Monday, January 2, 2017

My Top Twenty Albums Of All Time: 20-11

Every music fan has faced the question at some point; what are your favorite albums ever? In some respects, it's an unbelieveably easy question to answer. We surely know what albums have meant the most to us, and we've most enjoyed, during the course of our time as fans. On the other hand, it's also a wrenchingly difficult question to wrap our heads around. To boil down a lifetime of listening to a few albums, and to then go further and rank them in order, pits the various reasons we listen against each other, and complicated math is necessary to sort through the results.

I have done this before, but the results were only shared with friends. Now, for the first time, I will put this compilation of my favorite albums on the record, for you to argue with and snicker at. To arrive at these findings, I considered the relative greatness of the records, how much of an impact they have had on me as a music fan, and perhaps most importantly how often I listen to them and how much enjoyment I still get out of them.

That last point made an impact on the list. This is the third time that I have ranked my favorites, and because of how infrequently I reach for it these days, there is one album that has dropped from number four to completely out of the top twenty. Others have risen steadily. Here, now, are what stand today as my twenty favorite albums of all time.

20. Trouble - Trouble (Previous Rank: 16)

If you're a guitar player, you need to know about Trouble. They have the single greatest guitar tandem that no one ever talks about, and they have never been better than on their 1990 self-titled album. Their tone is crushing, the riffs have Tony Iommi's knack for being memorable by themselves, and Eric Wagner has one of the most unique voices you'll ever hear. That makes the band an acquired taste, but it works for me. Rick Rubin cut the fat out of their songwriting, and these songs are focused metallic assaults that hit hard, and linger long after.

19. Edguy - Tinnitus Sanctus (Previous Rank: 18)
Edguy is the band that got me into metal, but it is not any of the albums that did so that make my list. Instead, I pick the black sheep of their career, the album even their fans love to hate. Why? "Tinnitus Sanctus" has Edguy's usual humor and abundance of catchy melodies, but twists it with a darker and heavier guitar sound. The balance of heaviness and cheesy melody combines two of my musical loves, and makes for an album I can grab at any time and enjoy. I love Edguy, but this is likely half of my listening to them.

18. Edward O'Connell - Vanishing Act (Previous Rank: 30)
A slot on this list had always been filled by Elvis Costello's "Armed Forces", which I consider as good a pop record ever made by a rock artist. That was until I realized I like "Vanishing Act" even more. It sounds like a vintage Costello record in all the best ways, with vocals and sweet, sticky melodies that bring to mind the master songwriter. These songs have sly humor, and put the power back into power-pop. It's hard to find a better collection of slick, hooky songs.

17. Dan Swano - Moontower (Previous Rank: 19)
The greatest death metal album ever made, bar none. This album that has been described as "if Rush played death metal" is a one-of-a-kind record that rightfully should have defined a genre. Instead, this melodic, classic rock meets death metal album languishes as an underappreciated gem. The vintage synths give the music a classic prog feel, the riffing is clean and dirty at the same time, and Dan Swano delivers the single greatest harsh vocal performance ever. He's clear, brutal, and able to growl true melodies. An incredible feat.

16. Elton John - The Captain & The Kid (Previous Rank: 20)
Often, Elton's persona overwhemls the music he has made. That's what makes an album like this so special. Everything about it is stripped back to the basics, as he and Bernie Taupin tell their own story through these songs. Elton is a masterful songwriter, and that's what shines through on this record. It's not as lively or flamboyant as Elton's hits from the 70s, but it's honest and authentic, which are more important factors. Song after song, he hits on great melodies that make you wonder how he was still firing on all cylinders thirty albums into his career.

15. Transatlantic - Kaleidoscope (Previous Rank: 14)
Over the last few years, one of my big developments as a music fan is the growing esteem I have for the works of Neal Morse. While plenty of his albums are fantastic, it was with this one that I was most amazed. Progressive rock can be indulgent, pretentious, and difficult to embrace. Transatlantic is the first two, to be sure. With two half-hour suites sandwiching three more digestible tracks, this is an album that demands patience. But no matter the length, the band delivers intricate musical moments that combine with fantastic melodies to make for a musical epiphany. It's a journey well worth taking.

14. Graveyard - Lights out (Previous Rank: 33)
When I first heard this album, I described it as 'the closest thing we have to a time machine, to go back and experience what it was like when rock ruled the world'. I didn't know at the time those words would not be hyperbole. Graveyard, before they sadly disbanded, established themselves as the greatest band of recent years. All four of their albums are great, but it's "Lights Out" that stands above the rest. This was the perfect balance between their ragged rock and their wrenching ballads, between their energy and their emotion. In a little over half an hour, Graveyard runs the gamut of what classic rock was and could again be, and they made a record that may not be a time machine, but it will be a time capsule to prove great rock records are still being made. I expect this to continue climbing my list in the coming years.

13. Bob Catley - Immortal (Previous Rank: 23)
Bob Catley has one of those magical voices that I can't help but love listening to, though his career is largely filled with albums that aren't as interesting as he himself is. The biggest exception is "Immortal", a solo album that gave him the best material of his career. For an hour, Catley is able to deliver his dramatic vocals on songs that are melodic metal perfection. The man knows how to sell a song, and he delivers a fantastic performance on an album that would be great no matter who was singing it. But it's Catley, and he makes it even better. It's hard to find, but well worth the search. This style doesn't get any better.

12. Bloodbound - Tabula Rasa (Previous Rank: 13)
The evolution of metal in the 21st century has been interesting, if for no other reason than seeing it all go wrong. "Tabula Rasa" was an album that blew me away when I first heard it, and one that remains a mystery as to why it didn't completely redefine what metal was about to be. The band takes the chainsaw rhythmic attack of melodic death metal, and adds Urban Breed's phenomenal vocal power and melodies to make something that was truly unique at the time. Even now, it sounds completely ahead of its time, and every time I listen to the record, I feel like I'm hearing the next evolution of metal, even though I know it is mostly a fossilized branch of the evolutionary tree that bore no fruit.

11. Jimmy Eat World - Futures (Previous Rank: 17)
"Futures" was Jimmy Eat World's version of "Pinkerton". After they achieved massive success with shiny pop/rock hits, they turned around and made a record that was dark and depressive, which no one wanted to hear. These many years later, it stands out as the best thign they've ever done. Their heavy guitar rock rages harder for the anger behind the songs, and the ballads are infused with a darkness that makes the melodies even more longing. It's an atmospheric record, in a sense, that requires a certain mood to get the most impact from it. But when that mood hits, there's nothing quite like the feeling "Futures" is able to showcase.

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