THE TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2022
In a year full of so much bullshit, music again wormed its way into life as we all need, which of course makes life easier to navigate. This list of 25 features everything I love about music as a whole. Different genres are included, with everything from sludge metal to pure pop making the list this year. I hope you enjoy it, and please don't forget to Follow us for more content at @thedeathofthemixtape on instagram, facebook and Spotify. Thanks for reading.
BLACKPINK: BORN IN PINK
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE: ASPHALT MEADOWS
LAMB OF GOD: OMENS
SPIRIT IN THE ROOM: FLAMINGO
JACK WHITE: FEAR OF THE DAWN
20 SYLVAN ESSO: NO RULES SANDY
On the North Carolina married duo’s fifth album, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn push the electronic elements of their sound to dangerous new territory that pays off much more than it falters. They’ve become a fun, reliable band, and “No Rules Sandy” is no exception. Meath’s voice is slick yet warm and welcoming., and while the electronic beats are minimal and not in your face, the gradual nature of the music and beats present enough energy and movement to warrant a dance party wherever you are. “Echo Party,” the fourth track in the record, is probably my favorite, but if you were already a fan, there’s very little here that you won’t dig and get into it.
19 VIAGRA BOYS: CAVE WORLD
Viagra Boys from Stockholm are something else. I originally caught wind of then on the Coachella webcast this year and I couldn't take my eyes off the performance. Full of unbridled enthusiasm, the five piece band, featuring Sebastian Murphy on vocals, conveys a type of triumphant post punk that we don’t see too often. Murthy’s voice often reminds of a more crazed Nick Cave, which melts my heart in a abstract sort of way. “Cave World,” their third album, reverberates with intensity from the opening moments of “Baby Criminal” all the way to the climax of “Return to Monke,” which ends up being the icing on this crazed cake.
18 EDDIE VEDDER: EARTHLINGS
One of the most surprising albums for me this year was the first solo album from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. I’m also somewhat ashamed that I enjoyed this more than the last few PJ records. The album itself is centered around all forms of rock. The break neck intensity of “Good and Evil” perfectly contrasts with some of the less aggressive songs like “On My Way,” or the Elton John feature in “Picture.” It’s also comforting to be enjoying an artist this much after so long in the spotlight. It’s just an easy record to enjoy the world with, even if the world is way more intense and scary than anything Vedder could write. For fans of Pearl Jam and rock in general, don’t sleep on “Earthlings.”
17 KING GARBAGE: HEAVY METAL GREASY LOVE
I know these guys from my jazz god friend Jason Moore, who collaborated with the two members of this band to bring an album that’s full of swagger, horns, and smokey vocals. As part of the Ipecac label, King Garbage crafted a 9 song whirlwind of sound, featuring all styles from jazz to indie rock to everything in between. The drumming by Vic Dimotsis is measured and cautious, only elevating when needed. “Heavy Metal Greasy Love” Is the type of record that fits in very well in the world of New Orleans Jazz Fest and surrounding jazz festivals. It’s takes a little to get used to in terms of atmosphere and approach, but on this, the bands debut album, they prove why they were asked to be part of this brilliant avant-garde record label. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
16 FONTAINES DC: SKINTY FA
In 2022, we continued to get a lot of great post punk records that put a new spin on the indelible word of shoegaze and post punk. The Irish lunatics known as Fontaines DC have so far crafted 3 relatively amazing albums. This solid output has made the band a big name in the up and coming world of alternative rock in a subtle yet distinct way. The record, “Skinty Fa” starts with ominous vocals from Grian Chatten and never lets up. I wouldn’t say the record is a slow burn, but the textures and melody exhibited throughout the 44 minute run time.
15 KING GIZZARD: OMNIUM GATHERUM
With their 499th album of 2022 the prog gods known as King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard crafted “Omnium Gatherum” as a 80 minute death defying travel through various rhythms, styles, elevations and lows. On this, maybe they’re most well rounded record to date, the band tackles hip hop in the electric “The Grim Reaper,” jams out to the heavens on “Gaia,” while also bridging the gap between jam bands and prog rock with the masterful “Blame It on the Weather.” All in all, another great experience tsk album from the Melbourne adventurists. Seeing a lot of this album a few weeks ago at Red Rocks also laid dividends in understanding the depth of the music in a love setting. Love live the King Gizzard.
14 KIKAGAKU MAYO: KUMOYO ISLAND
Only in the last year or two have I grown to appreciate the music of Japan's Kikagaku Mayo, who this year released their sixth album “Kumoyo Island,” which is spellbinding in its musicianship. There are individual songs, but the record as a whole feels like one long adventure into a psyche-rock world of beauty. Tracks like “Effe” are casually cool, almost effortless in the way the listener receives the music. And while the music at times feels like a tidal wave of serenity, you never lose sight of the focus of the musicians making this music. This was announced as the band's last album, which sucks, but at least they gave us ten years and multiple records to remember them by.
13 CULT OF LUNA: LONG ROAD
Part post rock, part stoner metal, Sweden's Cult of Luna has been perfecting the sonically sludgy sound in a way that has yet to be matched. The tracks are heavy, with the vocals of Johannes Persson bullying their way to the front of the mix, albeit only when necessary. Clocking in at nearly 70 minutes, “The Long Road '' requires patience through brutal guitar sound and depth, like a cave ready to devour you. It’s easy to get wrapped in the melody and passion, but that comes with listening to a band who’s been perfecting their sound for over two decades.
12 NILUFER YANYA: PAINLESS
When I heard Yanya’s single from this record, a track called “Stabalise,” I knew this record was going to impact me more than her previous. Which isn’t to say the last albums wasn’t good (it very much was), but I found myself more drawn to the lyrics on this record. For fans of heartbreak driven indie-ish rock, Nilufer Yayna elicits a woeful portrait of loneliness, open ended declarations, and a profound sense of self. Seeing her this year during the afternoon at Shaky Knees, underneath gorgeous trees further cemented her as a rising star who so far has only made remarkably impactful music.
11 COMET IS COMING: HYPER DIMENSIONAL EXPANSION BEAM
One of a few dark horses that released an album that immediately ended up on the year end countdown , the third release from the trio known as Comet is Coming delivers a sound filled with classic jazz interlocked with electronic club beats. It delivers in a manner that is both uplifting and surprising. Surprising for how well it works, the whole record, spanning 11 tracks and about 45 minuets, has a little of everything that hardcore music fans will enjoy. It’s also mixed in a way as to let the music breathe in a less rushed, more organic sort of way. At number 11, the exquisite beauty of “Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam.”
10 SUDAN ARCHIVES: NATURAL BROWN PROM
A little over a year ago, Sudan Archives was the opening act at a Tame Impala show I took my bride to. At the time we hadn’t heard of Brittany Denise Parks, aka Sudan Archives. Needless to say the Ohio violinist left an impression on us, and this album was excitedly played after I learned it had been released. Part hip hop, funk, and classically African music, Sudan has created a sound full of complex layers, with the mixing process helping to make the sound of the record more fluid. Parks is phenomenal at her mastery of the violin, and with tracks like “OMG BRITT,” and the infectious “NBPQ (Topless) it’s hard to imagine her staying unknown for much longer.
9 TAYLOR SWIFT: MIDNIGHTS
Recently I spent way too much time trying to get tickets to this woman’s concert, but there’s a reason she’s continually the most popular musician in the world. She makes goddamn great albums, and over the course of ten solo records, her sound has revolved way past where she began. She’s like the Ferris Bueller of music, everyone fucking loves her. “Midnights” is another excellent reason to get into the sentimental, thoughtful quasi pop of Taylor Swift. “Karma” is a stand out track, while “Anti-Hero” struggles with open ended honesty and the thought that you either are a mess or a villain. On tracks like these Swift is brutally honest about her shortcomings, which is refreshing to hear in a world where no one likes to admit they’re anything less than perfect.”
