TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2014

Justin-Townes-Earle-Single-Mothers50. Justin Townes Earle- Single Mothers
Single Mothers sees Justin Townes Earle stripping elements away instrumentally without dialing back the 3am heartache. Pedal steel supplies a morphine drip of comfort to the audience as they try to cope with the Earle’s fragile songs of lament. As far as the new age of Nashville songwriters/storytellers is concerned, he remains near the top.

PallbearerFoundationsofBurdenalbumcoverartworkpackshotThrashHits49. Pallbearer- Foundations of Burden
In terms of rafter-rattling monstrous riffs in 2014, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more monolithically menacing record that Pallbearer’s Foundations of Burden. With four of the six songs clocking in over 10 minutes (Plus another at 8:41) it’s easy to get into sucked these massive slabs of metal as visions of Sabbath course through your brain.

favorite_waitress48. The Felice Brothers- Favorite Waitress
After 2011’s experimental Celebration, Florida The Felice Brothers return three years later with more of a return to their roots with the folk rock-tinged Favorite Waitress. With refined melodies and Ian Felice’s early Dylan-esque nasally croon, Favorite Waitress is a warm-hearted record that rewards the listener with repeated listens.

13992-half-the-city47. St. Paul & The Broken Bones- Half The City
Half The City is like a jubilant liturgical service for castaways and ragamuffins. Born out of the same Alabama neo-soul that saw the ascension of Alabama Shakes (Even produced by Shakes’ Ben Tanner), St. Paul & The Broken Bones have created a righteous debut that makes the grit and sweat of the streets seem like salvation.

51dZ6+j5dqL46. Robert Ellis- The Lights From The Chemical Plant
While awful plop country/bro country continues to be bafflingly successful in America there is a movement of genuine-article country artists trying to save the genre. Names like Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll, Justin Townes Earle, Jason Isbell, and now Robert Ellis are reminding us why country music used to be such an earnest and respected art form. Ellis acts as a craftsman on The Lights From The Chemical Plant with frayed songs that are both raw yet slightly polished. More records like this could go a long way in restoring the fortitude of country music.

softwhite45. The Soft White Sixties- Get Right.
The Soft White Sixties start breaking down the walls with a radiant debut in Get Right. With nods to retro rock and pop, The Soft White Sixties mine similar territory to that of Dr. Dog. Churning, chattering organs and buzzing guitars make for a blissful alchemy with just the right amount of edge.

cold-war-kids-hold-my-home-album-cover-art44. Cold War Kids- Hold My Home
After the astounding breakout success of Robbers & Cowards, Cold War Kids’ momentum cooled. With 2013’s stellar Dear Miss Lonelyhearts and this year’s even better Hold My Home it appears that they’re back on the map. Pounding pianos and strutting grooves are the perfect pillars for Nathan Willett’s warbling falsetto to soar into arena rock territory.

14003-eagulls43. Eagulls- Eagulls
These ain’t The Eagles your Dad listened to. The self-titled debut from Eagulls is a hungry and fierce entrance into the world, a cross section of howling punk blended with eighties left-of-the-dial guitars making it a record that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go.

wig-out-at-jagbags42. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks- “Wig Out at Jagbags”
Former Pavement front man Stephen Malkmus continues the 2nd stellar act of his career with his backing band The Jicks and 2014’s “Wig Out at Jagbags”. Jangling, wiry jolts of guitar play off of Malkmus and his wry delivery of lyrics. So when he invites us to, “Come slam dancing with some ancient dudes” the answer is of course, yes.

chi-goldplay-ghost-stories-review-20140519-00141. Coldplay- Ghost Stories
Coldplay return after a three-year hiatus to deliver their most experimental endeavor yet with Ghost Stories. Icy synths and hip-hop rhythms supply a velvet undercurrent to many tracks but if you think they’ve forgotten about their stadium-sized theatrics guess again as they shoot for the moon on the Avicii-produced, EDM-inspired “A Sky Full of Stars” proving that they still haven’t lost their taste for celestial theatrics.

16239-dereconstructed40. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires- Dereconstructed
With a band name like Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires you better damn sure be a shit-kicking act. Bains and company do not disappoint on Dereconstructed. Part soaked in southern comfort, part motor oil from the garage, and crushing riffs on the level of AC/DC; this is a record meant for hard-charging weekend nights. Really, any night you feel like killing a bottle of bourbon or case of beer yourself.

20140401_jack_white_9139. Jack White- Lazaretto
With the release of his sophomore solo effort Lazaretto, ever-mercurial Jack White is clearly trying to cut his own individual swath and be redefined as something other than the garage rock guitar god of The White Stripes. White stretches further into exploration with uneven pianos bobbing and weaving throughout and a sense of matured restraint. It’s quieter than his usual amplified racket but he still wonders back occasionally into realms that put him on the map as indicated by the screeching instrumental “High Ball Stepper.”

1391438441_d8016922d83933daec546eae47e11f6038. The Family Rain- Under The Volcano
What an apt name like The Family Rain is for this band. Three brothers unite forming a potent power trio and Under The Volcano expertly displays their formidable prowess. A tight but not constricted set of catchy blues rock bangers similar to The Black Keys. Continuing a trend like this record ensures staying power.

5f94532b-e139831137097637. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- Days of Abandon
2011’s Belong put The Pains of Being Pure at Heart on the map. Trying to keep the momentum going with their follow up, Days of Abandon they more than succeed. More dreamscape guitars swirl around singer/guitarist Kip Berman’s whimsical vocals. They bring the alternative side of the ‘90s into the new millennium with fantastic results.

17851-benjamin-booker36. Benjamin Booker- Benjamin Booker
Benjamin Booker arrives on the blues scene with a frenetic self-titled debut that is sure to put him at the forefront of the movement. A gritty, raw output that has the dirty, sincere feel of traditional blues blended with distorted, scuzzy guitars that you’d hear on punk rock albums. Booker’s wounds pour out in fervent feedback-fueled bliss.

drytheriver-artwork-album-small35. Dry The River- Alarms in the Heart
After a phenomenal debut in 2012 with Shallow Bed, Dry The River return with more gorgeous chamber pop while aiming for even loftier places with Alarms in the Heart. Chiming and ringing waves propel that band forward but the real weapon continues to be Peter Liddle’s haunting, wounded falsetto. It teeters on an improbable line of innocence and experienced heartbreak.

field report34. Field Report- Marigolden
Christopher Porterfield leads Field Report through opulent yet simplistic landscapes on Marigolden. Similar to that of Wilco, Field Report brings the best elements of Americana to the forefront and adds dashes of electronic flourishes and modernized production. As far as looking towards the future in a genre like Americana you’d have to look to Field Report as one of the front-running bands.

upside down mountain33. Conor Oberst- Upside-Down Mountain
Conor Oberst’s pedigree is well-known by now. A tireless workhorse as indicated by his discography with both Bright Eyes and as a solo artist. Also stunning is his prolific songwriting chops; one of the best around and Upside-Down Mountain is his finest solo effort yet. Oberst’s songwriting continues to be his primary strength but understated idiosyncrasies in the layers of neo-folk make this his best record since 2005’s Bright Eyes masterpiece I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning.

DBT english-oceans32. Drive-By Truckers- English Oceans
Drive-By Truckers have been the workingman’s blue-collar southern rock band since 1998, constantly cranking out quality records every year or two. A three-year break might’ve caused some concern, but English Oceans shows no signs of rust. In fact, if anything they emerge stronger than ever as Mike Cooley has emerged as a wonderful co-collaborator next to Patterson Hood writing six of the 13 songs here. Another fine batch of gritty southern-spun tales but none better than the powerful closer “Grand Canyon,” a cascading sunrise epic to fallen DBT family member Craig Lieske.

SR_swimmin31. Shovels & Rope- Swimmin’ Time
Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst have brought a refreshing angle into Americana music. A married duo creating some of the best music of the genre with the male/female dynamic which continues in Swimmin’ Time. Enchanting campfire sing-a-longs are met by boozy ramshackle burners. It’s an album that sounds rustic yet revitalizing at the same time.

california breed30. California Breed- California Breed
There are aging rockers with their weathered vocals losing some of their punch over the years and decades, then there’s Glenn Hughes whose pipes still have enough hurricane howl to level a stadium. After the dissolution of Black Country Communion, Hughes and drummer Jason Bonham regrouped and with 23-year-old hot shot virtuoso Andrew Watt. The trio formed California Breed and their self-titled debut picks up where BCC left off. Powerhouse bluesy rockers strut as they pummel their way into your cerebrum. And as for if Hughes has lost any amplification in that Golden God wail yet? Just listen to the chorus in “The Grey” and give your verdict.

jbrowne29. Jackson Browne- Standing in the Breach
Jackson Browne has always had a way of standing out from the pack regarding topical singer/songwriters because of his delicacy and reassured approach to his craft. Standing in the Breach is his first record in six years and one of the finest he’s ever made. His gentle California croon gliding effortlessly through a classic collection of songs that signal a probable resurgence for Browne.

ty-segall-the-manipulator-album-stream-npr28. Ty Segall- Manipulator
Ty Segall has built one of the most prodigious catalogs in a short amount of time and with Manipulator he’s made his best record to date. What a difference a little clarity and fidelity makes! Segall fuses elements of pop with his California garage fuzz all filtered through T. Rex-style guitar glam. Segall has the canon of someone twice his age and yet Manipulator shows that he may just be getting started.

rival sons27. Rival Sons- Great Western Valkyrie
Rival Sons are carved out of the granite of classic hard rock. With 2014’s Great Western Valkyrie they’ve seemed to finally reach their Valhalla destination. Their best record yet that could hold up against many of the monumental albums of ‘70s powerhouse acts. Front man Jay Buchanan wails and howls with impunity as the band weaves in and out of touchstones from Led Zeppelin to Deep Purple. With a classic rock-leaning band like this not in fashion you certainly hope they don’t fade into obscurity.

neil young storytone26. Neil Young- Storytone
Neil Young is a man that doesn’t know how to stop working. He’s arguably been more prolific with releases in his latter-day career than at his creative summit in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Some of it very frustrating (Fork in the Road, Americana), some of it good (Chrome Dreams II, Living With War) and even in some cases, still incredible (Psychedelic Pill). 2014’s Storytone fits in the middle of that pack and sees Young believe it or not putting yet another new spin on his musical footprint. Songs are split between the massive swells of a 92-piece orchestra and big band arrangements with surprisingly stunning yet focused results.

AC-DC_-_Rock_Or_Bust25. AC/DC- Rock Or Bust
You’ve heard terms “The irresistible force” and “The immovable object” before? Well, the indomitable AC/DC can fit under both of those banners. AC/DC are Rock & Roll survivors, after first losing front man Bon Scott in 1980 all the way up until this year losing co-founding guitarist Malcolm Young due to dementia and drummer Phil Rudd due to legal troubles. The result of all of this attrition and internal strife leads up to Rock or Bust. A stout, guttural shot of classic visceral AC/DC. Clocking in at less than 35 minutes, it’s their shortest record ever but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack all of the meaty riffs and power surges from some of its masterpieces lead by guitarist Angus Young and front man Brian Johnson’s weathered banshee growl. It’s uncompromising, they haven’t changed a damn thing in 40 years… and thank these Aussie Gods for that.

el pintor24. Interpol- El Pintor
Interpol was one of the more prominent guitar buzz bands in the early 2000’s and after a four-year break they prove why they were at the head of that pack with El Pintor. Nocturnal and brooding in areas, luminous and energized in others as Paul Banks serenades with his melancholy baritone that could give The National’s Matt Berninger a run for his money.

temples23. Temples- Sun Structures
There are several bands who’ve tried to tap into the golden years of ‘60s and ’70s psychedelic rock with mixed results. English lads Temples feel more like the real deal than some cheap imitator. Their debut Sun Structures is brilliantly produced with echoing guitar tones, whimsical harmonies, and hooks a-plenty this band sounds like they’re at the beginning of something extraordinary. Songs like “Shelter Song,” “Keep in the Dark,” “Mesmerize,” and “Test of Time” sound like they could be hit singles from 1968 all the way up until today.

