Thursday, February 11, 2010

Derrick's Top Albums of All Time (#40-31)

40. Deathspell Omega - Fas--Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum

As the years have passed, it's become increasingly difficult to push the boundaries of my musical tastes any further out than they already are. Gone are the days when records like Converge's Jane Doe and Dillinger Escape Plan's Calculating Infinity were changing the way I thought about music altogether. Leave it to Deathspell Omega to release an album so discordant, so amelodic, so wrong-sounding that it could somehow stretch those boundaries--which are so close to the extent of their elasticity--an inch or two further outward. This is the second chapter of a yet-unfinished trilogy of which Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice is the first chapter. As with part one of the trilogy, the title of this album is also latin; this one meaning "Divine law - Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." This thing is such a major mindfuck from beginning to end that attempting to describe it would just end badly for everyone involved. Just be warned that if you attempt to brave the painful but incredibly rewarding experience that is Fas--Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum, it's not going to be a very welcoming experience the first time around. In fact, I wouldn't recommend this album to anyone who doesn't have at least some experience with extreme metal and/or unusual, highly inaccessible music. And even then you might not be adequately prepared for what you're about to hear. But rest assured, it will be worth every bit of time you invest in it.

39. Envy - All the Footprints You've Ever Left and the Fear Expecting Ahead

Before Japan's epic post-hardcore kings were constructing 8-plus-minute towering hardcore symphonies, there was this album. This album sort of serves as the bridge between Envy's mere-mortal screamo output (including a myriad of EPs and split records as well as full-lengths Breathing and Dying In This Place and From Here to Eternity) and the ultra-epic, sprawling landscapes of A Dead Sinking Story and Insomniac Doze (as well as the recent Abyssal EP and splits with Jesu and Thursday) much in the same way that Revolver was the stepping stone between the pop-sensation Beatles and the brilliant, musically groundbreaking output of the 1967-1970 Beatles. It starts with a fairly unassuming but mildly ominous intro track "Zero" that leads straight into "Farewell to Words", and already you can hear how Envy got to where they are today, only things are just slightly different. The epic guitar melodies and paint-peeling screams are just as prevalent but the pacing and the rhythms are markedly more frantic and urgent. "Left Hand" starts with an immediate and epic attacking guitar much in the same vain as the later "Color of Fetters", soon giving way to a swirling verse that could just as easily have been featured in a song on A Dead Sinking Story. The highlight of this record, however, is easily the one-two punch of "The Light of My Footprints"/"Your Shoes and the World to Come" that closes the album (and often times the band's shows). Coming to a combined 12 minutes, this epic journey is certain to leave you emotionally exhausted by the time it's over.

38. Radiohead - Amnesiac

Like so many other Radiohead fans, I used to be sort of indifferent toward this album. For so long, it has been relegated to the status of being a collection of Kid A B-sides--which is understandable since the songs on here came from the same recording sessions as the songs on Kid A--and is even referred to as "Kid B" from time to time by snarky music critics and snobbish Radiohead fans. To me, on the other hand, this is probably the most underrated Radiohead album of all. If you were to listen to it for the first time, you might be somewhat turned off after the first three tracks, which delve seemingly further into the electronic realm that the band began flirting with on Kid A (ok, maybe more than "flirting"). "Pulk-Pull Revolving Doors" especially is full of pulsating computerized jackhammer beats and meandering vocorder ramblings about doors. I'll admit these songs take some getting used to. However, if you're patient enough to reach tracks 4-6, your rewards will be: 4) a soothing, melancholy, whisper-soft guitar ballad that gives way to a joyous explosion of piano as Thom croons "we ride tonight...ghost horses." Ladies and gentlemen, "You and Whose Army?" 5) a meandering, guitar-heavy groove-laden rock song (well, "rock" by Radiohead's standards anyway) that takes a seemingly 180-degree turn toward the end before falling haphazardly back into its grinding groove--"I Might Be Wrong." 6) One of Radiohead's best songs ever, the eerie, cannibalistic "Knives Out."

37. Yaphet Kotto/This Machine Kills/Envy - Split CD

There's a very specific story to go along with this one: Valentine's Day 2004. It's the second semester of my first year of college and I'm in a rut. It's a pretty average Valentine's Day for me, lovelorn and jaded. I can't remember exactly why or when I first downloaded this album but on this day I finally decided to give it a listen. I burned it to a CD, popped it in my discman, and headed over to the dining hall to get some dinner. I remember listening to it while I had a slice of pizza and being impressed by the Yaphet Kotto tracks--which I still firmly believe are the best songs they ever wrote. I remember digging the This Machine Kills tracks in spite of being a little impatient for Envy's portion to start. I remember Envy's portion starting and my jaw dropping. I specifically remember taking my tray over to the conveyor belt when I was done eating and putting it down right as the song kicked back in from the ultra-quiet part midway through the song and being paralyzed by what I heard for a good 10 seconds. I remember walking back to my dorm as tears began to form in my eyes (I've never been moved to tears by music in my life except for this moment). More than anything I remember the transcendent moment when I first heard "A Collaboration Song." This isn't so much a song as an event. It begins unassuming enough, adding layers upon layers as the minutes tick by. Then something happens. The dam breaks. The walls crumble. The flood roars in and sweeps you up in emotion. The singer of Yaphet Kotto's voice soars as Tetsu from Envy responds to his call. Then something else happens. Yaphet Kotto takes over and makes the song's epic conclusion their own, ending on a melancholy note with the screamer of YK repeating "FACE DOWN WITH MY HEAD...AGAINST THE WALL" over the minimal music still meandering in the haze. And just like that, it's over. And you're not sure how you can be expected to return to real life.

