So my job here at Stahr is reviews. I’ll review books, music, movies, TV and whatever else seems fit to fall under my scrutiny. But what’s a critic? My opinion on this new record or that classic Nickelodeon show doesn’t hold any more water than yours, does it?
So in an effort to be forthcoming and get our writer/reader relationship off to a personable start, I’ll be counting down over the next few weeks–quite sporadically–my 50 favorite albums of all time.
Without further holdup:
#50 “Oh Land” by Oh Land
The Denmark native’s self-titled sophomore release has only graced my ears since early this summer, when I caught the former-dancer opening for Sia at House of Blues, Boston. Why, then, have I placed it at the coveted 50 spot, just edging out Blink’s self-titled? Easy.
Oh Land is a natural performer; engaging, enchanting, eclectic and dramatic, and all of these faces shine through in under 43 minutes, no small task. In 11 sweet tracks Oh Land hits pop, electro, dance, trip-hop, ambient…you know, the good stuff. In essence this is the ideal CD for any season, any situation, any crowd. It leaves enough room for growth that Oh Land’s 3rd album is way up there on my Anticipated Releases chart, and still satisfies completely everything you’d expect a mere CD to satisfy. (PS Check out her music videos, they are wild)
HIGHLIGHTS: “Wolf & I”, “Human”, “Rainbow”
#49 “Pretty Odd.” by Panic at the Disco!
I’m not a fan of P! @ the D. Their first record is the type of music that grates the ears, and after their second album I completely lost track of them…I think they have a small Vegas show? How’d they manage to crack the top 50, you ask? Welcome to the sounds of “Pretty Odd.”
Panic’s second album was met unevenly by critics, which makes sense, since everything on this album is uneven, from production quality, lyrics, vocals, instrumentation…everything goes from brilliance to shit to I’ve never heard that before to That’s the fucking Beatles in the blink of an eye. For the most part, though, the albums is an ornate, organic nod to era long-gone in music, where horns and strings and whatchamacallits weren’t filler, background sounds…they carried entire pieces. The scores for songs like “She Had the World” and “From A Mountain in the Middle of the Cabins” are fun, cartoony and breathtaking. The album was cited by many as little more than a Sgt. Pepper’s knockoff, but in this day of music, where every song is a knockoff of the one that came before it, who better to seek inspirado from than the creators themselves?
HIGHLIGHTS: “That Green Gentleman”, “Northern Downpour”, “When the Day Met the Night”
#48 “Is This Thing Loaded?” by Northstar
It almost pains me to write about Northstar, easily one of the most underrated rock bands of this generation. “Overrated” is a tough word to throw around, but considering how solid their debut was, how mesmerizing the followup was, and how absolutely unknown Northstar is in most circles, it’s a fitting title.
The opening guitar parts to “Rigged & Ready”, the album’s opener, will stay with me for the rest of my life, as will the entire song, one of the best lead tracks on this list. The CD bounces between these long, experimental progressive tracks and shorter, punk-influenced songs like “Daybreak” and “My Wishing Well Disease.” Nick Torres voice is pleasant and melodic, blending into guitar parts effortlessly, an effect unique to Northstar, not to mention his lyrics are poetry: “Many hours ago, took off my coat and faced a cold…a language that I am familiar with in my mind.”
“Is This Thing Loaded?” is one of those albums that announced a band tremendously skilled in all aspects of songwriting, a fact bolstered by an infinitely superior follow up…alas, that’s all we ever got of Northstar, their vast potential unfulfilled. But hey, you can always come back to where it all began and get that raw, fun energy only alternative pop-punk offers!
HIGHLIGHTS: “Rigged and Ready”, “My Ricochet”, “Taker Not a Giver”
#47 “My Brother’s Blood Machine” by The Prize Fighter Inferno
“My Brother’s Blood Machine” sounds exactly like what it is: a side-project recorded over nearly a decade. Half the CD is fun, poppy dance music laden with effects, loops and beats; the other half is dark, gothic folk, often with four or more guitar tracks warring over one another. The lyrics are what Coheed fans might expect: grim, violent, foreboding and oblique. Claudio Sanchez’s voice does everything you’ve heard and then some.
The reason it makes my top 50 is simple: this is pure creation. One track sounds like Michael Jackson, the next sounds like Coheed, and the next sounds like a hymn from a church on Mars. The listener never gets a chance to feel comfortable, as they never should when listening to a good album. If you’ve never listened to Coheed and you enjoy either sci-fi, gothic-folk music, ambient pop or getting stoned, this is an album you definitely need to take an adventure with.
HIGHLIGHTS: “The Going Price for Home”, “The Margretville Dance”, “Accidents”, “Who Watches the Watchmen?”
#46 “Evil Empire” by Rage Against the Machine
If any of these 5 artists deserve an exclamation mark in their name, it’s Rage. Their second studio release will literally bite your face off if you’re not careful. It might have been painful at the time, but the near-four years between the self-titled debut and EE was obviously necessary to master the brilliance that is Rage, a mashup of hard rock, hardcore, progress rock, rap, hip-hop, poetry and politics.
At the end of “Down Rodeo”, Zack de la Rocha murmurs either “Just a quiet, peaceful dance…” or “Just a quiet, peaceful death.” The discrepancy sums up “Evil Empire” better than any critic ever could. This is a CD that gets your head bobbing, your toes tapping, gets you out of your seat and onto the floor: Bulls on parade! But at the same time its much more than that. Rage was always more than a band. Their stances were legit. They were never pretentious, they weren’t simply “in your face.” They were in your BRAIN. That’s why when “People of the Sun” gets stuck in your head, that simple line “But you gonna get what you need to get?”, you’re not just humming it to yourself, you’re humming it to everyone, projecting it onto the world devolving around you, because, seriously, how are you going to get what you need to get?
HIGHLIGHTS: “People of the Sun”, “Bulls on Parade”, “Vietnow”, “Down Rodeo”