Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Album Catch-Up Part 2

10 more extremely short "reviews" can be found in this entry. More of these will be coming soon, as well as a full written and audio review in the next few days.

Children of Bodom- Blooddrunk

In no way is Blooddrunk Children of Bodom at their best. However, as evidenced by Hatebreeder, Follow the Reaper, and Hate Crew Deathroll, Bodom's best is a hard standard to maintain. 2005's Are You Dead Yet? fell well short of that standard, but that's not to say it was a bad album. It was a more accessible, albeit much lighter, sampling of Children of Bodom's combination of power and melodic death metal, and the album as a whole was a rather mediocre experience. Blooddrunk is a moderately successful combination of Are You Dead Yet?'s accessibility and the more developed style of Hate Crew Deathroll. However, anyone looking for Bodom's earlier and heavier style will be disappointed with Blooddrunk. It may be just as much Hate Crew as it is Are You Dead Yet?, but longtime fans will find a Children of Bodom that's far more accessible than anyone could ever imagine, and not nearly as heavy or varied as they should be at this point in their career. Alexi Laiho's guitar work and vocals are still great, but for someone who has the talent of an iconic guitarist and has been one of the best melodeath vocalists in the past, simply being "good" here is certainly disappointing. Blooddrunk isn't a bad album by any means, and fans of Bodom's more recent material should be pleased with its accessibility, but it's more of a small step in getting back to greatness than an strong achievement.

Grade: B-

Jack Johnson- Sleep Through the Static

It seems like almost a requirement to be a rock critic is to hate Jack Johnson. Problem is, Sleep Through the Static is a difficult album to hate. No, it's not a creative masterpiece that's poised to set the world on fire, but there's something to be said for a simple pleasant album with soothing melodies and catchy rhythms. If that doesn't sound like your type of thing, then this isn't the album for you. However, compared to his often boring adult-alternative piers, Johnson's melodies are not soft simply for the sake of being soft. He knows how to write a melody and he knows how to soothe. Sleep Through the Static is the type of album that can relax any open-minded listener, and that's something worthy of praise. You don't need to be relaxed when you start, but you will be soon if you keep an open mind with this one. It's not earth shattering material, but there's nothing wrong with a simple upbeat melody every now and then.

Grade: B

Atmosphere- When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold

Taken from my review of the album...

"Atmosphere’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is not only the group best album since Lucy Ford and God Loves Ugly, but it’s also one of the most intelligent, mature, and poetic albums to come out in some time. This is not only a crowning achievement of an album that is an example of just how great underground rap can be, but it’s an accessible and unique masterpiece that isn’t constrained by its genre. Regardless of how much or how little you enjoy rap, buy this album immediately. It’s spectacular from start to finish, and it has earned my highest recommendation."

Grade: A

Go here to read the full review

Fleet Foxes- Fleet Foxes

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Fleet Foxes' debut album. Thankfully, the album has lived up to the hype. Not only is this the best debut album released so far in 2008, but it's also one of the best indie rock albums of the year. Influenced from everything from Iron & Wine to Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young to Led Zeppelin, Fleet Foxes' beautiful brand of indie folk sounds incredibly polished for a debut album. There's a large amount of variety between the tracks, and some truly beautiful moments that rank among the best of the year thus far. Fleet Foxes is both accessible and beautiful, and it's one of the most enjoyable releases of 2008. Not all of it is perfect, but even the low points of the album would be highlights in the average indie rock band's discography. Fleet Foxes' debut is a special album, and it's scary to think that this is the only the start of the band's career.

Grade: A-

36 Crazyfists- The Tide and Its Takers

For a metalcore album, 2006's Rest Inside the Flames was outstanding. It may not quite have been masterful, but it was leagues better than most the generic metalcore releases of the time. 36 Crazyfists latest album, The Tide and Its Takers, is unfortunately regression for the band, but it still manages to surpass most other metalcore albums. The biggest problem with The Tide and Its Takers is that lacks variety. Some tracks have more melody than others, that's really all that separates one song from the next. Still, variety is an issue for most metalcore albums, and 36 Crazyfists deserve credit for having come close to mastering the style of metalcore that many bands in the genre attempt but rarely perform well. If a solid metalcore album is what your looking for, you'll find it here. It's not spectacular, but it's a far better option than most others in the metalcore genre.