8 WET LEG: WET LEG
When I first heard of this little recording duo Wet leg, I was reminded at how good consciously sexual lyrics and double entendres can be utilized in modern rock. The band's debut record, which is self titled, checks all of those boxes. It’s scandalously written, with a brilliant approach by lead guitarists and vocalists Rhian Teasdale that’s everything you want out of a sexually charged band. It’s an easy record to listen to, the musicianship is fun and energetic, yet it fills the listener with modern day approaches that we can all latch onto. Also, “Chaise Lounge,” the second song on the record, is a masterpiece of word play and precision. Keep an eye on this band, they will be known more and more as time goes, if my prediction is correct.
7 PSYCHEDELIC PORN CRUMPETS: NIGHT GNOMES
On “Nigh Gnomes,” the band's fifth album, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, current contender for weirdest band name, leader singer Jack McEwen and his band demonstrate why they’re right under Tame Impala and King Gizzard as one of Australia’s leading progressive psychedelic rock bands. The opening track “Terminus, the Creator” is built for an arena caliber light show, while the remaking minutes are spent making genre blurring psyche rock very much in the vein of early prog rock masters. I’ve been into PPC for a few records now, and “Night Gnomes'' is by far my favorite so far. They’re still getting bigger and bigger, and I don’t see that ending with this album, but if other bands mentioned here are your favorites, don’t sleep on this band. Once you get past the unusual name, it should be all glory and enjoyment after.
6 KENDRICK LAMAR: MR. MORALE & THE STEPPERS
At this point in Lamar’s career, he’s not only untouchable lyrically and musically, but sadly he’s still one of the only men in hip hop who offers support and understanding to trans and gay people. It’s a violently sexist genre, with no signs that the other head honchos want anything to change, but when you hear Lamar’s words, especially on a track like “Aunties Diaries,” you hear understanding, welcoming hip hop that bridges the gap between the normally sexist genre. In short, Kendrick’s decision to go more A Tribe Called Quest and less Eminem is a good sign that at least some people in hip hop actually believe in being good people. Another classic from Lamar, “Mr. Morale” shows up at number 6.
5 AUTOMATIC: EXCESS
In May of this year I had never heard of this brilliant Los Angeles trio, but by July it was all I could listen to after seeing them open for Idles. The album, titled “Excess,” it at face value a typical Indie synth pop record, but the maturity and instrumentation make this sophomore album irresistible and captivating. Tracks like “On the Edge” push Ladytron-esque beats with singer- guitarist Glaudini captivating, sexy swirl of a voice. The trio of Izzy Gladudini, the low key off to herself bassist coolness of Halle Saxon and energizing to watch drummer Lola Dompé, who also sings make it easy to absorb the music, as the hallucinatory nature of the instrumental mix reverberates over the loudspeaker. The band has since opened for the massive Tame Impala, so here’s to hoping for many years of casually cool woman led indie rock.
4 SHARON VAN ETTEN: WE’VE BEEN GOING ABOUT THIS ALL WRONG
In short, Sharon continues to amaze with her thoughtful, passionate and transparent lyrics and storytelling. After her last record, I had a difficult time initially getting into this record, but once I understood its narrative theme of loss and hopelessness, I was in love with it. The musicianship is warm with slow building beats that give room to Van Etten's raspy, sultry voice. Her compassion is also evident, as she takes shots at her shortcomings in the eye opening “Mistakes,” while still maintaining the strong image of a woman who has tons to offer the world. Breathed into life and recorded at Ettens home studio, you get that warm vibe permeating through the record that makes it feel even more personal, as if that was possible. Like I said at the start, she never fails to inspire me with her art, and I hope many feel the same way I do.
3 YEAH YEAH YEAHS: COOL IT DOWN
When a band essentially vanishes from recording, at some point you assume two things, if your mind works like mine. One, you assume the band is done. The second thing I assume is that if a new record does surface, the chances it’ll be anything good are minimal. For the NYC trios first album in nearly ten years, both of those notions are way off. “Cool It Down” does exactly that, it delivers a less intense but musically more mature record than we’re used to as fans of the band. “Spitting off the Edge of the Earth” is a brilliant record opener, with guitarist Zinner and drummer Brian Chase creating gorgeous melodies for which Karen O applies simmering, beautifully arranged vocals. At times the listener feels her grasp pulling you into the low key atmosphere of darkness created by the other 2/3 of the band. After a long break, some bands don’t even sound like the same band. This isn’t necessarily true or untrue in the case of the YYY’s, but it feels more akin to being reintroduced to an old friend who has grown and changed slightly in the years since your last encounter. It’s still amazing. Just in a different way.
2 PUP: UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND
Good god, I just can’t quit Pup, the band. On the heels of their excellent album of the year from 2019, Pup, with the fourth record has mastered the art of effective quips, tongue in cheek sarcasm, and to top it all off, heartfelt emotionally charged songs about the pains of being stuck between the super young and super old. The album has a general loose concept around the undoing of this great band, but it still excels in a way they never did before. Tracks like “Robot writes a Love Song” are filled with brilliant double meanings as vocalist- guitarist Stefan Babcock imagines trying to pick up a relationship while coming to terms with his own difficulties in life. In short it’s a punk pop filled record hemorrhaging emotions and darkly veiled moments of clarity. The upbeat songs are perfect for dancing and rocking, but even songs like “Cutting Off the Corners'' showcase just how far the brilliant PUP, compromised of Babcock, bassist Nestor Chumak, Zack Mykula as the drummer, Steve Sladkowski on on guitar have come in a relatively short amount of time.
1 THE SMILE: A LIGHT FOR ATTRACTING
Radiohead is maybe the best band of the last 30 years. but it’s still remarkable when you can hear some artists in a way you’ve never gotten to experience before. With The Smile, Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood, both of RH for the unaware, as well as drummer Tim Skinner form the foreword thinking Sons Of Kemet, crafted an album hat leans more towards ambient post rock than anything else. The beats are distantly cold, like an alien learning a new world. It’s not an in your face record per se, but the melodies, how the mix is laid out, and the slow methodical nature of the songs help build intensity in a more nuanced. Sonically it’s more reserved at times, but bangers like “You Will Never Work in Television Again” remind you that these old guys can still rock out in glorious manners. More subtle than trippy, The Smile deliver on a debut album something that’s very hard to do- a fully fleshed out sound that makes the listener think they’ve been a band for much longer than the band has actually existed for. The number one album of 2022, The Smile’s “A Light for Attracting Attention.”
Thanks for reading, see you next year.
TOP TEN BEST SHOWS OF 2022
I don't have a ton to say about the excellent shows i got to check out this year, but it involved many rock bands, and quite honestly, it felt more normal than the last few years. Let's get to it anyway!
10 SEVENDUST, ORIENTAL THEATER
Album specific tours can be tricky if you’re a band, yet back in March, I got to see one of my nostalgic bands, in the form I’d Sevendust, roll through their breakthrough third album “Animosity,” in truth, I haven’t been a regular fan for probably 15 years, but seeing this near hour long album performed in its entirety was something I couldn’t miss. The band sounded just as good as I did when I loved them, which obviously made it easier to lose myself for the duration of the show. Tracks like “Dead Set” were powerful, while selections like “Praise,” and the beautiful “Angel's Son,” were the most memorable for me. It really was an evening spent waxing nostalgic, and after a long time of waiting, it finally happened, and it was awesome.
9 DEMI LOVATO, FILLMORE DENVER
For one, I was easily the oldest person at this concert, but in the end, I walked away surprised at how much I enjoyed the show. This tour saw Demi fronting a female backed rock band, full of all the bells and whistles of pure rock n roll. For 90 minutes, LOVATO, who had to cancel the next few dates due to being sick, showed no signs of illness as she strutted and pointed across the stage, making the capacity crowd chant and sing to songs like “Sorry Not Sorry,” “29” and more.
