Monday, May 31, 2010

Do this now, thank Trent later

Back in early 2009, Trent Reznor stated that it was time for NIN to take a bit of a break.  Shame, to, as he was really gaining steam in his march against the music industry.

Well, no more worries.  Tomorrow, the eponymous album from his new band How to Destroy Angels (with his new wife Mariqueen Maandig) will be released.  The best part? Head here today and you can preorder the new EP, and immediately receive one track ahead of time.  

Oh, and in case I forgot to mention, as long as you are happy with the 320 kbps .mp3 version, it is free.  Yep.  Free, gratis.  Pretty awesome.  That little thing over there on the left?  That is just if you want a physical CD.  Heck, for $2 you can upgrade to a lossless format if you are one of "those" people.  

Thanks Trent and co.

Point-Counterpoint: AC/DC - Iron Man 2 Soundtrack


I've never said this out loud before.  (And I guess this is written, so I've still never said it out loud.)  I'm a closet AC/DC fan.

In fact, I have been for years.  In fact, I've mostly ridiculed them when other people have mentioned them.  Never have I liked them enough to buy an album or anything (mostly because, let's be honest - an AC/DC album is mostly filler, with a few really shining moments of awesome).  But I don't need to anymore.

Thanks to the Iron Man 2 soundtrack.

This has compiled all of the AC/DC songs that are worth remembering and listening to into one compact little package.  And it is a doozy - it's got "Highway to Hell", "Back in Black", "TNT" and "Thunderstruck", among others.

And it isn't until you start hearing them all together in this way that you see how pervasive AC/DC is as a band.  You know the riff from just about every song on the album - they've been heard in just about every time and place imaginable.  It's nothing complex or technical, but it's darn fun - and I can legitimately say that it's really great to drive with.  You feel just like Tony Stark (that is, if Tony Stark drove a Hyundai Accent).

Final verdict: Adore it (just don't get pulled over while cruising to it)


The Iron Man 2 Soundtrack.  "Okay," says I when my partner in writing suggests this.  I head to to check it out, and it has some big AC/DC title on it.  So I read up a bit.  Turns out, someone must have wanted to save time and make a little extra cash on the side.  'Cause guess what folks?  This is a cheap cash grab, nothing more.

Sort of a "greatest hits" group of tracks here, what you have are some classic AC/DC tunes, mixed in with some not so great songs.  There is no question that tracks like "Back in Black", "TNT" and "Thunderstruck" are classics.  But do you really need to hear them again?

I mean, any track worth listening to on this album can be heard in any 90 minute span on any classic rock or rock radio station.  And if you aren't so familiar with them that you kind of throw up in your mouth every time you hear them, well then I think you are the type of fool they are looking for.  You know what they say about a fool and his/her money. . .

Final verdict: Ignore it (as the blatant money grab it so obviously is)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Album Review: Deftones - Diamond Eyes

Deftones: Diamond Eyes
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

While sitting on my high horse, I had shunned the Deftones for a few years.  I considered them to be "nu-metal" and thus, below me.  However, when my brother recommended I check out White Pony, I acquiesced and gave the band a listen.

And was pleasantly surprised.

Diamond Eyes, their latest release, and the first since serious trauma to the band in the form of a car accident involving Chi Cheng (he remains in a "minimally conscious state").  And it is the work of a band that is feeling the result of this trauma.

Point-Counterpoint Classic: Anthrax - Persistence of Time


Okay, this one isn't even fair.  I totally am cherry picking here.  But as I said in a previous article, I have been feeling the need to just sink my teeth into something I already know I love.  Welcome, then, to my brief trip back to High School, and one of the albums that opened my eyes and mind.

I always knew I liked rock.  I gravitated to the sound of a distorted electric guitar early on.  Songs like "Money for Nothing", "Pour Some Sugar on Me", and "Modern Day Cowboy" captivated my tween year old mind in the 80s.  But it wouldn't be until the 90s that I realized that I really was a metal head.  In respect to my good upbringing, I had veered far away from any of those "evil" metal bands, and Anthrax was just one such band.

