Thursday, 31 January 2013

My Top 10 Albums Of 2012

 I usually like to wait a little bit into a new year before I finalize what I think are the previous year's best albums. Sometimes a little bit turns into five months, but the generally it's about a month This lets me finalize my lists and clear opinions up in my head (I was shuffling this list around up until a few days ago.) As the first month of 2013 is about to come to a close, without further ado, I present My Top 10 Albums of 2012.

Maybe a little bit of ado.

10. Anathema-Weather Systems
Progressive Rock

 Untouchable (Part 1) (Apparently this album does not exist on grooveshark)

 With every album release, it gets a little bit harder to believe that Anathema started off as a death metal band. A history lesson isn't necessary for a top 10 list, but Weather Systems is probably the most mellow Anathema has ever been. Of course, that's not to say their music isn't intense, only now it just takes them much of a song to get there. The songs on Weather Systems are all built around simple motifs-usually led by acoustic guitar and piano at first, these nine tracks all start off bare, but build up to huge extremes as they go on. Backed by a full string section and occasional electronics, Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas' vocals have never been so passionate.

9. Sigur Ros-Valtari

Ekki Múkk by Sigur Rós on Grooveshark

 Everyone's favorite (ok, just mine) Icelandic whale imitators are back, and after a lengthy hiatus, they have returned with their spaciest album to date. And not space as in space rock. Sigur Ros prove with Valtari that they are still the masters of holding your attention while doing very little at all. As per usual, the quartet is backed by a string section, and on two tracks, a choir, but on Valtari sometimes it sounds like it's the other way around. The drums drop out of the album halfway through, and Jonsi's voice, the bass, and guitar soon follow, until the final track is just all four of the band members on piano. However, if you find this notion discouraging, Sigur Ros is not for you. The album's name translates to Steamroller, and though it may not be the heaviest album, Valtari certainly is a powerful and emotionally demanding album.

8. Robert Glasper-Black Radio
Jazz/Hip Hop/Soul

Cherish The Day (Feat. Lalah Hathaway) by Robert Glasper Featuring Lalah Hathaway on Grooveshark

 Hip Hop and Jazz often borrow from one another. It's pretty easy to put dominant chords over your rap, as it is to throw hip hop beats into a fusion tune. However, they've never been quite as unified as they have been on Black Radio, Robert Glasper's second album after adopting the "Experiment" band (and their first full length, as Glasper's previous album was half "Experiment" and half traditional jazz.) Black Radio is always in the center of the venn diagram between jazz, hip hop, and soul, never fully crossing in any one direction. While featuring a slew of some of the best guest performers in the genre (including Erykah Badu, Bilal, and Mos Def), the real attraction of the album is the Experiment band themselves, who make their way through the album with an incredible sense of groove and passion.

7. Swans-The Seer

Lunacy by Swans on Grooveshark

 It seems like there's a new alleged apocalypse every few months, but 2012 was the big one. December 21, 2012, was the day that the Mayans apparently decided that the world would end, and we as a society chose to take them seriously for some reason. But while that fabled apocalypse never did come, one wouldn't think it after listening to The Seer. Getting it right out of the way, The Seer is an extremely long album, stretching 11 songs to just under two hours, and requiring almost entirely uninterrupted listen for full effect. This is not an album for the faint of hearted, or those without a lot of time. But if you happen to be on a long plane ride, or simply have a lazy sunday afternoon, The Seer is a fantastic place to invest your time. Over it's lengthy run time, Swans take us through their own apocalypse-a journey into and then back out of madness. The songs, generally ranging from ten to thirty minutes, build up from simple drones into utter chaos, often with frantic and bizarre vocal performances from bandleader Michael Gira and frequent Swans collaborator Jarboe. Though the album does have a few brief peaceful moments, overall it is a harrowing, but overall extremely satisfying journey. On second thought, maybe you shouldn't listen to this album on a plane.

6. Polica-Give You The Ghost

Wandering Star (Feat. Mike Noyce) by POLICA on Grooveshark

I happened upon Polica while randomly wandering at the Osheaga festival this year, and they are easily my favorite discovery of the weekend. Their stunning debut album weaves together slick R&B grooves, beautiful synth textures, and ethereal, double-tracked and heavily processed vocals. The band has two drummers, allowing for some very inventive percussion. The result of all these elements thrown together is something that doesn't really sound like any other band out there. Polica have the potential to go very far, and I really hope they do.

