambient electronic and trip-hop turned glam rock-infused synthpop and electroclash. The atmosphere here is pretty wafty and dreamy, especially on songs like the title track, "Tiptoe", "Hairy Toes", and "Forever". Allison Goldfrapp's vocals accentuate this atmosphere perfectly, and though most of the songs generally stick to the same formula and aesthetic, the album is pleasant enough to keep the listener satisfied throughout its runtime. The whole album remains pretty consistent in terms of quality, and while there is a lack of a standout track, you can rest assured that you won't be wasting your time if you chose to listen to the whole thing.
Gorguts Pleiades' Dust
Hailed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, technical death metal bands of all time, Gorguts have simply been unable to do much wrong in their history, with their long-awaited comeback album Colored Sands being a rousing success. Pleiades' Dust is essentially a compact version of the aforementioned record, but it's quite good nonetheless. Cascading riffs, slow-burning soundscapes, angular and dissonant guitar playing, and a distant, alien feeling all permeate this thirty-three minute long EP, which acts as one, beautifully flowing piece that never feels choppy or unfocused. Some sections might feel a bit long-winded, but the quality of the EP remains pretty high regardless of what is transpiring during it. Basically, Pleiades' Dust exists to remind us who exactly is in charge here when it comes to this style of tech-death. Because, even after all these years, Gorguts still have it.
Gorillaz Gorillaz
Gorillaz Plastic Beach
Green Day Dookie
Gucci Mane WOPTOBER
Though it was awesome to hear Gucci fresh out of the pen on Everybody Looking, one couldn't help the feeling that it wasn't quite up to par with what he is capable of. Chalk it up to a post-prison hangover if you will, but on WOPTOBER it seem like he's got it right and cured. It may be as icy as its cover in terms of production, but Gucci Mane is absolutely on fire here, sounding as hungry and ravenous as he's ever sounded since being released. While it's got an endless supply of entertaining bravado raps and an imposing microphone presence, especially behind some sinister beats like on "Hi-Five", Gucci gives way to some introspection as well, most notably on closing tandem of "Out The Zoo" and "Addicted", where he relates his past struggles with criminal life and an addiction to anything pleasurable. Simply put, if it wasn't official before, it definitely is now: Guwop is home, only now he's beginning to sound like it, which bodes very well for (very near) future releases.
Have a Nice Life The Unnatural World
Herbie Hancock Takin' Off
One of the greatest jazz pianists to ever live, Herbie Hancock appropriately named his debut Takin' Off, as it is regarded as one of the better debuts for an esteemed jazz artist. Yet, compared to later records in his catalogue, Hancock's debut is a conservative and pretty safe affair; conventional hard-bop with some slight modal leanings, but this does not mean it's a dull record. In fact, quite the contrary, as the quality of this album remains high throughout, with Hancock taking the lead on piano, setting up improvisations for both Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon, who man the trumpet and tenor sax respectively. "Watermelon Man" even shows Herbie getting his feet wet with a bit of funk, as the inherently bluesy style the album operates with works wonders here to create a post-bop masterpiece. It was a humble, yet very good, beginning for the man, and it's definitely worth a listen just because of that.
Hiatus Kaiyote By Fire
Hiatus Kaiyote is a neo-soul quartet that makes some sublime stuff. If you want to see for yourself what they're all about, then this EP is the perfect thing. The title track is absolutely rife with interesting vocal/synth harmonies, fun drumming, and Nai Palm's wonderful, soulful singing chops. The final track, "Molasses", is a bit slower than the title track, but it is the catchiest song on the record, Palm's vocals are at their best, and the bass makes a more pronounced appearance as well. The song ends with the drums kicking it into high gear, and Palm repeating "Might not get any better..." before a final refrain of the second verse. It's a great showcase of the skills Hiatus Kaiyote possess, and it would be a mistake not to hear it.
Hieroglyphic Being The Disco's of Imhotep
An Egyptian-themed acid techno record sounds pretty hit-or-miss on paper; it could either be great or sound totally hackneyed. Hieroglyphic Being, thankfully, make sure it's the former on The Disco's Of Imhotep. The first thing you notice about the record is how intoxicating it feels, as the warm, fluid textures flowing forth from each song gives a hypnotic and almost euphoric sense to the music. This is exacerbated by the constant thud of the beats, which remain as the strong backbone on which the synths and bass can stand straight with. It's Egyptian influences are tacitly used with professionalism, allowing a steady drip of the sound to seep in without overwhelming it. While it's a bit inconsistent with minute-long tracks that don't really do anything, it's longer songs are truly excellent, and make this record a must hear for techno in 2016.
Howls of Ebb The Marrow Veil
The Marrow Veil is a peculiar beast. On paper, it's a death/doom metal album with sections of black metal and the occasional drone. In reality, all of these things are done in ways that are as unique as they are interesting. Everything on this record is remarkably thin for a metal record The vocals, drums, and bass are present, but feel almost weightless in some spots. In a genre such as this, these things are almost always detrimental. Yet, Howls Of Ebb somehow makes it work to a stunning degree. The guitars, for much of the record, don't even sound like guitars. They sometimes sound like, among other things, horns, keys, screeching birds, and buzzsaws. And yet, in each instance, you can still vaguely tell they are guitars, which in my mind is incredible. The atmosphere is like fire. It's not a smokey, raging fire though, rather being a slow-burning, incensed fire that is beautiful rather than destructive. It's quite the interesting record, one that I sincerely hope will be built on in the future.
Hozier Hozier
It's nearly been a year, and "Take Me To Church" has been mauled to death by every radio station I can think of at the moment. Yes, Hozier might be the newest "indie" (read: indie for radio-only listeners) act that people who don't know any better gush over as being original and groundbreaking, but forgetting all of that, he does put together a really good album here. He has a nice formula for his songwriting: on the bluesy numbers, a good riff and some soulful backing vocals is the norm. On piano-driven tracks, he subdues his voice before turning it lose later in the song, rather impressively. And on tracks were he mans the acoustic guitar, other instruments are slowly added to the mix until the songs' climax. The one thing they all have in common? They're catchy as can be. While "Take Me To Church" is the song that introduces Hozier, "Jackie And Wilson", "Sedated", and "It Will Come Back" keeps the listener returning.
Iced Earth The Dark Saga
Iced Earth Something Wicked This Way Comes
About three years removed from their lethal thrash/power metal magnum opus Burnt Offerings, Iced Earth was at an impasse. The direction they went in on 1996's The Dark Saga was to ditch most of the thrash metal and focus on the power metal sound they would soon become known for. The move received mixed reactions, even though The Dark Saga was received decently. On 1998's Something Wicked This Way Comes, they harken back a bit to the older, thrashier days, and to great effect. The three-headed monster that ends the album; "Prophecy", "Born Of The Wicked", and "The Coming Curse" is an obvious highlight, but slower songs like the heartfelt "Watching Over Me" get the job done as well, showcasing that Iced Earth can play all of their styles with professional level skill.
Ingrid Laubrock Serpentines
Free jazz is one of the harder genres to get into, and it's no surprise why. Dissonance, a chaotic feel to the music, and many things happening at once are just some things that make it a challenge. Ingrid Laubrock knows the ins and outs of the genre as well as anyone, and understands perfectly what one can do to make a free jazz record that is not only memorable, but a bit easier to digest as well. The clash between soft and loud is the main theme on Serpentines musically, as moments of tense, quiet jazz complete with drones are smashed to bits by intense flurries of improvisation. However, because of this dynamic and the presence of some recurring melodies, the music feels far more put together and at least with a baseline structure to it. The record sounds great, with each of the instruments receiving clarity, and the playing is impressive in its shifts between tranquility and dissonance. It's another avant-garde jazz record for the books for 2016.
Into the Moat Means By Which The End Is Justified
Jachna / Mazurkiewicz / Buhl Dzwieki ukryte
This year has been a good one for avant-grade jazz trios as Fire!, Full Blast, and now this Polish trio have released some excellent records. Truth be told, the best out of them is this. Composed spontaneously at a synagogue in Poland, Dzwieki Ukryte has to be one of the most subtle, nuanced, and delicate pieces of free improv the last decade has seen. It sounds as if it was pre-written, due to the sharp and careful way everything is arranged. The songs seem to have a backbone for the improv to dance over, and bookends "Dawny Swiat" and "Stacja Fordon" show that this backbone comes in the form of quaint drones and light percussion. It never sounds too boxed in either, allowing for fluid transitions and letting the bass and trumpet work freely. The sound of this record is quite great, as each note sounds organic and full, complementing the dark, smoky vibe it gives off from the get. It's quite the album to get lost into due to all of this, and is one of the best jazz records of 2016 as a result.
James Blake James Blake
James Blake is one of the more interesting producer-songwriters out there, at least in my opinion. He always seems to be trying something new, and even if sometimes his experimentation doesn't always pan out, he hasn't made the same record twice. This, his debut LP, is one of his best projects. The production here is decidedly minimal, but sublime nonetheless. The real focus of the record is his angelic vocals, which combine with the production to produce some pretty mesmerizing stuff. Take "The Wilhelm Scream" for instance: the production is ambient and subdued, and the lyrics consist of the same line repeated with small variations occasionally, leaving his voice at the forefront. It wouldn't be better any other way. Many people prefer Overgrown, but in my opinion, this record encapsulates everything that is great about James Blake.
James Horner Avatar
Jamiroquai Emergency on Planet Earth
Jethro Tull Stand Up
What is often heralded as the peak of bluesy first years of Jethro Tull, Stand Up is a practically seamless combination of riffy, catchy blues and dexterous, enthralling progressive rock. Whereas songs like opener "A New Day Yesterday" and "Look Into The Sun" are perfect examples of the former qualities, tracks like "Back To The Family" and "Nothing Is Easy" encapsulate the latter features. There are also a couple of tracks utilizing ideas and progressive qualities that are pretty interesting for their time. For instance, the flute-driven cover of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Bouree" is quite lovely, and the use of a mandolin in "Fat Man" further exemplifies the band's penchant for using unorthodox instruments in rock. In retrospect, Stand Up was the last album on which Jethro Tull played from blues rock roots, but it remains one of the best pieces of work the band put its name to.
Jethro Tull Songs from the Wood
Jethro Tull are a band that requires no introduction, being one of the most recognizable progressive rock band out there. This album marks an interesting change for the band, as they shifted from a progressive rock style to an electric folk sound mixed with elements of hard rock and progressive rock. It is initially weird, but once things settle in with "Cup Of Wonder", the album becomes pretty easy to get into. With the classic "Hunting Girl" and the strangely catchy "Ring Out Solstice Bells", the band carves a further niche into the album, providing a lot of variety through acoustic guitar, audible bass, flutes, piccolos, and effectively subtle drumming. Perhaps the best instance of these instruments working together is on the eight-minute track "Pibroch (Cap In Hand)". Surely, Jethro Tull showcased throughout their career that they can play a wide spectrum of rock music, and this record is easily one of the most important and strong pieces of evidence to substantiate that claim.
John Coltrane Coltrane (Prestige, 1957)
John Coltrane was at an impasse after The Miles Davis Quartet broke apart, due in no small part to his crippling heroin addiction. He was instrumental in creating some wonderful jazz records, not only with Davis, but with Thelonius Monk as well. Thus, he decided to go on as a leader, releasing his debut on Atlantic records. It was, in retrospect, an excellent choice, as Coltrane features some truly mesmerizing and encompassing hard bop, not unlike the works he helped accomplished on 'Round About Midnight. "Bakai" is lively and seriously catchy, while the mellow "Violets For Your Furs" is rich with subtleties. Mostly, though, it's just Coltrane playing the sax in a fluid and flowing way, occasionally doing wild, unmatchable solos, almost as if in celebration of his newfound leader status. Overall, a very swell hard bop record, and debut, from one of jazz's greatest men.
John Murphy 28 Days Later Soundtrack
In 2002, 28 Days Later took the horror world by storm with its frenetic action, paranoid atmosphere, and scathing commentary on the state of the world and human nature. That said, it would be much less of an experience were it not for John Murphy's terrifying, beautiful, anxious, and all-around gripping score. From the ominously threatening "Rage" to the adrenaline pumping "Tower Block" to the all-encompassing thriller "In The House - In A Heartbeat", it is clear Murphy knows how to get the juices flowing in the audience. That said, he also knows how to get the listener on the edge of their seat with ambient works such as "And Then There Were Two" and "The Search For Jim". Elsewhere, we see other musical artists appear, with Godspeed You! Black Emperor's "East Hastings", Brian Eno's "An Ending (Descent)", and Grandaddy's "A.M. 180", making this soundtrack a great listen for fans of the film and the music alike.
John Powell & Harry Gregson-Williams Chicken Run
John Williams Saving Private Ryan
Joy Division Unknown Pleasures
What more can really be said about Unknown Pleasures? It helped spark a massive subgenre in post-punk, and though it's probably cliche at this point, being hopelessly depressed had never sounded so catchy ever before. The drumming sounds like it was done by a machine, but it's all organic and expertly done by Stephen Morris. Ian Curtis would perhaps be seen as an awful frontman in any other genre, but I don't know if there was a better man for the job in this case. Simply put, for fans of this music, the pleasures are certainly not unknown.
Joyce Manor Joyce Manor
One of the more successful bands to come out of the modern pop-punk scene, Joyce Manor has a winning combination of sloppy, youthful punk instrumental work with poetic lyrics and catchy vocals from lead man Barry Johnson. Though the material on this LP isn't wholly original or diverse, it still delivers some great pop-punk tunes in its seventeen-minute runtime. Things are very good right from the word go as "Orange Julius" provides an excellent template for the band to follow. This template is followed well, as the next eight songs are all good in their own right. It is the closer "Constant Headache", however, that is the crown jewel of the record, and is simply one of the best pop-punk songs I've ever heard. In all, this album is short, fun, sloppy, punky, and simply great.
Joyce Manor Never Hungover Again
Joyce Manor's new record is pretty much what you would expect from them, just better. They definitely change up their style more often on this record, and though the record is pretty short at 19 minutes long, it is still a satisfying listen. The first four songs on the album are some of the best tracks Joyce Manor has ever written, along with "In The Army Now". Not one song overstays its welcome on this album, and all the ideas presented run their course with smooth quickness. Along with the personal and relatable lyrics, this record is surely one that shouldn't be overlooked this year, and is certainly a worthy addition to Joyce Manor's discography.
Junius Meyvant Floating Harmonies
Hailing from the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago of Iceland, Unnar Gisli Sigurmndsson, known more famously as Junius Meyvant, has released a rich, engaging mixture of indie folk and chamber pop with Floating Harmonies. Among the first things one notices about the album, next to Meyvant's wonderful voice, is just how alive with instrumentation it is. Nearly all of the songs have these really vibrant strings that give a distinct boost to the already well-written pop songs, and the pianos and bass provide a strong backbone for the strings to stand on. The hooks here (especially on "Hailslide", my goodness) are all excellent, and the backing vocals add a great pinch of personality. The drumming is also pretty intricate for this style of music, which is always refreshing to hear. All of this combines to make a well-rounded, highly enjoyable debut full-length from a guy that one should definitely keep their eyes on in the future.
Justin Timberlake FutureSex/LoveSounds
Kauan Sorni Nai
Telling the tale of the mysterious and captivating Djatlov Pass Incident that killed nine hikers in 1959, Kauan puts their talents to great use when creating this seamless record. It sounds sprawling, complete with soaring vocals, post-rock passages, doom metal dirges, and beautiful strings and horns. The record's seamless nature is helped by the fact that each song flows directly into the next, creating one fifty-two minute epic of a track. In its heart of hearts, it's a post-rock record, so emotions and atmosphere are paramount. Fortunately, the band has that covered with an atmosphere that fits the story and the cover perfectly, and a range of emotions explored including hopefulness, hopelessness, wonder, and suspense. Musically, it doesn't do anything all that new or original, but it is executed with near precision. The point is, Kauan has released yet another great album in their discography, one that will duly reward the attention given to it through its wondrous sounds and story.
Kayo Dot Plastic House on Base of Sky
Does this new record from avant-garde giants Kayo Dot see them with their most reduced sonic palette to date? Yes. Is this record a logical expansion from their previous opus, Coffins On Io? Certainly. Is this album in any way accessible, following the trend of its predecessor? Of course not. This is a truly encompassing spin on 80's synthwave and gothic rock that, while definitely hinted at and explored somewhat on Coffins On Io, has never been more fleshed out or full of rich textures than it is here. And it's truly consuming. You know the cover art to Tycho's Dive? This album sounds like you're standing on that beach, staring at that sun, and hearing the wind whistle around you. Make sense? Probably not, but my point is it's a record that swamps you with its atmosphere and it works extremely well. I'm guilty of holding the opinion that sometime, someday, Kayo Dot will screw up. But, that day is not today, as Plastic House On Base Of Sky is another excellent record from the group.
Kendrick Lamar untitled unmastered.
It's only a compilation of unreleased stuff he made around the time of To Pimp A Butterfly's recording, but it's very well done. Only a few of the songs here are up to the task of fitting in TPAB's tracklist seamlessly, namely "Untitled 3"(the song which he performed on "The Colbert Report" last year), "Untitled 5", and "Untitled 8", but that does not make the rest of the material here unworthy to be heard. Musically, it sounds similar to the endless jazz and funk dynamics that peppered TPAB, and there are several moments on this release that carry very similar ideas and themes to the topics that record dealt with. Of course, they were ultimately more fleshed out later, but it's interesting to hear those thoughts in an infant form. And though it's not quite a release that anyone expected, it's still a pleasant surprise and definitely something to tide over fans until a new album is released.
Kiasmos Swept
On this EP we see the Icelandic duo create more of their trademark ambient, minimal techno and microhouse with a firm aesthetic and sound compositions. The songs here are driven by minimal beats, yet have beautiful pianos and short, repetitive buzzing synths that accentuate the atmosphere very well as they move in the ambience. The record sounds cold, but not in a detached or robotic way. Rather, it sounds like going outside during the nighttime winter and gazing at the stars. In general, this is a great ambient techno EP from one of the best in the business, so give it a look if you've got some time.
Kornel Kovacs The Bells
One would assume that producing multi-dynamical music in a genre as inherently repetitive as house would be a hassle, but Kornel Kovacs makes it all sound so easy. So much of The Bells is multi-faceted, due in no small part to the various styles employed here. "BB" gets things going with energetic funk and soul samples, gifting an incredible danceability to it, whereas closer "Urszusz" is largely tranquil and warming, allowing for a period of rest from the driving rhythms. The vibes the record gives are many as well. Tracks like "Dollar Club" are wondering and even slightly ominous, whereas tracks like "Dance... While The Record Spins" are fun and welcoming. The highlight of all this is "Josey's Tune", which mixes heartwarming melodies and playful synth work with a watery feel, thus managing to be one of the most vivid and lovely electronic tracks of the year. In a nutshell, Kovacs' debut full-length is a masterful collection of outsider house that combines it's deep house roots with funky house to excellent effect.
Kraftwerk Autobahn
Kraftwerk Radio-Activity
It is a staple of Kraftwerk albums that all the songs follow a central theme and contribute what ideas they can to it. A year before this album, that theme was roads and cars, and seeing how Autobahn was an excellent record, it would make sense to follow in its footsteps. Here, the theme is radiation, radio waves, and all sorts of invisible transmissions. Yet, the songs are decidedly shorter and more to the point than the songs on Autobahn. That's not to say, however, that this album is any less enjoyable. The title track has one of the catchiest Kraftwerk hooks around, and they even sometimes stray into ambient territory on songs like "Radioland" and "Ohm Sweet Ohm". Needless to say, it doesn't quite sound like anything else they've done, which is something you can say about many of their records. Oftentimes forgotten about in favor of other records in their discography, Radio-Activity isn't an album that was meant to be missed, especially if you enjoy some good electronic music.
Krallice Diotima
After rolling onto the black metal scene with their original, deconstructionist, hyper-technical take on the genre with their self-titled record and furthered that sound with Dimensional Bleedthrough, Krallice truly achieved everything those two records set out to do better than ever before with Diotima. The base sound is kept largely the same, but with more variation in the riffs and especially the vocals, which bassist Nick McMaster dominates with his low, seething growl. The songwriting applies some needed catchiness, especially in "The Clearing" and the title-track, and works wonders with hypnotic riffs and production stylings, like the manic compression in "Litany Of Regrets". Excellent build-ups and explosions of riffs permeate the tracks, allowing for breathers despite their large length. The best example of this is the ending of "Telluric Rings", which lures the listener into a calm before rocketing out the most emotionally-charged moment of the record, where the riffs pile on and the drumming becomes even more ferocious. In all, Diotima is Krallice's first truly great record.
Krallice Years Past Matter
As far as their old style goes, Years Past Matter is the pinnacle of that sound for Krallice. Taking the songwriting improvements seen on Diotima and furthering them, this is not only their most diverse album of their old style, but is also their most mesmerizing and consuming. They truly perfected everything they possibly could about their trademark sound, and adding influences from ambient doesn't hurt either. Everything they've went for since their self-titled debut has come to full fruition here, basically. I suppose there are "riffs" on this thing, but they're all a means to an end, as is the drumming, bass, and vocals (the latter of which are the best they've ever sounded, bar none). The end is, of course, an atmosphere of chaos made entirely of these textures and absolutely incredible sustained energy. It is a good thing that Krallice decided to switch up their style a bit on their next record, because their original sound met its logical and exhilarating conclusion here.
Kuedo Slow Knife
It's always interesting and ultimately fulfilling to hear an album that can express a wide array of emotions, no matter what the genre. Electronic covers such a wide spectrum of sounds that the potential for this is limitless, yet it isn't tapped into all that often, as the music usually sticks to a certain specific feel or identity, and that's fine. Yet, there's something about albums like Stimming's Alpe Lusia and now Kuedo's Slow Knife that is endlessly captivating. The album starts out as a mysterious, yet oddly inviting album, using cold (but completely alive) synth work and influences from U.K. bass and footwork to create a compelling atmosphere. Yet, the album turns very tense and ultimately equal parts thrilling and terrifying by the time "Approaching" and "Broken Fox - Black Hole" creep through the speakers. It makes for a very enthralling listen from top to bottom, so if you're looking for some electronic that is idiosyncratic as it is engrossing, you can't go wrong here. Awesome stuff.
La Dispute Vancouver
La Dispute's first record, a thirty minute EP, can be accurately described as Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River: The Prequel. Though their debut LP that would make them famous is somewhat more experimental and conceptually interesting, there is a lot to appreciate on this record. For one, the riffs here are pretty nice, and the bass has excellent moments all throughout here. The sound lays the blueprint for the post-hardcore songs on Somewhere At The Bottom, but it also has its own identity too, as this is probably the angriest we will ever hear La Dispute. Jordan Dreyer's vocals are still raw, but sound a bit more conventional than they do on Somewhere At The Bottom. It is conceptually similar to the aforementioned record, dealing with the hardships a relationship in turmoil brings, though being much more straightforward on this EP. The EP's second half is a bit lackluster, but the first half is some of the bands' best material. If you are looking to get into La Dispute, this EP is a great place to start.
La Dispute Untitled
Though it may only be two songs, this EP from the polarizing post-hardcore quintet known as La Dispute showcases some truly great things about the band in its nine-minute runtime. Both of the songs are very good, and contain the most technically proficient guitar playing they've ever done at this point in their discography. With plenty of riffs to have things moving, there are also plenty of subdued passages that the band implements so well. Dryer's vocals are still very much like they were on Somewhere At The Bottom...(whether that's good or bad is up to the listener), but his lyrics are typically fantastic, especially on "Shall Never Lose Its Power", which deals with the troubles associated with faith and religion. Point is, this EP is really great for what it is, and would most certainly act as the perfect sampler for someone new to La Dispute's music.
La Dispute Here, Hear. III
This is where the Here, Hear series went from simple, almost-novelty-like spoken word with sparse instrumentation to a serious endeavor. You can tell right away, as this time around instead of the very minimalistic songwriting being used as background noise for Jordan Dryer's speaking, the speaking is now formed around actual, fully developed songs. The last two tracks here don't even involve spoken word and "Ten" features some of Dryer's harrowing screams in the background, truly driving home the message of the song through the emotion. The lyrics are all excellent, and this time around many of them aren't taken from poems or books, which also lends credence to the maturation of the series. It's everything that the previous two entries in the series could've been, and as such, it's a quite beautiful, heartfelt, and wonderfully crafted EP.
La Dispute/Koji Never Come Undone
La Dispute should do splits more often, given that not only are the band usually good on them, but whoever they're splitting with always brings it. It's the same with Never Come Undone, as while La Dispute's side consists of great minimalistic emo like "Last Blues", Koji's side really steals the show. The man's vocals are really great, and the melodies he puts to use, especially on the heart-warming "Biomusicology", are quite beautiful. The split is definitely towards the softer side of emo, but it remains emotional and engaging all the same. All in fifteen minutes, La Dispute and Koji deliver an excellent, evocative split.
Lantlos Melting Sun
LCD Soundsystem Sound of Silver
James Murphy is a multi-instrumentalist kingpin of the dance-punk genre, and he gained a lot of respect in the music world under the name of LCD Soundsystem. This album is his biggest draw. While his debut was certainly fun in some places, it was equally boring in others. Here, he cuts off the fat of his debut and refines his sound for the better. With dancier tracks like "Time To Get Away", synth-driven pieces like "Someone Great", exceedingly fun and a bit experimental songs like "All My Friends", and the beautiful "New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down", there is a lot to appreciate here. There are a couple of songs that stay a bit beyond their welcome, but for the most part this is a great improvement, and there are no tracks that are bad at all. It's a perfect album for having a good time, and is a satisfying listen in any case.
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin
Leon Vynehall Rojus
Rojus is everything a great deep house record should be: silky, soulful, danceable, and brimming with lovely synth and beat work. It sounds wholly organic and the rhythms are contagious to the body. Leon Vynehall has always been at the very least decent at this style, but Rojus showcases a focused producer who knows how to transition and progress things with almost mechanical efficiency, while also being able to inject humanity and emotion into the music as needed. It's intimate, personal deep house that progresses so impeccably that it's hard not to enjoy. Take closer "...There's You" for example. The song starts out pretty bare-bones, but as more synth lines and instruments come into the fray, the song almost crescendos like a traditional post-rock song would. It's an interesting concept that is done with the utmost professionalism multiple times throughout the record. Ultimately, this is an album that should put Vynehall towards the forefront of deep house, as he's certainly one of the best and brightest the subgenre has to offer.
Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker
Well, he gave us what we wanted. I don't really know what to say. Nothing can really do the man justice. Thank you for this wonderful and touching parting gift. R.I.P.
Lianne La Havas Blood
Serving as an adventurous departure from her acoustic folk debut, Lianne La Havas' new record is a sublime mix of neo-soul and R&B, but while also retaining much of what made her debut so enjoyable. From opener "Unstoppable", these changes are apparent, with production taking cues from jazz and soul providing an excellent backdrop for Havas' beautiful vocals. On the majority, though, the record isn't as bombastic. Just take "Wonderful" and closer "Good Goodbye" for example. The latter of those songs is undoubtedly one of the best things Havas has created, using acoustic guitar, strings, and her evocative voice and lyrics to carry the song to heavenly heights. For someone wanting to get in touch with her roots, Havas spent months in Jamaica creating the record, and does not skip a beat despite this change in sound.
Lil Bibby Free Crack
If you're a fan of the drill scene, you've undoubtedly heard of Lil Bibby, or at least his partner in crime, G Herbo. These two have had similar mission statements throughout their short, yet successful and quality careers. For Lil Bibby, it began here, on Free Crack, with his unmistakable very deep voice and penchant for crafting songs sounding as if they were plucked from the streets of Chicago themselves. It's an interesting note, though, that while this mixtape is undoubtedly brimming with street music, Bibby himself says that it's not only meant to be that way: "This is for all my fans waiting for me to drop this. Everybody 'gon relate to it, it ain't just some block shit." In a way, he's right. Take "Stressin'" for instance, which hook raps "Ain't enough smoke in the world that help me ease my stress. Ain't enough lean in the world that help me ease my stress." Surely, whoever you are, you've probably felt that way at one point or another for any number of reasons. It's a pretty intimate drill tape because of these moments, and with excellent, hard-hitting, and even appropriately melancholy production from the likes of DJ Scream, DJ L, Young Chop, and Hit-Boy, Free Crack is a debut you shouldn't pass up if you're a fan of drill or even just hard-hitting hip-hop in general.
Little Simz Age 101: Drop Everything
The series of EP's called the Drop series by its creator Little Simz is quite the string of records, showcasing the grime-influenced production from her team and consistently excellent flows and cadences from the woman herself. Drops 1-4 are now all together on this compilation, and the clear progression from one Drop to the next is more apparent here than ever before. Of course, the standouts here come from Drop 2 ("Starry Eyed", "Peace Of Mind") and Drop 4 ("Top Down", "Guess Who"), but each song is pretty swank in and of itself. These also act as natural precursors to her breakthrough record, A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons, showing not only how Simbi has improved on all fronts (lyrical ability, flows), but how the production made a gradual shift from being spacey and a slight bit disconnected from Simz to becoming more conventional hip-hop without sacrificing the aesthetic or atmosphere that it originally worked with. Truly, this series of EP's was entirely necessary for Simz, and now they can be heard seamlessly one after the other with this release.
Loma Prieta Life/Less
Out of the first three (in three years) Loma Prieta records, I find Life/Less to be the most enjoyable. This is due to the notion that, while the songwriting is as concise and solid as ever, the production is heavier than hell and really makes these compositions explode. The bass churns beneath volatile drums and a pained vocal performance, and the guitars alternate between intense hardcore riffing and melancholy, saddened lines. The music borders on grindcore many times throughout the record, but it's not all just one-note either. The piano that comes in on "Closelessness" and the vocal crescendo of closer "Apparition" betray a subtlety in the songwriting that shows the band continuing to mature, coming closer and closer to that perfect marriage of careful, crafted songwriting and impassioned, youthful performances. Long story short, it's seventeen minutes of awesome screamo from a band that would only continue to improve, and if that sounds as enticing to you as it does to me, get on it.
Lost Salt Blood Purges Only the Youngest Grave
Ambition is always something to respect and hold dear when it comes to music. Without it, it wouldn't have the ability to progress as it does today. Yet, too much ambition can cause records to be crushed under their own weight. Ambition overload, pretty much. Good artists know that a steady diet of ambition is better than an overhaul of it, and for how young this project is, it is remarkable that that notion is understood so well. A mixture of noise, ambient, drone, neofolk, post-rock, ritual ambient, and even sprinkles of jazz seems like it'd be a lot to take in, especially over the course of one hour and forty minutes. Yet, the record is never overtaken by its own desire to experiment, and hits close to home just as much as it alienates. Sometimes the compositions meander about within themselves for longer than is needed, but overall the album doesn't suffer from trying to do too much or from being all that long-winded. As such, the album connects with the listener, comforting them in the first half, disturbing and alienating them in the second, and ultimately making them feel in touch with the sounds, both inviting and threatening all the same.
Mad Professor Dub Take the Voodoo Out of Reggae
This album is a collaboration between two of the most important figures in dub music, Mad Professor and Lee "Scratch" Perry. What you'll find on this album is an array of different textures and emotions all confined within the relative simplicity of dub. It's swirling, featuring some synths, as well as the classic island instrumentation that everyone knows and loves. It may be a bit samey, but songs such as "Cheerful Dub", "Bounce Boy Dub", "Mystic Powers Of Dub", and "Dub Connection" make this collaboration album one that deserves to be heard. If you like dub, or even just reggae, check this one out.
Mantronix Mantronix: The Album
Mantronix is a duo made up of rapper MC Tee and DJ Kurtis Mantronik, who despite their short seven year career managed to be a influencing factor in the budding genres of hip-hop and electro. The album is half old-school hip-hop rhyming and half driving electronic beats that were pretty ahead of the times in the mid-80's. With classic cuts such as "Bassline", "Needle To The Groove", and "Get Stupid Fresh", Mantronix created an early yet effective blueprint for both hip-hop and electro, and certainly the combination of those two genres. It's deceptively simple, in both style and execution, but don't let that fool you: there is a lot of interesting sounds to be taken in here, and really provides an immersive look into what hip-hop and electro were during the early-to-mid-80's. It's an essential listen for fans of both hip-hop and electronic music, especially if you're a fan of the old-school versions of each genre.
Marvin Gaye What's Going On
Massive Attack Protection
When people talk about Massive Attack, usually only two albums tend to come up in conversation: Mezzanine, which is glorious perfection of craft, and Blue Lines, which was the enthralling beginning to trip-hop. People often forget about or overlook the link between those two records, which is Protection. Musically, it is a pretty tight affair. The first seven tracks are decidedly minimal, which establishes the link to Blue Lines, but the last three, including a live cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire" are all much more expansive and large in scope, foreshadowing Mezzanine quite nicely. As far as album highlights go, the opener/title track is an undeniable trip-hop masterpiece, and the mesmerizing and oddly catchy "Weather Storm" is another wonderful track. In all, it's an always good, sometimes brilliant, and fairly influential piece of trip-hop, one that unfortunately tends to be an afterthought.
maudlin of the Well My Fruit Psychobells... A Seed Combustible
My Fruit Psychobells... was my formal introduction to motW, and by the fiends this album is good. Compositionally, this album is a pretty avant-garde take on progressive metal, with influences coming in from death metal, doom metal, jazz, post-rock, and art rock. The songwriting is quite fantastic, as the music ebbs and flows organically and goes through many interesting and gratifying progressions. "Undine And Underwater Flowers" is perhaps the best example of this, using a nice, middle-eastern-sounding bass solo before segueing into one of the most beautiful sections of post-rock I've ever heard. More instruments and vocals are added into the mix as time goes on, and by the end of the song the feeling of content is undeniable. The album is hindered a bit by its shortly production job, but that's pretty much the only thing wrong with the album from a sonic standpoint. Overall, ...A Seed Combustible is quite the beginning for one of the most forward-thinking bands metal has ever seen.
Maxo Kream Maxo 187
The smiling man on this cover is Maxo Kream, a rapper that in sound is comparable to A$AP Mob, but with a distinct Houston style to him that solidifies his authenticity, is one of the leading faces of the present hip-hop scene in his beloved hometown. Rightfully so, as this record is full of menacing, high-energy, and admittedly very fun hip-hop with heavy trap influences. From the fantastic production heard on tracks like "Thirteen", "Paranoia", "Sold Out", "Murder", and "Endzone", it's evident Maxo has the perfect backdrop for his rhymes about his daily life as a gangbanger. He may not be the most lyrical rapper, but he does drop some gems on the record, as well as having a very confident charisma and flow. Overall, an excellent outing from one of Houston's best up-and-comers.
Mayday Parade A Lesson In Romantics
MellowHype BLACKENEDWHITE
Meshuggah The Violent Sleep of Reason
The Violent Sleep Of Reason is a deeply Meshuggah album with all of the polyrhythmic djent-y fun and intensity you would expect. Pushing the envelope? No. But it still goes to show you how no one does it like Meshuggah can do it, and they sound as lively and as groovy as they have in years. It essentially exists to remind everyone who top dog is in this little genre, and how far ahead they are of their peers. And even ignoring all of that, it's a pretty sweet album on its own merits. It sounds absolutely phenomenal, with each instrument given just enough clarity to be heard, but the rawness of the sound retained as well. The songwriting isn't necessarily anything new, but it remains at a very high quality despite this due to the fact that Meshuggah. Basically, it's Meshuggah doing Meshuggah in the most Meshuggah way, just better than they have in a bit. Meshuggah.
Mikey Erg Tentative Decisions
Mike Yannich, more famously known as Mikey Erg, is quite the busy man. From his haven in New Jersey, he's been able to create some of the best modern punk music around, even back from his time with The Ergs! and more recently with the immortal House Boat. His debut full-length, Tentative Decisions, is exactly the type of pop-punk (with heavy emphasis on the punk) we've come to know and love from him and the many great people around him. And even still, not a moment goes by on the album that is not high quality or very enjoyable, even though it doesn't throw a curveball. It's simply no-frills, catchy, relatable punk with the discernible blue-collar sound that makes this style so thrilling to listen to. Also, my mothers name is Julie, so "An Abundance Of Julies" is the perfect song for her. Thanks, Mikey. You make making playlists easier.
Milo So The Flies Don't Come
If it's one thing I can appreciate about Milo, it's that he's been working tirelessly since his debut to perfect his craft, and for the most part he's been quite enjoyable. On his newest record, he lyrically sounds like a mix between Earl Sweatshirt's introspective raps and Aesop Rock's intelligent lines, with a voice reminiscent of the former. Yet, the sound is distinctly Milo's, as he coexists wonderfully with the abstract and jazzy production, and sounds ultimately pretty comfortable within it. The guest spots are decent, and the album manages to remain at pretty much the same quality throughout, "Souvenir" and "Going No Place" being the highlights, the former having some truly clever and rewind-worthy lyrics, and the latter being an evocative piece leaning on beautiful production. It's a short listen, but there's stuff to digest lyrically, while also being a pleasant listen production-wise. Ultimately, Milo continues his foray into abstract hip-hop, sounding better and better as he goes.
Ministry Psalm 69
The album known to most as "Psalm 69" is a ravishing accomplishment by Ministry, and as a result is some of the band's best work. With the route they took here, it would've been hard for it not to be. All the aggression that made records like The Land Of Rape And Honey so thrilling to listen to is harnessed in full, but instead of leaning on synth-driven EBM explosions, the music is instead driven by thrash metal riffs courtesy of one Mike Scaccia, furthering the evolution that The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste set into motion. The samples that permeated their works are used with tact here, and the vocal performance by Al Jourgensen is one of the best of his career. Of course, the focal point of all this is bassist Paul Barker, who not only handles the bass, but all of the delicious drum programming and sample work as well, giving the record it's cold and defiant atmosphere. Put simply, Ministry drilled home one of the best releases in the industrial metal scene with "Psalm 69".
Ministry The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
It's on this, their fourth album, where the Chicago-born band came into their own and started testing the waters of their vision of more guitar driven industrial music. Along with Godflesh's Streetcleaner, which was actually released in the same month, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste provided the foundations for industrial metal. It's all here: a militant, forceful sound, oddly catchy choruses and riffs, lyrics dealing with all sorts of human depravity, and professionally placed samples. Officially, Ministry is a duo on this record, but they got help from and gave deserved credit to many more excellent musicians along the way. On another note, the song "Test", which features fully rapped verses and hooks, was pretty influential in the budding genre of rap metal, almost acting as a spiritual precursor to the famous Public Enemy and Anthrax collaboration "Bring Tha Noise". Truly then, with this record, Ministry became a band worth putting some stock into.
Miss May I Apologies Are for the Weak
Mount Eerie No Flashlight
It's always been one of the things on my bucket list to spend a few days in the boreal forests and get to see the Aurora Borealis at least once. I've heard it's a pretty amazing experience. But until then, I'll have to settle for Phil Elvrum's music, because it's probably the closest thing to spending some nights in the woods with only your natural surroundings and yourself to reflect on without actually doing it. This, his first album under his Mount Eerie moniker, is a pretty ambitious experimental folk album. The backbone of everything is his almost stoic, beautiful voice and his woodsy guitar playing. Add some noise, pianos, backing vocals, intermittent electric guitar moments, and an outdoor ambience, and you've generally got what this record can sound like at any given moment. Things are always happening, even if the sturdy rock the album is formed on is cold and chilling. In all, an intimate and enjoyable record thats marks the beginning of Elvrum's chapter as Mount Eerie. Oh, and the lyrics are pretty great too.
Mount Eerie Sauna
I've always been interested in people that are in touch with their surroundings as much as they are in touch with themselves. It's this sentiment that makes Sauna an engrossing listen, as the sparse, lo-fi eclecticism of the record is just flowing with these vibes. Even from the opener, "Sauna", in which a drone swirls around a recording of a crackling fire, the atmosphere is excellent. The album is an interesting mix of lo-fi indie folk, drone, and small hints of black metal and ambient. Therefore, though the atmosphere is sparse, it never becomes boring or a chore to listen to. There is plenty of experimentation here as well. The vocals here are soothing and comforting, and the use of female vocals in a few of the tracks is a nice touch. The lyrics are about relatively simple things, but they are put together in such a way that you get to appreciate the significance of each of them. Overall, a great album from Mount Eerie that should be heard by indie fans everywhere.
Mr. Bungle Mr. Bungle
In 1991, Mike Patton, Trey Spurance, Trevor Dunn and co. were hell bent on giving you a tour of their carnival. You undoubtedly know a little bit about this carnival already; that it's flashy, loud, fun, and outlandish, even if a bit amateurish. Beneath the surface, however, lies something more sinister than they initially show you. I mean, just look at these lyrics. The topics covered include domestic violence, pornography addiction, various taboo fetishes, heavy drug use, animal cruelty, and even the meaninglessness of many aspects of life. Carnival doesn't sound too fun now, does it? They want us to know: life is like this carnival. It's this strong emphasis on thematics and concept that lets us know, while there was undoubtedly some immaturity in the songwriting and pacing of the record, that Mr. Bungle was a band ahead of their years. It would only be until they perfected their craft that the full realization of that notion would be made.
Municipal Waste The Art of Partying
Municipal Waste has always been one of the more well known bands in the crossover thrash genre, and for good reason. They have a tongue-in-cheek approach to their music that makes it known they're just here to thrash and have fun. And that is exactly what they do. This, their third full-length, is ridiculously fun, even if it is a bit predictable. There's nary a break from the furious pace on the record, but it's just short enough to not completely bury you in its aggression. The drumming is particularly good, and while the guitars might be pretty standard for the genre, they're still very solid. The bass is audible occasionally, and when it is, it's very fun to listen to. There's not a song on the record that isn't at least decent, and with a couple of standout moments like "A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Destroyer)" and "Sadistic Magician", you've got yourself a very fun and satisfying crossover thrash release.
My Bloody Valentine Isn't Anything
For those of you whose only dealing with My Bloody Valentine was their 1991 shoegaze/dream pop magnum opus Loveless, the groups debut LP, Isn't Anything, will be an entirely different beast. Here, we see the band experimenting with their sound and seeing what works. You'll hear glimpses of what they would eventually become, but you'll also hear the band as you've never heard them before. It's not too noisy, but the are still veils of texture around most of the songs that are pretty interesting to hear, and with the band's inherent catchy pop sensibilities, you essentially get a prototype of Loveless, only with so much more substance and value than that description would have you believe. Yes, there is a lot of experimentation, but it's not like the band is just throwing things against a wall to see what sticks. It's a varied and fun release that is definitely worth your time if you enjoy experimental rock.
Myriam Alter Cross/Ways
A jazz composer of Belgian descent, Myriam Alter has always been able to create quaint, relaxing chamber jazz that always has a distinctly Mediterranean sound to it. This new record of hers is probably her best work so far, with some truly lovely and beautiful jazz that not only succeeds as a work to actively listen to, but as perfect background music too. This is thanks in part to some of the wonderful musicians in this ensemble, including Italian accordion virtuoso Luciano Biondini and American clarinetist John Ruocco. Although the album does suffer from some sameyness, it's still quite a gorgeous listen, as tracks like "Inviting You" and "Above All" really have some beautiful moments. The album prides itself on subtlety and grace rather than being bombastic, and on the whole, the album is a great success for Alter. After working on this for six years, it would be a shame for her if it were anything but.
N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton
When it comes to hip-hop as an image, I don't know if there was ever a more influential album than this one. The style of hip-hop displayed here would come to be known as "gangsta rap", and that alone is enough to cement this record's impeccable status, but the true reach of the album goes much further than that. In one fell swoop, hip-hop became violent, unapologetic, uncensored, loud, and threatening. Add that to the already socially and politically conscious nature of the genre even then, and you have a recipe for the then-future of hip-hop to create some of the most amazing music around. It started here, though, with classic cuts like the title-track, "F*ck The Police", "Gangsta Gangsta", and "Express Yourself". And while in a vacuum the album might sound a bit dated and have a slip-up near the end of the record, it's impossible to deny the influence of it. Hip-hop simply wouldn't be the same without it.
Nap Eyes Thought Rock Fish Scale
At first glance, Nap Eyes might seem like one of those bands who's members are all glass-eyed hippies who just learned how to play their respective instruments three months ago and have no sense of songwriting, but upon closer inspection of this album, you'll find what might be one of the smartest, pleasant-sounding, catchy, and worthwhile records this style of indie/jangle pop has seen in a while. It's a very vocal-centric album, with much of the emphasis being placed on Nigel Chapman's sweet voice and introspective lyrics. The rest of the instruments, while used sparsely and a bit lower in the mix, are all played wonderfully, with a nice bass presence complimenting some very catchy and lovely guitars. The quality of the album dips a little bit after "Alaskan Shake", with "Roll It" and "Trust" merely being good songs. Still, fantastic numbers like "Mixer" and "Lion In Chains" are just too great to be denied. Overall, a half-hour of indie/jangle pop that is subtly intelligent and sonically relaxing and comforting.
Napalm Death Scum
In parallel congruence with Carcass and Repulsion, Napalm Death are seen as one of the founding bands of grindcore. The skeleton of the genre is definitely there: breakneck-fast drumming, very short songs, blistering riffs with a nice punk edge to them, and shouty, ravenous vocals. Many great musicians played on both sides of the record, which were recorded at different times with different people, and even included a couple of very influential men in the likes of Justin Broadrick and Bill Steer. The production is raw, as expected, but changes on the differing sides. Side one's kind of makes the band sound like a much faster version of bands like Amebix, especially with regard to the drum tones, while side two's production is more bassy and murky. Add the notion that vocalist Lee Dorrian is much more varied than Nik Bullen, and you definitely have a tale of two halves here. Still, the album does great things on both sides, and solidified Napalm Death as one of the godfathers of grind.
Napalm Death Hatred Surge
A deliciously raw demo from the godfathers of grind, Hatred Surge is a much different Napalm Death from the group that unleashed Scum to the people. Nicholas Bullen, Justin Broadrock, and Miles Ratledge put together what is unequivocally their crustiest work, with the music at hand being more relatable to Killing Joke than Repulsion or Carcass. In this sense, Napalm Death were always on the punkier side of grind, and with a few tracks like "Instinct Of Survival", "Control" and "Caught In A Dream" being heard in their earliest, grind-free forms, it's easy to see this evolution. While there isn't much in the way of recording quality, the emotion put forth by Bullen and Ratledge is palpable, and Broadrick's songwriting was good even then. It's an important listen for fans of Napalm Death, and also fans of crust punk and grind in general.
Napalm Death Apex Predator - Easy Meat
It's ironic that one of the songs on the record is named "How The Years Condemn", because it seems the years have been very kind to seminal grindcore band Napalm Death. A more apt description would be "Timeless Flogging". The group of 40-somethings still manage to be unrelenting and intense with their fifteenth album, though the opener, which is also the title-track, is plodding and slow-paced. From thereon after, it's full speed ahead, with tracks like "Smash A Single Digit" and "Stunt Your Growth" being especially ferocious. There's moments of experimentation here, most notably on the title track, and there is some clean singing on "Hierarchies" that makes an appearance, but this is kept under wraps in favor of unbridled aggression. All in all, Napalm Death still have it after all these years, somehow.
Nas STILLmatic
It's always nice to see an artist that had been reeling somewhat catch a second wind and release some great stuff, not only because it's awesome they're doing the stuff they had the potential to do, but because you know it feels good for them too. Nas righted a ship that was all but foundering with STILLmatic, which eschewed the days of 1999 and sounded like he recorded these tracks in the same period as It Was Written. With much better production, hooks that were actually good, and lyrics that painted more vivid pictures of Queensbridge, this "comeback" album reminded listeners that Nas still had greatness in him, as evidenced by two stone-cold classics in "Ether" and "One Mic". Of course, the entire first half of the album, ending on "Destroy & Rebuild", is practically flawless, so it's no surprise some unforgettable material came out of it. Though it does lose steam in its second half and doesn't really recover, it's hard not to look at STILLmatic as the statement it was: that Nasty Nas was finally back to form.
New Order Low-Life
Night Birds Mutiny At Muscle Beach
When it comes to hardcore surf punk quartet Night Birds, consistency is key. They way they've managed to remain at a high level of quality with only the slightest of deviations is nothing short of impressive. Mutiny On Muscle Beach, then, is no exception. The record is pretty much exactly as good as you'd think it would be: 24 minutes of fast-paced, high-energy, surf-tinged hardcore punk with enough quotable chants and endearingly goofy moments to satisfy the listener with ease. The album starts with six straight blasts of energy before slowing things down a slight bit with the title track. The rest of the album is ever-so slightly slower paced, but gains a fair amount of catchiness as a result, ending on a superb closer in "Left In The Middle". Sure, this record does not reinvent the wheel, but that's not the point. The point is: Night Birds are one of modern punk's finest bands, and they just want to play and have fun doing it, with Mutiny On Muscle Beach being the next excellent catalyst for that sentiment.
Norma Jean O' God The Aftermath
Norma Jean Wrongdoers
It took them four tries, but melodic hardcore/metalcore band Norma Jean were finally able to surpass the bar they set for themselves with 2003's O' God: The Aftermath. We hear them at their most concise, focused, and pissed all at once, which naturally leads to some of the best songs they've ever written, including "If You've Got It At Five, You've Got It At Fifty", "The Potter Has No Hands", "The Lash Whistled Like A Singing Wind", and "Funeral Singer". You have some nice variety here as well, with some slow-burners ("Hive Minds", "Sun Dies, Blood Moon"), some punches to the gut ("Neck In The Hemp", "Triffids"), and some more melodic tracks to boot ("Wrongdoers", "Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes"). The production gives a thick sound to the guitars and bass, the drums hit very hard, and Cory Brandan is at his best here as well. In all, Norma Jean creates what is the defining record of their careers in Wrongdoers.
Oasis Definitely Maybe
Of Monsters and Men My Head is an Animal
Open Mike Eagle and Paul White Hella Personal Film Festival
One of the more intimate and personal rappers around today, as the title of the album betrays, is none other than Open Mike Eagle, a recent signee to Mello Music Group and creator of an endearingly self-deprecating nerdy persona that works very well in conjunction with his lyrical abilities and topics. Collaborating with UK producer/songwriter Paul White, who puts an excellent foot forward on the jazzy, soulful, laid-back production of this album, he brings out his love for all things film and disdain for all things crooked. While there are some irritating and/or cringeworthy lines or inflections here or there, this is mostly just Open Mike being Open Mike, an awkward-yet-intelligent guy with a knack for obscure references. The quality of the album starts out well, and though it has a mildly shoddy first half, the second half of the album from "Leave People Alone" to closer "Reprieve" is an exercise in how to perform this style of hip-hop correctly. It's another in a line of great projects from Open Mike Eagle, who doesn't seem to be slowing down at all.
