The Ripped Vest MUSIC: TOP 10 of 2016

The Ripped Vest MUSIC: TOP 10 of 2016

It is I, Captain Rob, Doom Nerd Supreme of The Ripped Vest here to talk about the Best Full Length Studio Albums of 2016! If you asked me a week ago or a week in the future it might be slightly different since my lists are fluid and change with my mood and what I need at the time, but just a bit of fudging and it should be MOSTLY the same.

  HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Howling Giant – Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 1.
These guys are like Pink Floyd, Mastodon, The Sword, and Elder put in a blender and served over boulder sized ice cubes in some distant space station bar. This would definitely be high on my list BUT this is an EP, not a full length studio release, so it unfortunately had to stay in my honorable mentions for this list.

Omar Rodriguez Lopez of At The Drive In and The Mars Volta dropped an astonishing 13 solo releases this year and I have unfortunately not listened through all of them yet, but what I have heard I really like and I plan on diving into them more as time allows.

Asteroid – III
These Swedish badasses upped the ante with an awesome bluesy hard psych album that is making it high on lots of people’s lists for 2016. While I can objectively say it’s an amazing record I just didn’t listen to this one over and over live so many of the my top 10.

Wretch – Self Titled
An amazing slab of doom metal in the same vein as the earlier work of masters Saint Vitus and Black Sabbath. This is Karl Simon rising from the ashes of Gates of Slumber, one of the most important bands for me. As a doom metal kid from Indianapolis, Gates of Slumber were heroes to me, and I became friends with their bassist Jason McCash when I ran a comic shop and sold him Conan comic books. We later worked in a warehouse together and we talked about the barbarian Cimerian as well as Star Wars, GI Joe, and, of course, metal music. His passing was a rough one for me, losing a friend and a musical inspiration, but that pain is surely nothing compared to what Karl went through losing his brother in music and partner in crime. What better outlet to express loss than through doom metal. This is the real deal and an album that fans of traditional doom metal should not miss. Hail Jason. Hail Carl. Hail Gates. Hail Wretch.

 

  1. Opeth – Sorceress

Opeth is a swedish metal band fronted by god himself, Mikael Åkerfeldt. These guys are one of the greatest bands of all time in my eyes. A lot of people have been giving Mikael and Opeth grief about him abandoning his growling vocals and focusing on his more melodic singing ever since Heritage in 2011 to the point that it has become a meme in the metal world. But I am, for the most part, fine with them stepping back from death metal and progressing forward toward new musical territory. It was always the other elements they included, such as Jazz, classical, folk, etc that gave their brand of death metal the flavor that I liked so much, so how could I possibly be upset when they focus on that? I do understand and feel for the people that really want a harsher Opeth again, but at this point I think that that would be almost moving backwards. I would love to be proven wrong, though.

Getting more specific to this album I’ve read countless times how people were disappointed after having high hopes for this, which I’m guessing mostly stems from the issues I’ve mentioned, but I also understand that the album is not the best output the band has ever had. That said, an Opeth album that isn’t the best is still an Opeth album. A tall man among giants, if you will.

My favorite song is probably Will o The Wisp. It’s the Best Jethro Tull song that isn’t done by Jethro Tull. It would also go well on a mixtape next to some Porcupine Tree tunes. And while we are talking about comparisons it’s hard to listen to the song Sorceress 2 and not get a Pink Floyd vibe. Mikael’s soft spoken, mellow vocals over arpeggiated acoustic guitar hits on a timeless prog vibe that has me feeling all these emotions like I’m under the influence of some strange new drug. While this may not rank in the better half of Opeth’s releases, at the end of the day this is Opeth being who Opeth wants to be right now and I love that. There is potential for their next album to be their greatest ever if they can take the style of their last few releases and pair it with the fire, intensity, and quality of songwriting they had at their highest point.

 

  1. Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts

Katatonia is another swedish metal band that started as a death doom outfit, but relatively early into their history the band dropped the death vocals in favor of more melodic forms of rock and metal. I feel that 2003’s Viva Emptiness was the major step towards the band we know now with songs like “Burn The Remembrance”. In the albums that followed, The Great Cold Distance, Night Is the New Day, and Dead End Kings, I heard the band slowly transition from a doom band with alternative metal influences to a doom metal band with progressive rock influences, to finally a straight up progressive metal band with some doom influence, particularly the dark and dreary feel that Katatonia always seems to have. It’s a vibe that Katatonia simply can never shake in great part due to the vocal delivery of Jonas Renkse with help from fellow founding member Anders Nyström who seems to be the mastermind behind their instrumentation. The combination culminates in one of my favorite bands, and one that has been in very regular rotation, especially since The Great Cold Distance in 2006.

