In the past I had refused to write about music as to not contribute to the nit-picky industry of music critics. I’m beginning to think the reason was my own general laziness. When reviewing my list, please keep in mind that I have never cared too much about lyrics. As long as they lack heavy-handiness and cheese, focused tends to hone in on production and melody. The ordering in this list is somewhat unexplained subjectivity that I refuse to think about!

Coldplay - X & Y



X & Y


Doing their darndest to rip off U2. At least they get cred for trying M83-ish synthesizers (see: the outro of “White Shadows”) rather than sticking to guitar/bass/piano/drums. Chris Martin’s voice is still on the too-whiny side.

Flesh Field - Strain

One of those cheesy EBM bands that gets away from the presets that permeates through “the scene”. Suddenly the production is clear (somebody pirated some soft-synths and effects) and songs have a film soundtrack appeal with the orchestral samples (somebody pirated some sound source CDs!). In the end, it’s music that is not to be taken too seriously as it’s more for playing video games to, but it’s still quality listening.

36 Crazyfists - A Snow Capped Romance


36 Crazyfists

A Snow Capped Romance


It may be embarrassing to put these guys in a top album list, but for inexplicable reasons, I listened to this album constantly for the first half of 2005. It follows the same clear singing transitioned to teenager-ish screaming that those damn kids seem to enjoy these days, but the songs are catchy. I think I also attached myself to the reverb drum sound that modern rock is really pounding into the ground, leading to bands to retract and record shit like St. Anger. This is not an album I would listen to on speakers with other humans around. It is the very epitome of guilty pleasure.

M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us



Before the Dawn Heals Us


Over-the-top synthesizers, drum machines, and spotty romantic lyrics. It’s the type of album you can’t listen to often due to the grandiose atmosphere but it can prove a nice change of pace some evenings.

The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band - Horses in the Sky

For some reason, the Montreal collective turns away from its successful Godspeed You! Black Emperor chamber post-rock (there are 134 Google results for this search term), instead pursuing the Silver Mt. Zion side-project which focuses more on instrumentation and non-professional vocals than the tape loops and tense, rollercoaster atmosphere of GY!BE. So violins, cellos, off-key vocals, overlapping guitars, site recorded atmosphere. All that jazz we come to expect. I’d like to see these guys work with Pro Tools.

Robert Plant and The Strange Sensation - Mighty ReArranger

It takes a singer more than twenty years of indifferent releases to finally realize that he needs the Led Zeppelin formula to get back into an arrangement pretty much anyone can agree with. The bombast drums, blues guitar, and “unaware of mid-life crisis” sex machine vocals put together an album that’s even better than the releases from the end of Zep’s tenure.

Kattoo - Megrim




Hymen Records

Diet Beefcake. More movie soundtrack and less Aphex Twin-ish drum and bass.

Pelican - The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw



The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw

Hydra Head

Another release that sounds like Neurosis, ISIS, and every other post-metal group. This is a welcome trend.

Ulver - Blood Inside



Blood Inside


Another strong electronic album from the Norwegian group however the weak lead vocals take it down a few pegs. They continue their Coil trajectory of recording music to hold a funeral to, nabbing elements from gospel music and movie soundtracks (the “It is Not Sound” video clip also contained pope imagery). Their dense sound has plenty of strings, atmosphere, and token experimental noises that makes it a pleasurable listen each time. But again, what’s with the weak vocals?

Soilwork - Stabbing the Drama



Stabbing the Drama

Nuclear Blast

This shares many of the same attributes of 36 Crazyfists’ release with reverbed drums and vocal dynamics. However this is a much more mature effort with the metal yells rather than “mom told me to do my homework but I don’t wanna” screaming of your typical weak modern rock. The crystal clear production and overdubbed vocals made this one of the strongest metal releases of the year.

Kent - Du & Jag Döden



Du & Jag Döden


The Cure, U2, early Radiohead, and bork-bork combined with strong writing as their past couple albums are known for. Highlights for me are the build-ups in “Den Döda Vinkeln” (with drums/guitar/piano) and “Mannen I Den Vita Hatten (16 År Senare)” (with orchestra).

Architect - The Analysis of Noise Trading



The Analysis of Noise Trading


A continuation of 2004’s I Went Out Shopping to Buy Some Noise… Post-industrial noises, heavy beats, subtle atmosphere, and sound constructs with the Daniel Myer signature.

Noise Unit - Voyeur

Bill Leeb resurrects his electronic side-project that always sounded way too similar to his main Front Line Assembly releases. This time he returns to Chris Peterson as the programmer/musician to leech off. Seriously, look at the man’s portfolio and point out one quality album where it wasn’t Chris or Rhys Fulber that provided the production and songwriter that made the release distinct. Bill’s only contributions are the bass-lines and paint-by-numbers vocals that repeat the same syllable patterns throughout decades. Wait, this release was in my top list. The sound design is quality, with the ambient bonus track off FLA’s Epitaph brought back with a beat-driven version. An experimental record that will appease the hardcores and sell no more than a thousand copies, but nice to have nonetheless.

