Nick Connolly (xlotussundialx) wrote,
Nick Connolly

huge music related update time

2006 has been over for a few weeks now and I’ve been too lazy to do what is usually my favorite thing to do each year, which is write my top 10 list of the year. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one that stands out is that 2006 as a whole didn’t really excite me until I really thought about it the past couple days. I heard a bunch of good records, even a few great ones, but nothing really blew me away, and I realized it was all because of one band....The Ataris. I’ve never been exactly huge on The Ataris. I always enjoyed their songs when I heard them, thought they had a little more substance than most of their pop punk contemporaries, but early in 2006 I heard a leak of an album that was supposed to be released in the summer of 2006 called Welcome the Night. I had read that they abandoned their pop punk for a more atmospheric sound influenced by many of my favorite 90's shoegaze bands, such as Swervedriver, Slowdive, and of course My Bloody Valentine. I was excited, but I didn’t expect the Ataris of all bands to do that sound so perfectly and live up to my hopes. The album blew me away to an extent that I instantly claimed it as my #1 record of the year and was sure that nothing would top it for me. The problem is, the band had label troubles and hasn’t been able to finally release the album yet, and it won’t be coming out until February. Nothing else I’ve heard this year has been able to come close to this album for me, so it was hard to judge my list on a whole new standard. It’s hard to make a top 10 list when everything is pretty much equal for you. Picking a #1 album of the year is something I can’t just throw to something “a little bit better than all the rest.” Thankfully, by the year’s end I heard an album that stood out above all others to me, and although it isn’t nearly as perfect as my would-be #1, it’s still one that I feel comfortable putting atop a list.

This past year I had a handful of albums I looked forward to, and most of them were very good, but I spent most of my time looking to the past, which also contributed to my whole “Not being blown away by anything current” state. I became more immersed in shoegaze and discovered a whole world of new bands, including Catherine Wheel, who has probably become my favorite band of the genre. Although only their first 2 albums are shoegaze, all the other albums are excellent as well. I really got into the Beatles more than anyone else this year. Of course I had heard and liked Sgt Pepper’s before, who hasn’t? But this year I really wanted to listen to every album and hear how they went from point A to point B and so on. I explored the band inside and out, and I will never again wonder about the credit they are given. They truly are one of the greatest bands ever. The whole experience really opened up my eyes to the fact that there’s a whole world of classic bands I haven’t given enough of a chance to. I’ve been really into Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon as well, and I never used to like them until recently. Cat Stevens is also one of my favorite songwriters at the moment, and I wasn’t even familiar with his songs until this past year. I’m starting to like certain music for different reasons. I used to think being “good” at guitar was all about shredding, but now I’m not nearly as into a DragonForce solo as something like the solo on “Time” by Pink Floyd. I favor texture, soulful melody lines, and passion over technicality. Of course, I still wont deny insanely talented musicians. I just feel like songwriting and capturing a feeling with a guitar line is a lot more important than fitting as many notes in as fast as possible. I think I’ve always known that, but I just never appreciated people like Eric Clapton, Cat Stevens, or George Harrison as much until now.

2007 is a huge year for me. There are so many albums I’m looking forward to, more than any other year. Off the top of my head I can think of Thrice’s ambitious 4 album set, Dustin Kensrue’s solo album, Bad Religion, Anberlin, Jimmy Eat World, Idlewild, Bayside, a fucking new Smashing Pumpkins album!!!, Glassjaw, Radiohead, Silverchair, Fountains of Wayne, Mae, not to mention maybe a new disc from Coheed and of course, the release of the Ataris’ Welcome the Night, which I am still claiming as my album of the year for 2007. I’m really doubtful anything can beat that album. The only record this decade that has a fighting chance is Coheed’s last album.

Anyway, for those who actually read my occasional updates, it’s time for the list. This is for my actual friends on here who give a shit, and for my personal reasons. I know there are people on my friends list who could care less about this and I’ll put the list behind a cut for their benefit.

