Monday, December 27, 2010

Benn Jordan- Pale Blue Dot

Artist: Benn Jordan
Album: Pale Blue Dot
Genre: Ambient
Year: 2008

Very spacey ambient influenced by the work of Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer and astrophysicist. You may have noticed that I some times pay a lot of attention to an album cover because it can often set up a good visual for what you may be imagining as you listen to the music within. The same can be said about 'Pale Blue Dot'. Nebula pictures in particular have always fascinated me, probably more so than any other type of photograph of any kind, be it on earth or in space. The amount of beauty in them is astonishing, as they propel the imagination to realms of thought that we'll never be able to comprehend in our lifetime. In essence, the music by Benn Jordan is very close to that same sentiment. The blissful and tranquil movement of the sounds that run throughout the album put me in a dream-like state, where my mind takes me up close to places that can only be seen in photographs such as the one that graces this album. It's not without its faults sadly as all but three of the first nine tracks on the album I've discarded since they just don't strike a chord with me or keep the celestial beauty found within the majority of the album that I do enjoy. But fortunately this album's strengths and high points far outweigh its shortcomings. Just this week I've listened to it three or four times right around the time I'm preparing for bed and not only does it calm me but it fills my mind with pleasant thoughts and images. So I heartily recommend checking out this very professional and loving tribute to the late Carl Sagan and the inspiration he instilled in millions of stargazers to come like me. Even if you're not an ambient fan, I find it hard to believe you won't like it on some level.

Favorite Music of 2010

EDIT: Made on 1/21/11

First, some honorable mentions that are not that great, but still worth a listen. All of them yield some goods songs but overall they were lacking substance and memorability:
Salem- King Night
The Art Museums- Rough Frame
Nachtmystium- Addicts: Black Meddle Pt.2

Next, here are albums I heard once or maybe twice but still have no idea what to rate them, though I am intrigued enough to them try again. Perhaps you should check them out too?
An Autumn for Crippled Children- Lost
I Shalt Become- Poison
She & Him- Volume Two
Sigh- Scenes from Hell
1349- Demonoir
Negură Bunget- Vîrstele pămîntului
LCD Soundsystem- This Is Happening

Lastly, we've got the shoddy releases that I was exposed to that either disappointed and/or failed to impress me whatsoever:
Imperium Dekadenz - Procella Vadens
Dimmu Borgir- Abrahadabra
Burzum- Belus
Dark Tranquillity- We Are the Void
Eluveitie- Everything Remains (As It Never Was)

And with those out of the way, here's the list.

21. MGMT- Congratulations

20. Delorean- Subiza

19. oOoOO- oOoOO (EP)

18. Caribou- Swim

17. Clair Cassis- Clair Cassis

This band came out of nowhere. I had no idea that Velvet Cacoon had even split up but this pretty much just picks up the pieces under a different moniker. The fuzz is still here. The atmosphere is still hazy. Images of a dark ocean in the wee hours of morning or a late late evening grace the artwork and it's an accurate imagining of the music for me. The nautical influence was apparent in Velvet Cacoon and it's just as apparent here. Not the best thing released by this duo but still satisfying.

16. The Knife- Tomorrow, in a Year

I'll keep this nice and simple. The first disc, the "electro-opera" Darwin inspired music, is extremely experimental and quite frankly very uninteresting to me. It's worth a listen to see what you think but it doesn't draw me back in personally. The second disc though is filled with pretty great material. Some of the songs rank up with The Knife's best material, chief among them "Colouring of Pigeons" which is one of the year's best songs beyond a doubt. I hesitate to recommend a purchase since it is a double album and costs a bit more. It might be better to just download the second disc and save yourself some money.

15. Best Coast- Crazy For You

If ever the need for the perfect summer soundtrack was called upon, Best Coast appear to have accomplished that task in spades. Catchy, beachy, lo-fi, uptempo, and all in the context of a girl who's very very into some guy. No, seriously, he's the topic (assuming it's the same person throughout) on every single song. You might think that could get annoying, and it probably will irk some, but it doesn't bother me. The songwriting more than makes up for it anyway. All of the songs can tend to sound the same but that's also the mass appeal since they're all consistently good. Not a bad egg to be found. "Boyfriend" and "Crazy for You" are the two mandatory tracks on here though. One word review: Fun.