The Fall of Hearts picks up where the progressive metal of Dead End Kings left off, if anything going even more towards prog rock. I’ve heard comparisons to their recent output attributed to everything from Tool to The Cure, which I suppose I could see, and the obvious comparisons to modern Opeth are quite clear in my eyes, but a band like Katatonia has a history of being undeniably in their own style, even as that style shifts, so it’s hard for me to describe them as sounding like anything other than Katatonia, which is a great thing for a progressive band that retains experimentation and variety. This is far from say, ACDC always sounding like themselves.

I want to do a track by track review of the album to stretch out the time that I can gush over this, but Katatonia is a band that I tend to put on as an album and just listen to it all the way through from beginning to end. And if I’m at work I’ll probably start it over again a time or two as well. Because of all this it’s hard for me to dissect into movements what my brain thinks of as an hour long musical piece, but I will try to single out a couple highlights.

Old Heart Falls feels like one that is automatically going on every Katatonia setlist and is probably my favorite of the album. Serein is a song that I put on a playlist of songs my bandmates should hear, which should tell you how I vibed with the song’s style on a personal level. Serac is the longest song on the album at 7 minutes and 25 seconds, and it’s one that moves through several tones and feelings and is an interesting standout for me.

In short, this is my favorite album by them since The Great Cold distance, and that makes for 4 albums in a row of very solid music.

 

  1. Elephant Tree – Selftitled

There is a mood I get into where all I want to listen to is this grouping of fuzzy genres that all tend to mix and mingle with each other. Doom, stoner, hard psychedelic, heavy blues rock, fuzzy spacey trippy hard rock and heavy metal stuff. A lot of modern bands I listen to tend to fall in between 2 or three of these genres, but on Elephant Tree’s self titled they are hitting on so many of these genre markers and they are doing it better than most. In a world of bands trying to sound like Black Sabbath or trying to sound like a band that’s trying to sound like Black Sabbath, these guys are doing their own thing and taking just as much from Pink Floyd or Corrosion of Conformity as they do from the fathers of Heavy Metal. What they DO take from Sabbath feels more in line with Planet Caravan or Solitude, songs which happen to be some of my all time favorites.

As good as their 2014 EP Theia was, I’m glad to see them move in this newer direction. The EP was more of a screaming sludge affair and the incorporation of more complex and interesting songwriting and the almost complete removal of the harsh vocals is a step more inline with what I am looking for from music today. The only thing I can say I do miss on this album that was prevalent on their EP is the use of sitar. There are a few moments on this LP where I think the sitar would have slotted in perfectly, yet it is kept out of most of the album entirely.

When diving into this album you might think you finally have this band pegged and fit into a nice little box, and then a song like Circles brings acoustic dynamite to the party, or Echoes comes in with it’s bluesy feel. As complex and, frankly brilliant as this album is it’s overall atmospheric doom should keep even the most die hard, straight up stoner and doom fans properly satisfied.

 

  1. Thank You Scientist – Stranger Heads Prevail

This is the second LP from these Jersey boys, both of which were released on Evil Ink Records. Evil Ink is noteworthy for me as it is it the project of Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria, arguably my favorite band. And speaking of Coheed, there are are several moments on both of their records where the vibe of the aforementioned band creeps in, such as the chorus to the song Caverns. I thought it was just that I was looking for it, being on Claudio’s record label, but my wife asked if it was Coheed and Cambria when I was listening to them a few days ago, so maybe there is something to that. Put these guys on a playlist with Coheed, The Dear Hunter, and maybe some Mars Volta and have a great day at work. Have I said Coheed and Cambria enough yet? Okay let’s move on.

All comparisons aside, these guys feel like they have found their own style. Namely, they have a brass section that gives them a slightly different sonic palette to your average hard rock band. They do sometimes have the trumpet and sax follow a bit too closely with the guitars, but in songs like Need More Input you have them burst out of the mix and take center stage in a glorious little trumpet solo. A major plus for me is that while they incorporate these elements of jazz fusion and experimental rock, they maintain a sort of accessibility that makes me question why they haven’t exploded in popularity.

