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Thursday, December 31, 2009

10 Best Of 2009

From CONFRONT Magazine:

As always I compose my “best of” list based on the albums I’ve reviewed over the course of the year. This means that the albums on this list aren’t necessarily those that placed high on the charts, got praise from critics, or were even relatively well known. Usually, eligibility for this year’s list requires an album rate an 8.5/10 or higher. This year, I had to prune the list even further, restricting entrants to those who got full marks.


There are, therefore, a few albums that, despite how much I enjoyed them, did not qualify for this list. Those runners-up include ‘Octahedron’ by The Mars Volta, ‘This is War’ by 30 Seconds to Mars, ‘Abnormally Attracted to Sin’ by Tori Amos, Adam Lambert’s ‘For Your Entertainment’ among others.


Likewise, you’ll not see the likes of Lady Gaga or the Black Eyed Peas or Taylor Swift or other so-called “essentials” on this list, because I didn’t listen to them and therefore cannot make pronouncement on their worth. There’s a REASON I chose not to listen to them, though: I think their music sucks.


So, here’s what I didn’t think sucked in 2009:


10-God Dethroned: Passiondale



When Metalheads God Dethroned released ‘Passiondale’, a hard-core musical retelling of the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passchendaele), the album immediately blew me away. As a genre, Heavy Metal (and its ridiculous legion of sub-genres) has always been able to rely on the topic of war for thematic material for songs.


But to craft an entire album around war in general let alone a single battle in particular is both ambitious and risky. God Dethroned took a huge gamble and it paid off: ‘Passiondale’ is, arguably, their best album yet.


God Dethroned: Passiondale


Metal Blade


Steve’s Rating: 10/10


09-Russian Circles: Geneva


‘Geneva’ is the third album from Instrumental Metal virtuosos Russian Circles. The lack of vocals on work by Russian Circles is their greatest asset: unhindered by a singer the music is predominant, unhindered by the limitations of a human voice.


The result is nearly a full hour of some of the most spectacular rock music that you’re likely to hear. Russian Circles’ previous two releases ‘Enter’ and ‘Station’ are just as good, and I recommend not only this album but their entire catalogue to you.



Russian Circles: Geneva


Suicide Squeeze


Steve’s Rating: 10/10


08-The Prodigy: Invaders Must Die


The Prodigy helped define Big Beat Electronic music. They continue to redefine the sound while reinventing the genre on ‘Invaders Must Die’, their fifth album since 1992. This one is, like most of The Prodigy’s work, highly addictive and entertaining.


This is vibrant, dynamic music that demands to be played loud, over and over again, relentlessly.


The Prodigy: Invaders Must Die


R. E. D. Distribution


Steve’s Rating: 10/10



07-Kasabian: West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum


Brimming with vibrant energy and no-holds-barred rock sensibilities, with power riffs and poetic lyrics, ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’, Kasabian’s third album puts lay to the Sophomore Curse that plagued them on ‘Empire’ and recapture and surpass the greatness of their self-titled debut.


These British rockers have finally learned to properly integrate the obligatory Rock ballads that previously hindered their work. Now the album is smooth and seamless, their fast-paced Rock standards now tempered by the down-tempo ballads on the disc.


Kasabian: West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum


Red Ink


Steve’s Rating: 10/10


06-The Black Crowes: Before the Frost…Until the Freeze


The Black Crowes have been putting out amazing Blues-driven Rock for nearly twenty years. Their latest album was released in two parts: ‘Before the Frost’, the physical album available from stores and online retailers, and ‘Until the Freeze’, a free download available (in theory) only to those who purchased the album.



Both sets were recorded in front of a live audience at the Barn, in upstate New York. Typically fun and carefree with intense Blues guitar work and Chris Robinson’s distinctive vocals. The Black Crowes are in fine form on ‘Before the Frost…Until the Freeze’ and the twenty tracks on the two sets are among their best.


