Monday, December 22, 2014

Favorite Albums of 2014

This year has been simply amazing for music. There was so much cool stuff that came out and so much cool stuff I found. I briefly considered reworking the format I normally use but decided against it. Just know that it was really hard to narrow it down to five. Hard. I even considered making one of the spots a tie. There are so many albums I feel like should be here… Amaranthe, Icon For Hire, Tom Petty… oh gosh, I’d better stop. I will never be able to play the whole “which albums would you need on a desert island” game. As always, my picks don’t necessarily include stuff that came out this year – it’s just stuff I discovered this year. Anyway, without further ado…

My Favorite Albums of 2014

Haken, The Mountain – There were two prog-rock albums that pretty much dominated the first few months of the year: Haken’s The Mountain and Maschine’s Rubidium. Both of them are just fantastic albums from start to finish. The only reason why Haken is here and not Maschine is because I flipped a coin. Literally. That’s the cold, clinical kind of analysis you can expect from me!

Xandria, Neverworld’s End – In my original review I called Xandria “Loreena McKennitt metal.” I still stand by that. This year I got into a lot of cool symphonic metal bands like Within Temptation and Epica. Their albums were great but Neverworld’s End was the one I went back to the most. I think it’s that Celtic flair. Xandria’s new album, Sacrificium, is good too but Neverworld’s End is better.

Tess Wiley, Little Secrets – This actually came out two years ago so I’m just hopping on this train. Oh my word, this is such a good record. I wish that radio stations would play more pop music like this instead of some of the insipid garbage they play now. It’s simple, catchy, fun, and most of all, genuine.

Weezer, Everything Will Be Alright In The End – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: welcome back, guys. Everything is exactly what we need to hear. It’s one of the few times where a band’s “we’re going back to our roots” claim is actually true. This album was actually written by the guys who wrote Blue and Pinkerton. It’s not perfect but I can say, without hesitation, that it is the best album since Pinkerton.

Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil, Goliath – I’ve already reviewed this one so I won’t say too much about it here. Actually, no I’m going to talk about it more. It’s so good, guys. I’ve been listening to it for weeks and I’m still not done. I just hope and pray they make more!

Honorable Mentions

Knifeworld, The Unraveling

Devin Townsend Project, Z2

Bigelf, Into the Maelstrom

Dissapointments of 2014

None! – That’s right! With everything I listened too this year I did not encounter a single album that I could describe as a “disappointment.” How awesome is that? Years like this are rare as latinum and I will always treasure 2014’s music offerings!

Best Reissue of 2014

Daniel Amos, Doppelganger – We had some pretty good classic Christian metal reissues from Roxx with Deliverance and Vengeance Rising. However, the Daniel Amos reissue really took the cake. It’s got a great remaster, great packaging, great liner notes, an extra disc packed full of demos and such. The original was long out of print and impossible to find for a reasonable amount of money so this edition is a blessing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil - "Goliath"

Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil - Goliath
2014, Splint Entertainment

1. Only a Ride
2. Double Negative
3. Goliath
4. Moonshot
5. Rubberneck
6. The Sympathy Vote
7. Standing In Line
8. In Layers
9. Happy Go Lazy
10. A Life Preserved
11. Comedian

The thing that surprises me about Goliath is not its high quality. With this group of guys I don't think there's any way this could have ended up anyway but excellent. No, I'm surprised by its brevity. The whole album clocks in at a mere thirty-nine minutes. Many of the songs are under three minutes. Yet in that short amount of time this band accomplishes more than most bands can in double. The songs feel complete and weighty and after several listens over two weeks I'm still thirsty for more. I'm also surprised at just how aggressive Goliath is. "Only a Ride," "Rubberneck," and "In Layers" will rock your face off. Age has not slowed down any of these guys one bit. Steve's trademark wit and satire is in full force but the lyrics are a bit more vague, more akin to Chagall Guevara than his solo stuff. I think once the band is done doing this album they plan to go back to their day jobs. I would implore them not to. Please make more albums. Please. 