36. Glassjaw - Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence

I don't know if there's a better soundtrack to the angst and frustration that a lot of squirrely, awkward, shy guys feel toward women. The longing is undeniable, the anger is potent, and the heart is perched firmly on the sleeve and bleeding out everywhere. This is without a doubt one of the most unbridled, unfettered, lay-it-all-on-the-line albums I've ever heard. The emotion doesn't so much pour out of every song as it shoots out like water from a broken faucet as vocalist Daryl Palumbo begs, pleads, screams, sighs, cries, berates, and bellows some of the most impassioned vocals you'll ever hear. Every song seemingly has a different feel, from the "emocore" rage of "Pretty Lush" and "Siberian Kiss" to the plodding, bass-driven "When One Eight Becomes Two Zeroes", the up-beat "Ry-Ry's Song", the melodic anger of "Lovebites and Razorlines" juxtaposed with the grinding, pounding, discordant anger of "Hurting and Shoving (She Should Have Let Me Sleep)." "Majour" seems to begin a sort of second act of the album with a very melodic, swirling pseudo-ballad (well, about as close as you get to a ballad on this album) and the diversity doesn't end there from wild hardcore romps ("Babe") and heavy groove-laden mosh pit tunes ("Motel of the White Locust") to meandering slow jams (the title track) and fervent blasts of melody ("Her Middle Name was Boom" and "Piano") the time the haunting hidden track rolls around you'll be more than ready for a break.

35. Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run

I'll admit I came into this one very late. I only really got into it about a year or two ago but one thing I know is that once I heard the beautiful climax of "Thunder Road", there was no going back. It seems like The Boss has had the heart of a 20-year-old pretty much his entire life and this record really shines in that respect. The exuberance in songs like "Born to Run" and "She's the One" are undeniable and, if you have a soul, you'll find it hard to suppress the urge to dance--or at least smile. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert on HBO featured a quite lengthy set by The Boss that, among other things (like teaming with Billy Joel for "New York State of Mind" and "Born to Run"), featured an incredible performance of the album's closing track, "Jungleland." It damn near made me cry. That should be pretty much all you need to know about this album.

34. Poison the Well - The Opposite of December

This is one of those albums I sort of got into little by little. It's also one of the main albums responsible for me getting into hardcore. Like most PTW fans I became obsessed with "Nerdy", which was the first song I heard by them and prompted me to borrow a PTW mix from a friend of mine. It contained every song on this record plus all those from the record before it (when they had two vocalists, one screaming, one singing, neither of which is the current vocalists) as well as a few from a split record before that, when they were called An Acre Lost. I started listening to this mix religiously (at least the songs from this album) in the time leading up to PTW playing a show at Kaffe Krystal that I was determined to attend. This would be the first real hardcore show I would ever attend. It wouldn't be a stretch to say this show changed my life, even if it does sound a bit dramatic. I had never seen anything like that before. Stage diving. Head walking. Kids scrapping and climbing on each other, screaming the words in vocalists Jeffrey Moreira's face, grabbing for the mic, losing their minds. Musically, very few hardcore bands have ever been able to measure up to this record--and way, WAY too many have tried to...this album basically spawned an entire genre of copycats that left something to be desired. The formula has become a parody of itself now: metal-infused hardcore with pretty melodic passages, "emotional" singing juxtaposed with blood-curdling shrieks, sprinkle in some monster breakdowns to spark up the mosh pit and some Swedish death metal riffs for the metal nerds and eureka! Generic melodic metalcore band #84573. I think they call it "screamo" nowadays. Whatever it is, it started with this band and this album.

33. Stone Temple Pilots - Core

I went through a phase in my early days of high school where I listened to this album along with Purple and No. 4 almost compulsively. They seemed to capture so much of what I was going through in high school so perfectly for some reason. I can remember one of the first times I listened to this album the whole way through, there were 4-5 songs on it that I knew I had heard before but I had never known who wrote them. I love those little revelatory musical moments, like a rosetta stone unlocking a musical gift. As much as I love this album, it's easy to see the criticism of sounding too much like Pearl Jam that came along with it...even if the songwriting is significantly more interesting. "Plush" will always be one of my favorite songs in the world and will always invoke so much nostalgia and so many memories for me. It doesn't even have anything to do with the lyrics it's just a mood that hovers ominously yet beautifully over the song like the towering, color-splashed sky at sunset. "Creep" is another wonderfully melancholy, dark, dusty pseudo-ballad that seems to go well together with the end of a day--and another song that stokes the fires of nostalgia in me. There are way too many highlights to go through them all. Everyone knows the singles, which are great and everything but some of the most underrated STP songs are on here as well: "Sin", "Naked Sunday", and "Piece of Pie" come to mind. I saw this band live at the first concert I ever went to, Zetafest 2000, and they opened their set with "Crackerman" which is something I'll never forget.

32. Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape

This is a deeply, deeply personal album to me for reasons that don't really make a whole lot of sense to me. Well, ok, I guess they kinda do. I listened to this album a TON around the time when I had completely and totally fallen desperately in love...and in that repetition became something of a soundtrack for said love and said girl. A lot of it had to do with "Everlong" and its uncanny ability to make my heart flutter. "February Stars" and "Walking After You" had something to do with it too. But other songs that don't make as much sense became so resonant for me during that time like "Hey Johnny Park" and "Up In Arms." Really the whole album just has a sound and a mood that has a subtly supernatural ability to transport me back in time to 10th and 11th grade, the peak of my desperate unrequited love that defined who I was in high school to a far greater degree than it probably should have--certainly to a far greater degree than I would have liked.

