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01.13.20 Blazin's Top 40 Songs of 201901.12.20 Top 20 Drumming Performances of 2019
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01.03.19 Best Everything of 201701.03.19 Users' Top 10 of 2018 Predictions
12.31.18 Top 20 Drumming Performances of 201812.30.18 Blazin's Top 40 Albums of 2018
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06.20.18 9 Month Game of Catchup (April and May 06.18.18 9 Month Game of Catchup (Dec. 2017 - Ma
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10.11.17 A Blazin' Birthday Special Part 109.08.17 Best Songs and Albums of July 2017
07.13.17 Best Songs and Albums of June 201706.06.17 Best Album and Songs of May 2017
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9 Month Game of Catchup (Dec. 2017 - March 2018)

Same idea as the yesterday's list. December's list is significantly shorter than the rest of the months with only 5 songs and albums because I listened to much less music at that time. I also hit 300 albums from 2017 by then so I didn't think I was missing much. Anyways, here we go again!
100Pooh Man
Funky As I Wanna Be

-- December's Best Songs --
99Chris Stapleton
From A Room: Volume 2

5. “Nobody's Lonely Tonight”: Here it is: the best Chris Stapleton song of 2017. While I usually prefer his fuller, more fun country tracks, I think his carrying voice through his ballads is really underrated as he's a very talented vocalist. He completely displays his singing skills on this song and the instrumental work here is smartly written. It's a borderline honky-tonk song but without the cheesy songwriting. It's a great diner ballad without any of the terrible over-production from some of those radio plays. Speaking of the diner-ballad feel, the text painting in reference to that similar setting is really neat, but its broadness can also open leave the events to imagination. I imagine this song depicting a diner at closing time with just two strangers sitting next to each other. They don't end up falling in unrealistic love, but their similar troubles connect them in a possibly greater way.
98Chris Stapleton
From A Room: Volume 2

It destroys the loneliness and depression of the characters for that night. Yeah, this is some pretty sweet stuff.

4. “STUPID”: The best song on Saturation III wasn't “BOOGIE” or “BLEACH”; it was this underrated cut, originally titled “F****T” (I censored it, they didn't). The production and vocal performances are very solid all around, but the songwriting is where most of the quality is at. All the participating members have their own lyrical themes in their verses. Merlyn Wood's intro talks about paparazzi, Ameer's verse briefly discusses his regrets for certain sins, Matt Champions just wants to fit into society, and Dom's is about the general state of racism. However, they all loosely center around Kevin Abstract's verse about his confidence in his sexuality and his general mockery against the discrimination he receives. As the chorus says, though, he still has to initially keep that identity from strangers because he doesn't want his sexuality to label him in the public. I still think “MILK” is the best Brockhampton song, but please don't miss this song from one of 2017's better rap albums.
Material Control

3. “New White Extremity”: What an amazing tone-setter for an album. This track certainly doesn't let up with its brutal, harsh, and unrelenting instrumentals and lyrics. The production also does a great job mixing the primary crash cymbals with the guitarwork here. One smart decision made here was to only harmonize the chorus and leave the verses to be shouted without a consistent pitch or backup vocal delivery. It leads to a unique and fun vocal performance. Also, I didn't know that Billy Rymer played drums for the entire album until after I looked into the personnel of this track. Perhaps that explains why the drumming feels so authentic and carefully played. This track serves as an amazing representation for an entire album like an opener should do.
95Red Vox
Another Light

2. “Reno”: Please explain this to me: How did a Youtube Let's Player make one of the most enjoyable and jammable songs of the year? I guess Vinesauce's Vinny (Red Vox's lead singer) and his crew are the only people who can correctly answer that question, but I'll make my attempt to answer that same question anyways. To begin there's no over-the-top instrumental influence or individual performance to worry about here, but there's plenty of balanced and intriguing performances from all Red Vox members. They somehow manage to shape a cheesily written concept into an awesome and fun desert anthem. Finally, its album placement is perfect as the tracks before it has been subtly hinting to a rewarding big-riff, upbeat song like it and the tracks after it perfectly flows from its ending.
94Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno
Finding Shore

1. “Chain Home”: Where the hell is the conversation for this song? I can't seem to find it anywhere. I am in dire need of fans to gush over this track with. Anyway, the reason for my ecstatic behavior over this is because “Chain Home” my 2nd favorite vocal-less track of the entire year and my favorite classical track of the year. I don't even know where to start with my praises as I'm listening to this song. I guess I'll just glorify its absolutely insane atmosphere building. Because the only label to this track is the title “Chain Home”, I can imagine this being a soundtrack to a scene to a beautiful, yet horrifying haunted house. It's all complete with electronic “creature calls”, fantastical and mysterious chord progressions, and a “big reveal” piano buildup in the last minute-and-a-half where the creature calls spread themselves out all over the melody. It's amazing and terrifying to listen to alone at night. The piano/synth mixing and the note-playing emphasis here is
93Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno
Finding Shore

unmatched and the transition from the first to second half couldn't have been done any better. What an understated near-classic piece of artwork from this collaboration that is locked for my top 10 tracks of the year.
92Pooh Man
Funky As I Wanna Be

-- December's Best Albums --
91King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard
Gumboot Soup

5. 7/10: Quirky, odd, and cheerful King Gizzard are back at it for their fifth album... of 2017, just a month after arguably their best 2017 record in Polygondwanawanaswanaanaland. Yeah, they may have been oversaturating the lo-fi psychedelic market a bit this year, but I've already seen see some influence in their frequent presence. I suppose Gumboot Soup isn't that much of an absence from their other stuff, but it's a consistently good and fun King Gizzard record nonetheless. Plus a few new great numbers have arrived such as the harsher “Greenhouse Heat Death”, a jazzy closer in “The Wheel”, and... a vocoder in “Superstition”? (A track I thoroughly enjoyed, btw) Also, flutes flutter more on here than possibly their whole 2017 catalogue, which was pretty neat since I'm a big flute fan.

4. 7.5/10: And here's another band with an unusual 2017 release rate. With as many contributors as these guys have, it's probably not quite the feat as one would expect. However, the consistent quality of these releases has otherwise been extremely impressive, capitalizing on that to build a very large and loyal fanbase. Saturation III is actually my favorite of the Saturation records as I feel the group has grown bolder on the beats and lyrics. “BOOGIE” and “BLEACH” are excellent hits to join to their collection along with some awesome overlooked songs like “ALASKA” and “TEAM”. Saturation III made me believe that, even with their new major record deal, Brockhampton can still ignore their inflated status in order to make enjoyable music. If they even release anything else, considering the recent drama between them, Ameer, and the fanbase.
Material Control

3. 8/10: A long decade and a half has passed by since Worship and Tribute. I can fortunately say that Glassjaw has hardly waned in their quality since then. Here, the band essentially continues what they were doing on Worship and Tribute but with perhaps, as Glassjaw themselves put it, a constant “post-apocalyptic” crash to it. This constant doesn't lack in outta-left-field golden moments on here, though, like the ride bell beat on “Golgotha” by guest star Billy Rymer and the Western-influenced fiasco in “Bastille Day”. The lyrics are simply effective messages for a wide variety of different subjects and influences. “New White Extremity” even borrows some of its lyrical ideas from a French film. Glassjaw's most impressive accomplishment with Material Control, however, is their great attention to flow and digestability within their heavy constant between songs. Even if they took old demo ideas to construct many of the tracks,
Material Control

Glassjaw took their sweet time to make them fit on the record somehow and it pays off. Still not better than Worship and Tribute, though.
87Red Vox
Another Light