Cave In - Perfect Pitch Black


Cave In

Perfect Pitch Black

Hydra Head

These guys are classified as “post-hardcore” since their 2002 EP Tides of Tomorrow and 2003 major-label album Antenna abandoned early metal riffs and screaming vocals for more melodic-based songs. This album finds a healthy balance of the two sides, as contemporary post-* bands are wont to do to keep their indie cred while still being able to sell records. Music to sing-along and punch-your-friend-in-the-face to.

System of a Down - MezmerizeSystem of a Down - Hypnotize


System of a Down

Mezmerize / Hypnotize

American Recordings

About 80 minutes of music separated into two released, likely to make more money. Seriously, a couple of these songs should have been cut for one album. Both improve on tight riffs and bursts of aggression that SOAD are known for, while adding vocal harmonies. 😉 Things that take this double album down a few pegs include the guitarist’s nasally voice dominating many songs and the punny repeating, exemplified by “banana banana banana terracotta”. You ain’t Mike Patton, so please just stop. If the instrumentation was mixed with the lyrical strength of Toxicity, I think these releases would have been much higher on my list.

Coheed and Cambria - Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness


Coheed and Cambria

Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness


The album title alone screams for the common music fan to back off. Most categorize their first two albums as “emo” with the second one having more progressive leanings with songs having movements and time signature jargon that prog fans love to throw around. This release also contains the Geddy Lee-ish high voice and catchy tunes, but there are now orchestras and more synthesizers for a richer sound. Some of the songs seem to be reprises of songs from the previous albums with changed lyrics, with the same background vocals (hey! hey! … hey-hey-hey!) and instrumentation. The difference is the band can claim it’s purposeful since their first four albums are one story that also includes comics books, so repeating themes reflect characters, behavioral patterns, common thoughts, yada, yada, yada; the songs are great.

Depeche Mode - Playing the Angel


Depeche Mode

Playing the Angel


I see this as an experienced band playing it safe after a failed album. Putting it mildly, Exciter their creative low-point. It erased all the elements that made Depeche Mode the strongest synthpop act in the world. With this return to form, the Mode release a typical single in “Precious” and do their best to limit Martin Gore’s bloody falsetto singing. Some industrial noise collages and simple blues chords on guitar reestablishes familiar ground. I still rank it below the timeline from Violator to Ultra which I think the best pop music out there. Just don’t play them around your Metallica-only loving friends. 🙁

Nine Inch Nails - With Teeth


Nine Inch Nails

With Teeth


I’ll get the A-With-Ah-Teeth-Ah joke out of the way immediately. Trent gets rid of the fluff from The Fragile which critics claimed could have been trimmed down to an economical single CD. Personally I thought it was a strong even as a double album, with a few exceptions (see: “Starfuckers Inc.”) This album simplifies songwriting and the 40 year old man still pissed off at The World. I’ve read enough interviews about claiming his life back from substance abuse to know that he’s just as lost as me at 23, which makes me think I should find other sources of entertainment. Personally, I think “Right Where It Belongs” has an emotional resonance close to “Hurt”, which really can’t be topped after Johnny Cash’s cover. I feel myself moving away from NIN as I become less angsty, but this album is still has its place with Dave Grohl’s powerful drumming (similar to his 2003 Killing Joke contribution) lending the material to a great live presentation.

Kraftwerk - Minimum Maximum



Minimum Maximum

Kling Klang

The German synthpop pioneers return with a live double album that sounds like a studio album with some live cheering samples thrown in. The production of this album is simply awesome and it’s basically the only Kraftwerk release any fan of the group requires.

Bloc Party - Silent Alarm


Bloc Party

Silent Alarm

Wichita Recordings

They’re British. They have guitars. They play dance beats. They will likely only succeed with the one album. Still great. I see it as dancy indie rock with sonic depth without getting U2 carried away. Like Maxïmo Park, the album as a whole doesn’t carry its weight throughout but I see this one less singles driven than A Certain Trigger. A quality band that I really hope has a successful sophomore album but the British press probably won’t allow such an event to occur.

IRA - The Body and the Soil



The Body and the Soil


More ISIS/Pelican/Neurosis-style post-metal from Deutschland. The vocals and lyrics are a bit lackluster at times but the melodies in between are sweet.

Medications - All Your Favorite People in One Place



All Your Favorite People in One Place


Also falls in with Minus the Bear for their guitar style but the songs are less dance-oriented, with a progressive rock angle. The rolling drums in “The Last of the Rest Was the End” particularly remind me of The Mars Volta.

Minus the Bear - Menos El Oso

One of those obscure bands that falls into an indie/math rock genre. The plucked hammer-on/pull-off guitar work reminds me of some of King Crimson’s body of work, but MtB songs tend to be focused more on partying, banging, and listening to music which makes them a band to listen to while on a road trip. For me this album got further away from that frat boy mentality which makes the album lose some of its charm. Still a fun listen to boogie to.