5. The Mars Volta- Noctourniquet
Progressive Rock

Zed and Two Naughts by The Mars Volta on Grooveshark

 Last week, The Mars Volta's break-up was formally announced. Fitting then, that their legacy ends with the least "Mars Volta-ish" album they have ever put out. Continuing the trend from 2009's Octahedron, Noctourniquet is the most mature album the group ever put out (For those not trained in the language of music writing, "most mature" means "least wanky"). Omar and Cedric stick solely to writing songs here, not extended freak-outs. And while I enjoyed the jam aspects of their earlier work, Noctourinquet is easily the Volta's best album since Frances The Mute. Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zvala's talents are put to their truest showcase here-surely this is the album to silence the critics who claim that all he does is wail like a banshee. Cedric has always had a real talent for writing great vocal hooks, and Noctourniquet has some of the best choruses and most accessible writing of the band's career. Guitars are often traded in for synthesizers, and electronic drums are showcased more than acoustic, but at it's whole, Noctourniquet is a Mars Volta album through and through-just a more focused Mars Volta than before. If you're a fan, this album is a necessity, and if you're not, this album could be the one to convert you.

 4. Tame Impala-Lonerism
Psychedelic Rock

Feels Like We Only Go Backwards by Tame Impala on Grooveshark

 It seems like all the popular bands from Australia these days are playing some form of retro-rock. Wolfmother, Airbourne, Jet... And then there's Tame Impala, by far the best of the lot. And despite the fact that they come from an environment with such strong ties to music from the past, and that Kevin Parker's voice really does sound almost exactly like John Lennon's, and that psychedelic rock is a 60's genre in and of itself, what is really amazing is how damn modern Tame Impala sound. Parker takes just as much influence from Oracular Spectacular as he does from The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and it shows. Lonerism, Tame Impala's second album, features a stellar, space-rock atmosphere and a total groovy feel, but it also has an impeccable sense of songwriting-it always knows when things have gone on for long enough, or when to keep going. It has incredibly catchy vocals, and most of all, despite coming out of one of the most time-sealed music scenes today, Lonerism is impeccable, relevant, and just as good for serious listening as it is for mindlessly zoning out... or, sorry, was that stoning out?

 3. Crystal Castles-(III)

Plague by Crystal Castles on Grooveshark

On their first two albums, the Canadian duo of Alice Glass and Ethan Kath contrasted pristine beauty with harsh dissonance. On their third album they combine them. Technically the band's third self-titled effort, III is easily Crystal Castles' most consistent, fully realized, and just plain best album to date. The flashy, glitchy rave freak-outs are all still present, as are Alice's intensely screamed punk rock vocals, but now instead of isolating the harshest elements into separate tracks, Crystal Castles have begun consistently writing more dynamic, shifting, and overall much more gripping songs. There are still pop crowd-pleasers, and there are still sweeping textures, but now, all of Crystal Castles' elements are combined more efficiently than ever before.

2. Jack White-Blunderbuss
Blues/Garage Rock/Folk

Love Interruption by Jack White on Grooveshark

You've probably heard Sixteen Saltines. You've definitely heard Freedom At 21. Maybe you've even heard Love Interruption. The reason I picked Blunderbuss' lesser known deubt single to represent the album is because, despite what the bigger hits would have you believe, Jack White by himself doesn't really sound all that much like The White Stripes. There are elements of them, sure, but there are also elements of all of his other bands, and elements that no one has really seen out of him before. Blunderbuss combines the heavy garage rock that White is known for, mixes in all the blues that had influenced him, and drenched it all in acoustic guitars and pianos both acoustic and electric. The albums' truly loud moments are few and far between (and mostly showcased on the radio), leaving the far more interesting material for the far more interested listeners. The melodies are fantastic, the song structures are compelling, and the lyrics are scathing, bittersweet, and yet joyous at the same time. To sum it all up, Blunderbuss confirms what we've known ever since "Fell In Love With A Girl" hit us back in 2002-that Jack White is the most talented songwriter in today's mainstream rock.

