The Rock Show: Off the Air

September 30, 2014

Most Important Albums of ’00 to ’09

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Since opinion pieces are my thing now, I’ve decided to put out some big opinions.  Like, which albums from the first decade of the new century are the most important to rock music.  Now, by “important” I don’t mean “best,” or even “favorite.”  I simply mean that these are, in my opinion, the albums that had the most impact on rock music.  They may have opened doors for other bands of the same style, or they may have brought rock music back into the spotlight for a while.  In all honesty, I may not even like the album or the band who produced it.  But in the interest of objectivity, sometimes I can’t deny the impact of a certain artist or album.  So, here goes nothing (or just my credibility):

10.  TIE:  Tell All Your Friends (Taking Back Sunday) & The Used (The Used)

  

Emo existed for a long while before 2002, but no one cared.  Which was kind of the point, I guess.  But mainstream radio had its hands full with 90’s alternative, grunge, post-grunge, and punk at the turn of the century.  No room for emo anywhere.  That is, until a couple bands made it connect with the music that was getting all the attention.  Taking Back Sunday and The Used didn’t just do emo; they defined what it would become in the 21st century.  It was always angst-ridden, but with the rise of alternative punk throughout the 90’s and its popularity at the turn of the century, these bands figured out how to integrate the aggressiveness of punk with the angst of emo to create a sound that would shape the entire genre.  Of course, emo is still small bananas in comparison to the rock genre as a whole, which is why 21st century emo definers such as Tell All Your Friends and The Used are all the way back here.  But they made big splashes when they jumped in the pool.

9.  Lateralus (Tool)

When it comes to modern metal, few bands have made as much of an impact as Tool.  From hard rock to death metal to progressive metal, Tool’s influence has a very wide reach.  Though Lateralus was the band’s third album, it contained the single, “Schism,” which won the band a Grammy.  Despite its popularity the song contains a ton of odd time signatures and complex passages, which in a time when simplified power chords and basic 4/4 structures dominated really woke up the hard rock genre.  Bands who push creativity over mainstream success and achieve it anyway are often the ones who lay the groundwork for new bands to follow, and hard rock has never been the same.  Low, guttural vocals, thrashing guitars, plodding drums–none of that solely defines hard rock and metal.  Tool taught the mainstream rock world that urgent mid-range vocals and songs that wander off the beaten path can also capture fans’ attention.

8.  Away From the Sun (3 Doors Down)

3 Doors Down is to the 00’s as the Goo Goo Dolls were to the 90’s–a band that blurred the lines between pop rock and hard rock so well that no one ever really noticed.  But the impact Away From the Sun had goes even beyond that.  It’s far from news that rock has struggled to stay relevant in a music industry dominated by pop stars, rappers, and country artists.  Arena rock belongs in the 80’s, right?  Not so.  3 Doors Down made some noise with their first release, but even the catchiness of “Kryptonite” wouldn’t sustain them for long.  Hard rock doesn’t have anywhere near the popularity that pop, rap, and country do.  But Away From the Sun brought with it songs that could easily spill over into Top 40 radio.  Songs that would be played in waiting rooms and supermarkets.  Added to movie and TV soundtracks.  And, of course, spawn other artists to imitate the sound that made them famous.  Rock had a mainstream arm again.  It was relevant.  At least for a little while.

7.  From Under the Cork Tree (Fall Out Boy)

As much as it pains me to be positive on Fall Out Boy, one cannot deny the doors From Under the Cork Tree opened.  Punk (and specifically pop-punk) had its heyday in the early part of the decade, when bands like blink-182 and Good Charlotte ruled the world.  But as the decade wore on, blink-182, Good Charlotte, Jimmy Eat World, Sum 41, Simple Plan, and all their contemporaries began to fizzle.  Angsty teens were turning to emo, goth, and metal.  Some went back to classic rock.  But pop-punk?  Not cool, dude.  Good Charlotte were a bunch of posers, right?  But something changed all that, and that something was a song called “Sugar, We’re Goin Down.”  All of a sudden pop-punk was back, albeit with new bands and a trend toward a more emo sound.  You still couldn’t be cool listening to the likes of Jimmy Eat World (speaking from experience, of course, as they’ve always been a favorite).  But you could adopt some new bands as your own.  And Fall Out Boy paved the way for plenty of bands to follow.  And as much as I’m not a fan of the trendsetter here, I do owe them thanks for opening the doors for some of the bands I do like.

6.  TIE:  Take Off Your Pants And Jacket (blink-182) & All Killer, No Filler (Sum 41) & Sticks and Stones (New Found Glory)

     

On the subject of pop-punk, I think we need to take a moment to salute the triumvirate of albums that really made people notice it.  These albums defined the sound of early 00’s punk rock, and you simply couldn’t escape the popularity of songs like “First Date,” “Fat Lip,” and “My Friends Over You.”  To this day, this is exactly what I think of whenever I hear the words “Warped Tour” uttered by anyone (and I realize that makes me sound old and I’m not okay with that yet).  But bands like these were the core of alternative rock in the early years of the decade, back before indie took over (more on that later).  All kinds of bands have been influenced by the seeds of pop-punk, some from the same time period and some from years to come.  Genre definers and refiners like these, though…that’s where the real magic happens.  Punk has never been the same since.

5.  Elephant (The White Stripes)

Alternative radio took a very interesting turn when this Detroit duo dropped their opus on the world.  “Seven Nation Army” is a borderline rock anthem, with only the most basic drumming and simple riffing one could imagine.  The White Stripes brought garage rock tinged with roots and blues back from the classic era and shoved it into the faces of modern rock radio enthusiasts.  Were other bands doing that before?  Probably.  But no one cared.  The White Stripes made people care.  Made people like that sound.  And that sound spawned plenty of bands to embrace it, run with it, and make it even more popular.  Local radio ate this stuff up in the mid-00’s, bringing it to listeners of grunge, alternative, metal, and punk.  What that did to the landscape of music was bring back the guitar-driven sound of the old days and make it relevant again.  It didn’t need to be heavy, it didn’t need to be fast-paced…it just had to rock.

4.  Riot! (Paramore)

Plenty of bands in the 70’s and 80’s had female singers.  Even bands in the 90’s had female singers.  And many of them had popularity.  But at the turn of the century there was a noticeable lack of female-fronted outfits.  The only exception was Evanescence, who seemed to hit hard with a single and then proceed to slowly disappear from the public eye.  But if there were other female-fronted rock bands out there during that time, mainstream radio didn’t seem to notice.  That is, until a song called “Misery Business” became suddenly inescapable.  Paramore’s popularity happened so fast no one could really tell how.  But the end result was far clearer–opening doors for female-fronted punk, alternative, and hard rock bands to come charging through.  And there has certainly been an influx ever since.  It’s become so commonplace that it’s not even noteworthy anymore.  It’s not a way to stand out as a band.  Which is exactly how it should be.

3.  Only By the Night (Kings of Leon)

In the later years of the decade rock began to slip out of the spotlight again.  House music, pop, hip-hop, and country still owned mainstream, and rock just couldn’t keep up.  Taylor Swift and Lady GaGa owned mainstream radio.  Rock was nowhere to be found.  Until some DJ somewhere started playing “Use Somebody.”  At the time, indie was just beginning to secure its foothold in popular music, but it wasn’t there yet.  Rockers like Kings of Leon weren’t quite relevant anymore with their garage band sound, but as soon as they streamlined to something more in tune with the direction rock and alternative was going they hit it big.  Mainstream big.  Top 40 big.  Bringing rock back to the frontlines where people would remember it exists big.  And once rock was back in the public eye it stayed there, only in a new form.  Edge had started to go away in favor of groove, guitars were traded for synthesizers, and the new decade was born.  Only By the Night didn’t do that all on its own, but it sure helped.  In order to stay in business, rock had to adapt.  Only By the Night was an adaptation that made a lasting impression.

2.  Sigh No More (Mumford & Sons)

Mumford & Sons hit just as the decade was wrapping up, and they completely set the stage for music in the 2010’s.  Indie folk rock existed already, of course, but no one knew about it.  It was music only the select few had access to.  Sigh No More brought banjos and upright basses to the forefront of popular music–something very few could have seen coming.  But, as always, doors opened, and soon indie folk was all over alternative radio.  Bands who adopted the sound became all the rage, and an entire new movement in alternative rock was born.

1.  Hot Fuss (The Killers)

Maybe an odd choice, but I definitively believe that the trend to indie rock’s popularity started here.  Indie rock is alternative rock now.  That much is beyond dispute–the sound of alternative from the 90’s is gone, and whatever dregs it had brought with it into the 00’s is gone too.  Synthesizers are the instrument of choice.  Odd, quirky songwriting is the standard.  Arrangements that combine guitar and keyboards with danceable drum beats have become overwhelmingly popular.  And in the middle of the decade a band from Las Vegas put all of that into their debut album and it exploded.  It took half a decade’s evolution to get to the indie rock we hear all over radio today, but the seeds were planted when “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside” became smash hits.  This is what rock would become.  This is what it would evolve from into what it currently looks like.  The ripple of this album’s splash has influenced all corners of alternative rock, and, like it or not, alternative rock is the only rock mainstream cares about.  No other album has been as much of a stepping stone between the 90’s/early 00’s and the late 00’s/10’s.  This one summed it up in eleven tracks.

The 00’s were a decade in which rock really needed to define and refine itself in its struggle to stay relevant.  It was a time when one feared that rock was truly dead, at least to the public eye.  But musicians always find ways to innovate and create new sounds.  Music evolves.  Trends come and go.  But these albums are the ones that really pushed and pulled and molded and set things in motion.  We’re listening to the effects of their existence on modern rock radio today.  And among them are new bands who will continue to force the evolution of music until the end of time.  And that’s why it’s so fascinating.  Or maybe it’s all just in my head.

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!

September 19, 2014

Album Review: In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3

Filed under: Review — Tags: , , — rockshowmusic @ 10:26 pm

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Back in 2011 I celebrated an upcoming Incubus concert by doing a full album review of their newest release, If Not Now, When?  Now I’m doing it again.  For those unaware, Coheed & Cambria have recently embarked on their Neverender: IKSSE3 tour, in which they’re playing their 2003 album In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 in its entirety.  The local show takes place on 9/24 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, and in preparation for it I’ve decided to take a look back and give a review of the album.  So let’s get started!

In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 is the band’s second album, and the follow-up to 2001’s The Second Stage Turbine Blade.  It picks up the Amory Wars story where the debut album left off, and on this album we meet one of the most important characters in the saga–the Prise, Ambellina.  The album marked the first wave of mainstream success that the band saw, with the popularity of the singles “A Favor House Atlantic” and “Blood Red Summer.”  They’d later get a little more success from their following album (featuring the rock anthem “Welcome Home”).  But IKSSE3 is a big-time fan favorite, and for good reason–it kicks some serious ass, and steps up the musical creativity from its predecessor by a wide margin.  This is the album that took Coheed & Cambria from being just another post-hardcore emo band to something much more interesting–this is the album that brought out the hints of progressive rock, a style that would slowly take them over in years to come.

Track #1:  The Ring in Return

The album opens as most Coheed albums do, with an instrumental track.  This one features a few elements.  First, it starts with a ringing phone and footsteps.  The phone is answered, triggering a piano-and-strings rendition of one of the main theme songs of the Amory Wars.  It plays for a while before more sci-fi sound effects take over, culminating in the voice of the character Claudio saying, “Hello, Apollo. Where should I begin?”  This track certainly works well as a way to build suspense for what comes next–the sci-fi sounds are drawn out very nicely, creating a sort of buildup effect.  As an actual song, it doesn’t stand well on its own.  But it isn’t really meant to.  It serves its purpose–to introduce the album and pump the adrenaline for the next song, which blows that door wide open.