That all changed when a friend lent me Persistence of Time.  I was completely blown away.  I suddenly realized that yes, this band played heavy freaking metal.  But what I didn't expect was the talent I was met with.  Amazing guitar work, powerful, rapid drumming, and surprisingly politically/socially conscious lyrics all culminated to create an album that sent my musical world reeling.  Suddenly heavy metal wasn't evil.  It was awesome.

Since that time, my musical tastes have broadened (somewhat, though admittedly no where near as broad as my brother), but metal remains at the roots of it all.  And in there, with the best of any of those albums, you will find Persistence of Time, an example of one of the very best thrash metal albums of all time.  The songs still hold up today, 20 years later, just as well as they did back then.  The lyrics, while admittedly simplistic and heavy handed at times, deal with issues we still are dealing with today (racism, divorce, hate).  In short, I love this album as much, if not more, than I did when I first heard it so many years ago.

Final verdict: Adore it (as one of the seminal albums in American thrash metal)


There's nothing wrong with a bit of cherry picking when it comes to album reviews - how better to introduce people to your favorites, so that they can put your other opinions in context?

However, I don't hold this album in quite the regard Peter does.  I remember picking up a used copy years ago, but I never really got into it (thrash isn't my thing, I guess - I can't really think of ANY thrash CDs I own anymore).  I must've given it away or sold it back used to a place, because I couldn't find it for the life of me when my co-conspirator here decided this should be our next joint article.

However, I can honestly say that it's a great album - a perfect example of what American thrash was, and what it can be again.  It's ugly, grating, complex, and blistering.  As Peter mentioned, the lyrics are inane, but inane in a way that only wonderful eighties bands can be - it's endearing rather than off-putting.

As mentioned, I do have broad tastes - arguably TOO broad for some people.  However, re-listening to this gigantic album has brought me back to my heavy metal roots and has made a perfect accompaniment to my workouts for the last week.

Final verdict: Adore it (with a smile and a nod to the old-time thrash masters)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Introducing a new series: Essential Albums

Since our recent revamp of the rating system here, I have had one nagging doubt about the move: How to distinguish true masterpieces from other really good albums.  For example, there are a LOT of Rush albums that get the Adore it rating.  But those are certainly not all equal.

So, I have decided that for certain albums, they will be introduced as "Essentials" right in the review title.  The rest of the review will follow the same format, but those albums get that extra special label.  And to kick it off, the first review will be for a doozy of an album.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The S:L ratio

While working on some of the recent albums we have taken a look at here on the site, I realized that I had, unconsciously, created a sort of mathematical formula in my head when working on a review.  I believe that trying to review music in a strictly objective manner is rubbish, as what makes music so powerful is its inherent ability to be subjective.

However there are objective criteria that can be applied to music.  For example, Enemies of Reality by Nevermore was a stunning example of bad mastering.  The initial release was muddy, incoherent, poorly mixed.  This is objectively bad.  Likewise, the remix which corrected these flaws was clear, precise, well balanced.  This made the album objectively better.

Yet the intangibles are often more important than the tangibles.  This last week I realized I had this measurement in my head that tried to balance the subjective to the objective.  I call it the Skip to Listen ratio, or the S:L.  It is simple really.  A ratio of 1 means I am skipping as many songs on the album as I am listening to.  An album with a ratio that hovers around 1 will get an Explore it rating.  Go much higher than 1 and you can bet there will be an Ignore it at the end of the review.  In other words, the smaller the ratio the better.  You know, inversely proportional.

Sadly, too much of the stuff I have been listening to lately has been > 1.  That makes for an unpleasant listening experience.  So don't be too surprised if you see a few reviews that are purposely chosen because they have low ratios.  I need some music that really gets me going, not music that feels like a chore.  Also, don't be surprised if you start to see the S:L ratio showing up in reviews at times.

Point-Counterpoint: Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf


I came to Queens of the Stone Age the long way around - never mind the fact that they've been playing these guys on x96 for years.

I had a friend online who was a huge fan of Masters of Reality, and I started listening to them.  They typify everything great about the misnamed "stoner rock" scene, and through them I came to start listening to other bands in the genre - of which QotSA is the best example.

And this is their best record.  It's loud, brash, unapologetic, and mean.  It starts heavy and stays heavy throughout, with moments of calm hidden throughout, but even in the quiet passages, the loud is right around the corner once again - which is just the way I like it.