*** It should be noted before I start this list that my favorite band Avery released an album at the end of 2006. It won’t be included on this list for the fact that it’s not an “album”, it’s equivalent to a b-sides album in a sense that they released a collection of various songs they’ve recorded over the past 2 years. I had already heard more than half of the album at some point between 2004-2006, so it wasn’t exactly “new” to me. I love it, but it’s hard to judge as an “album”. Something like the Beatles’ Love won’t count either, as it’s pretty much a remixed greatest hits collection. You cant’ exactly call The Best of... Band X an album.

10. The High Violets - To Where You Are

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The High Violets are one of only two shoegaze bands on this list, surprisingly. Taking the best elements from Lush and Slowdive, The High Violets combine it with a modern indie rock sound and deliver nine swirling shoegaze anthems for a new generation. Each song features Kaitlyn ni Donovan’s angelic voice floating amidst a sea of sparkling delayed guitars and hooky bass grooves. The album drifts through tracks of catchy guitar oriented songs, dreampop, electronic dancy songs, and 60's psychedelia before ending with the epic acoustic title track. The opener “Sun Baby” is a straight up early 90's Ride-esque rocker to launch you into the record. “Love is Blinding,” with it’s gorgeous delayed guitar line and stellar chorus, is surely the highlight of the album and actually very accessible. The psychedelic “Want You” shows what the band would sound like if they jammed with Strawberry Alarm Clock, and the closing “To Where You Are” is a shoegaze classic. Starting as an acoustic track, the song moves steadily along as more and more walls of My Bloody Valentine inspired feedback sneak their way into the background until it becomes the foreground. Kevin Shields would be proud. With To Where You Are Portland, Oregon’s The High Violets prove that they can do it like the U.K. bands, and do it with style.
RIYL: Slowdive, Lush, Cocteau Twins, Ride, early Veruca Salt
Best Song: “Love is Blinding” and “To Where You Are”

09. Rise Against - The Sufferer and the Witness

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Since Bad Religion isn’t following up 2004's The Empire Strikes First until July 2007, there just HAD to be a great modern punk release to hold us over, right? Enter Rise Against, the best band to come out in the punk scene since Bad Religion, and also the best at imitating them while still having a signature sound. Tim McIlrath’s vocal style is far more aggressive and intense than that of Bad Religion’s own Greg Graffin, but his sense of melody isn’t too far off the mark. The vocal hooks in songs such as “Injected,” “Chamber the Cartridge,” and “Worth Dying For” are right up there with anything on Stranger than Fiction, and the band’s lyrics succeed in being political without being obviously political the way Graffin’s do in that you can be a Rise Against/Bad Religion fan and be hooked into the band’s catchy songs without being a politically active person. Hell, the lead single off this album, the excellent “Ready to Fall”, showcases the band playing in a forest of cut down trees between clips of environmental harm and mistreating of animals in it’s video. Yet the album sold a considerable amount considering there was no “Swing Life Away” on this record. I think I probably enjoy The Sufferer and the Witness equally to the last album, Siren Song of the Counter Culture. The fact remains that this album is excellent, and explores more ground than the last. Songs such as the storytelling “The Approaching Curve” and the brooding, string laden “Roadside,” both complete with female backing vocals, explore uncharted waters for the band, and show such musical growth. “Roadside” just might be my favorite song on the album. It shows that the band can go outside their punk roots without doing the 2004 version of Green Day’s “Good Riddance” like they did with “Swing Life Away” on the last record. Other highlights on the album include the fastest song “Bricks,” “Behind Closed Doors,” and the awesome closer “Survive.” At the end of the day, is this album going to change the face of music? No. But Rise Against is the only punk band I’ve ever heard whose sense of melody is even close to being as good as that of Bad Religion, who are one of my top 10 bands of all time. That’s good enough reason for me to be excited about Rise Against.
RIYL: Bad Religion, Anti-Flag, early Thrice, Pennywise
Best Song: “Roadside” and “Injected”

