Monday, 12 December 2011

Presenting the sixth 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.

50. Imperative Reaction – ‘As We Fall’ (2006)
This album is the closest thing I have heard to rock music made purely with beats, synths and vocals. It has a driving dynamic and energy rarely found in electronic music, which is refreshing enough to easily push the release through the slight edge of repetition that it is bound by. There’s little edge to be heard, but there is also something to be said for music that sounds like it has been spat out by machines rather than ground out by fetid, dirty people. Overall it builds a smooth cyberpunk sensibility that many other acts would kill for – this is arena rock made for near-future hacker antiheroes with chrome implants and mirrorshades.
Recommended Tracks: “Collapse”, “Judas”, “Never Ending”

49. Ministry – ‘Houses of the Molé (2004)
Al Jourgensen returned to the filth and fury of Ministry minus long-term collaborator Paul Barker for an album inspired by his fairly overt loathing for the American administration of the early 2000s. This would eventually become a trilogy of albums with diminishing returns, but ‘Houses of the Molé remains a piercing shriek of industrial metal political outrage. Packed with automated drums and razor-sharp riffs than revolve between mid-paced swing and hypervelocity guitar rounds, it was clear that Mr Jourgensen was mad as hell and wasn’t gonna take it any more. Opening track “No W” was akin to a call to arms, one which opened up a whole new generation to the cleansing, mechanised power of Ministry.
Recommended Tracks: “No W”, “Warp City”, “World”

48. Glassjaw – ‘Worship And Tribute’ (2002)
Glassjaw’s 2000 debut ‘Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence’ was the ultimate breakup album – if the main thrust of your breakup was a desire to render your former other half into their component atomic pieces. For ‘Worship And Tribute’ the band worked in a great deal more variation, both musically and lyrically. There’s still plenty of chaotic ‘post-hardcore’ (bleeeeeah) on display, but this is tempered by a genuinely startling ability to work melodic hooks and almost easy listening-guitar lines into the mix. Daryl Palumbo’s vocals can veer between saccharine croon and wounded animal at the drop of a hat - and while many artists would end up sounding uncomfortably inconsistent from this approach, Glassjaw just sound mercurial. In a way, this is the heaviest pop album you will ever hear.
Recommended Tracks: “Tip Your Bartender”, “Cosmopolitan Bloodloss”, “Radio Cambodia”

47. Paradise Lost – ‘Symbol Of Life’ (2002)
I think few fans would struggle to argue that Paradise Lost’s 21st century output pales in comparison to the material from the ‘90s. They’re a band who have undergone a shift from gothic metal heroes to an ill-advised but not entirely unsuccessful electronic pop act and then back again. Recent albums have been decent enough, but for my money ‘Symbol Of Life’ marked a transition point for them that might have been worth sticking to. Marking a balancing act between their brief electronic period and their metal past/future, it’s an industrial metal release with gothic overtones that suits both their songwriting and their innate brooding sound. It’s a shame more LPs weren’t produced that followed up on this angle, but then sometimes it is better to keep a decent piece of experimentation to itself, lest follow-up attempts seriously muddy the waters. A bonus edition of the album also concluded with two of the best covers I have ever heard – a really shouldn’t work but does anyway version of Bronski Beat’s “Small Town Boy” and a darkly majestic rendering of Dead Can Dance’s “Xavier”.
Recommended Tracks: “Isolate”, “Pray Nightfall”, “Channel For The Pain”

46. José González – ‘Veneer’ (2003)
It’s not that unusual for an artist to reach greater global popularity with a cover song. What is quite unusual is for the cover to be of a track by another relatively unknown artist. With a version of The Knife’s “Heartbeats”, José González made a decent advertising campaign from Sony more than just a load of balls. Bouncing, brightly coloured balls. It’s lifted off debut album ‘Veneer’, which is a consistent and gently emotive collection of acoustic indie-folk pieces picked out delicately against the backdrop of González’s understated, almost mumbling vocal delivery. It’s not energetic material by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a hell of a chill-out LP and almost custom made for lazy spring days spent lying under trees like other people do in other advertising campaigns.
Recommended Tracks: “Remain”, “Lovestain”, “Heartbeats”