Opeth Still Life
Opeth Blackwater Park
Opeth has a reputation as one of the most consistent and to many, brilliant, progressive death metal acts in the world. Blackwater Park is considered to be their magnum opus by the majority, and has been lauded and discussed ever since it was released. The first half of this album is pretty great, but the second half trails off a bit. The reason for this is the very clean production sometimes sounding too clean and, dare I say, emotionless. Therefore, those spots become unintentionally boring and tend to drag on. There's a lot to appreciate here, even if some moments aren't up to par with the rest, and though it's not Opeth's best, it is certainly a worthy addition to their discography.
Opeth Deliverance
Benefitting from a production job less sterile than their previous opus, Opeth's Deliverance is an engrossing and massive listen from start to finish. Boasting tightened songwriting in a style similar to Blackwater Park's, the record is made of fluid progressive death metal that neither runs out of ideas or loses itself in its ideas. There are plenty of memorable moments here, from the opening riff of "Wreath" to the lovely acoustic passage two minutes into the title-track, to the beautiful solo that segues into solemn piano in "A Fair Judgement", there isn't too much worth missing here. Unfortunately, the parts worth missing are found in the closer, "By The Pain I See In Others", which uses some questionable effects on Mikael Akerfeldt's vocals, which are otherwise excellent, and just generally meanders somewhat, ending the album on an anticlimactic note. Still, the band managed to create an album that, in my opinion, bested Blackwater Park, even if slightly so.
Opeth My Arms, Your Hearse
Opeth Ghost Reveries
I'm of the party that believes Morningrise to be the pinnacle of 90's Opeth, and I also believe it's their best album. And while Deliverance is certainly a great album, it's still a few shades below the 96 opus. Ghost Reveries is a worthy companion for it, though, because it's unequivocally the best 2000's Opeth album. It takes the best parts of both Deliverance and Damnation and adds some tactful and very enjoyable electronic and ambient influences. The production, while still pretty clean, isn't shimmeringly so, and things sound like they have weight behind them. The songwriting is classic Opeth: endless riffs flowing together one to the next, with some cleaner acoustic breaks interspersed. Nothing new for them, but flawlessly executed just as it should be. The electronic bits give some nice personality to the music, and while its atmosphere isn't as clearly defined as Damnation, it's still mysterious and mystic. A truly great album from Opeth, but one that they have not and probably will not be able to top.
Oxxo Xoox Namidae
I hate the term "Alien Metal". It writes a check that basically can't be cashed when bands like Rings Of Saturn call themselves that. It's worth mentioning, then, that they literally have no stake in that claim when bands like Oxxo Xoox are around. This is the closest thing to "Alien Metal" that I've ever heard. The band never makes such a statement, but the fact that they created their own language to sing with, and have such an avant-garde take on epic doom metal is all the proof I need. There really isn't a way that I can relay all of this to you without you actually hearing it, though. It's actually quite hard to describe in words how weird and yet so, so fun this music is. The length may seem daunting, but this is an album that is pretty easy to get lost into. It's a bit of a slow burner, though, as things start out pretty good, but don't get especially serious until "Da I Lun". The fact that it is in an esoteric tongue has its vice, though, as the lyrics basically mean nothing. Still, the music behind it sounds incredible, and the vocalists are pretty good regardless. As it stands, Namidae is one of the most interesting pieces of metal I've heard in a while, and certainly one of the coolest metal albums this year.
Pastel Ghost Abyss
I love when old things clash with new things in music. Just seeing the contrast, and yet the undeniable similarities, between an old style and a new one is very interesting. It's that idea that leads to albums like these. Vivian Moon, known better as Pastel Ghost, decided that combining 80's synthpop with chillwave was the route she was going to take, and the result is a drugged-up, flowery, and gorgeous album. Her airy vocals are swamped by endless layers of atmospheric synths and driving beats, creating a hazy and wavy atmosphere. The lack of a standout track hurts the album a bit, but things are a pretty high quality overall, and there is enough syrupy synth melodies to keep you listening. In all, Pastel Ghost is definitely on to something here, so give this one a listen if you like 80's synthpop or chillwave.
Pg. 99 Document #5
The fine folks from pageninetynine might just be the greatest group of songwriters to ever grace the American screamo scene, not only due to their work in this band but countless others as well. Document #5, their debut full-length record, is an exercise in everything it takes to make a screamo album worth hearing: songwriting that juxtaposes moments of intense cacophony and melancholy clarity, vocals that rip at the throat whilst tugging at the heart, and all of the passion one can carry in their souls. This isn't the most original screamo record, but I'll be damned if it isn't one of the most well-performed. The band would go on to create records more original and diverse than this, but the raw emotion starts out the highest it can be. In a sense, Document #5 is the perfect introductory record for anyone wanting to get into the genre, and let the world know that pageninetynine could beat other bands at their own game before creating their own. The scary part is, this is probably the worst of their full-lengths.
Phantogram Nightlife
Pile You're Better Than This
An excellent blend of sparse indie and discordant noise rock, You're Better Than This is another excellent outing from Boston's own Pile. Rick Maguire's vocals are absolutely addicting, and the guitar work will turn from melodic and relatively quiet to loud and abrasive in moments. The album has a wonderful punk tinge to it that really permeates the drumming and many of the louder moments on here. Things get off to a roaring start with "The World Is Your Motel", but takes a more somber route on "Mr. Fish", with Maguire's storytelling lyrics about a solitary man in Daryl Fish taking the spotlight early in the song and giving way to an excellent, noisy buildup later. Other highlights include "Waking Up In The Morning" and "Appendicitis". Honestly, if they are better than this, I'd love to hear it.
Preoccupations Preoccupations
I'm indifferent towards the name change, but I can't really talk so... With their second album since forming from the remains of Women, the band formerly known as Viet Cong release a grower of an album. As such, Preoccupations is a much less immediate record than Viet Cong, choosing to take a more subtle route. The presence of melodic synths is the big change here, as they add a new dynamic and texture to the sound, which has been stripped a little bit since the debut. Things are decent on the first three tracks, but "Memory" is where the album really picks up. Tempo changes and a professionally done ambient soundscape to end the song show that the band's experimental nature is still alive. The songs gradually become more catchier as the album goes on, culminating in closer "Fever" which may be the catchiest song they've written short of "Continental Shelf". Putting it simply, you're in for a different experience with Preoccupations than you were with Viet Cong. If they can keep making consistently great music while changing their palette as they've done so far, they could be looked upon as one of the best post-punk bands of the decade.
Primordial The Gathering Wilderness
Before 2005, Primordial played a style of black metal heavily influenced by Celtic folk music and tales of the Irish lore. Starting here, though, the Celtic folk would be on the forefront, with the guitars becoming cleaner and the atmospherics becoming even windier than before. Even Nemtheanga, an established and renowned vocalist, had to change his style from his ghastly screams to a cleaner, more epically styled way of singing. The results are quite great, as The Gathering Wilderness sees this transition almost seamlessly from their old style. There are definitely traces of the old style, like the openings riffs of "The Song Of The Tomb", but for the most part, this is windy, gripping folk metal with Celtic stylings, and it works very well. Alas, the record is a bit samey, but the melodies from the guitars and the heartfelt singing from Nemtheanga really overshadows that aspect. At the end of the day, this is a record exemplifying that a band can change their already established sound and make another sound that is just as good or even better than the old one.
Primordial Storm Before Calm
Here we see Primordial at their bleakest, blackest, and most bare-bones since their inception. From the opening monologue of "The Heretic's Age", wrapped in blast beats and windy tremolo riffing, the band sets up the dark, stormy atmosphere that they have always done well. There isn't much of the folky acoustic guitar passages on this record as compared to the others so far in their discography, but they do show up here and there and are typically great, especially the inspiring "What Sleeps Within". Where the band truly shines, though, are their brooding, heavily emotional black metal epics, the best of which on this record is "Sons Of The Morrigan". With a great vocal performance and more excellent lyrics from frontman Nemtheanga, complete with a furiously passionate instrumental performance, this record marks the height of Primordial's early records, before they would start implementing more Celtic influences and instruments.
Primordial Where Greater Men Have Fallen
After 2011's Redemption At The Puritan's Hand, there was speculation that, even though it was a good album, it signified the band slowing down and becoming stagnant. Where Greater Men Have Fallen put all that talk to rest, though, with the band sounding as forceful and as passionate as they've ever sounded. The first great thing about this record is the production, as it's truly excellent. The drums have a discernible punch to them, and the guitars sound wonderfully full alongside the nice bass presence. The songwriting, although ultimately nothing much different from past efforts, has been improved somewhat, with the quality in riffs bubbling up to the point which they are no longer simply just the stormy backbone upon which the albums stand. Rather, they are co-commanders with Nemtheanga, who puts in a phenomenal vocal performance as expected. The consistency which the band has operated their entire careers with shines through in spades here as well, making this one of the best records of their discography at a time when people wondered if they had another great one in them.
Primus Tales from the Punchbowl
Every good band who's been blessed with longevity has an album that is extremely good, but is overlooked in the context of the rest of their discography. For Primus, that is definitely Tales From The Punchbowl. On it, the band write songs that are essentially progressive rock with a funky, southern sheen, and wouldn't you know it? They're actually pretty damn good at it. Very good, in fact. The first four tracks are an exercise in stellar musicianship, lyrical portraits of irony, and that always somewhat dirty production job that lines Primus records. While it doesn't reach these heights again until "Over The Electric Grapevine", the album remains at a high level of quality through its middle section, never delivering a drab or boring song and toeing the fine line between tasteful immaturity and obnoxiousness perfectly. In short, it's ace Primus, only with more prog than you'd ever thought you'd hear from them.
Primus Frizzle Fry
It's common knowledge that Les Claypool is one hell of a bassist, but can we talk about how awesome Tim Alexander is on the kit for a moment? I mean, this man carries the entirety of this record with him, and does so with flair, skill, and an undeniable penchant for polyrhythmic techniques. Claypool's bass skills only seem to feed off of and into Alexander's drumming, improving the sound of both instruments. There's a great fusion of funk and alternative metal going on, with some very catchy and sometimes even unnerving sections of music throughout. The cherry on top of this is the humor the album displays. It's pretty strange at first, and sometimes over the top, but this is all intentional. On "Harold Of The Rocks", one of the lyrics betrays this self-awareness: "Harold, he's a friendly guy, he rambles on and on. He'll talk the balls off a rhinoceros, fact is, he just doesn't make much sense." It's just another one of the things that makes Frizzle Fry a fun, interesting, and engaging listen.
Pusha T King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
Pusha crafts a consistent and very enjoyable precursor to a currently unreleased album called King Push on this record, and though it is only thirty-three minutes long, it still has enough quality moments to make it a success. The first half of the album is better than the second, even though it's not by much, with Pusha putting together some tight verses, catchy hooks, and overall concise and to-the-point hip-hop. The production is pretty modern and is done very well, with "Untouchable" and "M.P.A." coming in as two highlights. The guest spots here include Kanye West, Beanie Sigel, A$AP Rocky, and The-Dream, and they all perform excellently as compliments not only to the production, but Pusha himself. In short, it's a great record from Pusha T, and even though it's not necessarily doing anything he hasn't done, the quality of the record is very respectable, and certainly sets the hype for King Push in motion.
Radiohead Amnesiac
Radiohead's fifth studio album is often called "the B-sides of Kid A" or "Kid B" because of its similarities with the seminal turn of the century electronic rock album. While their might be similarities, there are big differences that separate the two. For instance, the electronics experimented with here are much weirder and unyielding than on Kid A, "Pulk/ Pull Revolving Doors" and "Like Spinning Plates" being great examples. There is also more straightforward, less experimental songs that harken back to The Bends, like "You And a Whose Army?" and "I Might Be Wrong", that are exceedingly well done. Though the album drags a bit in the second half with "Hunting Bears" being major filler and "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" being filler as well, the album ends on a wonderful song in "Life In A Glasshouse", which beautifully exemplifies the bands' penchant for jazz, and really ends the album with a bang. It might not be as good as its predecessor, but Amnesiac is so much more than "Kid B".
Radiohead Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
It's been quite some time since the famous British quintet of art-rockers known as Radiohead have released something as outright beautiful as this. And while it is certainly not their most experimental work, probably since OK Computer, the songwriting is still top-notch, as exemplified by the ethereal ambience of "Daydreaming", the subtle catchiness of "Decks Dark", the simple-yet-heartbreaking piano/string combo of "Glass Eyes", and of course the numerous and satisfying intricacies of the following four tracks. Closer "True Love Waits" is a little bare musically, but it's lyrics and the way they are sung are the saving graces. There's only a couple of tracks here that I'd venture to call uninteresting, those being opener "Burn The Witch" and "Desert Island Disk", both of which don't do anything with the little they have to begin with. It's not quite on the level of their classics, but I'd be lying if I said that A Moon Shaped Pool was not a wholly worthwhile affair.
Rae Sremmurd SremmLife 2
The low average for the first one and the low average this one will inevitably and undeservedly get are both criminal. I think that what is most appealing about Rae Sremmurd is that these two truly sound like they're having a great time on the microphone, with all the charisma and energy that two dudes barely old enough to drink should have. With production mainly handled by Mike WiLL Made-It, they certainly have the perfect backdrop for all of their mischievous deeds. The features here are pretty seamless as well, with Kodak Black seeming right at home on early highlight "Real Chill", and the always-entertaining Lil Jon providing the hook for "Set The Roof". The album even succeeds when things have more of an emphasis on singing, like the immaculately catchy "Take It Or Leave It", and they do a good job of juxtaposing these two styles so that they flow without any bumps in the road. Simply put, SremmLife 2 is another collection of party rap bangers from some of the best, if not the best, in the business at it.
Rafael Anton Irisarri A Fragile Geography
You know those rainy days where it almost feels uncomfortable not to be lying in bed doing nothing but relaxing, not caring, and possibly getting a little stoned? That's basically what A Fragile Geography sounds like. Rafael Anton Irisarri is a master at making this type of atmosphere, and on this new record of his, he does it just as well as he's ever done. Musically, it's an ambient record, but it blankets you in drones that, when coming from a good pair of headphones, almost massage your brain. Things can get pretty loud, like on "Reprisal", but more often than not, it's just beautifully subdued ambient drone. Some tracks may use conventional instruments, but they are used pretty minimally, like the strings on "Secretly Wishing For Rain". Although it's not necessarily all that new of a concept, especially for Irisarri, the record is still another great addition to his discography, and thus, shouldn't be overlooked.
Rasputina Oh Perilous World
Red Death Permanent Exile
A straight up relentless crossover thrash band from D.C., this is the debut record of Red Death, and it's sixteen minutes of rigorous, punky riffage. The album starts with six straight punches to the gut, "Palace Of Unending Pain" being the highlight of those. But when the bomb that is "Alleviate" is dropped from the skies to wreak havoc on the world below with a crushing build-up followed by more thrashy hardcore fit with solos, the album will never be the same. "Atomic Howl" scours the wreckage left in its predecessors wake, and finally "Perpetrator" ends everything with one last monstrous fist to the face, bringing the album full circle. Long story short, this album is crossover thrash in all its essence. Listen to it if you dig that kind of stuff.
Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication
Rites of Spring Rites of Spring
One of the most influential bands in hardcore, cult band Rites Of Spring is a group often credited with the creation of emo. That said, this is most surely not your Sunny Day Real Estate or American Football. Rather, this first incarnation of emo was short for "emotional hardcore", born from the DC hardcore scene where bands like Minor Threat and Void ran rampant. Guy Picciotto turns in an emotionally charged and passionate vocal performance here, especially on tracks like "Drink Deep" and "End On End", and Brendan Canty is fantastic on the kit from start to finish. Mike Fellows' bass work takes a wonderful prominence on the record, really providing a stable backbone for the group and being incredibly fun to listen to. Taking a cue from The Faith's Subject To Change, which guitarist Eddie Janney played on, the band moved further toward a melodic sound, complete with intensely personal and desperate lyrics, than any of their contemporaries at the time, despite still being rooted firmly to their beloved hardcore punk scene. Though they'd only be around a couple of years, Rites Of Spring did make some essential hardcore on this album.
Rites of Spring All Through A Life
Although it was released a year after the breakup of Rites Of Spring, All Through A Life is an important EP in the Washington D.C. hardcore scene. A direct continuation and progression of the prototypical emo sound explored on their highly influential self-titled LP, All Through A Life serves to connect the early D.C. hardcore sound, exemplified by bands like Minor Threat, and the later D.C. hardcore sound, as exemplified by bands like Embrace. This is evident clearly through the music here, as the passion of the early days blend seamlessly with the nuances of the later. Musically, it's just as good as the self-titled, and with only ten minutes, the EP is ripe for replaying. Though it'd be the last record of original material the band ever released, its impact is not to be disregarded.
Rogue Wave Descended Like Vultures
Rogue Wave Out Of The Shadow
Rogue Wave Asleep at Heaven's Gate
Rogue Wave Nightingale Floors
I think the thing I admire most about Rogue Wave is their consistency. Each one of their albums is worth a listen, and they have written some truly great songs throughout the years. Nightingale Floors is no different. Released three years after Permalight, which was a bit rough around the edges, Nightingale Floors is a testament to how consistently great Rogue Wave has been. Although the album gets off to a bit of a slow start, the middle of the record contains some of Rogue Wave's best tracks, and closes on a very strong note on "Everyone Wants To Be You", an excellent combination of indie and post-rock. The album has something for everyone, from acoustic tracks like "The Closer I Get" to the swirling indie-rock they've perfected on songs like "Siren's Song" and "S(a)tan". Altogether, another great release by Rogue Wave, and I certainly did not expect anything less.
Rogue Wave Delusions of Grand Fur
In the grand pantheon of indie rock, Rogue Wave has emerged as one of the most consistent bands of the 21st century, with their style of delicate, summery, acoustic-driven indie bringing them five successful records with a remarkable consistency seen between all of them. In this sense, Delusions Of Grand Fur is no different, as this new record is just as good as anything from Descended Like Vultures or Out Of The Shadow, and only a small shade under Asleep At Heaven's Gate, with a couple of variations on their style to be heard as well. For instance, "What Is Left To Solve" sounds like a modern twist on the earliest The Cure recordings, and the in spots the album has an almost anxious vibe to it. They make excellent use of sparse electronics, which is where Permalight was a bit rough, showing that they've definitely been improving their sound. In short, it's yet another consistent and lovely effort from Rogue Wave, as if it'd be anything other than that.
Rush 2112
Ryat Alt Mode
From a vocal standpoint, Christina McGeehan is pretty good, but ultimately nothing extremely noteworthy. Where she truly separates herself from her contemporaries is her latent ability to produce wonderfully encompassing beats and ambience, which is on full display on Alt Mode. The production is full of bass, glitchiness, and instruments like the piano and guitar. It sounds like IDM mixed with glitch pop, just brimming with personality and intimacy. This parlays well to her voice, which is taken to new heights thanks to the stellar production. From the blanketing ambience of "Root Connection", to the catchiness of tracks like "Drifting Hearts" and "Blade", to the absolutely gorgeous closer in "Heart In Need", Alt Mode is an engaging, lovely listening experience that should tantalize fans of electronic music and electronically-driven pop music alike.
Sadistik Ultraviolet
Sadistik and Kid Called Computer The Art of Dying
If this release flew over your head like it did me, you might be under the impression that Sadistik spent five years in between releases tightening his craft as tight as it possibly could go for his second LP. You'd be half-right, given that he underwent the significant portion of the adjustments in just two years before collaborating with little-known, yet highly skilled, Chicago producer A Kid Called Computer and releasing an EP known as The Art Of Dying. You can see much of what he was going for on Flowers For My Father on these tracks, and with some pretty great production behind it all (especially "Save Yourself"), the record works as a standalone project as well as a premonition of what was to come.
Self Defense Family Disappear Here
Before they were known as Self Defense Family, Kindlon & Co. were known as End Of A Year, and this, their first full-length record, showcases the raw beginnings of the band and their immense songwriting capabilities even then. It's take on post-hardcore and emo is sloppy despite being pretty intricately written, and manages to be engaging emotionally as well. The vocals are higher-pitched than later records, and aren't as gruff, sounding more pained and distressed than powerful. The lyrics are pretty great as well, with several very relatable and quotable lines popping up throughout the record. The production is pretty good as well, being raw, but not so much that it detracts from the listening. And, in twenty-five minutes, it allows plenty of room for re-listening, which definitely is a virtue considering just how full of nuances the record is. In all, the debut full-length from the family is quite great, and shows signs of the great things to come.
Self Defense Family Colicky
Self Defense Family really perfected their slow-tempoed, brooding take on post-hardcore on last year's gem Heaven Is Earth, and though they've already released a couple of solid EP's this year, Colicky is here to remind you just how good this band can be when they're firing on all cylinders. It bears mentioning that the closer, "Brittany Murphy In 8 Mile" is one of the tracks of the year and one of the best songs that the family has ever put to wax. Patrick Kindlon's vocals are positively heartbreaking, and the riffs and drumming dominate the song in the final minutes for a beautifully tragic sort of crescendo. The previous three tracks are also high quality, possessing a similar game plan to the material on Superior; that is, slow-paced, bassy post-hardcore bordering on post-punk, with a gruff edge to it. In case you forgot, the family is still punk's hardest-working band, and this EP is further proof.
Sensory Deprivation SNSRY DPRVTN
Sometimes when I listen to music, I forget to do the most crucial thing: connect, or at least try to connect, with what is being heard. If I can't connect with it even though I tried, that's not my fault. But when I forget that I listen to music for one thing and one thing only and that is to feel something, I do the artist, and myself, a disservice. Basically, it's one thing to not understand it, but another thing to not even try. SNSRY DPRVTN isn't meant for passive listening. It requires attention, because the sounds coming through from many subgenres of punk and rock are as intricately detailed as they are pleasing to hear. An eighty-minute-plus behemoth that paces itself incredibly well and flows almost just as good, with lyrics that I wish I could've wrote when I was in high school, just cannot be appreciated without attentive listening. It longs to connect with the listener, as youthful and intimate as it is, and it will. You just have to let it.
Sewer Election Wreck
Sometimes you can guess what an album is going to sound like based on its cover. One would think that Wreck would sound how it's cover looks: raw, grainy, bare, unflinching, dead. And yet, there's so much more to it than that. While many noise projects have the dubious quality of being one-note, Sewer Election evades this notion with startling professionalism and songwriting tact. What initially sounds haphazard and broken slowly unfolds and reveals itself as a carefully crafted juggernaut of harsh noise, constantly progressing in fluid motions while simultaneously sounding as if it's falling apart at the seams. The use of tape manipulation and the odd two seconds of sudden silence seem like natural occurrences in the muck rather than simple gimmicks, and serve to further illustrate the glorious nuances the project has in store. It's truly a piece to get lost into, and in the end that's a impressive achievement in and of itself.
Signals Midwest At This Age
Distance is a killer of relationships whether they are romantic or simply friendly. This is true of distance in terms of miles and in terms of time spent away. At This Age is an album that longs for those distances to be done with, whether they be the distance of another person from them, or the distance of the best times of their lives behind them. The entire album operates with a nostalgic feel, fluidly mixing indie punk and emo in both hopeful and melancholy concoctions. Signals Midwest also does very well lyrically, delivering heartfelt and relatable lines without sounding forced or hackneyed ("Well, you weren't the best, but you were the first, that's what made it special, what made it hurt..."). The catchiness of the songs also helps with the admittedly similar sound the band operates with, allowing them memorable qualities despite the prevalent familiarity. Truly, the band's third album is an enjoyable and refreshingly mature look back on the best, most memorable times. Keep representing Cleveland well, guys.
SikTh Death of a Dead Day
SikTh was always a band filled to the brim with ideas, and their gifted skill in instrumentation and vocalization gave them the ability to express those ideas with uncanny professionalism. Death Of A Dead Day is in every way their magnum opus. That the band eschews the inconsistency of their debut and hones every last bit of their songwriting talent is awesome enough, but there aren't any moments here one would call "annoying" either. Thus, the album is their debut stripped of all fat; it's shorter, tighter, more mature, and retains those quirky nuances that made it so unique to begin with. There isn't a song here that is skippable, and though there's not really a song that stands out from the crowd as being the best of the bunch, the album remains at a consistently high level of quality. The dizzying technicality and vocal acrobatics are better than ever, and the songs feel full without over-stuffing them. If there were any way for them to go out, this was the way. Guess when they finally do quit they'll have to release something even better (a man can dream).
Silent Cicada Filth
Silent Cicada was the alias of Nick Shutter during his earliest forays into harsh noise. A prolific artist, Shutter released many projects under the name, two of which, known respectively as Filth One and Filth Two are compiled together on this record, sewing them together like some twisted Siamese twin experiment. The first half of the record is a stirring mass of tense ambient and noise textures, patiently adding and taking away layers of sound until the end result is entirely different from what was started with. The second half is much more explosive, utilizing spastic, glitchy noise in a way that sounds chaotic and randomized, but soon reveals itself to be organized and deliberate. Fifty minutes of this seems to be a daunting task at a glance, and the music occasionally does give way to meandering, but it is constructed in such a way to keep the listener on edge and engaged until the final raucous shades of static fade away. Ultimately, Filth serves as a great initiation into the back catalog of Nick Shutter, and his escapades as Silent Cicada.
Simon and Garfunkel Bookends
After the unmistakable "The Sound Of Silence" made Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel a well-known tandem, "Mrs. Robinson" propelled them to superstardom. Simon even said that he felt he had entered the upper echelon of artist at the time. It's of interesting note, then, that Bookends is an album almost morbidly concerned with growing old and dying. Their music was starting to include more instruments, like the orchestra on "Old Friends", and the weird droning tones of "Save The Life Of My Child". It's cool that while they're music sounded more lively then ever, their subject matter was darker and kind of bleak in retrospect. The aforementioned "Old Friends" is the centerpiece of the album, being a retrospection on life and the venture into the so-called "golden years". This was certainly Simon & Garfunkel working focused and passionately, perhaps more so than they had up until that point in their careers. Needless to say, Bookends is an excellent record because of that.
Simon and Garfunkel Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
There isn't really a duo out there like Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Together, they made some of the greatest folk tunes the world has known, and remain easy listening and wonderful today. This, their debut record, wasn't exactly a roaring commercial success, but looking back, it is certainly a great album. The best songs here are written by Paul Simon, including "Bleecker Street", "Sparrow" and "The Sound Of Silence". Here, melancholy yet evocative folk is used at its best, with excellent lyricism all the way around. Other songs like "Benedictus" and "Go Tell It On The Mountain" are covers of traditional folk songs passed down through the years, as well as a cover of one of Bob Dylan's most famous songs, "The Times They Are-A-Changin'". Altogether, it is the excellent start of something fantastic in the folk world, and the start of one of the most recognizable duos in music.
Simon and Garfunkel Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
The night sets softly with the hush of falling leaves, casting shivering shadows on the houses through the trees. And the light from a street lamp paints a pattern on my wall, like the pieces of a puzzle, or a child's uneven scrawl. Up a narrow flight of stairs in a narrow little room, as I lay upon my bed in the early evening gloom. Impaled on my wall my eyes can dimly see, the pattern of my life and the puzzle that is me. From the moment of my birth to the instant of my death, there are patterns I must follow just like I must breathe each breath. Like a rat in a maze the pattern before me lies, and the pattern never alters until the rat dies. And the pattern still remains on the wall where darkness fell, and it's fitting that it should, for in darkness I must dwell. Like the color of my skin, or the day that I grow old, my life is made of patterns that can scarcely be controlled.
Ski Mask The Slump God Drown in Designer
Part of the rapidly rising and wholly captivating south Florida rap scene, the man known as $ki Mask THE SLUMP GOD has played an invested role in the development of some of the most visceral, violent, unapologetic, and noisy hip-hop out there right now. Drown-In-Designer is a peek under the looking glass at the sounds transpiring in the scene, and it's explosive nature is summed up perfectly in under twenty minutes. $ki Mask himself has a strange flow and an undaunted delivery, and his lyricism fluctuates between blunt, boastful, and clever at a moments notice, with plenty of often genuinely humorous pop culture references. The production, as booming and imposing as it is, has a purposefully lo-fi feel to it that makes it seem all the more gritty. The features here don't go to waste either, especially XXXTENTACION's on closer "R.I.P. Roach" (seriously, that hook). It's some really loud and hard-hitting stuff, but if you have an affinity for this sort of thing you'll definitely be coming back to this one.
Skinny Puppy Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse
I don't think I've ever heard a record that devolves as good as this one. That's not to say that this devolution is a vice to this record, as that is what makes it so fascinating. From the opener, "One Time One Place", to "Three Blind Mice", the record acts as an electronically inclined industrial record complete with shrill and chilling vocals. But from "Love" until the closer, "Burnt With Water", the album seemingly falls in on itself as the established structure completely unravels and things get quite unnerving. The industrial sound surges to the forefront and the vocals turn to demented yells and hyperventilating. Samples can range from speeches to screams of terror, and by the end of the record you're left shocked at how quickly and sharply the album changes direction. In the end, it's a pretty interesting listen, and when you peel back some of the layers of weirdness, there's some great musicianship to be found as well.
Slum Village Yes!
Slum Village has been one of the most important hip-hop acts in the Midwest for a time now. A look through their past members include the likes of J Dilla, Elzhi, and Illa J, but T3 and producer Young RJ still can hold their own, as exemplified on this new record of theirs. Featuring nine out of twelve songs on the record with J Dilla production, the album sounds very much like their early days and is pretty nostalgic in that regard. Add in some excellent guest appearances from the likes of De La Soul, Phife Dawg, Black Milk, Bilal, and Illa J, and you've got yourself a recipe for success. The standout tracks on the record, at least for me, include "Tear It Down", "Push It Along", "Right Back", "We On The Go!!!", and "Where We Come From". That being said, no song on here is in any way bad, and it is incredibly easy to listen and re-listen to. In all, this album is a great throwback to the hip-hop of the late 90's, and yet another great hip-hop record this year has to offer.
Snarky Puppy Sylva
Snarky Puppy is one of the leading collectives in jazz fusion, their sound being a mixture of funk, jazz, and world music. The Netherlands' own Metropole Orkest lend their talents to the band for this album, recorded live, and makes them sound more grand and bombastic than usual. It's still Snarky Puppy running the show, though, and for the most part they sound wonderful. Meandering bass and smooth keyboards permeate the record, as does explosive sections of brass instrumentation. A variety of moods are explored here, including suspenseful, triumphant, content, and sensual. The closer, "The Clearing", is one of the best examples of this, going through a wide range of sounds and emotions in a nineteen minute monster of fusion jazz. In all, Snarky Puppy continue to impress, and with some added help from Metropole Orkest, add another dynamic to their sound.
Son Lux At War With Walls And Mazes
Son Lux is quickly becoming recognized as one of the up-and-comers of trip-hop, and his debut, At War With Walls And Mazes gives a perfect example of why. While the album does get off to a bit of a slow start, the middle has some great songs like "Betray", "Stay", and "Raise". "Wither" is without a doubt the catchiest song on the record, but "Stand" really steals the show. Though the song consists of one line being repeated, so many things happen around that line, such as soaring female vocals and whirling violins. The use of strings on this album gives a breath of fresh air to many of the songs, and give it an experimental feel to it on occasion. Though the album suffers on its slower, more subdued tracks, it is incredible everywhere else, and for that, Son Lux's debut surely deserves a listen from trip-hop fans and fans of electronic in general.
Son Lux We Are Rising
Ryan Lott has always been more than just a producer, both literally and figuratively. The way he has made such engaging and enjoyable electronic under the Son Lux is indicative enough of that notion, and his sophomore LP, We Are Rising, backs that up well. Sonically, it's a mixture of trip-hop, chamber pop, and art pop with Lott handling both the production and the vocals. This is a remarkably consistent work, as the quality never wavers from the high standard set by "Flickers", and each track flows quite effortlessly into the next one. As such, there really isn't a song on the album that is a "stand-out" (if I had to choose, I'd tentatively go with "Claws"), so to say, but in this case, that's not really a bad thing. It's accessible and catchy, but also holds a playful charm that has become a staple of Lott's work. In a nutshell, this is Lott at his most efficient, and though it might not be as good as its predecessor, it's still a great album in and of itself.
Sorority Noise It Kindly Stopped for Me
Losing someone you love is never easy, no matter how much time passes. For the members of Sorority Noise, the loss of more friends than they can count on one hand, all within the time after last year's sophomore LP was released, results in a grief-stricken, highly saddening EP that is also a stylistic change for the band. Rather than the emo-tinged pop-punk of records past, If Kindly Stopped For Me is a delicate acoustic guitar driven record. Vocalist Cameron Boucher is absolutely heartbreaking, with the melodies and songwriting all being heartfelt and uneasy. There was a line from a review of this EP that said "if Boucher wasn't drunk while recording this, he's an excellent actor", and I couldn't have said it better myself. Though the loss of energy from Joy, Departed to It Kindly Stopped For Me is apparent, it's also completely reasonable and entirely reflective of the turmoil the members have been through during the last months.
Steve Jablonsky Transformers - The Score
Steve Von Till A Life Unto Itself
As the lead vocalist for seminal post-metal band Neurosis, Steve Von Till has been a recognizable name in the metal scene for a while now. That being said, he has also made a name for himself in the folk scene, given that he already had a trio of well-received albums before this. With this album, it isn't all just bare-bones acoustic guitar and raspy singing, despite what the first two songs on the record show you. "A Language Of Blood" incorporates strings and chorus-like backing vocals that drone on behind Steve's voice. "Night Of The Moon" makes use of a haunting, yet oddly catchy synth line, and "Birch Bark Box" throws droney guitars into the mix, and "Chasing Ghosts" substitutes the acoustic guitar for a piano. All in all, it's a very solid outing, and there is something on this record for everyone who likes folk music.
Stimming Alpe Lusia
This really is one of the better electronic albums of the year, and at the very least the deep house album of the year so far. I say this because Stimming has managed to create an engrossing and endearing album that is rife with different tones and shades that gives the music a dynamic and detailed feel. Rarely do these tracks paint with broad strokes, rather opting for a much more meticulous and carefully-crafted approach. It's also of note that you're probably not going to find an album in deep house or tech house this year with the synergy of the ten tracks on Alpe Lusia. Each track, while excellent on its own (opener "Prepare" is of particular note), is made better in the context of the record as a whole. This is probably exemplified best in the opening trio, where the lush and catchy tones of "Prepare" segue into an unsettling and ultimately riveting track in "Pressing Plant" before bringing you back to daylight with "Trains Of Hope". All this said, if you're looking for some excellent deep house, you cannot go wrong with this record.
Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth
It's not an unused comparison: the sea is reflective of life. The constant motion, the secrets held within, and the vast unknown of the sea parallels the constant motion of life, the secrets people hold, and the vast unknown of what their future is. Sturgill Simpson knows this comparison all too well. Through a jazzy, insatiably fun take on country, Simpson shows his knowledge of the waters to those who may not know (namely, his son) and expresses desire to learn even more for himself. Opener "Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)" is a piano-driven, heartfelt track that makes excellent use of violin and a jazzy, bluesy transition near the middle. This sets the tone of the album both musically and topically, as the album is formatted like a letter to his young boy and wife. His experiences in the Navy are definitely drawn upon here as well, and this new, upbeat sound he incorporates is in stark contrast to the dark outlaw country of his first two records. That said, the transition is almost flawless, as Simpson sounds like he's in his element regardless. In all, it's another great album from one of the most forward-thinking men in country music today.
Suffocation Human Waste
The debut EP from highly influential death metal group Suffocation is a wonderful precursor to a seminal record in Effigy Of The Forgotten, and has a production style and playing style very similar to it. Three of the songs, "Infecting The Crypts", "Mass Obliteration", and "Jesus Wept" would all be re-recorded on that record and be phenomenal spots on it. "Synthetically Revived" would be re-recorded on another fantastic record in Pierced From Within, and "Catatonia" would be re-recorded on the great EP Despise The Sun. The title-track is exclusive to this record, and is a really good closer despite probably the weakest of the six present. Truly a great start for a great band.
Suicide Silence The Cleansing
Suis La Lune Quiet, Pull the Strings!
Swedish screamo outfit Suis La Lune are masters of two things: making emotive post-rock/screamo combinations, and making them with a consistently high quality. In this sense, Quiet, Pull The Strings! is no different, and is quite the satisfying debut. The band have always been at their best when making songs with an equal amount of screamo and post-rock, and this notion lends credence to the idea that "Utter Silence Is Fragile" is the quintessential song from the band. While it may be the best song on the record, it is challenged for that status by several others, including the short, yet extremely powerful "This Heart Easily Tears", the explosive title-track, and the melancholy, evocative closer "My Mind Is A Birdcage". The band falters somewhat in the lyrical department, but this is a misstep easy to forgive when you consider that Swedish is their first language. Really, if you liked anything from Suis La Lune, ever, then you'll like this.
Suis La Lune Heir
It's quite remarkable how renowned Suis La Lune has become in the world of screamo considering they haven't released all that much material in their eleven-year careers. This has been due to their absolutely top-notch songwriting ability that was apparent even on earlier demos, but never quite reaching the level it has here, on Heir. While its stylistically not much different from Quiet, Pull The Strings! at all! the songwriting has improved even from that album to create one of the most satisfyingly, heartbreakingly beautiful combinations of screamo and post-rock EP's ever put to wax. The passion is still as palpable as ever, but the interplay between the melancholic emo riffs and the intensity of the sudden screamo blasts has never been more noticeable. That's all going without mentioning the arrangements of the songs, flowing like a stream from one beautiful passage to another. It's truly some of the best screamo/post-rock you're going to hear, and I'm sure you can spare fifteen minutes to enjoy that.
Suis La Lune Distance/Closure
In French, Suis La Lune means "am the moon". The moon is a desolate, lonely place, and it's from those feelings that the band draws from on this thirty minute EP. The emo/screamo combo is still intact, but the band also throws in a post-rock influence, as shown in the opener "Different Perspectives". In the grand scheme of things, the band doesn't really do anything all that new here, but it's the execution and palpable emotion that really suck the listener in. The record is probably their darkest to date, and vocalist/bassist Andreas Oleras makes quite sure of that with his pained and convincing vocal performance. There are some great moments to be found all throughout the record, from the clean singing in "Better Parts" to the heart-wrenching melodies in "Within", there isn't much of the record worth missing. Altogether, a beautiful screamo record courtesy of the Swedish trio.
Sunn O))) Flight of the Behemoth
Sunn O))) is one of the loudest bands out there, and it makes at lot of sense, seeing as how they started as a tribute to drone metal kings Earth. On their second album, Flight Of The Behemoth, the band makes it known that they're their own band through five punishing drone/doom tracks. The first two tracks, "Mocking Solemnity" and "Death Becomes You", are solid, contemporary drone metal tracks that set the tone for the album right from the get go. The two "O))) Bow" tracks feature some wonky piano and invading static that come to the forefront of the drones quite easily. The last track, "F.W.T.B.T.", is the best one, featuring some nasty grooves as well as sparse drums and beastial, atmospheric growling noises that may or may not be vocals; I can't really tell. Overall, a record full of bleak soundscapes that began to establish Sunn O))) as a force in drone music.
Svalbard One Day This Will End
Manners disbanded earlier this year (*tears up*), so I suppose Svalbard is the new melodic hardcore band to keep my eyes on. And so far, they've delivered. Vocalist and guitarist Serena Cherry is the one running the show here. Her shouts and yell have the bark, and her riffing has the bite. Everything from the vocals to the drums to the lyrics sound so passionate and intimate on this album, which is exactly what a record in this style needs. You feel like someone has confided in you after you hear it. And while there's definitely a few moments where what the band is doing has been done before, it never feels disingenuous or phoned in. In between the riffs and the blasts, there are moments of relative tranquility, with a post-rock-esque sound, that provide a welcome change of pace and feel like natural progressions of the songs. It's a really professionally done debut, and for a band only a few years into playing, that can only be a good thing.
Swans Filth
Swans Holy Money
Holy Money, on a first listen, may just seem like Greed part 2. While the album is a logical extension of the sound of its predecessor, it easily defeats it by being twice as good in the songwriting department. This is due to the experimentation Swans operated with, only this time around the risks definitely paid off. Take "A Screw" for instance, in its unshakable Skinny Puppy-esque industrial synth bulldozing, and the short but hauntingly beautiful "You Need Me". Of course, the heavy noise rock that the band was known for makes several imposing appearances, most notably on opener "A Hanging" and "Another You". Michael Gira is more subdued this time around, but that happens to be a virtue as he allows the music to speak for itself more often than not, focusing on atmosphere rather than visceral rage. All of this makes Holy Money one of Swans' most under-appreciated records, and an ace noise rock/no wave record.
Swans To Be Kind
System of a Down System of a Down
The self-titled debut of famous nu-metal band System Of A Down holds a bit of a conundrum for me. What I mean by that is that I can't decide if this is their true sound, or if they found their true sound on later albums. There are times where I lean either way. It's not as thrashy or chillingly intense as their successive album, and it's not as technically proficient and melodic as their last couple of records. Simply put, this record is a singular, unique entity within the System Of A Down discography, and I just cannot tell whether this was the band experimenting with their sound, or if this was the sole representation of what their sound should be. I suppose it's a moot point, because regardless of all of that, songs like "Know", "Sugar", "Spiders", "Soil", "Mind", and "P.L.U.C.K." make this record a great one to listen to. One thing System Of A Down was never without were super fun, insta-quotable, romping cuts.
Teen Suicide It's the Big Joyous Celebration..
It's a bit hard to pin down what Teen Suicide's swan song actually is. You could say it's experimental, lo-fi indie, but that just doesn't cut it as a description of the sound here. It takes root in bedroom-style acoustic indie, but influences from Midwestern emo, indie pop, various electronic genres, art rock, and straightforward alt-rock. Sam Ray, a polarizing figure to begin with, is at his best (or worst, depending on your opinion of him) on this album, and the extensive variety of the tracks makes it easy to get sucked into it. The lyrics deal with life's perceived banalities, the people, places, and things we mistakenly take for granted, and view them in a much more profound light. Thus, they're pretty relatable, and in some cases heartbreaking to hear coming from Ray's evocative vocals. The songwriting is catchy, as most of the songs here have latent pop sensibilities along with a variety of nuances too numerous for one soundoff. It goes without saying that all those who collaborated along with Ray put their skills to good use as well, as It's The Big Joyous Celebration... is quite the remarkable send-off for this memorable project.
Tenement Napalm Dream
At this point, if you call yourself a fan of pop-punk and haven't heard a Tenement record yet, you're doing it wrong. It's quite simple really. Just several lovely blue-collar folks from Appleton, Wisconsin who possess the unteachable and impeccable ability to make every single one of their hooks memorable. On Napalm Dream, their aesthetic brings nostalgic feelings into the fold by using a lot of imagery from the 50's, a time many people who weren't alive in are nostalgic for, and having relatable lyrics as well. It sort of compares the borderline propagandist picture of the 50's with how life in America is now: everybody's just pretending to be happy because they can't turn and face what's going horribly wrong. The production is pretty raw, and the songwriting is of course excellent as always. The best part of all of this is just how charmingly human everything is, from the sloppy playing to the somewhat off-key singing to the constant nostalgic and positive vibe, it's really a great time. So, pop-punk fans of the world (and especially of our beloved Sputnik), get on this!
The Black Dahlia Murder Nocturnal
The Black Dahlia Murder What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse
Despite being The Black Dahlia Murder's most well recognized song, "What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse" does not appear on the Detroit quintets debut demo, which bears its name. What does, however, is the most varied and arguably the most entertaining collection of songs the band has made. It's very much unlike any other TBDM release. The production is very solid for a demo, and the drum tones' raw sound fits perfectly with Trevor Strnad's frenzied shrieks. There is a distinct metalcore influence heard here, but with an energetic punk edge to it that comes off as incredibly fun. There are also moments that you will not hear on any other record from the band, such as the subdued, acoustic guitar break in "The Middle Goes Down" and the clean vocals in "This Ain't No F*cking Love Song". Truly, a must listen for any fans of The Black Dahlia Murder, and a very enjoyable listen for fans of energetic melodeath.
The Black Dahlia Murder Everblack
With the consistency the Michigan band has always played with, Everblack is unsurprisingly a welcome fit to their discography. Yet, what separates it from the rest is simple: this is The Black Dahlia Murder's tribute to the death metal and even black metal that they grew up with and love even now. They still mix it with their At The Gates-inspired melodeath, but make no mistake: this is as close to pure death metal as they've ever been. It's a nice clash between modern death metal techniques and old death metal ethos. The track that exemplifies this best is "Into The Everblack", which makes use of complex syncopated rhythms and intense speed during the verses, but turns slow and heavy in the chorus. It's not as immediately catchy as their other records, as its catchiness is more subtle, as seen on "Phantom Limb Masturbation" and "Their Beloved Absentee". Add to that some a fantastic opener and closer combo ("In Hell Is Where She Waits For Me", "Map Of Scars"), and you have what may be The Black Dahlia Murder's best effort.
The Black Keys Thickfreakness
The Body All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To...
After six years of relative quiet, save for a singular EP, the duo known as The Body brought this strange beast of an album to the table, showing exactly what their take on sludge and doom metal could do. Even from the opening seconds of opener "A Body", you know this isn't your average sludge metal record. The use of choral vocals across the entire album, which could've easily sounded hackneyed but instead are a focal point of the album, is just one of the many nuances that make the album an enthralling listen. Chip King's vocals are banshee-like and wailing, and the drum performance from Lee Buford is excellent and even catchy on songs like "A Curse", where the use of syncopation makes for a memorable line. The riffs are all pretty good, with some like the one that dominates "Ruiner" being imposing and enjoyable all the same. Truly, All The Waters Of The Earth Turned To Blood is where The Body began to come into their own and make some fresh and ambitious sludge/drone metal.
The Body and Full Of Hell One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache
"I need my anger, it's all I've got right now." Purveyors of sonic destruction Full Of Hell and doom deconstructionists The Body make a wonderfully violent and subtly saddening collaboration record sound like child's play. Because, due to the relative malleability of both the bands' styles and sounds, they fit very well nicely within each other. The bookends of the album illustrate this point excellently. The opener/title-track features blast beats aplenty, adding to a wall of noise which is accentuated by both Dylan Walker's and Chip King's hellish wails. It turns into a very emotional and heart-wrenching doom section, which is a defining moment for the record. The closer, "The Little Death", is the opposite of heart-wrenching, rather being ferocious and relentless in nature, evolving structurally similar to the opener. Of course, the middle of the album has many great moments too, and overall this is a very enjoyable and resonant collaboration.
The Body/Braveyoung Nothing Passes
I don't know who the hell Braveyoung are but needless to say I need to check them out after hearing this. And I also don't know why The Body does these collaborations or splits with these relatively unknown bands (Thou and Full Of Hell notwithstanding), but every time they do something worthwhile comes out of it. Here, it's a mixture of eerie dark ambient, drone metal dirges, hauntingly beautiful choral vocals, and a strange, almost post-rock take on a gospel song. It's pretty strange in this regard, but the way things are divided up here is pretty perfect. The Body handles the heaviness and the choral vocals, where Braveyoung is tasked with setting the ambience and other subtle nuances. It's a collaboration where both bands stand on equal footing, with fingerprints from both bands peppering each of the songs. In this way, Nothing Passes is a wholly interesting and wholly enjoyable collaboration that showcases the best things about each band while creating something totally unique to each of their stylings.
The Contortionist Exoplanet
The Cure Faith
The Cure Japanese Whispers
It may just be a collection of EP singles and B-sides, but Japanese Whispers offer more insight into the evolution of the band that took place in the middle of Pornography and The Top, two albums having nearly polar opposite aesthetics and ideas. Thus, Japanese Whispers reflects this change very well, with the music sounding much more upbeat than Pornography, but still retaining its melancholy qualities through Smith's lyrical and vocal performances. The basslines throughout the record are excellent, especially on the bookends, and the synth work here is also very good. It flows very much like an album proper, which is a fantastic thing to say about any compilation, and it provides a beautiful snapshot of the tumultuous time during The Cure's career that was the early 80's. As such, it is definitely one of the most important releases in their discography, and a great standalone listen in and of itself. It goes to show how truly special The Cure were that these B-sides are such high quality, quality enough that they could've fit seamlessly into an LP.
The Dillinger Escape Plan Under the Running Board
Before their sonically insane debut full-length, The Dillinger Escape Plan had also released a self-titled EP, and although it was intense, it was nothing compared to Calculating Infinity. Their second EP, Under The Running Board, then, is the link. Tightening their songwriting from the self-titled, Under The Running Board sees the band's first truly successful attempts at experimentation, while also upping the ante as far as technicality and intensity were concerned. All three songs here are wonderfully written explosive bursts of mathcore riffing, hardcore breakdowns, venomous vocals, and intricate drumming. Put simply, this is the record where The Dillinger Escape Plan started to realize their potential, potential that would certainly become cashed in on later.
The Dillinger Escape Plan Irony Is a Dead Scene
After frenetic vocalist Dimitri Minakakis departed, The Dillinger Escape Plan were at an impasse. Replacing him would be no easy task, but the vocalist they got temporarily, for this EP only, is a man who needs no introduction. Mike Patton, simply one of the most charismatic, ranged, and talented frontmen in the business, lends his abilities to the band for four great tracks. It's much more melodic than Calculating Infinity, but still intense and complex, as the opening minutes to "Hollywood Squares" and the closing minutes to "When Good Dogs Do Bad Things" will show you. Patton, like on most of his releases, can be an acquired taste, but his endless arsenal of vocal weapons is on full display here. Not to be outdone, Chris Pennie is as fun and complex as ever on the kit, and the riffs by Ben Weinman are, as usual, the focal point of the music. They never really did anything like this in their discography ever again, and it is quite the enjoyable and interesting listen even at only eighteen minutes, which is definitely reason enough to try this one out.