14. School of Seven Bells- Disconnect from Desire

Initially I was a little disappointed by this. 'Alpinisms' I was/am still very fond of for its interesting mixture of genres and the wonderful vocal work and harmonies. This carries along in more or less the same manner but seems heavier on some of the electro influence and is also a bit more in line with dream pop/shoegaze from the 90s, which is a very good thing. The band also does sound maybe slightly more streamlined this time around and that serves to make the songs a bit more direct. The material still has plenty of hooks to grab you even if not all the songs are great. But overall this is a strong sophomore effort and fans of their first album should definitely pick this one up. I think they'll also attract a lot of new fans as well so if you haven't heard them this is not a bad place to start at all.

13. Twin Sister- Color Your Life

Twin Sister is one of my favorite finds this year. An indie pop band that writes great songs and features a singer with a really interesting voice. I'm not sure I know of anyone to compare her too. It's a little bit in a lower register and slightly deeper. Maybe a bit nasally? I'm so bad with describing sometimes. The songs are catchy though and have this alluring/charm factor that keeps me coming back for more. Some of their music is actually available for free (the legal kind of free) so definitely check them out.

12. Fear Factory- Mechanize

The hardest hitting and most brutal Fear Factory album since the one and only 'Demanufacture'. Pretty solid songwriting all around and absolutely no fucking around on this one. Probably the one flaw is that while all the songs are good there isn't much memorable material on board but then again the pure aggression should satisfy your fix for something heavy. And if you're like me and you love the aforementioned classic 90's album then you should dig this just fine.

11. Negură Bunget- Măiestrit

So this is a remake of an older album done by the classic lineup responsible for 'Om' and at least half of it is spectacular. The other half (the first batch of songs actually) I was having trouble enjoying fully but the last listen with this album proved to be extremely successful and I think it finally "clicked". This success caused me to drive up my previous score and while I don't find it as good as 'Om' or ''N crugu Bradului' it is better than the disappointing 'Vîrstele pămîntului', which was the new album put forth by the almost entirely new line-up. So if you found that one lacking I'd recommend picking this one up for your fix.

10. Phantogram- Eyelid Movies

A really solid output of trip-hop with an indie rock flavor. Most of the songs are very good but sometimes (and this could just be my mood) there is a dip into mediocre-ville. I really like the vocal work by both Joshua and Sarah, but mostly Sarah who's voice has a kind of sultry and hypnotic quality to it, especially on "As Far as I Can See" where I can't help but believe and sympathize with every word she says. Joshua sounds almost soulful on "You Are the Ocean" and the effects he uses on "Running from the Cops", along with that infectious groove that's repeated all throughout the song, result in one of my favorites on the album. Best of all, Phantogram's music comes off as fresh and has an energy infused within that will help carry me into many repeated listens.

9. Local Natives- Gorilla Manor

Thanks to FYF I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with this excitingly fresh sounding band. They didn't sound like anyone else I heard that day and the same can mostly be said about 'Gorilla Manor'. "Fresh" is the keyword for the band as they sound like they're genuinely having a great time making music. The chemistry between the members is apparent in the smooth vocal harmonies scattered all over the place and the songwriting is consistent and strong from start to finish. "Sun Hands" is an obvious single and a standout track, but I'm also keen on the opening track "Wide Eyes" as well as "Airplanes". I really have to stress the quality of this album. I also see this band having a wide appeal because talent like this is just too good to be ignored.

8. Enslaved- Axioma Ethica Odini

Black metal and Pink Floyd's lovechild has return with an album that has a lot more heft than you've become used to based on the past couple releases. It's actually closer to their 'Below the Lights' record in terms of production and the aggression apparent through, and the songs are all super strong. They've matured yet again but have also kept that core Enslaved sound in tact. I've actually only given this one a couple spins so far but I knew pretty quickly that this was a winner. Like the Agalloch album my opinion has the potential to grow tremendously with this one.