A Wolf In Cheap Clothing and maybe Rube Goldberg Variations were the weaker tracks for me. By no means bad, but the slower and softer feel for the majority of both tracks makes them not stand up as much as a lot of the others. Rube Goldberg Variations does pick up and get to be a kind of crazy jazz piece, but on an album full of near perfection they are just shy.

.

  1. Khemmis – Hunted

Khemmis is a doom metal band from Denver, Colorado who are becoming one of my favorite new bands. Doom is one of my favorite genres of music, but often time new doom releases become crushing, low and slow soundtracks to me doing other things, like writing, studying, or playing games. The ones the rise to the top for me are ones that make me stop and demand that I give them my full attention. Khemmis did this in 2015 with Absolution and have already done it again just one year later with Hunted. And they have gotten even better. As much as I can dig the more sludgy doom bands I really enjoy how clean and clear Khemmis sounds without ever sounding sterile. It’s the kind of approach see from the better stoner and even folk metal guys. And that vibe is intensified by the clean, sometimes epic vocals. A slight gripe can be made about the production being too compressed and falling victim to the loudness war, but I listen to so much underground stoner metal that the production has to be pretty bad for it to make any real dent in my enjoyment, and there’s no dent in this one.

While Khemmis fit in with our doom forefathers like Saint Vitus, Candlemass, or Cathedral and contemporary giants like Pallbearer and Windhand, something that does set them apart in my head is their leads. The rhythm pulls off a top notch, interesting take on doom and the lead guitar sounds like it’s playing very melodic classic hard rock or traditional heavy metal style riffs slowed down to fit with the rest of the band, drawing comparisons by a lot of people to bands like Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. Things like this, again, pull it ahead of the doom metals albums I’ve heard this year which number around triple digits.

Now let’s jump into this album specifically. I love every song on this album. It’s the kind of album I start up and think “this is great from the word go. Top load the album and get me interested.” But it just stayed good, even getting better. Above the Water, the opening track, is a great introduction to this band. It showcases everything that they do well in abundance. Everything I’ve talked about so far is on display here. Show this to the singer in your band that doesn’t know what doom metal is. It will make him want to do a doom metal cover of Roxanne by the Police. Okay, so maybe that was just my experience, and my singer and I are strange, but I think you get my point.

Candlelight is next and it might me my favorite of the album, but that’s hard to say. The vocals on this one are so damned good. Listening to this song for the first time made me want an album from these guys every year for the rest of my life. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel like the reason the song is so slow is that this forlorn, hopeless weight on your shoulders is just dragging you down. But there’s a spark in it that keeps you going, you keep on moving forward, you stay burning.

Then BAM! Three Gates comes and brings some harsh vocals and chunky heaviness to juxtapose the calmer melody we get from the clean vocals. It’s the second half of the album that everyone seems to want to talk about, though, the last two songs Beyond The Door and the titular track Hunted. Beyond the Door is the second longest song at 9 minutes long, and Hunted is the longest over 13 minutes and they worth every last drop of time spent. Everything I said about Above the Water and Candlelight go double for these last two songs. For having an album of songs that are far and away MUCH longer than your typical pop song, I find that I breeze through this 45-ish minute long album like its a 15 minute EP. I usually listen to this one twice in a row because it’s so good that I don’t want it to stop yet. I’m running out of ways to describe the near perfection that this album is. Just listen to it. And play it for all your friends. The world will thank us for it.

 

  1. The Dear Hunter – Act V

The Dear Hunter (spelled D E A R SPACE H U N T E R not to be confused with Deerhunter, no spaces) is the brainchild of Casey Crescenzo, originally of the experimental post-hardcore band The Receiving End of Sirens, not to be confused with Sleeping With Sirens, who have got nothing on the aforementioned band. After being asked to leave his old band, Casey created the idea of a 6 part concept album saga under the Dear Hunter moniker he had started as a side project. Anyone that knows me knows that I am a sucker or concept albums. This new project would focus more on an experimental and eclectic indie rock style and (big shocker, I know) prog rock. He has done several off concept releases, including 9 EPs based on colors, but the most recent release is the 5th and penultimate part of his saga. Dear Hunter is a strong contender for my series of Complete Discography episodes do to these elements. I won’t hit every single song on the LP, but here are my thoughts on a few of them.

The album starts with REGRESS, a symphonic little piece that gets you in the proper headspace to indulge in the audio feast you are about to partake of. Like a sonic apéritif. A Vermouth in song form.

