The Adventures of Bobby Ray (1.5/4)- 2010
It’s hard to say exactly what The Adventures of Bobby Ray is. At times, it tries to be lyrical and intellectual, while it just as often completely discards any attempt at intelligence in favor of pop rap club bangers. On the surface this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, both extremes are an integral part of hip-hop. The problem is that B.o.B. switches between the two at the most inopportune times. He attempts conscious lyrics only to abandon his craft before coming up with anything new or interesting, and he switches back to his pseudo-intellectual rap before the beats really get going. It doesn’t help that B.o.B. has a pretty limited flow, and his voice often gets in the way of the generally decent beats on the record. The Adventures of Bobby Ray is not a good album, even ignoring its inconsistencies. B.o.B. simply doesn’t show enough skills on the mic to warrant a full album, and his debuts suffers as a result.
Bad Religion (Punk Rock)
New Maps of Hell (3/4)- 2007
If you’re looking for a revolutionary album that bends genres and experiments with new musical territory, you can safely pass on New Maps of Hell. Unless you’re a longtime Bad Religion fan, this isn’t an essential album, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of a recommendation. Bad Religion knows how to play punk music, and a consistent punk album by a hard working genre vet is just what 2007 needed. New Maps of Hell is solid throughout, and the songs have a quality old-school punk sound that is rarely found these days. In a time where great punk albums are hard to come by, this is certainly a breath of fresh air, and fans of punk should take note that Bad Religion is still here and still putting out good albums.
Band of Horses (Indie Rock)
Infinite Arms (2.5/4)- 2010
Much like the first two albums from the Seattle indie rock group, Band of Horses’ Infinite Arms is an album filled with highly original and atmospheric takes on the genre, as well as an unfortunate amount of filler. Thing is, Band of Horses are truly great when they at the best, which they are for about half of the album. They have an original sound that takes elements from multiple subgenres of indie music, creating a sound that is as rock-ish as it is ambient. When it doesn’t work, Band of Horses come off and a typical indie rock band, incorporating elements of folk, hard rock, and alt-country, but failing at putting the pieces together. Again, Infinite Arms works about half of the time, and it makes one wonder what this band could do if they could stay consistent throughout an entire album. Despite some legitimately great moments, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Infinite Arms, but I do encourage all fans of alternative music to listen to “Compliments,” “Blue Beard,” and the title track.
Battlelore (Symphonic/Melodic Death Metal)
The Last Alliance (3/4)- 2008
Battlelore is a very strange band to say the least. Their sound combines a wide variety of metal subgenres, most notably power, folk, symphonic, and melodic death metal. The Last Alliance doesn’t do anything to change their sound, but consistency is one of Battlelore’s strong points. Their sound is unique, their lyrics relating to The Lord of the Rings are appropriately nerdy and over-the-top, and anyone who isn’t shaking their head at the description will likely love what these guys are doing. It’s very unique, and despite its ridiculous nature at times, Battlelore’s sound is one of the most epic in metal. If artistic songs about epic fantasy battles don’t completely turn you away, this album is for you.
Battles (Progressive Rock)
Mirrored (3.5/4)- 2007
It’s a little unfair to call Mirrored a debut album, since Battles rose from the ashes of Don Caballero, a math rock band just on the verge of greatness. Battles is the evolution of Don Caballero’s sound, creating a more progressive and industrial edge that is unlike anything else out there. Mirrored is both ambitious and refined, a rare combination that is almost always a recipe for success.
Behemoth (Death Metal)
The Apostasy (3/4)- 2007
The Apostasy isn’t going to convince anyone that isn’t already into Behemoth, but that’s to be expected. Unlike their last album, Demigod, which could almost be called a revolutionary album for the genre, The Apostasy is rather traditional death metal album. It doesn’t do anything all that unique, but instead contains some of the best pure death metal released all year. Unless you’re a black metal purist that will only be satisfied by the band’s return to a pure black metal sound, this album should be on your list if you’re a death metal fan. From the perspective of creativity, it’s not spectacular, but the refined and polished sound allows The Apostasy to be both one of the year’s best and most recommendable death metal albums.
