2010: The Year That Was - Close Calls

Even though there were a lot of can’t miss records that called 2010 home, there are those good enough to warrant year end consideration, though not quite Top Ten material, thus the need for this list, “2010: The Year That Was - Close Calls.” These records are good, obviously, or else they wouldn’t get their own list. Even though they’re on this list labeled as close calls, they’re far from it really. It’s not like there are a bunch of throwaway records on this list, one full of ten records that will want to surely spend some time with.

So, here is my list of the Top Ten Close Calls of 2010, again, in no particular order.

File Under: Modern Hard Rock
Hail the Villain – Population: Declining (Roadrunner): This is one of the better all-around rock records of the year, one that requires further investigation beyond a few tracks impacting at radio (‘Take Back the Fear,’ ‘Runaway’). It’s a great debut for the Canada-bred rock outfit, one that hopefully will provide the boys with some staying power in this fickle scene of ours. Bryan Crouch delivers a powerful vocal performance, evidenced by vehicles such as ‘Swan Dive Suicide,’ a track that registers as just one of the many possible singles Population: Declining has the potential to produce.
Grade: A
Listen to: ‘Runaway’

File Under: Semi-Mainstream Hard Rock
12 Stones – the Only Easy Day Was Yesterday (Wind Up): As a band consistently standing at the edge, on the cusp of breaking through (save for vocalist Paul McCoy appearing with Evanescence on ‘Bring Me Back to Life’), but finally, after a few good, but not great, releases, the band’s latest EP, the Only Easy Day Was Yesterday is a record that could get them to that next level. All five tracks on this EP are ultimately noteworthy, though ‘We Are One’ and ‘Enemy’ come across as two of the album’s highlights. The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday is a record racked with tremendous songwriting, remarkable song structures and commanding vocals, all characteristics that when combined showcase the fact that 12 Stones are ready to ascend to the next plateau, maturing every step of the way.
Grade: A
Listen to: ‘We Are One’

File Under: Goth-Metal
The Birthday Massacre - Pins and Needles (Metropolis): Even though the apparent comparisons are there (see Lacuna Coil, We Are the Fallen), the Birthday Massacre truly stand in their own light, in a class all their own. Their grasp of the entire ethereal, synth laden goth rock is eerie, and mostly unparalleled, and their latest, Pins and Needles is no better evidence of such. It takes but one track off the record, opening salvo ‘In the Dark,’ to showcase the bands supreme comprehension of all things airy gothic rock, yet at the same time this cut is a beautiful harbinger of things of come on the rest of the effort. The album continues a deep and dark decent into all things new wave, firing off one bombastic offering after another, helmed admirably by frontwoman Chibi, whose presence more than likely cannot be duplicated. This is a record that demands a start to finish listen (no skipping necessary), though there are more than enough beautiful stops along the way (‘Pale,’ ‘Control,’ ‘Sideways’) to make the journey fulfilling and ultimately gratifying. The Birthday Massacre add a touch of heavy to Pins and Needles now and again, an element that perhaps gets overlooked in the grand scheme of how the band is perceived. Suffice to say, during those instances, it’s pretty evident the band know what they’re doing when it comes to down-tuned guitars and the like. If you have yet to embrace the Birthday Massacre, Pins and Needles is the best diving board you’ll have to do so.
Grade: A
Listen to: ‘Always’

File Under: Midwestern Indie Rock
The Forecast – the Forecast (Eyeball Records): The Forecast may just be the Forecast’s best record to date and more than likely is the record that their former home, Victory Records, always wanted them to release. Well, it didn’t work out that way, since the bands self-titled opus was released on Eyeball Records. The record is the Forecast at their most raw, true Midwestern indie rock performed at its absolutely best. The bands vocal aesthetic is among the best around, as the triple tag-team of Dustin Addis, Shannon Burns and Matt Webb, is as good as it has ever been in years and albums past, and for those that may have left this band in the dust after 2005’s Late Night Conversations and 2006’s In the Shadow of Two Gunman, should pick up a copy of the Forecast and be prepared to welcome this band back into the fold.
Grade: A
Listen to: ‘So Wrong’

File Under: Perfectly Executed Pop Punk
Four Year Strong – Enemy of the World (Decaydance): Enemy of the World is unrelenting, a sonic wave that continuously crashes over the listener, one that is unwavering in nature and rife with overwhelming passion. This disc offers plenty of opportunities for audience participation, moments perfect for feverous hand-clapping and multiple sing-a-longs, but honestly, could it really be a proper Four Year Strong release if you couldn’t get in on the action? The boys play up their happy hardcore billing very well this time around, through a well-timed duel vocal blitz, churning guitars that don’t seem to have an off switch and drums that are not afraid to drop the bottom out, leading to powerful breakdowns and one dazzling anthemic overture after another. Enemy of the World is very easily the bands strongest record to date and that is really saying something seeing as how they recently streeted a 90’s covers disc. Hey Scott Heisel, does it still suck to be Four Year Strong right now? In short: It must really suck to be Set Your Goals right now.
Grade: A
Listen to: ‘Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride’

