Friday, April 3, 2009

Live Demo

Just spreading the word: download the debut live demo from the lower 48 at the following link:

Leave your comments/likes/hates in the replies!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

1 month!

It's apparently been a month since my last post. Sorry. A lot's been going on.

After my computers got stolen, I've been trying to recall all the songs and lyrics that were lost, whenever possible. I'm filling up notebooks like mad. But I've also discovered a lot of it sucked, so it's probably a sign to start fresh and leave everything else behind. There are more than a few signs that point in that direction, actually...

Anyway, sorry this isn't substantial, but how about some RECOMMENDATIONS?!?!?! I accept.

Grammatrain are reuniting to record an album and play a couple of shows. Yes, you read that right. Grammatrain were the headliners at the first concert I ever attended. Though I grew out of grunge (and really, was never into grunge outside of Grammatrain), there are still a lot of great songs on their two albums, especially their second, Flying. Good times. The clips online make me optimistic...

Death Cab are releasing an EP, which Stereogum is streaming (and other sources are ripping and posting). I haven't listened to today's track yet, but "A Diamond And A Tether" was fantastic.

Farewell Flight was recommended by Taylor Armerding and it's already in heavy rotation. "Phones" is probably my favorite right now.

The Forecast just released an EP and I LOVE it. I wish they had the original tracks up on their myspace, though "You Wreck Me" is fun. "Say You Miss Me" is on repeat.

Big If features frontmen from Yellowcard (which you've probably heard of) and Reeve Oliver (which you probably haven't). Or, to put it another way, it features guitar players from two defunct Tooth & Nail pop punk bands, Craig's Brother and Dogwood! No joke.

Wait, looks like Craig's Brother is un-defunct. Huh.

The Lower 48 has finished tracking their live EP, hopefully great things are on the horizon...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

15(+) Bands

Via Facebook: Think of 15(+) albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world.

***No being cool; Which albums have you actually listened to hundreds of times?

Readers should feel free to guess (or ask) why particular albums are there.

(I broke the rules a little bit, but for those who know me, prepare for the least-surprising list, ever)

High School:
Slick Shoes/Rusty - Slick Shoes
I can still recall standing in the parking lot at the beach the first time I heard Slick Shoes' debut EP blasting from a friend's parked car; all 4 songs and 8 minutes of it. Up to that point most of the punk I was listening to was of the MxPx/Squad Five-O variety (both of which hold special places in my heart), but Slick Shoes blew my mind. Rusty was even more stunning, featuring multiple songs which broke the 2-minute mark (and a few that entered 3-minute territory). Jackson Mould's solos are eclipsed only by his low-end riffs on songs like "Cliche" and "Rusty". Their second LP Burn Out definitely had its moments, but it was sadly downhill from there.

Diary - Sunny Day Real Estate
I can't remember when, exactly, this band gained such a hold on me, but I do recall Dan purchasing How It Feels To Be Something On upon its release, and I didn't like it; I preferred (and still do) the raw emo-rock of Diary and its close cousin, LP2. Sure lots of the songs have the exact same structure, but who cares? They're all great. And "Pheurto Skeurto" is still one of the strangest, out-of-left-field moments on an album, ever.

Something to Write Home About - The Get Up Kids
"My Apology" was the first TGUK song I ever heard, and I was hooked. While many long-time fans were decrying the pop-oriented direction the band was heading, I didn't know it at the time; I just knew that I loved the songs these guys were pumping out with a perfect blend of double-guitar attack, tight rhythm section, and just enough pretty keys to offset Matt Pryor's less-than-perfect vocals.

From the 27th State/The Moon is Down - Further Seems Forever
These two releases are closely linked in my mind, and I'm still slightly bummed that they never rerecorded a cleaner version of "Justice Prevails" - but then again, I don't know if they could have recaptured the intensity of it. Everybody has different opinions on Chris Carrabba's vocals, but if you listen to the music you will hear such an incredible variety contained within less than 40 minutes of playing time, it's crazy. The core musicians had performed for years as Strongarm, so it's no surprise that they were so in tune with each other throughout these releases, and achieved so many perfect moments no other band ever will. R.I.P.

