I know, I know, it's been over three months since the last installment in this series. I'm really slacking on this thing lately. But I FINALLY have gotten back on track and have prepared the next in this wonderful series for all two of you that read this blog (and that's being generous). I swear, honest to god, I'm gonna really try to start making a habit of updating this blog every week. Seriously. Anyway, on with the show...
20. Kayo Dot - Choirs of the Eye
I'd like to think that the small handful of people who actually read this would know enough to take me seriously when I say that Choirs of the Eye is the most musically diverse, eclectic, dynamic mindfuck of an album I've ever heard. There is no possible genre I could assign to this and describing it would be almost as impossible. The songs rollercoaster from classical music to folk to sludge, almost black metal to spacey post-rock, often within the same "song" (I use the term loosely because there are five tracks on the album, one is five minutes and the rest hover around the 11-15 minute mark...so they're really more like movements of a symphony than "songs"). I never thought I'd hear a beautiful trombone solo or brilliant clarinet solo in the same song as heavy metal guitars but the musicianship here is just on such a high level that the grace and flow with which the band bends and contorts between and across genre lines is truly astounding.
19. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada and Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
Now we get into a few albums of what I consider to be my generation's classical music (although my generation has actual classical music too but whatever just go with me on this): instrumental post-rock. This is more of a classical-styled band in the genre in that they do employ the use of strings very often. Their music...at times is like the soundtrack to the end of the world. In fact their albums often come off as though they could be movie soundtracks and that whatever movie they were the soundtracks to would probably be really fucking good (for the record, post-rock band Explosions In the Sky literally did go that route, doing the soundtrack to Friday Night Lights, which was pretty decent). Slow Riot has a much more melancholy eastern music influence to it which is why I had to put it in a tie with Skinny Fists despite only having 2 "movements" and roughly 27 minutes of music. "Moya" is one of the great buildups of all time and "BBF3" really does literally sound like the soundtrack to the end of the world at times along with featuring a fascinating interview clip with Blaise Bailey Finnegan III (hence "BBF3"). Skinny Fists on the other hand is just full of so much music that I can't really even begin to describe it all...one recommendation I would give is to see if you can find a version that's broken up into movements--the original release of the album has four tracks, each in the 20 minute range, named "Storm", "Static", "Sleep", and "Antennas to Heaven"...however, in the liner notes each of these tracks is divided into "movements" denoted with beginning and ending times in each track for each of its movements..."Storm" is divided into four movements, "Static" into five, "Sleep" into three, and "Antennas to Heaven" contains seven movements. I say get this version because I just find it interesting to see where each movement begins and ends but I guess you could just buy the CD or look up the beginning and ending times online...but whatever it's cool to have.
18. Mono - Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined
Mono is a band that tends to catch a considerable amount of criticism among the more discerning fans of instrumental/post-rock music (along with Explosions In the Sky) for the lack of imagination, innovation, and creativity in their music. As a musician, I can see where they're coming from--Mono tends to rely on a lot of melodic cliches in their chord progressions and often uses and reuses many of the same effects and songwriting methods in many of their songs. All those things aside, however, this band makes some of the most achingly beautiful music you're likely to ever hear and that fact is no more evident than on Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined. Unlike Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this band (and Explosions In the Sky, for that matter) mostly employ the basic rock music instrumental nucleus of two guitars, a bass guitar, and drums--with the occasional sprinkle of strings or piano for ambiance or effect. However, their music is no less powerful for it. "16.12" and "Halcyon (Beautiful Days)" are two of the most inspiring pieces of music on my iPod and I constantly use the latter in mix CDs/tapes and playlists--to me, this song is literally the musical incarnation of falling in love, complete with an epically climactic first kiss toward the end.