2. 8/10: The second best album of December and a top 40 album of the year is made by a gaming YouTuber? I'll gladly take it! With Another Light, you won't find a project accompanied by a grander picture or anything like that. It's a group with a gamer frontman trying to write music in the veins of Queens of the Stone Age but with an (un)intentional stab at a classic rock touch with crooning organs and rawer production. While premise is innocent, the somewhat odd combination unexplainably flows smoothly with the multiple ideas scattered throughout the record starring self-conscious writer's block (the first two tracks), serialized contrasts (“I'm So Happy/Sad”, the final two tracks), and a David Bowie memoriam (“From the Stars”). Red Vox already has shown the heart for an amazing album as shown by Another Light, but with improvement in all aspects (especially vocals), that potential can be further exceeded.
86Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno
Finding Shore

1. 8/10: Admittedly, ambient is a little tougher of a genre for me to get into than most others. My experience with ambient music is comparable to that of my experience with alcoholic beverages (I'm 18, yeah, but what gives?) Experienced listeners can probably tolerate the dark, isolated, and stout taste of traditionally “ambient” ambient music. I am far from that point yet, so I'm commonly seen in the mixed drink pool, swimming with albums like Finding Shore which combine elements of electronica and classical into their ambient trademarks. Not only is this crossover visible in the compositions, but also the clean-ish production brought on to the acoustic instruments. Both Rogerson and Eno take the expansive opportunity of the blend to create a beautiful atmosphere in each track, warranted or not. The wind chimes on the opener “Idea of Order at Kyson Point” give suspense to the rest of the album's sound due to its unique mixing with the keyboards.
85Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno
Finding Shore

The suspense is heightened further with oddball tracks like “March Away” and “Eastern Shack”, which, by the way, perfectly flow into each other for such contrasting sounds. I can't forget the beauty of “Marsh Chorus” and “Chain Home” either. I know there are huge gaps in influences between some of the tracks here, more importantly between this record and the rest of participant Brian Eno's catalogue. In a few ways, that's what makes this album all the more impressive, and it's not a bad start for me to dip my toes in the most low-key genre of all music.
84Pooh Man
Funky As I Wanna Be

-- January's Best Songs --
83Typhoon (USA-OR)

10. “Ariadne”: I'm sorry, now what is this? Why did a seemingly decent yet innocent track get counted as the highlight of Offerings? Well, for one thing, it's an accurate symbol for the album and it collects nearly all the images that the album has to offer (see what I did there?) within its lyrics. Ariadne, the maze creator of the narrator's memory loss, almost completely reveals herself here. The songwriting also significantly improves. The pacing is a lot better here than the rest of the album, the guitar work is divine, the extra string sections added are a unique touch, and the climax is powerful enough to make you yourself forget what came just before it. I love how this track depicts a memory loss-type lyrical structuring with simple, relatable lyrics in the first stanza to dream sequences and even Hell itself in the next sequences. There's an insightful paradox to be found in the ending monologue as the protagonist loathes his own memories yet he finds that
82Typhoon (USA-OR)

they are the only parts from him/her left. Even after the protagonist realizes that paradox, however, he/she asks the takers to throw away the memories before “the end” comes. As we'll find out later, this probably was not the most depressing piece of Offerings as one might expect from this track alone.

9. “Embrace”: What does one exactly expect out of a band humorously named Weedpecker? Maybe not a great 2018 album, but they more surprisingly give an absolutely awesome stoner metal track filled with guitar pedals, mellotrons, and jam sections. Not many on the “Stoned Meadow of Doom” category can claim that they have vocalists with any intrigue or placement into their music, but Weedpecker has managed to do with a fantastically performed and produced vocalist section. The guitar work is quite hypnotic with all of its background effects. A chill and captivating comedown capitalizes the anti-climatic conclusion of this cut. I completely cherish the creamy effects and cool, colorized atmosphere at the comedown's core. Wow, that was a lot of unnecessary alliteration. I need to calm down, probably to this track here.
80Orphaned Land
Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs

8. “Chains Fall to Gravity”: Take Moonspell's title track I raved well over for last year, Opeth-ize it, expand it, and make it even more awesome. You've just made “Chains Fall to Gravity”. This epic, uplifting, and beautiful centerpiece absolutely outclasses everything else surrounding it. Unique symphonic sections, genre crossovers, and excellent instrumental performances are all over this track. It goes through many sonic personalities without feeling bipolar at all. I like those little footstep sound effect bits throughout the song, too, because there's an uninterrupted meaning behind it (walking out of the “dark cave” and walking to “the light of freedom”). I do recommend you give this song from Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs, and really only this song, a cheesed, yet gratifying listen.
Down Below

7. “Subterranea”: Have you ever wanted to listen to a fantastic death metal song about looking down below? “Subterranea” easily fulfills that request. Every passage here is extremely rewarding; the opening and closing piano chords, the main guitar riff, the trippy verses, the chorus, and the great guitar-led bridge are all consistently wonderful. The drumming is very widespread and somewhat technical, but it keeps itself behind the vocalist's and guitarist's power as an excellent rhythm-maker. This track runs along the same vein as Typhoon's “Ariadne” with its accomplished representation of the album it's featured on. It continues the album's very bold quest of making death metal more accessible and polished with more modern production, and this is where the most payoff is at.
78In Vain

6. “As the Black Horde Storms”: What a hype-inducing battle anthem this is. In Vain draws their swords from their holsters and organizes their cavalry in preparation for an absolute showdown. It's blazingly fast, well-produced, colorful, and smartly written. From random tempo changes to quick time signature interruptions, several unexpected twists and turns keep this song extremely intriguing. The guitar riffs and solo are energized and animated for your battle cry needs. The slower, more melodic sections add tons of flavor to the track without taking away the magnificence of the pieces before it. I really like the melodic death and black metal hybrid sound here as they're very well blended together within the song's composition and production.
77Nils Frahm
All Melody

5. “Kaleidoscope”: I'm quite aware at this point that this record was not really my thing. It bored me without a good reason to bore me and therefore it was boring. Despite that, I can claim that I took something Frahm this experience after all, and it's in the form of “Kaleidoscope”. “Kaleidoscope” actually feels like it evolves throughout the runtime with subtly added pieces and sounds throughout. There are several risky oddities that Frahm decided to incorporate into this track as well. This is evident in the odd 7/8 time signature, the ambient/doom-laced intro transitioning into a spacey atmosphere and the subtle buildups of background synths and string sections. The vocals seem to have a true atmospheric effect to them here in contrast to a lot of the album. It's a uniquely written track with tons of little effects to pick up on after a couple of listens.
76Super Whatevr
Never Nothing

4. “Loser”: As you'll see later, I thoroughly enjoyed this album more than a lot of listeners did. I loved the constantly fascinating mixture of general emo-spiced themes with captivating, yet humble songwriting. “Loser” it a bit of a departure from that. There are more diverse instrumentation and soundscapes on this track. I like the idea of having the vocals come in on an opposite beat interval from the opening guitar riff. For a song about a conflicting relationship, it's got a massive crescendo to show off that basically spans over the entire song. That opening guitar riff later forms into a powerful leader as the track heads towards its climax. The drummer's unexpected turn towards the blast beat is so delightful every time I hear it. This is the stuff that great record encores are made of.

3. “The Monk by the Sea”: 'Language' and 'perspective' are two key words to heed here. This heartbreakingly beautiful and superbly produced track speaks that language and perspective in a way that few other artists can. As the title suggests, this is literally about a monk next to the sea. What the title hides from you on first viewing is that the song's story is one of self-deception and remorse. The monk asks for the ocean to take his body in a death with dignity after a life full of corruption and destruction. A lot of cold, oceanic words and phrases are used to tell this story like “Tide in, tide out”, “drain”, “spill”, “crystallize”, and “frozen”. Locktender doesn't do this for the sake of including a useless theme, though. In the monk's perspective, the ocean has godlike powers and knowledge so his confessions toward it are given a purpose. Also because we see this story through the monk's perspective, we aren't given an answer as to whether he/she's forgiven in the end.

