If you think my opinion of music has merit, check these out!
(They’re in no particular order, but they’re all awesome.)For each, I’ll answer HOW they came to my attention, WHY they’re great, and WHO should take special notice to them, and highlight tracks. Just click any of the titles or covers to hear them on Spotify.
It should be noted that every one of these albums is recommended to be listened to as a whole.
My top list of songs or singles would look quite different than this one, and these are records that deserve a full front-to-back listen!
HOW?: I first heard Cage, like many, in 2009, when their song “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” got some decent exposure in the media. (If you haven’t heard that song yet, do so right now, it’s a must listen). That first album was very sporadic in style, but leaned more bluesy than not. There are some cool songs on that record, and I’ve followed them since. Their second outing in 2011 netted a more punk-y influence (some of it very Pixies-esque), but their third release, featured here, is their best release yet.
WHY?: First off, the sound of this record alone sends it over the top. I don’t know what the recording process was like, but there is a warmness to the very distorted sonics of these songs that sounds distinctly analog. It honestly sounds like some of these instruments were slammed through a tape recorder, in the best possible way. The urgency of the instrumentals of these new songs bring back the aesthetic of My Generation-era The Who. The songwriting here is catchy, and the performances are as energetic as ever. This Kentucky-raised band is known to be very reckless and crazy off and on stage, and you can hear it here. There is a good dose of experimentation all over the album, especially in sporadic tempo changes and studio gimmicks. Best of all, there are some serious hooks here, especially on the first half.
WHO?: Fans of vintage-sounding modern rock (The White Stripes, The Black Keys, etc), and old raucous 50’s-60’s rock and roll. If you’re a vinyl listener, pick this sucker up as well. This was the first modern record I bought after getting into vinyl, and it sounds BEAUTIFUL.
HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “Spiderhead” is a great catchy track that kicks off the album with a good overview of the sounds you’ll hear on the rest of the album. “It’s Just Forever” is arguably the catchiest song here, with very cool guest vocals from Alison Mosshart (of The Dead Weather). Lead single “Come a Little Closer” can’t be missed either.
HOW?: I first encountered these guys through their single “Dead Man“, from their last record, Captors. That song was one of those brilliant cases where a song has such a great melodic and lyrical hook in the chorus, that even those who hate screaming can tolerate the rest of the song’s verses. (Another great example of this was Underoath‘s “Reinventing Your Exit“. This Christian metal outfit specializes in this feat, keeping their screams sprinkled in tastefully amongst great melodic cleans and engaging lyrics that can win over both screamo fans and haters alike.
WHY?: This new album, first off, improved upon everything that was great about their breakthrough, Captors. The hooks are even stronger on this record, and the instrumentals here are not watered-down versions of what’s in the mainstream market. This is metalcore that is competent amongst the secular bands that are currently popular in the genre. The lyrics are powerful, extremely spiritual, yet avoid cliche and hokeyness that many fear in Christian metal. In the same way that Lecrae can legitimately rap about his theology and still earn respect from the hip-hop community at large, Wolves appears to do the same in the metal scene. The concept of the record is strong, built around the vitality and neccessity of salvation.
WHO?: Any fans of metal or metalcore looking for something lyrically deeper, any Christian who’s into harder music that challenges spiritually. If you aren’t into metal, I still recommend a listen, but try the lyric videos on their label’s YouTube page, as they are not only well-produced, but allow you really absorb their great lyrics.
HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “East to West” is the most powerful song, “Dust to Dust” and “Relief” the most catchy. The back and forth screaming and singing in “Return” is especially cool, as it serves as a call and response lyrically. While much of the album is quite intense, the guys do calm it down a bit (relatively) for the two great tunes “The Bird and the Snake” and “The Father’s Bargain“. This album works especially well front to back.
HOW?: Anberlin has been at the top of my favorites list since my cousin introduced them to me back in 2008. The two best adjectives to describe their catalog are “energetic” and “consistent”. That isn’t to say any two albums sound alike, but there is a level of quality that one can expect from an Anberlin project that only improves over time. There is growth over the course their career, but even the old stuff holds up. When Anberlin announces a new project, my attention is there.
WHY?: Technically, this album’s placement on this list is cheating, as Devotion is a re-release of their 2012 album, “Vital“, which was arguably their strongest release since 2007’s breakthrough album, “Cities” (the album that earned them a major record deal with Universal). However, what makes this release special is that it not only includes 6 bonus songs added into the “Vital” album, but also an entire acoustic concert album and a full collection of remixes. In true Anberlin fashion, these extras are ALL of great quality. The performance and recording of the live show are top-notch (and especially cool due to their lighter acoustic rearrangement taken), and the various remixes are diverse and, believe it or not, all legit.
NOTE: The remix portion of the album in NOT avaliable on Spotify, but a number of them can be found here and here.
As for the album itself, the arrangements, lyrics, and performance is all TOP NOTCH. Super energetic and musically interesting, these songs capture Anberlin at their finest creative space, creating larger-than-life anthems exploring relationship, society, and the nature of the human soul.
WHO?: Anyone who likes energetic and textured alternative rock, or rock music that has a lot of electronic influence without compromising a live band feel. Fans of good lyrics should also take note, and explore lead singer Stephen Christian’s explanations of his meaningful, yet sometimes cryptic lyrics.
HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: In terms of the main album, THE WHOLE THING. I never have gotten used to this particular arrangement of the album (I prefer the original Vital, with the extra tracks tacked on at the end), but if you haven’t yet heard Vital, go ahead and give this section a front-to-back listen.
For the REMIX ALBUM, it’s hard to say, as the collection is varied in electronic style, but if you like more EDM/dubstep-type music, head to the Nick Rad remixes right away.
HOW?: I first heard the quirky stylings of Manchester Orchestra when their previous album “Simple Math” got considerable attention in mainstream music publications in 2011. The title track on that album was brilliant, and the rest of the album’s light experimentation caught my attention. I wound up stuck on their previous two albums for a while, as they all demonstrated this band’s ability to channel modern influences, classic rock sounds, and, quite often, storytelling lyrics to create something oddly unique.
WHY?: This album has all the things that made the band’s first three efforts unique, but is turned up to 11. The album hits you in the head with a shovel at the start, and doesn’t fully let up for the entire 11 song run. The guitars are loud and abrasive, the choruses are huge, and the hooks are there. This album begs to be blasted, and the energy is high throughout, even through the emotional roller coasters of the lyrics.
WHO?: Anyone who enjoys emotional narrative lyrics and loud rock that doesn’t necessarily have staple guitar riffs (the vocals are the priority here, even though the guitars are loud). There are occasional F-bombs here and there, so don’t listen around small children or the easily offended.
HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: This album kicks off with the killer opener “Top Notch“, whose energy and melody is so infectious that you barely realize it’s telling the story of twin deaf kids who are going blind and decide to be euthanized. (Seriously, there’s some very Dylan-like narratives on this project). “The Ocean” is another favorite of mine, with a great hook in the chorus amongst emotional self-pitying verses.
Stop back next week for the last 3 albums*!