Lee in Limbo’s Big 2012 Album Review (2/3)

Lee in Limbo's Big 2012 Album Review Wrap-Up

Heavy Rock Albums

Adrenaline Mob – Omerta: Mike Portnoy’s first post-Dream Theater album, with Russell Allen and Mike Orlando, making this a proper heavy metal super group. The album is heavy, but catchy,too. It doesn’t bludgeon you senseless. Fans of classic heavy metal will be quite pleased with this. I was, and I haven’t really listened to much heavy metal in the last few years.
Beardfish – The Void: Heavier than their previous album, though probably considered a return to form by some. Instrumentally and conceptually very good. Progressive Metal, but happily not derivative of the stalwarts of that genre. A bit of that throaty growling vocal stuff that doesn’t really do it for me, but with a taste for progressive and Zappa-esque arrangements that you don’t usually find in straightforward heavy metal. A good album I should probably listen to a few more times. Not sure if I’ll be reviewing it, but I might.
Circus Maximus – Nine: It will sound like faint praise to say it, for which I apologize, but these guys have a somewhat Dream Theater Lite flavour that nevertheless deserves attention. They play really well, their sound production isn’t derivative of DT, and their songwriting is smart and memorable, which sets them miles ahead of some of the progressive metal also-rans I’ve heard in the wake of Queensryche and Dream Theater. They aren’t the heaviest, but they occasionally pour on the crunch, and they sound good. Give them a try.
Delain – We Are the Others: This is grandiose, symphonic/melodic progressive metal album in a similar vein to Evanescence, but not in that tiresome, exhaust-a-formula way that Evanescence left me with before they went on permanent hiatus (or did they? Haven’t heard from them in ages). I would consider labelling this alternative, but it more solidly fits in the heavy rock category. Not bad stuff. The vocalist is a little strident at times, but sounds really good, and the band is excellent. This album isn’t going to get a lot of replays on my stereo, but I don’t regret hearing it the few times I’ve played it for review purposes. If you miss late 90s/early 00s heavy alt rock, this might be for you.
Great White – Elation: They’ve had to get a new vocalist, whom they’ve apparently had time to break in, but if there were any initial hiccups, they aren’t showing on this album. It’s thoroughly conventional hard blues rock in the classic Great white vein, including the ballads, but hey, if you weren’t looking for that, why did you pick up a Great White album, anyway? A fun rocker of an album.
Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody – Ascending To Infinity: Really, I think the name says it all. I only borrowed this album on a recommendation because of some of the harder stuff I’ve been checking out lately. The musicianship is stellar, and the compositions aren’t too shabby (though I really think this sort of music is best left to Aryeon). Sadly, the vocals are a little too highly operatic and the lyrics too pretentious for me. I don’t give bad reviews, though, so I’ll just say that this isn’t an album I’m likely to put on again any time soon.
Periphery – Periphery II: A ‘Djent’ band, I’m lead to understand, but one which suits my tastes. Lots of crunch, fine melodies, and only a modicum of the growling, throat screaming style of vocals I admit to not being a fan of. Some throat screaming, unfortunately, but still, much more listenable than most of the new, heavy Post-Prog bands I’ve heard in 2012. I’d probably like them a lot more if they jettisoned the throat screaming entirely, though. I prefer Haken and Animals As Leaders for that very reason, but neither had an album in 2012, so you get this instead.
Slash – Apocalyptic Love: Fantastic riff rock, sounding like what you wish hard rock sounded like these days. It’s a nice return to form for a guy who has never lost his cool, but has occasionally just not had anything to show for his years of banging about the halls. This is exactly what I would want if I were checking out a GnFknR alumnus album. Good vocals, too.
Soundgarden – King Animal: I’ve only just gotten my hands on this album and started listening to it in the last week or so, so I’m not ready to give my full endorsement yet, but the songs I’ve listened to so far on my first pass were exemplary Soundgarden. A fine comeback album from a band that helped define the sound of the early 90s. I plan on reviewing it properly in the weeks to come. I could easily learn to love this album.
Steve Vai – The Story of Light: I’ve played this album a few times now, and I’ve been meaning to review it, but I haven’t even started the review page. So, on the off chance that I reivew it this year, I’ll keep it short: This is the most intelligent, musical, moving album Steve has recorded since Passion and Warfare. Wonderful album.
Teodasia – Upwards: This is highly dynamic, synth-symphonically-driven, gothic-tinged progressive metal with a female vocalist who sounds a little like Toyah Wilcox or Jayney Klimek. It’s interesting stuff. Reminds me of my friend Hunter Eves (yes, that’s a plug; look her up). It took me ages to just block out some time to listen to this, but I’m glad I finally did. It’s not top ten material for me, and it’s a shade pretentious in places, but it’s quite good. Certainly sounds a fair bit more honest than Rhapsody or Aryeon, to my ears.
The Cult – Choice of Weapon: Okay, do you guys remember The Cult? I do. I remember when they were still called The Southern Death Cult. And I can tell you, there have been no bands that have ever really captured the sound they did. That might not be a bad thing, but I’ve been a fan for a long time, and I was definitely missing this. It sounds ever so slightly less punchy, but it still rocks mightily, and really, anything that gets these two making Cult music again deserves notice. If you like psychedelia-tinged heavy rock, you should give this a spin.
Threshold – March of Progress: This is probably more of an alternative album, but it’s got a lot of metal trappings, including slightly operatic hard rock vocals, anthemic lyrics, and walls of metal guitars and backing vocals. It doesn’t quite jump out at me, but it’s really not bad stuff. Heavier in some places than others, but it’s at least pretty musical, all around. Good synths. I guess I’d say it’s like early Symphony X with a vocalist who sounds like the love child of Ronny James Dio and James LaBrie.
Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth: This is a Top Ten album for me. It’s one of the best comeback albums I’ve heard in years. They pick up the strands of where they were before the break-up in 83, and the maturity and grace shows through, but the happy news is it rocks like a motherfucker. Very musical. Very cool. Total vindication to Diamond Dave fans who have been waiting for his return.

