Genre: Noise Rock/Post Rock/Experimental // Released: 2014
I’d bet Michael Gira still cracks a good chuckle every now and then when recalling that time he tried to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for eternal inspiration and unbridled creativity, and the Lord of Flies laughed at his face arguing he had no use for a soul like his. Post-reunion Swans’ unholy run of three albums, namely The Seer, To Be Kind and The Glowing Man, certified that Gira and co. had reached a musical ecstasy desired by many and achieved only by a few, and that a spirit binding contract was, thus, unnecessary.
Sandwiched between two of their most acclaimed releases, To Be Kind seems to have been driven by one of the most devastating existential crisis experienced by Gira. Going in you’ll be welcomed by an asphyxiating apathy which slowly evolves into hypnotic instrumental lunacy. Gira’s singing suffers a transfiguration throughout the album. It’s the sound of a man forlorn into his self-imposed quest for meaning, which mid-album ejaculates the overwhelming grandiosity of the infamous 34 minute epic combo baptized as “Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture”. And the band tails the deranged frontman toe-to-toe, stretching from the unsettling calm of songs like “Some Things We Do” to the infuriated euphoria of enrapturing jams like “She Loves Us” or “Nathalie Neal”. Even if To Be Kind was the answer Gira was searching for when hammering himself in his own personal hunt for the meaning of life, what matters more is what was left in his path: an unrepeatable recording of biblical proportions. – Dewinged
Genre: Post Hardcore/Metalcore/Post Metal // Released: 2010
There are certain indicators that can be used to determine whether or not an album is one of those albums. Music listeners comprehend that feeling all too well—when an album still shoots chills straight through the body, its tracks manage to surprise despite being heard a hundred times, and it never departs from rotation. It is difficult to come by any record that can encapsulate all three of these criteria at once, with a particular emphasis on the former standards. After all, if a given media creation, regardless of format, is consumed on a regular basis, it should be inevitable that the audience of the art would understand each and every facet that makes that piece click together. Sufficient time should guarantee that a work is ‘solved’ and can therefore be measured by whatever subjective evaluation is applied to it. Ratings systems exist for a reason, lists are available to categorize, and so on and so on. This is essentially a very long-winded way of expressing my consistent ineptitude to talk about something I am both passionate and clueless about. Discussing The Long Procession is often a difficult tight-rope exercise between accurately expressing the content of the music and its associated sensations—something I should, in theory, know intimately—and the unyielding doubt I still have about it all. It’s not possible to, in good conscience, conversate about such an amazing record when my thoughts on it are not nearly as concrete as one may expect.
Painting is an analogy that crops up all too often in my writing, but I find that invoking it once more can’t hurt due to how apt it is at describing the single album made by professional hide-and-seek players Amia Venera Landscape. Should I attempt to wax poetic about how incredible of a listening experience it is, I fear that I’ll fall into the typical pitfall of blinding myself with my immense emotional response and connection to the disc, rendering the ensuing paragraphs nothing but a glorified ramble. Instead, picture Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch. Similar to The Long Procession, the massive triptych oil painting is impressive in its magnitude. Approaching it is a daunting task given the grand presentation and the engagement required by the viewer. Moving past that, one must reckon with the intensity brought forth by what appears to be an absurd attention to detail; the panels are filled to the brim with small touches and rich symbolism. Seeing the Garden only on an occasion in passing is simply insufficient, as it is impossible to truly internalize all that Bosch has portrayed. Historians and curators have spent years debating over the purpose of the piece, tirelessly positing new narratives, the obscurity of the man behind the art leaving no authorial intent to cling to. Only two certainties are established:
- There is a viewer in a room.
- There sits a painting in the room.
There is nothing to fall back on. An individual cannot invoke the power of history or their previously-learnt information, should they have any. It is the classical duel of music listening between the illusive album that refuses to be pigeon-holed and the listener determined to do just that.