17. Converge - Petitioning the Empty Sky
It's kind of amazing to think that this album came out nearly fifteen years ago, in 1996. Talk about being ahead of your time. Many still consider this Converge's best work and while I'm not sure I'd go that far, I can certainly understand the sentiment. It's much more raw and unfettered than anything else they released and you could also make the argument that it's significantly more unorthodox--specifically in terms of Jacob Bannon's tortured vocal delivery. It also has a lot more of the hardcore punk and thrash metal influences of Converge's late 90s output, which, along with the rawness of it, as much as I love all these elements, knocks it down a few pegs for me on my list of this band's best stuff. However, I can't write a synopsis of this album without talking about "The Saddest Day"--in my opinion, one of the greatest songs ever written, not just in hardcore but in all rock music. An epic journey through all corners of the hardcore spectrum, it features at least three of the most undeniably classic moments of hardcore songwriting ever put to tape--the riotous breakdown near the midpoint of the song, the haunting sing-along of "how we get older, how we forget about each other", and finally the irresistibly powerful chant of "EVERY TIME YOU JUSTIFY, ANOTHER GOOD IN YOU DIES."
16. The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
I'm not much for sugary sweet pop music at all but this right here is an absolute pop masterpiece. If there were a Mount Rushmore of pop records, it would undoubtedly be three Beatles records and this one. We're all familiar with the megahits "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows", two of the greatest songs of all time. But this record is so, so much more than those songs. The harmonies are achingly beautiful, the hooks are undeniably infectious, and the songwriting is simply masterful. There isn't much I can say about this album that hasn't been said already so I'll just say that if you don't own this album or if you've never heard the whole thing from start to finish then your life simply won't ever be complete until you do.
15. Envy - A Dead Sinking Story
Epic. EPIC. I'm going to attempt to describe this album without using the word "epic" more than ten times--or just typing "EPIC EPIC EPIC EPIC EPIC" over and over until it forms a paragraph. This is the music of the towering, the majestic, the sublime. It stretches so high over your head that your neck may become sore after extended listens--and most listens to this album are extended with no song (besides the interlude) being less than five minutes, four songs reaching over the seven minute mark, and one (the final song) eclipsing the twelve minute mark. The power and majesty of Envy's melodies are likely to make your hair stand on end and, at times, your jaw drop. No metaphor I could conjure would adequately capture it. No description I could give would be good enough. You have to hear it to believe it.
14. Cave In - Until Your Heart Stops
Keeping with the theme of beautifully complex hardcore records, I give you one that, in my opinion, is one of the best, and quite possibly THE most underrated hardcore record of all time. When you look at it in the context of the album that precedes it (Beyond Hypothermia, a decidedly heavier and more metal-influenced record) and the album that follows it (Jupiter, Cave In's Radiohead-esque left-field turn into the realm of spacey post-rock), it's clear that this album is the stepping stone between the two, combining elements of both of these sounds into one beautifully textured melting pot of awesomeness. The one-two punch of "Moral Eclipse" and "Terminal Deity" kick off the album with perfect attention paid to pacing--in fact, the beginning of this album is consistent with the unwritten rules of mixtape-making which are to start off with a bang, then kick it up a notch, and then pull it back...I think they originally come from High Fidelity though I'm not sure if they originally appear in the movie or the book. The next track does somewhat pull it back, but only in terms of sheer speed and ferocity. "Juggernaut" is another song that I feel belongs on the pantheon of great all time hardcore songs--brilliant riffing, clockwork-perfect time changes, beautifully spacey melodies...just an incredibly well-written song in every aspect. Following that is "The End of Our Rope Is a Noose", an eight-minute odyssey plunging even deeper into the spacey post-rock elements that would dominate the following album. From there, well, it really goes all over the place. The production is perfect, phasing out a lot of treble with very effective results and enhancing the atmosphere with some delicious little experimental loops and studio tricks. I can honestly say I will be listening to this album until MY heart stops! (rimshot)
13. Deftones - White Pony
Here's another very Radiohead-esque left-field turn by a band that, for several years, seemed to evolve into a new and different band with each album they released (see: Adrenaline -> Around the Fur -> White Pony). This band's turn, to me, is probably the most impressive of any, simply because, when they released this starkly experimental album, they were right at the forefront of the "nu metal" movement along with Korn and Rage Against the Machine. To take such a bold artistic risk after developing what was, frankly, a notoriously closed-minded following (by which I mean nu metal fans in general, not Deftones fans, who, to their credit, were always a little more open than the rest, as evidenced by the success of this album) is a truly commendable move to make. Of course, the main reason it was so effective and successful is because it's just that damn good. While it was a very experimental, spacey album, there was certainly no shortage of heavy down-tuned guitars. For every "Digital Bath" or "Rx Queen" or "Teenager" there was a "Feiticeira", an "Elite", and a "Street Carp"--interestingly enough, I just listed tracks 2, 4, and 6 followed by tracks 1, 3, and 5 of White Pony, so that just gives you an idea how much variation there is here. The highlight of the album, for me, is definitely "Passenger" which features guest vocals by Maynard James Keenan of Tool and A Perfect Circle--vocals which, to the untrained ear, are famously all but indecipherable from those of Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno. Another highlight is "Knife Prty", also featuring guest vocals, but these are lent by someone far less famous--a girl working next door to the studio.