The Faceless Akeldama
The Heliocentrics From the Deep
It's that type of jazz that you can imagine being recorded in a constant haze of smoke and dim lighting. The type that expresses so many things through a distinctly cinematic approach and a murky production job. The type that The Heliocentrics perform so wonderfully on From The Deep. It's kind of hard to pinpoint what is the best part of this album. It's all so incredibly consistent and coherently written and explores the chilled, the tense, the wandering, and the brisk elements of their jazz-funk sound thoroughly. It sounds positively stunning with its hazy production job, and the intricacies one can find on each song during each listen are numerous. While compositionally it may be the most original jazz-funk out there, it still manages to sound pretty fresh due to the atmosphere and the various tones of said atmosphere. Really, if you want to hear a phenomenal jazz-funk record, The Heliocentrics have you covered with another excellent performance.
The Hue Aurora
When you think of Houston hip-hop, you're gonna think about leaned up, chill hip-hop fraught with synths and smooth basslines a la DJ Screw, or you're going to think about menacing, hard-hitting hip-hop a la Point Blank. Lyrically though, the two styles are quite similar, usually dealing with gang violence, heavy drug use, and the problems of everyday life as a gangster. Which is why it's strange that The Hue, a collective made up of emcees from H.I.S.D. and producers from Radio Galaxy, made Aurora, which sounds more like a soulful west-coast hip-hop album than a record straight from the purple city. Yet, that's how it is, with knowledgeable, clever lines and addicting hooks being crafted over jazzy, neo-soul-influenced production. They attempt to give a spacey and wondrous aesthetic to the music, and it works very well through both the production by King Midas and DJ Cozmos and the wonderful vocal chops that Spacebunny Jefferson possesses. It's a pretty tantalizing record due to these factors, so if you enjoy chill, soulful hip-hop/neo-soul, The Hue has you covered.
The Internet Feel Good
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Axis: Bold as Love
The Number Twelve Looks Like You Put On Your Rosy Red Glasses
The Number Twelve Looks Like You Worse Than Alone
12 was always a band I considered to be on the progressive side of metalcore/mathcore, but never had they quite been "experimental". Worse Than Alone changes that, and it's quite interesting. Almost gone are the immensely technical mathcore riffs, replaced with tasteful and worthwhile progressive experimentation, seen in full on songs like "Given Life", "The Garden's All Nighters", and "Retort, Rebuild, Remind". Don't let that fool you into thinking they can't still make a great, intense metalcore song, though, as "To Catch A Tiger", "If They Holler, Don't Let Go", and "I'll Make My Own Hours" are all very mature and interesting songs. While there isn't necessarily a standout track here, they're all high quality, and sound different enough from each other to prevent bleeding into each other. With what is certainly their most ambitious project and easily their best since their debut, 12's swan-song is an album that shouldn't be missed by fans of metalcore, especially metalcore with experimental tendencies.
The Prodigy The Fat of the Land
The Prodigy Music for the Jilted Generation
The Prodigy Invaders Must Die
Liam Howlett, the mastermind behind British big beat group The Prodigy, had said that their fourth studio album would be a return to their roots, even receiving help from the likes of Dave Grohl and James Rushent on various instruments. That check was most certainly cashed with Invaders Must Die, which takes a big beat blueprint and adds slight bits of new rave to it as well. Some of the groups classics are here, like the title-track, "Omen", "Warriors Dance", and "World's On Fire". However, the albums best moment is actually its most subdued. Closer "Stand Up", a remix of jazz rock band Manfred Mann Chapter Three's "One Way Glass", is an entirely instrumental yet insatiably catchy song that mixes jazz and electronic breakbeat to perfection. In all, a pretty great album from one of the worlds biggest electronic acts.
The Range Potential
In the realm of what is colloquially known as "future garage", there's a few select artists that have earned the respect of electronic music lovers everywhere. I'm sure you can guess who they are, these major-leaguers, but taking a closer look at the scene, you can find some minor-league guys who might have what it takes to move up the ranks. The aptly named Potential is something of a tryout for The Range, who's always been at least competent, but never before reaching the heights he's found here. Aside from a couple of songs that contain some less-than-appealing vocals, the record is an excellent collection of hip-hop influenced UK garage and dubstep, bursting at the seams with personality and skill. Perhaps the best example of this is "Five Four", which ultimately mixes introspective hip-hop with atmospheric dubstep in a tactful and wholly pleasing manner. The other songs are too far down in terms of quality, though, as each song here has something to offer, whether it be catchy, skippy samples or smooth, minimalistic, wondering beat work. Could The Range reach the ranks of the greats of the scene? If he continues to improve like this, he very much could.
The Specials Specials
The Stone Roses The Stone Roses
The Strokes Room on Fire
The Weeknd Thursday
The hazy, hedonistic, angsty sound that The Weeknd operated with on debut mixtape House Of Balloons very much makes its way onto Thursday, as does the projects ability to adhere to a concept and especially an aesthetic. Perhaps the most harrowing and unnerving moment in The Weeknd's discography is heard within the doomy guitars of "Life Of The Party", in which a nervous, uninitiated young woman is coerced into a gangbang, and a heavy insight is given into the way Abel Tesfaye views women and his various escapades with them. Which is to say, he views them simply as another plaything, on the same level as the pills he pops or the alcohol he drinks. The production is similar to the debut, yet more dark and violent, which adds a lot of personality to the record and accentuates the trip further down the rabbit hole Tesfaye seems intent on taking the listener. Needless to say, it's quite the trip.
The White Stripes Elephant
Of the vaunted first four albums from garage rock revivalist duo The White Stripes, there's only one that I can say I consistently enjoyed from start to finish. In case you haven't guessed, it's Elephant, and it completely does away with the nagging inconsistency that plagued their first three records and bulked up on the splendid qualities they did possess. The result is beyond the shadow of a doubt the duos best work, not only from a songwriting standpoint, but from a production standpoint as well. It says a lot when you can make a simple guitarist-drummer combo sound so full, and Jack White definitely has that magic touch here. In terms of songs, their best known and classic cut "Seven Nation Army", which has still garnered play at American football stadiums all across the country due to its anthemic nature, is a force to be reckoned with, as well as the acoustic "You've Got Her In Your Pocket" and the infectious "The Hardest Button To Button". In all, Elephant is the culmination of everything The White Stripes had strived to be.
The Who Who's Next
The Who, being one of the most recognizable hard rock bands out there, have had plenty of coverage from all around the world. This extends onto Sputnik, too, so going into too much detail here is pointless. The record spawned three unmistakable classic songs in "Baba O'Riley", "Behind Blue Eyes", and "Won't Get Fooled Again", and one very underrated classic in "The Song Is Over". The rest of the songs, while not on the level of the aforementioned four, are still all solid blues-influenced hard rock. Just listen to it, and you'll understand why it's one of The Who's most revered records.
The Who My Generation
The World Is a Beautiful Place... Death To New Years
I've always heard that TWIABP was one of the better bands to come out of the emo-revival scene, but I never actually checked them out until this came out. I wasn't disappointed in the slightest by what I've heard. Here we have a beautiful ten minute EP centered around quiet, evocative post-rock build-ups and heartfelt lyrics that gets better every listen. It's not necessarily anything groundbreaking, but it is very well executed and is pretty much everything I look for in post-rock/emo combinations. From start to finish, the EP is great, with small moments of brilliance interweaved. Needless to say, I'm interested in whatever they're doing for their next full length.
The World Is a Beautiful Place... Long Live Happy Birthday
Long Live Happy Birthday, in everything from the title to the album cover to (most importantly) how the record sounds, is the antithesis to Death To New Years. Whereas the 2015 EP was sentimental, nostalgic, and in some places even cheerful, this 2016 EP is downtrodden, anxious, and melancholy. Of course, this leads to some really cathartic moments, especially the build-up and explosion near the end of "Katamari Duquette", during which the refrain "away with God and away with love, our hands are tied and stepped on" is repeated, with more emotion being injected into each repeat. It shows that, though their base sound is the same instrumentally, TWIABP can evoke much more than just comforting, nostalgic moments, readily evolving the depth of their sound.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
Thelonious Monk Monk
Thou Tyrant
For the last decade or so, Thou has made a name for themselves as one of the most consistent and top-quality sludge/doom metal bands around. Their sound on their debut full-length, Tyrant is of slow, plodding doom metal that revels in its misanthropic nature for several minutes before relenting itself and letting moments of relative beauty and clarity shine through. This is obvious even on the opener/title-track, on which vocalist Bryan Funck turns in the first of five masterful performances, when halfway through the song some quiet clean vocals and mesmerizing guitar pierce through the armor of rock-solid sludge riffs. This is also seen in "I Was Ignored. And Judged. And Cast Down.", when the riffs at the end of the song are almost uplifting despite the grim vocals and lyrics. Things never get fast here, but tempos are changed enough, and the riffs are plentiful enough, to add a nice variety to the music that gives it an edge over many of their contemporaries. This isn't two-dimensional stuff we're talking about here. All of this and more goes into why Tyrant is a wonderful debut from one of dooms most well-rounded and talented bands.
Three 6 Mafia Live By Yo Rep (Bone Dis)
The beef between Cleveland rap group Bone Thugs 'N Harmony and seminal southern hip-hop/horrorcore group Three 6 Mafia was quite short lived. Still, some truly intense and sinister stuff was made by Three 6 Mafia in response to Bone Thugs insulting their beloved hometown of Memphis. The beats on this record are very reminiscent of a horror film soundtrack, giving the record a spooky and disturbing feel. The lyrics are quite violent and unnerving, and the presence the members give on the mic is a very menacing and intimidating one, going along wonderfully with the overall aesthetic of the record. A few songs off of the record are from Three 6 Mafia's influential Mystic Stylez, but a few new tracks ("Throw Yo Sets In Da Air", "Be A Witness") get their chance to shine, and in typical fashion, do not disappoint. Overall, a great EP from the Memphis group, who truly made it known in the hip-hop world that they were not to be taken lightly.
Tim Hecker Love Streams
I know I'm in the minority here, but this is the first album of Tim Hecker's I've ever heard. As such, I didn't quite know what to expect before hearing it. Now that I have heard it, I still don't know what to make of it. It has a certain mystique to it that is always calling out to the listener, but it's hard to put a finger on what exactly that is. The atmosphere is wonderfully accentuated, making use of both warm and cold soundscapes to give the ambience a fluid texture. The inclusion of the Icelandic Choir Ensemble is a nice touch, as it gives an intimacy to the music that would not be so pronounced without it. The use of slight, delicate drones and some glitchy electronics here and there give yet another color and texture to the sound, making the final product wonderfully nuanced and well-formed. Overarching all of this is that aforementioned sense of mystique and wonder, which is clearly noticeable when looking at the whole picture, but unidentifiable when searching for its origin. Needless to say, Love Streams is an encompassing and interesting album. Note to self: listen to more Tim Hecker.
Tiny Moving Parts This Couch Is Long & Full of Friendship
Though they're only a couple full-lengths and a raw EP into their career, Tiny Moving Parts have established themselves as one of the more worthwhile bands the "emo-revival" scene has to offer. This, their debut LP, shows exactly why. The guitars have the twinkly guitar sound down as good as any band has done it since American Football disbanded. The drums are fun, yet subtly intricate, which is very reminiscent of This Town Needs Guns in that regard. The vocals are a cathartic mix of singing and shouting that while on an initial listen may seem grating, but are emotional and well done. The lack of a standout track on this thing does impede it's progress a bit, but it is remarkably consistent and doesn't let up in quality. If you have twenty-six minutes and love the math rock/emo combo, then this should be right up your alley.
Touche Amore ...To the Beat of a Dead Horse
Touche Amore Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me
Touche Amore have the uncanny ability to condense the emotions they bring across. What might take several minutes to express for other bands usually only take a minute or so for Touche Amore. This formula was extremely calculated and focused on their debut, and for the most part this continues onto this record. While a bit samey in the middle, Touche Amore plays some of their best songs like "~", "The Great Repetition", "Method Act", and "Amends", utilizing their penchant for short, melodic emo breaks within their cathartic hardcore. The drumming is again excellent, and the vocals remain as emotion-infused as ever. While some consider this record to be a step down, I find it to be relatively on par with their debut, and a great album in its own respect.
Touche Amore Is Survived By
Here, the screamo-tinged hardcore band Touche Amore sacrifice rage-ridden bursts of emotion for a more structured, yet still cathartic, sound. "Just Exist" is a fantastic opener with some of the best lyrics the band has employed so far, and it truly sets the stage for the rest of the album to perform on. Adding a minute or two onto songs that would have originally been about a minute, the band does some great, subtle things that show a definite maturation. For instance, some of the tracks have thin little backing vocal harmonies that accentuate the passionate yells, and still others have a wonderful break in the action that lets a song regain its breath before starting up once again. However, the best thing about the record might just be that they repeat the moments with the most emotional impact, something they chose not to do before. Though their original formula was pretty great, this record shows a much more mature side of Touche Amore, which is just as good as their other works.
Touche Amore/La Dispute Searching for a Pulse/The Worth of the World
I've said it before and I'll say it again: what Touche Amore does best is condensing a whirlwind of emotions into a minute or two, making riveting songs in short blasts. What is less apparent is La Dispute's ability to condense their emotional turmoils, but that ability is shown in droves here. With an evocative split EP lasting eight minutes, these two bands that drove themselves to the forefront of the post-hardcore scene in the late 2000's give two of their best efforts each, complete with some truly awesome vocal trade-offs. Oh yeah, and the lyrics are fantastic.
True Love Heaven's Too Good For Us
Sometimes, all you want from a hardcore punk record is just a bunch of haymakers and little else. And sometimes, bands like True Love deliver. With a tracklist of thirteen songs lasting a grand total of sixteen minutes, Heaven's Too Good For Us is exactly the type of hardcore punk album I'm talking about. There's the drumming where you just know the guy whaling on the kit is red in the face and yelling the gang vocals as loud as he can. There's the guitars that intimidatingly riff along while the bass hums and growls beneath. And last ,but certainly not least, there's the royally pissed vocals that are admittedly kind of one note, but that doesn't matter when that note is the only one you need. No frills, no scratches, no dents, no dings. Just hardcore. Awesome.
Tyler, the Creator Bastard
This album is, without a doubt, Tyler's most consistent and overall best album he's put out so far. His lyrics are personal without sacrificing wordplay, and the sinister production on this thing is excellent. He lays it all out for you in the form of a therapy session, and is unapologetic about everything he has to say. Granted, it may get a little drawn out towards the end, and thus, loses a bit of steam, but the album is consistent in what it does, which is draw out Tyler's life as it is: Depressing, funny, strange, and eventful.
Ufomammut Ecate
Italian psychedelic drone metal project Ufommamut have been a very underrated and overlooked band, but manage to keep a strong, dedicated following through their fuzz-heavy albums. Opening with a staticky drone, and closing with an unnerving piano line, Ecate is an album that finds itself firmly rooted in the eerie, using an array of tactics to challenge the listener. From the fuzzy noises and synths that you can feel in the back of your head, to the shouted and murky vocals, to the smoldering and oftentimes groovy riffs, this album is layered with interesting sounds and textures. All of this retains a slightly bluesy edge, especially in songs like "Temple". Though a couple of songs drag a slight bit, this record should be picked up by people who appreciate drone music with experimental tendencies.
Ulver ATGCLVLSSCAP
Once making some of the most influential folk-infused black metal, Norwegian band Ulver has always been different from their contemporaries in Norway, even from the get go. Since they've taken metal out of their musical equation entirely, they've made some highly ambitious and experimental records that are seen as just as good if not better than they're dealing with metal. ATGCLVLSSCAP is another one of those records, as it helps cement Ulver's legacy as being a band always in fluid motion, under constant change. It's a strange and entrancing mixture of post-rock, krautrock, ambient electronic, and all things psychedelic. Apparently, much of this music was recorded live with a fair amount of improvisation thrown into the mixing pot, which is pretty impressive. It has a wonderful, shifting atmosphere, and when there are vocals, they're pretty good. It definitely requires patience, but listeners will uncover some very good things from this record upon repeated listens.
Vomir / Train Cemetery Split
Seriously, what the hell? If you would have told me, even as little as one year ago, that I'd enjoy what basically amounts to a recording of thirty-seven simultaneously occurring earthquakes this much, I'd have called you nuts. The Vomir side, holy hell. So I listened to the whole thing, uninterrupted and without doing anything else, and I got the best sleep I've had in weeks afterwards. It drains you, man. Throughout the whole thing I couldn't tell whether it was one long continuous wall of noise or if it was on a loop. If it was looped, I had no clue where it started or ended. I'm also certain that 99.9999% of the stuff I heard in the background behind the noise was just stuff my brain out there to keep me from losing my mind. Train Cemetery's side is crazy too, although not quite as insane as the Vomir side. It sounds like if a truck full of wind chimes and triangles smashed into a building at full speed and the whole thing collapses. Then about a half-hour later the triangle sounds are replaced by what sounds like a dude trying to get the last bit of drink out the cup by sucking furiously through a straw for fifteen minutes. I think I'm gonna go for a run later.
Warm Brew The Diagnosis
Currently, I don't know if there's a group out there that does west coast hip-hop as good as Warm Brew. Their major label debut was an amazing record, one that was unfortunately slept on, and this new EP sees the group refusing to slow down. Opening with "The Mission", which may end up being the hip-hop song of the year for yours truly, Diagnosis makes clear that the group is still some of the best in the business at making laid-back, reminiscent, and celebratory hip-hop. Sometimes things take a slightly darker or more somber tone, but for the most part it's incredibly chill stuff. If you haven't checked them out by now, you definitely should, and this EP is quality enough to make for a great sampler of their other work. I love my city and I love my dogs, tell me don't trip, nigga, I'ma pay it forward.
Washed Out Life of Leisure
Weekend Nachos Apology
After deciding to retire after they finish their live sets for this year, Weekend Nachos released Apology, which is an appropriate end to their consistently excellent careers. This swansong is everything Weekend Nachos is about: explosive powerviolence riffs and drumming with heavy, churning sludge metal being interspersed between it, addictingly fun and menacing vocals, and doing it all with a defiant, rebellious attitude. From a songwriting standpoint, it isn't much different from what they've been doing all along, but it ultimately doesn't have to be, as the fierce aggression and seething vibe really carries the music itself, which is still as well-written as albums like Still. It's truly a shame to see them go, but they've definitely left their mark. In this case, it's a smoking crater.
White Reaper White Reaper Does it Again
The first LP from Louisville quartet White Reaper is an infectious medley of garage punk jams draped in psychedelic synths and catchy hooks. On a first listen, they sound like a rawer, synthier form of the punk tunes Arctic Monkeys used to put out in the mid-2000's. The album does suffer slightly from not having much variety, but all of the songs here are very solid and don't overstay their welcome. Some songs, like "Pills", "Sheila", and "B.T.K." are fantastic representations of how this style of garage punk should be done. The album is over quick at a mere thirty-three minutes, but due to its relentless catchiness, the replay value is very strong. Lastly, it's fitting that the album cover is just a first person view of someone driving at night, because this would be a great album to drive to.
Wolves in the Throne Room Diadem of 12 Stars
Something has always turned me off of black metal. I can't quite put my finger on it, it just doesn't sit very well with me. I guess it's just not my style. That being said, I do understand why people appreciate what the genre has to offer and I can't deny the importance of it as a whole. This album, though, as I understand it, is a bit different from traditional black metal in the sense that there are very folk-sounding pieces scattered throughout, as well as some clean vocals too. After one listen, I can safely say I appreciate this folkier style of black metal more than the traditional form. The production is foggy and the sound of it shifts a couple times during songs to accentuate the change from tremolo-picked riffs to acoustic music. There are some droney moments to be found on here as well, and the vocals are distant and full of emotion, focusing lyrically on mankind's lost appreciation of nature. The drumming is actually nicely varied, and the guitar tones fit the atmosphere very well. Wolves In The Throne Room has created quite the album in Diadem Of 12 Stars, and may very well be a stepping stone into faster, murkier, and harsher black metal for many people.
Wolves in the Throne Room Two Hunters
In terms of USBM, no band other than Weakling and Agalloch at their blackest have had as much of an impact on the scene as Wolves In The Throne Room did and still do. Two Hunters is the second in a trilogy of excellent USBM that keeps the Cascadian sound at its roots: windy tremolo riffs, ghostly and emotional vocals, drumming that juxtaposes plodding rhythms with mid-paced blast beats while remaining impassioned, and a woodsy, naturistic aesthetic and theme. Occasionally, clean vocals will shine through as scant moments of clarity in a largely dense fog of black metal before being consumed by the hypnotic ether once again. Just in this record alone, you can hear the style, the mindset, the ethos; influencers of plenty of bands playing music in the scene today. While it is the weakest out of the first three records in the opinion of yours truly, it's still a needed listen for any fan of USBM, as are the other two, needless to say.
Wolves in the Throne Room Celestite
XXXTENTACION Willy Wonka Was A Child Murderer
XXXTENTACION is a unique artist in hip-hops fluid landscape, and for good reason. He can make some of the most visceral, violent trap around (plenty of it even leaning towards industrial hip-hop), but can also spit raw verses over relatively subdued production. Another facet of his talent is heavily delved into on Willy Wonka Was A Child Murderer, that being his singing ability. The tracks here, sans closer "Never", are all rock-infused, with X singing in a noticeably pained voice over everything and occasionally exploding into a yelling frustration as the song does the same. The production, purposely lo-fi as is the case with most of his material, gives off a depressing and ominous vibe, especially on the title-track. All of this is just another notch in his belt, proving that he's one of the most versatile and unique artists in the genre today. Now he just needs to drop a tape or a full-length...
Yautja Songs of Lament
The mixing of crust or hardcore punk and sludge metal is a combination that seems magnificent on paper, but many bands who have attempted said combination end up taking the most basic parts of each genre and running with that, usually making inconsequential, relatively boring music. Songs Of Lament (in addition to Wound Empire), is one of the best albums from this year played in this style. They're sure to add personality and even a bit of catchiness into their sludge, and are brief and intense with their crust. The length of the record makes it easier to digest, and each song, whether it's a swift gut-punch like "Disgust; Disguise", a slow-burning romp like "Crumbling", or an eerie, subdued piece like "Revel; Writhe", has its own singular identity. Altogether, this makes for a great EP, so listen to it if you've twenty-three minutes on your hands.
Yndi Halda Under Summer
It's kind of strange hearing a new Yndi Halda album in 2016, but here we are. The men of Enjoy Eternal Bliss fame have clearly been working on their craft, because while Under Summer may not be on the level of its predecessor, it's hard to call it a step down. More of a progression, really, as it relies on quainter, more lovely pieces than exploding crescendos. It may not exactly bring anything new to the table as far as post-rock is concerned, but small details that pepper the passionate execution of the record, like the heavenly vocals on opener "Together Those Leave" and the gorgeous plucking on "Golden Threads From The Sun" show that the band knows what works and performs them near flawlessly. They're going to rely on evocative moments and emotionally affecting passages rather than experimentation, and that is totally fine, especially when it's well done. And, aside from some slight meandering on "Helena", this is extremely well done. In short, Yndi Halda is back, and after a decade plus, Under Summer is a welcome and excellent listen.
Yohuna Patientness
Returning after four years of relative silence after 2012's Revery, Yohuna delivers an atmospheric, catchy, and hazy take on indie pop, taking influences from dream pop, ambient pop, shoegaze, indie rock, and even synthpop. It's not drowning in reverb or hindered by a soulless production job; in fact, plenty of the instruments used here are organic and flow seamlessly with the electronic segments of the music. An early example and highlight comes on "The Moon Hangs In The Sky Like Nothing Hangs In The Sky", and later on the rolling "Apart". Of course, Yohuna herself, really named Johanne Swanson, has a marvelous voice for the job, being airy so as to match the sound but without sacrificing intimacy. Patientness never becomes an exercise in the subject due to all of this, and at thirty-four minutes, manages to be one of the most well-written and enjoyable pop albums of the year.
Young Thug JEFFERY
A man who is at once a unique and charismatic artist in the ever-diverse and constantly shifting landscape of hip-hop and a scapegoat for those who believe the genre is dead or dying (read: idiots), Thugga is no stranger to controversy. An ear for great production, an endless bevy of flows, and a tongue-in-cheek attitude is what makes the man great, and it's because he's allowed to do all of these things as strange and constant as he pleases that JEFFERY is a winner. While it does stand to note that it's not entirely all that different from past projects, the unshakably high quality with which nearly all of these songs exhibit puts this tape up there near his best. He just sounds so comfortable doing what he does here, and not in a stagnant or lethargic way either. Say what you will about the ridiculousness of the lyrics, but if you're taking them seriously, you're doing it wrong. Point is, JEFFERY is Young Thug doing Young Thug completely unabashedly. Your mileage may vary on what that entails.
Yung Lean Warlord
Anyone who is complaining about his flow/delivery/cadence clearly has never seen or heard what a guy off some Xan's is like. Anyways, Leandoer has rebounded in a great way from the inconsistent Unknown Memory. The beats here are so druggy and dreamy, so spacious and atmospheric, that it sets up Yung Lean very well for his trademark barred out, slurry flow. The combination of these two aspects is what makes Warlord aesthetically gratifying. To illustrate how well the aesthetic is done, I actually fell asleep listening to this a few times. I mean that in the best way possible, of course, as the effects of both the production and Yung Lean's delivery are pretty relaxing, intoxicating even on the best tracks. And even though he sounds disinterested, this is actually his most focused effort so far in all aspects. Thus, this really is Yung Lean's best project so far, and an excellent, atmospheric cloud rap album.
Zhrine Unortheta
Initially, I was expecting this album to be similar to the Ad Nauseam record from last year, but what I got was something that leans much more towards the atmospheric and slow-burning. This Icelandic quartet is suffocating black metal mixed with eerie and tense post-metal in an instrumental sense, while vocally being influenced heavily from death metal. The songs sometimes pull a hardcore influence out in isolated places, like after the first minute of "The Syringe Dance", and the all around feel of the tracks is very organic. The songwriting is generally very good, and while their might not be a standout track on the record, all of the songs here are great and flow with each other excellently. The production is quite varied, having a briskness to the guitars and drums during the black metal sections while also adding a more clean, airy sound to the instruments and the background during the post-metal passages. It's one more excellent metal album that Reykjavik has to its name.

3.5 great
A Breath Before Surfacing Death Is Swallowed In Victory
A Tribe Called Quest We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
I don't know what it was like to have heard A Tribe Called Quest's first three albums when they were released, but I'm sure it must've been amazing. Thus, it's a little surreal hearing a new album from the group, especially after the untimely passing of Phife Dawg, may he rest in peace. It's a somewhat dated affair, and some songs have that "old man yells at cloud" type feel to them, but on the whole it's a solid and occasionally excellent record from the Tribe. Q-Tip does well, as expected, and the guest spots also do an excellent job (that Kendrick Lamar's verse is the least memorable of the bunch speaks a lot to the quality of the guest appearances). Ali's production is where the album either hits or misses. Some of the songs sound like tasteful forays into a classic sound with a bit of a modern twist, while others sound disjointed and dated. The hooks are also inconsistent, but when they're on, they're very much on. When it's all said and done, though, "We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service" is a memorable experience, which a group like Tribe is capable of nothing less than.
A.R. Rahman Slumdog Millionaire
It was good, don't get me wrong, but I still don't see how this won the Oscar for best film score over "Wall-E"
Abnormality Mechanisms of Omniscience
We all know of the negative qualities that plague many brutal death and technical death metal bands in the scene today, as it is far too easy to fall into their respective traps. Abnormality plays a combo of both genres, and tactfully toe the thin lines of each of them, avoiding the pitfalls with a grace that is becoming increasingly rare as time moves forward. Their sophomore record, and first on new label Metal Blade, is a exercise in this tact that is one part brutality, one part technicality, and one part seething ambience. The production, while certainly on the cleaner side for this style, is clear, with the drums, guitars, and vocals all taking up massive spots on the record. Vocalist Mallika Sundaramurthy is a bit monotone, but is a beast regardless, and drummer Jay Blaisdell is thoroughly entertaining. Truly, Abnormality have some excellent years ahead of them if they stay on the path they've made for themselves, with Mechanisms Of Omniscience being a nice step.
AC/DC T.N.T. (Australia)
Actuary / Gnaw Their Tongues Untitled
Made sparingly over several years but only just released, this short, yet quite good, LP features one of the most prominent faces in noise music in Gnaw Their Tongues, and a group of solid noise veterans in Actuary, and showcases their respective talents. With Actuary, the style of noise is constant and jarring, almost like a bad radio transmission with small, barely discernible bits of the horror on the other side actually coming to light. Thus, it's almost like you're listening to signals from alien worlds. Gnaw Their Tongues shows its lighter side, with the majority of the side's first track being dark ambient with strange chanting. The noisier side comes out on the later two tracks, which follow the first in a linear way. Disturbing moaning and words from different languages pepper the tracks, whereas Maurice De Jong's vicious vocals only show up for about a couple minutes total. The tiniest bits of black metal do pop up here and there, but this is mostly a noise project one both sides. It's a solid LP, showing both the interesting and the entertaining sides of noise music.
Aerosmith Rocks
Aerosmith Aerosmith
Aesop Rock Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives
In a style unmistakably Def Jux, Aesop Rock approaches his third EP with a manner similar to his fourth LP, Bazooka Tooth. This means heavily veiled lyrics, self-produced beats similar in technique to collaborator El-P, and a nice repertoire of flows. As such, Fast Cars, Danger, Fire, And Knives feels more like an extension of Bazooka Tooth than its own singular entity. This is by no means a bad thing, as Bazooka Tooth was a great record, but it does mark a bit of a stagnant period for Aes, as he began to exhaust this facet of his creative hip-hop mind. It's good to note that this would go on signify a change for him, as he showed on his next record, None Shall Pass.
Aesop Rock Cat Food
This release by prominent underground hip-hop artist Aesop Rock may just be a two song EP, but it has some nice things to offer. The title track sounds like it would fit perfectly on his previous release, Skelethon, and shows a nice tightening of the ideas explored on it. The last song, "Bug Zapper", sees Aes rapping about paranoia over an awkward piano line that fits the subject very well. Overall, a solid EP, something that will hopefully be expanded upon on his next full-length.
Amber Asylum Sin Eater
San Francisco's own Amber Asylum has a style hard to pin down. They use a pretty swell combination of neoclassical, dark ambient, doom metal, and darkwave. On Sin Eater, their first full length project in six years, the group melds slow-burning, gloomy cellos and violins with thick underlying bass and steady, methodical drumming. The vocals are airy and dreamy, and the productions add to the ethereal aesthetic. Yet, it sometimes can drag on a bit longer than it's welcomed to, and this can cause the experience to be diluted due to boredom. Still, it's pretty well done, with the first couple of songs and the excellent one-two punch of "Executioner" and the title-track/closer being of particular note. In all, Amber Asylum play to their strengths on their first project in some time, and manage to put out a good, solid album as a result.
Amebix Who's the Enemy
Here we witness the beginnings of Amebix, one of the most important names in punk, but also the further development of the crust punk genre. Their debut EP gives insight into what they would eventually become, but also has its own charm to it as well. It shows the riffier side of Amebix on tracks like "Carnage", while also showing their intense punk energy on songs like "Curfew". There's almost black metal-like production values here, with the drums remaining consistently low in the mix and the riffs all being pretty murky. The bass is audible and a great force, especially on "No Gods, No Masters". The vocals are shouted with varying degrees of gruffness, and are typically raw, but understandable and fun to hear. In all, the birth of Amebix helped flesh out crust punk as a genre, which makes this EP an important listen any way you slice it.
Amebix No Sanctuary
I assume this is what it would sound like if you took grindcore and slowed it way down. There is certainly much more of a post-punk feel than there is a crusty one, but you can definitely see what Amebix was working towards, especially on songs like "Sanctuary" and "Sunshine Ward". The production is more akin to their second EP, Winter, than anything else, which of course means that Rob Miller runs the show. That's not a bad thing, of course, as he's typically excellent both vocally and on the bass. This would mark the end of Amebix's stint at Spiderleg Records, and although they would release their best work on other labels, their work on Spiderleg is some important punk, not least of which is No Sanctuary.
Amebix Winter
On Amebix's formative EP's, the blueprint to crust punk was created. On Winter, a two-track, nine minute EP, Rob Miller is the driving force behind it all. Due to the production value on this EP, the guitars and drums are pretty low in the mix, whereas the vocals and bass are at the forefront. However, this gives Miller a chance to shine, as he turns in a fantastic performance both vocally and on the bass, especially on the title-track. In short, it's a great EP, and crust punk fans should definitely hear it.
Ampere Demo
After his stint with seminal screamo band Orchid, Will Killingsworth helped form Ampere, which has turned out to be a pretty important screamo band in and of themselves. Their first recordings as a band are catalogued here, in their debut demo. It's screamo that definitely leans more towards hardcore punk than something with more melody in it, but some melodic moments do appear, like on "Up The Contrast" and "No Miracles Here". Mostly, though, it's just intense, hard-hitting screamo, which hits it's peak on "I Don't Need It Anyways". In retrospect, it was quite the promising debut for a band known now to be one of the best in the business.
Ampere / Sinaloa Split Recording
It's a shame. Sinaloa put out some pretty nice material here, but it is absolutely dwarfed by Ampere's. It just goes to show how far Ampere was (and is) ahead of their contemporaries. With that said, Ampere's side of Split Recording is ferocious and cathartic, mixing high amounts of intensity, the smallest of melodic breaks, and their top-notch technicality to create yet another batch of winners, the best of which being "In Antiquity". Sinaloa's side, as stated before, is good in its own right. It's more melodic, but less dynamic, and the thin production doesn't exactly help things either. Still, tracks like "Teeth To Tongue" really bring some evocative moments to the table. In all, this is a very good split LP and is definitely recommended to fans of screamo.
Ampere/Raein Split
It's pretty much exactly as good as you'd think it would be. Raein's songs are a slight bit longer and have a more melancholy vibe to them, whereas Ampere's songs are bursts of anger and frenetic energy. Four minutes of Raein, three and a half minutes of Ampere, seven and a half minutes of well done screamo. Sweet.
Anberlin Never Take Friendship Personal
Anberlin Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place
Somewhere along the line, Anberlin realized that their best material is fast-paced, and with the uncanny ability to write massive hooks, some excellent material has been penned. Their problem with each album before this, besides Cities, was that they were wildly inconsistent. This is rectified on Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place, which strikes a great balance between their fast-paced songs and their slower, lengthier ones. The other thing that helps is that each of the songs here, no matter what style, has a really good hook. I mean, there's no "Paperthin Hymn" here, but the consistent quality at which these hooks are written is nothing short of stunning. Elsewhere, it's the typical Anberlin fare, just amped up a bit and with more thought and more beef put into each softer song. That's by no means a bad thing, and with their newfound consistency, they'd go on to write their second truly great album in Devotion.
Anberlin Lowborn
It doesn't seem like it matters what tweak Anberlin makes to their sound, whether it be the highly energetic pop-punk/alt-rock of earlier records like Never Take Friendship Personal, the electronic-influenced records like Cities, or the stripped down, bare-bones approach like on Dark Is The Way, Light Is The Place, one thing always remains the same: they write the hell out of their hooks. It's no different on Lowborn, which offers elements of synthpop in addition to their catchy brand of alt-rock. The songwriting is Anberlin to a T, and the lyrics and vocals remain constantly solid and occasionally brilliant. It's not anything all that different from their last record Devotion, but the notion that they still have the ability to make some very catchy and fun tunes seven albums into their career is very impressive. Long story short, if you like Anberlin, you'll undoubtedly enjoy their swansong in Lowborn.
Animal Collective Campfire Songs
Back when Animal Collective was known simply as Campfire Songs, they released this strange, yet pretty unique and undeniably calming self-titled record. Much like Danse Manatee, there's very little emphasis on writing actual songs and more of an effort put into atmosphere. Whereas Danse Manatee felt very haphazard and jumbled, Campfire Songs feels cohesive, and with a clear goal in mind. True, all of the songs are two or three chords strummed over and over again over field recordings and chanting vocals, but it succeeds in being an immersive, atmospheric piece, about as calming and tranquil as it possibly can be. This is entirely different from the psychedelic electronic smorgasbords that are their later records, but that's what makes Campfire Songs a needed listen for AnCo fans: there simply isn't another record that they made quite like this. As such, it's an overlooked body of work, one which showed the guys behind the group to be wholly capable of forming an engrossing atmosphere.
Animal Collective Painting With
I'm not so sure I get the lukewarm reaction this record seems to be getting. Yes, it's certainly not as rich or textured as something like Merriweather Post Pavilion, but it's still an AnCo album through and through. There's still the playful little quirks that pepper any given record of theirs, whether it's the bubbly synths or the well done psychedelic production and aesthetic. There's still very catchy numbers here as well, such as infectiously fun opener "FloriDaDa" or the short-yet-sweet "Spilling Guts". It does become a bit samey during the middle stretch of the record, but the quality of songs on the beginning and ending stretches really make up for this unfortunate lull, especially tracks like "Vertical" and "Golden Gal", the latter of which is a bonafide Animal Collective classic. I can't help but feel as if Painting With is criticized for what it's not, rather than what it is, which is a cute, fun, and positively AnCo psychedelic pop record.
Animals As Leaders The Madness of Many
Animals As Leaders are one of maybe three bands in this particular style that do anything that interests me. They have their flaws, but I've come to appreciate their work as something more than just clueless "progressive" wankery. The Madness Of Many solidifies that feeling even further, and it does so with impressive consistency. The production, while not really my thing, fits the mechanical and robotic aesthetic of the album like a glove, helps the album sound more coherent, and the listener is able to tell what is going on more clearly. The songwriting is pretty solid, and while occasionally it can lose itself for a minute or so, it rights itself very well afterwards. The dizzying technicality and strange rhythms are strong, as always, but the softer moments here are also pretty nice as well, especially on the closing minutes of "Inner Assassins" and the entirety of "The Brain Dance". Once again, Animals As Leaders deliver another worthwhile outing of their instrumental progressive metal style.
Ara Kra Ara Kra
With their first release in four years, Berlin quintet Ara Kra have shed some of what made them a unique listen on their debut EP, Ferne Tage, but add an extra dash of emotion in the vocals and the ferocity with which the instruments are played. The band has done away with all of their deathcore influences, instead opting for a post-rock influenced black metal sound that was explored in doses on their previous effort, but never truly fleshed out as it is here. The vocalist turns in a marvelous performance, and while the guitars and drums aren't exactly playing the most original stuff, they play it with an intensity that can't go unnoticed. In all, it's a very solid outing from Ara Kra, one that has me waiting for a full-length from the group.
Arctic Monkeys AM
Arctic Monkeys have always been a band I know to be consistent and, for a time during the beginning of their career, brilliant. With their last couple of albums they've lost some of that brilliance, but still manage to make some good tunes. AM follows suit in this sense, as the first half of this album has some great stuff, but the second tends to drag a bit. Songs like "Do I Wanna Know?", "R U Mine?", and "Arabella" work well as late-night rock jams, but many of the slower songs on the album don't really do anything. They could be played in the background at smoky pubs, as can most of Arctic Monkeys' music, but this time around it seems like that is the only discernible intention of the songs. Simply put, it just doesn't feel as genuine as before. Still, it has enough new things, like the sublime backing vocals, to keep it interesting, and to make it a respectable addition into the Arctic Monkeys' discography.
Arsonists Get All the Girls The Game Of Life
Arsonists Get All the Girls Motherland
Atmosphere Leak At Will
August Burns Red Leveler
After creating a modern metalcore masterpiece in Constellations, ABR decided to experiment further on their fourth LP. What follows is the bands most stagnant release, but there is still plenty here to appreciate. The album starts with a bang with "Empire", which quickly transitions into "Internal Cannon", which makes the use of salsa-tinged acoustic guitars that strangely fit well. "Cutting The Ties" stacks up as one of the best songs the band has made to date, with very memorable melodic riffs and uplifting lyrics. Things go downhill after "Pangea", though, as the songwriting loses its experimental edge and the songs slam into each other as a result. Getting through the middle is a chore, and though the closer (also being the title-track) is pretty good, the payoff doesn't quite cut it. Still, the beginning five songs are all excellent, and the band is still doing bigger and better things than the vast majority of their contemporaries.
Autechre Incunabula
Despite it being their debut LP, both Rob Brown and Sean Booth have said that Incunabula is merely a compilation of previously constructed material rather than an album proper. That said, it was released to great reception as part of Warp Records' Artificial Intelligence series. The way Warp Records described the series is as apt of a description as you'll ever get for Incunabula: "For long journeys, quiet nights, and club-drowsy dawns, listen with an open mind." Musically, this record is a collection of swirling ambient techno, but the IDM ideas are certainly there as well. The album is pretty long though, and with the repetition on display here, things can get pretty taxing on some of the longer tracks near the end. And because it is, evidently, just a compilation, the album doesn't flow as well as it could have. In general, though, this is some pretty dense and consuming ambient techno, as Autechre begin to come ever so more slightly into their own.
Autechre Anti
Autechre Envane
Among other things, Autechre is known for having a plethora of album-length and album-quality EP's in addition to their catalogue of impenetrable LP's. Envane is a peculiar one in the line, seeing the duo's trademark IDM robotics with a hip-hop flavor to them. Simply put, as you can hear most prominently on opener "Goz Quarter", this is Autechre's short-but-sweet foray into the realm of glitch-hop, showing that the duo were beginning to evolve their sound further and experiment with it to a noticeable degree. It is this mindset that they've worked with ever since, which is just one of the reasons why Envane is another important Autechre EP.
Autechre Cichlisuite
It's but one facet of Autechre's brilliance that they can remix an original song into something completely different from what it originally was, with maybe a vague connection to the original. One need not look further than Cichlisuite to find evidence of this; this entire EP is made up of remixes of "Cichli" from the excellent Chiastic Slide. While it was definitely a good song then, a couple of these remixes eclipse the original, namely the ending duo of "Krib" and "Tilapia", both of which are a bit more structured in relation to the tracks preceding them, especially the haphazard "Pencha". Even then, though, these songs seem less like remixes and more like re-imaginings, and the ability to execute that process evidently comes naturally for Autechre.
Baalsebub The Sickness of the Holy Inquisition
The middle ages were some of the most brutal times around. Plagues, wars, and almost every form of torture imaginable (and some unimaginable) taint the annals of its history. Baalsebub, purveyors of ugly slamming brutal death, look no further to showcase horrific acts of human depravity. Amongst their weaponry are such diverse elements as: tremolos, a pingy snare, ruthless vocals, an almost fanatical devotion to the slam, and nice red uniforms. It isn't the most original stuff in the world as the songwriting sticks to the tried and true, and the production may be just a tad too clean, but it's nevertheless a well-executed record, pulling off the style with seamless proficiency. All this said, The Sickness Of The Holy Inquisition is an absurdly fun slam death metal album, and if that sounds as good to you as it does to yours truly, get on it. Needless to say, this was definitely the surprise. Why? Because NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!
BADBADNOTGOOD BBNG x Odd Future
On this interesting little EP, the jazz trio from Toronto put their own spin on songs made by Odd Future's own Tyler The Creator. Tyler has always had a love for jazz and incorporates jazzy influences in some of his music. Naturally, this is a match made in heaven for these artists. Some of the tracks feature Tyler himself rapping over a BBNG rendition of a song he wrote, but where the EP really shines are the two "Session" tracks. Here, it's just BBNG, playing a medley of tracks from Bastard and Goblin. Any fan of jazz will like this, and any Odd Future fan will fall in love with it.
BADBADNOTGOOD III
Basement Jaxx Remedy
One of the most commercially successful funky house projects of all time, Remedy was Basement Jaxx's first full-length record, and manages to provide a funk-filled spin on house music with thumping beats and flowing, warm bass and synth lines. Although the vocals marred by bad electronic effects and certain samples can be a bit obnoxious, most notably on the first couple of tracks, the vast majority of material here is very enjoyable, danceable house. Singles "Jump N' Shout", which is a very fun and funny song (the sound of Slarta John's voice is particularly amusing), and "Red Alert" are two shining examples of funky house, and give all the reason in the world why the style dominated clubs in the late 90's. Even the interludes are catchy ("The rhythm, the tracks, the basement, the Jaxx" is almost like a mini-hook, making a so-called interlude thirty seconds of fun). They'd expand on this style later, but Remedy is a needed listen for fans of house, especially of the funky variety.
Basement Jaxx Rooty
A duo renowned for bringing the funky house style to the mainstream, Basement Jaxx has created their fair share of awesome material in their careers. Rooty, while somewhat inconsistent, has several of these. The first three tracks alone are funky house royalty, and although it goes through a bit of a lull in the middle of the record, the ending combo of the insatiably catchy "Do Your Thing" and lush closer "All I Know" is more than enough to bring it out of the rut. With the staples of warm synths, fluid beats, and enjoyable vocal samples, the best of the material on this thing is truly some phenomenal stuff. It's a shame that a lot of the other tracks here are pretty lukewarm and even somewhat uninteresting, but the album was able to attain the status it has within house on the strength of its highlights alone. So, if you want to hear some of the best material funky house has to offer, you should give this a spin as soon as possible.
Baths Obsidian
In stark contrast to the mellow, content, and fun debut album of his that was Cerulean, Will Wiesenfeld, or Baths, puts together a dark, nervous album that serves as the antithesis to his acclaimed debut. Even from the opener, "Worsening", you understand that things are much different, as the glitchy downtempo has been replaced with a more subdued, straightforward sound. That is not to say that he's lost his charm, though. You can still tell it's Baths producing the record, and though his work is more stripped back, he lets his voice take the spotlight this time around. The first half of the record is considerably better than the second, with songs like "Ironworks" and "Incompatible" stealing the show. "No Eyes" is, unfortunately, irritating, and a completely awkward and out of place piano line repeatedly interrupts "No Past Lives" constantly. Still, with "Earth Death" and "Inter" being the penultimate and closer respectively, the album ends on a high note. If you think this will be the same Baths you heard on Cerulean, think twice, as he crafts his darkest work here, and manages to do it very competently.
Baths Ocean Death
Between the Buried and Me Between the Buried and Me
Between the Buried and Me The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
Between the Buried and Me Coma Ecliptic
Rarely ever do you see a band rooted in metalcore have the openness towards and will to do experimentation that Between The Buried And Me have. Though controversial, they've essentially been playing the music they want to play since their inception, and one would have to assume that remains the same with Coma Ecliptic. It's probably their softest offering, leaning heavily on progressive metal, but that's not to say there aren't good moments, despite the first trio of songs being pretty lackluster. "King Redeem/Queen Serene" really picks things up for the album, and the final trio of songs end on a triumphant note both in the context of the concept of the record and for the enjoyment of the record itself. Tommy Rogers has a hodge-podge of a performance, which sometimes can affect the songs pretty deeply, but the instrumentation behind it is solid and does well enough. It is the moments where everyone is on the same page that make moments on this record excellent, and while it's not even close to their best, it's still a decent record and is still distinctly BTBAM.
Black Milk and Nat Turner The Rebellion Sessions
A small, streamlined, and pretty nice collaboration, Detroit rapper/producer Black Milk meets up with Nat Turner, a combo of AB, Malik Hunter, and Zeb Horton, to create some solid, if unadventurous nu-jazz and jazz-funk. Each song gets right to the point and let's the idea linger for exactly how long it should before moving on to the next track. Whether it be addictive little basslines or choral vocals that weave in and out of the track, these things all stay their welcome and not a second later. The production is generally very good, as the album sounds buttery smooth from start to finish. From a compositional standpoint, there's nothing overtly original or anything particularly excellent, but they're all brief and a good enough time to keep the listeners attention. And really, I'm sure that's the only thing this collab had in mind.
Blessthefall Blessthefall
Bob Marley and The Wailers Burnin'
Before The Wailers became Bob Marley & The Wailers after founding members Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer took off for solo careers, they released a sort of last hurrah in the form of 1973's Burnin'. While previous releases focused mainly on laid-back themes, much of what is contained on Burnin' is a call to action. With songs like "Get Up, Stand Up", and the oft-covered "I Shot The Sheriff", the album has a more revolutionary feel than previous albums. Still, songs like "Pass It On" still show the peace-loving, dope-smoking side to The Wailers we all know and love. Some of the best songs they've ever written also appear on the album in the form of "Hallelujah Time" and "Burnin' And Lootin'". Don't pass it up if you're a fan of The Wailers and reggae in general.
Bob Marley and The Wailers Soul Rebels
Bon Iver Blood Bank
Aside from a few songs here or there, this is my first taste of Bon Iver. Justin Vernon, the angel-voiced lead singer, is mesmerizing here, especially on the title-track. As far as the sound of the record goes, it's beautiful, often starting out sparsely before building up the sound with more instruments and vocal layers. The use of piano in "Baby's" is a nice touch, and "Woods" is cool and funny in an ironic sense, because what would a guy like Vernon need auto-tune for? It kind of helps dispel the myth that using auto-tune in any way makes you a crappy singer. In short, Blood Blank is really nice indie folk, and it serves as the perfect sample for anyone willing to try out Bon Iver.
Bon Iver Bon Iver, Bon Iver
I was unafraid, I was a boy, I was a tender age. Melic in the naked, knew a lake and drew the lofts for page. Hurdle all the waitings up, knew it wasn't wedded love. Four long minutes and it was over, it'd all be back. And the frost took up the eyes. Pressed against the pane, could see the veins, and there was poison out. Resting in a raze, the inner claims I hadn't breath to shake. Searching for an inner clout, may not take another bout. Honey in the hale could fill the pales of loving less with vain. Hon, it wasn't yet the spring. Aiming and it sunk and we were drunk and we had fleshed it out. Nose up in the globes, you never know if you're passing out. No it wasn't maiden-up, the falling or the faded luck. Hung up in the ivory, both were climbing for a finer cause. Love can hardly leave the room with your heart.
Boosie Badazz In My Feelings. (Goin' Thru It)
Some months after he was released from prison in early 2014, Torrance Hatch decided to change his stage name from Lil Boosie to Boosie Badazz, the reasoning being that he felt there was no need for the "Lil" now, as he was a grown man and a father, who had also been through his share of troubles. These troubles compounded in late November 2015, when it was revealed that he had kidney cancer. This new album, released on New Years, is a snapshot of his mindset, of his emotions, and his life in general. And it's not pretty at all. There are no "bangers" here, and there is no semblance of happiness. What there is, though, is Boosie laying it all out there, for the world to see. He's at his most vulnerable, his most personal, and the saddened, frustrated way in which he delivers his lines and the melancholy production really bring home the genuineness of his feelings. It's obviously not as readily enjoyable as other records from him, but in his discography, this is something of a unique listen.