The Colour & The Shape - Foo Fighters
Umm, you all knew this was coming. Though the band created In Your Honor to separate and showcase their equally penchants for soft and loud performances, TCATS had already done that. The quieter and aching moments found on "Doll," "See You," "Walking After You" and the first half of "February Stars" are offset by the all-out assault provided by "My Poor Brain," "Wind Up," "Enough Space," and the last half of "February Stars." And let's not forget the all-time classic radio singles "Monkey Wrench," "My Hero," and "Everlong" (and "Up In Arms," which I can never listen to enough). Incomparable.

Early College:
Clarity - Jimmy Eat World
Although I know he wasn't the only one listening to it at the time, I have to credit Jonathan Greener for really getting me into Jimmy Eat World and this album. If you don't like it, I can't convince you to, but if you do, you know it's like air in your lungs.

The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts - Refused
I vividly remember Dan rounding up James and me in Jamie's room at Wheaton and placing a burned CD (remember those?) courtesy of John Harris in the stereo (remember those?), with strict instructions to listen to the first three songs without moving from the couch. My mind was blown, and continues to be every time I hear this album. By sheer force of will this band transmogrified from a scrappy anarchistic punk outfit to a thoughtful and ferocious Socialist hardcore militia. To my knowledge no band has even tried to rip this album off, (a) because it's impossible and (b) because everybody would hate them for trying. This album is heavier and groovier than any -core band has ever created, and equally trippy and cohesive.

The Photo Album - Death Cab For Cutie
I borrowed this from Suhail Stephen (thanks!) during my freshman year, and that was pretty much it. Recently I read an interview where Ben Gibbard expressed his dislike for the album, as it was rushed to be created between tours; you can definitely hear how it is a more clinical, "studio album" than their other releases, but there is a clarity and pristine quality found here that I cannot get enough of. It always makes me think of one of those bitterly cold, clear winter days, when the sun is shining and everything is bright, but you still don't want to step outside.

Regulate the Chemicals/You Should Be Living - Twothirtyeight
One of the best concerts I ever attended, and two of the best albums ever. After the power-chord pop-rock songs that populated the Matter Has A Breaking Point EP, to call Regulate the Chemicals a departure would be putting it terribly mildly. The lonely, dissonant notes that opened the album became only creepier as a second guitar rang out over the lyrics, "Some people stay sick in bed, sick at work or in their heads." And everything just spiraled out of control from there. The album is an experiment in sparse landscapes; though almost every song features a drums/bass/two guitar lineup, they always feel alone and independent of each other and with so much room it's as if the band is playing to an absent crowd in a concert hall. To confuse matters even more, the re-release contained two southern-rock tinged tracks, which oddly fit right in. None of this could prepare anyone for You Should Be Living, though. While perhaps not as powerful in impact, it showcased the band at their peaks as songwriters and performers, and some of Chris Staples' best lyrics. The loneliness and creepiness had aged to sadness and a haunting feeling. Every song sounds like an epitaph for a different person from the same small town. They describe the worn-out, blown-out spirit found in any small Florida town, with lines such as "God... we knew you as kids, but lost you in smokey bars, we lost in the boom of lowered cars, in parties that grew into the yard," "Seat yourself, for you'll be murdered in 40-hour increments," and "Credit is a whore who won't wake up and leave, but believe me, I'm not sleeping with her anymore." God I miss this band.

Late College:
Stay What You Are - Saves the Day
I have so many good memories tied up with this album, which was released my freshman year. Despite Chris Conley's abrasive/whiny vocals, this album somehow became a staple across a wide spectrum of friends, and many hours were spent hanging out, playing Mario Kart or Halo, or doing other things that should not be mentioned in public forums. This album always reminds me of good times in Wheaton, both the school and the city.

De-Loused in the Comatorium - The Mars Volta
By the time the intro track was half over, I'd already wet my pants. I'd heard their debut EP and been completely unimpressed, so when Dan popped this in I was not expecting much. What I got was more than I could handle. Though technically inferior to later albums, the raw energy of this album can overpower practically anything in its path. Focusing on a drums/bass/guitar attack, they created a sonic assault than only briefly subsides for interludes. Definitely a desert-island album.

