Saturday, May 1, 2010

Top Albums of All Time (#30-21)

Slowly but surely I'm trudging my way through this massive endeavor...some of these entries it's taken me weeks to finish but we'll reach the end, don't worry faithful reader(s)...



30. Blind Guardian - Nightfall In Middle-Earth

There aren't very many albums with direct, significant attachment to the year I spent at UCF, but this is one of them. I have my good friend Rudo to thank for introducing me to this one (I believe this was one of his many "experiments" on me having to do with metal). Now, when most people think of "power metal" (if they even know what that means) they probably tend to think of, say, Dragonforce (specifically "Through the Fire and the Flames", the fabled Guitar Hero pinnacle)--maybe Rhapsody if you're really into power metal. Blind Guardian is pretty high on the list of most popular power metal bands as well but this album is really like few others in the genre. It's a concept album based on J.R.R. Tolkien's almost textbook-like (or bible-like) history of the Elves, The Silmarillion. Musically it truly is a worthy companion to the book, full of epic, and really quite emotional songs that feature everything from dramatic choir parts fused with very Middle-Earth-esque folk music elements (that makes sense, right? sure.) to towering, beautiful metal riffing. As cheesy as high-pitched 80s-style singing can be, Hansi makes it work beautifully as he really does have a phenomenal voice even if he's a male soprano (I dunno if he actually is or not, that's just as high as the voicings go as far as I know...SHUT UP, THAT'S WHY). My favorite song is easily "Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)" but "Blood Tears" and "Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)" are up there too, as is "Nightfall." Not something that's necessarily for everyone...not because it's too extreme but because we tend to have a very specific paradigm about this style of music that makes us just automatically laugh at it. However, I hope you can trust me enough at this point to listen to this from beginning to ending before making up your mind about power metal--although, to be fair, there is no power metal album anywhere near as good as this one (I mean, technically that's my opinion, but there's a degree of objectivity to that claim as well, specifically among people that listen to a lot of this kind of stuff). ANYWAY. Check it out.



29. Mare - Mare

It breaks my heart so much when a band THIS talented never garners enough popularity to release anything more than a 5-song EP. I can't imagine what this band could have grown into over the years so all we have to go on is this insanely eclectic and musically accomplished EP. For starters, the five songs clock in at just under 25 minutes, roughly five minutes a song (and one of them is just under three minutes). This band is simply crushing, monolithic, mindbending, and beautiful all at once somehow. They don't have the fastest guitar playing or the most technical drumming but the outrageous chords that the guitarist uses and the things they do with timing (and lack there-of) are ridiculous. The vocals can be very harsh and abrasive but they can also be incredibly serene so if you're ok with screaming, dive right in, otherwise, tread carefully. Still, everyone should give this band a shot on sheer musicianship and songwriting because they were one of the best that heavy music has produced recently and almost no one has really ever heard of them.



28. The Beatles - Revolver

This album was actually released right before The Beatles' last tour ever but the songs were so complex that none of them were played on the tour. It's the mark of a creative turning point in The Beatles career. I mean what more can I really say about this record at this point? "Eleanor Rigby" is a mainstay on "Greatest Songs of All Time" lists--and with good reason. Eastern philosophy ("I'm Only Sleeping") and music ("Love You To") begin to creep their way into the Fab Four's pop sound, creating something revolutionary that would lead right into the groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album is marked by complex arrangements and groundbreaking studio techniques. As Richie Unterberger of Allmusic so eloquently put it: "In many respects, Revolver is one of the very first psychedelic LPs--not only in its numerous shifts in mood and production texture, but in its innovative manipulation of amplification and electronics to produce new sounds on guitars and other instruments." Couldn't have said it better myself.



27. Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

I guess if I'm going to talk about this album the first thing I (begrudgingly) have to talk about is Billy Corgan's voice. I know, I know, it used to annoy me too. The thing is that when you have a band this talented who are this good at writing songs, you tend to look past someone with an annoying voice--or at least I do but music always tends to be the star of the show for me and I know not everyone is like that. The other thing is...well...Billy Corgan can actually sing really well. That is, when he's not doing that high pitched wailing thing (but even that kind of grows on you). You don't have to go far into the album to recognize this; "Tonight, Tonight" is the first (actual) song on the record and one of Corgan's best vocal performances. But ANYWAY, the point I really want to make is that there are SO many songs on this album that are SO good that you would be doing yourself a disservice by writing it off because of the vocals. We've all heard the singles but there are so, so many great songs other than those. Once again, you don't have to go far, because tucked away in between the singles on the front end of the first disc are "Jellybelly" and "Here Is No Why", two of my favorite Pumpkins songs. Track 2 of the second disc is "Bodies", another perfect example of this band's songwriting greatness. They're littered all over the two discs of Mellon Collie; "To Forgive"; "Fuck You (An Ode to No One)"; "Where Boys Fear to Tread"; "Thirty-Three"; "Thru the Eyes of Ruby"; and a song that is, in my opinion, one of the best ever written: "1979." Double albums tend to be overrated as these epic sprawling artistic statements by simple virtue of the fact that they're double albums. What's actually underrated to me is when a band puts out a double album that never gets tired or dull and is filled from top to bottom with quality material. Very few bands are able to accomplish this. Nine Inch Nails did it with The Fragile. Red Hot Chili Peppers did it with Stadium Arcadium. And Smashing Pumpkins did it with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.



26. Dream Theater - Metropolis Pt. II: Scenes From a Memory

What an epic journey this one is. Better fasten your seat belts. Ever heard of a heavy metal record that sounds like a Broadway musical? I know it doesn't make any sense right now but once you hear it, it will. For one thing, all the lyrics are composed in the format of a play--I mean characters and a script and the whole deal. It's a concept album, obviously but moreso than that it's a sequel to a song that appears on the band's 1992 album Images and Words called "Metropolis Pt. I: The Miracle and the Sleeper." You see, the Miracle and the Sleeper are the two main characters of this opus. The story is way too intricate to go into at any length but if you want to read more about it, check out the wikipedia page for the album. This record is a trip, to say the least. A musically and technically brilliant journey through a riveting story told not only through words but through music. And an incredibly rewarding one.



25. Stone Temple Pilots - Purple

For my money, this is easily STP's best album. Core gets most of the attention (not all of it positive) but I feel like this is when the band found the sound they wanted; something original but familiar. Scott Weiland definitely found his voice on this record, shedding all comparisons to Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. My favorite song is probably the desolate, ghost town feel of "Big Empty"--a song that was featured in the second Crow movie. "Still Remains" is one of the most underrated STP songs and also a very meaningful song to me. "Interstate Love Song is impossible not to love. "Silvergun Superman" provides this album's "Piece of Pie"--i.e. it's the heaviest song on the record and one of the best. Actually, I take it back...my favorite song is definitely "Kitchenware and Candybars." Absolutely positively beautiful song with a phenomenal guitar solo. I actually got to see them play this song live and after seeing that I feel inclined to say this might be one of my 100 favorite songs ever.




24. Thrice - The Artist In the Ambulance and The Alchemy Index

Thrice has certainly gone through a lot of evolution over their 10+ year career. What we have here are essentially step 2 and step 4 of the progression (excluding Identity Crisis and First Impressions). Step 1 was the somewhat generic Illusion of Safety and The Artist In the Ambulance was the next logical progression from that. The sound is still a bit predictable but it's still done really well. The songs are irresistibly catchy, many are quite powerful, and for the first time, the band started using some complex rhythmic structures in their songs. Lyrically speaking, many of the songs speak to the theme of the record (and the title track). The Artist In the Ambulance was the album where the band first decided to start donating half the profits to a chosen charity and the content reflects that. The title track is a perfect example of the overall theme of this record, with lines such as "I know that this can be more than just flashing lights and sound." "Cold Cash, Colder Hearts" also speaks to this theme, musing very bitterly and sarcastically about the supposed unimportance of other countries and their people and their cultures. There are also some far more personal songs such as "All That's Left" and another personal song to me, "Stare At the Sun." Track 8 is a song based on the story of Icarus and Daedalus seemingly told from the point of view of Icarus. It's a very exuberant, uplifting song...just the first verse is enough to always give me goosebumps:

I've waited for this moment all my life and more
And now I see so clearly what I could not see before
The time is now or never and this chance won't come again
Throw caution and myself into the wind...

