The NUMBER ONE album of the Decade!

The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me by Brand New

Brand New’s second album Deja Entendu put them on the map and some would argue is their best album.  As a result the band felt a lot of pressure and took over three years to release a follow up.  Usually when a band takes that long to put out an album the outcome is mediocre at best.  To make matters worse Brand New had also signed to major record label and during the recording process they fought the label for artist control.  Also during that time a number of the songs they had been working on were leaked online, much to the band’s dismay and although I never heard any of those leaked tracks, most people’s response wasn’t positive.  The odds were stacked against Brand New and yet there was still an ever growing sense of anticipation.  Then in the fall of 2006 after a couple of missed release dates, after the album artwork had been revealed and the first single released, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me hit stores.  Some artists best work comes out of great adversity and with Brand New that couldn’t have been more true, The Devil and God was and is a masterpiece.  From the very first listen I was blown away and couldn’t get enough.  In terms of structure and execution it was unlike anything I’ve heard or have heard since.

My wife pointed out something recently I found really interesting.  She was commenting on another band, saying they were too predictable and she wished they were more unpredictable like Brand New.  As soon as she said that a light bulb went off and I knew that is the reason Brand New and this album in particular as so good.  For example, when the first single Sowing Season was released I read a comment in which someone was complaining about how they didn’t like the way the song was mixed and how it wasn’t very polished.  You’d expect them especially on a major label release, to be polished, but they  they did the unexpected and gave the song a stripped low-fi sound, which is totally what makes the song.  It ebbs and flows from quite refrains to loud choruses with reverbing guitars.  Effectively Brand New have created a musical experience not unlike being on a rollercoaster blind folded.

Musically this album is dense, but Brand New aren’t the kind of band who uses a wide range of instrumentation they instead get the most out of the standard tools of the rock band trade, guitars, bass and drums.  Each song has layers upon layers of sound, so that with each listen there is something new to be heard.  On the song Degausser there are several vocal tracks layered throughout giving it a chaotic haunting feel.  There aren’t many bands I’ve heard, capable of pulling off a sound like that without it sounding like a muddled mess.

If you haven’t noticed by now I’m a big lyrics guy and singer Jesse Lacey writes some of my favorite.  On The Devil and God he was clearly working through some demons.  Many songs deal with a break up Lacey was going through at the time, expressing both frustration and self doubt.  Lacey has always been known for using Christian imagery in his songs, which is especially true on this album.  On the song Jesus, he clearly seems to have an understanding of the Christian faith, but wrestles with what it means for him in his life.  Here is a line from that song as well as a few other great lines from this album:

“Jesus Christ I’m alone again, so what did you do those three days you were dead?” from Jesus

“before you put my body in the cold ground, take some time and warm it with your hands” from Sowing Season

“Goodbye to sleep, I think this staying up is exactly what I need, take apart your head, take apart the counting and the flock it has bred.” from Degausser

“In the choir, I saw our sad Messiah, he was bored and tired of my laments he said, ‘I died for you one time, but never again.'” from Limousine

In my mind you need a minimum of the following elements to make a great album; creativity, unpredictability, passion, excellent musicianship, strong vocals and well written lyrics.  All the albums I chose for my 25 favorite albums of the decade feature at least some of those elements.  The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me has them all and some.  It is as near perfect as an album can get and is why I chose it as my favorite album of the decade.


My Top 25 Favorite Albums of the Decade – 2!

The Alchemy Index by Thrice

The Alchemy Index is a double concept album consisting of four parts.  Each part is titled for and themed after each of the four elements, Fire, Water, Air and Earth.  In case it isn’t already obvious, this is Thrice’s most ambitious project to date.  Initially it’s also a bit overwhelming with 24 songs in total and musically spans at least four different genres.  But time proves this project works both in its individual parts and as a whole.

On part one, Fire, Thrice return to their post-hardcore roots, but with new found maturity.  They unleash a fury of blazing guitars and crushing vocals, embodying the kind of fire you’d imagine barreling down a mountain side, consuming everything in its path. 

Without missing a beat Thrice transition to their softer side with part two entitled, Water.  They chose to go with an almost completely electronic sound, which is somewhat ironic, but works perfectly.  The music really gives the feeling of floating in a dark, endless sea.

Air probably most represents Thrice at the core of who they are.  It’s the most straightforward of all the parts and musically is the least effective at conveying the characteristics of the element it’s named for.  But for those reasons Air also happens to be one of the stronger parts of The Alchemy Index; it’s simply Thrice doing what they do best.

Singer Dustin Kensrue recorded a country/folk album a couple years ago and was featured earlier on my top 25 countdown.  That album was clearly an influence on part four, Earth.  It has nice organic feel, at times reminiscent of being in the mountains and other times it feels like being in a dirty old saloon.

Kensrue covers a lot of ground lyrically on The Alchemy Index.  He writes about the elements both literally and metaphorically, but none of the songs are about the elements specifically.  There are number of powerful spiritual themes as well as songs about life and a wide range of other topics.  One of the most interesting lyrical aspects to this project is the last song on each part.  Each of those songs was written lyrically as a sonnet and are told from the perspective of the element personified.  Listening to them with that in mind adds a whole new depth to their meaning and demonstrates what an incredible writer Kensrue is.

Although The Alchemy Index didn’t make my top pick I have to say Thrice is by far my favorite band of the decade.  They continue to reinvent themselves putting out one amazing album after another.  I’m also consistently impressed with this band’s level of integrity, especially singer Dustin Kensrue and how open he is about his faith and his struggles.

My Top 25 Favorite Albums of the Decade – 3!