1. Caspian-Waking Season

Long the Desert Mile by Caspian on Grooveshark

 It's so easy to lump the majority of today's post-rock into cookie cutter "crescendocore". That's why it's so refreshing to hear a band like Caspian, who take all the classic elements of post-rock, and, while never breaking out of the established tropes of the genre, are putting all their dough into the cookie cutters and ending up with muffins. Waking Season has all the elements that one would expect a post-rock album to have; dramatic crescendos, soaring tremolo guitar figures, lengthy songs that slowly build up from quiet textures into gigantic climaxes, and the occasional subtle electronic drum tracks. That's why it's so incredible that Caspian don't really sound like any other post-rock band. They've taken all of the genres' most cliched elements and twisted them enough to build something truly grand and unique. But despite all this talk of Capsian's take on post-rock, one thing is still perfectly clear. Waking Season is, simply put, one of the most emotional, passionate, and at times visceral post-rock albums ever released. Every melody is brilliant, every crescendo is perfectly timed, and every time you heard that keyboard choir effect, you know that shit is about to get real.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Ten Worst Solo Musicians From Good Bands

 I've spent the last few of my blog posts talking about music I love, or at least reasonably like. So now it's time for the exact opposite.

 You all know the feeling-A band breaks up, or a singer leaves, or maybe someone just wants to try something differently. The possibility of a solo career coming out of one of your favorite bands is always going to be a nail-biting experience. Will it work? Without the rest of the band restraining their creativity (for either good or bad) you never know what could come out. Some artists do things better by themselves, but on the other hand, for every Peter Gabriel there's a Phil Collins. So without further ado, I present to you my Ten Worst Solo Careers Coming Out Of Good (Or At Least Decent) Bands: Smackdown Edition! And speaking of good ol' Phil...
10. Phil Collins

 These days, Phil Collins is most known for entertaining children on ritalin, ruining the snare drum, and magically tracking down people he saw from behind over a long distance away. But he was always bad, wasn't he? Didn't he sing for Genesis, that 80's pop band? Didn't he give me terrible, puppet-related nightmares? How did he get on this list?

 Well, provided that you made it through that video with your sanity intact, I'll tell you. Or maybe you already know. You probably already know, but I'll tell you anyways. See, Genesis wasn't always an 80s pop band. Before Phil Collins, they used to have a singer named Peter Gabriel. (More on him when I do a list of good solo careers, maybe?). They used to be a progressive rock band, in fact, they were one of the defining acts of the genre. And Phil Collins used to stay behind the drums, doing the one thing he was legitimately good at.
 Yeah, it's takes a bit to get going. But it's an 8-minute prog track from the 70s-you should be glad the intro is *only* about a minute. But tracks like this show that Phil Collins was once a pretty cool dude. But once Peter Gabriel left the band, Genesis became essentially a Phil Collins solo project. And once Steve Hackett left the band, no one really stood up to him as Collins went more in a pop direction. For a while he juggled his solo albums as well as Genesis (of course no one could really tell the difference) but as his solo career got more attention, Genesis started to fall to the wayside. And soon, as far as the general public went, Phil Collins was just that guy who sang Sussudio.
And even though that one where He Feels It Coming In The Air Tonight, Oh Lord is okay, songs like this are absolutely unforgivable coming from someone who used to be the drummer in one of the best and most influential prog bands of all time.

9. Edwin
 Do you listen to Canadian Alternative Rock Radio (Tm, probably)? If not, you're probably wondering who this Edwin fellow is and what happened to his last name. Edwin was the original lead singer of the confusingly named Canadian grunge-ish band I Mother Earth.
 Maybe it was the lengthy instrumental jam in the middle of their biggest radio single, but for some reason Edwin left the band after their second album. And like most bored, bandless singers, Edwin eventually decided to record his own music. What resulted was... well...
 It's kind of like I Mother Earth, only with more boring. And Edwin kept going in a more commercial direction, while I Mother Earth, continuing with new vocalist Bryan Byrne, just got more experimental prior to breaking up. And when IME recently reunited, it was Byrne who rejoined as the singer, not Edwin, who nobody has heard from since his last record in 2006. Maybe he should have picked a stage name that was easier to look up on the internet.

8. Gwen Stefani
 It's really sad that these days, more people know Gwen for her solo career than her work with seminal punk/ska/new wave/pop band No Doubt. And No Doubt about it, (har har) her band work is definitely better. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a song is worth a pretty good bunch too, so here is some hard evidence for my claims.
No Doubt - Just A Girl by No Doubt - Just A Girl on Grooveshark         VS.         Hollaback Girl (album version) by Gwen Stefani on Grooveshark

 Yeah... no one really knows what happened there.

