Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bastard's Top Ten Albums of 2009

10. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

09. Against Me! - The Original Cowboy

08. The Decemberists - Hazards of Love

07. N.A.S.A. - The Spirit Of Apollo

06.  The Heavy - The House That Dirt Built

05. Them Crooked Vultures - (Self-Titled)

04. The Builders and The Butchers - Salvation Is A Deep Dark Well

03. Mastodon - Crack The Skye

02. R.A. The Rugged Man - Legendary Classics Vol. 1

01. Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns

Death By Stereo - Death Is My Only Friend

Death By Stereo has been one of the best and most consistent Hardcore bands of the last decade, getting better with each release.  It's hard, fast, melodic, and very aggressive music.  Just how I like it.  This is not for everyone, but if you're having one of those days and you feel like headbutting a nun, this album is for you.  

The lead singer Efrem Shulz has a great screaming voice, but sub-par vocals when he tries to sing, which he tries all too often with disappointing results.  That's pretty much my only complaint.  The real star here is the astounding guitar work.  It's basically what "makes" the album.  The solos are short but very satisfying.

It's not a great album, but it's not bad either.  There are some truly strange moments, such as the piano ballad Forever And A Day.  If you don't like Hardcore Punk, you will not like it.  If you like it, you'll find this quite mediocre.  If you're curious about the genre, it's a great album to get initiated.  Personally I'd rather listen to their Live album Death Alive.

Rating: 6/10 (The vocals, and the few weird songs lower the score, otherwise I'd rate it MUCH higher)

Bread For The Dead
I Sing For You

Mando Diao - The Malevolence of Mando Diao

Mando Diao's latest release came in October, and for some unknown reason I seem to have missed it.  Having now appropriated it, it is clear that the singer/songwriting duo of Daniel Häglund and Björn Dixgärd had a very ambitious plan for the Swedish band.  The album of B-Sides spans two CDs packed full of great Euro-Pop-Rock tracks.  The sum of it's harmonious vocals accompanied by catchy hooks and a vibrant brass section make this one of the must listen releases of the year.

The influences on their musical style are too numerous to list (Garage, Blues, Gospel, 60's Pop Rock, etc..), but are mixed beautifully.  To me it sounds like their Swedish counterparts The Hives, though more melodious and adventurous, with smarter lyrics, topped with a warm classic rock feel.  Mr. Dixgärd and Häglund deliver smooth Paul McCartney like vocals that make it very easy and pleasing to listen to.

The band has managed to remain relatively unknown to us folks across the pond, and i'm still wondering why to this day.  All I know is that we've been missing out on yet another great European group.  Sweden has been home to some of the greatest new rock and pop acts in the last decade, and most of the world is completely and shamefully unaware.  I guess we're stuck with Lady Gaga and 50 Cents, while across the pond they get to enjoy more thoughtful music.

For the unitiated I would suggest to listen to their second release, "Ode to Ochrasy" before adventuring through this double release, as it was by far their best work.  Though I can't for the life of me find a bad song on either CDs.  Now if you'll excuse me, i'm going back to revisit this album and their entire catalog....once again.

Rating: 8/10

Hail The Sunny Days
Long Before Rock'n'Roll (Live) A "must watch" to "get" what the band is all about. /end quotation marks
Good Morning Herr Horst (Another great Live version)
A Hard Day's Night cover (Not at all what you'd expect)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Say Anything - Say Anything

Say Anything left quite an impression on me with their first release "...Is A Real Boy".  The songs "Alive With The Glory Of Love (Link), and "This Is Fucking Ecstasy" (Link) were the ones that had me hooked.  With this new release, the style remains similar, and the writing improved ever so slightly.  Musically it's not all too different from their pop-punk counterparts, though it has original bits, and enough integrity to surpass similar bands.  The lead singer/songwriter Max Bemis draws his inspiration for his poignant lyrics through personal experiences from his hospitalization in a mental institute, his anxiety issues, bi-polar personality, and heavy marijuana use.  In short, it's obvious that it's from the heart and not "Baby I Love You" type drivel.  In the end it's really hit and miss, but the tracks that are good, are really good.

"It's this combination of self-loathing and pop culture critique that fuels most of the album, and Bemis distances himself from his contemporaries by briefly embracing their tricks -- the palm-muted guitar chords, the "whoa oh oh" background vocals, the dramatic delivery -- before turning them on their heads, whether that means adding pizzicato strings to "Do Better" or circus-styled keyboard to the aforementioned "Mara and Me." This is an impulsive album, an odd piece of work that manages to be puzzling without alienating the listener." (Allmusic album review)

Rating: 6/10

Hate Everyone
Mara And Me

Fu Manchu - Go for It... Live!

A live album is always what I wanted from this band.  Listening to their previous albums gives you the idea that these guys would rock much harder live.  This album delivers the goods and is an aural treat to any rock enthusiast.  The songs that sound so simple in studio are drawn out into impressive jams that makes you wish you could drive a Hot-Rod down the Pacific Coast Highway at top speed.  It's so called "Stoner Rock" at it's absolute best.  Intricate improvised drum beats, deep complex bass licks, and soaring guitar work make this a beautiful mix of simple braindead rock and pure rocking the fuck out.  I've been listening to this for a few years and I'm still performing embarassing air guitar solos when I hear it.