This is clever writing for a post-metal track somewhat centered on atmosphere, which it also nails. The aquatic production of the guitar playing and the vocal's intensity make for a powerful ride. Not to mention that it's such a fitting start as the opener of Friedrich.
73Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast, God Body Disconnect
Miles to Midnight

2. “The Sleep Ensemble”: So I'm pretty sure that this is one of the best soundtrack-like cuts I've heard in quite a while. Although I can't really say too much about it other than “atmosphere, atmosphere, ATMOSPHERE!”, that be fairly unjust towards many members were in this collaboration? Anyways, this song is so easy to get lost in and introduced notes and effects throughout sound like noises that actually surround your current environment. The background voices and keyboards do a movie soundtrack's job of putting you inside a relatively abandoned setting. Sure, it's all a little spooky, maybe a little too much so for some, but it's a track that captivates your attention every time you press play.

1. “Sources – Nihil”: Actually horrifying doom metal/drone. I sat through over a half-hour of total schlock to get to this point on Loss, but it was so worth it. The psychedelic guitar effects that match the droning guitar are mesmerizing beyond belief. That's until you get slapped awake by female vocalist Larvalis's terrifying shrieks, but it's all a part of the intentions and it all works efficiently. Yhdarl perfected a crucially important part of drony black metal: patience without the meander. The drums are given the torch a third of the way through the track to prove progression, slowly getting more intense and faster. All Hell breaks loose at the ten-and-a-half minute mark with ritualized vocals and a cursed organ. The drumming blast beats its way through the tortured screams of the vocalists as the guitars go into infinite densities. We then transition into a resounding piano section with the rings of a spectacular encore swirling about.

This is about as gross, evil, and gruesome as they come folks, and you sure don't wanna miss out on all the muck.
70Pooh Man
Funky As I Wanna Be

-- January's Best Albums --
69Jeff Rosenstock

10. 7/10: Jeff Rosenstock has been dishing out his artsy punk records for quite some time now and it's safe to say that he hardly ever disappoints anyone with a new release. POST- is no exception, yet it comes with a few glaring issues. The production alters between songs seemingly at random and the latter half of the album is fairly weak in songwriting. Even some weaker cuts can make this album worthy of your time as you can see much of them as a successful evolution in Mr. Rosenstock's catalogue. Instead of making a purely political album to follow up “USA”, he uses that track to make it a part of his current, personal record, and “Yr Throat” was a great start to that exploration. It's good for what it is, and I find the release date on this pretty hilarious.
68Corrosion of Conformity
No Cross No Crown

9. 7/10: Sludge metal was at an odd point for me last year. Much of what I listened to either blended in too heavily with doom metal for me to consider it as such or sludge metal bands were popularly nipping on the heels of Elder's success as a stoner metal group. Corrosion of Conformity swiftly comes out this year with the most solid “sludge” metal album I've heard in a while. Instead of settling for foreboding guitars in lengthy doom tracks, you get well-written riffs and fun songwriting from all band members. “The Luddite” is an excellent lead-in for album expectations, “Nothing Left to Say” is a great change of pace, but my favorite song here has to be “E.L.M.” which is essentially an improved version of “The Luddite”. Many songs here feel like safe variations of that track and other sludge metal cliches, though, and that keeps the album back quite a bit. Please do pick up if you're a fan of traditional sludge metal as it's a worthily important album for that.
67Count to Altek
Path Kethona

8. 7/10: Count to Altek and King Green have been strange bands for me to wrap my head around. Sure it's easy to say that Count to Altek is the lighter, more electronically infused project while King Green dwell in the darker ambient territory, but the purpose these frequently-dropped records serve has ever really been formally shown. Without regards to album concept, it all just sounds like good music being made, and Path Kethona is yet another success in that category despite only being an EP. Path Kethona excels in its tone-setting bookends. “Ascent to Shield World” is a great track full of shining, hypnotic synths and “Living Time” has an otherworldly anthemic feeling to its closing sounds. The atmosphere through every minute of this is breathtaking with unique production and keyboard leads. It's breathtaking with reason, but perhaps without a root reason of why it's all there. Yet again, the music itself is good, so why should there be a reason?

7. 7/10: Much of this record was probably made in dead hopes of writing something as strong as “The Monk By The Sea”, but who am I kidding, this is a great... post-metal album? Hardcore album? A mixture of the two? Guitar production and playing lead the pack with fantastic performances all throughout, though it especially shines in quality-savers like “Wreck in the Sea of Ice” and “Winter Landscape”. I think the vocals are outstanding in range, intensity, and variety. The album itself is a work of art, much like the ones the title character created – depressing and relentless expressions of feeling. Locktender does write a lot of the same lyrics over again throughout tracks, but I feel that it's done in the effect of repetition for self-deceptions of uselessness. In terms of “hardcore” isolation and self-destruction, not many symbolic circumstances can outdo the ocean, nor can they outdo Friedrich.
65In Vain

6. 7.5/10: Despite the waning of melodic death metal's impression on me over the years, In Vain have dropped a surprisingly epic LP that's corny enough to be fun, but well-written enough to keep most of the songs intriguing. The dynamic pair of “Soul Adventurer” and “Blood We Shed” are two of the best from Currents. While the former is a solid In Vain track, the latter is a standout offering more “death” in its metal than its contemporaries. “Melodic” is also an accurate description of Currents as violin pieces (“And Quiet Flows the Scheldt”), operatic vocals (“Ghost Bath”), and organs (“En Forgangen Tid”) are scattered throughout. Even the aforementioned “Blood We Shed” contains some of these moments. I honestly haven't been able to get around to Aenigma yet, and its reception tells me that I totally should, but even if many say that Currents is a major step down from their previous album, don't let that consensus write off this record because I think it's pretty damn fun.
64Super Whatevr
Never Nothing

5. 7.5/10: Ayy, an interesting Hopeless Records release? Never Nothing is a blue moon. Whether it was due to great compositional choices or luckily excellent bouts of songwriting, Super Whatevr made a super accessible emo album full of life and surprising influences. The lyrics are indeed fairly simple, but they finely play their parts and serve well. The shockingly expansive categories of tracks offered here are the meat of what makes this record catch the eye. Alt rock, punk, and pop rock tinges can be seen throughout. Some efforts are better than others, but most impress me delightfully. This spread of variety makes for a consistently joyful listen, but the “Super Whatevr” tracks like “Cops on Motorcycles”, “When Doesn't the World End?”, and the aforementioned “Loser” stand out the most. Knowing the band's own style can still rise above their influences just hoists the album even higher.
63No Age
Snares Like A Haircut

4. 7.5/10: Now this is a cool album. The vibe is quite retro-like, which is generally expected from punk outfits at this point, but it's alt rock meshing is what gives No Age an edge in their new release. Basic, smartly written guitar hooks are commonly seen here with a static, washy production that brings a garage flavor in the music. Speaking of raw production, that flavor is kinda what Snares Like a Haircut is all about (implied even by the clever title). No Age labeled themselves “the misfits that 2017 couldn't kill... beyond the glow of the chemical horizon. The premise successfully gives life to the homemade guitars and vocals. I'm assuming they've covered this premise for four straight albums, and I don't think they should stop until people (I) get tired of it.