Grade: B

Theory of a Deadman- Scours and Souveniers

Theory of a Deadman's Scars and Souveniers is a radio rock album. That's really all you need to know. There is nothing here to separate Theory of a Deadman from any of the many other post-grunge bands currently recieving airplay on active rock radio. In fact, the average radio rock album is much better than Scars and Souveniers, and in a bizzare way, it takes skill to be able to make a more boring and tired album than what has become the standard of the post-grunge genre. Theory of a Deadman have clearly spent time listening to what modern rock stations have been playing, and they've also clearly spent time trying to replicate the style of what sells. At least most post-grunge bands are actually influenced by grunge. That's not to say mimicing Nirvana and Alice in Chains makes for high art, but it certainly makes for a more tolerable sound than Theory of a Deadman's, which bears strong resemble to that of Nickelback and Godsmack. Much like the former of those bands, Scars and Souveniers sees Theory of a Deadman recycling old material that really wasn't any good to start with. There's no progression, and the passion of grunge music has been completely drained in this poor replication of Nickelback and other popular post-grunge bands' poor replication of grunge music. This, in essence, is one sad and pathetic album, and it ranks among the worst and most boring releases of 2008 thus far.

Grade: D

The Sword- Gods of the Earth

Gods of the Earth isn't exactly the most original album of the year. That is to say, not much has changed since The Sword's first album, which was a solid but unoriginal take on Black Sabbath's classic sound. However, unlike the Airbourne's of the world, The Sword does a commendable job of recreating Sabbath's sound without actually being a blatant rip-off. The Sword doesn't hide their heavy Sabbath influence, but they also don't take it to the point of stealing riffs and recreating the exact same songs that Sabbath recorded years earlier. Instead, The Sword sounds more like a Black Sabbath tribute band, and a very talented one at that. The riffs here are hard hitting and accessible, and even though Gods of the Earth lacks originality, it does have a number of quality riffs that come fairly close to mimicking Sabbath without being a carbon copy. There will certainly be some classic metal fans who will appreciate what appears to be a legitimate attempt to bring back Black Sabbath's style of metal without coming across as borderline plagiarism (such as what Airbourne has done with AC/DC's sound). Fans of early Sabbath might want to give it a listen.

Grade: B

Testament- The Formation of Damnation

When a band takes 9 years to release an album, it's nearly impossible to say it was worth the wait. For that reason, that cliche can't apply to Testament's The Formation of Damnation, which is Testament's first album in 9 years, and their first album in 16 to feature most of their original lineup. Still, this is Testament's best album in a quite a long time, and The Formation of Damnation is simply superb in every sense of the word. Fans of thrash metal are in for a treat, as this album is pure thrash from start to finish. Its heavy, brutal, and has just about everything a Testament fan could ask for. Even after all of these years, Testament sounds modern, and possibly the biggest surprise of the album is the progression of Testament's sound. The Formation of Damnation feels like the 2008 version of a classic thrash metal album, and it's very easy to recommend what could very well be an instant Testament classic to any and all metalheads.

Grade: A-

Disturbed- Indestructible

Indestructible is a perfect example of progression without altering a proven sound. There's no doubt that this is still the same old Disturbed, and yet much of Indestructible represents a change in the right direction for the group. Essentially, Disturbed has managed to tweak their sound just enough to sound fresh, but not to the point where they've become a completely different band. The progression from Ten Thousand Fists to Indestructible is comparable to progression from The Sickness to Believe and from Believe to Ten Thousand Fists. On each of their albums, Disturbed has improved their musicianship and lyricism, and even though they've run into many of the same problems this time around, they continue to strengthen what their good at, and even some of the band's initial weaknesses have turned into their strengths. Disturbed still straddles the line between heavy and melodic, metal and hard rock, and unlike most other "nu-metal" acts, Disturbed has developed a distinct sound that is instantly recognizable. The problem is, much like on their previous album, that this instantly recognizable sounds only progresses during the album's first half. Just like all three of their previous albums, Indestructible is front-loaded. Much of the album's second half is unfortunate filler, but the highlights continue to expand Disturbed, both as musicians and lyricists, and it's hard to believe that songs like "The Night" and "Inside the Fire" were written by the same band that wrote "Down with the Sickness" just 8 years before. Even if it's subtle, there is progression to be found here and that's enough to make Indestructible another solid Disturbed album.