Then boom. THE MOON / AWAKE kicks in. It has a strange juxtaposition of being kind of poppy and also kind of sinister. It’s very hypnotic and thoroughly enjoyable. The lyrics to this song definitely get stuck in my head.

“I’d bear you my heart if I knew that it still was there,
I’m too nervous to look,
Too afraid to close the book,
So take all the wind from my lungs if you’re out of air,
Just deliver me truth,
Deliver me you”

The song transitions into an new movement, I assume it is what he calls Awake, which has a more bongo feeling. Not quite Latin Jazz, but more of that kind of upbeat feel.

Then we switch it again real quick-like as a very retro melody kicks in and the song CASCADE starts. The big thing in this song for me is Casey’s vocal range, with builds in intensity as the song moves through the turns in the music until he at some points is yelling out in perfect pitch. This one is a song I’ve repeatedly heard as an album favorite, and I definitely see why. While it is difficult for me to pick favorites in such a solid album, this is up there for me.

THE MOST CURSED OF HANDS / WHO AM I starts off very sparse and simple with very little going on instrumental and with harmonising vocals telling us a story. The pace picks up and we get a more country rock feeling. It builds up and breaks down, but when it builds up it gets into some really cool almost southern rock bits. It’s musically my Dark Tower Gunslinger song.

As I said, it’s difficult to choose, but THE REVIVAL might be my favorite song the album. It’s so fun. It feels like he threw a little of everything in this and through the smorgasbord of melodies and noises made a party song for the early 20th century villain.

MR USHER ON HIS WAY TO TOWN takes us into straight up vocal  jazz territory. We’ve got a brass section, we’ve got lovely lady backing vocals, everything from top to bottom that you need to give this song the late night jazz club feel.

LIGHT is an acoustic ballad that received a lyric music video. As I’ve said before I pay less attention than most to the words in songs, but due to the delivery system of the video I listened to the words as much as the music and it is really interesting. It is about a father/son relationship, and as both a son and a father it hits me in the feels.

The main lyric to highlight is:
And boy, someday I hope I do
See the man you will grow into,
And when you heart’s in disarray,
Know that your father too has made mistakes.

The song GLORIA also received a music video, this time a traditional story driven episode, and I’m glad this one got a video as it is another major album highlight for me. The guitars and musicianship throughout are of some of the highest on the release and the vocals are arguably the catchiest on the album. At around the 2:30 mark an awesome mostly musical section begins and leads into a killer solo.

Overall the vibe of this record pics up in a lot of ways where the previous part left off, which makes sense as Casey has said that they were written and recorded in much the same time frame, so the sonic pallet similar, but maybe darker. It also does a great job of bringing in things from previous instrumentals. These kinds of things strengthen the concept well and don’t take away from the experience for people who could care less. If you want a taste of the album I recommend GLORIA and THE REVIVAL, but this whole album is great.

 

  1. Dance Gavin Dance – Mothership

I want to start this with one of my patented elitist tangent right off the bat. There are a lot of hardcore and deathcore bands lately that tell everyone that will listen just how special and unique they are for the inclusion of progressive and technical elements in their music, but when you listen you’ll discover that their strange braggadocious claims stem from them using a syncopated chugging riff during their breakdowns which often sounds quite similar from song to song and even from band to band. This feels like the opposite of anything progressive. In fact, I’m inclined to call in REgressive music.

This band, however, is not like that. Dance Gavin Dance is the shining example in my mind of what can truly be done to push the boundaries of post-hardcore as a genre and help the evolution of the music. I tend to give a lot of that credit to their founder and lead guitarist Will Swan, who is one of my favorite modern players. His approach to guitar blends styles from clean strums and sweeping melodies to crushing riffs and mind blowing tapping while tying genres as diverse as funk, hip-hop, and jazz into emo, hardcore and metal. A tasty blend for sure.

Mothership is the band’s 7th full length studio album and is the 3rd with this lineup. My first experience with this album was seeing the Betrayed By The Game music video which came out the month before the album’s release. The video pastel pink, somewhat creepy pastry party. Like if Tim Burton directed a Kyary Pamyu-Pamyu music video. The song itself is a great example of what I’ve come to expect from the band’s most recent incarnation: a killer guitar part, interesting rhythms, and trade-off clean and unclean vocals from Tillian and Jon. This is one that got a lot of play around the house and in the car from it’s release in September through the end of the year, to the point that my 4 year old son will tell you it is his favorite song when asked.