Track #2:  In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3

The title track picks up immediately after Claudio’s words on the last track, opening with a slow, clean-tone rhythm guitar riff.  The lead guitar gradually chimes in, slowly building to the breakpoint about 40 seconds into the song.  The lead guitar then takes center stage while the rhythm guitar, bass, and drums provide crunchy, distorted, hard-rock support.  After the intro jam the rhythm guitar comes back into the limelight with the verse riff, showcasing frontman Claudio Sanchez’s intriguing rhythm guitar style.  The verses are a bit low-key, but the instrumentation is much more complex than it initially lets on.  Then the buildup to the chorus comes in, with more dynamic vocals and crunchy power chords, and then finally the chorus hits–almost 2 minutes into the 8-minute epic.

The chorus makes it clear that the song’s about some kind of battle–in this case the skirmish between Inferno’s IRO-bots and Wilhelm Ryan’s Red Army.  The chorus showcases the urgency and intensity of the song but keeps it contained in catchy vocal melodies so familiar to Coheed music.  After the second chorus things start to go off on a tangent.  We get some darker sounds and more riffs than chords as the beginning of the bridge builds up.  There are many times throughout Coheed’s music (and a lot of instances on this album, as well) where Claudio (frontman, not character) is singing over some very complicated guitar riffs.  Easy enough to do in the studio, of course, but he pulls it off live as well.  The bridge slows down a bit and goes into a few different parts before eventually ending and faking out that the song is over.  There’s a nice little lull for a moment before the intro kicks in again, slowly building up to the climactic true ending of the song.

This song is a hell of a way to open an album.  It’s big, it’s overblown, and it kicks ass.  It establishes a real feel for what’s going on, and it melds many different pieces together in a way that seems very organic.  A study of this song reveals just how intricate some of the rhythm guitar work can be, and it sets itself up as an anthem for the band.  This song is a routine show-closer, and for good reason–the ending is about as epic as epic can get.

Track #3:  Cuts Marked in the March of Men

This song doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, mostly due to the number of well-known fan favorites on the album–“Cuts Marked…” seems to slip through the cracks.  It carries a lot of the same urgency and intensity of the previous track, continuing the battle though from a different POV.  The verses have a good lead guitar hook, and the imagery of the lyrics is pretty damn vivid.  One can easily get the sense of a massacre in the making.  Once again, the chorus captures lots of intensity into catchy melodies, backed by pounding power chords and a ripping lead guitar line.  The bridge on this one feels a little lackluster, especially compared to the variety the rest of the album showcases, but it does provide a good buildup to the final chorus and its extra lead guitar riffs.  Overall this songs just gets overshadowed by the other tracks.  It has a lot to offer, but in the company of powerhouses like the previous track and the next two, it really does get lost in the mix.

Track #4:  Three Evils (Embodied in Love & Shadow)

Definitely one of the more memorable cuts from the album, and one that fans still adore.  This one opens with a much more upbeat, pop-punk feel than the last two tracks.  Despite that, the lyrics still describe some pretty violent and intense stuff.  But this song brings out the real vocal hooks and melodies that exist in all the fan-favorite Coheed songs.  We also get a lot of different pieces melded together here, though the verse-chorus-verse-chorus feel suits the first half of the song nicely.  The song never stops being catchy, and despite the different sections it never loses its sense of unity as a song.  The rhythm guitar takes a bit of a backseat on this one, focusing much more on power chords than riffing, but the lead gets a nice workout on the outro.  Throughout the song the lead guitar provides very subtle accompaniment, and it really works to enhance the pop-punk vibe the song gives.  As upbeat, catchy, almost-hits go, this one’s a real winner.  That’s probably why it’s so popular among the fans, and why the band still brings it out onstage time and again.

Track #5:  The Crowing

Another big-time fan favorite, “The Crowing” takes a dark turn right away and stays there for its six and a half minute duration.  “The Crowing” is the first track that brings the character of Claudio back into the picture, focusing on his meeting with the Prise, Ambellina.  This is the first real track that makes me think “metal,” at least a little bit, but it definitely pulls away from the post-hardcore and alternative sound that the album’s had up until now.  The track grooves well, and the choppy guitar parts really set the pace and the atmosphere.  The chorus is low-key and creepy (like all the best Coheed stuff), filled with interwoven guitar lines that harmonize beautifully.  But it’s the bridge section after the second chorus where things really start to explode.  The lead lines have an epic feel about them, and the rhythm guitar builds the backdrop well.  The vocals, fairly mid-range on this track, really reflect the frustration and anger of the character Claudio.  Then the jam kicks in and gets really heavy, giving the song a strong prog-metal flavor.

It gets dark and creepy again in the breakdown, and the lead lines really add so much atmosphere to it.  The buildup to the outro is excellent as well, seamlessly transitioning from 3/4 into 4/4 without drawing attention to itself.  The outro releases the tension built up along the way, firing off angry vocal passages but also catchy melodies that herald the ending of an important chapter in the story.  Claudio sets out on his revenge mission with Ambellina as his guide, and the adrenaline pumps through the fadeout ending.  The song is just so big and dynamic, showcasing the musicianship of the band so well, that it overshadows many of the other songs on the album.  It’s markedly different, and gives a glimpse as to what musical direction the band ultimately goes down.  A standout for sure, and one fans never get tired of hearing live.

Track #6:  Blood Red Summer

This one was the second single of the album, and one that got a good bit of mainstream attention in its day.  It’s definitely a radio-friendly song, though as a follow-up to “The Crowing” it really contrasts hard.  The mood changes completely between the songs, and after such a powerhouse of a track this one feels kind of, well, wimpy.  But it’s got hooks out the wazoo (hence its success as a single).  One thing I do really like about this song is the lead guitar in the verses, played on the low strings of the guitar–almost like a bass line.  It really adds a texture to the song that gives it that lost in the woods feel.  It definitely has a singalong chorus, a catchy bridge, and a gimmicky breakdown (filled with wah-ohs and hey-hey-heys).  I think that in comparison to the rest of the album, though, that this track does come up a little short.  Its simplicity coupled with its endless hooks make it fun for sure, but as a member of a prog album in the company of giants like “Three Evils,” “The Crowing,” and “The Light & the Glass,” it just doesn’t pull its weight.  But it is a crowd pleaser, and the casual fans will definitely get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Track #7:  The Camper Velourium I: Faint of Hearts

“Faint of Hearts” begins the trilogy of “Camper Velourium” songs, during which we meet the character of Al the Killer.  “Faint of Hearts” follows the previous track well in that it brings much of the upbeat, pop-punk sound along with it.  The difference here, however, is that the rhythm guitar really shines with all kinds of riffs that integrate well with the lead lines.  This is another tacks that really groves well, and in my opinion it captures the essence of the upbeat side of Coheed.  It’s got all the clichéd Coheed vocal hooks, background vocals, and guitar tricks that make it a very signature song.  The chorus is infectious.  The bridge, like in many Coheed songs, is broken into many different parts with varying degrees of catchiness and musical skill.  The double guitar solo is a definite highlight, as the parts work so well together, and the last part of the bridge that follows brings in a really catchy vocal part and lead line.  The chorus comes back with a little more intensity (full power chords instead of palm-muting), and the song finishes strong.  Overall it’s a very definitive Coheed song, easy to like, and a clear fan favorite.

Track #8:  The Camper Velourium II: Backend of Forever

“Backend of Forever” is where things start to get weird, and it seems like that’s intentional.  The rhythm guitar repeats a very creepy (and complex) pattern that takes a dark turn right away.  The lyrics sound very much like the rambling thoughts of a maniac (which they are, as the song is from Al’s POV), and as a result the song does not immediately gel as something catchy.  As a matter of fact, much of this song is distinctly hook-less until the ending.  The musicianship here is intense, especially when one realizes that the lead guitar is playing the backing chords and the rhythm (played by vocalist Claudio Sanchez) is the one doing the picking pattern.  The vocals never really pick up throughout the verses, and as a result the song can definitely have an acquired taste feel to it–it’s not likely something one is going to get into right away.  But it really brings out the creepy side of the band’s songwriting, something that will get more pronounced on the following album (Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness).  The chorus gets a little more catchy, though it still has some strange melodies and the chord progression is far from conventional.  The ending is really where the hooks come back in, with some singalong-style vocals and the signature background vocals to provide a ton of layering.  It’s a very strange song, but it fits the chapter of the story it deals with and does a good job of setting up the next song, as well.

Track #9:  The Camper Velourium III: Al the Killer

And here’s where the intensity really hits hard.  This song is both creepy and angry, with lots of distorted vocals and crunchy guitars to give it a climactic effect.  I mean, what else would you expect in a song about Ambellina stumbling upon Al’s closet full of corpses?  This is another song that will likely require a few listens to really get into, as it is far from a conventional song.  The pre-chorus is especially intense, building up to a chorus that fully showcases the insanity of the title character.  Like “Cuts Marked in the March of Men,” this is another track whose bridge section leaves a little to be desired–maybe a little too simple.  But the power of the last chorus can’t be denied as it leads up to the showdown that takes place in the next track.  This is definitely one of the more unique tracks on the album, really bringing out the hardcore elements of the band.

Track #10:  A Favor House Atlantic

The first and biggest single from the album, “A Favor House Atlantic” really brought Coheed & Cambria into the mainstream, at least for a little bit.  Needless to say, its success comes from its instant radio-friendliness.  The vocal hooks are endless, and the power-pop chord progression and song structure really lend a lot to the emo/pop-punk vibe the song gives off.  Though less of a fan favorite than some of the more obscure stuff (the hardcore fans of a band always bemoan the hits), it still gets huge reactions from the crowds at live shows.  It’s the hit that put the band on the map, and it definitely sounds like it all the way through.  The lead lines give the song a bit more flavor, as otherwise it would just be a four-chord romp from beginning to end.  But its catchiness can’t be denied, and it definitely has more life to it than “Blood Red Summer.”  It’s a song that’ll get you moving, and it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome.  For one of the big hits, it definitely deserves its popularity.

Track #11:  The Light & the Glass

The last official track on the album, “The Light & the Glass” is yet another fan favorite (this album’s full of them, can you tell?).  It’s an epic–over nine minutes in length–and really plays to the variety of sounds that Coheed’s capable of pulling off.  It starts with a slow acoustic bit, building toward the first pre-chorus and the first use of distortion in the song.  The pre-chorus and chorus hit hard, with soaring vocal melodies that really capture the emotion behind the song.  It already feels like the perfect way to close the album.  Then the post-chorus comes in, taking it into a bit of a tangent.  It slows down again, the middle section repeating a guitar pattern behind very soft accusations of “Liar” until it worms its way back to the pre-chorus.  The second chorus hits hard again, but this time it leads into new territory and a darker, creepier feeling.  The aggression begins to come out, building up to the extensive outro.  And it’s the outro that the song is really building to.  The lead guitar takes center stage, accompanying the powerful vocals into a very climactic revelation for the character of Claudio, and after a few repetitions it blends into an intricate jam behind a chorus of “Pray for us all.”  The feeling of an epic ending is certainly not lost here, and the jam extends for quite some time before fading out and giving way to a repetition of the theme music from the opening track, giving the album the feeling of having come full circle.  According to the comic books, the story of the album is told by Claudio to Apollo after the fact, so bringing the ending back to the start feels just right here.  With such a dynamic structure and an operatic closing, it’s no wonder this song is so well loved by the fans.  And it’s a strong finish to the album, until…

Bonus Track:  21:13

After a lot of nothing, the bonus track on the album reveals itself.  “21:13” is not actually part of the story of In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.  Instead, it tells the story of the song “Time Consumer” (from The Second Stage Turbine Blade) from the POV of Matthew and Maria.  Which is actually really disturbing if you know the story–“Time Consumer” is the chapter in which the characters of Coheed and Cambria are tricked into murdering their children in order to stop the spread of a virus, though it’s actually all a lie.  “21:13” tells the story from the perspective of the children, just before they go to sleep after having been poisoned.  Yeah.  It’s a little fucked up.