Between the Buried and Me (Progressive Metal/Metalcore)
Colors (3/4)- 2007
Part metalcore, part progressive, and part whatever else they feel like playing at the moment, Between the Buried and Me is essentially a “love ‘em or hate ‘em” band. Their sound is all over the place, and it’s nearly impossible to explain. It’s hard to even tell which parts of the album work and which don’t. All that can be said is that Colors is one of the most creative metalcore albums ever released, and the band’s musicianship continues to improve with each album. It’s hard to recommend Colors to anyone in particular, but an album this good deserves a recommendation nonetheless.
Big Black (Hardcore Punk/Noise Rock)
Songs About Fucking (4/4)- 1987
The poetically titled Songs About Fucking is as repulsive of an album as you will ever hear. This is lo-fi at its best and most extreme, both in terms of its grimy production and vulgar lyrics. There is something so vile and disgusting about the wall of noise heard throughout Songs About Fucking that the label of “pigfuck” used to describe it by cynics of the time almost perfectly sums it up. However, this “pigfuck” album is clearly made that way and intends to incite a strong reaction. That’s what punk music does, and Songs About Fucking does it so well that I have no problems calling this album a classic. It’s beautiful in its own strange repulsive way, and ugly in the most fascinating sense of the word.
Black Lips (Alternative Rock)
Good Bad Not Evil (3/4)- 2007
Describing the sound of the Black Lips is quite a difficult task. Fans of the band should know what to expect, and it’s doubtful that anyone who is already into noise rock or the Black Lips will be disappointed. If you’re already lost, then this album probably isn’t for you. Although Good Bad Not Evil is more accessible than one would expect, it’s hard to tell who exactly will like this album outside of the Black Lips’ fan base. In all actuality that’s the beauty of both of the band and album. The Black Lips have evolved their sound to the point where it is truly unique, and open-mindedness is a requirement to fully appreciate what they’ve accomplished here. If you’re not lost at this point, this album is highly recommended. If you’re one of the many who have no idea who the Black Lips are, then listen to a few songs and get the album if you like what you hear.
Black Milk (Rap/Hip-Hop)
Album of the Year (2/4)- 2010
There has been a lot of hype surrounding Black Milk’s latest. Some have compared it to the work of the late J. Dilla, and while such praise is more than a little excessive, Black Milk’s production skills are undoubtedly great. His beats are lively and occasionally even beautiful, while similar in style to J. Dilla and Madlib. However,Album of the Year is held back by Black Milk’s below average skills as an emcee. He doesn’t have anything interesting to say, and his pop culture metaphors get tiring quickly. He also likes to name drop his influences and friends in the industry, and of course there’s a fair amount of bragging. Again, nothing he says is particularly interesting or original, and his flow is as generic as can be. A quality emcee could really do something with these beats, but Black Milk and his guests (including a disappointing Royce da 5’9”) prevent Album of the Year from coming anywhere closing to living up to its name.
Black Mountain (Indie/Psychedelic Rock)
In the Future (3/4)- 2008
In the Future can be described almost as a progressive psychedelic indie rock album, and anyone who thinks that sounds as awesome as it is does to me will likely love this album. It doesn’t have the staying power of Deerhunter’s Microcastle, the creativity of TV on the Radio’s Dear Science, or the lyrics of The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive, but In the Future is one of 2008’s hidden gems that got far less attention than it deserved. Regardless of where it stands on the long list of great indie rock albums from 08, Black Mountain have crafted a very creative piece of art that I highly recommend. From a subjective standpoint, this is one of my personal favorite albums released this past year, and I doubt I’m the only person who will love it.
Black Tide (Hard Rock/Metal)
Light From Above (2.5/4)- 2008
If Black Tide's debut album, Light From Above, was critiqued in comparison to other teenage rock bands, then it could very well be called a masterful piece of art. Even when you compare Black Tide to other modern metal bands with heavy 80s metal influences, they rank near the top. That's not to say Black Tide have a very original style, nor do they do any drastically different from their countless peers, but the album's highlights are examples of fun heavy metal with some impressive musicianship. Black Tide also are successful in staying true to their influences becoming a clone, which has become an all too common mistake for many other young bands. It's not anything that will set the world on fire, but it's an enjoyable listen nonetheless, and a very impressive debut considering the group's age.
BLK JKS (Indie Rock)
After Robots (3/4)- 2009
After Robots is a promising and ambitious mixture of indie rock and traditional African music. It can be a bit of a mess at times, but there’s a lot of untapped potential here, and the basic sound of the band is interesting to say the least. Hopefully this a sign of great things to come.
