Audition (3.5/4)- 2006
Hip-hop with a punk mentality and conscious lyricism, P.O.S. is one of the most talented and intriguing artists to break onto the underground rap scene in some time. His second studio album, and first with Atmosphere’s “Rhymesayers” label, sees the Minnesota emcee getting more polished behind the mic, and often revealing some down right unbelievable flow. However, the story here is the lyrical skills of P.O.S. coupled with some of the best rock-oriented beats found in hip-hop. Audition would be bested by his next release, but P.O.S. unleashed a monster in 2006, and one that still deserves the attention of hip-hop fans.
Pagan’s Mind (Progressive/Power Metal)
God’s Equation (3/4)- 2007
Even though it’s not as essential as many of the other progressive albums of 2007, nor is it a huge improvement over what Pagan’s Mind has done before, it’s easy to recommend God’s Equation to any fan of progressive music. To longtime fans of the band that don’t already own this, it’s even easier to recommend. Pagan’s Mind started as a generic yet talented power/progressive metal band, but have now created a style that is much more creative and accessible than what’s generally found from that combination. Even for those not into power metal, God’s Equation is progressive enough to appeal to almost all progressive fans, and the same can be said for power metal fans that don’t normally venture into the progressive genre. Pagan’s Mind has struck a balance that’s accessible to even those who aren’t interested in either of the genres Pagan’s Mind blends. It’s not as creative or revolutionary as the new Symphony X or Porcupine Tree albums, but God’s Equation is still an album well worth experiencing.
Pain of Salvation
Scarsick (3/4)- 2007
Even for Pain of Salvation, this album is weird. So weird, in fact, many of fans of the band and genre absolutely hate this album. When Daniel Gildenlöw starts rapping, chanting, and playing an odd combination of metal and disco, the listener is either going to embrace the experience as one of the most unique in music, or is going to want to spend the next week sitting in a corner trying to forget the horrors that they’ve heard. Scarsick is easily one of the most unique albums of the year, and even one of the best from the stand point that it breaks more new ground than maybe any other album released in 2007. Unfortunately, its weirdness may alienate even the most forgiving progressive fan. Just know that if you’re willing to take a gamble, the payoff is experiencing one of the best and most unique albums the genre has to offer.
Papa Roach (Nu-Metal/Hard Rock)
Infest (1.5/4)- 2000
Infest isn’t any worse than the average 90’s nu-metal album. Its problem is that it’s isn’t very different from those 90’s nu-metal albums. Oh, and it was released in 2000, years after that trend had been established. If I were a record executive, I would probably be more impressed with Papa Roach’s radio friendly melodies and their ability to blatantly copy already established bands. Unfortunately, my job is to weed through garbage like Infest and recommend that you, the readers, not waste your on said garbage.
Paramore (Pop Punk)
Riot! (1.5/4)- 2007
Vocalist Haley Williams knows how to belt. Combine that with some slightly hidden auto-tune, and you have a one-dimensional vocalist that perfectly fits a one-dimensional band like Paramore.
Pavement (Indie Rock)
Brighten the Corners (3.5/4)- 1997
Pavement’s first three albums could all be called indie rock classics, so it’s no surprise that their slightly more forgettable fourth album has been, well, forgotten. “Shady Lane” is both the single and the album’s highlight, but there are plenty of other great moments throughout. The production is also on point, something that has angered purists of Pavemnt’s lo-fi sound, but anyone looking to actually enjoy the music should be pleased. It’s not as influential as Pavement’s other albums, but Brighten the Corners is still a fantastic collection of songs.
Pearl Jam (Grunge)
Ten (4/4)- 1991
Rarely is such raw music as accessible as Pearl Jam’s Ten. While it technically is a debut, the members have Pearl Jam have all paid their dues in the Seattle underground, and a few were even part of the Temple of the Dog’s grunge masterpice just a few years before. With that in mind, it only makes sense that Ten turned out to be such an incredible record. Eddie Vedder’s lyrics may be the most remarkable part of the album, as his emotional stories are as relatable as they are powerful. Just about every aspect of Ten works brilliantly, however, from Vedder’s raw vocals to memorable guitar solos to Pearl Jam’s uncanny mastery of both hard rock and soft ballads. Ten is a truly special album and a monumentally influential piece of alternative rock history.