The second song I heard was the single that was actually released before Betrayed’s music video, but somehow got overlooked by yours truly. It is the song that would come to be the first a track on the album, Chucky Vs The Giant Tortoise. As this song ended on my first listen I told my wife “if the rest of this album is anything like this it will be my album of my year.” And if this was another year it very well could be. This song is a masterpiece of the genre and one that will surely go down as a classic of the band’s live shows.

I tend to not pay much attention to the words in songs anymore, getting the message of the tracks through the instrumentation. However, this song’s lyrics jumped out to me and are so damned relatable that they are probably my favorite lyrics of the year. I want to quote the whole song, but I’ll try to keep to a few examples that include:

The opening half of the first verse:
Gimme that canvas let me paint some shit
Pass me some poison let me take a hit
I’m just embarrassed and comfortably numb
But failure is painful and lying is fun

The chorus:
“Touch me, taste me, tell me I’m not fading
Tell me that I look just like a man
Cause lately baby I’ve been going crazy
Trying not to be an embarrassment”

The somewhat nihilist interlude:
Don’t close your eyes tonight
Perfect melodies are hard to find
I got a feeling we could touch the sky
Let’s live in this delusion
that we don’t live in perpetual confusion
and there’s meaning to our lives

And my mantra for 2016:
“Cheers to the fact that we’re not dead
Swimming with the sharks, but we’re still not dead yet”

As great as the opening track is with it’s relatable lyrics and awesome guitar work, the second song, Young Robot is probably my favorite off the album. It falls somewhere between an indie rock ballad and a prog rock jam and is my favorite song to do that strange mix since Coheed and Cambria. There is a part in the music video where the robot grows a beard and this staccato feeling riff plays and it’s so fun. The pre chorus and chorus to this song come together as one of my favorite segments of music in a long while and I can’t explain why it’s so great, it just is.It hits me right.

The majority of the rest of this album are songs I would describe as solid 7s and 8s out of 10, or, as my itunes puts it, 4 star songs. The weakest part of the album for me is Petting Zoo Justice, which still has some amazing part’s but I’m the only metalhead alive who doesn’t love blast beat snares, so the times that we get too close to black thrash territory I start to get turned off until the snare goes back to something less repetitive and more interesting. Maybe I’m just getting old.

 

  1. Haken – Affinity

Affinity is the fourth full length LP from the British Prog Metalers and the first with new bassist Conor Green, who comes from my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. The album feel like an 80’s soundtrack done by a metal band with great production, and from I can see that was far from a coincidence. It reminds me a little bit of bands like Rush, Van Halen, Yes and the like who during the 80’s embraced synthesizers and the modern pop aesthetics of the time. I’ve heard a lot of people in the Prog community saying that they were a little let down by the release, but this is one of the few returning bands that exceeded my hopes and expectations.

The song 1985 is unsurprisingly a great example of this beautiful marriage of 8 string prog metal and 80’s synth pop producing one of my favorite songs of the year. It is 9 fantastic minutes long, which makes me question how many hours of the year I have spent listening to this song. At the 5:45 mark it kicks it into one of the coolest 80’s movie montage bits of the year with the keys and guitar just drowning me in aesthetics. I can’t say enough cool things about the song. To some people it might come off a bit campy or dated, but it’s so well done and highly polished I can’t help but find it near perfection. It’s pretty much all of my favorite things rolled into one ridiculously enjoyable tune. I listen to a great deal of modern synthwave while I’m working, and this track does what most of them are trying to do better than most of them can.

THE ARCHITECT is an almost 16 minute long song that comes off as an instant classic for the band and when I finally see them live I’ll be shocked and disappointed if they don’t play this one. The only blemish on this song for me is the harsh screamed vocals from a guest vocalist that felt strained and hollow and clashed for me. Maybe someone like Tommy Giles Rogers of Between The Buried And Me doing his brand of death vocals would do it for me, but regardless the song is still super solid.

EARTHRISE, like 1985, is damn near perfection. It is everything I want from modern metal while blending in some traditions of the Prog Rock of yesteryear that I grew up listening to. The vocals build, getting a little higher and more powerful as the song goes until you arrive at the chorus and the singing really kicks in for me. The musicality of this track puts it up there as another Haken song that I’ve listened to more than nearly any other song this year. I would probably recommend skipping the video unless you are into really excruciatingly cheesy singing at the camera.