8 CHVRCHES, SHAKY KNEES
Having seen the Glasgow trio a few times nowadays the sunset performance at this years Shaky Knees was one of the books. Dropped in a beautiful gold dress that was later covered in blood, Lauren and company delivered the perfect mix up upbeat synth pop anthems with sing along moments the whole crowd enjoyed. The band played right before headliners King Gizzard and Nin, which made the night even more perfect.
7 GLASSJAW, SUMMIT
And another full length album show finds our list. I got these tickets in 2020, and like so many others had to wait years to finally go. The concert itself saw Glassjaw barrel through their first record, “Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know about Silence,” before a brief intermission that led into their breakthrough record, 2002’s “Worship and Tribute.” The band, led by Daryl Palumbo sounded patient but purposely as they plowed through two of metal cores best records.
6 DEFTONES, BALL ARENA
As far as metal bands go, the Deftones are consistently brutal if you witness them live. The mole does and ambient backings are obviously still there but everything is turned up to 11 when the play. One of the shows that was repeatedly postponed due to 2020, the concert finally happening was a great sign for upcoming events and an even better experience with my lady, who’s absolutely obsessed with Chino. Overall, it was just as remarkable and energetic as the other 13 times I had seen the Sacto art metal legends.
5 PUP, OGDEN
When you see Toronto natives joyfully rocking out on stage, it’s pretty much impossible not to get swept away in the energy. At the start of the bands fourth album touring cycle, Pup dominated the headlining spot for the duration of their hour-long set, bringing in even more fans than their previous tour. Filling the set with new tracks like “Totally Fine” with classics like “Reservoir,” “Kids,” and “Morbid Stuff” the band ate every moment up as the crowds chants and sing along’s only added to the jubilation of the crowd, the band, and especially myself and my awesome wife, who finally got to experience Pup live.
4 IDLES, MISSION
It took me a little while to come around to the thoughtfully antagonizing music of Idles, but by the time I saw them for the first time, my body was primed for a raucous show, which it undeniably was. The five price only player for about an hour and fifteen, but everything from the opening of “Colossus,” to more recent songs like “Mr.. Motivator '' were all high energy, with the full band going crazy for the vast majority of the show. I walked away reminded of how cathartic and emotionally researching a high energy show can be, which is a roundabout way of saying this band is worth their weight in gold when it comes to live performances.
3 CHEMICAL BROTHERS, FIRST BANK CENTER
It took me over 20 years to be able to write this, but I finally crossed off a major bucket list band in the shape of dance music legends the Chemical Brothers. As part of a brief tour, the Bros. rolled though with their full projection, lights and enough subwoofers to make a deaf person have a headache. With openers the Avalanches (another bucket list band) the Chem’s had a lot to live up to, yet the band seemed in great moods during their nearly two hour set. The duo punished the crowd with a shockingly powerful opener in the form of “Block Rockin Beats,” only to build in that energy, ending with their classic “Galvanize,” which is even better live than you’d imagine.
2 NINE INCH NAILS, RED ROCKS
After so many times seeing Reznor and the boys, part of me wonders if it’s still worth it. At the first night of the band's two night Red Rocks stint, I was reminded why I still make Nin shows happen. For two hours, they executed the type of set that hard core fans eat up. Very few hits, tons of songs not often played, superb energy, and last but actually probably most important, my first time seeing the unicorn known as “Somewhat Damaged.” After 25 times hoping to get the track live, it finally happened. This show was a little more experimental than the Shaky Knees show I saw a few months prior, but whether they’re playing rare tracks or a majority of hits, Nine Inch Nails never misses when performing live.
1 KING GIZZARD, & THE LIZARD WIZARD RED ROCKS NIGHT THREE
I can't say playing a full three hour concert, on three instances in a very short amount of time (about 2 weeks) is a guarantee to being named sing of the year, but when those concerts are as ridiculously good as they can get, it’s hard to ignore. Having gotten to see them twice this year as well, the final red rocks show was a relegation, spurred by fun crowd activities, indulgences and of course, 180 minutes of trippy prog rock. Stu McKenzie of course leads the show, but the band is so collaborative that it’s hard to pin point where all the ideas come from. This was my fifth time seeing them, and not only was it my show of the year, it’s easily one if the best shows I’ve ever seen. There really is no band like these Australian musical psychos, and I assume we have years and many more wild and unforgettable concerts from the band known as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
TOP TEN SONGS OF 2022
Welcome to YEAR END COUNTDOWN WEEK! Today we start with my Top ten songs for 2022. This includes some big hits, some obscure stuff, and downright good songs. Many different genres are covered here, and I'm pretty sure there's something here for everyone. Be sure to check out the @thedeathofthemixtape on instagram for the accompanying mixtape so you can listen as you read. Enjoy!
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HAPPY ACCIDENT, I DON'T KNOW WHO NEEDS TO HEAR THIS…
At number ten, we start the countdown with the slow grueling downturn of emotions. Hailing from Kentucky, Sarah Beth Tomberlin creates a song that’s stuck in a rut metaphorically, as Sarah Beth ruminates about the struggles of compassionate relationships and the feeling of being used only when it’s good for the other. Her second album released this year is full of these types of emotions, if you feel the hesitancy and sadness permeating throughout, especially on “Happy Accident.”
ABOUT DAMN TIME, SPECIAL
I often am either all in or all out when it comes to LIZZO, and while I think the heights of her fame are inevitably going to dwindle, this calling card for her second full length record is simply hard to resist. The beat is catchy, Lizzo’s wordplay is still top notch. Her rhymes are also excellent in this song, which is only matched by the upbeat dance track mixed into the background. It’s hard to find an artist that has done more for awareness and openness in recent years than Lizzo has, and while the album wasn’t a home run for me, this song is infectious and absolutely deserves to be on this list.
8 KING PRINCESS
FOR MY FRIENDS, HOLD ON BABY
As a person who has extreme difficulties with mental health, this song resonated with me on a very personal level. On “For My Friends,” King Princess speaks freely about her own struggles and how patience is required for loving and experiencing herself. Again, the lyrics are very transparent in their difficulty, but with the addition of a great synth pop beat, the song breathes life into the issues we all have as human beings. During this year, this song was there for me during moments of rough living, but with that knowledge of a tricky life, songs like this create a barrier for the listener and a repository for the hurt.
7 NILUFER YANYA
The lyrics are sung in a rushed manner, yet it never hinders the song. Quite the contrary, as it’s a full blown anthem in the shape of renewal. Seeing this song performed live this year at Shaky Knees was the perfect atmosphere for a song that makes You feel strong dancing to this track, like you could “Stabilize” the world with just dancing. Yanya has grown musically in a pretty consistent manner, and if quality songs like this are the new norm for Nilüfer, I’m all about it. Just one of those lose yourself songs that we all need, especially when raw emotions need to be eliminated.
6 HEALTH w/ NINE INCH NAILS
ISN’T EVERYONE, DISCO 4
Health has been a reliably heavy band since their inception, but with added focus and intensity from Nine Inch Nails, it all seems way easier. Reznor voice fits in with Health's music like a glove, not only adding precision to an already stellar track, but building a bridge between older industrial gods and the new ring bearers of the genre. There’s little here to complain about, only that one song isn’t enough when you hear how rewarding the product was. If it were up to me HEALTH would be the de facto opener for all NIN shows, but I am not a god,
5 THE SMILE
YOU WILL NEVER WORK IN TELEVISION AGAIN, A LIGHT FOR ATTRACTING ATTENTION
As you’ll learn in the days ahead, I really love this record. And this song only adds to its brilliance. The first thing I notice is the demanding drums and the reverberations of the instrumental elements. Yorke's voice also shimmers savagely as he barks out hurried vocals that match beautifully with the whirlwind of surrounding song. It’s one of the more intense songs on her record, yet it’s in these rapturous moments where we see the juxtaposition of the bands easier to swallow ambient tracks.