Bosch has evaded capture for five whole centuries. Placing The Long Procession on that sort of level is hyperbolic, but I cannot help but feel as if the two different artistic works here are intertwined. The thunderous opener “Empire” continuously provides minute, nearly imperceptible additions in the background that offer endless intrigue. Its ominous first chord and subsequent metalcore chaos are awe-inspiring in of themselves, but to know there is still more behind it—more to debate, more to hopelessly attempt to define—is nothing short of classic status. This motif is not limited to “Empire,” however, and it endures in the methodology the Italians apply to the rest of the songs that appear. While their technical skill is commendable, the arrangements are the main attraction. There are four separate guitar credits described in the band, which seems to be a recipe for disaster. Surely, with drums and bass also in the mix, something has to give in the production. As immense as the collective’s sound is from the beginning of “A New Aurora,” each factor can be heard mingling about. There are gorgeous, polished melodies, rhythmic bass lines, crushing leads, an incredibly varied percussion performance, resonating harsh vocals and emotional clean singing.
A prevailing argument is that, trimmed down to size, The Long Procession would improve vastly, its positive qualities buttressed by the aforementioned tunes, the strength of the amazingly-heavy “My Hands Will Burn First,”—featuring the best breakdown ever recorded, by the by—and the equally-crazy musicianship of “Nicholas.” It’s the equivalent of removing a panel from Garden in order to save space; the remaining product is thrilling, yet nothing will prevent that nagging feeling that something is missing. The lush atmosphere crafted on the album here is what elevates it from an excellent metalcore release to an unrivaled metalcore/post-hardcore/progressive metal/post-metal hybrid. The ambiance of “Ascending” and the titanic “Marasm” is what holds the record aloft, tying each number into the other, immersing the listener in a sensational, mood-driven journey. The various tracks are colored in the feelings of anger, depression, and regret, with each feeling punctuated by the terrifying heaviness, the melancholic melodies, or the reserved piano contribution. These are the passages that bridge one song into another seamlessly without every once feeling jarring, which stands as a testament to compositional brilliance that is not commonly witnessed. Beyond acting as reliable, captivating guides, these more atmospheric forays differentiate the duration of the LP, with the slow build-up of “Glances pt. 1” collapsing impeccably into the achingly beautiful introduction to the second part. By itself, “pt. 2” may have been far less remarkable. Paired alongside the aforementioned installment, it suddenly becomes an amazing slow-burner with an enormously satisfying climax.
If this is the only mark to be left by the enigmatic Italian band, then it’s possibly the finest one-hit wonder to be dropped. This is an assertion that isn’t exactly popular and there are years of musical history available to readily dispute such a claim. However, whenever I step into that space—my car, my bedroom, what have you—and I put my reliable CD copy into the nearest stereo, I cannot reach a different conclusion. It is simply a perfect storm of elements gathered from related genres that, when combined, express the very concept of music in a manner that always blows my mind. Their obscurity in the scope of the industry belies the untouchable songwriting packed into the hour-long duration. Each number is tightly composed to the point where critique quickly devolves into nitpicking. Plenty of instances feature metalcore’s trademark ‘controlled chaos’ theme, whereas others are shockingly quiet and reserved, the group using every second to gradually reconstruct their sound and emerge once more in reverberating post-metal chords or insane post-hardcore ventures. It is ambient, progressive, complex, and emotional, traversing from one point to the next, the monumental odyssey so epic in its grand performances. More could be said about The Long Procession until this ‘blurb,’ such as it were, becomes an indecipherable 100-page exhibition of directionless praise. Given the right frame of mind, I could do just that. But I’m still stuck in an art hall, gazing deeply into a series of wooden panels, and having nothing else in my head except a profound sense of indissoluble admiration. – Mars
Genre: Post Hardcore/Alternative // Released: 2015
The apocalypse is supposed to be the great equalizer. Nothing that can save a person from it – no amount of money, no number of good or bad deeds, no sets of beliefs. Nothing. Pale Horses captures the brutality of the world-ending in all its dark reality. Vivid imagery of atom bombs exploding, biblical tales, human consciousness, and natural disaster abound, with no living being spared as the world takes revenge on each and everyone of us and reminds us of our small place in the world. Yet somehow Aaron Weiss manages to take this grand global destruction and tie in messages about his receding hairline, his hometown, and wishing his deceased father could have met his wife. mewithoutYou have always been masters of taking the English language and setting it to music to describe the human experience, both large and small. Pale Horses is perhaps their most enigmatic work, also while managing to be the album where much of the mystique of Weiss and co. is unveiled. – Mathias
Genre: Hip-Hop/Experimental // Released: 2011
A portion of my bias for XXX among Danny’s releases comes from the lack of sheen and spectacle attached to it. The production may be less accomplished than later albums, but it exacerbates Danny’s character; even the artificial drum sound holds a strange appeal when you’re intimate with the confrontation of self heralded by the scattershot fill that kicks off “30”, one of hip-hop’s all-time finest closing tracks.
