10. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
Many critics are hailing this as the rap album of the year. Everyone here who heard it seems to have hated it. I’m somewhere in between, but I lean more towards the former. I thoroughly enjoyed most of it; Lil’ Wayne is out of his fucking gourd and I love that. The “no homo”s and standard misogynist lyrics are hard to stomach, as usual, but this album is intelligent enough in other ways for me to look past that; his brilliant inversion of some standard “bitch this and ho that” lyrics in “3 Peat” are a good example: “Bitch, swallow my words/Taste my thoughts/And if it’s too nasty, spit it back at me”. And come on, “Lollipop” is ridiculously catchy (listen to those synths!). Overall, it's this album's quirkiness, Lil Wayne's insane verbal technique, and the tremendous beats that sold me. Let the flaming begin
9. M83 - Saturdays = Youth
Much of this album sounds like it could’ve been plucked straight out of 1987—M83 just captures that sound and style so perfectly, without ever really feeling like cheap imitation. Nearly everything about Saturdays
is totally 80s worship; you can detect traces of the Cocteau Twins, Tears for Fears, The Cure, etc. etc. And as the cover suggests, the album is also an homage to John Hughes films, but even having never seen one, I still immensely enjoy and “get” this album. Also, the “shoegaze” tag it often gets is misleading, though I could see how certain uses of heavy reverb and the general dreamy atmosphere might lead people to label it as such. If you like all that 80s music besides metal, Saturdays = Youth
is for you.
8. Opeth – Watershed
(blurb partially copied from Watershed thread)
Ironically titled, considering that I recently had a watershed moment with Opeth, relenting my harsh dismissal of them and re-learning to enjoy them. Now, as to the album in question: It's damned good. It may not be on the level of Still Life or Blackwater Park, but it most certainly holds its own as an Opeth album, and is better than Ghost Reveries (which also has great material, but leaves much to be desired). Watershed sees a changed band, but one that is still unquestionably Opeth. The increased focus on the band's prog-rock influence is well-executed and not overly stuffy or cheesy, and while purists may lament the loss of Lindgren and Lopez (okay, yeah, the drumming on Watershed is inferior, but still), the shredding solos from Akesson (I think a good example is on "Hessian Peel", though I could be mistaken), and slick, surgically precise drumming from Axenrot gives the album's heavier moments more of a straight-up "metal" feeling, if you can catch my meaning. The balance between the softer prog elements and the heavier parts here is very impressive, and is arguably better than what they show on their disjointed early material, about which I have complained before. The whole album has a terrifyingly unified atmosphere, despite sounding at times like Pink Floyd ("Burden") and at others like, say, Swallow the Sun ("Porcelain Heart"). This is what Opeth should be about, and when they do it right, as they have here, the results are wonderful.
7. Gridlink – Amber Gray
This album is about 12 minutes of hyper-concentrated technical grind insanity. The long-awaited “next album” from Jon Chang of the tragically split-up Discordance Axis, Amber Gray
shows the intelligence of that band, but the avant-garde quirkiness is toned down in favor of a more technical metal sound, owing primarily to guitarist Matsubara. Highly, highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in grind. It’s well worth your 12 minutes.
6. Agalloch – The White EP
Rejoice, it’s another Agalloch release! Mostly instrumental, The White
provides both familiar and unfamiliar Agalloch sounds. The opener, “The Isle of Summer”, begins with a plaintive acoustic guitar line, soon joined by some other unfamiliar string instrument, to very interesting effect. When the gentle electric guitar chords come in, it’s like pure bliss. If one were to take Agalloch out of autumn/winter and place them in spring/summer, this is what they’d sound like. “Hollow Stone” strongly evokes the cave for which it’s named, “Pantheist” gives us some good old Agalloch strum-n-gloom, and the reflective, somber “Birch White” beautifully features a poem by A.S.J. Tessimond set to a tightly constructed folk tune. The warm synths on “Sowilo Rune” evokes a shoegazing atmosphere, and the closer “Summerisle Reprise” is deceptively simple and powerfully emotional. Not to mention the Wicker Man
film samples throughout the album, which are exceedingly cool and tastefully used. In all honesty, The White
might only be for those who are already fans of Agalloch, but it superbly satisfies what one looks for in a new Agalloch release.
5. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Forget your preconceived notions about this band based on their fanbase, Vampire Weekend
is a wonderfully catchy, intelligent indie-pop album with great songwriting and a fun smattering of influences. Their rich-preppy-kid image is a little nauseating, but if you can look past that (and its several manifestations in their lyrics), you’ll find some great music, regardless of how mainstream it is.
4. No Age – Nouns
Amazing album, if a bit tragically-hip. Parts of it could practically be teen pop if not for the extremely noisy, washed-out guitars, quirky electronics, and Dean Allen Spunt’s frankly atonal singing. The whole package comes together for a punk-as-fuck noise-pop head trip.
3. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Perhaps the most buzzed-about release of the year in indie music; there’s already been a good deal of discussion about it here. The band describes their music as “baroque harmonic pop jams”, for whatever that’s worth. Huge, sweeping vocal harmonies, organic, folksy aesthetics, and wonderful songwriting are among the album’s foremost qualities; some songs are stronger than others, but the best parts of this album are nothing short of brilliant. Definitely an album which is enhanced through experience, as Brad discovered; for me, listening to this album in winter on Cape Cod and having it constantly stuck in my head that week, and listening to my girlfriend sing various vocal parts from it (sorry for the cheesiness
) really just dug out a special place in my heart for it.
2. Cynic – Traced in Air
Cynic is simply incredible. How often does a metal band go on a 15-year hiatus, and return with a comeback album that is equal to, or perhaps even better than, their “classic” material? Traced in Air
is just such an album. Tight, focus
) song structures, brilliant guitar work, interesting use of unusual time signatures, insane drumming, and engaging, passionate vocals all come together in a half-hour of prog-done-right. The lyrics primarily deal with meditative/Buddhist themes, and the whole album seems to comprise a single structure—in one interview, Paul Masvidal said he actually envisioned the album to be something like an alien consciousness coming into a body at the beginning (“Nunc Fluens”), going through life experiences, and reaching death at the end (“Nunc Stans”). Simply the best metal album of the year.
1. Rome – Masse Mensch Material
Dark, romantic(ist) industrial/neofolk, Masse Mensch Material
is perhaps the most striking album I heard all year. After the dark-ambient intro “Sonnengotter”, “Der Brandtaucher” explodes forth with a driving industrial/martial drumbeat, soon introducing us to Jerome Reuter’s deep, haunting singing and building to a jaw-dropping chorus (“And I offered myself to the night/In a spray of blossoms red and white”). “Das Feuerordal”, along with “Die Nelke” and “Neue Erinnerung” feature some of the best, most moving strum-n-gloom neofolk I’ve ever heard. The industrial-tinged “Wir Gotter der Stadt” has a cool, city-at-night aesthetic to it, and the martial-sounding “Der Brandstifter” has a playful, yet also deadly serious nature to it. The despairing “Der Erscheinungen Flucht” is devastatingly emotional, deceptively tender and gentle and yet horrifying and depressing—and while the childlike screams which play rhythmically in the background during much of the song do add to its unsettling nature, I feel that they’re a bit overdone. “Kriegsgotter”, at the climax of which the title of the album is chanted to amazing effect, is an exquisite lament of modernity. “Wir Moorsoldaten” is an inspirational military anthem which I’m sure must be a reference to the protest song “Die Moorsoldaten” (often translated as “The Peat Bog Soldiers”), written by prisoners in Nazi labor camps and used by political opponents of the Third Reich and fascism in general. Powerful stuff. The album closes with “Nachklang”, another dark-ambient piece in which distant opera vocals can be heard, leaving the listener with a feeling of uncertainty or unease. Despite the song titles, almost all of the lyrics are in English, besides a few spoken-word parts (which may be samples) in Italian, German, and French. I cannot recommend this album highly enough, to anyone who enjoys neofolk-type music, or any kind of music that is dark, moving and contemplative. Truly a masterpiece.