30. Ben Folds- Way to Normal
Ben Folds is one hell of a cool dude, a great songwriter, and a talented piano player to boot. But when your genre is "singer-songwriter" or whatever the hell they're calling it these days, shouldn't your songs be VERY VERY strong? Shouldn't you just blow people away every time you sit down at your piano since that is your entire musical purpose? He does that on several occasions on this album: "Hiroshima", "Brainwascht", and especially the emotive "Kylie From Connecticut" (which very nearly sneaked on my top 10 songs list), but the rest of the album is just pretty damn good. That's not quite enough from you, Ben. Sorry.
29. Torche- Meanderthal
What an album title. Jesus, who thought puns could be metal. I do really like this album, but I'm just not creaming my jeans over it like everyone else in metal right now. It's definitely an interesting combination of groovy stoner metal and pure pop (see the perfection of this on "Grenades" and "Healer"), and I expect that a Torche live performance would knock me on my ass, but I'm not sold that this is the future of metal. If it is, I'm frankly kind of disappointed. I'd rather have Mastodon and Isis clones.
28. Lair of the Minotaur- War Metal Battle Master
This is pure fucking metal. This is, like, get drunk and beat up your neighbor for looking at your girlfriend metal. This is put on a full suit of armor and go out in public metal. This is Maiden, Priest, Slayer metal. True fucking metal. Beyond the image, though, the songwriting kind of takes a backseat. You'll bang your head until it hurts listening to this sludge-meets-modern thrash monster, but you won't listen to it ever unless that's what you're planning on doing. Like cookies, Lair of the Minotaur are a sometimes food.
27. A Silver Mt. Zion- 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons
Post-rock with vocals can get kind of weird, because the voices have to serve as instruments, and do unusual things to match the unusual things traditional post-rock instruments do. This Godspeed You! Black Emperor spinoff has some bizarre intonations, and some unusual choices in instrumentation, but is overall a pretty unique experience, and an exciting introduction to the world of vocal post-rock. Songs like "1,000,000 Died To Make This Sound" and "BlindBlindBlind" show the band's addiction to punk and application of that affinity to a completely different genre, and the result is pretty damn interesting. It's a flawed album, but given the odd goals, that's not even really an insult.
26. Bloodbath- The Fathomless Mastery
It might be unfair to Dismember to put this album so much higher than theirs, because it is most certainly also "just death metal". But man, there are some great death metal songs on here. It comes down to songwriting, and the guys in charge on this album (Mikael Åkerfeldt and Jonas Renkse among them) are some of the best in the Swedish death metal business. "At the Behest of Their Death", "Mock the Cross", and "Earthrot" are especially headbanging, and the band fires on every cylinder, often making you wish they were a legitimate touring act and not the just-for-fun studio project of Swedes with even better day jobs.
25. The Mars Volta- The Bedlam in Goliath
I'll be the first to admit it: I spent half the year hating this album. Just hating it. This was somewhat misguided hate, because I was hating it for doing exactly what it set out to do: fuck with your mind and do things that music probably shouldn't. I guess that's what makes it progressive, but even as a prog nut I found a lot of this album off-putting at first. I warmed up to it, though, and there is some excellent stuff to be found on here. As a full album experience, it still feels very disconnected at times, but with songs like "Aberinkula" and the still fucking amazing "Wax Simulacra", it's hard to care. The Mars Volta get more obtuse with each successive album, but it hasn't made me hate them yet, so I guess they can do whatever they want.
24. Landmine Marathon- Rusted Eyes Awake
Landmine Marathon are definitely a band with a shtick: cute as a button, fierce as a lion lead growler Grace Perry sells more albums than the bands sped-up Bolt Thrower songwriting, but that's actually okay. Once you listen to the album, you tend to forget a girl is growling so fiercely, and get swept up in the excitement of the new twist they're putting on classic American death metal. This band, along with The Red Chord, will carry the death metal torch far into the next century, and when the final chords of the brutally epic "Bile Towers" strike, it doesn't matter who's singing.
23. Edguy- Tinnitus Sanctus
While it is somewhat of a step down in quality from the excellent Hellfire Club and goofy-but-great Rocket Ride, the new Edguy does pack a nice punch by balancing the styles of the two albums. The best songs are the catchy hard rock tracks, "Ministry of Saints" and "Dead or Rock", and the two full-on power metal tunes, "The Pride of Creation" and "Speedhoven", showing that they can play both styles with skill and efficiency. Tobias Sammett's voice gets better every year (I love the somewhat rough edge he's adopted, personally), and they get, like, a million bonus points for writing a song about an aardvark. Who does that?
22. Russian Circles- Station
It's somewhat misleading to even call this a true post-rock album considering how groovy it gets at times and how rock-n'-roll the drumming tends to be. The duo play like the dirty hippies they are and create just enough atmosphere to be lumped in with Explosions in the Sky and the like, though, and in the process break down a lot of barriers post-rock bands have traditionally adhered to. This album is more grimy and less beautiful than a lot of similar crescendo aficionados' works, and their upcoming gig opening for Clutch makes a lot of sense in a weird way.
21. Mogwai- The Hawk Is Howling
Despite the fact that these poor Scots obviously don't know the difference between a hawk and an eagle, this album is pretty damn good. The bizarre song titles intentionally distract from the beauty hiding in the songs: unlike an Explosions in the Sky-like approach which finds incredibly fitting song titles for the emotional journeys the music takes you on, Mogwai come up with jarringly inappropriate titles to trick you into thinking the song will be goofy when it is, in fact, probably the most beautiful thing you will hear on a given day. Such examples include "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead" and "I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School" and "Batcat". The one serious sounding title, "Scotland's Shame", is ironically home to the album's best and most beautiful song. Their bairns will be very proud of them.