HONORABLE MENTION: Melvins- "Everybody Loves Sausages"
This is an album full of covers, so even though it might be one of the best damn things I heard all year, I don't feel I should allow it to compete with albums consisting exclusively of original content. That said, not everybody loves sausages, but everybody should love listening to righteous jams from Buzzo and friends, even if they're other people's songs. Instead of just producing half-assed renditions of easy and familiar songs, Melvins have produced honest and compelling tributes to tunes they love (or maybe hate?). Whether it's the playful and childlike take on Queen, the seemingly endless stoner metal take on David Bowie, or the standout cover of Roxy Music with a very special guest on vocals, this album is a blast from start to finish.
10. Queens of the Stone Age- "...Like Clockwork"
Smooth, sexy (yes, I went there), and catchy as all hell, Queens of the Stone Age have done a fine job with their newest release. While I will state that earlier works may be preferable, in my opinion, these guys are one of the few good rock groups receiving regular radio play. At least I think they still get radio play. If these addictive jams aren't on the radio, then radio is truly dead. The feelgood nature of QOTSA's music is infectious and this album is certainly another hit in a career of consistent quality.
9. El-P & Killer Mike- "Run the Jewels"
I'm not remotely convinced I understand or know rap, hip-hop, or any related genres. Folks close to me probably know I've got an undying love of the late Ol' Dirty Bastard and a few other big name acts, but I'm really not that savvy to rap and often find myself disappointed with it. For me, it's not uncommon that a great producer contributes to the work of a rapper who doesn't do the instrumental any justice. With this fantastic collaboration, skilled rhyming and clever yet easily digested beats are paired masterfully. In other words, this is a complete and brilliantly executed album that I'll be playing for years to come. If you aren't into purchasing it, you can stream it below or download the whole album for free at the label's site.
8. William Onyeabor- "Who is William Onyeabor?"
Another one that might be a surprise to readers expecting this to be purely "rock" oriented in nature, but possibly no surprise to friends of mine. Luaka Bop is a record label founded by David Byrne, singer of the band Talking Heads, who are easily one of my favorite groups of all time. I've loved and followed him as he's delved into the broad spectrum of music from all places and eras of modern music history, and his label continually digs up gems like this. While technically a reissue of some sort, this brilliant album of charmingly left of center Nigerian funk reminds us that a musical worldview based around white men with guitars will inherently leave out most of the quality around us. I know my website is about black metal, but my appreciation for extreme sounds is only strengthened by my awareness of other beautiful forms of music. If you are wary of "world music" but love any electronic or psychedelic music, please do yourself a favor and peruse this gem.
7. David Bowie- "The Next Day"
When I was a little boy, my mother would regularly play David Bowie's legendary album "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars." Bowie's music has been one of the only constants in my life, and it's not always been easy to be a Bowie fan. While he's never put out an entirely bad album, in my opinion, he has had some that are more difficult to love than others, especially as he's tried to age with his audience. I pretty much expected this album to be a sad farewell song from an old friend who just doesn't have it anymore. The emotional depth and sheer passion of this album proved me wrong in so many ways. From truly energetic playful rock tunes to all too believable melancholy, this is Bowie on top of his game in a way I haven't seen in quite some time. I can only hope that this creative flash isn't just a single spark and that we get to hear more from him soon.
Trent Reznor resurrected Nine Inch Nails. No real surprise. It never really felt like the band went away, given that it's not uncommon for an artist to take a few years between albums these days. Anyway, "Hesitation Marks" surprised me by being a mellower affair than I initially expected. While not necessarily a soothing or easy listen, this release actually sees Nine Inch Nails attempting to tread new ground rather than simply trying to appease fans. After spending the past five years or so doing anything he's felt like, it's evident that Trent's need to experiment has finally lead to some hook-heavy gems. Glad to have him back, even if I never really noticed his absence.
5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds- "Push the Sky Away"
Nick Cave has gone from tortured creep to, well, tortured balladeer over the course of his career. To say I've had the fortune to take in every single thing he's done would be a lie, but watching his progression toward slightly more subdued sounds has been interesting. Unlike many folks whose music "ages" with them, Nick Cave actually feels like a genuine artist creating things he believes in. This isn't to say that Cave or his band have suddenly lost their edge in favor of a mellow sound. Indeed, tracks like "Water's Edge" carry a not-so-subtle intensity that is both chilling and captivating. This album isn't going to burn down your house, but it may well loiter outside smoking cigarettes until you decide to move to a safer neighborhood.