One of the things that I've come to love about the album is something that initially annoyed me a bit are the radio station interludes - the whole album is presented as the soundtrack to a drive, and in between many of the songs there are the sounds of tuning around the dial, with each station playing different songs off of the record.  Yes, I found it a little weird and off-putting from the beginning, but it's become one of its many charms.

And the songs in between all these interludes are memorable.  Album opener "Millionaire" starts the disc in just the right place, followed by the single and the song you've probably heard off it if you've heard anything - "No One Knows" is a catchy, lucid tune.  Sort-of album titler "Song for the Deaf" is mean and grungy, and the similarly titled "Song of the Dead" is equally so.  And everything else in between?  Also great.

Final verdict: Adore it (and enjoy it when you're feeling persnickety)


Two key points to get out in the open right up front.  First, these point-counterpoints are not full album reviews. They just aren't.  That will be important later.  Second, I am a very finicky music fan.

As to the first point, that means that I don't feel the same onus to really, really listen to all these choices.  That is good for me because, to be entirely honest, I don't have that much time to listen to music.  I have to actually work it in to my day.  It is an effort to listen to music.  This plays directly into the second point (almost called it number two, but thought that would be juvenile, so I didn't).  Because I have to actually work music into my day, I can be very picky.

Now that that is all out of the way, let's get down to this album.  I was aware of Queens of the Stone Age, but had not knowingly heard their music.  So when Braeden selected this as our next album I welcomed the excuse to familiarize myself with the band.  What you have here is a fuzzy, raunchy mix of solid rock with some metal overtones.  On paper that looks great.

Unfortunately, something about this album just kept itself distanced from me.  I never really felt interested by the songs.  I enjoyed the "radio" theme they had going on, and thought it was an interesting twist on the album.  And the music certainly had moments.  But the moments were not enough to draw me in.  I often found myself fighting the urge to hit "next" on the iPod about halfway through each track.

I suppose the fact that I have already deleted this from the iPod tells the story.  While I didn't have the immediate rejection of it that I have with some others, I just didn't find anything that interested me or made me want to go back for more.  As such, I won't discount this one out of hand, but I personally won't be going back for seconds.

Final verdict: Explore it (just explore it without me, I'm done exploring this one) 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Album Review: The National - High Violet

The National: High Violet
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Ah, The National.  I feel like a traitor to my progressive metal roots even mentioning them.  But you know what?  I'm going to mention them anyway, even though everyone else on the internets is mentioning them right now, too. (Quiet, little prog-metal imp in my head.  You just shut right up.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Album Review: Foals - Total Life Forever

Foals: Total Life Forever
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

I came upon the debut album by Foals in a strange way.  It was about two in the morning and I was channel surfing with my little sister.  We stumbled upon the music video for their song "Olympic Airways" and we were suitably impressed.  I jotted the name of the band down, determined to check them out in the morning and expecting to be disappointed once I heard them while awake and fully cognizant.

I wasn't.  Instead, Antidotes was one of the single best albums to come out in 2008, a poppy, guitar driven math rock record filled with silly lyrics and catchy melodies.  Even the slower songs had a sense of seething intensity that boiled just under the surface, ready to erupt and any time.

With a debut like that, it's obvious that I was very excited about the follow up.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Novembre - The Blue


Novembre is another band I discovered through the wonders of the internet and  They showed up on my Katatonia station as another example of the melancholic, haunting music those Swedes are so adept at.  And with good reason.

The Blue is their most recent effort.  Novembre is an interesting band.  They started out as an Italian death metal band.  However, over the years they have evolved into something much more interesting, and nowhere is that more evident than on The Blue. Yes, there are harsh, death metal style vocals.  Yes, there is thunderous double bass drumming.  Yes, there is no shortage of crushing metal guitars.

However, there is also an almost ethereal quality to the music, a sense of artistry that takes these heavy element and crafts them into something exquisite, with an almost porcelain beauty.  There are moments when it is easy to forget just how heavy this album can be because of the delicate aspects of so many of the songs.

