Typically these lists start off with a declaration that the year has been great, or maybe it’s been terrible. I always hate lists that start off that way. If you can’t find 10 albums (or discs or downloads) that you loved over the past year you are either really picky (i.e. elitist) or you just like to hate stuff. So here it is, my top ten list of things that were great to listen to over the past year. I doubt my list is the coolest (for instance, I don’t have TV on the Radio so that’s an instant fail) or best, but it’s what I loved. Maybe you can end up loving some of it too.
10. 10 Years – Division: This one is somewhat of guilty pleasure for me. They do nothing (and I mean nothing) original and it sounds like a handful of other radio friendly metal bands, but they do what they do a lot better then their peers. They have a a very clean sound, excellent vocals and extremely catchy hooks. So what they lack in originality they make up for it in just about every other area. Why bands like Seether, Hinder or Nickleback are popular, while 10 years flies under the radar is a mystery to me. Not to say 10 years should be in the same sentence as those other bands, but there is far more talent and song writing ability here then the majority of other rock or metal you will hear on the radio.
9. Upcdowncleftcrightc+Start – Embers: This was the year of post-rock for me. I finally took a head first dive into the genre and explored bands other than Mogwai. This was one of my favorite releases of the year. Upcdownc have a great ability to balance the heavy with the soft and both elements blend together seamlessly. This album is much better produced then their first release which I think is critical for post-rock because each and every note, time change and volume switch needs to be heard. I’d easily recommend this one to anyone who likes their post-rock with some post-metal thrown in for good measure.
8. Alakline Trio – Agony & Irony: I know that a lot of the “true” Alkaline Trio fans aren’t going to agree, but this is a very good album. It has the classic Alkaline Trio sound (with the nice, clean production they have enjoyed since Good Mourining) with songs that are catchy as every. The firs track, Calling All Skeletons is a clap along masterpiece and Over and Out has some of the clever, macabre lyrics we expect from Matt Skiba. The entire album is easy to listen to and never boring. It’s not their best work (see their self titled for that) but it’s still a great listen.
7. Mindless Self Indulgence – If: As long as MSI is releasing a CD, it’s going to be on my top ten list. I just don’t know how long that will last as their act has finally grown a little stale with me. Not that this is bad disc, it’s quite the opposite. It’s the typical MSI experience with sytnhs, guitar and Little Jimmy Urine’s high pitched voice all over the place. The only real difference from past releases is that the songs are longer (most over 3 minutes, which is something for this group) and there seems to be more of a hip-hop influx then on past releases. What I find interesting is that a lot of MSI fans think the group has sold out somewhere within the past two albums, which is really kind of funny. MSI makes some of the least radio friendly songs you will ever hear. They are still too different, to juvenile and to filthy to get any kind of radio play. When they ditch the synths, sing about love and stop swearing then may I will worry about their direction. Until then, they are the same MSI I have grown to love.
6. Mogwai: Hawk is Howling: Another Mogwai release, another inclusion on 100’s of people’s top ten lists. Mogwai has done little wrong in their career and that continues with this release. While their last LP, Mr. Beast, went in a heavier direction with shorter songs, this one returns back to the more laid back Mogwai. Not that their aren’t a few hard hitting moments here and there. I Love You, I’m going to blow up your school has to be one of my favorite Mogwai songs ever. The soft, slow build up to an explosion of layers and layers of sound is just wonderful. It’s typically Mogwai fare, so if you’ve heard them and liked them before, this one isn’t going to change your mind.
5. 3OH!3 – Want: Here is an interesting one. If someone said to you “Hey want to listen to two white guys from Colorado who sound like a mix of The Postal Service and Lil’ John” what would your response be? Would you run in terror? Well, don’t. These two white boys from Colorado are on to something here and it’s easily the most fun album of the year. The beats are loud and the rapping is louder, but they mix in a softer side with indie friendly vocal parts and even a slow, synth driven song at the end. Now I know the Lil’ John comparison is going to scare off a ton of people, because Lil’ John makes terrible music. These guys just took the good parts and made it their own. And man does it work.
4. God Is An Astronaut – Self Titled: My last post-rock entry to the list and easily my favorite of the year. The entire album is fantastic with 2 stand out tracks (Echoes and Zodiac) and a lot of reaplyability. I know this is going to sound cliche, but never has a band without any vocals said so much. The album just has layers upon layers of sound and it all just works perfectly. I think if I was trying to convince someone that post-rock is a wonderful genre, GIAA is the group I would turn them too. They aren’t super heavy and they make music that is truly beautiful
3. City and Colour – Bring Me Your Love: This release is somewhat similar to 3OH3! in that if it was describe to me, I don’t think I’d be very interested. This is the side project of Dallas Green (city and color, get it?) who is the singer of Canadian screamo outfit Alexisonfire (Alexis On Fire). So you would think the release from the member of a heavy band with lots of sccreaming would be along the same lines, but think again. This is a folksy, acoustic project that ends up feeling more real and sounds so much better than so many other random guitar players that its really a surprise. The music takes a somewhat depressing tone for the majority of the album, but for me that just brought me in closer and made me “feel” this one more than a lot of other releases. The standout track for me is What Makes A Man with it’s introspective lyrics and subtle tone. This is the type of disc that I think just about any music lover can get something out of and those types of releases are rare.
2. Bloc Party – Intimacy: This one isn’t going to be a popular pick for many Bloc Party fans. It seems like ever since the group release Silent Alarm that fans have expected them to make the same record over and over again. This is why Weekend In The City was seen as a disappointment and this is why Intimacy is going to scare away whatever fans were left since Silent Alarm. This still sounds like Bloc Party, but it has so many added elements from their first discs that it can be jarring at times. Their first single from the album, Mercury, is full of synths, horns and a chopped up vocal chorus. My favorite track on the album (and maybe the year) is Zepherus which has no live instrumentation at all, just synths, a choir and some of the best vocals that Bloc Party has ever laid onto a track. But there are still the songs with the classic Bloc Party sound like Halo and Biko. At this point people need to decided whether or not to ride the bandwagon, because I have a feeling the Bloc Party is going to continue with experimentation and they will find ways to make epic tracks. I, for one, can’t wait for each and every release from them. Will the other Bloc Party fans be there with me?
1. Innerpartysystem – Self Titled: This one hit me out of no where and I don’t really have a good way of descirbing this. It’s kinda sorta like recent Depeche Mode (except it’s good) with live instrumentation sprinkled throughout the tracks. The singer is very emotive, but not in the emo sort of way. He, at times, hits a high falsetto (thanks American Idol, now I know what that means) and sounds great doing it. The music is primarily synths with the occasional live drums or guitars added. At times the guitars get heavy, but mostly subdued. Tracks like Last Night in Brooklyn has a beat that Justin Timberlake would be jealous of, but it’s not poppy at all. Don’t Stop is easily the most danceable track of the year, but it’s not a dance track. I know this all sounds like a bunch of pretentious gibberish, and maybe it is, but really this group needs to be listened to. I could sit and talk about them all day, but you won’t understand until you listen. You may not like it, but you have to try.