12. Dredg - El Cielo
In years past, I used to completely dismiss the idea that this album was better than what I consider to be this bands magnum opus, Leitmotif. As time has gone by, I've softened more and more on that stance until now I'm starting to doubt whether or not I really still think Leitmotif is the better album. I'm not quite ready to relent on my stance that Leitmotif is the band's crowning achievement but I'm starting to see the scales tip that way in my mind. Either way, this album is certainly as brilliantly crafted as its predecessor, if not more so. It definitely is more diverse in its influences and its instrumentation, which I absolutely adore about it. Employing everything from a flute to a trumpet to a saxophone, this album sees the band stretching its creative wings much further out. Singer Gavin Hayes's vocals are also much less raw than they are on the previous album, much more developed and almost operatic, one might say. There are a number of very interesting interludes that lead into the songs that follow them perfectly and there are some very brightly shining moments on here as far as the actual songs. The ones that shine brightest for me are "Triangle" (one of my Top 50 Songs of the 2000s), "Of the Room", "Whoa Is Me", and the epic, aptly-titled album closer, "The Canyon Behind Her."
11. Tool - 10,000 Days
I feel like a lot of the things I'm saying in this series are things I've said a million times before and that people who might have read them before are getting plain sick and tired of. This is one that I actually already said earlier in the series but I have to repeat it to talk about this album also (and considering how long it's been since the entry in which I first said it, I doubt you'll remember it): As much as I loved and still do love Lateralus, [copypaste]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[/copypaste]. As such, when 10,000 Days was released, I absolutely adored it immediately because, to me, this was more like the album I was expecting to hear when I bought Lateralus. This is what Tool is truly capable of--far more focused and scathing and considerably less indulgent than Lateralus. "Vicarious", "Jambi", and "The Pot" rank right up there with the best of Tool's "hits", as powerful and dynamic as anything they've written but also just catchy and accessible enough for rock radio. Meanwhile, "Rosetta Stoned" and "Right In Two" easily belong in the top ten songs Tool has ever written, towering tall alongside fellow epics such as "Third Eye" and "Pushit." "Right In Two" is quite possibly my favorite Tool song lyrically and the tabla solo is so amazing, the only thing better is seeing Danny do it live. It's wonderful to see how far along he's come on the tabla. "Rosetta Stoned", on the other hand, is certainly a fitting title for that song. It's really only something that obsessive Tool fans--read: most real Tool fans--are consciously aware of but this song has pieces of other Tool songs scattered all over the place. That's not to say they sampled other songs or ripped riffs straight out of old songs and pasted them into this one. However there are certainly very distinct homages to many of Tool's songs hidden within the song. Comparisons can be drawn between parts in "Rosetta Stoned" and parts in songs such as "H." and "Third Eye" that are a frequent topic of discussion on Tool message boards--and I would know. In many ways this song really is kind of a "rosetta stone" for Tool's music and a very interesting microcosm of their catalog. Tool has almost become known for these sort of 10+ minute epics that rollercoaster up and down and side to side and upside down countless times and while this is no "Third Eye" it certainly earns its place on the pantheon of Tool epics and helps earn 10,000 Days a spot on this countdown.
Well there you have it. Tune in next week (SERIOUSLY!) for the TOP TEN--very exciting stuff. Until then, enjoy!