The song is another nine-minute epic, spiraling through all kinds of sections that really showcase the musical talent of the band.  There’s lots of riffs throughout the song in addition to parts with catchy vocals and power chords, blending the post-hardcore/emo sound with the emerging prog rock sound.  One may find this song to be a little all over the place, directionless, meandering, needlessly self-indulgent, etc.  But that’s part of what makes prog rock so great.  The song runs the gamut of feelings and styles, hitting upbeat pop-punk, arena rock, prog-metal, and creepy-signature-Coheed sounds throughout.  There’s even a reprise of the intro to “Time Consumer” in the middle, and a reprise of “IRO-Bot” (the bonus track on The Second Stage Turbine Blade) at the end.  All in all it’s a very weird song, one that will definitely take repeated listens to fully enjoy, but one that fans love (especially due to its rarity live) and one that really does show where the band is heading.  Post-hardcore and emo may be the roots of Coheed & Cambria, but with this album they definitely start to embrace progressive rock and explore what they can do with a concept album.

In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 is arguably the most important album of the band’s career.  Whether it’s the best or not is something fans will argue over until the end of time, but the fact that it brought the band out of obscurity and into the spotlight is really what makes it stand out.  It contains a staggering number of fan favorites and has virtually no filler.  Expertly blending styles to create a signature sound, Coheed really makes this album unique with both its variety and its familiarity–something they’ve always done well.  A Coheed song sounds like a Coheed song, and even if you’ve never heard it before it sounds so obviously like them that there’s no way to doubt that it belongs in the catalog.  To this day their live shows still pull heavily from this album, and for good reason.  Now with this current tour, fans will get the album all the way through on stage.  Time to man your battle stations, folks–your socks are about to be rocked off.  September 24 can’t some soon enough.

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!

December 28, 2012

The Rock Show’s Top 25 of 2012

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!

Surprise! I wasn’t sure whether to do this post or not, since The Rock Show is now a thing of the past, and I haven’t kept up the blog since the last show’s playlist post. However, I decided that I spent entirely too much time and money this year investing in amassing knowledge and opinions about this year’s albums – as well as the albums themselves. I have no idea whether I’m going to post here again, but I definitely didn’t want to miss out on spewing my opinions about this year’s music. We’ll see. Also, I upped the ante to 25 from last year’s 16, just because I can. So without further ado, here’s what are, in my humblest opinion, the top quarter of a hundred albums of 2012:

25. The Lumineers – The Lumineers

The Lumineers

It can’t be ignored that indie folk music has exploded over the past few years, possibly due to the huge success of Mumford & Sons. The genre is inescapable – just watch any commercial for anything and you’re guaranteed to hear some indie folk song in the background. While it’s easy to accuse The Lumineers of jumping on the bandwagon, it’s also easy to tell that they bring a fresh perspective to the genre that differentiates them from their peers. Unfortunately, I personally find that their peers do it better. The Lumineers’ debut album offers some very catchy music, and the songwriting and lyrics are fairly well done. However, the end result is unpolished and not very consistent, which on the whole makes the album suffer a bit. It is still a good debut album, and with a little more polishing I’m sure the band can really make themselves stand out.

24. The Killers – Battle Born

Battle Born

I’ve had mixed feelings about The Killers over the years, ever since their mostly disappointing debut album Hot Fuss. Usually the hits are pretty good, and then the rest of the album tends to be lacking. Battle Born, on the other hand, seems to have the opposite issue – the lead single, “Runaways,” is probably the weakest track on the album. Overall, the album is much better and much more consistent than their previous work, though there isn’t much to make it stand out. It’s catchy with some quirky and awkward moments, like most Killers material, but no song particularly shines or differentiates itself. It is an enjoyable listen, however, and despite not being very memorable there are some solid alternative-style songs on the album.

23. The Offspring – Days Go By

Days Go By

This is definitely another album that suffers from inconsistency. On one hand, the opening run of five songs is excellent. On the other hand, some songs are just so silly they make the album look like a joke (“Cruising California,” “OC Guns,” and “I Wanna Secret Family (With You)”). As a result, I find that listening to the album as a whole doesn’t do much for me. However, if one of the better songs comes up on shuffle, I’m more than happy to listen to it. This is definitely an album that shows the non-serious side of the band, but as a casual fan I don’t particularly find that side very entertaining. This album should be approached with caution, but the good songs are really good. They stand out, as well, and are quite memorable, which definitely earns the album some extra brownie points.

22. Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods

Neck of the Woods

The long-awaited follow-up to Swoon finally arrived, and although the songs might not be as memorable as those on the previous album, it does contain a collection of interesting material. There are a few standouts on the album, namely the main hit “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” and the album opener “Skin Graph,” though many of the songs tend to blend together. Silversun Pickups do bring a very interesting and unique sound to the indie alternative rock scene, which helps to separate them from the other bands out there. Neck of the Woods is a fairly solid offering, though with the stiff competition this year it just doesn’t measure up. The songs are still good, though, and ultimately that matters more than a ranking on a list.

21. Metric – Synthetica

Synthetica

I’ve found that Metric’s material is very hit-or-miss for me, but when it hits it hits hard. Synthetica is a very interesting album in that regard. There are a few songs on the album that I really enjoy, like “Breathing Underwater,” “Lost Kitten,” and “Clone” to name a few. But then there are also tunes that are just really weird – not necessarily bad, just strange and awkward at times. This is the case with their older albums, as well, and it definitely hinders my liking of the album a bit. It’s a little too inconsistent to be great, but the good songs are definitely really good. It’s certainly worth looking into, especially for fans of indie-alternative music, as Metric brings a very quirky and interesting style to the table.

20. Soundgarden – King Animal

King Animal

Soundgarden’s first new album since the nineties is chock full of interesting riffs and musical passages, with the usual Soundgarden-style weird song titles. Overall the album hits hard, and it’s clear that the band hasn’t lost its awesomeness despite being away for too long (see what I did there?). The opening single “Been Away Too Long” is definitely one of the album’s highlights, along with “Eyelid’s Mouth” and “A Thousand Days Before.” Some of the songs blend together a little too much, and other than a few standouts many of the songs are a bit forgettable, but the album rocks hard and is still a very enjoyable listen. Chris Cornell still sounds great, and there’s nothing better than an old, awesome band reuniting for a great new album.

19. Three Days Grace – Transit of Venus

Transit of Venus

In many cases I find that Three Days Grace can skirt the border of lame and over-the-top just a little too closely, and even a few of the songs on Transit of Venus are a bit eye-roll-worthy. However, what I hear on this album is a lot more creativity than I’ve ever heard from this band before. From the opener “Sign of the Times” to the unconventional “Expectations” and the surprisingly excellent “Time That Remains,” there is a lot on this album that really shows the growth and development of the band since their last effort. While it still doesn’t quite measure up to many of this year’s releases, it is still a very consistent album with a lot to offer. Fans of good hard rock should consider this album, even if they’re not big fans of the band. You might be in for a pleasant surprise.

18. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

Handwritten

I’m not overly familiar with The Gaslight Anthem, but I did enjoy the single “American Slang” from a couple years ago. I was aware of their existence, but I didn’t really decide to get into them until I heard the incredibly infectious “45” on almost every radio station. The opening run of songs on Handwritten is very, very good, though there are a few tunes a bit later on that seem to be either a little too repetitive or a bit on the boring side. The good songs hit hard though, as good songs tend to do, and that helps to make up for the one or two less-than-spectacular tunes on the album. What the band offers is not exactly original, but they do it very well and the songs tend to be catchy and memorable. This album definitely made me want to dig back, which always gives it some extra points. Absolutely worth a listen.

17. Dave Matthews Band – Away From the World

Away From the World

I’ll be honest – I expected better. After hearing that the album was going to be produced by the same guy that did the first three albums, I thought for sure this album would crush Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. Eh, I’m not so sure it does. The first few songs are excellent, but overall I find that the tone of the album is a bit too mellow. There isn’t as good a balance of fast and slow songs as there usually is, and I think the lack of fast songs makes the album suffer a bit. However, I had the pleasure of seeing a few new tunes live before the album was released, and it’s clear that the studio versions do not always do the songs justice. Perhaps this is a case of the songs being better suited to a live setting than on record. Either way, the album was a bit of a letdown, but many of the songs are still very good, and that’s what really counts.

16. Cherri Bomb – This is the End of Control

This is the End of Control

For a bunch of kids in their mid-teens, this album kicks some serious ass. Is it polished? No way. Is it top-quality music? Not even a little bit. Does the majority of the album rock your socks off? You bet it does. There are a few duds, of course. It’s the debut album by a bunch of kids, so of course there’s going to be some junk here and there. Obviously fifteen-year-olds aren’t going to write the most poignant of lyrics. But songs like “Too Many Faces” and “Act the Part” make you forget that you’re listening to a bunch of kids and prove that the band is well on its way to joining the ranks of the best modern hard rockers. Julia Pierce and Miranda Miller are surprisingly good guitarists for their ages, and the rest of the band keeps the beat pretty damn well too. If you want in on the ground floor of a band that’s destined to explode in the near future, definitely check this one out.

15. Morning Parade – Morning Parade

Morning Parade

Morning Parade’s self-titled debut album is very impressive for a first outing. The album itself is incredibly consistent, and the band positions itself well in the indie-alternative rock spectrum. There’s a good bit of originality to this album while still remaining true to the genre, which makes the music very effective. The lead single, “Headlights,” is especially well-crafted, and the song harkens back to the mid-2000’s bands like Keane and Snow Patrol. While not a perfect release and not quite ready to stand out among the masses, Morning Parade’s debut is a very strong start. The blending of keyboards and electric guitars works well here – the keyboards are present without being overpowering, which is a welcome change from the usual. I’m definitely looking forward to what comes next, and that’s always a good thing.

14. Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators – Apocalyptic Love

Apocalyptic Love

As a fan of Alter Bridge and Myles Kennedy in general, it’s very difficult not to enjoy this album. Honestly, Slash’s guitar playing is not the draw here – it’s the incredibly talented vocals. That being said, while the vocals and the music are what make the album shine, the actual lyrical content leaves a bit to be desired. Songs like “One Last Thrill,” “Halo,” and “Hard & Fast” smack of rock n’ roll cliche, almost to the point where the music doesn’t make up for it. However, in most cases, the music does make up for it, and I can’t say enough about the killer vocals. It’s a rock record, and it’s one that does an excellent job proving that rock is still alive and kicking. With some better lyrics this album could easily have been one of the top picks for the year. Let’s hope the next album is even better.

13. Walk the Moon – Walk the Moon

Walk the Moon

The first thing I noticed when listening to both Walk the Moon and Morning Parade was how much they both reminded me of mid-2000’s alternative music. The two debut albums are very similar in a lot of ways, but Walk the Moon has to come out the victor. Overall, Walk the Moon’s material just has a catchier feel, and the music stands out much more than Morning Parade’s tracks. It’s a very consistent and catchy album, and the songs are full of little hooks that differentiate them from each other quite effectively. Indie-alternative is clearly getting stronger as the years go by, and with more bands saturating the genre it becomes difficult for any single band to rise above the rest. I’m not sure that Walk the Moon is there yet, especially after only one album, but they’re clearly onto something good, and I hope they continue to push the genre as they continue their career. Good debut albums should always leave you wanting more, and this one does that with ease.

12. Mark Tremonti – All I Was

All I Was

Apart from being an excellent guitarist, Mark Tremonti shows on his solo album that he can also sing and write kick-ass songs. Fortunately, Tremonti’s solo work is much more similar to Alter Bridge than to Creed, and for that I am extremely grateful. Though the songs on All I Was are all very heavy, there’s still a catchiness to them that makes them all quite memorable. While a lot of modern hard rock tends to blend together, Mark Tremonti’s work is full of hooky riffs and catchy vocal melodies that keep things fresh without sacrificing the heaviness of the sound. Any time hard rock artists can do that, they gain a lot of points in my book. He also has a very fitting voice – one that is distinct enough to separate his solo work from that of his other projects but also lends itself well to the type of songs that make up the album. All in all, it’s a very solid collection of songs from an extremely talented musician.