Alternative Rock Albums

Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra – Theater Is Evil: Dark Horse album of the year for me. Maybe not in my top five, but dangerously close. Easily my favourite AFP album yet. Please, Madame, may I have another?
Band of Horses – Mirage Rock: Infectious, edgy alt.pop with some classic rock flourishes, in the 80s/90s mould (Did you see what I did there?), only with perhaps an awareness of the history of classic rock that most alt bands don’t dare to demonstrate. Think early Tommy Petty and the Heartbreakers, when he was still verging on Post-Punk. Very good songwriting. I haven’t really gone over this album the way I’d planned to, but listening to it now makes me think I should at least recommend it to a couple of my alt-minded friends. It’s good stuff.
Beach House – Bloom: Now this is some tasty dream pop, all ambient guitars and washy vocals and lush production with a steady hand on the reverb knob. Not bad stuff. Nice classic alternative rock vibe. Fun. I might recommend this to Adam Bentley of The Rest, if he hasn’t already heard it.
Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind: a comeback album you probably didn’t expect, given that Ben Folds has kept pretty busy in the last while. This is a fun, edgy, challenging album with pop hooks turned on their ear. I haven’t fallen in love with it yet, but I might be open to a little heavy petting with this one. I like to think that Ben Folds is what Elton john would have sounded like if he had taken punk rock a little more seriously in the late 70s. Very good stuff. Great for people who like OK Go, Jellyfish (don’t you dare tell me you don’t know who Jellyfish was!), or perhaps Radiohead as performed by Tori Amos.
Elbow – Dead In The Boot: I’m not listening to as much alternative music these days as I used to, so I don’t know how to easily categorize what Elbow does. It’s slightly jazz inflected, with a fair bit of ambience, and near somnambulant vocals, but it’s not what I would class Neo-Shoegaze. Is there a Post-Shoegaze category yet? Anyway, it’s not bad at all, but I doubt I’ll be reviewing it in more depth. I may play it a few more times in the future, but it’s not a ‘wow’ album for me.
Garbage – Not Your Kind of People: A very nice return to form for the band. Not a favourite album of mine, but it’s fresh, which is what you come to expect from Garbage. They rarely retrace their steps, and this album is nicely aggressive alt.pop with a danceable beat and enough grit to keep it from sounding like Europop.
Linkin Park – Living Things: Okay, the album opens heavy synth bass, electronic beats, and grungy synths. The rap+tenor vocals are what I remember. I had heard there were fans who wrote them off for changing their sound. I must have heard wrong. It sounds like Linkin Park to me. I’m not a fan, but I’ve got no beefs. It’s good. Shut up.
LITE – Past Present Future: This is, I’m told, a Japanese Math Rock band. I’m listening to the stuff right now. Think instrumental 1980s King Crimson with members of Talking Heads in the mix. It’s got this strange mix of styles, but all underlaid with crazy time signatures and funky Gamelan patterns. Nice.
Muse – The 2nd Law: I reviewed this album last year, but it bears repeating that this is an excellent if surprising album. And EON needs to give these guys a crack at writing a Bond Theme for them. The opening track, ‘Supremacy’, might as well have been called ‘Bond 23’.
Sigur Ros – Valtari: The thing about Sigur Ros music is, it’s haunting and beautiful and strange and powerful and occasionally quite loud. I don’t ask them to be anything else. Happily, on this album, they have completely failed to be anything else. It may not be for everybody, but for those who genuinely enjoy this sort of thing, I’m glad to know you.
SOSO – That Time I Dug So Deep I Ended Up In China: Music that does so many things so very differently and so very well. A list of possible influences as long as your arm. Danceable alternative electronic music with carefully tweaked, synth-driven arrangements. Completely different, but warmly familiar. Alternative R&B Synth-Orchestral Rock.
Stockholm – Eyes In the Dark: A great 80s revival synth rock band with a distinctly modern alt rock sound. Great guitars, great rhythm section, and modern production values, so it doesn’t sound tweezy and archaic. I’m only just getting around to listening to this now, but it’s quite good. Sort of what I would expect if Fall Out Boy decided to get back together to make an album of early 80s pop music. Anthemic pop music with an indie edge. Good stuff.
Tanacetum Vulgare – Song Blood: This is an EP from Bandcamp.com by an indie musician with a peculiar mix of ukulele and acoustic guitar and a very soulful, anachronistic jazz voice, a little like Natalie Merchant (or maybe Adele) with a Tori Amos flare for dynamics and an unholy love of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. So, I guess sort of like Amy Winehouse, but without the big budget music productions or the scary boyfriend or the addiction. And a ukulele. I wish I could describe it better than that. It’s not for everyone, but it’s quite enjoyable music, and I hope to hear a full length album sometime in the near future.