Boosie Badazz Out My Feelings (In My Past)
A mere five weeks after releasing the most emotionally affecting album in his discography, Boosie returns to his element. The production, of course, is made up of empowering trap bangers and some sentimental, melancholy beats, which are usually driven either by piano or guitar. Boosie himself turns in a great performance, just generally being an animal on the mic as well as dropping some reflective verses and clever lines. One of the things that Boosie has always had going for him that rings very loudly now is the stamp of authenticity that comes with his records. Everything he spits throughout this tracklist is from firsthand experience, and as such is unabashedly real and convincing. While many other rappers have their public persona and their private persona (which is not a bad thing), there is practically no difference between Boosie's. Thus, you're hearing both Boosie the rapper and Torrance Hatch the person at the same time, which is something I feel is both admirable and, in the end, entertaining.
Brian Eno Ambient 4: On Land
Brian Eno Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks
Cage The Elephant Cage the Elephant
Candlemass Tales of Creation
It's at this point in the Candlemass discography, after three albums beforehand consisting of delicious doom metal riffing and wonderfully operatic vocals, that things begin to fall into a bit of redundancy in the songwriting department. That being said, small changes made to the production here gives the guitars and drums a sharper bite, and the inclusion of more guitar solos and short, but effective breaks in the action give a bit more personality to make up for the aforementioned issue. Therefore, Tales Of Creation is a worthy addition to the Candlemass canon, with everything one has come to love about the band being on display in spades. Moments like the incredible soloing of "Into The Unfathomed Tower" and one of the greatest pieces they've written in closer "A Tale Of Creation", stand up on their own feet, even if this record is the worst out of their legendary first four albums.
Carcass Tools of the Trade
Carcinoma Carcinoma
Taking dissonant, loud black/death metal, mixing it with a much quieter form of sludge metal, and having an enjoyable punk edge to it makes Carcinoma's debut EP worth checking out. RYM has this listed under "War Metal" in addition to sludge, and while it's a bit too cleanly produced to be "War Metal", I can see where one may have heard the influence on several occasions during "Inner Tyrants Become External Parasites". Basically, this EP is short, sweet, fun, and has some intense moments during its runtime, as well as some eerie melodic moments too.
Chepang Lathi Charge
Named for the lowest social class of people in their native country of Nepali, Chepang has the spirit of a people long oppressed flowing through their veins, and it's evident in each and every second of this blistering and punishing EP. Their sound is based in grindcore, but pits and pieces fly in from powerviolence, sludge metal, noise rock, and even crust punk. Even the name of the EP is protest-related, as a Lathi Charge is a mob-controlling technique the military uses, dealing blows with riot batons indiscriminately. So if you've got ten minutes and want some fresh, angry grind, Chepang has you covered.
Child Actor A Perfect Cloud
Aside from a few features on projects from Sadistik, Blue Sky Black Death, Dark Time Sunshine, and Deniro Farrar, I hadn't heard anything from Child Actor before A Perfect Cloud, and those features were really just Natalie Plaza's voice. Here, on can clearly hear how important Max Heath's production is to their sound, taking hip-hop rhythms, mixing them influences from art pop, dream pop, and psychedelic pop, and tuning them down into a minimal, yet charming and engaging concoction. There are moments of relative bombast within this, as well as moments of melancholy. Natalie Plaza is a great vocalist, not just in that she can hold a tune, but that there's something genuinely mesmerizing about her voice that one cannot place their finger on. Overall, the album is a pretty solid affair with one clear standout in "Cold Water". There are a couple of duds in the middle of the tracklist, but these are counteracted by a strong second half. It's a pretty great indie pop record with a trove of intricacies, so if that sounds like it'll float your boat, enjoy.
Childish Gambino "Awaken, My Love!"
Donald Glover is a pretty polarizing figure. It makes sense, given that he's not only a fairly prominent actor but an outspoken and ambitious musician as well. One thing was clear after Because The Internet: at the very least, the man has ideas. Whether those ideas were put to good use or not is up to you, but he definitely has ideas. That's why "Awaken, My Love" is at once promising and frustrating. It worships at the altar of the greats of funk, almost obnoxiously so in some cases, but I'll be damned if it isn't some of the best classic-worship around. Still, for a man with so many ideas, it feels strange that he'd stick so close to the table. Having said that, the album does feel promising of something more, as if this is just Childish Gambino getting his feet wet in the genre and that his fully realized vision is yet to come. One definitely hopes so, as he's definitely got the talent to do it. Who knew he could sing like that? It's clear the man still has surprises up his sleeve.
Christian Loeffler Lost
German producer and co-founder of Ki Records Christian Loeffler is becoming a notable name in the world of microhouse, and for good reason. His style can be compared to the Icelandic duo Kiasmos in the notion that the music they make is cold, not in an emotionless way, but in an atmospheric way. His latest EP, Lost, backs that notion up in spades, as the freezing ambience lets minimal beats and synth work swirl around inside of it like snow flurries in the wind. The two original songs are the title track and "Unknown", and they're both great tracks. Both of them are remixed as well, and while those are decent enough, they seem a bit unnecessary. Regardless, this is still a nice microhouse EP from one of the most promising young artists in the subgenre.
Christian Loeffler Mare
The dictionary defines the word "mare" as "a very unpleasant or frustrating experience". Ironic, then, considering Mare is pretty much the exact opposite of that definition. Christian Loeffler puts together a large work of ambient house, microhouse, tech house, and even small bits of IDM thrown in, all in a very warm and shimmering aesthetic that gives off some nice vibes. The knock on this record is that it doesn't differentiate much from track to track. It's got some really good melodies and subtle beat work, but when the overall sound changes very little over the course of an hour-twenty, things can bleed into each other pretty easily. It's not hard to listen to, and most all of the songs are pretty solid stuff with a couple of standouts (the stuff with Mohna on it is gold), but it definitely could be cut down somewhat. Overall, though, if you can get past the sameyness, Mare is a lovely and lush ambient house album that is perfect for studying or even sleeping, if you're the type to listen to music while you sleep.
City and Colour If I Should Go Before You
"the chances that this album is just a misstep on Green's part are high." - Me, on The Hurry And The Harm. Well, someone better pick up the phone, because I friggin called it! In all seriousness though, Dallas Green has definitely improved since his last album, adding a distinct blues influence and still possessing his unmistakable voice. The songwriting has improved, as evidenced by the catchiness of "Mizzy C", "Killing Time", and "Wasted Love", as well as the structure and atmosphere of tracks like "Woman" and "Blood". The album starts pretty melancholy, but picks up the mood as it goes along. That said, it is still one of Green's darkest projects, and definitely his darkest under the City And Colour moniker. Some longwindedness hurts songs, especially when the formula doesn't vary too much, but it's still a refreshing listen, and it's a good reminder that Green is back on track.
Cloud Nothings Here and Nowhere Else
Cluster and Eno Cluster & Eno
You undoubtedly know who Brian Eno is, given that he has attained a legendary status in the world of electronic and ambient music. Cluster, while certainly not as well known, were an important group in their day and are in the same boat as Eno insomuch as both of their earlier works act as a precursor ambient music, albeit even earlier in Cluster's case. This collaboration is a very nice piece of ambient electronic that lends itself to some progressive electronic leanings as well. The use of airy piano and slight drones mixed with repetition makes for a hypnotizing and altogether relaxing listen, especially with tracks such as the opener, "Wehrmut" and "Die Bunge". It's not especially dynamic, and things mostly keep a dreamy state of being, but somewhat tense moments do arrive now and again to help break up the sound when it begins to stale. Certainly, if you're looking for some great study music or just something to relax to, Cluster & Eno is a good choice.
Cocteau Twins The Spangle Maker
Once the mid-80's rolled around for Cocteau Twins, things went from merely good to exceptionally wonderful as far as the quality of their material goes. The Spangle Maker was their first release of the mid-80's, and though it isn't nearly as good as the material afterward, it helped set in motion what listeners would love on Treasure and albums to follow. The title-track is evidence of this, as it's catchy chorus does wonders for the already dreamy atmosphere. "Pepper-Tree" is a little on the dark side as well, going for a more ominous melody than simply mysterious and wondering. It's a well-made EP, and it's definitely a must listen for fans of the band.
Cocteau Twins Lullabies
With their second and last release of 1982, Cocteau Twins retain the best of the dark sound exhibited on Garlands, and managed to their production a very nice amount as well. The drums sound much better, and the guitars sound nice and atmospheric. Of course, this doesn't mean much if the songwriting doesn't improve, but Lullabies dodges that as well, with a very catchy number in opener "Feathers Oar-Blades" and a smoldering closer in "It's All But An Ark Lark". This improvement in almost every aspect of their music in such a short time makes this an impressive feat for Cocteau Twins, and a concise, solid post-punk/dream pop EP.
Cocteau Twins Sunburst and Snowblind
The second EP from the famous dream pop trio Cocteau Twins is another nice improvement on their style, one that had been steadily improving on every release from their inception at the time of this release. Obviously, opener "Sugar Hiccup", one of the greatest songs the band ever put to wax, is the highlight here with Liz Fraser's unforgettable vocals dominating the whole thing, but it's far from the only worthwhile song here. "From The Flagstones" is one of the best non-LP songs the band ever did, and the ending duo of "Hitherto" and "Because Of Whirl-Jack" is a great one. Really, this and their second LP, Head Over Heels, is when they began to come into their own, and thus, it really shouldn't be missed.
Code Orange Love Is Love // Return To Dust
Coldworld Autumn
It's certainly not as depressing or as engaging as the debut from this one-man project, but to say Autumn comes with a lack of great moments is not very accurate. While the album is stylized much more like a blackgaze album would be rather than the depressive black metal of the debut, it's got enough melancholy melodies and immersive atmospherics to bring across a genuine air of sadness. The clean vocals, while not exactly incredible, are adequate in that they don't take anything away from the music around them. The album flows pretty nicely, with an excellent use of the segueing of songs together, and with the almost perfect way the album paces itself, it's definitely a full listen. The issue is that while this is some well executed blackgaze, it isn't original at all, and really sounds like it could've been made three years ago. That doesn't mean Coldworld made an album not worth listening to in Autumn, though, quite the opposite. And for the record, Last Days Of Humanity rule face.
Combatwoundedveteran I Know A Girl Who Develops Crime Scene Photos
"In selecting it's battle plan, the highway division decided the carcass couldn't be buried because it might soon be uncovered, it couldn't be cut up and then buried because nobody wanted to cut it up, and it couldn't be burned. So dynamite it was, some twenty cases, or a half-ton, of it..." This quote ends the track "You'll Never Be Where I Am, Ever In Your Life" and holds with it not only Combatwoundedveteran's dark sense of humor, but I Know A Girl Who Develops Crime Scene Photos' mission statement: to blast you away like a dynamite detonation. Though one-dimensional in its approach, the album contains raw emotion and a demented vibe that is somewhat unnerving but also very intriguing as well. The endless barrages of short powerviolence and noisecore bursts do an amazing job bringing all of this across, and though it's not the most original thing in the scene, it's still a quite good record. No wonder why Orchid had no problem doing a split with these folks.
Converge Unloved and Weeded Out
Good lord, that snare-china onslaught at the beginning of "Downpour" sounds like a whip is hitting the drums. Awesome. This comp from genre innovators and stalwarts Converge is a really good one, complete with six rare songs not on any of their LP's (which all could've slid easily into either Petitioning The Empty Sky or When Forever Comes Crashing), and seven assorted demos and live tracks, with the only other song being off of their debut, Halo In A Haystack. Needless to say, the six beginning tracks are phenomenal, especially ferocious opener "Downpour" and "Home Song" (which I believe was condensed into "Albatros" from Petitioning, as they both have the same riff). The demos are all pretty nice too, albeit inconsequential. It's a really good listen, though, and anyone who calls themselves a Converge fan should definitely have this under their belt.
Converge Halo in a Haystack
Very few names in the hardcore world carry weight like that of "Converge." What would become one of the most important acts the genre has ever seen started here, on their sloppy yet promising debut album. Opening with "Shallow Breathing/I Abstain", the record gets off to a good start, and though this is much different than the Converge we know and love, you can still hear traces of what they'd eventually evolve into. Other album highlights include "Divinity" and "Antithesis", two longer, but subdued, Converge songs that end up doing the band justice. An interesting record for Converge fans and a decent listen for fans of hardcore, Halo In A Haystack marks the humble beginnings of a band that would become so much more.
Corelia Nostalgia
Crooks Are We All The Same Distance Apart
It's been a long time since I've even appreciated a modern post-hardcore album in this style. The style, of course, is catchy hooks, passionate-yet-simple instrumentation, and an almost alt-rock take on post-hardcore. The latter quality usually kills it for me, as many albums in the style are sterilized and bland. Yet, Crooks do things bigger and better, with an emphasis on Josh Rogers' excellent vocal performance and the simple-yet-effective playing of the guitars and the rhythm section. Songs like opener "Above Me", "A Few Peaceful Days", and closer "Harmony Falls" see the band firing on all cylinders, and the album really comes together in those respective spots. Though it's not that original at all and gets a bit samey towards the end of the record, Crooks have put a good foot forward on their full-length debut, which is honestly a very welcomed surprise.
Cryptopsy The Book of Suffering – Tome 1
Cryptopsy are somewhat of a legendary group within technical death metal, and with releases like No So Vile and Blasphemy Made Flesh, it's not hard to see why. Still, it's been some time since the band has created a superb album, and they're only seven years removed from a widely panned release. That's why it's so good to hear a record like this even in its brevity. It's tight, fast, relentless technical death metal that stands up as the best thing the band has done in nearly a decade. The opener, "Detritus", might even be their best song since 1998's immense Whisper Supremacy. Plenty of blistering tremolos, endless drum fills, and nifty bass work permeate the EP, and the vocals, while not incredible, are pretty solid in their own right. It's going to take a lot to recapture the magic of years past, but the band has made a good step in the right direction here.
Currensy The Carrollton Heist
Curren$y is definitely one of the more underrated emcees in the game, with a brand of subtle, weed-laced, smart hip-hop that fails to be outdone or even emulated by the sea of rappers today. Alchemist has a reputation as one of the better beatsmiths in hip-hop, frequently making use of flawless looped samples and working closely with groups such as Dilated Peoples and Mobb Deep. These two combine their talents on this tape, and though it's a little on the short side, there's some great material here. The production feels old-school and hazy, with frequent samples coming in from old movies, and Spitta does a standup job even in the small amount of time he's working with per track. The guest spots are all pretty good, with an especially satisfying verse coming in from Weezy. All of the tracks are pretty quick to set their ideas in motion, but some are over before they get rolling at a good pace. Fortunately, this doesn't hinder the tape that much, because it's got great replay value as a result. So, if you've got a half-hour on your hands and love chilled, reflective hip-hop, The Carrollton Heist is one you should pick up.
Daughter Not to Disappear
Musically, Daughter plays a quite pleasant, atmospheric, and often beautiful form of art pop combined with post-rock, but the album is definitely more than just that. What we have lying underneath the atmospherics is a subtly intelligent and sometimes moving collection of lyrics and vocal lines that really enriches the rest of the record. Just take the crown jewel of the album, "Doing The Right Thing", for example. It's a very affecting piece about forgetting your best experiences, your process of doing things, and even your loved ones due to Alzheimer's. In the grand scheme of things, nothing done on this record is very original, but it is done with a firm understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, especially in relation to the genres they play. In all, Not To Disappear is a pretty swell record, with a beautiful atmosphere and some really heartfelt lyrics to boot.
Dead in the Manger Transience
After the mysterious black metal collective known as Dead In The Manger released their debut LP, Cessation, it has become clear as to what their EP, Transience, is meant to be. Whereas Cessation featured tightened songwriting and an all-around better sound, Transience shows the bare bones idea of what music the band wanted to craft. Although at this point it seems like a bit of an afterthought, Transience laid the foundation for what Cessation would eventually be: fun melodic tremolos, passionately raw vocals, a bit of sludgy/doomy goodness, and the violent, all-encompassing grind-influenced drumming. And do not be misled, Transience isn't a watered-down Cessation as much as Cessation is a beefed-up Transience, if that makes any sense.
Deafheaven 2010 Demo
The beginnings of Deafheaven were certainly much different than albums like Sunbather and New Bermuda, as a rawer, less nuanced sound is on display. That being said, the emotion put into the performances here, particularly the drums and vocals, make their 2010 demo a winner. The punk-influenced black metal mixes with slight post-rock leanings on opener "Libertine Dissolves", and the acoustic "Bedrooms" is a beautiful touch. Closer "Exit: Denied" is the piece most indicative of what was to come, with an impassioned black metal beginning segueing into a droning, slow-burning ending. The evocativeness of the compositions here really help further the emotion on display here as well. Thus, this demo is an important listen in Deafheaven's discography, if only because it sounds like nothing else they've written.
Deafheaven Roads to Judah
Though often decried as a bastardization of black metal fit only for imaginary hipsters (as if rejection of societal norms isn't one of the defining aesthetical factors of black metal and metal as a whole), Deafheaven is much more than that. Roads To Judah makes that abundantly apparent, as while the songwriting skill would take a bit to catch up, the sheer ferocity and frustrated energy the band perform with carries the music miles, especially when juxtaposed with evocative and even beautiful post-rock passages. Though there is nothing structurally original about these songs, there are praiseworthy moments aplenty, an example being the excellent shoegazey post-rock build-up and black metal explosion to open the record on "Violet". As stated, the emotion on display here is what truly makes this record good, and while the guitar riffs are decent enough in this regard, it's the vocals from George Clarke and the drumming from Trevor Deschcryver that embody this in full. Thus, Roads To Judah is a very good debut full-length from Deafheaven, who would go on to eclipse this record as their songwriting talents improved.
Death Scream Bloody Gore
Death Grips No Love Deep Web
"Bass Rattle Stars Out The Sky" is an appropriate description of a lot of Death Grips' work, but somehow I find that it's not as good of a description of this album compared to the others. The sound is a bit more electronically driven than previous efforts, which would foreshadow Government Plates, but MC Ride is still very much at the forefront of things, especially early on with a career highlight in "Lil Boy". After that point, the quality dips ever so slightly, but remains consistent throughout. The production can range from loud and abrasive ("World Of Dogs"), to relatively subdued ("Artificial Death In The West"). And of course there are the insta-quotable one-liners peppered throughout the album that you can always count on Death Grips for providing ("Lock Your Doors", "Stockton"). In all, a good release from the band, a release which would be built on for their next record.
Death Grips Death Grips
http://youtube/8JVILrFjemQ heres yer fiddy characters
Death Grips Government Plates
In Death Grips' short career, they were known as one of the loudest, most abrasive bands in years. An outlier, at least by their standards, is Government Plates, which is an electronically-driven album that subdues MC Ride and lets Zach Hill work his magic. Of course, you wouldn't be able to tell this from the first four songs, as they're all classic Death Grips, with MC Ride yelling obscenity-laden verses and hooks over explosive production from Hill. Yet, when "Birds" starts, things become a bit more subtle than usual. Over the next six tracks, the focus of the album is Hill, and he puts together some interesting stuff like "Feels Like A Wheel" and the title-track, but also has a couple of unfortunate duds as well. The closer is uncharacteristically obnoxious; the band has always been good at being aggressive and loud without being annoying, but the closer crosses that line, especially vocally. That being said, this record is unlike anything Death Grips has made, and thus is an important listen in their discography.
Death Grips Bottomless Pit
At what point does a band renowned for being an experimental, boundary-pushing, genre-blending behemoth lose their unpredictability? In other words, when does this experimental sound become stale? It thankfully hasn't happened quite yet for Death Grips, but one fears that trap is closer than it seems. On its own, Bottomless Pit is Death Grips showcasing what they do well: frenetic, haphazard production and instrumentation, and highly energetic, sometimes hooky rapped vocals. The only problem here is, it feels like it's been done before by the same group, only it was better the first time around. It really just sounds like an extension of Jenny Death at many points throughout the record, and while that is by no means a bad thing, it's a bit disconcerting for a band so focused on experimentation and expansion of their sound. One wonders if their image is beginning to overtake them, and their reputation beginning to precede them.
Defeated Sanity Disposal Of The Dead // Dharmata
If it weren't for the similar production, it would be hard to tell that these two records were made by the same band in Defeated Sanity. The first side, called Disposal Of The Dead, is in a brutal death metal style, making use of swampy vocals, crushing riffs, and blisteringly fast drumming. The atmosphere is constantly oppressive, and it's some of the most well made brutal death that has come out this year. The second side, called Dharmata, is some of the best Floridian death metal worship in circulation currently, and though the influences are worn clearly and proudly on their sleeves, it's still some pretty decent material. That said, the first side beats out the second by a pretty wide margin, and while the second side is some sweet stuff, it's simply too unoriginal to be as effective as the first. All this said, Defeated Sanity show both sides of their spectrum on this dual-record, and manage to put some fresh brutal death to the table in the process.
Demilich The Four Instructive Tales... of Decomposition
Legendary Finnish death metal group Demilich made some of the most angular and strange death metal out there in the early 90's. While the material on The Four Instructive Tales... ...Of Decomposition is not quite as out there from the spidery masterpiece Nespithe, there are still a couple of moments here and there that establish a connection as well as standing on its own as some really solid and enjoyable death metal. Antti Boman's vocals are the most outlandish thing about this release, as while the musicianship and songwriting here are really good, they're not anything wholly original quite yet. All this said, if you want a little bit of context as to what the band was before their illustrious debut full-length, or just want some old school death metal done correctly, you can't go wrong with this demo.
Deniro Farrar Mind Of A Gemini
This is a direction that I didn't foresee Deniro Farrar going towards. His style has always been relaying stories of the hardships of the streets, and introspections about himself henceforth, over slightly cloudy trap production, but here it's different. The production has changed to be much more mellow, less hard-hitting, and much smoother. It fits that his lyrical content, while still containing much of what he rode with before, has a distinct sense of nostalgia and longing for the better days. Looking at the album cover, there are two Deniro Farrar's, and it seems as if the Deniro Farrar we're hearing here is the one seated, whereas the one crouching is the Deniro Farrar heard on Rebirth and The Cliff Of Death. It's an interesting dynamic to say the least, and if this idea and his two styles were ever put to war on each other during a full-length project, it'd undoubtedly be a phenomenal listen.
Departures Death Touches Us, From The Moment We Begin To Love
Though it loses some of the dynamics their first couple of full-lengths possessed, Death Touches Us, From The Moment We Begin To Love is a wholly solid and occasionally evocative work of melodic hardcore. The lack of variety in the songwriting is the drawback here; nearly all of the songs are mid-paced, highly melodic, and possess a high emphasis on the vocals and lyricism. That said, this is a good formula for what the band was going for, and the albums saving graces outdo its pitfalls. The vocal performance is excellent, and the lyrical performance is even better, detailing the hardships dealt with when loved ones are lost and death is on the mind. Two songs in particular, "Death Of Youth" and closer "Memorial", which have both the best guitar work and lyrics on the record, make for a emotionally resonant mix. It could've been better, but it could easily have been worse as well, and Departures made very sure it was not the latter of those two.
Discordance Axis Ulterior
If I'm listening to grindcore, I'm expecting it to sound one of two ways (though to clarify, not every fantastic grind record follows these templates). 1: Relatively one-dimensional in sound, but packing enough raw emotion and brutality that it simply doesn't matter, or 2: much more dynamic in sound and scope and not sacrificing energy and power, though to a lesser degree than others. Discordance Axis covered both of these styles in their time, but Ulterior definitely falls under the former style. It's seventeen minutes of pretty much non-stop aggression and rage, through the ferocious drumming, a bevy of solid riffs, and a phenomenal (as if it'd be anything less) vocal performance. Though it's not all that original, it's still some extremely solid and fun grind, and though the band would move on to bigger and better things, there's no reason not to hear this if you're a fan of the band or just grindcore in general.
Disma The Lost Vault of Chaos
Disma is some of the best Incantation worship you can find out there, and I mean that in the best possible way. Their only full-length record, Towards The Megalith, was as if Incantation morphed with Funebrarum and was given the aesthetic of a Finnish death metal band. In other words, it was one hell of an album. This collection of, singles, splits, and demos that the band did before and after their debut full-length is much like that, though of lesser quality. The best of this compilation is found early on, with "Lost In The Burial Fog" and "The Vault Of Membros" forming a great one-two punch (both were from the 2009 demo The Vault Of Membros). Another highlight is a track called "And The Dawn Of Life Arises", a track that appeared on a bonus "7 only available with certain copies of Megalith on vinyl. It's a pretty swell compilation, one that lines up nicely next to Megalith as two albums you should hear if you're a fan of Incantation-inspired death metal.
DJ Rashad & DJ Spinn Girl Bust Down
In his time, DJ Rashad was a pioneer of a style of juke (which in and of itself is a style of ghetto house) known as footwork, which makes extensive and expansive use of drums and sub-bass to create an astounding low-end. DJ Spinn, Rashad's high-school friend, began making juke tracks early in their career, which would eventually evolve into footwork. On this EP, some of the best material the two ever did together would be released, and though it's got one dud of a song, it's pretty high quality juke elsewhere, especially the booming "Halloween" and the aggressive, driving "Like It's Hot". It's a nice piece of history for both artists, though their better years were definitely still to come.
DJ Screw Chapter 245 - Waitin' on Slant
According to everything I can find, Waitin' On Slant is Screw's first official tape. I'm sure it's not the first tape he's ever made, but here is as good of a place to start as any. The bare-bones blueprint of chopped and screwed is definitely here, as the songs are slowed down and occasionally chopped up, though certainly not as professionally done as later tapes would be. An hour and forty-five minutes is a lot to digest, though, and there is some filler on this. Still, there are great moments here. An early highlight is N.W.A.'s "F*ck The Police" screwed to the instrumental of Dr. Dre's "Ain't Nuthin' But A G Thang". Near the end, a masterful screw of Public Enemy's "By The Time I Get To Arizona" leaks from the speakers even more smoothly than the original. The recording quality here is pretty lo-fi, which is understandable, but it also gives off that gritty feeling that is lessened a bit on later, more clearly-produced screw tapes. Altogether, this marks a great beginning for one of hip-hops most important artists.
DJ Screw Chapter 134: Hard Times
In keeping with the same lo-fi aesthetic as his first tape, DJ Screw also more readily frequents and improves on his signature chopping technique, as demonstrated early on a great screw of Outkast's "Player's Ball". This also may be the first time a female emcee has appeared on a screw tape, as Da Brat makes several appearances on the tape. This tape marks another first for Screw that would become a staple on many of his tapes: the freestyle. This one isn't that great, as the verse by Spice 1 is merely decent and the recording quality very poor, but it's still cool to hear the first one in action. The best track off of the tape might just have to be a screw of Above The Law's "Gangsta Madness", which is an affecting track on its own, and achieves a similar, if not better, effect here. A tape of firsts for DJ Screw means that it is certainly one of his most important, and as such should not be passes over.
DJ Screw Chapter 136: Da Funk Is On Your Mind
On this tape, Screw sees through a small transition from the G-funk stylings of Chapter 134: Hard Times to the full-on 70's funk of Chapter 214: Old School. At times, the transitioning isn't that great, but a totally awesome freestyle from 'Lil Keke, Fat Pat, and Duke more than makes up for it. Seriously, that's probably one of the better freestyles on any screw tape, with that sinister beat permeating over twenty-five minutes of off-the-top verses. Also, anything on here with another member of the S.U.C. that passed too early, Big Mello, is wonderful. On a related note, if anyone would like more background info on DJ Screw and the culture he helped create, check out this article, as it's an excellent piece: http://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/the-slow-life-and-fast-death-of-dj-screw/
DJ Screw Chapter 106: On A Pint
1995 was a momentous year for DJ Screw. Two of his greatest tapes, the all-time classic Bigtyme Recordz Vol. II: All Screwed Up and the unforgettable 3 'N The Mornin': Part 2, were released to acclaim from the southern hip-hop community and Screw began to make himself known outside of Texas more widely than ever before. On A Pint is an early '95 tape, and it's easy to tell given the abundance of 70's funk, west coast gangsta rap, and some hometown brew in both song selection and freestyles. In fact, the tape opens with two freestyles in a row, both of which are pretty good, before sliding into the combination of g-funk and early funk classics that permeated his '94 catalogue. It's extremely solid and very well made, and it gives the impression that it was all becoming too easy for Screw. It's true, because at that point in time he could make stuff like this in his sleep. Knowing this, the expansion of his sound was wholly welcomed later on in his career.
Domo Genesis Rolling Papers
I suppose if the term ?Stoner Rap? is acceptable, then Domo Genesis is probably one of the more famous artists within it, and his debut shows why. Domo's ganja-obessed, smooth lyrics combine effortlessly with some cloudy production by fellow Odd Future members Tyler, The Creator, Left Brain, and Syd Tha Kyd. Tyler drops a couple of nice verses as well, best exemplified with Domo in the jab-trading song,?Super Market?. The subject matter is a bit samey, but overall this is a decent release, one that would only be built upon by Domo Genesis.
Domo Genesis Under The Influence
Domo Genesis No Idols
Domo Genesis Genesis
In keeping with the trend of maturing ex-OFWGKTA members, Domo Genesis, the token stoner of the collective, releases easily his most mature and nuanced album. Rather than the rather juvenile-yet-endearing stoner lyrics Domo rocked with early in his career, he opts for a much more introspective standpoint. The production reflects this change excellently, as instead of the lo-fi grittiness of Tyler, The Creator's production, you have a more clean-sounding, spacey sound that accentuates Domo very well. Of course, some of his youthful candor is lost in favor of a more serious approach, and while that may be a turn off for some, he does quite well in lieu of it. The sound is distinctly west coast, and though it's maybe not as fun as some of his other material, it's certainly the first step in a new chapter for Domo Gensis.
Dragged Into Sunlight WidowMaker
After a truly phenomenal and chillingly venomous debut full-length album that touched many styles of metal in its onslaught in Hatred For Mankind, the anonymous five-piece of Dragged Into Sunlight turned towards a more subtle and less vicious sound. It's interesting, though Widowmaker is seen as the oddball in their discography, it has much more in common with their debut EP with Kas Mana Terminal Aggressor than Hatred For Mankind ever did. What we have is a slow-burning, tense, death-metal-influenced take on post-metal, with some great moments interspersed. That said, the almost ambient "Part I" is almost tiring, being as drawn out as it is. It, like the other two tracks here, is inconsistent in that it has some great moments on it that are sandwiched in between otherwise merely decent and sometimes even boring moments. Some great riffs pop up in "Part 2" and "Part 3" and the vocals and drumming are still excellent, but it's nowhere near their illustrious debut in terms of quality. That said, there are great things to be heard here, and it's overall a pretty good listen, and it's always nice to see bands trying to expand their sound, especially when they know their previous sound was one they probably couldn't recreate.
Drake and Future What a Time to Be Alive
With all the work and time both Drake and Future have put in and are still putting in on their main projects, it seems a little pointless to have a collaboration in only six days. Yet, with all their respective success, why not? The production has a bit of a stronger leaning towards Future's style than Drake's, so naturally he sounds a bit more comfortable on this record. That said, Drake spits some pretty nice verses, and does especially well on his solo song, "30 For 30 Freestyle". At times, the record feels like the B-sides to Dirty Sprite 2 with sprinkles of Drizzy, but a few songs here have both artists equally contributing great stuff, including "Big Rings", "Live From The Gutter", "Diamonds Dancing", and "I'm The Plug". Overall, the Drake and Future collaboration works, and although it may seem a bit unnecessary, it's still a good time, and only really tries to be just that as the two stars celebrate their huge years.
Earl Sweatshirt Doris
Earth The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull
With the release of 2005's Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method, the drone gods known as Earth changed their sound from blues-influenced drone and stoner rock to an atmospherically potent post-rock one, losing the heaviness of the early days, but expanding on a textured and beautiful blueprint. The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull is a continuation of that sound, albeit a bit more straightforward and streamlined, and though it's not as good as its predecessor, there are certainly a bevy of gorgeous moments to be found here. Take the piano on penultimate track "Hung From The Moon" for instance, as its simple, yet evocative melody plays to the strengths of the western-tinged guitars and methodical drumming perfectly. The album is another in a line that illustrates what Earth can do with decidedly minimal and elongated music, of what feelings they can conjure despite not being musically complex in practice. It's an Earth album through and through, and that, of course, makes it good.
Earth Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I
Although it's ultimately somewhat standard fare for Earth since the days of Hex, Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light I sees the band continuing to minimize their sound, becoming even more streamlined than its predecessor. This, however, manages to be a virtue because, in true Earth fashion, the album turns hypnotic and engrossing, able to play the same progressions and notes for ten minutes and never turn boring or long-winded. In this sense, it's game plan is almost like Earth 2, just done in Hex's musical template. It's atmosphere is laid back and inviting, having a nice western tinge to everything. The length may seem a bit daunting for an album this repetitive, but as mentioned before things don't ever become a chore. It's really an easy, enjoyable, and even calming listen, and though by this point the band could do stuff like this in their sleep, it's good that they didn't phone it in, which is all you can ask for sometimes.
Earth Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II
The second installment in the Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light series see Earth coming to the logical conclusion of the tandem with their sound. This is one of the slowest Earth albums, maybe the slowest outright, and definitely one of the more minimal in their discography. Their western-American take on psychedelic post-rock is brought to its most simplified and yet, still very dreamy and atmospheric, conclusion. There's really not much more to it, but it's still a head above its contemporaries because Earth know better than most others how to turn simple, repetitive music into mesmerizing and trance-inducing numbers. It's just another facet of the band's overall excellence that they could take an already simple sound down a notch or two and still make an engaging, lovely record, which Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II certainly is.
Eglise Église
It sounds like these guys went to the Axe To Fall school of sludge-influenced, chaotic hardcore, which I did not know had a chapter in Copenhagen. From the get-go, this twenty-four minute record pummels you with intensity, found in every massive drum beat, frenzied riff, rageful shout, and nihilistic lyric. They do play their influences pretty close to their sleeve, which is why it's not as thrilling of a listen as it would've been otherwise, but the attention to detail and focus on display here convinces me that they'll eventually work their way around to playing with their own flair of fiery hardcore. Plus, it's a pretty nicely varied listen for only being so long, with short bursts of energy on "The Clouds" and "Blood Vessels" trading off for slower, more sludgy numbers like "Have I Become Hell". Needless to say, this promising debut should be listened to by any fans of Converge or Botch, and definitely will have listeners anticipating their next release.
Ego Ella May Zero
Using a combination of beautiful electronic production and sublime vocals, Ego Ella May crafts a wonderful little EP rooted in soul, R&B, and some splashes of funk. The album completes everything it sets out to accomplish in its eleven minute runtime, making it incredibly easy to listen to and to re-listen. What does it set out to accomplish? Giving us a sample of what we can expect from a future full-length project, and making us excited for that. Needless to say, I'm eagerly awaiting some more material, because if it sounds anything like this ("Tea & Sympathy" especially), it will be divine.
El-Ahrairah El-Ahrairah
It's interesting that a genre such as black metal that is usually focused on the cold, the evil, and the hateful can be turned into something warmer and more depressed than enraged whilst still keeping the raw emotion unfiltered. El-Ahrairah has that sound, but with an interesting twist on it. Whereas many bands in this style tend to make riffs that are windy and atmospheric, El-Ahrairah's riffs are constantly up-front and personal, being very powerful and immediate. The production sounds fantastic for the style as well, giving the album a nice earthy atmosphere. The songwriting is a bit strange for this style, as many of the songs are below four minutes and don't really build into anything more than what they started with. It's good that the songs end when the ideas do, but it constantly hints at something bigger and better that isn't delivered on. It's an interesting sound, but it feels like the band has plenty of untapped potential that hopefully gets mined for on their next project. For now, though, pretty good stuff.
Emery The Weak's End
For a band as multi-faceted in the vocal department as to have three separate, yet all somewhat talented, vocalists, it's a bit easier to be lax from a songwriting standpoint, as it's often a choice to just have the voices of the vocalists carry entire songs. Fortunately, that doesn't happen very much here, as Emery manages to bring in very good performances from the guitars and drums, and have clearly audible and enjoyable bass work. And while Josh Head's screamed vocals are an acquired taste, his use of keyboards is tasteful and fun, especially on opener "Walls". The interweaving and lovely singing from both lead vocalist Toby Morrell and rhythm guitarist Devin Shelton are always a highlight on any song here, and the alternating between somber, relaxed emo and more fiery, but no less passionate, post-hardcore gives some nice variety. In a nutshell, it's a good debut from Emery, showing their potential even early on.
Emery While Broken Hearts Prevail
This is where Emery really started upping their songwriting game to heights they hadn't reached yet. This would come to a culmination on In Shallow Seas We Sail, but While Broken Hearts Prevail is an excellent precursor to that record, not only in theme, but in songwriting as well. The band could always write a hook, but here they take that to another level, especially on "Say The Things (You Want)", which has one of the catchiest they've ever written. The marriage between softer alternative rock and post-hardcore also reaches new heights here, with the trademark vocal layering adding some well done harsh vocals to the mix and the guitarists writing some of the best riffs of their careers. The variations in songwriting and dynamics between soft/loud and melancholy/angry definitely add a lot of depth to this EP, and if you're a fan of Emery, or even just of their 2009 breakthrough album, you'd definitely like this as well.
Emery You Were Never Alone
To be honest, this is my first full stint with Emery, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't heard a few songs off of their polarizing 2009 LP In Shallow Seas We Sail. Everything from "post-hardcore's finest" to "the death of post-hardcore" was said about that record. I've never heard it fully, so I can't say. But if what was said echoes any sentiment as to how Emery is as a band, I'd be more inclined to agree with the former statement. Granted, there are a few moments on You Were Never Alone that are cringeworthy, but for the most part, this is some solid and occasionally wonderful post-hardcore/emo, staying within the modern sound of those respective genres. There's a decent lot of experimentation, and while sometimes it isn't exactly great ("Go Wrong Young Man"), other times it can be very tasteful and enjoyable ("Thrash"). The end result of Emery's first independent LP is quite nice, and the high points definitely outweigh the lows.
Eminem Straight from the Lab
While not an official EP, this release by Eminem was meant to tide over rabid fans who were eagerly anticipating his fifth album, Encore. What they got was a collection of decent songs, along with some very clever diss responses. A response to Murder Inc. rapper Ja Rule called "Bully" is the best of these, as it not only shows Em's cleverness on the microphone, but also his ability to keep a tune going, as his delivery is half-sung. Another standout is the track "We As Americans", which features likely his most controversial line in his discography. While not a release for someone looking in to Eminem's discography for the first time, it is a great EP for the hardcore fans of the Detroit rapper, one that shouldn't be passed over if you fall into that category.
Eminem Infinite
Infinite is, quite simply, Eminem before he was Eminem. Long before the Slim Shady persona was ever conceived, and long before he was performing his own style. And yet, Infinite is still a success. Though Em does sound very much like AZ in both cadence and flow, his lyrical abilities were still excellent, as evidenced on the title-track, "It's O.K.", and "313". The closest he ever came to his Shady days were on the track "Backstabber", as most of this album sees Eminem in a chilled, relaxed state of mind. It may be his least emotionally vibrant album, but the talent on display was apparent. Elsewhere, the production on the record is very good, giving a gritty feel to it that fit the cold streets of Detroit with ease. Though it only sold around one-thousand copies and flew heavily under the radar, Infinite is seen today as a great achievement for an aspiring artist that would take over the mainstream hip-hop world in the years to follow.
Eminem 8 Mile Soundtrack
For a movie soundtrack, which are infamously lukewarm, 8 Mile's is a actually pretty good. It's got a couple of bonafide Eminem classics in "Lose Yourself" and "8 Mile", a phenomenal R&B song in Macy Gray's "Time Of My Life", and a great one-two punch to close out the record in Young Zee's "That's My Nigga 'Fo Real" and Eminem's "Rabbit Run". The thing that really makes it an above-average soundtrack is that the dreaded filler tracks that most soundtracks inevitably fall victim to are kept to a minimum, with most of the songs being at the very least decent. Obie Trice turns in some really good performances, Jay-Z drops a sweet verse, even 50 Cent has some lovable moments too. Point is, they didn't just phone in their contributions, making the songs much more lively in front of the often sinister production. It's got a few eye-rolling moments here and there, with some of the hooks being pretty bad and some of the production sounding somewhat dated, but for what it's worth, the 8 Mile Soundtrack is a good one, containing a few truly great songs and many good ones.
Entropia (PL) Ufonaut
Dimitri's a guy that's a friend to a lot of people, not least of which are these five progressive black metallers from Olesnica. DMT is the subject matter, and the band does their best to try and emulate the psychedelic properties of said drug. Through spacey and trippy synth work, echoed and affected vocals, and melodic guitar sections, some really great passages of music are showcased here, for instance in the final minutes of "Mandala" or the opening minutes of the title-track. Sometimes the music does fall into the genre's tropes and cliches, though, with numerous instances of redundant tremolo riffing and blast beats occurring throughout the tracklist. This causes the album to clash with itself: on one hand, some really magical metal is on display, and on the other, typical and even boring movements are on hand. Luckily, though, the former outweighs the latter, and while the band could use some fat cut off for later releases, Ufonaut is a good album that fits well into Entropia's discography.
Enya Watermark
Escape the Fate There's No Sympathy for the Dead
Before the ridiculously overblown melodrama concerning Ronnie Radke of Escape The Fate and Craig Mabbit of BlessTheFall, the two bands lived in relative peace. BlessTheFall was the better band, and would soon become the template for this style of post-hardcore with the "scene-core" classic, His Last Walk. Still, that doesn't mean Escape The Fate wasn't playing some good music of their own. Opening with the incredibly catchy "Dragging Dead Bodies In Blue Bags Up Really Long Hills", this EP was a surprisingly good release that served as a preview of their fun and catchy debut full length. Though the screams and growls on the record are rough and grating, Ronnie Radke's singing voice is very good, especially on "The Ransom", as song as easy to sing along with as it is to listen to in general. Overall, there's some really catchy and fun post-hardcore to hear on this EP, and if you're a fan of that, then jam away.
Esoteric The Pernicious Enigma
Funeral doom, at least on paper, is a pretty simple concept. Take doom metal, which in and of itself is basically just slowed down traditional heavy metal, and slow it down even further. Yet, some of the most popular bands in the genre have strange and ultimately really engrossing takes on it. Esoteric is one of these bands, and the misanthropic, psychedelic, and even downright evil sound heard on The Pernicious Enigma is not your average funeral doom. At two hours long, there are undoubtedly places on this record where things get somewhat tedious and long-winded. Yet, the moments that aren't are simply astonishing. The opening tandem of "Creation (Through Destruction)" and "Dominion Of Slaves" is one of the most unsettling slabs of funeral doom out there, and "A Worthless Dream" practically drips with seething rage. It's certainly an enigmatic album, and it definitely has grower potential as well, so this rating may change in the future.
Esoteric Epistemological Despondency
Epistemological Despondency is essentially a souped-up version of Esoteric's debut demo, The Death Of Ignorance. What that basically entails is more variety and better songwriting, but similar production and vocal styles (unfortunately, the same grating effects are still around as well). It's a bit long-winded in the first half of this hour-and-a-half album, but songs in the second half, especially closer "Awaiting My Death", definitely justify their length, in this case due to the inclusion of an oddly catchy, hypnotic riff. The diversity is seen in a few tracks that are pretty much death metal played straight, like "Only Hate (Baresark)", and more shifts in the earthmoving riffs on the longer and more monolithic tracks. This improvement in songwriting seen on Epistemological Despondency would really spark Esoteric to create some timeless funeral doom in their best days, as the production improved along with them.
Every Time I Die Gutter Phenomenon
On the surface, Every Time I Die seemed to dumb it down from their breakout record Hot Damn! to Gutter Phenomenon. The songwriting became more samey, and less complex as before. Yet, upon further examination, this all seems to be an expression of intent. Taking a look a Keith Buckley's lyrics for this record gives appropriate context for the music. The lyrics very cleverly deal with drunken revelries and reckless behavior that the catchy breakdowns and pronounced southern tone of the guitars echo, all while remaining tongue-in-cheek and slyly critical of said behavior throughout. This sense of irony is what makes Gutter Phenomenon a subtly intelligent metalcore/hardcore record, and though musically it doesn't really stand up to their previous opus, lyrically and conceptually it's one of the best, if not the best, albums the band has to their name.
Explosions in the Sky Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Explosions In The Sky has become the stereotypical post-rock band. Many feel that they embody everything that is wrong with post-rock i.e. stagnant songwriting, long-windedness, and an air of irritating pretentiousness. Make no mistake, that is often true of many post-rock bands, but when it comes to EITS, it is different. Different, of course, because they do this formula better than anyone else. Is anything new explored on this album? Not really. Is that a bad thing? Not when it is this well done. Take the subtle ambience of "Human Qualities", or the strange catchiness of the main riff of "Postcard From 1952", or the somber, happy-under-stress emotion of "Let Me Back In". These moments are anything but derivative. True, the overall musicianship, style, and formula remains very similar, but the things are easy to overlook if the music is well done and passionate, something this record definitely accomplishes.
Flying Lotus Reset
As we know, Steven Ellison's production style has gone through an evolution from his spacey 1983 days to the whirling jazz fusion of You're Dead! On each album, his sound progresses further. So, as far as the often overlooked Reset goes, it acts as a midway point between Ellison's debut and the critically acclaimed Los Angeles. Here, there are elements of trip-hop, glitch-hop, experimental electronic, and even doses of wonk at work. Two songs stand out in particular: the sensual opener "Tea Leaf Dancers", and the chilled and relaxed "Massage Situation", which was often used in Adult Swim commercials after it was released. In all, it's a pretty slick collection of stuff that could be used as an easy entry point into Flying Lotus' discography.
Flying Lotus Pattern+Grid World
If nothing else, Pattern + Grid World is Flying Lotus' noisiest, most jittery affair. The glitch hop he works with is in full effect here, and the addition of a chiptune influence into the mix, it's quite unlike anything he's done. There's no clear-cut best track on the record, but they're all a pretty solid mixture of noisy, skippy, and ultimately pretty layered IDM. The tracks don't really bleed into each other too much due to the variations seen within the songs, but it's not an incoherent mess either. It's really just FlyLo tinkering and exploring with his sound a bit, and the result is pretty nice.
Flying Lotus & Declaime Whole Wide World/Lit Up/Keep It Moving
There's no question regarding FlyLo's music that it is extremely influenced by hip-hop. Though it may be more electronically-inclined and experimental, his production has always been rooted in hip-hop more so than any other genre. That's why it seems strange that it took a few years for an emcee to come forward for a collaboration, but after Los Angeles dropped, west coast hip-hop rapper Declaime did just that. It works pretty much exactly how you'd think it'd work, both in execution and quality. The opener/title-track might be one of FlyLo's best productions, while Declaime spits some pretty nice bars over the beat. I'm honestly surprised more people haven't heard this, because it is a quality release from the two, and definitely shouldn't be overlooked, especially if you want to dive deeper into FlyLo's roots as a producer.
Frameworks Smother
Frameworks is a pretty uncomplicated group. All you really need to know is that they play an exceptionally solid mixture of screamo and post-hardcore, throwing shades of melancholy emo in every once and a while. Smother is no different, and though this isn't anything terribly original, it's infused with enough energy and emotion to get it over the hump. There are some pretty infectious little melodies scattered throughout this thing too, as opener "Fear Of Missing Out" riffs along with remarkable confidence and "Tangled" lets vocalist Luke Pate loose with some great clean vocals. The explosiveness of the band is felt in spades as well, particularly on closer "The New Narcissistic American Dream", which swells with somber melodies and electronic noise in its climax. In all, if you're looking for some really good screamo, Frameworks has your fix.
Funkadelic Funkadelic
At this point, to call George Clinton anything other than a music legend is simply not giving credit where credit is due. One of the innovators of funk, Clinton's sister groups of Parliament and Funkadelic made their funk smooth, full of sensuality, danceable, rhythm and blues-influenced, jazzy, often led by guitars, and of course very, very fun. Funkadelic's self-titled debut is a nice precursor to all of this, using a funk rock approach more often than not. The work with different tempos on this record illustrates the different feels funk has to offer. For instance, on tracks like "I Got A Thing, You Got A Thing, Everybody's Got A Thing", the speed is high-tempo and very danceable, whereas on tracks like "Qualify And Satisfy" and "What Is Soul?", the tempo is slow-paced, but still flowing with great vibes and great musicianship. Influences from psychedelic rock bands such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience can be clearly discerned here, as well as some influence from funk great James Brown, but on the whole the album sounds fresh, and is a pretty good listen because of it.
Future Project E.T.: Esco Terrestrial
Though much of the credit for this tape is placed into Future's lap, it's really Esco's project. Future himself betrays as much on the album with the way he chooses to go about it. He still sounds drugged up and leaned out, but he sounds much more passive than usual, despite working on some different flows. This is done so that more of the focus could be on Esco's production, and there's good reasoning in that. In every way, Esco has this spacey trap production style down pat, and he shows excellent consistency throughout the whole tape. Some of the guest spots here are kind of shoddy (looking at you, Drake), but Future's steady hand helps counteract those that don't work and complement those that do (looking at you, Rich Homie Quan). On a closing note, Future said that it was Esco who inspired him to go on the run that he's on through late 2014 until now, and looking at Esco's work on this tape, it's clear Fewtch has a great partner helping him maintain.
Future Purple Reign
It seems like Future meant the title to this tape means a couple of things: that he is currently reigning as the king of trap, and that the purple reigns over him. Because while the tape initially sounds very braggadocios and celebratory of his status, it quickly spirals into a more personal and, to be frank, hopeless sound. The ending trio of songs is enough to evidence this, with "Run Up" stating that he will not feel complete without billions of dollars. "Perky's Calling" is unequivocally the most personal track, with the struggles of a painful drug addiction and gang violence being related. The title track then laments, "I just need my girlfriend, I just need my girl", which betrays the loneliness felt throughout the process. It's worth noting that the tape is somewhat inconsistent, as there are plenty of great tracks that are followed by mediocre ones, like how "Bye Bye" follows "Salute". Still, if anything, this tape is another in a line of very good and even excellent releases by Future, which is something you come to expect by now.