11. Imagine Dragons – Night Visions

Night Visions

The opening track of Night Visions is not very good, in my humble opinion. It’s got a hip-hop vibe coupled with dubstep, and overall I’m just not into it. However, after the opener is over, the rest of the album absolutely shines. Night Visions pushes indie-alternative with more electronic influences, but while also retaining a heavier, harder rock sound as well. The vocals are very strong, where many indie bands have fairly weak or at least strange vocals. There’s power and energy in the songs, and the overall originality of the album shines through. The songwriting for the majority of the album is strong, and the melodies are fairly well-crafted. This is another debut album that does a good job of making the listener wonder what’s to come.

10. Passion Pit – Gossamer

Gossamer

I must admit I was never a fan of Passion Pit’s first album – it was a little too out there, and the vocals were really not my cup of tea. Thankfully, Gossamer is much more to my taste, and let me say that the songwriting has drastically improved. Gossamer is full of infectious hooks and melodies that will get stuck in your head for days at a time (likely culprits are the chorus to “Take a Walk,” the keyboard hook in “Carried Away,” or the singalong vocals in “Constant Conversations”). Beneath all the catchiness and hooky music are some quite intelligent and poignant lyrics as well, especially in the aforementioned songs. There’s a lot to be discovered on this album, and it definitely gets better and better with repeated listens. It’s still not for everyone, and overall the band seems to be a bit of an acquired taste, but if given a proper chance this album can really make a good impression.

9. Dead Sara – Dead Sara

Dead Sara

Emily Armstrong’s vocals are the immediate breadwinner on the first listen through Dead Sara’s self-titled debut, but there’s much more than that. The rawness of Emily’s voice is matched by the rawness of hers and Siouxsie Medley’s guitars, and the melodies throughout the album are very unique and satisfying. There’s power and energy in all the songs on the album, even the more ballad-y ones, and there are even a few fist-pumping rock anthems buried in the mix. For a band that isn’t that well known, they’ve already scored gigs as openers for acts like Muse and The Offspring – it’ll only be a matter of time before this band puts out a winning record. This is definitely a good pick for fans of hard rock or punk, but there’s also a strong blues influence in a few songs that helps to set the album apart even further. Almost every song is memorable, and they all have something to offer the listener.

8. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – The Lion The Beast The Beat

The Lion The Beast The Beat

Grace Potter’s previous album definitely proved to be a strong release and a very difficult album to top. I haven’t yet decided whether this one was able to pull it off, but it is still one of the strongest albums of the year. The album explores some very new sounds and styles for the band (the first single, “Never Go Back,” is a prime example). This is another album that might need a few listens to fully appreciate, but the subtleties at play are very rewarding when uncovered. It’s easy to get into the hit ballad “Stars,” for example, but songs like “Timekeeper” and “Keepsake” shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Grace’s voice is still top-notch (as proven by the aforementioned ballad, “Stars”), and her band backs her up very well – it seems the musicianship has only gotten better. Why this band hasn’t exploded yet is beyond me, but as long as they continue to put out rock solid albums, that’s all that matters.

7. Mumford & Sons – Babel

Babel

In all honesty, I very quickly got bored of Mumford & Sons back in 2009. Their big hits were excellent, but the rest of their debut album failed to really draw me in. When I heard about the new album I was a bit hesitant, but Babel turned out to be a much, much better collection of songs than its predecessor. The guitar playing is phenomenal and the songwriting just seems stronger overall. There’s a good mix of fast and slow songs, and the songs are surprisingly dynamic (some even have changing time signatures). Obviously the big hit, “I Will Wait,” is one of the catchier tunes, but there are many excellent selections that could serve as a follow-up. Marcus Mumford’s voice embodies the indie folk sound that the band has made popular, and the growth of the band’s popularity in such a short time shows the impact they’ve had on today’s music scene. For those who disliked their first album, it might be worth giving this one a shot. For those who loved Sigh No More, you’re in for a real treat with Babel.

6. Flyleaf – New Horizons

New Horizons

Shortly after the release of New Horizons, vocalist Lacey Sturm left the band. I’m not sure exactly what that means for Flyleaf’s future, but her work on this album is absolutely fantastic. The songwriting on the new album far surpasses that of the first two albums (he says, ducking to avoid the onslaught from hardcore fans), and many of the vocal melodies on the album are their best yet (“Bury Your Heart” and “Cage on the Ground” are two excellent examples). The edginess of their debut album is still there, though many of the songs seem a bit more polished. Either way, the music serves its real purpose – the backdrop for Lacey’s incredible voice. Though the title track may sound a bit poppy for some, rest assured that the album still rocks just as hard as the older stuff, just with some more mature songwriting. If this turns out to be the band’s last [successful] album, then it’s a great one to go out on. If it’s the start of things to come, then it’ll be tough to beat.

5. Of Monsters & Men – My Head is an Animal

My Head is an Animal

Of all the indie folk bands that have taken mainstream radio by storm, Of Monsters & Men are my favorite. There’s something about their debut album that differentiates itself from the other bands that play the same game – maybe it’s their Icelandic accents, or the charming lyrics that sometimes seem to not make any sense whatsoever (opening of “Dirty Paws,” anyone?), but their songs seem catchier and more memorable than their contemporaries’. The various instrumentation and song stylings throughout the album really add to the experience, and all of the songs stand apart from each other and stand on their own. Their hits, “Little Talks” and “Mountain Sound,” might be the top tracks on the album, but there are plenty others that contribute singalong melodies and interesting songwriting. The debut album is an excellent start to their career, and hopefully the next album will find them differentiating themselves even further.

4. Blues Traveler – Suzie Cracks the Whip

Suzie Cracks the Whip

Suzie Cracks the Whip is the ultimate feel good album of the year, from the summery opener “You Don’t Have to Love Me” to the poppy “I Don’t Wanna Go” to the singalong chorus of “All Things Are Possible.” John Popper continues to show off his harmonica skills, as usual, and the album keeps things upbeat for almost the entire experience. Blues Traveler is far from a nostalgia band, and their recent work has proven to be just as skillfully crafted as the material on Four or Straight On Till Morning. Aside from the quality harmonica playing, the songwriting and vocal melodies are what truly make this album great. The lyrics are clever and interesting, and the melodies are catchy and, for a blues band, very dynamic and varied. This album does an excellent job of proving that Blues Traveler is still relevant.

3. Shinedown – Amaryllis

Amaryllis

After four years of milking their third album, The Sound of Madness, near to death, Shinedown finally put out a collection of new material. Right off the bat, Amaryllis sets itself apart from their earlier work. This is not an album full of angry, pissed-off-at-the-world songs; many of the songs on this album are actually very uplifting and positive (“Unity,” “Miracle,” and “Amaryllis” are some prime examples). The faster, harder rocking songs seem to be of higher quality as well, with better lyrics and catchier melodies despite the heaviness of the sound. The album definitely shows a clear growth in the band’s songwriting ability, and it showcases the maturity of the lyrics and the musicianship. The album’s closer, “Through the Ghost,” is probably the best example – haunting vocals and interesting instrumentation showcasing some of the best lyrics in any Shinedown song. For those who aren’t fans of the band or think they’re guilty of writing the same song over and over, Amaryllis is full of proof that they’ve evolved and begun to separate themselves from the masses.

2. Coheed & Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension

The Afterman: Ascension

Originally I wasn’t sure whether to include this album, since it’s really only half of the double album that is The Afterman, but considering it was released separately with its own packaging and supporting tour, I figured it should count. From the haunting opening of “The Hollow” to the last notes of the acoustic/electronic “Subtraction,” The Afterman: Ascension shows why Coheed & Cambria is one of the most interesting bands of this generation. The album’s lead single, “Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute,” is almost eight minutes long and chock full of kick-ass guitar licks and Coheed-style vocal passages. The band’s sound has evolved over the years, though songs like “Goodnight, Fair Lady” still reflect the alternative sound of their first few albums. Though Coheed is a band often shunned by their contemporaries, albums like this prove that they don’t let the industry push them around. They stick to their guns, and continue to put out awesome albums. The second half of the double album drops in February, and with three songs already out on the internet, it’s shaping up to be just as excellent as this one.

1. Rush – Clockwork Angels

Clockwork Angels

This was definitely a close one – The Afterman: Ascension was heavily considered for the top spot, but realistically you have to give it up for the holy trinity. What other band is putting out a 60+ minute story album forty years into their career? Clockwork Angels has been widely accepted as one of Rush’s best albums, and this is thirty years after their most popular album, Moving Pictures. The album pushes the band into unfamiliar territory, as well, full of orchestral strings and an album-length concept that has since been adapted to novel form. Where most classic rock bands these days either milk their hits into the ground or put out “new” albums full of the same old formulaic rock, Rush has taken a strikingly different approach – on their supporting tour, they played all but two of the twelve track album, and they favored deep vault cuts over the mainstream hits. With an upcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and an extension of the Clockwork Angels tour all coming up in the next year, Rush is as busy as ever, proving once again that they are not a dinosaur – they’re still alive and kicking…kicking ass, that is.

That’s all, folks! Happy New Year!

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!

December 28, 2011

The Rock Show’s Top Sixteen of 2011

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Last year I started a tradition of putting together a list of the best albums of the year – granted, I missed the boat on a few albums (namely Alter Bridge’s AB III and Young the Giant’s self-titled debut), but I’ve been much more vigilant this year.  In addition, I’m going with the top sixteen this year as opposed to the top twelve last year.  Why not?  So, without further ado, here’s the list of what are, in my opinion, the top sixteen best albums of 2011.

16. Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I do enjoy some of their later stuff (namely the singles from Californication and By the Way).  When I heard that there was going to be a new RHCP album I really wasn’t interested, but hearing “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” on the radio gave me a little bit of hope.  It’s definitely a catchy tune very reminiscent of the Chili Peppers songs that I prefer, so that was a plus.  When the album came out I decided to pick it up, and it definitely surpassed my expectations.  The first run of seven songs or so especially are very consistent.  A few of the songs aren’t really my cup of tea (“Even You Brutus?” is way too rappy, for example), but there are quite a lot of keepers, as well.  It fits well with the later-era Chili Peppers sound, and the new guitarist suits the music.  Overall a pretty decent album, and without question one that deserves a spot on the list of best albums of the year.

15. Company of Thieves – Running From a Gamble

Not quite indie rock, not quite pop, not quite alternative, Company of Thieves has a very interesting and unique sound.  The debut single from the album, “Death of Communication,” is probably the catchiest song out of the collection, but there’s a lot of variety here and a lot of different styles at play.  Some of the songs are almost bluesy at times, some are really upbeat and poppy, some have a really retro sound, and on and on.  The vocal melodies are mostly catchy, but some songs have very odd melodies – that’s not a bad thing, it’s just something you have to get used to.  It’s definitely an album that requires multiple listens to appreciate, but there’s a good bit of potential here.  Some of the songs are very enjoyable, some of them are strange (in a good way), and all of them are interesting if nothing else.  The uniqueness is very refreshing, though, and that’s what ultimately makes this one of the best albums of the year.

14. Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning

Steven Wilson is the frontman of the British progressive rock band Porcupine Tree (as well as a few other projects), and Grace For Drowning is his second solo album.  The songs in this collection are very reminiscent of Porcupine Tree – they’re very complex and proggy, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.  Some of the songs are amazingly well-crafted, but others seem to meander aimlessly.  Songs don’t need to be twenty-two minutes long if there isn’t a whole lot going on in them.  Wilson’s voice is phenominal, which makes the shorter, less complex songs very good as they tend to have a lot of vocals.  Some of the longer works do suffer from a lack of direction, however (“Deform to Form a Star” being a very notable exception).  What really makes the album interesting is the fact that it’s heavy without having a typical heavy metal sound.  The guitars are minimal (the album has a lot of electronic influence), yet it still feels very dark and loud in spots.  Wilson’s ability to craft intricate songs is still very impressive, especially when it hits hard, and that makes this album one of the best of the year.

13. Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song

Grouplove has gotten a nice boost in their popularity thanks to their most recent hit, “Tongue Tied,” being featured in a certain computer company’s commercial.  For me, however, exposure to this band (like a number of others) came from Letterman.  The album is quite enjoyable in a bubbly, feel-good kind of way.  They’re definitely an indie band – you can hear the pretension and arty-ness in every single note.  It’s a bit rough, but it’s a debut album, so that’s to be expected.  There’s a lot of variety, especially since the band has two different singers, and the songs are quite different from each other.  There’s also what seems like a lot of experimentation – the sound of the album is quite unique in its variety.  Most of the songs are catchy and enjoyable to listen to – there are a few duds (“Naked Kids” being almost laughably bad), but that’s to be expected from a debut album, especially from a band that sounds like it’s trying to be different.  It’s a promising start, and they’re definitely a band to keep an eye on, which makes them a perfect addition to this list.

12. 3 Doors Down – Time of My Life

I must say, I never gave 3 Doors Down the credit they deserve.  I always thought of them as bubblegum (I think “Here Without You” from Away From the Sun was the likely culprit of my judgments), but when I decided on a whim to give their debut album, The Better Life, a spin, I realized that I’d been criminally misjudging them.  Looking past some of the poppiness of their hits, they actually have a lot of songs that rock really hard.  This is true of their new album, Time of My Life, as well.  Even the lead single, “When You’re Young,” has an edge that surpasses the pop-style that colored my opinion of them in the past.  The album sounds very similar to most of their other material, but between great vocal melodies (“Heaven” is a great example) and some awesome rock riffs (“Believer”), its a very solid and consistent sounding album.  A few songs are a bit weak (“What’s Left” most notably), but overall it’s a strong album.  It’s always fun to rediscover a band like this, which probably adds to my liking of the album a bit.  Still, it’s one that’s keeping the rock genre alive, and it’s deserving of a spot on this list.

11. Seether – Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray

This is, without question, the most accessible Seether album, and also the easiest to listen to.  Past Seether albums have had a raw, angry edge that seems to be missing from this effort.  That’s not to say that this is a bad album – it’s just different.  There are actually quite a few heavy tunes on here (the opener “Fur Cue” is the best example), but the majority of the album sounds like some of the typical hard rock that’s out there.  The album has a very produced sound, for lack of a better way to describe it, as opposed to the rawness of the earlier material.  However, there is a catchiness to the songs that past albums just didn’t have.  Honestly, I think this is a welcome change, as by their third album (Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces) their sound was getting very repetitive and bland.  This album offers something new, and I think it’s the first album to do so.  The drawback is that the path they’ve chosen isn’t a very original one.  Much of their music sounds like the same hard rock that all the other bands are playing.  Still, the songs are good, and that’s really all that matters.

10. Bush – The Sea of Memories

This is the long-awaited comeback album that’s been in the works for a while.  The first single, “The Afterlife,” came out over a year ago, and the album just came out back in September.  It sounds like Bush – there’s really no better way to describe it.  Most of the songs are upbeat, but there are a few that rock pretty hard.  Some of the choruses are a bit lacking lyrically (“The Afterlife,” “Heart of the Matter”), but some are very well-done (“The Sound of Winter”).  The album as a whole is fairly average – for all the low points there are just as many high points.  The closing track, “Be Still My Love,” is an especially high point, but it also illustrates the album very well.  Some of the melodies are a bit weird, but some of them are very good even if the lyrics behind them are a bit repetitive.  Overall, the sound of the album beats the majority of the hard rock stuff out there – Bush’s sound has always been fairly unique.  The album has its highlights, and they make up for some of the more lackluster moments.  It’s great that Bush is back, touring behind a new album and not just the hits no less, and this is a good album to get them back on track.

9. Rev Theory – Justice

Just from the opening riff of “Dead in a Grave” you can tell that this is going to be a kickass album.  It seems heavier than the standard hard rock out there right now, but it also has melody that seems to sneak up on you.  For being a hard rock album as such, it is surprisingly easy to tell the difference between the songs, and the choruses are actually pretty catchy at times.  The album is very riff-heavy, something I really like in hard rock music, and there a lot of great lead guitar licks that make it more dynamic that just loud chord progressions.  Most of the songs are just really well-put-together, and surprisingly so.  Most hard rock bands like this tend to be very predictable and a lot of the songs are usually loud, angry, and screamy with little in the way of dynamics.  Rev Theory really does manage to keep things interesting all the way through while still remaining loyal to the hard rock genre that’s been dominating the airwaves of late.  It’s refreshing to hear good hard rock that differs from the masses, even if only a little, and for that this album is definitely one of the best of the year.

8. Chevelle – Hats Off to the Bull

I think the biggest difference between Chevelle and the majority of the hard rock bands on the radio is the vocals.  While most of the hard rock acts have a very similar rough, growly vocal style, Chevelle has a style that is very reminiscent of Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer).  As a result, Hats Off to the Bull has a level of vocal melody that a lot of hard rock doesn’t.  The melodies are edgy, and they suit the music very well – there’s a lot of energy in the music and a sense of urgency in the vocals that really makes it sound intense.  It’s a very accessible album, and the songs are quite catchy despite the dark sound.  I’m familiar with Chevelle’s older singles, and this album’s material fits well with what I do know of the band’s catalog.  In addition, it has succeeded in making me want to dig back into the discography, so that’s an extra bonus.  Overall it’s a collection of great rock songs, making it an excellent album for the list.

7. Evanescence – Evanescence

In all honesty, I’ve never been that big a fan of Evanescence.  I always thought they were a bit lame – they had that one good song followed by that one really lame song (“Bring Me to Life” and “Call Me When You’re Sober,” respectively) and then disappeared for a while.  However, when the new album came out I decided to preview the songs and see how it sounded.  This album saved the band for me without question – Amy Lee’s vocals are very good, and there definitley aren’t any lame songs.  The tunes are catchy and the music is full of hard rock and metal that provides a great backdrop for the vocals.  Some of the songs have a haunting quality to them (“The Change,” for one), some of them just flat-out rock (“The Other Side”), but they all do a great job of redefining this band.  There’s hope all throughout the album that the band isn’t dead (despite lineup changes that ultimately seem to be for the better), and after hearing this album I can say for certain that I like what this band is doing now.  When an album can change my opinion of a band it always earns that album extra brownie points, and as a result the new self-titled collection ranks fairly high on the list.

6. Yes – Fly From Here

When dealing with classic rock acts putting out albums decades into their careers, there will always be fans who aren’t satisfied.  No, this is not Fragile, or Close to the Edge, or 90125.  No, the album doesn’t feature Jon Anderson or Rick Wakeman.  However, Fly From Here is a collection of very well-crafted songs.  Maybe the fact that I haven’t been a Yes fan for forty years helps me to objectively view Fly From Here apart from the rest of the catalog, but when this album is taken for what it is there’s no doubt that there are some very beautiful songs on here (“Hour of Need” being a prime example).  The “Fly From Here” suite that opens the album has a lot of variety in sound, and it really has some catchy vocal passages and rocking guitar lines.  The rest of the tracks have their highs and lows (the closer “Into the Storm” being one of the highest highs), but overall it’s a very warm album with a lot of sonically pleasing moments whether they be from Benoit David’s vocal parts or the band’s brilliant musicianship.  The album is proof that Yes can still create quality songs, even though the lineup changes and increasing age of the band has caused its fanbase to splinter.

5. Rise Against – Endgame

Rise Against has been and still is a band that eludes me.  Most of their early material is to punk-oriented and aggressive for me to really get into, and I’ve never been a fan of the politically-influenced music.  Therefore, it was a big risk for me to give their newest album a try, but I’m very glad I did.  I said most of what I want to say already in my review of the album, so I’ll keep this fairly short.  Ultimately, the album doesn’t really change my opinion about the band, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome of an album.  The dynamics and melodies are the clear bread-winners here, as most of the songs have a level of complexity that seems suited for more progressive music yet still remain very catchy.  It’s not perfect, but it holds itself well as a more accessible album (especially for people like me who prefer longer songs with tempos in the 100s instead of the 300s) than earlier efforts.  As stated before, the most important thing is that the songs are good.  Realistically, that is the only fact that makes a difference, and that’s why this album ranks so high.

4. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

I’ve found that late night talk shows are a great way to get introduced to new music.  As an avid fan of Craig Ferguson I almost always catch the musical guest at the end of Letterman’s show, and every so often I catch a brilliant new band.  Then when that brilliant new band opens for the Foo Fighters and I get to experience them live for myself and they totally kick ass, it’s all but a guarantee that their album will rank high on this list.  The Joy Formidable are one of the most interesting new bands of the year, and their album absolutely rocks.  It’s hard to explain exactly what I love about the album, but it probably has to do with the extremely creative and original sound that they bring to the table coupled with the surprising accessibility (something that seems to be a requirement of the best albums, I’ve noticed).  The singles (“Whirring” and “A Heavy Abacus”) are very catchy, and the musicianship is interesting, especially the drums.  It’s an album that is surprisingly good right away, and then it gets better with repeated listens.  It’s a wonderful debut, and it really makes me want to know where they’re going to go next – something all the best albums need to do.

3. The Pretty Reckless – Light Me Up

Another Letterman band, and another one of my new favorites.  The band is fronted by actress-turned-rockstar Taylor Momsen, and her voice fits the band’s hard rock style better than most female rock vocalists of our generation (yes, that includes both Amy Lee and Lacey Mosley, in my humble opinion).  The band is nothing to sneeze at either, and they add some very appropriate guitar licks and drum fills, as well as tasty bass lines (“Since You’re Gone”).  For the most part, catchy vocals propel the album to success as they always do, but well-crafted songs also work to the band’s advantage here.  There is a lot of sonic variety on the album, from in-your-face rock (“Zombie,” “Goin’ Down”) to upbeat alt-rock (“Light Me Up,” “Miss Nothing”), to softer acoustic songs (“Nothing Left to Lose,” “You”), and Taylor’s voice accommodates the different styles very well.  The album shows a potential for this band to explode in the near future while still retaining a quality that many debut albums lack, and it doesn’t hurt that they’ve already toured with a number of big-name acts including Evanescence and Guns N’ Roses.  This is definitely a band to watch, and this is definitely a record to listen to.

2. Incubus – If Not Now, When?

I’ve talked a lot about this album as it is, both in my review of it and my review of the show I attended, so there’s little I can say here that will add to the conversation.  This is a very divisive album among Incubus fans, without question.  It shows a very different side of Incubus, one that I enjoy quite a lot.  However, the quality of the songwriting is still very reminiscent of older material – the lyrics are still very creative and unique, and the music, while softer and much less aggressive, is still quite complex.  Brandon Boyd’s vocals are showcased very well, and the melodies of the album really make some of the songs stand out (“Isadore” and “Promises, Promises” are some of the best examples).  Even without the fast-paced, funk-metal sounds of their first few albums, the band can still write quality songs.  This album is definitely a maturation of the band’s songwriting, and I welcome the change – hopefully the next album will be even more different and push the band’s style into even newer territory.  As I see it, this is an experiment that went well, and that always makes an album stand out for me.

1. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light

In all honesty, I would have sworn that the Incubus album was going to beat this one before If Not Now, When? came out, but Wasting Light is simply too solid a collection of songs.  Yes, it’s the obvious choice for best album, but there’s a reason for that – it’s an incredibly good album.  No need to mince words here.  With the exception of One By One, no other Foo Fighters album is even close to being as consistent and high-quality as Wasting Light, and most other albums this year don’t hold a candle to it either.  Every song on the album is a winner (even “White Limo” has its merits).  There’s really not much else to say about it – it was one of the most anticipated albums of the year, and it delivers without disappointment.

So that’s it – the best albums of the year.  Based on everything I’ve heard, read, and seen about new music in 2012, we have a pretty big year ahead of us.  Here’s to the coming 366 days of great new bands, new albums, new concerts, and new songs.  Happy New Year, everyone!

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Keep listening!