WNCC-500x50022. Wolfmother- New Crown
Wolfmother’s future seemed uncertain with a constant revolving cast along with leader Andrew Stockdale releasing a solo album in 2013 and in a roundabout way hinting that Wolfmother may be finished. Out of the blue though Stockdale dropped Wolfmother’s surprise third record New Crown as a digital download via website Bandcamp to no fanfare at all. New Crown finds Stockdale taking a more raw approach than the two predecessors while still maintaining all of Wolfmother’s strengths. Squealing, squawking guitars rip like serrated blades while Stockdale roars like an invigorated beast. No matter the cast behind him, whether he continues under the Wolfmother moniker or as a solo artist, Stockdale is going to continue moving forward on his own terms. He’s too talented not to.

seeds21. TV on the Radio- Seeds
Following the 2011 death of bassist Gerard Smith, TV on the Radio took a break from the action until the release of 2014’s Seeds. A requiem of sorts for the band it serves as a fitting eulogy to their fallen comrade. They continue to carve out their own niche of art rock with subtle washes of electronic accents. Arguably their best record to date, TV on the Radio has seemingly survived tragic loss and come out on the other side stronger than ever.

smashing pumpkins20. The Smashing Pumpkins- Monuments to an Elegy
By now The Smashing Pumpkins have really become nothing more than a glorified solo project of Billy Corgan’s as the lone-surviving original member. That doesn’t make newer Pumpkins records any less potent or rewarding as Corgan has always been the brain trust at the center of the matter. Monuments to an Elegy has more of the alt-‘90s guitars that buzz and hiss while liquid synths provide a glacial blanket to make this the most engaging record Corgan has released in years.

Tuff artwork19. King Tuff- Black Moon Spell
There’s no other way to put it: King Tuff is one of the weirdest and best artists out there right now. His style is almost unable to be categorized and his newest LP Black Moon Spell displays that. Psych pop, garage fuzz, glam rock, and metallic riffs all packed into an irresistible cauldron of eccentric magic. If you get lost in a swirling psychedelia while listening to this record, fear not as Kyle Thomas will ferry you safely across the river.

broken bells18. Broken Bells- After the Disco
It seemed at first like it may have been just a one-off side project but James Mercer and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) return under the guise of Broken Bells after a four-year absence with their sophomore effort After the Disco. Ever the production wiz with an ear for catchy pop hooks, Burton creates an atmosphere of flittering globes and fluorescent nebulas that dance around Mercer’s tantalizing falsetto. Inescapable grooves and melodies are like 2nd nature for Mercer and Burton; it’s as natural as breathing for them.

Band_of_Skulls_-_Himalayan17. Band of Skulls- Himalayan
With Himalayan Band of Skulls concocted a metallic-sounding record that is an amalgamation of truncated pop sensibilities and adventurous prog rock. You wouldn’t think something like the complex grandiosity of a band like Muse could be shaped and melded into a Black Keys style of bluesy restraint but that’s exactly what they manage to do. A record that is largely undefined, and that’s what makes it so alluring.

Strand-of-Oaks-Heal16. Strand of Oaks- Heal
Timothy Showalter (Strand of Oaks) has tapped into a rich reservoir of neo-folk similar to that of My Morning Jacket. Showalter drifts in and out of a sonic slipstream with a shaman’s proficiency on Heal. None more startling than the centerpiece simply titled “JM” for the late indie rock icon Jason Molina. It’s a transcendent, Crazy Horse-spirited tribute that would leave the likes of Neil Young and the late Molina awestruck.

the_orwells_disgraceland-500x50015. The Orwells- Disgraceland
In an era where everyone is trying to decide what’s next for popular music and attempting create state of the art futuristic albums with mixed results; The Orwells come crashing through the wall with a breath of fresh air in Disgraceland. With no frills and all thrills it’s a brash, middle finger double shot of rough ‘n’ tumble Rock & Roll. Front man Mario Cuomo sounds like he’s coughing up blood to get every last ounce of moxie into each song as the band shreds a jagged distorted path through Friday nights. Why over-think things when it’s so much easier hanging on the edge for dear life with The Orwells?

into the wide14. Delta Spirit- Into the Wide
Into the Wide is a fitting title for Delta Spirit’s fourth album as it’s a panoramic journey that sees them take their biggest creative leap yet. Sounding less like a band entrenched in Americana music and gliding towards a more ethereal template with visions of grandeur as evidenced by anthems like “From Now On,” “Live On,” “Take Shelter,” “For My Enemy,” and “Patriarch.” Delta Spirit continues to grow more ambitious with each passing record and their surging arc of creativity doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.

high hopes13. Bruce Springsteen- High Hopes
For his 18th studio album High Hopes Bruce Springsteen takes his most unorthodox path of constructing a record. A collection of castaways, covers, and reconfigurations providing a fusion that Springsteen thought had to see the light of day. Fueling Springsteen’s drive even further was Rage Against The Machine guitarist and E Street understudy Tom Morello. A genuine guitar hero, Morello’s amplified alien landscapes were a lightning rod of inspiration according to Springsteen himself. The results are startlingly synergetic as Morello’s tones and squalls sound revitalizing interwoven throughout the various rhapsodies of Springsteen’s. Retirement is seemingly the furthest thing from Springsteen’s mind at this moment; with plenty of material left to excavate and revive along with a continuous outpouring of new ideas, Springsteen made this keen observation, “It’s like that old story. The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind.”

spoon12. Spoon- They Want My Soul
Waiting over four years for a new Spoon record is far too long. With the arrival of 2014’s They Want My Soul however, Spoon shows it was well worth the wait as they’ve created one of their best records. Certainly their most accessible and engaging since 2007’s breakthrough Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. A concentrated set of songs with the perfect balance of staccato guitars and off-kilter pianos that have become a part of Spoon’s blueprint. “Rent I Pay,” “Rainy Taxi,” “Do You,” “Outlier,” and “Let Me Be Mine” all hold up against anything else in their sprawling back catalog. The finest moment however might come on luminous closer “New York Kiss” that sounds like Spoon taking a stab at new wave flourishes with outstanding results.

DFA197911. Death From Above 1979- The Physical World
Death From Above 1979 became the definitive buzz band with the unpredictable success of their 2004 debut record You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. As quickly as success found them it became all too taxing on the duo of Jesse Keeler and Sebastien Grainger and they called it quits. 10 years later, burnt bridges are repaired and with it comes their hotly anticipated follow-up The Physical World. The results are incredibly dynamic as it sounds like they never split in the first place. With bizarro ragers dancing on a razor’s edge, killer cuts like “Cheap Talk,” “Right On Frankenstein,” “Trainwreck 1979,” and “Government Trash” make you wish more than anything that we hear more from DFA 1979 before 2024.

Royal+Blood+tumblr_n7mc8bsHqR1qcp7mao1_128-500x50010. Royal Blood- Royal Blood
2014’s best debut record was by far the self-titled effort from Royal Blood. Royal Blood is a pulverizing display of noise caused only by the menacing tandem of Mike Kerr on bass and Ben Thatcher on drums. You can hear a burly brew of influences flooding this 32:38 blitzkrieg including The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age and Muse amongst others. Frantic, uncompromising riffs keep rolling throughout like a seismic steamroller displaying Royal Blood’s vicious prowess, well beyond their years. You can literally feel the sweat and fuel drip from the pores of these brawny headbangers, there’s not one second on Royal Blood that isn’t explosive and adrenaline-packed. Royal Blood have already conquered the UK with their album going to #1 and they’ve got enough fire power to rattle the dominos and make them fall across the Atlantic too.

lc19. Leonard Cohen- Popular Problems
There’s no denying the latter-day genius of Bob Dylan. He’s in rarefied air that few can touch, save perhaps for Leonard Cohen. Continuing his brilliance now as an octogenarian, Cohen like Dylan has seen an unlikely creative resurgence with his latest output Popular Problems being the best of the batch so far.

Cohen continues to saunter through his twilight years under the guise of a smoky lounge-act bard; his calloused fathoms-deep vocal brings about a demanded reverence and awe. Popular Problems is nine psalms soul-crushing in dimension, their sorrow burrowing into the marrow of listeners. Cohen uses simple melodies, lilting arrangements, and choral female backing vocals to set the back drop for his phenomenal lyrics. Whether it’s the desolation of “Almost Like The Blues” (“I saw some people starving/ There was murder, there was rape/ Their villages were burning/ They were trying to escape/ I couldn’t meet their glances/ I was staring at my shoes/ It was acid, it was tragic/ It was almost like the blues”) or the emotional anguish of “A Street” (I cried for you this morning/ And I’ll cry for you again/ But I’m not in charge of sorrow/ So please don’t ask me when/ There may be wine and roses/ And magnums of champagne/ But we’ll never know we’ll never/ Ever be that drunk again”), Cohen’s capacity to find the genuine interpretations of personal heartbreak and worldly tumult are nearly unmatched. At 80 years old, how can you beat that type of authenticity?

lost in the dream8. The War On Drugs- Lost in the Dream
It may not top this list but there may have been no other album more beloved in 2014 than Lost in the Dream from The War On Drugs. Critical acclaim from countless publications and a general consensus (Well almost, sorry Mark Kozelek, you missed out) that this is indeed a sonic marvel.

It’s a hybrid of the familiar and extraterrestrial, a nebulous wonder with a cavalcade of classic rock influences wrapped in the cosmos. The gorgeous “Eyes to the Wind” sounds like Against The Wind-era Bob Seger fronted by Bob Dylan with mastermind Adam Granduciel’s nasally Dylan-esque delivery while tracks like “Red Eyes” and “Burning” are like long lost cuts distorted through a wormhole from Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. with their radiant synths and restless spirit. There’s an underlying inflection of Dire Straits too as meandering, weaving passages of haunting guitar atmospherics sometime prove more effective than any lyric could do.

Shivering ambiance in areas, enthralling interstellar highways in others, Lost in the Dream defied everyone’s expectations securing 2014’s Dark Horse Record of the Year award for this list.

teeth dreams7. The Hold Steady- Teeth Dreams
You knew the hangover couldn’t last forever, The Hold Steady are finally back for the first time since 2010. Time to saddle up to the bar and try to make a good night last forever again with Teeth Dreams. Front man/preacher Craig Finn leads his Rock & Roll crusaders through more hyper-literate cautionary tales, and their collective sound is the biggest and boldest of their career.

That’s thanks in part to former Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz as well former Lucero guitarist Steve Selvidge joining as a full-time member to add even more muscle to the six string assault. With him, Tad Kubler, and Finn creating an interplay that make the guitars more towering, as evidenced by the masterful opening trifecta of “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” “Spinners,” and “The Only Thing” able to slash right out of watering hole dives and into arenas. Finn lets things simmer with the hypnotic waltz of “The Ambassador” really exploiting his superior songwriting prowess (“When you came back to us/ In South Minneapolis/ You said revenge exists outside of space and time/ Back behind The Ambassador/ Man it feels kind of magical/ I guess your friend can really move things with his mind”) He has an uncanny way of turning the tragic losers and downtrodden characters into the most beautiful. The true crowning achievement though may come in the nearly nine-minute mammoth closer “Oaks.” If there’s such a place as Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland” then The Hold Steady’s “Oaks” is the next borough over. It’s transcendental but not as ethereal. This is a sifting, a clawing through the drug-addled fog, chasing the ambulance lights in the distance. No one wins and everyone dies at the end of this West Side Story. Once again The Hold Steady have created a record that sounds like communal catharsis and feels like one big maudlin embrace.

artworks-000081350319-q8i9yo-t500x5006. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Hypnotic Eye
“I knew I wanted to do a Rock & Roll record,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone regarding Hypnotic Eye. “We hadn’t made a straight hard-rockin’ record, from beginning to end, in a long time.” Petty more than achieves that with a powder keg of feral virility akin to some of his earliest recordings with The Heartbreakers while also integrating their matured sense of self-awareness keen on craft. Flowing seamlessly like a blistering live set of Petty & The Heartbreakers, they bash out snarling rockers sounding like a band half their age.

There’s the predatory riff of opener “American Dream Plan B” as Petty unspools his disintegrating future, “Fault Lines” is a roadhouse boogie chugging along like an 18-wheeler peeling across a desert highway as lead guitarist Mike Campbell interjects some piercing and scalding virtuosity while a gritty harp rides sidecar, and “Red River” is fueled by a brawny, swampy riff to cutting through the Everglades as Petty supplies plenty of faulty religious talismans. Petty and Campbell’s interlocking guitars continue to gallop and swirl like cyclones on “All You Can Carry” and take on a bluesy crunch for “Power Drunk,” “U Get Me High,” and “Burnt Out Town.” The closer “Shadow People” eclipses the six-minute mark and is arguably the album’s finest moment. It’s a brooding slow-burner, marauding in the moonlight until melding into a psychedelic trance middle section. Guitars dance around ringing ivory rain drops before giving way to another spiraling conflagration of Campbell’s ahead of Petty’s cautionary forecast, “And this one carries a gun for the U.S.A. he’s a 21st century man, and he’s scary as hell cause when he’s afraid he’ll destroy anything he don’t understand.” As the song simmers to a seeming finale there’s an added gentle acoustic coda as if a small glint of hope in Petty’s steely blue eyes stops the doomsday clock just before midnight as he muses, “Waiting for the sun to be straight over head till we ain’t got no shadow at all.”

Petty and The Heartbreakers are certainly not entering their geriatric years quietly and this further illustrates that they are an indispensable All-American institution. Nearly 40 years down the road, they’re still running down a dream.

