It’s come to this. Since I’m usually on about something completely ancient, I’ve decided to compile a rough list of my favourite albums over the last ten years. I’ll warn you, there are thirty of them altogether and they span a few different genres. The list is presented in absolutely no particular order. While I’m sure I could rank these albums from greatest to least, I have decided not to so as to give each its due respect. Here is the second of three batches.
The Lumineers – The Lumineers
In the midst of a grand folk revival, The Lumineers stood out with this classic record. The album shoots straight from the hip and touches on simple subjects that everyone can relate to, serving well as the perfect soundtrack to one’s own memories. When it does branch out into more poetic lyrical territory, the imagery is quite brilliant and there is a great deal of passion to admire. I caught on to this record late and it owned my summer. I learned every word in no time at all and it still brings me to another place. It is absolutely remarkable how this small group crafted such a simple record that walks so very far. I can’t wait to hear what they bring to us in the future.
Fantasies – Metric
I’ve been a Metric fan for a terribly long time, at first digging the oddity of their then indie sound and then very quickly falling in love with Emily Haines’ brilliant artistic mind and lyrics. When Fantasies came out there was talk of the band being more pop-oriented, and it’s certainly true, but the band’s glorious wit is still there, and I might say a tad sharper. It’s almost like on Fantasies they used the eighties synth-pop sound as a grinding wheel to achieve said sharpening. Right from the get I noticed Emily’s voice is quite a bit warmer, thanks to stellar production, and the songwriting is adept – dangerously catchy.
Harakiri – Serj Tankian
I was not impressed with Tankian’s second solo record, so I was hesitant about picking up his third, Harakiri. I should not have been. What unfolds over the record is an awe-inspiring mix of classic System-Serj and modern art-Serj. I’m not terribly fond of artists using their music for political statement, but when Serj steps up on the soapbox, he does so with a spiritual and humanist edge that captures a passion seldom heard in political art. Add to that the man’s unique vocal approach and eclectic world music elements (his roots overseas are always well represented) and you’ve got one damn fine record. The title track is the most powerful thing I’ve heard from him since System of a Down.
The Black Chord – Astra
Now, I know I’ve said some things about this record that I regret. I only wanted to include one album per artist on this list and I like both of Astra’s records equally. While I prefer The Weirding‘s style a little more, The Black Chord is just so big and so bad ass it simply had to win out. The songs here, while it took several plays and me getting over what they’d established on Weirding to appreciate them, are strong and well-composed. The epic title track and “Barefoot in the Head” capture everything I love about seventies prog and haul it out into a modern light.
Arrows & Anchors – Fair to Midland
Again, another tough choice because I love the band’s previous album Fables from a Mayfly just as much as I like this one. In the end, however, it was Arrows & Anchors that got me into the band, so it definitely registers a little more in my heart. It’s a shame this band seems to have called it quits cause they really had something special. Have I mentioned that Matt Langley is the shit?!
Black Gives Way To Blue – Alice In Chains
Though Layne Staley had such a tremendous talent that you couldn’t possibly ever hope to truly replace, Alice In Chains made the comeback with William DuVall in Layne’s place. I was one of the many who were critical of this decision, but once I heard DuVall on the promo “A Looking In View” I was on board. With William DuVall, the band found someone who doesn’t grub from Layne and has his own unique and powerful sound. The most important thing, I realised, is to have someone whose voice is as unique as Layne’s was, while not sounding anything like it. When Jerry and William harmonise, it’s more like an homage than a rip off. William stands out on tracks where he’s given the lead like “Last of My Kind.” I truly believe Black Gives Way to be the strongest complete album AiC has ever released. Adding to the album’s awesome are appearances by Elton John in the emotional title track, and Layne’s ghost (I swear!) in the haunting “Private Hell.” I was disappointed in the new record as William was for some reason kept mired in thick layered harmonies.
The Sea of Memories – Bush
This one was a surprise indeed. Ten years after their last record, Golden State, Bush returned with the single “Afterlife,” which initially disappointed me. It sounded like a sad attempt at copying the indie sound which was popular at the time. I have since warmed up to the song. I really shouldn’t have been surprised that The Sea of Memories was awesome because in the space between records, vocalist Gavin Rossdale had put out a good, too-often-criticised solo record and one extremely underrated record with Institute. His voice has lost nothing of its quality. The material on The Sea of Memories is hands down the best Bush have ever come up with. While I am a very big fan of their old material, they never were very good at compiling entire albums. They seemed to often resort to filler material to pad their stellar singles into whole records. This did not happen on the new record. With “The Sound of Winter,” I’m transported right back to when I first heard the band in the mid-nineties. “Little Dude, you like grunge? That’s awesome, you should totally check out this band from England, they’re gonna be totally huge soon…” A fond memory in a sea of my own.
Fly From Here – Yes
I know what you’re thinking, this list is surprisingly progless for Wave Maker Magazine’s resident Prog Man, but the whole point of this list was to take me out of my box of ancient stuff and focus on some of the different styles I love or loved. So there will be limited prog. Even still, I have to mention Yes’ Fly From Here. I was excited at the prospect of having a new singer in Yes, because line-up changes have fuelled the band’s progress since 1970 and have had a massive impact on music in general. With Fly From Here, Yes reunited with ace producer Trevor Horn to create a wonderful album which pays massive tribute to their seventies career while also managing to remain fresh and new sounding. Vocalist Benoît David sounded fantastic throughout and I would have loved to have heard more material with him fronting. Alas, the band have replaced him with Jon Davison, who to me is more of a Jon Anderson soundalike than possessive of his own sound, but I will give him a shot when they release a record with him. The live stuff sounds good until he sings the Fly From Here and Drama material, which Benoît nailed. Oh well, such is Yes!
Phobia – Breaking Benjamin
While I was a huge fan of their second record, Breaking Benjamin hit purity of form with their third offering, Phobia. While not quite as all over the place as the previous record, Phobia saw the band shaped into one, all-defining sound. Vocalist Ben Burnley sounds his best on this record and the writing is over-the-top awesome. It was bound to happen that I’d be disappointed with their fourth record, Dear Agony, as Phobia set the bar so high. This album housed songs that to this day force me to stop what it is I’m doing and sing along. Just how many epic damn choruses can you fit on what record?!
Oceania – Smashing Pumpkins
While I’ve been a fan of the Pumpkins for quite a while, I am especially supportive of their work since their reunion (Zeitgeist and on). The entire Teargarden project is fantastic and the latest instalment, Oceania is, in my opinion, the best record the band has ever released. The album perfectly balances the band’s artsy space rock soundscapes with a good helping of violent alt-rock angst. The songwriting is top notch, producing tracks that feel so damn much. Billy Corgan’s voice is ever the strangely beautiful beast it always has been. Grating in all the places it needs to be grating and soothing in all the wondeful places it needs to be soothing. And I can’t say enough good about the new band, especially my fave, Nicole Fiorentino, whose bass-playing is interesting and exceptional. Her voice also adds a sweet and dreamy elegance to a lot of the songs, including my favourite, “Pinwheels.” Bravo. Can’t wait for more.