Novembre expertly balances all their influences on The Blue.  From distorted to clean acoustic guitars, from light, airy vocals to harsh growls, the album keeps you always guessing as to what will come next.  This is only heightened by the unorthodox song structure.  Gone is the ABABCBB song structure that is so common to modern music.  Novembre will take you from A to F, but how it gets there is a real mystery and treat.  Some tracks will have repeated motifs, but most move gently from one passage to the next with little to no repetition. It is a breath of fresh air.

Final Verdict: Adore it (and don't let the harsh vocals get you, there is real brilliance here)


The real beauty of this disc is hidden in the carefully crafted, subtle guitar melodies that weave through each song.  They're flying by so fast and are mixed really low in the mastering, so you don't even notice they're there half the time - and more's the pity.

In fact, that's my only genuine complaint about the album - I would have made the melodic guitar parts more prominent and mixed the rhythm section a little lower.  But if that's my BIGGEST complaint, that's proof positive how great this album is.

It seethes with honesty and beauty.  It feels like the kind of thing that took years to create, but seems simultaneously effortless and smooth.

Final verdict: Adore it (and let the melodies take you away on wonderful journeys)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The passing of another legend: ISIS breaks up

It's official - ISIS is breaking up.  In a surprising announcement earlier today, they've decided they're calling it done after their upcoming tour.  They went on to say,
This end isn't something that occurred over night and it hasn't been brought about by a single cataclysmic fracture in the band. Simply put, ISIS has done everything we wanted to do, said everything we wanted to say. In the interest of preserving the love we have of this band, for each other, for the music made and for all the people who have continually supported us it is time to bring it to a close.
It's a shame to watch them go - they've been one of the great progenitors of the post-metal movement, and their effort from last year, Wavering Radiant, is one of the essential metal albums of the last decade.  My sister and I had the opportunity to see them live a year ago, and they put on one of the better shows I've ever seen - and it was hearing the songs live than sold me on their last album.

I'm sad to see them go, but they're leaving on top.  Good luck with your musical endeavors, guys.

Point-Counterpoint: Jaga Jazzist - One Armed Bandit


I love jazz.  I really, really do.  I know that people think I'm weird sometimes because of that, because jazz is often seen as an intellectual effort that is at best ignored, at worst reviled.  But I'm not one of those revilers - I find it a wonder.

And experimental jazz?  Even more so.  I like music that pushes the envelope and demands attention from its listeners, regardless of the genre.  And when it comes to experimental jazz, there is no group that does more than Jaga Jazzist.  Their 2005 release, What We Must, is certainly one of my favorite albums of all time - and a seminal jazz release.  So how does their follow up from this year, One Armed Bandit, hold up to the hype they generated five years ago?

Better than I ever could have hoped.

There is more of a focus on rock influences, and one could make a case that much of this album feels more like a post-rock band rather than a Scandinavian experimental jazz group.  But there's more than that going on - there's bits of electro, fuzz, and even shades of Mannheim Steamroller when you hear the harpsichords coming in.  And don't forget plenty of seventies-era psychedelic progressive rock . . .

"Prognissekongen" and "Toccata" are the clear standout tracks for me, with heavy bass and polyrhythms flowing every which way, but there are plenty of great songs that all flow into each other and create a sense of completeness.  "One Armed Bandit" starts the album out strong, and "Music! Dance! Drama!" have big horn sections, lots of electronica, and melodies that captivate.

Final Verdict: Adore it (with a virgin daiquiri and plenty of time to chill out)


Another new one for me.  I was aware of my brother's love of Jaga Jazzist, having seen countless plays on and with his recent review of their previous release.  When he picked this album, I was excited for the opportunity to check out his band he so adores.

Now, after listening, I have to say that my excitement is somewhat tempered.  But only somewhat.  Jazz is one of those styles of music I appreciate more on an intellectual level than on a visceral level, and One Armed Bandit exemplifies this well.  There is a lot of fascinating music to be found.  Rhythmically, the album is very interesting.  The multitude of different styles that are pulled into the music keeps the listener on his/her toes.

However, in the time I have spent with the music, it has not connected with me on any level other than intellectual.  With time, it is possible this could change and I could develop more of a connection to the music. But this will certainly take time.  As such, I can definitely state that I find the music fascinating, but not captivating.

