Decade in Review: Best Metal Albums 2010-2019

With the end of the decade approaching fast I thought it would be good to look back at album releases over the last 9 years to see what we could pull out as a “Best of” list. There have been some major shifts in mainstream taste over the last decade. We also lost some great music talents in all genres this decade, some too early, some not surprising. In this installment I decided to start with my favorite and most present genre of music throughout the last 30 years. While some of these albums may be considered more hard rock than metal and there will be a contingent that will want to crucify me for not putting Tool’s long awaited release on the list (spoiler alert), it is me writing this thing and you can always comment if you disagree with my list. I’ve pulled two albums per year from 2010 to present and while some years had a lot of great releases that were runners up in my head, this list is based on my personal tastes. 

I hope that you all have enjoyed these albums as much as I have and if you are unaware that they exist, I recommend you check them out. So without any further rambling on my part, let’s get to the list!

2010:

220px-Cold_Day_Memory_album_coverAlbum: Cold Day Memory

Artist: Sevendust

Released: 4/20/2010

If you were a 7D fan like me, you were more than a little disheartened when Clint Lowery left the band. While the band continued to put out three good albums without him, the sound and chemistry just didn’t seem the same in his absence. Cold Day Memory was Lowery’s first album with the band in over 5 years and his presence is noticeable in every track. This album spawned four singles over the years after its release and contains some of my favorite tunes of most recent Sevendust albums. Songs like “Splinter”, “Unraveling”, “Last Breath”, and “Nowhere” are standouts on an album packed to the gills with good songs. This was indeed a triumphant return to form for the band.


AB_IIIAlbum: AB III

Artist: Alter Bridge

Released: 10/08/2010 

It may be easy to pigeonhole Alter Bridge as being ‘Creed 2.0’ with the core of the band being all of Creed minus the annoying singer but with each subsequent release the band has proved that their musical ability continues to grow and change. 2010’s AB III was somewhat of a departure of earlier albums with Miles Kennedy increasing his songwriting skills on the album. Heavy guitars and anthemic choruses are found throughout the album with some of the best heavy solos of their career being on this album. The album has little to no filler and is great as an album that you digest in full or on a song-by-song basis. Noteable standouts on the album include the album’s heavy opening track “Slip to the Void”, as well as more pop oriented rock tunes like “Ghost of Days Gone By” and “Wonderful Life”. Heavy hitters like “Isolation” and “I Know it Hurts” keep the album moving at steady clip before ending on one of the fan favorites “Words Darker Than Their Wings”. If you never checked the band out due to their association with their former nu-metal light act Creed you owe yourself a listen to at least this album to gain an appreciation for the abilities of the members.


2011:

Worship_MusicAlbum: Worship Music

Band: Anthrax

Released: 9/12/2011

I haven’t really explored it much in these articles, but I’ve been a pretty big fan of Anthrax for a long time. I tended to lean more toward the John Bush years rather than the first few albums but that was my preference for the singing style that he brought to the band. The band took a bit of a hit in the 2000’s due to the Anthrax attacks after September 11th but the band took a stand and decided not to change their name due to the events. This was the first album that they released in over 8 years and the first with Joey Belladonna in a long time. 

The album was a great return for the thrash masters and continued to prove why they were one of the names in the ‘Big Four’ of the thrash scene of the late 1980’s. The music has energy and heaviness that keeps your head banging through the album’s 13 tracks. Built on strong song structures that incorporate fast riffs, groove, and slick solos, tracks like “Earth on Hell”, “The Devil You Know”, “Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t”, and “Judas Priest” show that the band was not losing any footing in their advancing age and that the return of Belladonna at vocals was the right choice. 


jastaAlbum: Jasta

Band: Jasta

Released: 7/26/2011

I didn’t really get to heavy into the hardcore scene back in the day, however, I have always liked the music of Hatebreed and E-Town Concrete since I saw them in Boise as a teenager. The hardcore breakdown is one of my favorite parts of the genre because it brings so much heaviness to a song and it is a marching stomp in the middle of a circle of chaos of music. Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta’s first solo album Jasta hits a lot of my favorite spots in the genre while showing his musical expansion into more commercial fare. The album contains a few different guest appearances that don’t distract from the core songwriting that has been consistent from Jasta for along time. Songs like “Walk That Path Alone”, “Mourn the Illusion”, “Anthem of the Freedom Fighter”, and “The Fearless Must Endure” continue the in your face motivational themes that have been on Hatebreed releases for years. “Something You Should Know” shows a more mainstream style of hardcore that could have very well been a big hit off of the album if it would have garnered a little more attention from the industry.


2012:

220px-Deftones_–_Koi_No_YokanAlbum: Koi No Yokan

Band: Deftones

Released: 11/12/2012

I know that the Deftones have not been considered a “Metal” band in over a decade and a half and that they have worked to distance themselves from the label during that time with their ever expansive sound, but I cannot separate them from the genre and cannot ignore this album on a best of list. While more atmospheric and less heavy than their earlier albums, Koi No Yokan stands in my mind as their best album since 2001’s White Pony. The album kicks off with an uptempo and guitar heavy riff in “Swerve City” and peppers the heavy guitars throughout the 11 song set. This album is great in terms of pacing and song placement. The songwriting wanders between heavy alternative metal songs (“Swerve City”, “Leathers”, “Gauze”) and  atmospheric soundscapes (“Romantic Dreams”, “Entombed”, “Rosemary”) with a deftness hardly seen on a lot of releases. This is by far my favorite Deftones album of the last 15 years.


TremontialliwascoverAlbum: All I Was

Artitst: Tremonti

Released: 7/17/2012

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Mark Tremonti’s guitar playing. I’ve said it in previous articles as well as earlier in this one. That being said, I was excited that he was releasing a solo album of material because I knew that if anything it would contain some good guitar riffs and solos. I was a bit cautious about him singing as well as he has only served as a background vocalist (with only a few exceptions) on his previous releases with Creed and Alter Bridge but he proved that his voice suits his own tunes pretty well. The album is full of great guitar heavy tracks and well written lyrics and arrangements. This is not surprising considering Tremonti has been writing commercially successful songs for over a 15 years before his first solo release. From the opening tracks “Leave it Alone” and “So You’re Afraid” it is noticeable that this album would contain elements of his full band work but also include some unhindered riffing. The lead off single of “You Waste Your Time” has some of the best fast paced guitar work of the time and I spent some time learning the riff because it is challenging and heavy. The album is great and its heaviness is not without purpose. Songs like “New Way Out” shows that Tremonti can still write a song with a commercial sensibility while keeping the artistry of guitar at the forefront and is something that he expanded on with subsequent solo releases.


2013:

ke disarmAlbum: Disarm the Descent

Artist: Killswitch Engage

Released: 4/02/2013

While I’m a huge fan of Howard Jones and was introduced to KSE while he was vocalist I was not a huge fan of the band’s 2009 Self titled release. I personally thought that it lacked the energy and hope that made the band great and I think by the content of that album it was a good thing in the end that HoJo parted ways with the band. That being said, I was excited when I heard that instead of finding a third singer, the band had reunited with Jesse Leach who was the original vocalist. Disarm the Descent not only harkened the return of the vocalist but also the heaviness that was lacking on the previous effort. The album starts out heavy with “The Hell In Me” and from the opening scream to the last track “Slave to the Machine” the music stays in your face with only a few breaks in the pace. One of my favorite tracks off of the album is the upbeat “In Due Time” which is still one of my favorite tracks to rock out to. While showcasing the heaviness that the band is known for, the album offers enough breathing space for Leach to expand with some slower songs like “You Don’t Bleed for Me” and “Always”. The song has plenty of heavy anthemic bangers to satisfy any fan of either era of Killswitch Engage and helped move the band into a new era without missing a beat.


A7XHailtotheKingAlbum: Hail to the King

Artist: Avenged Sevenfold

Released: 8/23/2013

This choice may catch me some flack from anybody who reads this and is a bigger fan of the other AV7X albums, however, I think that the stripped down approach that the band took with Hail to the King had brilliant results. Allowing their roots to show while maintaining their own signature sound and style allowed the band to release an album that is enjoyable while not being overly complicated in terms of arrangements. From the opening bell tolls of “Shepherd of Fire” to the signature intro riffage of “Hail to the King” it was obvious that this album was different enough to not sound stale while keeping the elements that make the band in tact. I like that the band were able to wear their influences on their sleeve with songs like the G ’N R sounding “Doing Time” and ‘Black’ album era Metallica influenced “This Means War” and still maintain their identity. While the first half of the album showcases a more slimmed down writing style the back half of the album contains songs more complex and loosely tied together with a theme. The final two tracks of the album show the more complex songwriting that Avenged fans are used to while maintaining a sparseness that is a central idea of the album. I can honestly say that there is not a song that skip over on this album. 


2014:

Chevelle_La_Gárgola_album_coverAlbum: La Gargola

Artist: Chevelle

Released: 4/01/2014

Chevelle has been a band that has been kind of “Hit and Miss” with their albums for me. It seems like they seem to hit the right notes on every other album. This happened to be the case with La Gargola as well. While their previous album Hats Off to the Bull did have some good songs, I felt it had a lot of skippable material. La Gargola has a lot of energy and a good set of songs that are catchy and heavy. Songs like “Take out the Gunman”, “Hunter Eats Hunter”, “An Island”, and “The Damned” are heavy rockers that will satisfy any fan’s need for the staple sounding tunes of the band. However, the standout track for me is the more melodic “One Ocean”. The songs lyrics point out the importance of saving earths one connected resource from pollution and destruction while having an entrancing mid-paced groove. I think this is one of the best songs that the band has written in its entire catalog. 


Ronnie_James_Dio_-_This_Is_Your_Life_coverAlbum: Ronnie James Dio- This is Your Life

Artist: Various

Released: 3/25/2014

The passing of Ronnie James Did in 2010 was a huge blow to the metal community. Long considered one of the forefathers of the metal movement he not only left a lasting impression on music but also everyone he ever met. Nobody could believe that a man so small could have a voice so big. This album serves as both a tribute and a send off from some of the mans friends and admirers. The song selection and execution is nearly flawless and shows the kind of talent and unique musical mind of one of the greatest heavy singers of all time. Standouts for me are Anthrax’s version of “Neon Knights”, the Corey Taylor helmed version of “Rainbow in the Dark”, Rob Halford’s version of “Man on the Silver Mountain” and of course the Killswitch Engage version of “Holy Diver”. Some surprisingly great tracks are Halestorm’s cover of “Straight Through the Heart”, Doro’s version of “Egypt (The Chains are On)” and Tenacious D’s “The Last in Line” which contains probably the only recorder solo ever in the history of metal. 

Dio was a formidable force in heavy music for four decades and the breadth of his output is well represented by those who took part in the songs presented on this album.


2015:

FearFactoryGenexusAlbum: Genexus

Artist: Fear Factory

Released: 8/07/2015

I have been a fan of Fear Factory since I was introduced to Demanufacture by my brother way back in my teens. I have always loved the blend of tight, percussive guitar playing with the machine-like precision of the drums in addition to the story telling of Burton C. Bell. A.I. and the machine apocalypse are subjects that have not faded in the 20 years between the seminal Demanufacture and the release of Genexus. While a lot of people lost track of Fear Factory over the years, I have always supported the band in both purchasing their albums and telling anyone who will listen about their unique and hard hitting sound. Genexus was their third release after the departure of Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera on bass and drums, respectively, and the return of original guitarist and founder Dino Cazares. I like that the band hasn’t strayed much from the conceptual portion of their albums and the theme of ‘Man vs. Machine’ evolves with each album without getting stale. All of the elements of prime Fear Factory are still present and the album moves well through the narrative with each track. The opening tracks of “Autonomous Combat System”, “Anodized”, and “Dielectic” kick the album off with a heavy attack of guitars with the swirling synth elements that made their albums consistently multidimensional over their career. The singing maintains the signature elements of Bell’s style. Flipping between heavy distorted singing with melodically sung choruses. Fear Factory never gets old for me and I hope that they can release more material in the future. 


Silence_in_the_SnowAlbum: Silence in the Snow

Artist: Trivium

Released: 10/02/2015

I have liked Trivium for quite a while, however, it always felt that they were struggling with finding their identity through their albums. A trend that I feel started with their two preceding albums In Waves and Vengeance Falls was that they were finally starting to find their individuality while also keeping their roots in their music. Silence in the Snow is one of their most diverse yet cohesive offering and really showcased their identity as a band. The album still showcases the musical talent and songwriting ability of the band, but also moves the vocals to a more digestible approach. The shift in vocals from heavy screaming to more melodic passages was something that was required as guitarist/vocalist Matt Heafy had blown out his voice prior to the album. 

I think having to go outside of the crutch of heavy vocals helped Trivium to better place the heavy vocal elements in their songs going forward. In addition to the change in vocal style the band also managed to change their style to a more simplistic formula while still including their amazing guitar solo ability. The result is a more digestible and focused approach to their songwriting that helped move the band forward into a new direction that works well for their abilities and style.