FooFighters_Album8_Cover_l5. Foo Fighters- Sonic Highways
After the career apex of 2011’s instant classic Wasting Light many were left wondering how the Foo Fighters would respond. The result was a hiatus imposed by leader Dave Grohl which allowed him to concentrate on side projects. One of those projects being a documentary about Sound City, a paean to the legendary Los Angeles studio. After that the hiatus didn’t last much longer sparking the motivation of the Foo Fighters most daunting and experimental record yet, Sonic Highways.

Much like the Sound City documentary only far more encompassing, Sonic Highways is a love letter to American music of all forms synthesized through the filter of the Foo Fighters’ trademark sound. It’s literally an expansive journey across the American frontier taking place in eight different pivotal studios in eight different major U.S. cities. Although each track has the signature Foo Fighters’ caterwaul there are audible cadences from the different cities and studios alloyed throughout. An all-star supporting cast facilitates this whether it’s Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen providing an additional baritone guitar to the hulking opener “Something From Nothing,” Zac Brown “devil-pickin’” through “Congregation” leading to a “Freebird”-esque outro, blues gunslinger Gary Clark Jr. providing an escalating solo in “What Did I Do? / God As My Witness,” or guitar God Joe Walsh providing the sweltering desert distortion on “Outside.”

Although this doesn’t quite reach the same mountain top as Wasting Light it is a worthy follow up, aiming high and succeeding. There’s also comfort in knowing that with Wasting Light and now Sonic Highways the Foo Fighters have leveled up to what seems to be a new creative plateau while also becoming standard bearers for arena rock bands.

tga get hurt4. The Gaslight Anthem- Get Hurt
Hipster publications can criticize all they want but there’s still no one on the rock scene making music like The Gaslight Anthem. Going even further, no act has been as consistently dependable as The Gaslight Anthem with producing great records and Get Hurt is their darkest yet.

It’s a collection of jagged yet passionate songs, the emotional strife cloaked in pile-driving rockers, clarion-call choruses, bleeding metallic guitars, and piston-firing drums. Front man Brian Fallon continues to be an authentic heart-on-sleeve poet whose universe remains tilted to an alternate reality. It’s one where James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen all came into their prime a decade or so later. After filming their latest big screen epics they would hang out at CBGB’s in its golden years, down the bar Fallon would be sitting between Joe Strummer and Bruce Springsteen, trading tour stories over beers. The Ramones would be set to take the stage with gutter punks and greasers in the crowd unified in undulating anticipation. It’s that type of infused mythology that makes Get Hurt so rewarding beginning with opener’s “Stay Vicious” sledgehammer riff and Fallon sounding like he’s been chewing asphalt as he bellows, “And I feel just like a murder, and I feel just like a gun/ And I’ve been shaking in the hands of somebody who’s finally had enough.” Get Hurt continues heavy on the heartbreak and riffs throughout with “1,000 Years,” “Stray Paper,” “Helter Skeleton,” Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and “Red Violins.” The best moment is saved for last with closer “Dark Places” and even goes as far to rival the band’s summit song “The Backseat” which to put in Springsteen vernacular, is their “Born to Run.” This seems like the conclusion to “The Backseat” as a worst case scenario; a road trip that started out so promising with an open stretch of highway and optimism that ends in disillusion and separation, a gradual drifting apart.

Despite the disillusioned climax, there’s an enduring fortitude in Get Hurt, a restless and relentless heart beats in its chest. It’s earnest and genuine and if you’re going to bag on a record like that then there’s no telling what can move you.

ryan adams3. Ryan Adams- Ryan Adams
When Ryan Adams doesn’t release a record for three years it’s the equivalent to 10 years for most other artists. 2011 saw the release of Ashes & Fire after which Adams went dormant (again, relatively), largely in part due to a continuing battle with Ménière’s disease: A debilitating inner ear disorder that can affect hearing and balance. It was so crippling to Adams that it was uncertain if his career would continue.

Fortunately for Adams and everyone else 2014’s self-titled record is not only a comeback, but it’s one of the best he’s ever made. Adams has made a career out of masterfully jumping from genres of music, throwing caution to the wind without batting an eye. Ryan Adams sounds like a record he was always born to make but couldn’t do so until reaching such an age of experience. At 40 he’s made assured adult-contemporary rock music. No deviating sharp turns or genre-jumping from track to track, just 11 masterfully crafted seraphic songs. Filled with visions of a man still cocksure and focused yet having a sense of maturity that belies the same man that had some pretty burdensome demons. The album is bountiful with anthemic ‘70s and ‘80s touchstones but perhaps the most prevailing influence whether deliberate or not is the fidelity of golden-age Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. With their classic chiming guitars and insatiable tenacity coursing through the sultry swagger of opener “Gimme Something Good,” the crepuscular lust in “Kim,” and the Damn The Torpedoes-sized drums in “Trouble” that sound like they could go round-for-round with “Refugee.” “Stay With Me” is so sultry it damn-near sweats and you’d half expect Stevie Nicks to come knocking on your front door, well, 1981 Stevie Nicks. Even Heartbreakers’ keyboardist Benmont Tench is credited with “Organ and Piano weirdness” in the liner notes. There are nods sonically to other statesmen of Rock & Roll, chiefly Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” being emulated on fist-pumping “Feels Like Fire” and the staccato guitar barreling down the darkened highway on “I Just Might.” There are moments of restrained solace as well none better than the astral envoi of “Let Go” as a summation of more than just the album but perhaps Adams’ entire career.

The once combustible, caustic troubadour is letting go of his reservations and instability. Taking the virtues he’s been bestowed with and getting out of the ditch and out onto the middle of the road, driving steady. If this is the sound of driving down the road sober, Adams is entering a new phase in his already prolific career with radiating affirmation.

U2_Songs_of_Innocence_cover2. U2- Songs of Innocence
U2 are arguably the biggest band on the planet (There’s still some band named The Rolling Stones around that might beg to differ), and with that they are also the most polarizing. U2 released Songs of Innocence to a firestorm of negativity due to the way it was delivered, being released for free to anyone that had an iTunes account. It was invasive to a certain extent but nothing more than a minor annoyance which U2 haters blew completely out of proportion. Unfortunately this is how it largely came to be defined as many publications panned it for its release tactics rather than on the merits of the actual record itself. Giving scathing reviews just a few hours after it was available on iTunes. How could you possibly absorb the record that completely? Better question yet, how could you possibly call yourself a professional? Delving deeper into Songs of Innocence reveals U2’s most audacious, ambitious, and cohesive record since Achtung Baby.

At the start or end of every decade U2 has had an innate ability to reinvent or at least reestablish themselves in part due to sheer fortitude but also out of necessity. Where 2009’s No Line on the Horizon missed this mark slightly, Songs of Innocence is an immaculate rebirth that valiantly stares down the future. Ironically U2 move into new frontiers sonically by looking to their past with an array of contemporary producers. Unleashing their classic rapturous sound of heaven as a modern cadence permeates the entire enterprise to create something astonishingly intrinsic. Opener “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” is like a call to arms as distorted shock waves of The Edge’s guitar rupture through Larry Mullen’s militant drums, Bono’s epiphany comes in the form of hymn (“I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred/ Heard a song that made some sense out of the world/ Everything I ever lost, now has been returned/ In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard”). “Every Breaking Wave” is sweeping and devastating, it ranks as a peer amongst their biggest most opulent anthems while “California (There is No End to Love)” teeters more towards the rejuvenated rush of early 21st century U2 and “Iris (Hold Me Close)” is an epitaph to Bono’s late mother with the chiming allure of The Unforgettable Fire or The Joshua Tree. “Volcano” and “Raised By Wolves” have the virility and touchstones of War as The Edge’s virtuosity splinters into shards through the disenchanted angst while “Cedarwood Road” may have the heaviest riffing in any U2 song yet. “This is Where You Can Reach Me” has a disco-punk strut of Sandinista-era Clash buoyed by outer limit synths. “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” and closing duet with Lykke Li “The Troubles” are ballads that pulse in the afterglow with electronic accents further pushing U2 into new territories while maintaining their rhapsodic essence.

Ultimately, Songs of Innocence embodies everything that makes a great U2 record; unbridled passion, spiritual sermons, eminence, and deliverance. With talk of an impending sequel in the works U2 may be in the process of a pertinent resurrection befitting of their stature.

The_Black_Keys-turn-blue_album_Review_Under_the_Radar1. The Black Keys- Turn Blue
Every year there are so many great records released. Everyone pining to put out their best statement but to be better than anyone else is no small task. Since I started this endeavor there has always been a different artist at #1, no one winning that coveted top spot more once. That is until 2014 as The Black Keys have earned the honor of Record of the Year once again with Turn Blue. Not only is this the 2nd time they’ve topped this list but they’ve done so with consecutive records dating back to 2011’s truncated masterpiece El Camino. Turn Blue for all intents and purposes is The Black Keys’ victory lap as the dynamic duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have executed another flawless opus. Co-producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) also deserves partial credit for helping Auerbach and Carney sculpt and hone a sound that’s been evolving ever since their first collaboration, 2008’s Attack & Release. It’s now become an undeniable sonic signature of theirs, so catchy and many have attempted to imitate but only The Black Keys can perfect it.

While El Camino was a short uppercut of their glam rock vertex, without sounding oversaturated, Turn Blue is their most indulgent record yet. Nowhere is this more apparent than opening track “Weight of Love” which is the most stunning as well as one of the best songs they’ve ever made. Rather than the concise numbers we’re so familiar with, this is an entirely different beast all together. By Black Keys’ standards it’s a roaming colossus at nearly seven minutes. It’s a deluge in ‘70s excess, looking into a snow globe and seeing the dunes as two figures appear in the distance. It’s like an intergalactic Spaghetti Western with The Keys trouncing through the alien landscape in their Chelsea boots like nomadic cowboys as a hazy narcotic blizzard of guitar God luxuriance is kicked up by torrents of Auerbach’s majestic solos. The slow-burning opiate flame of the title track feels like a pupil dilating process and Auerbach’s congenial falsetto nearly conceals the impending danger (“I really don’t think you know/ There could be hell below”), “Fever” bathes you in a hypnotic palpitating Farfisa-style organ and “Bullet in the Brain” begins as a kaleidoscopic rover before transforming into a clamorous cosmic stride. The trio of tracks to conclude Turn Blue is one of the best stretches on any of their previous works. “10 Lovers” is the best groove they’ve ever devised, ridiculously infectious like a lunar dance hall before giving way to the bluesy lava flow of “In Our Prime” which contains some of the darkest lyrics on the record (“Like every lover hovers in my mind/ We made our mark when we were in our prime./ The house had burned, but nothing there was mine/ We had it all when we were in our prime.”) Redemption however lies ahead in the beaming road trip closer “Gotta Get Away” as tantalizing guitar twang and euphoric organs explode out of the gate, not looking back in the rearview mirror. Rock & Roll as a cathartic release, what a concept.

Contrary to what many may think due to the heavy psychedelic atmosphere, this is the bluesiest album The Black Keys have ever made. A testament to their prevailing tenacity, Turn Blue rose from the ashes of Auerbach’s bitter divorce. The heartache and personal turmoil is obscured by contagious hooks, soulful guitars, swirling organs, swooning falsettos and impeccable production. The Black Keys have stated that they love to make albums rather than just singles, if they continue to treat the process with this much aplomb and proficiency then we may have to start calling them the dynasty duo. The only ones that can seem to slow The Black Keys down are themselves.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Hypnotic Eye

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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Hypnotic Eye

8.8 / 10

Anything that’s Rock & Roll:

Petty & crew return with a raucous Classic Rock marvel

 

Rock music has always thrived off conflict and disenchantment. Its rebellious nature at times leads to its marginalization from the mainstream conscience and yet it’s in that neglect that its enduring flame burns brightest at the core revealing a true indomitable spirit. One of its greatest torch-bearing crusaders has been Tom Petty who’s been raging against the dying of the light for the last four decades now.

It’s 2014 and American music is more plasticized and hollow than ever. It’s a landscape rife with cardboard cut-out homogenized pop country acts and computerized EDM manipulated by talentless hacks. What’s definitely not in fashion is substantial guitar-driven rock music. Cue Tom Petty sounding the battle horn galloping into this now foreign American frontier with his valiant knights The Heartbreakers armed to the hilt with six-string bayonets on their uncompromising slab of Classic Rock Hypnotic Eye.

“I knew I wanted to do a Rock & Roll record,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone earlier this year regarding Hypnotic Eye. “We hadn’t made a straight hard-rockin’ record, from beginning to end, in a long time.” Petty more than achieves that with a powder keg of feral virility akin to some of his earliest recordings with The Heartbreakers while also integrating their matured sense of self-awareness keen on craft. Guitars weaned off of the chiming sounds of The Byrds and new wave flourishes are alternatively soiled in the murky bayou waters from their home state of Florida. One of Petty’s earliest bands Mudcrutch (Which also included Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench) may actually be the largest influence. Dusty distortion and swampy blues borrowed from the early ‘70s outfit combine with the elderly statesmen proficiency making a crackling unapologetic racket.