31. Black Star - Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star

You always hear about Straight Outta Compton and Fear of a Black Planet...and sometimes Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) enters the discussion of great all-time hip hop records. In my book, it doesn't get any better than Black Star. Two of the most talented underground(-ish) superstars hip hop has ever given birth to collaborating on one unbelievable album. Two unmistakable voices. Two distinct(ly different) styles--Mos's highly rhythmic, soulful delivery provides the perfect contrast to Kweli's fervent, fast-paced, more complex delivery. And the songs...ugh. This is no mere collection of "tight beats" that provide a decent enough backdrop for the lyricists. There's a brilliant parody of "Children's Story" that talks about "jacking beats." The beautifully mellow ode to women of color, "Brown Skin Lady." A tribute to their break beat heritage in "B Boys Will B Boys." The highlight for me is an intense track near the end called "Respiration" which features a guest appearance by Common. At Rock the Bells 2007, Mos Def and Talib Kweli shared the stage for a short Black Star teaser set and for this song they actually brought Common out to do his parts of the song which was greeted by a wild crowd response (which, at a hip hop show, means everyone goes: OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH). It was a pretty amazing moment and one that I'm sure I won't soon forget.

OK well that does it for #40-31...sorry it took such a ridiculously long time...I've been picking at it since I posted the last one...I've literally sat down to finish this at least 4-5 times only to stop after writing blurbs for 1-2 albums...hopefully the blurbs for #30-21 will come to me easier and I'll be able to miraculously complete the next entry sometime next week...yeah, we'll see how THAT goes...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Derrick's Top 50 Albums of ALL TIME!!1one (#50-41)

Well as you can see the updating every day thing didn't go well...maybe now that I've started the actual top 50 I can try to stick to it...I wouldn't bet on me though...anyway let's get to it:

50. Skycamefalling - 10.21

I got into this album around the time I was first getting into hardcore. I'm pretty sure I bought this because I read some press on it saying it sounded like Poison the Well. I think that comparison is both fair and unfair. It's fair because they're definitely of the same ilk, playing melodic metalcore that can be as brutally heavy as it is achingly beautiful. But it's also unfair because not only does this band's brand of melodic metalcore vary greatly from Poison the Well's, but I think this album is possibly better than anything PTW put out. The melodies are so much more subtle and more seamless in Skycamefalling's music. There's significantly less melodic singing but I actually like Christopher Tzompanakis's scream better...which is saying a lot because I love Jeff Moreira's screaming in PTW but Tzompanakis has such a brutal, throat-tearing scream, but at the same time it's far from being harsh, it almost has a dull (as in the opposite of harsh) sound to it and it's really the perfect scream for the melodic metalcore Skycamefalling plays because it's really kinda chill for a scream. The guitar work is what makes this band for me cuz they do some really great harmonies and beautiful melodic-yet-heavy chords. As far as songwriting chops you'd be hard pressed to find any hardcore band with as much talent as Skycamefalling, they're so in control of the creative process and it really shines through in their music. A must-listen for anyone who likes heavy music with heart.

49. The Arcade Fire - Funeral

This is undoubtedly one of the best bands to garner significant media attention in recent years. They have a very rare quality of being accessible but also unique and fresh-sounding (something very, VERY little mainstream music is these days). A lot of it has to do with Win Butler's wailing, almost desperate vocal delivery that lends the music a certain exuberance. That's not the only exuberant thing about the music though, as their music is filled with these wonderfully joyous explosions and happy sing-a-long choruses. It even has it's darker sounding moments like certain parts of "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" but for the most part it's very uplifting, beautiful music. It even has some elements that remind me of Jimmy Eat World's Clarity album, which is just about the highest praise I can give any band.

48. Jimmy Eat World - Static Prevails

When I was first introduced to Jimmy Eat World I had a keen dislike for them because all I knew of their work was "The Middle" and "Sweetness" being played on MTV constantly (and put in movies). Then a good friend demanded that I buy Clarity and boy am I glad he did because I saw a side of JEW that I never imagined existed. More on that later. After I had become obsessed with Clarity my good friend implored me to give their poppier stuff (specifically Bleed American) a fair chance...and he was right, Bleed American is an awesome album--even the singles grew on me after a while. I remember he explained his theory on how JEW tried to do straight up rock/pop with Static Prevails and it wasn't particularly good other than the song "Call It In the Air" but then they did Clarity and decided to come back to rock/pop with Bleed American and got it right the second time around. At the time it made sense but the more familiar with Static Prevails I became, the more I disagreed with this theory. Static Prevails is a great pop album and I love that the production and a lot of the songwriting has more in common with Clarity than with their output from Bleed American on. The guitars are dripping with Christie Front Drive inspired washy wall of sound guitar tone and guitarist Tom Linton's voice is featured much more prominently than in the post-Bleed American albums which some people don't really care for but a lot of hardcore JEW fans miss dearly about the band. Bottom line: if you like Jimmy Eat World from Bleed American on then do yourself a favor and check this album out because it blows away the rest of their "poppy" output.

47. At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command

I first heard this band during the later stages of my "nu metal" phase and as a result, was unprepared for what I was hearing and didn't really get into it. It took a friend yelling at me for me to realize how amazing this album is. At the time, I was used to chunky, heavy guitars so the crazy chords and intricacies of ATDI were sort of lost on me until my friend educated me on why I was an idiot. Finally I saw the light and realized that the guitar work on this album is some of the best and most creative you'll ever hear. This whole band really melds together so well but it definitely centers around the brilliant guitar work (at least for me it does). The songwriting is pretty brilliant too and full of wild, untamed energy that releases in uncontrolled bursts inter-spliced with some really good catchy indie pop moments and a lot of swirling, uneasy atmospheres. The Mars Volta is a great band but they really can't ever measure up to the raw, unbridled musical tantrum of Relationship of Command.

