It’s almost the end of the year… which means only one thing: It’s top 10 list time!
2009 was a big music year for me. I bought or received more albums this year than I did any other year. And while there were a lot of good or great releases from this year, there were also some good or great albums from years past that made an impression on me. So, before I reveal my list of my favorite albums from this year, here is my list of my favorite previously released albums that I bought in ’09.
10. Seal – “Soul”
What is It?: One of Britain’s greatest singers in recent times takes on some of the greatest soul classics of all time.
Year Released: 2008
Why I Recommend It: “Soul” is a mellow, stripped back work that hearkens back to the era that Soul and super-producer David Foster are paying tribute to. Seal isn’t typically known for performing this kind of music; his solo work is pop/dance/R&B with lots of programming and keyboards. Very modern, in other words. Thus, to have Seal transport the listener back to the ‘60s and ‘70s, when music was simpler and more straightforward, is quite refreshing. Not to mention Seal’s vocals on this album are nothing short of superb.
But No Album Is Perfect: I like Seal’s lyrics and personal musical style as well as his voice. So I didn’t like this album as much as I liked his others. The songs are good (classics, really), but they don’t resonate with me the same way Seal’s own songs do.
Bottom Line: “Soul” is exactly what you get on this album. And that’s a good think you can’t enough of.
Best Songs: “Stand By Me,” “Knock On Wood”
9. Serenity – “Words Untold & Dreams Unlived”
What Is It?: Melodic progressive power metal. Think of a more rugged, less musically mature Kamelot.
Year Released: 2007
Why I Recommend It: Serenity comes off as a fearless band with a clear vision. Its members are not afraid of writing tour de forces that showcase all their talents. They also have a powerful vocalist in Georg Neuhauser. Most of the songs feature catchy choruses that get stuck in your head. (Try to not get addicted to “Reduced to Nothingness” – I dare you!) And don’t let all the Kamelot parallels fool you. This band has enough differences (both subtle and obvious) that make their sound unique.
But No Album Is Perfect: Almost every song on “Words Untold & Dreams Unlived” features the same elements: Lots of guitar and keyboard solos, double-kick drums, rapid tempos… A couple songs even have similar sounding choruses. So their sound gets repetitive by the fourth or fifth song, and the ever-increasing song lengths drag each track out a little too long.
Bottom Line: It’s obvious that Serenity was still a young band when it released “Words Untold & Dreams Unlived.” Yet, a debut is meant to show a band’s potential, and Serenity shows plenty of it here.
Best Songs: “Reduced to Nothingness,” “Canopus 3,” “Dead Man Walking”
8. Conception – “Parallel Lives”
What Is It?: Progressive power metal with one of the strongest voices on the scene.
Year Released; 1993
Why I Recommend It: These guys knew exactly how to make quality songs with heavy guitars, powerful drums, and the obligatory Tore Ostby solos. And they do it with lots of flair and aplomb. I almost like Roy Khan’s lyrics on “Parallel Minds” better than those in some of Kamelot’s songs. They’re more varied and personal, and lyrical variety is always a good thing to have. And you can’t talk about Roy without touching on his vocals. I almost forgot that “Parallel Minds” was recorded 14 years ago. So when I first heard his higher pitched vocals, I thought, “Whoa, wait a minute! He doesn’t do that now!”
But No Album Is Perfect: Aside from the “some-songs-aren’t-as-good-as-others” vibe that you get on most albums… Roy’s younger voice takes some getting used to, especially if (like me) you’re more used to his deeper, more mature vocals of today.
Bottom Line: Good CD if melodic prog/power metal is your thing. I’m looking forward to getting “In Your Multitude” when I can get my hands on it.
Best Songs: “Parallel Minds,” “Roll the Fire,” “My Decision”
7. Dendura – “New Life”
What Is It?: Egyptian-influenced progressive metal. Think of a mix of Queensryche, Nevermore, After Forever, Dream Theater, and Kamelot, with grungey guitars, low-tuned bass, rhythmic percussion/drums, and some sand, dry heat, and ancient winds.