Final Verdict: Explore it (but you will need to let it sink in)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The passing of a true legend: Dio will be missed

Holy DiverThe Holy Diver has passed.

After an earlier post that was later confirmed to be inaccurate, the inevitable happened.  The great Dio has died after a battle with stomach cancer.  Who knew, the guy was from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Just down the road.

You don't have to be a fan of the theatrics, you may not have even liked his bands (though to dis the mighty Sabbath, along with Rainbow and Dio is musical heresy if you ask me), but you cannot deny the man's impact on metal and rock in general.  He was one of the great vocalists of the past decades, and a real pioneer in the creation and identity of an entire genre.

Ozzy may be better known, but Dio was by far the better vocalist, and will definitely be missed.

Point-Counterpoint: Gordian Knot - Emergent


I came to Gordian Knot in a roundabout sort of way.  I first became familiar with Sean Malone due to his stellar bass work on the first OSI disc.  I then came (far too late) to the party that was Cynic.  I was blown away.  I had to hear more.

Enter Emergent, the second album from Gordian Knot.  The band really is Sean Malone's project, with a rotating cast of supporting players.  At the heart of it, you have a jazz inspired rock/fusion.  There is no shortage of electric guitars and dynamic bass playing.

However, Sean Malone isn't afraid to really embrace the jazz aspect.  There are plenty of moments that have an organic, jam feel to them.  Other moments feel very thought out and focused.  And while there certainly is rock, rock isn't the only side to the music here.  "Mutterspache" is a fantastic way to kick the album into high gear after a lovely bass intro in "Arsis".  For me, though, the highlight is the achingly beautiful "Grace", a live version of a song off the first album.  It is sweet, plaintive and simply one of the most memorable and sublime songs I have ever heard.  While the first Gordian Knot album was lacking in a few areas, Emergent is a fully realized, moving and powerful record.

Final Verdict: Adore it (and make sure to take the time to let this sink in)


Everything Peter said about this album is true - it is a great fusion album, filled to the brim with impressive musicianship and meticulous songwriting.  Malone is a bassist unlike most others, with a sense toward jazz style and improvisation that most rock bassists wish they could have and never will.

Moreover, the guest musicians that Malone brings in are cream of the crop people with years of experience in progressive rock and other media.  We've got Steve Hackett of Genesis fame, Jim Matheos (mastermind behind that all-important archetype of progressive metal, Fates Warning), Bill Bruford - who has spent time playing with both Yes and King Crimson, among others.  Each of their contributions can be felt in little ways in the overall style of the record, from the more psychedelic stuff to the heavier aspects.

And it all just works together so well.  At heart, this album is truly a jazz record; the fact that they use rock instruments and musicians does nothing to deter the fact that it has all the style, grace, and sophistication of basically any other great jazz fusion album.  In the classic tradition of Miles Davis' Bitches' Brew, the Weather Report's eponymous album, or Chick Corea and Return to Forever's seminal Light as a Feather, Emergent combines everything I love about jazz - the fluidity, the improvisation, the exploration - with the tropes of great rock.

Final verdict: Adore it (and sit back, zone out, and enjoy)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Album Review: Zero Hour - Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond

Zero Hour: Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond
Year: 2006
Click here for the artist's site

Zero Hour managed to fly under my radar almost completely for a few years.  I actually had a copy of Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond shortly after release due to a recommendation, but had never really listened much.  It wasn't until their 2008 release Dark Deceiver that they caught my attention.  I was blown away by that album, and couldn't really imagine technical progressive metal done any better.  

That was when I noticed this two year old album in my collection.  Boy, was I wrong.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Extra Life - Secular Works


If there is one way to describe Extra Life's debut album, it's overwhelming.  Purely, sublimely, overwhelming.  Secular Works is not the kind of album you come to really get your first or second (or, to be honest, even your tenth or twentieth) time through.  It's such a hodgepodge of musical ideas, I'm not even sure where to start talking about it.

I suppose I'll start, arbitrarily, with the vocals.  In terms of voice quality, they're nothing overwhelming or worth writing home about - but it's in the melody lines that are sung that the true genius lines.  They weave through uncomfortable, foreign modes, far from the realm of normal, acceptable music.  Here, the vocals are far more an instrument as part of the mix rather than the focal point for the listener.