Maxïmo Park - A Certain Trigger


Maxïmo Park

A Certain Trigger


Gang of Four with a heavy Geordie accent and catchier melodies. I see this debut album as more a collection of short songs than an album that flows from start to end. With that pop structure, you would think I would claim that I really don’t want to admit listening to this, but I do. I’ve suggested this album to multiple friends simply because it’s music everyone can love. I even love these dudes more than Bloc Party.

Porcupine Tree - Deadwing


Porcupine Tree



I call this Steven Wilson-led project “progressive pop rock” since it has all those time signature changes, sudden double-bass drum bursts, and synth atmosphere but the songwriting is catchy enough to make most of these songs radio-playable. I think their previous release, In Absentia, slightly edges this one out.

LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem


LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem


The indie kids are flies on manure with this act as they release a collection of their singles released before 2005. On the agenda: naming checking influences, mixing genres, making tunes to dance to under that stupid “punk funk” genre tagging, and not taking itself too seriously. The production is also top notch and there really isn’t a weakness on the whole disc.

Sigur Rós - Takk...


Sigur Rós



More of the same with more distorted guitar and horns on top of the sweet strings and falsetto of the past two releases.

Ghost Reveries



Ghost Reveries


Deliverance and Damnation mixed into one album, so it’s Blackwater Park with more strings/synthesizers/electronics. Steven Wilson from Porcupine Tree wasn’t involved in the production of this album, so there’s a slightly different sound but overall it’s what you expect from the band. I could do without some of the death metal lyrics and more of the Damnation-style cold comfort themes. This album is really the ultimate amalgamation of their past electric and acoustic work, but I really don’t know where they can go next except for bringing in a full orchestral which will take away the intimacy this band always presents.

The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute


The Mars Volta

Frances the Mute

Gold Standard Laboratories

A follow-up to Deloused at the Comatorium that presents convoluted music I can appreciate. Lyrics sung in English, Spanish, and Latin, mixed with salsa, jazz, dub, and King Crimson-ish prog rock about the search for one’s estranged parents; at least that’s what I read. There is even a separate EP of the album’s title track that is to be used as a decoder of the album’s meaning. I’m simply pleading ignorance to the pretentious concepts and accepting that the music is worth the abstractions that only the determined and intellectually unlazy will figure out.

Dredg - Catch Without Arms



Catch Without Arms


Their first major release Leitmotif provided strong songwriting in the vein of the Deftones and Tool, but its poor production left something to be desired. Why are bands proud to claim that they recorded their whole album with guitar, bass, drums, and vocals? You know that guitar effect pedals are just the same as synthesizers, right? I digress. El Cielo went to a softer sound, exploring sleep paralyses with emotional progressive alt rock that didn’t go anywhere near being emo. Catch Without Arms seems to take a more straight-forward approach to songwriting and the drumming seems to be in the forefront now. I’ve heard people upset because they were expecting Dredg to return to their early hardcore influences, but this album fits me just fine. However, I would love to hear Leitmotif re-recorded.

Oceansize - Music For Nurses EP



Music For Nurses EP

Beggars Banquet

A preview of Everyone Into Position with tracks that don’t appear on the album. Again we have the high/low dynamics of tracks that flow into each other like one epic song. I just can’t understand why these British mofos aren’t popular so give them a listen!

Oceansize - Everyone Into Position



Everyone Into Position

Beggars Banquet

A proper follow-up to 2003’s Effloresce with nods to Mogwai, Pearl Jam, and progressive rock. Their three guitar approach and reserved vocals may take awhile to get comfortable with, but their highs and lows are worth every moment. Many of the songs include extended instrumental parts until the vocals kick in, but the first single “Heaven Alive” even has the possibility to be your standard rock radio fare (I know that will never happen :|). The closing track has a five minute somber build up “Ornament” until “The Last Wrongs” suddenly cuts in with uplifting harmonized vocals until a second climax reaches for a proper finish to the album. It’s a post-rock compositional formula that is used much too often, but nobody can do it the way Oceansize does.

Cog - The New Normal



The New Normal

Difrnt Music

The enjoyment of this album lay within my state of mind during the past year. A band named Cog that plays repetitive movements relying on powerful tom-focused drumming, and lyrics such as, “I wake in the morning/I hope that something’s going to change/And late in the evening/I’m reassured it’s all the same”. That early 20s period of exiting university and entering the professional world makes you realize the freedom of the childhood you’ll never have until your scrotum is so shriveled up and you’re too poor to enjoy it again. These guys have a very similar sound to Tool, even to the point that they had Undertow‘s producer Sylvia Massey behind the console to put this album together. The drumming and overdubbed, flowing vocals hypnotize and mesmerize (oh, I went there) to the point that I would put this album on repeat for 5+ times a day. Plus, they’re Aussie and sing about taking covert trips down to Adelaide.