XXX is absurdly funny, yet perennial sexual encounters with ‘your b!tch’ don’t stop XXX from developing an emotional narrative flow. The album is loosely divided into sections that detail the high life, the low life, Detroit, and the threat of a rickety future from a man at a crossroads. The subtle intermarriage of these sections seeps into your being like a cup of lean, putting you face down on the floor, a charismatic cackle emanating from your deranged, gap-toothed host as he manipulates your vulnerable state with unmatched flair, scarring your brain forever. – MiloRuggles
Genre: Progressive Rock/Indie Rock // Released: 2015
The Dear Hunter’s Act series is so much a coming-of-age story both in its lyrical concept and in the way its release dates vaguely charted my teenage years that it feels a little strange to write a retrospective outside of its immediate timeline. Don’t get me wrong, I love Act II and Act III, but it makes me a little uneasy to imagine digging into my one-time attachment to the former’s problematic relationship framing or the way the latter’s vaguely Shakespearean plot twist turned my world upside-down.To this end, it’s a relief that those two come from another decade and that Act IV landed a place on this list.
For all the other installments’ melodrama, this one is perhaps the most gripping and relatable Act for the way it captures the moment things started to slip for our protagonist. The opening tracks see him hardened by war yet not yet adjusted to adulthood, learning to balance high stakes and responsibility with the vestiges of the youthful qualities that made him likeable in the first place. Needless to say, he turns into a bit of an arsehole once ambition finally enters the picture, but it’s unexpectedly moving to watch him walk down that path. As a character drama, it has more depth than Act V’s brash culmination; as a loss-of-innocence narrative it hits far harder than any of Act II’s scarlet meanderings. Most importantly, the music here is up to scratch almost every step of the way. “The Old Haunt” and “Waves” kickstart that album in a gorgeously emotional manner; “Is There Anybody Here?” is probably the series’ finest hour as far as hesitation and uncertainty are concerned, and “The Line” is a refreshingly understated number that finally proves Casey Crescenzo can write a break-up track without leaning into angst. It’s carried by stellar production value, an attitude somewhat lacking from past outings, and is clearly inspired in a way that empowers the title; Act IV certainly was a fresh breath of wind for a project seemingly left on the backburner through the first half of the decade. – Johnny
Genre: Indie Folk/Electronic // Released: 2011
Bon Iver’s self-titled falls perfectly in between his two levels of cult status. On one side you have For Emma, where he is a solitary artist hidden away, making painfully personal art. On the other end, you have 22, A Million and i,i, where the name Bon Iver has become more of an artist collective with Justin Vernon at its head. The self-titled retains the personal intimacy of his previous work, but also manages to incorporate his penchant for creating moments that would later become the central theme of his whole work. The final minute of Holocene, the bridge of Wash., the cacophony of Calgary, the strange, hazed out dream of Beth/Rest – Vernon created an album that seamlessly strings together perfect moments. In the process he made unequivocally his best work and one of the most beautiful albums of the decade. – Mathias
Genre: Post Hardcore/Blues // Released: 2014
In his 2012 book, How Music Works, Talking Heads’ very own David Byrne discusses how music as a performance or spectacle appears to be increasingly shunned in Western culture, looked down upon as insincere and inauthentic. I’d tend to agree with old Davey boy, although I wouldn’t complain too much, given most of my favourite records are entirely absent of theatrics, eschewing grandiosity in favour of intimacy and immediacy. And yet, despite my disposition for reclusive, understated albums, I can’t deny how refreshing it is to experience a record as epic and unrestrained as Holy Vacants: one willing to revel in its own spectacle, rather than shy away from it, with such skill and grace that its emotional potency isn’t overpowered or undercut. It’s bold, brash, beautiful and bluesy as balls – and we love it.