46. Refused - The Shape of Punk to Come

I can actually remember the specific day I first bought this album. Actually I'm pretty sure it was my very last day of high school. I think everyone else was off celebrating in some way or another and somehow I ran into my friend ML and we hung out and went to Best Buy and I bought this CD. His house was within walking distance so we walked there and he put on the CD and immediately we both were really into it (well, he liked it, I dunno if he was REALLY into it...but I was). The energy and the hard attacking riffs reminded me a lot of a hardcore version of Rage Against the Machine (at least in the first track) but the more I listened to the album and the deeper into it I got the more I discovered that this was far from the average hardcore record. The Shape of Punk to Come really is quite a fitting title for this album because its influence remains prevalent even now. There are bursts of pure hardcore energy such as "Worms of the Sense/Faculties of the Skull", "New Noise", and the short, fast explosion of "Refused Party Program"--sometimes infused with vaguely folky or jazzy elements such as with "Liberation Frequency" and "The Deadly Rhythm", respectively. There are the danceably dangerous grooves of "Summer Holidays v. Punk Routine" and the title track as well as the slightly more sassy "Refused Are Fucking Dead" which features a brave, powerful ending climax. Then there are the deeper, slightly darker, more melodically satisfying songs like the marching romp of "Protest Song '68" (another great climactic ending here) or the powerful, melancholic, violin-laden "Tannhauser." From there it quiets down with "Tannhauser" feeding directly into the bouncy acoustic "Derive" (the two are part of the same song named "Tannhauser/Derive") which then gives way to a very solemn acoustic closer called "The Apollo Programme Was a Hoax" that closes the album out on a beautiful note, repeating the lines "Sabotage will set us free. Throw a rock in the machine."

45. nine inch nails - The Downward Spiral

I used to love this album in high school in spite of the fact that I was only truly familiar with the first five songs. "Heresy" was always my favorite because honestly, what angsty teenager wouldn't love screaming "YOUR GOD IS DEAD...AND NO ONE CARES...IF THERE IS A HELL...I'LL SEE YOU THERE" over and over. I always liked The Fragile a little better though because I was more into Reznor's atmospheric ventures than his harsh industrial ones. But as with anything, the more familiar I became with this album, the more I realized how truly brilliant it is. "Ruiner" is one of the most haunting, ominous songs in the NIN catalog and without a hint of subtlety. "The Becoming" is a textbook example of Reznor's programming wizardry slamming head first into his effortless talent for songwriting and arranging. Reznor said in one interview that "With The Downward Spiral I tried to make a record that had full range, rather than a real guitar-based record or a real synth-based record. I tried to make it something that opened the palate for NIN, so we don't get pigeon-holed. It was a conscious effort to focus more on texture and space, rather than bludgeoning you over the head for an hour with a guitar." That's a perfect description for this record, it absolutely has a little bit of everything that NIN fans love. There are roaring guitar-heavy tracks like "Mr. Self Destruct" and "March of the Pigs", there are gyrating, kinky songs like "Closer" and "I Do Not Want This", some with combinations of these elements and so on. It's hard to really describe this madness or classify any of the songs because there's so much going on in each song that no matter how many times you listen to it you'll find new things to love about it.

44. Nirvana - Nevermind and MTV Unplugged

There's a whole school of jaded Nirvana fans who are so sick of Nevermind and all the radio airplay it gets between "Smells Like Teen Spirit", "In Bloom", "Come As You Are", and "Lithium" and have therefore declared their staunch belief that In Utero is Nirvana's magnum opus. If not, then they are of the steadfast opinion that MTV Unplugged is the best thing they ever did. The latter argument I can understand better than the former, to be honest. Unplugged is an amazing snapshot of a band not only at the top of their game but willing to step off the pedestal and try something drastically different, playing an acoustic set full of some of the deeper tracks from their albums as well as some magnificent covers of songs by The Vaselines, The Meat Puppets, David Bowie, and Leadbelly. As for the former, I see where they're coming from and yes, I do think Nevermind tends to be a little overrated and In Utero tends to be vastly underrated but I also don't think that makes it better. In Utero is definitely more in line with Kurt Cobain's vision for the music he wanted to play but it's also somewhat unfocused and forgettable at times, while Nevermind is relentlessly strong (and a lot more diverse, really) from start to finish. Sometimes it gets lost in the sweeping tide that was the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" sensation but when you get past the first (three) track(s) there is so much underappreciated and brilliant music to be had. "Breed" is punishing but oh-so-catchy punk rock classic. "Polly" is a starkly tragic and honest acoustic venture with incredibly simple chords and verse/chorus arrangement but is so powerful in its simplicity. "Territorial Pissings" is an angry burst of shrill guitars and throaty shrieks. "Drain You", "On a Plain", and "Lounge Act" are some of the most capable pop songs you'll ever hear and truly a testament to the band's songwriting chops, being simultaneously accessible, memorable, emotional, raucous, and downright captivating. "Something In the Way" takes the album out on a desperately solemn acoustic-guitar-and-strings note that seems only fitting somehow, doesn't it?

