Friday, January 10, 2020

Favorite Albums of 2019


Well, well, well…2019 certainly was… a year. Wasn’t it? Full of…things…that happened. Truth be told, 2019 was kind of crap for me. I turned 40 and felt every year of it. I didn’t really keep track of new releases at all because I just didn’t care that much. It didn’t seem like there were many new albums that really grabbed me. So instead of new albums I did some deep dives into different bands’ discographies that I hadn’t been that familiar with. I did end up with quite a few favorites this year despite my mood, so let’s get started!

FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2019

Leslie Phillips, “The Turning” – I never listened to anything of her’s before so I bought this on a lark. It’s her final album in the Christian scene before going off to the secular realm and writing music for the Gilmore Girls. She’d teamed up with T-Bone Burnett for this one. It pretty much dominated the first part of the year. While it does sound a bit dated I found it had some great hooks and a lot of integrity.

The 77’s, “Pray Naked” – While I’ve always been a big fan of The Choir, Daniel Amos, and Adam Again, I’d never taken much of a shine to the 77’s. I have no idea why. My first exposure was Drowning With Land in Sight and that was alright. After listening to almost every album they made I ended up loving them. Pray Naked, the re-issue of their 1992 album is my pick because this is the one I returned to again and again. Though I guess I did that with most of their stuff.

Starflyer 59, “Leave Here a Stranger” – Of all SF59’s output, I only ever really liked their debut. I never gave their later, softer material a chance. After the 77’s I started checking out all the band’s material and…man… what the heck was wrong with me. Leave Here a Stranger is my top pick but their latest, Young in My Head is awesome too.

 The Walk, “Indianland” – At some point in the year I got a huge hankering for alt-rock with jangly guitars. Someone on Facebook recommended this album and it scratched that itch quite nicely. It’s pretty obscure as well. Fun Fact: It was released on Talkingtown Records. Whose only other release that I know of is Armageddon’s The Money Mask

Polaris, “Music From the Adventures of Pete and Pete” – So yeah… jangly alt-rock. Sure, “Hey Sandy” is great, but the rest of this album is awesome too. Also – all the nostalgia feels.

Alvvays, “Antisocialites” – We’re still on the jangly alt-rock kick here though this one is a little bit more shoe-gazery. Wonderful dreamy female vocals. Great hooks.

Petra, “More Power To Ya” and “Not of this World” – A friend gave me a “best of” CD with a bunch of older Petra material on it. Since I started with On Fire! I’d never heard any of the band’s Greg X. Volz output. Turns out it’s friggin’ phenomenal. Pretty much everything from Never Say Die to Beat the System is pretty great. Though I picked the above two albums because I really think they’re the cream of the crop.

Resurrection Band, “Hostage” – After Petra I immersed myself in the Resurrection Band. Again, I’d only heard an album or two. Imagine my surprise when I loved every single album. Seriously, I did not hear even one clunker. I listened to a Rez Band album almost every morning for a month. So I guess I picked Hostage because it’s the one that fans tend to hate because it’s all New Wave. Didn’t bother me at all. I loved it. Lament, Civil Rites, and Colors were other favorites. But…ya’ll… they were all good.

Aunt Bettys, “Aunt Bettys” – I’d always heard about how great this record was but had never been able to listen to it. I’m kind of a casual fan of Michael Knott’s output as it is. However, this record lived up to the expectations. I think it might be the hardest thing he’s done ever. It’s also super catchy.

Angelica, “Without Words – I’m not usually into instrumental albums, but this is an exception. The guitar work is absolutely incredible. Stellar. But the one thing I really liked about this album was that there are hooks. Even though there’s no vocals it felt like each song had a “chorus” or something to hang your brain on.

Crimson Thorn, “Unearthed” – So at the tail end of the year I had a sudden desire to listen to death metal. That desire is ongoing as of this moment. I remember I bought this when it came out originally in 1995 and didn’t love it that much. I bought 2019’s reissue and found myself loving it. The down-tuned brutal guitars, the cookie monster vocals, the blast beats. Man… couldn’t get enough. Which leads me to…

Revulsed, “Infernal Atrocity” – Dude. This is…. BROOTAL. I’d say this is probably the heaviest thing I’ve ever listened to and loved. The band features the virtuoso drumming of Jayson Sherlock of Mortification fame. Everything about this album is massively heavy and pummels you from start to finish. I started many morning in December with a dose of Revulsed to get my day going.

DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2019

Dream Theater, “Distance Over Time” – Yeah. I’m done with ya’ll. How can a band that’s so insanely talented make such forgettable music? Seriously. I’d forgotten I’d bought this. Just like the last one. I was never one to board the “Mike Portnoy was the talent” wagon but…man…I think I’m on that wagon now.

Devin Townsend, “Empath” – Yeah….no. I was a huge fan of Devy for awhile. But Empath is just… *sigh*. Just play the song, man. Play a song. I feel like he was so into cramming his ideas into this album that he forgot to write actual songs. I couldn’t even make it through the album because it just made me tired. All of the transitions and what not that don’t really make that much sense. Little in the way of hooks. I’m just too old for this crap.

Queensryche, "The Verdict" - This album is not here because it's bad. It's not. It's a pretty good album. Probably the best of the Todd LaTorre era. It's here because it's good... not great. I was hoping that this iteration of the band would finally put out their Rage for Order or Operation: Mindcrime. No such luck. They do keep getting better with each album so I have hope that they'll get their opus magnum yet.

Well…that’s it for me! I hope everyone has a great 2020!


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Favorite Albums of 2018


Well, well, well…this year has just sucked out loud hasn’t it? Oh my word. Despite the general awfulness and horror that was 2018, the music was pretty good. If you liked old Christian rock music it was a banner year – with releases from a lot of major bands from back in the day. Anyway, without further ado, I present my favorite albums of 2018!

FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2018

Jimmy P. Brown , Eraserhead – I’m a bit fuzzy as to whether the band is Eraserhead or is it just the album? Eraserhead is made up of the team that made some of the best Deliverance albums – Jimmy, Manny Morales, and Jon Knox. It’s a little more varied than the old Deliverance records but this is a good thing. I really hope this wasn’t a one-off.

The Choir, Bloodshot – My friend Uvulapie and I might disagree a bit on this one. I found myself going back to this again and again. Steve Hindalong’s unfortunate divorce providing a lot of angst for songs, which are overall better. While the bass desperately needs to be turned up and it’s not quite “instant classic” status, I can say I’ve enjoyed this album the most of any since Midnight Sun.

Coheed and Cambria, Vaxis Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures – Coheed returns to their dark, progressive roots… kinda. Given the fact that the story takes place on a prison planet it doesn’t seem as dark as you would think. The songs here are big and epic, with plenty of hooks. It’s pretty much been a staple at my house since it came out.

Gama Bomb, Speed Between the Lines – I love this band. I thought it was going to be pretty hard to top Untouchable Glory. I don’t know if they topped it, but they definitely matched it. It’s been my go-to when I want some full throttle, in-your-face thrash.

Amaranthe, Helix – Talk about getting a lot of mileage out of a style. The pop/metal fusion they perfected two albums ago on Massive Addictive still works. To the point that I think this is their best album yet. For reals. I’m genuinely surprised at how good this turned out considering I didn’t like the singles that much at first.

Honorable Mentions
Soccer Mommy, Clean
Haken, Vector
Judas Priest, Firepower

Disappointments of 2018

Marmozets, Knowing What You Know Now – I was anxiously awaiting this one for years after having adored their debut, Weird and Wonderful. And honestly, this isn’t a bad album. The problem is that I think they’ve sanded down some of their rough edges. I liked the rough edges. It gave them character. This album is a little more commercial (which isn’t always a bad thing) but I miss the raw, frantic energy of the debut.

Panic! At the Disco, Pray for the Wicked – I knew it would be a daunting task to top Death of a Bachelor. But Pray for the Wicked is just….boring and bland for the most part. It starts off strong with the first few tracks. Then it sort of…blaaaaaah – radio music. My family latched on to this one for some reason and we listened to it over and over and over. Maybe that explains some of my apathy.