3. 7.5/10 You know, at this point, stoner rock is a bit of a dead genre to me, even with acknowledging its glooming presence in various rock and metal genres as of lately. Too many bands are trying to remake the recently revered classics like Like Clockwork..., the popular Elder records, the Stoned Meadow of Doom record label hits, and so on. Weedpecker, while bombastic and instrumentally wanky, pack a true psychedelic interest to them that can't be ignored by me or stoner rock fans. Weedpecker is clear about the dependent mentality of their peers, so they sidestep their fields by rougher production edges, experimental passages, and a little proggier compositional choices. Some of their third effort is kinda bluesy, particularly the closer. You know what, I may even like this album more than Reflections of a Floating World now.
61Typhoon (USA-OR)

2. 8/10: Offerings is an exhausting record. It was probably exhausting for the writers, too. I can't remember what the wordcount for the album was, but a lot of rambling resulted in around 2,600 words worth of lyrics or something like that, it's pretty ridiculous. For a band like Typhoon to tackle the complex concept of memory loss, especially to write it the way they did, it makes sense. Typhoon's expansiveness as a band and a group of writers create diverse experiences throughout the protagonist's compelling and sad journey. Most of the record seems to use references from the past or something that a certain song's protagonist did as a kid. There's also a lot of destructive historical references in the protagonist's story to carefully describe the collapse of the world around him. It's all very neat with wonderful music to back the slow disaster. The quiet, concerned “Algernon” is a worrisome point in the album that hangs on depressing suspense.
60Typhoon (USA-OR)

“Coverings”, along with boasting an excellent melody by Shannon Steele, completely covers the protagonist's last memories of anything that he doesn't currently see, so it's just him and his wife against himself. Offerings is a deservedly famed indie record with impressive efforts to push the limit on the idea of a concept album. It could be argued that it's all slightly too much, but a little exploration in immoral humanity doesn't hurt every once in a while.
Down Below

1. 8.5/10: And yet with Typhoon's thoughtful introspection and diverse storytelling and songwriting, it's Tribulation that takes this month's crowned album. Down Below has difficult sound to pin down. It's some black metal here, goth there, traditional heavy metal over here, and a few other things. The modern production sells the album, though, as it goes hand-to-hand with the contrasting tradition of all three previous genres. I think there's a significance to that aspect alone in the music scene, one that needs to be paid attention to in 2018. It's not so much that each song has its own niche either (besides “The World”, which has a stronger goth sound to it), as all of them contain a cohesion in instruments and production. The quality of those vary as “Subterranea” and “Lacrimosa” are just better than anything else there, but Tribulation keeps their songwriting fresh in the following songs even with that cohesion.
Down Below

Unfortunately, this album was sorely overlooked by many metal listeners. Maybe it was because deafheaven “did it first” with Sunbather, but I see both outfits as two completely different ends of the ballpark. Sunbather was an atmospheric ride while this record successfully revitalizes the old riffs and song structures into the new.
57Pooh Man
Funky As I Wanna Be

-- February's Best Songs --
Little Dark Age

10. “Days that Got Away”: This track has a very surprising sound from MGMT. I think it's even a little less MGMT than it is something along the lines of Grails from February of last year. The 80's dream pop/lounge rock influence is greatly distinctive from anything else released this year including most tracks on Little Dark Age. All the soothing synths and effects mold together into a nice retro sound and the bass work in this is funky and very fulfilling. A flute is then called to properly cap the song off in the track's prime melody. If this sounds like your cup of dream pop tea, don't let this song get away from your ears.
55Horizon Ablaze
The Weight Of A Thousand Suns

9. “Ghost of a Previous Nightmare”: I'm coming out to say that the music here is enormously superior to that of the lyrics. The story's concept is impressive because it flips the script on typical death metal story by giving eternal consequences to the person who sought out evil powers. The lyrics, however, are subpar at nicest. A lot of the album was like this, but the accompanying music, especially here, is top-tier melodic death metal. The guitar riffs sound very crisp and heavy while the bass makes its smooth presence throughout, particularly in the intro. The drummer puts on an absolutely fantastic show here, but I have to give credit to the rich production that made every snare and cymbal hit sound so clean. I enjoy the shouted vocals on the chorus and the outro, too, as they add an almost-emo flavor to the track.
54S. Carey
Hundred Acres

8. “True North”: Do you like musical candy? How resistant is your tip of the tongue? This might be a song so sweet that it'll probably test those limits, but the music is so melodically and compositionally potent that you won't pucker up in disgust or anything like that. S. Carey's voice, though fairly monotone, is gorgeous on this song and I like how intimate and setting-conscious the lyrics are. The guitar production is beautifully dense and rich, and that is extremely important to this track's power. My favorite bits on here, however, might have to be the string sections towards the end. They're the foundation of the second half's ability to arrest and allure the listener into concerning hypnosis and captivation.
53GoGo Penguin
A Humdrum Star

7. “Transient State”: What might catch you off guard with my opinion on this song is that I think it's actually one of the melodically safer pieces of the album. Up until this point, I feel like GoGo Penguin have been trying, with a handful of setbacks, to perfect their signature jazz fusion sound. It takes until “Transient State” to get close enough to that perfection they've been smelling for the first half. Again, I'm surprised to say the pianist's performance here is rather average for A Humdrum Star standards, but what where the melody memory leaves comes consistency and excellent pacing. This is one of the most consistently enjoyable tracks I've heard this year so far. Drummer Rob Turner brings his absolute A-game here as this is his best performance on the album even with all the ridiculously talented acts that surround it. The bassist's “quack”-sounding plucks during the bridge actually works extremely well to justly put himself in the limelight for a time.

6. “Who is Speaking?”: Just take the short, sweet beauty of “True North” and turn the knob up by a multiple of three. Congratulations! You now have “Who is Speaking?”. Despite being a measly two minutes and fourteen seconds long, this feels like one of the most fully realized and fleshed-out songs of the month. The guitar sounds tremendously awesome here and it goes over so well with the song's trippy, somewhat existential lyrics. The glaring synth effect booting off the second half is a complete game changer and it makes for an incredible comedown in the end. To add, Emily Cross brings ravishing voice to the composition and sound effects. A pretty violin occasionally reveals itself, most notably during the “What” repeats in the second half. I gotta say that Loma mastered the art of opening an album's atmosphere for sure, proven by this bite-size song.
51Poppy Ackroyd

5. “Resolve [Title Track]”: As with all primarily ambient records, artists have to be very careful of the lethal line between subtle artistry and pretentious droning. Poppy Ackroyd seems to be well aware of that line with her latest album, but the magnificent title doesn't just assure the listener that it won't step over that line. It makes sure to go beyond the expectations of everyone's interest, or at least mine anyway. The way the violin, cello, and clarinet all cooperate with the piano on this track is amazingly spectacular. Mrs. Ackroyd creates a composition so well rounded that it inspires a story within itself. I think she insinuates this concept from the mysterious scale climbing in the piano and the random clock and door creek sound effects. If there was ever a worthy representative of Resolve as a whole, this is most definitely it.
50GoGo Penguin
A Humdrum Star

4. “Reactor”: Aw, man! Imagine if GoGo Penguin took the consistency of “Transient State” and applied a distinct mood within it and its atmosphere. How cool would that have been?! Oh wait, they ended up doing that. Yeah, I know I lathered myself with the consistent quality of the aforementioned track, but this band somehow managed to top that later with this penultimate cut. The intro is nicely done once again, but the piano is actually showcasing its talents at the center of attention here. The main melody is wonderfully dark and supportive of the low-register notes that are sprawled throughout the piano solo's act. Drummer Rob Turner never fails to impress, and this track isn't an exception. To inform you of another impactful segment on this song, I have to make another comparison with a companion GoGo Penguin song. An anticlimax occurs on the earlier track “Bardo”. This, of course, is a fine move if justified, but it's placed rather awkwardly.
49GoGo Penguin
A Humdrum Star

The band basically took the ending of that song and asked: “What would happen if we made this part accordingly climatic?” What happened was that it finished the song on a serious high note. This song really reminds me of James Holden's “Thunder Moon Gathering” from last year in many ways. Both are the same genre that heavily relies on a singular piano melody to have other instruments revolve around it. They even have the same placement as each other on my lists.