Backspacer (2.5/4)- 2009
Backspacer is far from Pearl Jam’s best work, but it’s also different enough that fans of the band’s more aggressive side will likely find a lot to like. It’s short and forgettable, but also one of the most energized and consistent Pearl Jam albums.
Peeping Tom (Pop/Trip-Hop)
Peeping Tom (3.5/4)- 2006
Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom is both a parody of and a tribute to pop music. Layered with Portishead-influenced trip-hop, alternative hip-hop, and the occasional funk rock that one would expect from the former frontman of Faith No More, it’s also a very unique album. Amidst Patton’s experimentation are dangerously catchy pop tunes aided by a variety of diverse guests and a great sense of humor. Peeping Tom can be recommended equally to fans of pop and experimental music, something that is certainly a rare accomplishment, even for someone like Mike Patton.
Pig Destroyer (Grindcore)
Phantom Limb (3.5/4)- 2007
Phantom Limb is the only grindcore album on this list, but to say simply say it’s the best grindcore album of 2007 would be undermining its quality. Phantom Limb is one of the best albums of the year, grindcore or not, and any fan of heavy metal can enjoy it. Modern grindcore is unfortunately full of formulaic trends, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find an exceptional album. Phantom Limb is without a doubt an exceptional album, and all fans of extreme metal should give it a chance. Pig Destroyer avoids all of the generic traps that have plagued their peers, and fans of grindcore should be thankful for that. It’s only flaw is its short length, but if you’re a metal fan that prefers quality over quantity, Phantom Limb is for you.
Pinback (Alternative/Indie Rock)
Autumn of the Seraphs (3/4)- 2007
Autumn of the Seraphs is a solid indie album that can appeal to just about anyone with an open mind for alternative rock. Pinback avoid a lot of the traps of modern indie music, as you won’t find anything “cute” or “lo-fi” in this album, but instead of quality Pavement-influenced alternative rock, just with better production values. It’s been done before, but Pinback do it much better than most, and it’s refreshing to hear an indie rock album that emphasizes the rock.
Poisonblack (Gothic Metal)
A Dead Heavy Day (2/4)- 2008
On their third album, Poisonblack rarely drift from their established sound, essentially a continuation of vocalist Ville Laihiala’s previous band, Sentenced. Unfortunately, it’s starting to get old. Sentenced had an almost tongue-in-cheek depressive approach to their later albums, something that has continued with Poisonblack. Their sound is melodic, almost pop-ish, but it hasn’t changed at all over the years, and it sounded much better when Sentenced first did it back in 2002.
Porcupine Tree (Progressive Rock)
On the Sunday of Life (2.5/4)- 1991
Originally intended as somewhat of a parody of prog music, Steven Wilson’s psychedelic debut is certainly a strange album. The music itself is actually fairly good, especially when it takes itself seriously, although gems like “Radioactive Toy” have been re-recorded and performed live numerous times with a much more fitting sound. The problem is that much of the album lacks direction, and often times tracks will consist of seemingly random ambient moments where not much is going on at all. There’s a lot to like here, but it’s scattered across a lot of filler and numerous flaws that are difficult to overlook.
Up the Downstair (3/4)- 1993
Up the Downstair is a somewhat inconsistent psychedelic prog album that features some truly beautiful moments. It also happens to be the first serious album by Porcupine Tree, and as such it’s often sounds like a template for better things to come.
The Sky Moves Sideways (4/4)- 1995
There are a number of different version of The Sky Moves Sideways available, but every song that’s been released as part of this album is masterful. The title track is divided into “phases,” both of which are stunning ambient compositions that are reminiscent of Pink Floyd in both style and quality. The gorgeous “Stars Die” is another highlight.