Bloodbath (Death Metal)
The Fathomless Mastery (3/4)- 2008
If there’s one 2008 album that exemplifies what metal is all about, it’s Bloodbath’s The Fathomless Mastery. The members of Bloodbath are comprised of members of Opeth and Katatonia (including Opeth vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt) and it’s essentially their way of paying tribute to classic death metal. Unlike Opeth and Katatonia, Bloodbath follows a specific formula, as it stays true to its death metal roots. It’s doubtful that anyone is expecting The Fathomless Mastery to be some kind of progressive concept album, as what you’re getting here is a brutal death metal album by some of the most talented musicians in the genre, but just make sure you know that isn't anything like Opeth before you buy it. If you’re into death metal, however, The Fathomless Mastery is essential. Obviously, it’s nothing the genre hasn’t seen before, but it’s a brutal tribute to the death metal gods.
Blood Red Throne (Death Metal)
Come Death (3/4)- 2007
In all honesty, it’s hard to critique Blood Red Throne the same way you would a typical death metal band, and it’s very simple to explain why this album is recommend. It all comes down to brutality. It seems that the point of Blood Red Throne is to be as completely brutal as possible. If that sounds good to you, you won’t be disappointed with Come Death. If you want more, then this isn’t an album for you, and some may even argue that simply being brutal isn’t enough to be warrant praise. However, brutality is almost exclusively what Blood Red Throne is striving for, and they achieve that better than almost any other band in existence. Fans of the band understand why that’s significant, and those people are who this record was made for.
Blue Sky Black Death (Hip-Hop)
Late Night Cinema (3.5/4)- 2008
In a genre capable of such raw and powerful lyricism, it’s somewhat surprising that one of the year’s most recommendable hip-hop albums is an instrumental one. However, Blue Sky Black Death’s Late Night Cinema is more than just an album of catchy hip-hop beats. This is a beautiful and even emotionally tense album that tells a story through some of the most creative beats found in hip-hop. Late Night Cinema is reminiscent of DJ Shadow’s classic Entroducing… in the way that it creates truly unique music through pure sampling. It’s both an experimental instrumental album and powerful hip-hop poetry, and it’s far and away the best instrumental hip-hop album of 2008.
Book of Black Earth (Death/Black Metal)
Horoskopus (2/4)- 2008
Horoskopus is an album that has no idea what it wants to be. Part black metal, part death metal, and part symphonic metal, Book of Black Earth tries to do a lot without grasping a coherent sound to build from. They use only the most basic and clichéd elements of extreme metal, and sloppily mix them together. More than anything, Horoskopus is an aggravating record, and that’s a shame because beneath the extensive mess are some fairly technical instrumentals.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Folk Rock)
Lie Down in the Light (3.5/4)- 2008
Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) is one of indie folk’s most critically acclaimed and well respected musicians. This is for good reason. Lie Down in the Light is another beautiful and artistic folk album from Oldham, and as a critic, it’s honestly hard not to praise everything this man touches. This has nothing to do with name or his reputation, but simply that he records creative and original music with a stunning amount of polish on just about every record. Oldham has unique voice filled with passion, and it’s obvious that he loves what he does and puts a lot of care into his music. This is the kind of passionate album that exemplifies why folk music is great, and any fan of the genre should give it a listen.
Boston (4/4)- 1976
Boston’s iconic debut is one fantastic rock album. The songs are catchy, well written, and often quite technical, but it’s Brad Delp’s awe-inspiring vocals that highlights the release. This is an accessible and influential rock record that every music fan should hear.
Breaking Benjamin (Post-Grunge)
Saturate (3/4)- 2002
Breaking Benjamin’s debut is a perfectly competent post-grunge album. The lyrics are solid, Ben Burnley has a solid range for a grunge singer, and the choruses are appropriately catchy without teetering on annoying. Saturate is an album that takes its influences from actual grunge music, a rarity in post-grunge, and has far more variety than what listeners have come to expect from modern radio rock. It’s all generic stuff, but Saturate is still a solid debut with a number of well-constructed and memorable tracks.