3. “Eclat de Verre”: What is up with black metal closers this year and outstanding quality? I continue to be fazed by the staggering amount of awesome black metal encores. Here's yet another one of those. Not even three minutes into the song appears a desert rock influenced introduction and horn appearances. This displays the diversity of the monstrous fifteen-minute song while performing all so sufficiently. You gotta love the technicality from the drummer, too, as he's double-hand 32nd noting his way through nearly the entire track. After that third comes an ambient period followed by dark screams of torture. Hey, that kinda sounds like a track I loved last month. I guess I need some soul cleansing or something. Nah, screw that! This is black metal we're talking about here. Anyways, the halfway point of the song adds a raw yet droned and spacey feeling to the guitars and it's all amazing. A neat buildup segment follows that up with convincing and confident guitar work.

This confidence holds up in the end where it takes a sudden, kinda loud turn into a great guitar performance backed up by what's called an “inverse skank beat”. This is just a quality black metal song that is certainly worth fifteen minutes of your time.
46Brandi Carlile
By the Way, I Forgive You

2. “The Joke”: My jaw literally dropped with my first listen of this. No wonder she made this the lead single of her new album. No wonder this is her first song in ten years to make some noise in the Billboard subcharts despite being very indie. No wonder Barack Obama himself called this one of his favorite singles released last year. Brandi Carlile outclassed so many singer-songwriter's voices with her performance on this song. She flawlessly masters the calm, confident poses of the verses and I don't even think I need to explain the sheer power of the chorus. The instruments are no cheese and all badass. I adore the switch in the instrumental focus between the two verses from piano only to primarily guitar. I can't help but love the swelling organ in the second half, either. I also find the lyrics fantastic. While somewhat politically charged, “The Joke” is told as a story of inspiration and overcoming undeserved disadvantages and circumstances.
45Brandi Carlile
By the Way, I Forgive You

I personally find heavy relations with the first verse in particular. I have a gut feeling and hope that this song can get immense popularity in the near future, especially with increasingly crazy social and personal climates within the general population.
44Car Seat Headrest
Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

1. “High to Death”: Wait just a minute! The top spot isn't “Beach Life-in-Death”, “Famous Prophets”, or “My Boy”? Let me start off by saying that I found the 2011 version of this song to be decent enough. However, like many songs on the original Twin Fantasy, the overwhelming lo-fi aesthetic in the track's production stripped away the fine-tuned rawness I was looking for in the instruments' blends. Now that a refined, very different version of the album has arrived, my requests can finally be truly fulfilled. However, I wasn't expecting this at all, and after two to three listens of this song, it became clear that this track can even be considered as an overlooked classic. I even ask myself “Why such the high praise?” to which my answer would be the song on replay. Similarly to “The Joke”, there are some parts of this song that you will have to hear for yourself as I'm unable to explain how truly great they are. The opening guitar melody is one of these moments.
43Car Seat Headrest
Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

So is the introduction of the trippy sound effects. And the crashing climax. And the “I can't turn this thing off...” part near the end. I'll explain what I can, though. For one, I actually think that Will Toledo's crackled, monotone vocals really fit the lyrics and surrounding instruments. He builds a voice of familiarity this way by sharing the lyrics in a way that increases the chance of connecting to those in similar situations. I'm hard-pressed to find anything released this year with better pacing than this track, so I'll say that's impossible. Lyrically, “High to Death” is a complex summation of Will Toledo's experiences with drug use, broken relationships, and the original Twin Fantasy recording. The lyrics get more and more captivating the further into the song you get, and it mainly starts when Toledo repeats the phrase “around the room” as a reference to the paranoia from the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”.
42Car Seat Headrest
Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

This paired with the feedback loop sounds can be surreal beyond words. Fun fact: I read Charlotte Gilman's “The Yellow Wallpaper” in my Dual Enrollment class two weeks before this album dropped. I just thought the coincidence was interesting. Anyways, the next section cleverly poses a connection to the previous track “Stop Smoking”. However, Toledo now acknowledges that some loved ones don't ever change despite whatever “perfect” advice he can give them. It's a dynamic turning point in the album's evolution of ideals because of that. We come to find out later through the child's monologue that Toledo's insecurities cause his close friends to request departures, even from his own fantasies. He lowers his self-esteem for that, ending his piece with complete uncertainty with any of his relationships. The final monologue somewhat wraps up the view of the original album and Toledo's changed personality seven years past that record.
41Car Seat Headrest
Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

There's indeed a lot thrown into this song and it's fairly difficult to absorb all of the content completely, but it becomes a much greater story when you do so. Not to mention that the music is splendid beyond belief.
40Pooh Man
Funky As I Wanna Be

-- February's Best Albums --

10. 7/10: Dark and moody black metal that's decently traditional and foreign sounding...made in Canada. They're from Quebec, though, so no posers here! In all seriousness, this is a very solid black metal album even if I don't have much to say about it. The climaxes and heavy moments here don't feel hamfisted or forced, and the drone segments have plenty of weight to back up their existence. There's also some cool post metal touches in “Acouphene” that are worth heeding. Despite some boring moments and clicheingly written sections, Vertige is an ultimately epic experience that every black metal officionado should get their hands on.

9. 7/10: Omni seems to be one of the only recent power metal albums I can even begin to tolerate. Here, it might not be so surprising as Angra is a highly acclaimed band that's been at this for 27 years. Age can overtake experience, but thankfully that is not true here. Angra simply playa around in their songs with their various influences in instrumentation. We have some gothic sound in “Black Widow's Web”, Middle Eastern tones in the ballad “The Bottom of My Soul”, tribal focuses on “Caveman”, and psychedelia in “Magic Mirror”, a personal highlight. The drumming is fantastic, particularly in the “Insania” verses and all throughout “Caveman”. The guitar playing is decent enough, but the complaints with the former guitarist's departure would explain the new guy's “fineness”. Even with those fits and a couple awful tracks here, Omni is probably going to be one of my favorite, if not my favorite, power metal records of 2018.
37Poppy Ackroyd

8. 7/10: February was an excellent month for chill music. There are some albums up ahead that better show what I'm talking about ever so slightly, but Resolve is a good place to start in the classical category. For one thing, I love the opener “Paper”. It sounds so nostalgically classic joined with the distinctive percussion. The same thing resides over “Light” which kinda sound like a Professor Layton soundtrack piece. Later there's, of course, the absolutely beautiful title track, and a morsel of creative goodness in “Stems”, a minute and a half piece well worth your time. Apparently, a sizable collective of classically trained orchestra players got together to perform on this album, which just adds a touch of dignity to the project. Ackroyd also got inside of her pianos with drumsticks, fingers, and even guitar picks to make certain percussional sounds. Now you got a behind-the-scenes story just as intriguing as the album itself.
36S. Carey
Hundred Acres

7. 7/10: I'm not sure what happens when someone listens to Bon Iver-core without ever trying out a Bon Iver record. All that seems to happen is the absence of someone to truly compare S. Carey to. Anyways, Hundred Acres is lovely music for the lovely month of February. Sweet, honey-glazed folk roams these acres with a few standout gorgeous creatures in the prior “True North”, the orchestral and off-kilter “Emery”, and the country-esque “Fool's Gold”. Mr. Carey wanted to focus the album on the “power of simplicity”, but he kinda fails at doing that. The concept is simple, sure, but overlying, careful textures of atmosphere won't go unnoticed, and trust me, I've heard simpler, more bare-bones schlock. However, he sure is right about this being an emotionally powerful listen. Also, he sends his regards to all with warm music from a currently freezing Wisconsin.