Year Released: 2006
Why I Recommend It: This powerful albeit short release showcases every facet of the band’s sound. Each track differs in length, heaviness, and complexity. Aziza Poggi varies her husky vocals throughout, going from sultry and seductive to throaty and furious effortlessly. The lyrics on “New Life” are also quite interesting. They combine Egyptian mythology and traditions with personal conflicts and emotions, further enhancing the musical concept behind Dendura.
But No Album Is Perfect: Dendura’s music is a bit of an acquired taste. You have to listen to it a few times before you can really appreciate it.
Bottom Line: “Enchanting” may be the most overused word when it comes to describing female-fronted metal. But that’s exactly what Dendura is, and boy does it sound good.
Best Songs: “Isis,” “Shadowman,” “Mummified”
6. Colbie Caillat – “Coco”
What Is It?: Easygoing acoustic pop with some soulful influences.
Year Released: 2007
Why I Recommend It: Colbie Caillat is what I call a “package” singer. Her soft, understated voice is complemented nicely with simple and warm acoustic arrangements. She consistently keeps to this style throughout her debut album, sometimes using pianos (“Battle”), a ukelele (“Tied Down”), and slightly faster tempos (“Midnight Bottle,” “Tailor Made”) to mix things up a bit. And you have to admit, “Bubbly” is one of the most adorable puppy love songs this decade!
But No Album Is Perfect: One of my biggest pet peeves in music is a lack of variety in an album’s lyrical content. “Coco” isn’t a huge culprit of this, but almost all of the songs deal with first love, unrequited love, and heartbreak. It’s not entirely boring or repetitive, but the themes get a little old by the album’s end.
Bottom Line: “Coco” is a great to listen to while lying on the beach on a summer day – or while driving through the winter snow and thinking of warmer days.
Best Songs: “Bubbly,” “The Little Things,” “Oxygen”
5. Delta Goodrem – “Delta”
What Is It?: Piano-based pop/rock with hints of soul and country, and a mix of sweet and emotional vocals.
Year Released: 2008
Why I Recommend It: I’ve been listening to Delta’s music since 2003. And being a U.S. fan, it’s been tough to get a hold of her music – until now. And not only was I happy to get her self-titled album, but I was pleased with its strength and variety. The lyrics touch all kinds of topics: Not just love and heartache, but also faith (“Believe Again,” “Angels in the Room”), self-acceptance (“Possessionless”), and unexpected twists of fate (“God Laughs”). Delta sounds best with her piano and some guitars, and there are several tracks like that on this album.
But No Album Is Perfect: Delta dabbles in dance and R&B on this album. While it’s good to hear her maturing and expanding her musical horizons, tracks such as “You Will Only Break My Heart” and “Bare Hands” sound a bit.. out of place. Maybe even weird.
Bottom Line: It’s about time the U.S. was blessed with Delta’s talent!
Best Songs: “Angels in the Room,” “God Laughs,” “In This Life”
4. Tori Amos – “Little Earthquakes”
What Is It?: The original piano rock diva introduces herself to the world.
Year Released: 1991
Why I Recommend It: My first Tori album was “Under the Pink,” which I liked quite a bit. Not as much as this one, though. “Little Earthquakes” features all kinds of moments: the beautiful (“Winter”), the whimsical (“Happy Phantom”), the gutwrenching (“Me and a Gun”), and everything else in between. I like how there are different kinds of piano songs on here. Some feature a band, others only have a few instruments, and a couple more are just Tori and her tinkering. Keep your ear open for Tori’s piano-playing, too – she’s quite impressive.
But No Album Is Perfect: “Little Earthquakes” is as diverse and enjoyable as it is eccentric and complex. Tori’s lyrics can be blunt and honest at times, too. These are reasons why I love her music, but they may be off-putting for other people.
Bottom Line: Great outside-the-box piano rock. “Little Earthquakes” is an outstanding debut album by one of music’s most uncompromising musicians.