Useless Fact: Peter Furler from Newsboys plays the drums. I have very intense negative feelings toward the Newsboys but as it turns out Mr. Furler is a pretty good musician. Maybe I'll have to give the Newsboys a second chance. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

McKennitt, Loreena - "A Midwinter Night's Dream"

McKennitt, Loreena - A Midwinter Night's Dream
2008, Quinlan Road

1. The Holly & The Ivy
2. Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle
3. The Seven Rejoices of Mary
4. Noel Nouvelet!
5. Good King Wenceslas
6. Coventry Carol
7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
8. Snow
9. Breton Carol
10. Seeds of Love
11. Gloucestershire Wassail
12. Emmanuel
13. In the Bleak Midwinter

This disc has been on my "Christmas wish list" for a long time. Loreena McKennitt and Christmas music go together like peanut butter and chocolate. One think I like about this album is that it's not full of the same stuff you've heard a million times. There are some recognizable tunes, for sure, but there are a lot of different songs you don't often hear. I've never heard "The Seven Rejoices of Mary" but it's one of my favorite tracks. Also, while you do hear the first verse of "Good King Wenceslas" often enough in movies and television, people don't usually sing the whole song. I quite like this song as well. Basically, if you're a fan of Ms. McKennitt's music you're going to want this album for all your holiday rituals.

Useless Fact: Some songs on this album first appeared on a little Christmas EP called A Winter Garden.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Connick, Jr., Harry - "Harry For the Holidays"

Connick, Jr., Harry - Harry For the Holidays
2004, Columbia

1. Frosty the Snowman
2. Blue Christmas
3. The Christmas Waltz
4. I Wonder as I Wander
5. Silver Bells
6. Mary's Little Boy Child
7. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
8. The Happy Elf
9. I'll Be Home For Christmas
10. I Come With Love
11. Nature Boy
12. O Little Town of Bethlehem
13. I'm Gonna Be the First One
14. This Christmas
15. Nothin' For New Year
16. Silent Night

I can't believe this isn't already on the blog. I've had access to this for years. I borrowed a friend's CD and copied it to the collection. It's only recently I got a hard copy for the vault. I like this one just as much as the other one. I especially like "Frosty the Snowman" and "The Christmas Waltz" which are probably my favorite versions of those songs. I also didn't realize how much I liked "Mary's Little Boy Child" until I heard it on this album. Not too much more to say. If you're getting this album you already know what you're in for and you will not be disappointed.

Useless Fact: Apparently almost every CD has to end with "Silent Night." It's like a law or something.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Devin Townsend Project - "Z2"

Devin Townsend Project - Z2
2014, Inside Out

DISC ONE: Sky Blue
1. Rejoice
2. Fallout
3. Midnight Sun
4. A New Reign
5. Universal Flame
6. Warrior
7. Sky Blue
8. Silent Militia
9. Rain City
10. Forever
11. Before We Die
12. The Ones Who Love

DISC TWO: Dark Matters
1. Z2
2. From Sleep Awake
3. Ziltoidian Empire
4. War Princess
5. Deathray
6. March of the Poozers
7. Wandering Eye
8. Earth
9. Ziltoid Goes Home
10. Through the Wormhole
11. Dimension Z

Z2 is the long awaited sequel to Ziltoid the Omniscient. It's been a long time coming too. Devin has said he's been working on it off and on throughout Casualties of Cool and Epicloud. I honestly don't think Devin really wanted to do a sequel. In fact, most of this album isn't even about Ziltoid. It contains two separate albums: Sky Blue - which is just the Devin Townsend Project, and Dark Matters - which isn't really even a sequel to Ziltoid but just another different story. There's no continuity between the two.

Sky Blue definitely evolves the sound that DTP had on Epicloud. While it's still got Devin's signature "wall of sound" chaos going on, it's a lot less commercial, a bit more melancholy, more contemplative. The theme seems to be "life is short so live and love while you can." Devin truly embraces his inner Enya here, especially on tracks like "A New Reign," "Sky Blue," and "Forever." It's also mixed in with some full throttle rockers like "Fallout" and "Silent Militia." He weaves some pretty compelling tapestries on this album that took a bit to grow on me. Anneke van Giersbergen returns to share lead vocal duties, which is always welcome.

Dark Matters is set up like an old fifties radio show with cheesy narration and everything. Dark Matters is certainly heavier and more progressive than Sky Blue but the songs are also simpler and for more melodic hand hook-laden overall. Honestly, the first few tracks kind of run together for me until "War Princess" where I feel like the album really kicks in and starts to get good. I have the three disc edition which includes a raw mix of Dark Matters without all the narration. I actually prefer that to the original as you can really hear what's going on musically.

If it sounds like I'm not quite as excited as I should be about new Devin it's because I still just don't know how I feel about this album. I don't hate it, far from it. I like it better than Epicloud for sure. In fact, I think this is actually my second favorite Devin offering right after Addictied! So I guess I'm saying I don't know what my problem is.

Useless Fact: My buddy Uvulapie actually sings background vocals as part of the Universal Choir.