My third “annual” discoveries post is finally here!
It was odd, in that I’ve been thinking about this for the past month – not obsessively or anything like that. I found myself almost dreading “drudging” through the music I’d downloaded as I couldn’t really think of any key albums or bands that really stood head-and-shoulders above the rest.
Once I got into reviewing my “finds” in iTunes, I found that I really had quite an eclectic variety of a LOT of albums that I had on heavy rotation throughout the year. The hardest part was whittling THAT list down to something manageable for this post.
In no particular order, here are some of the musical discoveries that I really enjoyed this past year:
Ever since Dream Theater released “Scenes from a Memory” way back in 1999, I’ve been hoping and looking for a prog-rock(ish) album that was similar in concept and ambition. I took a crack at exploring Scandinavian metal acts earlier last year and came across Nightwish. They’ve been around for years and are apparently on their third female singer now.
They specialize in what might be termed as “Operatic Metal”. Anette Olzon is a bit less “pretty” than their first singer (Tarja Turunen), but brings a bit more of a rock edge to this album
Slash: Apocalyptic Love
Slash’s previous solo effort had a host of guest vocalists lend their pipes to his tunes. It resulted in an album that had more ups and downs than a roller-coaster. This go-around, he recruited Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge who brings some welcome vocal consistency to superb straight-ahead rock songwriting.
There are hints of Axl Rose, but Myles shows that he’s much more than that with some fantastic versatility.
The 88: Not Only… But Also
This was apparently the first album I bought last year and it looks as though it got a LOT of plays.
Saying that this album is bread and butter pop-rock wouldn’t do justice to the journey on which the band guides you. There’s a consistent je-ne-sais-quoi throughout the album, but each song has a fresh hook and sound to it which kept me coming back to this one.
Ladyhawke was probably the first surprise of the year for me. I’m a sucker for female singers who are talented, well produced and versatile. I remember having this on my iPhone throughout the construction of my new studio and just putting the album on repeat.
There’s a strong “organic” rock element to this album, but it’s got that spit-n-polish to it where there are electronic elements throughout and everything is tight. Kind of reminds me of good Lenny Kravitz albums where everything has some fuzz and hair on it, but it’s all tidy, organized and tucked away in the right places.
Owl City: The Midsummer Station
If you know me, top 40 music has an extremely hard time finding its way into my music library. A bit of a confession here: Up until a few months ago, I just assumed that this was one of Ben Gibbard’s many projects outside of Death Cab for Cutie. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.
There’s no sugar-coating it, this is a POP ALBUM – complete with Carly Rae Jepson on “Good Time”. I do have to admit though – it’s quite addictive. The songs are simple, but contrary to lazy top-40 fluff on the airwaves these days, the melodies are very well-thought out and of course, catchy. The production is clean and punchy, the arrangements have ebb and flow and the overall sound is fantastic.
Muse: The 2nd Law
After the first listen to this album, I have to admit, I was quite disappointed with Muse’s latest effort.
I think it was about the 3rd listen on a long walk with the dog where the entire album started to dig its hooks into me. There are not the overt “hits” that were on The Resistance, but this album has a lot of subtlety throughout. This is one of those albums that I’d say will age like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It’ll take a few years, but will probably be something that I’ll find myself revisiting once or twice a year
Shinedown has been an über-favourite band of mine for years.
This is RAWK as it should be – straight ahead, heavy, forceful and lots of soul. Brent Smith on vocals is like the second-coming of Chris Cornell. He’s just a bang-on rock-band vocalist. The songwriting with Shinedown has been quite consistent through each album and the sound never seems to get old.
This is what Nickelback should have been like if they hadn’t stagnated.
Foxy Shazam: Church of Rock & Roll
I can’t seem to look at this bands’ name without thinking that it’s the title of a ’70’s porn flick.
Imagine Rocky Horror Picture Show mixed with a bit of Queen and various ’70’s glam-rock bands. There’s a lot to listen to in this album – ear candy with some grit and grime all over it. The overall mix and fidelity of this recording is pushed to the limit – as though it was pushed hard through analog gear and the whole band got to mix their own part. It’s got this really exciting gritty saturated sound that adds to the whole listening experience.
VersaEmerge: Fixed at Zero
Fixed at Zero kind of snuck up on me as one that got inserted into heavy rotation around the house and in the car. Ever since Garbage came onto the scene, I’ve absolutely loved the sound of well-produced, dense mixes with catchy tunes … all fronted by a great female voice.
Much like Garbage 2.0, I foresee this album being one that I’ll be digging out for years to come.
Neon Trees: Picture Show
I was sorely disappointed by how consistently I was disappointed by releases that I was anticipating. Neon Trees was one of a handful that was NOT in that category. I absolutely loved their previous release, Habits and was pleasantly surprised that Picture Show upped the ante.
If you know me, I’m a total sucker for ear candy – layers and little “Easter eggs” in a song that have me discovering new things each listen. Combined with well-crafted songs, this album has ear candy through and through.
Minus the Bear: Infinity Overhead
Minus the Bear has been one of my favourites the past few years – they’re in the same place as Porcupine Tree for me. It’s been one of those bands that doesn’t suit everyone’s taste, but it doesn’t “offend” either – kind of flies under the radar.
I wouldn’t absolutely classify Minus the Bear in the “Prog” category, but more in the “tending-to-be-prog” camp. Their longest song is just over five minutes and solos are kept to standard length. That being said, there’s a lot of non-standard song structures and REALLY interesting stuff happening on this album.
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour: Out Of Frequency
You probably have heard AGT a couple of years back on the iPod Touch commercial and more recently on Heineken ads. To put it bluntly, they have a very unique sound… or more precisely, their singer has a very unique timbre to her voice. It’s part of their gently grating charm.
If you can get over the voice, there’s a lot of interesting songs with non-standard arrangements and instrumentation. There’s kind of a quasi summer-of-love feel to this album, but without the sitars and the tape loops played backwards. Very unique sound.
Passion Pit: Gossamer
Passion Pit has been one of those odd acts that I thought was EDM (electronic dance music), but was pleasantly surprised that they weren’t. They’re definitely electronic, but with none of the annoying monotony.
There are catchy tunes on this album and its’ well produced. What got me coming back to PP was the effort they put into putting so many interesting twists and turns in each song. Back to the ear candy fetish I have!
Thousand Foot Krutch: The End is Where We Begin
Thousand Foot Krutch was a band that I’ve been keeping an eye on for a couple of years. Supposedly they’re classified as a “Christian Rock” band – whatever that means.
Regardless, their tunes are catchy, and they’re fun to turn up loud. Lots of heavy guitars, but there’s a production sheen that gives this album a lot of punch, tightness and variety that I like.