Grade: B

Winds of Plague- Decimate the Weak

There's a huge difference between trying to be unique and actually making creative music. Unfortunately, Winds of Plague fits into the former category, as they have created an album that attempts to be unique for the very sake of being unique. There is no rhyme or reason to the constant style changes and meshing of metalcore and extreme metal, and the severely unpolished sound makes it rather obvious that Decimate the Weak is the band's first album. Instead of trying to first master basic metalcore and extreme metal conventions, Winds of Plague jump right into to trying to mix the two. Problem is, the band isn't particularly skilled at either of the genres they are attempting to combine, and the combination itslef feels forced. Winds of Plague have an interesting idea, and there are moments were the idea creates something moderately enjoyable and creative, but far too much of the album suffers from simply trying to do too much. It's clear that Winds of Plague are trying to do something new, and they deserve credit for that, but their first release is mostly a failure. Let's hope they try this again with their next album and achieve better results.

Grade: C

Thanks for reading! Whether you agree or disagree, let me know what you think of these albums and feel free to ask me anything about them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No Update Tonight

I have a friend over, so two updates are coming tomorrow instead.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Album Catch-Up Part 1

I will be doing a series of posts with short reviews of 10 albums per entry in the coming days. Not every entry will be album catch-ups, but I imagine that 1 in every 3 or so will be. The reviews here are only a few sentences long, but as I've said before, this is more just to get my overall opinion of each album out there. Feel free to ask me any questions about these albums, and also know that a few of the albums on each list may turn into full reviews. I have already written reviews for a few of the albums in the series, as I hope to eventually put every 2008 album I've heard thus far into this series, so I will link to the previous review after my short commentary when that is applicable. Now, it's time for me to start catching up...

Nas- Untitled

Simply put, Nas' controversial 9th studio album is essential. It's a lyrical journey that ascends to heights beyond what should be a possible for an album. Untitled is pure storytelling, true poetry, and an album that puts its message above all else. Nas isn't looking to recreate Illmatic or to even create another masterpiece. Instead, he has a point, a message, and has armed himself with powerful poetry and intelligent commentary. A few duds keep it from being a musical masterpiece, but as a whole, this is one of the most important albums of the year. Regardless of how big of a hip-hop fan you are, this is an essential purchase.

Grade: A-

NOTE: Full review WILL be coming soon for this album

The Hold Steady- Stay Positive

It should be no surprise to fans of the band that Stay Positive is another lyrically driven album from The Hold Steady, and it also shouldn't be a surprise that Stay Positive contains some of the most intelligent and poetic lyrics found in any album released so far this year. The lyrics paint stories with vibrant characters that anyone can relate to and find significance in. Depending on the listener's perspective, a case could be made for every track on the album to be the best, just as the case could be made that every track on Stay Positive is a masterpiece in its own right. Needless to say, this album belongs in the collection of every lyric or poetry fan, and it's also one of the best indie rock albums of the year.

Grade: A

Ashes Divide- Keep Telling Myself It's Alright

The debut album from Billy Howerdel (A Perfect Circle)'s latest project, Ashes Divide, does not sound like a new A Perfect Circle album. That, for the most part, is a good thing. Howerdel is a creative musician, intelligent lyricist, and also someone who knows how to write a melody. For that reason, it's great to see Howerdel branch out and release an album that strives for something new. Problem is, this is not that album. Howerdel may attempt to create a bridge between atmospheric experimentation and radio rock melody, but he settles into familiar territory all too soon, and fails in achieving anything truly spectacular at all. It's a shame that so much of the album sounds similar, as there are moments of brilliance to be found. Keep Telling Myself It's Alright is definitely worth listening to for those select moments, but it's hard to shake the feeling that it could have been a whole lot better.