45. Echo Image – ‘Compuphonic’ (2001)
‘Compuphonic’ is an almost unbearably sweet and glistening synthpop release from a group of Norwegian electro types who have really listened to far too much Erasure. Still, I’m certainly not going to hold that against them. It’s happy, bouncy, poppy and possibly mostly constructed from balloons, bubbles and small cute animals. Your enjoyment of this music may strongly depend on how much you are willing to dance to it flamboyantly in a tight white t-shirt, but despite never having done this (yet) I am perfectly satisfied with placing it this high on my list purely because of the massive corny grin this album manages to put on my face every time I listen to it. Admittedly, my massive corny grins look like slight smirks to other people. But the intention is there.
Recommended Tracks: “Standing Alone”, “Messing With Love”, “Understand”

44. Brand New – ‘Your Favourite Weapon’ (2001)
‘Emo’ is a term that gets a lot of hate these days. It’s also usually used completely incorrectly, even for a genre name that has flitted between different sounds. Perhaps they broke its heart and it had to move on and write some very sad lyrics about the old sound with the new sound. Regardless, Brand New is a band that would have been described as emo in 2001. This is shortly after emo was more like pop-punk, and before it became more like metalcore. It’s almost too confusing for even my mighty brain to handle. ‘Your Favourite Weapon’ is a strong debut of alt. indie rock laced through with wry emotional lyrics and bittersweet nostalgia, coming as nothing more than an album comprised entirely of teenage experiences filtered through a soft-focus Hollywood lens. The songwriting is both very catchy and almost naively fresh, and the easy wit of the wordplay more than makes up for the self-indulgence of the lyrical content. It can pull you back to your youth with shiftless ease, and that’s something to be valued when you’re as aged and misanthropic as me.
Recommended Tracks: “Mix Tape”, “Seventy Times 7”, “Soco Amaretto Lime”

43. Flight Of The Conchords – ‘Flight Of The Conchords’ (2008)
As a rule, I don’t really like comedy music. It’s almost always less funny than it believes itself to be, and typically the actual music suffers from a lack of attention and development. I’d much rather someone try to tell me a joke as is than try to come up with a tune to set it to. Flight Of The Conchords are a massive Kiwi-shaped exception to this. Genuinely great musicians with a fine-tuned ear for genre pastiche and understated, almost apathetic wordplay – given that exposure to their songs is typically granted from a live setting or their equally awesome TV show, it’s especially gratifying that they work just as well from a recorded LP. The material reels between acoustic folk to electropop to hip-hop to ragga, and hits every nail square on the head along the way. This debut release proved less varied but higher in quality than 2009’s follow-up ‘I Told You I Was Freaky’, I suspect simply due to having been more fine-tuned over years on the global comedy circuit.
Recommended Tracks: “Inner City Pressure”, “Boom”, “Business Time”

42. Puscifer – ‘V Is For Vagina’ (2007)
A side project from Maynard James Keenan (of Tool and A Perfect Circle fame) was probably never going to be straightforward and obvious, but many fans were a little bit taken aback by the quasi-industrial country-influenced electronica of Puscifer. Akin to a take on trip-hop that strips out all elements of its UK sound and fries it in greasy but filling Americana, it’s certainly difficult to pigeonhole. This is no bad thing in and of itself - and I suspect its intractability and genre-defying sound is both purposeful and performed with a great deal of glee by Keenan, who mostly steers clear of his trademark soaring vocals to softly sing his way through odd little tunes laden with samples and styles of all kinds. The only thing I can confidently say about Puscifer is that it sounds like absolutely nothing else, while remaining coherent enough to not vanish into an obtuse realm of cult musicianship. It's also a strong candidate for both Worst Album Title and Worst Album Cover of the last decade. 
Recommended Tracks: “Queen B”, “Momma Sed”, “Sour Grapes”

41. Nine Inch Nails – ‘Year Zero’ (2007)
It has been a strange on again/off again decade for Nine Inch Nails, and following 2005’s disappointing ‘With Teeth’ it was good to have Trent Reznor back to his usual innovative and inimitable self on the viral marketing-tastic ‘Year Zero’. Perhaps reinvigorated by stepping away from his usual introverted subject material and into a dystopian concept album, many of the tracks are discordant beat-driven industrial that harks back to the majestic days of ‘The Downward Spiral’ – a slight letdown that there is glam stomp-tinged filler that sucks the general quality of the release down, but overall it is still the most consistent and harshest release under the NIN banner since the turn of the century.
Recommended Tracks: “My Violent Heart”, “God Given”, “The Great Destroyer”

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