4 SHARON VAN ETTEN
MISTAKES, WE’VE BEEN GOING ABOUT THIS ALL WRONG
Not quite the best song in her career, but one that gave me the energy to keep going this year. “Mistakes” lands at number four on the Year End Songs list. Etten's vocals and lyrics are nothing if not brutally honest, and listening to “Mistakes” gives the feeling of familiar vulnerability inherent in most of her works as a solo artist. The song itself is pretty straight forward alternative rock, and while I never get used to her unique voice, it’s always cathartic to know you’re not alone in C.K. you all bouncing back from your own “Mistakes.”
ROBOT WRITES A LOVE SONG, THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND
One of the easiest things to enjoy about Pup, the band, is the way lyricist and guitarist Stefan Babcock can make sense of turbulent times in the lives of mature adults. On “Robot Writes a Love Song” Pup walks the line between serious and humorous, with the lyrics representing a failed relationship, but using computer lingo to bridge the gap between loss and understanding. The chorus and bridges are ideal for a sing along, which again makes it easy to sing and relate to. All in all, it’s an honestly heartfelt breakup song about redemption and understanding. For all of these reasons, Pup’s technological heart break anthem lands at number three.
2 WET LEG
CHAISE LOUNGE, WET LEG
Other than the number one track , there’s been very few songs this year that had the impact that this track has. The double entendres flow rapidly through the brief three minute song? With vocalist Rhian Teasdale waxing proctor about the sexy dangers of college and the world at large. The rhyming of suggestive lyrics makes the song easy to laugh at as well, yet it’s never a bad song for driving either. This song has brutally not been part of the recent best songs of the year lists I’ve seen, which is a tragedy in my opinion, and this song is a perfect calling card for a new set of female rockers who want to blur the line between Seductive and serious, which they do amazing well at.
1 DEMI LOVATO
29, HOLY FUCK
When I first heard this song, it was under the guise of a formally pop star queen venting and turning over all the dirty traumatic stones of Demi’s life and her recovery. To be clear, this song is vulnerable and waking up to the wreaking of what life’s used to be like. The lyrics don’t hold back on Lovato’s frame of mind during her adolescence, but it frames everything in a manner that’s easy to digest and understand, even if the source material is no laughing matter. Essentially she was a pawn in a game of grooming, but it took her years, until she was near her Saturn return in years that she wasn’t able to grasp before. “29,” to me is about remembering your mistakes and naivety and managing to turn them around through real world and life difficulties. Beyond the material, Demi’s voice can fill stadiums here, with the rock oriented music really hammering down the brilliance of this emotionally cathartic song. I present to you, my song of the year, “29” by Demi Lovato.
A NIGHT WITH THE NATIONAL & LUCY
Going to Red Rocks in Morrison Colorado is never a bad time, yet each new performance makes you appreciate more and more the majesty that is Red Rocks. Monday night was no exception, with Ohio indie legends the National arriving for a gorgeous, somewhat chilly night, with special guest Lucy Dacus as the opener. Here are my takeaways:
After Lucy exited the stage, the energy shifted as the larger crowd now waited as stage hands reorganized the stage for the National. Roughly 20 minutes later the band emerged to a Cohen song called “I Can’t Forget,” before hitting it quickly into “Don’t Swallow the Cap.'' The National are always a pleasure to watch, with tracks like “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” and the “national wedding show,” as Berringer calls “Slow Show,” moving the crowd to emotion only dire indie rock bands can produce.
There are certain albums by certain bands that are great, but they, for whatever reason, don’t rank in top albums by that band. That’s the case here. “Songs for the Deaf,” the third album by the criminally overlooked seminal desert rock band Queens of the Stone Age, falls under that category. It’s brash, quick tempered, and showcases every different facet of what this band is capable of. It’s also the first record by the band that I gave a fair shake to, and as you may have caught on by its inclusion on this list, is an album that changed my life. The next record in the “Albums of My Life” series, Queens of the Stone Age’s breakout hit, “Songs for the Deaf.”
In 2002, no one expected this band to barge into mainstream rock and roll with a severely heavy rock record, but they did. Even from the opening of the record, you are put right smack into a pretty straightforward concept album. If the album has a concept, it’s driving that is the inspiration. Even to this day it’s an immaculate road record, and leads the listener through various parts of the California desert. I’ve driven while listening to this record probably a hundred times over the last thirteen years, but it never ceases to be a good pick me up, especially for a long country trip.
The swagger presented throughout is nothing if not cocky and unapologetic. From the intense opening of “You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar but I Feel Like a Millionaire,” you get the mission statement of the record, and the statement is that they need to rock. From there though, we drop right into the massive hit that is “No One Knows.” The drumming here is as exceptional as you’d expect, given the fact that Dave Grohl was the one behind the kit. To say this was a big coup for the band would be an understatement. Even at the time, Grohl’s name alone was noteworthy, and it certainly helped to take the band to the next level. But that’s not to say the band is worthless without him. Joshua Homme is a god of rock music, and his crooner’s voice, insanely talented fingers, and his overall carefree swagger make the band worth watching, while the revolving door policy of the band helps to keep the sounds fresh and ever evolving. Some of the best sections of the album are the interludes and peeks into the different radio stations throughout this real but imagined world. Those usually are just interludes though, and we quickly get back to the music.
So many of the songs are so timeless that it gets difficult to think about them in terms of being songs, but as a package they really do convey an amazingly high level of artistry. Now though, that’s not to say that certain songs don’t stick out.
That brings me to the monstrously heavy track “Songs for the Dead.” From the opening guitar chords, to the rush of the drums, to the all out brawl like breakdown, it murders everything in its path, and makes the metal head in me totally happy. Part time vocalist Mark Lanegan manages to give grimy, rough sounding vocals the song needs to be perfect, and at kicking ass, there's no better song on this album, or in the band's whole canon. There are just some songs that make you headbang without a care in the world, and this is without a doubt at the top of my list.
I try not to discuss every single song on a record, but when the album is this solid it is exceedingly difficult. Take a track like “The Sky is Falling,’” which is a heavy mid tempo track that has some of the most clearly heard and pure vocals the band has ever done. Homme’s vocals and lyrics sort of float above the guitars and well purposed racket under him, and that element really nails down the overall theme of the song. I’ve always imagined this as a music video which would see a man competing in a swimming race, and he’s giving his all, and he wins, but he is so focused on the trophy and end goal that he never realizes he’s racing nobody, and the arena he thought was full of spectators is empty. The race is over before it even begins.
That’s the real, hidden strength of “Songs for the Deaf:” The album is able to gracefully move through track after track and keep you entertained, even though we’re driving closer and closer to our destination. “Hangin’ Tree” is hip shaking rock and roll, and is downplayed by Lanegan’s signature throaty growl, while “Do It Again” has a sort of cheerleader anthem quality to it. Seeing that song live, to say the least, is as fun as you might expect it to. The crowd supplementing the chants heard throughout the song, and the band killing it in precise perfection.
But, the real monster, the big hit of the album, comes to us at track number eight. “Go with the Flow '' is a speedway driver outpacing the officers of the law who seek to ruin his fun. From the immediate drum beats, and Homme’s crooning about how “They’re just photos after all,” really dig into you and put you on a course you can’t exit, even if you wanted to. One of the best things in the song though, is the underexposed subtlety of the piano notes quietly working their magic on the already cool song. The video also ties into the track perfectly, and it’s very cool imagery really helped the band to get even bigger than the success of “No One Knows” did
The last twenty minutes though, I find, are the most off the wall and varied you get during the whole record. “God is in Radio” beams like the sun on a cloudy day, while the musicianship is purposely muddy and thick. This is where I believe Homme and company get the best results. Queens is a romantic band at heart, but also a band that likes to have a good time and deal with it in the morning. They’re also unforgiving in their need to thrive through sometimes intense music, but ultimately, they exist as a band that is largely untouchable in mainstream rock music. Maybe three bands come to mind when I think of music as well orchestrated in the genre as QOTSA are.