There isn’t a bad song on the entire album and tunes like title track, “Blind Leading the Blind”, “Dead and Gone”, “The Ghost That’s Haunting You”, “Until the World Goes Cold”, and “Beneath the Sun” are some of my favorite songs in their catalog. While songs from earlier in their career like “Shogun”, “Down from the Sky”, and “In Waves” are still some of my favorite heavier complex songs, I for one like the new direction the songwriting was forced to take.


2016:

The_Poison_Red_coverAlbum: The Poison Red

Artist: Nonpoint

Released: 7/08/2016

Nonpoint, in my opinion, is a band that never really got the credit they deserve. Much like Sevendust, they have spent the majority of their career just below the mainstream with only a few notable exceptions. However, I think this is what makes their following as well as their consistency one of the things that makes them great. I first discovered the band when I randomly bought their major label debut Statement because it was metal and inexpensive. That purchase was particularly influential because I have listened to every album and iteration of the band since. While the band may have had some nu-metal elements, they have grown musically and have shed those elements to become a solid heavy band. 2016’s The Poison Red builds upon their solid catalog and has some great songs with serious social commentary. From “Generation Idiot” to “Divided… Conquer Them” to the final track “My Last Dying Breath”, the band put together a 14 song set that spans subjects from societies reliance on technology to the unneeded pursuit of material things. They put forth a thoughtful social commentary throughout that, if the listener pays attention, points out what is going wrong and why they should stand up for themselves and reject the conformity of consumer culture. The entire effort is enjoyable and hard hitting even if you want to rock out and not focus on the lyrical content.


220px-Devin_Townsend_Project_-_Transcendence_2016Album: Transcendance

Artist: The Devin Townsend Project

Released: 9/9/2016

I have to admit that it took me longer to check out the Devin Townsend Project than it should have. I am drawn to more mainstream music in regard to the metal realm but I am not too big to admit that sometimes I’m wrong about an artist. Transcendance is an amazing album that spans the soundscape so well that it is impossible not to like. It contains heavy, well utilized guitars that intersect well with the symphonic elements of the work. The album is ambitious while still remaining accessible. 

This reminds me a lot of some of the earlier Steve Vai and Joe Satriani records without a lot of the needless flash of guitar. Here, the guitar serves as the bedrock of the soundscape and without overwhelming the listener. Altogether the 10 tracks span over an hour but upon listening the time does not seem that long. The mark of a good album is to make you lose track of time and be somewhat confused when you get through the entire thing and it not seem like you spent an hour listening. From the opening track “Truth” on you are invited into the world inside of Devin Townsend’s head and I can tell you that it is a trip worth taking. I cannot say enough good things about this album. Just go and listen to it because my clunky words cannot do it enough justice.


2017:

black map in drovesAlbum: In Droves

Artist: Black Map

Released: 3/10/2017

I first checked this band out because they were an opener at a Chevelle show that I was supposed to go to (but subsequently didn’t) and I wanted to know what they were about. I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. Their sound is full for being a three piece group and they manage to meld heavy songs with focused lyrics. Their songs are heavy yet they still manage a level of atmosphere to their sound. The album spans 12 full tracks with three interlude tracks. The pacing is not too fast but also not sluggish. Songs like “Run Rabbit Run”, “Heavy Waves”,  “No Color”, and “Just My Luck” spin a heavy, groovy sound that becomes the band’s signature sound. Other tracks like “Foxglove”, “Dead Ringer”, “Octavia”, and “Cash for Fears” let the rhythm section anchor the song while guitarist Mark Engles adds coloring to the mix. The album is great to sit back and relax to or to rock out to.  I hope that this act puts out another full album soon because their style is so unique and pleasing to the ear.


220px-The_Sin_and_the_Sentence_album_coverAlbum: The Sin and the Sentence

Artist: Trivium

Released: 10/20/2018

Trivium is one of two artists that have more than one album on this list for good reason. As stated earlier when talking about their album Silence in the Snow, Trivium is a band that I feel started to finally hit its stride and establish its identity over their last two releases. While Silence in the Snow contained a more scaled back vocal and musical approach, the band managed to take the lessons learned on that album and apply them to their more complex compositions. The inclusion of new drummer Alex Bent was quite possibly the best addition to the band in a number of years. I feel with Bent that the band finally has a drummer that can find the groove while showcasing a musical ability that matches the caliber of the rest of the band. While bringing back a number of songs that employ a screaming vocal, the album manages to balance these out nicely with the more straightforward sung lyrics. While the majority of the album is hard hitting tracks (“The Sin and the Sentence”, “Beyond Oblivion”, “The Heart from Your Hate”, “Betrayer”) the band also leaves enough space in songs for them to maintain a catchy singable element (“Other Worlds”, “Endless Night”, “Beauty in the Sorrow”). Collectively, I think this is the most focused outing by the band and an example of how you can meld the more intricate writing style of earlier albums with the pop sensibility of more mainstream metal albums. I can only hope that the band can continue to move forward with albums of this caliber going forward.


2018:

ltt revivalAlbum: Revival
Artist: Light the Torch

Released: 3/30/2018

I’ll admit that after Howard Jones left Killswitch Engage I was still a huge fan but did not really listen to stuff he put out with The Devil You Know. However, after the band changed its name for legal reasons and tweaked its sound a bit I was interested in checking them out. The first video for a track off the album caught my attention. The album has great metal riffs, well written song structures, and HoJo’s signature vocal style. Songs like “Die Alone”, “The God I Deserve”, “Calm Before the Storm”, “The Safety of Disbelief”, and “The Bitter End” are so good that the deserve to be in regular rotation on hard rock radio. Heavy, anthemic, and thoughtful are just a few words that can be used to describe a number of the songs on the album. I’ve been listening to this album on a near constant basis since it’s release over a year and a half ago. I hope that the band can follow up Revival with another great album of this level. 


220px-ADyingMachineAlbum: A Dying Machine

Artist: Tremonti

Released: 6/08/2018

Tremonti is only the second artist to occupy multiple spots on this list. While the band did release two other albums throughout the decade, their fourth album A Dying Machine deserves to be on the list as a complete album. The album was ambitious for Mark Tremonti because, along with writing a novel with the same characters, this was the first solo concept album release by the band. If I wasn’t already a sucker for the guitar playing, the concept of the album pulled me in as well. I’m a huge science nerd and the concepts of A.I. and its potential effect on humanity is something that I find very interesting. Harnessing a similar concept to Fear Factory’s, Tremonti manages to add more melody and humanity to his songwriting on this album. From the martial march intro of “Bringer of War” to heavy hitting songs like “From the Sky” and “Throw them To the Lions” paint a stark picture of the future. Conversely, songs like “Trust”, “The First the last”, and “Take You With Me” (one of my personal favorites on the album) let the humanity and empathy of the narrative show through. Filled with highs and lows and a moving narrative mixed with the high level of song writing and guitar work that Mark Tremonti brings to all of his work, this album never gets old.


2019:

jinjerAlbum: Macro

Artist: Jinjer

Released: 10/25/2019

This is one of the most recently released albums and you might ask how it can be considered as one of the best of the decade. The answer is simple. Pure musicality. Normally I’m not a big fan of the more heavy progressive side of the genre, but the musical ability of every member within Jinjer got me interested. This album is solid from beginning to end. From the opening punch in the face that is “On the Top” to the reggae infused “Judgement (& Punishment)” the band show that there is more substance to them than vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk’s good looks. The beauty can belt in this band. There are few female vocalists that have the distorted voice abilities and the clean vocal chops as Tatiana. I can state for a fact that she can pull off both sides of the performance live because I saw this for myself a few months ago. The intricacy and heaviness of the band itself is amazing because they mange to write complex musical parts without making your head hurt. Some progressive acts have a tendency to stray too much in the music itself to make the actual sounds enjoyable but Jinjer manage to make the songs listenable while being complicated in form. 


Slipknot_-_We_Are_Not_Your_KindAlbum: We Are Not Your Kind

Artist: Slipknot

Released: 8/09/2019

It had been a few years since Slipknot released it first post Paul Gray/Joey Jordison album .5 The Gray Chapter and the masses of maggots were ready for something new and exciting. There was some concern when the band stated that the new album would be their most experimental to date and made a lot of us wonder if the influence of Stone Sour would have infected Slipknot and turned them into a more singles driven band. Luckily, with the release of We Are Not Your Kind those concerns were put to rest. While .5 was a great album, I felt that there were not a lot of solid songs that I liked on the album. Luckily the newest release solved that issue. I have to admit that when the video was released for the lead off single “Unsainted” hit Youtube I was hooked and preordered the album. I listened to the song repeatedly because it had the aggressive style of early Slipknot but the anthemic chorus that was just too catch to be denied. 

Other songs on the album are solid and maintain the signature sound of the band while pushing the boundaries a little farther than previous efforts. Luckily it isn’t all the craziness that we have come to experience from Shawn “Clown” Crahan is know for producing because that would have been a bit too much. Outside of the ultra catchy lead single there are a number of good songs on the album that fit into a very structured and focused album. “Nero Forte” and “Critical Darling” have quickly become two of my favorite tracks as well. “Red Flag” is a song that will become a staple at live shows, if anything for it’s mosh worthy pacing. Other songs like “Spiders” and “Solway Firth” offer some of the experimentation that the band hinted at with delightful results.

I know that a lot of people hate this band for being too big or they say that they write songs that sound too much alike, but for digestible energetic music I don’t think you can do any better than the nine. 

Well, that’s it for this list. Favorite album not make the list? Feel like the list wasn’t expansive enough? Comment below and let me know about it!

90’s Albums that Refuse to Age: Part 14

PearlJam-Ten2Album: Ten

Artist: Pearl Jam

Release Year: 1991

Eddie Vedder… the voice that launched a thousand less talented imitators. I understand that the opinions are divided about Pearl Jam’s music but you cannot deny their place as one of the big 4 bands of the grunge movement. Their debut album 10 was released in 1991 and 28 years later it still stands as one of the best debut albums of the 1990’s. Along with Nirvana’s Nevermind, Ten stands as one of the most prolific albums of the grunge era in terms of both sales (13 million as of 2013) and number of singles (four) that are still played regularly on rock radio. 

As I mentioned above, the album is now 28 years old, yet listening to it even today you cannot go without hearing something new in the mix that you previously did not notice. Case in point, while listening to the album today in preparation of this article, I noticed the way the album is mixed as well as some new things on the song “Even Flow” that I did not notice in my many many casual listens of the album over the years. This is also one of the few rock albums where a fretless bass is featured in a number of songs, something that is not only idiosyncratic for the time the album was released but also over the whole history of rock music itself. 

Of the many albums that I’ve highlighted in this series Ten is one of the ones that can I can definitively say does not age. If the album was released today I’d still love it. Not because it would call back to the last great musical revolution in American music, but because the songs are well crafted, many lyrics are introspective, and the overall feel of the album is just right in terms of pacing and content. Even deeper tracks stand out as gems on this album.

The album kicks off with three staple tracks, “Once”, “Even Flow”, and “Alive” which is followed by the song “Why Go” all of which immediately showcase the groove that the band had at its core.

The album’s midsection is populated by three mid-tempo and slower songs in “Black”, “Jeremy”, and the more atmospheric “Oceans”. Of the seven songs listed above, four were released as singles, with “Alive”, “Jeremy” and “Even Flow” being staples on MTV back in the 1990’s. The back half of the album manages to bring the tempo back up one more time with “Porch” before slowing down the tempo to finish out with the mid paced “Garden”, the sludgy and jam band feel of  “Deep”, and finishing off with the atmospheric and percussion centered “Release”.  

Of the tracks on the album two of my favorites are also two of the slower songs. “Black” is a great song both musically, but also of content because everyone can relate to the concept of love and loss. There have been some great covers of the song with Aaron Lewis’ acoustic one being the most known in the last 20 years.

“Garden” is probably my favorite track off of the album. The tempo is slow but the guitars manage to sound busy. I can only equate it to the song itself being a green meadow with the guitars being busy butterflies and bees being the only quick movement to be seen. I interpret the song lyrics to be about the confession of the lengths a person would go to for another’s love. 

While people will criticize Eddie Vedder’s vocal style you cannot really criticize his ability to take the most universal of emotions and convey them in a way that makes you feel. Unfortunately, like every originator of a style, you get harshly judged for those who copied and oversaturated the market with your sound (See Eddie Van Halen in the 1980’s) which is what happened to Vedder unfortunately. 