File Under: Synth Filled Dark Wave
Veil Veil Vanish – Change in the Neon Light (Metropolis): Veil Veil Vanish’s Change in the Neon Light evokes a sound similar to that of the Cure circa early 1980’s, somewhere between the brilliant and brooding, funeral ready sullenness of 1981’s Faith and the alone in the dark stillness of 1982’s Pornography, though Veil Veil Vanish’s output is far less suicidal in nature; but you get the point. The record is often an immersive affair, mostly not allowing the listener to escape its synth-filled dark wave, San Francisco-by-way-of-Sussex Britpop sound, one that both captivates and crashes as a full bodied flourish of sound. Frontman Keven Tecon has chops and a presence comparable to that of the afore mentioned Cure’s vocal genius Robert Smith, and he doesn’t need much time here to prove he can indeed conjure up those types of comparisons (‘Secondhand Daylight,’ ‘This is Violet’), though the layered guitar workings of Cameron Ray and the dense, ethereal key-work of Justin Anastasi do their part in creating the albums stunning musical landscape. Change in the Neon Light isn’t overdone or insistent, yet it’s just the right mix of atmospherics and addictiveness to remain gripping from beginning to end. Either VVV is 25 years too late with Change in the Neon Light, or they are at the forefront of a sonic revival.
Grade: A
Listen to: ‘Detachment’

File Under: Metalcore
War of Ages – Eternal (Facedown Records): First, a caveat to this review: no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you fiddle with the dials, you cannot listen to War of Ages Eternal loud enough. Eternal is a force, a sheer slab of textbook melodic metal, a picture of what you’d want your metal band to sound like (well, if you jammed metal of this sort) – stunning riffs, razor-sharp licks and circle pit ready breakdowns lead into immense, immersive hooks that aren’t afraid to soar. The brilliant production work of As I Lay Dying frontman Tim Lambesis can be felt throughout, making the music on Eternal hard to ignore; it engulfs you. It covers all ends of the spectrum, from the angular shredding of ‘Collapse’ and ‘Desire’ (Lambesis guests), to the introspective mood of ‘Instrumental,’ Eternal can ignite a room as well as more than a few lighters. P.O.D.’s Sonny Sandoval lends his vocals to the album’s title track as well. In closing, War of Ages would like to apologize for Eternal to metal bands set to release a new album this year. Those bands really might want to reconsider because there’s a pretty good chance it won’t top this.
Grade: A
Listen to: ‘Desire’

File Under: The Scorpions
The Scorpions – Sting in the Tail (Universal Music): For all hard rock bands from the 1980’s thinking about releasing a new record for a chance at a career revival, pick yourself up a copy of the Scorpions Sting in the Tail, and listen closely. This is how you should go about your business. If the Scorpions had released Sting in the Tail, say, 20 years ago, it would be one of the biggest records around. The Scorpions have been completely shelled by critics in recent years past due to their inclusion of far too many ballads and not enough hard rocking, but Sting in the Tail should be enough to stuff a sock in the mouths of those critics. With songs like ‘Raised on Rock,’ ‘Sting in the Tail’ and ‘Slave Me’ leading the way on Sting in the Tail, the Scorpions are out to prove they still have the chops to hang with the big boys, a truth that doesn’t even need a full song to prove. For those in the market for the Scorps doing what they have done the best for the past 45 years (we know you’re out there) - pen uber-emotional ballads like no other – you won’t be able to pull the lighter from your pocket fast enough when songs like ‘the Good Die Young,’ ‘Sly’ and ‘the Best Is Yet to Come’ hit your speakers. It’s clear that even though they want to call it a day, the Scorps probably have a lot of years left talent-wise, evidenced by Sting in the Tail. With how very good Sting in the Tail is, it might be hard for us all to say goodbye, but as the old saying goes, all good thing must come to an end. Thank you Scorpions for the wild ride these past 4+ decades, good luck, and farewell.
Grade: A
Listen to: ‘Sting in the Tail’

File Under: Pop From North of the Border
Christa Borden – I Rhyme with Orange (David Carver Music): Incredibly honest, resolute and passionate, there’s a good chance you won’t hear many better pop records this year than I Rhyme with Orange. Sure, this release may be way off the grid in terms of you knowing about it, but it is a collection of surefire bright and airy pop gems that are just ripe for the picking. Notice the orange reference there? Yeah, that just happened.
Grade: A
Listen to: ‘Cut Me Loose’

File Under: Rich, Synthy Dance-Pop
You Say Party! We Say Die! – XXXX (Paper Bag): The deep bass lines will draw you into the dense, layered sound that’s as indulgent as they’ve come recently, though overall XXXX is a mature foot forward for You Say Party! We Say Die! Vocalist Becky Ninkovic calls to mind something of an even-keeled blend of Siouxie and the Banshees aloofness and Pat Benetar’s grit, which remains a main focal point of the record, but by no means the only one. The music more than aptly speaks for itself though ten tracks that will have you thinking of a band like the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s due to its piercing guitars and engrossing nature, but that’s not really a bad thing. With this album, YSP! WSD! has grown, even beyond the confines of their early genre classification. Oh, and FYI – XXXX means love for those just joining us.
Grade: B
Listen to: ‘Dark Days’