OK kids, this is a long post but I’ve been thinking about this for a while and decided to put it up here! Comment back with your own top 10s…
=10 (OK I know this is cheating but making it just 10 is hard)
Rise Against – Appeal to Reason: Too-clean production hurts it but the songs are still there. “Whereabouts Unknown” is a career highlight. Tim McIlraith’s voice is mixed way up and is sounding better than ever, and the band has not compromised their political stance for wider popularity. The vicious snarl on “Re-Education (Through Labor)”, along with the song’s video, are good evidence of this.
From Autumn To Ashes – Live At Looney Tunes: Great live record that wrapped up the band’s career nicely. Recorded just after I saw them at Soundwave so it was a nice souvenir. The band actually got better after their screamer left and Fran Mark took over both singing and screaming duties, and his versatility is shown to great effect here. A blistering version of “Pioneers”, probably the best song they ever recorded, is the standout. It was sad to see them go, but Fran’s new project, Warship, seems set to fill the void nicely.
9. Lydia – Illuminate: Jury is still out for me on whether or not this is better than their debut from a few years ago, but it is a very good record in its own right. The sound has been filled out a bit in the couple of years since the last record and this one sounds very lush, with the male/female harmonies giving it a bit of an ethereal quality.
8. Alkaline Trio – Agony and Irony: A bit more pop-influenced than their previous output, but still a good record. Their songwriting has lightened up a bit and there are some positive songs in here, which might dilute the whole thing a bit too far I think. But songs like “Love Love Kiss Kiss” are still great.
7. United Nations – Self Titled: Super groups often don’t work. This one did, spectacularly. Geoff Rickly from Thursday, Daryl Palumbo from Glassjaw and a bunch of other musicians that can’t be named for legal reasons (seriously) combined to make a record quite unlike anything else released this year. It is incredibly heavy, discordant and ugly sounding, but with beautiful subdued moments thrown in. It references thrash and “power violence” bands and Pink Floyd in equal measure, and carries a strong political undercurrent that really gives the record a sense of purpose. Very much a product of the times, this came at exactly the right moment with the international political situation making this record one of the most powerful of the year. “Filmed In Front Of A Live Studio Audience” is one of the best songs of the year.
6. Dance Gavin Dance – Self Titled: Losing Jonny Craig should have ruined this band. In the end it only made them a little bit worse. Kurt Travis does a great job filling in for Jonny Craig’s stellar vocals, and the whole thing holds together nicely. Lead single “Me And Zoloft Get Along Just Fine” is one of the only songs on the record with a “traditional” structure and uses it well with one of the most irrepressible choruses of the year. DGD step up the “experimental” side of things quite a lot on this record and not everything works, but the hits outweigh the misses. The conclusion of the final track “People You Know” is one of the most ferocious things you’ll ever hear.
5. City And Colour – Bring Me Your Love: Dallas Green wrote and recorded this with the intention of making a record, whereas the debut was simply a collection of things he’d written over the years that didn’t have a home. And it shows. This record comes across as coherent and purposeful, setting into a mood from the outset and not letting up. The songs are still simple and predominantly acoustic, and are still carried by Dallas’s soaring but fragile voice, but the arrangements have been fleshed out and the whole thing sounds more “finished”. Lyrically the record is frequently brilliant, “What Makes a Man” being an obvious standout. “What makes a man walk away from his life? I think I know…. think I might know”.
4. Black Lungs – Send Flowers: Another Alexisonfire side project, this time from Wade McNeil. Wade favours a stripped back punk rock sound on his debut record, often sounding something like a plugged in Canadian version of Billy Bragg. Lyrically the record is just outstanding, with the final track pulling together all the themes of religion, addiction and mortality into a spine tingling finale. The record has not received as much attention as Dallas Green’s effort, but it deserves all his recognition and more. It will be very interesting to see what Wade does next, as this record hints at almost limitless potential.
3. Emarosa – Relativity: The top 3 here could all easily be #1. Emarosa’s debut full length is just stunning. After Jonny Craig’s acrimonious departure from Dance Gavin Dance, Emarosa cannily welcomed him to the fold and set about changing their sound from just another screamo band into something entirely new. Jonny Craig seemingly never puts a foot wrong musically, and his vocals on this record are nothing short of outstanding. He is probably the best vocalist in rock music at the moment, simple as that. The band backs him ably with technical, stop-start guitar work and occasionally adventurous song structures, but Craig’s vocals are of such quality that the band often seems like a support act. Hopefully Emarosa is able to tour Australia soon so we can witness this in person.
2. Closure In Moscow – The Penance And The Patience: The only reason this isn’t #1 is that it isn’t a full length. A stunning debut that has rocketed the band from an unsigned act funding the recording by working multiple jobs and selling their cars to being on the brink of something very special. The band has signed to Equal Vision record in the US on the back of the strong support this “albumette” has received both in Australia and the US, with their profile being boosted through websites such as absolutepunk.net. The record itself goes close to setting a new standard for the genre, Chris de Cinque and Manny Zennelli’s vocals twisting around one another while the guitar lines spiral and songs stop and start at will. The song structures are adventurous but never sound forced, the playing is adept without ever coming off as showy, current wonder-producer Kris Crummett’s production in pin-sharp and perfect, and de Cinque’s lead vocals are just about as good as anyone else in the scene (Jonny Craig excepted!). Albumette closer “Jewels For Eyes” is probably the best piece of songwriting I have heard this year.
1. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound: In terms of songwriting, lyrics and creating a mood, The ’59 Sound had no peer this year. This is the record that should make The Gaslight Anthem huge, but it probably won’t because it is just too good. Drawing from everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Miles Davis, the record sometimes sounds like an anthology of American music. The lyrics create a palpable sense of time and place that permeates the entire record and allows the listener to be completely immersed in the romance of the record. But rather than misty eyed reflections on “the good old days”, The ’59 Sound is full of stories of characters fallen on hard times. The friend killed in a car accident in the title track, the former lovers who have done the protagonist wrong in “Here’s Looking At You Kid”, the failed marriage and realisation that “everybody leaves, so why wouldn’t you?” in “Great Expectations”. Despite this, however, the overall feeling is one of positivity. There is always a glimmer of hope, even if that glimmer is just a reflection on “an easier time, with the top rolled down on a Saturday night”. It is as close to perfect as anyone came in 2008.