7. Roger Waters
 It could be argued that, much like in Genesis, Pink Floyd was a Roger Waters solo project in his later years in the band, but the big difference is that no matter how much control Roger seized, David Gilmour always did his best to at least put something besides Roger into the music, succeeding  at least somewhat until 1983's The Final Cut. And unlike the latter years of Genesis, Gilmour's guitar solos are one of the most popular aspects of Pink Floyd and certainly the reason every 13-year old who's just starting to learn guitar thinks they're awesome (at least until he discovers Dream Theater).
Best. Guitarist. Ever.
 And when Roger Waters left Pink Floyd, his solo material didn't produce any huge hits, and it certainly never overshadowed his work with Pink Floyd. But there is one similarity between Phil Collins and Roger Waters: Their solo music is boring as hell.

 I guess that horrifyingly gated snare drum is another similarity. At least Roger Waters didn't bow to mainstream demand as blatantly as Phil Collins did, but he's definitely taking any risks here, certainly not the kind of risks he took with Pink Floyd, unless you count writing a six minute song with very little variation throughout to be a risk.

6. Marty Friedman

 Marty Friedman was once the lead guitar player of Dave Mustaine's ego, known commercially as Megadeth. And he was known as quite the fine guitar player. Here's an example of his legendary heavy metal soloing:
 In the year 2000, he left Megadeth because he was tired of playing heavy metal music. So what would he do instead? What music could entice him so much that he was tired of heavy metal? Was it jazz? Folk? Hip hop? J-pop?
 J-pop, of course, stands for Japanese Pop, an extremely upbeat and, well, Japanese form of pop music. I can respect and appreciate J-pop for what it is. But an entire album of instrumental j-pop covers? Gets old very quickly.

5. Chris Cornell
 Similar to Edwin and I Mother Earth, legendary singer Chris Cornell was dissatisfied with the heaviness and jamming that was present in Soundgarden, one of the biggest bands of the 90's grunge scene. Predictably enough, the rest of the band wasn't, and eventually they went their separate ways. Cornell's vision for what he wanted to do with music was a little bit less heavy, a bit less rocking, and lot less exciting.

  And things just got worse. We all remember his recent disastrous pop collaboration with Timbaland...

It's definitely for the better that Soungarden got back together.

4. Neal Morse
 I've previously written about modern progressive rock, and it's bizarre similarity to old progressive rock. One of the worst offenders of this lack of progression is Spock's Beard, but despite having a very unoriginal sound, their music is still pretty good.
 And a big part of that sound was vocalist Neal Morse. So when he announced he was leaving the band  to write his own, different music, things weren't too great for Spock's Beard. But things were definitely worse for Neal. I've already gone through the rounds of the "what genre could he possibly have switched to?" game, so I'll be straight up here. Neal Morse found enlightement
with christian rock.

3. Keith Moon
 Keith Moon released one solo album, 1975's Two Sides Of The Moon. Now, with Keith being the drummer of The Who, and one of the most popular drummers of the day, one would expect Two Sides to be a drum-heavy record, right? Well, one would be wrong. This is a pop cover record, with Keith singing lead vocals and only drumming on a few tracks. Well, how bad can his singing be?

2. David Johansen
 I'm not going to spoil this one early-David Johansen's solo material was recorded under a different name. But first, who is David? His name doesn't instantly jump out at you, but Johansen was the singer of one of the earliest punk bands, The New York Dolls. They were known for dressing up like girls before the 80s and playing simplified music before The Ramones, as seen here: 

 Of course, the band broke up as the 70s turned to the 80s, and the members pursued their solo careers. Only one of them became hugely successful, and you know who it is, since his name is at the top of this entry. But as I already stated, he didn't record his 80s pop smash hits under his real name. He took on a new image and a new stage name, with which he annoyed us across generations as Buster Poindexter.

1. Michael Bolton
 Of course it would be no surprise to see Michael Bolton at the top of a worst anything list, but it may be a bit of a surprise that he was once in a band. An actually rock band. Yes, Michael Bolton used to be the singer of an 80's hard rock band called Blackjack. And while they weren't all that great, they certainly weren't anywhere near the level of awful that Bolton became known for.

 I don't need to preface the utter lack of anything even remotely resembling listenability in Michael Bolton's solo output. I'm going to post a video of one of his songs, just for the sake of format, but I strongly urge you not to watch it, if you want to watch your daily cheese intake.