Political undercurrents course just beneath the surface throughout the record only to come surging to the forefront in areas. None more prevalent than opening track “American Dream Plan B” in which Petty speaks on the disillusionment and the general disappearance of middle-class America. Backed by a prowling predatory riff, Petty sneers, “I’m half lit, I can’t dance for shit.” Lead guitarist Mike Campbell cuts a searing winding Creedence-y solo before Petty finally realizes the American dream is really just a fantasy singing, “Well my mama’s so sad, daddy’s just mad cause I just ain’t gonna have the chance he had. My success is anybody’s guess but like a fool I’m betting on happiness.” The perennially defiant Petty however wails in the chorus, “I gotta dream I’m gonna fight till I get it right.” “Fault Lines” is a roadhouse boogie chugging along like an 18-wheeler peeling across a desert highway as Campbell interjects more piercing and scalding virtuosity while a gritty harp rides sidecar. “Red River” is fueled by a brawny riff to cut through the Everglades and Petty supplies plenty of faulty religious talismans (Rosary, rabbit’s foot, tiger tooth, Gris-gris stick, etc.) with the river itself serving as a baptismal font, “Meet me tonight at the Red River and look down into your soul.” Titanic galloping guitars swirl like cyclones through “All You Can Carry” while “Power Drunk” is a sauntering gnarled romp commentary on egregious abuse within the hierarchy and the high-octane “Forgotten Man” is a perfect follow up as the lament of a disenfranchised soul lost in a world of moral decay. “U Get Me High” is the lewdest song sonically here with a crunch that sounds as if the band is plugging in for the first time together and getting their rocks off with dissonant levels of amplification in their garage, aiming for old haunts like Dub’s Lounge in Gainesville rather than the biggest arenas around the world. The mojo is definitely working on the bluesy “Burnt Out Town” as another quasi-political piece portraying a town rampant with corruption and dilapidation (“There’s ashes on Main Street and the mayor is cooking the books, why even my best friends are turning into crooks”). The closer “Shadow People” eclipses the six-minute mark and is arguably the album’s finest moment. It’s a brooding slow-burner, marauding in the moonlight until it melds into a psychedelic trance middle section. Guitars dance around ringing ivory rain drops before giving way to another spiraling conflagration of Campbell’s ahead of Petty’s cautionary forecast, “And this one carries a gun for the U.S.A. he’s a 21st century man, and he’s scary as hell cause when he’s afraid he’ll destroy anything he don’t understand.” As the song simmers to a seeming finale there’s an added gentle acoustic coda as if a small glint of hope in Petty’s steely blue eyes stops the doomsday clock just before midnight as he muses, “Waiting for the sun to be straight over head till we ain’t got no shadow at all.”

Hypnotic Eye sounds stubborn and audacious, much like the outspoken often cantankerous man at its epicenter. It’s out of place and time but it’s those very same reasons why it resonates with reassurance. While Petty could’ve taken a solo attempt at a record like this it wouldn’t have been as captivating as there is a certain synergy he has with The Heartbreakers that can’t be replicated by any other hired guns that give his music that added level of vitality. Hypnotic Eye is a galvanizing statement made on its own terms that aims to blast through the thick layer of commercialized sediment. These are destined to become road dog songs built for kinetic interplay during live shows. Petty and The Heartbreakers are certainly not entering their geriatric years quietly and this further illustrates that they are an indispensable All-American institution. Nearly 40 years down the road, they’re still running down a dream.

TOP 10 GODZILLA MOVIES OF ALL-TIME

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I usually use this blog to muse about music but in the wake of the buzz surrounding the release of the American reboot of Godzilla tomorrow I thought it was appropriate to write about the greatest and mightiest movie monster of all-time (Sorry King Kong, you know it’s true). Kids have their favorite superheroes growing up. Batman, Superman, Spider-man, etc. Mine was always Godzilla. You could use the term “hero” loosely but I was solidly behind anything Godzilla did during my childhood and adolescent years. So much so that I still enjoy watching the movies even now that I’m in my 30’s. Blame it on a hyper-active imagination I guess that’s always been fascinated by the genres of Sci-Fi and fantasy. None more than kaiju/monster films with the Godzilla franchise being at the top.

Leading up to the theatrical release of Godzilla I thought I’d take it upon myself to watch all 28 Japanese Godzilla films (I just can’t bring myself to include the Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin 1998 American abomination) in an epic marathon. Then I thought I’d challenge myself and try to create an all-time Top 10 list of my favorite Godzilla movies. It was tough narrowing down only 10 from the Showa, Heisei, and Millennium series. This isn’t based on critical acclaim, these are personal preferences. Here we go…

10. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)

Godzilla vs Destroyah2This was one of the more infamous movies in the entire Godzilla series mainly because it usually came with the tagline “Godzilla dies.” Godzilla vs. Destoroyah was the final installment in the Heisei series and it was a fantastic way to send Godzilla out in a blaze of glory.

The movie begins with Godzilla wreaking havoc in Hong Kong coated in a smoldering lava glow. We come to find this is caused by Godzilla consuming too much nuclear energy and he’s facing an imminent meltdown, the results of which will be catastrophic not only to Godzilla but the entire planet. We are also introduced to a new original Toho kaiju with Destoroyah. Destoroyah is one of my favorite Heisei series foes, truly impressive in size and design and a formidable challenge and it’s origin story traces all the way back to the Oxygen Destroyer from the original 1954 Godzilla film. Eventually Godzilla suffers his untimely demise melting down in a haunting yet gorgeous requiem composed by Akira Ifukube leaving Tokyo a ghost town of radioactive fallout. All is not lost however as radiation levels drop rapidly and off in the distance we find out that Godzilla Junior has been revived by his legendary father’s nuclear energy. Now transformed into a full-grown adult by the massive amount of radioactivity he is roars defiantly ready to reign as the new king of the monsters.

9. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

terror-of-mechagodzilla-poster-kt5pws8uThis was the final installment in the original Godzilla Showa series. It’s also the only movie in my Top 10 where Godzilla appears strictly as a defender of Earth or a “Good guy.” This is a sequel to 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and in my opinion I think it’s the better of the two.

I was always big on Godzilla overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds for a victory. Not only was he battling one of his arch-enemies in Mechagodzilla once more but he had to deal with the newest kaiju, an aquatic dinosaur known as Titanosaurus as well. Another edge it has over the original is the constant use of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla march, one of the best orchestrations in cinema in my opinion. Godzilla triumphs in the end and saunters off into the ocean peacefully for a fitting close to the first chapter of Godzilla movies. He would not appear again on the big screen for nine years.

8. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

11158216_800Despite the completely ludicrous title, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack is widely heralded as a success from fans and critics alike. This incarnation of Godzilla is much different from others as it has a more spiritual spin. It is thought that Godzilla is driven by evil spirits, the lost souls of World War II are embedded within him and intend to seek vengeance on Japan for the nation apparently forgetting their sacrifices. Even for a Godzilla movie that’s pretty far out. Luckily it doesn’t clutter the film up really as Godzilla is back to being the unstoppable unforgiving force he was in movies like Godzilla and Godzilla 1985.

Godzilla faces the three guardians of earth: Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. After making quick work of a completely outmatched Baragon, Godzilla has a showdown with Mothra and King Ghidorah. Eventually defeating both monsters it frees the spirits of all three earth guardians who enter Godzilla’s body dragging him down to the depths of the bay. Godzilla has a missile planted in a gaping wound he had sustained and when it detonates Godzilla explodes underwater. Japan rejoices in the apparent demise of Godzilla although as the camera plums the deepest fathoms of the water at the end of the movie we come to find Godzilla’s heart… still beating.

I should also note as far as Godzilla suits go this is one of the most malicious looking. Particularly the completely white eyes and snarling demeanor restoring his wickedly ominous presence.

7. Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (Invasion of Astro-Monster) (1965)

Invasion_of_Astro-Monster_posterGodzilla vs. Monster Zero is the 2nd appearance of King Ghidorah in the franchise and is a loosely based sequel from 1964’s Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster. This time around King Ghidorah is under the control of evil space aliens from Planet X known as Xians. Relying heavily on numbering things, they have given King Ghidorah the code name of Monster Zero. The Xians deceive the people of Earth into giving them Godzilla and Rodan, using the facade that they intend to drive Monster Zero away from Planet X with help from the two monsters. The ulterior motive of the Xians is soon revealed as they intend to conquer Earth enslaving the human race. When mankind does not acquiesce to the demands of the Xians they unleash not only Monster Zero but Godzilla and Rodan as well as they now too are under the same mind control as King Ghidorah.

One of the reasons this is a favorite Godzilla film of mine is the dichotomy of Godzilla himself. He’s seen as both a valiant protector of earth and when under the control of the Xians he reverts magnificently back to his malevolent city-leveling ways. I also enjoy King Ghidorah’s continued presentation in such a dominant manner. Once again having to battle Godzilla and an additional monster and once again escaping to fight another day.

6. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

godzilla_vs_king_ghidorah_heisei_poster_by_ryugassj3-d5yud7bOf all of Godzilla’s arch-enemies, King Ghidorah is considered his apex rival. Godzilla has fought King Ghidorah more times than any other adversary throughout the decades. It was tough for me to narrow it down, but their greatest clash on the big screen has to be the Heisei interpretation of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. There is a bit of campiness with the aliens known as the Futurians (Christ what is with those suits and that horrible android?) but Godzilla and King Ghidorah represent in grand fashion to lift the movie above that slight snag.

They engage in two fierce battles, the first of which sees Godzilla severely maim King Ghidorah thrashing its wings and severing its middle head. King Ghidorah is resurrected as a cyborg using futuristic technology to create the majestic Mecha-King Ghidorah. A 2nd battle ensues in the steel and glass canyons of Tokyo which is thought to eventually end in a stalemate at the bottom of the ocean. Godzilla however awakens on the ocean floor proving his indestructibility and superiority over King Ghidorah once more.

As far as suits go, this may be my favorite design of Godzilla. It’s essentially the same exact design as the suit from Godzilla vs. Biollante only more musculature and intimidating. King Ghidorah is a sight to behold as well. The great golden dragon from the deepest darkest depths of space has never looked more astonishing.

5. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)

godzilla-vs-mechagodzilla-2-rpdf0zrwIf King Ghidorah is Godzilla’s most notorious foe, Mechagodzilla is a close 2nd. And once again, it’s the Heisei version that captures their rivalry the best with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II.

As far as the Heisei films go, Godzilla might have more on-camera time here than in any other in the series. He first battles Rodan on Adona Island and is able to overcome its aerial assault. There’s also an excellent 20-minute block in the middle of the movie that sees Godzilla first disable Mechagodzilla with a massive pulse of energy. He follows that by wiping out an entire army with ease before finally laying waste to Kyoto. Finally in the conclusive battle, Godzilla arrives not only to finish off Mechagodzilla but to bring a newly hatched baby Godzilla home with him. As Godzilla arrives on land, Mechagodzilla had just finished mortally crippling and wounding Rodan. The two engage in an epic showdown and Mechagodzilla here becomes arguably the closest any other opponent has come to killing Godzilla. It targets Godzilla’s 2nd brain in his abdomen which controls his mobility. They destroy the brain and Godzilla is temporarily paralyzed and seemingly defeated. However, before he parishes Rodan summons enough energy to fly over to Godzilla and land on him. Godzilla completely absorbs Rodan and his energy, his 2nd brain is completely reanimated and repaired. Godzilla is now super-charged with Rodan’s energy and becomes too much for Mechagodzilla. Godzilla incinerates his mechanical counterpart with a high-powered red atomic ray. Godzilla is united with his estranged son and the two wade off into the ocean together peacefully.

What can be said about Mechagodzilla? In every movie he’s been in he’s pushed Godzilla to the extreme brink. Always equipped with an onslaught of weapons and the latest technology (Whether it be alien or man-made) able to go toe to toe with the king of the monsters. Although this is not the greatest looking adaptation of Mechagodzilla (That distinction would go to the superb design of the Millennium series known as “Kiryu” in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is still the most fully realized its power and potential could achieve.

4. Godzilla 2000 (1999)

godzillatwothousandMaybe it’s just me but Godzilla 2000 has always seemed underrated and under-appreciated in the great Godzilla pantheon. After the disastrous 1998 American take on Godzilla by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich had severely mangled the franchise something had to be done quickly to stop the bleeding. Godzilla 2000 arrived just a year later and wiped out the sour taste of Devlin and Emmerich’s folly like a city in Godzilla’s wake. It restored prominence to the franchise and was a proper reboot that kicked off the Millennium series.