One of the best, most classic sounding songs on the record though, comes to us at the tail end. “Another Love Song,” feels straight out of the 50’s, but with a modern day sentiment and rationale. Next up, the title track finds us in dire straits, and the ominous overtones you hear sound like something that at first reminds you more of a Nine Inch Nails track, but by the time the guitar and drums come swooping in, all of that is forgotten. The song is a slow winded, thick journey, and could be cast perfectly to a person running through the desert trying to escape any number of things. Homme’s voice only adds to the sense of dread though, and it’s all that darkness that makes the song the perfect penultimate song for this wide ranging record.
With that power at the end though, all we’re left with as listeners is a purposely slow song called “Mosquito Song.” It’s a beautifully layered track that sees the vocals go in a direction that the band doesn’t often gravitate towards. The sweetness in Homme’s voice, as well as the acoustic guitar, really add weight and a sincerity that only a “ballad” can. But it’s not really a ballad, mostly because it’s not a sweet and tender song, but it is a perfect conclusion to the record, and leaves us wanting more “Lullabies to Paralyze.”
This record came along at a lonesome time for me, but it brought me closer to myself than many other albums of that time frame, and it’s still a damn fine record after all these years. I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Thanks for reading.
A few years ago I shared my list of the top ten Nine Inch Nails songs. Well, as it is bound to happen from time to time, it’s time to revisit the list. Some songs are off the list, others are added, and new entries are worked and squeezed in alongside modern classics. This list is short on obvious hits, so if you’re expecting it to be a countdown of their biggest hits, you’ll end up mistaken. Either way these songs are all just as relevant to a nin fan as some of the other more obvious ones. Today to celebrate the upcoming three night Saenger stand by Reznor and the boys, I give to you the Ten best nin songs. Enjoy!
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5 PRETTY HATE MACHINE, 1989
At the time nothing like this had come out. It mixed cold electronic beats with a certain, catchy aesthetic. The first track on the album, and one of the band's most popular songs even today, “Head Like a Hole,” found an interesting and wanting crowd of underground music fans who were willing enough to give the band a chance.
Much of the album is subdued compared to what would be done later, but you can very much still hear the inspiration and how exacting Reznor was in creating this new sound. Songs like “Terrible Lie,” “Sin” and “Kinda I Want to” have beats unlike anything that were out at this time, and it's based on this foundation that the band would grow and become one of the most influential bands in rock music of the 90's.
The album also gives us a brief glimpse into how well rounded Reznor is as a instrumentalist. The best example of this is the hauntingly dark “Something I Can Never Have.” Having been a piano player from an early age, by this point Reznor was very proficient at the instrument. This is glaringly obvious here. He builds the tension quietly and deliberately at first with soft but ominous undertones, but the sound gradually progresses to a textural palette that is vibrant in ways that most dark music rarely reaches.
4 HESITATION MARKS, 2013
For me, this album is another in a stellar list of awesome albums. While not quite as good as the Fragile, Broken and Year Zero, it’s another big step for Reznor as the center of this influential band. Slow building tracks like “Copy of A,” “All Time Low” and the vastly underrated “Various Methods of Escape,” all showcase the diversity in subtle ways, while still building the ethos of what Nin as a music project can be.
The record is also interesting because while moments are indeed still intense, the album is much more of a slow build that the others on this list. Secondly, the album came out at a time that saw Nine Inch Nails still capable of filling large venues and headlining festivals, while also largely being forgetting or dismissed by the younger crowds. Still, the album is mature and just as relevant to Reznor career as the other projects created.
As I mentioned, when “Hesitation Marks” came out it wasn’t met with a ton of acclaim, but for hardcore fans like myself, it was an eye opening side of Reznor that hadn’t been studied before. The live show was also a different take on the band, which saw Reznor and the band, along with several female backup singers spice up the songs in a unique way.
In short, its an awesome album and I still haven’t found a hardcore NIN fan that thinks it’s a clunker. Lastly, how many times have you heard of members of King Crimson and Fleetwood Mac working on the same album?
3 YEAR ZERO, 2007
Many casual fans probably don’t think about this record too often, but when I heard it everything changed for me. I’d force my then-wife to exclusively listen to this album for months on end. There was something about the concept, the landscape of a world where things had gotten worse and worse, that reached out to my imagination and led me to fall in love with this complex and interesting idea. The quality of the songs aren’t anything to shudder at either. Listening to the record now, you can see how well thought out it all was. You picture yourself trying to figure out a way to get through the desolation while the cold, erratic beats and chants of “Survivalism” are echoing in your brain, and you feel like you’re a part of something bigger.
Nine Inch Nails is a band very well-known for experimentation, and “Year Zero” is no exception. “My Violent Heart,” “Another Version of the Truth,” and “The Great Destroyer” all showcase things not really used in earlier records. The album closes with Reznor screaming “shame on us” for the power we gave to these people. In closing, the album has had a great impact on me, and it’s an album that is full of warnings and breaches of trust among fellow humans, but also one that can serve to remind people that we are all capable of doing equally amazing and also horribly cruel things.
The issue with the album now is that as a world, we’re seeing the effects of what a real life YZ could be. Fear mongering is now in full effect in our country, with some siding with an authoritarian figure hellbent on killing progress and eliminating the common good in favor of absolute terror and subjugation and You have to decide which side you want to be on.
2 DOWNWARD SPIRAL, 1994
To put it mildly, this album was a severe game changer for the band, and for Reznor himself. In a matter of months, and on the back of a legendary performance at Woodstock 94, Nin found themselves filling arena's instead of halls and theaters, and were the ire of concerned parents everywhere. The album itself, which tells the story of a man slowly descending into utter madness, is full of amazingly intricate beats, soundscapes and sheer madness for the duration. Unorthodox beats perfectly build the tension during songs like “Piggy” and “Ruiner,” while also managing to make beautiful and eye opening creations in a track like “A Warm Place.” Technically speaking, there really isn't a bad song on the album. “March of the Pigs'' is still an brute force track, and one of the best to see in a live performance setting. When you hear Reznor scream “March!'' There's this undeniable urge to be a part of a frenzy, and it's one of the best experiences during a concert I can ever recall. Like I said, intense. Even then, with the intensity abundant, stand out songs like the sexual liberation of “Closer.”
The last five songs on the record though all deliver eye opening, yet very starly contrasting themes and arrangements. “A Warm Place,” remains beautiful in it’s presentation, but offers little reprieve in the grand scheme of things, while “Eraser” is a slow burn of evil and desperation that gradually pays off on it’s way to the huge musical bomb that’s set off at the song’s conclusion. It perfectly builds tension in the world of the album, and when the drums, guitars and screaming take full hold, there’s really no good that could come of it. There’s still one classic left though.
Probably the best known track off “TDS” also happens to be the track that concludes the record. To this day “Hurt” remains a poignantly tormented song, with Reznor singing more clearly and vulnerable than he has throughout the record. The chorus also happens to be infectious, and very easy to sing along to embrace the pain this man is feeling. It’s a cathartic song on the record, but it’s also cathartic to the listener who has been put through a myriad of personal torment on their journey through this very good, but very deeply troubled record.
1 THE FRAGILE, 1999
There are quite a few amazing things about “The Fragile,” to be more precise. For one, it's rare that a piece of music containing so much can at the same time be so effective and good, with little to no filler. Certain songs clearly aren't the strongest, but more or less the songs do an excellent job of showcasing various aspects of Reznor's unique sound. You have tracks like “The Wretched” or “Somewhat Damaged” that have the vibe from other records, filled with negativity, great beats, and some of the best usages of imagery on the entire album. As a composer, TR has always been able to make you feel part of the world, and on tracks like the two mentioned, you're instantly pulled into the world.
