Records of the Year

December 12, 2009

It’s finally done, after much deliberation and whatnot, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite records from this year, and written a poorly crafted blurb for each of them. My words don’t do them justice, so check them all out for yourself and hopefully I’ll be able to expose you to something new and interesting!

10. Wolves in the Throne Room – Black Cascade

Wolves in the Throne Room’s style of black metal reminds me of the early 90’s releases by Burzum and Darkthrone. Long songs with repetitive, simple riffs and vocals that scream in agony over the din. With Black Cascade, there is definitely an attempt to add more the “atmospheric” side of the band, with it’s 10+ minute songs and inclusion of synth backing tracks on top of the chaotic noise. They also seem to pull of a strange feat of emulating the early raw black metal production while maintaining a listenable quality. This is often the sticking point for most people with black metal, and possibly those who can’t deal with some of the overly harsh stuff might find this more accessible. Of course, I could just be getting used to all this noise.
9. Baroness – Blue Record

Earlier this year in a review I mentioned that this record wasn’t that phenomenal, nothing that inspiring. Boy was I wrong. I don’t know what the hell I was listening to when I wrote that review, but my brain must have been shut off to not recognize the sheer brilliance displayed in this record. Sure they feature that low range muddy guitar that’s become a staple of stoner or sludge metal bands, but Baroness have created something much more than a staple record here. What it is is an amalgam of great metal, intricate solos clash with sludgy rhythms, clean sections mix in with the cacphonic. Everything flows together making a great record, and one I wish I had the good sense to recognize the first time around.
8. Cobalt – Gin

If Wolves in the Throne room is a more atmospheric approach to black metal, then Cobalt approach it from the complete opposite side. There is not much atmosphere here, because there’s no room for it. Every track is stuffed to the brim with overwhelmingly intense sound. Listening through this record for the first time is an experience, it straight out kicks your ass and you appreciate it. There’s kind of a Tool style vibe present in some parts of the record, the end of Dry Body for example. The long spells of hypnotizing drums and accompanying guitars creating a repetition that sucks you in. What we’re left with in the end is a harsh slab of black metal, and an unforgiving one at that.
7. The Tragically Hip – We Are the Same

With their last studio release World Container, the Kingston band seemed to be headed in a more rock direction, with plenty of loud songs and producer Bob Rock layering guitars, drums, and whatever else he had handy to give the record a lot of body. It’s interesting then, how We Are The Same charts off in a different course. The overall sound is more “organic” here, plenty of acoustic guitar, piano, and more emphasis on the Hip’s country tinged side than the rock and roll one. Not to say there aren’t moments of rock brilliance as well, as Love Is A First features everything that embodies a good Hip rock song, Gord Downie ranting included. Speaking of Downie, the vocalist once again provides his excellent and unique voice to great effect, along with his great lyrical ability. It’s encouraging to see a band that has been together so long can still produce music so effeciently and focused like this, and is still changing their sound instead of falling back on their past success.
6. Between the Buried and Me – The Great Misdirect

It seems that with every album I like this band more and more. After the great Colors, the group has hit an even higher point on my favourites chart with The Great Misdirect. Maybe it’s because they continue to push the envelope to how far they can go in terms of their compositions. The range of music on this album is huge, from the refined jangly reverb guitars on the opener “Mirrors” to the eventual complex and bizarre depths the album will reach later on. There’s something for everybody here, great synth work, some stonery rock sections, even a weird ass section of groovy blues rock with horse sound effects. If you’re a fan of “progressive” music in the truest sense of the word, you have no excuse not to give this album a listen.
5. Devin Townsend Project – Addicted

While Ki was a sort of mellowing out record, Addicted is a lot closer to Townsend’s past solo releases. Amazing walls of sound, coupled with layers and layers of vocals and guitarwork that are all polished off with his excellent production skills. One song, Hyperdrive! was previously heard on one of my personal favourites Ziltoid The Omniscient, however it has been rerecorded here with female vocals. The addition of Anneke van Giersbergen’s vocals in this album are actually a great compliment to Devin’s arrangements, and provide a nice alternative to the usual vocal domination we get from most Townsend releases. Devin has been quoted as saying  he’d “get offended by my own pretension and rock some good vibes with Addicted” and that is pretty much a summary of the attitude portrayed in this record. You can’t help get excited when every song ends with an exclamation point!
4. Matthew Good – Vancouver

In the middle of all my extreme music, there’s still room for well orchestrated alternative rock. Matthew Good’s newest is much more grand than the great-in-it’s-own-way Hospital Music, and we get instead incredibly expansive songs full of pianos and strings that seem to drift out into space. There’s a strange sort of simplicity in Good’s songs and yet at the same time one could hardly call a lot of these arrangements less than complex. The vocals are strong as always, and Good’s knack for writing both poignant and affecting lyrics is always on display. Overall the album feels much more upbeat than its predecessor, but it still hits some depressing points. It’s another quality addition to Good’s output, and songs like “A Silent Army In the Trees”, “Fought To Fight It” and “The Vancouver National Anthem” have all of the venom we’ve seen before, along with the more laid back atmospheres of the rest of the album.
3. The Mars Volta – Octahedron

It seems like every time a new Mars Volta album comes out, all reviews generally focus on the same thing. “It’s not Deloused”, “Nowhere near Deloused”. I swear to God I have never seen a review not mention/compare to the groups debut (this one now included) and it’s a damn shame. Guess what? This year the Mars Volta put out an album, and you know what, it’s good. It’s actually damn good. Octahedron is probably the most focused, controlled form of the band we’ve seen, and everything here works brilliantly. Some might complain about the slow start, but I feel the entire album works so well on a large scale. Every part necessary, building up and down as it just drags you along the soundscapes that have defined Omar and Cedric’s band for years now. The two songs Cotopaxi and Desperate graves in particular form a breathtaking chunk of the album, capturing the off the wall dynamics and excitement that embody the band.
2. Converge – Axe to Fall

This is how an album is supposed to start. Right out the gate Converge give us the awesome adrenaline inducing “Dark Horse” and they rarely let up afterwards. Up until fairly recently I hadn’t been much of a fan of the band, but after relistening to both this release and the seminal Jane Doe, I realized how great they really are This is probably one of the most “metal” influenced of Converge’s albums, but the hardcore elements are still present. The record is full of guest appearances from members of bands like Genghis Tron, The Red Chord, Neurosis, and many others. Occasionally the band stops to let you breathe, the last two tracks in particular having plenty of slow parts, but on the whole you’re getting an unrelenting album of metal tinged hardcore that has become their calling card.
1. Propagandhi – Supporting Caste

I can’t count how many times I’ve listened to this record this year. Aside from the ridiculous Mercyful Fate cover at the end, I love every song, and the overall album is probably the most satisfying I’ve listened to all year. Employing a thrash/punk crossover style extremely well, Propagandhi show that they can write both kick ass music and intriguing lyrics. I’m not an animal rights activist, but I still felt pity after “Potemkin City Limits”. Many Canadians might be interested in “Dear Coaches Corner” as it reams out Don Cherry while simultaneously questioning the true reasons behind our pre-game ceremonies. “Without Love” is an almost heartbreaking account of loss, something you wouldn’t think to find in an aggressive crossover record. There’s many different moods here, from the super serious political stuff to the tongue in cheek “Banger’s Embrace” about trips to see punk shows. Propagandhi have come a long way since the 90’s where they served as a Canadian NOFX soundalike. Now they have their own identity, and it’s damn solid one.

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