In my opinion, the album is wholly synonymous with its closing tune(s), “Everything Disappearing”/“Nyctophobia.” A blues-rock jaunt through several musical and emotional landscapes, it delivers the emotional gut punch precisely when the album needs it. As the song builds to its climax, a chorus of vocals simply remind us, “You are not alone.” By any stretch it should be considered incredibly cheesy and forced, but thanks to the sheer good nature and authenticity of the artists it feels earth-shaking. It’s a hug from a friend you haven’t seen in years — and no amount of theatrics or spectacle can kneecap emotion like that. In Holy Vacants case, it helps it to soar. – Asleep/Neek
Genre: Alternative/Electronic/Experimental // Released: 2016
Radiohead has not always been the most personal band. This is a calculated move of course, a distancing from the wave of bands that followed the desperate angst of The Bends. In applying their themes to the unrest and discomfort at the turn of the millennium, they managed to capture the hearts and minds of an entire generation. But in Radiohead’s constant outward focus, it was always hard for me to connect to Thom Yorke as a human being instead of a thematic bastion.
Following the separation from his partner of 25 years, frontman Thom Yorke’s lyrics once again turned inward. Tracks like “Daydreaming” and “True Love Waits” ache with regret and pain, providing astonishing thematic contrast to the widescreen churn of “Ful Stop” and the anxiety-inducing opener “Burn the Witch.” The album also feature a variety of sounds echoing several eras of Radiohead’s past; it’s equally wavey, groove-based, and surprisingly mellow. With this time-hopping between eras, sounds, and themes, A Moon Shaped Pool should be Radiohead at their most discordant and confounding. But thanks to its roots in personal catharsis, it manages to be the most inviting and cohesive record of their whole discography. And their most human. – Neek
Genre: Progressive Rock/Indie Rock // Released: 2016
ACT V is one of the most pretentious albums ever made. It is the conclusion to a five album long, steampunk inspired concept story. The Dear Hunter is a prog-rock act that takes pride in that label and defies it all the same, with Act V pushing the most boundaries, being filled with self-indulgent flourishes and genre hopping that veers from basic alt-rock to big band jazz. Luckily, it has Casey Crezcenco behind all of the madness, and his attention to detail, creative prowess, and pure dedication to the project makes the (as far as we know) final installment of the Acts the best of them. From the outset, it is clear that Crezcenco decided to fully let loose, with “The Moon/Awake” being a mid-tempo rocker with a pay-off that has Casey’s best compositional work and best vocal performance across the entire series. From there, each song essentially works as its own experiment, each taking different risks and inspiration, but tied together with the magnificent vision of The Dear Hunter. – Mathias
Genre: Alt Metal // Released: 2012
The Japanese language is full of beautiful words and phrases that don’t have analogues in English, like “komorebi”, “mono no aware”, “ichi-go ichi-e”, and “ikigai”. “Koi no yokan”, as you may have already heard, translates to something akin to “the inevitability of love”. It isn’t love at first sight, but the feeling that love will eventually blossom.