And the rest of the music is equally baffling.  The guitar work is frenetic and driven, while feeling completely improvised and free.  So too are the violin and bass - all seem to be playing whatever they want, and yet they coincide at the necessary moments (signaled by the loud, brash drums) and the cacophony finds unity and harmony.

The music is not what one expects - it sounds like modal Gregorian chant ran headlong into an improvisational heavy metal outfit, pushing it into the side of an experimental violinist.  It's not for the faint of heart, and I'm not surprised when people hear it and don't like it.  But I do - a lot.

Final verdict: Adore it (with a mind for befuddlement)


Wow.  Just wow.  This was my first introduction to Extra Life, and what an introduction it is.  There is sort of a "kitchen sink" mentality going on here.  But that is odd, because it isn't as if there are tons of instruments or such here.  It is more the feeling.  The songs have so much going on rhythmically, melodically and harmonically that they feel packed to the brim, even in the more sparse moments.

The vocals certainly stand out.  I'm still not sure if that is a good thing or not, but unique they are.  The vocal melodies often contrast against the music, and seem almost haphazard.  However, I have no doubt that, despite the apparent chaos in the music, it is all very planned out.

The end result is music that is anything but comfortable.  You aren't going to be humming any of these songs when the disc is done.  In fact, you probably aren't even going to remember most of the music when it is over, until you have listened again and again.  It is, however, interesting and fascinating if you can get over the high "price of admission".

Final Verdict: Explore it (but you're going to need to be very sober to not be nauseated by the musical twists and turns)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Essentials of the last decade: More Metal

When I wrote the first installment of the metal portion of this list, I didn't realize how much longer it needed to be.  So there will be two more (including this one), both of which will contain metal that may or may not be deemed "progressive".  I'm not snooty enough to care about separating the remaining albums - they're all to good for segregation.  If you really need an identifier for these five albums, they're all deathly, deathly ugly.  (And that's not a bad thing.)

So, without further ado, let's get five more essentials explained!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Moonspell - Night Eternal


Too often in modern culture the term "gothic" brings to mind lame, pseudo-emo kids who are trying to be a bit more edgy.  There is nothing gothic about wearing black and white stripped leggings.  Keep trying.

Moonspell is a Portuguese band that delivers fantastic gothic metal.  And that is nowhere more evident than on their latest album, Night Eternal.  The album is a nonstop crushing blend of black metal sensibility with gothic metal overtones.  Orchestration and hauntingly beautiful keyboard layers (including ethereal choral tracks) add depth to the pummeling double bass onslaught.

Harsh vocals are juxtaposed with clean, deep baritones passages and occasional whispered lyrics.  Every track is dripping with a distinctly dark, gothic atmosphere.  "Shadow Sun" is the prime example, vacillating between slow, brooding verses and frenetic driving choruses.  Yet even in the frantic moments, the album retains its funereal mood.  Finally, the guest vocal work of Anneke van Giersbergen on "Scorpion Flower" is worth the price of admission alone.  If you aren't familiar with her uniquely angelic voice, go.  Listen.  Now.

Final Verdict: Adore it (but leave the black lipstick and nail polish at home, this isn't for poseurs)


I've never been much of a fan of gothic metal, and usually when a singer has a really noticeable accent, it turns me off to the music altogether.

And yet I've spent all day wrapping my head around this CD, and I'm surprised to say that I quite enjoy it.  Sure, the accent is a little distracting - especially in the spoken word opening.  And yes, the cover is goofy looking.  But the music is pretty awesome levels of brutal - just the right mix of heavy and calm.  It oozes sensation; it seethes like a perfect storm.  (And, as Peter mentioned, any reason to hear Anneke van Giersebergen is reason enough to give an album a try - her work with Devin Townsend, Arjen Lucassen and especially with her own bands The Gathering and Agua de Annique are all impeccable, and her voice sounds as splendid as ever here.)

The level of musicianship here is really quite astounding - and the production is clean, effective, and punchy.  The bass is plenty thumpy, the drum work is effective, the keyboards are wispy and unobtrusive, the guitars are fun and melodic.  This really is a pretty great album.