Future EVOL
I think what I like most about EVOL is that with it, Future stares right at his naysayers and essentially laughs in their face, completely confident and absolutely unwavering in his formula that has worked wonders for him so far. He has all the reason to. It's yet another concise, consistent, fun, and sometimes dark trap album, with the same seemingly unsustainable quality he's been working with for about a year and a half now. At this point, he's pretty much defying the law of averages, especially given that the overall sound and aesthetic haven't changed since this incredible run began. It's interesting that so many great tracks have come from this man in the last couple of years, and yet he's still able to make bangers like "In Her Mouth", "Seven Rings" and "Fly Shit Only" at the drop of a hat. You could say it's a bit redundant, and you'd be correct, but when the music is of this quality, that doesn't really matter.
Gnaw Their Tongues Deathdrone 3
2007 would go down as one of, if not the most, prolific years Gnaw Their Tongues saw as a project. This, the first release of that timespan, set the tone very well. The first three tracks, most notably "Nihilism; Tied Up And Burning", would end up on a release called Reeking, Pained, And Shuddering later that year as part of one of the most depraved albums the project released. The final three are not on any other release, and do an excellent job with the precedent set by the first three. There's instances of black metal melody on "The Planets Align And Nothing Happens", and even some tranquil piano at the end of "[Untitled]", a rare sound for this project indeed. Thus, from a musical standpoint, Deathdrone 3 really laid the groundwork for future Gnaw Their Tongues projects, not only in 2007, but in early 2008 too, before another stylistic change would take place.
Gnaw Their Tongues ...Spasming And Howling...
Though it's merely a compilation of previous work, this 2007 collection of songs is a pretty decent representation of his output up until that point. Though the best material of the record appear on other albums ("Nihilism; Tied Up And Burning", "Horse Drawn Hearse"), there is some good material that isn't available anywhere else. For instance, opener "Totentanz Kindergrab" is a slow-burning, thunderous noise track with hollow, ghostly vocals and a strange sense of melody in the guitars later in the track. "Sound The Alarm, The Water Is Poisoned" makes use of some weird synth work, and of course the patented samples that pepper many tracks of the project as a whole. What it illustrates best, though, is that even back in 2004, the time of the oldest track, Gnaw Their Tongues was destined to become one of the of the most misanthropic and depraved acts in experimental music.
Gnaw Their Tongues Bubonic Burial Rites
By this point in 2007, it was clear that Gnaw Their Tongues had found its sound, as the visceral Reeking, Pained, And Shuddering showcased so violently. Bubonic Burial Rites is a slight deviation, focusing much more on tense, torturous black ambient soundscapes than hellish noise and black/doom metal. The title-track takes an excellent stab at this, and does a great job of setting up an oppressive atmosphere without Mories' vocals. "Vademecum Mutilis" is a more conventional Gnaw Their Tongues song for this era, and features a great doom riff near the end of the track. "Tarred Coffins" starts out as a bit of a clunker, but it improves over time as the ambience sets it better in the song. It's a pretty sweet (and free) EP from Gnaw Their Tongues, during the time where the projects sound was now becoming very well established.
God Is an Astronaut A Moment of Stillness
Gold Panda Good Luck And Do Your Best
I don't think it's anything I haven't heard before from the likes of the man himself, but his playful style of glitch-hop and downtempo is still riding high on this new record. It goes without saying that "In My Car" is the correct answer to the question "where is this song best played?", and that "Song For A Dead Friend" is strange in its initially indifferent but subtly melancholy sound. Always interested in Japanese culture, the album also shows the fruits of his time spent in Japan over the past year, using many East Asian instruments in his melodies and sample work. This of course juxtaposes well with the catchiness and danceability of the majority of the album. And, as stated before, though it's not really anything new, it's still charming enough to get by on its own merits, especially when songs like "Pink And Green" and "Time Eater" pepper it.
Haste the Day That They May Know You
Haste the Day Coward
This marks the second straight year a band I used to jam in middle school has returned from hiatus. Needless to say, this album was a wave of nostalgia for me, but for a new listener, it won't be. That being said, this album does have some great melodies and riffs, with the two vocalists trading off well done harsh vocals song after song. The drumming is as good as it's ever been, and some great songs are made here, closer "Gnaw" being of particular note. So, if you need a solid slab of modern metalcore, Haste The Day has you covered.
Head Wound City A New Wave of Violence
A band that played fast and died equally as fast, Head Wound City was a strange supergroup made up of members of The Locust, The Blood Brothers, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Now they've returned, with their first full-length album and first release in eleven years. It's a loud, explosive, and occasionally obnoxious affair, with twenty-four minutes of hardcore punk bordering on grind in some spots, complete with a bouncy drum performance and some very distinct (and yet, unfortunately, this is where the "obnoxious" comes in) vocals. The shorter, catchy, and spastic numbers like "I Wanna Be Your Original Sin" are the best ones, but a couple of the longer ones like lead single "Scraper" can pack a punch in a catchy way as well. It's a debut faithful to its roots, but with a crisper, modern production job, which adds some nice punch to the already forceful music on display.
Heavy Drag Sabana Ghost
A bit new to the psychedelic rock scene, Heavy Drag has released a solid collection of stoner-influenced psychedelic rock in Sabana Ghost that has to be some of the most well-rounded and consistent rock of this style released this year. The atmosphere is pleasing and calming, though some tense moments do arise once in a blue moon, and the slow, brooding nature of the music gives the album a very relaxed feel. There are a lot of nuances that show the maturity of the project even in its early age: the wonderful backing vocals that accentuate some catchy choruses, the production that gives the music a light feel, and the use of slowly building, waxing and waning songwriting that ensures that while the album may be slow-paced, it never becomes dull. Truly, understanding and executing all of this is quite impressive considering this is the first release from the band, and in the future one can expect nothing but improvement to that end.
Herbie Hancock Fat Albert Rotunda
For being one of the greatest innovators and forward thinking minds in jazz, I feel that Herbie Hancock's importance is understated. He was instrumental in the development of jazz fusion, and this was one of his earliest forays into said development. What we have here are seven extremely well rounded and solid jazz-funk tracks. It's not as funky as, say, Head Hunters, but the sound is undeniable. Thus, most of these tracks, especially "Oh! Oh! Here He Comes" are very catchy, and some even danceable. From a songwriting standpoint, each of the compositions generally work in the same way, with infectious rhythms and refrains dominating the record. That is, except for "Jessica", which is a much slower and more traditional jazz number, famously used as the main sample for Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones, Part II". Hancock himself puts in a very nice performance on the keyboard, as was the usual, and though he'd easily top this record a number of times in his career, it really helped get him going when it came to fusion jazz.
Hester Prynne The Goswell Divorce
Underground deathcore band Hester Prynne hails from Kansas City and does deathcore right: fun, fast-paced, some decent breakdowns, and a death metal-like energy. The album, though not exactly a story, is kind of a concept album, dealing with a divorce due to infidelity, and the lovers revenge in murder. And it's actually not half bad. True, it would be nothing without the music behind it, and the band takes care of that well. With excellent drumming fronted by guitars with menacing tones, the instrumental work is very good. The vocals are generally easy to understand, and though they can get grating, are pretty well done. The album isn't all breakneck speed and breakdowns, though. Take for instance a few synthy breaks placed in the middle of "That Night, A Forest Grew", and "Bad For Business", and the ambient intro to "Seventeen Is My Favorite Number." The best moment on the record is "Leann Legore", in which a very atmospheric build-up interrupts a monstrous romp. This explodes into a wonderfully crafted guitar solo, which leads into an intricate breakdown. Overall, a solid release from a little-known band.
Hodgy Beats Untitled
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions Until The Hunter
I'm not quite sure what you call this sort of dreamy alt-country/psychedelic folk style, but it sure is candy to the ears. Hope Sandoval has been at this thing for a while now even back with Mazzy Star, and Until The Hunter is another in a series of very well-executed albums in her catalog. The atmosphere and overall sound of the record is extremely cohesive and enveloping, and thus is not only an enjoyable album to hear, but an easy one to get through as well, despite its hour-long length. It's flaws are found in the sameyness of the compositions throughout the album, as they never really deviate from the slow-paced, dreamy alt-country the record does so well. Still, certain tracks like "Let Me Get There", on which Sandoval sings duet with Kurt Vile, are a shade above the others in terms of some quality, though the songs are usually of good quality regardless. Simply put, it's a brooding, slow-moving, and lovely alt-country album, with a caressing atmosphere that is all too eager to blanket the listener.
Horsepower Productions In Fine Style
I Killed The Prom Queen Beloved
So many breakdowns... So much nostalgia... This brings me back!
Iced Earth Horror Show
Iced Earth has always been one of the better known acts in power metal, and for good reason. Their style of thrash-influenced power metal has worked wonders with great, perfectly over-the-top vocals and lyrics from guys like Matt Barlow and Tim Owens. Here it's more of the same loveliness, with a horror monster theme and probably the best vocal performance by Matt Barlow under the band. Tracks like "Damien" and "The Ghost Of Freedom" blend the power metal riffing with lovely acoustic passages, while tracks like the instrumental "Frankenstein" have an almost punk-like exuberance to them in their relentless energy. The record in no way does anything groundbreaking, but it sure is a fast-paced, fun album that is just so perfectly Iced Earth.
Iced Earth Iced Earth
Iced Earth's debut has much more of a thrash metal sound than the power metal sound they are now famous for, but that doesn't make it any less good. The licks by Randall Shawver and Jon Schaffer are really nice, and the album is excellent lyrically despite having two instrumental tracks, which are both good. Gene Adams' vocals are the main detractor, though (They're really bad), and Mike McGill's drumming is nothing to write home about either. Despite that, the album is still able to hold its own pretty well.
Iced Earth Enter the Realm
This is Iced Earth's first release, a demo, which has the best songs on their self-titled sans "When The Night Falls", along with a couple of songs that don't appear on any of their studio albums. It essentially has the same strengths and weaknesses that their self-titled had, but some fat is cut off here. "Enter The Realm" is a nice intro, and serves as a part 1 to "Colors". Then we have "Nightmares", which is a very solid song that has a nice mix of thrash metal riffs and power metal solos, showing the link between the two genres that the band would become famous for combining on albums like Burnt Offerings and Night Of The Stormrider.
If These Trees Could Talk The Bones of a Dying World
In the year 2016, post-rock as a standalone genre is pretty hard to work with if you want to make a great album solely within its confines. That didn't stop Yndi Halda, though, and it doesn't stop If These Trees Could Talk either, albeit to a quality lesser in scale. The Bones Of A Dying World is rife with a chilly, airy atmosphere that the clean sounds of the guitars and drums sound totally at home inside. The compositions themselves are pretty standard, but the songs don't follow the same structure over and over again throughout, which adds spice to the record. Opener "Solstice" sets the tone wonderfully with its catchy rhythms and even catchier melodies striking open the gates for soaring guitars and explosive drums. While not very original, the rest of the record is performed with precision and tact, and acts well as active listening music and as background music to boot. Also, Rubber City all damn day.
Interpol Antics
Intervals In Time
Intervals A Voice Within
Intervals The Shape of Colour
I've never really been a big fan of this djent/progressive metal combination. It has its select albums, but no band has really done it on a consistent level for me. Intervals is the one exception to that statement. Their take on the subgenre is more jazzy and mathy, similar to Animals As Leaders, but they not only do the style better, but the production is better as well, not sounding as sterile and lifeless as some of their contemporaries. The Shape Of Colour is a faithful continuation of this sound, only in a much more concise and crisp way than ever before. Sometimes in can get lost in itself, but the sheer volume of the compositions and the proficiency with which the compositions are played is quite impressive. It can get samey as well, but it's rarely a bore. There are no vocals this time around, harkening back to their early days, but the songs are more complete and the instruments are all clearly audible. In all, another good outing from Intervals, who continue to be the best at what they do.
Isaiah Rashad The Sun's Tirade
The long-awaited full-length debut from Isaiah Rashad of TDE fame, The Sun's Tirade is a really nice, yet ultimately underwhelming record. The production on this record, while quite good, very laid-back and even slightly jazzy or cloudy, becomes a bit one-note when spread amongst seventeen tracks. Rashad himself does well enough, but he seems so underhanded and restricted at points throughout the record that you'd be hard pressed to realize that you were listening to a record of his if his name wasn't on the cover. That's not the case for the majority of the material here, though, as songs like lead single "Free Lunch" do an amazing job and all of the features here perform excellently. All this said, it's unfortunately a bit of a disappointment, if only for the notion that he doesn't seem any closer to realizing his full potential than he did when Cilvia dropped. Let's hope he can make the necessary tweaks to his game, because there's no telling how great of a project he could make if he does.
Ital Tek Hollowed
Being a steady purveyor of the style of dubstep known as purple sound, iTAL tEK has crafted some pretty swell albums in his career, though many believe he's been on a slight decline over the past few years. Hollowed does its best to refute that claim, as mesmerizing, subtle IDM interweaves with glitchy purple sound to create a strange atmosphere that can be totally paranoid one moment and tranquilly calm the next. The hushed synth melodies here evoke the aforementioned emotions very well, and the glitch-heavy beat work also helps further the tenser moments. One a couple tracks, the music unfortunately feels too cold, in a lifeless, alienating way that really interrupts the flow of the rest of the album, which has a definitive personality to it. That said, Hollowed is overall a very nice project, and while it is certainly a sparse listen at first, it's subtleties are plentiful enough to keep the listening coming back.
Jack The Giant Killer Dead Mans Demo
The crap that is most of deathcore is quite deplorable, but every once and a while a good band will spring up like this one did. The vocalist's high scream is absolutely bone-chilling, and the guitarists are quite technical for deathcore. There's even a solo in the last song, and it's fantastic. Complementing the technical guitars, the drummer's fills really spruce up the tracks as well. The lyrics might be a bit immature, and it's really short, but it makes up for it in this regard.
James Blake The Bells Sketch
On his second EP, James Blake begins to evolve and experiment with the base sound he established with Air & Lack Thereof. Right from the get-go, there is a lot more going on, with skippy vocals/samples and glitchy beat work interweaving within a light and airy atmosphere. The closer of the record, "Give A Man A Rod", features an innovative tactic of merging some of the cornerstones of the genre with his more experimental and forward-thinking vision of it. Overall, it's a marked improvement and an impressive evolution for James Blake, one that he would continue to build off of as the years went by.
James Blake CMYK
Here's where James Blake's forward-thinking style of dubstep and garage began to realize its potential. The opener/title-track is a stunning mission statement, being not only the best track on the album and his most well-crafted song up until that point, but one of the cornerstones for this style of dubstep as a whole. The samples weave within each other seamlessly and even the slightest blip is important to the final product. It sounds calculated without sounding manufactured, and that's truly worthy of praise. Though the last three tracks don't quite meet the standard the opener set, they're still just as good, if not better, than most of the tracks he'd created before this EP. It's the first true realization of Blake's vision, and thus, it can't be missed by fans of the man.
James Blake Overgrown
It's one thing to be a singer-songwriter with your own guitar, but a totally different thing to be a singer-songwriter with your own beats. The latter describes James Blake, who composes ethereal electronic music rooted in dubstep only to grace the beat with his voice afterwards. This is exemplified perfectly in the opener/title-track, and only gets stronger with the catchy "Life 'Round Here". RZA of Wu-Tang Clan makes an appearance on "Take A Fall For Me", offering up his rapping abilities to complement an excellent beat. Things get a bit more stripped down in the piano-driven "DLM", but it starts right back up on "Digital Lion". Though the next two tracks are a bit lackluster, the album ends on a great note with "Our Love Comes Back." Point being, this album is a good one from James Blake, one that fans of angelic voices and atmospheric production should hear.
Jason Sharp A Boat Upon Its Blood
Jason Sharp, a little-known Canadian saxophonist, is certainly well versed when it comes to experimental music. His time spent as a focal member of the massive Montreal ensemble known as Land Of Kush gave him an intricate knowledge of musical eccentrics, and that is very much apparent on A Boat Upon Its Blood. The album, a mixture of free jazz, modern classical, and ambient electronic, is decidedly an exercise in contrasts. While a song like "A Blast At Best" can be unstructured and fluid in its looseness, a song like closer "Still I Sit, With You Inside Me, Part 2" can be wholly conventional, with an emphasis set on atmosphere rather than sheer musicianship. Some of these ideas are fleshed out very well, but the album at a couple of intervals falls prey to moments of boredom and relative stagnation. That said, it is very nice to see a musical mind once part of a larger collective branch out on its own and provide some very quality experimental music in the end.
Jedi Mind Tricks The Psycho-Social
Jethro Tull This Was
One of the most famed progressive rock bands out there originally started off as a blues rock band. Yes, that sentence can describe Rush, but it also describes Jethro Tull. Yet, even back then, when their music was mostly made up of classic blues progressions, Jethro Tull had something extra about them. For one, Ian Anderson and his famous flute, which he uses to great effect on several of the record's best tracks. For two, their knowledge of jazz and their decision to include a cover of Roland Kirk's "A Serenade To A Cuckoo", which proves to be one of the best songs on the album. Through these things, you can see the beginnings of something special. It was because Mick Abrahams leaving of the band, as he wanted to continue in blues, that Ian Anderson was allowed creative control over the band, which eventually led to them becoming the progressive rock giants they are known as today.
Jethro Tull Benefit
While structurally the songwriting on Benefit doesn't differ all that much from Stand Up, there is a distinct shift in mood from the two albums. Truly, Benefit takes a much darker and more subdued route than the fun, upbeat one of its predecessor. Thus, while the songs themselves are of similar style and quality to the ones on Stand Up, they have a much different mission statement and overarching connectivity. Some truly excellent tracks like "Nothing To Say" and "To Cry You A Song" with its immeasurably addicting main riff pepper the tracklist, and there's no one song I'd venture to call bad. There's a couple that are kind of dull, but overall the quality of these tracks are kept pretty high. This was also the first album of Tull's to have John Evan, whom Ian Anderson said helped him write songs more freely. That said, he also said that this record didn't feel as variant as Stand Up, but it helped them all compose and perform together as a band, thus cementing its importance in the Tull lineage.
Johnny Cash Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar
Joyce Manor Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
Joyce Manor's brand of emo-tinged pop-punk, usually played in short bursts of songs, is as fun as it is passionate. OATIWSGT is no different, being an effective album that has a nice amount of substance despite its extremely short runtime. Granted, it's not as fun as their latest album (Never Hungover Again), and not as impassioned as their debut, but there are some great tracks here, such as the catchy, synthy "See How Tame I Can Be" and the punk romp of "Video Killed The Radio Star". It's very accessible, and there aren't any necessarily bad songs, although some ("Drainage", "I'm Always Tired") are indeed filler. Check it out if you like pop-punk and you've got fifteen minutes to spare.
Katatonia The Fall of Hearts
Katatonia, looking at their whole body of work, is a band made up of several micro-evolutions that take place in between each album they make. The differences are small, but they're noticeable enough to be heard, and when these changes compound, the band looks entirely different from what they did when they began. In the case of The Fall Of Hearts, it takes the progressive leanings of Dead End Kings even further than before, and continues to make use of crisp melodies, moody atmosphere, and solemn, if a bit monotonous, vocals. Acoustic interludes that have a nice amount of work put into them, strings and pianos permeating the tracks, and a surprisingly excellent drum performance make the record very enjoyable to listen to, though many of the songs do sound similar to the one that came before it. The stretch that begins at "Serac" and ends at "The Night Subscriber" is genuinely incredible, and is up to par with the best of their music from this period. In short, it's another swell Katatonia record with more subtle and endearing variations.
Kayo Dot Stained Glass
It's funny when you listen to something expecting one thing, and then you get a totally different thing that while initially a surprise ends up being pretty damn sweet. That's me hearing this EP, the first work I've ever heard of Kayo Dot's. From what I can gather, this is a pretty stripped down and sparse album from the band, but in no way does that make it bad. It is predominately ambient with beautiful xylophone, saxophone, slight guitar feedback, and even a few quaint drones here and there. It's actually pretty mesmerizing, but also tense, as you're waiting for an explosion of sound that hints at coming but never does. It's quite interesting and enjoyable, and I will be very content to hear more material from this band in the future.
Kendrick Lamar Kendrick Lamar
King Woman Doubt
Kristina Esfandiari, the ex-lead singer of Whirr, has been a part of the modern shoegaze scene for a time now. After distancing herself from the often brash and rude (even to their own fanbase) Whirr, she seems to have found herself in a great position with her new band, King Woman. There are dreamy textures created not only by the guitars, but also by Esfandiari's voice. Evocative melodies in "King Of Swords" and "Burn" make the middle of this EP the strongest part, but in the long run, the closer is the only lackluster track. It's a good EP that effortlessly mixes shoegaze and sludge metal, but I can't escape the feeling that they're holding something back. Hopefully they'll show us what that is if and when they release a full length record.
Kodak Black Lil B.I.G. Pac
It's becoming an increasingly rare story to hear about an artist making his way in the world through little other than word of mouth, but that's exactly how Dieuson Octave, better known as Kodak Black, has made it as far as he's gone. Though sometimes criticized for sounding too much like his idols, namely Gucci Mane and Boosie, the buck stops here. On Lil Big Pac, Kodak sounds like himself, moreso than on any other mixtape of his. To prove this, he even has both Gucci and Boosie feature on a couple of tracks, tracks on which the difference between them is apparent now more than ever. Elsewhere, it's very solid and occasionally excellent trap with a slight conscious edge, and with a great production team backing it all up. Simply put, I hope ol boy doesn't spend too much time in prison; he's too good of a talent and a story to waste.
Krallice Krallice
Here we see the establishment of a sound both typical and atypical of black metal that can only be described as "Krallice". You know what that means, undoubtedly: hyper-technical tremolos, relentless drumming, sparse vocals, and long songs. It's a formula that they've since made adjustments to, but as it stood in 2008, it was as good an idea as any they've had as a band. Alas, some of the songs here, namely closer "Forgiveness In Rot", seemingly meander along, with not much new being implemented into the song for what seems like minutes at a time. On the other hand, tracks like "Molec Codices" and "Timehusk" progress very well and no single section really overstays its welcome. As a whole, the record is good, yet still a bit unrefined. It's good to know that in the future, Krallice would build off of this release and manage to tighten up their songwriting while doing so.
Krallice Dimensional Bleedthrough
The strengths and problems that respectively benefited and plagued Krallice's self-titled debut are very much the same on their sophomore effort, only they are far more pronounced on both sides of the spectrum. On the one hand, the playing is impressive, the vocals phenomenal, and the production excellent for the style. On the other hand, the longwindedness of the record bogs it down into places it shouldn't be and wouldn't be had they carved some of the fat off of it. There is more variety in the songwriting; "Untitled" is pretty much shoegaze, although the hyper-technical tremolos still dominate the rest of the record. Again, though, the songs would benefit very much from a shortening of length, especially closer "Monolith Of Possession", in which passages go on for minutes unmitigated and unchanged. It's a good thing they added more variety on their third record to spice things up during the lengthy album time.
Krallice Hyperion
If you didn't like Krallice before, consider this soundoff over, because your opinion won't be changed by this EP. For those that are initiated into the Krallice sound and find it enjoyable, and those that might be looking to test their strange waters, Hyperion is a very nice offering. Recorded in between 2012's Years Past Matter and 2015's Ygg Huur, Hyperiom establishes a songwriting link between those two albums. Of course, the base sound is still the same as all Krallice records: unworldly technical tremolo riffs, audible bass providing support, near omnipresent, steadying drumming, and mid-ranged vocal wails. However, the use of synths on the closer of the EP and the absolute madness that is the middle of "The Guilt Of Time" really make some great moments. Overall, these workhorses of black metal with literally no conventions come through with another good project, this time in under a half an hour.
Krts Close Eyes To Exit
Hailing from Brooklyn, Kurtis Hairston is a man well-versed in the world of glitch hop and other forms of instrumental hip-hop, as evidenced by his well-received compilation The Dread Of An Unknown Evil and remixes of songs from Flying Lotus' Until The Quiet Comes. On his sophomore full-length, he creates a really swell mix of smooth, confident glitch hop and atmospherically potent ambient dub. The album seems to be split in this way, with the first eight songs exhibiting the former properties, while the final six, especially the beautiful and evocative "Light Of a The Harvest", exemplify the latter qualities. On the whole, it's sometimes a bit distant and restricted, resulting in some tracks being a bit boring. Still, it's clear the man knows what he's doing on this record, and the presence of some really wonderful songs helps back up that statement tenfold.
La Dispute Rooms of the House
Left Spine Down Smartbomb
Much like how Genghis Tron mixed grindcore and electronic music, Left Spine Down operates with hardcore mixed with digitized electronic breakbeats. On their debut EP, they tastefully combine the two genres to make some really fun music. On opener "Last Daze", a catchy chorus and infectious synths get things started very well. The formula continues into the next three songs, with "Hang Up" being an obvious highlight. Solid, but not too overbearing, this is a great digital hardcore release, and should be heard by any fans of the genre.
Lil Bibby Big Buckz
Since it seems like ol boy is gonna keep FC3: The Epilogue on the shelf for a while, it would make sense that he release a little something to tide fans over until that day comes. That said, Big Buckz isn't short on great material and does more than tide us over; it reminds us why we're waiting. "Can't Trust A Soul" is a triumph in this regard, as Bibby sounds imposing and confident over an intimidating and empowering beat. Metro Boomin' and Southside make an appearance on "Never Go Against The Family", and the combo with Bibby sounds just as good as advertised. The release is a bit one-note, but that note is pitch perfect so to speak. Even if his long-awaited debut full-length isn't released this year, this tape is around to preview it. If this is any indication, it should be excellent.
Lil Ugly Mane Playaz Circle
The use of satire and a good sense of irony are powerful weapons in music if wielded by the right hands. Travis Miller knows this all too well, and while under the Lil Ugly Mane name, he's done it as well as I've seen anyone. Playaz Circle, from a sonic standpoint, takes root in Memphis hip-hop as while as styles heard further into the south. Lyrically, he seems to be poking fun at some of the horrorcore topics and general braggadocios violence that groups like Three Six Mafia rolled with, but hints at something a little more serious in nature throughout. The interesting thing is, he clearly loves and respects this style of hip-hop, or else he wouldn't know how to take the piss out of it so effectively. That being said, it's not all fun and games either, as the second verse to the title-track will show you. Playaz Circle isn't nearly as good as what was to come, but in the scheme of things, it's a necessary listen for fans of Ugly.
Lil Ugly Mane Criminal Hypnosis: Unreleased Shit
This compilation from Ugly acts more like a sampler EP than it does a compilation of unreleased material thanks to the many songs from Mista Thug Isolation throughout it, but there are some gems like "Polo Right" and "End Ya Whole Shit" that are well worth hearing, the former being particularly excellent. Other than that, there's some instrumentals that are pretty decent, like the title-track, and the instrumental to "Radiation (Lung Pollution)" is pretty sweet. Still, the notion remains that this is pretty much only a precursor to Mista Thug Isolation, so if you liked that record (as you should), you'll definitely like this as well.
Lindstrom Windings
I haven't heard a nu-disco EP this fun in quite a bit. Leave it to Lindstrom to show em how it's done. It's about twenty-three minutes long, bookending by two massive and infectious space-disco-influenced pieces that are a couple of the best tracks he's made in a while. It's a nice combination of danceable rhythms, catchy synths, and an enjoyable aesthetic that makes Windings an EP to check out, especially if you're a fan of the genre, and this definitely has me interested in what he's going to do next.
Little Simz E.D.G.E.
While it is certainly lesser in quality to the breakout sophomore record she penned in 2015, E.D.G.E. is a good, consistent showcase of Simz' lyrical abilities and storytelling attributes. The production has a grime influence that is lost on her later record, and thus it definitely takes inspiration from the U.K. grime/hip-hop scene that birthed it. Pianos and a slight amount of reverb allow for spacious beats that Simz spits excellently over, especially in "Enter The Void", a tough story about a boy growing up under less-than-ideal conditions. It's a remarkably consistent debut too, punctuated by two longer tracks with nice hooks and several very well done guest verses in the title-track and closer "Time Travels". With this, it was clear Simzy had potential, and she's done her best since to realize it. Dinosaurs WILL be back, bitch.
Loma Prieta Last City
I suppose it's fitting that one of the best active screamo bands around is named for a devastating earthquake, because that's just what Loma Prieta's music evokes, both from a sonic and an emotional standpoint. Last City, while not quite at the quality that would come to grace later releases, is a solid starting point. What you're hearing on this record is the foundation of a springboard, essentially. It's got all the base sounds for the band, with the the passionate, intense screamo blasts mixed with somber, sometimes even downright depressing emo passages. It's not anything all that new, to be sure, but it's done with a sense of professionalism and passion that's impossible to ignore, which you can very clearly hear in every instrument and every yell. Loma Prieta would truly flesh out their identity on later releases, but Last City is worth hearing solely for the fact that it is twenty-three minutes of solid, intense, and emotionally resonant screamo.
Loma Prieta Dark Mountain
With Dark Mountain, Loma Prieta manages to condense themselves into an even more ready-made package than Last City and also makes an improvement on varying their songs a bit more. While it is still not the most original thing on the planet, to be sure, it is still a solid, and at some points even excellent screamo record with a penchant for evocative melodies and frustrated aggression. And really, what more could you want from a fifteen minute screamo record? I can't think of much else.
Lorde The Love Club
lovechild demonstration
lovechild In Heaven, Everything is Fine
Lycus Chasms
Predominantly playing funeral doom, but throwing in sprinkles of black metal, Lycus presents a nicely varied record in the form of Chasms. There are undoubtedly monolithic and heavy moments, which make up the backbone of the album, but there are also tranquil and atmospheric sections that sometimes include strings, as well as sections filled with ghostly black metal shrieking and blast-beats. All of this provides a pretty well-paced record which knows just how long to play a section of music before moving on to the next, with the songs flowing effortlessly in the thick, foggy atmosphere. Needless to say, it definitely sounds like its cover. None of this album is particularly original in any way, but it is professionally performed and excellently produced, with a bevy of affecting moments throughout its forty-three minute runtime. If you're a fan of funeral doom with a rich atmosphere, then I would most certainly recommend this record.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis VS.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis The Heist
It has been two years since "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us" all but consumed the radio, and I'm sure we've all been grateful for that, but credit is definitely due to the pop-rap duo for showing that an independent artist can take over the music world, and in some ways transcend into pop culture. The album itself isn't the greatest thing in the world, but it has its moments. The production by Ryan Lewis is of particular note, because he puts together a solid project from end to end. Macklemore himself puts in a generally good performance, like on "Ten Thousand Hours", "Make The Money", "Jimmy Iovine", and "Starting Over", but can drop some pretty cringeworthy lines here and there. The differential in quality on the record reflects the the two artists abilities. When you combine Macklemore's penchant for storytelling with a rapid-fire beat from Lewis, you get "Jimmy Iovine". When you combine Macklemore's nagging soapbox corniness with snore-inducing production from Lewis, you get "Neon Cathedrals". Still, there is more good to be found than bad on the record, and there is no questioning the effort put into it. That said, this is a good pop-rap record, and a very accessible way for people to get into either genre.
Magrudergrind II
Though not quite as blisteringly fast or raw as their self-titled record, Magrudergrind's third full-length stick packs a mean punch as it delivers some tastefully spirited and venomous grindcore/powerviolence. The first seven tracks are decent enough, but the stretch of eight tracks from "Hara-Kiri" to closer "Pharmacide" really takes things up a notch, wonderfully juxtaposing speedy, impassioned grind blasts with slower, pummeling hardcore. While it might not sound like much in terms of originality, II does sound royally angry and fiery, due in no small part to the encompassing production by Converge's own Kurt Ballou. It's a short record, clocking in at twenty-three minutes, but this means no song overstays it's welcome. Once an idea is finished cooking, it's on to the next. This also allows the album great replayability as well. In short, a six-year drought in the Magrudergrind discography comes to a well-deserved halt with this very concise album.
Malthusian Below the Hengiform
Sounding like an impenetrable cavern with magma oozing from the walls, this Dublin quartet plays some very solid death/doom metal, but with a wonderful black metal aesthetic and atmosphere to it. This EP of theirs may only be three tracks, but they have an average length of about eight minutes, so there's a lot of material to digest here. The whole thing is very consistent, and while there aren't exactly any moments that truly floor the listener, it's still a good listen in and of itself. The production here is the main selling point, as it takes the riffs and turns them into some ugly death/doom trudging. At the very least, this EP makes me interested in what they could do on a full-length, which I'm certainly anticipating.
Manners Apparitions
Massive Attack 100th Window
One of the many virtues of Mezzanine was that while it was certainly a long album, it never felt like one. Each idea lasts exactly as long as it should, and everything is kept wholly engaging throughout. 100th Window is different in that it's still long and sounds expansive, but the ideas die out before the songs do in many instances. That's obviously not to say this album doesn't have some great material. The bookends of the album are fantastic, and the trio of "What Your Soul Sings", "Everywhen", and "Special Cases" is quite good as well. Elsewhere, however, the songs are longwinded and even stray into boring territory. It's a shame that 3D was the only one left out of the founding members of the group at this time, because they've always been best when at full strength. Robert Del Naja performs valiantly here, but it's ultimately unable to hold a candle to records like Mezzanine or Blue Lines. That being said, there are some truly great moments to be found within 100th Window's expansive trip-hop atmosphere, and every fan of Massive Attack should definitely seek those out.
Massive Attack Ritual Spirit
Regardless of how you felt about Massive Attack's output at the end of the 00's and on into 2010, the idea of new music from the world's biggest trip-hop group was still pretty tantalizing. Thankfully, Ritual Spirit delivers on that idea in great ways. Hearing the expansive, subtle downtempo electronic atmosphere with hushed rapping and vibrant tones this EP has in store harkens back to the days of old as well as that of their latest output. That's undoubtedly intentional, as Tricky collaborates with the group on closer "Take It There" to mark his first appearance on a Massive Attack record since Protection, but also allowing sounds to come in from projects like Heligoland as well. Overall, this is a really swell EP, but I can't escape the feeling it's just teasing something bigger and better. Hopefully that is the case.
Maths The Fires Courting The Sea
Solid, no-frills screamo has always been Maths' forte, and on their first record in four years, things are no different. Lasting all of ten minutes, The Fires Courting The Sea is as straightforward of a screamo record as you can get, and though it definitely doesn't do anything new, it's still an enjoyable and easily digestible listen, one that can act as the perfect introduction to the band. It's all packaged right here in a neat little EP, so give it a spin if you like screamo and you've got ten minutes.
Meek Mill Dreamchasers
Meek Mill Dreams Worth More Than Money
Meek Mill is a guy I've always considered to be one of the better lyricists in trap rap. Granted, that isn't saying much, but he's at the very least competent lyrically, while also having a fantastic presence on the microphone, a charged and heavy-handed delivery, and that contagious charisma that every trap rapper needs. He does all of this in spades on his sophomore full-length, and manages to surprise near the end of the album as well. While things get off to a roaring start with "Lord Knows", there isn't a song matching it's quality for a while, even though they are still good fun. Still, once "Check" comes through, it starts a chain of five excellent songs that end the album on a wonderful note. The penultimate track "Stand Up" does a great job of setting up the closer "Cold Hearted", which is one of the best things Meek Mill has done to date. All in all, it's fun, charismatic trap that can be pretty interesting when it wants to be, and that's a welcome surprise.
Meek Mill DC4
On the chorus of typically bombastic opener "On The Regular" Meek Mill raps "Sell a lot of dope, dodge a lot of cases, stickin' to the basics". What that entails for DC4 is heard forthwith, with intense trap production, a charged, emotional delivery, a few select tracks more mellow in tone, and plenty of worthy features. Basically, a Meek Mill tape. It's not really anything we haven't heard already from him, but it's extremely well done despite this, picking up where he left off on Dreams Worth More Than Money and keeping that train going. The only real clunker here is "Way Up" with its obnoxious hook, but one feels that "Outro", while a good track, feels more like several tracks spliced together than a cohesive song. Meanwhile, tracks like "Blessed Up", "Blue Notes", and "Offended" are very good, and "Froze", while sonically not quite as good as the aforementioned tracks, gives more of a insight into Meek's livelihood at this moment in time than any other cut on the tape. It's definitely good, but one feels that Meek has still not reached his full potential as an artist yet, and that needs to happen soon for someone who's been around as long as he has.
MellowHype Yellowhite
Migos Young Rich Niggas 2
2015 was a rough year for the trio of Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff. In mid-April, they were arrested at Georgia State University for possession of marijuana and firearms. Offset got the brunt of this, spending eight months in prison. He was released in early December, and when he reunited with his group, they made this. It's a risky move releasing a sequel to your most famous record, but in Migos' case, it proves to be a virtue. By all means, this is a celebration of what made them famous in the first place: catchy, hype, explosive trap with no shortage of one-liners and no shortage of charisma and attitude. The production is filled with bangers, with icy synths and imposing bass permeating the records' length. At one hour, that length may seem daunting, but the tape is such fun that it doesn't seem as long. In retrospect to last year, they've certainly made sure their 2016 starts out on the right foot.
Mike G ALI
Miles Davis Birth of the Cool
Miles Davis Blue Haze
Solid, wholly enjoyable albeit inconsequential hard bop with heavy trumpet and some cool jazz leanings? Yep, it's 50's Davis alright. Blue Haze is a pretty swell comp, as expected, but there are a few unexpected draws here. This features an early version of Cookin''s best track "When Lights Are Low" that sounds almost as great, even with different musicians. Opener "I'll Remember April" is wonderful as well, and features some awesome piano solos from Horace Silver. Charles Mingus plays piano on the cool "Smooch", interplaying with Davis' trumpet nicely. It's all extremely solid and easily listenable, and though several of these tracks would be re-recorded with better quality, it's interesting to hear them in earlier, more raw forms. If anything, Blue Haze just further proves the notion that you cannot go wrong with any material from Miles Davis recorded in the 50's.
Miles Davis Dig
Dig just goes to show you that even though very little of what Miles Davis recorded in the early 50's is all that incredible, you'd be hard pressed to find a song that wasn't at the very least an enjoyable listen. These tracks, compiled from a 1951 recording session at Apex, are a simple, yet effective bunch, the title-track being the first song that Jackie McLean ever wrote and played on. The first half of the album features some great hard bop that really swings, while the second half slows things down to take a bluesier approach, which I'm sure can be surmised through the track titles alone. Sonny Rollins is also heavily featured on tenor sax, and though compositionally these tracks might just be pretty standard fare, they're all very good, with the title-track even being excellent. If you want a good slab of early 50's Davis, you really can't go wrong with Dig.
Miles Davis Blue Moods
Blue Moods isn't as somber as the name would suggest, but it is a nice look into the early inner workings of what cool jazz would eventually be. The opener, "Nature Boy", is most certainly blue, but it's slow pace eventually gives way to more upbeat tracks like "There's No You". The ensemble here is quite good, with Davis on the trumpet, Charles Mingus (whose record label released this record) on the double bass, Elvin Jones manning the kit, Britt Goodman playing trombone, and the secret weapon of the album, Teddy Charles, on the vibraphone. His playing on the vibraphone gives some swell personality to what is already a pretty good cool jazz album, especially on the two aforementioned songs, which are definitely a couple of early cool jazz classics. In all, with a short twenty-six minute runtime, Blue Moods marks itself as a precursor to the cool jazz movement, and a good album in Miles Davis' early discography.
Ministry The Land of Rape and Honey
Ministry wasn't always making aggressive industrial metal that shot themselves to the forefront of the genre. In their early days they made synthpop, and eventually evolved into EBM a la Skinny Puppy. The Land Of Rape And Honey acts as a midway point of their final transformation from EBM into full-on industrial metal, and it's pretty good. The one-two punch of the catchy "Stigmata" and the punk-sounding "The Missing" is an excellent way to start the album, which progressively gets more electronically driven as it goes forward, beginning with the wonderfully bassy "Golden Dawn". By the time "Abortive" ends, the album has gone back to its EBM roots, but the bridge to future releases like Psalm 69 was definitely created with this record, especially in the first trio of songs.
Ministry Twitch
Standing around the tables spinning fables and signing autographs. Can't your hear them laugh in their secrecies? They plan their strategies and it's called hypocrisy and we believe. Mornings, they tell me all I need to know, or I care to know. Well I can visualize the look in your eyes, the horror as the plane goes down and the siren sounds. We can't believe. We can't believe. In the east where the bear is dancing, in the west where the eagle flies. In the middle we stand our ground, the forces pull us down, down, down. We're paralyzed and victimized, we're terrified and petrified, demoralized and mortified. Of genocide and suicide and patricide and cyanide, we're pacified by every side, force-fed pride, and then we die for them. We die for them.
Moby Everything is Wrong
If it's one thing I have to give Richard Hall, A.K.A. Moby, credit for, it's his eclecticism regarding electronic music. This type of style eventually helped dance music and electronic music reach the mainstream, but at the time Everything Is Wrong was made, it wasn't quite out of the underground yet. Still, the blueprints are here, with several genres including house, techno, jungle, downtempo, and even ambient are touched on throughout these tracks. Moby acts as a sort of jack-of-all-trades on this record; he's not particularly excellent at any one of the genres explored, but he is at the very least good with each of them. In this sense, Everything Is Wrong is like a smorgasbord of electronic music, showing the genres as they generally are, but encouraging further exploration into them by not being exceptionally original or experimental.
Moby Move
Released in between the Early Underground compilation and his second full-length, Ambient, Moby put out this high-quality EP, which was at the time his best work. The smorgasbord of electronic styles that the man has at his disposal are on a detailed display here. For instance, you have the driving techno of "Move (Disco Threat")", the jungle of "Morning Dove", and the totally unexpected, yet wholly fantastic electronic ambient of "The Rain Falls And The Sky Shudders". At thirty-one minutes, Move is a fun, energetic, variant, and altogether very well made EP by one of the most eclectic men in the business.
Mock Orange Put the kid on the Sleepy Horse
Mock Orange was a band that was always on the softer side of emo, which eventually translated into the group going full-on indie rock a la Rogue Wave. But, as records like Mind Is Not Brain show, this was not a bad thing at all. Put The Kid On The Sleepy Horse is a reenforcement of that notion, as this is a record full of sweet and sometimes pretty catchy melodies, caressing vocals, and an unwavering quality. While it's true that this is pretty much indie rock played straight, therein lies the purpose of it all. It's simply no-frills, well-crafted indie that revels in its simplistic charm and little else. Of course, this does lead to a few of the songs bleeding into each other, but songs like "Be Gone" with its bouncy rhythm and "Too Good Your Dreams Don't Come True" with its bevy of catchy guitar lines make the record pretty enjoyable to listen to nonetheless. So, if you need some indie that just gets right to it, Mock Orange have you covered.
Moonsorrow Jumalten Aika
One of the most consistent pagan metal bands in the world, the Finnish quintet known as Moonsorrow continue to release some great material, with a vigor that truly embodies how soulful and emotional their music is. Ville Sorvali mans lead vocals, and once again turns in an impassioned and forceful performance. The songwriting is pretty good, but it initially starts out merely decent. Some long-winded passages within the first three tracks unfortunately slow the pace down and interrupt the flow of the music. That said, the sections around these passages are excellent enough, but could've been better without the interruption. The last two tracks, however, are a clinic in how to write a longer pagan metal song and keep the listeners interest throughout. They contain just the right amount of everything: black metal-influenced riffs and drumming, passages with soaring choral vocals with epic riffs behind them, tense acoustic sections, and a little bit of cheese. It's not their best effort, but it doesn't change that Jumalten Aika has some fantastic moments, and is certainly worthy of addition to the Moonsorrow discography.
Mount Eerie SINGERS
Marketed as a release from a band of the same name, Singers is another project from Phil Elverum, who is a unmitigated force in the world of lo-fi indie, but he does get a little help from some friends on this record. Backed by what seems to be a group of people close to Phil, he sweetly sings over his pitch-perfect acoustic guitar, putting out two very moving and evocative pieces in "Let's Get Out Of The Romance" and "Human". The album itself is compositionally effective, but pretty bare bones. However, it does hold a playful and endearing charm to it, truly sounding like Elverum played some songs for his friends and they sang along to every word, whether in key or not. It's this kind of appreciation for good music and good company that makes Singers an album worth checking out, especially if you like indie folk.
Mount Eerie Seven New Songs Of "Mount Eerie"
It was this formerly unreleased EP, along with another called Two New Songs..., that marked some of Phil Elverum's first recordings under his Mount Eerie moniker. What we have here is a nice precursor to what No Flashlight would be, with woodsy, lo-fi acoustic guitar playing, intimate vocals, lyrics, and production, and some lively experimentation. The use of drones on "2 Blonde Braids" is well-placed and beautiful, and the piano that trades off with the guitar on "My Burning" is a lovely moment as well. However, I find it is tracks like "With My Hands Out" and "Cold Mountain Song #286" that are the best here, as you feel that he's right there with you, singing and playing to you. He was always excellent at being able to make an intimate and personal atmosphere, and this EP proves it.
Muddy Waters Folk Singer
Municipal Waste Hazardous Mutation
My Apologies Shantih
In the sea of modern hardcore bands, not many are actively trying to expand past the rules and parameters of the genre. That's not really a problem though, as I'd wager the genre to be more about emotionally poignant and affecting moments than total, unspoiled originality. Because the fact of the matter is, if it can connect with you on an emotional level, it more than makes up for the lack of total originality. That's why bands like My Apologies and records like Shantih exist. They aren't here to break down barriers, but to pour out their emotion. When beautiful moments like the end of "Sora" happen, the focus is on them, and you, feeling something because of it. The record is relentless hardcore, but with a focus on melody that allows more dynamics to be explored and emotions to be expressed. The vocalist can occasionally be grating, but he carries a lot of weight with him too, as heard on "The Summit". In all, it's not original in the slightest, but darn if it doesn't have some affecting moments.
My Bloody Valentine Glider
Everyone has at least heard of MBV, likely because of their 1991 magnum opus Loveless, which is often hailed as one of the greatest shoegaze albums of all time. However, MBV had been a relatively successful band before they released their masterpiece, having released a full length and a slew of EP's beforehand. One of them is Glider, and it showcases some excellent songwriting and developing ideas. The opener, "Soon", would later be the closer of Loveless, so most know that song already. "Glider" however is a weird piece that is made of screeching guitars. The last two songs on the record, "Don't Ask Why" and "Off Your Face", are two great songs that employ an early version of the style MBV would later perfect: taking dream pop songs and draping them in weird noises, distortion, and droning. All in all, a very good transitional EP that marked an important crossroad in the bands style.
My Bloody Valentine Sunny Sundae Smile
Sunny Sundae Smile is one of the first EP's from My Bloody Valentine where you can clearly hear the beginnings of what they would eventually perfect later in their career. It's lo-fi, with pop sensibilities, but the difference here is that instead of shoegaze and dream pop, it's a combination of post-punk and twee pop. The melodies here are sweet and the aesthetic is cute, but it's obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek considering there are lyrics like "There's desperation in my voice. Have I hurt you? I have no choice." All in all, the EP works pretty well, and is a pretty important one in My Bloody Valentine's discography.
Napalm Death From Enslavement to Obliteration
Fresh off of the success of Scum, widely considered to be one of the first grindcore records, Napalm Death had some shifting done in their lineup and settled on frenetic vocalist Lee Dorrain, soon-to-be legendary guitarist Bill Steer, returning drummer Mick Harris, and their bassist from then to this day, Shane Embury. Together, they made From Enslavement To Obliteration one of the most enjoyable crust-leaning grindcore albums of the time, with production that just rockets away with a bassy, thunderous sound. The one drawback here is the somewhat homogenous songwriting, which only really has two modes: blasting away at a minute a pop, or trudging their way through two and a half minutes. Either way, the riffs and drumming, along with the excellent bass presence, are all at least competent, and more often than not, very good. It doesn't quite reach the heights or possess the personality of Scum, but make no mistake: From Enslavement To Obliteration is still a needed listen for anyone professing to be a fan of Napalm Death or grindcore in general.
Napalm Death Harmony Corruption
The total change in sound from From Enslavement To Obliteration to Harmony Corruption is such that if it were not for the name on the cover, you'd have a hard time telling this was Napalm Death. That can be chalked up to a pretty big turnover, as they lost both Lee Dorrian and Bill Steer, but replaced them with Barney Greenway and Mitch Harris, both of whom are still in the band today. Jesse Pintado was also added on guitar, and the band retained drummer Mick Harris and bassist Shane Embury, the latter of which is still with the band. The big change in sound is that here, rather than the proto-grind they'd been playing before, it's death metal played almost perfectly straight. Too straight, almost, as while every song here is pretty good, no single track really stands out. The production is fantastic, as the whole album has a full, slightly muddy sound that is pleasing to hear. The album has a nice sense of unity as well, and though very little of the grind they used to play was retained here, it's still a very good slab of early 90's death metal, showing that Napalm Death can kick your ass in whatever genre they please.
Nechochwen Heart of Akamon
Nechochwen have always been extremely intrigued by Native American culture and lore, and this reflects in their sound and lyrics. On Heart Of Akamon, things get off to a blistering and gripping start with "The Serpent Tradition", which is rife with melodic black metal riffs and well-interspersed folk passages. Unfortunately, the album doesn't quite get back to the prowess of the opener, but there are other parts worth hearing. "October 6, 1813" is a great dark folk song, and after "Traversing The Shades Of Death", no lyrics are sung or spoken until two minutes are left in closer "Kiselamakong", bringing a nice change of pace to the album as a result. During this period, the songs do become a bit more formulaic, and thus predictable, but it is a nice listen in general. As a whole, Heart Of Akamon is a good pagan black metal/dark folk record, with an interesting and tasteful Native American theme coming through in the lyrics.
Neurosis Fires Within Fires
It's a bit underwhelming for a Neurosis record, but Fires Within Fires is still a very solid outing and one of their most accessible to date, even if it does play it safe. The songwriting quality is pretty high here, with each song getting better than the one before, culminating in the fantastic "Reach", a ten-minute exercise in everything the band does well. Methodical drumming, a tense atmosphere, an explosion of post-metal riffage in the ending minutes; everything's there. The vocal tandem of Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till is still going strong, and though the tempo here is more mid-paced, the subtleties are still there to pick out despite being gone quicker than normal. As with most of the material from Neurosis, Fires Within Fires gets better after every listen. Though initially it may just seem like the band is going through the motions, the album reveals its nuances with repeated listens, like how on "Fire Is The End Lesson" when all of the instruments interweave so nicely and carefully with each other that it's hard not to go along with the groove. Solid stuff.
