Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Aproaching the Top Half: 30-21

30. Blackfield - II
The sophomore release from Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen's melancholy-pop project. Every track seem to feature at least something about it I like. Although with some of the touching moments of the 1st and the anticipation I thought it would have been overall a bit better. "Christenings" is probably my favorite song; the chorus is awful catchy. "My Gift of Silence" may be the best example of the sad, beautiful elements from the 1st album. The line Wilson sings "Donnnn't Blaaame Yourselffff" for example. The harmonies in the bridge of "Where Is My Love?," and the soaring, sad, epic aspects of "The End of the World" as well. However it didn't demand year-round, or even many months of replay; which I think was due to the fact it didn't have enough songs that blew me away, even like tracks like "Scars" or "Pain" off the 1st record. No matter, it still came out far ahead of the new Porcupine Tree LP; which may or may not mean much over time.

29. Fields - Everything Last Winter
Does Pure Reason Revolution have a sister-band? My attention to PRR the last 2 years probably had as much to do with my interest in this band as anything else. Although Fields don't seem to have quite as many over-the-top climaxes as the Revolution. But I certainly enjoy the layers, and acoustic elements stressed in much of this album. Very folk-y at times, but folk songs that seem to really rock (if that makes sense?). Similar to PRR, the vocal approach being doubled on nearly every cut and the mix of the Male and Female vocal-harmonies as well being signature. The opening single "Song For the Fields" is probably the best and most accessible song on this album; "You're not the only one" recalls a band like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young especially. However, I found myself enjoying most of this one as a whole. "Feathers" was definitely one as the build is pretty rewarding when it rocks out. "The Death" features this punchy, riff-driven hook that is catchy. "Schoolbooks" is also one that showed how dreamy and synth-driven they can be. I can't say this album demanded a massive amount of headphone-time, but at the same time a lot of it still sounds fresh or *refreshing* since for some reason I always associate blowing a fan in my face to cool off while at work listening to it.

28. The Pax Cecilia - Blessed Are the Bonds
Coming totally out-of-nowhere to myself and many others, this release will probably be known as much for the fact the band sent out hard-copies + artwork with complimentary postage totally free. However, it was for justifiably very good reason as once I noticed the offer, I mentioned it on as many forums as I could and nearly every response about this one was positive. But as far as the music itself, I find about half of of this record to be pretty damn impressive and original. A mixture of songs that dive into classical, emotive, string-driven sections, to shred-heavy Post-Metal, along with a handful of ambient-focused pieces. The minimalistic ambient numbers are what prevent me from putting this one up higher and it receiving start-to-finish more play. But the four or five cuts that work, totally work and are not short in length. Interesting that most songs on here starts with the word "The" which may not be intentional or involving anything in a potential concept. "The Tragedy" has a sad, beautiful melody that the dynamics standout on, and has a delicate, organic quality to much of it's near 10 minutes. "The Tree" is an instrumental that is without any dead-spots and a great, gradual build. "The Progress" is a great almost surf-like Post-Metal mini-epic which the screaming is quite effective and the shredding couldn't be better. The opener "An Aurora" is the last number that I enjoyed more regularly. " "The Water Song," "The Wasteland," "The Hymn," and "The Tomb Song" while they comprise probably half of this album, were more great mood-pieces for me. If they warranted more play, I probably would have gone back to this entire disc more often; but I have high respect for them as much for their approach and for diversity of influences, as this record's entire finished product. Hopefully these guys will deservedly benefit a good amount from that with their future work.

27. Cavil at Rest - Orion Way (EP)
A California-based band I was introduced to at the very start of the year and I never tired of their music. This EP or really a combination of previously released EPs on one disc, is without a bad song. A group which excels at writing happy, poppy, catchy songs. "Who's There" they actually made a video for, but they are as far as I am aware, an unsigned talent. They certainly have the potential to catch-on big if given the right exposure. I love the barbershop type vocal-harmonies they do especially. The track "Let Down Your Guard" has this great echoing chorus There's-no-decide-ing-which-side to-air-on" which gets in your head. "It's Still Not as Bad" has a great upbeat crescendo. repeated phrase "It's alright...Standing next to you."