Similarly, there’s something inevitable about Deftones’ Koi No Yokan. There’s a pervading sense that the band have so meticulously crafted their unique sonic language that it’s nearly impossible for them to be misunderstood while they’re speaking it. Koi No Yokan is basically the most fully realised and refined version of the Deftones that have been around since the dawn of the 21st Century. It’s not as original as White Pony, nor as visceral and inspired as Diamond Eyes. It’s an almost unremarkable effort, by their standards, and it’s definitely not their best album, but it is almost inevitably great. – SitarHero
Genre: Technical Death Metal // Released: 2016
Thank fuck for Ulcerate. Seriously. No one has quite mastered death metal flair quite like New Zealand born Ulcerate. Shrines of Paralysis wastes no time in bringing its burgeoning devastation to the for-front. Like the convincing Vermis which continued to display Ulcerate’s grip on proficient, often introspective death metal in the vein that they only know how, Ulcerate’s 2016 piece is chock full of ear-bending riffs, bellowing roars and proficient drumming. Still, Ulcerate remains as dense as ever, allowing only the truer, more loyal fans to enjoy the band’s brick-walled devastation. – Nocte
Genre: Post Hardcore/Indie Rock // Released: 2011
Wildlife is so thoroughly saturated with gutwrenching moments that it’s hardly surprising to see that two in particular have stuck as discussion points, encapsulating the album part-for-whole style. The flooring conclusions of “King Park” and“You and I in Unison” are frequently cited for good reason and perfectly representative of the cathartic, narrative intensity that made Wildlife such an important album, but this citation overlooks one of its key strengths: the vivid detail of individual songs is just as significant as the amount of ground covered over the whole album. Its thematic boldness is almost overwhelming; we get a little boy dying of cancer; we get a surprisingly convincing snapshot of sexual frustration; we get a tragic parricide story; we get a good deal of hometown agonising; and so on. It’s a dense listen, but frontman Jordan Dreyer’s delivery is as passionate as his lyricism is intelligible; the album is starkly, stunningly coherent as a result.
However, that much is true on some level for anything La Dispute have done since. The difference here is that Wildlife is as excellent a post-hardcore album as it as a lyrical album. Jordan Dreyer may have proved a surprisingly stable commodity with the indie kids over the course of the decade, but this album is full of a kinetic thrill that the band have apparently left in the past. Harder harmonies, indeed: La Dispute balance riff rock and compelling storytelling with clear zeal. There’s a sense throughout that the rest of the band are actively competing with Dreyer rather than leaning as his support act; the album is occasionally sporadic as a result, but its level of melodic and dynamic detail is as dense and engaging as its lyrical side. Impressive and not to be replicated, Wildlife is the kind of album that could only have come out in the window of c.2009-2013. As such, it’s encouraging to see it remembered both as La Dispute’s finest and an exemplary snapshot of that era of hardcore. – Johnny
Genre: Technical Death Metal // Released: 2013
Though the entirety of Colored Sands is fantastic, for a while, my attention and appreciation always gravitated most toward “The Battle of Chamdo” and the two tracks that border it. A stunning track in isolation, the gloomy, contemplative string ensemble piece is even more striking when heard in context, right in the middle of a fiery onslaught of death metal. It neatly punctuates the epic scope of the title track, and it winds down the tone of the album so that, when “Enemies of Compassion” brings the metal bursting back in, the effect is even more arresting. I loved the rest of Colored Sands as well, but my love for “The Battle of Chamdo” was the most comprehensible, so that three-track stretch was what I found myself returning to the most.