New Order Power, Corruption and Lies
New Order Brotherhood
Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, and Stephen Morris, the guys behind New Order and also Joy Division, are some of the most influential people in the entire post-punk genre. That said, they are also highly influential when it comes to dance music, and with albums like Brotherhood, it's not hard to see why. Musically, it's a bit different from releases like Low-Life, with a first half that harkens back to the Joy Division days with electric and acoustic guitars, bass, and an emphasis on atmosphere. The second half of the album brings it back to the 80's dance scene, with such classics as "Bizarre Love Triangle" stealing the show. Altogether, it's a really solid album with some flashes of true brilliance shining through on tracks like "Paradise" and "As It Is When It Was", so it's quite impressive that despite the creative clashes the band members were having, they were able to release a record as cohesive as this.
Nicolas Jaar Nymphs II
A minimalistic electronic ambient soundscape with some sprinkles of downtempo and IDM is what this latest two-track EP from New York's own Nicolas Jaar is packed with. Though it may only be fifteen minutes, it's a quite interesting and calming fifteen minutes. "The Three Sides Of Audrey And Why She's All Alone Now" sets the stage with a beautifully tranquil atmosphere which builds bit by bit into something slightly bigger. It's subdued, but a keen ear will hear the subtle influences from the house genre as well as IDM. "No One Is Looking At U" takes the atmosphere from the opener and runs with it, but takes an even more subdued route than its predecessor. It's a nice EP, it's very easy to listen to, and any fan of ambient electronic should enjoy this.
Night Birds Maimed For The Masses
Eight minutes of catchy, B-movie horror-inspired, energetic surf punk? It must be a Night Birds EP. Though the title-track here is the best one and ends up on their best record, The Other Side Of Suburbia, the other three tracks are all extremely solid, including the infectious, mostly instrumental "Boat Trash". Really, if you're fiending for some great hardcore surf punk, Night Birds have a quick fix in Maimed For The Masses.
Nocturnal Habits New Skin for Old Children
I don't quite know what it is, but there is something very charming about New Skin For Old Children. On a first listen, the debut full-length from Nocturnal Habits, fronted by Justin Trosper of Unwound fame (Sara Lund returns as well) is an underwhelming release. Yet, there are tiny things about each song that reveal themselves on repeated listens, whether they be an addicting bassline, a vocal melody that sticks in your head, or an endearing lyric. The first half of the album is quite excellent, effortlessly mixing indie rock, post-punk, and post-rock together with small little experimental quirks worked in throughout. There's a couple of duds in the second half, one of which is unfortunately the closer, but songs like "Staircase" and "Ice Island" are too good to pass up. Though it's a little inconsistent, it's a grower, and as such, this rating is certainly not set in stone for the near future.
Norma Jean The Anti Mother
Taking a departure from the metalcore-played-straight route they took on Redeemer, Norma Jean opts for a melodic hardcore approach with small hints of post-metal interweaved throughout the tracklist. This might not be readily apparent on opener "Vipers, Snakes, And Actors", but once "Self Employed Chemist" comes bursting through the speakers in a bevy of melodic chords and riffs overlapped by half-shouting-half-singing vocals, the change is very noticeable. This is probably Norma Jean at their simplest, and you know? They put together their best effort at the time (sans O God, of course), so it obviously did them some good. It's nothing that reinvents the wheel, but this is some solid and occasionally fantastic melodic hardcore from a band that would only get better as the years went on, building off of this release in particular.
Norma Jean Meridional
After moving from a straightforward metalcore/hardcore group into a more melodic hardcore styling with 2008's The Anti-Mother, Norma Jean decided to go forward with the melodic hardcore, but not before returning to their roots to help shore up some of the shortcomings of the previous LP. The result was Meridional, a mix of melodic hardcore and metalcore that hits hard, but provides rest and resuscitation as well. The first five tracks of the record were as good as anything the band had ever done and could've went go toe-to-toe with some of the better tracks off of O God. Needless to say, this record was their best since O God, and that notion was only reinforced by songs like the evocative "Falling a From The Sky: Day Seven". They still wore their influences on their sleeves, though, so the record isn't wholly original. In general, though, this is a great listen, and the combination of metalcore/melodic hardcore with some pop sensibilities is always enjoyable.
Norma Jean Polar Similar
It's taken a few albums and around six years, but Norma Jean has finally shed their previous reputation of Botch worshippers and solidified their new reputation as one of the most solidly consistent and enjoyable metalcore acts today. Polar Similar takes the dense production of Wrongdoers and runs with it, delivering punches left and right with the occasional instrumental interlude. A couple of the songs are quite long, and though they've had some trouble with those in the past, these ones are without a doubt the best they've done. Nothing from a songwriting standpoint is all that different for them, but when the songs are as well done as "Death Is A Living Partner" and "A Thousand Years A Minute", it's easier to forgive. The faster-paced songs here are all excellent, and though some of the mid-paced tracks can drag a little, they're also generally good. It's nothing all that new from the band, but they've certainly become comfortable in their sound without becoming too much so, as their seventh full-length is a welcome addition to their discography.
Norma Jean / mewithoutYou Split
Released after mewithoutYou's stunning full-length debut A To B Life, this split seems more like a buoy for fellow Christian band Norma Jean than it does a joint release proper. That doesn't make it any less good though, as these eleven minutes take two of the best tracks from the massively dissonant metalcore of Bless The Martyr, Kiss The Child, and juxtapose them with two excellent tracks from the personal and subtle post-hardcore of A To B Life. Christ may not be a fashion, but if he's what inspired these two bands to have the careers they've had from this point on, he seems like an alright guy.
NxWorries Yes Lawd!
One of the more consistently great beatsmiths in the underground, Knxwledge is a dependable guy that has a way with boom-bap drum work and soulful samples that tastefully bring back vibes of collectives like Soulquarians. Who better to complement him, then, than one of neo-soul's brightest up-and-comers in Anderson .Paak? Together, as NxWorries, they create a soulful, sexy journey through some of the most laid-back R&B you'll hear all year. Knxwledge does excellently, as expected (the production on "Wngs" is some of the best of the year), and .Paak does quite well too. The knock on it is that the tone really does not change at all, and while that isn't too much of a problem, it's compounded when there isn't really a standout track (besides the aforementioned "Wngs"), leading to a lot of it bleeding into each other. That said, it's still easy to listen to, pretty enjoyable to hear, and no track is below average by any means. Truly, Yes Lawd! is the first step in what may potentially be a phenomenal collaboration.
OFWGKTA Radical
Opeth Orchid
Paramore All We Know Is Falling
Paramore Paramore
Parov Stelar Kisskiss
Parov Stelar is a prolific electronic music producer who is known for being one of pioneers of electro swing. What we have here is a smooth little EP that has enough jazz to be soothing, but enough backing bass and beats to get you moving as well. The best instance of all this is "Super Eight", where an addicting bassline sets the tone for a piano to play lines and solos all over. It's definitely easy listening, and while it's really nothing all that spectacular, it is incredibly solid and provides a really nice feel to it. Check it out for a quick, fun electronic jazz EP.
Passion Pit Chunk of Change
For reasons unknown to me, Passion Pit forgot how to toe the line between whimsical and just plain irritating. Still, when they were created, they did know how, and they do it very well on Chunk Of Change. Things are cute, but never too cute. Things are sappy, but never too sappy. The result is an infectiously fun electropop/indietronica record that is brimming with charm. Some moments on this EP might slightly overstep the boundary, but for the most part everything is done in good taste. Take for instance that really catchy synth chorus in "Sleepyhead". That easily could have been overdone, but it was done tastefully, and thus retains its charm. In all, it's a good, fun electropop EP with some wonderful synth melodies.
Pg. 99 Document #7
The good people of pageninetynine and the screamo bands of the surrounding area are some of the best musicians and songwriters in the genre, and it's EP's like 2001's Document #7 that prove this. And while it is officially an EP, Document #7 feels and flows like a full-length record. The short emoviolence bursts of songs like "Del Mundo Lleno De Rocio" and "Love Goes Tisk...Tisk...Tisk..." are good enough, but it's the bookends of the record with their sludgy goodness that really make the album. The closer has some of the best vocals Chris Taylor ever performed, and the mixture of sludgy hardcore and screamo explosions make for a truly fantastic experience. Though the middle song of the record is a bit of a dud, the record is mostly an excellent representation of the great things that pageninetynine could do.
Pg. 99 Document #9: A Split Personality
I swear, if Chris Taylor isn't crying during "The Lonesome Waltz Of Leonard Cohen", he's pretty convincing. These two legendary bands have a lot in common, seeing as how they share members and thus minds. You can hear that pretty clearly on this split, with both sides of this record containing downtrodden, tear-soaked moments and impassioned, lively moments all the same. I'd give the nod to pageninetynine, but only barely. They sound better, but City Of Caterpillar's songwriting is a bit better as well. Of course, they'd both achieve better things, but it's nice to have a reference point to hear how close-knit these two bands were both sonically and in the scene.
Pill (NY) Convenience
Being politically vocal, at least from a musical standpoint, is pretty hit-or-miss for me. I like when the politics are subtle, when care is given to each statement so as to get the point across without stuffing down the listener's throat. That's one thing that Brooklyn art-punkers Pill are able to do with relative ease on their jazzy, frenetic foray into post-punk in Convenience. Vocalist/Bassist Veronica Torres, who also lays down some really slick bass lines here, is the shining example for this notion, spouting politically-charged, yet tactful lyrics in a whirling, strangely sexy voice. She trades off with saxophonist Ben Jaffe, who adds a whole world of personality to the music with his extravagant lines. Compositionally, it sometimes feels like standard post-punk, but it's the little intricacies like the ones aforementioned that give the album a nice, forward-thinking feel to it. It's quite nice, and they're only going to get better, so keep an eye out.
Pixies Surfer Rosa
Primordial A Journey's End
Primordial Spirit the Earth Aflame
Of the four records Primordial recorded while playing a more black metal-centric style than the folk-infused metal they'd play later, Spirit The Earth Aflame is probably the closest to their successive style. This is because there is more melody, not only in the instruments, but in the vocals by Nemtheanga as well. The driving, windy tremolo riffs that dominate their early records are again the focal point of the music, but adding some solos here and there, along with the always excellent acoustic passages the band employs, makes for a more varying experience. Nemtheanga is again a monster vocally, really driving home the feel of the music through his passionate shrieks and shouts. It is interesting that while they progressed towards their later style with this record, they'd strip down to a full black metal onslaught with Storm Before Calm. Still, if you want a great record that balances their two distinctive styles better than any other, Spirit The Earth Aflame is the Primordial record for you.
Primordial Imrama
Primordial has a reputation for being one of the most consistent (and occasionally brilliant) Celtic black metal bands in existence. Their debut reflects this very well, even if it might be a bit samey at times. This is more of a black metal release than it is Celtic metal, but there are moments here that show hints of what the band would become. "Beneath A Bronze Sky" is an acoustic piece that also features flutes and clean vocals, and it transitions into an absolute beast of a closer in "Awaiting The Dawn". Other highlights include the passionate "Here I Am King" and the mesmerizing "The Darkest Flame". The vocals on the album are pretty haunting, as Nemtheanga turns in a shrieking, ghoulish performance. With a story regarding soul-searching through Irish mythology, the foundation was set for Primordial to turn in more great albums in the future.
Primordial Redemption at the Puritan's Hand
Choosing to go in a darker direction than its predecessor did, but losing some of the catchiness that made that record so good along the way, Redemption At The Puritan's Hand is another good outing from the Irish folk metal legends Primordial. The base sound you know and love is still very much there, but there are small tweaks here and there that betray a darker vibe to the album. For instance, there is a noticeable doom metal influence on "The Black Hundred", and the bass-heavy intro of "The Puritan's Hand" is sure to catch the ear. Add that to excellent opener "No Grave Deep Enough", a song that plays off of the bands' established strengths wonderfully, and "Bloodied Yet Unbowed", which just might be the most epic song they've ever created, and you've got yourself a very good record. It does lose some steam in the second half, but there are more than enough great moments here to at least warrant it a listen.
Primus Sailing the Seas of Cheese
Primus thrives on funky basslines and a strong sense of irony, and the marriage of these two things, what with Les Claypool's impeccable bass chops and dark, angered lyrics masked by a played-up redneck voice, is what made Frizzle Fry an excellent album. It's also what makes their second record, Sailing The Seas Of Cheese, a good one, despite a few flaws its predecessor didn't have. This works on tracks like "Jerry Was A Racecar Driver", "Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers", and "Fish On", all using strange bass and sometimes even eerie guitar, as well as Tim Alexander's fluid drumming, to create some excellent tracks. Sometimes, though, the tracks either go nowhere ("Sathington Waltz") or are frankly kind of obnoxious ("Tommy The Cat"). It also ends with a relative dud, with a coda of "Here Come The Bastards", not a particularly great song, finishing the record off. All this said, the good most certainly outweighs the bad on this record, and it is still a fun album altogether.
Primus Pork Soda
On previous efforts, it was always a virtue that Primus veiled their dark, unhappy lyrics with a quirky and catchy sound. There were some slightly unnerving snippets of songs here and there, but nothing quite like what you hear on Pork Soda. Here, the compositions are much darker and more dissonant than ever before, and this is evident even early on with imposing classic "My Name Is Mud". You still have your base Primus sound; funky basslines and strange vocal inflections from Les Claypool, polyrhythmic and fluid drumming from Herb Alexander, and angular riffs from Larry LaLonde, but it's all darkened up compositionally. The lyrics became even darker as well, dealing with death as the main theme while delving into murder and suicide. It's strange, then, that this was their commercial peak in terms of album sales. But, I suppose that's Primus for you: irony always finds its way around them, intentionally or not.
Protest the Hero A Calculated Use of Sound
Protest the Hero Volition
Protest The Hero have always been known for their ability to play their respective instruments at a ridiculous level, even at the young age of sixteen. Whereas when they started, it seemed they always had some sort of political message behind their music, they gradually drifted away from that, in the process losing some of the magic that had captivated listeners on Kezia. 2011's Scurrilous was an admittedly fun record, but it left a lot to be desired. Now, with 2013's Volition, they are still sweeping-picking and shredding away, but this time more urgency and maturity. Walker's vocals have improved, evident even from the first lines of "Clarity". While a bit on the inconsistent side, Volition has some of the best songs Protest The Hero have ever made ("Mist", "Plato's Tripartite", "Skies"), proving that even after eleven years, Protest The Hero still have it, and are still relatively young to boot.
R. Andrew Lee Adrian Knight: Obsessions
Adrian Knight: Obsessions is easy-listening for those who like to be challenged. What I mean by that is, even though it's not easy, it's a whole lot easier listening to minimalistic piano for forty-seven minutes than something like Train Cemetery for forty-seven minutes. It can be pleasant background music or it can be frustrating and tense music even with the assuring recurring melody that opens the piece popping up every so often. Either way, it's a great performance by R. Andrew Lee and a solid modern classical album with an interesting prose and The composer, Adrian Knight, says it best: "All my life I?ve struggled with bad habits, routines, patterns, obsessions. Whether a form of mild self-flagellation or a mindless desire for normalcy and structure, they rule my life. If the piece is about anything, it is about me, and it is about itself. It's stuck in its own stupid routine. The fact that it ends is its only victory".
Radioactivity Silent Kill
On Radioactivity's sophomore record, the solid punk jams they employed on their debut translate again, with the quality of the record staying the course throughout the twenty-six minute length. Catchy and never overbearing, the vocals and instrumentals are quite fun, and although the album generally sounds the same throughout, it's still an enjoyable listen. The album does suffer from tracks bleeding into each other, and as such, the album does lose some steam by the end. That being said, there are isolated moments of brilliance hidden throughout, like the guitar solo on "Pretty Girl" and the underlying bass on "With You". Everything considered, it's still solid punk rock, and you're a fan of that, this should obviously be right up your alley.
Radiohead Hail to the Thief
Up until this point, most of what Radiohead had made was very well received, to put it lightly. Hail To The Thief is an album that people are so what divided on. Some call it a lukewarm offering from the band, and others call it a continuation of their greatness. For my part, I find Hail To The Thief to be a bit of a hodgepodge. The first three songs are great, but "Backdrifts" unfortunately kills the momentum. "We Suck Young Blood" is a classic Radiohead song, full of unnerving piano and wonderful bass, but is followed by a series of relatively unspectacular songs. They're nice, good even, but seem pretty nondescript aside from "A Punch Up At A Wedding". The album does close magnificently, though, as "A Wolf At The Door" recaptures the emotional and passionate side of the band that is somewhat lost on the previous group of tracks. That all said, it's a good record, with classic Radiohead moments, but it just doesn't stack up to their best releases.
Ray LaMontagne Ouroboros
Lovely, contemporary folk rock with a baritone voice is what New Hampshire's own Ray LaMontagne specializes in, and he delivers more of the same goods with his latest full-length, Ouroboros. This time around, though, things stray a bit further from the tried-and-true, while still not leaving roots abandoned. The sound here is more of a hazy, blues-influenced folk ballad, and with LaMontagne always having a wonderful voice, the atmosphere is quite immersive and peaceful. Highlights include the one-two punch of opener "Homecoming" and "Hey, No Pressure", two well crafted and very catchy numbers that set the tone for the rest of the record extremely well. Drony distortion and pianos add a wonderfully somber dynamic to reflective pieces like "In My Own Way" and closer "Wouldn't It Make A Lively Photograph?" respectively, and though it may get a bit samey, it's overall vibe of peaceful melancholy and introspective observation make it a really nice listen.
Red Hot Chili Peppers The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
I'll level with you: I've never been a huge fan of the funk Peppers. I find their earliest works crude and just plain immature from a songwriting and lyrical standpoint. Yet, with The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, things change for the better, with the immaturity toned down, the consistency ramped up, and the youthful energy still very much present. This is evident from opener "Fight Like A Brave", one of the catchiest and rebellious numbers from the band. This continues until "Behind The Sun", which is still funky, but definitely indicative of the immeasurably catchy alternative rock they'd become famous for putting out. Of course, there's still moments of cringeworthiness, as the ill-advised "Special Secret Song Inside" will show you. That said, it ends on some more bassy funk numbers, with Flea really shining on the majority of the record. This was the last of the band's pure funk stage of their career, and it's evident that they saved the best for last, because The Uplift Mofo Party Plan is head and shoulders above both of its predecessors.
Rogue Wave Permalight
Roly Porter Third Law
In his most recent endeavor into space-themed dark ambient and industrial, Roly Porter puts together a solid album that flows well and has some surprising, explosive, and affecting moments. The best representation of this can be found on "In Flight" during which a loud, cacophonous industrial sound wall becomes a chorus for the song, interwoven between some periods of relative tranquility and relaxation. Some songs on the record gradually build up and crescendo, but tracks like the aforementioned "In Flight" take different routes in the structure and pacing of the songs, offering a nice variety to the album as a result. It's also good in the sense that it can be both engaging music to focus on and a good background album for when focus is needed on other things. In a nutshell, Porter has put out a solid, enjoyable dark ambient record that is just as engaging as it is relaxing.
Rotten Sound Abuse to Suffer
Five years removed from their last full-length, the Finnish grind outfit Rotten Sound are back with another solid outing. The strengths are similar to records from years past: Keijo Niinimaa's vocals are typically excellent, and the relentless nature of the music gives it a hectic and speedy vibe, interspersed with moments of sludgy groove. The production is pretty thick and heavy, with riffs being swallowed by the breakneck blast-beats and cymbal crashes. The drawback here is that, while the moments of lightning fast drumming and riffing are plentiful and impressive in the moment, there's not much at all in the way of memorability in those instances. The parts that stick are usually the much slower, groovier parts of the record, like "Yellow Pain" or crushing closer "Extortion And Blackmail". The one song on which everything is memorable is "Time For The Fix", which is easily the best song on the record as a result. Though it does suffer from lack of memorability, Abuse To Suffer proves that these Finnish grinders still have the intensity and drive to make a good record.
Rush Caress of Steel
Rush Fly by Night
Rush Rush
Rush, at least as we know them today, are one of the most legendary bands to ever play progressive rock. However, their roots are much more simple. Taking a heavy amount of influence from bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream, their debut reflects this sound in a big way. That's not to say that Rush shamelessly ripped their influences off, though. Great songs like "Finding My Way", "Here Again", and "Working Man" prove that even before they became prog legends, Rush could write songs. Though Neil Peart isn't on this album, his predecessor, John Rutsey, is great in his own right on this record. Geddy Lee's vocals are great, his bass audible and is very fun to hear. Still, it is Alex Lifeson that truly makes the record, with his excellent solos and hard rock riffs dominating the album. A great start, indeed.
Sadistik The Balancing Act
No one really knew who Cody Foster, A.K.A Sadistik, was about seven years ago. Now, he's gained a lot of steam very quickly in the underground, in part due to an extremely dedicated fanbase. His beginnings are seen here on The Balancing Act, in which he describes to us how he must balance out his issues and pain with good things in life. As far as the sound of this record goes, there isn't much straying from saddening piano and strings that permeate the beats, and Sadistik himself is very emotionally distraught. Occasionally, this can become melodramatic, but he ends the album on a hopeful note with "The Exception To Everything." Sadistik is very comparable to the sadder raps from Slug (one-half of Atmosphere), both in sound and sometimes in flow. Though the album sounds a bit samey, songs like "Ashes To Ashley", "Absolution", "Murder Of Crows", and "November" are some truly fantastic tracks that shouldn't be missed. Though Sadistik perfected this sound on Flowers For My Father, his debut is certainly good enough to warrant a listen from fans of personal, intimate hip-hop.
Sadistik x Kno Phantom Limbs
Sadistik has made a name for himself in the underground in the past seven years through his intense, intimate lyrics and his penchant for rhyme schemes. Kno, of course, is one of the most well respected producers in the underground, doing the production for famed group Cunninlynguists. As with most collaborations, it's not as good in practice rather than theory, but it's still some solid, entertaining stuff. The contributions from Kno are good as usual, full of beautiful piano and repeated vocalizations. Sadistik is typically chock full of obscure references and personal relations. It's not as personal as, say, Flowers For My Father, but that's the direction he's been going since 2014's Ultraviolet. The guest spots are all on "Unaware", and are all pretty good, but the song sits out like a sore thumb in the albums context despite being a great standalone piece. In all, it's a good collab, especially if you're a fan of these two in general.
Saves the Day Through Being Cool
It's something of a common story: a group of teenagers, disillusioned by what is considered a "normal" teenage life, try new things and try to find meaning in what they do. Ironically, this is one of the most normal things a teenager will go through, and Saves The Day, both lyrically and musically, have the feeling of those tumultuous teenage years down pat. It has punky sloppiness, latent pop sensibilities, and immediately relatable lyrics that all evoke the youthful high school days. Whether it be parties, girls, traveling, school, or home life, Saves The Day covers it all with tact, providing a personal, yet very fun, emo-pop record. Any one of the twelve songs here are very good, and although I'm partial to "Rocks Tonic Juice Magic" and "My Sweet Fracture", they're all pretty much the same level of quality. The album does suffer from some sameyness, but the emotions evoked and the memories brought back make up for that. In a word: nostalgic.
Saves the Day Can't Slow Down
In their careers, Saves The Day has been across the spectrum of pop-punk, to the pop-heavy side of it to the punk-heavy side of it. Here, they are most certainly in the latter style, as fast-paced, high-energy, very catchy tunes permeate the tracklist. With very fun performances from drummer Bryan Newman and vocalist Chris Conley, it's rare that the album doesn't turn in an entertaining moment. The lack of a true standout track here does unfortunately lead to some of the tracks bleeding into each other, but everything remains at a solid level, maiming a remarkable consistency. Their sound was nostalgic even back then, with very endearing and relatable lyrics peppered over the songs. That, combined with the high energy and punk attitude, really helps Can't Slow Down overcome its problems with the somewhat samey songwriting. It's a very good starting point for one of the most consistent pop-punk bands in the genre.
Saves the Day Stay What You Are
As one of the most solid emo-pop/pop-punk bands around, Saves The Day's third full-length isn't that much different from its successor, but that isn't a bad thing in this case. Sameyness and cohesiveness aren't mutually exclusive things, and as such it's well-made, well-performed, and occasionally brilliant pop-punk, with those lovable vocal harmonies, catchy choruses, and nice bass work that the band does so well. As for the occasionally brilliant side of things, that comes in the one-two punch of "Jukebox Breakdown" and quite possibly their best slower song, "Freakish". The album never quite reaches the heights of those two songs besides the opener "At Your Funeral", but the openers always rule on albums like these. There's really nothing more one can say about it, but if you're looking for some catchy-as-all-hell pop-punk, Stay What You Are is definitely a recommendation.
Self Defense Family Sincerely
Back when the family was known as End Of A Year, they were still budding as a group, but they were still able to put out some quality material that would hint at the greatness that would later come, as their debut record Disappear Here showed so well. Sincerely is more post-hardcore in the vein of that album. From a songwriting standpoint very little changes here, but the production is cleaned up somewhat from the debut. This, unfortunately, is a bit of a vice, given that the sloppy production job of the debut gave that album a very charming and very punk feel to it. Not that this album doesn't have that, but certainly not as much as before. There aren't any bad tracks, and they're all pretty solid, but there's not a whole lot on here that wasn't done better on the album preceding it. That said, at the end of the day, it's a Self Defense Family album, which means if you're a fan of well-written and emotional post-hardcore, you should definitely try to hear it.
Self Defense Family Warm
When the collective now known as Self Defense Family was formed, they were known as End Of A Year, and though Warm, their debut demo, is a very raw and underproduced record, you can definitely hear the underlying talent and passion that went into and still goes into their music. Instrumentally, the record is sloppy in a good way, and is in general pretty emotive. The vocals are always a highlight with the band, and a young Patrick Kindlon still does well even in the beginning stage of his career. Backing vocals add a beautiful harmony when they do happen, and the sound, while understandably raw, is still good. The notion that one of the best bands in modern post-hardcore started from this demo makes it a needed listen for fans, not only of the band, but of the genre as well.
Self Defense Family Talia b/w Taxying
To be honest, this is my first taste of Self Defense Family, a band which has been well-known for being remarkably hardworking, churning out albums, EP's, singles, and splits like it's just another day at the office. Their music however, is anything but. "Talia" opens with a distinct western twang to the guitars, and the gruff vocals fit excellently. The song swells near the end, adding pianos and harmonicas to the mix to create a wonderful ending. "Taxying" sounds a bit more standard, but audible bass work and a nice guitar line manage to make a pretty good song. Altogether, a pretty good release from the band, who I personally can't wait to hear more of.
Self Defense Family Superior
Self Defense Family has always been excellent at making subtle, addicting post-hardcore, and as their tempos slow, their atmospherics amp up, making methodical, yet completely organic drumming and simple, lovely guitar lines seem absolutely beautiful. The underlying bass is always a needed and prominent feature, and Patrick Kindlons lyrical and vocal chops take the music to new heights. In this sense, Superior isn't really anything all that new for Self Defense Family, but when the songs are as good as "Good Idea Machine", who cares? It's yet another solid and sometimes brilliant EP from the workhorses of hardcore, and in only a few months time, they've got anticipation for a new full-length in spades.
Sensory Deprivation Godspeed
Stuff like this is why I love music, and why I love following it. To see the very beginnings of something that could someday be astonishing, and to watch it grow. Godspeed to you, indeed.
Sepalcure Folding Time
It's been five years since Sepalcure's debut album, and over those years, despite not hearing that album, I've come to realize that I'm a sucker for downtempo that is piano/synthesizer/keyboard (or any single combination of those three) centric, and if guitar is thrown in, even better. Sepalcure has that style down pat on Folding Time. There's some UK-style bass in there as well, and that's all well and good, but where the album really shines is the piano/key/synth work done in this collection of tracks. Add some pretty great vocal samples and some excellent appearances from the likes of Rochelle Jordan and Angelica Bess, and you really can't go wrong with this formula. It's not anything new to be completely sure, but it really doesn't have to be if it's this well done, especially considering the palette they work with both electronic and organic instrumentation. It's held down somewhat by its lack of variation as well, but it's a phenomenal formula and they stick to it to great effect.
SikTh The Trees Are Dead and Dried Out
The guys from SikTh are no strangers to eccentrics, and their debut full-length The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait For Something Wild proves this. Their metal material is an interesting mix of Dillinger-esque mathcore, alternative metal, and small bits of djent. Their vocals are an acquired taste, as they are some of the weirdest and occasionally obnoxious out there. Sometimes they'll throw a song like "Tupelo" out there and it's always a pleasant surprise when that happens, showing that they know how to write a great song as well as play their instruments at a very high level. Still, an hour of this is a little much if you're asking me, and while I absolutely love songs like "Peep Show" and "Hold My Finger", after the aforementioned "Tupelo", the album never reaches the heights of those tracks ever again. It ends on a strange spoken word story/poem thing, and that's cool, but the note it ends on is a bit hollow. All this said, they'd improve on the next and final full-length, but that's no reason not to check this one out.
SikTh Opacities
Making some noise for the first time in nine years is experimental metal band SikTh, a band that was notable for their frenetic leads, tempo changes on a whim, and strange, yet endearingly great, vocals. Their music, instruments, vocals, and all, seemed to interact with itself like different elements mixing to create a reaction. And for the first three tracks on this EP, that's pretty much exactly how it sounds, with "Philistine Philosophies" even adding some pop sensibility into the mix. Yet, two of the last three songs are unfortunately lackluster, with closer "Days Are Dreamed" refusing to go really anywhere with anything it does. Still, it is really nice to see SikTh back in action, and this EP undoubtedly has fans everywhere very happy. It's good to see them back, but it'd be even better if they built off of this EP.
Silence Lies Fear Future​:​ The Return
Usually, when something is cleanly produced, it runs the risk of sounding sterile and emotionless. This is oftentimes a trap that metal bands tend to fall into, and initially, that was my impression of Silence Lies Fear. Yet, upon further listening, the album finds other ways to succeed in spite of the production. There is a lot of energy within these tracks, something that melodeath must have, that fights through the production and makes itself known. The songs themselves are all very solid, and make excellent use of piano on most of them. Also, a nice range of emotion is explored here, through melancholy to urgent to uplifting. The songs sometimes do bleed into each other, though, and the lack of a truly great track besides the opener deepens this effect. Still, this is a solid slab of melodeath, and though it looks like something that would be emotionless and boring, it defies that notion by being energetic and having discernible feelings.
Skinny Puppy VIVIsectVI
Although both of the preceding records to this one in their discography are seen as their most vehement, VIVIsectVI holds an interesting theme to it as well as being righteously angry as well as disturbing. Though it may be a little more bare this time around, the driving beats, cold synths, and evil vocals all make a return, as well as the often chilling and always well-placed samples. The theme here is animal testing, and boy are these two ever against it. With references to the underrated animated film Plague Dogs, a scathing indictment of animal testing in its own right, there is no shortage of inspiration for the duo. You may even recall the video for "Testure", unsurprisingly the best song on the record and an all-time classic, that showcased raw footage of horrific procedures done to living animals. While retaining their venomous EBM/electro-industrial sound to a T, the focused lyrical prowess and intensity of the vocals and samples makes VIVIsectVI a very worthwhile listen.
Skinny Puppy Remission
On their precursor to their debut LP Bites, Skinny Puppy demonstrates the type of catchy, driving EBM that paved the way for early Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. Opener "Smothered Hope" does a nice job of setting the menacing tone the EP has, and Nivek Ogre's vocals are typically great. "Glass Houses" might just be one of the catchiest songs they ever put to wax, with its addicting synth and beat work courtesy of cEvin Key, and some very nice fretless bass. A revamped version of "Sleeping Beast" from their debut EP also makes itself a nice home as one of the catchiest the band has written, with the lines (both synth and lyrical) being excellent as well as the metaphor for a nuclear holocaust. Remission accomplishes its mission statement very easily, with twenty-four minutes of electro-industrial EBM setting the stage for bigger and better things to come from the band.
Skinny Puppy Bites
In the mid-80's, while EBM was just starting to come to fruition in Canada, a band called Skinny Puppy would take elements from the scene and add them in to their own industrial music, pioneering what would eventually come to be called "electro-industrial". This, their first full-length album, was a release they would eventually build off of to make Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse. All the blueprints are here: the pulse-pounding, driving synths and kick drums, Nivek Ogre's venomous vocals, and the stone-cold, malevolent aesthetic that would come to characterize the band. The use of unsettling samples and whirlwinds of screams also appears here, which would be perfected on their next release. In a nutshell, it's a pretty good start for one of industrial music's most important bands.
Skinny Puppy Cleanse Fold and Manipulate
This album, along with its predecessor, are what most consider to be the darkest in the Skinny Puppy canon. For my money, Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse is a bit more disturbing than Cleanse Fold And Manipulate, but that doesn't mean the latter album is one to miss at all. It's a pretty nice extension of the explosive, corrosive, synth-heavy EBM/Electro-Industrial sound that no one has been able to match before or since. The guitar is a more pronounced part of the concoction this time around, but the synths still run the show along with the horridly perfect samples and chilling vocals. Half of the time, while the beats pulse onward and the eeriness of the synths works its way through, the vocals are more terrifying spoken word than the classic throaty bark. Needless to say, though it may seem a bit desultory next to its predecessor, Cleanse is still a quality album in a unique sound, thanks to the geniuses behind Skinny Puppy.
Son Lux Lanterns
Ryan Lott is a man dedicated to his craft. Even from 2008's At War With Walls And Mazes, his music has always flowed seamlessly and followed a concept, which Lanterns backs up in spades. While it might not be as good as his previous works, Lanterns is still a good album that showcases Lott's ability to write engaging and interesting experimental electronic and trip-hop. "Easy" might just be my favorite song written by him, and tracks like "Lost It To Trying", "Pyre", and "Enough Of Our Machines" are explosive, fun, and meticulously crafted. The use of choirs is kind of hit and miss, with some moments coming off as endearing and enjoyable while others come off as obnoxious and irritating. It's weird that this is the case, as he's never shied away from using choirs, but there may have been an overuse here. In all though, Lanterns is definitely a worthy addition to the Son Lux discography, and is a decently fun and mesmerizing experience.
Son Lux Alternate Worlds
Sorority Noise Joy, Departed
A nice blend of pop-punk, emo, and acoustic rock, the sophomore effort from Hartford's own Sorority Noise is an exercise in catchy, fun, and relatable indie punk. The effective one-two punch of opener "Blissth" and "Corrigan" starts things out on the right foot with their memorable choruses, but softer escapades like "Fluorescent Black", "Your Soft Blood", and "Fuchsia" are just as enjoyable in their own right due to their quaint instrumentals and beautiful vocals. The best song, however, is "Using", a heartfelt memoir of dealing with addiction and feeling suicidal, with a fantastic climax that ends in a triumph. The album might not do anything new by any means, and loses a bit of gas by the end, but it's still a nice listen for fans of pop-punk with an indie rock tinge.
Soundtrack (Anime) Naruto Shippuden Soundtrack 1
Throwing out any superfluous opinion on the anime, the soundtrack for the show is actually quite good. Sure, it does have its repeating themes and filler here and there (sound familiar?), but it's got things going for it. Many of the more upbeat compositions, and even some of the more tranquil and peaceful ones, are really catchy, which for a soundtrack is paramount. The use of oriental instruments works very well, mixing in with more traditional instruments seamlessly. The downtrodden tracks here, especially "Man Of The World", are all quite saddening, but extremely memorable in their melodies and progressions. It starts out very well, but ultimately the second half of the record undercuts the excellence of the first half, mainly due to the aforementioned repeating of themes. All this said, it really is excellent background music and accomplishes its goal of memorability in spades.
Structures All of the Above
Subheim Foray
An oft-overlooked ambient downtempo duo originally formed in Athens, but settling into Berlin, Subheim has made some very visceral and lovely ambient music with influence coming in from downtempo and ambient techno as well. Foray, their third LP, is a pretty sweet listen, covering a nice range of emotions throughout its ten tracks. Opener "Bitter" is ominous and on-edge, setting up an unnerving atmosphere easily. Tracks like "Night Walk" are calming and comforting with the blanketing ambience, and songs like "Silence" even have a soulful vibe to them thanks to the use of vocalizations and sparse jazz instrumentation. Some of the longer tracks do stretch out more than they ideally should, and as such, the album loses some steam when the longer tracks are near the end. Still, it's a good listen, while occasionally fantastic, and makes for a pretty nice experience on the whole. Give it a listen if you're a fan of ambient electronic.
Submotion Orchestra Colour Theory
Though it might not be quite up to par with the past releases from this Leeds septet, Colour Theory still showcases the vibrant and enjoyable form of downtempo and dubstep that they're known for playing so well. Ruby Woods' vocals really take center stage on the tracks she's on, and the production is more subdued, yet is really brought to life while she sings. On tracks that don't feature vocals, the production is more intricate, but still spacious and easy to get lost in. The downfall of the album lies with its repetitiveness in the songwriting department as well as the lack of a standout track. Sure, all the tracks here good, but the album really starts to blend in with itself after several tracks. It's enjoyable and easy to listen to, but when each song uses many colors, the end mixture is a singular, white color. It's like the light spectrum. That being said, it's still a pretty good listen, even if it isn't up to snuff with their other releases.
Suffocation Souls to Deny
After a breakup period of six years, seminal brutal death metal outfit Suffocation reformed with Souls To Deny, which also welcomes drummer Mike Smith back to the fold. Predictably, he does extremely well here in his typically style. The songwriting here is a couple of leagues below that of Effigy Of The Forgotten or Breeding The Spawn, but it's solid throughout the first half and turns up a notch in the second half, ending on a massive haymaker combo of "Immortally Condemned" and "Tomes Of Acrimony". The style is their mix of brutal death and technical death metal, but with much less of the slam death metal they incorporated on earlier works and only isolated sections of groove. Though it isn't anywhere near their material from the 90's, Souls To Deny is still a good brutal death metal album and a must-listen for fans of Suffocation.
Suffocation Despise the Sun
Before their unfortunate break-up, pretty much everything Suffocation had put to their name was undeniably seminal death metal, sparking a few subgenres and creating a trio of death metal classics. Despise The Sun, while nowhere near the quality of their first three full-lengths, is a condensed version of everything that made Suffcatiom great: sickening riffs, rolling and blasting drums, spidery bass, and beastly vocals. The songs here are all very good, lasting about three minutes in a sustained blast of energy. No song reaches the highs of their previous efforts, but all of the tracks are well above-average death metal. If you want a sample of what one of the greatest bands in metal has to offer, you can't go wrong with this EP.
Suis La Lune Demo 2005
One of the better modern screamo bands that mix their emotive, volatile screamo with melancholy post-rock passages, Suis La Lune is a band always rife with evocative moments. This is true even of their first demo, on which the raw vocals and drums collide with somber, impassioned guitars to create a very good post-rock/screamo hybrid. This is best exemplified on the first two tracks, especially "Dance Red River, Dance!", where the vocals are truly heartbreaking no matter if juxtaposed with cleaner, melodic guitar moments or more dissonant, charged sections. The lyrics here aren't anything to write home about, but they certainly get the job done, especially for a group of guys that speak Swedish as their first language. In all, it's an extremely solid, foreshadowing genesis for Suis La Lune.
Suis La Lune Suis La Lune
Even from their conception, Suis La Lune were no strangers to churning out great material at a respectable pace. Even their smallest moments, like this self-titled demo, are high-quality material. The style of screamo mixed with post-rock is one bursting with emotion and beauty, and as such is easily evocative. Suis La Lune has the uncanny ability to strike gold with this style every time they write a song. From the melancholy piano that connects both of these tracks wonderfully to the saddened agony of the songs within, this demo is eight minutes of an exercise in how to perform this style correctly. This release is considered a weaker one in their discography, too, so if this is the weaker stuff, the stronger stuff is truly amazing.
Suis La Lune / Shirokuma Split
Two excellent Swedish screamo bands, one a stalwart going a decade strong and one a group of upstarts who have some great years ahead of them, are the subject of this very good split LP. And I must say, Shirokuma's side beats out Suis La Lune's, which I hadn't expected. And it's not like Suis La Lune's side is bad or even average; it's really good, but Shirokuma edges it out. The two sides are played in similar styles, but Suis La Lune's drifts into post-rock territory more often while Shirokuma's bursts forward with an impassioned performance from everyone involved. The drummer and vocalist both are so engaged in the emotiveness of their playing and screaming it that it's almost too easy to miss just how excellent the riffs are. Suis La Lune is a bit softer, but no less full of emotion, choosing to work with a subdued melancholy rather than tearful aggression. It's nice to see both bands putting forth some quality stuff here, but you'd be hard pressed to assume they'd do anything but.
Sunny Day Real Estate How It Feels To Be Something On
Reforming a couple of years after their self-titled sophomore record, which was a classic record that may or may not have sounded like it did by accident, Sunny Day Real Estate took a less intense, but still evocative route with their third full-length, How It Feels To Be Something On. The classic, twinkly guitar sound is still there, and there are some extra instruments in the fray this time around. There is a number of classic SDRE songs here ("Pillars", "Every Shining Time You Arrive", the title-track, "The Sharks Own Private F*uck"), but the songs in between them, while good, are nowhere near the level of the aforementioned. The band by this point has dropped most semblances of grunge or post-hardcore that they possessed on their first go around, but were now influenced by indie rock moreso than ever. Though it is a little inconsistent, this is still a very good comeback record for one of the most important emo bands ever to play.
Surgeon Basictonalvocabulary
One of the more interesting producers to come out of the Birmingham techno scene, Surgeon is a self-made man, having his own record company named after one of his EP's, Dynamic Tension. This album of his takes a bit of patience to fully appreciate, as the tracks may first seem boring, but on further inspection are very textured and interesting. He uses mind-numbing repetition (and I mean this in the best way possible), to create a paranoid and unsettling atmosphere. The assembly-line noises that permeate "Depart" are a nice touch, whereas the glitchy nature of "First" is quite unnerving. An eerie ambient track, "Waiting", is an excellent feature, and "Scorn" makes itself known as a hypnotic mess of electronic noises that sounds jumbled, but is actually very structured. And though the first half of the album doesn't quite do as much as the second, the album is still an interesting listen from an interesting individual.
Suuns Hold/Still
I've always been fascinated by bands that cannot be pigeonholed into any one subgenre or even a genre as a whole. For instance, it's selling a whole lot short to call something like Mr. Bungle just "rock", even though that's technically the main genre they're based in. It's the same with Suuns. You can just call them "indie", but that leaves so much out of the picture. There's influences from many subgenres, including post-punk, noise rock, indie pop, and even neo-psychedelia. This makes for a largely hypnotic and sometimes wondrously repetitive experience, and though it may drag for a bit in the middle, Hold/Still is a dark turn for Suuns. It really sounds like it's cover: alone in the near-darkness with a faint light glowing upon you like a spotlight, illuminating you as you think and listen. Sometimes it's paranoid and cloudy ("Brainwash", "Paralyzer"), and sometimes it's full of clarity ("Nobody Can Save Me Now"), but it's still an easy attempt at clearing your head.
Swans Cop
No one's kidding when they say there isn't anything quite like early Swans records. What has been described as "the pinnacle of Swans' brutality", Cop is certainly a monolithic and destructive record. Surprisingly, though, it is fairly sparse in its instrumentation, mainly consisting of methodical drums, industrial guitars and other noises that sound like the inside of a factory. The middle of the album is very well done, with four straight punches to the face in the form of "Why Hide", "Clay Man", "Your Property", and the title-track. Michael Gira is once again the driving force, and is quite unnerving on the record as well as being lyrically adept. The problem with the album is that most of the songs follow the same formula, and sometimes bleed together as a result. However, the homogenous aspect of the songwriting is pummeled by how well done the tracks really are. Surely, Cop is not an album to overlook if you are a Swans fan, or a fan of noise rock in general.
Swans Swans
Before Swans was the brutal, uncompromising noise rock band they'd become in the mid-80's, they were a band heavily influenced by the no wave scene and bassy post-punk in general. This, their debut EP, shows Swans in a state that few other songs made by the band in the 80's can replicate. There is little to no brutality on display here, Michael Gira's vocals are surely not as disgusting and disturbing as they would eventually become, and there isn't much in the way of industrial sounds either. That said, it is still Swans, which of course means excellently crafted, repetitive song structures and hateful, scathing lyrics. The bass on the record is quite fantastic, and the sparse, looping guitar works well. In all, an ominous and intriguing start from one of the darkest bands in existence.
Swans Young God
This, Filth, and Cop mark what was the heaviest period for Swans, and make one of the heaviest album trios of any genre. The blueprint set by their debut full-length, one of repetitive, churning riffs, methodical, booming drums, gruff vocals that give way to terrified wails, and a constant atmosphere of oppressive aggravation, is used to full effect on Young God. This is particularly evident in the title-track, where Michael Gira sounds as helplessly deranged as he's ever sounded, with the wall of industrialized instrumentation burning tirelessly behind him. It's at all different from anything else they were doing at the time, but it is still quality material, and if you're a fan of the Swans of this era, you simply can't pass up this EP.
Swans The Glowing Man
You'd think that after numerous two-hour long albums that Michael Gira & Co. would start to run out of ideas. You'd be correct, because The Glowing Man sounds very much like an extension of To Be Kind, albeit somewhat tamer in comparison. Does that mean it's not a worthwhile record? Hardly. It's a Swans record through and through: repetitive, massive both in length and in sound, not lacking in memorable lyrical lines ("People like us, we need a dream to escape. People like us, we need to sleep to awake") and ultimately pretty consuming as a whole. It does feel more comfortable than other Swans records, but this is undoubtedly done on purpose, with less emphasis on surprise notes (although a couple do appear) and a larger emphasis on textures. To be sure, their formula is beginning to be somewhat predictable, but the formula is an excellent one regardless, one that I'm sure they'll tweak in the future.
Tadd Dameron Mating Call (with John Coltrane)
Oh you guys! Why Tadd Dameron didn't have a page on here I will never know. This record brought together two members of the Miles Davis quintet in John Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones with a very good bassist in John Simmons and pianist Tadd Dameron, a man revered for being one of the greatest composers of the bop era. It's easy to see why, as the entire record is made up of sexy, dexterous, and occasionally even catchy hard bop. The opener/title-track really sets the tone, with its undeniable groove and infectious piano lines dominating the song. While the other songs might not reach the same heights as the opener, they're all very solid hard bop and all enjoyable listens. Dameron is quite a wizard on the piano as well, as evidenced by his switching between the dominant lead and the steadying hand with Coltrane's saxophone. In all, an overlooked hard bop exhibition.
Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings and Food
Talking Heads' sophomore LP may be titled like it's just part 2 of their debut, but in reality it is a much more focused, consistent, and worthwhile endeavor than 77. With an extremely catchy opener, "Thank You For Sending Me An Angel", David Byrne turns one of his best performances, and really sets the standard for him for the rest of the album. The production on this album was handled by Brian Eno, and is better than the production on 77 by a couple steps. Elsewhere, the band experiments with country ("The Big Country"), synth-driven post-punk ("Take Me To The River"), and more funky, bluesy numbers ("Found A Job", "I'm Not In Love"). Overall, Talking Heads made a noted improvement on their sound established by 77, and made a really good album as a result.
Talking Heads Fear of Music
I have a weird relationship with Talking Heads. I believe that can best be expressed by my opinion of David Byrne: talented, zany, sometimes endearing and humorous, sometimes irritating. Brian Eno handles the production here, and it's clear he had a good influence on them, especially on some of the weirder tracks. Overall, it's pretty scatterbrained, and sometimes this is a good thing, but other times it's not. "I Zimbra" and "Drugs" are two examples of experimentation done correctly and tastefully, while songs like "Animals" are awkward and sometimes even aggravating. Still, the instrumentation is fantastic, and Byrne does do well, but the album could have done without some of the experimentation. It's a very small step down from More Songs About Buildings And Food, but it's still a good album in its own right, and serves a clear transition between the pop-influenced Talking Heads of old and the more experimental Talking Heads we know now.
Tenacious D Tenacious D
Terminally Your Aborted Ghost Suicide As Self Expression
Terminally Your Aborted Ghost was another one of those brutal death metal bands that won't ever get the respect they are due because of the scene they were associated with. Their debut demo, one that this release remastered, was just the beginning of an intense, technical, and nihilistic take on brutal death metal and slam death metal. Of course, there are problems that befall the band, such as sometimes resorting to the stereotypical "bree-bree" vocals, and some choppy songwriting here or there. As such, it's not the greatest representation of the band's abilities, but it is certainly a good listen that let whoever listened know they were full of potential.
TesseracT One
The American Dollar Across The Oceans
The American Dollar has made relaxing, beautiful electronically-tinged post-rock ever since their conception, and though they have not reinvented any wheels, they've definitely approached each of their projects with a consistent professionalism and confidence in the sound they've constructed for themselves. Across The Oceans is no different at all. It's undoubtedly familiar and kind of samey, but you could argue that therein lies the charm of the music: familiarity is comforting, and there is no one emotion that The American Dollar wants you to feel more than comfort. In that sense, this is a good album to hear, as it's relaxing, comforting, and reassuring, even while not being very original or new at all. In short, The American Dollar continue doing what they do. If you liked them before, you'll still like them now.
The Black Dahlia Murder Unhallowed
The Black Dahlia Murder Ritual
Melodic death metal with relentless drumming, At The Gates-inspired riffing, crazy solos, shrieking and howling lead vocals, and over-the-top lyrics? It's a The Black Dahlia Murder record alright. One of the things I've come to appreciate about them other than their remarkable album-to-album consistency is that you can always rely on them for a great opener. "A Shrine To Madness" just might be their best, as it not only is an excellent song on its own, but it really sets the tone for the rest of Ritual. No song other than "The Window" and closer "Blood In The Ink" ever really comes close, but that's not to say there isn't some good stuff elsewhere. Still, the issues with this record are the same with all of the other records from TBDM: not entirely original, occasionally boring, and relatively samey. Still, this is a good melodic death metal record full of energy (as if they'd ever release anything but), with a couple of career highlights on the tracklist.