Another Intervention - Down To Earth Approach
I went home during my last summer at college and completed an internship. As a fair amount of the work I did was performed by myself at a desk, I looked for music online anywhere I could find it. The e-card for this album was up, and I listened to it constantly, loving every minute. Though I could do without the title track, which never seems to go anywhere, the rest of the album was gorgeous, and surprisingly well-thought-out. Though they never stray far from their core formula, they change the dynamics in delicate ways so that it never gets boring, at least not to me. This is a band that I am completely in love with that I can never get anyone else to like.

Zoo - Anadivine
As much as I love Copeland and Brandtson, I think this album was the best thing The Militia Group has put out to date. It's tempting to call them a straight-ahead rock outfit, but that would give the wrong impression. They were definitely masters of subtlety and dynamics. The two guitars rarely played the same part, opting instead to play complimentary but strikingly different lines. This left the bass holding down the fort melodically, which it did with ease, adding variety but maintaining focus. The drums are among my favorite, ever. Often completely locking in with the guitars instead of the bass, there are plenty of things that go by unnoticed, like the 3-measure cycle that occurs throughout "Love, Lust and Fake Integrity": though the song is in 4/4, each 4th bar actually begins on a different kick pattern. Listen closely. Anybody who ever liked dignan but wished we had a vocalist will probably enjoy this album.

I Am Hollywood - He Is Legend
Oh man... this album slays. Schuylar Croom gives Blindside's Christian Lindskog a run for his money as the best singer/screamer in the biz, singing what mostly sound like creepy fairy tales while the band tears through riffs culled from all areas of rock: 80s cock rock and arena rock, metal, hardcore, late-90s alternative (does anyone else think the intro to "The Greatest Actor Alive" kinda sounds like Fuel?), southern rock, and even some jazz for good measure. The bass and drums are among the tightest duos in recent memory, and throughout the album the band seems to have the mindset of "what is the most difficult and least expected thing we could do at this point?" Key changes, rhythm changes, style changes, breakdowns, slow downs, brodowns... it's all there, from the opening punch of "The Seduction" (which also has one of the greatest music videos ever) to the last riffs of the title track. "Do You Think I'm Pretty?" is probably my favorite, switching from a dissonant riff to a modern rock chorus, to an intentionally-ridiculous hardcore breakdown which is followed by a mindbending 6/8 riff which spirals away until it is lassoed back in by a syncopated rhythm courtesy of the aforementioned drum/bass pair. Am I drooling on my keyboard right now? I think so.

House of Heroes - House of Heroes
Another band that I don't think anyone else will ever get into like I am. Although an indie band, as a trio they created an album worthy of comparisons to Muse: Tim Skipper has a vocal range almost equal to Matt Bellamy, the guitar and bass lines interplay with equal ingenuity, and the rhythms holding it all together are often more varied and interesting. HOH prove to be masters of dynamics, never playing a part the same way twice, excepting some choruses (but, after all, that's what choruses are for). "Fast Enough" begins benignly enough, but by the end they're creeping along like the Grim Reaper comin' to get ya. Gives me the chills every time. Songs like "Make A Face Like You Mean It" and "Pulling Back the Skin" have fantastic rhythms and enough changeups to make a pitcher jealous. I think I should probably stop making metaphors, they're getting out of hand. I will probably alarm many people by declaring this a desert island album for me.

The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me - Brand New
Soundtrack to my life if ever there were one.

Time Is Fiction - Edison Glass
Sure this album came out only a few months ago, but I can't imagine life without it. Fantastic from front to back, it's the kind of album that makes me nervous for their next album, because how could it possibly be this good and enjoyable? Highly recommended to anybody who likes rock of any sort, but especially dual-vocal, dual-guitar rock with interesting bass lines and fantastically flavorful and inventive drumming.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Weekly Addiction

For the past couple of weeks I have been listening to the song "This Feeling" by The Seams. Over and over. Seriously 150 times by now, probably more. I can't explain why. There's nothing in the song that would make it possible for me to convince someone of its greatness. I'm just hooked.