Then I learned that Luc Lemay is a trained classical composer, and suddenly, everything I loved about Colored Sands snapped into sharp focus. The compositional ethos that undergirds “The Battle of Chamdo,” I realized, permeates the whole album. Lemay and his associates didn’t just string riffs together; they composed Colored Sands, in the most classical sense of the term. Every track on Colored Sands is intricately arranged and precisely structured to convey a compelling micro-narrative on its own, as well as to contribute to the larger macro-narrative of the full album. Not a single note is haphazard. Metal music has always been rife with the potential to tell sweeping, grandiose stories, but Gorguts is one of the few bands still working with the musical craft necessary to fully execute on that potential, and Colored Sands is the best demonstration of that fact. – hesperus
Genre: Pop Punk/Alternative // Released: 2013
With The Greatest Generation, The Wonder Years, already kings of the genre, perfected the lyrical and musical aspects of their style.cLike many pop punk albums, The Greatest Generation is about how growing up sucks. Unlike many pop-punk albums, The Greatest Generation is also about how The Wonder Years are ready to grow up. The major theme of The Greatest Generation is about the balance of striving for an extraordinary life while also realizing a “normal life” comes with a lot of happiness. It’s also about how neither of those lives can provide perfect happiness unless they’re paired with personal introspection. While fighting personal demons, Dan Campbell perfectly describes the journey of trying to piece together those dichotomous lives that many of us yearn for. Their journey of discovery is perfectly summed up with the final line of the album: “We all want to be great men/And there’s nothing romantic about it/I just want to know that I did all I could with what I was given”. – Mathias
Genre: Post Metal // Released: 2019
Despite A Dawn To Fear’s late entry into the decade the album itself is easily identifiable as some of the band’s best material this side of the 2000’s. Cult Of Luna have always been considered the “thinking man’s metal” and while they don’t conform to the comforts of mainstream press (in terms of accessible radio songs) they do provide a depth to their compositions in a way that only Cult Of Luna can manage. A Dawn To Fear is a testament to a band moving from strength to strength. Sure, they could’ve bogged down in the trenches with another Julia Mariner type release, holding firm to a recipe of success – instead they opened a new page, weighed out a few different ingredients and improved on the old formula. – Nocte
Genre: Punk/Indie Rock // Released: 2010
I’ll admit I don’t often stray out of my comfort zone. I like new music, and I really enjoy the process of finding a new album that’s worth a collection of accolades and gushing praise. Mostly, it’s likened to an addiction of sorts, scouring the internet for that “next” best new thing. Now and again I’m forced to look back and for whatever reason the appeal becomes lessoned. Maybe it’s down to the fact that the praise has been done, the accolades are well known and any attempts at fresh praise often result in various dosages of hyperbolic statements thrown carelessly. In many ways, The Monitor falls into this stigma. Moments of testosterone laced emotion spar endlessly with lifting melodies and recurring sentimental angst. “A More Perfect Union” sets a tone, fists raised to the sky, comradery on sleeves and asks you to value the life you’re in.
For it is way more than these poor souls on the cover ever had. These young men ready to die for a wound that many years later still hasn’t cauterized. The New Jersey outfit managed to redefine a genre with the drowning voice of history as a flag. Bagpipes, saxophones, guitars and trombones made their way into Titus Andronicus’ second release to shape up one of the most gruesome albums of the 10s, infusing their nihilistic approach into a Springsteen laden collection of songs that undoubtedly left a mark as early in the decade as in 2010, and paved the way for the many great albums that would follow their lead throughout this tumultuous decade. – Nocte/Dewinged
Genre: Post Metal // Released: 2016
Constructing worlds and soundscapes since the beginning of the new century, the Swedish master architects of post metal, Cult of Luna, were plotting a much more ambitious project for 2016: an album that was destined to crown years and years of immaculate releases. In the equinox of the decade, the team decided it was time to navigate around and through the worlds they themselves had created. For such a daunting enterprise, they needed a damn good pilot. Who would have thought that a half-joking, mildly formal and bunglingly written invitation letter would have American banshee Julie Christmas fly all the way to Sweden to get into the frontwoman’s suit and help the Swedish crew to chart out the course of their new project. Once the frame was built, Julie returned to the US, and through online work they finished to shape up what was going to be, not only one of the best works of Cult of Luna, but also a very special album for every member involved.
