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!

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!

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