Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rock Band Network is live

Released a year and a half ago, Rock Band 2 continues to lead the pack in terms of music based games.  Now, I am the first to admit that I am a little biased, as Rock Band 2 is the game of choice in our home.  It just seems to have everything together to really work well.  The note charts are far better than in the current Guitar Hero iterations, the presentation is more polished, and the focus is more on the music.

As a music fan, that is the real key.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My top albums of 2009

Much like my brother said, 2009 was a huge year for music. There were so many outstanding albums it's taken me a fair amount of time to synthesize a list that reflects my favorite offerings in a year filled with awesome acts. Moreover, there are so many that I've loved so intensely, it was difficult to get the list down to a bare ten. The honorable mentions list is enormous, and the best thing to do would be to look at this top ten my brother did and check out all the things I neither have space nor predilection to mention again. He does have impeccable taste, after all...
But here's my top ten, after considerable trouble deciding.
Honorable Mentions: Everything on this list
Fever Ray: S/T
Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest
Dethklok: Dethalbum II
The XX: xx
10. Muse: The Resistance
Muse have a lot going for them - they're ridiculously popular, they supposedly put on one of the best live shows you'll ever see, and (most importantly) they're awesome. 2006's Black Holes and Revelations has some of the best hooks you'll ever hear in a rock album. While The Resistance might not be as formidable an album as their previous effort, its concept album feel gives it a leg up on its predecessor. It's an album where everything belongs and has its place, and when it's good, it's ridiculously good. The last three tracks (an imposing three-movement song) give hope to me that perhaps popular music isn't as far gone as I feared.
9. The Mountain Goats: The Life of the World to Come
While The Mountain Goats have been around forever, it's only been in the last few months that I've really heard them, but it's got to be said - you might not enjoy the slightly nasal delivery of vocals that John Darnielle sings with, but he writes some of the most literate, engaging, worthwhile lyrics you'll ever hear. His latest outing has everything one expects from a later-period Mountain Goats release - poignant, autobiographical wordsmithing, simple, warm guitar work, minimalist instrumentation. But its incorporation of themes from biblical scripture make it a more personal, spiritual effort.
8. Devin Townsend Project
Devin Townsend is probably the artist that consistently makes my "Top Albums of XXXX Year" list more than any other. His inventiveness and constant reinvention make him usually engaging, sometimes off-putting, and always worth a listen. Or ten. And his two albums last year are no exception. Ki is by far the stronger of the two albums, a huge departure from Devin's usual style, but Addicted has plenty of great hooks, too. Also, the addition of Anneke van Giersbergen as a vocalist on Addicted makes it that much better (I honestly believe she may have my favorite female voice in rock). Devin is changing as a person and as an artist, but when change results in releases of this calibre, I'm grateful for it.
7. F*** Buttons: Tarot Sport
Pay no attention to the name of this band. It's the most offensively nonsensical name I've heard all year. But that stupid name belies the talent and greatness of the music. This is electronica of the highest order; sure, it takes ten minutes to venture through one of their songs, but the ride is so crazy it's worth every minute of it. It's the first electronic album since Daft Punk's 2001 album Discovery that makes me want to listen to electronic music. It is almost like carefully packaged epilepsy - but the seizures last only as long as you want them to.
6. Kylesa: Static Tensions
This album is huge. The dual drumming is stellar, the grungy production hits all the right spots, the whole thing erupts in your face for forty minutes without letting up. It's been a constant play in the game Audiosurf, and has kept me entertained for hours.
5. OSI: Blood
The Matheos/Moore combination hits its sweet spot with their third release under the moniker OSI. It is heavy and progressive in all the right spots; it fades to calm and foreboding just when it needs to. The drumming is top notch (no need for Portnoy's ego this time around), the guitars are as slicing as ever, the programming and keyboards add the perfect level of ambience to every measure. Creepiness made perfect, this is a must-have for the rocker in all of us.
4. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
I've listened to this album a couple of dozen times, and I still don't know what to make of it. I can't figure out how to describe it, what words or phrases might make you understand what is going on here. And I've had an epiphany - I don't have to explain it. The music explains itself, even if you don't know what to make of it. This is a strange, beautiful thing.
3. Riverside: Anno Domini High Definition
I've been listening to Riverside since the release of their second album, and while their following release was worthwhile, I didn't feel it came close to what Second Life Syndrome had done. Anno Domini High Definition doesn't come to that previous level - it demolishes it, becoming by far their best release.
This album makes me dance. And dance. And then dance some more. It will probably make you do the same. That is all.
This album is a constant barrage of progressive awesomeness, from its some-of-it-is-backwards-and-some-of-it-is-forwards opener to the jarring guitars and subtle melodies that weave throughout the disc. Right when you think you know where Mew is going to take it, they go another direction - and make you enjoy every minute of it. This is the natural evolution of progressive rock, and I can't help but smile every time I hear the album. It feels equal parts prog, indie, electronica, and chutzpah - and is my favorite disc to come out in 2009.

