Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best of 2011

Well, we're at the end of the year, and that means it's time to figure out my end of the year list.  As with every year, figuring out my list (beyond the top 6) was quite difficult.  My mood is always changing with music.  One day I'll be all about instrumental albums, while the next day all I'll want to hear is metal.  But, at some point you just have to dig in and make the list as best you can.  Below is my list.  Let me know what you think.  Also, feel free to leave your EOTY list in the comments.

Best Albums:
Listed are my favorite albums of the year.  I have listed them in preferential order, according to my mood right now.  Some may flip around depending on the day, but I can say that those in the top-6 would always remain there.  Why top-6, you ask?  Well, they are the albums I have or would have rated a 90% or higher.  I have also added a link to those albums I have reviewed.

1) Thrice - Major/Minor

Honestly, I have loved Thrice ever since Vheissu.  With every new release, they consistently produced amazing material that definitely stuck with me over the years.  Major/Minor is the culmination of this long list of great albums.  Thrice managed to assimilate all of their experimentation and raw alternative rock into one incredible album.  Sadly, this is also their last album for a while, since the band has decided to go on hiatus.  Perhaps we'll hear from them again sometime in the future.  Key tracks: "Call It in the Air", "Words in the Water", "Listen Through Me".

2) Align in Time - Me & My Arrow

John Boles debut instrumental album is a definite pleasure for the ears.  I've basically had this album on repeat since I got it a few weeks ago.  There are so many catchy melodies and the diversity of the songs just kept me coming back for more.  Key tracks: "The Many Faces", "Men Without Chests", "Run Home".

3) Thursday - No Devolucion

Thursday definitely took a new direction, musically, in No Devolucion.  The outcome, however, is their best album they have ever recorded.  The usual traits of the old Thursday are, of course, still here, but this album is much, much more atmospheric.  I really respect them for taking a chance on such a new sound.  Having announced their hiatus just a day after Thrice's announcement, we lose yet another leader of the genre.  Key tracks: "No Answer", "Magnets Caught in a Metal Heart", "A Gun in the First Act".

4) Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Every time I listen to Bon Iver's self-titled album, I like it more and more.  There is something deeply beautiful and thoughtful in the music that keeps pulling at me to keep listening to the album on repeat.  The inclusion of a full band also helped me to enjoy this album far more than any of Justin Vernon's previous efforts.  Key tracks: "Perth", "Holocene", "Calgary".

5) O'Brother - Garden Window

O'Brother took me by surprise.  Really,  Garden Window took a bit of growing on me.  It's full of so many twists and turns, musically, that one can feel a little confused.  But, with every new listen, I began to understand what they were trying to convey.  In the end, this album grew to be one of my top-5 albums of the year.  We can only hope that these guys are ready to take up the reigns of bands lost (Thrice, Thursday), and become the future genre definers.  Key tracks: "Malum", "Cleanse Me", "Last Breath".

6) The Horrible Crowes - Elsie

To be honest, I didn't expect to like this album so much.  I definitely liked The Gaslight Anthem's latest album, as evidenced by my EOTY list from last year.  However, as this year progressed, I found myself growing away from that album.  Then, Elsie came along and totally blew me away.  The brilliant song writing and chillness in the music made this one of the top albums of the year.  Key tracks: "Ladykiller", "Black Betty and the Moon", "Blood Loss".

7) Incubus - If Not Now, When?
8) Moving Mountains - Waves
9) A Winged Victory for the Sullen - A Winged Victory for the Sullen
10) Transit - Listen & Forgive
11) Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math
12) The Dangerous Summer - War Paint
13) This Love - At War
14) Evaline - Woven Material
15) Fink - Perfect Darkness
16) The Chemical Brothers - Hanna Soundtrack
17) Funeral For a Friend - Welcome Home Armageddon
18) August Burns Red - Leveler
19) Rise Against - Endgame
20) Sainthood Reps - Monoculture

Special Mention:
The Republic of Wolves - In the House of Dust

Although I absolutely love this album, I didn't feel it quite belonged in the "new album" list since In the House of Dust is primarily comprised of remastered, acoustic, live, and demo versions of songs from previous efforts.  So, I thought I'd just throw in a special mention.