4. Boards of Canada- "Tomorrow's Harvest"
Like a handful of albums featured here, waiting for this one was both torturous and worth it. Boards of Canada have revisited some of the beautiful nostalgic fuzz that made previous albums so inviting yet also are looking to the future with their newest album. I've always felt that Boards of Canada's music was something like the musical equivalent of looking at faded photography from decades past, seeing my parents as children in the stereotypical "American dream" type suburbs that seem to have been so common from the fifties through the early seventies. This blurred characteristic remains on this release, yet there is a consistent and encouraging modernity here that makes this both fresh and timeless. I can't state strongly enough how much I enjoy this album and I hope I don't have to wait nearly as long for the next one.
I can practically feel the blood boiling in the veins of purist readers. That's right, Ghost. These guys almost made my "metal" list but I realize that this is more of a hooky arena rock album than it is anything else. Do I buy the "gimmick" that so many of my peers accuse Ghost of using as their sole calling card? Not really. Ghost's chants about the glory of Satan are no different from Alice Cooper's electric shock scare tactics in the seventies or Marilyn Manson's apocalyptic theatrics in the nineties. What appeals to me about Ghost is their capacity to make some of the most memorable rock music of the past decade and still piss off even people who would have otherwise enjoyed it. I love rock and roll, and this album is a great rock and roll album that really does expand upon the traditional heavy metal influences that drove their first record.
2. Tomahawk- "Oddfellows"
This must have been the year of the "comeback" album from artists who usually take their sweet time anyway. I think I waited four years for "Anonymous" to come out, so the six year gap for "Oddfellows" felt typical of anything related to Mike Patton. His notorious multitasking gives fans a broad variety of music to enjoy, but it's paired with the cost of waiting way too long for a favorite project to turn out something new. "Oddfellows" is every bit the deranged desert rock album I'd have expected it to be. With songs that creep and crawl in all the right ways, it's just as easy to feel uncomfortable while listening as it is to be lured in by a pop-friendly hook. With a staff of veteran musicians, it's easy to simply write it off as a bunch of dudes who know all the tricks, but there really is a tense chemistry at work here and it's a delight to listen again and again. I've been listening heavily since this album was released and I'm still not slowing down. Seriously infectious and great for any fan of rock music, whether focused on seedy underbelly or radio anthems--it's all here.
1. Ulver- "Messe I.X-VI.X"
I can't even put into words how much I've enjoyed following Ulver's career over the past decade. Unlike many black metal obsessives, I was not introduced to the band through their classic early releases which still held onto something resembling metal, but instead began my journey into Ulver obsession with the sparse and haunting "Silencing the Singing" EP. I worked in a record store and found this nondescript CD in the "miscellaneous U" bin and, since it was used and available for play, popped it in and played it over the store speakers. What I experienced that day was nothing like metal, but it sent chills down my spine in a way that no metal album ever could. By the day's end I had purchased the album and spent the next number of months listening to the EP multiple times a day. Since then, I have watched Ulver evolve ever further into a sound that truly defies simple genre tags, and it brings me great joy. "Messe I.X-VI.X" sees Ulver working in conjunction with Tromso Chamber Orchestra, a group with whom I've not yet acquainted myself, but the collaboration works splendidly. Feeling more like the soundtrack to a dark and personal film than a traditional album by a group with roots in rock music of any sort, the massive emotional quality of Ulver's music continues to delight me. Vocals are sparse here, and it's the lack of singing that really allows the music to tell its own story. When Garm chooses to grace a track with his voice, it tends to bring things into territory akin to 2007's "Shadows of the Sun," which is perhaps the only album in their career that could remotely be likened to this. "Messe I.X-VI.X" will continue to disappoint listeners looking for new black metal and will continue to delight open-minded fans of challenging progressive and experimental music. Listen to this when you have time to focus on it; it's truly deserving of your complete attention.
So, there you have it. Those are the albums I heard this year that really sat nicely with me. I'll be sharing my lists of great noise and metal albums in the very near future. In the meantime, get acquainted with these eleven beauties and let me know which albums you feel I should have included or should be hanged for featuring. Cheers!