The Black Dahlia Murder Abysmal
At this point, you know what you're going to get when you listen to a TBDM record: fast-paced, energetic, and sometimes over-the-top melodeath that does nothing for originality but a lot of things for fun. Abysmal is absolutely no different. The album actually shines a bit after the start as the title-track, "Re-Faced", and "Threat Level No.3" form a triple-headed monster that features the best songwriting on the record. The rest of the album is decent enough to keep you there until closer "That Cannot Die Which Eternally Is Dead" mashes you with a quality similar to the aforementioned trio. In all, this record isn't going to make the band any new fans, but it will most certainly satisfy the ones they already have.
The Black Keys The Big Come Up
The Black Keys Magic Potion
The Body The Body
While they've become a duo known for experimenting with the parameters of doom, drone, and sludge metal, the self-titled debut of The Body is the closest to the traditional stylings of those subgenres as they'd ever be. The lion's share of these recordings are pretty standard doom/sludge compositionally, but there are moments here that show the forward-thinking nature of the duo was alive even then. Take for instance "The City Of The Magnificent Jewel". It's a decidedly bluesy track that sounds like something from Pentastar-era Earth. Put on top of this Chip King's wailing vocals, which would become even more distinct in the future, and you have a pretty great track. The use of samples also help things, as while certain tracks like "Failings" can begin to overstay their welcome, the samples break up the descending monotony before it can set in. Thus, the beginnings of The Body are quite good, though they'd definitely move on to bigger and better (and louder) things.
The Body Master, We Perish
Even when it comes to smaller projects such as this, The Body is dedicated to quality, which they definitely deliver here in a short eighteen minutes. "The Blessed Lay Down And Writhe With Agony" is the gem here, with its sparse yet melancholy guitar, ominous samples, and choral elements eventually giving way to a bulldozing riff and methodical, pounding drums. "Worship" is a very slow burner, but definitely worth the listen for the atmosphere alone, and "The Ebb And Flow Of Tides In A Sea Of Ash" is an aggressive and misanthropic opener complete with air-raid sirens. Thus, Master, We Perish ends up being an EP very much worth the while, as is par for the course with The Body.
The Contortionist Apparition
The Contortionist Language
The Contortionist has been received as one of the best deathcore bands in recent history. Their debut album, Exoplanet, was a breath of fresh air in a very stale deathcore scene, taking traditional deathcore elements and mixing them with elements of djent, ambient, and progressive metal in the vein of Cynic. They shed most of their deathcore influence on 2011's Intrinsic, which was met with mixed reactions. Now, they have released a more focused and all around better album in Language. The clean vocals employed on Intrinsic make a return here, but they fit much better with the music this time around. The first three tracks are excellent, melding all of their influences into this third of the album, even harkening back to their Exoplanet days on "Language II: Conspire". The middle of the album, though, is a bit of a drag. Songs like "Integration" and "Arise" are sort of just there, not really doing anything. However, the album does close on a strong note with "The Parable", which is entirely indicative of what The Contortionist can, and hopefully will, accomplish in the future.
The Cure The Head on the Door
After the inconsistent effort that was The Top, The Cure return with a more consistent, more mature album in that same vein of new wave, poppy gothic rock that permeated the mid-80's for the band. The songs are better written this time around, with much of the neo-psychedelic influences being replaced by more tactful and fitting ideas, like the trumpet in "A Night Like This" or the pianos in both "Six Different Ways" and "The Baby Screams". Things are still upbeat, or at least moreso than usual, but never in an obnoxious manner. And yet, one cannot escape the notion that the best tracks on this album are the ones that play it straight, and the opening combo of "In Between Days" and "Kyoto Song" back this up strongly. So too does album closer "Sinking", which is one of the more underrated tracks in their discography. All around, it's an improvement on what they were going for with The Top, but it's not quite at the heights of their classic material.
The Cure Three Imaginary Boys
Here we see the humble beginnings of a band that was to become one of the most famous, and most important, in the history of gothic rock and post-punk. This record consists of catchy, bassy post-punk that is very solid throughout its runtime. It's true standout moment is the title-track, which takes the aforementioned formula and combines it with swirling guitars and echoing vocals. It takes a bit to get to this standout track, though, and while no track on the record is bad, some of them can bleed into each other a bit due to the repetitive nature of the formula the band decides to go with here. Still, it clocks in at a mere thirty-three minutes, so you're certainly not wasting much time if you don't enjoy the record. All in all, a very nice debut from The Cure, but one that is much different from the next trio of records they would go on to make within the gothic rock genre.
The Cure Seventeen Seconds
The Devil Wears Prada With Roots Above and Branches Below
The Dillinger Escape Plan Miss Machine
The Dillinger Escape Plan The Dillinger Escape Plan
The Faceless Autotheism
The Haggis Horns What Comes To Mind
It's always nice to hear an older style of music done well by a modern band or group. In the case of this eight-piece ensemble from Leeds called The Haggis Horns, that style is 70's deep funk. Beginning with a triumphant start in "Return Of The Haggis", each and every that follows on this record is brimming with jazzy horns, and underlying bass that provides a perfect backbone. Occasionally, though, some songs may overstay their welcome a bit. While it's certainly not reinventing the wheel, it's a good listen, flowing with positive vibes and a feel-good attitude. Essentially, if you want some good modern funk that is not only well rooted within the old 70's style, but is also immediately accessible and danceable, then What Comes To Mind is a record you're going to want to check out.
The Killers Hot Fuss
The Lonely Island Incredibad
The Myrrors Entranced Earth
If there were a word to describe this record, it'd be the first word of the title. Because, thanks to the repetitive, psychedelic, and encompassing rock here, The Myrrors are able to create a vivid soundscape reminiscent of traversing the sweltering desert plains. The vocals here are airy and seem to drift in and out of the haze like some sort of auditory hallucination. While the compositions here might be standard fare for the genre, the use of horns, strings, and various wind instruments add some needed personality to the music and prevents things from becoming an uninteresting slog. No song overstays its welcome thanks to this, and the repetitive moments are well-written and memorable enough so that the repetition is pleasing rather than taxing. In a nutshell, it's a very well done heavy psych album, so if you need some of that in your life, The Myrrors have you covered.
The Number Twelve Looks Like You Nuclear, Sad, Nuclear
TNTLLY has always been one of the strangest mathcore bands out there. Their debut was an insane mix of mathcore, grind, and progressive metal that sounded like nothing else out there. With their sophomore release, the band opts to ditch a lot of their grind sound in favor of more subdued passages and songs, but still contains the mathcore edge they're known for. The album opens in the exact opposite way you'd expect it to by implementing an almost salsa-like riff before exploding into a rage. "The Proud Parent's Convention In The ER" ends with guitars that sound almost like train whistles, and "Remembrance Dialogue" has a very post-rock like sound, complete with lots of guitar feedback. The album closes with "Category", which ends with a beautiful acoustic guitar passage. The album fits these moments in between moments of complete chaos the way only TNTLLY can, and even though some of the songs are a bit unmemorable, manages to be a nice addition to the bands' discography.
The Number Twelve Looks Like You An Inch of Gold for An Inch of Time
The Number Twelve Looks Like You Mongrel
12 has always been and band whose style is hard to put into words. In a way, they are very scatterbrained and randomized, but retain moments of calculated structure as well. Mongrel is no different, given the tranquil and subdued experimentation woven within abrasive, spontaneous mathcore riffing and drumming. This is not the 12 you heard on Put On Your Rosy Red Glasses, or even Nuclear, Sad, Nuclear. This is the bands tightest, most technically proficient effort so far in their discography. The grind influence that shone on their debut is all but gone, and the sloppy play of their sophomore effort has turned tighter this time around. Still, some of charm of those previously mentioned qualities is missed. The vocals are still absolutely insane, but they aren't as intelligible on this record as opposed to previous works. All of this is very apparent on songs like "Imagine Nation Express", "Jaywalking Backwards", "Grandfather", and "Alright... I Admit It, It Was A Whorehouse", and although the record definitely loses some steam near the end, this is still a great effort from the band, even if it's not their best.
The Paellas Remember
A quaint little indie pop group from a city with intense bright lights and nightlife in Tokyo, The Paellas make sure the best moments from this EP evoke the feeling of a night on the town with little to no inhibitions. While the first two tracks don't do all that much, the final three really do excellent things, using a seamless concoction of synthpop, alternative dance, and funk to really send things off wonderfully. The highlight of all this is closer "Cat Out", which brings the funkiest sound on the record, but also the most catchy and danceable, making this track a lovely standout. The airy vocals are done quite nicely, and while nothing on here is wholly original, the feelings and vibes the record gives off are too smooth and gorgeous to go without mentioning. If you need some indie pop that is faithful to their roots, but still keeps it modernized, The Paellas have you covered with this pleasant EP.
The Panacea Chiropteran
The Prodigy Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned
The Prodigy has always had a reputation for making massive albums. I don't just mean massive in length, but in sound as well. There is rarely a dull moment to be found with The Prodigy. That again rings true on Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. This 2004 release received mixed reviews, but it has aged well a decade later. Some of their best tracks are found on this record in the form of "Spitfire", "Memphis Bells" and "Phoenix". Another interesting song is "Medusa's Path", which is one of the few songs in The Prodigy's discography that does not contain a vocal sample. Though the album drags a bit in the middle, The Prodigy still manage to excite on this record. If this is the worst thing they've made, I'd say they have a collection of albums that they can be proud of.
The Prodigy The Day Is My Enemy
The Prodigy have always been known as a consistent group within the electronic scene, and have been described as "the outsiders with a rocker attitude." This statement is still true on their sixth full length, though it takes a bit to come to fruition. The first half of the album is plagued with irritating samples, which in a repetitive genre such as this is always a downfall. However, once "Beyond The Deathray" begins, things change. The song lets you know something massive is approaching, and in this case it happens to be six straight banging romps. They not only save the album of being a very mediocre offering, but end the album on a fantastic note, "Medicine" being the highlight of all of this. It makes me wish they had just released the last seven tracks as an EP, which, in my opinion, would have been a doozy. Overall, a good addition to The Prodigy's discog, even with the first half bogging it down.
The War on Drugs Wagonwheel Blues
Since perfecting their sound on Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs has become one of the more prominent faces in heartland rock nowadays. Their debut, while raw and a bit underwhelming, is more charismatic and fun than the subsequent Slave Ambient and is a solid record as a whole. The first two songs, "Arms Like Boulders" and "Taking The Farm", showcase the catchier, more straightforward side of the band, whereas longer songs like "There Is No Urgency" and "Show Me a The Coast" show the bands penchant for beautifully structured, dreamy-sounding pieces. There is variety on the record, as the plethora of instruments ranging from traditional rock gear to harmonicas and violins will show you, and the band is adept at playing them all. While it does suffer from some songs that go absolutely nowhere, this record has enough great things on it to warrant a listen.
The War on Drugs Barrel of Batteries EP
The debut EP from the heartland rock sextet from Philly, this small record consists of three contemporary songs and three ambient interludes. The interludes are nice, if inessential, but they don't do much worth talking about. As for the other three songs, "Arms Like Boulders" is still the best thing they've done pre-Lost In The Dream, and "Buenos Aires Beach" is still good. The only non-interlude song you won't find anywhere else is "Pushing Corn", which would have fit very nicely on Wagonwheel Blues had it made the cut. In short, this EP is the perfect sampler for those interested in The War On Drugs.
The Weeknd Kiss Land
At this point in his career, Abel Tesfaye had three critically acclaimed mixtapes to his name, and though their sound and mission statements were essentially the same, they were all of such quality that it sounded less like a retread and more like a connected trilogy. Kiss Land, his debut full-length, veers away from the hazy, drug-induced sound of the trilogy and lands on a more contemporary sound. The lyrics are also more up front and blunt about things than before, mirroring the uncomplicated nature of the record. This results in, from a songwriting standpoint, a very solid R&B album, but nothing all that great. That is, until Tesfaye starts singing. There's no doubt: the man can really, really sing, and he takes the record to heights that not many other people in the business could get it to off of sheer talent alone. Just take "Wanderlust" for your example and that should put an end to any doubt. While the shift to a more streamlined sound for The Weeknd results in a bit of personality lost, the notion that the transition went as smoothly and as solidly as it did is impressive.
The Weeknd Beauty Behind the Madness
It's a far cry from work such as House Of Balloons and Echoes Of Silence, but the newest album from The Weeknd is a solid, catchy pop album that doesn't try to be anything else. While it is unfortunate that the last five tracks leave the album on a lackluster note, the first nine are all varying degrees of good, "Often", "The Hills", and "Shameless" in particular being great tracks. Tesfaye's voice is still very good, and his lyrics have become more self-aware in addition to his usual antics. The production is what tends to shift the album from good to middling, and it's no surprise that the production is much more lively on the first half. Still, sometimes it can get slightly overproduced, like in the case of "Earned It", which is saved by an excellent vocal performance. At the end of the day, The Weeknd crafts a solid and occasionally fantastic pop record, sell-out criticisms be damned.
The Weeknd Starboy
It's not quite on the level of any of his mixtapes from the vaunted trilogy, but Starboy is The Weeknd's best post-trilogy effort. It lacks the highs of Beauty Behind The Madness, but the constant and refreshingly high quality at which the album operates throughout its entire sixty-eight minute runtime speaks to the growth which Tesfaye has underwent in this year. His vocal chops are still phenomenal, as expected, and he sounds more comfortable in this production style than his previous full-lengths. The production isn't as bare-bones as his last two releases, as layers of instrumentation and infectious synth and beat work feature prominently here. Thematically it's not different from anything he's released, but it fits the aesthetic and the atmosphere of the album very well, so it's hard to criticize it too much. It also stands to note that it definitely doesn't feel like it's an hour-eight, and remains fun and enjoyable throughout. It's another great outing from The Weeknd, who continues to improve on his foray into more pop-influenced R&B.
The White Stripes De Stijl
For a band that would soon become one of the biggest in the world, The White Stripes had some evolving to do before they could reach the heights that took them to superstardom. De Stigl was a great first step towards that goal. Their self-titles debut, while a raw exposition of their garage rock revival sound, was pretty samey and sometimes nondescript, though it did have some good moments within. This, their follow-up, is an improvement in every way over the debut. There's more variation, better songwriting, and it's more of a good time as well. For example, "Truth Doesn't Make A Noise" is unequivocally the best pre-White Blood Cells song they made, with a guitar riff trading off with piano lines and some of the catchiest singing Jack White has ever employed. The rest of the album isn't quite on that song's level, but it's not far off, as the album makes sure to add more instruments and tempos into the mix this time around. In all, a successful evolution for The White Stripes.
The Who The Who Sell Out
The Who, while one of the more famous bands that've existed, were actually pretty tongue-in-cheek with regards to how their music was advertised back in the mid-sixties. They made this album with a lot of recordings that blatantly advertise real-world products, and surround them with some great original tracks like "I Can See For Miles" and "Sunrise". The irony is that none of the companies to which the products belong to ever mentioned anything to The Who about advertising their products, netting the band a couple of lawsuits. Still, the record did well, with a leaning towards psychedelic pop and power pop rather than the, blues rock, psychedelic rock and hard rock they'd go on to play later. A lot of the music is kind of goofy and jingle-sounding, with a couple of electronic noises coming through on many of the tracks. Though the first half of the album is more miss than hit, the second half makes up for it with songs like "I Can't Reach You", "Relax", and "Rael 1".
The Who A Quick One
The Words We Use Morals
The World Is a Beautiful Place... Harmlessness
Earlier this year, I was formally introduced to TWIABP by Death To New Years, which I thought was a pretty great emo/post-rock combination. On Harmlessness, the band loses some of that post-rock and replaces it with indie rock. The result isn't exactly as good as I'd hoped, but it's still pretty good nonetheless. The record does go through distinct emotional peaks and valleys, as the beginning of the record has a playful, youthful vibe to it, while the middle of the record gets more melancholy, reaching an emotional low point at "Mental Health" before bringing itself out of the gutter again. In general, the instrumentation is pleasant enough, but some of the longer songs can drag on a bit. That said, there are moments of excellence on this album, like on the aforementioned "Mental Health", the opener, and "We Need More Skulls", even if some parts of the record can be unspectacular.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra Horses in the Sky
While A Silver Mt. Zion did remarkably well on "This Is Our Punk Rock...", they were never a band to stagnate, and that rings true once again on Horses In The Sky. This time around, things are decidedly minimal, with a huge emphasis being placed on Efrim Muneck's vocals and small, simple instrumental repetitions. On certain tracks, like the evocative title-track, the music leans toward contemporary folk stylings, and approach the simplicity tactfully and precisely. While a couple of songs might have a passage or two that slightly overstay their welcome, things are pretty well done as far as pacing is concerned. The only problem is that, while becoming more contemporary, the band lose a part of themselves that made them so interesting to listen to, and lose a bit of originality as a result. Still, the release is definitely a good one, and is surely a worthy addition to A Silver Mt. Zion's discography.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra Kollaps Tradixionales
This is one of the underrated records in the A Silver Mt. Zion discography, acting as a wonderful amalgam between the folky post-rock of albums like Horses In The Sky and the art rock of 13 Blues and the post-punk-influenced F*ck Off, Get Free. One thing that really helps things is that Efrim Muneck sings less, and when he does sing, he's not bad and usually accompanied by other bandmates, recapturing some of that quirky majesty his vocals had on earlier records. The climaxes of Kollaps Tradixionales are also improved over its predecessor, with bookending tracks "There Is A Light" and "'Piphany Rambler" featuring a couple of moving crescendos complete with the best vocals of the record. It drags a slight bit during the middle of the record, but even still, the compositions are strong enough so that it's not much of a problem. It really sees the ambition of the band come to fruition much more consistently than anything they'd put out in the previous seven years, and as such manages to be their best work since This Is Our Punk Rock.
Thirty Seconds to Mars 30 Seconds to Mars
The realm of space rock isn't exactly a vast one, though bands sometimes dabble in its otherworldly features. 30 Seconds To Mars craft a decent slab of hard rock made over with a space rock finish. Jared Leto and brother Shannon Leto are a force on the vocals and drums respectively, though it is Jared who really runs the show. Even from the opening lines of "Capricorn (A Brand New Name)", you know he is much more than just an actor. Spacey atmosphere makes the anthemic "Edge Of The Earth" can't-miss material, and the furious "Buddha For Mary" also makes its mark as one of the best on the record. The album does suffer in that much of the material, while not necessarily bad, seems like it's been done before. It's a classic case of a band having some ambition, but not enough to take their work to the next level. That being said, it's still a solid release, and shows that the band had some good ideas in their early days.
Three 6 Mafia Chapter 2: World Domination
Tidelines Dream
Taking an electronically-driven approach to R&B, the duo known as Tidelines craft a deceptively simple and pretty enjoyable EP. The production is pretty sparse and at the same time is expansive enough to hold Niomi Eve's wonderful voice inside of itself without becoming totally dominated by it. There's nice bass, occasional tempo changes, and is all around really well done. Eve's voice is again wonderful, as she sings discreetly, but with a subtle confidence and sensuality. It's only fifteen minutes and is slightly samey, but it's a solid project overall, one that has me keeping a keen eye for a full-length record.
TNGHT TNGHT
Tortoise The Catastrophist
It's been seven years since the proto post-rockers known as Tortoise released a record, but their newest effort shows that they still have the ability to write some good songs, as The Catastrophist might be their most engaging record in a decade and a half. They've always been more dynamic that your average post-rock band, and that doesn't change here, with the electronic, krautrock influences coming in on the opener/title-track, the repetitive paranoia of "Shake Hands With Danger", the ambient tension in "The Clearing Fills", the subtle funk of "Hot Coffee", and the beautiful vocals of "Yonder Blue" all proving to be memorable moments. It's not all that original of a record, but it is very well done, and establishes itself as a fine extension to their discography. If you're a fan of post-rock with experimental tendencies, then I'd definitely recommend this album to you.
Touche Amore Touche Amore
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross The Social Network
Tycho Past is Prologue
Scott Hansen, more famously known as Tycho, has been making music for a long time. His smooth and comforting ambient downtempo has the aesthetic of a sunny morning through the mist of his hometown, San Francisco. On this, his sophomore full-length, we see much more of a downtempo twist on his usual pleasant ambience, rather than the chillwave he'd employ on 2011's Dive. Some really beautiful songs are made here, like "Dictaphone's Lament", "PBS", and "Cloud Generator". The problems with this album are the problems that have plagued all of his records: some songs far overstay their welcome, and the general formula is never deviated from in any meaningful manner. Still, it's very easy to listen to, and none of the songs are particularly bad, so if you like easygoing ambient electronic/downtempo and can withstand a few overdrawn songs, this will be a very enjoyable listen.
Tycho Dive
With this release, Tycho takes his skill with ambient electronic soundscapes and mixes them with some chillwave influence reminiscent of Washed Out. Though the album does drag somewhat in the middle, it gets off to a fantastic start with "A Walk", "Daydreams", and the title track being some of the finest songs he has created to date. While the middle songs can sometimes overstay their welcome, they are typically pleasant and easygoing, and the emphasis on that atmosphere is very distinct. The album also closes on a high note with "Elegy", which is perhaps the most contemporary song on the album, consisting of acoustic guitar passages and electric guitar overtones. Overall, a solid album from Tycho, one filled with tracks tailor-made for a walk along the beach.
Tyler, the Creator Wolf
Ugly Heroes Everything in Between
When it comes to Mello Music Group, I hold this theory: the quality of the records is directly proportional to how many members of the stable are working on the records. Which means that solo records = decent, posse cuts = phenomenal. In the case of Ugly Heroes, there are three guys: rappers Red Pill and Verbal Kent, and producer Apollo Brown, which according to the theory must mean this record is pretty sweet, right? It's yet to fail me so far, and in this case it's no different. This is some of the most consistent and enjoyable boom-bap to come out this year, and doesn't fall into the trap of sounding dated or behind a couple of decades. The production is very good all the way around, with use of soulful samples and enjoyable guitar, piano, and bass lines permeating the album. The rapping is solid as well, as the flows are on point and the lyrics dexterous (although some slightly hackneyed pop-culture and political references do show up). To sum it up, Everything In Between is a very enjoyable boom-bap record from some genuine dudes.
Uncle Tupelo No Depression
Voivod Post Society
It's never a good thing when a band loses one of its centerpieces, one of its main creative forces. It's even worse when they're taken from them in death. Unfortunately, such was the case with seminal progressive/technical thrash metal band Voivod and lead guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour, who died of colon cancer in 2005. This EP marks the first batch of material the band has made without his guidance. And it's quite excellent. The riffs here are most certainly up to par with the bands' standards, and the drumming is great as per usual. The songwriting here is very good, as the riffs segue wonderfully into some surprisingly catchy choruses and slick solos. In a nutshell, this EP is the first page of a new chapter for Voivod, and I sincerely hope it will be a thrilling read.
Washed Out High Times
One of the esteemed members of the chillwave scene, Washed Out has been making atmospherically potent electronic music for a but now. While nowadays he seems to stick to the formula of airy and ethereal production surrounding swirling vocals, his formula was a but different back we he began. Sure, the tracks "Belong" and "Phone Call" bring the signature Washed Out sound, but it's the shorter, vocal-less tracks like "Good Luck" and "Luck" that show another side of him on this, his debut EP. The production is kind of lo-fi, with a constant stream of static behind the music on every track. The record has an authentic charm, while at the same time feeling effortless and weightless. Altogether, this is a really nice start from one of the leaders of chillwave.
Washed Out Paracosm
Washed Out is one of the biggest faces in the chillwave genre, and for good reason. His 2009 EP Life of Leisure was an excellent showcase of his ethereal, almost lo-if production. Though his debut album, Within and Without, was inconsistent and in some places boring, he is back on his game with Paracosm. With a focus on simple, catchy melodies and beautifully flowing tracks, his sophomore record is a nice improvement. "It All Feels Right" has absolutely infectious synth work, "Weightless" and "All I Know" have soothing vocals ,with a nice acoustic guitar background on the latter, and the title track stands up as one of the best songs he's created. It takes all the great things about the aforementioned tracks and combines them skillfully. Overall, a solid and pleasant album from Washed Out.r
Wolves in the Throne Room Wolves in the Throne Room
The beginnings of what is commonly referred to as "Cascadian black metal", that is, black metal made from bands in the Cascade Range in Washington, are heard in this demo,many humble though they may be, it's still an emotional and interesting listen. Of course, the Cascadian sound was surely predicated by Weakling and to a lesser extent Agalloch, but Wolves In The Throne Room really made the sound their own in many ways, the first inklings of which are all here to experience. It's production raw, it's guitar and drums both blisteringly fast and well toned for a demo, and it's vocals emotive and strong, Wolves In The Throne Room is surely one of the most important demos in the American black metal scene.
Wolves in the Throne Room Malevolent Grain
Released in between 2007's Two Hunters and 2009's Black Cascade, this two song EP by American black metal trio Wolves In The Throne Room illustrates the changes the band would go through in the years between the two aforementioned LP's. While the opener "A Looming Resonance" plays out very much like their old work; melodic guitars, blast beats, intermittent clean vocals, and transitions between the quiet and the loud. Closer "Hate Crystal", on the other hand, could've fit into Black Cascade well enough, as it is bare-bones, passionate black metal with ghostly vocals. It's a pretty sweet EP, and it shows the transition of the band better than any other release.
Woodkid & Nils Frahm Ellis
A companion piece to the 2015 short film of the same name, starring Robert De Niro, Ellis is a frozen, chilling piece of modern classical, being extremely minimal but stirring and engaging all the same. De Niro actually makes a great contribution here as well. His spoken word story of the ghosts of Ellis Island goes hand in hand with the cold, melancholy nature of the music, and ultimately results in a marvelous piece. It's quite a nice accomplishment to get all of this done in a mere twenty-five minutes, but with Frahm's minimalistic compositions and Woodkid's sparse, ambient drones, Ellis is an interesting and atmospheric work.
Woods of Ypres Pursuit Of The Sun & Allure Of the Earth
Wormrot Voices
Singaporean grindcore trio Wormrot have been purveyors of very solid and fun grind for about eight years now, but the knock on them has always been their lack of originality, despite their knack for writing some nice riffs and keeping high energy. Voices won't do much to sway those opinions, but it's apparent that they are doing more this time around to set themselves apart from their peers. For instance, many of the riffs here are reminiscent of something you might hear on a screamo record (just listen to "Hollow Roots" and "Shallow Standards" for proof of this). There's also some influence coming in from crust punk later in the album on its longer tracks, which in addition to the aforementioned riffs and the very solid grind of the rest of the album, gives the overall product a nice variety. It's clear that the band has spent a lot of time harnessing their craft, but hopefully next time it won't take as long and will be even better. For now, though, Voices is one of the better grind records of 2016, and for that it deserves a listen from any fan of the genre.
Xibalba Hasta La Muerte
I don't know if it's beatdown hardcore or some sludgier form of deathcore, but whatever it is, it's pretty punishing. It's kind of monochromatic, given that not many riffs are actually played and those that do always come with chugs, so there isn't much in the way of dynamics. It's boneheaded, almost humorously so, but darned if it's not catchy as can be. No matter what, be they breakdowns, slams, or what ever else have you, they're catchy and mosh-worthy through and through. The only times where this is broken are the opening minutes to "Mala Mujer" and "Cold", which have clean sung female vocals and a decent drone respectively. Alas, an album consisting of this type playing style can get a bit tiresome after a while, and the album's later tracks suffer as a result. Despite that, this is a good beatdown hardcore/sludgy deathcore album that really packs a punch.

3.0 good
808 State Quadrastate
A Day to Remember Common Courtesy
A Day To Remember V: Remember Who You Are. After a lawsuit with Victory records, ADTR self-released their fifth album, which is in every way a dedication to the fans of the band. The album is certainly an improvement over their previous two records, and features some of the best songs they have made to date. As with all of their albums, the pop-punk songs are the most enjoyable off of the record, with songs like "Life @ 11" and "I Surrender" being obvious examples. However, the highlights of the record are two slower songs, "I'm Already Gone" and "End Of Me", which both use the acoustic guitar excellently, with a mix of infectious hooks throughout. The problem with the album is that the metalcore tracks are very lackluster, and some of the lyrics on here are cringeworthy to say the least. Still, it's nice to see ADTR realize how fun they used to be, and return to form in that aspect.
Abyssal Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius
On its second full-length record, blackened death metal project Abyssal returns to the atmospherics of his debut and makes a marked improvement in the immersive mess of it all through improvements in sound and songwriting. The atmosphere is constantly oppressive and dreary, but there are odd moments of calm scattered throughout, helping different emotions come across very well. The drumming, although still done by a machine, feels more human than on the debut, which goes along way in giving a sense of intimacy to the album. The ending tandem of "Created Sick; Commanded To Be Well" and "The Last King" is definitely the best thing the project did before signing to Profound Lore, with a heavy emphasis on crushing ambience and rolling riffs. The songwriting, while improved, still suffers from some homogeneity, which ultimately leads to the record dragging heavily in the middle. That said, the bookends are pretty good, and the strong vocal performance does lend a steadying hand to the music as well. In all, a nice improvement from Abyssal, but still not quite at the level he'd see later on.
Affiance No Secret Revealed
Agalloch The White
It's really nice, don't get me wrong, but ultimately there's nothing about this neofolk EP that stands out as fantastic or even merely great. Closer "Summerisle Reprise" is about as close to a moment of triumph that The White reaches. There's no bad moments, but there aren't any moments we haven't already heard before from Agalloch either. It just goes to show Agalloch are at their best when mixing this style with atmospheric black metal and post-rock.
Agalloch and Nest Split
This ten-minute split EP from USBM/folk metal giants Agalloch and a oft-overlooked, yet very quality contemporaries Nest is a bit underwhelming in the pantheon of both bands' work. That isn't to say either of these songs are bad; Agalloch's is a lovely, atmospheric neofolk piece, but it isn't anything you haven't already heard from them. Nests side is quite good, but some unfortunately cheesy vocals kind of ruin the immersion a bit, casting a pall on the seriousness of the track. They're both very nice, easy listens, and both of these bands could do that in their sleep. In a way, it sounds like they did.
Agoraphobic Nosebleed/Converge The Poacher Diaries
A split between such harbingers of abrasiveness like Converge and Agoraphobic Nosebleed seems like it would be a godsend, but, like a lot of albums like this, it works much better in theory than in practice. Agoraphobic Nosebleed's side is noticeably faster and more intense, but nothing really goes on during it besides some nice riffs here or there. Converge's side wins out in the songwriting department, but the production during these songs leave much to be desired. It sounds so flimsy and thin that the music barely has any weight behind it, leading songs like "My Great Devastator" and "The Human Shield" to feel like every second of their length. That these problems could be rectified by having a better production job reeks of wasted potential, and it is truly unfortunate, as songs like "This Is Mine" and "Minnesota" are still good, but could be so much more. It's okay, but I'd really expect more from these two bands.
Anberlin Blueprints for the Black Market
Anberlin Lost Songs
A rarities and B-sides compilation, Lost Songs isn't exactly what it's title suggests, but it is a decent collection of songs from various non-album Anberlin releases. Opener "The Haunting", which is actually one of the best songs the band ever made, really starts things out well. The rest of the tracks are covers of songs from famous bands like The Smiths, Radiohead and Depeche Mode (the cover of "Enjoy The Silence" is actually very well done), acoustic versions of some of the better songs they've made like "Inevitable" and "Dismantle.Repair", and demos from the Blueprints For The Black Market days. These are all generally good, with an even stronger emphasis on Stephen Christian's vocal abilities than ever before. In all, it's definitely a compilation for the fans, but for what it is, it's not bad at all.
Anberlin New Surrender
I've always held the belief that Anberlin is much better the faster and more aggressive they are, because they're always going to have at least a slightly catchy chorus in their songs, and for me, catchiness is better loud. That's why I'm at an impasse with New Surrender. It stars out wonderfully enough with "The Resistance", but no song ever reaches that level of speed again on the record, save for the re-recorded "Feel Good Drag", which seems like a lazy choice for the band to make. The rest of the songs are pretty sparse and slower paced, which unfortunately leads to much of the record being somewhat boring. Don't get me wrong, there are some good songs in this style, namely "Soft Skeletons" and "Miserable Visu", which end the record on a great note, but on the whole things really aren't all that engaging. Overall, Anberlin's slowest album in their discography as of 2009 is a step backwards, but still a good listen in certain spots.
Animal Collective Danse Manatee
It's strange how Danse Manatee is universally regarded as Animal Collective's worst album, and yet the band members themselves say they're proud of what they created and had a lot of fun doing it. I definitely see the sense in that, because, if nothing else, this album really doesn't sound like much else out there. There are a couple of tracks, like "Essplode", that are reminiscent of Spirit They're Gone, but most of the structure of that record is lost here. It's directionless, formless, abrasive, sometimes even long-winded, but wholly unique. It's definitely the strangest album in AnCo's discography, and with the aforementioned unique qualities with which it operates, it's surely a needed listen for anyone professing to be a fan of the band. Even then, though, Danse Manatee is nigh inscrutable.
Animals As Leaders The Joy of Motion
Apocalyptica Worlds Collide
Arctic Monkeys Suck It and See
Arsonists Get All the Girls Hits From the Bow
ASC Imagine The Future
ASC has a lot to be influenced from, seeing as how he was brought up on Detroit techno, UK hardcore, and scores of ambient artists and manages to be progressive with these influences when he implements them into his music. Yet, with Imagine The Future, a heavily ambient album with small hints of techno thrown in, there doesn't seem to be much at play. That isn't what the first four tracks of the album, especially opener "Sunspots", would have you thinking, though. They sound sparse, but rather that in a tight way, it sounds widespread and massive. That changes, though, after "Response Code", when things not only start to become homogenous, but also quite uneventful. Truthfully, not a whole lot happens throughout the midsection of the record, making it a bit of a chore to listen to, and the album never really recovers, unfortunately. A decent outing at best.
Astronautalis Cut The Body Loose
Astronautalis has always had something really great going for him, even if its infusion with his musical output didn't yield the best results: he's unapologetically genuine with each emotion he expresses throughout a given album. In this sense, Cut The Body Loose is no different. The songwriting here is somewhat desultory, as the album sometimes sounds like it can't figure out quite what it wants to be. There's some really great material in the second half, where things gel together, like the fun and jazzy "Attila Ambrus", the beautiful "Forest Fire" and the heartfelt home-state callback "Boiled Peanuts". These tracks all see Astronautalis at his best, where his mixture of assorted indie rock stylings and a distinct hip-hop structure blend excellently. Elsewhere, however, it seems very rough around the edges, as if he's throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. It's not his best work, surely, but it's still a nice listen despite the troubles involved.
Atmosphere Lake Nokomis
Atreyu Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses
In the world of an angsty teenager, listening to Atreyu is an appropriate release of anger. I know that it was for me. Still, as the years go by, I understand the appeal Atreyu had, and still has, to their listeners. They play melodic metalcore, but it goes a bit further than that. The lyrics to these songs express heartbreak, angst, and sadness, and while they might be juvenile in most places, they're surprisingly good on songs like "Someone's Standing On My Chest" and "Lip Gloss And Black". There is an aesthetic here that fits the broken feelings of an angsty individual, and it's reflected through the music very well. The instruments sound so weak, so fragile, so sloppy, and so unthreatening that ultimately you have an accurate representation of how the band and their avid listeners feel. Alex's vocals are trying so hard to sound angry, but they just comes across as sad and alone. And yes, the majority of the songs here don't do much, but when they do, they do it great. "Ain't Love Grand?", "Someone's Standing On My Chest", and "Lip Gloss And Black" are all excellent songs that really work when all these things are considered. So yes, the album does indeed deserve criticism, but it also deserves credit for utilizing a sound that would appeal to their target audience: people like them.
Atreyu The Curse
August Burns Red Found in Far Away Places
When it comes to modern mainstream metalcore, there isn't a band that does it better than August Burns Red. Their last LP, Rescue & Restore, was a great progressive metalcore album that used its experimentation tastefully and tactfully. Does this new record follow suit? Sort of, but not really. Much of the experimentation here seems as if it was haphazardly slapped into the middle of the songs, causing the interludes to feel as if they're interrupting the rest of the song rather than being a logical part of it. That being said, on songs like "Identity", "Everlasting Ending", and "Vanguard", the experimentation is very clearly mapped out and incorporated nicely. Elsewhere, it's standard ABR, with technical riffs, an extremely tight rhythm section, and growling vocals. There isn't necessarily a bad song on this record, but aside from the three mentioned above and "Ghosts", there aren't really any great ones either. Still, it's decent enough, even though I'm sure they can do better in the future.
Autopsy Skull Grinder
After reforming in 2009, famed death metal band Autopsy has released a steady stream of solid death-doom metal albums. They're not as good as records like Mental Funeral or Severed Survival, but not a lot of death metal albums are, and they still manage to be entertaining and bring quality riffs to the table. Skull Grinder is more of the same, being relatively safe death-doom metal, but being pretty good and decently fun in the meantime, especially on "The Withering Death". It doesn't bring anything new to the table at all, but it's a pretty nice death-doom metal EP, one that fans of the band should enjoy.
Avenged Sevenfold Sounding the Seventh Trumpet
Avenged Sevenfold Nightmare
With this release, Avenged Sevenfold made it known they could still make some decent tunes. Seen by many as a tribute to their late friend and former bandmate Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, who tragically overdosed in late 2009, Nightmare is an improvement over their self-titled in many ways. It is more varied than the self-titled and features some of the better slow songs Sevenfold has written, such as the heartfelt "So Far Away" and the surprisingly good "Fiction". "Danger Line" and "Save Me" are another duo of enjoyable songs, but the rest range from listenable to inescapably boring. The album suffers from being very long-winded, and has an unfortunate amount of cringeworthy vocal moments. At best, it was a step in the right direction for the band, which is at least commendable, especially after losing their beloved drummer and friend.
Basement Jaxx Summer Daze
Pretty solid Latin-influenced house EP from funky house's most recognizable duo. It's definitely not on the level of their first couple of full-lengths, and it certainly isn't anything you haven't heard already, but it's interesting to this phase of their development, and you can hear on songs like the opener "Paradise" where they would eventually take it. More or less, Summer Daze is just Basement Jaxx in the raw, with a still-developing sound put together on a very serviceable and enjoyable Latin house EP.
Beach Slang The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel
I feel as if Beach Slang, while surely talented folks, have made a record that is by certain people for certain people. Those certain people being, of course, teenagers in California who love to party and don't like rules. And it's not even as if the lyrics are that esoteric at all, it's just that pretty much every song here says the same thing, and a couple of them almost sound the same too. It's not bad in any way, but the entire record can be summed up by hearing one song, "Young & Alive". And it's a shame they spread themselves that thin, because the instrumentation and vocals here are quite great more often than not. The notion that such qualities can be befuddled by an irritatingly repetitive and cliched lyrical performance makes this record a bit of wasted potential. Time will only tell if this gets fixed or not, though I certainly hope it does.
Ben Lukas Boysen Spells
It's not anything inventive or even the slightest bit original, but Spells is a well done modern classical project nonetheless, with a sound pleasing to the ears and small little progressions that keep it from becoming a snooze. For instance, the first couple of tracks and the better part of the third follow a strict formula of letting single piano chords ring out until the stanza repeats itself, with slight ambient sounds and light string instrumentation backing it up. This does give way, finally, to a faster pace, a more upbeat mood, and even some minimalist electronic beats that help pick up the second half of the album. The problem of the album lies in its derivative nature, and while it is pleasing on the surface, it doesn't yield much at all on consecutive listens. Lack of depth aside, Spells is a nice-sounding modern classical album that serves very well as study music to boot.
Beneath the Massacre Evidence Of Inequity [EP]
Blessthefall Witness
Blut Aus Nord/Aevangelist Codex Obscura Nomina
On paper, this split seems like a really good idea, and though it does follow through on its promise of strangeness, it's not quite as good as one would've hoped. The Blut Aus Nord side starts out with three industrial-influenced atmo-black tracks that all seem to be building up to something greater, without ever really fleshing themselves out. Pleasant to hear, yes, but somewhat inconsequential. What they built up to in "Infra-Voices Ensemble", though, is excellent, with a strangely catchy, danceable industrial rhythm dominating the song while still reveling in atmo-black. The Aevangelist side is pretty decent, but the sound of the drum kit is definitely a drawback. However, the atmosphere in this track is pretty claustrophobic later on, after it too adds some industrial spice to the mix. It's better in theory than in practice, to be sure, but Codex Obscura Nomina does have some pretty awesome moments in its forty-one minute runtime.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Creepin On Ah Come Up
Born of Osiris The New Reign
Bring Me the Horizon This Is What the Edge of Your Seat Was Made For
Buck Owens I've Got A Tiger By The Tail
Burial Distant Lights
On his final EP before releasing his self-titled debut LP, Burial gives a nice sampler of what the general sound would be like on the full-length (brooding, dark, atmospheric) without giving the best parts of it away. Understandably, this leads to an EP that, while definitely solid, is a bit inconsequential, as the only track that doesn't appear on his self titled is a Kode9 remix of "Distant Lights". "Pirates" and "Gutted" are both decent tracks, but they flow much better in the context of the self-titled. The title-track, which would be the first true song on the self-titled, is just as good in this context. Essentially the EP, in short, does its job of being a teaser, and is nice enough in and of itself.
Burial Young Death/Nightmarket
Right then, what's all this? I'm gonna go ahead and say that this is Burial on auto-pilot, which is better than most artist's auto-pilot, but it is a bit perplexing that it has been almost a full three years since his last EP and this is what he ends up with. Is he out of ideas? One could easily think so. Young Death/Nightmarket, while not bad, is a somewhat haphazard listen and feels like it was hastily thrown together at the last minute to satiate clamoring fans. The only thing I can say is this: if it takes him ten years without releasing music to put out something that matches or tops Untrue, I'll happily wait those ten years.
Cage The Elephant Thank You Happy Birthday
Cage The Elephant Tell Me I'm Pretty
I wasn't that impressed with Cage The Elephant before 2013's Melophobia, which was a great record, because the style of the band seemed all too preoccupied with recapturing the magic of a sound that wasn't theirs. They came into their own with their last album, but this album is a regression. Most of the songs here are just nice, but not memorable at all (I guess you could say they go in one ear and right out the other). No songs reach the lows of Thank You, Happy Birthday, but that record also had a few excellent songs on it. Tell I'm Pretty has "Trouble" as a standout, and everything else is relatively dull by comparison. I'd hoped they wouldn't turn back on the path they were beginning to forge with Melophobia, but that unfortunately seems to be the case here. It's not bad, but it is certainly a disappointment.
Candlemass Chapter VI
The Candlemass you hear on Chapter VI is somewhat different from the Candlemass you'd come to know on their previous four full-lengths. For starters, the tempo has been increased, making this record less of a doom metal record and more of a traditional heavy metal record with sprinkles of doom and even power metal. Messiah Marcolin is gone as well, though his replacement Thomas Vikstrom manages to retain some, but not all of Marcolin's charm. From a songwriting standpoint, not a whole lot is different. Sure, the tempo has been raised, but this is compositionally still a Candlemass record. It's mostly some solid if inconsequential stuff, but two songs, namely "Julie Laughs No More" and "Black Eyes" stand out as been the catchiest and most well written. It's not the greatest material from the band, obviously, but if you liked them before I fail to see why this would turn you away.
Chelsea Wolfe Hypnos / Flame
While it is a bit more stripped down than her previous opus, this nice little EP provides more of what we love from Chelsea Wolfe: dark vibes, a spacious atmosphere, and her wonderful voice. The opener is built upon a catchy acoustic riff, while the closer gets by on its connective lyrics, both songs being awash with the darkwave chills and haze that have so typified her sound. If anything, it's a nice teaser for what's to come, which will undoubtedly be some good stuff.
Chevelle La Gargola
Circle of Contempt Entwine the Threads
Code Orange I Am King
When "Code Orange Kids" took the last word off of their name and became "Code Orange", it implied a sense of maturity, and hinted that the band was growing up. It's a bit ironic, then, to know that this album represents a regression for the band in many aspects, chief of which is the songwriting. There isn't much variation on this record, as a lot of the hardcore punk riffs that made their debut so fun are replaced by slow, chugging breakdowns that don't exactly do much at all. There are slow, sludgy moments that don't have breakdowns that work just fine without them, like on "Dreams In Inertia". When the band does play faster, there are some great moments like on "Your Body Is Ready" and "Unclean Spirit". The vocals have improved since their debut, and sound punishing along with the dark production. Overall, it's a bit of a drop-off from their debut, but Code Orange is still young and will have plenty of time to tweak their sound for the better.
Converge/Napalm Death Split
Two of the most ferocious bands around coming together for a split EP sounds pretty swell, and that's exactly what Converge/Napalm Death is. And although it pains me to say it, Napalm Death's side is better than Converge's. As blasphemous as that is to say for a 'Verge fan like myself, it's the truth. And it's not because Converge's side is bad or even just average; "No Light Escapes" is a burner, and the cover of Entombed's "Wolverine Blues" sounds great. Yet, Napalm Death's duo of songs are powerful and even better written, especially the second of the two. Of course, nothing here matches the prowess of either bands' best material, but it's still pretty cool to have two of the most important bands in their respective genres on the same project together.
Covenant Sequencer
Covenant really hit it big after the release of Sequencer, and their penchant for a more readily listenable EBM sound plays no small part in that. However, one cannot help but feel as if something was lost in translation from their debut, Dreams Of A Cryotank. That's not to say this material is less well-written; if anything, it's even better songwriting. Yet, it's the execution that leaves a lot to be desired. The personality and intrigue that made their debut a captivating listen is distilled here, and while tracks like "Stalker" and "Storm" are very good, a lot of the stuff here feels somewhat emotionless and almost shallow. It doesn't have the same sense of passion or urgency, is basically what I'm trying to say. All of this said, this was still only their second full-length, and the best work from the group was yet to come, where they kept the songwriting chops heard here and regained some of that fire that made their early stuff so great.
D.R.U.G.S Beats The Gift: Volume Ten
The producer known as D.R.U.G.S, who has produced for rappers like Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Ludacris, and Young Dro, is well-versed in the style of boom-bap he employs on this record, giving it a nice modern feel. Still, it's not the most original of stuff, and definitely suffers from sameyness throughout the record. The beats here sometimes feel kind of dry, but most of the samples are pretty well placed in the songs. It's got some nice vibes, but unfortunately can come off as kind of boring in certain places. I'd say that the most damning thing about the record is how nondescript it is, because when you're going for an instrumental hip-hop album, it's going to have to be pretty memorable and diverse, and that doesn't really happen all that often here. Still, when it's on, it's spot on, and select tracks off of the record are really good. It's not a bad album at all, just a very nondescript record with some good vibes.
Dark Blue Start Of The World
Dark Blue plays post-punk pretty close to the table, at least as far as the revival sound goes. What that entails for Start Of The World is a collection of solid, albeit unspectacular post-punk songs with an indie edge to them. Most of the songs don't deviate from the path set early on by opener "Union Of Buffoons": mid-paced, simple guitar, bass, and drum work, and charming if somewhat initially off-putting vocals. Things change on "Paralyzed By Fear", which turns things to a sort of post-punk piano ballad, and the chorus of "Bombs On The Beach" really takes the song to heights unreached by the rest of the album. It's homogenous nature leads to some songs blending into one another, but there aren't any bad tracks to speak of and the albums production sounds very enjoyable. It's a simple, uncomplicated post-punk affair for Dark Blue on their sophomore record, which ultimately gets the job done well.
Daylight Robbery Accumulated Error
Some pretty safe, yet wholly solid post-punk from a female-fronted Chicago trio. The best parts of this LP come from the duo of Christine and David Wolf. Whether relatives or marriage partners, I don't know, but their vocal and guitar interplay give the music some nice dynamics that make the music a notch better than your average gritty post-punk band. The drumming by Jeff Rice is also very well done, but the use of distractingly similar drum fills in a few of the songs takes a bit of the creativity away. It's a bit hard to choose a standout track here, as they're all decent enough with catchy choruses and good performances all around. As such, it's also hard to stop the songs from bleeding over into one another and becoming a samey experience. That all said, though, Accumulated Error is a solid and enjoyable post-punk record, so if you're into that, you could do much worse than this.
Depeche Mode Speak And Spell
Depeche Mode's humble beginnings as a pretty straightforward synthpop group (heavily influenced by new romantic) are chronicled here on their 1981 debut Speak & Spell. It's of note that Vince Clarke, who'd later go on to form Yazoo and Erasure, is the creative force behind this record rather than Martin Gore. He'd only be a part of Depeche Mode for this album, though, which ended up doing them a lot of good. The songs here are very straightforward synthpop brimming with 80's cheese. While there are a couple of great pop songs here, like "Puppets" and "Just Can't Get Enough", it's of interesting note that the two songs written by Gore on the record, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and the instrumental "Big Muff", are by far the most creative songs here. The rest of the songs are pretty simple, mildly enjoyable tracks, but some are unfortunately kind of cringeworthy ("What's Your Name?"). Even though they'd eventually break out of this mold to form better albums, if you're a fan of straightforward 80's synthpop, this should be right up your alley.
Despised Icon Beast
Despised Icon are one of those deathcore bands that do it right: aggressive, heavy, occasionally catchy, and above all, fun. On Beast, their first record in seven years, these things are here again, and it sounds like something straight from the mid-2000's, with twenty-nine minutes of agressive, no-frills deathcore blasting through the speakers at a blistering pace. The problem here doesn't lie with the songwriting, or the vocal performance (which is quite good), or even the lyrics. It has to due with the production. Put simply, it lacks punch. Many of the slams or breakdowns sound kind of hollow, and the "oomph" that is necessary for these kind of records isn't really there. It's a shame, because this is a well-written and pretty fun album, but it could've been so, so much better had some extra time been spent in the production department.
DJ Rashad Jukeworkz
DJ Rashad would end up making a name for himself as one of the most successful and influential disc jockeys in Chicago's history, due to his great influence over the juke and footwork genres. Here, on Jukeworkz, things are a bit rough around the edges, but the base sound is pretty solid. Some of the samples, particularly the ones on the songs describing all sorts of sexual escapades, are kind of obnoxious and hurt what are otherwise really good tracks. Several juke remixes appear as well, and they're pretty good as well, especially the remix of Rich Boy's "Drop". The highlights are pretty nice, and the mid-album stretch of "I'm Blowed", "Drop Juke Out", and "Itz Not Rite" is especially enjoyable. All this said, it's not anything close to what he'd eventually release, but it's still a enjoyable juke album regardless.