At over twenty songs, and two hours of music, song after song delivers in ways that the previous song didn't. “The Day the World Went Away” bellows with an ethereal chamber quality, while others like the catchy “Into the Void” make you wonder what's coming next. The album's diversity is pretty astounding, even today. During his career, Reznor had been known to toss in instrumental tracks on releases, and “The Fragile” is no exception. Some of these are among the best songs on the whole record. “Pilgrimage” hits you toward the end of the Left Disc, and the imagery painted makes you instantly think of a Nazi march. The best though, comes in the way of “Just Like You Imagined.” To put it bluntly, it's a killer intense song, and it's probably the best instrumental track ever made under the nin moniker.
However dark the album is, there is a glimmer of hope that still resonates with myself everytime I hear it. It also happened to be one of my favorite all time songs. That track, “We’re in This Together,” isn’t a mellow song, but it accomplishes its tasks. I’ve probably heard this song two thousand or so times, and it still makes me smile and giddy like a child. It overshadows all of the other songs on the album, yet still it’s one of the least played songs in the NIN live catalogue. Years ago I remember an interview where TR said it was the best song he ever wrote, and he knew he couldn’t do it justice in concert, so he let it be. Maybe one of these days I can stop spending endless amounts of money seeing them live. But first, I must have my WITT live. Thanks for reading.
LEARNING TO LOVE RUSH
When starting to understand and appreciate the Canadian rock gods known as Rush, it can be daunting. Yes, what I had heard previously was great, but for me, whose currently about 15 albums behind on what they created, it’s not as easy. Today we’re gonna be taking a little trip down into progressive rock territory with a little piece I thought should be called “Learning to Love Rush.”
For many rock fans, the voice of Geddy Lee is a breath of fresh air, while others go hard for the dynamic drumming of the best rock drummer to ever exist, one Neil Peart. Or maybe it’s the soaring melody of guitarist Alex Lifeson, who I assume has his own set of devotees. My point is, there are very, very few bands that match the artistry and instrumental skill that the members of Rush possess. On this journey, and for the sake of time and space, we’ll be exploring the more critically acclaimed albums, or rather the ones that made me wake up and go, “Holy Shit Rush is great.”
When I was young and uninformed, hearing the name Rush meant very little to me. I wrongly associated them with the other “classic rock” of the time, which means shit like Styx, Eagles and whatever nonsense from that era you can think of. It wasn’t until I heard the self-titled debut from 1974 that I realized the original rock gods started as a very free wielding, soaring type of classic rock that even fans of heavier music could get behind. Take a song like “Before & After,” which starts off gently enough before the bluster and energy ramps up is a perfect example of the type of musical capabilities the trip exhibited from an early point in their career. That means, this thing called RUSH was just getting started.
For my money and insight, by 1976 the band was on the cusp of a major, major breakthrough of acclaim, led by the first of five ridiculously solid albums, titled “2112,” began to showcase the true progressive rock the band was attempting to perfect. From the first track of 2112, the very long “2112:Overture,” which has a longer title I’m not going to include, shines with intensity as q voice shreds the front end while Peart decimates the background mix.
What stands out to me about this record, and the next few especially, is the exacting nature of the music. Rush as a trio is capable of some of the most interesting yet precise music of all time, yet the band never seems to get lost in the complicated nature of prog rock that so many others do. Pushing it even further, the band can rock and pummel at one moment and then go back and make a progressive sounding pop song in the way of “A Passage to Bangkok.” All of this is to say that by the time 1977’s “A Farewell to Kings” came out, the band was both highly acclaimed and unrelentingly popular, thanks to the hard work and execution of the trio.
From there, it’s hit after hit, and while I’m running out of space and time, think of the catalog of songs. “Closer to the Heart” is mesmerizing in its poignant haziness, while cuts from other records, like the classic stadium rock of “The Spirit of Radio” from 1980’s “Permanent Waves,” are still recognized for their brilliance by ever engaged music fans far and wide. There’s simply not a bad song among the bunch, which brings us to the landmark album known as “Moving Pictures.”
The record as a whole is marvelous, but a cornerstone of a great album is, you guessed it, great songs. The reason for that little game of a sentence is to demonstrate that while the band had been naturally maturing over the course of their career, there hadn’t been any album that had jerked me awake like the 40 minutes of triumph presented in “Moving Pictures.”
From the start of “MP,” you feel (or at least I did when exposed to the record) moved not only by the dynamic opening of the seminal classic “Tom Sawyer,” with its futuristic guitar and synth work, but other classics like the monolithic vibe of “YYZ” and maybe my favorite Rush song ever, “Limelight.”
The song speaks to me, one because its a brilliant fucking song, but also how personal and forward it is. While the music was composed by Peart and Lifeson jointly, the lyrics spoke directly to how Peart, and by extension of being the lead vocalist, Lee felt about the band's recognition in the world at large. Peart, who actually wrote the lyrics, had become increasingly aware that he couldn’t just be a normal dude anymore as the band's popularity took off. It sucks to feel that way for sure, but good god damn is “Limelight” a masterpiece.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this somewhat researched but more heartfelt article. In conclusion, Rush made me feel like I hadn’t in many years, and for that, I salute them. RIP to Neil Peart, may you be drumming for the cosmos.
Although a somewhat new band, Idles, in just four albums have become one of the most interesting, chaotic and politically driven bands of the Aughts and beyond. During Covid lockdown I became enamored with the band, diving headfirst into their discography with furious abandon and energetic movements accompanying the frenzied music. I hope you’ll enjoy this look into what I consider to be the Bristol England legends best songs. Enjoy!
10 REIGNS: ULTRA MONO
I’m not sure if you’d call this punk, post punk, or anything, but I know this song, not to mention the entire album, has the ability to give energy that motivates its listener to chant, stomp and raise their fists in calculated anger. Singer Joe Talbot’s throaty vocals and annoyed intensity build the song in an immediate and punishing manner, while the drums add to the chaos and bombastic nature of the song. It’s a track that very much feels like it belongs in the year it was created, 2020, and the anger simmering and eventually bubbling out is all the more proof of its potency, even now two years later.
9 ROTTWEILER: JOY AS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE
Not to say that every song isn’t thoughtful as well as intense, but few match the rage present on this roughly named track. It just fits so well with the overall messaging of the band. Musically it’s not quite post rock, but the antagonist spirit in singer Joe Talbot makes the song joyous to move to. That same idea of joy as resistance is full force in this nearly six minute rabble rouser of a song, and with the added intensity from guitarists Bowen and Kieran the heaviness of the track keeps growing as Talbot expounds, and as Jon Beavis kills it on the drums, which are amazing. The band closed with this song when I saw them, which is a fitting finale to an epic punk show.
8 MR. MOTIVATOR: ULTRA MONO
When first getting into this group of warriors, “Mr. Motivator” as it’s called was an early stand out track. The usage of celebrities' names in the playful wordplay style of Talbot stands out and paints often hilarious imagery of the names dropped during its duration. Beyond the lyrics the drumming from Jon B (I hate writing his last name, just feel bad for the guy) is stellar, with punishing galore as the song careens into a spectacular finish of brutality and angst.
7 CAR CRASH: CRAWLER
As far as technicalities go, this very much not a Hip hop song sound very much to me like what would happen if Idles tried to write a hip hop song. The bass and reverb coming from the speakers are heavily distorted in a classic hip hop manner, not to mention the cadence used when Talbot the vocalist is harping unapologetically on his human conditioning, as well as acting like a destroyer lyrically as he describes himself as a “Car Crash.”
6 THE BEACHLAND BALLROOM: CRAWLER
At first listen this could easily seem like the men of Idles were attempting to construct a crooning love song. Unless you decided to dismiss the lyrics you may have thought it was a love song. But then once you factor in the vocals, all bets are off. Talbot wails for minutes about the agony of what I assume is a failed relationship. The imagery of torment present does little to fight that concept, but among their four current records, there’s something very refreshing and poignant about this bitterly cold song.
