Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Presenting the second installment in this ongoing, self-obsessed series. A Spotify playlist featuring all available recommended tracks is being built daily alongside the list, and can be found by clicking here.

90. Shai Hulud – ‘That Within Blood Ill-Tempered’ (2003)
For a band who often get thrown in with the mostly meaningless metalcore genre, Shai Hulud make very interesting music. Wrenchingly screamed yet thoughtful lyrics over the top of a cacophony of guitar lines, riffs and percussion come together to bring about a structured chaos that choruses occasionally rise out of, providing a brief melodic respite before the song retreats back into the raging fury. 2003’s ‘That Within Blood Ill-Tempered’ saw these elements pieced together expertly, the band’s ever-changing lineup briefly clicking into place to provide a perfect storm of intelligent extremity.
Recommended Tracks: “The Consummate Dragon”, “Being Exemplary”, “Given Flight By Demon’s Wings”

89. Pelican – ‘City Of Echoes’ (2007)
Pelican achieved something near-impossible in 2007 – creating a distinct instrumental post-metal album that manages to carve out its own sound and distinct atmosphere amongst a rabble of similar acts who think that listening to a bunch of Isis albums then picking up a guitar and writing a progressive eight-minute riff is enough to get you by. The songs on this LP swing between crunchy metallic swaying and delicate yearning, but never in a predictable quiet-to-loud formula. The basic ingredients remain generic, but the songcraft and ear for melody and progression is far from the norm.
Recommended Tracks: “City Of Echoes”, “Lost In The Headlights”, “Far From Fields”

88. Sleepingdog – ‘Polar Life’
With ‘Polar Life’, Sleepingdog brought to the table a beautiful collection of gently yearning songs that weave varied instrumentation around an often simplistic central piano or acoustic guitar piece. Chantal Acda’s vulnerable but blissful vocal performance veers close to the edge of ethereal, and echoes over the top of Stars Of The Lid’s Adam Wiltzie’s strings and production work – and it’s this close-but-not-quite sense of abstraction that ends up generating a sense of personal intimacy that is often difficult to find on records in the 21st century.
Recommended Tracks: “Your Eyes”, “Ardennes”, “If Only”

87. The Sword – ‘Age Of Winters’ (2006)
By all rights, The Sword should have released this album in the mid-1970s when it would have made them multi-millionaires. But today’s hip young gunslingers have relatively little need for crunchy, grooving guitar riffs with Ozzy-style wails over the top – both of which have the quality of sounding like maybe you heard them before in a previous life, which is a beautiful thing. The lyrics mostly concern wolves, spider-priests and the blessings of goddesses. And yes, swords. Well, the youth of today’s loss is my gain because ‘Age Of Winters’ is classic metal enough to morph you into a Viking warrior in the privacy of your own home. Just listen to this LP and suddenly every humdrum household chore becomes a household chore performed FOR ODIN. And if you don’t need that in your life, I feel bad for you.
Recommended Tracks: “Freya”, “Winter’s Wolves”, “Iron Swan”

86. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus’ (2004)
The Bad Seeds moved on stylistically quite some time ago, from their post-punk origins to a tortured horror country gospel folk noise thing and finally to a more private, mature singer/songwriter feel. 2004’s double album ramped the latter up with elements of the 80’s/90’s Cave’s dark witticisms and storytelling returning, while maintaining the personal lyricism of his later work. Tempo was increased, the volume was turned ever so slightly up and the album highlights (“Nature Boy” and “Supernaturally” in particular) are at times reminiscent of 60’s festival rock in their energy and good-time bleakness. Any progression feels natural for an artist as mercurial as Nick Cave, and this release ticked the classic Bad Seeds boxes whilst adapting to an ageing songwriter and audience.
Recommended Tracks: “Nature Boy”, “Babe, You Turn Me On”, “Supernaturally”

85. Mogwai – ‘Happy Songs For Happy People’ (2003)
A departure from the usual quiet-then-nuclear Mogwai post-rock dynamic, ‘Happy Songs For Happy People’ cannot be said to do exactly what it says on the tin. Many of the tracks are comparably short and somber instrumental constructions of guitar, strings, piano, slow percussion and electronica that reach out tentacles into your brain and don’t let go until you have stared out of the window at a rain-soaked landscape for a sufficient amount of time. Never down-tempo enough to actually become miserable, it’s an album that creeps up on you warily before shrugging its shoulders and walking off for some quiet time alone.
Recommended Tracks: “Moses? I Amn’t”, “Golden Porsche”, “I Know You Are But What Am I?”

