Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rick's Discoveries Volume VII

Do you ever take stock of how what habits you may have when listening to music? Since I listen to, on average, about 8 hours of music a day I have a lot of time to reflect over when I think about my music listening preferences. I’m definitely a creature of habit, but my listening rituals do change. Before I started this article series I was content to throw all albums that I hadn’t listened to into one pile, regardless of release date, and I would listen to them whenever I got to them. Now, however, I have noticed this article series shifting how I rifle through that pile. It is now segregated into albums released this year and albums from all other years. I then have to pick whether I want to listen to something new new or something just new to me. This helps me get my articles written easier, but has had me straying less towards the “new to me” pile in favor of new releases. I hope that my craving “new” new music doesn’t keep me from uncovering some hidden gems waiting in my “new to me” pile. In the meantime, though, here at 10 absolute gems from this year that you should most definitely give a listen to.

Hands Give Me Rest

You can quote this later in the year because it will still be true—this is the first definitive addition to my best of 2011 albums list. Initially I was impressed by the way Hands, on their third album, combined the raw heaviness of early to mid career Isis with the melodic moments of Misery Signals interspersed between late career Thrice introspection and Trenches inspired walls of sound. That’s a pretty heady set of comparisons, but Hands can hold their own with any of them, and it’s actually their combination of the disparate sounds into their own approach that makes this album so compelling. And the icing on the cake is the vocal work of Shane Ochsner whose throaty yells are filled with yearning and whose delicate, cleanly sung passages are permeated with maturity and quiet confidence. His approach suits the spiritually laced lyrics, giving them a weight that otherwise wouldn’t be there in a less capable vocalist.

Talib KweliGutter Rainbows

Truth be told, I’ll probably listen to anything Talib Kweli releases. Ever since his collaboration with Mos Def forever ago I’ve been interested in what he’s doing. The first of two releases to drop this year, Gutter Rainbows is a heck of a hip-hop album, even if many fans think it is one of his lesser works. There aren’t any huge beats that will entrance you, but I think that works to the album’s advantage. The tone of the record is smooth and laid-back, even when Talib is rhyming a mile a minute. If you enjoy conscientious hip-hop, this will not disappoint.

We Are the OceanGo Now and Live

Only a bit more than a year after they gave us Cutting Our Teeth, We Are the Ocean are back with Go Now and Live. Any time I see such a short time between releases, I’m skeptical about the quality of the second album. I’m a firm believer that bands need time to let their creative juices flow and have enough time on top of that to know what they need to cut, trim, or change. When you don’t have enough time for the latter you end up with an album that doesn’t feel polished. However, in this case (as you no doubt guessed) we have quite the opposite. In the year’s time between albums, We Are the Ocean have matured a significant amount. Their latest album shows them sounding similar to Alexisonfire in a number of ways, but still working to create their own niche in the post-hardcore realm. Throughout the 10 tracks on this album, you will be hard pressed to find a weak moment, which goes to show that when you know what you’re doing, I guess you don’t need that much time between albums.

Access to Arasakavoid();

If you take a quick look at the song titles, glance at the album cover, and cue up the first few tracks, you’ll almost believe that you are inside a futuristic computational machine environment. The combination of glitchy Aphex Twin inspired madness with ambient soundscapes is a potent mix. Simultaneously introspective, menacing, and industrialized, Access to Arasaka creates a soundtrack to your most vivid technological dreams or the post-apocalyptic nightmare you deeply fear. It could easily be either… or both.

Sun CagedThe Lotus Effect

It seems like there are very few traditional progressive metal bands around. Every “progressive” band is trying to expand into other genres, be it tech-death or psychedelia or math rock or power metal or whatever other genre flavor seems to be an interesting direction to go in. With Sun Caged, however, they’ve honed in on the traditional progressive metal sound for their third full length album. With plenty of time passing between each of their albums, it is quite apparent that the band has grown with each release, this being the most interesting album they’ve yet composed. There are plenty of traditional prog movements, lengthy songs, solos, keyboards, and soaring vocals. For the progressive metal purists, this will be one of the more interesting albums to be released this year.

Falling UpYour Sparkling Death Cometh

This may be the modern, progressive rock hit of the year. Falling Up bring to mind hints of Dead Letter Circus, Dancing Echoes-era Codeseven, and even some Dredg in their take on the modern rock sound. Considering that this band started as a pretty standard alternative rock band, they have made a heck of a progression from their generic beginnings to the intelligent band that they have become. This album is solid from the sprawling opening track all the way to the concluding seven minute closer. For fans of intelligent rock, this could be the album for you this year.

CrossfaithThe Dream, The Space

Attach –core to any already existing genre and you have a new metalcore subgenre. The latest to be all the rage—trancecore. Basically to be trancecore all you have do to is play metalcore and have lots of keyboards. It’s worked for We Came as Romans, The Devil Wears Prada, Enter Shikari, I See Stars… ok, this is a genre that might be wearing out its welcome. However, I find Crossfaith a bit more appealing than the other bands listed for one main reason—they don’t sound “new.” They sound more like Still Remains, who are a band I sorely miss. I know this isn’t much of a reason to like a band, but I hadn’t found anything to replace that void in my playlist where new Still Remains albums would go… until now.

Trust CompanyDreaming in Black and White

Yes, this is the same one-hit wonder band that was responsible for you hearing “Downfall” a million times on the radio back in 2002. And, yes, they definitely have the same nu-metal infused alternative rock sound, but it’s much more mature this time out. I didn’t even know that Trust Company was still around until I noticed this album mentioned in a music blog I follow. Being mildly curious, I had to track it down to get a listen since The Lonely Position of Neutral was one of my favorite early 00’s alternative rock albums, but the follow-up True Parallels was an abysmal mess so I approached cautiously. Thankfully Dreaming in Black and White hearkens back to Lonely Position’s style, but with some tighter songwriting and much more consistently listenable tracks than I honestly expected to find. This is still pretty basic nu-metal alternative, but it is quite nicely done and a solid listen.

TurisasStand Up and Fight

This is some epic shit. This is raping and pillaging music. This is what Halfdan would have listened to as he rampaged through England. This is what his brother, Hastein, would have used to inspire his men during their Mediterranean raids. This is the soundtrack of Valhalla! And, heck, it’s a got a Viking anthem about hunting pirates. Yeah, that’s right, a Viking metal song about hunting pirates. It does not get any more awesome than that. Seriously, though, if you have ever even had the slightest interest in Viking, folk, or power metal then you owe it to yourself to listen to Stand Up and Fight. Turisas, who have been monsters in this genre since 2004, have created the album of their career. If you want to hear something truly, completely huge and epic, listen to this album from beginning to end. You’ll feel like you just experienced the full life of a Viking hero.

MC LarsIndie Rocket Science

You have no excuse not to grab this… it’s free! MC Lars, if you haven’t heard of him, is one of the more prominent nerdcore rappers. Indie Rocket Science is a mixtape that MC Lars put together but unlike most mixtapes, this doesn’t feel like a cheap, cobbled together mess. It’s slick, has tons of guests (KRS-One, Grieves, Weerd Science, Sage Francis, MC Frontalot, and many more), and is catchy as all get-out. The majority of the songs maintain the nerdy lyrics and tongue-in-cheek approach consistent with nerdcore, but don’t think of this as a “funny” album or a joke effort—this is rock-solid hip-hop, it just happens to have clever lyrics about geeky topics.

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