Edit: But I'll try to explain, anyway. Down To Earth Approach (the previous band of this singer, Jonathan Lullo) is one of my all-time favorite Bands That I Am Really Into That No One Else I Know Ever Liked At All. They wrote and performed simple, straight-ahead pop rock songs that were, I thought, incredibly fantastic. Over 2 albums there is only 1 song that I don't really like, which is a far better track record than plenty (most?) of the other bands in my iTunes. Over 2 albums they also never wrote a song that reached the 4-minute mark; the vast majority were between the 3- and 3:30-mark, or as some songwriters call it, "The Sweet Spot": the perfect length for a catchy, radio-ready pop song. Of course, DTEA never made it on the radio, which is too bad. I'll be the first to admit that while I always got what the band (Lullo) was saying, grammar and linear narrative was not always his strong suit. I was/am totally o.k. with that, as the impression always made its way through.

Now, this new song from The Seams, his new collaboration with another songwriter: this song is practically perfect, if a little short - but its length also probably helped me play it 150+ times, and still enjoy it! There is a very steady feel provided by the consistent, unchanging drums with open hi-hats; I'm still trying to figure out if it's a live drummer or programming. At the very least the cymbals were recorded separately, Phil Collins-style. The guitars are distorted but smooth, and the lead lines aren't pushed to the front, but blend in and basically just hint at their existence. Though the drums are pulsing throughout, there is a lot of variety among the guitars: sometimes just one plays, sometimes both, sometimes both but no bass, straight strums for the verses but choppy All My Life-style strums for the choruses. And then we hit that magnificent bridge. "It's gonna get easier for me" Lullo sings, as the bass ascends over the choppy chords and subdued lead lines. And while that's all well and good, when the bridge is played again, it has a moment in the third stanza where the bass continues to ascend past the point it did previously, and that's where it all really comes together for me. As I've said before, music occurs in real time, and it's moments like these, however brief, that I enjoy the most. When all the pieces come together, for however brief a moment, and everything makes sense. Anyone who listens to my best songs knows that that's invariably how I structure them, and I think many people can testify to a similar appreciation, if not in this particular song.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Things I Currently Enjoy Probably Way Too Much

- The Weepies, Hideaway
- Taylor Swift, Fearless (especially the 2nd verse of "You Belong With Me". And "Breathe". And "Love Story," of course.)
- Taken
- Two Tongues, "Tremors"
- The Gabe Dixon Band, "Disappear"
- Shure SCL3 earphones
- Blogs that you need a username and password to access
- WordTwist vs. Adam, Emily or Mikkele
- Today's Woot shirt
- New lower 48 song, "Stay True To Your Heart!"
- August Burns Red's cover of "Hit Me Baby One More Time"
- Jason Mraz's SNL duet with Colbie Caillat on "Lucky". (I have come to the conclusion that Mraz is a tool surpassed only by his drummer, but I haven't heard a live duet like that in quite some time.)

All of the above are highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More Top 10s!!!!

Here are some Top "10s" (lists, really) from friends... more things to argue about!!

(no particular order)
DCFC - Narrow Stairs
The Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead
Beck - Modern Guilt
The Weepies - Hideaway
The Sleeping Years - We're Becoming Islands One By One
Copeland - You Are My Sunshine
Shingo Suzuki - The Abstract Truth
Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Fall Out Boy - Folie a Deux
Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us
Coldplay - Viva la Vida
Fleet Foxes - s/t

Biggest Disappointment:
Jack's Mannequin - The Glass Passenger

1. The Mars Volta - The Bedlam In Goliath
2. Nada Surf - Lucky
3. Muse - H.A.A.R.P.
4. Portishead - Third
5. Sigur Rós - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
6. Shai Hulud - Misanthropy Pure
7. Meshuggah - ObZen
8. Underoath - Lost In The Sound Of Separation
9. Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs
10. Dr. Manhattan - Dr. Manhattan
11. The Kooks - Konk
12. These Arms Are Snakes - Tail Swallower and Dove
13. Edison Glass - Time Is Fiction
14. Copeland - You Are My Sunshine
15. The Roots - Rising Down