November 18, 2011

Reel Big Fish at Lehigh-Laf-A-Palooza! (Oh, And the Set List)

Filed under: Concert Listing, News, Review, Update — rockshowmusic @ 12:26 am

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Reel Big Fish played the pep rally at Lehigh University tonight in Grace Hall on campus.  The pep rally was for the upcoming football game against a certain school in Easton that I will not disgrace my blog by naming, and it featured a full live set by Reel Big Fish.  It was a killer show (I was right in the front of the pit), and I managed to get a T-shirt signed by five out of the six band members.  My roommate was much luckier and got a set list and all six signatures.  Oh, well, that’s how it goes.  I’m pretty familiar with RBF’s songs, but there were a few I didn’t know.  Therefore, I’m posting the set list based on the set list my roommate got right off the stage (so I’m pretty sure it’s 100% accurate!).  Here it is, exactly as written on the paper (with abbreviations and everything):

  1. Everything Sucks
  2. I Want Your Girlfriend
  3. Ban the Tube Top
  4. Somebody Hates Me
  5. Join the Club
  6. 241
  7. Brown Eyed Girl
  8. Good Thing/Your Guts
  9. Kids Don’t Like/in the Pit
  10. the Set Up
  11. Where Have You Been
  12. The Bad Guy
  13. Trendy *
  14. She Has a Girlfriend Now
  15. Suckers/Kiss Me Deadly
  16. Snoop Dog, Baby
  17. Sayonara Senorita
  18. S.R./FU

Encore

  1. Beer
  2. Sell Out
  3. Take On Me **

* Not on the printed set list; played by request

** Hand written on the set list

Tune in to 91.3 FM WLVR Bethlehem (www.wlvr.org) on Sunday from 3pm to 5pm for The Rock Show – featuring a triple shot of Reel Big Fish in celebration of the game and the concert!

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Keep listening!

November 11, 2011

Foo Fighters/Social Distortion/The Joy Formidable Set Lists & Review

Filed under: Concert Listing, Review — rockshowmusic @ 5:35 pm

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  The Foo Fighters played the Wells Fargo Center last night in support of their newest album Wasting Light.  Social Distortion and The Joy Formidable served as openers.  The show was unbelievable, and it went on for a good five hours from the time The Joy Formidable took the stage to the time the Foo Fighters ended.  Here are the set lists from last night’s show – The Joy Formidable and Foo Fighters sets are definitely correct.  However, I’m not familiar enough with Social Distortion to know exactly what they played, so take their list with a grain of salt:

The Joy Formidable

  1. A Heavy Abacus
  2. Austere
  3. The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade
  4. Cradle
  5. Whirring

Social Distortion

  1. Bad Luck
  2. So Far Away
  3. Machine Gun Blues
  4. Story of My Life
  5. Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown
  6. Reach for the Sky
  7. Prison Bound
  8. Don’t Drag Me Down
  9. Ring of Fire [Johnny Cash cover]

Foo Fighters

  1. Bridge Burning
  2. Rope
  3. The Pretender
  4. My Hero
  5. Learn to Fly
  6. White Limo
  7. Arlandria
  8. Breakout
  9. Cold Day in the Sun
  10. Stacked Actors
  11. Walk
  12. Monkey Wrench
  13. Let it Die
  14. These Days
  15. This is a Call
  16. In the Flesh? [Pink Floyd cover]
  17. All My Life

Encore

  1. Wheels *
  2. Best of You *
  3. Times Like These **
  4. Dear Rosemary
  5. Breakdown [Tom Petty cover]
  6. Everlong

* Dave Grohl solo acoustic

** Dave Grohl solo acoustic for half, full band for half

Foo Fighters were likely tied with Pearl Jam right up at the top of my concert bucket list.  Pearl Jam still remains on that list (someday soon, I hope!), but after last night, I can happily remove Foo Fighters from under the heading “Bands I Want to See” and relocate them to “Bands I Want to See Again.”  I had heard a lot of rumors about this tour, but I tried to stay away from it all to avoid spoilers – I wasn’t as lucky as I had hoped, but there were still quite a few surprises.  Anyway, word on the street was that the band was playing almost three hours of music this time around.  Needless to say, I was pumped for an intense show.  That’s certainly what I got!

The Joy Formidable took the stage about five minutes early and started playing an intro jam.  The band is a three-piece which is pretty astounding considering the sound they make both on stage and on the record.  What surprised me right off the bat was the big, crystal clear sound they had – a lot of times openers don’t sound as good, especially in a large arena when only a few people are in their seats yet.  In addition to their sound, the light show was very complex for a band only playing five songs.  The atmosphere of their set made you forget that you were at a Foo Fighters concert and that these guys were just an opener.  After the short intro jam they broke into “A Heavy Abacus” from their full-length debut The Big Roar (the whole set was from the debut album – no EPs or covers).  The band is extremely energetic – Ritzy Bryan (guitar/vocals) and Rhydian Dafydd (bass/vocals) were very mobile during the instrumental parts, running across the stage and back as well as interacting with each other very frequently.  Most songs had short little jams in between them, mostly from drummer Matt Thomas.  “Austere” was the second song – featuring the audience clapping along to the driving bass drum that led into the song, followed by the album’s closer “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade.”  “Cradle” came next – one of my favorites – with a very impressive drum intro.  Finally, the band closed with their hit single “Whirring,” and jammed it out for a good five minutes or so.  The lights were epileptic, and the band members frantically increased and decreased the tempo so much that it was incredible that they stayed so tight together.  At one point, Ritzy wound up banging a gong that stood behind their set-up white Matt was busy throwing multiple sets of drumsticks across the stage.  As a fan already, I was seriously impressed with their performance and love them even more now.  Hopefully their mind-numbing show convinced a few others to pick up their album!

Social Distortion took the stage shortly before 8pm.  Now, I’d like to apologize in advance to fans of Social Distortion – I really don’t know anything about their music, and as a result I cannot make any sort of judgments about their show in regards to that.  I can say, however, that they had a very full, clear sound and a great light show as well.  As far as their music is concerned, nothing really grabbed my attention except for “Reach for the Sky” (the only song by them that I know) and their very interesting cover of “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash.  I wish I was more familiar with them so that I could fairly review their set, but it would be unfair for me to try.  I’ll leave the Social Distortion reviews up to the Social Distortion fans.

The Foo Fighters took the stage at around 9pm, opening with the blistering “Bridge Burning” – the first track off of Wasting Light.  “Rope” came next with no break between the songs, and featured the first of many, many jams of the night during the outro.  One thing I will say about the show that I wasn’t crazy about – jams are great, and I love it when a band jams the end of a song or does an extended solo or something like that for a few songs in the set.  However, when the band does a jam on every single song they play, it can get a bit tedious after a while.  There were some really great ones (“Stacked Actors” and “Monkey Wrench” were awesome), but some of them either went on too long or just didn’t seem necessary.  Still, the music kicked ass – I just tend to prefer actual songs to jams.

After “Rope” came two more big hits – “The Pretender” and “My Hero.”  “My Hero” in particular was epic, with the entire crowd singing along to every word, and Dave Grohl running out into the aisle in the middle of the pit (something he did multiple times throughout the show).  After the song ended the band addressed the crowd and made sure we knew that they weren’t the kind of band that plays little one hour rock shows.  Or two hour rock shows.  They were going to play until they decided to stop playing, and we weren’t going to work tomorrow.  In fact, let’s play extra long tonight, huh?  Of course, being Dave Grohl, the commentary was chock full of expletives (Here’s a video of that bit of commentary – strong language warning). With that, the band launched into another big hit – “Learn to Fly” from There is Nothing Left to Lose.

Next came two songs off of the new album – “White Limo” (eh, not a huge fan), and “Arlandria” (which was awesome).  “White Limo” had some sick lighting effects, regardless of the fact that I think the song is just noise, and the energy it had in a live setting totally blew the studio version away.  “Arlandria” was great, as expected.  The next song was dedicated to all the old-school Foo Fighters fans – “Breakout” from There is Nothing Left to Lose. This one included another extensive jam, but it had a ton of energy. Dave encouraged the crowd to sing along, as well. Here’s a video of “Breakout” (language warning, and low sound quality). After the song was over, Dave introduced the band and talked for quite a while. He mentioned that the Philly show was the biggest turnout of the entire tour, and that he was shocked that so many people came to the show. After introducing drummer Taylor Hawkins the band broke into “Cold Day in the Sun” from In Your Honor, a song featuring Taylor on vocals.

“Stacked Actors” came next, featuring a long jam in which Dave and lead guitarist Chris Shiflett engaged in a back and forth guitar solo ‘battle,’ for lack of a better word. The jam eventually brought the song to an end, and “Walk” began right where “Stacked Actors” left off. “Walk” was one of the few songs that did not have an extended jam in it, and it sounded really good and had great energy.  The light show that accompanied this concert was unbelievable all throughout, as well.  After talking to the crowd again they launched into what had to be at least a ten minute rendition of “Monkey Wrench” – complete with a jam session in the middle where all the lights went out and the band played a very atmospheric, bluesy jam in the dark with only the lights from the lighters in the crowd.

“Let it Die” came next, followed by “These Days” from Wasting Light which Dave introduced as his favorite song he ever wrote.  It’s definitely one of my favorites off of the new album, so I can see where he’s coming from on that one.  It was definitely one of the best performances of the night, as well.  “This is a Call” from their debut album came next, featuring a cover of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh?” at the end.  Finally, “All My Life” closed the show out with some of the most intense energy of the entire night.  With that, the main set was over and the band took their leave.  After a decent wait a video came on the screen featuring the band backstage.  Dave asked if we’d like one more, and of course the crowd cheered.  Then Taylor suggests two more, to which Dave sternly says no.  Only one.  Boo, hiss.  Okay, fine – two more.  Hey, how about three?  No, just two.  Boo, hiss.  All right, fine.  Let’s make it four.  Cheering.  Or five.  No, four.  Just four.  Boo!  Okay, fine.  Have it your way.  We’ll do five.  Wait for it…wait for it…how about six?

All the while we never noticed Dave coming out with an acoustic guitar on a riser in the middle of the pit.  After talking to the crowd a bit more, he decided to play a song that they don’t play very often, “Wheels” from their Greatest Hits package.  In the midst of the song, Dave made a deal – if we could sing the chorus loud enough, he promised that the Foo Fighters would come back and play a show at the Electric Factory.  We did.  I’m holding you to it, Dave.  I’ll be waiting.  An acoustic rendition of “Best of You” followed, although I would have loved to hear that one with the full band since the drums are so awesome.  My favorite tune came next after a teaser of the Beatles song “Blackbird” – Dave started “Times Like These” on the acoustic guitar, but the full band kicked in halfway through.

Next, the band brought out special guest guitarist Bob Mould to play “Dear Rosemary,” the last track of the night from Wasting Light.  The song kicked ass, and as it came to a close the band jammed it out into a cover of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.”  Bob Mould left the stage after that, leaving the Foos to play the final song of the night – “Everlong.”  This was, without question, the best performance of the entire show.  When the song was over, the last chord hung in the air for a very long time as the crowd began to disperse.  It was a very long show – normally concerts fly by, but this one lasted just as long as it was supposed to.  The band clearly gives you your money’s worth, that’s for sure.  And now, Pearl Jam no longer has any contention for the top spot on my concert bucket list.

Here are a few more videos from the show.  There are a whole lot of them on Youtube, and I highly recommend taking a look if you didn’t make it to the show.  Strong language warnings on all of them, of course.

Patter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrZIwahIzxk

Wheels: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvmNnNKZ9Ms

These Days: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNUbWYJQJD0

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Keep listening!

September 20, 2011

Album Review: Endgame

Filed under: Review — rockshowmusic @ 11:59 pm

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  I’ve noticed that I’m always reviewing things I really like, so all my reviews tend to be glowing praise and very little criticism.  So this time, I’ve decided to tackle an album by a band that I’ve never been a huge fan of:  Rise Against.  There have been a couple of tunes by them in the past that I’ve enjoyed (namely “Savior” and “Swing Life Away”), but for the most part I’ve not cared for their music.  In addition, they are a very political band, which puts me off quite a bit whether I agree with the politics or not.  Still, I decided to have a listen to their newest album,  Endgame, and wound up getting it based on first impressions.  Could this be the Rise Against album I’ve been waiting for?