DJ Rashad and DJ Ty The White Tees EP
More of Rashad's very early work, before he started his massive output in 2007. The Rashad side has the classic "My White Tee", which is really the only song you need to hear from this, but the rest of his side is pretty solid as well. DJ Ty's side is alright, but it's hampered by some irritating samples. Still, if you want more context as to what juke and footwork's golden child came up doing, you can't go wrong with The White Tees EP.
Dragged Into Sunlight Terminal Aggressor
The beginnings of a mysterious and wholly venomous extreme metal project, Terminal Aggressor sounds much more akin to something off of Widowmaker than Dragged Into Sunlight's ferocious debut full-length. With the bulk of the production handled by Kas Mana, the instruments have a nice, thick sound despite the demo quality. The song itself meanders in dark ambient for much longer than it should, but it's got a decent enough payoff, with the closest thing the band ever got to post-metal ending the songs final minutes. It doesn't really sound like much else in the discography, which definitely warrants this raw EP a listen.
Drake Views
Drake, at least for me, has one of the more inconsistent discographies in hip-hop. Thank Me Later had some amazing highs, but fluctuated in quality. Take Care was an excellent and consistent record all-around, while its follow-up Nothing Was The Same was more shoddy. If You're Reading This, It's Too Late was a great tape, and remained at a high quality throughout its runtime. Which leads us to Views, which is a bit of an enigma. It's wildly inconsistent, having some great tracks and some downright cringeworthy ones. Lyrically, it's somewhat of a retread, only instead of looking forward into future success, it looks back at the past accomplishments. Sonically, however, it's not a retread at all, in fact inching closer and closer to a sound more or less Drake's own, giving hints of a vision that is yet to be realized. There are some missteps, obviously, but it's far from complacent or stagnant. If anything, it's a necessary step towards something even greater for Drake, which, if the pattern follows, should be his very next release.
Draped Urn Degenerate
If you're looking for fifteen minutes of melodically-leaning war metal, then Draped Urn's debut EP is the thing for you. It's certainly not very original, but the seething emotions behind every instrument and the vocals, complete with an excellently dirty production job, really give it some nice footing. There are plenty of discernible melodies to be found here as well, as the opener and the obviously-tongue-in-cheek "Spanking Ritual" will gladly show you. Who Draped Urn exactly is (the one band member is known simply as F.) is a mystery, but hopefully he provides some more of this stuff in the future, with a sound more fleshed out.
Earth Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions
Ella Mai Time
Sometimes all you want is some none-too-complicated R&B; a lovely voice and little else. That's exactly what Ella Mai provides on Time. Although practically nothing about this EP is original in any way, the goods are definitely provided by Mai, who does an excellent job as a vocalist throughout the EP. The production is decent enough, but nothing stands out that much. That can be seen as a virtue for Mai, as nothing really distracts from her at all. It's pretty nice, and if you want some good contemporary R&B, you can't really go wrong here.
Emery The Question
After their emotionally charged debut, Emery decided to show their softer sides on their sophomore effort. Their is decidedly less screamed vocals on this record, with the emphasis being on the vocal harmonies that enriches their songs so well. The songwriting here is pretty good, but unlike The Weak's End, becomes somewhat homogenous by the end of the album. That's not to say the album is in any way bad, because the catchiness, especially of the guitars, and the vocal dynamics add a lot to what is otherwise a simple post-hardcore formula. As with all of their records, the opener is a great song, and in this case, really sets the tone for the rest of of the album with its simple-yet-effective approach to post-hardcore. It does drag a bit in the middle, unfortunately, but the ending duo of "In A Lose/Lose Situation" and "In A Win/Win Situation" does a great job of helping cancel that out. Basically, this is Emery at their most uncomplicated, and for the most part, it's pretty decent.
Emery I'm Only A Man
I may be in the minority here, but I'm Only A Man isn't that bad. While it does lose some of the personality that Emery had on The Question due to the curious purge of vocal harmonies and the dip in lyrical quality, it's still a passionate and sometimes very catchy affair. Where the band really deviates from their established norm is that the album is quite inconsistent, in stark contrast to The Weak's End and even The Question. The highs here, like "Story About A Man With A Bad Heart" and "The Movie Song" are as good as any song they've don't up until this point. That said, "Don't Bore Us, Get To The Chorus" is as obnoxious as any song they've done as well. There's distinct peaks and valleys here, which are usually kept to a minimum on their records. All this said, I'm Only A Man is a decent effort from the band, and is not nearly as bad as people would have you believe.
Emery We Do What We Want
On paper, We Do What We Want is not only Emery's heaviest album, but is also their most inconsistent. There's still something very charming about the band, but it would seem that In Shallow Seas We Sail is somewhat of a fluke in their discography. There's some great material here, as opener "The Cheval Glass" (one thing Emery never fail to do is make a killer opener), "Scissors", and the corny-but-heartfelt "I Never Got To See The West Coast" show. Still, there isn't as many catchy choruses or memorable riffs aside from the aforementioned tracks, and the emphasis on harsh vocals is puzzling given that they've never been the band's strong suit. The lyrics have also taken a hit from their last effort, being as wildly inconsistent as the songwriting. Thus, it's certainly not their best work, but it's got some classic Emery songs here amidst the ones that range from solid to filler to kind of embarrassing. It's like a microcosm of the band, really.
Eminem Recovery
This is where Eminem started his whole "long, lonely road" phase, and although said phase has rightly garnered a lot of criticism, it actually works very well at certain points on this album. Take "Talkin' 2 Myself", "Going Through Changes", "Not Afraid" and "25 To Life" for example. Em sounds animated and his rhyming schemes are ungodly skilled, and although some of the lines are nonsense, it's definitely done more tactfully than Encore or Relapse did. Yet, while these songs align the planets for this new Eminem, others sound completely out of his league. "So Bad" is supposed to be some sort of braggadocios sex anthem, but he keeps the same furious delivery he did on the aforementioned tracks and it simply doesn't fit. It's the same with "Love The Way You Lie" (which is the only good hook on the record, unfortunately), when the topic is an estranged relationship. The constant in-your-face yelling delivery is off-putting, especially against acoustic guitar. Really, Recovery is a hodge-podge of stuff that manages to do less harm than good, but unfortunately is the peak of post-Eminem Show slim, who evidently did something down the road to leave him bereft of versatility on the microphone.
Emissary Emissary
Enter Shikari Nodding Acquaintance
Esoteric Esoteric Emotions - The Death of Ignorance
Before becoming one of the most well-known and well-rounded funeral doom bands, Esoteric was playing an extremely heavy version of the delicate funeral doom they'd perfect on later records, bordering on death-doom metal. This, their first demo, is an hour and fifteen minutes of very depressing, very smothering death-doom, and despite some shoddy work with the vocals and some long-winded numbers, it's quite good. There isn't much in the way of melody here, but when it shows up, it really does, like in the opening minutes of "Eyes Of Darkness". The atmosphere is hollow and constant, but it doesn't hit home as much due to the recording quality of the demo. The vocals are very good when there are no effects done to them, but are actually kind of grating and irritating with them. Mostly, though, it's just monolithic, slow-burning death-doom. It is admirable that there is variety to be found in the songs themselves, but the moments are far between each other. They're just working out the kinks, and despite that, the demo is pretty decent.
Every Time I Die Last Night in Town
With their debut full length, Every Time I Die makes an improvement in the department they had lacked in on the Botch-worshipping The Burial Plot Bidding War, which was the production. It sounds so much crisper here, and the vocals are not as raspy and irritating as they were before. This gives the band a chance to show what they have. The lyrics written by Keith Buckley are pretty interesting, and while the instrumentation still bears an obvious influence, the songwriting has improved as well. Still, there is a lack of a truly stand-out track, or even a stand-out moment on this record. The songs are solid, but they lack an identity, which causes them to bleed into each other and become indistinguishable. There's certainly a noticeable improvement, though, that the band had made from their EP on to this record, and the talent was there for them to expand this improvement on to the next record in their discography.
Every Time I Die Ex Lives
Here's were I believe the songwriting began to really stagnate for the Buffalo quintet. True, the formula wasn't changed all that much on the stretch from Gutter Phenomenon to New Junk Aesthetic, but there was always a sense of unbridled energy and passion rocketing forth, as well as some phenomenal lyrics from lead man Keith Buckley. This time around, everything, from the sound to the aesthetic to the lyrics, has been cleaned up, and not in a good way either. Things sound much more sterile than before, and the lyrics don't have the same sharpness to them as before. You wouldn't know it from the opening one-two combo of "Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space" and "Holy Book Of Dilemma", but Ex Lives is, by and large, Every Time I Die-lite. It's got enough energy and some admittedly fun moments to warrant a listen, but if you want the bands best, look elsewhere.
Every Time I Die From Parts Unknown
Explosions in the Sky The Rescue
Fallujah Dreamless
Fallujah's transformation in the last five years is certainly a welcome sight in the deathcore community. Once merely an above-average deathcore band with progressive influences here and there, they are now regarded as one of the most forward-thinking, technically skilled, and refreshingly progressive bands in the scene today. With Dreamless, they show these tendencies, but ultimately stagnate in terms of songwriting. They rest on their laurels throughout much of the album: very technically proficient riffing, blistering drumming, soaring melodic leads, and atmospheric interludes. Unfortunately, these songs begin to bleed into each other quickly and the variation from track to track is minimal, save for the electronic "Les Silences". Even still, despite all of this, Fallujah create some very good material here ("The Void Alone", "Wind For Wings"), showing their natural talent excellently. It's likely this is merely a small standstill for the band, and their potential is still very high to create something as good (or even better, hopefully) as The Flesh Prevails.
Four Tet Pause
Four Tet is one of the more well known artists within the realm of folktronica, a mixture of folk music and electronic downtempo. Pause opens with a great song in "Glue Of The World", but things on this record never quite get back to the greatness of the opener. The unfortunate thing about this is that there isn't a whole lot going on at all here. It sounds nice, but it's almost too sparse. The opener, "Parks", "Untangle", and "Everything Is Alright" have just the right amount of instrumental work to keep the music from collapsing on account of being too thin. Sometimes a perfectly good track like "No More Mosquitoes" are bogged down by irritating samples, and other times a track that shows potential, like "You Could Ruin My Day", is stretched out beyond its welcome. While all of this is unfortunate, when it is good, it's really good, and all of these issues are things that can be weeded out or refined respectively. The idea that that can happen still has me pretty interested in Four Tet, despite this lukewarm offering.
Four Tet and Pole Four Tet v Pole
It's always interesting to hear these "vs." projects, even if they may sometimes be underwhelming. What it entails is two artists coming together with an original song each, and remixing each other's creation. On Four Tet v Pole, Four Tet is the winner here, with his remix of "Heim" being an excellent track, done in a piano-heavy IDM style. Pole's remix of "Cload" is pretty good, being more glitchy and leaning more towards techno. It's nothing all that new or great besides the opener, but it is still pretty cool to see how the artist's respective styles contrast and combine. This was also made very early on in both of their careers, and it showed in small doses the ambition that both artists had for their sounds.
Full of Hell Amber Mote In The Black Vault
Quick but enjoyably punishing EP from Ocean City's grind/powerviolence golden children Full Of Hell. Bursts of energy, noisy riffs, constant blast-beats, and a Melvins cover. Wreaks more havoc in seven minutes than the Browns have all season, the bastards. Amber Mote In The Black Vault is good PV. Listen to it.
Funkadelic Free Your Mind...And Your Ass Will Follow
Of Funkadelic's sophomore effort, George Clinton had this to say: "It was an attempt to see if we could cut a whole album while we're all tripping on acid." In effect, this album seems decidedly less focused and well-rounded than their self-titled debut, and about fifteen minutes shorter. The tone is set pretty early on by the opener/title-track, as it's ten minutes of smooth, yet very meandering, funk rock. The triumph of the album is "Friday Night, August 14th", with an insatiable rhythm and catchy chorus. The second side of the album is in a similar, yet more condensed vein of the title-track, and as such contains the similar problem of meandering and directionless composition. Despite this, it's pleasing to the ear due to the general funkiness and smoothness that Funkadelic is known for. In all, a decent follow-up to their debut, but it leaves a lot to be desired.
Future Dirty Sprite
The first instillation in this (hopefully) ongoing series, Dirty Sprite is an enjoyable tape from Future that is unfortunately marred by inconsistency. When it's good, it's fantastic, and the first half of the record contains several of these choice cuts. The sinister title-track segues into the celebratory "We Winnin'" wonderfully, and the immeasurably infectious "Racks" is still an all-time highlight for Future. The closer, "4 My People" is a great R&B-flavored track, while "Splashin'" comes in at just the right time to halt a bit of a lull the tape goes into. Elsewhere, it's pretty solid or somewhat uninteresting trap, lending a bit of credence to the notion that the tape is longer than it should be and looses gas near the end. It's interesting to see how much he's improved from not only a musical, aesthetical, and flow standpoint, but also the consistency level when comparing this to the second installment in the series.
Future 1000
Even back when he was not yet one of trap's brightest faces, Nayvadius Cash, better known as Future, was crafting pretty enjoyable and entertaining trap, being the next in line in the Atlanta hip-hop scene (parallel to Young Thug) to explode in a fury of hard-hitting beats and intense charisma after the likes of Jeezy, Flocka, and Migos. His debut mixtape, 1000, establishes that Future had a good idea of what he wanted his sound to be. That being said, it does sound different from his most recent and popular output. His voice isn't as charmingly drenched in auto tune, rarely does he venture to lower octaves vocally, and the production is more upbeat, in stark contrast to a record like Dirty Sprite 2. He doesn't seem as nonchalant and disillusioned, but fits the production well by being upstart and upbeat himself. In this sense, he was still yet to come into his own, which results in an entertaining, but nowhere near original, mixtape.
Future Kno Mercy
Much like any early Future mixtape, it's a bunch of solid trap that sees Future honing his skills at autotune-drenched hooks and smooth flows over some bass-heavy trap production. And as with any early Future mixtape, there are moments of pure greatness like on the Mike WiLL Made-It produced "Code We Honor", with its infectious beat and even more infectious hook. And also moments of apathy or, in the case of the admittedly obnoxious "Lil Mexico Lingo", annoyance. The one thing that can be said for the latter song is that there is a clear want to try something a bit different, and that would become a virtue later on in his career. It's a bit of a desultory release, but Kno Mercy is still some enjoyable trap from one of the most prominent faces in the genre.
Genghis Tron Board Up the House
Gnaw Their Tongues Issei Sagawa
The man on the cover, who's namesake is this album's, was a famous cannibal who did his horrific deed in 1981, killing, dismembering, and finally eating his victim. So, basically, just the type of guy Maurice De Jong would look to for inspiration for his twisted works. On this EP, we hear De Jong honing his skills in dark ambient, with touches of industrial and drone peppered throughout. The samples are still present, taking up the vast majority of the runtime, but what's going on behind them is far more interesting. Discernible melodies played by violins and droning synths swirl around inside a tense, noisy atmosphere, with a good amount of discomfort being projected due to them and the disgusting chewing noises heard as well. It's only nine minutes long, so it's not much in the way of an immersive piece, but one can clearly hear what De Jong was doing with this on later EP's and LP's in his discography, all the way until 2010.
Gnaw Their Tongues Spit at me and Wreak Havoc on my Flesh
The beginnings of what would come to be a venomously forceful and vehemently nihilistic experimental noise/ambient/black metal project in Gnaw Their Tongues are peculiar. The base sound, while nowhere near as fleshed out as later releases would be, is established here, with everything including drones, riffs, drumming, and vocals operating with a violently primal sentiment. Still, some questionable choices are made here that are a detriment to what could have been a really great record. For instance, on opener "A Burned Offering", tension is built through the first two minutes until some of the cheesiest strings I've heard come in an diffuse all of it. The rest of the song is done marvelously, but it could have been so much better without those strings. The song acts as a microcosm of the album, because whether it's an instrument or one of the many needless samples, the album's tension and horror are diluted and the experience is lessened. The notion that it still manages to be a decent listen is a testament to the mostly excellent instrumental work and the always wonderful vocals that Maurice De Jong brings to the table.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor 'Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress'
Godspeed You! Black Emperor have the reputation of always pushing the envelope, always experimenting with their sound, and just generally being one of the largest bands, in both size and sound, that ever played. That's why it's such a shock that this record can be perfectly be described as safe, and ultimately rather unimpressive. The album starts out decent enough, with thundering drums providing the perfect backbone for the tracks 10 minute run length. Then, some nice drone tracks come into the fray, rather unambitious in nature, but not bad. The closer is the best song on the album, utilizing Godspeed's unique crescendo strengths as well as some nice drones and strings to boot. Altogether, it's a nice listen, as there isn't any bad tracks, but it's short length and lack of anything truly gripping (something that has always been on their records) make it a sort of uninteresting and unengaging experience. A bad album by no means, but we all know they're capable of so much better.
Gorillaz G-Sides
Grimes Art Angels
You ever try a piece of candy or a drink or some other edible substance that tastes good but is just too sweet for your tastebuds for you to really enjoy it? That's kind of what it's like for me hearing Art Angels. Don't get me wrong, there are some really good pop songs here like "Flesh Without Blood", "Realiti", and "World Princess Part II", but more often than not I find myself wishing it wasn't so oversaturated with sugar. "California", "Butterfly", and especially "Kill V. Maim" are all guilty of this style that's too adorable for its own good, and sometimes comes off as kind of forced. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Boucher doesn't have a good voice or that none of the songs are catchy, because she does and some of them are, but I believe one of the lyrics of "Butterfly" say it better than I ever could: "Don't know this song; sweeter than a sugar cane." In all, the album as a whole is okay, but I can't help feeling it would've been much better if not for the aforementioned issues.
Gucci Mane Everybody Looking
Honestly, it's good to have Gucci back. Understandably, as Everybody Looking is his first release since being freed from prison, there is an enormous amount of hype surrounding it. That said, it feels more like a compilation of material he'd been working on over the last few years than a full-fledged, completely brand new project. That doesn't mean that songs like "No Sleep" and "1st Day Out Tha Feds" aren't excellent, but it does mean that some of the songs here aren't as up to par as one would've assumed. To be sure, this is a solid trap record, and there are flashes of brilliance that remind one of some good years of Gucci Mane's discography, but that's part of the problem. Gucci certainly isn't the artist he was stylistically years ago, and with him sounding a bit rusty coming out of prison, the allusions to his past and his massive influence come across as mere celebratory and reminiscent fare. Not bad, but those years have passed him. That's why the next thing he drops, when he faces the artist he is today, will be better.
Herbie Hancock My Point of View
Though Herbie's debut, Takin' Off, was a really good slab of bluesy post-bop/hard bop, his second record, My Point Of View, is somewhat of a lesser version of it. Both albums start out with funkier pieces of post-bop in "Watermelon Man" and "Blind Man, Blind Man", the latter of which is still excellent despite not being as good as the former, featuring some truly fantastic guitar playing from the underrated Grant Green. The rest of album is pretty much post-bop by the numbers, except of course for "King Cobra", which as the very least attempts to, as Hancock himself put it, "expand the flow of jazz tunes and chords so that it would go in directions beyond the usual". Of course, Takin' Off was similar, but in undoubtedly better quality. That said, My Point Of View is still a good, if unspectacular, post-bop album from everyone's favorite jazz pianist.
Herbie Hancock Inventions And Dimensions
Evidently, Inventions And Dimensions was recorded with improvisation in mind, but improvising using conventional melodies and rhythms rather than just whatever the mind could conjure. The result is kind of uneventful. Pleasant, certainly, but uneventful. The tracks that bookend the album are excellent, however, as the endless piano flourishes flow freely on the steady bass of Paul Chambers. The middle three are somewhat of an exercise in patience, but the Latin-inspired percussion on these tracks is interesting in that it gives the album a totally unexpected feel. It does stand to note, though, that even though one may feel this experiment didn't yield much, it is very indicative of Herbie Hancock's forward-thinking nature that made him one of the greatest minds and artists jazz has ever had the pleasure to see. His next album would be phenomenal evidence of that, but this one is also proof.
Hexvessel When We Are Death
It seems like the guys who wrote No Holier Temple took one too many caps over a couple of years and began attending sermons at the church of the Lizard King, because instead of an eclectic, mystical psychedelic folk record, we get a Doors-influenced psychedelic rock album with vague hints of what the band used to be. Don't get me wrong, taken at face-value, the album isn't half bad. Songs like the catchy and dreamy "Cosmic Truth" and the lovely "Green Gold" are really good songs, and no song on the record is particularly bad, but many of them just kind of go through the motions quite lazily. The vocals are good, as Kvohst tries to bolster the album through his croons, and does so on the good tracks, but ultimately can't save the underwhelming and bare tracks. Overall, it's not bad, merely okay, but it's a shame knowing that they're capable of so much more.
Ian Crane The Frosted Original
The Frosted Original features a playful, relatively upbeat sound within the confines of hypnagogic pop, and works well when giving these short, minimalist takes on the style. It's quite a short affair, but it's a decent enough listen nonetheless. It's impressive that there already is a distinct atmosphere at play here despite the short length, sounding watery and calm, especially when you consider Ian Crane only just started releasing music. Of course, the ideas explored here aren't explored to the fullest extent they could've been, and feel more like snippets of larger songs than songs proper. Point being, the sound is definitely there, but it should be expanded on further in the future. If that happens, then this is assuredly a project to keep an eye out for.
Iced Earth The Glorious Burden
In the time that Jon Schaffer has been the overwhelming creative force behind Iced Earth, I've grown to appreciate what Randall Shawver had to contribute more and more. That's not to say that The Glorious Burden in particular is a bad album, but you can definitely tell some creativity was lost along with Shawver. They weren't the most creative band in the world to begin with, and yet the utter lack of it on this album is still kind of jarring. That said, the band, now fronted by Tim "Ripper" Owens, puts in a generally good performance, with some moments here or there that are actually pretty awesome. Most of the choruses are pretty nice, and while the songwriting is kind of homogenous and, in some cases, overlong, it's very solid in its slightly thrashy power metal style. Owens is very good, really being the driving force behind the music with his perfectly over-the-top vocal style. So yes, it's not very creative, but The Glorious Burden still manages to provide some classic Iced Earth moments.
Jakob Skott All the Colours of the Dust
Acting as the drummer for Danish heavy-psych quartet Causa Sui, Jakob Skott is certainly an extremely skilled percussionist, and in the past few years has released a couple of psychedelia-influenced progressive electronic albums. All The Colours Of The Dust, the next in his discography, has a nice emphasis on the full and rich drumming, being backed up by sprinkles of neo-psychedelia, jazz, progressive electronic, and even a bit of world music. One would guess that this would lead to widely diverse and engaging album, but it's a unfortunate reality that the album falls short in this regard. It's actually a quite bit homogenous in the songwriting department, and though the sounds on display are generally pleasing, the songs don't exactly justify their runtimes. It's likely just a small misstep on Skott's part, given his thematically rich and very fun previous output including Taurus Rising, and though it's a lukewarm affair, All The Colours Of The Dust does have some nice moments throughout its length.
James Blake Klavierwerke
Here we see James Blake begin a foray into the minimalistic side of the future garage/dubstep/alternative R&B sound he'd eventually master. These tracks are all decidedly minimal, with not a whole lot going on in terms of instrumentation. It's here where he'd start using his auto-tuned voice as an instrument, and in some cases, the sole instrument. All this being said, these tracks aren't nearly as fleshed out as they should be, and from a songwriting standpoint it's a bit of a regression from CMYK. Still, Klavierwerke was a necessary step in the full development of James' sound, which would finally come to realization on albums like his self-titled and this year's The Colour In Anything.
James Blake Air & Lack Thereof
James Blake is one of the more well known producers in the world today, and it's no surprise given the success of his full length albums, which saw him become just as much of a songwriter as he was a producer. His beginnings are seen here, and it's a nice listen. The production has more of stereotypical dubstep sound to it, and while it's not conventional per say, it's interesting to hear a small amount of wub along with the bass, though nowhere near the extremely pronounced bass-porn of American dubstep producers. In all, it's a nice start for Blake, one he would definitely grow on.
Keith Urban Defying Gravity
Kendrick Lamar Overly Dedicated
Kindling Everywhere Else
Made up of one-half of the famous screamo band Ampere, Kindling mixes shoegaze together with some pop-sensible indie rock and does a good job doing so. Everywhere Else showcases this, with most of the songs being solid representations of the style. That said, it stands to mention that the album is somewhat one-note, as there really isn't anything going on outside of the melodic, droning guitars and the melancholy vocals. The lack of a true standout track also hurts, with the drones and riffs bleeding into each other after a bit. They're all pretty decent songs with some catchy riffs here and there, but it's ultimately a bit too homogenous to have a stronger impact. All that said, it's clear they do have potential, and if they can expand their sonic palette, they have a good chance at making an excellent shoegaze record in the future.
Knives Exchanging Hands The War Of Speech, The Weapon Of Words
Kraftwerk Kraftwerk
With this 1970 debut LP, famed German experimental electronic group Kraftwerk began to sow the seeds of their illustrious forays into electronic music. Although the album in question is quite different from their later records that would make them known as electronic godfathers, it has an art rock aspect to it that, when mixed with this penchant for the then budding electronic music genre, makes it a krautrock record through and through. Though credit must be given for their openness to experimentation, the music on this record is pretty meandering, with a sense of purpose still lost on the greater part of it. This is especially apparent on the latter half of the record, where electronic noises blip and whizz by aimlessly. It's the first half of the record that makes it a record worth hearing, though, as a wonderful balance between art rock and electronic music is struck in those tracks, giving glimpses into what Kraftwerk would eventually become.
Kraftwerk Ralf und Florian
The Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider show had ten seasons, the best of which were without a doubt 4-8. The first two seasons were pretty shaky, but the third season began to right the ship and show even more of the glorious potential they had. The episodes all have at least some degree of experimentation going on with ambient electronics, whether they be simple synthesizer lines that evolve into melodies played a full band of instruments or just fluttering piano and light bass. Point is, the episodes here is generally easy to watch, and while still a bit unstructured, has more direction to it than either of the first two seasons did. It was a necessary process for the duo to go through, otherwise they wouldn't have been able to create the fine seasons we all know and love from them. Television analogies.
La Dispute Here, Hear.
If you ever needed background on the story told in Somewhere At The Bottom Between Vega And Altair, this spoken word EP by post-hardcore/emo band La Dispute is a needed listen. It might just be Jordan Dreyer reciting some poetry over some acoustic guitars, but it's pleasant enough on the ears to make you absorb everything being read, and understand how they influenced La Dispute. For instance, "Two" is a reading of an E.E. Cummings poem containing the phrase "Nobody, not even the rain has such small hands." And on "Three", which is a quite wonderful reading of Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee", which would go on to serve the basis for "Fall Down, Never Get Back Up Again". If anything, it's interesting to see who and what influenced the band during the creation of a wonderful record.
La Dispute Here, Hear. II
The second in La Dispute's series of spoken word EP's, Here, Hear II does exactly what it's predecessor did: it gives you insight on the bands' topics/aesthetic and why they chose them, and it gives you a nice, quaint listening experience. Jordan Dreyer's speaking voice is great, and the instrumentals behind the readings are pretty good as well, especially the slightly jazzy "Five" and the emotive "Eight". Long story short, it's a welcome addition to an insightful series.
LCD Soundsystem LCD Soundsystem
Linkin Park A Thousand Suns
Before this album, Linkin Park was not a band you could describe by using the word "experimental", as their style consisted of straightforward Nu-metal with some pop sensibilities. Here, though, Linkin Park rework their entire sound into something much more electronically driven. Sure, this is far from Hybrid Theory and Meteora era Linkin Park, but that does not mean there isn't something here to enjoy. It might be hit-or-miss, but when they hit, they hit right on the money. Some truly excellent songs such as "Iridescent" and "The Catalyst" shine through what is otherwise an underwhelming release, as there is a bit too much filler on this album for it to be considered great. Still, credit is due to them for switching up their entire sound and still putting out a halfway decent album.
Machito and His Orchestra Kenya (Afro Jazz Cuban)
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis This Unruly Mess I've Made
At the very least, This Unruly Mess I've Made is the most aptly titled album of the year so far. And, in some ways, it's fascinating. Musically, this is everything I love and hate about this pop-rap duo cranked up to eleven. Which means that, simultaneously, they're both at their best and at their worst at the same time. That by itself is messy enough, but it's compounded when you consider this notion: that this album is what happens when a pop-star realizes he shouldn't have been one, yet still tries to carry on as one. Fame affects those that revel in it in negative ways, sure, and that has never not been a topic to discuss in music. Yet, Macklemore is less well off than most in this regard. He knows next to nothing about handling fame. This album, for better or worse, represents that, and results in both the best music he's ever created ("Light Tunnels", "Buckshot", "Kevin") and the worst ("Dance-Off", "Bolo Tie", "White Privilege II"). As such, this album is the definitive hodgepodge of the year so far for me.
mewithoutYou I Never Said That I Was Brave
If mewithoutYou had jumped straight from their very raw screamo-influenced debut EP Blood Enough For Us All into the much more refined and intricate mixture of post-hardcore and indie/art rock that was [A-->B] Life, it would've left some questions unanswered. But, since I Never Said That I Was Brave exists, we don't have to wonder. This EP bridges the sound of those projects, keeping the harsher vocals and the rawer production, but bringing the songwriting up a notch and nearer to what they would release later. It's no secret, then, why two of these tracks ended up on their debut LP (although one would be re-invented rather than re-recorded). The inclusion of a track from their debut EP also shows how they bridged the gap, and ultimately the band used this improvement as a nice springboard. A must listen for mewithoutYou fans, and a really solid post-hardcore EP in and of itself.
Miles Davis Miles Ahead
It seems like a peculiar decision to have one of the greatest jazz innovators of all time have a piece orchestrated for him and a roughly twenty member band, but that's what Gil Evans opted to go with here. Davis and Evans would collaborate again after this, but this is the first of their collaborations and the first time Davis has worked with orchestrated pieces since Birth Of The Cool. Some of the songs on here are really great, like "The Maids Of Cadiz", "My Ship", and "New Rhumba", but more often than not songs off of the record will feel inconsequential, and sometimes even boring. They're nice to hear, but nothing really jumps out at you. It really feels like Davis is being restricted, and while there's no problem with more subdued jazz, it seems like it's holding itself back from being a truly fantastic and memorable listen. In all, this is certainly not the best of Gil Evans and Miles Davis' collaborations, but it is a pretty nice and occasionally really great listen nonetheless.
Miles Davis The Musing of Miles
It's not necessarily an essential listen by any means, but The Musings Of Miles does give further insight into what Davis was trying to concoct in the realm of cool jazz. Though only two tracks here are that prototypical cool jazz style, Davis himself wrote one of them in closer "Green Haze" (the only song written by him that appears here other than the hard bop "I Didn't") and, though he didn't write it, he does perform a great rendition of "I See Your Face Before Me". The other tracks are all upbeat hard bop renditions of songs written by other people, though the penultimate track "A Night In Tunisia" is an excellent track and the best song on the record by a few leagues. And while the compositions, whether hard bop or cool jazz, are pretty standard, it's still some quality stuff.
Ministry With Sympathy
Before Ministry was the angry, thrashy, pounding industrial metal band we know them as today, they were an electro-industrial group similar to Skinny Puppy. Before Ministry was that, though, they were a synthpop/new wave band that contrasts very heavily with their later selves, not only in style, but in aesthetic as well. A lot of people love to give Ministry crap for this record, but I've never thought that way about it. The album is predominantly just cheesy 80's synthpop with one brilliant song ("Revenge") and one pretty good one ("Effigy"). The rest of the songs I'd be hard pressed to call "bad", but a couple of moments are pretty cringeworthy. That being said, the record does have really good moments too. Sure, it's not the greatest thing in the world, but in no way is this album a bad one and in no way does this album deserve the ire it draws from people. It's Ministry before they were truly Ministry, but as it stands by itself, it's a decent album.
Miserable Failure Hope
Moby Moby
For some time now, Moby has been one of the most eclectic electronic producers alive, being almost defiantly different . Early on in his career, though, he played things pretty straight, opting for driving techno beats and a rave aesthetic. While the first five songs are pretty nondescript, and in some cases a little irritating, when "Mercy" begins, we start to see the Moby we know and love peak through. It's pretty obviously influenced by ambient and downtempo, as is closer "Stream", offering a break from the upbeat techno. The second half of the album is where things pick up, with some genuinely great techno songs in "Go" and "Help Me To Believe". He'd definitely go on to do bigger and better things, and eclipse all sorts of subgenres in electronic music, but he began his work here, through a straightforward template that he tweaked to his content little by little throughout the years.
Moby Ambient
Contrary to what the title would have you assume, Ambient isn't an album of ambient soundscapes or progressions without defined beats. Rather, it is an album of many solid, and a couple of excellent, ambient techno/house cuts that exemplify Moby's jack-of-all-trades nature as a producer. Far from the beat-driven compositions of his self-titled or the Early Underground comp, his sophomore record is much more based around atmospherics and minimalism, although every song does have a defined beat to it. As far as must-hear tracks go, the evocative "J Breas" is surely one to hear, and the opener "My Beautiful Blue Sky" is also quite great, with its tribal beat and soothing tones. Although they're nothing to write home about besides those two tracks, the rest of the tracks here are decent enough to hold their own and make Ambient a worthwhile listen. Moby, of course, would hone these newfound skills on later releases, so it's definitely a valid point that this record was a necessary step in his development.
Moby Early Underground
Moby is a guy with the rare gift of being a jack-of-all-trades. While sometimes this doesn't translate into great material, he's proven that he can make some truly fantastic stuff with his large electronic palette. This, a compilation of early works he did while under many different names, is a snapshot of his early years, where he frequented the dance clubs of New York and became well known within its electronic scene. The material here is pretty consistent, consisting of unsurprising but above-average acid house. Sometimes Moby strikes gold, as "Permanent Green" will demonstrate, but it's mostly just acid house as solid as it comes. It's not entirely memorable, but it is very easy to listen to, and his consistency throughout those early years cannot be understated.
Muse Muse
My Chemical Romance I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love
N.W.A. Niggaz4Life
After one of the founding members of N.W.A., Ice Cube, left the group, things were a lot more rough around the edges for the remaining members. While Dre's production was still on point in its proto-G-funk swagger, the socio-politically charged lyricism and unforgettable lines are few and far between on their second full-length. The first half of the record is quite excellent, however, sounding seamless in their transition into a post-O'Shea sound, with the title-track being one of the best songs they ever put down. That said, the second half of the album devolves into a horrifically hateful and violent attack on all things woman with no self-awareness involved whatsoever. Don't get me wrong, if you can't handle a little misogyny in your rap, you're missing out on some truly amazing hip-hop, but when it's just nonsensically rampant and goes on song after song after song, it becomes taxing and honestly a little disgusting. All this would be easier to handle if they sounded tongue-in-cheek, but they all sound so serious it's kind of jarring. The closer really saves things, harkening back to the greatness of the first half and leaving the record on a good note. It's definitely worth a listen just for the first half alone, but one can't help but think that Niggaz4Life could've easily been much better.
N.W.A. 100 Miles and Runnin'
The title-track is a marvel, that enough is for certain, but the problems with N.W.A. began to be a bit more exacerbated after Ice Cube left the group. This is mainly due to the notion that at that time, aside from Dre, Cube was the only guy in the group that could flow consistently. He'd get better later on, but Eazy-E's flow is remarkably inconsistent. On certain songs he's quite good, but on other songs it's almost comically clumsy. MC Ren fares a little better, but not by much. Dre is truly the star of the show here, with his proto G-funk production dominating the EP and turning in the tightest verses on the record as well. It's a nice precursor to Niggaz4life, but it ultimately pales in comparison both to that record and to its predecessor. But that title-track though man, that's some legendary stuff.
Napalm Death The Curse
Initially released as a seven-inch EP alongside the first pressings of From Enslavement To Obliteration, The Curse offers a nice, brief look into what that record is all about. The sludge-influenced title-track is bereft of vocals, but not of tension, which is ultimately released when the four straight grind blasts come rocketing from the speakers. It's a bit inconsequential in the grand scheme of things for the band, but that doesn't change the notion that this is still a solid, enjoyable grind EP, all in just five minutes.
Nas I Am...
I Am... is a hard album to pin down. It's definitely got a lot of variety, but none of these things really translate into a discernible identity. It's definitely got some extremely high-quality Nas songs, but others that aren't very good at all. This flailing inconsistency seen in the quality of the tracks only further prove the notion that the album is searching for an identity and never truly finds one even after an hour of music. The production is pretty shoddy, but can be very good in spots ("Small World", "Nas Is Like", "Undying Love"). Nas' lyrics are pretty good, even excellent on tracks like "N.Y. State Of Mind Pt. II" and "We Will Survive". That said, the hooks here are definitely the low point of the album, with many of them being either unbearably corny or just obnoxious in general. It's a shame some really swell material would've been on this thing had it not been for excessive leaks, but I suppose Nas did the best with what he had, and the result was a decent, if very inconsistent outing.
Neil Young Neil Young
There are few names more important to both rock and folk than that of Neil Young, a Canadian-born genius of a songwriter that has released seminal albums in many sub-genres of folk and rock. His humble beginnings are seen here, on his self-titled debut, and though it pales in comparison to his later works, it still shows flashes of brilliance that would come to encompass his career. Opening with the gorgeous country instrumental "The Emperor Of Wyoming" we see Neil's knack for a great backing band, as while he might be a great singer, guitar player, and harmonica player, he can't do it all himself. Then comes a classic song, "The Loner", which seamlessly combines southern rock and folk to make an early masterpiece. Unfortunately, none of the songs that follow even come close to its greatness, as they mostly range from enjoyable to uninteresting. Still, give it a listen if you're familiar with Neil's better work.
Norma Jean Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child
Norma Jean Redeemer
Norma Jean's third studio album is a bit of a departure from the Botch-esque hardcore that got them famous. There are much more conventional song structures on this album, and the relentless intensity has been brought down a bit. The thing that really holds this album back is the lack of a true standout track, which unfortunately results in the songs bleeding together. That being said, songs like "Blueprints For Future Homes", "A Small Spark vs. A Great Forest", "The End Of All Things Will Be Televised", and "The Longest Lasting Statement" are all very solid tracks. It's decent hardcore with more clean vocals than Norma Jean has done before, but it's a step back for the band overall, as it is easily their most homogenous record so far in their discography.
Opeth Damnation
I don't quite know what to make of Damnation. It's preceded by one of Opeth's best albums in Deliverance, and it is a decent album in and of itself. Yet, something about it seems odd, like it's missing a crucial piece to the progressive death metal puzzle Opeth was always so good a creating. It's pretty enough, as each track as a nice atmospheric vibe to it and the guitars generally sound good. The compositions are fine, and Akerfeldt's singing is more than competent. The problem lies with the overall sameyness and the production of the record. More or less these songs are very pretty, yet inconsequential, progressive rock dirges, produced in the cleanest, most sterile way you can think of. That's all well and good in some cases, but not when it strips the music of any emotion or semblance of anything more than a disinterested melancholy. Damnation does have its moments of clarity, but most of it is murky in an apathetic sea.
Opeth Watershed
It's of popular opinion that Opeth stopped being Opeth after this album, and went on a miserable 70's prog worship escalade that hasn't stopped yet, unfortunately. You can sort of hear the beginnings to that on Watershed, but the album still has some really great moments on it that are reminiscent of the better days, like the greatness that is "Heir Apparent". Still, things seem disjointed and somewhat tired here, with perplexing moments of songwriting listlessness that simply weren't there on records like Ghost Reveries. The record sounds decent enough, but there is a lot left to be desired in the personality department, which again was not an issue on their better material. Essentially, this is just Opeth doing Opeth, but not as good as other records that do pretty much the exact same thing. It's just a shame they forgot that any full-on prog rock band post-80's not named Rush blows, because I'd take three more of these than the three that came after this.
Opeth Apostle in Triumph
At only three-and-a-half minutes, poor recording quality, and no vocals to speak of, these two demo songs represent the humble beginnings of Opeth. Even with these small moments, you can see small hints at what Opeth would soon become. It truly is incredible to hear the first moments of a band that would soon grow to be one of the defining acts in progressive death/black metal, and even metal as a whole.
Oranssi Pazuzu Värähtelijä
The idea behind a psychedelic, trippy black metal band is an interesting one, but at what point does the music become an exercise of almost oppressive ambition? That's the line Oranssi Pazuzu toes during the entirety of Varahteliga. Make no mistake, there are really awesome sections of music on this album, like the world drums that dominate "Lahja" and the guitar that sounds like an air raid siren during the climax of "Havuluu". Yet, for every moment of this album that works, there's another that doesn't. Much of the compositions are meandering and pretty uninteresting, and it ultimately becomes tiresome to listen through. Sometimes, the payoff is worth it, like those aforementioned moments, but other times it's impossible to justify. Thus, Varahteliga, while deliciously ambitious in some instances, is an exercise in unjustified patience in others. It would be nice to see these kinks worked out on future efforts, because without them, the band would definitely be on to something.
Oxxo Xoox Reveurt
I think what makes Namidae such a great album is the notion that it's long, but it doesn't feel long. You have a lot of fun while hearing it. That's not to say Reveurt has no fun moments, but they're not as frequent, and the album certainly feels like it's an hour and seventeen minutes. The sound here is more gothic than its successor, and it sounds just a bit more thin as well. Tracks like "Ama" and "Lini" are ultimately fantastic, but it's no coincidence that those two are two of the shorter songs here. The longer ones feel very drawn out and unsatisfying, which is definitely an issue on an album of this length. The vocals are still good, and the overall musicianship is very good, but the songwriting and pace of the album is surely a detriment to the whole product. It's comforting to know that they worked out the kinks and made a truly great album in the years following this.
Paramore Singles Club
Paramore is as Hayley Williams is. That has always rung true, even when the band was stable in its lineup. Still, that is probably for the best, as Williams has always been adept at getting everything out of catchy hooks and energetic vocal performances. 2011 EP The Singles Club reaffirms this through its short runtime, with "Monster" being a great highlight. Other than that, the songs range from decent to boring. "In The Mourning" sounds far too similar to Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" to grab any attention, and "Hello Cold World" adds nothing new to the table. "Renegade" is decent enough, but is heavily out-shined by "Monster". All in all, it is a solid showing from Paramore, but it's nothing we haven't seen before.
Parliament Osmium
George Clinton, the mastermind behind the world-renowned funk group Funkadelic, simply had too much of a drive musically to stay veiled in one bands' confines. That's why Parliament, the sister group to Funkadelic, is such an important band. P-Funk was born from those groups, and while it's not entirely evident on Osmium, the same precursors that can be heard on early Funkadelic can be heard here. That being said, it really feels far too much like an early Funkadelic record to be its own thing, even though it's good some good enough material. Some of the overly-indulgent accented vocals tend to hurt certain songs, mostly the "country" themed ones, but elsewhere the songs are pretty solid psych-funk, enjoyable and groovy. In all, Parliament's debut is vastly similar to early Funkadelic, but that's certainly not a bad thing.
Periphery Periphery (Instrumental)
Djent is a genre that, like a lot of metal subgenres, is maligned. I can't speak for the masses, but it's certainly never been my cup of tea. The only bands I really enjoyed within Djent where The Contortionist, which is on the fringe of the genre, and the instrumental Intervals. Periphery is the face of Djent, for better or for worse, and though I've only had small samples of the band, they weren't all that great. While this release is void of any vocals, which were too clean and perfectly-produced for my liking, the record doesn't do all that much for me. While the quieter moments are indeed pleasant and there is a nice amount of technical skill on display here, nothing really grabs me about it. The record is pretty long as it is, but to not have a song in the entire length where anything stands out from the rest of them makes it much longer than it should be. If I had to choose a favorite track, it'd probably be "Zlglorx", as the track contains the best instrumental playing on the record and is the closest the record comes to a cathartic moment. The band undoubtedly has a lot of skill with their instruments, and nothing on the record is bad per say, but it's unfortunately pretty forgettable on the whole. Still, isolated moments on the record are pretty enjoyable, and it's definitely better being completely instrumental.
Phantogram Voices
PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project
In keeping with the political lyrics and the unrestful vibes that made Let England Shake such an interesting statement of an album, The Hope Six Demolition Project see PJ Harvey turning her sights toward America this time around. The music is decent enough in and of itself, but it seems rather lazy and uninspired in parts, these parts including the backing vocals. Harvey's voice is quite good, but the lyrics that made her previous effort so interesting and so easy to get behind are somewhat lost on this one. They're more of a laundry list of general complaints rather than a serious political statement, and the oft-disinterested musical backing only compounds this sense of mild irritation. There are some really great moments, though, like the strong delta blues influence on "River Anacostia" and the entirety of "The Wheel", but ultimately The Hope Six Demolition Project is a rather lukewarm slab of artsy folk/indie rock.
Pomegranate Tiger Entities
Post Malone August 26th
The long-awaited debut mixtape of overnight star Post Malone is a solid foray into what he's all about: cloudy beats, braggadocios rapping, and autotune-drenched R&B vocals. He uses the autotune as just another instrument, which is the best way to use it, and it works really well. The first three tracks on the tape are kind of lukewarm, but things get rolling with "God Damn"'s catchiness and "40 Funk", which features the best lines on the tape. Somehow he takes the chorus to Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" and gives it his own meaning. A bastardization, to be sure, but one totally endearing and not pretending to be anything else. While it is true that some of the production here sounds a bit dated, the attention is less on the production than on Post himself, which is impressive given that most of the production is pretty nice. Of course, one could make the case that he's holding something back here, which is a valid statement. I guess we'll have to see what his first album proper brings to the table.
Primordial The Burning Season
Protest the Hero Fortress
Protest the Hero Scurrilous
Radiohead Creep
An EP from the grungy, sometimes even britpop-influenced days of early Radiohead, Creep is a pretty solid slab of alternative rock, featuring the classic title-track and a few other less good but still enjoyable tracks. The best of these would have to be the very catchy "Yes I Am", which also has a pretty sweet build-up and solo at the end of the song. It's a needed listen for hardcore Radiohead fans, but otherwise this release is a bit desultory. In the end, though, it's a sweet little EP which acts as a nice precursor to Pablo Honey.
Raime Tooth
Nowhere near as unsettling as their debut record, Tooth is a solid, albeit inconsequential collection of tracks from Raime. The sound here is based heavily in ambient, with dark undertones and a cold vibe to it. There's no clear cut favorite out of these tracks, but they're all at least decent in their own right. By design or by accident, the album takes a pretty easy-listening, background-music approach to the style, never quite going anywhere adventurous, but never becoming a bore to listen to either. In this regard, though the tracks definitely blend into each other throughout the album, it isn't a problem due to the very level playing field they're on. It's a well done album, but it is a bit of a disappointing affair from a group that prides themselves on making some very chilling electronic music.
Red Hot Chili Peppers Mother's Milk
This is what began John Frusciante's first go-around with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it's in a way an opposite of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. That isn't to say Mother's Milk doesn't sound similar to its successor; it does, but it works in the opposite way. Whereas the combination of the original Peppers' funky weirdness and youthful sound mixed with John Frusciante's more mature artistic vision and melodic stylings extremely well on Blood Sugar Sex Magik, they almost cancel each other out on Mother's Milk. It doesn't sound bad at all; in fact, it's consistently pretty solid stuff, but nothing really stands out as being a great track. There's faster, funkier numbers and slower, more melodic ones, but they're pretty much the same level of quality and don't really do anything to help each other out. It's a decent record, but nowhere near the heights they'd reach when they finally figured out how to merge these two styles in a symbiotic relationship later on.
Red Hot Chili Peppers One Hot Minute
The more I listen to the Chili Peppers, the more I appreciate John Frusciante's influence on them. It's a shame he wasn't on board for 1995's One Hot Minute. The follow-up to the 1991 classic Blood Sugar Sex Magik is a bit of an underwhelming release, but it has flashes of brilliance that warrant it a listen. It is a funky album, but it has heavier riffs than it's predecessor. However, some of the softer songs on the album, like "My Friends" and "Tearjerker" are the best featured. It drags heavily in the middle, but it is bookended by a couple of great songs in "Warped" and "Transcending". Though Frusciante was missed, One Hot Minute is not without substance, even if it is spread out over the album. Also, for you Flea fans, he has a solo song called "Pea" that is kind of humorous.
Sadistik Salo Sessions
It's been an evolution of sorts for Cody Foster in the past eight years. Initially, his lyricism consisted of very intimate and depressed lines, usually with complex rhyme patterns, dealing with the problems and questions associated with depression and anxiety. Apparently, during this search for answers, he's become jaded and frustrated, opting for lyrical themes that reflect this newfound cynicism. Ultraviolet was the beginning of this, but Salo Sessions is a continuation that follows this ethos much tighter. The production is much cloudier and more shrouded than before, echoing Sadistik's mindset very well. As a standalone release, it's definitely a bit tamer than a full-length in this style, but it's going to be interesting to see what improvements he'll implement if and when that full-length comes. Until then, this is a decent enough preview.
Sea of Shit 2nd EP
Chicagoan powerviolence quartet Sea Of Shit are back and still firing on all cylinders. They don't make a particularly original brand of powerviolence but they sure do what they do right. Occasionally they go for some sludgy hardcore riffs and those are pretty sweet too, but the band is at their best when blasting away at warp speed and shouting at the top of their lungs, which happens a lot. Basically 2nd EP is quick and fun PV EP done correctly, so if that interests you, enjoy.
Seether Disclaimer
Radio rock bands are a dime a dozen, and Seether happens to be one of the more famous groups involved with that tag. That being said, they're not half bad on their debut. Is it radio rock? Most certainly so. Is it well done? You bet. From lead single "Fine Again" and its evocative guitar line and lyrics, to the strangely catchy "Sympathetic" to "Broken"'s gorgeous chorus and nice acoustic guitar, much is well crafted here. This comes to a head on "Fade Away", a mish-mosh of all of the aforementioned songs' qualities with the added sweetness of an addicting bassline. Yes, elsewhere we find some homogenic songwriting that really kills the vibe the good songs had going, but a few, like "69 Tea", are decent enough to keep the ball rolling a bit further. Overall, it's a