Weezer - Red Album

Honorable Mentions
Jude - Cuba
Metallica - Death Magnetic

Yeasayer - All Hours Cymbal
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Fleet Foxes - s/t
She & Him - Volume One
Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
Horse Feathers - House With No Name
Sigur Ros
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
Kanye - 808s and Heartbreak
Conor Oberst - s/t

Honorable Mention:
DCFC - Narrow Stairs

Scarlett Johansson
Margot & the Nuclear So & So's

(no particular order)
Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us
Copeland - You Are My Sunshine
Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
Margot - Animal (/not animal, but mostly animal)
Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin - Pershing

1. The Mars Volta - Bedlam in Goliath
2. Protest the Hero - Fortress
3. Black Tide - Light From Above
4. Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
5. David Seume - It Is What It Is
6. Metallica - Death Magnetic
7. Alkaline Trio - Agony & Irony
8. Underoath - Lost in the Sound of Separation
9. Dragonforce - Ultra Beatdown

Single: Jackie Moon - Love Me Sexy

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2008 In (incomplete) Review!!!!

It's finally here! My 2008 round-up. In retrospect I wish it were more extensive, but it's been pushed back long enough, so... here we go!

Honorable Mentions:
Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
This was on most peoples' Top 10 lists that I received, at the very least in the included Honorable Mentions. Really solid album, but I found myself only listening to half the songs and skipping the rest.
Starflyer 59 - Dial M
This album was just BARELY edged out of the Top 10. I've never considered myself a Starflyer 59 fan, but this album won me over in a big way.
These Arms Are Snakes - Tail Swallower and Dove
I'm getting hooked on these guys. Three piece semi-prog-rock that doesn't always go where you think it's heading.
Matt Pryor - s/t
Pryor's best work since The Get Up Kids broke up - and now they're back together! Highly recommended if you like TGUK, New Amsterdams, short and sweet acoustic ditties.
Reeve Oliver - Touchtone Inferno
Really great album that was originally in my Top 10 but lost its spot to Valencia, for reasons to be explained below. Can you believe the front man for Reeve was in Dogwood?
Dr. Manhattan - s/t
Crazy and inventive, but too many of the songs have similar patterns and too many deadspaces seem aimless, not purposeful.
Russian Circles - Station
Best instrumental band to come along in a while. Enter was a good release, but Station takes it to another level.
Thrice - The Alchemy Index Vols. III & IV: Air & Earth
Probably my favorite Thrice release since The Artist in the Ambulance. Both EPs are very expressive and elemental (as they are intended to be), and the Air EP is a personal favorite.
United Nations - s/t
Insane and intense, but gets kinda boring in its assault after a while...
The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
The best Get Up Kids album since they broke up. The vocals will be make-or-break for most people, but recommended for fans of TGUK, Hey Mercedes, power rock in general.
My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
Completely solid album that just couldn't get its hooks into me, no matter how many chances I gave it.
Underoath - Lost in the Sound of Separation
Arguably better than Define the Great Line, but I didn't like it as much. It felt like the focus was less on songs and dynamics, and more on sheer brutality - which this album definitely excelled at.
David Vandervelde - Waiting for the Sunrise
Sounds like it was made in someone's bedroom - in 1976. And I mean that in the best way possible. See this guy live if you get the chance;
Good Old War - Only Way To Be Alone
While this album is a solid entrant into the world of acoustic pop, and will definitely please any Paul Simon fans, it just made me miss Days Away that much more.
Margot & The Nuclear So & So's - Animal! and Not Animal
Margot still writes good songs, but the way these albums were recorded leaves me wanting a lot more. Too much is almost clinical in its execution and sound, and lacks the raw subtleties that The Dust Of Retreat majored in.
Rise Against - Appeal to Reason
Completely solid and capable album, but sounds too much like The Sufferer and the Witness to stand on its own.
Cruiserweight - Big Bold Letters
Cruiserweight releases another fun pop-rock album. For fans of female-fronted power pop everywhere.
Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us
This album probably would have made it onto the Top 10 if it weren't upstaged by another husband-wife duo. Highly recommended.