I mentioned the mix earlier and, (this is where I may lose a few of you in the technical parts but I’ll do my best to explain) it is really an interesting choice for a rock band. For those unfamiliar with the concept of the “mix” it is essentially how all of the instruments and vocals are layered in the song. This includes the volume of a specific instrument, it’s ‘location’ in the speakers (left, right, center) and how the different instruments are layered volume-wise in the overall sound. The mix is super important because only one badly placed sound can ruin an entire album (a perfect example of this is the snare drum mix on the studio version of Metallica’s St. Anger), but a well mixed album can make the listening experience even better than the content itself.

For this album, I noticed that the guitars are panned (placed) to the right and left with the drums and bass straight up the middle. The vocals appear to be just slightly to the right of center with the overdubs to the left. The left guitar is slightly softer than the right guitar with the exception of the short fills that each plays within each song. The overall instrumental mix doesn’t overtake the vocals but instead wrap around Vedder’s vocals nicely.

While the band evolved and has changed its style to a more normal rock sound in later albums their debut still stands out as one of the reasons the Grunge movement was so impactful at the time. The honesty of the music still shines through the years which is becoming increasingly important as the rock genre has faded to the background and the modern age of throw away pop songs dominates. 28 years after its release Ten still shows what a debut album should be, solid, emotional, well written and transcendent. I don’t use that term for a lot, but if you want to be an artist with staying power in the social conscious it is a prerequisite. 

Despite the varying opinion about the band itself or its later musical output, Ten stands as a testament to a time where artistry and emotion mattered. Being that these two components are what make music endear to people in both their memories and their emotions, albums like this should be something that are more regular and less of an anomaly today.

 

 

Throwback Soundtrack 6: Heavy Covers of non-heavy songs

I know it’s been a bit since I last posted so I figured I’d do something fun and ease back into this blogging thing. For the Flashback Soundtrack this time I chose 30 songs covered by heavy bands that were not originally heavy songs. You should check out my earlier post on cover songs. I limited this list to songs that were not originally heavy which is why songs such as Killswitch Engage’s version of “Holy Diver” and Machine Head’s version of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” are not on here. Also, there were a few I couldn’t find on Spotify so Ozzy and Dweezil Zappa’s version of “Staying Alive” and Linkin Park’s version of “Rolling in the Deep” are missing. This playlist is available on Spotify here.

 1. Cars

220px-NumanCars

 

 

Original Artist: Gary Nueman

 

220px-Carscover

Covering Artist: Fear Factory

 

 

Gary Numan is an under-appreciated genius of the late 70’s early 80’s new wave/electronic movement. Cars is probably his best known hit (although also check out “Metal” if you are unfamiliar with it) and here Industrial Metal band Fear Factory show ample appreciation with a heavier but otherwise faithful version of the song. Gary Numan also contributes co-vocals with Burton C. Bell.


2. She’s Got The Look

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Original Artist: Roxette

 

 

 

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Covering Artist: Candlelight Red

 

 

Roxette was a weird fluke in the 90’s pop scene. The band had a few major hits in the US for the Swedish pop duo. I saw Candlelight Red open for Sevendust on one of their many tours and they played this cover. It was a good heavy take on a pop song from the 90’s and is still one of my favorites.


3. Drive

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Original Artist: The Cars

 

 

 

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Covering Artist: Deftones

 

 

The Cars do not get enough credit for their creative output in the early 80s. Much like Gary Numan they have a decent sized fan base but over the years have largely been forgotten by mainstream media. I remember hearing “Drive” on the radio in my single digit years and it has remained one of my favorite songs so it was a dose of greatness when one of my favorite bands the Deftones covered it. While not a banger musically the Deftones take is highly atmospheric and emotional.


4. Shout 2000

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Original Artist: Tears for Fears

 

 

 

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Covering Artist: Disturbed

 

 

Over the years Disturbed have released a number of good cover songs (most recently with “The Sound of Silence”) but the first one they released off of their debut album set the tone for their ability to take a pop song and turn it into a genuine heavy rocker. “Shout” remains one of my favorite metal covers of Tears for Fears 80’s classic.


5. Caught a Light Sneeze

tori sneeze

Original Artist: Tori Amos

 

 

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Covering Artist: Evans Blue

 

 

Tori Amos released this song in 1996 and the original track is a great melodic piano driven song. Released in the midst of the mid 90’s singer/songwriter revival it made a decent chart impact but was largely overlooked for more pop-centric artists of the time. Evans Blue recorded a heavy version of the song for their sophomore album in 2007. The heavy soundtrack provides a good counterpoint to the odd lyrics handled well here by singer Kevin Matisyn.


6. 99 Red Balloons

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Original Artist: Nena Cherry

 

 

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Covering Artist: Goldfinger

 

 

I know that Goldfinger isn’t particularly a heavy band, instead they are known for being part of the ska/pop-punk movement but their cover of Nena Cherry’s “99 Luftballons” is a fun and heavier (although not metal) version of a song that was as sugary a pop song as there was in the 80’s. 


7. Wicked Game

chris I

Original Artist: Chris Isaak

 

 

HIM

Covering Artist: HIM

 

 

There have been a few different cover versions of Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” since he originally released it in 1990 but H.I.M.’s version is superior to almost all of them (only other one on par is Stone Sour’s acoustic version). H.I.M came to the notice of Americans due to Bam Magera’s fondness for the act and his wearing of their band shirts on his show Viva La Bam. While not completely a heavy band, they manage to take a heavier version of the longing song of heartbreak and turn it into what could be considered a stripper anthem.


8. Word Up!

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Original Artist: Cameo

 

 

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Covering Artist: Korn

 

 

Cameo was one of the many one hit wonders that were produced by the 1980s. Their song “Word Up!” was a cross between funk and pop and managed some success in the decade it was released. The most outrageous thing about the band that spawned the hit was their lead singers giant red codpiece. Korn is a band known for mixing different styles with metal and are credited as one of the founders of the Nu Metal movement. Their version of the song still maintains some of the funkiness of the original track, but roll back their aggression in favor of a pop sensibility to their brand of metal.


9. Losing My Religion

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Original Artist: R.E.M.

 

 

Dark_Adrenaline

Covering Artist: Lacuna Coil

 

 

It takes a lot of balls to cover an R.E.M song which is why very few try. The original version of the song has more of a bluegrass tinge than the early college rock/alternative that the band was known for. The song has makes a powerful statement about a person’s decisions and the concept of privacy. 

Itallian band Lacuna Coil are still fairly unknown in the U.S. but they are one of the best kept secrets of the hard rock/metal genre. Cristina Scabbia is one of the few vocalists that I have seen live that sound as close to their albums as possible. This is a great heavy version of an emotional song and worthy of a listen. Check out their version of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” as well. 


10. Shake it Off

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Original Artist: Taylor Swift

 

 

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Covering Artist: Leo

 

 

I’ve written about Leo before in my blogs and I cannot leave him off of this list. He had so many options to choose from that are great but I chose this song because it was one that was originally a true pop song. Taking a song so rooted in pop and turning it into a solid metal rocker is a knack which Leo possesses and this is one of my favorite versions of a song that he has put out. He manages to beef up the sound while keeping the upbeat poppyness of the original. Have fun trying not to sing along.


11. Faith

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Original Artist: George Michael

 

 

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Covering Artist: Limp Bizkit

 

 

Limp Bizkit are known for a lot of bad things, more specifically being the post boys of the Nu Metal movement and the scapegoats for its eventual collapse but their first album Three Dollar Bill Y’all managed to put them on the map and largely thanks to their version of George Michael’s 1987 hit. While adding a little bit of funkiness the band manages to blend a heavier chorus arrangement with the low key verse. 


12. Tainted Love

Tainted_Love_-_Gloria_Jones

Original Artist: Gloria Jones

 

 

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Covering Artist: Marilyn Manson

 

 

Most people think that Soft Cell wrote this song, but most people are wrong. The great thing about cover songs is that different bands can interpret a song in the style of their time and the movement they are involved in. Soft Cell turned this R&B song into a solid hit in the New Wave movement. Similarly, Marilyn Manson turns the Soft Cell version into a solid heavy rocker. The song over it’s evolution has went from an upbeat heartbreak song to a dark song of heartbreak to finally an angry breakup song. 

Manson has released a number of solid cover songs each in his own style of heavy angst. Check out his version of “Personal Jesus” for another great example of his ability to cover a song.


13. Whiskey in the Jar

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Original Artist: Thin Lizzy

 

 

metallica whiskey

Covering Artist: Metallica

 

 

Most of us can admit that we had no idea this song existed prior to Metallica’s version of the song. Originally by Thin Lizzy the song is rooted in Irish folklore but Metallica move the song into heavier ground. A great party song and solid rocker this version manages to show that along with writing their own great songs, Metallica can put a good spin on someone else’s old song and make it a commercial hit.


14. Crazy

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Original Artist: Seal

 

 

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Covering Artist: Mushroomhead

 

 

Probably one of the least obvious choices of songs to cover in a metal format. Seal’s “Crazy” was a big hit for the artist back in 1990 and is probably his second most popular song. Mushroomhead got lost in the great rush of Nu Metal bands with a gimmick. Unfortunately for them, Slipknot broke first which left them at a disadvantage in regard to the multi-member masked bands. This does not detract however from their ability to take this song and re-imagine it into a heavy masterpiece. The vocal trade-offs between Jeffrey Nothing singing and J Mann’s rapping style help to keep the poppy feel of the song while thickening up the mix with heavy guitars and drums. 


15. White Wedding

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Original Artist: Billy Idol

 

 

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Covering Artist: Murderdolls

 

 

Touching a Billy Idol song is a bit taboo in the world of music because the ‘Sneered One’ managed to produce lasting rock songs that have a high bar to clear if you are ballsy enough to try to cover one. While I’d like a dark metal version of “Eyes Without a Face” I know that I’ll have to wait. Two Nu Metal/post-hardcore bands have covered this song, but while Dope did a decent version, I lean toward this version. 

Joey Jordison’s Murderdolls managed to take the classic song and turn it up a notch. While maintaining the punk attitude of the song they put a metal distortion and polish to the original.


16. Dead Souls

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Original Artist: Joy Division

 

 

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Covering Artist: Nine Inch Nails

 

 

Quite possibly the greatest heavy cover song ever. Nine Inch Nails’ contribution to the classic soundtrack to the movie “The Crow” is often confused as one of their songs, however, it is actually a cover of the great post-punk band Joy Division. A dark, moody, and aggressive song that NIN managed to remake into their style so thoroughly that the song has become more recognized as their than the original bands. I never get tired of this track.


17. In The Air Tonight

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Original Artist: Phil Collins

 

 

nonpoint

Covering Artist: Nonpoint

 

With the dark content of the lyrical narrative of this song I’m honestly shocked it took so long for a metal band to cover it. Nonpoint takes this 80’s Phil Collins dark classic and puts a heavy spin on it. While this song was recorded in the midst of the Nu Metal era, the Florida bands take has transcended the era in which it was released. Still dark and brooding in the verse which is mainly the rhythm section the song gives way to a powerful take on the verse which takes the original accusation feel of the lyrical content and turns it into a cry of confrontation.


18. Space Oddity

db space

Original Artist: David Bowie

 

 

pm5k

Covering Artist: Powerman 5000

 

 

David Bowie was a genre to himself. The man transformed his persona and music so many times to such success that no other artist can come close to his originality and musicality. This is a case of an unconventional band taking a conventional approach to a cover. I first saw Powerman 5000 when they opened for Korn in 1996. At that time their musical style was markedly different from that which they became known for as it was a lot more open and funky metal than the ‘Action Rock’ they produced just an album later on their most successful album “Tonight the Stars Revolt”. The band changed styles again later and have become more of a punk/metal/hard rock crossover. 

With this take of the classic Bowie Song they turn the already unconventional style of the song and manage to turn it into an heavy atmospheric electro-pop song that bucks both the preconceived notion of what a cover by the band would sound like.

19. Time after Time

Cyndi_Lauper_Time_After

Original Artist: Cindy Lauper

 

 

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Covering Artist: Quietdrive

 

 

Growing up in the 1980’s was a magic time in terms of music. While, looking back we can all admit that there were some admittedly bad songs that were popular, MTv managed to change how music was consumed by an audience. Cindy Lauper was one of those artist that had their own style in terms of cloths and presentation but managed to produce a string of pop hits that kept her in the eye of the public. I remember watching her sing this song while sitting on a train in the music video and it was always one of my favorite pop hits of the era. 

Quietdrive released this cover version in 2007 and it reminded me of how much this song meant to me back in the day. While not a metal version of the song, Quietdrive put an alternative spin on the song while keeping the original feel in tact. I would consider this an amazing update to the song and what I would think the song would have sounded like had it been written in the 2000’s instead of the 1980’s. 


20. How I Could Just Kill A Man

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Original Artist: Cypress Hill

 

 

Rage_against_the_machine_how_i_could_just_kill_a_man

Covering Artist: Rage Against the Machine

 

 

Rap and Metal have often been seen as rivals in the musical landscape as people who loved rap often hated metal and vice versa but in reality there is more crossover in people who listen to rap and metal than people expect. Without this cross pollination of the genre’s there would not have been a Nu Metal movement and a number of great bands would never had been recognized. 