And there you have it, my SUPER DUPER TOP TEN WORST SOLO CAREERS THAT SPAWNED FROM GOOD BANDS ULTRA TURBO EDITION!!!!! See you soon*, same blog time, same blog channel!

*Soon may or may not actually refer to soon.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Metal From The Mines Of Moria: LOTR in Music

 A little while ago, I re-read The Lord Of The Rings series, for the first time since I was very young. A few things jumped out at me this time that kind of passed over my head when I was child; Pippin is extremely useless, nearly everyone is gay, and, in the real world, a ton of metal bands are named after obscure characters and places.
For god's sake, turn on safe search before you google "Frodo and Sam gay".
It seems that heavy metal and light mythril go very well together, as opposed to other genres of music, where they're busy singing about the real world and personal problems and such shallow things. When was the last time you heard anyone belting about Gimli's beard on the Top 40? Even after the movies came out and made the stories "mainstream", LOTR (and fantasy in general, really) seems notably absent from anything radio-friendly. And yet, if your guitars are distorted, your drums are blasting, and your singer sounds like a woman, sooner or later it seems like something is going to pop up about the One Ring To Rule Them All. What is it about heavy metal that attracts the kind of people who'd write songs about epic fantasy trilogies?

Spoiler alert: More on this guy later.

 In some ways it seems obvious. Sure, I could go on about nerd stereotypes and how they apply to escapism into both fantasy and heavy metal, but damn it, Jim, I'm a musician, not a psychologist. Maybe I could talk about how heavy metal is just a much more appropriate medium for epic battles, legendary swords, dragons, and other such fantasy cliches. Or maybe I could just list some of my favorite uses of Lord Of The Rings in heavy metal music and let the examples speak for themselves.

Classic Rock

Ramble On by Led Zeppelin on Grooveshark: It's 1969. You're a rebellious teenager, sticking it to the man by putting on the newest Led Zeppelin record. Robert Plant is speaking to you with his lyrics about needing to keep moving, never staying in one place, and ramblin' on. And then, all of a sudden... 
 'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair. But Gollum, and The Evil One,  crept up and slipped away with her."
Not only is Robert's rhyming ability seriously put into question, but you have now realized that this man is a nerd! Yes, apparently when he wasn't thinking about how big legged women ain't got no soul, Plant was reading Tolkein. And if that wasn't enough to make him deserve a wedgie according to 1970s teen movies, he was also writing songs about vikings, celtic mythology, and something about a spring clean for the may queen.

"Maybe we can hide the fact that this song makes no sense by making it really easy for annoying people to play in public."
 And if that bout of nerdiness wasn't enough to cast your doubt on the legitimate coolness of your classic heavy metal icons, you're not safe just yet.

The Wizard by Black Sabbath on Grooveshark Before Ozzy was biting the heads off of doves, he was biting the tassels off of bookmarks. Although the song was also allegedly about their drug dealer at the time, it's clear that Black Sabbath's real Wizard is none other than Gandalf himself. If only parents had realized that this entire time, heavy metal music was really encouraging their children to read, and not to commit satanic acts!

I guess it wouldn't have really made a difference...

 Zeppelin and Sabbath are far from the only classic bands to sing about LOTR. But I've still got a few decades left to get to, so maybe I'll bring the rest of this list into slightly more modern times. First, however, there's one more classic rock band left to get to, a band who took their Ring references far past the novels...

The Necromancer by Rush on GroovesharkI'm not going to pretend that Rush aren't blatantly nerdy. After all, it takes a special kind of brain to read Ayn Rand and think "I'm going to turn this into an epic rock opera!". But before 2112, Rush released Caress Of Steel, where Neil Peart wrote The Necromancer, about some of Tolkein's lore that was just barely mentioned in the books. While the third movement of the song deals with Neil's own character, the rest of the song involves the time Sauron spent as a dark power in Mirkwood, while recuperating from the loss of his last battle with Isildur. Yeah, Neil Peart went there. And believe me, as we shall soon see, he's not the only one...

Power Metal

Lord of the Rings by Blind Guardian (Studio) on Grooveshark :I could fill this entire article with Blind Guardian. Not only about the core novels, Blind Guardian have also rocked out to The Hobbit:

And they even wrote a concept album about The Silmarillion, which is, for those who don't know, the extended prequel Tolkein wrote but never published that basically described the building of the Middle-Earth we all know and love:

Yes, if there's one thing Hansi Kursch loves more than multi-tracking his voice, it's J.R.R. Tolkein. But more so than any other genre, power metal is very fitting for songs about Lord Of The Rings, which probably explains why so many power metal bands have written about it.