Godzilla’s appearance was updated for the turn of the century as well. He’s much more reptilian looking (He’s actually green in this film), his spines were larger and more jagged with a hue of purple outlining them, and his classic fluorescent blue atomic ray was replaced with an incendiary orange beam. Also, one of my favorite enemy monster designs happens to be Orga, an original kaiju conjured for the Millennium series to combat Godzilla in this relaunch. He’s a blend of alien genetics and Godzilla’s DNA to create a truly imposing adversary. He pushes Godzilla to the limit but he makes one of the biggest mistakes in the Godzilla playbook: Do NOT put Godzilla in your mouth. You will pay dearly. Godzilla stands triumphantly over a fallen Orga and a burning Tokyo skyline at the end as the Godzilla march begins to play while the credits roll. A fitting closing for the movie that from my perspective saved the franchise from the evil grasp of Devlin and Emmerich and ushered in the outstanding Millennium series.

3. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

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Godzilla films have connected on a number of different levels and different ways through out the years. He’s been a loveable childhood character and on the opposite side of the spectrum he’s been a ruthless unstoppable force, uncaring, unflinching. For me I always appreciated the more serious toned films (All within perspective here, we’re talking about monster films) rather than the campy cheese-ball kid-aimed ones. Even as a child I preferred the more dour stories so it should come as no surprise what my top three Godzilla movies are.

Godzilla vs. Biollante is one of the better cohesive stories told in the entire series as it’s a direct sequel to Godzilla 1985. Godzilla cells are recovered from the ruins of Tokyo and are used in an attempt to create an Anti-nuclear bacteria to use as a primary weapon against Godzilla should he ever return. Godzilla is in fact resurrected from his volcanic tomb and looks to wreak havoc on Japan once more. Meanwhile, the recovered Godzilla cells fuse with plants in a lab to create one of the most intriguing Godzilla foes, Biollante. After Godzilla easily takes care of Biollante in a rose form in their first battle, its 2nd incarnation is much more terrifying. A massive crocodilian-like head,Venus fly trap tentacles, an acidic sap spray it spews from its gargantuan mouth, and the sheer bulk of its body are impressive in scope. Godzilla comes out on top again as Biollante morphs into a spiritual stream of glimmering dust and retreats into the sky.

It should be noted that the basic entities of this Godzilla suit were so well received that this design (Still considered the best by many including me), although tweaked at times, remained as a constant for the rest of the Heisei films. Godzilla’s head was much more feral than ever before, his eyes were smaller and blackened, two rows of carnivorous teeth were added as opposed to one, and an imposing muscular build to show off the king of the monsters in his true glory.

2. Godzilla 1985 (The Return of Godzilla) (1984)

godzilla-1985-the-legend-is-rebornIf Godzilla vs. Biollante was a solemn affair, its predecessor Godzilla 1985 was downright austere and incredibly bleak. Ignoring all previous Showa series movies except for the original 1954 outing, Godzilla 1985 was a sequel 30 years in the making. This is the movie that got me into Godzilla. Watching it as a little kid for the first time when I was 5-6 years old I was hooked, I was so engrossed and knew this was something more than just another monster. This was truly the king of the monsters I was watching. After becoming a savior of mankind in the latter appearances of the Showa series, Godzilla returns here as a callous force of nature. This was the beginning of the Heisei series as well which I consider the greatest stretch of Godzilla films (Notice five of the seven have been in my Top 10).

The action begins with a fishing vessel being caught in strong currents off the shore of Daikoku Island. There is a volcanic eruption and the ominous roar of a ghost from the past echoes over the ocean. Speculation begins to run rampant that it is Godzilla. To avoid mass panic the news of a possible Godzilla return is kept a secret. The film is also rife with Cold War subplot as Godzilla destroys a Soviet submarine in the Pacific Ocean. The Soviets believe Americans were behind the attack until Japan intervenes and announces it was Godzilla to avoid an international incident. Godzilla first makes land attacking a nuclear power plant off the coast of Japan where he absorbs all of the nuclear reactor’s energy. Shortly after, Godzilla arrives in Tokyo Bay where military forces confront him only to be annihilated by Godzilla’s atomic blasts. Meanwhile the Soviets attempt to destroy Godzilla themselves with a nuclear missile fired from an orbiting Satellite. Godzilla meanwhile makes his way through Tokyo demolishing everything in his way. It’s only until he meets the new defense force weapon Super X that they are able to slow him down and temporarily subdue him with cadmium shells. American forces are able to intercept the incoming Soviet missile with a defensive missile strike of their own detonating it in the atmosphere. This however creates an electrical storm, and serving as a lightning rod, it strikes Godzilla multiple times reviving him. Godzilla relentlessly chases the Super X and appears unstoppable, destroying it by knocking a skyscraper over on it. Godzilla continues his assault on Tokyo until he is eventually lured to Mt. Mihara by a frequency similar to a bird call that had lured him away from the nuclear power plant earlier. Upon arrival Godzilla falls into the volcano after a man-made eruption and his defiant roar seemingly morphs into a sympathetic cry. Godzilla had once again been thwarted by mankind. The victory would not last as this turned out to only be a hibernation for Godzilla.

Although the Godzilla design from Godzilla vs. Biollante – Godzilla vs. Destoroyah continues to be my favorite, the 1985 version is nearly as impressive, particularly the head. Godzilla’s teeth are sharpened, the snout shortened, and the eyes are baleful with intoxicating indifference. Truly a sinister design for perhaps the darkest Godzilla movie ever.

1. Godzilla (Gojira) (1954)

Gojira1954It’s the movie that started it all, and for me the original 1954 Godzilla still remains the benchmark of the entire series. Six decades after it, Godzilla is still ingrained in our collective consciousness. Not only would every Godzilla movie going forward be measured to this masterpiece but every large-scaled monster movie made after this would be judged against this. Godzilla is so ominous and foreboding that it even sometimes teeters more on the boundaries of a horror movie than a Sci-Fi flick. A lot of this was due to the gritty black and white of the film. I’ll always have that image indelibly etched in my mind of Godzilla’s inaugural arrival in Tokyo, his silhouette towering over the city as Akira Ifukube’s masterfully pernicious score churns like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned. Using Godzilla as a metaphor for the nuclear atrocities of war and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima just nine years before was a brilliant allegory as well.

The plot begins with boats mysteriously being set ablaze and disappearing in the Pacific ocean. Villagers on the remote Odo Island believe this is being caused by a mythical creature known as “Godzilla” that they used to worship. Reporters remain skeptical until the monster makes his first ever appearance looming over a mountain on the island as everyone flees in terror. Godzilla inevitably makes his way to the Japan mainland and attacks Tokyo. Although his first attack is brief his unrelenting power is evident and there is a certainty in the air that he would return again. Shortly after Godzilla does indeed return and he tears through the first line of defense of high tension wires coursing with 50,000 volts of electricity, melting the towers with his atomic breath. He marches inland towards Tokyo where military weapons are powerless to stop him. Godzilla obliterates everything in his sight and turns Tokyo into a sprawling conflagration. Jets are finally able to annoy Godzilla enough to drive him from Tokyo but not before the city is completely destroyed. After all conventional weaponry fails against Godzilla officials turn to Dr. Daisuke Serizawa and his invention the Oxygen Destroyer which disintegrates oxygen atoms and organisms die of asphyxiation. Serizawa reluctantly agrees to use his invention against Godzilla but burns all of the blueprints for it so no one can follow his work. They find Godzilla in the ocean and unleash the Oxygen Destroyer underwater. The device proves effective as Godzilla suffocates and drowns. Serizawa stays underwater and perishes as well with his own instrument of death.

No one could’ve predicted the legacy of Godzilla that would follow his inception in 1954. If they did they probably wouldn’t have killed him off in the first movie. Even in death though Godzilla couldn’t be stopped as this milestone and 27 proceeding Japanese films cemented his immortality. The original Godzilla that still proves to be the most awe-inspiring and galvanizing and that’s why it gets the #1 spot.

So where will this new incarnation of Godzilla being released tomorrow fit in this amazing lineage? Early reviews and reports have me hopeful as it is supposedly a serious take on a newly adapted Godzilla origins story. It has a lot to live up to but here’s to hoping it is successful enough to generate a number of sequels and an American series that can hold it’s ground with the Toho Godzilla movies.

THE ROARING 20’s- Roll Credits

Tomorrow my roaring 20’s end as they began… out on Highway 61. Only this time it’s not just on record it’s on the road. I remember the Spring of 2004, shortly after I turned 20 there was one record I listened to more than anything else: Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. I was obsessed with it, couldn’t put it away, you’d have to have NASA total up the amount of times I have spun this record. I’ve always wanted to take a road trip down south via Highway 61, the legendary blues highway Dylan mused about and countless other blues myths and legends have occurred along here as well. This is sort of a trial run as I don’t know how much of it I’ll get to cover but the goal is New Orleans as the terminus. At some point I’d like to travel all the way from Minnesota to New Orleans down the Great River Road. We’ll see.

As for the rest of my 20’s, in a rare occurrence I’ll be brief and blunt. Yeah, I had some massive highs and some crushing lows (Thanks for that one Craig Finn), put myself through a lot of gears, smashed my head into steel beams/pipes on multiple occasions (As recent as Monday!), and did things I’ll need to be more diligent about in my 30’s. The brain trust that has mainly been on the journey with me these past 10 years know all of the hilarious skeletons and ghost stories of the ragamuffin decade. I guess I’m waxing poetic about some of this because The Hold Steady’s new record Teeth Dreams is blasting in the background right now and they do it better than anyone else. The last great new record I’ll buy in my 20’s. Chances are some of those exploits are over-embellished because that’s the way the audience needs it! Despite all of the nonsense though I did make it out on the other side a little wiser. Here’s to 30!

“Time to grow up!” –The last great joke of my 20’s

TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2013 (Plus 25 more!)

TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2013
…Plus 25 others!

75. Jim James- Regions of Light and Sound of God
74. Deep Purple- Now What!?
73. Fidlar- Fidlar
72. Eels- Wonderful, Glorious
71. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- Specter at the Feast
70. Iron and Wine- Ghost on Ghost
69. The Weeks- Dear Bo Jackson
68. Deap Vally- Sistrionix
67. Phoenix- Bankrupt!
66. Dr. Dog- B-Room
65. Midlake- Antiphon
64. The Moondoggies- Adios I’m a Ghost
63. Wolf People- Fain
62. Connections- Body Language
61. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds- Push The Sky Away
60. Foxygen- We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
59. Black Star Riders- All Hell Breaks Loose
58. Futurebirds- Baby Yaga
57. Glasvegas- Later… When the TV Turns to Static
56. Royal Bangs- Brass
55. The Fratellis- We Need Medicine
54. White Denim- Corsicana Lemonade
53. Buddy Guy- Rhythm & Blues
52. Surfer Blood- Pythons
51. Cold War Kids- Dear Miss Lonelyhearts

…And now the Top 50:

Features50. The Features- The Features
It pays to be buds with rock royalty in the Kings of Leon as The Features gained momentum touring and opening for them multiple times. Now they’re stepping out of the shadow with their best record yet in their self-titled effort backed by standouts like the indie disco of, “This Disorder,” the crashing “Won’t Be Long,” the early morning sprint of “Fox on the Run,” or the deceptive funk of “Ain’t No Wonder.”

Josh Ritter49. Josh Ritter- The Beast in its Tracks

Josh Ritter released his seventh studio album The Beast in its Tracks in the wake of a divorce from his wife Dawn Landes. But this is not the venomous and vitriolic break-up album you might expect. This is further down the line in the acceptance stages and it shows in tender cuts like “New Lover,” “In Your Arms Again,” “The Appleblossom Rag,” and “Joy to you Baby.” Presenting this subject matter with benevolence rather than in an acerbic way, Ritter proves once again he’s still in the upper echelon of modern day songwriters.

Tossers48. The Tossers- The Emerald City
Many may think The Tossers are Chicago’s answer to Boston’s Dropkick Murphys but they actually predate the Murphys by a few years. With The Emerald City, The Tossers continue to be a model of consistency on the Irish pub rock scene with peers like The Pogues, the Murphys and Flogging Molly.

                       Foals47. Foals- Holy Fire
On their third record Holy Fire, Foals have finally found the bombast that may become their calling card. With a fusion of guitars and synths they have created a type of stadium-sized intergalactic disco that could take them a long way. Inescapable cuts like “Inhaler,” “My Number,” “Bad Habits,” “Milk & Black Spiders,” and “Providence” could see them transforming the biggest arenas and stadiums into giant dance parties.

Local Natives46. Local Natives- Hummingbird
Although not as spontaneous or immediately engaging as their 2010 debut of Gorilla Manor, Local Natives’ sophomore effort Hummingbird does show a certain level of maturity and introspection beyond its predecessor. With that said, the album still embodies their affection for rampant percussion and multi-part harmonies but they’re filtered as flourishes woven together with a sense of somberness, no doubt influenced by The National’s Aaron Dessner who produced the record.

blackjoelewis-albumcover45. Black Joe Lewis- Electric Slave
Black Joe Lewis has done a wondrous job melding vintage blues, R&B, and soul music and into a modern marvel. Although this year’s offering of Electric Slave isn’t quite as bathed in the lavish brass arrangements as 2011’s Scandalous it does accentuate the feral stripped-down alley cat nature of a record that can sting and strut.