Best Songs: “Tear in Your Hand,” “Winter,” “Crucify”
3. Gotthard – “Lipservice”
What Is It?: Hard rock with some classic rock influences and a whole lot of energy and enthusiasm.
Year Released: 2005
Why I Recommend It: Almost every song on this album is insanely addictive. Between the strong guitar hooks, simple lyrics, and contagious melodies, it’s hard not to sing along and then not get the songs stuck in your head. Gotthard does best with uptempo numbers like the we-will-rock-you-esque “Lift U Up,” the playful “Stay for the Night,” and “Anytime Anywhere.” But the band also delivers on midtempo tracks and ballads as well. Steve Lee is a rather unique vocalist, too – a great blend of rasp, personality, and emotion. I can easily imagine him being quite the entertainer onstage.
But No Album Is Perfect: I have few complaints about this album. Only a couple songs (“Everything I Want,” “The Other Side of Me”) don’t hold my interest. All the others are pretty darn good.
Bottom Line: “Lipservice,” and Gotthard’s music in general, is the most fun I’ve had listening to music in a while.
Best Songs: “Lift U Up,” “Anytime Anywhere,” “I Wonder,” “And Then Goodbye”
2. Flowing Tears – “Serpentine”
What Is It?: Lacuna Coil during their “Unleashed Memories” / “Comalies” era, except more sultry and perhaps experimental. This is the last Flowing Tears album to feature original female vocalist Stefanie Duchene.
Year Released: 2002
Why I Recommend It: I have to admit, I’ve always loved the contrast between angst and atmosphere. That’s one of the reasons why I adore “Serpentine.” And while Flowing Tears has described “Thy Kingdom Gone” as their most dynamic work ever, “Serpentine” isn’t too far behind. It’s definitely not as heavy, but there are some great riffs (especially in the uptempo songs) and a wide variety of melodies and sounds from one song to the next. You’ve got the sensual military vibe of “Starfish Ride,” the music-box tinkling of “Merlin,” the rips and shreds of “Serpentine,” the accelerating crescendo in “Breach”… OK, I’ll stop there.
But No Album Is Perfect: Only one song, “The Marching Sane,” is a little boring. Most of the others are fantastic and have been on heavy repeat since I bought this album.
Bottom Line: One of the most concise, emotive, and well crafted gothic albums ever made.
Best Songs: “Starfish Ride (For a Million Dollar Handshake),” “Merlin,” “For Tonight,” “Children of the Sun”… Ah, I hate limiting myself!
And now, my favorite previously released album that I bought in 2009 (OK, I actually bought this album on New Years Eve 2008, but that’s too late in the year to count for ’08!) is…
1. Flowing Tears – “Thy Kingdom Gone”
What Is It?: “Serpentine” and “Razorbliss” + heavier guitars, more pervading atmospheres, some male and female grunts, and some progressive elements = Wow!
Year Released: 2008
Why I Recommend It: “Thy Kingdom Gone” is 54 minutes of heady, driving gothic metal led by Helen Vogt’s deep, husky voice. The band has described this disc as their “darkest and most intense [album],” and “very homogenous” but with plenty of variety – and that description couldn’t be more accurate. The music is heavier than on previous Flowing Tears albums, and while no two songs sound alike the chemistry of the instruments is tight and palpable. The new material has also channeled Helen’s best studio vocals since joining the band. One element from the older FT material that’s still there is atmosphere – from keyboards and guitars, to programming and other little sound effects.
But No Album Is Perfect…?: Well, this album is pretty darn close to perfect. The only song I don’t care for is the waltzing “Miss Fortune.” Otherwise, if I had a third thumb, I’d give it three thumbs up.
Bottom Line: “Thy Kingdom Gone” is Flowing Tears’ most exciting and impassioned album, and one of the best female-fronted releases in recent years. I could say more, but then I’d be here all night.
Best Songs: “Pain Has Taken Over,” “The War We Left Behind,” “Grey,” “Rain of a Thousand Years”… Ack! Didn’t I just say that I don’t like limits?!
Stay tuned – before New Years Eve, I’m planning to post my Top 10 for 2009! 😉