"Sun Hands" and "We Could Love" are classics. The latter having this gorgeous piano melody with vocal-chanting that is highly goose-bump worthy and maybe their greatest moment. "The Flower of Rhodes" has an awesome melody which reminds me of Happy- Kaddisfly. "Tidal Killer" and "All Is Well and Good" you can notice some great elements of Jeff Buckley and Phish. The closer "House on Stilts" has this warm, fun, happy, like Jellyfish vibe. It's a cliché to say, but they really are greater than the sum of all their parts. Their songwriting is just so strong and positive, I can't say enough good things about this band. Why their 1st full-length LP is quite high on my list of upcoming records. If it's anything like this full-EP, no doubt it'll be something I'll (and hopefully many others) will be into.

26. The Apples in Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder
This was my introduction to this band and the Elephant 6 record label as a whole. Thus far, they have become my favorite of the bands on that label, and this the best thing overall I've heard from them. They at times have a highly catchy and *sugary* element that with other bands I might not be into, but with them on most of this record it works awfully well. Very analog-sounding, which I can't help but think the songs were recorded in the 1970's. Also a really distinct part of this album is the frequent uses of the vocoder. Its appears over and over, but almost never hurting the flow or writing of the songs surprisingly. There are 25 tracks on here, but to mention some of the best I'd have to say the opening piece "Can You Feel It?" certainly. The single "Energy" is catchy and there is more to it than just the opening chorus. "Same Old Drag" is a great synth-driven pop song with the aforementioned vocoder-harmonies. "Sunndal Song" is my favorite of the female lead-vocal songs, which also features an upfront bass-line melody and tasteful trumpet harmonies. "7 Stars" is another with the analog sounding synths and definitely gives a trippy psychedelic feeling in a power-pop song. "Radiation" is another, and the ending "Beautiful Machine" suite finish a large collection of infectious and inspirational songs.

25. The New Pornographers - Challengers
The first New Porno's album I got into, this album got me more into their band as a whole. I am a pretty big fan of a lot of Power-Pop; especially since discovering many of the so-called *Indie* bands are doing that style of music. And these guys are one-of the best today. What I can say about this release itself is, I like every song, which is pretty much reliable with this band. Although at the same time, I am not floored by that many tracks on this. Many reviews seem to be a bit critical about it's ballad-heavy nature. I guess for me it doesn't matter. It's more just a disc that is a decent collection of that work together well; which is a good way to describe the rest of their catalog as well. Catchy tune, after happy melody. My favorite parts if I had to pinpoint a few would probably be the subtle beauty "Entering White Cecilia" and the bridge in "Adventures in Solitude" which I can't avoid goosebumps with. "Unguided" is inspirational, and the the single "Myriad Harbour" has an enjoyable fuzz-guitar that I never can get out of my head. But really, every song has something I enjoy; Neko Case's voice of course included. They were very fun live band this year as well (as was not avoiding staring at Neko..hehe).

24. Dark Tranquillity - Fiction

I 1st saw this band's name many years ago on some of the forums. But not being into much Death Metal, I never even considered trying to like them. Of course now, I'm becoming a Death Metal fan, so these guys were an obvious group to checkout. And without question this was one of my favorite discs to listen to the last couple of months. It just goes from song-2-song, never losing me. The energy might be fueled by Red-Bulls, but it is all over here. The atmosphere is great. There is nothing excessive. Nearly every song has these synths that are cloudy and fat, but use this perfectly clean tone. "Icipher" is one track that features tham and this tight grinding guitar. The piano also blends into nearly every song on here really well. The transitions are perfect in songs like "Terminus (Where Death Is Alive)" in the part their singer has "This is a Ghost Town" and "This is the only place I know" The vocals are incredibly consistent. Skeletor screams that seem to be pretty much the trademark vocal-style on here (if not the rest of their catalog, which I have yet to hear). The interplay on "Empty Me" is one of my favorite parts. A great disc for Halloween or any gothic themed mood; but also just for a fan of well-crafted, energetic heavy music.

