R.E.M. (Alternative Rock)
Around the Sun (1.5/4)- 2004
Boring, lazy, and almost entirely awful, R.E.M.’s much hated Around the Sun is an unremarkable album in just every way.
Accelerate (3/4)- 2008
R.E.M.'s first album since 2004 is a rather short and familiar affair, but the album's 35 minutes of deep lyrics, catchy riffs, and intelligent songwriting is a welcome return to form for one of the finest lyrical bands to ever receive mainstream success. Compared to the band's phenomenal first 8 albums from the 80s through mid-90s, Accelerate isn't exactly a revelation, but the album is a triumph compared to nearly every other album the band has released since. There are a numbers of reasons for this, most notably the return of the band's original heavier sound, but the most significant aspect of R.E.M.'s music has always been lyrics. Using recent political events as motivation, the lyrics on Accelerate are some of the band's best and most aggressive in over a decade. Whether or not you agree with their politics, the sheer intelligence of the band comes through in their lyrics, and the album can be recommended purely on that alone. Granted, there isn't much on this album that R.E.M. hasn't done better on past records, but the intelligent songwriting of the band is in fine form. When Accelerate is at its best (such as on the album's fantastic opener "Living Well is the Best Revenge" and the single "Supernatural Superserious"), this is the best R.E.M.'s has sounded in years. This is partly because the band seems to once again be less concerned with their sound and more concerned with the intelligent lyrics that made the band great to begin with, but also in part because this is the first R.E.M. in far too long to sound like it was made for a reason bigger than simply for the sake of making an album. Accelerate isn't exactly a masterpiece, but it a step in the right direction for a band that once again seems capable of making another masterpiece.
Radiohead (Alternative/Art Rock)
Pablo Honey (2/4)- 1993
It’s hard to believe that is the same Radiohead that released OK Computer and The Bends. “Creep” has stood the test of time, but the rest of the album is mediocre at best.
The Bends (4/4)- 1995
Radiohead’s most accessible album is also one of their best. The Bends is pure musical bliss from start to finish, and an absolutely essential listen.
OK Computer (4/4)- 1997
How do you follow up a flawless masterpiece? You release arguably the greatest alternative rock album of all-time, of course. OK Computer is worthy of the outrageous amount of praise it receives, and it’s one of the most musically adventurous and lyrically challenging albums to ever grace this critic’s ears. Countless band have tried to replicate it, and none have succeeded. This, my friends, is music at its finest.
Kid A (4/4)- 2000
Easily the most experimental album of Radiohead’s, Kid A is yet another masterpiece of one of music’s greats. Some call it alternative rock, while some argue that it’s an electronic album, but the fact of the matter is that Kid A is impossible to classify. This is an experimental album that takes risks and succeeds brilliantly, and it’s Radiohead’s third masterpiece in a row.
Amnesiac (3/4)- 2001
Amnesiac is the only Radiohead album to sound like another Radiohead album. It’s less of an experience, and more of a collection of songs in the style of Kid A. From a track-by-track perspective, some of Radiohead’s best work appears on this album, but there also is a fair amount of filler. It’s an essential listen for its highlights, but also a fairly forgettable album compared to Radiohead’s other work.
Hail to the Thief (4/4)- 2003
Another Radiohead album, another masterpiece. Hail to the Thief is one of Radiohead’s most varied records, featuring songs that combine elements of all three of their past masterpieces. The songwriting is top-notch, even by Radiohead standards, and it’s yet another album by this band that’s almost impossible to criticize. They continue to take risks and continue to turn everything they touch into gold, or this case, high art.
In Rainbows (3.5/4)- 2007
In Rainbows is a rare album in that was considered revolutionary before it was even released, as it’s unorthodox release allowed listeners to choose exactly how much they wanted to pay for the album. The album was then released as a disc on an indie label, and reached #1 on the Billboard charts without any involvement from a major label. What made it a success was more than a revolutionary sales method, however. In Rainbows is an outstanding collection of songs with tracks ranging from the pure rock to the simply beautiful. The album as a whole is similar to Amnesiac in that it feels more like a compilation than an album in the sense of OK Computer, but that’s by no means a bad thing. All ten tracks are great in their own way, and it’s no surprise that In Rainbows is yet another outstanding Radiohead album.