And that's a perfect lead-in to The Alchemy Index (released after the brilliant Vheissu, which was released after The Artist In the Ambulance), which features, in my opinion, one of the five best songs Thrice ever wrote, "Daedalus"--which is, of course, the story as heard from the point-of-view of Icarus's father, Daedalus ("son, please keep a steady wing, you know you're the only one that means anything to me...steer clear of the sun or you'll find yourself in the sea"). The Alchemy Index is a very unique collection of four six-song EPs, each sonically and thematically dedicated to one of the four elements--Volume I is Fire, Volume II is Water, Volume III is Air, and Volume IV is "Earth." A really interesting concept and perfectly executed. Volume I features a collection of very "fiery", heavy, impassioned songs with names such as "Firebreather", "The Arsonist", and "Burn the Fleet" (another incredibly uplifting song based on the story of Napoleon telling his men to burn their ships before an invasion). Volume II is dreamy and, well, "watery" sounding. The definite highlights are "Digital Sea" and "Open Water" but I feel this might be the most complete disc because "Lost Continent" and "The Whaler" are both beautifully melancholy, dreamy songs and "Night Diving" may be one of the most compelling songs on The Alchemy Index, a slow, heavy, plodding, melancholy, instrumental romp through Isis-like heavy tones. The title is really fitting because the song definitely sounds like a night dive. Volume III is where "Daedalus" is and also starts off with one of Thrice's most powerful songs, "Broken Lungs", which is clearly lyrically centered around 9/11 conspiracy theories--two very interesting songs for an "Air" themed album. "Earth" is probably the best accomplishment of the four EPs, as it's a mostly acoustic, very folky, dustbowl-esque sound that Thrice has never really explored before but do so very capably. Two beautifully melancholy opening songs then a phenomenal folky cover of a Frodus song called "The Earth Isn't Humming." A short interlude follows and then yet another wonderfully uplifting song, "Come All You Weary." This song is described by vocalist/lyricist Dustin Kensrue as reflecting his attitude toward his music--he wants to be that shining light that all the people in dark places turn to in order to help brighten their lives. I can't really think of a more noble pursuit as an artist. There's one more thing I have to add about this quadruple album: each four-song EP is ended with a song in the form of a sonnet, each of which is sung in the same melody but in different keys, and each of which is written from the point of view of the element of the given EP. Easily the most powerful and effective of the four sonnets is the very last song of the record, "Child of Dust":

Dear prodigal you are my son and I
Supplied you not your spirit but your shape;
All Eden's weath arrayed before your eyes
I fathomed that you wanted to escape.

And though I only ever gave you love,
Like every child you've chosen to rebel;
Uprooted flowers and filled the holes with blood;
Ask for not whom they toll the solemn bells.

But child of dust your mother now returns
For every seed must die before it grows;
And though above the world may toil and turn,
No prying spade will find you here below.

Now safe beneath their wisdom and their feet;
Here i will teach you truly how to sleep


(apologies for the photo, the biggest one I could find was 110x110 so I stretched it out to 500x500 for the sake of consistency)

23. The Plastic Mastery - In the Fall of Unearthly Angels

I first heard of this band when I saw them at Orlando Fest in 2003. This was the first out-of-town music festival I would ever travel to and I think it might have actually been the first road trip I ever took without any members of my family. Now, when I say music festival, you have to understand that this thing was held in a courtyard at Rollins College and hosted about, oh, roughly 200-300 kids altogether. Most of the bands that played aren't bands you've ever heard of (except for Against Me!, but this was long before they had become popular outside the underground punk/DIY scene). I remember being impressed by the fact that they featured a trumpet and a keyboard in addition to guitar, bass, drums, and vocals and I remember being slightly reminded of The Get Up Kids when I saw them for some reason. Other than that, I don't remember much other than being very impressed by them. The record actually took some getting used to because it's very lo-fi indie pop with very little bass and lots of treble. However, the songs are so exuberant and so emotional and the entire record is put together so well that it's easy to look past the production if you try. The highlights for me are the three-songs-in-one punch of "Yeah, Tonight"/"Remember That Night When I Thought I Was Going To Die?"/"The Bomb Song" as well as the widely spaced triumvirate (Tracks 1, 8, and 13 out of 13) of "Before the Fall" (a phenomenally joyous opening song), the title track, and the solemn closer, "After the Fall." Another one of my favorites is a song that meant a lot to me when I first went off to college--and you'll see why when you hear it, with the repeated singing of "there is so much more to life than this place"--"Light Above Your Head."