7. Lantlôs- .neon

When I learned that Neige would be joining the band I have to admit I was slightly worried. I love Neige but I was afraid of being overexposed to his style and vocals, not to mention Lantlôs already had such a distinct sound on their debut self-titled album. But my worries were quickly laid to rest after spending some quality time with '.neon'. Lantlôs still sounds like Lantlôs and Neige (oh wow) sounds incredible. I'm not sure what was lacking for him on the Amesoeurs album but he sounds like he's back to his old self again, maybe even better than before. Lantlôs have incoporated more of a post-rock vibe this time but don't sound like any of the other black metal bands that are influenced by post-rock. Again, they've carved out a niche style for themselves. A must for fans of (post)black metal.

6. Deerhunter- Halcyon Digest

Despite the rather off-putting cover, Bradford Cox and company have struck gold once again. Coming off the immaculate Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. double album a mere two years ago, there was a certain amount of pressure for Deerhunter to match that success. It turns out that the best way to do so is by stripping down your sound more to help not only create focus but a well laid out dish of tasty songs to sink our teeth into. It starts off strong with "Earthquake" (my personal favorite on the album) and continues along a path of finely crafted songs that both reflect sounds from rock's past but also give said sounds a modern face lift, all the while allowing the band to retain an identity. And that's no easy feat, my friends.

5. Agalloch- Marrow of the Spirit

Okay, so here's the deal, because I know you're thinking "Brandon! How is this NOT your number one?!?1!!11! No question that this is a really good album. Agalloch couldn't make anything less than good if they tried. But thus far this hasn't hit me like their past works have, at least not yet. And I emphasize "not yet". I'm almost certain my rating will increase but I can't pretend to love this if I don't yet love it. Other than this important note, I have to say I fully embrace the black metal elements showing up since they have been kind of dormant on previous albums, though always just below the surface, since it does bring a nice sense of evolution for the band and definitely adds some freshness to their sound. The aggression in particular has been upped considerably because of said styles being used. I think in the end it's going to be a grower like everything else I've come to know from the band and as of now it's still a top 5 entry. Not bad at all.

4. Beach House- Teen Dream

I seriously love this band if you didn't already know. 'Devotion' was my first foray into their music and even though that in itself was enough for me proclaim my undying love, 'Teen Dream' simply solidifies that pledge. The thing that really stands out about Beach House is their knack for writing melancholy dreamy pop songs that not only strike an emotional chord but carve out songs that will stick with you. It's fairly simplistic songwriting at its heart but in the best kind of way. 'Teen Dream' might even be their most consistent and best overall. I honestly can't decide between the two albums. Nevertheless, this is one of my absolute favorites this year. Pick it up at all costs.

3. Les Discrets- Septembre et ses dernières pensées

From the moment I saw the artwork my heart grew all fluttery with hopes that it would sound just as amazing. Good does! Atmospheric metal is about the only term that really applies to this band. There's a ton of post-rock influence but it doesn't come off sounding like all the other metal bands that flirt with that style. If anything it's closer to Alcest but not a copycat. The vocals are all clean and Fursy has a spectacular sounding voice, so smooth. I thought I'd have more to say about this but what can I say...I'm speechless. Definitely one of my top favorites of the year.

2. Crystal Castles- Crystal Castles II

I am super impressed with this second album from Crystal Castles. I fell in love with their debut rather quickly and still hold it extremely high on my favorite albums in recent memory. When I heard about a follow-up I was very excited. I can safely say it lives up to practically any expectations I could have had before its release. On the whole it comes really close to being almost as good as the first album and songs like "Year of Silence", "Suffocation", "Pap Smear" and "Celestica" make me infinitely happy. CC have trounced the dreaded "sophomore slump" and appear to currently have momentum on their side. With material like what's presented here they will keep pleasing me for a long time to come.

1. Alcest- Écailles de lune

Not the sheer masterpiece that was Alcest's debut from a few years back but this still is a striking and bold new direction for the band that doesn't try to repeat a formula thankfully. It sounds fresh and incorporates more of the band's old black metal influence, and sounds dreamier than ever before. The title track (broken up into two parts) is stunning to say the least and probably worth the purchase of the album on its own. But the rest of the songs are damn good too in their shoegaze/metal/post-rock glory. A must have for people interested in music that's taking chances and succeeding with flying colors.