Rage are known for their seamless blending of hard rock and rap but they take this Cypress Hill song and reinvent it to their style without blinking. They managed to make an album of great cover songs in 2000 of which this song was included. The funk infused hard rock of Rage marries well with the lyrical message that was originally put out by B-Real and Sen Dog to create a hard edged rap song in its own right.


21. Uninvited

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Original Artist: Alanis Morrisette

 

 

rsr uninvited

Covering Artist: Red Sun Rising

 

 

Originally a very dark feeling piano led song recorded by Alanis Morrisette in 1998. The song was a hit in the late 90’s when it was part of the City of Angels movie soundtrack. The original song still stands up as a great tune, however, I found a new version of this when I caught Red Sun Rising as an opening act for Alterbridge a few years ago. They played their version of “Uninvited” at that show and it blew me away. Creepy and atmospheric it give you the feeling of being watched. Like the original it builds from a very subtle beginning to an emotional musical climax. Just a great cover period.


22. I’m Your Boogieman

220px-I'm_Your_Boogie_Man_-_KC_and_the_Sunshine_Band

Original Artist: KC and the Sunshine Band

 

 

rz

Covering Artist: Rob Zombie

 

 

It takes a especially warped mind to take a disco song originally done by KC and the Sunshine Band and turn it on its head. Luckily, the music world has Rob Zombie who possesses such a warped mind. Heavy and funky, the song makes use of the horror samples Zombie is known for and churns the song into a danceable heavy song. Leave it to this guy to turn a Boogie man into a Boogieman. 


23. Careless Whisper

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Original Artist: George Michael

 

 

Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces Deluxe Edition 51lv25xmXdL

Covering Artist: Seether

 

 

Some songs stick with you for no real identifiable reason. I think a lot of this has to do with a person’s mind being attracted to certain keys or note sequences. At least, for the sake of this song, I think the minor key sequence of the original George Michael song has been the reason it has stuck with me for 35 years. Seether has had some success and still manages to write some good songs now and there, but their cover of “Careless Whisper” is one of the few times I think they managed to find a song that fit in to being covered in their style with little tweaking. You still get the emotional feel of longing and loss that was conveyed in the original version with a rocking version of music. 


24. Inner City Blues

Marvin-Gaye-ICB

Original Artist: Marvin Gaye

 

 

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Covering Artist: Sevendust

 

 

Marvin Gaye was the consummate R&B star and managed to write some of the most socially conscious songs of his era prior to his premature death. The original version is an R&B delight that speaks to the plight of the high level of unemployment and urban decay that he saw in the 70’s when he wrote the song. 

Sevendust manage to take their heavy style and, while keeping the key elements of their sound, manage to take it down a notch to produce a heavy pop gem that still puts the subject matter, which is still relevant today, up front.  


25. Simple Man

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Original Artist: Lynyrd Skynyrd

 

 

shinedown

Covering Artist: Shinedown

 

 

This is another song that has been covered a few times (Deftones also do an excellent version) that manages to still sound fresh and have the same emotional pull as the original. This is not only a testament to the bands that have covered it but more importantly it speaks to the strength of the original writing. While I’m not a huge Skynryd fan, this song has always been one of my favorites. 

Subject matter is key in this song as it touches on subjects that will remain relevant far into the future. Shinedown take an acoustic approach which allows the strength of not only the song but of vocalist Brent Smith’s abilities. Smith manages to push the emotionality of the vocal as far as it can be without going into a much heavier musical backdrop. 


26. King of Pain

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Original Artist: The Police

 

 

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Covering Artist: Mudvayne

 

 

The Police and Mudvayne both managed to make a pretty large impact on music in relatively short period of activity. The Police were around for roughly 8 years, Mudvayne a little over 13. Both managed to write musically complex songs that were popular in their respective genres and showcased a level of musicality that often was miles ahead of their contemporaries. 

“King of Pain” comes from the last album The Police released and managed to be a top 20 hit back in 1984. The lyrical content is dark but this was hidden by the pop sensibility of the original arrangement. Mudvayne manages to keep the vocal harmony in tact while making the music heavier which underscores the darkness of the tune. 


27. I Melt With You

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Original Artist: Modern English

 

 

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Covering Artist: Sugarcult

 

Much the same as earlier covers in this list, The Sugarcult is not particularly a heavy band but they managed to put a more rocking spin on a song that was a polished pop single in the 1980’s. Modern English was in that weird niche of artists in the 80’s that didn’t fit totally into New Wave or Pop but managed to find a nice spot that overlapped both genre’s. 

The Sugarcult are not really well known but have been around for a while. Their cover version isn’t necessarily hard as it is rocking. Part of the ‘Punk Goes ‘80s’ release it is a fun take on a well known but sparsely played pop hit.


28. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic

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Original Artist: The Police

 

 

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Covering Artist: Ra

 

I know that this is the second cover of a song by The Police on this list but it is a great version. The Police managed to write great pop songs regardless of the lyrical content. This love song penned by The Police back in 1981 stands up as a great pop song nearly four decades later. 

Ra manage to create a pretty faithful cover of the song while putting a little bit of heaviness to the musical backdrop. Playful and poppy but heavy is always a key combination on cover songs.


29. Blue Monday

NewOrderBlueMonday

Original Artist: New Order

 

 

orgy candyass

Covering Artist: Orgy

 

 

The original band that performed this song is also responsible for another original song on this list. New Order was formed after the end of Joy Division by the remaining members. The original is a New Wave pop his with a robotic vocal melody. It managed to be a top 10 song in the US back in 1983 as a dance club hit. 

15 Years later Orgy released the cover version of the song and it became a hit again. The cover version combines Nu Metal stylings with tinges of industrial sampling. The song remains ever listenable and a good party song.


30. Eye of the Tiger

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Original Artist: Survivor

 

 

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Covering Artist: Devil You Know (AKA Light the Torch)

 

 

Rocky movies were a staple of the 80’s and the theme of Rocky III became a huge hit on the radio. The original version by Survivor was a moderate rock song that had a chorus to emphasize the core theme of the film of fighting to overcome the odds. While a rock tune, it lacked the heaviness that could have made it great. 

Luckily, Devil You Know, fronted by the amazing vocal talent of Howard Jones (the one from Killswitch Engage and Blood has been shed, not the pop guy) bring the heavy. The song still embodies the same “fight” mindset to it that the original did but turned up to 10. While not one of HoJo’s greatest vocal performances he still manages to make this version memorable. 

Throwback Soundtrack 5: 90’s R&B

Much like for rock music, the 90’s were one of the last great decades for the genre of R&B. With rap, nu-metal, pop-punk,boy bands, and pop princesses dominating the airwaves at the end of the last century, the early to mid 90’s released some great acts and songs in the last era of strong R&B. While there have been a few popular acts since in the genre, few have had the output or quality of the groups throughout the 90’s. Here is a playlist of 25 songs that I think should be on any playlist of the era.

As always the playlist is available on Spotify here.

motownphillyb2mMotown Philly- Boyz II Men

One of the most popular acts throughout the 90’s Boyz II Men released some of the most enduring hits of the genre in the 90’s. Motown Philly was their first major hit and became a radio staple throughout the early 90’s. Combining slick production with the acapella singing talent  and Doo-wop chops of the group is on of the things that established this group from a solo artist dominated genre.


soul_for_real_-_candy_rain_singleCandy Rain- Soul for Real

While only producing a few popular songs Soul For Real brought about a younger Jackson 5-ish take on the group dynamic that Boyz II Men made popular in the 90’s. Even though this song is widely forgotten, I cannot think of a 90’s R&B playlist without this tune. 

 


no_diggityNo Diggity- Black Street

Black Street’s “No Diggity” is essential to any 90’s R&B playlist. The song was a smash in 1996. Funky with a steady back beat this track allows the group to rap and sing over a great club ready beat. The chorus is simple but memorable and the verses allow the individual members to swap the main vocal with ease.


you_make_me_wanna...You Make Me Wanna- Usher

Usher is one of the solo male artists that carried the torch for R&B in the mid to late 90’s when it was starting to fall out of favor. Smooth vocals and musically sparse this song is good to chill to with a steady beat as well as get out on the dance floor with. Usher had a few popular hits throughout the era but “You Make Me Wanna” is probably my favorite of his.


toni_braxton_-_breathe_againBreathe Again-Toni Braxton

One of the three most soulful women’s voices of the time, Toni Braxton managed to endure throughout the entire decade and after releasing great albums. “Breathe Again” is required listening. Great vocals and pop production made this song a radio hit in the 90’s and helped push Toni Braxton into the public consciousness. 


giving himGiving Him Something He Can Feel- En Vogue

Ev Vougue was the powerhouse female group of 90’s R&B. Releasing a number of hits in the 90’s, they helped to re-establish female R&B groups as a viable and powerful force in the music industry. I chose this song over a few other great ones because it showcases the group’s singing ability and groove. 


thisishowwedoitThis is How We Do It- Montell Jordan

The essential weekend party song of the decade. This song was the only big hit I remember from Montell Jordan but it has stuck with me over the decades and is still one that I will turn up if it comes across a playlist because it is fun to listen to. The repeated refrain of the song title in the chorus was genius for ear worm status because you will find yourself singing it out of the blue and for no particular reason.


would_i_lie_to_youWould I Lie to You- Charles & Eddie

I’m sure that anybody reading this that also lived through this era of music had forgotten about this song. An early 90’s hit it is often lost in the din of other songs throughout the era. The only to 20 hit and the group’s only charting song in the US is soulful and memorable. A certified “One hit Wonder” this song has a classic Motown sound and production level and the high vocal lines of the singing doesn’t grate on the hearing but instead is well performed. 


all_my_life_by_k-ci_and_jojo_us_cd_single_1998All My Life- KC and Jo Jo

The ‘Wedding Song’ of 1999. I couldn’t escape this song my senior year of high school as it was a popular school dance song as well. This is the only hit I remember from the group but it has endured as a musical expression of love that people still go back to.

 


220px-kmsoftlyfugeesKilling Me Softly- Fugees

This cover song pushed the Fugees into a public consciousness through the MTv Video. The group did not last long before pursuing solo projects. Lauryn Hill’s The Miss-education of Lauryn Hill still stands as one of the best albums released in 1999. The song was originally a hit for Roberta Flack in the early 70’s proved to be a hit once again in 1996 when the Fugees released an updated version with a more hip of feel. The song immediately grabs you with the layered acapella vocals from Lauryn Hill. The song consists mostly of the beat with and Hill’s singing which shows the vocal ability of the artist. 


sittin'_up_in_my_roomSittin’ Up In My Room-Brandy

While Brandy is more known for her acting career she did also produce some good music. “Sittin’ Up In My Room” was one of the few radio hits that she released. The song has a smooth funky sound that serves as the backdrop for Brandy’s soulful singing what serves as being understated in the verse and slowly raises going into the chorus. 


weak_(swv_song)Weak- SWV

Along with En Vogue, SWV were one of the most accomplished female vocal R&B groups of the 90’s. “Weak” was the third single of their debut album and one of the best female R&B songs of the early 90’s. While the instrumentation does date the song a little it does not detract from the listenability of the song. This was the most popular song from the group and was a #1 hit for the group on multiple charts in the US in 1993.


all4one-iswearI Swear- All for One

This song was released by two different artists from two different genre’s within a year of each other. While originally the country version did not have much traction after the success of All for One’s R&B take on the song, the country song gained traction as well. All for One’s version is a soulful R&B/Doo-wop hit. The group did manage to release a few other memorable singles but “I Swear” stands as their most memorable due to it being their first singe as well as their highest charging single. 


alwaysandforeverlutherAlways and Forever- Luther Vandross

No R&B playlist from the 80’s or 90’s would be complete without THE Luther Vandross. He is as essential to the era and genre as Barry White or Marvin Gaye are to the 70’s era of R&B. Originally released in the 70’s by the group Heatwave, the song had proven it’s success with as a top 20 hit. Luther Vandross’ soulful vocals and laid back mix made the song a top 20 hit again two decades later. Luther’s voice is one that defines an era of R&B and he was one of the greatest soul singers of the late 20th century.


nobody_knows_tony_richNobody Knows- Tony Rich Project

Another one hit wonder of the 90’s, the Tony Rich Project’s “Nobody Knows” was a soulful hit for the group and its highest charting hit. The music is good mix of both various percussion instruments with a guitar and a synth piano. Rich’s soulful and smooth vocals make this song memorable for its emotionality and feel.


backatonesingleBack at One- Brian McKnight

One of the later releases on this list Brian McKnight’s “Back at One” is a great song of the decade. From the piano intro to the soulful chorus it manages to encompass everything the genre was known for. Smooth vocals and great production keeps the song from being dated almost 20 years later. While alphabet and number songs are often somewhat annoying this song manages to not be. The lyrical scheme was used again not too long after by Craig David on his “7 Days” song which is also a good song. Brian McKnight is one of the most underrated male vocalists of this era.