08. Rainer Maria - Catastrophe Keeps us Together

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When I started making my list, the top 6 or 7 was pretty clear and easy to rank in an order. Once I started filling out the bottom end of the list, I noticed I had about 15 albums that were almost equal. This album was the first of those that made it on this list because it was the most surprising album I heard this year. I saw Rainer Maria open for Coheed and Cambria a few years ago, and I actually hated them. I thought their music was horrible and boring. Come to find out, I just happened to see them on the tour for their “different” sounding album, and I still dislike that one to this day. However, when I got in Rachel’s car one day and she was listening to this album, I was instantly intrigued. The vocal style was so much different from the appalling mess I had heard in the past. Caithlin DeMarrais’ warm, mature vocal style is easily the highlight of the band, sounding almost like a mix between the girls from Eisley and Tanya Donnelly of Belly. Catastrophe Keeps us Together has a feeling that’s a bit reminiscent of Belly’s Star for me. It’s atmospheric and mellow, yet it rocks. It’s timeless yet contemporary, and it doesn’t suffer from the lifeless production that so many albums nowadays sound like. The guitars sound like guitars, the vocals are beautiful and raw, and most importantly, it sounds honest. “Life of Leisure” is easily the standout track of the album, but over time I’ve come to love some of the others almost as much. “Already Lost,” “Clear and True,” and “Burn” are amazing gems that haven’t come close to getting old for me yet. Sadly, this album was Rainer Maria’s swan song, as news of their breakup came soon after I fell in love with this record. I have a feeling that by the time the decade is over, this album will stick around and I’ll give it a lot more credit. The songs have got the kind of lasting power that’s rare in music over the past couple years, and I’m really surprised this record hasn’t gotten much recognition.
RIYL: Belly, The Sundays, Sleater-Kinney, Velocity Girl
Best Song: “Life of Leisure”

07. Thursday - A City By the Light Divided

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For a while I treated this album unfairly. When I first heard it, I told myself it was their best album, and although I really enjoyed it, I was kind of trying to gloss over some disappointment. In 2005, five demos leaked from Thursday, and as I don’t have the willpower to look away from that sort of thing, I listened to them and got really pumped for the album. I know what you’re all saying “you’re setting yourself up for disappointment by listening to demos!” and I’d like all of you to refer to the #1 album on this list for a perfect example of how a stellar album can cancel all of that out. What happened on this album was that they changed the best parts of a couple of the demos. Furthermore, they left the most promising demo off the record entirely. Normally this wouldn’t bother me so much, but with Thursday, a band who I love because of their passion and honesty, it was a problem. They took the Thursday out of the songs, leaving them resonating with a lack of honesty each time I heard them. So you ask, “How did this album end up in your top 10 of the year then?” It’s because I took some time off from this album, and then went back to it, and evaluated it as if I was hearing it for the first time. I’ve grown to expect too much from Thursday, and much like many of their fans who wanted another Full Collapse, I wanted something to live up to 2003's War All the Time, which I actually enjoy more. A City by the Light Divided is an excellent album when evaluated on its own. Sure, they changed my favorite part in “Telegraph Avenue Kiss,” and sure it’s disappointing to think of a mediocre track like “Counting 5-4-3-2-1" making it on the album over “Demo #5" but the album as a whole, to put it blankly, fucking rules! How can I discount classic Thursday songs like “Sugar in the Sacrament” and “We Will Overcome?” How can one ignore the beautiful atmosphere that Thursday managed to create on the epics “Running From the Rain” and “Autumn Leaves Revisited?” Oh, you miss the harder-edged songs? Well flip straight to “At This Velocity” and my personal favorite on the record “Into the Blinding Light” for two of the most intense songs Thursday has ever written. A City By the Light Divided is a great achievement for the band. The album flows perfectly, the songs are great, and it surely feels like more of an “album” than any of the others. Even “Counting 5-4-3-2-1" doesn’t sound out of place in the context of the record, and although I still don’t absolutely love it on recording, it’s a great live song for the band and the crowd. Andrew Everding’s increased presence on the keyboards after being “officially” added into the band is also very fitting on this record. The opening synth line on “Into the Blinding Light” alone is worth having him in the band. The point here is, I was wrong, and I’m sorry Thursday for treating you unfairly.
RIYL: At the Drive-in, Far, Mogwai
Best Song: “Into the Blinding Light”