Best Album from 2007 that I didn't start listening to until 2008:
Via Audio - Say Something
How did I miss this? Great from start to finish, stays away from predictable pop song tropes, yet remains catchy.

Top 3 EPs:
Emery - While Broken Hearts Prevail...
I've never been a huge fan of Emery; I liked them well enough, but never enough to listen to a whole album. Thus this EP seems to me like it came out of left field. Every track is a pure rock assault, only leaning towards "screamo" territory on a couple of occasions. "Say the Things (You Want)" and "Do the Things (You Want)" are perfect companion pieces, one summing up the end of a relationship, the other taking to task fairweather fans of music and art. Emery's versatility shines through on these songs and throughout the release, causing me to greatly anticipate their forthcoming LP.
You, Me, And Everyone We Know - So Young, So Insane
At first I just liked the first track off this album, the stellar "I Can Get Back Up Now"; but after giving the rest of the EP a few listens, that track fell to 3rd or 4th on my list. A 6-song EP that focuses on melodic pop/rock about relationships and friendships in general - I know the first thing most people would think of is Colored By Numbers' seminal release You Are Going To Be Let Down, but this EP is pretty damn good, too.
Deas Vail - White Lights EP
This release is held up by the vocals; the music isn't anything extraordinary, and in fact is downright awkward at times, but the vocals pull everything together and soar on top. "White Lights" and "Last Place" are the standout tracks here.

Random Songs that Would Make a Great Mix Disc if Arranged in the Right Order (Presented in Alphabetical Order by Band Name):
Anberlin, "Haight St."
Coldplay, "Lovers in Japan (Osaka Sun Mix)"
Colour Revolt, "Naked and Red"
Death Cab for Cutie, "Cath..."
Dr. Manhattan, "You Put the I In Team"
Flobots, "Handlebars"
The Forecast, "A Better Man"
Good Old War, "Coney Island"
The Hold Steady, "Constructive Summer"
House of Heroes, "Code Name: Raven" (ignore the bridge, enjoy the rest)
Jack's Mannequin, "Crashing"
Kings of Leon, "Sex on Fire"
Margot & The Nuclear So & So's, "Love Song for a Schuba's Bartender"
Marnie Stern, "Prime"
Mates of State, "Now"
Matt Pryor, "A Totally New Year"
My Morning Jacket, "Evil Urges"
Protest The Hero, "Bloodmeat"
Russian Circles, "Verses"
Starflyer 59, "Minor Keys"
These Arms Are Snakes, "Lucifer"
Thrice, "A Song for Milly Michaelson"
We Are Scientists, "After Hours"

My 10 Favorite Albums, 2008 Edition
It's too nonsensical to even attempt an objective top 10 (or any similar list for that matter). But out of the music that was released in 2008 that I managed to listen to - and multiple times, at that - here are the 10 releases that I enjoyed the most, in roughly reverse order:

Copeland - You Are My Sunshine
I wasn't anticipating being a fan of this album after not enjoying 2006's Eat, Sleep, Repeat, but from the opening words of "Should You Return" I knew I was going to like it. Though it's not perfect... what Copeland release ever is? That's besides the point; there is plenty to love here. Copeland covered all their bases here - "Should You Return," "Chin Up," and "What Do I Know?" are subdued, brooding rockers; "The Grey Man," "To Be Happy Now," and "Not Allowed" are the more upbeat pop songs, and "Good Morning Fire Eater," "On the Safest Ledge" and "The Day I Lost My Voice" are signature Copeland songs: major key, gorgeous and sad, all at the same time. The only misfires are towards the end of the album: "Strange and Unprepared" is a musical copycat of Radiohead's incomparable "Videotape"; and album closer "Not So Tough Found Out" would have been better left as the art installation soundtrack it was written for. All around, though, it makes me look forward to hearing Copeland in the future... so things are looking up!

