Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Top Five for 2009

On December 30th, LEO's year-ending issue was circulated. It contains the 6th annual "Not Good For Nothing Quiz," and also two big Top Fives of 2009 spreads — one for Music, one for Film. I had the fortunate opportunity to contribute my own list of five to the Music feature.

Check page 16 of the print copy for the feature (page 18 for my list), or click here to see the online version.

Below, you will find my un-edited Top Five (listed alphabetically by band name), plus a bit of a bonus: two Dishonorable Mentions and two Honorable Mentions.

My Top Five

Target Heart EP

Blue Giant


A Viva Voce side-project and Portland's own supergroup (including Chris Funk, Evan Railton, and Seth Lorinczi). Amalgamations like this often amount to less than the sum of their parts, but that's absolutely not the case here — the record is more exciting than this year's Viva Voce release. A southern, dare-I-say-it country vibe is added in just the right amount to a sun-drenched psych-rock aesthetic that this collaboration pulls off perfectly. Lyrically clever, musically brilliant and fun, get it on vinyl (the 12" has two bonus tracks, pushing it into LP territory) with a free MP3 download.

To have a listen, click through to their website.


Kevin Moore and Jim Matheos may be an unlikely pairing, but the music born of their union is astonishing. Their third outing finds them trending a touch heavier than before, while maintaining the characteristically nuanced layering and completely relaxed vocal approach the band is known for. Available in a two-disc special edition; the savant electronic touch intertwined with metal riffs makes for unexpected, intricate compositions that demand a generous twist of the volume knob.

They have samples on their website and full songs on their Myspace.

The Incident

Porcupine Tree
(Roadrunner Records)

Five songs over two discs (the title cut is 55 minutes long), Porcupine Tree has made a definitive statement of progressive rock genius. Impressive in both breadth and depth, the album covers more sonic territory than many bands will cover over an entire career. Steve Wilson and company are undeniably fantastic musicians, at their best when they channel their abilities in service of compelling song-writing. This is exactly what they've accomplished on The Incident: intelligent music where grandiose aspirations do not preclude chop-heavy rocking, but rather incorporates both with deft mastery. Must be heard in its entirety to be believed.

For some audio taste-testing, check out the awesome player on their homepage.

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Wielding just two acoustic guitars (sans vocals and drums), this Mexican duo has laid down 11 tracks of blistering magnificence. Perhaps you're wondering if it's possible to absolutely slay with nylon strings — Rodrigo proves it can be done. Perhaps you're wondering if fingertips like polished granite and a rhythm guitar could result in a percussive juggernaut — Gabriela proves it can be done. This album finds the couple paying tribute to one favorite influence per song (from Hendrix to Dimebag Darrell to Pink Floyd) and the results are beautiful and phenomenal.

Take a listen by checking out their website.

Cosmic Egg

Periodically, rock and roll finds itself in need of a savior incarnate. Depending on your perspective, now could be one of those times, and Andrew Stockdale might have the goods. New band members backing him up, he's taken the strut and wail of Wolfmother and cranked it up a notch. This album gets a nice helping of inspiration from the 70's but doesn't sound dated, and is absolutely packed with rattling riffs and rock-til-you-drop energy. Available in multiple formats, including a double-album vinyl LP with an included free download of the entire 16-track triumph on MP3. Do not miss this.

For their website go here and for their Myspace go there.

Dishonorable Mentions


The Dead Weather

I had initially thought Horehound a candidate for my list. I heard a single on the radio, and watched them perform a song live on late night television, and was enthralled. Where had this kind of rock been hiding? But then I purchased the CD and gave it several listens. I was repeatedly surprised by the spacious production and buzzy rock and roll, only to be dismayed that something like 75% of the disc is literally drowning in some of the most obnoxiously annoying vocal tracks to dishonor a rock record since the glory days of grunge. I'm not kidding — it ruins the album.

You might be able to listen if you can get their shitty media player to work.

Black Clouds and Silver Linings

Dream Theater

It's no secret that DT has been doing a spectacular job of disappointing their long-time fans over the last couple releases. I used to buy their albums day-of-release without audition, but BC&SL was on shelves for months before I talked myself into giving it a try. For the first 11 minutes and 15-odd seconds, I was sorry I'd waited and began to believe the band had snapped out of their slump. Then, Mike Portnoy delivers his first chest-thumping vocal contribution to the album, and you begin to realize that all hope may indeed be lost. Yes, in a band with James LaBrie on lead vocals, I'm complaining about when somebody else is doing the singing. Portnoy is so damned obnoxious that he almost single-handedly ruins each track. Imagine the following ridiculous lyrics delivered seriously and in a middle-aged frat-boy shout: "A bearded gentleman! Historian! Sucking on his pipe! Distinguished accent! Making me uptight, no accident!" You can't make this stuff up. It's fucking embarrassing.

There are a few tracks for you to check out on their Myspace.

Honorable Mentions

Towards the Sun
Alexi Murdoch

Mr. Murdoch's acoustic singer/songwriter approach is often quite beautiful. This album isn't technically "out" yet — you can order from his limited indie pressing, but it won't be published and distributed until next year. The collection herein might not be as strong as his material gathered on the Away We Go soundtrack, but it's still lovely, heartfelt, and compelling.

You'll see what I mean if you check out his website.

Varia Suite
Metroid Metal

Whether you've loved one or all of the Metroid games, if you've not heard the Metroid Metal take on their soundtracks, you simply must. Stemage and company have the chops to pull of a metal tribute, but they also have the finesse to unfailingly come up with arrangements that are imaginative while still translating the original tunes with honorable fidelity. There isn't an accurate measurement for how much ass this music kicks, and considering that the entire back catalog of songs is available for free/donation, you have nothing to lose. Varia Suite is a granite slab of instrumental metal, executed with precision and passion.

Go here, and go now.


My list of five this year is interesting to me because of its obvious lack of brutality. "No heavy metal?" you might ask. Well, here's hoping that 2010 sees a new Opeth release. Furthermore, the long-anticipated third album from Necrophagist is due soon, and should melt faces with more ferocity than the climax of an Indiana Jones movie. I should also add that, much to my dismay, I missed the release date for the newest masterpiece from Nile, Those Whom the Gods Detest. Had I obtained a copy before LEO's submission deadline for their Top Fives feature, you can be sure I would've included it. If the sample tracks I've heard are any indication, the record is a hulking Star Destroyer of death metal.

Thanks for reading, and happy listening in the New Year.

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