06. Protest the Hero - Kezia

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There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what everyone’s favorite Thrice album is. One thing that most of us can agree on, however, is that we wonder what the follow up to The Illusion of Safety would have been like if the band stuck to that sound but progressed technically. Canada’s Protest the Hero, a group of kids my age and younger, have given us the answer. With Kezia, Protest the Hero takes us on an epic story of a young woman who is executed, presumably to save mankind. If that’s not enough, the album is split into three acts, each from the perspective of a different character. As a whole the album, with its speed metal riffs combined with catchy pop hooks and melodies, is obviously influenced by The Illusion of Safety but is more technically proficient, musically reminiscent of Between the Buried and Me and Dillinger Escape Plan. Rody Walker’s vocal style is almost like a more controlled, less spastic Cedric Bixler of At the Drive-in/The Mars Volta. The first three songs are from the perspective of the Priest, the next three of the Prison Guard, and the third section from Kezia herself’s perspective. At the end of track six, the excellent “Blindfolds Aside”, there is an acoustic section where a woman is singing, and this is presumably where the persona of Kezia begins. The third section is undoubtedly my favorite of the album, partly because the female backing vocals come in and out of a couple songs, and she has an amazing voice. Another reason the third section is my favorite is because of the unbelievable “Turn Soonest to the Sea,” which builds throughout the song as a time-changing metalcore attack before twisting around in the middle into what I’ve called “the catchiest part of any song ever.” Sure, I say this a lot, but it gets me so excited when I hear something so catchy it gives me goosebumps. The lyrics are dark, but the vocal melody is so poppy and catchy, and if that’s not enough, is repeated multiple times with the entire band doing gang vocals as the song fades out. Another amazing aspect of this album is that these kids deliberately wrote this music that they couldn’t even play, and then spent a year forcing themselves to learn it. That kind of passion and dedication is rare in young bands these days, when you look at someone like Panic at the Disco getting signed before even playing a show just because they sound exactly like the band who put them on the map. Other highlights of the album include “The Divine Suicide of K” and “Divinity Within.” The whole album really is a highlight. It’s tough to describe the songs because they each go through so many changes, and sure, I might be ranking this album a bit higher than I probably should, but I just really love that there’s finally a really technical band who doesn’t ruin their songs with brutal growling throughout the entire album. I definitely played the hell out of Kezia this year, and Protest the Hero is definitely my “band to watch out for.” I have a feeling we’re gonna see a lot from these guys in the next couple years.
RIYL: early Thrice, Dillinger Escape Plan, Between the Buried and Me, Coheed and Cambria
Best Song: “Turn Soonest to the Sea”