Guilt Machine: On This Perfect Day

Guilt Machine: On This Perfect Day
Year 2009

Arjen Lucassen doesn't even know what "rest on your laurels" means. Always the innovator, Arjen has done it again with Guilt Machine.

Taking a break from his Ayreon project (hopefully not permanently) and having left Stream of Passion, Arjen embarked on a new pursuit this year. Setting aside the science fiction storyline of Ayreon, Guilt Machine is a project that allows Arjen to look within, exploring the themes of guilt, regret and their potentially destructive power.

Guilt Machine differs from Ayreon on other levels as well. Rather than assembling a large cast of vocalists and musicians, Arjen gathered just three other people: Jasper Steverlinck on vocals, Lori Linstruth on lead guitar, and Chris Maitland on drums. With such a change from the formula that has worked so well for many years, this begs the question: How are the results?


On This Perfect Day is wonderful. The music is, overall, much more relaxed. Many of the songs take 3-4 minutes or more until they really climax. Yet when they do it is an experience. Retaining his powerful, driving guitar sound, Arjen does a perfect job propelling the songs forward at just the perfect moments, as well as giving them space to explore.  Chris Maitland carries the music on his powerful rhythm work.  Lori's guitar work retains its unique, lyrical quality, making it a pleasure to listen to.  Finally, new-comer (to me) Jasper's voice has just the right mix of melancholy, plaintive pleading, brightness, and subtle power.  

While this album initially didn't jump out and grab me, after repeat listens I found myself drawn back to listen, again, and again, and again.  The lyrics are unapologetically bleak, but presented in such a way that you have to pay close attention to realize just how depressing this album it.  This adds a wonderful depth to the record.  This is one of those records I can say, without hesitation, I really love.

Verdict: 4.5/5
Yes, I am cheating with the half point.  I don't know if I could call it an absolute essential, but it is just such a joy to listen to that a 4 just doesn't cut it.  

Rebirth of Progged?

Progged was born years ago, out of a desire for me to write about some of the music that I love.  Over the years it has added a writer (my amazingly talented brother) and has covered a variety of different types of music.  It has gone through active periods and some long droughts of new content.

Part of the issue with the droughts was my desire for things to be very ordered.  I had this idea in my head of what made a good review.  However, this often made it so reviews took longer to write, or were just plain difficult to fit into the mold.

Due to that, and the huge backlog I have of music articles to write, I am going to just write however and whatever I write, and invite my brother to do the same.  Currently he and I are listening to very different styles of music, and I would love to know what he is enjoying about his music, and I hope that any who stop by to read will find something rewarding.

There will still be reviews, but I envision them much more loose in structure.  I am not a professional critic, a professional musician, or a professional writer.  I am just a dude who likes to sing, play the guitar a little and play Rock Band.  Yes, that means I will probably include some music game articles here as I think they are germane.

Hopefully this can be a full rebirth, and hopefully someone will join us along the way.  Please feel free to leave comments.  I have turned on comment moderation as the spam has been getting worse.