Franz44. Franz Ferdinand- Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
You might’ve thought that a few years away from the scene might’ve dulled the limelight of Franz Ferdinand. But with 2013’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions the Scottish lads return sluttier than ever as indicated by songs like “Right Action,” “Evil Eye,” “Bullet,” and “Treason! Animals” which are as sharp as the shards of a shattered disco globe.

TheStrokesComedownMachine-500x50043. The Strokes- Comedown Machine
The Strokes returned in 2011 with their most daring sounding (and criminally underrated) record to date in Angles. Trending that same way, 2013’s Comedown Machine is even stranger. Front man Julian Casablancas has perhaps the heaviest influence with the same ‘80s new wave sound that populated his solo album Phrazes for the Young. Even though it lacks the NYC afterhours danger of their previous work it’s an interesting departure none the less.

blitzen-trapper-vii42. Blitzen Trapper- VII
After having their most unorthodox record with 2010’s Destroyer of the Void, Blitzen Trapper have been working on getting back to a rootsy vintage Americana type of sound. This first started in 2011 with American Goldwing and even further now with 2013’s VII. Here the band comes off sounding dustier and looser than ever before, at times mirroring the ramshackle open frontier of The Band. And as far as emulating an Americana act, you can’t get any better than the one that perfected it.

UncleAcidAndTheDeadbeats-MindControl41. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats- Mind Control
In terms of the genre of sludge metal/stoner rock goes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a release better than Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats’ Mind Control in 2013. A thick cement mixer of menacing riffs and psychedelic vocals, K.R. Starrs (Uncle Acid) sounds like a twisted blend of John Lennon and Billy Corgan in their darkest hours.

fuzz40. Fuzz- Fuzz
Garage rock wunderkind Ty Segall has had a part in a prodigious amount of projects in just a handful of years with Fuzz being amongst his best. While the spotlight remains on Segall, Fuzz is a legit power trio as his friends Charles Moothart and Roland Cosio more than hold their own banging out fierce slabs of proto-metal.

ghost39. Ghost B.C.- Infestissumam
Ghost B.C. are one of the best things going in metal. They have a unique look and aura and hey… they actually create great metal songs! Coming from Sweden and having regalia resembling the church of Satan or a dark carnival of souls you would think this outfit is the most evil church-burning band on the planet. There’s a certain tongue-and-cheek to their eerie pageantry however. The crowning achievement on Infestissumam comes in the muscular nocturnal chug of “Year Zero” that sounds like a something Batman would blast as a pump-up anthem in the Batmobile on a late night crusade against crime.

8911-magpie-and-the-dandelion38. The Avett Brothers- Magpie and the Dandelion
Magpie and the Dandelion was recorded during the same sessions as The Avett Brothers’ 2012 output The Carpenter. This does not feel like a collection of outtakes or B-Sides from The Carpenter however. Quite the opposite as Magpie is actually a better record from start to finish than its predecessor. Beginning with the exuberant sunshine of opener “Open Ended Life” through closing grace of “Clearness is Gone” The Avetts prove once more that few can touch them when it comes to earnest new age folk rock.

motorhead_aftershock_cover_300dpi_13082837. Motörhead- Aftershock
With Motörhead you know what you’re going get in advance. Really loud, really gritty, tough as nails rock with front man Lemmy Kilmister’s trademark scorched earth gravel bark. Over the decades Motörhead has become the workingman’s hard rock band and they’ve turned this predictability into a strength in the sense that they’re reliable. Motörhead stick to their guns once again with the onslaught of Aftershock and show that they have plenty of bourbon left in the tank.

Smith Westerns36. Smith Westerns- Soft Will
The Smith Westerns may have turned down the Mott the Hoople gloss a bit on Soft Will but this is more than a worthy follow-up to 2011’s Dye It Blonde. The blankets of guitar still shimmer and singer Cullen Omori’s voice is whimsical as ever. And one of this year’s best titles, “3 A.M. Spiritual” hits it head on. How many of us have felt spiritual at 3 A.M.? Plenty of us.

strypes35. The Strypes- Snapshot
There are homages to retro rock and R&B and then there are records like Snapshot by Irish lads The Strypes that go all in. Their ages range from only 16-18, but these guys sound like veteran archivists, mining inspiration from acts that their grandparents (Maybe great grandparents?) probably listened to. Anyone from Chuck Berry, The Yardbirds, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, and The Rolling Stones just to name a few. And they do this expertly as illustrated in their incendiary cover of “Rollin’ and Tumblin.’” This record sounds so much like a classic early Stones LP, you’re almost surprised they didn’t call it Ireland’s Newest Hitmakers.

swim deep34. Swim Deep- Where The Heaven Are We
British four-piece Swim Deep burst onto the scene in a big way this year. Their debut record titled Where The Heaven Are We is a fantastic slice of wayward dream pop as singer/guitarist Austin Williams even proclaims, “Don’t just dream in your sleep it’s just lazy,” in the song “Honey.” Their finest moment though comes in the hooked-load, irresistible “King City” that is one of the catchiest anthems this year. An enduring flame of vibrancy and youth.

tribes133. Tribes- Wish To Scream
London quartet Tribes had an ambitious sound on their debut record Baby but on their follow up, Wish To Scream the band aimed for even loftier heights. They cut a large swath between shout-a-long pub rockers and the shoot-for-the-moon chiming of bands like Oasis. It’s lush and bold nature suggested the band had their sights set for grand visions for the foreseeable future. Sadly we’ll never know what was to come as the band announced their split in November 2013, but they went out crafting one blinding and glorious supernova.

The-Wild-Feathers32. The Wild Feathers- The Wild Feathers
The Wild Feathers are destined to be forerunners in terms of 21st century Americana roots rock. They’re from Austin, TX but they sound like they were ripped right from the marrow of the Midwest. Like laboring over a fine craft beer their debut self-titled output was brewed with just the right amount of The Band, Petty, Springsteen, Crazy Horse, Black Crowes, wheat, grain, and grit. A great road trip record especially boot-stomping “The Ceiling” that’s so infectious its 6:20 run time feels like it’s only a third of its actual length.

ivan31. Ivan & Alyosha- All The Times We Had
The Dostoevsky inspired band name may not roll right off the tongue but Ivan & Alyosha’s All The Times We Had is one wide-eyed and inspired debut. Lovely harmonies and melodies propel them into the stratosphere and the band seems like a more celestial version of Fleet Foxes. If this is what they’ve concocted for their first record, there’s no telling what’s next. You can’t even say “The sky is the limit” because they already sound like they’re out amongst the stars here.

The_Winery_Dogs_album30. The Winery Dogs- The Winery Dogs
One of the best acts to emerge on the hard rock scene in 2013 was the legit super group power trio of The Winery Dogs. Combining the talents of guitarist/vocalist Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big), bassist Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Steve Vai) and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) The Winery Dogs released a record that’s steeped in classic rock with no frills and no bullshit. Kotzen sounds like a long lost Golden God, a howling siren that can send shock waves for miles, eerily similar to Chris Cornell. Think of Led Zeppelin blended with Soundgarden with a rhythm section that can get down in a groove as good as Cream did. Burly and scorching rockers like “Elevate,” “Desire,” “We Are One,” and “Six Feet Deeper” prove The Winery Dogs have the power and might of a raging tempest. A prolonged future is never a sure thing with super groups, and it seems a split would be the only way to halt their momentum.

The Mountain Moves TreetopFlyers_sml29. Treetop Flyers- The Mountain Moves
There’s nothing really groundbreaking about Treetop Flyer’s debut record The Mountain Moves but that’s in part what makes it so endearing and outstanding. They expertly delve into a classic folk rock sound particularly the California regions from the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Their pronounced and poetic guitars carry the load down sunshine highways through standouts like “Things Will Change,” “Houses Are Burning,” “She’s Gotta Run,” and the climactic jam of “Haunted House.” Mining the past sometimes proves to be fruitful rather than cliché, The Mountain Moves is a testament to that.

mikal28. Mikal Cronin- MCII
To say Mikal Cronin stepped out from behind behind Ty Segall’s shadow in 2013 is an understatement. But unlike Segall this is not the fuzzed-out garage rock effort you might expect. Instead MCII delivers some of the most insistent and catchy power pop this side of Ben Kweller. It’s short and compact but that only adds to its immediacy. A delectable record that’s hard to stop spinning multiple times once you’ve started.

Editors-The-Weight-of-Your-Love27. Editors- The Weight Of Your Love
Editors aim big on The Weight Of Your Love and their guitars ring as loud as anyone around. There’s an equality of ‘80s post-punk sadness and beauty that effortlessly blends with the epic sound reminiscent of early U2. Lead singer Tim Smith’s velvet baritone is as soothing The National’s Matt Berninger, and maybe just a (little) bit more optimistic.

joy-formidable-wolfs-law26. The Joy Formidable- Wolf’s Law
Welsh trio The Joy Formidable harness a big sound and bigger ambitions on their sophomore record Wolf’s Law. They’re distinguished by firecracker front woman Ritzy Bryan who howls with a purpose and intensity that would make most front men wilt. Running the gamut of sweeping arrangements like the palpitating “This Ladder Is Ours” and monumental closer “Turnaround” with pulverizing cuts like “Little Blimp,” “Bats,” and “Maw Maw Song” Wolf’s Law provides an adventure that guarantees The Joy Formidable’s staying power.

lets-be-still25. The Head and The Heart- Let’s Be Still
After a stunning debut with their 2011 self-titled effort, The Head and The Heart return with a sophomore record that is anything but a slump. More blissful sunshine folk pop percolates throughout Let’s Be Still, sounding like the band can crank out records like this for decades without breaking a sweat.

Stockdale24. Andrew Stockdale- Keep Moving
Ever since 2009’s Cosmic Egg it’s been a murky, uncertain path for Wolfmother’s brain trust Andrew Stockdale. An ever-evolving cast and eventual (Albeit temporary) disbanding of Wolfmother lead to Stockdale to release is debut solo record appropriately titled Keep Moving. Although it’s a little more groove oriented than the Wolfmother outfit it’s still undeniably fearsome. Tracks like “Somebody’s Calling,” “Year of the Dragon,” “Meridian,” and “Ghetto” are as heavy riffing and meaty as anything he put out under the Wolfmother moniker. It’s clear after listening to this record that Andrew Stockdale and Wolfmother are just names, as long as Stockdale is at the helm he’ll steer them to Valhalla no matter what.

Macca23. Paul McCartney- NEW
Paul McCartney seems to have found the serum that few else have his age in the music industry, rolling through senior citizenship with continued youthfulness, vibrancy, and relentlessness. Of course, it helps when you’re a Beatle too! This tireless work ethic to create timeless pop and rock transitions easily to his aptly titled LP NEW. He’s out of almost everyone else’s league and seems to only be competing now with himself. As for that competition, this is Macca’s most daring record he’s made in years, if not decades.

love sign22. Free Energy- Love Sign
The rambunctious spirit of Free Energy seems like it just won’t fade out, lighting the way through a perpetual night of partying. Love Sign is a soundtrack to that never-ending night and its charm lies in its ability to never be pretentious or take itself too seriously. Free Energy hit home run after home run here, and those balls they’re hitting out of the park are cheeseballs. Just try not to sing along with house party rave-ups like “Electric Fever,” “Girls Want Rock,” “Hey Tonight,” or “Street Survivor” and power ballads like “Dance All Night” and “True Love.” Play Love Sign, slam beer, bro/gal grabs, repeat.