22. The Clash - London Calling

There are a pretty select group of bands that are talked about among the pioneers of punk rock music--usually something along the lines of The Ramones, Sex Pistols, and maybe The Stooges if the person knows what they're talking about. Oh, yeah, and The Clash. "The only band that mattered," as the saying goes. As much as this record means to punk rock, it goes so far beyond that label. The influences are incredibly diverse to the point where almost every song seems to delve into a different genre. The anthemic rock romp of "London Calling" and "Clampdown", the swinging "Jimmy Jazz" and "Rudie Can't Fail", the solemn but infectious rock of "Spanish Bombs" and "Lost In the Supermarket"...and that's only side one of the record. For my money there is no punk rock record that even comes close to being as good as London Calling and anyone who is a fan of music owes it to themselves to hear this.




21. Weezer - Blue Album and Pinkerton

I swear I tried really, really hard to find a reason to put one of these ahead of the other. The temptation is to put Pinkerton a little ahead because it's a little more complete and more personal to me. Really I was pretty close to putting Pinkerton ahead but the more I thought about it, tracks 7-10 on Blue Album make that nearly impossible. There aren't many people at this point that haven't heard "Say It Ain't So" and with good reason, that song is an absolute classic and one of the best ever written. "In the Garage" is nerdcore at it's absolute finest and "Holiday" is a classic 6/8 time power pop anthem. Then the album ends with easily the best Weezer song ever written, "Only In Dreams." Clocking in at just under 8 minutes, "Only In Dreams" is every awkward teenager's theme song for his woes with women and features one of the all time great basslines in a song. Now, obviously Blue Album is more than just those four songs--everyone loves "Buddy Holly" and "Undone (The Sweater Song)", myself included (even if I consider those songs a little overrated). Not only that but one of the most underrated Weezer songs by far is "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here." Speaking of underrated Weezer songs, another one that deserves mention is "Across the Sea"--one of those songs that means a LOT to me personally. Pinkerton in general, to me, is the more complete album and also is the Weezer sound I like best. I absolutely love the huge, buzzsaw guitars and the dark, introspective content that this band was never really able to recapture (only coming even remotely close with Make Believe). Songs like "Getchoo", "No Other One", and especially "Falling For You" can STILL give me goosebumps and make me feel irrepressibly nostalgic. It makes me feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to see this band live back in 2001, just before Green Album came out and they started to progressively suck worse and worse (only redeeming themselves to a marginal degree with Make Believe) and was able to witness them play a set composed entirely of songs from these first two albums (with the exception of a small 4-5 song portion of the set dedicated to "new songs" i.e. songs from Green Album). Not only that but I was blessed enough to see them come out for their encore by playing "Only In Dreams." One of those most incredible moments of my life--but we'll save that story for another entry.



WHEW! Another entry in the books. I gotta say, guys, it usually takes me a couple days to even get through these things. Like one day I'll actually make the list of the albums I'm gonna do for the current entry and put in all the html for the pictures and what not. The next week or two I'll spend procrastinating or just writing about 2-3 descriptions every 2-3 days. By the time I have one finished entry it's at least two weeks after I wanted to post it. So I really, really hope that SOMEONE is reading this because it's hard to motivate myself to do this thing without an audience. Point being if ANYONE has any comments or questions, please feel free to post them here or wherever you want to where you think I'll see them. The whole reason I'm doing this is to receive feedback as well as to share my love and knowledge of music with people who I think will appreciate it. So hopefully to that end I'm doing something right. Let me know.

Tune in next week when we crack the Top 20...just taking a look at #20-11 right now I'm pretty excited for the opportunity to talk my head off about all of these albums...hopefully that will motivate me enough to actually finish the next entry in the next week...I wouldn't bet money on it though...ciao!

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