"Go for It...Live! is an absolute must for those enamored by Fu Manchu's buzzy sound, and a great introduction for those curious about a band woefully ignored by radio stations and video channels." (Allmusic album review)

Rating: 9/10

Laserblast! (Best song in my opinion, the second half of the track is an impressive guitar jam)
Asphalt Rising (Skip to 1:30)
Saturn III (The ultimate space jam.  Be sure to be stoned out of your tree and own a great pair of headphones)

Mastodon - Crack The Skye

Mastodon's new album ends up being less heavy, but nonetheless masterfully crafted.  The musicianship on all instruments is flawless.  My only gripe would be with some of pig squealing, screaming vocals.  But it's so far and few in between that it barely  affects the overall feel of the album.
I can't begin to properly describe the album's content, so I will let drummer extraordinaire Brann Dailor explain:
"When asked in multiple interviews Dailor said the record would tell a story dealing variously with the art aesthetics of Tsarist Russia, astral travel, out of body experiences and Stephen Hawking's theories on wormholes.
"There is a paraplegic and the only way that he can go anywhere is if he astral travels. He goes out of his body, into outer space and a bit like Icarus, he goes too close to the sun, burning off the golden umbilical cord that is attached to his solar plexus. So he is in outer space and he is lost, he gets sucked into a wormhole, he ends up in the spirit realm and he talks to spirits telling them that he is not really dead. So they send him to the Russian cult, they use him in a divination and they find out his problem. They decide they are going to help him. They put his soul inside Rasputin's body. Rasputin goes to usurp the czar and he is murdered. The two souls fly out of Rasputin's body through the crack in the sky(e) and Rasputin is the wise man that is trying to lead the child home to his body because his parents have discovered him by now and think that he is dead. Rasputin needs to get him back into his body before it's too late. But they end up running into the Devil along the way and the Devil tries to steal their souls and bring them down…there are some obstacles along the way."
Dailor has also said that "Crack the Skye" is meant as a homage to his sister, Skye Dailor, who committed suicide at age 14.
"My sister passed away when I was a teenager and it was awful, and there's no better way to pay tribute to a lost loved one than having an opportunity to be in a group with my friends and we make art together. Her name was Skye, so Crack the Skye means a lot of different things. For me personally, it means the moment of being told you lost someone dear to you, [that moment] is enough to crack the sky.""
With ten long tracks, including the  thirteen minute opus ''The Last Baron'' (It's standout track in my opinion, along with Divinations), it's a Metal Opera that's worth more than one listen, and will keep you coming back, headbanging to it's complex drummming and masterful guitar shredding.

''Crack the Skye rocks, and hard! Its shifting tempos and key structures are far more meaty and forceful than most prog metal, and menace and cosmological speculation exist in equal measure, providing for a spot-on sense of balance. Some of the hardcore death metal conservatives may have trouble with this set, but the album wasn't recorded for them — or anybody else. Crack the Skye is the sound of a band stretching itself to its limits and exploring the depth of its collective musical identity as a series of possibilities rather than as signatures. And yes, that is a good thing.'' (Allmusic album review)

Rating: 8/10

The Last Baron

R.A. The Rugged Man - Legendary Classics: Volume 1

R.A. The Rugged Man is nothing short of a legend.  Easily one of the best flows going around.  Further proof the the best Hip-Hop, the real rap stars, are all underground.  Tracks with Kool G. Rap, Havoc (of Mobb Deep), Notorious B.I.G. and J. Live displays Rugged Man topping these legends with superior skills and rhymes.  Which are as vicious, vulgar and deprecating as you can get.  An impressive album that contains his best tracks from his 15 year career, and a few new ones.  It is in my top three for the year, if not the best I've heard in the last 12 months.  As far as Hip-Hop goes, this is an instant classic for me.

"For his dedicated followers, Legendary Classics Vol. 1 is a nice road down memory lane. On the other side, fans just getting into R.A. The Rugged Manwill find a handful of lyrical that should inspire them to delve into his catalog. 18 years later, R.A. The Rugged Man is still as arrogant and cocky than ever. The fact of the matter is, he backs it up with undeniable proof"  (HipHopDX review.)

Rating: 9.5/10

L.I's Finest
Posse Cut feat Hell Razah, Jojo Pellegrino & Blaq Poet  (He comes in a 1:40 and kills every other MC rapping on this track)

Jamie.T - Kings & Queens

Jamie.T's second album ends up being a very audacious endeavour with an original, unique soundscape.  The content of the songs haven't changed much, and thankfully he hasn't lost the earnest boyish charm and energy that was so endearing the first time around.  There's a few tracks that are WAY out there and I personally find hard to listen, but it's an obvious effect of trying hard to sound like no one else.  Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives.  I got a few favourite tracks on this one, but I still listen to the first album, and EPs more often than Kings and Queens.  

Rating: 7/10


The Builders and The Butchers - Salvation Is A Deep Dark Well

The Builders and The Butchers are one of these bands that I stumbled across.  I ended up being hooked upon the very first time listening.  It's simple hooks and changes in tempo are equisitely crafted with the obvious blues, country, and gospel influences.

Of note, the band has no drummer per se, rather, it has two percussionists  giving the sound a deep bass background, countered with the high pitch of the fiddle and mondolin.

"The band obviously takes a lot of time crafting dense poetic lyrics and the arrangements show just as much care, layering up orchestral tracks that create a dark, driven ambiance. This music won't please everyone, but those who tend to lurk at the dark end of the street will find much to like." (Allmusic review -- Allmusic album review)

Rating: Solid 8/10 in my opinion