- Thou: Heathen
I might be a homer for this pick, but I really like this album from the Baton Rouge doom metal band. The music is heavy and unrelenting and the lyrics are intelligent without going over into pretentiousness. The lead signer’s voice takes a little getting used to but it fits the overall mood of the album.
- Real Estate: Atlas
On the other side of the spectrum from Thou is Real Estate. The music on this album is just pretty. They aren’t scared of a good melody. This is a good album to put on in the background. Yet, they are at the core a guitar band.
- Cloud Nothings: Here and Nowhere Else
This is an emotionally raw album with themes of anxiety, growing up, and co-dependence. The album builds into it reaches it’s apex with “Pattern Walks” with it’s devastating refrain of “I don’t feel bored and worried, I just feel strange/Coming up the middle of the thought that I could change.” The last song, “I’m Not Part of Me” sounds as if it was recorded in a different session than the rest of the album, yet this works in this case. The song is about breaking free, if the character can, and the music highlights this need to escape.
I’ve always thought something was missing from Jack Johnson’s music, and I found all here on Salad Days. Both have that laid back vibe, but Mac adds an emotional intensity that’s missing on most of Johnson’s music. Even though the music is somewhat relaxed and detached, the lyrics are full of self-referential assertions that it’s time for Mac to grow up, even though he doesn’t really know how. “Chamber of Reflection” is a masterpiece.
- Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams
For the first time in a long while (2005 actually with his three great albums of that year), I find myself going back to a his music after a first listen. It’s a great guitar album. Adams is a traditionalist and often sounds like the music he listens to (in this case 80s classic rock), but when he is at his best, as he his here, he often sounds better.
- Weezer: Everything Will Be Alright in the End.
A few years back when Weezer was playing Voodoo Fest, a girl trying to get in front of us tried to use the excuse “But Weezer is my childhood!” I wanted to tell her that her parents were not cool enough to raise her on Pavement. All jokes aside, the Blue album and Pinkerton are great albums. The rest of the albums, not so much. There are great moments on each one, but as a whole most of the songs are ones that you are just sure Rivers wrote in his sleep. On this album, even those songs (I’m looking at you “I’m Lonely”) are really, really good. The more I listen to this album the more I like it. The three-part suite at the end reminds you that Rivers has plenty of musical ideas, more than most bands.
- Behemoth: The Satanist.
This is crushing black metal music that your fundamentalist friends’ parents tried warning you about when you were younger. Luckily, my parents knew those parents were full of shit. The music is powerful, yet when the horns and organs come in, strangely elegant. The lyrics, taken at face value, are exactly what you expect form an album with this title. However, no intelligent person should take them at face value. The themes here are about the dangers of conformity, which is not such an evil thing to preach.
- The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream
An artist that will appear much higher on this list called this album “beer-commercial shit.” He was right about the first part. This sounds like great beer commercial music if that were an actual genre. The guitars wash over you leading you to new patterns. Yes, it does sound like 80s John Cougar Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, and Dire Straights. I fail to see how that is a bad thing. This is a great driving record, especially on at night on a straight road.
- Thee Sliver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything.
I just listened to this album again, and I fear I have it far too low. Politically driven lyrics (which can be boiled down to “We can do better”) are paired with hypnotic musical passages. The music sounds slightly out of tune, but also perfectly in tune. This is an album that reveals itself more and more over repeated listens.
- The Afghan Whigs: Do To the Beast
Do To the Beast sounds like the Whigs never took a break. The guitar playing is as tight as ever. This is straight rock, but the grooves show that this band as explored lots of soul music over the years. “Dream your sins away/ Sin your dreams away” might be the best lyric of the year. Like Swans To Be Kind, the Whigs prove that it takes a lot longer for some rock bands to fade away.