Okkervil-River-The-Silver-Gymnasium21. Okkervil River- The Silver Gymnasium
Okkervil River has kept busy in the new millennium as The Silver Gymnasium marks their seventh record since 2002. As a loose concept record based around front man Will Sheff’s hometown of Meridian, New Hampshire, it also may be Okkervil River’s best to date. Sheff and crew’s stunning indie pop sensibilities are on full display with highlights like, “It Was My Season,” “On A Balcony,” “White” and the centerpiece the shimmering, appropriately flowing “Down Down the Deep River.”

david bowie20. David Bowie- The Next Day
The Thin White Duke returneth. You had to know David Bowie’s unofficial retirement wasn’t a permanent scenario. Ten years after his last album, Bowie is back with The Next Day. Bowie shows no sign of rust as this is one of his finest batches of songs to date. The title track, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” “Valentine’s Day,” and “Dancing Out In Space” amongst others are destined to be latter day Bowie classics.

dropkick-135714655419. Dropkick Murphys- Signed and Sealed in Blood
The Dropkick Murphys have carved out a niche for themselves that few else have. Each record is a blast of adrenalized uncompromising and unpretentious Celtic punk rock. Signed and Sealed in Blood is no different as the boys from Boston stumble in from the streets again with another set of boozehound belters and pint-slamming anthems. Irresistible tavern shouters like “The Boys Are Back,” “Prisoner’s Song,” “Rose Tattoo,” “The Battles Rages On,” and “Out on the Town” feel like a warm maudlin embrace from your favorite whiskey-breathed mate.

iggy-stooges-ready-to-die-cover18. Iggy Pop & The Stooges- Ready To Die
Iggy Pop is one of the grittiest icons in rock history. The godfather of punk is now in his mid-60’s which makes it even more incredible how brazen and audacious Ready to Die is while still balancing it with a rugged maturity. It’s a collaborative effort with The Stooges that proves to be their best since 1973’s Raw Power. Conflagrating rockers like “Burn,” “Job,” “Gun,” and “DD’s” are juxtaposed by edifying ballads “Unfriendly World” and “The Departed” that feel like they’re still covered in the fresh soot of nuclear fallout.

frightened-rabbit-pedestrian-verse17. Frightened Rabbit- Pedestrian Verse
One of Scotland’s finest exports Frightened Rabbit return in 2013 with their fourth LP Pedestrian Verse. These Scottish sad sacks continue to do what they do best: Brood mightily. That’s not to say this isn’t a triumphant effort, quite the opposite. The Rabbits find splendor in their sorrow as usual albeit with a bigger scope with their most vivid statement to date.

Frank Turner16. Frank Turner- Tape Deck Heart
Frank Turner would like us all to believe he’s a devout atheist but we know better than that. He unpretentiously kneels at the Alter constructed by guys like Jerry Lee Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, and Joe Strummer just to name a few. The suitably titled Tape Deck Heart finds Turner playing it close to the chest, perhaps his most personal record so far. Anti-hymns and rally cries like, “Recovery,” “Losing Days,” “Plain Sailing Weather,” and “Four Simple Words” flood Tape Deck Heart and are sure whip listeners into an ecstatic frenzy, exactly the way Turner had it planned.

deer_tick-negativity-500x50015. Deer Tick- Negativity
Deer Tick’s front man John McCauley has been widely known in many circles as one of the last true wild men in Rock & Roll. To no one’s surprise McCauley hit rock bottom as his drinking and drug abuse as well as his personal life spiraled out of control. It’s no doubt the title of Deer Tick’s fifth record Negativity is influenced by McCauley’s pitfalls. After 2011’s booze-fueled Divine Providence Deer Tick’s Negativity is much more cultivated. Although there are still rockers like “The Curtain” and the scorching “Pot of Gold” the sentimental moments “Just Friends,” “The Dream’s in the Ditch,” “In Our Time” and “Big House” are more affecting and visceral. Deer Tick hasn’t lost their barfly fortitude they’re just becoming a better-rounded band… and maybe a tad more responsible.

dawes30014. Dawes- Stories Don’t End
With Stories Don’t End Dawes have become one of the best and most reliable folk rock acts of the modern era and it’s only their third record. This reputation is built on the backbone of a sturdy debut with North Hills in 2009 and one of the best sophomore releases maybe ever in Nothing is Wrong in 2011. Stories Don’t End finds Dawes in a comfort zone, breathing a sigh of relief in the pocket they’ve created. It also further exemplifies front man Taylor Goldsmith’s continual evolution into one of the best storytelling songwriters on the planet. His characters are so poignant, each track plays like a dynamic vignette or novella allowing listeners an immersion into Goldsmith’s captivating mind.

Modern-Vampires-of-The-City13. Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend are an anomaly in the world of indie rock. They’re albums seem to get more eccentric with each release which in turn continues to garner them critical praise and yet their fan base continues to grow as well. Modern Vampires of the City continues with that trend as it’s their most unorthodox record yet. As unconventional as it is Vampire Weekend prove to be a band that’s charming and clever enough to synthesize this type of futuristic pop into something instantly accessible with intoxicating hooks on cuts like, “Unbelievers,” “Diane Young,” “Hannah Hunt,” “Everlasting Arms,” “Finger Back,” and “Ya Hey.” No telling where the band will venture off to after this, but they’re pretty sure you’ll dig it.

palma-violets-18012. Palma Violets- 180
Palma Violets crashed the scene in 2013 with their raw debut of 180. The whole record has an overwhelming aura of adolescent angst and chaos, unabashedly it seems like the wheels could come off at any moment. But that is the allure of 180 in that its unpredictable nature leaves you thrilled and salivating for more. The sound of a band playing for their lives and it’s going to make every last death rattle count.

Jake-Bugg11. Jake Bugg- Jake Bugg
The term “New (Bob) Dylan” has been thrown around for so long it usually draws groans and eye-rolling from most people. Enter English-born singer/songwriter Jake Bugg whose debut self-titled record hit the states in 2013. With its vintage sepia-toned folk rock sound and balance of introspective acoustic numbers (“Simple As This,” “Broken,” “Slide,” “Someone Told Me”) with troubadour roadhouse rockers (“Lightning Bolt,” “Two Fingers,” “Taste It,” “Seen It All,” “Trouble Town”) it wouldn’t be out of bounds or irreverent to call this Bugg’s stab at a modern Bringing it All Back Home.

Jake-Bugg-Shangri-La10. Jake Bugg- Shangri La
Apparently one stellar stateside record in 2013 wasn’t enough for Jake Bugg. And even more impressive than the quantity is the quality of material from Bugg in 2013 as Shangri La actually exceeds its predecessor. Bugg continues his precocious ways although this is a much more feral output than his debut. Under the tender care of producing Guru Rick Rubin, Bugg begins Shangri La in high-octane fashion with the pistol-fire trio of “There’s A Beast And We All Feed It,” “Slumville Sunrise,” and “What Doesn’t Kill You.” It’s like Highway 61 running right through CBGB’s.

pearl jam9. Pearl Jam- Lightning Bolt
Pearl Jam continue to be an aberration in the music industry, emerging as the statesmen in a movement where most seemingly weren’t destined for old bones and yet they’ve now endured for over 20 years. They’ve always been more entrenched in the spirit of classic rock though more than most of their other peers which is how their 10th record Lightning Bolt unfurls. This is a fusion of their raging youthful past with a genuine tenderness and wink of the eye that could only come from decades of experience and craftsmanship. Sure it may be considered “Dad Rock” by some, but what a righteous and mature statement it is.

Arctic-Monkeys-AM-5953798. Arctic Monkeys- AM
Arctic Monkeys arrive with AM as one of the leading purveyors of guitar rock, proving it’s something that’s not archaic or obsolete. While this is not as soaring or agitated as some of their previous works, that is actually where this record thrives. AM delves deep into late nights with danger and seduction, a smooth transition into a sleazy Red Light District sound. The Monkeys concentrate much more on groove here, but it’s a heavy one to be sure. Gutter guitars gnash, ooze, and pummel especially on sordid rockers “Do I Wanna Know?,” “R U Mine?,” “Arabella,” “I Want it All,” and “Snap Out Of It.” It’s a lot like an all-night bender, one that has you rubbing your eyes not ready for the morning sun evading it like a vampire. Well, perhaps vampires is a bit strong but… you know the rest.

Phosphorescent-Muchacho7. Phosphorescent- Muchacho
Phosphorescent’s Muchacho is an immaculate work of art. The maestro behind this grand opus is Matthew Houck who has channeled his pathos into something to behold that few others have accomplished. In the aftermath of a breakup where Houck claimed, “I Lost the place, lost the girl, and lost my mind,” he pulled Muchacho out of the blackness of the viscera and it’s hauntingly alluring. Nowhere is this more evident than the glorious summits of elegance with “Song For Zula” and “The Quotidian Beasts.” Muchacho is by far the greatest release of Houck’s yet.

The-National-Trouble-will-find-me-500x5006. The National- Trouble Will Find Me
The National are sort of like a modern day version of The Smiths. And while some might consider that blasphemous, no one thrives on sincerely sad music better than The National. Trouble Will Find Me is no exception, arguably their most distressing in their canon. Their pain though is certainly rewarding for the rest of us as front man Matt Berninger continues to be one tortured poet skidding off the road and no amount of consumed bottles of wine can stop it. A thrilling crash off the cliff indeed.

Portugal_The_Man_Evil_Friends5. Portugal. The Man- Evil Friends
Portugal. The Man have kept themselves busy since their inception in 2005 releasing three EPs, one acoustic album, and seven proper LPs. What’s more ridiculous than their insane creative output is the fact that they inexplicably keep topping themselves as proven once again with 2013’s Evil Friends. There’s no telling how they mine this seemingly limitless reservoir of saccharine-sounding indie pop for each record. This is yet another collection of inescapable blissed-out (If not at times bummed-out as well) earworms like “Plastic Soldiers,” “Evil Friends,” “Modern Jesus,” “Atomic Man,” “Sea of Air,” and “Purple Yellow Red And Blue.” Portugal. The Man keep climbing indie rock hierarchy, topping themselves one mellifluous record after another.

black-sabbath-134. Black Sabbath- 13
35 years is a long time. And as hyper-evolving and tumultuous as the music industry is, that’s the equivalent to an eon or at the very least an era of mountain-building. That’s the length of time it’s been since Heavy Metal pioneers Black Sabbath have released a record with original front man/madman Ozzy Osbourne. 13 is the long road back from hell for the Heavy Metal pioneers and it’s another all-time classic in their catalog. Like a mythical beast that’s been slumbering for decades, 13 blasts through the Earth’s mantle with a titanic riff releasing all of the demons of the underworld behind it. The beast has awoken, staggered and confused at first, but in a new even more harsh world it soon realizes it shall thrive once more and the hunger creeps back into its gut. Where most bands would get bogged down in the primordial sludge of this pace, Black Sabbath flourish with it and relish it as usual. The militant lurch sounds like billowing storm clouds gathering on the edge of town in a foreboding spectacle. It’s hard to say if they’ll make another record after this, but if this is the grand finale in this macabre career, what a way to bow out.

Mechanical-bull3. Kings of Leon- Mechanical Bull
Kings of Leon had a near cataclysmic meltdown in the aftermath of Come Around Sundown. Between the alienation from their most fickle fans and in-band tension things looked grim. Everyone needed to take a break and limp back to their caves to lick their wounds, to heal. The long road back to glory took two years, leading to Mechanical Bull. Kings of Leon make a clarion-call statement that they were out to make a record on their own time and their own terms, devoid of attempting to make mega hits or please anyone but themselves. Not for the casual fans who probably only listen to “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” nor for the apparent diehards who have been crying “Sell outs” since Only By The Night. And really, that’s the approach they should take when making records going forward. They’re still an immensely talented band and the muse will find them no matter how they’re perceived to the masses. Mechanical Bull is the most evenly balanced record they’ve released blending cocksure rockers with their matured ballads. Whatever discord there was in the band in the past couple of years has seemingly now floated under the bridge and they can now concentrate on getting back to the throne to reign as rock royalty for decades to come.

arcade-fire-reflektor-cover-500x5002. Arcade Fire- Reflektor
“Do you like Rock & Roll musik? Cuz I don’t know if I do…” front man Win Butler despondently and wryly snarls on Arcade Fire’s fourth record Reflektor. It’s bold but that may be a summation to how Arcade Fire went on a mission to deconstruct the apparent stench of conventionalism they felt wafting over them, perhaps feeling pigeonholed by their own merits and achievements. They aren’t about to rest on past accolades and acclaim so on Reflektor they forage out into new territories, burning old blueprints to the ground and dancing through the ashes. It’s literarily and musically dense, undoubtedly this is Arcade Fire’s most experimental record. It’s a sea change type of moment, similar to U2 with Achtung Baby or Radiohead with Kid A. It will definitely leave a polarizing resonance in its aftermath as it challenges the audience like nothing else that the band has done previously. It’s as thrilling as it is abrasive, continually revealing new idiosyncrasies and nuances upon each listen on top of the plethora of immediately visceral moments. There are so few established bands taking this type of seismic creative risk and stylistic leap and there’s no band pulling it off on a scale as monumental as Arcade Fire, it deserves to be rewarded. They might stumble at some point, but with their first four records they’ve come nowhere close yet.