43. Deftones - Adrenaline and Around the Fur

For quite a long period in high school, Deftones were hands down my favorite band. I must have listened to their first three major label releases at least a hundred times each from start to finish (hundreds in the case of Adrenaline). Adrenaline was the first Deftones record I bought and I was into it but not that into it because the production seemed kinda weak and treble-y at the time. Once I bought White Pony and heard them in all their glory I was hooked but not until I bought Around the Fur was this band cemented as one of my favorites. I bought it about a week before I was going to see them live at my first concert ever, Zetafest 2000. As soon as I heard "My Own Summer (Shove It)" I couldn't stop listening to it. That riff was just so perfect and the song was so heavy but so watery and melodic. The whole album has that same watery/washy feel to it in the guitar tone and the cymbal work that lends it such a unique sound among "nu metal" bands. All three of Deftones's initial major releases has something about it that makes it sound unique and completely different from not only every other band they're considered to be peers to but also the album that came before it (or after it). I've always had a soft spot in my heart for bands that seem to be able to somehow sound completely different with every subsequent album they put out and still retain a distinct sound that is unmistakeably their own. Deftones were one of those bands--although their ability to morph so drastically from album to album seems to have diminished to a certain degree with their last two offerings. Adrenaline is almost in the realm of skate rock (or even skate metal, if that even exists) with its vaguely hip-hop grooves and unmistakable, almost "tube-like" (very treble-y and streamlined, tightly the sound waves distort with such a high frequency that the loose, more Harley Davidson sounding distortion is absent) guitar tone that sounds like no other guitar tone I've ever heard. Around the Fur is just a perfect fusion of aggression and melody, of angst and desperation. It's the album where Deftones really hit their stride with the whole "whisper-scream" dynamics thing that they were so instrumental in pioneering. And to ask me to pick between the two is just unfair.

42. Tool - Undertow and Lateralus

When I first heard Lateralus, as much as I unabashedly loved it, I couldn't help thinking it left something to be desired five years removed from the masterpiece of Ænima. I felt like Tool was capable of doing so much better which speaks more to the otherworldly expectations created by Ænima then it does to the actual mediocrity of Lateralus. In reality, Lateralus is an amazing album and one which is entirely worthy of bearing Tool's name. Yeah, the droning interludes and extended passages get tiresome and are a bit too self-consciously artsy at times. However, it's hard to deny the strength of "The Grudge", "The Patient", the title track, and the "Disposition"/"Reflection"/"Triad" triumvirate. Even "Parabol"/"Parabola", "Ticks and Leeches", and "Schism" are perfectly adequate Tool songs, if slightly subpar by the lofty standards the band has set for themselves. Undertow, on the other hand, is one that had to grow on me a lot. The production is a bit thin and the music suffers to a certain degree as a result. But look past that and you'll find a plethora of extraordinarily powerful songs, albeit relatively simple ones as far as Tool is concerned. "Intolerance" is a perfect example of this, which is a good thing because it's the opening track. We all know and love "Sober", of course. "Bottom", "Crawl Away", "Swamp Song", "4 Degrees) and "Undertow" are all phenomenal hidden gems on this album with powerful choruses. "Flood" is the last real song on the album and ventures out close to sludge metal territory in the intro before giving way to one of the best Tool songs ever. The album ends with the very odd but very intriguing "Disgustipated" which features a very weird speech about carrots and harvest time and how "for them it is the holocaust." Before you even know what's going on, a primal, tribal drum beat kicks in with Maynard repeatedly whispering "THIS IS NECESSARY...THIS IS NECESSARY...LIFE FEEDS ON LIFE FEEDS ON LIFE FEEDS ON LIFE" over it. Pretty fitting end for a Tool album when you think about it...totally weird but unexpectedly gripping and fascinating.

41. Thursday - Full Collapse

Such phenomenal songwriters deserve better than to be referred to as "screamo" or "emo" or whatever the hell. This is easily one of the most well-written albums to be lumped into a genre so full of unlistenable dreck. The guitar harmonies, both distorted and clean, are something to behold, as are the seamless arrangements. Geoff Rickly's vocal delivery may not be everyone's cup of tea and it's certainly not classically trained but he does lay it ALL on the line when he sings and I appreciate "heart-on-your-sleeve" earnest, passionate vocals probably more than technically sound ones. An interesting note about this record: Tom Schlatter, whose work in seminal screamo (without in REAL screamo) bands You and I and The Assistant was hugely influential on Thursday's music, does guest vocals on "Autobiography of a Nation" and "Cross Out the Eyes."

OK, that's it for today. Tune in tomorrow to see if I can actually manage to update this thing two days in a row (again...I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you).

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Derrick's Top 50 Albums of ALL TIME!!1one

OK so it's been a while since I've written something in here. I wanted to come up with a really cool idea that's not too similar to the other entries I've written so far. As I was brainstorming for new brilliant ideas, I had a revelation. OK not really. Actually I just got sick of trying to "out-creative" myself and decided I would just do a countdown of my top albums of all time just to get the juices flowing again. I'll try to update every day and reveal the Top 50 ten at a time like I did with the last countdown...and when that's over, I'm gonna really, seriously try to update once a week with something new and interesting. Some ideas I've been throwing around are "The Art of the Mix Tape v2.0" (a tribute/reboot of a classic article written by my friend the great Matt Underfoot), a few entries about specific bands (Radiohead, Tool, Converge) somewhat akin to the Thrice entry but hopefully better and more in-depth, an entry about the best bands I've seen live (with objective v. subjective rankings and possibly integrating the following idea...), an entry about the best "Moments" I've ever had at the concerts I've been to, possibly something about all the "fests" I've been to (Ozzfest, Warped Tour, The Fest, Orlando Fest, This Is For You Fest, 305 Fest, Plan-It-X Fest, Rock the Bells), perhaps an entry on the relationship between music and drugs (which could go in a few different directions), maybe even something on the relationship between music and politics (maybe throw in some gender issues for good measure). Anyway as a primer for the Top 50, let's start off by running through 20 albums that just barely missed the cut...