Maria Mena - Cause and Effect
I know a lot of people - probably everyone - is going to disagree with me on this one, but this is probably the most stunning album I heard all year. A little hard to get a hold of as it was only released in Europe, this album is quite the evolution from the girl that was first presented to America as the European Michelle Branch. "Only One" and "Fragile" were great pop songs, but Cause and Effect is the sound of a girl becoming a woman - or at least exorcising a shit ton of demons. I can't figure out what makes my spine tingle more: her explicit descriptions of life as the child of divorce in album opener "Power Trip Ballad" - complete with OCD, eating disorders, and terrible parental behavior - or her bitter "Ha, ha, ha, ha" that ends each verse. Her proclamation in the chorus that "You will always be the bitter, saddest part of me" is just as powerful now as the first time I heard it. The tracks that follow don't get any lighter; often they get so heavy and intimate that, as a male, I feel really awkward listening (but not in the same way I feel awkward when I hear Miley Cyrus). The music itself is raw and, while produced well, a far cry from the glossy pop most American songstresses churn out. This allows Mena's vocals to always be the focus, which is as it should be. Clear as a bell and yet full of soul and pain, it serves as the hook for every song. It is telling that the only indisputably happy song on the album, "I'm In Love," is also the shortest. The second shortest, meanwhile, is the hands-down saddest song of the year, "I'm On Your Side." It is almost as if Mena can only deal with the highest highs and lowest lows in short bursts. Makes sense to me.

Lydia - Illuminate
Easily winning the award for "Album That Sounds Most Like Copeland's Beneath Medicine Tree", Illuminate also stands on its own two feet just fine, thank you. Each track is a perfect piece of the album as a whole, always in its right place. The only downside to each track bleeding into the next is that sometimes the outros feel too brief, but that's forgivable. Most songs reach an anthem at some point, though the subdued moments are often the most memorable: the refrain of "Don't you ever get lonely?" in "A Fine Evening For a Rogue," or the beseeching, "Stay awake and I'll stay, I try and go but your game, it waits for me and you love" in "Stay Awake." I freely admit that this was the soundtrack to a breakup, earning it a particular place in my mind, but it's still a great album.

The Submarines - Honeysuckle Weeks
I did not plan on liking this album, not at all. As a rule I never like albums that I first hear in an iTunes ad. But it's really good!! The beats are fun, the melodies and harmonies are killer, and the instrumentation is lush. I don't have much to say beyond this: if you like pop (especially as a guilty pleasure), you will love this album.

The Fall of Troy - Phantom On the Horizon

Getting into the territory people always anticipate - it's loud, it's crazy, it's almost annoying in it's spasticity. A great move by this band after the less-than-impressive Manipulator, POTH sees FOT returning to their roots - literally, by rerecording the long-awaited "Ghostship Demos". Though there are only 5 tracks, it's almost 40 minutes of craziness, and that's always a good thing. For the uninitiated, just listen to the intro to "Chapter IV: Enter the Black Demon," and that will tell you if you will have any interest in hearing the rest of this album - or the band, for that matter. Though muddier in production than previous FOT releases, it still maintains the intensity and unhinged quality that has earned the band a strong following.

Alkaline Trio - Agony & Irony
As Ek has pointed out, this is Ak3's most radio-friendly release ever - and that's probably why I love it so much. From the opening moments of "Calling All Skeletons" I was hooked, and even the subpar "Love Love, Kiss Kiss" couldn't shake me. The band still maintains its pessimism and dark themes, albeit not to nearly as stark depths as early releases, but their pairing of pop-punk melodies and rhythms with darker subject matter is unmatched by anyone short of Saves the Day. Also, Derek Grant is the best drummer in pop-punk who is not named "Travis Barker."

Valencia - We All Need A Reason To Believe
Keeping in the genre, Valencia released the best pop-punk album of the year. There are no gimmicks or tomfoolery here, just straightforward songwriting gems. Reeve Oliver lost their place to Valencia due to a subject that is near and dear to my heart: awesome bridges. Many a song with a fantastic verse and chorus has fallen apart at the bridge (see: House of Heroes, "Code Name: Raven"), but Valencia kick their bridges up a notch, sometimes several. From the rising crescendo found on "Better Be Prepared" to the huge expanse on "Where Did You Go?" and the stutter-step on "Safe to Say," the bridges are phenomenal. The rest of the songs are good, too! Anyone who loves Sherwood, The Starting Line, New Found Glory or just good loud summer pop-punk will enjoy this album.

