That time of year:
10. Isis – Wavering Radiant. There’s not a whole to say about this one. Isis are good. They have to make a pretty bad album for me not to really like it. This is no Panopticon or Oceanic, but it’s slightly better than In the Absence of Truth. Best song: Ghost Key.
9. Porcupine Tree – The Incident. PT albums are automatically on my top ten lists, the only question is where. The double album idea isn’t a great one; there’s good material on both discs and the first is a coherent whole, but too much of that whole is uninspired. This is really disappointing, as they’ve backed off the heaviness of FOABP and mixed in some older PT sounds. Quality-wise, there’s maybe a top five album between the two discs, even if it wouldn’t be that coherent, but like I said, there’s too much less than interesting material. Best song: Time Flies.
8. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast. This album is missing some of the catchiness of his last two, which were leaner and more accessible, but it’s still a solid album. There’s a lot more layering and depth to the songs which makes up for the lack of hooks. It’s a slightly different direction for him, so it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. Best song: Anonanimal.
7. Russian Circles – Geneva. That was quick. Station came out last year and was good, if underwhelming. It’s hard to live up to something like Enter. Maybe it’s the added distance between that release and this one, but Geneva is a lot stronger than Station. Best song: Geneva.
6. Mastodon – Crack the Skye. Mastodon have never quite clicked for me. Their past few albums have been good, but not quite great. This one is great. It’s proggier than their past albums and has a ton of great riffs and melodies. Best song: Oblivion
5. Mono – Hymn To The Immortal Wind. Mono are not the most original post-rock band. Half the time, they seem to be channeling Mogwai. This doesn’t mean they’re bad, but they’re not typically a candidate for a top ten list. This one seems different to me. There’s less of the wall of distortion that Mogwai uses on occasion and more, almost Explosions in the Sky-esque sounds. Not that they sound like them. It’s hard to explain. It’s just a damned good album. Best song: Ashes in the Snow.
4. OSI – Blood. OSI still haven’t topped their debut, but this is a good attempt. Their last album, by no means bad, was more focused on the electronic aspects of their sound. This one is a little more in the direction of their debut. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Gavin Harrison on drums. Best song: The Escape Artist.
3. Riverside – Anno Domini High Definition. Five songs filled with up tempo prog metal wackiness. It is glorious. It’s always tempting to hope they go back to the sound of their first album, but full-on prog metal suits them and this album is a nice change of pace after the relatively laid back Rapid Eye Movement. Best song: Egoist Hedonist.
2. Amorphis – Skyforger. I sort of forgot Amorphis existed. I thought they’d broken up. I’ve never been their biggest fan, but they’ve produced some enjoyable music. This one I really love, though. It’s the same enjoyment I get out of Nevermore. Are they doing something completely different, something groundbreaking? No. Hell, Majestic Beast is an all out Opeth ripoff. It’s just a great metal album. Best song: Sky is Mine.
1. Katatonia – Night Is The New Day. This was the least anticipated album from one of what I consider my favorite bands. For whatever reason, The Great Cold Distance morphed in my mind into pure dreck, a colossal disappointment after a string of just fantastic albums. After the first listen, I was ready to consign NitND to the same unappreciated corner of my music collection. But then I got hooked on The Longest Year. Then Onward into Battle. Then The Promise of Deceit. I went back to TGCD and found that it wasn’t as bad as I thought, though it still doesn’t compare to Viva Emptiness. Or this. I’ve been listening to it almost nonstop for weeks. I think it’s better than Viva Emptiness and maybe Last Fair Deal Gone Down. And those are two of my favorite albums ever. It’s dark and depressing metal and it’s stellar. I only wish I could say the same about the video for Day and Then The Shade, which apparently is about a goth girl who lost her contact lens in the forest and starts bleeding and vomiting upwards. I hope Lasse Hoile goes blind. Best song: The Longest Year.