6. 7.5/10: Sputnik kinda failed me on this record. The average for this is pitiful, like, c'mon. I get that Loma can be a snoozer for some, but still, weren't you enticed by the mysteriousness of “Who is Speaking?” You didn't dig the deserty folk tastiness in “Joy”? Oh well, I really enjoyed this. Even the off-the-rails numbers like “Dark Oscillations” and “White Glass” were entertaining and hypnotizing enough to make sense to me. Loma gives the totally weird genre “backroad psychedelic folk” some rays of hope after knowing that they actually recorded this album on a dirt road. There's a fitting isolation set into all of it, and it's just wonderful to listen to, especially with Emily Cross's voice.
34Brandi Carlile
By the Way, I Forgive You

5. 7.5/10: One of my favorite country albums of the year came out early. Brandi Carlile is an endearing personality in the country community that, given the popularity of this album, will be hovering around for a while. Mrs. Carlile seems to be a traditionalist in her central country soundscapes, kinda in the vein of last year's Chris Stapleton. Twangy guitars, classical instrumentation, and cheery backup vocals are regularly seen. The best of these ventures has to be the first one, “Every Time I Hear That Song” for being so gosh-darn gorgeous in production. Also don't forget about the touching encore in “Party of One”, of which Brandi Carlile uses to show off her astonishing vocal capabilities. Lyrically, the album is simple in most places, but all in respect to traditional country songwriting. Even then, there are some carefully written gems on here like the powerful and prideful single “The Joke”, the down-to-earth “Most of All”, and the commemorative “The Mother”.

4. 8/10 And after our stretch of a calm and collected albums we come to one that is completely out of control. Storm {O} is a very appropriate name for a band as relentless as it is. You almost feel the beatings Ere gives you. It's sometimes a bit too much of a beatdown for my liking, but when it's fresh, man do I enjoy it. “Taxidermia” is such a strong opener with grimy and harsh performances from everyone. “Metafora del Distacco” is in the same alley and “Stasi” is a song that's gone past the point of no control and into utter insanity. In terms of composition, it's like the band has an assignment for each instrument's presence. The vocals are sputtering Italian harshness and the guitars are grizzly beautiful. The drumming is chaotic beyond belief and the bass presence here will surprise you too as it makes the album all the grosser. It's an excellent post-hardcore record by some mean Italians who would've been awesome to see live while I was in Rome. Oh well, that was a busy week.

3. 8/10: Here's another relentlessly brutal album that'll wash away those sweet and sunny vibes. Rather than another post-hardcore band, Erdve thrives in the Lithuanian (man, this has been an internationally good month for music) hardcore post-metal. With Vaitojimas, you get another amazing opener in the title track, which totally rips in every way. Also, note the two solid finales in “Pilnatve” and “Atraja”. If there's anything to describe the harshness of this record, it's like putting Ere and Vertige together. Vaitojimas has Ere's nasty intensity and Vertige's droned sense of atmosphere to batch up a compellingly rough listen. All that with its stellar consistency invites a filthy time.
31GoGo Penguin
A Humdrum Star

2. 8.5/10: GoGo Penguin has been a band that I've somewhat kept my eye on for a while. Rob Tuner's insane drumming skills on v2.0 had intrigued me then, but I overlooked them because I was a dumb idiot and I entirely overlooked jazz. A Humdrum Star is a special constellation of songs filled to the brim with atmosphere and memorable melodies. The piano is indeed the main factor of this album as it essentially sets up the song structures and progressions. Its “chorus” melodies are often spectacular, some of the best occurring on “Raven” and the aforementioned two songs. The bassist helps make the other instrument's intensity alive and plays a major part in packing that punch the album has on nearly every track. The drumming is expectedly outstanding, shining in the rapid hi-hat-ride switches on the chorus of “Transient State”, the offbeats of “Strid”, and the exoticness on “A Hundred Moons”. As I said in my soundoff, all these performances come together to make music not necessarily
30GoGo Penguin
A Humdrum Star

dedicated and desperate for unique atmospheres, but you witness yourself in a different place with each song anyway, and that's a worthy feat for an instrumental album.
29Car Seat Headrest
Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

1. 8.5/10: I didn't know until after the release of Face to Face that the original Twin Fantasy stood tall as a “Bandcamp classic”. Unlike a good Sun Kil Moon or Mount Eerie album, however, the songwriting conflicted with the production far too much for it to be as good as advertised. I saw the potential in some of the tracks during the middle stretch, but it got grating quickly, primarily on the two longer tracks. To be fair, those songs are a little doomed to start off Face to Face considering they're just a bunch of cobbled up segments. Spectacular segments, yes, but not when forced to flow between each other. Everything else (besides “Nervous Young Inhumans”, that track's a little iffy, too) is golden. Literally, everything is a massive pick up from the original in sound. The studio-aided product is an amazing outlet of original indie rock atmospheres with hints of 80's influence peeking through many of the track's guitar melodies. “Sober/High to Death” and “Bodys”
28Car Seat Headrest
Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

are a few songs that I've willingly spun for a while now because they're that enjoyable. Even the drumming in “Beach-Life In Death” is some of the most impressive work I've remembered all year. I find the music enjoyable, but the stories from Will Toledo are harsh experiences of seclusion, substance abuse, and identity. While there are general, relatable feelings that reach out to the listener, this album is about Will's reflection on past and younger recordings, evident by numerous lyrical alterations. It's his piece of mind, his “painting”. There's an abrasiveness to Toledo off the mic and he's a flawed celebrity just as his character on Twin Fantasy. However, it's “method performing” of sorts. Toledo fully embraces his character despite his smoking habits, but a underlying question asks: will we? That's for us to decide, and those characters may have to come with some frictional isolation from others, but if that embrace solely makes us happy, so be it.
27Pooh Man
Funky As I Wanna Be

-- March's Best Songs --
26Rolo Tomassi
Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It

10. “Whispers Among Us”: On paper, this album should have been a surefire year-end clinch for me. Hailed by some as the “second coming of The Dillinger Escape Plan”, Rolo Tomassi had Sputnik's official seal of approval from some of the strongest critics here. 'There's no way I could be disappointed', I thought, and I was. It's disjointed, confused, and too overblown in a few areas. However, when these guys get it right, I can totally see the appeal. “Whispers Among Us” is one of those shining bright spots. The addition of some death metal grime in the production goes a long way into making this song a standout. It adds a vicious tone to the blast beats and the duet vocals during the first half. Even the lyrics are relatably brutal in a man vs. himself vs. society type of way. It's a realistic experience of our mistakes and misplacement in the world, so that's pretty cool in a gloomy sense.
25Ed Schrader's Music Beat

9. “Riddles [Title Track]”: This number from another album I couldn't care less about, but once that breathtaking piano melody ensues on the title track's intro, I know I'm in for a treat. The production afterward kinda makes it sound like a 2000's alt-rock track, a particular sound I've haven't hard done this well in a while. All while the production's doing its thing, the singer, Ed Schrader himself sounds like a late 80's/early 90's art-punk vocalist. This song soars beautifully, yet in a level-headed attitude. The lyrics seem to be a metaphor for the struggle of modern life hindered by poverty and rough past lives. This may or may not feel like the right music to tell a message like that, depending on the person, but does it really matter when it's crafted and performed so gorgeously?
24Barren Earth
A Complex of Cages

8. “Solitude Pith”: Unfortunately for Barren Earth, not only did I not care for their new album at all, but I could easily call it pretty bad. It's a giant mess, but I still honor this group for forming a record full of heart and effort, a project with a ton of passion poured into it. When the music isn't painfully mediocre, however, I see that passion creating something worthy of further listens and attention. “Solitude Pith” is where Barren Earth hit their stride. The vocalist finally went from being obnoxiously cheesy to charming. The wide diversity of different instruments being used (tablas, shakers, a flute and organ here or there, etc.) nicely thickened the atmosphere and epicness. I'm also impressed with the transitions of said atmospheres. They go from calm and light to exotic to haunting to epic in five minutes without jolting those transitions onto you, and that's what a great prog death track does. I just wish they utilized that skill for the rest of the album.
23Rolo Tomassi
Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It