05. Fleeting Joys - Despondent Transponder

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The other shoegaze album to make it to the list, the debut from Sacramento’s Fleeting Joys, sounds straight out of 1991. So many bands now take the shoegaze influence and put it with something else, which is fine by me, but there are very few straight-up shoegaze bands around that do it as well as the greats. John and Rorika are the only official members of the band, using guest drummers for the drum tracks. Hmm, only two members doing all the instrumental tracks besides drums, one male and one female, sounds eerily familiar to the pinnacle of the shoegaze genre, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. The common threads don’t end there however, as Fleeting Joys are the only band to ever capture the sound of Loveless as accurately as they have. The guitar tones are so much like Kevin Shields’ at times that it feels as if he’s actually playing on the record. Along with that, the vocal style is extremely similar as well. Point blank, this album is what shoegaze fans have been waiting 15 years for...the closest thing to a follow up to Loveless. I’m not saying the entire album is nearly as good as Loveless by any means, it’s not flawless but there are a few tracks that could be passed off as b-sides from the sessions, and if you’re a fan of Loveless, you know very well that it’s hardly to find much that even meets those standards. “Lovely Crawl,” “Go + Come Back,” and “Magnificent Oblivion” are among these highlights of the album. The big difference between My Bloody Valentine’s and Fleeting Joys’ approaches however, is that Fleeting Joys rely much more on effects pedals and layering guitars than Kevin Shields to create their “wall of sound.” Also, Despondent Transponder is much more bass guitar heavy than anything My Bloody Valentine ever did, evident on tracks like “The Breakup” and “Satellite,” which are excellent songs and make the band sound more like its own entity. They’re the Oasis to My Bloody Valentine’s Beatles...a band that blatantly and shamelessly wears its influences on its sleeve and does a damn good job at it. This album is a shoegazer’s wet dream, and will not disappoint anyone who has fallen in love with this genre.
RIYL: My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver, Belle Academe, Sonic Youth
Best Song: “Go + Come Back” and “Satellite”

04. Head Automatica - Popaganda

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The best Elvis Costello record of 2006. This album is leaps ahead of their previous album Decadence. It seems like they took the best songs off that album, the infectious “Beating Heart Baby” and “The Razor” and ditched the rest, and I’m glad they did. I liked the last album, but I love this one. Daryl Palumbo has a voice, much like Claudio from Coheed, that people either love or hate, and the people who love it absolutely adore it, the people who hate it absolutely despise it. I remember a couple years ago hearing so many complaints about Claudio’s voice ranging from “He sounds like a girl” to “His voice is just weird.” Now I hear similar complaints about Daryl. I’ve heard his voice described as everything from “drunken sounding” to “yelping” and I hear what people are saying, but for some reason I love this guy’s voice. In fact, strangely enough I would probably consider him and Claudio my favorite male vocalists around right now, along with Morrissey. Anyway, the album is so catchy it’s ridiculous. I find it hard to believe that anyone could hear the melodies in the verses of the single “Graduation Day” and not have it stuck in their head for days. The songs are structured perfectly and every one, with the exception of the ending “K Horse,” could be a potential single. Along with the single, “Million Dollar Decision” and “Curious” are among the standouts on the album, but “God” is definitely my favorite. With its catchy chorus, awesome short guitar solo, and to top it off, a key change at the end it delivers everything a great pop rock song should for me. Anyone who knows me knows that if a song has a key change on the final chorus, it gives me chills and I almost always instantly love it. It’s such a simple device but oh so effective. For those missing the more dancy numbers of Decadence, “Oxycontin” and “Egyptian Musk” should tickle your fancy. They capture the sound of the last album but are much more refined and well written. The record gets a lot of criticism for the almost too slick production, but I think in the case of great power pop, the slicker, the better. Imagine Boston’s 1976 debut without the great production it had, the songs deserve better. It’s a tough album to really put so high on the list, but I played it probably more than anything else this year, and in the end being catchy and timeless really counts for a lot in my book. Any Elvis Costello fan should check this out.
RIYL: Elvis Costello, The Cars, Cheap Trick, Fountains of Wayne
Best Song: “God”

