Over the past month, I ended up playing a bit of catch-up with albums from the year that I hadn’t picked up yet. I’ve reached a weird point where I have too much music and too little time. But anyways, here are my top 5 albums of the past year!
Overall, it was pretty good, although I probably didn’t listen to as much new music as I normally do.
#5: Tremonti – Cauterize
Genre – Thrash metal, speed metal, alternative metal, hard rock
When I first listened to Alter Bridge back in high school, the music “clicked” for me immediately. The main draws? The tasty guitar work and Myles Kennedy’s soaring vocals. But would lead guitarist Mark Tremonti be able to put out solo work that measures up to his band’s output (let’s just gleefully ignore Creed for the moment)? Not quite, but he came close.
While 2012 saw Tremonti’s first solo album, All I Was, this year’s Cauterize has him offering a more distinct and generally stronger effort. Musically, it’s a neat mix of Alter Bridge’s nifty style of modern rock/metal crossed with the fast and aggressive thrash metal impact popular since the 80s. While the instrumental work – particularly the guitar, as expected – is great, the biggest difference from All I Was are Tremonti’s vocals. Not only does he work with a slightly expanded range, but be shows greater variety in his melodic lines. While his first album and few lead parts for Alter Bridge showed off his distinct voice that works great for the style, Cauterize shows just how much he’s improved and has me looking forward to all he’ll do in the future, solo and otherwise.
Recommendation – Providence, Arm Yourself, Tie The Noose
#4: Ninja Sex Party – Attitude City
Genre – Comedy rock, synthpop
Fortunately, I don’t need to start this off by trying to convince you to take a band named “Ninja Sex Party” seriously. Brought to you by the creative genius (?) of Danny Sexbang and Ninja Brian, NSP’s latest work is an odd synthpop/comedy rock album that covers the full spectrum of weird stories about sex-related things. Everything from a road trip to get with as many girls around the country (then world (then universe)) as possible, a trip to the disappointingly celibate future, and acknowledging efforts being for the sake of a woman’s “peppermint creams.” So yeah, it’s not anything you really need to take seriously.
While the comedy is obviously going to turn off a lot of people from listening, the music is relatively simple but effective. At worst, you could say it’s a dated and cheesy style that offers nothing special, but at best I would say it works perfectly as a vehicle for Danny’s lyrics about genitalia, copulation, and what-not. So even while it’s not a style I normally like, the whole package works great and delivers a great series of weird songs.
Disclaimer – naughty language
Recommendation – Dragon Slayer, 6969, Road Trip
#3: reol – Gokusaishiki (極彩色)
Genre – J-pop, rock, electronic
At the top of my favorite albums of 2014 list was something that even I didn’t expect to end up there – a collaboration between singer reol and composer/arranger GigaP. Once you take reol’s addicting voice into account, it starts to make sense though. Rather than a collaboration with a single writer, this year’s Gokusaishiki is reol’s first solo album, with songs from various composers and herself making it up.
Stylistically, the album is quite diverse, ranging from hard rock to electronic to various points in between. As with No title− last year, reol’s voice alone is a huge draw, but the music itself is solid from beginning to end. Interestingly, the highlights seem to be the tracks most different from last year’s collaboration, even if this album is not as strong as a whole. The rock-oriented songs give reol the best chance to show off what she can do while accompanied by instrumentation that can push the songs at full force.
But really, I can credit half of the reason to her voice. Also, dat bass.
#2: Plini – The End of Everything
Genre – Progressive metal, instrumental
When Plini popped onto my radar a few years ago, he grabbed my attention right off the bat. The guitar performance was great, but the composition seemed to pull me in more. However, he gave the impression of a slightly disjointed sound, like he was still testing the waters to figure out where he would go next. Fortunately, his first three song EP, Other Things, started to pull everything together. His latest release, The End of Everything, just shows how much more he has to offer. Even if it’s just a three song EP, it easily deserves this spot.
An instrumental release, Plini himself covers the composition and guitar work while guest contributors provide most of everything else (including Marco Minnemann on drums, which is super nifty). While many solo guitarists fall into the trap of overwhelming each track with excessive guitar work, Plini’s approach takes the full sound into account. Everything is mixed near perfectly, arrangement never feels excessive or distracting, but the songs don’t sound overly simple either – everything is built to complement rather than compete. He hits a great medium between emphases on tone, melody, and rhythm, creating a trio of songs that pull you in and reward re-listening. It’s excellent, it’s far from run-of-the-mill, and it’s leaving me excited for what he does next.
Recommendation – The entire thing is only three songs, but Paper Moon is the standout.
#1: Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Genre – Progressive rock, electronic rock
Two years ago, in one of my first posts on this site, my number two album for the year (2013) was Steven Wilson’s The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), which was easily his best solo work at that point. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is better.
Steven Wilson’s been making music for quite a while now, but his past two solo albums have shown some of the best of what he’s capable of (besides Porcupine Tree’s albums Fear of a Blank Planet). Rooted in progressive/art rock a la Pink Floyd, Genesis, and other early pioneers, this album also sounds distinctly fresh and contemporary. It’s not just a shiny coat of paint on an old style, but instead an undeniably new album that takes heavy influence from musicians of days gone by.
It’s also the second album on this list to feature Marco Minnemann on drums. That’s never a bad thing. And Guthrie Govan’s guitar solos, particularly on Ancestral, are some of the best you’ll ever hear. And the bass work. And the keys. Basically, everyone who contributed to this album is really good at what they do. Steven Wilson doesn’t have the best singing range, but his note-for-note accuracy is excellent, and the vocal lines work perfectly among everything else.
The album is greater than the sum of its already great parts. So listen to it.
Recommendation – The album, from beginning to end. But if you have to start somewhere, go with Routine and 3 Years Older.