Signify (3/4)- 1996
Signify is an album that time has not been kind to. In the context of its release, this is a near masterpiece that shows a side of Porcupine Tree never before heard at this point in time. However, it also is the last of Porcupine Tree’s more mellow albums, and feels almost like a stripped down version of some their better, more heavier material. While The Sky Moves Sideways has a distinctly atmospheric and psychedelic nature to it, Signify just doesn’t stand out among Porcupine Tree releases. Even today, it’s a very good album, but far from Steven Wilson’s best.
Deadwing (4/4)- 2005
Porcupine Tree follows up their 2002 masterpiece, In Absentia, with an equally masterful piece of art. Deadwing is a lyrical tour de force combined with songwriting that is without comparison. Even when it reaches moments of pure heavy metal, the music resonates beauty, and the album takes just about everything Steven Wilson has experimented with through Porcupine Tree and improves upon it. Deadwing is a rare album and a masterpiece among masterpieces.
Fear of a Blank Planet (3.5/4)- 2007
To explain what makes Fear of a Blank Planet great in a short paragraph is nearly impossible. There are simply more reasons to listen to this album than a person could list in a reasonable amount of time. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of listening to Porcupine Tree, you’re in for a treat. Steven Wilson, the band’s frontman, continues his trend of combining superb lyricism with outstanding creativity and the results continue to be epic works of mastery. Fear of a Blank Planet marks Porcupine Tree’s return to longer songs with more experimentation and progressive elements, but it continues the band’s recent experimentation with heavy metal. Not long ago, Porcupine Tree’s albums were almost entirely made up of more mellow tracks, but their last four albums have expertly implemented elements of hard rock and metal. Just like In Abstenia and Deadwing before, the heavier elements of Fear of a Blank Planet allow each and every song to sound different from not only the last, but also every song Porcupine Tree has done in their career. Add in the simply superb title track that ranks among the best singles released in all of 2007, as well as guest appearance’s by Alex Lifeson (Rush) and Rober Fripp (King Crimson), and you have one of the year’s must-own albums.
The Incident (3.5/4)- 2009
Quite possibly Porcupine Tree’s most ambitious album yet, The Incident is intended to be listened to as one long piece of music. In reality, it’s not all that different from other concept albums, as the album is still broken up into specific tracks, many of which stand on their own as great songs. Musically, The Incident isn’t a drastic departure from the progressive hard rock of Porcupine Tree’s post-Stupid Dream albums, but as always Steven Wilson has a few tricks up his sleeve. The personal narrative that makes up the album’s story isn’t limited to the lyrics. Wilson will occasionally play riffs from the music he references in his lyrics, such as a moment in “Time Flies” when the music suddenly starts to noticeably like various parts of Pink Floyd’s Animals. It’s subtle touches like that make The Incident a treat for Porcupine Tree fans and listeners willing to fully absorb themselves in the music.
Third (3/4)- 2008
It’s been 11 years since Portishead released their self-titled sophomore album, and despite the efforts of many clone groups, there hasn’t been a trip-hop album like it since, nor has their been one as good. Portishead’s Third might not be quite as good as the group’s first two albums, but it’s certainly one of the best trip-hop album released in those 11 years. Part of what makes it so good is that Third is not just another Portishead album. This album sees Portishead reinventing their sound in ways that only the masters of the genre could do. Third is an even stranger and more experimental album than Portishead’s first two, but it’s also pure trip-hop in that it uses the formula the group invented and takes in a more modern direction. This is an album that even those aren’t into trip-hop and experimental can enjoy, and it’s an album that any alternative or experimental fan would love.
Powerman 5000 (Nu-Metal/Hard Rock)
Tonight the Stars Revolt! (2/4)- 1999
Other than featuring Rob Zombie’s brother on vocals, there isn’t much to separate Powerman 5000 from the rest of the mostly forgotten nu-metal bands of the 90s. They had a huge hit with “When Worlds Collide,” which is unsurprisingly catchy, but the rest of the album rarely ascends past the boring or generic. You could certainly do worse when it comes to nu-metal, but looking good in compression to Limp Bizkit and (hed) pe isn’t much of an accomplishment.