If I had to find tracks on the album to nitpick I would say the closer Bound By Gravity is a little too subdued and calm which held it back from being as interesting as it could have been. And The Endless Knot is one that I hear a lot of people say is their favorite track of the album, but it might be my least just because of the vocal delivery. For a great deal of the song he is only saying syllables in time with the syncopated guitar chugs. If it was a momentary thing it would be a neat little thing, but it goes on long enough that it bugs me for some reason. I’m sure that’s just a strange preference thing to me, but I would listen to the bonus instrumental version of the track over the album version every time.

 

  1. Devin Townsend – Transcendence

Heavy Devy is a guitarist and singer that I was first introduced to through his band Strapping Young Lad. SYL was the perfect industrial thrash for a teenage Captain Rob. They had these blackened tech death elements that brutal young men like myself needed but they also had these strangely palatable, more mature musical elements. These mature musical elements were kicked into hyperdrive as Mr. Townsend ventured on into his post-Strapping years, continuing his solo album pursuits and started side projects like Devin Townsend Band, Devin Townsend Project and Casualties of Cool. In Casualties of Cool he focusing on americana, blues, alt-country and the like while on the solo albums Devlab and The Hummer he explores ambient and avant garde noise and he blends new-age elements into DTP albums like Ghost and Epicloud. But what he’s really known for is his brand of Progressive metal and Prog Rock that incorporates the extreme metal and industrial we know from Strapping Young Lad with jazz fusion, alternative rock, and just about everything else. I’m trying to say, the guy has a diverse and varied approach for hard rock and heavy metal. He also has major love of open tunings so his approach to composing guitar riffs tends to be interesting to me.

Transcendence is the 7th album from Devin Townsend Project, and somewhere between his 17th and 24th album overall depending on how you count and who you ask. It opens with the song TRUTH. The first few times I listened to the album I guessed that the song was about 2 minutes long. But the song is actually almost 5 minutes in length. It’s great, so it goes by quickly and it leads into the next track so well that I just assumed it was shorter. After hearing it so many times it opens up and is a fantastic song on it’s finally separate from the next song in my brain. While it has comparatively little in the way of lyrics, the flow of the instruments and the vocalizations make it an awesome opening song. It also was a kind of Christmas song for me. There are several bursts of powerful Halleluja!s in the song as well as a chorus singing “money, money, money, money, money” in a way that reminds me of carollers. I don’t know if this was intentional or a manifestation my strange thought process, but knowing his sense of humor it could easily be either one.

STORMBENDING is the next song, and the one to get a music video, deservedly so. I really like the vocal delivery in this one that feels all the more powerful when you see him perform it, throwing his head back, eyes close, yelling to the sky. Another highpoint in the song is the solos by both Dev and Dave. Dave’s is a very melodic tapping piece that is very tasteful and acts as a sort of interlude before the the main riff comes crushing back in and Devy gives us a wah solo. I don’t know how else to describe this song beyond powerful. It’s not an unrelenting assault. It isn’t a song that’s trying to prove anything, it simply is.

FAILURE is next, and is a major highlight from the album. The whole this good, but this is one that stands out for me. Another great solo, shocker, I know. This one is wet enough with reverb and delay that Gilmour should be proud.  It also has some really personal sounding lyrics about life as an artist. The fear of failure, the sacrifices, and possible forgiveness. Definitely a 5 star track.

SECRET SCIENCES is a ballady number that starts with some acoustic strums and sweeter vocals before the electrics come in and bring in the song proper. It’s got a good chorus and a sweet solo. It does come between two songs I enjoy more, but it’s solid and it has no problem continuing an uninterrupted album listen through. As much as I like the next song I would never dream of skipping this when it comes on.

Which brings us to HIGHER, another major album standout. It goes through so many turns and movements. It starts out soft and acoustic again, but goes through being fast and aggressive, slow, low and chugging for a breakdown, and brings a boatload of that power I was talking about during Stormbending for the calls of “higher”. If you could only hear one song I’d say this is the one. It is now my go-to song to indoctrinate new members into the cult of Heavy Devy. Clocking in at almost 10 minutes he gets the impact of 4 songs rolled into one masterpiece.

STARS and the title track TRANSCENDENCE are next, and are great songs in a vacuum, but suffer slightly by coming right after HIGHER and right before OFFER YOUR LIGHT. Like SECRET SCIENCES I wouldn’t skip these songs, but compared to some of the other songs these ones just didn’t click as much with my personal tastes.