Grade: C+

Tokio Hotel- Scream

Teenage pop rock group Tokio Hotel may have blown up in Europe, but one can only hope that their popularity does not follow them to American soil. Scream is a compilation of English language versions of past Tokio Hotel hits, so it's no surprise that the album feels like a collection of individual tracks instead of a coherent album. The album is made up of one generic pop rock song after another, and only Bill Kaulitz's especially high vocals (although his voice has dropped since the original German recordings of the songs) separates Tokio Hotel from the rest of the emo rock pack. The lyrics are mind numbingly awful, the song structure is as basic at it gets, and there is simply no reason to listen to this album. Some songs may be catchy, but most of the record is just mundane and boring, and that's simply not good enough to be recommended.

Grade: D

Tarja- My Winter Storm

Many fans of Nightwish have taken it upon themselves to compare My Winter Storm to Dark Passion Play, Nightwish's first album without Tarja Turunen on vocals. While Dark Passion Play saw Nightwish experimenting with new territory, My Winter Storm has Tarja treading over familiar ground. However, this time she lacks Nightwish's creative songwriting, beautiful melodies, and just about everything else that made Nightwish great. This is nothing more than a vocal record, and Tarja's vocals unfortunately lack passion and uniqueness on this particular record. Everything on My Winter Storm has been done before by Tarja, and all of it has been done far better with Nightwish.

Grade: C-

Bullet for My Valentine- Scream, Aim, Fire

Simply, Scream, Aim, Fire is your average metalcore album. It's a predictable combination of harsh and clean vocals, generic riffs and breakdowns, and absolutely pointless lyrics. There's little to no progression to be found here, and everything that can be found on this record is displayed in the first 30 seconds of the first track. Even if you're a big metalcore fan, it's hard to recommend this album. Chances are, you've heard this all before, and if you haven't, then do yourself a favor and pick up either Killswitch Engage's As Daylight Dies, Protest the Hero's Fortress, or any of the other recent metalcore albums to stray from the generic formula found on Scream, Aim, Fire.

Grade: D+

NOTE: Ful review can be found here

Scars on Broadway- Scars on Broadway

Scars on Broadway, which features System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian and drummer John Dolmayan, is an interesting project. Serj Tankian's solo record may have flourished when returning to classic System of a Down conventions, and failed when attempting to branch out, but Scars on Broadway does just the opposite. The tracks similar to classic System of a Down are difficult to listen to without Serj, while the hard rocking and humorous highlights are the ones that go in a completely different direction. Daron Malakian certainly isn't the most talented vocalist out there, and there will be many, SOAD fans included, who will grow weary of the his vocals on the album. Still, most of what's here is intelligent and humorous hard rock with a touch of experimental alternative. The progressive overtones and vocal harmonies of System of a Down are not to be found, nor is the frantic genre switching that the band is known for. However, much of the brief hard rocking tracks found here are good enough to work without Serj, while everytime the album bears resemble to System, it makes the listener long for Tankian's vocals.

Grade: B

NOTE: There's a chance I will do a full review when the album is released tomorrow

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds- Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! may be a silly little record that takes Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds into strange new directions, but it's also a very large album that stands strong as an album-of-the-year contender. Everything on this album walks the line between comedy and tragedy, poetry and farce, classic Nick Cave and Grinderman (his fantastic 2007 side project), as the result is a hilarious and poetic concept album that takes listen upon listen to even begin to understand. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! is the rare album that is deep lyrically and creative musically, but doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest. Whether you take this album as an opportunity to laugh out loud, contemplate the story it tells, or to intellectualize religion as a whole, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have made an album that must be listened to.

Grade: A

Fuck Buttons- Street Horrsing

The full length debut from Fuck Buttons is an interesting album to say the least. On one hand, the combination of Mogwai-influenced post-rock and experimental black metal vocals is one of the strangest mixtures of the year, maybe even the decade. On the other hand, no single part of Fuck Buttons' sound is unique on its own. The Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky influences are clear, and the execution of the heavy metal growling could certainly be better. The album also starts to sound the same after a while, even though there is subtle progression within and between each of the tracks that finally leads to a fairly epic conclusion. Still, Street Horrsing is not necessarily an enjoyable album. Much of it is unique, but it will also be repulse just as many as it intrigues, and for that reason it should be listened to before blindly purchasing. Still, this is an interesting debut album that at the very least has established Fuck Buttons as a band to watch for in the future.