Mariner took flight in April 2016. Julie and Johannes’ vocal maelstrom helmed the band’s tenth full length through every sonic storm and melodic black hole, leaving breathtaking moments engraved in history. I could write volumes trying to describe the grandeur, the unreal beauty that flayed Julie’s mind as she traversed the worlds created by Cult of Luna, but if I had to choose a single moment captured for eternity, it would be the cosmic orgasm of “Cygnus”. Tantric matters aside, the successful endeavor found its way out of the studio, and the live performances that followed certified that what the unlikely partnership had pulled out of thin air was far greater than anything they would have ever imagined. – Dewinged
Genre: Post Hardcore/Indie Rock // Released: 2018
[untitled] sees mewithoutYou switching between their established modes with ease, with post-hardcore riffing and every possible kind of indie rock/folk excursion you can imagine taking prominence. The best memewithoutYou-isms are ever-present: anthemic choruses, cathartic codas that inherit the emotional weight of entire tracks, and a willingness to shift dynamics from Church Mouse to American on a Plane whenever necessary.
I must admit, though- the profound ramblings from a brilliant mind of his life on the road (unrelatable), his faith (unrelatable), his adoration of John Green (unrelatable), and his family situation (vaguely relatable) isn’t really in my ballpark. The most profound thought I’ve had all day is that celibate rhymes with smell-a-bit, and that limited- yet valuable- comic potential lies therein. Perhaps if Aaron Weiss had also figured this out he might not have carried his virginity into his thirties.
My efforts to relate to Aaron aren’t helped by digging deeper into [untitled]’s lyrical content. The general vibe oscillates between Diary of a Manic Depressive (I dare you to give that one a spin, Jeff Kinney) and meticulous theological collage, with more weight being given to the latter category. Then, just when common ground seems unreachable, lines like “does my misery feed a metaphysical need that has long since passed me by” or “I’d like to write a sequel to the state that I am in” emerge from the dense, roiling clouds of philotheolosophy like bolts of epiphanic lightning that hit you right in the fucking heart and send you sailing into seas of reflective melancholia, and suddenly every line is a surging wave in a ceaseless storm, and there’s nothing for it but to batten down the hatches and take stock of what you’ve got- much like the Weiss brothers do on “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore”, where their undying support for their families is all that they can clutch onto as the tempest assaults them, their cries to each other being whipped away by the wind as the band noisily accompany their descent into Davy Jones’ locker.
It’s in such dramatic fashion that mewithoutYou’s farewell manages to transcend its own density. Even if you miss what five lines are in reference to, there’s a good chance that the next one will firmly grab your wrist and yank you onto Weiss’ swiftly sinking ship. Weirdly, you might just find solace at the heart of the storm. – Milo and Neek
Genre: Electronic/Psychedelic/Experimental // Released: 2013
Fun fact: In 2013, Shaking the Habitual didn’t make Sputnikmusic’s top 50 albums of the year, either for the staff or for the users, yet it was included in BOTH end-of-decade lists. This could easily be attributed to changes in the staff roster and the user base over time, but I have a different hypothesis. Shaking the Habitual is so dense with ideas, both musical and political, that it was something of a puzzle when it was first released. It was tough to know what to make of the 19-minute drone-fest “Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized” or the bizarre noise of “Fracking Fluid Injection.” But revisiting the album reveals new qualities to adore each time: the simple genius of the line, “Let’s talk about gender, baby / Let’s talk about you and me”; the way the foreboding drones that bookend “A Cherry on Top” recontextualize its luxurious medieval core; the way Karin Dreijer’s well-established affinity for voice modulation meshes perfectly with the album’s themes of gender rebellion. Furthermore, even at their most batshit experimental, The Knife can still be as infectiously catchy and irresistibly danceable as they were on “Heartbeats”, so Shaking the Habitual offers a tantalizing incentive to want to revisit it in the first place, if only to hear a banger like “A Tooth for an Eye”–and that’s when another of the album’s hidden depths surfaces. Shaking the Habitual earned plenty of praise when it was released, but that praise has grown substantially in the seven years since, after fans have had the opportunity to keep coming back to the album and find new reasons to love it. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be heralded as a classic by next decade, at which point we’ll still be finding new things to discuss. After all, one of the defining qualities of a classic album is longevity, and The Knife can play the long game like no one else. – hesperus
Genre: Pop Punk/Emo // Released: 2013
“I deserve to be happy.”