The first track on the album is “Architects,” and it explodes right out of the gate.  The song features a very punk sounding drum beat with some decent melodies over the verse part of the song, but the chorus is really where the song shines.  As is very common throughout this album, the vocal melodies are very strong (not something I noticed too much in older Rise Against that I’ve heard).  I’m so used to ignoring the lyrics that I really don’t know what any of the songs are about, but it is definitely easy to overlook the politics if you’re like me in that regard.  That said, “Architects” is one of my  favorite songs on the album and has a really good hard rock sound to it.  The first single from the album, “Help is On the Way,” is next.  The guitar is a hook right off the bat and the song grabs your attention as a single should.  The staccato effect of the guitar works really well, and has always been a favorite technique for me.  Same story here as far as catchiness is concerned – a decent effort in the verse, but outstanding in the chorus.  My immediate impression after two songs in is that this album is significantly more melodic and medium-paced than their earlier work, which seems to be held strongly to the band’s punk rock roots – really fast, really loud, and really obnoxious.  Glad to hear that out of this album, though I’m sure many longtime fans of the band would disagree.

The next song is the next single – “Make it Stop (September’s Children).”  Some catchy choral vocals at the beginning with more catchy guitar and vocal melodies in the verse.  The chorus is pretty decent, but it definitely isn’t as strong as the past two songs.  One thing I’m not so keen on is the spoken words during the bridge section.  I’m not really a fan of spoken words in music – it just seems to take away from the flow of the melody, which is really the most important part of a song.  The ending is a bit too blunt, as well.  Nonetheless, it’s easy to tell that Rise Against is good at crafting solid songs.  The next track is “Disparity by Design,” and it opens with a nice, fast-paced drum beat and guitar riff.  The lack of a really clear-cut vocal melody here is a striking difference from the first three tracks.  Even the chorus seems a bit lacking in a strong melody – it tries, but I don’t think it works too well.  As a punk song it definitely gets by, but going by the songwriting standard set up from the previous tracks, this song just doesn’t make the cut for me.

“Satellite” is the next song, and it opens slowly by comparison.  The vocal melodies are back, which is great, and the chorus really pumps out the energy.  The bridge is really strong here, too.  This track is definitely a recovery from the previous one, and it’s really quite dynamic – something I’ve noticed in a lot of the songs on the album.  The different parts of a lot of the songs are structured differently, if that makes sense.  Anyway, “Midnight Hands” is next, with a hard rock opening full of guitar riffs and angry vocals.  The song picks up nicely, but the chorus totally kills the momentum.  The listener is expecting the pace of the song to keep up, but the chorus slows down significantly and really makes the song feel a bit choppy.  It can be chalked up to the changing dynamics of the songs, but here I don’t think it works too well, especially after the awesome build-up.  The bridge has a decent bit of screaming in it, too, which is a bit of a negative for me.  Thankfully it doesn’t last long enough to take away too much.  Overall it’s not a bad song, it just doesn’t flow well for me like a lot of the others do.

“Survivor Guilt” comes next with more spoken words in the opening, which is an instant turn-off.  It’s also hard to ignore the political lyrics when their not hidden away in the melody.  To be fair, when the song really kicks in, it rocks pretty hard.  Again, though, the chorus changes the pace too much.  The verse is full of fast-paced awesome rock, and then the chorus cuts the speed in half.  Like the last track, it isn’t bad, it just doesn’t flow very well.  The bridge, however, kicks everything up a few notches.  It rocks pretty fast until it slows down again for more spoken words.  For me, this song just goes all over the place without having a distinct direction, and it detracts from my liking of it quite a bit.  Next, however, is “Broken Mirrors,” a song that rocks right out of the gate.  Using a triplet construction, it bounces around quite a bit, and the vocals and guitar work very well together.  The chorus is really strong here, which is a nice return to the standard set up at the beginning of the album.  The bridge changes dynamics as usual, but here it flows very well and the melodies carry over quite well.

The next track is “Wait for Me,” which is really the first slow song on the the album at the outset.  I find it lacking a bit in strong vocal melodies, but it works pretty well as a build-up.  The chorus explodes with a very catchy melody and drum beat, which flows nicely into a harder version of the verse.  Not really much else to say about this song – it’s pretty solid without getting fancy, and even though it’s pretty average it still beats some of the songs I mentioned above as being a bit weak.  “A Gentlemen’s Coup” comes next, with very catchy guitar and drum hooks right away.  The choppy music and vocals of the verse work pretty well, but the chorus just doesn’t do it.  After a successful awkward structuring like the verse, I’d expect a more solid, structured chorus.  The music is there, but the vocals still have some awkward timing that is a bit jarring for me.  Overall, I think this song suffers a bit from its awkward vocal arrangement.

However, the next song is easliy my favorite off the record.  “This is Letting Go” is definitely the best showcase of songwriting on the album.  Here, listening to the lyrics is highly recommended, especially in the second verse where the lyrics are pure poetry.  The chorus is insanely good, as well, and I guarantee it’ll stick in your head and never leave.  This single song, in my opinion, makes up for many of the album’s shortcomings.  The bridge changes things up like many of the songs do, but it flows well, and keeps the momentum in tact.  The title track comes next with a catchy bass hook followed by some hard-rocking guitar.  The sound here is nothing new – quite frankly, the sound of this album is pretty much the same all the way through.  The chorus is pretty cool here, with some different music textures.  It’s not a really catchy song, but the flow and the melodies are enough to keep it rocking pretty nicely.

“Lanterns” is the album closer, and it starts off with a slow build-up that doesn’t explode exactly as you might think it will.  The tempo changes pretty quickly into a verse that has a nice beat and some solid vocals.  The song doesn’t do anything new, it just essentially sums up the sonic textures of the album in a nice, neat little package.

Overall impression?  Definitely the Rise Against album I’ve been waiting for.  Easy to ignore the politics if that’s not your thing, and most of the songs are good quality and hard rocking.  Lots of catchy melodies and great guitar, and very dynamic song structures.  Is it flawless?  No way.  But it definitely makes me like the band a bit more.  Am I going to dig back?  I doubt it.  Do I recommend Endgame?  Yes I do.  It’s without question one of the better albums of the year, which was a nice surprise.  It definitely exceeded my expectations.

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Keep listening!

September 11, 2011

Incubus Set List & Review

Filed under: Concert Listing, Review — rockshowmusic @ 1:18 am

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Incubus played the Susquehanna Bank Center tonight with opener Young the Giant.  Now, I’m not familiar at all with Young the Giant, so I can’t provide an accurate set list for them.  When I do find one, though, I will post it separately.  However, this was my first time seeing Incubus since the Crow Left of the Murder tour back in 2004.  It was an amazing show with a great set list (though it snubbed Morning View and A Crow Left of the Murder pretty hard).  Here’s the set from tonight’s show:

  1. Megalomaniac
  2. Wish You Were Here
  3. Adolescents
  4. Anna Molly
  5. Promises, Promises
  6. The Original
  7. Privilege
  8. Consequence
  9. A Certain Shade of Green
  10. In the Company of Wolves
  11. Defiance
  12. Stellar
  13. Punch Drunk
  14. A Kiss to Send Us Off
  15. Dig
  16. Drive
  17. Switchblade
  18. Nice to Know You

Encore

  1. Pardon Me
  2. Are You In?
  3. Tomorrow’s Food

Before getting into the review, I’d like to point out that Incubus was my first concert back in 2004, so they’ll always have that special distinction.  This was my first Incubus show since then, as I missed their tour for Light Grenades.  The Susquehanna Bank Center is always a good venue to see a show – the sound is great, the venue itself is really nice; the only problem is getting there, which was remedied by using the ferry at Penn’s Landing.  I got there pretty early, so there was a lot of waiting around for the show to start.  Young the Giant took the stage ten minutes early, which was nice, and they played quite a good set.  I’m not very familiar with their work aside from “Cough Syrup” and “My Body” (both of which were played), but they definitely exceeded my expectations and rocked harder than I thought they would.

After Young the Giant was finished there was quite a long intermission before the headlining act took the stage.  The time eventually came, however, and the band broke into the extremely effective opener that is “Megalomaniac.”  Unfortunately for fans of A Crow Left of the Murder, this was the only representation that the album got all night.  The classic “Wish You Were Here” followed with “Adolescents” finishing out the opening run of three.  Brandon Boyd addressed the crowd quite a few times throughout the show, mostly to say thank you.  “Anna Molly” was next, and then “Promises, Promises.”  For the record, the light show at this concert was one of the best I’ve ever seen – it’s amazing how much a great light show adds to the enjoyment of a concert.

What came next was one of my favorite cuts from the new album, “The Original.”  As much as I love that somg on the record, live it was a whole new animal.  The spacey, beachy sound of the song really came across great live.  Also, I’d like to take this moment to comment on the thickness of the pot smoke tonight.  I thought Rush and Yes were pot bands, but aparently Incubus is in a whole ‘nother league.  Anyway, next were two really cool cuts from Make Yourself (a very heavily represented album tonight):  “Privilege” and “Consequence.”  Both were really good and really cool to hear live, as I’ve been listening to that album a lot recently.  Next came some old Incubus – “A Certain Shade of Green” from SCIENCE.  That’s one of the better songs on the album for me, so I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The scene got a bit trippy as “In the Company of Wolves” began and, as I predicted in my album review, they jammed that one out pretty good at the end.  “Defiance” came next – a bit backward, since the two songs are in the reverse order on the album, but the reason became clear afterward.  “Defiance” is an acoustic song, and they kept the sound going into the next song – “Stellar.”  I saw them do “Stellar” back in 2004, but this time was a lot different.  The song definitely works well as an acoustic tune.  “Punch Drunk” came next – a B-side from Light Grenades, if I’m not mistaken.  It sounded pretty good and worked well as a transition from the acoustic stuff back to the harder stuff.  A double-shot of Light Grenades followed with “A Kiss to Send Us Off” and “Dig.”  “Dig” was quite a memorable tune as the band did a really cool remix of it.  The guitar was a bit low in the mix under a really awesome drum and bass rhythm part.  It was essentially unrecognizable at first until Brandon Boyd began singing.  At the end, though, it became the song that we all know.

Next the crowd exploded as the band played the opening chords of “Drive.”  The song sounded really great, and in the last chorus the band stopped playing entirely while the crowd sang all the words.  “Switchblade” was next and, I must say, one of the highlights of the show.  I liked the song a bit from the beginning, but hearing it live gave me quite the appreciation for it.  After a trippy extended introduction, the band closed out the set with “Nice to Know You,” only the second tune of the night from the legendary Morning View album.

The break between the main set and the encore, however, was so short I barely noticed it – literally, I think it was only a couple of minutes.  The lighters came out and the band almost immediately took the stage again.  After tooling around a bit they broke into “Pardon Me,” which was really cool since they didn’t play it the last time I saw them.  “Are You In?” was next, which was nice since it gave a bit more representation to Morning View.  In the middle of the song there was a quick snippet of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”  The final song of the night was “Tomorrow’s Food,” which I thought was a total momentum killer and not a strong way to close out at all.  The song sounded great, but honestly it was a weak closing tune.  But hey, sometimes experiments don’t work – it didn’t take away from the other twenty songs of the night.

With that, the show was over.  As expected, the show was amazing, and I can’t wait for a new album and a new reason to see them again.  Hopefully next time they’ll play some stuff from Crow Left of the Murder!  Maybe.

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Keep listening!

September 6, 2011

Album Review: If Not Now, When?

Filed under: Review — rockshowmusic @ 6:52 pm

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  In preparation for the upcoming show at the Susquehanna Bank Center, I’d like to review the newest Incubus album, If Not Now, When?  I know I haven’t done one of these in a long while, but I’d really like to start up again, so here goes.  I’ve been a fan of Incubus ever since Make Yourself came out at the turn of the century, and I’ve rediscovered a lot of their music in recent years.  They have a fairly diverse catalog; lots of different styles fast and slow, with multiple instances of strange instrumentation.  That being said, I’m not a huge fan of what I’ve heard from their pre-Make Yourself material. I understand that that means I can never be a true fan and that all my opinions regarding them are worthless, of course.  I’ve heard very mixed reactions to If Not Now, When? since it’s been released.  A lot of people are turned off due to its mellow nature, some dislike it for not being like SCIENCE, some dislike it for being even lighter than Light Grenades.  Some do like it, however.  The fact is, the album is very different from previous Incubus releases.  Many see different as bad; I see different as different.  Silly me.