Final verdict: Explore it (while reading a moody, gothic book - but no vampires, please)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Essentials of the last decade: Progressive Metal

It's time for another installment of essential music of the decade.  

While I may have cut my music-loving teeth on progressive rock and alternative rock, it was metal that introduced me to the wider world of heavy, crushing music.  I've spent years listening to and enjoying it, and there is a veritable cornucopia of great albums that I've adored as time has gone by.  While I don't listen to heavy metal nearly as often as I used to, it remains the music that I've heard the most and probably the type of music I own the most of.

Since there is such a plethora of essential recordings in heavy metal, I've chosen to split the sizable list into two - one for progressive metal and one for more vanilla heavy metal.  (And to be perfectly honest, these divisions are rather arbitrary - something you may call progressive will end up on the other list, and vice versa.)  They're not in any particular order, so just make sure to pick them all up.  As such, today's list is going to focus on the progressive greats!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest


I love music that is challenging, complex, and layered - but oftentimes that results in music that is difficult to decipher and kind of ugly. Sometimes, however, it's nice to find music that may not be complcated and off-putting, but simply sounds so pretty. Grizzly Bear is one of those latter bands, and Veckatimest is their strongest, most beautiful work.

It's filled with delicate acoustic guitar work, quiet swells, and careful vocal melodies and harmonies wrapped in a comfortable, unobtrusive rhythm section. This is music that is clearly composed, not just written - everything is precise and lushly orchestrated. The strings are beautiful and effulgent; the electric piano is in perfect harmony with the rest of the record.

Every track on this album is a keeper. From album-opener "Southern Point" to wonderfully kick-butt closer "I Live With You", it's a beautiful cacophony. The lyrics are poignant and filled with melancholy (especially the sad refrain in "All We Ask"), and the harmonies are painted like masterpieces. It's as though the culmination of everything beautiful about music in the last four hundred years has coincided in this one moment - and the future couldn't look brighter.

Final Verdict: Adore it (with lots and lots of smiles)


One of the most exciting aspects of these point-counterpoint articles is that my bro and I have the opportunity to introduce each other to music we may not be familiar with previously.  Such was the case with Grizzly Bear and Veckatimest.  Not only had I not heard the album, I was not familiar with the band.

As the album started, I was intrigued.  There was a lot going on here, and most of it was working for me.  Then the second track hit.  The electric piano evoked a visceral, somatic response in me.  And that response centered around one word, a description I could not avoid: hipsters.  These guys were hipsters, playing hipster music.  I wasn't even surprised when I saw pictures of the band with their American Apparel skinny jeans and hipster oh-so-cool carefully mussed hair.  I knew it was coming.

The album is a flashy, well executed blend of folk and hipster indie rock.  They pull it off very well.  Their sound certainly hearkens back to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  For some, that will be a great thing.  For me, well, I can't stand CSN&Y.  Yeah, burn me for the musical heretic I am.  Overall, not a good combo.  CSN&Y AND hipsters.  No thanks.

Final Verdict: Ignore It (I mean seriously, if there is one thing I find more terrifying than Wild Things, it is dirty hipsters)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Album Review: Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Broken Social Scene is one of those bands that it seems like everyone's heard of, but no-one's actually heard.  They're spoken of in hushed tones amongst the hipster crowds, like some sort of secret password that you, as a plebe, are not allowed to be privy to.  It's difficult to find copies of their albums in stores around here (thank you, the internets) and, truly, more's the pity.  (Apparently outside of the Utah Music Bubble they're quite big.  And thank goodness for that.)

Album Review: My Dying Bride - For Lies I Sire

My Dying Bride: For Lies I Sire
Year: 2009
Click here for the artist's site

Music can have a powerful effect on the mood and the psyche.  There are some songs that, no matter what is happening, if I hear them my mood improves.  There are other songs that evoke less positive emotions, leading to a powerful catharsis.

And then there is My Dying Bride.

For Lies I Sire carries on a long tradition of amazing albums from this seminal British doom metal band.  But this is not the place to look if you want music that will pick you up.  This album also carries on their tradition of lyrics that are soul-crushingly bleak.