The James Rocket – Launch: True indie rock at it’s finest. James Roy is one of my favourite indie songwriters, and this album is the first salvo in a coming wave of college rock classics that you need to hear. My review from last year was described as a wet, sloppy kiss, which takes a little getting used to. Still, I’m glad I know the guy, even if he’s not as keen on my music as I am on his. Top Ten album for me, if not quite Top Five. Close, though.
The Killers – Battle Born: Okay, you guys probably know more about The Killers than I do, which is fine by me. They sound like The Buggles-meet-OMD-meet-Big Country-meet-Chalk Circle to me. So yeah, they are an 80s revival band, and they’ve got skills, and they even work a Motown motif into the middle eight of their title track, so they aren’t playing it safe. They probably deserve whatever acclaim they’ve got. The album sounds good. It hasn’t grabbed me yet, but it sounds good. They’ve even got a big Bruce Springsteen-type anthem. Not bad, really. Oh, go ahead, listen to it. Beats the fuck out of ‘Gangam Style’.
The Offspring – Days Go By: You weren’t waiting for another Post-Punk album, were you? What? You say you were? Well, you know, I got this band right here who does exactly that, and they do it pretty well. You may have heard of them. This album opens with a heavy rocking anthem, and yeah, their lead vocalist still sounds like Al Yankovic on amphetamines, but the stuff rocks, so fuck it. Crank it up and piss off your neighbours. Just maybe leave the skateboard in the garage where it belongs. You’re not that young anymore, and neither are these guys. There’s even piano on this album. On an Offspring album. Isn’t that one of the signs of the Apocalypse? You mean it’s almost over? Damn. I still have a lot of unfinished work. I hope you’re wrong. It’s only a little piano, really. They haven’t turned into Axl Rose, fer fuck’s sakes. It’s just, you know, a little more mature. But they still have the sense of humour to take the piss out of modern dance pop and hip hop music. Cruisin’ California kind of sends up a lot of stuff with a mock straight face. And okay, there’s a pop ballad on there. You’re probably right about the Apocalypse, really. Still, fun album; quite diverse. And they can still thrash when called to, if that’s any comfort.
The Rest – See-Saw: I reviewed this album last year as well, and enjoyed it immensely. Adam & co do a nice take on the Shoegaze style without feeling like they are locked in the early 90s. Somewhere between the Sugar Cubes and Broken Social Scene. Recommended to anyone who wants something just a little bit different, but melodic at the same time, and preferably fresh-sounding.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania: If you’ve been wondering whether the reconstituted ‘new’ Smashing Pumpkins can recapture the magic, well, I’m sure I can find fans who will say ‘no f*ing way’, but I’m listening to this opening track, and it sounds like the Pumpkins to me. Yeah, none of the original members, save Billy, are in the band. Yeah, that makes a difference. And yeah, billy may be a little confused about just who left for what reason or why, and he may not be as friendly with former members as he could be, but hey, rock is full of eccentrics and loons who make great music. This album probably picks up from Machina II and moves forward. It’s not as much the underdog as some of the previous works, but I think it probably still isn’t getting the love it deserves. Still, a return to form, so good for Billy.
The XX – Coexist: Duelling male/female vocals over a Shoegazey, ambient dance style of dream pop music. Not sure I like it, but I don’t dislike it either. Yeah, it’s good at what it does, but it doesn’t do anything interesting to me.
Wild Nothing – Nocturne: Hmmn. I hear a lot of late 80s/early 90s alt.rock influences in here, starting with The Cure and including other bastardized Shoegaze elements that seem to be making a comeback. Nice stuff. Not hitting my top floor, mind you, but nice stuff. Definitely a good choice for your 80s-loving friends.
Yeasayer – Fragrant World: I hear a lot of Electronic Music-inspired elements in their sound, and they’re definitely keyboard-driven, but their rhythms are smart, their vocal arrangements are solid, and the mix of genre sounds is intriguing and doesn’t sound particularly derivative of anything I’ve heard over-played, so that nice. It doesn’t hit my top floor, but it’s a nice palate cleanser, if you’ve been looking for something new and have been hearing a little too much of the same thing, lately.

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