7. “Balancing the Dark”: Turns out, “Whispers Among Us” wasn't even the best song on Time Will Die... This song is what... symphonic jazzcore? should be. Moody, short and sweet and worth your time. This song is just as damning as the last Rolo Tomassi entry, but here, it's slightly move felt in the shredding guitars, frantic drum work, and odd time signatures. Perhaps the lyrics are pushier, too. I “concurred” that referring to the endlessness of the world's harshness. The background sirens have somewhat similar sounding elements to some early Godspeed You! work, F#A# in particular. It seems from RT's two entries that the world in Time Will Die... is in an apocalyptic state, some of which (and whom) I'm pretty sure we're already facing.
22Mathias Eick

6. “Family”: In the same family tree as “Riddles” from earlier, the intro piano line from this random jazz number sure is a great one. To complement it, Mr. Eick decided to be artsy with his percussion and sax progressions. Although these progressions are beautiful, they feel intended to be neat and intriguing, both of which Eick did greatly. The light “street jazz” tone is rather strong on its basic stilts, but more supporting acts like the plenty of bells and the violin inclusions make it all a bit more than that. In all honesty, Ravensburg was a slight disappointment on the whole, especially after the superb GoGo Penguin album from last month. However, more jazzy stuff of this quality throughout the year couldn't hurt.
Illusive Golden Age

5. “The Living Vault”: So we've had piano intros before, right? Now I'll introduce something with a killer drum intro. “Drums” and “Intro” are outstanding outside of each other, too. Well...that's a helluva confusing statement. What I mean to say is that the intro is splendid all around and so is the drumming performance. For the intro, the bass and guitar licks come in strong and mean, the kind that keeps me having a good time with it. My obvious soft spot for stellar drumming performances got tenderized and pulverized here. That off-time ride bell beat at the 1:44 minute mark with the guitar slides is so tasty. Not to mention the tom fiddling around the 5 minute mark. Vocals have nice, well-produced, and intimidating growls and shrieks. Illusive Golden Age, as I'll explain later, is an excellently consistent experience. One song has to come out champion, though, and the performances here convinced me to give this the crown.
20Mount Eerie
Now Only

4. “Earth”: In an album full of titular themes, concepts, and workarounds, this song was the most likable and artistically clever of them all. Similarly to “Distortion” from earlier in Now Only, the electric guitar and drum playing is dirty, matched up with Phil Elvrum's theme. Today's theme is the ground, and here he compares his feelings about his wife's death a year later to his recent physical interactions with her dead body. To join the relationship is what's arguably the most melancholic guitar progression on the entire record. Also jumping in is an eerie driving-on-the-road sound with the depressing implication of what's going to triumph over you as you're in the Earth. It's how Phil Elvrum has been with this existential feeling ever since the death of his wife, hence Elvrum kicks off the record with, “I don't want to live with this feeling any longer than I have to, But also I don't want you to be gone.” Songwriting like this, to me, kinda buries the argument that Phil is
19Mount Eerie
Now Only

lazily writing frequent albums because of his wife's death. I think he's rather extremely careful about his work because of exactly that.
18Between the Buried and Me
Automata I

3. “Yellow Eyes”: The first Automata release wasn't so much “bad” rather than it was predictable. Both fans and I knew that BtBaM were gonna push songwriting boundaries, in their own let's-try-to-be-weird-even-though-we-sound-like-we're--way-past-that ways. Expectedly, some of it sucked and hit the pavement, but some of it was also shimmering with creativity. I have to get into Coma Ecliptic one day, but “Yellow Eyes” might be their best song since “Swim to the Moon”. Especially with the organ-ish keyboards throughout the lighter sections, it sounds like BtBaM's metalcore mix style incorporated with 90's Dream Theater progressions. Somehow this makes everything more of a feat, between the well-done clean vocal sections, the aforementioned organ playing, and the drumssss. Like “The Living Fault”, this is yet another year-end contender for drumming performances led by none other than Blake Richardson. Oh yeah, the flute-sprinkled calm section is pretty cool because
17Between the Buried and Me
Automata I

it reminds me of wintery black metal stuff. Gotta love the electronic ditties in there, too. It's like every time I repeat this song, I find something else to like about it.
16Rivers of Nihil
Where Owls Know My Name

2. “Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)”: Many of the reasons I enjoy this song so much can also apply to “Yellow Eyes”. Great alternating vocals, powerful keyboard overload, and nice genre infusions (for this one, it's the sax solo). What edges “Subtle Change” over that track is how Rivers of Nihil are able to embrace their epicness a little more. It's a more fun listen this way, which, when the ending flute passage came in, I was like, “Of course you did that, ya gracious bastards.” That's even after an amazing guitar solo and a chorus reprise. However, this embrace doesn't get more apparent than the blast beat-riddled moment smack in the middle of the track. It's a glorious moment that even overpowers the character in the lyrics. With that melodic death touch to the song, this pretty much is prog death at its very finest.
15Anna von Hausswolff
Dead Magic

1. “Ugly and Vengeful”: Unless if you count the building of Barren Earth's “Solitude Pith”, nothing here will test your patience quite like “Ugly and Vengeful”. It's a slow, slow burn with creepiness reminiscent to that of a Diamanda Galas piece, but post rock-like. It's all amazing and dangerously enticing. As a 16+ minute song, post-rock fans with pipe organ dreams will forever have an anthem to cherish. To start, the vocals are absolutely fantastic, and the overlaying of the first two stanza endings (which are in the sixth minute lol) was an excellent effect choice. The melodies are all great and the autotune-like effects later in the song work as an alienized weirdness of the main character's fears. I see the all the instruments, particularly the steady tom and bass drumming in the second half, as a smart way to symbolize the musical themes and lyric's indefinite stay with the story's character. They're not exactly galloping toward him/her,
14Anna von Hausswolff
Dead Magic

yet that supernatural paranoia seems everlasting, kinda like this song. The lyrics are kinda cryptic, so it's hard to get a grip on what this is all about. With some religious wording and spacial rendings (and pipe organs), I think it's supposed to be about the effect of religion on a person's futility. The “stone” could represent an idolized figure and the repetition of words and phrases could be a person's clinginess to such things. After all that is settled, is this song truly transcendental in the music world? I dunno, time will answer that. It sure feels transcendental.
13Pooh Man
Funky As I Wanna Be

-- March's Best Albums --
12Haley Heynderickx
I Need to Start a Garden

10. 7/10: With a surname as odd as the one we have here, one would think that this must be some ill-fated attempt at an overproduced modern “folk” album. Yet, here's something that sounds old as baby boomers. Maybe not in production, but Haley's voice and guest instrumental appearances make this aesthetically sound like it's from the 50's or something. It's as nostalgically charming as that, too. The lowkey saxophone at the end of “The Bug Collector” is a highlight of such events. The lonely, echoed voice of Ms. Heyndrickx carries through swirling pianos and cellos in album superstar “Show Me a Body”, something Judy Garland wouldn't have minded doing. In terms of melodies, “Oom Sha La La” has a few that'll make you call it antique. Surprisingly enough, much of the album's lyrics can point to the theme of tradition and growing up. Haley herself said that the garden imagery was made in mind of her older relatives. The style of folk played here feels like a lovely tribute to them.
11Kacey Musgraves
Golden Hour

9. 7/10: While her tagging of Golden Hour as “cosmic country” makes me wanna barf, I can't help but appreciate Kacey Musgraves's continued work to make mainstream country worth listening to. Because Mrs. Musgraves based this album on her current moods (in revelation by the solar eclipse... yeah idk either), it opens up a potentially large variety of each track's themes and attitudes. Wanna listen to something sweet and uplifting for your SO? “Butterflies” is a great love song. You wanna make that spacey love a little more twangy with a banjo? “Love is a Wild Thing” is a personal favorite of mine. Is all that love an omen for a downhill spiral? Hit up “Happy & Sad”. Along with some pretentiousness on Kacey's part, none of these songs can collaborate for a “stellar” country record or anything like that. However, this may be the best of the bunch we're given all year, so let's celebrate it.

