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...

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