-Korn - Korn and Life Is Peachy

Let's face it, as much as we all loved this band in high school/middle school, they can't seriously be considered for the Top 50. Yeah they were pioneers (of a sort) but it's still nu-metal. The lyrics still read like an adolescent girl's diary and the music is still mostly uninspired and simplistic. Still, though...something about these two records actually holds up after over a decade of the hideous music they helped spawn. For one thing, they're still heavy as fuck. The riffs may be unimaginative but they're still as visceral and pummeling as they ever were. I don't care how long it's been since you realized Korn was kinda silly, you still want to fucking move when you hear "Blind" and you know it. And, honestly, the songwriting on these albums is pretty decent. They do pretty good work with atmospheres in the verses, the songs are fairly diverse, especially for a nu-metal band (particularly on Life Is Peachy) and they're good at riding the momentum of a song through some great build-ups and breakdowns and all that good stuff that made us all love nu-metal in our angsty years.

-Pantera - The Great Southern Trendkill

I always get funny looks from Pantera fans when I tell them this is my favorite Pantera record. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Vulgar Display of Power and I adore Far Beyond Driven but to me this is their most solid, well-written, diverse album from start to finish. I'll start with the opening tracks. VDP has "Mouth for War" and FBD has "Strength Beyond Strength." "Mouth for War" is pretty sick but it's kind of a weak opener for such a brutal album. "Strength Beyond Strength" fucking rips and has a siiick breakdown to boot but as much as I love it, it is, again, far from the strongest track on the record. Both songs almost feel like preludes to the albums they're on because they lead into MUCH better songs. Actually it's interesting because these albums have very similar organization, at least on the front end. You have the brutal opening track that really only serves as a prelude to things to come ("Mouth for War"/"Strength Beyond Srength"). Then comes the powerful, anthemic live favorite with the sing-along chorus ("A New Level"/"Becoming"). After that is the "single" with the very simple but extremely heavy and memorable riff ("Walk"/"Five Minutes Alone"). Next up is the even heavier but slightly lesser known fan favorite ("Fucking Hostile"/"I'm Broken"). This is when they slow things down ("This Love"/"Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills" and "Hard Lines Sunken Cheeks) followed by a savagely brutal, riff-heavy song ("Rise"/"Slaughtered"). After that it's kinda murky but anyway you get the point. Anyway, coming back to the opening songs and bringing it back to my point about GST...the first track on The Great Southern Trendkill is the title track...and talk about setting the tone. This is one of my favorite all time opening tracks because it grabs you by the balls from the very start and never once lets go. It also features some absolutely scathing lyrics about trends--a recurring theme on the album. That's another thing I love about this album. It was released in 1996, in a time where heavy music was basically declared dead in the mainstream. By contrast, Far Beyond Driven was released in 1994, debuting at #1 and going multi-platinum. To me, to have the balls to come out and release quite possibly their heaviest, least accessible album of all in a musical landscape dominated by superficial images and pop sensations and mostly devoid of heavy music is demanding of respect. Anyway, from the title track, we dive head first into "War Nerve" and "Drag the Waters", two of the band's heaviest groove-driven songs that delve heavily into the band's southern rock influence (especially "Drag the Waters"...I dare you to listen to that song and not want to pump your fists along with the like on Jersey Shore...go kill yourself). If the album has a weak spot, it's probably tracks 4 and 5, "10s" and "13 Steps to Nowhere." I love these songs but there's no denying they are markedly weaker than the rest of the album. Have no fear, however, because next comes the "Suicide Note" saga in two parts. This is definitely one of my favorite two-parters just because of how well done it is. The first track is acoustic (12 string FTW) and DARK and has a somber and helpless tone lyrically, helped immensely by some starkly emotional crooning by Phil Anselmo. It ends sounding so desolate that you'll almost fall out of your chair when part two comes roaring in. "Suicide Note Pt. 2" is, in my opinion, the heaviest song Pantera ever wrote. Anselmo trades off blood-curdling screeches with the guitar with some intensely angry and almost shocking lyrics, seemingly taking the position that if someone wants to kill themselves, leave them the fuck alone and let them do it. It ends with an epic, crushing breakdown that will flatten your face. "Living Through Me (Hell's Wrath)" is a textbook Pantera song, pummeling guitars and Phil roaring like the lion he is. The lyrics are some of my favorite Pantera lyrics ever. Then you come to "Floods." "Floods" might be one of the best songs ever written--definitely one of the greatest metal songs of all time and one of the greatest guitar solos as well. With all due respect to "This Love" and "Cemetary Gates", this song blows them both out of the water as Pantera's "power ballads" (if you can call them that). Then we close out with the one-two punch of "The Underground In America" and "Sandblasted Skin" which hammer home the album's theme of trends (they're not big fans of trends, by the way) in spectacularly brutal fashion. The riff in "Sandblasted Skin" will literally sandblast your skin. OK, not literally. Anyway I've rambled on enough about this album and I still haven't really explained why it's better than VDP and FBD. When it comes down to it, for me, the production sort of kills Vulgar Display of Power to a certain extent because as heavy as it is, the guitar sound is SO scooped ("scooped" = the mids are "scooped" out leaving just the highs and lows which makes for a brittle, hollow, attacking guitar tone) and even though it works for the music they play, I can't help thinking how much better it could sound. Also in spite of the great number of memorable songs on that album it does also have it's share of forgettable ones, which is the same problem I have with Far Beyond Driven (which definitely does NOT disappoint as far as production...FBD actually has one of the coolest, heaviest, most unique sounding guitar sounds I've ever heard). GST has all the elements in place, it's diversified, the production is crisp and heavy as balls (still scooped but not nearly as much as VDP), the songwriting is solid, fearless, and savvy, the lyrics are fucking fantastic, Phil's vocal prowess is at its's all there. The only thing that keeps this off the Top 50 is, well, the fact that it's Pantera. Yeah, they're great and brutal and everything but their music isn't exactly rocket science now is it?