There are many lyrical triumphs and associated vocal accomplishments that appear in The Future is Cancelled. This, however, is the single line that reverberates in my very core. It doesn’t matter whether or not I’m actually listening to the album or if I even heard it recently. Somewhere deep in my stomach it is making me sick, while somewhere in my heart it is making me ache, and somewhere in my head it was causing me to feel nothing but regret.
Perhaps it is because it is delivered in such a way that it encompasses all three of those sensations, which in tern accurately summarize exactly what Captain, We’re Sinking accomplished on their undeniable magnum opus. The way in which it is shouted out in anger as a love collapses is powerful in of itself, but that palpable demonstration of vulnerability—the slight whine in the delivery, the ache lingering in each note—is what makes it a beautiful expression of human nature. We all, I imagine, desire the oft-quoted, God-given right to embark upon the pursuit of happiness. Yet there are multiple examples of pain in our lives where all wrong things seem to snowball, the small worries and setbacks coalescing into a much more dangerous beast. Then that beast becomes uncomfortable with the body it finds itself in and it lashes out. It looks at the world around as relationships are unceremoniously severed; as trustworthy friends reveal their true colors; as addiction takes hold; as the bad decisions rack up their toll; and there is no private place to hide from the mounting pain and lurking hospital bills.
And all it can say is just that: “I deserve to be happy.”
It is a record that therefore becomes incredibly easy to connect to. Each song on The Future is Cancelled reads and sounds like a self-contained narrative that is a part of a broader plot—that being the monsters that gain strength underneath the skin, their influence fueled by society, those in our lives, or the choices we make. The despairingly gorgeous “A Bitter Divorce,” which is where the disc’s thesis lies, describes a close bond that is dissolved as the other partner comes to the conclusion that the duo is simply incompatible. Amidst quiet strumming and a duet of male and female vocals, the poetry details how this love has faded away; the love is no longer the cure, but the disease itself. Then there is the explosive “Brother,” where a melodic lead and catchy chorus provide a deceptively pop-esque tune. Underneath this cover, there is an admittance of growing depression and a reliance on drinking to cope, as reliable confidants have apparently left. The bottle remained.
The very fabric of being is dismantled thoroughly, though it would not stand up t the test of time if not for the method of execution. Aforementioned writing brilliance and singing aside, The Future is Cancelled exhibits an incredible variation in instrumentation and arrangements. On one end are the slow-burning, immersive numbers a la “A Bitter Divorce” and the similar “More Tequila, Less Joe.” The latter spends the majority of its duration slowly moving along with graceful guitars and light drumming, the dual vocal performance pushed into the spotlight. The self-fulfilling prophecy detailed in the prose reaches an amazing conclusion as the guitars regain their power, the restrained tune let loose amongst vocal harmonies and a resonating scream bellowed out in the final seconds. Then there are creations like the superb introductory track “Adultery” where the collective’s technicality is the central attraction. Intricate punk riffs twist and turn as frantic drumming crafts a fantastic heavy sound. Entries such as “Lake” merge both worlds, as the first half of the formation deceives the audience into a state of calm. The unexpected refrain sparks an awesome tonal shift, the vocal performance transforming into a visceral, throat-tearing scream, the tempo picking up promptly afterwards.
While the chorus on “Lake” is as memorable as one can be, the chilling conveyance of it is what buttresses the LP. The hooks on the album are unforgettable, with their outstanding lyricism brought to life by the two singing contributors. Unlike typical releases tossed under the pop-punk label, however, they are not always polished. Emblematic of the record’s theme, the various verses and refrains inject a mixture of clean expressions and harsh displays, the stories of the songs colored in their passionate emotional ranges. A more accessible approach could have very well lowered The Future is Cancelled considerably in terms of its quality. As it stands, the dissolution evident in the release’s contents carry a resonance that is difficult to describe but easy to understand. This is the airing of grievances, expunging the monsters in hopes of reaching a sort of catharsis. Few other acts have been able to make that objective sound as musically compelling and stunning in its emotive quality. – Mars
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