The Black Crowes: Before the Frost…Until the Freeze


R. E. D. Distribution


Steve’s Rating: 10/10


05-Our Lady Peace: Burn Burn


Our Lady Peace disappointed with 2005’s ‘Healthy in Paranoid Times’. But their latest album, ‘Burn Burn’ puts them back on top. An unequivocal return to form, ‘Burn Burn’ is lead singer Raine Maida’s love child; it is the first Our Lady Peace album not to feature an outside producer. The songs were all written and produced by Raine Maida, and recorded at Maida’s Los Angeles home studio.


The result is one of Our Lady Peace’s best albums, albeit one with a very short running time. The music here is raw, honest, contemplative and definitive of what made Our Lady Peace the band they are.


Our Lady Peace: Burn Burn



Sony


Steve’s Rating: 10/10


04-Alice in Chains: Black Gives Way to Blue


Very few bands can survive both initial breakup and the death of their lead singer, especially after establishing a long musical pedigree. Alice in Chains (unofficially) broke up in 1996, and lost Layne Staley when he succumbed to years of drug abuse, in 2002.


However, the surviving members of Alice in Chains decided to give it a go in 2005, hiring veteran musician and singer William DuVall. ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’, the band’s first album in 14 years was a stunning release. The album received critical acclaim and wowed the fans, selling over 126 000 copies in its first week of release.


A perfect resurrection of an iconic band, ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’ is an exceptional album from an indomitable band.


Alice in Chains: Black Gives Way to Blue


Virgin


Steve’s Rating: 10/10



03-Amazing Baby: Rewild 10/10


The New York music scene has been reinvigorated over the last few years. Innovative, original bands like Interpol, MGMT, The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have breathed fresh life into the Capital of avant-garde American pop music.


One of the most surprising additions to the pantheon of great New York Scene musicians came in the form of Amazing Baby. Their debut album, ‘Rewild’ dropped at the beginning of summer, just in time for the band to hit the festival circuit. I caught them at Montreal’s Osheaga festival and was blown away, already a fan from having heard the CD earlier in the year.


‘Rewild’ generates a cosmopolitan feel that harkens back to the early days of the New York Scene, when Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground were kings. Yet despite their retro sound, however, Amazing Baby is highly original and very musically relevant. ‘Rewild’ is essential listening.


Amazing Baby: Rewild


Shangri-La Records


Steve’s Rating: 10/10


02-The Slew: 100% 10/10


Combining Blues-driven Acid Rock with Hip-Hop rhythms, sampling and dubbing, DJ Kid Koala unleashed ‘100%’, a masterful, powerful, original album. The album works on multiple levels, from social commentary to just something to grind to.



I feel a certain level of pride knowing that Kid Koala is a Montrealer. His work on ‘100%’ is among his best. The music is dangerously addictive, haunting and entertaining. Even if you aren’t a fan of Hip-Hop, this album is memorable and worthy of praise and ears.


The Slew: 100%


Puget Sound Recordings


Steve’s Rating 11/10


01-The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love 10/10


Beyond any doubt, the Decemberists deserve the laurels for their fifth studio album, ‘The Hazards of Love’. It is an epic story-song cycle, telling the tale of Margaret and her shape-shifting lover, William, his mother the Forest Queen and The Rake, a murderous, lustful demon lord.


Following traditional Celtic Folk-Rock roots and structured into a very old-school Rock Opera format, ‘The Hazards of Love’ presents us with an audible feast of tale-spinning, harkening back to a time when minstrels and bards would travel the countryside, telling tales and singing songs and creating the roots of our common folklore. The language used on the disc is downright Shakespearean, showing the sort of love and respect for the English language that is sorely lacking in modern Pop culture.


‘The Hazards of Love’ is a masterpiece, unquestionably The Decemberists’ best. This album should be turned into a TRUE Rock Opera, either performed as a Broadway-style stage musical or as a musical motion picture. I would only hope for other performers than the Decemberists to lend their vocal talents to this one; having caught ‘The Hazards of Love’ live at Osheaga, I was less than impressed; Colin Meloy and Becky Stark’s idea of stage presence seems to be just being present onstage, and it is, far and away, the absolute best of 2009


The Decemberists: Hazards of Love



Capitol


Steve’s Rating: 10/10




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