03. Morrissey - Ringleader of the Tormentors

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What can be said about Steven Patrick Morrissey that hasn’t already been said? The man’s one of the most amazing songwriters of the past 25 years, and he proves it with what may be his most solid album since Your Arsenal. While I loved 2004's You Are the Quarry, and in retrospect it should have made my top 10 of that year, Ringleader of the Tormentors is Morrissey at his best, most heartfelt, and most vulnerable. Every song on here is great, and there’s never a desire to skip around at all. From the sexual connotations of the beautiful “Dear God Please Help Me,” which may be indicative of some truth to the rumors circulating about Morrissey finally breaking his vow of celibacy, to the unbelievably catchy single “You Have Killed Me,” to the orchestral ending track “At Last I Am Born,” Morrissey takes us on a romantic journey of life, love, death, and everything in between. There are excellent classic Morrissey jangle-pop tracks and ballads in here as well, including my favorite song, “In the Future When All’s Well,” as well as the majestic “I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero Now” and the guitar-heavy opener “I Will See You in Far Off Places.” This album shows that Morrissey still has a lot of great music left in him, and cements that in 2006 he’s still just as great on his own as he was with Smiths. What is most amazing about this album, as with every Morrissey album, is that he never sounds like anyone else. Hearing a Morrissey song in 2006 sounds like hearing a Morrissey song in 1992, and that’s about it. He’s got one of the most signature voices and sounds in rock music history, and no one has ever been able to match it.
RIYL: Morrissey, The Smiths
Best Song: “In the Future When All’s Well” and “You Have Killed Me”

02. Nina Gordon - Bleeding Heart Graffiti

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Regardless of what anyone thinks is more “essential” or “important” in music right now, Nina Gordon will always be my favorite female songwriter. I’ve never disliked anything she’s ever done, from her days in Veruca Salt (which officially died when she left) to her first solo album to this one. She was the first female singer I heard that made me actively seek out female vocalists and become the girl band loving dork that I’ve become. Bleeding Heart Graffiti picks up right where Tonight and the Rest of my Life left off, even though it’s been six long years since that masterpiece. Everything about the way she writes touches upon every aspect I love about music. Her verses are soft and building, her choruses are big, all the notes and melodies go the way I think they should go, all the backing vocals are in the right places at the right times...I could go on forever. You know when you hear a song and you feel like something’s missing? You kinda hum a part in your head that you think should be there? That never happens to me when I listen to Nina Gordon. I’m head over heels in love with everything about Nina Gordon, and I have been since 7th grade when I first heard songs like “The Morning Sad” and “Loneliness is Worse” from Veruca Salt’s Eight Arms to Hold You. As much as I loved Veruca Salt, I always kinda wished they didn’t feel the need to be so “tough” and rock so much. Nina’s songs were always so much more subdued, melodic, and shimmering than Louise’s, and it certainly has shown when comparing Veruca Salt albums and Nina Gordon albums since the split. Anyway, I’ve already gone long enough without actually talking about the album. Bleeding Heart Graffiti flows like a river filled with coffee, candy, and rose petals. It’s a bittersweet story of love and loss. Nina takes us through all the happy times, all the sad times, and in the end we realize that she’s better off without anything less than perfect, because she is perfect. It’s classic Nina Gordon for most of the record, with nearly everything being a potential single, from the opening “Christmas Lights” and “Kiss Me Till it Bleeds” to the acoustic, piano driven “Superstar” and my favorite song of the year, “Turn on Your Radio.” Nina also explores some ballads on this album that are a bit darker and more downbeat than some of the stuff before, such as “When You Don’t Want Me Anymore” and “Watercolors.” The piano also plays a much larger role in this album than before, being the lead instrument right with the guitars throughout nearly the entire album. Overall, I’d say the album is equally as good as Tonight and the Rest of Life, which is saying a lot, since I really thought it couldn’t possibly live up to that album. I’m a completely nuts fanboy for Nina Gordon, and as unbiased as I tried to be, I really think this record deserves its position on this list. I’m hoping the release of this album also means I’ll finally be able to fulfill my dream of seeing her live.
RIYL: early Veruca Salt, Lisa Loeb, Kay Hanley, Juliana Hatfield
Best Song: “Turn On Your Radio”

01. Brand New - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

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Geoff Rickly from Thursday said it best: “If people don’t like this as much as Deja, I’ll be super bummed. Deja had some cool songs but it was like the verses were Bright Eyes and the chorus was Blink 182-- This record is fucking amazing.”

