Every year, i follow the same meme, and post my top 5 favorite albums. Blame it on still being obsessed with 'High Fidelity'. for the past few years, i've flirted with indie-cool taste in music that's made my top 5 somehow relevant. this year, my tastes have become far to divergent for a top 5 to really make sense. Plus, i've been basically out of the loop, via listening to classical music at work, and not really using the internet there. So this year i'm not picking 5, and i'm segregating my favorites.
It's not that i didn't listen to independent music this year: Voxtrot's EP's made my year. but somewhere this spring, it all started sounding samey. i suppose my picks are odd in the context of that remark, since they're all new albums by bands i've been listening to since 2003.
Cursive - Happy Hollow
Let's be honest. The Ugly Organ is still Cursive's best work. It's in the running for my top 5 albums of the decade. I thought i would have to hate every cursive album after it for not being in the same league. Especially after i heard that gretta cohn, the cellist, had left the band. Tim Kasher turned the band around and added a horn section that gives 'happy hollow' a new energy, that's totally different from anything they've done previously. Also vastly different is the anti-christian theme, which leads them well out of the emo cliches.
Mates of State - Bring It Back
after burning out on the first two mates of state albums, i never got into team boo. it's hard to keep up with new music from a band, when you find yourself describing all of their songs as "you know, that one, where they sing in a round... ?" Bring it Back is their first proper album. it flows well and the songs are more varied than anything else they've done. "Think Long" and "Fraud in the 80's" are great pop songs that stand on their own, whether you like the couple-rock moog-and-drums aesthetic of mates of state or not.
Mogwai - Mr. Beast
Mr. Beast got slammed by pitchfork for being 'restrained', in their songs length and scope. i think i better word for these songs is 'distilled' the album has the same breadth and scope as their previous works, but the songs on this album stay within their own themes. They play off of each other, like a proper album. The whole albums works in a way that their previous works haven't. Veering from quiet piano to the volume and fury of metal, the album is more memorable precisely because each song is so distinct.
In Flames - Come Clarity
Hands down, this is the best album of the year. This is the reason my taste diverged. I haven't loved metal this way since i was an angsty suburban pre-teen. The intricate, technical riffs, and the layered progressive songwriting took me right back to the first metal i ever loved. I'll admit, It was tempting to give up on in flames after 'soundtrack to your escape'. it sounded like they were selling out for good, buying into corporate american 'metal'. Turns out, they were just biding their time. come clarity is their best album, ever. It's as intense as clayman, but they've layered in the songwriting they learned from the two intervening albums.
Dog Fashio Disco - Adultery
I'm not really sure DFD qualifies as metal. They span punk, funk, jazz, and a dozen more genres. But the dark, scary Noir themes of the album, and the mike patton influence make metal a decent attempt to categorize them. Every album on this list has an excellent flow and dynamic, but there's a special place in my heart for concept albums. The strange and different musical influences all find their own niche in this dark murder mystery.
Mastodon - Blood Mountain
there's not much i can say about mastodon that hasn't already been said. They're being painted as the saviours of metal. That's is a bit much, metal is clearly alive and well, and 1 band didn't save it. but they have that indie/hardcore cool that makes them accessible. I don't feel like an angsty pre-teen when i'm convincing people to give them a listen. The metal is technical and progressive, but maintains that gruff, aggressive edge that keeps it from being as egomaniacal as metal sometimes is.
It's pretty much a given that of the albums mike patton releases in a given year, one of them is going to be one of my top 5. 5 years in the making, and with an amazing guest list, this album had an impossible amount of hype leading up to it. It blew it all away. the album is pop perfection, in the dark and twisted sense only patton could make it. This album showcases mike patton's vocal range in a way that's enjoyable, not just awe-inspiring. The songs are catchy and melodic, which is a change for patton, but each song is so different, he still manages to tour the entire genre before the album closes.
Cut Chemist - The Audience's Listening
This album is everything that i expected from DJ shadow and Jurassic 5, that they didn't deliver. It's smooth, dancey, intricate, and progressive. Clearly, Cut Chemist is the reason that J5 was so good, and isn't anymore.
i don't know what else to call this section. Some of these bands were indie when i started listening to them. Some of them have always been 'alternative top 40'. it's hard to find a common thread in the albums, so i'm just going with the most general category there is.
Muse - Black Holes and Revalations
Outside of a few songs with sentimental value, I've never been much of a muse fan. This album is completely different. Every song has more groove than their entire previous collection. There's something else about the album, too. The previous albums were showcases for Matthew Bellamy's incredible voice. This time, most of the songs have Queen-esque harmonies that give it a punch that makes them better than previous efforts.
The Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia
It's hard to listen to the dresden dolls without developing a crush on amanda palmer. the lyrics are personal to a disturbing level, and her wild vocals give you the feeling that you've caught her before she's had a chance to collect herself. The cabaret style piano leads the songs careening from gleeful violence to angry stomp to quiet sadness and back again, in a single pop song structure. The songs are so catchy, it's almost their downfall. I'm now afraid to listen to "Backstabber", for fear of going another week unable to listen to anything but Dresden dolls.
that's 10. in no particular order (other than In flames, at #1). It's thoroughly unfair to stop here. It's not that there were so many good albums to choose from, it's that the good albums were all great, and each nearly flawless. In another year, these albums would probably be in my top 5:
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead - So Divided
I'm still confused by this album. It's a pop album. It has brilliant and clean songs like "Wasted State of Mind" that hang in my head long after i'm done listening to it. Confusing, because my first introduction to the band involved lots of emo and atonal singing. By contrast, "Naked Sun" is a straight ahead rock song that's clean and fun, and catchy. i don't know when they switched gears, but i hope they don't switch back.
The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
The quirky indie-pop here isn't as polished as their 'EP', but the songs here are more well rounded and diverse. This brother-sister team is probably the creepiest thing i've listened to this year, which is saying a lot, considering the goth brother-sister team mentioned above. You never know what bizarre revelation is going to leap out of the lyrics next, or how the music is going to suddenly twist and shift around to highlight them.
Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist
After the awkwardness of their self-titled album, and the general 'meh' i got from team sleep, i had given up on the deftones. i figured white pony was an accident. Saturday Night Wrist isn't another white pony, but it is the follow up i've been waiting for. it's dynamic and intelligent all the way through. It has the experimentation that was missing from team sleep, and the lean songwriting and emotional vocal intensity that was missing from the self titled album.
hey, look at that: 13 albums and no emo! granted, The Appleseed Cast and Thursday turned out great albums this year, but they're at least farther down in the list than Yakuza and ISIS. With so many great albums, it's no wonder i bought more CD's this year than the last 2 combined.