Mudvayne - L.D. 50

I don't care what anyone says, as far as nu-metal bands go, Mudvayne was pretty fucking amazing. I know they painted their faces and all that crap and yeah "Dig" was a pretty mediocre song but honestly the rest of this album is actually very interesting and unique as far as heavy music goes. "Death Blooms" and "Nothing to Gein" are both great case studies in simultaneously being super heavy and melodically intriguing while "Severed" and "Prod" demonstrate a very unique brand of songwriting that so many people pigeonhole and cast aside due to the nu-metal stigma. Trust me, give this album a chance. It's worth your time (even if it's not worth a spot in the Top 50)

-American Nightmare - Background Music

This has almost become required listening for hardcore kids over the years. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who listens to hardcore and has never heard Background Music. And why not? No album had so immaculately and effortlessly done straight up hardcore this well in many years...or has in the years since it was released. The lyrics are really the foundation that holds this album up. Vocalist Wes Eisold has become a hardcore legend for his brilliant writing and his words have been screamed en masse more times than you can imagine in the short lifespan of this band. I can't even attempt to quote all the great lines from this album because we'd be here all day so I'll leave it up to you to do your research. For now I'll just say that the only thing keeping this album out of the Top 50 is the fact that, well, it's straight up hardcore. The lyrics are among the best you'll find but musically, as tight and well done as it is, it's still just hardcore, i.e. faster, more aggressive, less melodic punk rock. Anyone can do it, even if they probably can't do it quite as well as American Nightmare could.

-Björk - Homogenic

Björk is an artist I've only recently really gotten into, which has a lot to do with why this isn't in the Top 50 but it's not the only reason why. This album has some of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard on it, such as "Joga" and "All Is Full of Love" and as much as I love Björk and her beautiful, unique voice and her beautiful, unique music, she isn't one of those artists I just go nuts over. Generally speaking, most artists whose chief tools of songwriting are electronic do less for me than those who use instruments. Not that electronically constructed music doesn't do it for me, because I love Björk and Aphex Twin and Portishead and later Radiohead, etc. But I prefer music made with instruments in general is all I'm saying. So as much as I love Björk, putting this album in the Top 50 would be pushing it.

-Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American

It's hard to find a better straight up mainstream rock/pop album than this one--and who better than Jimmy Eat World to show the mainstream how it's done. Few bands have such a talent for crafting such ultra-catchy, ultra-memorable, ultra-polished melodies without sounding stale and generic. It just shows you how good pop melodies can be when they're written with care and with emotion. You can probably figure out why this isn't in the Top 50. It is still pop music, after all. It's far more fun than it is musically accomplished, even at its best. But that doesn't make it any less relevant artistically. Just not really Top 50 material.

-Stone Temple Pilots - No. 4

When this album was released, I feel like it was seen as something of a disappointment to many people, including STP fans. I can't argue that it's not exactly up to par with Core or Purple, musically (which is why it's not in the Top 50). This is more of a personal choice, really. This album was in my CD player on repeat a LOT during one of the most tumultuous times of my life. I don't know why exactly but it seemed to make sense out of the madness of falling in love for the first time. "Church on Tuesday" is a particularly meaningful song to me because the girl I fell in love with lived far away and was only visiting Miami for the summer. When she went back home, I can't tell you how many times the words "And I don't believe she really gone again?" repeated in my head (and in my ears). I also really love "Down" and "No Way Out", probably the two heaviest songs STP ever wrote...that's not why though. There's something about the way STP does a "heavy song" that's very much unique to them and their style. Scott Weiland's sultry delivery has a lot to do with it but they also have a tendency to rely on very moody, dark, dreamy passages to set the mood for the heavy parts. Even the heavy parts have a slithery, sensual, almost hedonistic feel to them that is distinctly STP. "Sour Girl" is also an insanely beautiful song as is the epic "Glide." To me, Weiland is really at the top of his game on this record, his voice sounds as velvety and smooth as ever with no traces of the grunge "errr" sound that Eddie Vedder made famous. They close things out with the spectacularly dreamy acoustic ballad "Atlanta" which evokes hints of "My Favorite Things" and other familiar melodies before closing out with serene xylophone harmonies that fade to silence.

-Shun - Michael In Reign

This EP and this band are one of my favorite hidden gems in the largely unexplored world of underground music. If I ever found a single person who had actually heard of this band, I would probably fall out of my chair. Even the most underground of underground music lovers has most likely never heard of this band due to their relatively short lifespan and very little in the way of touring or distribution of their music. It's really a shame because I'd be willing to bet money that if this band had half a chance, they could have garnered a sizable following because their music is beautiful, unique, and just heavy enough. The vocals are absolutely captivating and definitely evoke shades of Dredg (honestly, the whole band kind of does, but in a good way). It pains me to say it but the only reason they're not in the Top 50 is that I can't, in good conscience, put an album in the Top 50 that the world never really noticed. OK maybe that's not the whole reason...there are a couple albums like that in the Top 50 (even though those albums still got more recognition than this one)...but I dunno, for some reason this album never really took "the next step" for me...maybe I haven't listened to it enough...

-Incubus - S.C.I.E.N.C.E., Make Yourself, and Morning View

OK this is kind of cheating but I honestly couldn't put one ahead of the other. I used to put Morning View a step or two behind the others but the more familiar I became with the last few songs on that album, the more it caught up with the pack. S.C.I.E.N.C.E. is probably the one I would recommend above the rest if I had to because it's the one fewest people have heard, it's the heaviest one (which isn't as superficial a reason when you're talking about Incubus), it's the most diverse, interesting, unique one, and it's basically the last remnants of the "funk" era of Incubus, which was a much more interesting time for the band than their rise to mainstream popularity. Each album does, however, has its own reasons for being deserving of an honorable mention--in spite of the fact that none of them are quite deserving enough to be in the Top 50.