"You mean to tell me that these people are nerds?"

Band Names

 The phrase that I probably said (or thought) the most while reading Lord Of The Rings this time around was "So that's where that band name is from!" Here's a few of my favorite band names that I discovered, and where in the novels they're from.

 Cirith Ungol and Gorgoroth are both locations in Mordor. Cirith Ungol is the name of the passage where Frodo and Sam encounter Shelob, and Gorgoroth is the plateau that Mt. Doom is located in. 

The Fate of Norns by Amon Amarth on Grooveshark: Amon Amarth is the Elvish name for Mt. Doom. You know you've done your research well when you're naming your band in a fictional language. (Unfortunately, I don't know of any bands named in Klingon, but please, tell me if you do.) And speaking of Tolkein's made up languages...


Det som en gang var by Burzum on Grooveshark: "Infamous" has got to be the internet's favorite word to throw around when describing Varg Vikernes, also known as Count Grishnackh, the mastermind behind Burzum as well as the mastermind behind a multitude of Norwegian church burnings and one murder. So instead I'll use a different word: Geeky. Varg has taken not one, but two names from Lord Of The Rings, and both of them are so obscure they make Gorgoroth look like high school jocks. First of is his original stage name, Grishnackh. Grishnackh was the name of an extremely minor character in The Two Towers; he's one of the orcs in charge of Taking The Hobbits To Isengard.

Everyone has seen it. Multiple times. Let's not be that guy.

 And even more impressive is where the name Burzum comes from. No, it's not a location anywhere in middle earth. No, it's not the name of a character. It's a specific word in the Black Speech of Mordor, one of the words in the inscription on The One Ring. And there you have it. We have reached the point from which there can be nothing nerdier, right? What could be geekier than naming your musical project after a word in Tolkein's made-up language? Well, I've made it obvious that I'm about to link to something much nerdier, so here's the band Summoning.

                                               Mirdautas Vras by Summoning on Grooveshark

 A symphonic black metal band hailing from Austria, Summoning almost exclusively writes about Lord Of The Rings. The specific song I just linked to is written entirely in the Black Speech of Mordor. So one of the two fine gentlemen that make up Summoning took the time to learn a fictional language, and then become proficient enough in it to write a whole song. That might be the nerdiest thing possible. And you know what? It is extremely AWESOME.

 So there we have it. My favorite Lord Of The Rings references in heavy metal. Oh, I'm sure I missed a ton. There's a lot of them. But this is, I believe, enough of a cross-section to show that if you like the sound of dissonant, angry guitars, you probably also like to read.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

My Top 10 Albums Of 2011

 Some people may believe May 2012 to be too late to be looking back into 2011. Others may think that it's all the better to look back later in the year, giving the previous year more perspective. Others may yet have simply not gotten around to writing their annual top 10 list until this late in the year. Whatever the reason, let's turn back the clock a tiny little bit. 2011 is one of those years where there's a ton of excellent music release. Narrowing my favorite albums to just 10 was a fairly difficult task. But nevertheless, here's my top 10 albums of 2011.
Maybe not 88 mph, though, we're only going back 5 months. Try going around 85.

10. Foo Fighters-Wasting Light
Alternative Rock

 Yeah, the Foo Fighters have been slowly crawling into pop over the last decade. But before this record, something struck Dave Grohl and the rest of his band. Some sort of act of inspiration got them to record solely onto analog, in a garage, with Butch Vig producing, Pat Smear playing guitar, Krist Novoselic guesting on one song, and presumably a cardboard cutout of Kurt Cobain just for the hell of it. The result is one heck of a rock and roll record. It's rare that a band that's been around as long as the Foo Fighters are able to top themselves, but Wasting Light rocks harder and more earnestly than anything they've ever put out before.

9. Feist-Metals
Indie Folk

Graveyard by Feist on Grooveshark

 Indie-folk is a genre that gets a little bit more oversaturated, and, as such, a little bit more irrelevant every year. But there's still a notable divide between the artists who are in it because it's getting popular and the artists who are legitimate, and Feist is definitely one of the latter. Metals shows why Feist is still one of the top voices of the genre- the music is beautiful, thoughtful, and dramatic without being overbearing. The songs on this album build up in interesting ways, and the vocal performance is just fantastic.