Brother, Sister by mewithoutYou

It took me some time to get used to mewithoutYou, but by the time they released their third album, Brother, Sister I was convinced.  After each release they progressed further and further from their post-hardcore roots establishing themselves as more of an experimental rock band.  Brother, Sister is still plenty guitar heavy, but has a sort of vagabond vibe to it.  Added embellishments such as acoustic guitars, horns and even a harp complete the album’s sound.  It’s the kind of music that would have been made in medieval times had they had electric guitars.  This album is also full of groovy bass and punchy drums, making it surprisingly danceable.  I would be remiss to not mention singer Aaron Weiss.  His spoken word vocal style is anything but traditional and really sets mewithoutYou apart from other bands.  Lyrically Weiss’s words are like poetry and explore a number of spiritual themes.  There hasn’t be a time when I’ve listen to Brother, Sister and not been inspired in some way.

My Top 25 Favorite Albums of the Decade – 4!

Mean Everything to Nothing by Manchester Orchestra

Bands are often faced with a lot of pressure when recording a follow to a highly successful debut and in many cases the pressure is too much resulting in the dreaded sophomore slump.  Manchester Orchestra on the other hand, crushed any expectations people had of them by releasing one of the best albums of 2009.  One of the best things about these guys is their live show, which is captivating and chalk full of energy.  By recording much of Mean Everything to Nothing live they were really able to capture their on stage sound.  This album is nothing if not a rock album with a little southern flare thrown in for good measure.  The guitar licks are to die for and will have your heart racing within the first few minutes.    Singer Andy Hull’s vocals are raw only when they aren’t explosive and convey his emotions with excellence.  This album also has it’s quite moments, as well as some nice pop flourishes, which give a nice contrast to its overall aggressive nature.  Manchester Orchestra is one of the best bands of the later half of this decade and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of their future releases becomes a favorite of mine in the next.

My Top 25 Favorite Albums of the Decade – 5!

Seasonal EPs by Jon Foreman

As a fan of Switchfoot I was excited when I’d heard singer Jon Foreman was going to be working on a solo project.  His solo effort was realized in the form of four EPs each titled for one of the four seasons, Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer.  Each EP has six songs each, amounting to what I would consider a double album and is my number 5 favorite album of the decade.

Once you hear Foreman’s solo work, it is clear his creativity is held back in Switchfoot.  As good as Switchfoot is, they generally stick to the same formula.  On his Seasons project Foreman takes on the role of a folksy singer song writer and it suits him well.  His voice is incredibly controlled leading the music through lush melodies.  The acoustic guitar is often accompanied by a wide range of instrumentation including but not limited to harmonica, trumpet, oboe, cello, and piano.  Throughout the four EPs Foreman is joined on several songs by some phenomenal female vocalists, only adding to the already rich sound.  Although there are 24 songs in total there is never a dull moment; each EP feels unique and yet they all flow together.  In terms of lyrical content Foreman seems more free to express himself and is particularly open about his faith.  These songs are some of the most genuinely spiritually and worshipful songs I’ve heard.  I highly recommend listening to this project with headphones, which will really allow you to pick up on the intricacies and nuance of the vocals, instrumentation and production.

My Top 25 Favorite Albums of the Decade – 6!

Boxcar Racer by Boxcar Racer

Boxcar Racer was the 2002 side project of blink-182 singer/guitarist Tom Delonge and blink-182 drummer Travis Barker.  Despite my love of blink-182 I have to say Boxcar Racer is Delonge’s best effort to date.  When I first heard this album I was not only blown away by the music and song writing, but also by the way it impacted me emotionally.  I was going through a difficult time when this album came out and I really connected with feelings being expressed.  During a break from blink-182 Delonge went through a number of painful back surgeries and the songs he wrote for Boxcar Racer were in response to pain and frustration he experienced during that time.  The resulting sound is more aggressive than blink-182 but at times more subdued.  This albums builds the way an ocean swells.  The opening track, “I Feel So” begins quietly with a clunky piano intro, goes into a little acoustic guitar part and then in come the distorted guitars only to drop back down to the acoustic guitar as the verse begins.  Lyrically Delonge is known for writing of angst and heartache, and there is certainly plenty of that to go around on this album.  This time however, his words bear more weight and communicate a sense of urgency.  One of my favorite songs “Watch the World” speaks of love conquering all, in a dark and dieing world.  Lastly, I thought I would point out the fact that this is Travis Barker’s third appearance on my Top 25 countdown.  As far as I’m concerned Barker is the best drummer out there today and in Boxcar Racer his turns out his best performance.  From beginning to end his unique style oozes creativity and originality; there isn’t a shred of redundancy in the drumming on this album.

My Top Favorite Albums of the Decade – 7!

Canopy Glow by Anathallo

Because of Christmas I’m taking a day off from writing. Canopy Glow was my pick for the number 1 album of 2008. Here is what I wrote about it last year:

Anathallo went with a more traditional album with this release and it totally worked. Canopy Glow in my mind is nearly perfect with it’s clean production, bold sound, and excellent song writing. Somehow these six guys and one girl are able to compose some of the most genius songs I’ve heard. Each one is unique from beginning to end. There are moments that are fun, exhilarating, haunting, sad, joyful, and even bizarre. Anathallo are known for using a wide range of instruments and again they don’t disappoint. Their use of percussion is particularly delightful. Vocally singers Matt Joynt and Erica Froman have never sounded better. The harmonies are especially to die for, not to mention the backing vocals of the other band members. The lyrics are abstract and yet intriguing, it’s easy to get lost in them. Mostly though, words do little to describe this album.