Best Reissue of 2018

Undercover, Devotion – I was seriously thinking about putting the two Crystavox reissues here. But the thing about the Undercover reissue is the attention to detail. I appreciate that the liner notes look pretty much like the ones in the original album. The packaging is a little better as is the art design. The album rocks as well. I helped Kickstart this one so I may be a little biased but I do think it’s a great package.

And Finally…

There’s going to be some changes here at the vault as of this posting. The biggest change is that, as much as I hate to say it, I’m going on hiatus for awhile. I don’t know if I’ll stop reviews all together or whether some will pop up from time to time. The fact is that I’m just tired of keeping up with it. Honestly, I’m tired of keeping up with music in general. Some big bands are releasing albums next year and I just…don’t care as much. There’s also the simple fact that this blog doesn’t get any views. I usually top out at, like, 11 views. And most of those are Russian bots. I’ve been doing it for myself all these years and I guess I kind of feel like my work is complete. Again, I can’t say that I won’t pop up with something from time to time – but weekly reviews are going away. Thank you to everyone who has ever read, enjoyed, or kept up with the blog.






Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Tourniquet - "Gazing At Medusa"



Tourniquet - Gazing At Medusa
2018, Pathogenic

1. Sinister Scherzo
2. Longing For Gondwanaland
3. Memento Mori
4. All Good Things Died Here
5. The Crushing Weight of Eternity
6. The Peaceful Beauty of Brutal Justice
7. Can't Make Me Hate You
8. One Foot In Forever
9. Gazing At Medusa

Gazing At Medusa hearkens back to the early days of Tourniquet. Not so much in the sound (though we will get to that in a minute) but more in concept I guess. Someone on a Facebook group described it as "nine metal tunes." He wasn't being disparaging. This was evidenced after the title track released and it's simple structure and melodic vocals gave me major Stop the Bleeding vibes (especially the album having snake-themed cover art). After years of Tourniquet playing up the whole progressive thing, it's nice to go back to just having nine metal tunes. The progressiveness is scaled back a bit as is the overall run time. This is another case where brevity helps the album. With the departure of Luke Easter, Tim "Ripper" Owens (of Judas Priest and Iced Earth fame) steps in for vocals. Owens has a bit more range and can do those high registers that Guy Ritter used to do on the older albums. This is no offense to Luke, of course - I really like Luke! But Owen's increased range is another factor that makes this album feel a little old school. Also - no medical terms. The over-arching theme seems to be mortality, eternity, and making the most of one's time on earth. I'm not sure Gazing At Medusa will be remembered as a landmark album or anything, but it doesn't need to be. It's nine solid metal tunes and it's well worth your time.

Useless Fact: Owens does not sing the title track. Those vocal duties are handled by Dean Castronovo. Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth) handles guitar leads. Aaron Guerra is still on rhythm guitar.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Cash, Johnny - "The Classic Christmas Album"



Cash, Johnny - The Classic Christmas Album
2013, Sony

1. Christmas As I Knew It
2. Christmas Time's a Comin'
3. That Christmasy Feeling
4. Christmas With You
5. Blue Christmas
6. The Little Drummer Boy
7. The Gifts They Gave
8. The King of Love
9. Merry Christmas Mary
10. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
11. Joy to the World
12. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
13. Ringing the Bells for Jim
14. The Christmas Guest
15. The Christmas Spirit
16. Silent Night

I've had my eye on this album for awhile and I finally pulled the trigger. It really, really pains me to say this about a Johnny Cash album but... I don't like it much. I really wanted to hear Johnny Cash sing. Not Johnny Cash and the Cash Family. Or Johnny Cash and Tommy Cash. I also want to hear him sing, not talk. He talks way too much. Now I know this is kind of his style in a way but I kind of like his singing voice. There's a few tunes on here I like but the bulk of it just kind of annoys me. Oh well, not everything can be awesome.

Useless Fact: Johnny Cash was on a One Bad Pig album! If you follow this blog you probably already knew that!