waterfalls_by_tlc_us_cd_maxi-singleWaterfalls- TLC

TLC had a great debut album in 1992 but it wasn’t until 1994 that they hit their high point in popularity. A lot of that had to do with their CrazySexyCool album that produced some of their most memorable hits. The funky guitar and bass on this song provide a great groove to serve as the foundation of the vocals. T-Boz’s smoky vocals are accompanied well by the other two members throughout the verse and lend soul to the chorus. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez’s mid song rap is one of the highlights and memorable parts of the song. While they have fallen out of the public consciousness after the death of Left Eye, the group managed to produce enduring hits throughout the 90’s.


not_gon'_cry_by_mary_j_blige_us_cd_singleNot Gon’ Cry- Mary J. Blige

Another great female voice in the genre, Mary J. Blige has forged a career with soulful vocals and great R&B hits. This song has a great vocal narrative that speaks to female empowerment and moving on after heartbreak. The song was a #1 single on the R&B charts in 1996 and is still a great song to throw on anytime.


twistedTwisted- Keith Sweat

Keith Sweat is one of those artists in the 90’s that occupied areas of both the R&B and hip hop. “Twisted” was a #1 hit in 1996 and it is a relaxed jam composed of mostly piano and bass with a steady beat. The interplay between Sweat’s vocals with the female vocals provide a great ‘call and answer’ feel throughout the song. The vocals are soulful on both sides and this song is a great song to turn on on date night.


im everyI’m Every Woman- Whitney Houston

No female vocalist in the 90’s is as well known or renown as Whitney Houston. She managed to have hits across pop, R&B, and Soul during the 90’s and this funky dance song is a great one. Containing elements of disco, funk and pop the music underscores Houston’s vocal ability and range. Sweet, sultry, and smooth; Whitney managed to convey all of these with her voice over the course of the song. She was a great artist and is missed in the music world.


220px-ibelieveicanflyI Believe I Can Fly- R. Kelly

R. Kelly has had some rather racy songs throughout his career (“Bump and Grind”, “Trapped in a Closet”) but “I Believe I Can Fly” shows his songwriting ability along with his vocal chops. Probably best known for its association with the Space Jam soundtrack the song is one that stands up after all these years. Inspirational and soulful, few songs are better than this. 


save the bestSave the Best for Last- Vanessa Williams

Few of the artists (with the exception of Whitney Houston) has managed to spread between so many different aspects of pop culture as Vanessa Williams. Singer, Actress, Former Miss America, she has done it all. Including having a #1 hit with this song in 1992. Another song that is only dated by it’s production, it has managed to still be a decent song and a good R&B song for over 25 years. 


220px-aaliyah-atyourbestAt Your Best (You are my love)- Aaliyah

Unfortunately Aaliyah was taken too soon. A promising film career ahead and a great voice was lost in 2001 with her death. This song is a great showcase of her lyrical ability and her soulful sound. Silky smooth vocals over a slow funky musical track gives perspective to the talent that was lost and the talent that is lacking these days in music. Even though this song is a cover of an Isley Brothers tune, Aaliyah managed to make it her own and brought her great ability vocally to the song.


220px-when_can_i_see_you_babyfaceWhen Can I See You- Babyface

Known more as a songwriter and producer, Babyface has managed to step out from the shadows occasionally to put his own voice and musical ability to his music. “When Can I See You Again” is a great song that shows what he is capable as an artist himself. Another song you might recognize him from is Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” although he has written a few hits from artists that also populate this list. The simpleness of the music which is comprised mostly of an acoustic guitar and drums lets the vocals shine through on this track.


jeI Gotta Be- Jagged Edge

Although this song did not crack the top 10 it is a good slow jam to end on. Jagged Edge is one of those groups that you have to have on a 90’s R&B playlist because they were one of the great if not underrated groups of the era. While Boyz II Men dominated the landscape for the majority of the decade, Jagged Edge managed to keep pace without as much recognition due to the quality of their songs. 


Bonus:

poison_bbdPoison- Bell Biv Devoe

I bet most of you thought I would forget to include this song but I put it on here as the bonus song for this post. One of the essential songs of the era BBD’s “Poison” is upbeat, and flows. The vocal trade offs with each new verse coupled with the collective chorus proves that the formula for R&B hits was steadily in place in 1990 when the song was released. While still continuing some of the elements of last 80’s hip hop, the song manages to pushes into the new decade with a fresh sound that would set the tone for a lot of acts that followed.

 

2018 Year in Review: Movies

Prepping to write this final post about 2018 I realized that I may not watch as many new movies as I once did. While some of this is just due to my personality (I read a lot more than watch TV or movies these days) some of this also has to do with lack of interesting new ideas in film. Marred by remakes and Hollywood making a movie about every video game and toy from my childhood to try to cash in in a desperate attempt to regain their billion dollar industry of the past has filled the world of film with a lot of 300 lb turds in the last decade. My issues with the movie industry aside, here is a list of movies I watched in 2018 that I feel are worth mentioning.

infinity warAvengers: Infinity War:

The first part of the two part culmination of the past decade of Marvel movies brought about the full introduction of Thanos and his quest for the Infinity stones. Carefully crafting each movie previous to nudge the narrative in this direction has been on of the MCU’s strong points. With the introduction of characters taken care of in their own solo movies it allows the action and plot to move forward without having to get bogged down in a lot of character introduction and development. 

The movie employs the action and CG graphics that have made the MCU so entertaining but also plays at the emotions of people who have watched since Iron Man’s first movie. Alliance connections change and heal over the course of the movie to push all the respective characters universes together. The first meetings of the Guardians of the Galaxy with the rest of the MCU is a shining funny moment. 

The Russo brothers have managed to combine all of the worlds together to help craft a well thought out plot to end this phase of the MCU. The script is a brilliantly played out tragedy where loss and insurmountable odds leave you feeling that there has to be a great redemption coming. If Captain Marvel’s involvement in Infinity War Part II is half of what Black Panther’s was in Part I it will be an amazing ride as we will be forced to bid farewell to some of the actors that have inhabited the now beloved characters up to this point. Hopefully Marvel continues to push the narrative and envelope as well as they did so far and have another good decade build of movies to another great massive battle that were the most interesting reads of the books themselves. 

With Disney now owning a majority of the Marvel properties with its purchase of Fox in 2018 we can hope that we can see better versions of the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and X-Men coming in the near future.

mollys-game-molly_unit_03284r_rgb_wide-825457a813cdde23b3913c3441df14d79c4b7cb1-s800-c85Molly’s Game:

Aaron Sorkin has been one of my favorite screen and television writers for a long time. His use of dialog is emulated by many but none have mastered his caliber of wordsmith-ing in the realm of entertainment. Molly’s Game is his first foray into directing as well and was a key curiosity to me in regard to watching this film. 

Based on a true story, it manages to draw you in with wonderful story and editing which push the story forward while keeping the watcher caught in the web of wonderful dialog. The acting of Jessica Chastain is wonderful and shows the drive of the female character when she refuses to be bested by petty men. 

Idris Elba also turns in a great performance and once again shows how he is masterful at dropping his British accent for American characters. It doesn’t hurt that he has done this many times since being on The Wire over a decade ago. His character is empathetic as well as smart in his own right.

Great lighting and wardrobe choices as well as well placed editing manages to condense a multi year drama into a 2 hour movie without it feeling rushed or too drawn out. The narrative keeps you interested and invested in all of the characters and manages to convey a story of loss, rebirth, mistakes, and redemption excellently.

Three-Billboards-Outside-Ebbing-Missouri-Feature

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

A movie that was well worth the praise it received by the critics. A skilled drama in the vein of the Cohen Brothers (but no actually done by them) it manages to keep drama and plot high but also allows the irony and dark humor of certain moments to shine through. While the movie is limited to only a few different locations it makes the most of the space available to help tell the story of the characters.

Frances McDormand always manages to provide great performances. Once again she shows a character who has great strength as well as vulnerability. Sam Rockwell’s performance is amazingly understated but well distributed in its high points. Rockwell has been under appreciated as an actor for years and it was nice to see him finally put a performance out there that gained the notice he is so deserved. There are also great performances from Woody Harrelson and a great short (no pun intended) dramatic performance by Peter Dinklage.

A great story of loss, strength, mystery and forgiveness. While it did tend to drag for moments here and there, the deliberate pacing is great for the feel of the movie. The ending was somewhat a let down originally, however, after a repeated watch and some distance I realize now how great it is because it did not explicitly point the final narrative in a specific direction which allows you your own interpretation of what may have happened next.

the postThe Post

Being a history major who has studied both writing and journalism this movie was a no brainer favorite of the year. The story of the Washington Post’s decision to print the Pentagon papers which were still classified at the time. This movie shows the struggle over the decision to publish after obtaining the documents and the potential impact to both the personal and professional lives of Ben Bradlee as well as Katherine Graham (the chief editor and publisher of the paper, respectively). 

This was a pivotal moment in American history with the Vietnam War being highly unpopular and having been fought through three presidencies. The Pentagon papers brought to light the fact that the Government itself received assessments that were contrary to what they were telling the American people about the war for years. While mired in stalemate the Nixon administration pushed that there was a peace that was close at hand and that it was a winnable war, this all contrary to the professional opinion of his advisors as well as the RAND Corporation (a government think tank that was also studying and recommending actions).

As always Stephen Spielberg turns out a great historical period piece. The attention to detail and style is always something that the director has brought to his historical pictures. Teaming once again with Tom Hanks in a dramatic role he manages to put a contemporary perspective on events that occurred over thirty years ago. Not only does Hanks perform wonderfully, his interaction with Meryl Streep shows the trust that their two characters had with one another in terms of how to manage their business.

Few films manager to tell a story of the past and also show the parallels of events happening today. The attacks on the media by the paranoid President Nixon mirror those of President Trump. One of the main differences between the 70’s and today is the respect that investigative journalists and traditional media once commanded compared to where they are today. Although part of this is self inflicted after their handling of the 2016 election, an equal amount is due to the constant attacks by the administration. In the end the movie serves as a great dramatic film but also provokes thought of how history is repeating itself.

el royaleBad Times at the El Royale

A noir film to its roots, Bad Times at the El Royale manages to hit all of the marks. Small sets, varied characters and well thought out set production and lighting make this film a technically great film from the production standpoint. While some elements of cliche regarding the genre are used, they are employed with great skill and are looked at seriously as opposed to a trope of noir.

The film takes place at a fictional hotel that is on the border of California and Nevada and manages to inhabit both states simultaneously. While the hotel has seen better days it is an interesting set piece for the drama that unfolds over the two hour run time. The contrasting colors and styles that make up the separate sides of the hotel also manage to bring out the contrasting characters in the story.

The cast of this film would make you wonder if the plot and its execution could live up to the sheer ability of the actors alone. Including such names as Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth and a short appearance by Nick Offerman, the movie has enough star power to keep you interested. The twisting of tales between the characters past brings a feel of a Tarantino movie with all of their paths coming together at a certain point. 

One of the great things about this movie is that nobody is who they seem at the beginning and those who you think will survive until the end don’t. This is one of the strong points of the movie as the predictability of other movies can get tiresome and the twists are easily spotted less than an hour into the story. However, Bad Times manages to keep you wondering where this will all end up. 

In some ways this movie reminded me of the film Identity, another great noir film, in that it is unpredictable. The characters are all forced into a situation that only originally was the problem of a few, and in the end the resolve of the film leaves you satisfied and calls for multiple viewings as it is enjoyable. 

While the film did not make a lot of money and was not as popular among theater audiences as industry standards would hav hoped these factors are not a valid assessment of the film. If anything this points toward the short attention span and the limited memory of the audience. Few people who go to movies today are interested in something that unravels at a deliberate pace and is subdued in its colors and tones. They want loud, splashy, visually energetic CG performances to keep them entertained without having to think. I feel that this film will find its audience on home video like so many great cult films do. 

the-death-of-stalinThe Death of Stalin

The majority of this list has been filled by dramatic movies, however, there were a few bright spots for comedy this year. I chose The Death of Stalin because it was largely underrated but a well done movie. The worst thing about critics of movies is that most of them see comedies as something that should churn out a laugh every five minutes which is why the concept of dark comedies are always lost on them. 

This movie is a political farce of sorts that manages to highlight the intrigue and backstabbing among heads of state that happens when great political change comes about unexpectedly. The movie begins shortly before the actual death of Stalin but the majority takes place in the aftermath. While a historical piece the film does take some creative license with the characters and the events. 

The cast is well put together and includes Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Jason Issacs and others. While the actors play their characters quite seriously this only manages to allow the irony of many situations to shine through. Another great thing about the movie is that it makes you think afterwards. You empathize and root for certain people and find humor in their words and actions, but then you realize at a certain point that each of these characters were really mass murderers who sent millions to their deaths or imprisonment at the Gulag. Some of this is made quite clear by the rounding up of people and the executions of others. 