8. 7/10: Until I read a review comment section during research time for this album, I had no ideas these guys were a Christian metal group. Huh, strange. Anyways, more creative death metal this year! You can go ahead and knock the production on some of this, particularly the first bits of this because I am, too. It definitely picks up, though, starting with that lovely orchestral intro on “Mark of the Beast Pt. 1”. It's a nice segue straight into a fast and pummeling Part 2 with an awesome ending. The next three prog-spiced songs let the instrumental members show off their technical side. The guitarist is fantastic in the album highlight “Infinite Wisdom”, the exotic drumming is lovely on “Desolate It Mourns Before Me”, and the “breakdown power” is really cool on “Abominable Acts”. People strangely try to use the three 10 minute tracks as platforms for Cynic comparisons, but I really don't see it. They are pretty much their own thing, and for good reason.
9The Republic of Wolves

7. 7/10: Perfectly enjoyable emo/alt rock. While it's not anything terribly special in, well, anything, I'll respect this album where it deserves it. “Bask” Is an excellently charged track that's good coverage of someone with personal insecurities. “Dialogues” is a passionate alt-rock “epic” with a great chorus and good calm moments. The closer, “Worry If You Want (Yume)” is an emotional ride through awesome guitar playing and songwriting. I also really like how this album will flip back and forth from an insider's and outsider's perspective in the story. The lyrics can only be precisely seen from either a first- or third-person view, depending on the song. Sometimes, like on the closer and “Dialogues”, both perspectives are played out to their own depths. It's a neat, introspective album that's shored up early in the year, to get ready for The Wonder Years and to get over Brand New...R.I.P. those guys.
8Barely Civil
We Can Live Here Forever

6. 7/10: More emo for the self-conscious mind. Instead of fighting with the self, however, this discusses how you feel about where you're at, or where you're home is. Barely Civil's idea of home turns out to be a collective of different, fond places. Hence, this album is a collection of distinctively various emotional ballads and punchy rock numbers. The best of the emotional ballads is “Handwritten House”, a twinkly, moving song not holding back from being itself. The best of the rock here is “Lost // Found”, an electric and punky telling of a character running him/herself into nothing. The subtle encore “I Am Drowning” beats all of that, though, with an intense acoustic performance from Connor Erickson. Yeah, it's all pretty good, but “I Am Drowning” though. It's pretty spectacular.
7Judas Priest

5. 7/10: Rob Halford is 66 now? Jeez. While he may not have quite the vocal chops he did in his prime with Painkiller and what not, he sounds competent with the instrumentals and production, and that's all he really needs to be. His high notes still bring out that Judas Priest spark we all have come to love. Apart from Halford, much of the songwriting sounds kinda... old, like they haven't grown out of the 80's. However, the production somehow makes a lot of those sound fresh. Some tracks stick out as potent rockers. “Necromancer” has an awesome, menacing riff with well-performed verses, “Evil Never Dies” is solid with a kick-ass ending, “Rising From Ruins” is an epic number that can suit the ballad and the rocker, and “Sea of Red” does not disappoint as a closer. All this from a group that's in their 49th year? I don't know if they can handle this quality of stuff much longer, but I definitely wouldn't mind seeing at least one more from these guys.
6Rivers of Nihil
Where Owls Know My Name

4. 7/10: Rivers of Nihil... this sure is an odd group. Turn out they're an amalgamation of stuff: djent, death metal, and classic progressive rock. One would think that the last genre on that list would be included in the most subtle ways, but it's, in fact, the most noticeable. Even the production has that 70's synth glitter to it. Where Owls Know My Name could easily be a trainwreck through all of this, but it mostly works. All three main genres feel fairly inclusive in nearly every track, and that takes out a good amount of worry for the album's sound. Otherwise, it has several great moments and sparingly-used subgenre inclusions (of those being some metalcore here, some electronica there, and even a bit of post rock). As you would expect in a prog death release, the instruments are pretty complex in technicality. “A Home” has excellent drumming, the guitar work is flashy in “Old Nothing”, and the bass work throughout the second half is fantastic. More like this stuff, please!
5Mount Eerie
Now Only

3. 7.5/10: Ah, welcome back Mr. Phil! You make a fun, happy record filled with sunshine and rainbows on last year's A Crow Looked At Me. Can you outdo yourself this time? Challenge yourself to write an album that even the top 40 hoggers would die to have the experience of. Alright, I'll snap out of it; I liked this a lot. To make a second album on his wife's death, Mr. Elvrum was going to have to progress his album both instrumentally and lyrically to justify this release. And, while some of those instrumental attempts are pretty rough, both sides succeed more than enough to avoid disappointment. “Earth” was the best example in the compositional songwriting field, but I like the snarkishly light tone of the title track and the guitars strums/piano licks on “Distortion” can warrant most of the 11-minute length. I think it was the correct decision for Mr. Elvrum to make this record about memory and current condition without just mourning about his wife's death
4Mount Eerie
Now Only

(I mean, there's still a bunch of that, but I'm glad it's not the same album, you know?) To match that progression, the song structures on the more fleshed-out tracks (the title track and “Earth”) eventually calm out to the effect of death on Phil's memories. It's appropriate, and the year-long recall was worth the wait, I guess? I don't know if I can take much of Phil's sadness any longer, though.
3Anna von Hausswolff
Dead Magic

2. 8/10: As soon as those woodwind shimmers appeared two minutes into “The Truth, The Glow, The Fall”, I knew I was in for a treat, and indeed I was. It's not hard to say that centerpiece “Ugly and Vengeful” makes a lot of the record, but surrounding it are solid numbers of, ahem, Neoclassical Darkwave as RYM described it. Besides the glaring pipe organs, other elements of the past feel invited, too, like a bit of 80's pop vocal production on the opener and even some old-time country on the followup “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra”. Just like the awesome album cover from 1990 cult horror flick Begotten, the themes are depressingly haunting. The entire thing is essentially based on a poem by Walter Ljungquist and von Hausswolff would add (“Feel the fall”, “not enough”, “stone”, “to dissolve myself into emptiness”). Oh, let's add some dreadful music to your worthlessness, too. In all seriousness, though, I'm really glad that Anna von Hausswolff shot out of seemingly nowhere
2Anna von Hausswolff
Dead Magic

to make this harrowingly awesome record revered by many, including myself. It's so different and fresh and cool.
Illusive Golden Age

1. 8/10: And I thought Rivers of Nihil was the best prog death release this quarter had to offer. This was literally one of those last minute records that I happened to spin because of the popularity it got here, and oh I was not let down one bit. Riffs slay for days because the guitar work on this is some of the best metal-involved playing I've heard all year. It's so creatively awesome and diverse between every track. The opener has awesome guitar playing throughout, I love the breakdowns on “Carrion Tide”, and the calmer, murkier “Maritime” is highly enjoyable. I can't forget “Anchorite” as a closer on the whole. It's an epic voyage through melodic-death flavored passages with excellent songwriting and superb bass playing. That's a track that deservedly closed the curtains on this excellent metal project that is probably in my top few of the year so far.
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