The Seventh Seal (2/4)- 2009
The long awaited 3rd solo album from the God MC, Rakim, makes this god seem mortal. “How to Emcee” and “Holy Are You” are gems, but Rakim’s rapping is too often uninspired, and the production just plain boring. Where’s Eric B. when you need him?
The Red Jump Suit Apparatus (Pop Punk)
Don’t You Fake It (2.5/4)- 2006
Don’t You Fake It is definitely generic, but as far as pop punk goes this is one of the more tolerable albums out there. The songs are catchy and it really doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. Again, it’s nothing great, but unlike most bands that were part of the emo trends, I can understand why this album had its share of hit singles.
Duck Stab (4/4)- 1978
One could listen to Duck Stab repeatedly for years and still not be able to critique or even fully comprehend what they’ve heard. While often considered The Residents’ most accessible album, that only means that it’s one that can be listened to on a musical level and not just as an oddity. This is an album that is brilliant on so many levels that it just can’t be put into words. The knowledge of musical theory sheer that The Residents posses is staggering to say the least, and they somehow put that knowledge into some of the most unique and strangest music in existence. There is nothing else like Duck Stab, and few albums are as awe-inspiring and mind expanding as this one. It’s impossible to accurately describe, but believe me when I say this is one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard, and one of the very few by this band that I can even begin to understand.
Rhyme Asylum (Rap/Hip-Hop)
Solitary Confinement (3.5/4)- 2010
Solitary Confinement is an album made for fans of hardcore hip-hop by fans of hardcore hip-hop. There is no deep meaning or relevancy to most of the lyrics, and it doesn’t really shock or offend in the way that hardcore emcees like Vinnie Paz or Ill Bill (who is featured on the album) can. Instead, Rhyme Asylum have created an album that is hardcore purely for the sake of being hardcore, and it succeeds because it sticks with that mentality to the end. This is niche hip-hop, ripe with senselessly violent one-liners, and again this is exactly what this kind of rap is about. Few hardcore hip-hop albums are as entertaining as this one, and if you’re into violent rap with raw beats and lyrics you should give Solitary Confinement a listen.
Rise Against (Punk Rock)
Appeal to Reason (3/4)- 2008
There has been and will likely continue to be mixed reactions to Rise Against’s Appeal to Reason. On one hand, this album marks a fairly drastic change in the band’s style. No longer can they be called hardcore punk, as the screaming is gone, the riffs have been slowed down, and the songs have become more radio friendly. One could say that this new style is more similar to the MTV punk bands than the true punk rockers Rise Against have been influenced by, but within this style Rise Against have made some necessary improvements. In doing so, the band has proved once again that they are far superior to any other modern mainstream punk band. Despite the oddly non-aggressive style of many of the songs, the change doesn’t seem forced. The songwriting is more intelligent than ever, and Rise Against’s political message is never comprised. Regardless of whether you like mainstream rock or hardcore punk, Rise Against’s Appeal to Reason is a solid choice, and by far the best mainstream punk album released in 2008.
The Roots (Rap/Hip-Hop)
How I Got Over (3.5/4)- 2010
Emcees often write about the golden age of hip-hop, reminiscing of the days before the art of rhyming became commercialized. Many greats have taken us back to the time and place of hip-hop’s finest hour, but few have managed to return us to the state of mind one feels when they first fall in love with the genre. The latest album from The Roots achieves the latter. How I Got Over is a true breath of a fresh air, not just in terms of lyrics and beats, but in terms of the passion and love for hip-hop that bleeds from its core. This is a hip-hop album through and through, and it’s something any fan of the genre, young or old, can fall in love with.