23. Strata - Strata Presents the End of the World
When they were paired up to tour with Kaddisfly this fall I read enough about them to intrigue me more than brief sampling I had done previously. This album was much more impressive than I expected. They blend a lot of guitar textures and soaring, emotional vocals in their songs that make this one work beginning to end. The most outstanding moment on this one, is the over-the-top melody in the bridge in "Poughkeepsie, NY." Singer Eric Victorino's soaring voice kills like only few moments can, in the line "Oh, you've got some good friends waiting for you at the gates....Haaa-lleyy-lu-jahhh! O', Haaa-lleyy-lu-jahhh, Halllllleluuuu-jah-ahh-ah-ah-ah, ah..ah-ah-ah-ah-ahhh!
It is without question the biggest reason I'd go back to this album; to hear that section and song. A *natural high* really and one of the best moments on any song all year. But this disc also featured a lot more. The opening cut "Night Falls (The Weight of It)" is an energetic, melodic song. It features the emotive repeated line "I never left you alone" I always enjoy. "Hot/Cold (Darling, Don't)" features tasteful piano, and a warm, pretty chorus. "The Dotted Line" has a nice back and forth melody, and tight phrasing. "Cocaine" is another track with catchy, poppy chorus. "Stay Young" is a powerful ballad that reminds me a little of Rush. "Love is Life" is one of a handful of songs that feature those rich, wall-of-sound guitar lines, that in it's case has an almost U2-element to it. "The New National Anthem" is a cynical, political piece that the build is very big sounding especially the end. I'm definitely a new Strata fan after going back to this a lot the past few months. My only regret was the fact I wasn't able to catch them on tour with K-Fly, but hopefully sometime in the future I will.

22. Neverending White Lights - Act II: The Blood and the Life Eternal
In a very short and only a handful of times playing this over the last month or so, this album has skyrocketed up my favorite records for 2007. Neverending White Lights is as I understand, the creation of Canadian singer/songwriter Daniel Victor. I had heard "Act I" previously, and maybe it has to do with what I'm listening now as compared to then, but I hear significant jumps in many areas. Maybe the biggest just being the songwriting. It does help for me that like on "Act I," Jimmy Gnecco of Ours is featured here on the song "Dove Coloured Sky." Not surprising as Daniel Victor is a big Ours fan and has even played their music live with NWL. That piece is the biggest highlight of the record for me.. It has this totally gorgeous melody and Jimmy's vocal-control has never sounded better. The line "And I've seen your face, I've seen you change" and the very sad "Please say you knowww that" is totally moving. Later echoing "You won't be there, be there, be there" also I can't avoid the goosebumps and wanting to follow it with some Ours songs admittedly. I would say that this song is almost a microcosm of the entire record's, sad, epic feel. A Rock-Opera of a sort. There is such a wonderful sensitivity in the textures, and sound of the mix. "Bleeds To an End," "Distance," "Last of the Great Lovers" all reflect the mood and human-like messages and emotions which seems to be possibly about relationships. It leaves you with this feeling of losing and needing a hug or connection with someone. Probably one of the best moments occurs in the 2nd half with the track "The Warning." The guitar melody is almost like something David Gilmour would play. The emotion is clearly on the sleeves of the character and music. Aside from a couple of the slower pieces within the 15 tracks or movements in a way, this is a near epic classic. And if not for The Dear Hunter, would probably be my favorite release of it's kind this year. It's certainly one to look forward to going back to more often, and look forward to the next "Act" so-to-speak.


21. Thurisaz - Circadian Rhythm
In my new found exploration for Technical Death and Black Metal this fall, I was suggested a band called "In Vain" that pretty much floored me (foreshadow an upcoming blog), I was also recommended this album. And while at 1st it didn't pull-me-in as much as In Vain, over a bit of time I have grown to appreciate it a lot more than originally. This is a Belgian band who has multiple vocal styles, some gruff, some like Skeletor, and some clean, but all seem very emotional and fit extremely well with this album's thematic vibe. When playing this I get a feeling of going on a journey, like a Warrior's tale. One-by-one, track-by-track, and section-by-section you experience it. Musically, some of the best elements are how rich and lush the melodies are. The keys, piano, clean guitar and vocal styles contribute really well to it. The flow is without flaw. It really is an album best heard beginning-to-end; since it's not so much "epic" in length, but very much so in theme and feel. They also have their Opeth-like moments, and are technical enough to satisfy a prog-head like myself. A very moving release from this group and one I would say I will continue to enjoy and go back to. Given the later-in-the-year exposure this was for me, it may have deserved an even higher placing.

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