The Rock Show: Off the Air

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!

Blog at WordPress.com.