Rose Funeral (Deathcore)
The Resting Sonata (1/4)- 2009
Rose Funeral are the band that I’ve waiting years for. Not in anticipation, but in dread and fear, for their existence signifies a sad time in the world of heavy metal. I knew the day would soon be upon us where a band would forgo music entirely and use breakdowns in place of riffs. Enter Rose Funeral. Throughout the entire album, there are no traces of actual music- just breakdown after breakdown after breakdown. This is a band that is full of derivative overused deathcore conventions, but magnifies them to the point where none of the death or even metalcore influences of the genre can be heard. To say it’s awful would be a huge understatement. It’s not even music, and that is the first time I have ever said that about an album. Please, avoid Rose Funeral at any cost. Play Uno instead.
Rumpelstiltskin Grinder (Thrash Metal)
Buried in the Front Yard (2.5/4)- 2005
“Ridiculous” and “over-the-top” don’t even begin describe Rumpelstilstskin Grinder. This is pure insanity in the form of classic thrash metal, and it’s unfortunate that once you get past the self-parody and sheer weirdness of the music you’re left with a fairly standard thrash release. That’s far from a bad thing, but Buried in the Front Yard is an album best appreciated by fans of 80’s thrash metal, and it’s too short and derivative to have staying power for anyone else once the laughs wear off.
Rush (Progressive Rock)
Snakes & Arrows (3.5/4)- 2007
It’s taken a few albums, but Rush sounds like Rush again. That is to say, Snakes and Arrows is an album that maintains and improves the heavier sound Rush experimented with on their last few releases, but still maintains what made Rush one of the greatest bands of all-time. During the streak of brilliance in the late 70s and early 80s, Rush managed to improve upon each previous album by evolving their sound without abandoning the unique sound that made them great in the first place. That’s exactly what Rush does with Snakes and Arrows. Rush has stopped changing their sound, but instead improving on it and evolving as a band. Snakes and Arrows is a varied album that ventures into both progressive metal and classic rock territory, and nearly song blends new and old in ways that not even the most optimistic Rush fan could have expected. Even in 2007, Rush ranks among the best progressive acts of today. Snakes and Arrows is an album sure to please both new and old fans of the band, and its also one of the most accessible progressive albums of the year.
Digi Snacks (2.5/4)- 2008
The third album in RZA's "Bobby Digital" trilogy is an album that is hard to not praise. At the same time, it's also one that is hard not to fault. On one hard, RZA's Digi Snacks is something entirely new and experimental. No other Wu-Tang Clan member has strayed as far from the Wu-Tang forumula than RZA does here, often to a fault. There is a distinct difference between the production RZA uses on his "Bobby Digital" albums, as opposed to the many other works he has been credited with producing, including much of Wu-Tang's material. This not only allows RZA to truly craft his interesting Bobby Digital character through both his rapping and production, but also allows the sound of the record to have a distinct sound that nearly flawlessly creates a science-fiction and martial arts setting that compliments the character of the album, as well as RZA's flow and lyrics. From that stand point, Digi Snacks is a wonderfully fun hip-hop album that truly sets itself apart from everything else in hip-hop. The problem is that this is the third album in RZA's trilogy, and it still feels like an experiment.
As great as the Bobby Digital character is, there really isn't much here that has a whole lot to do with him. The production and flow of the album have finally come together in a way that feels distinct, but much of it goes to waste. Often times, it's hard to tell exactly what RZA is trying to do, and while some fans may praise the album's weirdness for that reason, it's certainly disappointing that such a unique and creative concept isn't more focused on the actual concept at hand. What makes matters even more conflicting is that the listener does in fact get a taste of what could have been. There are moments of pure hip-hop bliss that amounts to some of the most unique and purely enjoyable hip-hop of 2008. However, RZA's constant and often unnecessarily experimentation makes the album as a whole simply an experiment, instead of a truly great piece of art. Simply, fails at living up to its concept, is all over the map lyrically, and is not as fun of a hip-hop album as RZA intended it to be. It has its moments, and it's hard to fault an artist for trying something new, but Digi Snacks is the epitome of a mixed bag.