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Haken - "Vector"



Haken - Vector 
2018, Inside Out

1. Clean
2. The Good Doctor
3. Puzzle Box
4. Veil
5. Nil By Mouth
6. Host
7. A Cell Divides

Where to go after the Eighties love-fest that was Affinity? Apparently, you go back to being heavy. Vector is the heaviest and most aggressive album since Visions. I am okay with this, by the way. The songs are dense, knotted compositions, full of heavy riffs, poly-rhythms, and everything you've come to expect from Haken. I also think there's a bit more in the way of hooks here than there was on Affinity. Also noteworthy, this album is pretty short for Haken. At seven songs (with one being an ambient intro track) and a scant 48 minutes, I think this is the band's shortest full-length album. However, I think the brevity works in the album's favor. The cram a lot in those 48 minutes so you're still getting a full meal. I'm just glad I can listen to the whole thing on the way to and back from work. Vector hasn't overtaken The Mountain but it's immensely enjoyable.

Useless Fact: There's a story here somewhere about a doctor in an asylum performing dubious experiments. Though there's a lot of room for interpretation as to what it's actually about and what is happening.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

MxPx - "Pokinatcha"



MxPx - Pokinatcha
1994, Tooth & Nail

1. Anywhere But Here
2. Weak
3. Wantad
4. Realize
5. Think Twice
6. Unopposed
7. The Aspect
8. Ears to Hear
9. Bad Hair Day
10. Too Much Thinking
11. PxPx
12. Time Brings Change
13. Jars of Clay
14. High Standards
15. Another Song About T.V.
16. Twisted Words
17. Walking Bye
18. No Room
19. Jay Jay's Song
20. One Way Window
21. Dead End

MxPx's debut, Pokinatcha, is missing a lot of the spit-shine and polish of Teenage Politics and Life in General. The sound is dirty, raw, and sloppy. And fast! Most tracks race along at full speed, rarely stopping to take a breath except for a few moments. Those moments being "Wantad" and "Bad Hair Day" for which the band received some buzz back in the day. I don't know though... I think I like my MxPx with a bit more polish. While the sound may be raw, the lyrics are not. They're pretty suburban teenage Christian with a little angst. Not that there's anything wrong with that - that was kind of their thing. It's worth a listen, but I prefer their later albums (i.e. the ones I mentioned, not their later - later material where they were really super duper polished and commercial).

Useless Fact: As I recall the band was originally called Magnified Plaid. It even says that on the spine of this album. However, drummer Yuri was prone to abbreviating it M.P. but with x's instead of periods. So they eventually became known as MxPx. Also, I read in an interview once that the word "pokinatcha" was from a Snickers commercial or something where the narrator says hunger is "pokin' at ya."

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Pentatonix - "Christmas is Here!"



Pentatonix - Christmas is Here!
2018, RCA

1. What Christmas Means to Me
2. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
3. It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
4. Grown Up Christmas List
5. Greensleeves (Interlude)
6. Sweater Weather
7. When You Believe
8. Waltz of the Flowers
9. Here Comes Santa Claus
10. Making Christmas
11. Where Are You, Christmas?
12. Jingle Bells

So...maybe it's time to give it a rest with the Christmas albums. I can't believe I'm saying this but...I'm kind of disappointed with this one. Part of that has to do with the song selection. I mean, this is their third Christmas album in six years. I never cared for "Grown Up Christmas List" or "Where Are You, Christmas?" to begin with and these versions only make them slightly more palatable. Then we've got the two non-Christmas songs, "Sweater Weather" and "When You Believe." The former of which is okay but the latter is from Prince of Egypt. Another song I wasn't wild about originally (love the movie, though!). The rest of the tracks? It's Pentatonix. It's Christmas. You pretty much know what you're getting. "Making Christmas" (from The Nightmare Before Christmas) is the standout track which really showcases the originality that I fell in love with in the first place. I don't know. Maybe the problem is on my end. I like this okay but it's definitely the bottom of the three.

Useless Fact: Let's see, I've already mentioned that Avi left and that he and Kristen didn't get along. So... I've got nothing. At least Mitch shaved off that awful mustache.