8. Primus-Green Naugahyde

  Primus is back, and they're back in top form. While one would expect an extended hiatus to dull the edges of a band like Primus, if anything, the (re)addition of new old drummer Jay Lane has re-sharpened them. Green Naugahyde is groovy, irreverent, funky, bizarre, and everything else you'd expect from a Primus album. There's killer basslines, spacey interludes, and a whole lot of energy. This one is absolutely not to be missed, especially if you're already a fan.

7.  Russian Circles-Empros

 A post-rock trio from Chicago isn't exactly a rare sight. But a little bit rarer is a band who so firmly and consistently stand planted on the line between post-rock and atmo-sludge metal that it's a bit hard to define them as either. With Empros, Russian Circles have certainly made their heaviest album yet, and their closest to come into straight-up metal territory, but they still have not exactly crossed that line on either side, and that's what makes Russian Circles a lot more interesting than many of their contemporaries. Empros stretches 6 tracks across 41 minutes, but none of the songs feel long, and none of their build-ups seem too drawn-out either.

6. Mogwai-Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

 With Hardcore, Mogwai have now released seven dangerously consistent studio albums. This one is a Mogwai album through and through, with huge dynamics, passionate ballads, and some of the most explosive climaxes in rock. Hardcore isn't going to convert any new fans, but if you're into post-rock there's simply no reason not to have this album.

5. AWOLNATION-Megalithic Symphony
Alternative Rock/Synthpop

 I assume you have heard Sail. Or maybe you just don't have a radio. But if you didn't like Sail and wrote off AWOLNATION, I feel extremely sorry for you. Bandleader and principal songwriter Aaron Bruno has created a fantastic, diverse, genre-bending record where every song is different and they're all amazingly fresh. Like a mad scientist, Bruno combines dance pop, alternative rock, industrial metal, hip-hop, and even gospel (and these are just the common genres on display) into 14 tracks that overall make up one of the most unique albums in quite a while.

4. Ari Hoenig-Lines Of Oppression

 I had the good fortune to see Ari Hoenig's quartet live a few months ago, and the intensity and complexity of the songs from this album just blew me away. Of course the record doesn't quite encapsulate the quartet's live show, but when do they ever do? Lines Of Oppression is, without sugarcoating it, one of the best jazz albums released in a long time, and certainly one of the trickiest. Hoenig's quartet's technical abilities are extremely high, as showcased by these rhythmically complex, high energy tunes that push the absolute limits of what can be done within the idiom of jazz.

3. Steven Wilson-Grace For Drowning
Progressive Rock

 Steven Wilson is a pretty busy guy. Among his many musical projects and collaborations Wilson found the time to work on remastering King Crimson's back catalogue, and that seems to be one of the strongest influences on his second solo album. Grace For Drowning is dramatic, dark, and oppressive. It is often dissonant and loud, though it has it's mellow, beautiful, balladic moments. Overall Steven Wilson once again proves that he thinks and writes like no one else in the music industry today.

2. M83-Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

Midnight City by M83 on Grooveshark

 Nothing screams "ambition" more than a double album. And while M83's Anthony Gonzalez cited The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness as one of the chief inspirations for his choice to expand the sprawl of his music onto two discs, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is neither overlong or stocked with filler. An interesting thing to note is that Hurry Up could have (just barely) fit on one disc, and the use of the double album is more of an artistic statement-each track on disc one has a corresponding "mirror" track on disc two. (The downloadable bonus track, conveniently called "Mirror", adds to this concept). And while that's only scratching the surface of the theme of this album, let's talk a little bit about the music. Hurry Up is the most stylistically diverse, and yet sonically unified album Gonzalez has ever put out. M83 never really feels like a mix of genres on this album, but instead something wholly new. And with music that is this passionate and powerful, I sure hope this new something sticks around.

1. Cormorant-Dwellings
Progressive Metal

 Bay Area metal four-piece Cormorant are slowly becoming the poster children of DIY music, and Dwellings might be the most consistently well-reviewed metal album of 2011, for extremely good reason. There has never been a metal record like this before. Cormorant combine prog, sludge, folk, death, and black metal so fluently that they've practically created their own genre (affectionately dubbed as "Tiberian Ass-Bastard Folk Metal" by fans). But Cormorant aren't just a gimmick. They've got some of the best songwriting in metal today, and certainly some of the best lyrics as well. If you're into metal at all, this is an album to check out.