I think that statement sums up my feelings on this record entirely. So many people have treated 2003's Deja Entendu as if it were the holy grail of the “scene.” Sure, it was a great album and I loved it, but this record quite simply locks the last one in a cage and swallows the key, then proceeds to bomb the shit out of it and give it the finger. Brand New have finally grown up a bit and succeeded in burying anything and everything that I ever disliked about the band. There’s no more pop punk choruses, instead Jesse Lacey’s voice goes from somber and shy to powerful and throat-shredding in a matter of seconds. Every single track on this album starts slow and builds and builds to an electrifying climax. Every song on The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me is constructed in such a way that stopping a song abruptly in the middle is like pulling the plug from the TV right before the big action sequence. The album’s true heart lies in the fact that it’s reminiscent of another album by a band on the verge of changing the face of music, Radiohead’s The Bends. “Sowing Season (Yeah),” the Pink Floyd tinged “Degausser,” and most of all the epic “Limousine” all bring back that familiar chill of excitement the first time you heard the amazing guitar sounds in songs like “Just” and “My Iron Lung.” Songs like “You Wont Know” and “Luca” remind us of the haunting guitars in “Street Spirit.” Brand New is this era’s Radiohead in that their first album was an average imitation of the current music scene, the second hinted at bigger and better things and was loved by many while still staying true to their sound, and the third was just a fucking brilliant masterpiece that took them from being “just another band” to being held in high regard. Jesse Lacey is also the only person now that I could even compare to a “modern Morrissey” as a songwriter. In fact, one of the demos for this album is the closest thing to a Smiths song I’ve heard by any other band. Sadly it didn’t make the cut, but what is left is absolutely brilliant. “Jesus Christ” shows us how good Bright Eyes would be if he could sing, and the instrumental noise jam “Welcome to Bangkok” is a great buildup into the catchiest number on the album, the dancy “Not the Sun,” which has a bass hook that is reminiscent of the Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” The only track on the album that has the more upbeat poppy sound is “The Archer’s Bows Have Broken,” which still fits the album very well and has a much more mature feel than anything on Deja. The string-laden closer “Handcuffs” is a perfect ending to this album, and has a vocal hook that reminds me a little of one of my favorite Oasis songs, “Underneath the Sky.” The biggest surprise of the album however, and my favorite aspect, is the production. The wall of guitars on this album and the overall production are very 90's, and the album definitely sounds like it was made then. Albums don’t sound like this anymore, and it’s really a shame. I miss when guitars sounded like they do on Nirvana, Radiohead, and Smashing Pumpkins albums, and this brought all that back for me. It showed me that there’s still hope in the world for a musical explosion and this, along with the earlier mentioned Ataris record, showed me that I should never lose faith in music, and when I least expect to be blown away and taken aback, it will happen. To top it off, the demos for this album, if they all made up the record, would have taken the top spot on this list as well, which proves that Brand New is far from spent of ideas for great songs. The way I see it, they’re just beginning.
RIYL: pre-Kid A Radiohead, early Foo Fighters, Sunny Day Real Estate, The Smiths
Best Song: “Limousine” and “Millstone”

Biggest Disappointments of the Year:

AFI - Decemberunderground - it was good up until “Love Like Winter” came in. After that, it was pretty much every other track was good, but even the stuff I liked didn’t live up to Sing the Sorrow or even Black Sails. For a band that I always felt got better with each record, this is probably their 3rd or 4th best out of seven.

Veruca Salt - IV - not that I was expecting much without Nina, but Resolver was actually pretty decent. This, however, is one of the worst pieces of shit I’ve ever heard.