The Breeders (Alternative/Indie Rock)
Mountain Battle (3/4)- 2008
Mountain Battle is not the album many fans of The Breeders expected, but it’s still a very good one. Mountain Battles is closer to traditional alternative rock than the indie pop the band is known for, but that’s not to say that they’ve completely distanced themselves from catchy choruses and quirky riffs. This is still a catchy and addicting album that sees the band taking risks and evolving their sound.
Bullet for My Valentine (Metalcore)
Scream, Aim, Fire (1.5/4)- 2008
The only good thing that can be said for Scream, Aim, Fire, the sophomore release from Bullet for My Valentine, is that it isn’t any worse than the average metalcore album. That may be because Scream, Aim, Fire doesn’t attempt to be any more than an average metalcore album. Every aspect of the album, from the predictable chord progression to the boring songwriting to the unbearably pointless lyrics, features the same overdone techniques that were found on Bullet for My Valentine’s debut, not to mention countless albums before. Scream, Aim, Fire is the type of forgettable mess that makes absolutely no attempt to differentiate itself from the rest of what’s out there, but what’s worse is that it doesn’t even make an attempt to be any better than what else is out there using even the most generic of formulas. Bullet for My Valentine seems completely content with using only the basic metalcore conventions and then running them into the ground.
When a band relies on generic conventions on their debut album, it can be at least somewhat tolerated. However, there needs to be at least some sort of attempt at progression over time. That, in essence, is the worst and most prominent flaw with Scream, Aim, Fire. Not only is there absolutely no progression to speak of, but there isn’t even a sign of an attempt at furthering their sound. After 30 seconds of this album, you’ve heard everything there is to hear. The formula is simply all too familiar and even more basic. The instrumentals follow a pattern of generic riff followed by breakdown followed by generic riff, and so on. The vocals are the run-of-the-mill mixture of clean and harsh that becomes predictable within the first seconds and never strays from that throughout the rest of the album. The clean vocals are comprised of the usual one-note off-key singing that Bullet for My Valentine shares with nearly every other band played on MTV these days. The harsh vocals are even more generic, as they lack any sort of passion or emotion. The vocals simply sound artificial. The same can be said for every other aspect of the album, and there gets to a point when Scream, Aim, Fire becomes depressingly pointless. Every song is nearly identical to the last, and there’s barely any variety to speak. The lyrics aren’t even worth mentioning, as their only point seems to be to incorporate an aspect of every popular trend in modern rock music.
There are slight moments where Scream, Aim, Fire breaks the generic mold that the album is comprised of. “Deliver Us From Evil,” for example has moments that venture away from the album’s strictly formulaic sound, albeit only slightly. Even though the track still contains much of the generic conventions that plague the rest of the songs, it at least shows signs of progression. The same cannot be said for the rest of the album, however. “Hearts Burst Into Fire" may start out with an acoustic intro, but it quickly starts to sound all too familiar. “Waking the Demon” is another track that has its moments, as it’s easily the heaviest song on the album, but playing the same generic song in a slightly heavier way is only praise when compared to many other tracks here that are even less worthy of praise.
It’s unfortunate that the few times Scream, Aim, Fire does try something different, it always returns to safety. There are hundreds of other equally safe and generic metalcore albums that have been released over the years, and the fact that Bullet for My Valentine is still relying on this formulaic sound in 2008 makes this a very difficult album to recommend. Unless you absolutely love generic metalcore, there is no reason to listen to this album. It’s been done before, and more importantly, it’s been done better. Granted, there are worse metalcore albums out there, but it may be better to try and fail than to achieve mediocrity without trying at all.
The Butterfly Effect (Alternative/Hard Rock)
Final Conversation of Kings (3/4)- 2008
Although it was somewhat overlooked, few albums showed as much improvement as The Butterfly Effect’s Final Conversation of Kings. At first glance it may seem like a huge departure from the post-grunge and hard rock sound of the band’s previous albums, but what separates The Butterfly Effect from other bands in the genre has always been their willingness to experiment with alternative and progressive rock. Final Conversation of Kings is a full transition into alternative rock, and it has more in common with experimental alternative bands than generic radio rock artists. The songs are longer and more varied, and the band has struck the perfect mixture between mainstream accessibility and more obscure experimentation. The Butterfly Effect have finally reached their potential, and Final Conversation of Kings is an album well worth getting for any fan of alternative rock.