The title track is the opening cut, and I must say it’s one of my absolute favorites from the album.  Very mellow right off the bat, with slow drums and quiet background music.  The vocals go with the pace of the song perfectly, and the lyrics are really beautiful (especially the chorus).  The technicality of the music here is quite simple, which is a bit of a contrast from a lot of Incubus recordings, but it works well with the sound of the song and forces the focus on the vocals, where it should be.  The next cut is the second single, “Promises, Promises.”  When I was first exposed to this song (the night Incubus appeared on The Late Show) I was taken aback at the upbeat almost soft-rock sound the song had.  In listening to the song over and over, however, I’ve decided that this is either my favorite or second favorite on the album (the other contender being the opening track).  It’s the vocal melodies accompanied with the piano that really does it for me on this song.  It’s unbelievably accessible and has a lot of sing-along potential, which makes it extremely memorable.  Once it’s in your head, it’s not leaving anytime soon.

The next tune is “Friends and Lovers,” and it starts off with a very similar feel to the first two songs.  Again, an instant attention-grabber is singer Brandon Boyd’s vocal melodies.  Incubus has always had extremely interesting lyrics, a theme that continues on this album (Make Yourself has some great examples of Boyd’s exceptional use of metaphors and imagery, by the way).  I do like this song quite a bit, but my complaint is that there’s very little difference between the verses and choruses that it just seems to progress without really going anywhere.  The melodies are quite similar throughout.  The upside is that they’re good melodies.  “Thieves” comes next, with a very different opening that quickly returns to the medium-paced sound of the rest of the tunes.  The song has some fairly obvious political undertones, which I tend to dislike in most music.  Overall, the lyrics are fairly easy to look past if that’s not something you’re into.  The chorus is very catchy, and the subtle guitar work is nice especially since guitar is sparse on the first three tracks.

The next song is “Isadore,” and it starts up with some cool acoustic guitar work.  The verses aren’t anything to write home about, pretty much on par with the previous two songs.  The chorus, however, is once again where the song gets good.  The pre-chorus has some degree of catchiness to it, but the chorus has a great vocal melody with a perfect accompanying guitar progression.  This song actually has a fairly simple guitar solo in it, but knowing what guitarist Mike Einziger is capable of (“Sick Sad Little World,” anyone?), it’s bit disappointing.  It does fit the song fairly well, though.  The next song is another one of my favorites.  “The Original” starts quietly and builds up to something a little less quiet, but it has a great groove and feels really ‘beachy,’ if that makes any sense.  It definitely feels like a summertime, lying on a hammock at sunset kind of song.  It’s very mellow and not as catchy as some of the other tunes, but the chorus is still quite memorable.  As far as I’m concerned, the song just works – I can’t really think of a better way to put it.

“Defiance” is the next little ditty on the album.  It clocks in at only two and a third minutes, and it is an acoustic tune with some very good vocal work.  It leads well into the next song, “In the Company of Wolves,” which starts of with some guitar and keyboard playing an uplifting background for what can be described as ‘floaty’ singing by Brandon Boyd.  It gets a little boring after a while, especially since there’s not much going on to distinguish it from the rest of the album.  After about three minutes, however, the song changes quite significantly.  After a slow breakdown followed by a dark new vocal melody, the guitar and keyboard return with a very hooky new riff – dark and simple, too.  This continues for the rest of the song, with the music building more and more along the way.  The song drags on a bit longer than it needs to, but the ending is a nice jam which I’m sure will be played out in concert.

The next song is a return to an older Incubus song.  “Switchblade” has some cool guitar sounds in the background with a groovy beat going on in the foreground.  The vocals have that older, heavier sound to them – fast-paced and well-suited to harder rock.  It’s definitely the hardest rocking song on the album, though it’s really only heavy by comparison.  I’d say the verses are catchier than the chorus, but the whole song is quite hooky.  The debut single, “Adolescents,” comes next, and it also has an older sound to it.  It reminds me a bit of the softer tunes on A Crow Left of the Murder.  What I really like about this song is the return to time signature changes, which might be the why it recalls the aforementioned album.  The song has a bit of a dark side to it combined with some upbeat parts, making it a very interesting listen.  It’s definitely one of the more diverse songs on the album, and is deserving of being a single.  Does it rank with the classics?  I think it has its place, namely with the more recent hits like “Dig” and “Oil and Water.”  The last tune is “Tomorrow’s Food,” which opens with some nice acoustic finger-picking and a strangely catchy and not catchy vocal melody.  I guess the fact that it’s unique makes it memorable, though.  Overall it’s a very strange song, and I’m not sure it was the best pick for album closer.  However, it is a fairly interesting song that requires multiple listens to appreciate, I think.  I’m not sure if I’m there yet.

It’s a very different direction for Incubus to go, but you can only make records like Make Yourself, Morning View, and A Crow Left of the Murder for so long before the well of creativity is dried up.  The softer side of the band is a very striking difference, though I suppose it was hinted at by 2007’s Light Grenades, namely its singles.  I like the album for what it is quite a bit.  Compared to earlier work, I think I prefer the other albums (except Light Grenades).  It’s without question one of the better albums of the year.  Was there disappointment?  Maybe; the idea of new Incubus made me expect the best album of the year, but I don’t think If Not Now, When? can live up to that title (it’s close though!).  Would I recommend it?  Yes, but only if you can handle the fact that it’s a softer collection.  If you’re expecting Make Yourself heaviness, it’s not there.  But the songwriting is as great as ever, and the collection is very enjoyable.

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Keep listening!

August 15, 2011

Ed Kowalczyk Set List & Review

Filed under: Concert Listing, Review — rockshowmusic @ 2:58 pm

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Bethlehem finished up its annual Musikfest last night, featuring headliners Train and Ed Kowalczyk, on the Sands Steel Stage and the Musikfest Cafe, respectively.  I was fortunate enough to be at the Ed Kowalczyk show, and it was definitely one of the most memorable concert experiences I’ve had.  There were very few people there; there couldn’t have been more than 200 on the floor, so consequently everyone was able to be extremely close to the stage.  Here’s the set list from the show, and this time I can vouch for the accuracy:

  1. All Over You *
  2. Turn My Head *
  3. The Great Beyond **
  4. The Distance *
  5. Selling the Drama *
  6. Drink (Everlasting Love) **
  7. Zion **
  8. The Dolphin’s Cry *
  9. Stand **
  10. Heaven *
  11. Grace **
  12. White, Discussion *
  13. I Alone *

Encore

  1. Just in Time **
  2. The Beauty of Gray *
  3. Lakini’s Juice *
  4. Lightning Crashes *

* Live song

** Ed Kowalczyk solo album song

Let me first say that I’ve tried to see Live multiple times with no success.  There was a show at Festival Pier a few years ago while I was on vacation, a show up at the House of Blues while I was at school, and then an Ed Kowalczyk solo show at the Tower Theater last September, again while I was at school.  So when I found out that Ed was playing Musikfest this year, there was no way I wasn’t going to be there.  The ArtsQuest Center is a very new venue, so getting to go there for the show was really cool, especially Musikfest Cafe.  The show room was surprisingly small – much smaller than the Electric Factory, but quite wide.  The best part, however, was the back wall behind the stage; it’s all windows that look out right over the blast furnaces of the Bethlehem Steel plant.  At night the steel stacks are lit up and provide quite an amazing backdrop to the concert.  The balcony seating was packed, but there were very few people on the floor, making the concert setting extremely intimate.  The farthest people were still only about six or seven bodies away from the stage.

The lights went down as a recording of Ave Maria played overhead.  The way that Musikfest Cafe is laid out, the performers walk across the balcony and down the side stairs before taking the stage, so when Ed and his band began to descend the stairs you could feel the anticipation mounting.  The beginning of the show, however, had a bit of a sound problem.  When the band began to play, the guitar made no noise.  The opening riffs of “All Over You” were reduced to a bassline and drum beat, with the guitar going in and out.  Ed’s singing, however, was top notch, and in reality the sound issue wasn’t too noticeable when the song got underway.  After “All Over You” ended, Ed stepped to the microphone to address the crowd.  He mentioned the sound trouble, but spent some time talking to the crowd while the tech crew sorted out the problem.  After making some comments about the beautiful view from the windows and asking for a beer, some fans suggested that he play something acoustic to fill the time.  As strange as that may sound, there were few enough people and the venue was small enough that addressing the crowd was essentially like a conversation.  He chuckled and said “Why didn’t I think of that?”  After grabbing his acoustic and plugging in, we were treated to an acoustic performance of “Turn My Head,” which may or may not have been in the official set list for the night.  Either way, it was awesome.

As the acoustic performance came to an end, the sound crew gave a thumbs up.  The sound was fixed, and the show was on.  While there were one or two more little blips throughout the night, the rest of the show continued essentially without issue.  Ed riled up the crowd as the band began playing “The Great Beyond,” the first song of the night from his solo album, Alive.  What was really cool about the show was that he did play quite a lot from the solo album – six songs out of the seventeen song set.  It’s great that he’s actually enthusiastic about playing that stuff and not just using it as an excuse to tour all the old Live hits.  The solo album could very well have been a Live album, anyway, based on how it sounds.  “The Distance” followed, featuring an awesome acoustic guitar solo by Ed during the breakdown, and then a crowd favorite from Throwing Copper, “Selling the Drama.”

Ed addressed the crowd again, talking about working with rocker Chris Daughtry and starting the “Bald Men Club.”  The next two songs, “Drink” and “Zion,” were from the solo album, with Ed teaching the crowd to sing along to the intro of the latter.  Both songs sounded amazing, “Zion” especially blew the album version out of the water.  Next was “The Dolphin’s Cry,” the big hit from my favorite Live album, The Distance to Here.  Clearly everyone loves that song, as the crowd ate up every second of it while Ed and his band jammed it like no other, especially the ending.  Another solo album tune was next, “Stand,” with more audience participation during the intro.  Afterward he spoke to us about his daughters, and the inspiration for the next song:  “Heaven,” from Birds of Pray.  The song led nicely into the next one, the first single from Ed’s solo album – “Grace.”  He told us that the song was inspired by the Haitian earthquakes and his belief that even in the darkest tragedies there’s always a glimmer of hope.  The main set finished with two more from Throwing Copper, “White, Discussion” and “I Alone.”  The former, in particular, was one of the best performances of the night, and clearly one of the favorites among the crowd.

When “I Alone” was over the band exited the stage.  More background music played overhead, and shortly after the guitarist, bassist, and drummer returned to the stage.  They began to play the chorus to “Just in Time,” the final song of the night from Ed’s solo album.  Ed returned to the stage in time to begin the first verse, and the encore was on.  Next was “The Beauty of Gray,” going all the way back to Live’s debut album, Mental Jewelry.  During the breakdown of the song Ed mentioned that he wrote it when he was 19, about the racial issues he observed where he was growing up.  Following was “Lakini’s Juice” from Secret Samadhi, a song that just exploded out of the speakers and kicked everyone’s asses.  Along with “The Dolphin’s Cry” and “White, Discussion,” it was one of the most energetic songs of the night and got the crowd moving.  Finally the show ended with the quintessential Live track, “Lightning Crashes.”  Ed teased the audience by saying no one will ever know what the song is truly about except for him, despite all of the interpretations he’s heard over the years.  The song was amazing, and just as it came to an end the crowd could see the fireworks celebrating the end of Musikfest outside the window.  When the show was over, the four musicians took a bow and left.  The tech crew came up on the stage and handed out guitar picks and set lists, and the crowd disbursed to watch the fireworks and head out.

Here’s an older article about Ed’s inclusion in the Musikfest lineup, as well as an interview: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/musikfest/index.ssf/2011/08/ed_kowalczyk_former_singer_of_live_discusses_returning_to_pennsylvania_new_band_members_and_creative.html

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Keep listening!

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