While the subject matter is serious the movie manages to entertain and inform. The small bits of the movie that are intentionally funny are outweighed by the times where the humor is strictly  unintentional and ironic. The characters are well played and the plot well executed and the movie is worth a watch regardless of it’s reviews.

Throwback Soundtrack 4: 90’s Alternative

The mid-90’s post Grunge Alternative movement was the popular music movement for a span of 4 years or so (94-98). In the late 90’s with the rise of Nu Metal, manufactured pop divas, and boy bands its popularity began to fade. Over the four years the music managed to leave a very lasting impression on a lot of teenagers who were just a short time before were immersed into the grunge scene. Like all second acts, however, it did not have quite as strong an impact.

The main difference between Grunge and Alternative is the diversity in sound as well as the fact that the groups involved in the Alternative movement of the 90s is that the bands that made up the genre were partly derivative of the grunge scene. In the end this was another genre killed by the music industry as the quality of the bands waned with the increased quantity of them. The diminishing returns and saturated marked of similar sounding and looking bands made the entire genre collapse under its own weight.

This list is made up of 31 of, what I consider, the best and most varied mix of songs of the era. I tried to showcase the genre’s ability to produce both fun and catchy songs with a backdrop of music that was varied and spanned both a heavy and soft sound. As always comments are welcome below if you disagree with a choice or feel that I missed an important song that should have been on the list, heck, if you enjoy the playlist leave a comment so that I know how you feel. The playlist is also available on Spotify.

220px-Foo_Fighters_EverlongEverlong- Foo FightersWith the end of Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl had nothing to focus his musical energies on besides honing his songwriting craft. After writing, recording and releasing the first Foo Fighter’s album in 1995 he went into the studio to record the follow up to a fairly successful debut album.

When The Color and the Shape was released in 1997 it kicked off it’s singles with “Monkey Wrench”, a hard hitting and high energy first single. The second single showed the strength of songwriting that Grohl had developed in the previous years. “Everlong” has a slow build with that ends up crescendoing into a loud chorus at the end. From start to finish this song is a great example of a song that has an alternative sound but also has a great hooky chorus. This song never gets old.


220px-Jane's_Addiction_Mountain_SongMountain Song- Jane’s AddictionJane’s Addiction is known for not fitting a specific type of musical genre as their music is expansive and expressive in many different ways. Each band members individual strengths help to make the whole much more than the sum of its parts. From Perry Farrell’s high sighing voice to Dave Navarro’s distinct guitar playing backed by the solid rhythm section of of Stephen Perkins and Chris Chaney this group manages to produce both solid rock songs like “Been Caught Stealing” and “Mountain Song” as well as atmospheric songs such as “Jane Says”.


liar
Liar- Rollins BandHenry Rollins has become a kind of ‘elder god’ of the punk scene as well as great historian of music. His post Black Flag act Rollins Band put together some funky, heavy and eclectic music throughout the years. I remmeber first hearing “Liar” when I saw the video on Headbanger’s Ball. The song has amazing dynamic with a Pixie-esque soft verse/loud chorus structure. Rollins’ poetic lyrics layered on top of the magnificent musical ability of the band behind him. Jazzy, funky and heavy, “Liar” is a standout to me in this era as both the video and the music itself are a departure from the sound of other acts of the same era.


220px-R.E.M._-_Man_on_the_MoonMan On The Moon- R.E.M.While the band had been around more than a decade before the alternative movement of the mid-90’s it was during this time that they saw their success finally reach beyond the realms of college radio. This song is closely associated with the Jim Carrey bio-pic of the same name about the late comedian Andy Kaufman who is mentioned repeatedly in the lyrics. The movie brought back a popular focus on the song but the music and lyrical ability of Michael Stipe and the solid guitar work of Peter Buck drive the song.


MachineheadBushMachinehead- BushBush came to the public consciousness at the tail end of the Grunge era and was partially associated with the movement. An attempt at a Facebook poll that I posted yielded a 50/50 split as to whether the band was considered Alternative or Grunge. My personal opinion is that they belong solidly in the Alternative genre due to their music style as well as the fact that the majority of their success and releases came in the Alternative era. “Machinehead” was the last single released from their debut album Sixteen Stone and followed the major success of their previous single “Glycerine”. Hard charging and energetic, this song belongs on any Alternative playlist of the era.


220px-The_Cranberries_-_ZombieZombie- The CranberriesIreland’s The Cranberries had a few previous hits off of their debut album that put them on the map. Their songs “Linger” and “Dreams” were played regularly on alt rock radio. With “Zombie” the content and feel of the music is darker than the poppier singles that they were known for. This song starts with lightly played guitar chords but then the sluggish heavy distorted guitar kicks in with arpeggiated clean notes on top before it simmers down to the verse where Deloris O’Riordan’s vocals come in. The chorus is heavy and the darkness and emotional weight is emphasized by O’Riordan’s Irish lilt. While the “Troubles” of Northern Ireland are largely forgotten outside of the country, the song is a continual reminder that violent political actions often have a negative impact on innocent people, including children.


Live_lightning_crashesLightning Crashes- LiveThe Pennsylvania band Live had released a major label debut album that was largely overlooked in 1991. However, Throwing Copper managed to contain some of their most known and popular songs. The album’s first two singles, “Selling the Drama” and “I Alone” had marginal success but it was the third single “Lightning Crashes” that really catapulted the band into stardom. From the first understated guitar chords to the end chorus this song is on a constant build musically. No matter how many times I hear this song I cannot help but sing along. Showcasing the senseless censoring of lyrical content MTV and radio edited the first verse, however, this only had the impact of confusing people who bought the album and did not recognize the first verse from the version that they had heard on the radio.


Sister_SweetlyBittersweet- Big Head Todd and the Monsters“Bittersweet” is one of the great BHT songs of the era. While possibly misclassified in the Alternative genre the band’s more rock and blues based sound is nonetheless a great halmark of an era where musical styles all melded into great music. A great song of love and longing, this song has a mood and feel that just seems right. The slower BHT songs like this and “St. Vincent of Jersey” show that the singing and songwriting of the band were and continue to be strong.


220px-King_of_New_OrleansKing of New Orleans- Better Than EzraBetter Than Ezra had a few different hits in the Alternative era. This song has a great start stop dynamic to the beginning of the verses and at the beginning of the chrouses. This helps to make the more musically full parts of the song more than just a senseless chugging of chords. The chorus vocals are melodic, catch, and understated. “King of New Orleans” is a constant in many of my personal playlists of the era. While containing many of the elements of the Alternative sound, Better Than Ezra manage to also sound distinct in movement. They are definately worth checking out if you are unfamiliar with their music.


220px-Pepper_Butthole_SurfersPepper- Butthole SurfersThe Butthole Surfers have always been a bit ‘out there’ musically. This art rock group from Texas managed to infuriate and entice the media and parents with their unique stage shows. “Pepper” is probably their most successful commercial hit. The song is very basic with the drums carrying the majority of the song. Gibby Haynes’ vocals during the verse are in a spoken word format and the chorus is somewhat nonsensical yet infinately catchy. One of the most lasting memories of this song for me is Eric Estrada in the music video. The Butthole Surfers are a shining example of how it was really kind of like the wild west in terms of the musical landscape in the mid-90’s. Anything went and record companies were more willing to give even the wierder acts a record deal.


220px-Sheep_go_to_heaven_cover_CAKE

Sheep Go to Heaven- CakeCake has always been a band that was on the margins of labels. Their musical output has always been catchy and poppy but their instrumentation has always been outside of the guitar, bass, drums framework. While the band does employ all of these instruments, the inclusion of a trumpet in a lot of their songs helps to set them apart. Along with their poppy sound they also have great humorous and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. This song is hooky and fun. Singing “Go To Hell” at the end of the song out loud in mixed company and seeing their confused and sometimes angry facial expressions is worth the price of admision for this song.


220px-Devils_Haicut

Devils Haircut- BeckThe musical instrumentation, lyrical style, and the use of technology has always put Beck in a place to escape labeling from record companies. He burst onto the scene with the success of the first single “Where It’s At” off the album Oelay, but the second single stood out to me a bit more. Funky, retro, and fun, “Devil’s Haircut” shows more of the songwriting ability of Beck and his ability to traverse multiple styles in a single song.


decemberDecember- Collective SoulHaving released other popular rock songs Collective Soul managed to maintain a thoughtful rock style to a genre of other acts that were just fine with jamming out. A three guitar band that was uncharacteristic of the Alternative genre but a hallmark for southern rock acts in the 70’s, the band managed to blend the different guitar parts into a cohesive sound. “December” is a moderate tempo toe tapper with a very basic chorus. In a similar vein as their single “Shine”, the song works on a steady tempo and instrumentation that is understated yet melodic.


220px-Counting_Blue_CarsCounting Blue Cars- DiswallaProbably the only song that is remembered by this Santa Barbara band, “Counting Blue Cars” is actually a great track. Another song with a laid back instrumentation in the verse that gives way to a powerfull chorus. This is one of the few times where a male singer refers to God as a woman. The narrative of the lyrics lay out the events of a long summer afternoon and the conversation between people of different age groups. Catchy and memorable, this song is a great addition to any Alt-rock playlist of the era.


teen angstTeen Angst- CrackerLike Cake and Beck, Cracker have always managed to wander through the musical landscape and pull many influences and sounds into their music. There is a very wide variety of styles in their music that often contrast from track to track that keeps their music fresh and interesting. Songs like “Teen Angst” are more straight ahead rock while other songs such as “Eurotrash Girl” show a storyteller side with a bit of avante garde thrown in. The lyrics “What the world needs now are some true words of wisdom like ‘la la la la la la la la la la'” is a fun example of the bands ability to write fun yet interesting lyrics. Speaking to the boredom of a generation and the somewhat stagnant social landscape of the mid-90’s, this song is a rocking reminder to all of us to look for things outside of the same old.


concrete-blonde-caroline-1990-2Days and Days- Concrete BlondeConcrete Blonde filled a quirky space inside a genre of outsiders and melded musical styles. Artistic yet gothic in their lyrics and songwriting, the band shares more with the likes of The Cure and Joy Division than it does the punk acts that most alternative and grunge bands used as their influences. “Days and Days” is a groove oriented rock song that has a great stream of consciousness lyrical method. The driving sound of the bass really made the band stand apart as the guitar did take some space in the soundscape it did not dominate it like most other groups of the time. Their album Bloodletting is great throughout.


220px-Until_I_Fall_AwayUntil I Fall Away- Gin BlossomsGin Blossoms are one of the divisive bands of the Alternative era. They are really one fo the few bands where people either love them or hate them. Regardless on your personal stance, you cannot deny that this Arizona band managed to write and record catch and melodic Alt-pop songs. “Until I Fall Away” was just one of their many popular songs on the radio during the time and one of the ones that stands out to me as a great example of how they wrote lasting songs.


Goo_goo_dolls_long_way_downLong Way Down- Goo Goo DollsGoo Goo Dolls is a band that unfortunately got crushed under the weight of its own success. Long way down was one of the heavier songs on their 1995 album A Boy Named Goo which also contained one of their earlier softer hits “Name”. I remember this song mostly associated with the soundtrack for the movie Twister. The Goo’s are mostly known for their melodic balads such as “Name” and “Iris” but I am more partial to this song because it is a solid rock song that shows that the band could have been just as successful releasing more rock oriented material.


220px-Seether_by_Veruca_Salt_US_7-inch_vinylSeether- Veruca SaltNamed after a character from Roal Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book, Veruca Salt were one of the female rock acts that managed to make headway in the male dominated alt rock scene. Along with Hole and L7, Veruca Salt managed to show that female fronted rock groups were a viable source of income for record companies. Both “Seether” and “Volcano Girls” shows the bands ability to write upbeat and fun songs and that the band was just as good as the other bands but took themselves less seriously and were able to enjoy their music.


lemonheadsBreak Me- The LemonheadsThe Lemonheads are one of the bands that are largely overlooked by the majority but managed to produced fun and interesting music. Frontman Evan Dando managed to keep the band going with a rotating supporting cast of musicans over the years but the sound has always been consistent. Probably best known for their cover of Simon and Garfunkle’s “Mrs. Robinson”, the song “Break Me” shows their ability to write melody and airy lyrics into a catch and thoughtful song. I strongly suggest any fan of the era to go back and listen to some tracks by the band.


220px-Nada_Surf_PopularPopular- Nada SurfAn odd and quirky song from the era “Popular” is thematically about high school popularity and social dynamic. The song mentions cheerleaders and jocks. The verses underlying music is understated and somewhat dissonant but manage to push the speaking lyrics. The chorus is a power chord strumming sing along with catchy lyrics with the repeated refrain “I’m popular” ending the first three lines of the chorus.