Shai Hulud - Misanthropy Pure
I can't get over how good this album is. It melts my face and blows my mind. It rewrites the book on hardcore and defies physics. It avoids chugga-chugga moments like the plague and is still the most brutal album of 2008. It has legitimate groove and beats that would perplex a percussion major. It has more unique pieces than a Lego castle yet maintains a cohesive sound. It sounds like August Burns Red sometimes. It sounds like Further Seems Forever at others. It sounds better than both frequently. It could probably cure cancer if it weren't so pissed off. Recommended for: anyone who can handle it. Not recommended for: anyone who can't, people with preexisting heart conditions or a history of seizures.

The Mars Volta - The Bedlam In Goliath
Easily the best TMV album since De-Loused in the Comatorium, it's no surprise that it is also the most cohesive and focused (most of the song names are only one word, even!). More surprising is that it is the most varied release. New drummer Thomas Pridgen has to be given some credit, but as we all know Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez are the omniscient and omnipotent gods in the world of the Mars Volta, so we must attribute it to their recent (reputed) sobriety. The rock is more intense, the grooves are more vicious, and the wanky space-outs are hardly to be found. This means, though, that almost all of the 75 minutes is actual music - actual songs - which makes for a dense, almost overpowering experience. From the barely 2-1/2 minute "Wax Simulacra" to the palm-muted riffs of "Ouroborous", the band obliterates everything in its path. They still (to quote He Is Legend) shake their things plenty often, as well - check out "Ilyena" or "Agadez" for the craziest latin jams the band has ever performed. I still wish they would have included their cover of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" as at least a b-side to this album, but that's about the only gripe I have.

And now... my favorite album of 2008:

Edison Glass - Time Is Fiction
From the opening stick clicks of "Let Go" to the last fading call of "Time is fiction...", I love this album. I literally have nothing bad to say about it, nothing I would have wished to be done differently, nothing I would have done differently myself. The lyrics are poetic, hinting at the band's beliefs without overstating them. The dual vocals play off each other perfectly. The music is driving yet not overpowering, and the song itself is always the first priority. Edison Glass also easily passes my "bridge" test (see Valencia, above), almost rewriting the standard in the process. I made a partial list of other bands Edison Glass sounds like at different points throughout this album: Dismemberment Plan, At the Drive-In, Foo Fighters, Alkaline Trio, Sigur Ros, Further Seems Forever, Black Eyed Sceva, Boys Night Out, Moneen, Anadivine, Radiohead, American Football, The Get Up Kids, Copeland... and yet instead of copying any of these bands, they have created their own sound and style. Another accomplishment is relying on their main instruments - bass, drums, and 2 guitars - and keeping additional instruments to a minimum, and even then only as accents. The songs are enhanced by the occasional appearance of keys, strings, bells and even trumpet - but they'd still sound complete without them. I feel like I'm just blathering on at this point. If I had to recommend 1 album from 2008, to anybody, without knowing anything of their musical tastes, I'd recommend this one.

Register your complaints below!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

First, A Reflection

While I'm finishing up my 2008 Top "XYZ" lists, I figured it'd be a good idea to take a look back at last year's post and see how I feel about it now.

A summary:

Top Ten albums:
10. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
9. Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare
8. Yellowcard, Paper Walls
7. Saves the Day, Under the Boards
6. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin
5. Tegan and Sara, The Con
4. Jimmy Eat World, Chase This Light
3. The Most Serene Republic, Population
2. Lovedrug, Everything Starts Where It Ends
1. Foo Fighters, Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace

Still a solid list, despite my claim that Under the Boards was Saves the Day's Temple of Doom. Silly me. That album has done nothing but grow on me, and with good reason. If all of these bands had also released albums this past year, I would be stoked. I still listen to all of these albums pretty regularly, though if ordered in terms of frequency Tegan and Sara, Band of Horses and Arctic Monkeys would take the 8-10 slots.

The 2008 lists are coming soon!