Angels & Airwaves- We Don’t Need to Whisper - I can’t say I completely bought the hype that Tom Delonge gave for this album, but I thought maybe, just maybe he got some singing lessons. The music is great, but it’s Blink one eightyU2, nothing that wasn’t hinted at on the last Blink album. Tom’s vocals just ruin the whole thing for me though. You can’t have that kind of delicate atmosphere to your music if you destroy it with a whiny horrible voice. Only the Cure can do that, and even Robert Smith gets on my nerves at times.

Saves the Day - Sound the Alarm - A lot of fans were happy they went back towards their old sound while still doing new things. It’s an alright album, but then again I ‘m one of the few that thinks In Reverie is their best, and I’m not much of a fan of their older work, so I was expecting to be a little disappointed by this one.

I know for a fact there’s more...I just really can’t think of any. I’d rather talk about honorable mentions than disappointments anyway.

Honorable Mentions that didn’t make the top 10 list:

The Forecast - In the Shadow of Two Gunmen - probably the closest to being on the top 10 of all these. I really love this album and listened to it a lot this year, but I didn’t feel it was quite as strong as the top 10. The band reminds me of what the Anniversary would be like if they stayed around.

The Prize Fighter Inferno - My Brother’s Blood Machine - The solo album from Claudio of Coheed and Cambria. Everything Claudio touches turns to gold. In this case it’s more like silver, but it’s still really good. If I was in the mood for it more, it probably could have made the list. The concept is cool, and the acoustic songs are great. The electronic songs are also a bit like the Postal Service.

Thom Yorke - The Eraser - another great album that I just wasn’t in the mood for enough, but I really enjoy it. It’s kind of like the counterpart to Radiohead’s Amnesiac, and Thom’s vocals on this album are superb. He really shows how great of a singer he is on this record.

Dragonforce - Inhuman Rampage - I really can’t deny Dragonforce. Even though I’m more affected by soulful guitar lines, I still can’t help but stand back in awe at these guys. Probably the fastest guitar players ever, and the songs, even though they really do sound similar, are fucking fist in the air power metal anthems. I love this band.

Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit - I like this album, but I don’t agree with it being the 2nd best behind If You’re Feeling Sinister. I think Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant is their best, with Tigermilk a close second. This is still good though, as all Belle and Sebastian albums are. Great band.

Alien Ant Farm - Up in the Attic - This band is so good. Another one I should really listen to more than I do. I absolutely love the singer’s voice and I can’t believe I just discovered this year that their first record was so much more than just a lame Michael Jackson cover.

Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens)- An Other Cup - I really liked this album but I don’t think it’s as good as his older work. It’s still Cat Stevens though.

Asobi Seksu - Citrus
Amusement Parks on Fire - Out Of the Angeles
Brief Candles - They Live We Sleep
The Brother Kite - Waiting For the Time to be Right
Televise - Songs to Sing in A&E

The above are all great modern shoegaze albums, most of which I discovered too late to absorb, or during these past few weeks. The Televise album is probably my favorite of these, and I truly believe at least that one could have made the list if I had heard it sooner. There are probably more honorbale mentions, I just can’t remember

Records that SHOULD have been in my top 10 for 2003:

Let Go - Let Go
Gratitude - Gratitude
Minus the Bear - Menos El Oso
Anberlin - Never Take Friendship Personal

That about wraps it up...and for the few who actually read this, I’m curious to your favorites as well...and to anyone who thinks I’m being a pretentious douchebag, I don’t expect anyone to actually read it or take my opinions to heart, I just like to document my feelings on music for each year and why I felt that way. It changes, sure, but I like to see my reasoning for liking certain things so much at a given time. I spend about 5-10 hours total probably doing this each year, and it’s honestly just fun for me to be a critic when I don’t feel obligated to do so. I consider anyone who reads this a true friend, because I don’t know why else you’d care about some random person’s take on music. Later everyone! A non musical update will come soon when I feel like it....then again, when do I not babble about music
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