Dredg – the Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion. And now we come to my most anticipated album from one of my favorite bands. Catch Without Arms has grown into one of my favorite albums. This…well, this is terrible. Ok, maybe not terrible. I Don’t Know is one of the best songs they’ve ever written (and an agnostic anthem, no less!). Light Switch is damned catchy. Pariah isn’t bad (but something feels off about it) and neither is Cartoon Showroom. But this is a sprawling, 18 track album. There’s not enough solid material to keep it from collapsing onto itself. There’s so much mediocre material that it drowns out the bright spots. There’s only around 25 minutes of solid material (out of an hour); the rest is b-side material at best. I don’t understand it. It’s annoying as hell. And Saviour can go die in a fire. Best song: I Don’t Know.
Because you care, my favorite albums (except for the two EPs) of 2008:
1. Calexico – Carried To Dust
This is one of those albums I just don’t have much to say about. It’s just good. The kind of album I select on my iPod or my PC without thinking. My exposure to them is still pretty limited; I have their previous album and A Feast of Wire and that’s it. Best song: Victor Jara’s Hands.
2. God Is An Astronaut – S/T
These guys have always been close, but never quite there for me. Post-rock isn’t exactly a sparsely populated genre and I have a habit of listening to post-rock albums constantly for about a week and then discarding them. This one is different. They seem to have finally shown more than glimpses of promise. Best song: Shadows.
3. Agalloch – The White EP
Yeah yeah, this isn’t an album. I don’t care. It’s too good for me to leave it off here. The conspicuous absence of folky acoustic pieces was the only downside to their previous album, Ashes Against the Grain. This EP somewhat makes up for that. Best song: Birch White.
4. Opeth – Watershed
I was nervous about this one. Two new members and a previous album that showed some worrying problems (but was still pretty good). It didn’t look promising. In the end, however, they released an album that had some new elements (keyboard solos!) and better songwriting. There’s an over-reliance on abrupt soft LOUD dynamics and they’ve had better metal riffs in previous albums, but overall it’s an excellent album. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that they’re not going to make another MAYH or Still Life, but I’m interested to see where they’re going now.
5. The Decemberists – Always a Bridesmaid EP
Another EP that I think is too good to leave off the list. Less epic than The Crane Wife, but more of what makes The Decemberists so good: catchy songs. Valerie Plame has been stuck in my head for a good two weeks. There’s only one weak song in the bunch (I’m Sticking With You) and even it’s not too bad. Best song: Record Year.
While the new Bond movie is pretty good, the same can’t be said for the theme song. It’s not like I was a huge fan of the one in Casino Royale, but White’s song makes Cornell’s look like the pinnacle of rock music.
Then again, my feelings toward most of what I’ve heard by Jack White (meaning The White Stripes and The Raconteurs), can be fairly described as pure hatred, so maybe that has something to do with it.
Music’s always good for a filler post or two, right?
In all honesty, there’s only one album and one EP I really see as a standouts so far this year. Those would be Opeth’s Watershed and Agalloch’s The White EP. I always think this about Opeth albums, especially when they first come out, but this one seems to really be standing the test of repeated listens. Ghost Reveries has some great moments, but I just never listen to it. Watershed doesn’t seem to be that kind of album. I immediately liked what I find to be the best moments on that CD. Aside from Coil, I didn’t like anything on Watershed right away. It has its faults, of course. The first third of The Lotus Eater is the best few minutes on the CD and the rest is the worst six minutes on it. There’s too much quiet acoustic then loud distorted guitar – no buildup or working into it (see Porcelain Heart). Still, it’s Opeth (despite some major lineup shuffling), with more silly prog moments and the dynamics and beauty to which we’re accustomed.
Agalloch’s White EP is only a disappointment in that it’s not a full album. Ashes Against The Grain was noticeably lacking in folk-y acoustic parts, despite being a good album. That’s all this EP is and it’s stellar. Now they need to give us a new album.