OFFER YOUR LIGHT is my favorite song on the album. I will say it may not be the quote/unquote “best” song on the album, but I am a total slut for keyboards and synthesizers and this song brings them out and rubs them right in your face. It also has such a simple and effective chorus that repeats and makes up most of the song.

FROM THE HEART is a sweeter song in comparison to the majority of the album. Has some very ballady elements. Not a song I ever seek out to listen to, but, as with all the album, not a song I’d skip if it was on. It feels like an ending song if you want to ending to be a softer, what I call Credit Scene song. Every time the songs ends I think it’s the end of the album.

The last song, though, is TRANSDERMAL CELEBRATION which is a cover of a Ween song. I’m embarrassingly unfamiliar with Ween unfortunately. What I’ve heard I’ve liked, so I plan on sitting down and digging into them in depth, but because I have yet to do that I actually didn’t recognize it as a cover. Townsend mixes so many styles and has the ability to bend anything he touches to be so undeniably him that he could steal the show from Steve Vai, and because of all these things I didn’t even know it was a cover the first few times I heard it. I’ve listened to them both back to back and  I can’t say which I like better. They are both fine.

Overall this album has Stormbending, Failure, Higher, and Offer Your Light, 4 huge favorites for me this year, and the rest of the album is still great.

 

  1. David Bowie – Blackstar
    I probably don’t have to give this man an introduction or history. You should already know, and if you don’t, that’s fine, but I do highly recommend spending a night diving into his back catalogue of tunes and reading up on his history. So instead I will talk about my personal history with him as quickly as I can.

I’ve been a fan of David Bowie since I was a young child seeing David Bowie for the first time in labyrinth, like many people of my generation and knowing some of his Greatest Hits through osmosis. But I was not content having him only exist as my goblin king. So I went to the library and listened to as much as I could and I fell in love. For someone so unique he felt so relatable.  His lyrics clicked with me.

Lines like:
Then I ran across a monster who was sleeping by a tree,
And I looked and frowned and the monster was me.

Or
I cried for all the others till the day was nearly through
For I realized that God’s a young man too

Both from The Man Who Sold the World’s opening track The Width of a Circle

There’s also the lyrics:
“And these children that you spit on,
As they try to change their worlds,
Are immune to your consultations,
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through”

From Hunky Dory’s opening track Changes.

As someone with severe anxiety I’ve coped with stress and panic attacks by fracturing my personality and dealing with life as several different characters. Robert Spencer doesn’t have the guts to do a podcast, but Captain Rob the Doom Nerd Supreme has opinions and isn’t afraid to share them. Just like Robby Agony, AG Zero, DraziL and Jetter Black aren’t afraid to do live music in their individual styles. All of us play characters sometimes in life and I just take that to an extreme. But so did David Bowie. I didn’t even make this connection until recently when explaining the many era’s of Bowie to my wife, but when I did come to that realization it was nice to know I had a kindred spirit out there, and it was someone as great as him.

Which brings us to his music. As I was alluded to, he went through loads of incarnations and with that where changes to his music style. If ever there was an artist to destroy the idea of genre’s it was David Bowie. What kind of music does he play? Baroque pop, folk rock, psychedelic, progressive rock, hard rock, blues rock, glam, art rock, proto-punk, blue eyed soul, R&B, space rock, ambient, avant garde pop, electronic, world music, new wave, dance-rock, synthpop, industrial rock, drum and bass, techno, experimental rock, oh, and jazz. And most of the time it was really, really good. And when it wasn’t great it was at least interesting and worth listening to several times. And his most recent album, Blackstar is one of the great ones.

I know this will be high on a lot of people’s lists this year and naysayers will surely attribute it to his heartbreaking passing, but that’s only because we only had 2 days to tell the world how great it was before he left us.

The album has a lot of blending between organic and digitally synthetic feeling and gives a lot of the songs an extra bit of unsettling feelings. It’s cold and sanitary instrumentals are almost jarring when compared to the jazz and prog rock that shares stylistic elements with this album. I’m also curious if this was the beginning of a new character. If he pulled through and made another album in 2017 and 2018 would they also have this frail, shaky, foul mouthed character? I like to think so. Let’s really cut this open.