Honorable Mentions (alphabetical):
All Get Out - The Season
Banquets - Top Button, Bottom Shelf
Collapse Under the Empire - Shoulders & Giants
Every Avenue - Bad Habits
Industries of the Blind - Chapter 1: Had We Known
New Found Glory - Radiosurgery
Polar Bear Club - Clash Battle Guilt Pride
Russian Circles - Empros
Saves the Day - Daybreak
Thievery Corporation - Culture of Fear

Songs On Repeat (alphabetical):
Always Only for Me - Moving Mountains
Asleep at the Wheel - Transit
Blood Loss - The Horrible Crowes
Car Chase (Arp Worship) - The Chemical Brothers
Culture of Fear - Thievery Corporation
A Gun in the First Act - Thursday
Holocene - Bon Iver
Hunted - Every Atlas
Internal Cannon - August Burns Red
Isadore - Incubus
Last Breath - O'Brother
Listen Through Me - Thrice
Motions - This Love
Promises (David Call remix) - Andain
Warm Shadow - Fink
Words in the Water (Polaris at Noon Remix) - Thrice

Best Movies:
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
X-Men: First Class
Super 8

Best TV:
I don't really watch much TV, but Dexter has always kept my interest.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: Align in Time - Me & My Arrow

A couple weeks ago I posted about the discovery of a new post-rock, instrumental project from John Boles, called Align in Time (then named Me & My Arrow).  I had only heard one song from his album Me & My Arrow, but that one song immediately put this album high on my radar, although somewhat conservatively.  Why you might ask?  Well, I've found that many times post-rock groups will release a single that is easily accessible, but once you hear the rest of the album, it turns out that one single is the black sheep among the tracks.  Instead, the album will diverge to some ambient insanity filled with sounds that just cause my head to hurt.  So yes, I was a little reserved in my anticipation.

Well, December 13th has finally come and gone, and I've had a chance to listen to Me & My Arrow about 30 times (yup, this is what I like to call a "repeater"). To say the least, this album has exceeded my every expectation.  After listening to Me & My Arrow for the first time, I immediately had that feeling of "yeah, he gets it".  This is the kind of music that easily draws you in, grabs hold of your emotions (and ears), and runs with them.

The brilliance of Me & My Arrow lies in the simple, yet beautifully layered structure of each song.  I should be clear that "simplicity" should NOT be taken as an analogy to "repetition".  Boles manages to craft multilayered guitar melodies that keep every minute of this album fresh and pleasing to the ears.  However, the music never becomes frustratingly crowded, as can happen in many post-rock albums.  Boles will also sometimes make a small change in the chording that ever so slightly modifies the feeling coming from the music.  It's during those subtle chord changes where I often thought to myself, "well, that was cool".

Every song holds an extremely catchy melody that should satisfy almost anyone who likes rock.  I could give a rundown of all the tracks, but instead I'll let you experience the beauty of this album for yourself.  I suppose that "The Many Faces", "Men Without Chests", and "Run Home" are standouts for me.  I particularly love the build-up and heavy hook of "Run Home".  But really, this album should be heard as a single entity (on repeat).

Definitely check Me & My Arrow out!  It is definitely in my top-6 (the "6" will make more sense when I post my end of the year list) for the year.

You can stream the entire album and buy it over on Bandcamp.

Good Old War Release New Single

Good Old War have released a new single, "Calling Me Names", from their new album Come Back As Rain, which drops on March 6th.  You can listen to the song as well as download it for free below.  Definitely a good tune.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Republic of Wolves Release In the House of Dust

Yesterday, The Republic of Wolves released a new CD/DVD combo album, In the House of Dust, via Simple Stereo.  This album consists of 33 tracks featuring remastered b-sides, demoes, live, acoustic, and new material.  There are some really fantastic versions of songs from previous albums.  Also, the new material is quite good, as expected from TROW.

In the House of Dust can be purchased and streamed in its entirety on the band's Bandcamp page.  This is definitely a must-have for anyone who is a fan of the band.  If you are unfamiliar with the band, I suggest having a listen to the rest of their catalog (which can also be streamed via Bandcamp).  Their music is the perfect combination of folk and alternative rock.  Varuna, in particular, was in my top-10 of the year last year.

Definitely check 'em out!

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