220px-DontlookbackinangerDon’t Look Back in Anger- OasisOasis… What can I say? They were kind of like the 90’s version of the Beatles. They were brittish, wrote a great debut album full of alt-pop songs that were catch, and people kind of went nuts over them until they got too big and the founding brother’s infighting broke up the band. “Wonderwall” was a huge hit that opened the doors for Oasis but “Don’t Look Back In Anger” managed to show a more expressive side of the band. The chord progression of the guitar and the vocals work well together in creating an overall feel of both loss and catharsis. The heavy studio chorus in the mix makes the song have a feel of a bygone era of music. For me, this is the one Oasis song that managed to hold up well over the last two decades.


220px-Poe_-_Hello

Hello- Poe“Hello” is a great example of the early beginnings of the trip hop and electronic era. While most alternative music was rock based, Poe managed to make great songs that combined both a stream of conscious lyrical style with a pop style. While some may not consider her an alternative artist, Poe managed to cohabitate an area that covered both a pop and alternative style. Her 1995 set a solid ground work for a sound that would evolve the musical landscape on the fringes. Along with the song “Angry Johnny”, Poe managed to have two top 20 singles in the mid 1990’s.


banditosBanditos- The RefreshmentsProbably one of the most lasting and fun songs from the Alternative era, “Banditos” is a fun rock song from Phoenix’s The Refreshments. Along with the Gin Blossoms, The Refreshments were one of Arizona’s most popular exports in the era. As mentioned in a separate blog post about their debut album, I remember hearing “Banditos” on the radio while working my paper route back in high school. I sat up late into the night waiting for the radio station to play the song again so that I could record it on a tape. The entire Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy record is great. If there was only one detriment to the Refreshments career it is that they were mislabeled as an alternative act when in fact they were more a rock and songwriter outfit. “Banditos” stands the test of time as a song about bank robbing and bandits heading for the Mexican border, plus it was the only song to ever name drop Captain Jean-Luc Picard.


luckyLucky- Seven Mary ThreeThe album American Standard put Seven Mary Three on the map with hit songs like “Water’s Edge” and “Cumbersome” and established the bands rock sound, however, deeper cuts on the album showed the more acoustic, songwriter side of the band. 1997’s RockCrown did not reach it’s predecessor’s success but the opening track “Lucky” is one of my favorites of their catalog. Acoustic strumming and understated vocals make this song more emotional than it would have been if the band had made it a rock tune. Still a great listen after all of these years.


somebody to shoveSomebody to Shove- Soul AsylumWhile there are more popular songs by Soul Asylum I chose this song because it was one of their more rocking numbers. The hits of the band tended to be more melodic slower songs like “Runaway Train” and “Misery” but “Somebody to Shove” shows that there was still an element of rock and punk in the bands music. I wanted to put the acoustic version of this song from their MTv Unplugged session on the playlist but thought better as the electric version shows the more dynamic range of the band when compared to the more acoustic songwriting of their more substantial hits.


Weezer_undone_the_sweater_songUndone (the Sweater Song)- WeezerWeezer have always been a geeky talented bunch. Bursting on the scene with the strength of “Buddy Holly” Weezer quickly took a place toward the top of the alternative rock heap of bands. Their humerous lyrics and great use of musical dynmaics in their songs make their songs catch and relatable. “Undone” was actually the first single from their debut ‘Blue’ album but didn’t gain real popularity until after the success of “Buddy Holly”. A more melodic track that includes some recorded conversation between women, singsong lyrics and a strangely catch chorus about distroying a sweater there is a lot to love.


220px-Everclear_-_Santa_Monica_cd_singleSanta Monica- EverclearEverclear was another band that buckled under their own success. Santa Monica was one of the first songs that they became popular for. Combining rock and pop with ease, Art Alexakis wrote catchy songs about bad relationships, growing up poor, and absentee parents that were catchy and yet relatable. I still love this song but cannot hear the first verse without my hearing my friend Pat sing “I’m still living with your, Goat”. Man, Pat and I really ruined a lot of songs for each other by making up funny lyrics to them but things like that tend to happen when you are tired and working a night shift.


pusaBack Porch- P.U.S.A.The ultimate band for quirky songs and hillarious lyrics. The Presidents of the United States has a short popularity but were definiately the most fun of all alternative acts. Songs like “Peaches”, “Dune Buggy”, and “Back Porch” showcase the bands ability to write quirky, nonsensical, and catchy songs that you cant help but sing along to. Their songs never get old because they are just fun and funny while also being well constructed.


220px-Garbagemilkukcd1Milk- GarbageSure there are more upbeat or popular songs by Garbage, but “Milk” has always been my favorite song off of their debut album. Shirley Manson’s vocal abilities and the musical and producing genious of Butch Vig and company manage to put together a sprawling, atmospheric, and melodic opus that clocks in at just under 4 minutes. The beat is steady and the orchestration brings a minor key sorrowful feel to the song. Manson’s chorus singing is beautifully melancholic. Just a great song to end on… but wait..


spacehogBonus: In the Mean Time- SpacehogSpacehog’s Resident Alien is a criminally overlooked album from the alternative era. More glam rock (talking 70’s Bowie, T-Rex not 80’s hair metal) than punk rock the band wrote great catchy songs and should have had more success. “In the Meantime” is a great song period. Upbeat, bass driven and hooky, all the elements of a great pop song. The music is simple but efficient in conveying the mood of the song. Royston Langdon’s vocals are grounded yet soar on the chorus. The bridge builds the song effectively upward before pushing into the chorus again. Another great example of a song that builds from a very quiet start to a strong and loud ending, the range and dynamics of the song keep it fresh even 23 years after release.

 

2018 Year in Review: Discovered/Rediscovered Artists and Albums

A couple of years back I wrote a post about artists I had discovered or rediscovered that year. This year it seems that I have rediscovered my love of hip hop that had been hibernating for some time. I realized that two professions that focus so much attention on language is that of hip hop artists and stand up comedians. I wonder why there isn’t a lot of crossover between the two… Anyway, what follows is a list of albums and artists that I have rediscovered in 2018. 

The_Impossible_Kid_Album_CoverAesop Rock- The Impossible Kid

My friend Pat introduced me to Aesop Rock sometime about a decade ago but somehow I had completely forgotten about him until recently. While old gangster rap is fine to listen to and brings back a lot of memories, I found that these days I look for more from my rap artists than hoes, gats, cheese and cars. 

Aesop Rock is a nerdy “thinking mans” kind of rap. The lyrics are about everyday life around him, from interactions at an ice cream shop to a situation where a coyote was spotted in the neighborhood, this album he even has a song about his cat Kirby that is well thought out and executed.

Along with songs about everyday things, Aesop Rock also has a good musical taste about him. His songs arent full of various samples of other older songs or the borrowing of choruses but are well pieced together orchestrations that are as interesting as the stories told in the lyrics. 

If you have never heard of Aesop Rock he is worth checking out.


220px-Brother_Ali_-_All_the_Beauty_in_This_Whole_LifeBrother Ali-All the Beauty in This World

Keeping on my quest for more positive and content driven hip hop I managed to discover Brother Ali this year. Surfing videos on Youtube can often lead you down roads of rehashing your old musical tastes, but every now and then you discover something new worth checking out. 

Ali has a positive message while also talking about the everyday interactions he gets put through which is even more interesting considering he’s an albino. That’s right folks the whitest of the white rappers. He also does not rely on the regurgitation of old songs through sampling, but instead puts together well thought out beats and sounds that help progress the stories along. 


1920px-Everlast-14Everlast

Everlast has always been on the back of my mind and I seem to stumble across his stuff while surfing my iTunes library but I haven’t ever really sat down and just listened to his output of music. Thanks to Joe Rogan’s podcast I got to learn a lot about the dude and his life. He’s went through some crazy stuff since the House of Pain days and has managed to produce some great songs.

Slightly dissuaded by the hit songs like “What It’s Like” I never really dived fully into his catalog until this year. There are some great songs in there which cover the hip hop, pop, and acoustic rock genres. Everlast manages to blend a few different styles in his music but it always comes across as genuine and well constructed. 


220px-2PacGreatestHits2Pac- Greatest Hits

Back in the day I was never really a big 2Pac fan. Over the years with his legend growing and the hype of his posthumous albums, I kind of veered away from the mans work. However, this year I found myself actually giving his music a listen. It seems that time has not diminished the work as his songs still fare well in today’s world. I’m not sure if that is to credit his social awareness or if that is a detriment to society for not being able to progress and solve the same problems that were around almost 30 years ago.

At any rate, I can see that the hype that I so purposely avoided was well due as the man was great at his art. Not only was he able to flow, he was able to write stories that were meaningful and true. While there are some songs that are of their gangster rap time, they still sound fresh and are well thought out in their wording. 


Phantogram_-_ThreePhantogram- Three

This group I found out about after an interaction with my cousin Gary. We were discussing what music we were currently digging on and he brought up Phantogram. Their music is interesting and fresh and combines a few of my favorite off beat styles such as trip hop and electronica. This duo of musicians manages to produce great songs that are catchy, hypnotic, and poppy without sounding like every other group out there within these genres.

I listen to their album Three a lot at work because it helps me zone in on what I’m doing and helps me focus by having the upbeat tempos and hypnotic dreamy sounds much like trance and some chill step have. 

I highly suggest their music if you like any of the previously mentioned genre’s in this post.


rtjRun The Jewels

A group that has been suggested by my cousin Gary as well as my friend Pat. Having been out of listening to hip hop for a while I was also behind on learning about this group on my own. Composed of Killer Mike and El-P, they manage to produce some great hip hop with the slick and skillful producing of El-P. Having sampled a few of their songs on Youtube I got hooked. 

While not all of their songs are my favorites, they manage to produce enough good songs that they keep me interested. One of my favorites that I keep going back to is “Close Your Eyes (and Count to F**K)” featuring Zach De La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine. 

Original in their music and talented in their hip hop this duo put out enough content to keep people happy and manage to throw out some thought provoking songs along with a steady fare of boastful yet humorously worded tracks. 

2018 Year in Review: My Favorite Books

I was going to do a list of movies for my second in the “Year in Review” posts but I realized going through the list that I made that I really did not watch a lot of new movies this year and I cant make a list containing all of the Marvel related movies and call it good. So, while I’m marinating on ideas for that post I decided to push my list of books to second instead of third in the series. I am much more of an avid reader these days than I am a tv watch or movie goer. 

This is a list of a few books I’ve read throughout the year that were both insightful and entertaining. 

Sons and SoldiersSons and Soldiers-Bruce Henderson

I inevitably pick up a book while at the airport even if I have two with me. So, this year on my vacation/pilgrimage back to the Gem State this year I picked up this historical book about the Jewish soldiers that left Germany just before the war and returned to fight the Nazi’s as part of a group of soldier translators on the Allied side.

This book is great because it never bogs itself down in the minutiae of the military and gives a very human side to the soldiers who lost their homes and families only to return to fight to free them and end the pogroms against the Jews in Germany and other Axis held areas. This is one of the sides to the war that has not received as much attention as it should, partly due to the classified nature of some of these soldiers activities, but also due to more attention being given to singular stories or more visible men of the time.

This is a great read for any WWII buff or anyone interested in real life human drama.


Accessory to War- Neil deGrasse TysonAccessory to War

I’ve been a fan of Tyson’s for a bit now but had never read any of his books to this point. After seeing a Joe Rogan podcast that he was on it made me want to read this book. Tyson has a very gifted way of getting you interested in physics and science with his personality. 

This book is great for both science and history buffs because it helps to bridge the gap in some areas regarding technology and the military and how the two both work together, though with different objectives, and have produced the technology that both kept the US from destruction but also ended the second world war earlier than it would have without science.

While the book does get bogged down in some long scientific explanations, there are enough interesting historical ties and stories that help to bring the point that the author is trying to make home in an easily explained manner. Definitely not for a casual reader, this book goes into some detail regarding astrophysics and other pretty heavy subjects. You don’t have to be a math or physics whiz to get the content of the book, however, you do need to have a little bit of stamina mentally to get through some of the more cumbersome parts.

Overall a great read and super insightful.


Everything All At OnceEverything All At Once- Bill Nye

Everybody’s favorite ‘Science Guy’ wrote this book to help drive home his “Everything All At Once” philosophy. The book combines both autobiographical bits from his life but also tangible life lessons that one can apply to their own to help focus your energies on your own projects. Insightful, funny, and warming Nye manages to hold your attention while teaching you lessons just like he does on his television programs. 

One of the strongest takeaways from the book is to remember to think about how all things are connected and how you treat people and your environment around you will ultimately effect your life and work. Another strong point of the book is to remember that nobody knows everything, but if you take some time to learn things that you don’t know from people who have different experiences than you it opens a whole new world of thinking. 