BLACKSTAR: Like most people this was the first song I heard off the album and it is a big solid slab of somewhat complex music. It isn’t complex like some of the manic, eclectic jazzy math rock stuff that I listen to, but complex in a more interesting and almost sinister way. It blends together the avant garde side of jazz with elements of acid house and various progressive EDM styles. Another example of how pinning genres on Bowie is a bit of a task. As the track approaches the halfway mark we get a sax solo and the song transitions to a more “traditional” David Bowie sound, if such a thing exists. It’s a jazzy piece that people like my wife find a lot more palatable and less confusing to her more traditional pop sensibilities while remaining interesting to pretentious weirdo’s like me. The last few minutes brings back to a style closer to the first few minutes to bookend the piece. It’s the song that I’ve heard the most so the song is strong for me just in that familiarity, I’m sure, but it is also a great piece in it’s own right. The song was originally between 11 and 12 minutes long, but after learning that iTunes only posts singles under 10 minutes (fuck you itunes) they trimmed it down to just shy of their limit. I really hope to get that original cut in the expanded edition they’ve been teasing us with. It’s worth watching the video for the track as well since Bowie had a lot of influence in it’s creation and there is a lot of iconography involved that make it so damned fascinating.

TIS A PITY SHE WAS A WHORE: The original version of this was a high energy chaotic single that Bowie made himself in his apartment studio in 2014 and was re-recorded for this album as a much tighter but still raucous and raunchy art rock track. It’s not one of the strongest tracks on the album for me personally, but that is comparing it to some giants. I’m not very familiar with the play that gave it’s name to the song, beyond it’s themes of incest, so I’m not sure how much of the stories content is translated into the song’s lyrics. When I first heard the song I assumed the lyrics were about love being compared to war. A 17th century Love is A Battlefield if you will. But that’s music, right? We all get our own message based on the reality that we have built for ourselves. I’m not sure if the song is supposed to be fun, but it kind of was for me.

LAZARUS: Oh man. Here is the heavy hitter. This song was the second that I had heard from the album and it was full of feelings even before he passed, but the morning that I learned he left our world I sat in the work breakroom and watched this video and just cried for the second time that day. It is undoubtedly a very personal song and so many of the lyrics just rip us apart having the context of his death. “I’m in heaven.” and “I’m free.” I don’t know how anyone can listen to this and not be an emotional wreck. I find it hard to separate my meta knowledge of real world events from the content of the song alone and view it as anything else but an epitaph for himself. It’s also worth noting that there are several Station To Station references and kabbalistic symbolism, which I am all about. A masterpiece song and one of the best on the albums, but a sometimes hard one to get through knowing he won’t be coming back out of that shadowing wardrobe.

SUE (OR IN A SEASON OF CRIME: The tempo pics back up for this one, which is much needed during full album consumption. This is the other song that was originally released in 2014 with TIS A PITY SHE WAS A WHORE as it’s B-side and even had a video to promote the “Nothing Has Changed” Best Of compilation, which the first version of Sue was on. The re-recorded version that appears on Blackstar has a bit more rock in the jazz pop track, where the original was more orchestral, and again I think I prefer the re-recording’s production. Like it’s relative TIS A PITY I think this one is very overshadowed by some of the bigger tracks on the release.

GIRL LOVES ME: As huge as the songs BLACKSTAR and LAZARUS are, and I’d go so far as to call them the tentpole songs of the album, I have to say that this song is up there as one of my favorites. It’s so dark and groovy and the Clockwork Orange style slang used in it adds just a little extra sleaze to it. I find myself putting this one on a lot and then spending the rest of the day singing “Where the fuck did monday go?” randomly to the confusion and concern of those around me. This one is a very easy song to vibe with and I see a lot of non-bowie fans gravitating to this song as well.

DOLLAR DAYS: The instrumentation in this one is really good. The bass and keys drive the song with some folksy guitar strums, the electric guitar is great and somewhat subdued, and the sax is simple perfectection. Rumor has it that this song wasn’t demoed, it was an idea Bowie had in studio so he sat down with saxophone player Donny McCaslin and they banged this one out. Sometimes that’s how it goes. A song comes together quickly and is just fantastic.
I CAN’T GIVE EVERYTHING AWAY: We have arrived at the last song of the album. It feels like a final goodbye. It’s hard to say, again, just what this song means without the real world implications impacting it, but it feels like giving the the last bit of what he CAN give. It fits well with the songs that precede it and I have to say that after making it to the end of another cycle with the songs I too feel like I’m drained and raw, and frail, and have given everything just in reaching into myself and this album, but it is also cathartic.

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