Thursday, February 24, 2011

Album of the Year: 2010 - The Bottom of the Barrel

Stone Sour - Audio Secrecy
I actually had some hopes for this band after Come What(ever) May, as that had some nice variety in songwriting and a strong performance from Corey. Unfortunately, the band commited the ultimate sin in hard rock with this album - it is boring. The songwriting hits the same note over and over and the performances sound uninspired.
Best Track: The Bitter End
Rating: 2/10

A7X - Nightmare
There might be at least a mediocre album here if the leads weren't all sickeningly coated in sugar, the lyrics not quite so juvenile and the vocals not reminding so much of a poor man's Axl Rose impersonator. Seriously, once upon a time, Shadows could sing (relisten to "Chapter Four" to refresh your memory) - what the hell happened?
Best Track: God Hates Us
Rating: 2/10

Kamelot - Poetry For the Poisoned
It really pains me to give this album such a low score as it was easily my most anticipated at the beginning of the year. However, this is just absolutely terrible, especially considering the extremely high bar they set for themselves over the course of the past four albums. Kahn's vocals, the sonic and emotional driving force of those albums, is completely flat on this record and the music is nowhere near up to the task of picking up the slack. 
Best Track: The Zodiac 
Rating: 3/10

Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier
Despite being one of metal's "sacred cows," Maiden have not released any truly great albums since 1988. I'm not saying that they don't deserve to be revered, a band that released Killers, The Number of the Beast, Powerslave, etc. certainly has earned their stripes. But ever since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, their releases have gone from the trainwreck of Virtual XI to the string of insomnia-cures they've released since Bruce rejoined the band. Take one of these before bed and sleep like a baby.
Best Track: The Alchemist
Rating: 3/10

Atheist - Jupiter
I knew it was too much to hope that they'd be able to recapture the magic of their previous albums, but I figured I'd at least be able to enjoy an average tech-death album with a hint of that classic Atheist touch. However, when I listen to this album all I hear is an old, uninspired band trying desperately to ignite a fire with no fuel. There are bits and pieces of decent songs, but they are quickly lost in a sea of bland song structure and botched production.
Best Track: Tortoise the Titan
Rating: 3/10

Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me
Despite her excessively "cute" vocals, there is actually some pretty good material on here. The problem is that Joanna obviously has no idea how to self-edit and apparently no one else wanted to be the one to tell her that she didn't have enough quality material to support this TRIPLE ALBUM. If you are going to put two hours of music together in one release, it had better be life-changingly amazing. This release simply collapses under the weight of its own length and pretentiousness.
Rating: 3/10

Death in June - Peaceful Snow
The contrast between the tone of the lyrics and (essentially) spoken word is somewhat interesting I suppose. Really though, the vocal delivery wears very thin, very fast and becomes extremely grating long before the album has run its course. The lyrics are generally ridiculous and melodramatic, this fact exacerbated by the painful delivery. The only reason this release scores as high as it does is for the underlying piano melodies and the piano recordings of previous works that make up the second disc.
Best Track: Neutralize Decay                                                          
Rating: 3/10

Disturbed - Asylum
Disturbed have always suffered from Weak Second Half Syndrome and it seems that the illness has flared up worse than ever on this album. Once "The Animal" ends, you can pretty much shut the album off as the last five songs have almost nothing to offer. The problem is that the crippling weaknesses that have plagued their second halves seem to be seeping into the early parts of the album, resulting in "average" rather than "stellar" tracks early on. The energy that sells the great Disturbed albums only appears in very brief bursts this time around.
Best Track: Asylum
Rating: 4/10

White Wizzard - Over the Top
They've got energy and they're having fun, that much I can tell and give them credit for. However, a cheesy album about the metalness of being totally metal dudes in a decidedly unmetal world requires that you be utterly brilliant and unrelenting with your music. In small doses, the band succeeds - once you string together a couple of tracks, they start to blend together and sound alike. Soon after you'll realize that, rather than a work of metal art, this album more closely resembles a completed copy of "The Number of the Beast: A Totally Metal Color by Numbers Book."
Best Track: Death Race
Rating: 4/10

Nachtmystium - Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. 2
On paper, I should love this album as black metal mixed in with psychedelic and post-rock should be right up my alley. For some reason, this just never really hits home with me. On listening I find no aggression, no emotional pull, no trance-inducing passages; the album is simply - there. Even at less than fifty minutes, the album feels like it plods along for age upon endless age. To its credit, the production of the album is wonderfully textured and would really serve the songs well if there was some more meat on their bones.
Best Track: Nightfall
Rating: 4/10

Exodus - Exhibit B: The Human Condition
They've clawed a bit closer to redemption in my eyes with this album as there's probably a good EP's worth of material here. Unfortunately, this isn't an EP; this is a 70+ minute long album (and absolute eternity for a thrash record). Despite the fact that the bland "groove" riffs are still prevalent and Rob Dukes is still on vocals, there are some things to like, much more that on Exhibit A at the very least. There are some brilliant thrash riffs, mostly used to open the tracks - so having a song start out awesome and then burn out during its excessive length is all too common here.
Best Track: Good Riddance
Rating: 4/10

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
The album starts out on a decent enough note with the title track and recovers a bit towards the end after a weak middle - but even at its best, The Suburbs pales in comparison to Funeral and only pulls even with the weaker tracks on Neon Bible. There's just nothing that latches onto you and refuses to let go like "Wake Up" was able to do almost seven years ago. Maybe the blandness of the album is supposed to be a "clever" commentary on life in the titular suburbs - if so, someone needs to tell them that feelings of boredom and tedium can be conveyed without the music itself being boring and tedious.
Best Track: We Used To Wait
Rating: 4/10

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
There isn't anything particularly wrong with this release, but when I spin this album I don't hear any "heart." I'm aware that this is a purely subjective criticism and one that others might easily disagree with, but for me it absolutely kills the experience of this type of album. A shoegaze-y album of this variety demands the listener to form some sort of emotional bond with the work or the band itself and when this doesn't happen, the entire construct crumbles into a boring mess of needlessly noisy pop. There really are some well-crafted songs here, but it all feels way too hollow for me to truly enjoy.
Best Track: Earthquake
Rating: 5/10

Pain of Salvation - Road Salt One
I really wanted this album to be a return to form after the horrific mistake known as Scarsick. While it's definitely a step in the right direction, there are still quite a few things that keep it from reaching the level of Remedy Lane and The Perfect Element. For one, Pain of Salvation have always been at their best when they write a thematically cohesive album - this one is a bit too scattershot and, as such, robs their songwriting ability of much of its strength. The other big problem I have is the production; this band's sound demands a crystal-clear production and this just isn't cutting it for me.
Best Track: Sisters
Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Welcome to the Soapbox

I shall not waste time on introductions here - I simply want to say, "Welcome, and enjoy your stay."

Without further ado, let us examine the music of 2010. The selections range from releases I highly anticipated to albums recommended by friends to ones that were forced down my throat at every turn despite my begs for mercy. Here they are - starting with the offensively terrible and eventually reaching the life-changingly brilliant (or something like that).