There are other good releases, but nothing I’m that excited about. A Silver Mt. Zion (this is me not caring what their name really is) has a new one, 13 Blues for 13 Moons, which is good, despite the ever increasing pretentiousness (12 tracks of noise at the beginning of the album? No.). Russian Circles released Station, which is solid, but it’s no Enter. Martriden, a good metal band from Montana (who knew?), released The Unsettling Dark, which is a well-executed melodic blackened death metal album. Fun to listen to, but nothing new (I mean, other than being from Montana and sounding Scandinavian). The Mars Volta released The Bedlam in Goliath, which is an improvement on their last album, but I’m at the point where I really don’t care what they do.
So, in conclusion, I need more new music. I should really grab Portishead’s new one, after being introduced to them just this year. Listening to Orphaned Land reminds me that they really need to release a new album. I’m really hoping the new Dredg album later this year is good (I can’t imagine it won’t be). I very nearly mentioned the new Death Cab for Cutie album up there, but I Will Possess Your Heart can’t make up for their general blandness.
For some reason, I started watching Headbanger’s Ball again over the last few months. Some of it is still painful (there’s no excuse for Cavalera Conspiracy and Demon Hunter), but there are actually good bands on there. They keep playing this Behemoth video, which features the band playing in the middle of burning church (they’re not Norwegian, but still). Pelican’s video for Dead Between Walls (which I can’t find online) also amuses me, as it features a guy wandering around with a microphone, looking for the band.
There are quite a few online music sellers these days. I occasionally wonder if I should start using one or the other, but they’re obviously not at the point where I get much out of them. So I get to thinking, what would work for me?
My music comes primarily from downloads right now. I don’t download a ton of music, but it’s a significant amount. I also buy CDs, though I buy fewer CDs than albums I download (I buy more CDs than I would if I didn’t download, however). I also almost exclusively download whole albums. The process generally goes I download an album, I like or don’t like it, if I like it enough I buy the CD at some point in the future. I buy CDs for essentially two reasons: supporting the band and sound quality. I don’t get to go to many shows out here, so buy a band’s CD is the best way I have to support them. As far as sound quality, I like having the option of popping a CD in my home theater setup and listening with my Sennheisers. Burned CDs from MP3s don’t cut it.
So the current online models don’t help me much. I don’t download music to have digital copies of it, I download it because it’s easy access to a lot of music and I don’t have to waste money to hear a new album I may or may not like. So I shy away from actually buying digital copies of songs. I also run Linux, which means DRM essentially ends any compatibility with existing services. Of course, if I weren’t running Linux, I still wouldn’t put up with DRM. The selection on some of these services also sucks. My taste runs from pretty mainstream (Radiohead, The Decemberists), to less popular but widely available (Opeth, Porcupine Tree), to pretty obscure bands (The Pineapple Thief, Do Make Say Think). It’s hard for any online service to span that range.
What would I support, then? A subscription based service might work. A monthly fee and I can download a certain amount of good quality MP3s, DRM-free. On top of that, the option to purchase lossless copies and/or CDs of what I’ve downloaded would be good. It would have to be a pretty significant discount from typical store prices, but it could work. The selection obviously has to be wide enough to make it worth the cost, which is maybe the biggest problem. The store also has to work on my OS, meaning it should probably be web-based and not an application like iTunes.
I’ve bought maybe 7 CDs this year so far. That’s probably $80-$90 in four months. That’s $20-$22 a month. At $8 a CD, that’s $56, leaving $30 or so for a monthly fee, which works out to $7.50 a month. $8 a CD and $7.50 a month? That doesn’t seem implausible to me. If you go less than that, I’m probably saving money by switching to the service.
Maybe it is implausible. I don’t really know. But that’s what it would take.
I was not aware of this (link will only work for a limited time because the Chronicle is a terrible newspaper).
I don’t like rap, but well, they can do whatever they want. This sentence, however, is something else:
Nickel and Krisp also are the rhyme slayers in the rap group, Filth and Foul, and they’re backed up on stage by Joe Hogan, also known as DJ Joe Bugz, who blasts thumping beats.
That’s all kinds of awkward.