Grade: B

Apocalyptica- Worlds Collide

Apocalyptica was once was one of the most unique covers bands in metal, but now they're one of the most unique bands period. Using three cellos and a drummer instead of the typical lead, rhythm, and bass guitars, Apocalyptica's "cello metal" is more than a unique way of creating heavy metal. Apocalyptica's music is also beautiful, melodic, heavy, and an extraordinary project as a whole. The almost is almost entirely made up of original tracks, and the guest vocalists do a great job for the most part, especially Cristina Scabbia on the simply outstanding "S.O.S. (Anything But Love)". Worlds Collide is an interesting and surprisingly accessible listen from start to finish, and while Apocalyptica has certainly become a more commercial band than many fans may have hoped, it's hard to argue with the quality of the music they're putting out.

Grade: B+

NOTE: A longer review can be found as part of the feature 10 New Albums You Should Buy

Thank you all for reading! I would not be doing this without the wonderful support I've gotten from all of you! As previously stated, more entries like this are coming soon...very soon...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A List of What's to Come

I'll be going out of town to look at colleges this weekend, so no updates until Sunday. For that reason, I'm going to spend today's update explaining the plans I have for this blog and what you can expect to see in the near future.

Firstly, I will be doing a series of entries with 20 or so 2008 albums per post that I have listened to and graded. The grades and a few sentences explaining my grade will be posted with each album. That way, I should be able to at least get my opinions of new albums out there. This list will include links to full reviews I've written earlier this year, and I also plan to expand some of the short comments into full reviews once I get caught up.

I also will be posting a list of tours I recommend every once and a while. I've posted some information on tours in the past, and would like to do more of that. I spend a lot of time deciding which concerts to attend, and being able to share some of the analysis of each tour I've kicked around inside my head. The tours will be anything from traveling festivals to small club tours from genres ranging from underground hip-hop to indie to metal.

Finally, I have more lists that I plan on posting, although I may be experimenting with either a video or audio blog format on some of these. I really can't say what will become of it, but I'd like to try something new every now and then and see if I can get some guest critics to appear on camera with me. There is also a chance of a monthly podcast coming in the future, but I'm not entirely when/if that will become a reality.

That's it for today, but definitely not it for my blog. Starting Monday, I'll have grades of nearly 200 album (yes, 200) albums from 2008 to post. I also have added a section on the right side of the blog for albums released this year that have received either an A or A- from me. If you're looking for a list of what I consider to best albums of the year so far, then well, there it is. As always, thanks for reading, and check back on Sunday for the next update.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Top 100 Songs of 2007 (Full List)

It's been way too long since I started this, so I thought I would just post the entire list in one giant entry. At this point, I would much rather catch up with actual album reviews and/or new lists than finishing an old one that is long overdue, so I'm posting the list without the analysis for now. If/when I have time, I will post my analysis for all of the songs, and do it in one giant entry, but for now, here are simply my picks for the Top 100 Songs of Last Year.