5 DIVIDE & CONQUER: BRUTALISM
It’s not often enough that I get to use the phrase “approaching destruction,” but the guitar part by Bowden speaks to me like a film where bad guys are walking powerfully, surveying their destruction. The only difference here is the lyrics are motivated by corruption and greed, with the underlying message being how us normal folks are often pitted against each other as the shorty elite force their wills on us.
4 COLOSSUS: JOY AS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE
A few months ago I went with a buddy to see Idles here in Denver, and as the opening moments of this song, aptly named “Colossus,'' I knew the show would be something special. It has that classic slow build that serves as a perfect album or show openers. The drumming is exactly and time sensitive to the growing power of the guitars at play. It’s better live than it is on record, but the energy expelled by this quintet is deliberate, sturdy, and furiously angry at the world left for us. A perfect song for releasing energy.
3 NE TOUCHÉ PAS MOI: ULTRA MONO
Probably my favorite song from the often lauded, yet misunderstood tongue in cheek record “Ultra Mono.” The song, whose title translates to “Don’t Touch Me,” is a in your face slugger featuring Johnny Beth of Savages fame. Her vocals add an unusual style of ferocity that only she’s capable of, yet at its core the song relays on message over and over again. The idea of body autonomy is large here, and if you can’t get past the “Consent” chant in the song, you haven’t been paying attention.
2 MOTHER: BRUTALISM
Another track about struggle, “Mother” lands at number two on our Idles Top 10. The song itself fumes with volatile ramblings of the increasing need for less tolerance in the world to things like violence and sexual abuse, while also pounding in the idea that the cowardice votes of conservatives often stands in judgement of people seeking out something better, and trying to become more enlightened in a world that increasing hates shades of grey. Idles simply shine a light on the hypocrisy of the ideas of “rules for thee, not for me, which is something every “Tory,” or GOP member is in love with. In short, if you don’t have an open mind, Idles is not the band for you.
1 NEVER FIGHT A MAN WITH A PERM: JOY AS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE
Sure, the title of the song is hilarious and memorable, but underneath it’s playful name is a song brimming with more macho man than Randy Savage himself. It’s a slap in the face to every wanna be tough guy out there. You know the type. Regardless, the guitar sections are hostile and alarming, while the robustly in your face lyrics by Talbot offer even more levity while discussing unfunny topics. Again the wordplay is brilliantly executed here, not to mention the usage of a phrase “You like look a walking thyroid,” is sorely missing from music, until now that is. Live the song is a rally call for dancing and fists in the airX and it’s even a banger if you’re driving in your car. Full of energy, “Perm” stands as the best Idles song. Thanks for reading.
As a band approaches their third, and even fourth decade, they usually start to dwindle in quality, surviving off the often vast catalog of hits they may have created during that time. For Pearl Jam, who’s long weird journey began in 1990, being a band in their 30’s has only made them more independent and aware of what works. They still play 3 hour sets each night, often with a drastically different setlist than the nights before and after. Today we share the Top Five records by Pearl Jam. This list features some stuff you’ll immediately recognize, and some you aren’t as well versed in. Thanks for reading!
5 VITALOGY (1994)
We start our countdown with a record from the early days when Pearl Jam as a unit went to war with Ticketmaster and all the chaos and change that forced. By the band's third record, they were arguably the biggest rock band around, but with the Ticketmaster controversy still happening, the band found themselves up against a wall, commercially. “Vitalogy” kicks off with rockers in the shape of “Last Exit” and the punk rock tinges of “Spin the Black Circle.” Still, there’s plenty of emotionally raw numbers for the emotional PJ fans. Case in point, “Nothingman,” with its slow, somber, and wonderful narrative. The vocals are day dreams of an abandoned illusion consisting of what dreams we chose to forget and not pursue. It’s this emotional pull and push that makes the song so beautifully tragic. Songs like that stand musically apart from tracks like “Corduroy” or the haunting consistently of “Tremor Christ,” that ramp up the musical intensity. But then you get songs like the utterly odd “Bugs” thrown in while also including “Immortality.” Give it a listen soon, it's better than you remember.
4 NO CODE (1996)
Even among the hardcore PJ fans I’ve met, it’s rare to hear this being ladued as one of their best, but “No Code.” to me is the brilliance coming out from darkness in a manner most wouldn’t expect from the Seattle titans. The opener is slow yes, which helps once you get to the rocking “Hail Hail,” all the way to the blink and you’ll miss it “Lukin.” There’s also plenty of epic moments throughout. “Present tense” is a master stroke of alternative brilliance, with the lyrical component being serene but also eye opening. The album overall wasn’t as commercially successful, which is strange given its content, but everyone has an overlooked album. It's not quite to the level of, say, a “Pinkerton'' (the early Weezer album that was initially dismissed by fans) but still, it's hard for me to understand why this one didn’t do as well. Sure the hits aren’t as soaring and obvious, but tracks like “In My Tree,”with its tribal drum beat and Vedder's wide ranging voice, prove that the record isn’t one to be missed. I’ve fallen in love heavy with this record in the last year or so, and continue to hope everyone will give it another chance.
3 VS. (1993)
From the opening moments of “Vs.” all the way until the conclusion of “Indifference” there’s a certain gritty danger permeating through this record. That danger morphs and changes as the record goes, with “Daughter” being one of the more gentle sounding songs, even if it’s only musically tender and not lyrically gentle. Tracks like “Animal” and album opener “Go” both have that raw energy coasting through them, but then you have a track like “Elderly Woman…” which showcases the anger and reservations of never leaving a small town like so many others who gave up on experiencing the world. On the other end of that, there are songs like “Blood” and “Leash” that are as aggressive as the band gets during the 45 or so minute runtime of the record. Overall the record delivers in different ways than its blockbuster predecessor, but it’s way more immediate in movement than their debut was, and you can tell the time between records, albeit small, did help to make the band better than they were before, even if the record didn’t end up being as perfect or popular as “Ten.” When listening to songs like like the earlier mentioned “Blood” you feel vindicated in battle, as if you’re fighting with every fiber of your life, while during selections like the classic “Rearviewmirror” you feel the need to figuratively haul ass away from the dangers of the present, bracing for change. All of this encompasses the struggles and action among the band to strive to be their best.
2 YIELD (1998)
In 98 I was just figuring out my love of not just rock but metal and other varieties, but I’ll always remember getting this one random Sunday at a backwoods walmart I happened to be in with my mom. I loved “Brain of J” and the harsh reality of change it put in the forefront. The song obviously is a pointed look at the death of President Kennedy, but it's also written from the perspective of a person who grew up without seminal events happening just before his arrival, growing up in a different world than the one his parents mentioned. The album feels more sentimental than many of their others to me as well, with songs like “Given to Fly” being a sort of life affirming moment you can only get from good ole’ american rock music. The one two punch of “Given” and “Wishlist” also earmark the band as truly American in their attitudes, loves and philosophies. Next to Tom Petty maybe, I can’t think of a band better suited to address the woes of modern blue collar Americans, even if they are rich these days. “Yield” as a record has this ability to settle you while discussing the harsh realities of our world. It even knows when to be sarcastic in the form of a rant known as “Do the Evolution,” which again thumbs its nose at our constructs and institutions. Track after track is stellar, concluding with rockers like “MFC,” anthems in the way of “In Hiding,” and plenty of other memorables tracks. Also, having Matt Cameron of Soundgarden fame join the fold really helped things along in terms of creativity.