84. Panzer AG – ‘This Is My Battlefield’ (2004)
At the beginning of the decade, Andy LePlegua was just the frontman of Icon Of Coil. Now he is the man with one industrial/EBM/aggrotech side-project for every day of the year. Panzer AG is one of them, and this debut album contained a mish-mash of all the above genres with a hefty dose of hard dance and arena rock bombast thrown into the mix. It all gels just about enough to make ‘This Is My Battlefield’ an inconsistent but engaging listen, with no mis-step ever going badly enough to trip you up and the highlights providing an exciting glimpse of more finely tuned material to come. Unfortunate then, that 2006’s follow-up ‘Your World Is Burning’ was utterly awful and fell apart in every way that this original release managed to hold together.
Recommended Tracks: “Battlefield”, “When Death Embrace Me”, “Pure Tension”

83. mind.in.a.box – ‘R.E.T.R.O.’ (2010)
I haven’t ever particularly gotten along with other mind.in.a.box releases, but this collection of retro gaming-inspired electronica isn’t exactly their regular output. A mix of direct reinterpretations of soundtracks from the days of 8-bit cassettes and cartridges and original tunes reminiscent of the same, it’s a generally solid album with two particular standouts – electropop gems with heavily processed ‘female’ vocals, and surefire genuine hits if they actually received mainstream airplay. As a whole ‘R.E.T.R.O.’ is notable for crafting an obscure and niche element of 1980’s music into a style that holds a much wider appeal for lovers of electronic music.
Recommended Tracks – “Lightforce”, “8 Bits”, “I Love 64”

82. Imogen Heap – ‘Speak For Yourself’ (2005)
Former Frou Frou frontwoman Imogen Heap displays a talent for female-fronted glimmering pop covered by swathes of lush electronics and other diverse instrumentation. Part of a growing scene of female singer/songwriters that have eclipsed the embarrassingly inherent misogyny of the music industry, ‘Speak For Yourself’ stands out as a firmly idiosyncratic release that steers clear of the usual Kate Bush/Tori Amos/Bjork labels that get thrown at other releases.
Recommended Tracks – “Headlock”, “Hide And Seek”, “The Walk”

81. Tool – ‘Lateralus’ (2001)
It would be fairly inconceivable to my 20-year-old self that Tool’s entry into this list would be languishing down at the fetid depths of #81. They were my favourite band through a good chunk of sixth-form college and university, and when you are into Tool you are REALLY into Tool. To be fair, they make it easy to sink into their material with their weft of finely woven prog-grunge guitars, rolling basslines and terrifyingly competent percussion. And that’s not even mentioning Maynard James Keenan’s sublimely powerful vocals and esoteric lyrics. But looking back, ‘Lateralus’ was the beginning of the end of my Tool obsession. It’s certainly a great album, but it marked a more progressive and less focused shift from their excellently executed 90’s double whammy of the ferociously hungry ‘Undertow’ and their intellectually turbulent meisterwerk ‘├ćnima’. As a centrepiece, the two-part “Parabol”/”Parabola” is the highlight, blending the spiritual and physical influences of Tool into one coherent whole. But coherency loses out further into the album, with one meandering and vague track too many by the end. This trend would continue on into 2006’s “10,000 Days” which wandered further into the realms of self-indulgence. But still – Tool on a slightly mediocre day is still head and shoulders above the vast majority of other bands.  
Recommended Tracks: “The Grudge”, “Parabol”, “Parabola”, “Lateralus”

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