-Marilyn Manson - Antichrist Superstar

I know. Marilyn Manson. Lame. But not so fast. Look past the shock rock antics and homo-eroticism for a second. This is actually a very good industrial metal album if you really, really listen to it. It didn't sell 7.5 million copies just because kids wanted to piss off their parents. That's part of it, but just one part. The visceral nu-metal-y songs are certainly capable...we all know and love "The Beautiful People." But the really great moments here lie in the more industrial, dark, moody, somewhat atmospheric tracks such as "Tourniquet", "Cryptorchild"/"Deformography", "Dried Up, Tied Up, and Dead to the World", and several other tracks from "Cycle II" (tracks 5-11). Trent Reznor's undeniable influence shows up in some of the more deliciously spastic industrial metal tracks such as "Irresponsible Hate Anthem", "1996", and "The Reflecting God" (which Reznor helped write along with "Little Horn" and "Deformography"). The album closes with the desolate, somber "The Man That You Fear" which is the perfect ending to such a dark and twisted album. It only missed the Top 50 guessed's Marilyn Manson. I mean come on. Marilyn Manson? Seriously?

-The Beatles - Rubber Soul

This, to me, is when The Beatles started to become The Beatles. There are still remnants of their pop sensation days here but they're done in a much more mature way and the songwriting brilliance of the Fab Four really begins to emerge in songs like "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", "Nowhere Man", "Michelle", and "Girl." This album also features one of the greatest songs ever written in "In My Life." I'm not a huge fan of the poppier works of The Beatles, which is why this just misses out on the Top 50 but it still belongs on the pantheon of the great Beatles albums (Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be) and that's gotta be enough for an honorable mention.

-Metallica - Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All

Now we're getting into some albums that were harder to justify not putting in the Top 50. Some people might think me a bit blasphemous to mention ...And Justice for All on the same level as Master of Puppets but honestly I don't know why. Sure, Jason Newsted is no Cliff Burton but don't let that influence your opinion of AJFA. In my opinion, it's the heaviest of all the Metallica records. True, the epic song structures of MoP are tuned down a tad but there's still some phenomenal songwriting going on as well as some outstanding fist-pumping anthems in "Harvester of Sorrow", "Eye of the Beholder", and "The Shortest Straw." Not to mention some of the best songs Metallica has ever put to tape in the title track, "One", and the brilliant instrumental, "To Live Is to Die" (which may be my favorite of the holy trinity of Metallica instrumentals...although it's hard to top "The Call of Ktulu"). I can honestly say that the only reason these two aren't in the Top 50 is that there's not enough room...

-The Lawrence Arms - The Greatest Story Ever Told

I feel like The Lawrence Arms would have an album in the Top 50 if Chris McCullough wrote ALL of their songs and not just half of them. Don't get me wrong now, I love that old drunken bastard Brendan Kelly and all, but there's only so much you can do with straight up balls-to-the-wall punk rock. That's not to say that Kelly doesn't have a few songs that are on the level of Chris's...but it's only a few. Still, as much as I'd love to hear a full album of "Chris songs", the fact that they mix together each other's songs on each album is one of my favorite things about this band. It really makes for a much more interesting listen and keeps things fresh which is something you don't see often from pop punk bands (and this is a pop punk band, make no mistake about it). Still it falls just short of the Top 50 in spite of the fact that I really, really wanted to put it in.

-The Pixies - Doolittle

Maybe it's just because I've been listening to this a lot lately, but it's definitely becoming one of my all time favorites. I used to be kind of lukewarm on The Pixies cuz they're not very accessible and are prone to fits of wild yelling and discordant Fugazi-esque guitars but it's these things I've come to love about The Pixies. While I do feel they're at their best when they're playing straight up pop music, the fact that they're not content to just be another pop band is what makes them so interesting and unique. The fact that they were doing all this in the 80s makes them special. And anyway, who can resist getting up and dancing when they hear "Here Comes Your Man?"

-Dillinger Escape Plan - Calculating Infinity

I consider this a significantly important record in my evolution as an appreciator of music. The first time I heard this album I distinctly remember thinking to myself: "Am I supposed to feel like this?" I couldn't really decide if I liked what I was hearing or not but I couldn't turn it off because it was too damned interesting. This record really did a lot for me in terms of pushing the boundaries of what I thought music could and should be. It's such an avant garde mess of clangy, clashing notes and screams and pummeling, spastic drums...and yet it is far from a mess. Every last note on this album is so carefully and meticulously planned out that it's impossible not to be captivated by it, even if it sort of horrifies you. This is one I really, really wanted to be in the Top 50 but, alas, there just isn't room for it.

-Deathspell Omega - Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice

Ahhh, black metal. Probably the least accessible genre of music on the face of the Earth. It's truly something that isn't easy to appreciate, especially since so many albums in the genre sound like they were recorded inside of a trash can (and usually sound that way on purpose, for aesthetic and atmospheric purposes). This is an exception to the rule, but that's not the only black metal rule that this album is an exception to. This band is part of a much more spiritual sect of black metal with much deeper and more diverse influences (and when I say influences, I don't just mean music) and a far more unique and interesting philosophical approach and aesthetic than other black metal bands. For starters, Deathspell Omega refuse to play live because music, to them, is not mere entertainment. This album is probably the most epic journey through black metal you'll ever hear and while not for the faint of heart or the casual listener, are a very rewarding listen, if at times a painful one. The title of the album is latin for "If you seek His monument, look around you." This is another album I truly wish I had enough room for in the Top 50, but alas, it was not to be.

OK boys and girls, that'll do it for today. Be sure to tune in tomorrow on the off chance that I actually do update again like I said I would. #50-41 are some real classics and there are several ties between albums by the same band that I just couldn't decide between so check it out!