100. Tervaskanto- Korpiklaani
99. Prometherion- Behemoth
98. The Goatriders Horde- 3 Inches of Blood
97. Black Rain- Ozzy Osbourne
96. Eva- Nightwish
95. As Long As I Fall- Helloween
94. The State of Massachusetts- Dropkick Murphys
93. Sleeping Giant- Mastodon
92. North American Scum- LCD Soundsystem
91. Black is Back- Public Enemy
90. Amaranth- Nightwish
89. The Human Stain- Kamelot
88. Kingdom of Doom- The Good, The Bad & The Queen
87. The Arms of Sorrow- Killswitch Engage
86. Bloodrocuted- Dethklok
85. Moonlit- Octavia Sperati
84. 3's and 7's- Queens of the Stone Age
83. No I in Threesome- Interpol
82. The Pieces- A Band Called Pain
81. Jambi- Tool
80. Within Me- Lacuna Coil
79. The People- Common
78. The Profit of Doom- Type O Negative
77. Atomic Firelight- Pagan's Mind
76. Capital G- Nine Inch Nails
75. Resurrection- Chimaira
74. O Katrina!- Black Lips
73. What Have You Done- Within Temptation
72. Energize Me- After Forever
71. I Walk Alone- Tarja
70. September Sun- Type O Negative
69. The Unthinking Majority- Serj Tankian
68. Been There All the Time- Dinosaur Jr.
67. Driven- Sevendust
66. Hump de Bump- Red Hot Chili Peppers
65. Frozen- Within Temptation
64. Never Enough- Epica
63. Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is in the Water- Nile
62. Silent Waters- Amorphis
61. The Miracle Field- The Reverse Engineers
60. The Howling- Within Temptation
59. Never Walk Alone...A Call to Arms- Megadeth
58. Cry of the Black Birds- Amon Amarth
57. Breaking the Silence- Firewind
56. Ghost Opera- Kamelot
55. The Larger Bowl- Rush
54. Subterfuge- DÅÅTH
53. July- Katatonia
52. Constant Motion- Dream Theater
51. Hard Sun- Eddie Vedder
50. Ten Thousand Strong- Iced Earth
49. Now I Lay Thee Down- Machine Head
48. Paid In Full- Sonata Arctica
47. Breath- Breaking Benjamin
46. Brianstorm- Arctic Monkeys
45. Good to Sea- Pinback
44. Superstar- Lupe Fiasco
43. I Don't Wanna Stop- Ozzy Osbourne
42. Survivalism- Nine Inch Nails
41. The Heinrich Maneuver- Interpol
40. Not Going Away- Ozzy Osbourne
39. Fluorescent Adolescent- Arctic Monkeys
38. Ten Ton Brick- Hurt
37. Challengers- The New Pornographers
36. Loathsome- Pig Destroyer
35. Radio Nowhere- Bruce Springsteen
34. Uncle Sam Goddamn- Brother Ali
33. No Pussy Blues- Grinderman
32. The Serpent's Kiss- Symphony X
31. Someone Great- LCD Soundsystem
30. Dumb It Down- Lupe Fiasco
29. Mistaken for Strangers- The National
28. Revolution Begins- Arch Enemy
27. None Shall Pass- Aesop Rock
26. All My Friends- LCD Soundsystem
25. Jigsaw Falling Into to Place- Radiohead
24. The Underdog- Spoon
23. The Pretender- Foo Fighters
22. Sinner- Stereoside
21. Redemption- Shadows Fall
20. Aesthetics of Hate- Machine Head
19. Invincible- Muse
18. À Tout Le Monde (Set Me Free)- Megadeth
17. Empty Walls- Serj Tankian
16. Don't Fall Asleep- Swallow the Sun
15. Keep the Car Running- Arcade Fire
14. On March the Saints- Down
13. Apartment Story- The National
12. Far Cry- Rush
11. Focus Shift- Dark Tranquillity
10. Bye Bye Beautiful- Nightwish
9. Son of the Staves of Time- Therion
8. Bodysnatchers- Radiohead
7. Melody Day- Caribou
6. Electric Worry- Clutch
5. Province- TV on the Radio
4. Another Hero Lost- Shadows Fall
3. Fear of a Blank Planet- Porcupine Tree
2. S.O.S. (Anything But Love)- Apocalyptica
1. Boy with a Coin- Iron & Wine

As always, thanks for reading and comments are appreciated! God damn, it's good to be back!

The Hospital Sucks Ass

...Even though I've been out for a while, I'm still recovering mentally from everything that has happened.

What's important though, is that daily updates on this blog will be starting tomorrow. No joke.

To anyone who is left: Thank you for your support. I couldn't do this without all of you have continued to read this blog, and you know who you are.

Also, I might be changing blogs in order to change the blog title (notably the "666" portion of the URL). If anyone would like to pitch me an idea on what to name the blog, let me know.

Thanks once again!