queens-of-the-stone-age-like-clockwork1. Queens of the Stone Age- …Like Clockwork
Queens of the Stone Age’s front man Josh Homme is the epitome of Rock & Roll. He embodies the unpredictability and calamity that make this such a joyously savage art form. With his unhinged genius he’s lead QOTSA down a rare path: A sustained wave of critical acclaim and sizeable popularity. Then in 2011 things almost came completely derailed when Homme became bed ridden for four months after complications from a routine surgical procedure on his knee and he fell into a deep depression during this time. When QOTSA bandmates asked him to begin work on a sixth album Homme said, “I had to ask them ‘If you want to make a record with me right now, in the state I’m in, come into the fog. It’s the only chance you got.’ It brought us much closer, because you never really know someone till everything goes wrong.” This became the genesis of …Like Clockwork as Homme found his muse in the darkness, “…I think I was just lost, looking for something in the dark. In that dark I found …Like Clockwork.” This is first QOTSA record in six years and Homme is triumphantly back standing upright with their best record to date. There are 10 tracks on …Like Clockwork and every one of them is an unimpeachable classic. It’s a bi-polar rollercoaster, a gauntlet of emotions that an entombed Homme must’ve experienced from the confines of his bed. The only thing he was sure of was an uncertain future. From inebriating apexes and devastating nadirs, you can’t turn away. Beginning with the opening “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” that is somehow sensual yet at the same time sounds like a bludgeoning, as if you’ve just stumbled upon a homicide scene. There are classic QOTSA touchstones like sweltering desert rockers “I Sat By The Ocean,” “My God is the Sun,” and “Smooth Sailing.” “If I Had A Tail” is absolutely seductive like an evil disco taking place in bowels of hell with Lucifer himself as the DJ and the marauding “I Appear Missing” deserves its own straightjacket. Despite the usual heaviness that thrives on QOTSA records it’s the melancholic, inauspicious ballads “The Vampyre of Time And Memory” and the title track brooding in the cerebral abyss that may ruminate the longest. There are few records that display a commentary of the manic and unstable human condition so brilliantly. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon immediately comes to mind and now …Like Clockwork does too, it’s that good. Six years after Era Vulgaris this is certainly a comeback, all the way back from the brink.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN- HIGH HOPES

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Bruce Springsteen- High Hopes

8.1 / 10

Spare Parts:

Springsteen mines his past with a coal to diamond workingman’s craft

For his 18th studio album of High Hopes, Bruce Springsteen takes his most unorthodox path of constructing a record yet. A collection of castaways, covers, and reconstructions providing a fusion that Springsteen thought had to see the light of day. Fueling Springsteen’s drive even further was Rage Against The Machine guitarist and E Street understudy Tom Morello. A genuine guitar hero, Morello’s amplified alien landscapes were a lightning rod of inspiration according to Bruce himself, “Tom and his guitar became my muse, pushing the rest of this project to another level.”

After his fine work on Wrecking Ball producer Ron Aniello returns to the helm tasked with melding Springsteen’s perennially ambitious cinematic vision to Morello’s abstract guitar wizardry. The results are startlingly synergetic as Morello’s tones and squalls sound revitalizing interwoven throughout the various rhapsodies. Although the personnel is too wide ranging to be considered a true E Street Band record, their muscular spirit is felt throughout, exemplified on the opening title track. A cover of Tim Scott McConnell’s originally recorded by Springsteen on the 1996 Blood Brothers EP that was revisited on the last leg of the Wrecking Ball tour and is bolstered with flavorful horns and an incessant salsa rhythm. Bruce always being meticulous with track arrangements wanted to start things optimistically, with its exotic spontaneous nature, “High Hopes” certainly does that.

“Harry’s Place” is one of record’s finest moments and although it’s well polished sounding like a Tunnel of Love era cut it’s one of Springsteen’s grittiest character studies in years. The big city noir surrounding the tyrannical mobster known as Harry has a seedy vibe with Bruce informing you, “You don’t fuck with Harry’s money, you don’t fuck Harry’s girls.” Advice that sounds like it could make the difference between life and death. Another day in the life of these wise guys: The smoke is cleared and blood is spilled. The blurbs of saxophone and guitar sound like police sirens off in the distance but by the time they arrive on the scene… it’s too late. This is nighttime cruising music that Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski could’ve gotten onboard with.

“American Skin (41 Shots)” has been around as a live performance since the E Street Band’s reunion shows from 1999-2000 and originally written after New York City Cops shot and killed an unarmed Amadou Diallo in 1999. An appropriate time for this track to resurface and receive proper studio treatment in the wake of the Trayvon Martin incident as well as the endless litany of mass public shootings, it’s more relevant than ever. Distorted vocals haunt the background and Morello shines for the first time on “American Skin” with his soaring guitar playing, like a supernatural compass for wayward souls.

“Just Like Fire Would” is another cover, a tale of jubilant longing and devotion this time from Australian punk band The Saints before cooling into the tremendous outtake “Down in the Hole” from The Rising sessions. With the same chest-bursting sincerity of “I’m On Fire,” it’s a retelling of events transpiring in the aftermath of 9/11 as Springsteen laments, “I got nothing but heart and sky and sunshine, the things you left behind, I wake to find my city’s gone to black. The days just keep on falling, your voice it keeps on calling I’m gonna dig right here until I get you back. Fires keep on burning, I’m here with you in the cold.”

“Heaven’s Wall” is another ethereal vantage point that transitions to the phenomenal “Frankie Fell in Love.” Springsteen feels gob-smacked by the unbridled intoxication of love, a truly rousing song that would feel right at home with some of the other exhilarating rockers on The River. “This is Your Sword” dabbles in rollicking Celtic music that Springsteen has been involved with more frequently followed by the lilting strings waltz of “Hunter Of Invisible Game.” Its lush beauty veiling the true heartbreak as Springsteen sings, “We all come up a little short and we go down hard. These days I spend my time skipping through the dark. Through the empires of dust, I chant your name. I am the hunter of invisible game.”

The most controversial move on High Hopes is the radically transformed version of an undisputed classic, “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Although this adaptation is no new revelation to the majority of the Springsteen faithful as this version with the full E Street Band has been played live multiple times, even featuring Morello on several occasions over the past few years. With Springsteen and Morello trading verses, the stark baron wasteland of the original is replaced by a fully-armored insurgent march of electricity. Morello’s transcendental wailing and screeching of guitar is a prodigious jolt, an atomic shockwave and guerilla warfare proclamation. Completely reimagined, “Tom Joad” morphs from bleak requiem to defiant rally cry.

“The Wall” refers to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. paying tribute to the lives lost in a conflict that defined a generation. A eulogy that Springsteen culled from his deepest fathoms for friends he lost in Vietnam as he grieves, “This black stone and these hard tears are all I got left of you now.” There’s also the visceral survivor’s guilt, were it not for a failed Physical decades ago, Springsteen (Who was legitimately drafted for the war) may have been one of the names on that wall. If you believe in divine intervention, Springsteen just might be living proof of such a thing.

The closer “Dream Baby Dream” is one of the most obscure finales in Springsteen’s catalog. A cover of electro-punk duo Suicide from their 1980 LP is another dramatically altered rendition. The pulsating original has been converted to a swaying Elysian psalm that could be seen as a cumulative benediction, purposefully placed in the exact spot it should be.

2012’s Wrecking Ball was engineered as a modern day folk album so it should come as no surprise that Bruce treated High Hopes with an archivist’s approach. Not only of his own music, but cherished obscurities by other artists he also held in high regard. The lack of a linear narrative hinders the album at times, but only slightly. In fact some may even feel this record sounds more like a unified effort than the Ellis Island melting pot of Wrecking Ball. At its core High Hopes is still rich with the prevailing themes that are abundant in Springsteen’s oeuvre: Faith, love, loss, redemption, and triumph amongst others. As for Bruce’s prolific output in the latter days of his career, it doesn’t appear he is planning on retirement anytime soon. With plenty of material left to excavate and revive along with a continuous outpouring of new ideas, Springsteen made this keen observation, “It’s like that old story. The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind.”

 Bruce and Morello

(Blood Brothers: Tom and Bruce- The Boss uses Morello’s guitar to channel his muse)

MUSIC FOR A REFLECTIVE AGE: ARCADE FIRE GO ALL IN

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Arcade Fire- Reflektor

8.9 / 10

 

“Do you like Rock & Roll musik? Cuz I don’t know if I do” front man Win Butler despondently and wryly snarls on Arcade Fire’s fourth record Reflektor. It’s bold but that may be a summation to how Arcade Fire went on a mission to deconstruct the apparent stench of conventionalism they felt wafting over them, perhaps feeling pigeonholed by their own merits and achievements. Arcade Fire know what’s at stake, despite the current state of Rock music being fragile as ever the risks have to be bigger and more audacious to really leave an impression. They aren’t about to rest on past accolades and acclaim so on Reflektor they forage out into new territories, burning old blueprints to the ground and dancing through the ashes.

For inspiration Butler traveled to Haiti with his wife and band mate, multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne. Butler claimed it opened him up to Caribbean music and rhythms previously off his radar. The band also sought to collaborate with former LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy who ended up assisting in the production. His indelible touchstones are absolutely evident over the course of this sprawling work. Murphy’s influence along with the Haitian exposure leads to Arcade Fire’s most expansive and profound record yet.

Reflektor is interlinked like one long prose poem with some songs flowing seamlessly into the other. The band refracts and shatters the light to its will like a wondrous prism in the opus of the opening title track. At 7:34, it’s a jarring disco-punk epic, like nothing they’ve really delved into and yet at the very nucleus of it all, it’s still distinctly Arcade Fire. It’s a hybrid concoction of sorts now able to stand on its own legs, blood still pumping with arena-rock grandeur.  Butler sings, “We fell in love, alone on a stage, in the reflective age”  while Régine spirals neon webs around him cooing in French, “Between the night, the night and the dawn. Between the kingdom of the living and the dead.” The lyrics are still flooded with Springsteen-esque getaway car/young lovers and loners on the run hormones but sonically it’s a cacophonous conglomeration prefacing the rest of the record. Congas meld with horns and synth arrangements as android gurgles and hisses filter through the circuits. Hell, even David Bowie is in there somewhere (Seriously)! “We Exist” boasts an irresistible decadent ‘80s groove as if “Billie Jean” had just morphed into an undulating extraterrestrial spectacle. “Flashbulb Eyes” is a Reggae voodoo shudder as Butler paranoid as ever shivers, “What if the camera really do take your soul?” “Here Comes The Night Time” surges forward with anxious tumult before waves break to reveal a Haitian merengue with Butler pondering one of his many existential questions, “But if there’s no music in heaven, then what’s it for?” “Normal Person” has the billowing maelstrom and muscle of cranky latter day Neil Young as guitars crackle and caterwaul in what may be their most surly rocker to date. “You Already Know” is the closest the band comes to a pop structured song here with a jaunty gleam before “Joan of Arc” closes out the first volume with its crusading glam stomp. Butler’s blusterous yet affectionate lyrics are no doubt an ode to Régine, “When the boys are over you, Joan of Arc, tell the boys I’ll follow you. I follow you.  Joan it’s true, I really wanna know you.”

A reprise opens volume 2 in “Here Comes The Night Time Part II” bathed in gentle washes of baroque pop with a cascading computer-drip pulse before giving way to the 2nd half’s centerpiece combo of “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” complement one another as a retelling of the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus goes down into the underworld to bring back his beloved Eurydice from the dead. In the first moments of seeing daylight however he turns to see his Eurydice and she has vanished back into the underworld, gone forever. Being the big proponents of light as a muse in much of their songs it’s easy to see why they were attracted to this devastating tale. The former begins with tribal percussion before swelling into a soaring paean while the latter is the palpitating finality and the beacon of light is now only a hollow moon. Flourishes of orbiting pulsating textures give “Porno” a 3am nocturnal glow sprouting cyborg tentacles. “Afterlife” has an island carnival vibe and buoyant hummingbird synths with classic Arcade Fire bombast during the shouted chorus, “I’ve gotta know… Can we work it out? If we scream and shout, till we work it out?” The closer “Supersymmetry” is like a gentle rocking boat out on a sea of flickering fuzz and stirring strings as the track ends briefly before starting back up with a five minute electronic outro collage. As if the band has left the recording room long ago and spirits are attempting to channel a white noise catharsis through whatever was left lying around until the concluding eerie silence.

Reflektor is literarily and musically dense. Undoubtedly this is Arcade Fire’s most experimental record by far. It’s a sea change type of moment, similar to U2 with Achtung Baby or Radiohead with Kid A. It will definitely leave a polarizing resonance in its aftermath as it challenges the audience like nothing else that the band has done previously. It’s as thrilling as it is abrasive, continually revealing new idiosyncrasies and nuances upon each listen on top of the plethora of immediately visceral moments. Looking for those sparks of contact in the reflective age, “I thought I found the connector,” Butler sings in the beginning. It could be the bond he’s been striving for nearly 10 years now. Butler though remains weary, his anxiousness and restlessness benefit us all, finding no comfort in playing it safe or becoming stagnant. There are so few established bands taking this type of seismic creative risk and stylistic leap and there’s no band pulling it off on a scale as monumental as Arcade Fire, it deserves to be rewarded. They might stumble at some point, but with their first four records they’ve come nowhere close to it.

 

130909-arcade-fire-reflektor-promo-photoArcade Fire: Alone in the darkness, a darkness of white