1 TEN (1991)
What can you really say about “Ten” at this point that hasn’t been stated before? Mostly nothing, except that it’s just as good, Maybe better than you remember. When I began writing this, I was fairly certain my number two choice, “Vs.” was going to be the number one. That is, until I actually listened to “Ten” for the first time in god knows how many years. What I found was that not only have certain songs become more relevant than ever, but also songs that have more emotion running through them than your average rock band. From the start it’s clear Vedder wore his massive heart on his sleeve. Songs like “Alive” deal with the pain only family’s can provide, while opener “Once” flies above the real world Problems inherent in the lyrics. Then you have tracks like the ominous and heartbreaking “Black,” not to mention the now commonly occurring themes that make “Jeremy” all the more terrifying and eye opening. Many times listening to “Ten” I felt that familiar connection to the lyrical content simmering throughout “Tens” duration. It’s not only one of the best rock albums of the still getting farther away 90’s, but also the best collection of songs the five Piece of Seattle has ever conjured up. Thanks for reading!
Since early on in their career, the Arcade Fire have been a band worth watching, more or less. With their first three albums they became stars, and though they’ve suffered slightly from some not perfect records, the “Suburbs” still stands as an indie triumph in the shadow of glitzy pop and rap. Today, we’re going to discuss my personal favorite, the critically acclaimed third album “ The Suburbs.” Enjoy.
From the announcement of the album’s name and the slow leak of songs that were presented, you could tell this was going to be another lesson in how to craft an album that bridges the gap between indie rock and epic arena rock. Arcade Fire is so good at shaping an album into what they want to create at this point that It should be a crime, and many of their records are full of emotional turmoil, and the importance of coming of age. “The Suburbs” is no different. The first song, which also happens to be the title track, opens us up to a very realistic world. It’s a slow kind of Sunday song. The band has mentioned this album was inspired and imagined on a trip that Win and wife Regine took all over the country, just driving around. You can feel that on the full length of the record. It's the sort of free spirited album every generation coming into the world should have.
The music is steady, and Win Butler’s use of piano is the perfect undertone for the start of this album.Listening to the opening track you can tell it’s very much a road record. The winding opening of “The Suburbs” sets the stage for a driving record that is at times both peaceful and beautiful, as well as dark and sinister. From there we’re treated to the hurried, shimmering darkness of “Ready to Start.” I’ve always thought of the first song as a little teaser and an intro to the rest of the album, and the buildup and feel of the second song doesn’t do much to discourage that idea in my head.
The great thing about this band is their ability to make songs that are at once pushing their sound in a new direction and reminding you of where they were previously. “Ready to Start” is easily recognizable as an Arcade Fire song. At times in the music the listener gets the vibe present throughout their Sophomore release “Neon Bible.” The whole song is quintessential AF. Furthermore, “Ready to Start” the second song in a perfect row of 5 great songs. Don’t get me wrong; the album is remarkable, but the first 5 songs are so impressively strong that it really builds the momentum and helps the rest of the album evolve and open eyes.
By “Modern Man” and “Rococo” you start to see the themes of the album building into one cohesive vision. I’ve mentioned this before, but the album to me is about the death of innocence. The struggles of this “Modern Man” are easy to relate to because we are all these people. You’re taught as a youngster growing up that everyone is special in their own way, but when we grow up we quickly realize that we’re not all special, and some of us are doomed for mediocrity. The band themselves are able to make music that is so thoughtful and powerful that you really at times forget that they weren’t always so prolific in the quality of output.
One of my favorite songs on the album is the feverish, and crazed “Empty Room.” From the violent violin opening to the immediate pace, this song is a rocker in a very unrocking way. Regine, finally allowing us to hear her voice on this recording, is frantically singing about the perils of growing up and the safety many of us have felt inside the four walls that make up our room. This is a clear example of the band making a lot of focused noise. At times you might think they’re losing control of the music, but not only is the music coming out of them so fast, they are mastering it and are growing in leaps and bounds as the thick, dense sounds exit their bodies. From then we’re immediately thrust into the Springsteen-esque “City of No Children.” The lyrics here are as good at telling a story as any other song on the album, and it’s a perfect entrance to the middle of the record, which is full of weight and meat.
This album came out three years after the previous record “Neon Bible.” Now, while the band did tour quite a bit for Bible, the growing success they were finding was instrumental in the band wanting to take some time away and grow as artists. You can absolutely tell the amount of structure and overall power that this band had gained during the down time between albums. Songs like “ Half Light 1 & 2” are place holders for the momentum, and they manage to marry the concepts on this album.
On one hand you have the knowledge of knowing that your once youthful passion may have been misplaced because you didn’t know what the world actually had to offer, but on the other hand, at least you got to experience it. You’re likely a better person. Sometimes it’s a good thing to put your faith in things you aren’t sure about.
In these types of writings, I’ve tried hard to give a detailed but less song oriented structure to the pieces, but when the album is this amazing, it’s hard not to discuss everything you’re hearing. That’s the power of this album. You can’t help but feel like you’re part of something when Win Butler is echoing his pain about things “Have changed so much since I was a little child” in the finale of “Half Light II(Celebration). Trust me, this isn’t a wonderfully happy record, but the power and weight behind the words are unifying and powerful in a very cathartic way.
The album then switches gears a bit and brings us to the one two sequence of “Suburban War” and the thick, heavy sounds of “Month of May.” “War” whirls down a slow, pretty path and again the pain is palpable in Butler's voice as well as the instruments of the other band members. One of my favorite parts of the entire album is the shifting of gears that occurs at the end of this track. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s just a flood of sound and the vocals are as haunting and ethereal as you’ve ever heard in an Arcade Fire album.
From then we’re abruptly thrust into the “Month Of May.” This has to be one of the best and more overtly aggressive songs in the band's whole catalog. When I first heard it I couldn’t believe it was the same band. It’s easily the closest this band has ever gotten to punk rock. The drums and guitar are so forceful and strong that you almost lose track of the general concept behind the song. But in the end it’s ok, because the song perfectly kicks ass and takes names in the way this band hadn’t done previously.
One of the best little tricks of the album is its reuse of lyrics. “Month of May” and “ Wasted Hours” are the best examples. “First they built the roads then they built the town” are both used and also used in different ways. “Wasted Hours” has all the gorgeous tones of classic Arcade Fire. It might be the most open song on the album. When vocalist Butler wants to lay it on in an emotional way, he knows exactly what to do. This album has stayed so strong in my head because of this ability. It’s the perfect album for the moments when I think about my developmental years. Kids would drive around for hours, hoping confidently for a bright future. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes you wake up years later and it’s awash in a mist of troubles and failures. That for me is the concept behind the “Suburbs.”
“We Used to Wait” is a solid start to the last chapter of this album. The piano is great here, and although the tempo doesn’t really pick up until the conclusion, it’s a very good song that goes hand in hand with the tracks that both follow it and came before it. From here we venture back to the suburbs for the modern-day of the Sprawls. “Sprawls I(Flatland)” is a hauntingly painful song. It stinks of the failures we’ve discussed earlier. The pain behind Butler's voice here is the most clear they are the whole album. This leads us into what is quite possibly the strongest song the band has ever written.
“Sprawls II(Mountains Beyond Mountains)”has a very retro 80’s vibe to it, and you can clearly hear the makings of styles that would become the basis for the next album. It’s a down beat but danceable. Like the rest of the album, it contains moments of freedom and feeling invincible. Also contained are clear-cut downers about the realities of life outside of the “Suburbs.” Regine’s voice soars on the track, and it’s clear to see why it was such a joining song for the band. They’re all at their best here, and Regine especially hits it out of the park with her unique but beautiful singing.
The album closer is a slow reminder of where we began. “The Suburbs(Continued)” is a slow but appropriate down wind sound that wraps up the album. As a person who loves adventures and overwhelmingly positive experiences, the lyrics “If I could have it back, all the time that we Wasted, I’d only waste it again” speaks to the free spirit inside many of us that loves for the responsibilities and rewards that come with adulthood, but also yearns for the time when this were beautiful and everything worked out. For us, that was in “The Suburbs.”
Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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