Sharp Objects/Dark Places- Gillian Flynn

These are actually two separate books, however, I put them together in a short reviewsharp objects because I read them pretty much back to back as well as they are by the same author. Those who know the book or movie Gone Girl should know this author as she wrote all three books. I went into both of these books with the hope that the twist was as good as Gone Girl’s was. I remember sitting up reading that book and was about to go to bed then I hit the twist and was up 3 more hours reading until the end because it was so out of left field that it hooked me.

Unfortunately, I was a little let down in this regard with both books. While the twists were still interesting in both they did not live up to that of Gone Girl but I was willing to let that go because both read very easily and the story did not wander around to where you grow bored. Flynn has a definite hold on pacing and characters that are flawed and in search of answers in their own lives.

In Sharp Objects the protagonist is in search of answers about a possible serial killer in her home town. That search leads her on a dark road in regard to her own past and family ties that she didn’t realize were connected to the present story. 

Sharp Objects was an interesting story and had a slow build to it. My only complaint is that she gave a little too much away too early which made me wonder if I was right about who the killer was until the end. This was a good hook but at the same time she included enough misdirection to make you question your instincts.

dark placesDark Places’ protagonist starts her story in need of money and her desperation for cash leads her down roads to her murdered family’s past that she dared not travel before. She gets put in fairly dangerous situations but ultimately gets a better understanding and finally answers to the mystery that has defined her since childhood. 

In Dark Places the hook is buried deep as you ride the wave of the story to a strange conclusion. In the end I felt like ‘huh, how did I miss that?’ As the end of the story unfolded it became less obvious as to who the killer was until the sharp left turn at the end which was good. Flynn made good use of timeline in this novel, going back and forth between present day and past to fill out the story. 

Both books are worth a read as they are well written and, as mentioned earlier, the pacing is just enough to keep you nibbling the cheese until you’re caught in the trap. 


Fear- Bob Woodward

I was a little hesitant to read this book, not because of subject matter but because I had fearjust finished reading “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff. Anyone who was around or is aware enough of the past knows who Bob Woodward is and his role in the Watergate Scandal of the Nixon administration. However, while I feared that this book would be a rehash to a lot of the content in “Fire and Fury” it actually did more corroborating in regard to the attitudes of people both in the administration but also the situations revolving around major events in the first two years of the Trump Presidency.

If anything, it will reinforce any anti-Trump person in their beliefs that he is a moron who should not have been elected president. Pro-Trumper’s will see this book as another in a long list of attacks on his character. However, looking at this material as objectively as possible, you see a man who was too used to getting his way through either shady business practices or having enough money to throw at the problem that he never had to deal with any real adversity and this has become the major Achilles heal of his time in office.

Without getting too much into my political leanings or attitudes, I can say that the book sheds a lot of light on the separate factions, overall unprofessionalism of the staff, and the obvious missteps of a man who thought he could do great things but ends up getting in his own way because of his hubris and inflated concept of self importance.

I think both “Fire and Fury” and “Fear” are great companion pieces to help people understand what is going on in the White House and a cautionary tale to future presidents about how NOT to run an administration.

2018 Year in Review: My Favorite Albums

I decided to spend the last week of the year doing some “year in review” type posts. This one is a little strange because it doesn’t fit into a specific musical genre and doesn’t fit into the ‘Top 5’ format (this list has 8 entries) that I usually keep these posts to. I wanted to put together a list of albums that I thought were great in 2018. It being an off year in regard to major act releases the releases that piqued my interest are varied in style and may not be ones that would be on your list, but these are the albums released this year that stood out to me.

APC_eat_the_elephantA Perfect Circle-Eat the Elephant

APC’s releases have been of varying quality and limit in quantity. Since their first release in 2000 they have only released two albums of original material and one album of reimagined cover songs. After 13 years they finally released an album of new material that is amazing in dynamics and served as a reminder of why this group is so great. I remember hearing “The Doomed” and couldn’t get it out of my head. The dynamics of the song itself build so well into the conclusion. 

Songs such as “So long, and Thanks for All the Fish” (which shares a title with one of Douglas Adams’ books) shows that the band can write something akin to a pop song with dark undertones. This album is strong from start to finish and keeps you interested sonically even through the slower more atmospheric songs.


GodsmackWhenlegendsriseGodsmack- When Legends Rise

Godsmack get a lot of shit for this album because its was not the standard hard rock fare that they have been serving for the last decade, but I think this is one of their strongest albums in over a decade. Even though this album isn’t over 40 minutes it still managed to cover the bases in regard to hard rocking songs such as the title track, “Take it to The Edge”, “Say My Name”, and “Let it Out” as well as mixing in more melodic or mainstream style songs such as “Unforgettable”, “Bulletproof”, “Someday”, and “Every Part of Me”.

This album shows a band that, after 20 years, did not want to keep rehashing their own sound. The writing shows a level of maturity that was missing from their debut album as well as the ability to keep enough of their signature sound to keep their fanbase happy while pushing their limits to a more commercial sound.


220px-Eminem_-_KamikazeEminem- Kamikazi

Like a lot of people I kind of lost track of Eminem after the first three albums. You would hear a song every now and then and see the humor and anger that made him a popular white rapper in the ’00’s but like most people I wrote him off as having lost his edge in middle age. 

The surprise release of Kamikaze proved everybody, including myself wrong. Shady is back with a vengeance and is showcasing the acidic and sarcastic raps while lashing out at everyone proving that even though he tried to venture out of his comfort zone with his last few releases, he is still capable of dressing down anyone who doubts his ability. 

Standout tracks are “The Ringer”, “Greatest”, “Not Alike”, and the title track. If you haven’t heard it yet check this album out because you’ll be pleasantly surprised. 


wfhopEverlast- Whitey Ford’s House of Pain

Everlast is an artist that doesn’t garner much attention outside of his fanbase, however, as an artist he manages to cover a lot of the bases musically to offer something for everyone. His 2018 release combines the styles and sound that made him stand out on his past releases. He manages to blend rap songs with acoustic rock, pop, and ballads into a coherent album that is good start to finish. 

It’s hard to pick out only a few songs on this album to mention as the entire thing is coherent and each song blends to the next well so I’ll just say that you need to check it out for yourself. 


light-the-torch-revivalLight the Torch- Revival

I was excited about this album for months before it’s release. Anyone who has listened to metal in the last two decades has to be a fan of Howard Jones. One of the best singer/screamers out there today his vocals are always a welcome portion of any song. Light the Torch’s first release under the new moniker (formerly Devil You Know) is heavy, melodic, and has enough sing-a-long choruses to keep you belting them out in your car. 

There are a number of great standout heavy songs such as first three songs “Die Alone”, “God I Deserve”, and “Calm Before the Storm” as well as one of my personal favorites “The Safety of Disbelief” and “Bitter End”. The strength is not just in the fast and heavy songs on the album but also in the more atmospheric and slower songs like “The Great Divide” and “Judas Convention” that allow HoJo to showcase his excellent singing voice. 

I recommend this album to anyone who loves melody in their metal and have an appreciation for strong singing and lyrics.


  thredRed Sun Rising- Thread

I first heard of this band when I saw them open for Sevendust on tour back in 2016 and have been a fan of their first album after listening to it. They managed to release a great cover of Alanis Morrisette’s “Uninvited” in 2017 that kept me interested in them. However, 2018 saw the release of the Ohio band’s sophomore album “Thread”. Their first single “Deathwish” did not grab my attention at first, however, after a few repeated listens the bridge/ending of the song would get stuck in my head and I gained an appreciation for the new material. 

Along with “Deathwish” songs like “Left for Dead”, “Stealing Life”, “Veins”, and “Rose” provide a good mixing of rockers and slower heart felt songs. The majority of the album is well written and sang and have enough hooks to keep the songs in your head days after listening to it. The only song I don’t like on this album is the closer “Evil Like You” which I feel is inferior to the other songs on the album and should have probably been better left off this collection of tunes.


SevendustAlliseeiswarSevendust- All I See Is War

Speaking of Sevendust… 2018 provided another solid release from the Atlanta metal holdouts. As I’ve mentioned in some of my other posts, I have been a fan of this band since for 20 years now and buy every release and try to see them on tour every chance I can get because they are just that solid of a band and group of songwriters.

While Kill the Flaw and Black Out The Sun did not offer as many great songs in my opinion as their 2010 Release Cold Day Memory, All I See Is War more than makes up for that in songwriting and listenability of the songs overall. There are still plenty of hard rockers on this album including the opening track “Dirty”, “Medicated”, “Unforgiven”, and “The Truth” there are also some surprisingly heavy slower songs. 

The band shows that their songwriting ability continues to grow with a more expansive sound of songs like “Sickness”, “Moments”, “Not Original” and “Life Deceives You”. There are so many great songs that I’m sure will earn a place in their already great set of songs they play live. Out of the many times I’ve seen Sevendust live they have never disappointed with their show, my only complaint is that they seem to disregard some of their deeper cuts and non-album work that is just as good as the hits they play at each show. 

All I See Is War is a hearty addition to their already great catalog of work and I hope to see them put out more quality albums long into the future.


ADyingMachineTremonti- A Dying Machine

I was looking forward to this album release probably the most this year. Mark Tremonti stands as one of my favorite guitarists out there today and his work with his solo band is not a lesser content than that he puts into his main band Alter Bridge. Tremonti is one of the few players out there that can write quality songs consistently but also shred with the best of them.

The lyrical content on this album was doubly interesting to me as this is the first concept album that Tremonti has released but it also has to do with AI and technology. While not a new concept (Fear Factory has been basing albums off of this concept for two decades) the story and the music give the album a great feel with music and storyline that move the songs along nicely. 

There are plenty of stadium rocker choruses as well as tasty solos to enjoy for the lover of heavy. There are also a few songs that are solid potential rock radio (does such a thing still exist) staples that given a chance could be popular. 

“From the Sky”, “A Dying Machine”, and many others on the album are solid rocking tunes. Tremonti manages to put a few well thought out slower songs on the album as well to temper the dynamics as well as show that his guitar abilities are not limited to heavy distortion and shredding. Of all the songs on the album the one that is the catchiest and strongest songs is the song “Take You With Me”. This song just kicks ass period. A great radio song as well as just a solid rocking tune that helps to grab your attention on the latter half of the album.

Top 5: Christmas Movies

Christmas movies are a risky proposition in Hollywood. First you are limiting the palpability of watching the movie to a specific time of year and second, these films can be extremely good and become the yearly viewing of many people both on private media as well as over broadcast TV or, they can be forgettable film abortions that are banished to the realm of things that should not exist.

This is my list of my top 5 Christmas movies. Comments are welcome, however, please make them more varied than “Where is ‘Elf’?”

mixed-nuts-1994b

5. Mixed Nuts: Two movies on this list star Steve Martin but this one is always a fun watch. The supporting cast includes some short but memorable performances by Adam Sandler, Liev Schreiber, Rob Reiner, Jon Stewart, Garry Shandling, and Parker Posey. Written and directed by Nora Ephron this film has enough laughs and heart to put you into the holiday mood. 


hero_Planes-Trains-2018

4. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles: The ‘Adult’ John Hughes film manages to combine holiday movie, odd couple, and road movie all in one. The second film on this list with Steve Martin is a classic film in its own right. Martin’s straight man Neal Page played against the warm and humorous character Del Griffith played by the amazing talent of the late John Candy manages to make the farcical situations seem grounded. 


grinch

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas: I’m going with the Jim Carrey version of this tale. Carrey was born to play the Grinch with his lanky figure as well as his hyper expressive style of comedy. There are enough laughs, mild innuendo for the adults, and heartwarming moments to make any Grinch in the real world feel a few seconds of warmth during the holiday season. 


die hard

2. Die Hard: There are two kinds of people in the world, those who think Die Hard is a Christmas movie and those who are wrong. Bruce Willis’ first big movie and also the first major role for Alan Rickman, this movie pits Willis’ good guy John McClain against the awesomely wicked performance of Rickman’s Hans Gruber. Those of us who love this movie can’t help but spout off lines like “Welcome to the party pal!”, and “Now I have a machine gun. Ho, Ho, Ho” to confused people who are not in on the joke. 


national lampoons

1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: The ultimate Christmas comedy. Forget ‘Home Alone’ because the Griswold family Christmas is far more entertaining than Kevin beating up the ineptitude of crooks with cartoon gags. The second film on this list written by John Hughes, it hits on all of the family tropes from the crazy cousin (Eddy) to the older relatives that make you uncomfortable. There are enough wacky situations and familial tensions that make Christmas a once a year event. 


Bonus:

scrooged

Scrooged: I don’t think any list of comedies can be complete without at least one movie with Bill Murray. It doesn’t matter what phase of his career he is in, he manages to bring the laughs and warmth to any film. Scrooged is a slightly scarier twist on the classic Christmas Story by Charles Dickens, but it is no less impactful, even if the 80’s styles tend to date the movie a bit.  

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