Destroy What You Enjoy (1/4)- 2006
Destroy What You Enjoy is an undeniably awful album, and one that should have proved to the twelve people who actually made it through the full album that Powerman 5000 is done. The mediocre 90s nu-metalers spent much of their post “When Worlds Collide” career trying to recreate “When Worlds Collide,” so maybe they deserve some credit for finally putting that to rest with this release. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell what exactly they are trying to do. Destroy What You Enjoy is little more than pop rock with the occasional guitar solo or hard rock riff, reminiscent of a modern Papa Roach album. Even by pop standards the lyrics are too stupid to reach a large audience, and the music is so generic than it’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t taking notes actually remembering a single moment. Destroy What You Enjoy has no reason to exist, and even fans of the nu-metal Powerman days should avoid this garbage.
Prefab Sprout (Pop/Alternative)
Steve McQueen (4/4)- 1985
Forget everything you may think you know about pop music. Prefab Sprout take pop in a completely different direction, creating beautiful ambient soundscapes complimented by outstanding lyrics. Steve McQueen is a masterful record, and there’s so much more to it than what can be expressed in such a brief manner. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s simply breathtaking.
Protest the Hero (Metalcore/Progressive Metal)
Fortress (3/4)- 2008
Much like Protest the Hero’s 2005’s debut, Fortress is a unique and creative album that is sure to be hated by many metalheads. Mixing elements from punk rock, metalcore, and progressive metal, Fortress is not a typical album by any means, and it’s one that takes multiple listens to understand. Protest the Hero attempts more here than on their debut, which was rather ambitious in its own right, and deserves praise purely from that perspective. Not everything Protest the Hero attempts works, but part of the album's greatness is that it sounds like an ambitious mess as a whole. The lyrics of the album can be dissected and interpreted in a number of different ways, which is something that is rarely found in metalcore. The vocals take a bit of getting used to, and there will be many who won’t be able to take more than 30 seconds of Rody Walker’s high pitched screaming, but those who can get past the vocals and breakdowns will find an intelligent and creative album that attempts far more than most. Fortress certainly lacks focus, but it probably wouldn’t be as exciting of an album if it wasn’t fueled by raw energy and ambition. One of the album’s biggest strengths is the energy that the band has put into their sophomore release, and that pure adrenalin more than makes up for the many flaws that come with the album’s unfocused ambition. Because that ambition allows a number of different sounds and styles to be experimented with throughout the album, there are many times when Fortress is not nearly as developed as it could have been. There are moments where it sounds like each member is trying to go in a different direction, while other times where the album appears to have no rational direction to speak of. Most of the time, however, Fortress is a unique and creative album that is interesting and engaging throughout.
Puddle of Mudd (Post-Grunge)
Life on Display (1.5/4)- 2003
At least their first album was catchy. Life is Display is just bad, and it’s nowhere close to being entertaining. If you like you’re music full of radio rock clichés and laughably stupid lyrics, then this is the album for you.
V is for Vagina (3/4)- 2007
V is for Vagina is an album that’s both difficult to explain and interpret. It’s an industrial album by a progressive rock vocalist, and it’s an album that is probably better suited for fans outside of the industrial genre. Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle) is the man behind the music, and those who will get the most out of it are those looking for an experimental album that will take some time to truly understand. It can be argued that there really is no way to understand an album like V is for Vagina at all, and it’s instead the pure weirdness of the unique sound that Maynard has created that gives his Puscifer project an intriguing edge. It’s a very strange album to say the least, and although it’s not something that can be wholeheartedly recommended, it certainly deserves to be noted and praised for being an album that truly experiments and branches out.
Pyramaze (Power Metal)
Immortal (3/4)- 2008
Pyramaze’s third release, and first and only release with Matt Barlow (Iced Earth) on vocal duty, is one of the most surprising albums of 2008. Pyramaze was known almost exclusively for vocalist Lance King, who left after two albums. Oddly enough, Immortal is quite possibly Pyramaze’s best album to date. The musicianship has improved dramatically, and Matt Barlow works exceptionally well with the rest of the band. This is power metal at its best, and in a year that featured disappointing new albums from Iced Earth, Evergrey, and DragonForce, Immortal has come out of practically nowhere to become the one of the most essential power metal releases of 2008.