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Thursday Discussion: It's All About Tone A few months back I was jotting down some thoughts on how my musical taste has grown the past couple of years, and especially the last decade. While I could sit here all day and tell you how I've delved into this genre from that genre and so on, one thing hit me: I care more about how something sounds than I did when I was younger. It's less about the lyrical mood my choice in music makes and more about the audible wrecking ball on every new record I come across these days. To me, that's what is important. Whether it's as simple as a bright pop-punk song or as devastating as the drop out in a post-rock song, it's all about a feeling created through caring about not only how well a song can be played, but how it sounds out of the amp as well.
While I was jotting down some of those aforementioned thoughts, it hit me that I finally had a reason to dislike the general metalcore scene of the past six or seven years - there's no feeling coming out of their amps. There's so much structure built up around how a song or album will be executed, that it's as hollow and shabby as a Bluth property. So here are ten albums that deserve recognition for their intense auras, timbre and overall tone. I hope you find something in this that makes your skin crawl or shoots an audible confidence over you as you're listening.
Beyond these ten, what other albums do you listen to that just wash over as an it progresses forward track-by-track? What artists right now do you think are making the best out of their overall sound, not just their performance? Hit the replies and let's redefine the word "epic' or the phrase "I can't even..." with this week's discussion.
1. Harkonen's Shake Harder BoyI feel like this is the band that everyone should try to set their amps to emulate. The band's only full-length just sounds perfect. The guitar's highs sound as sharp as piano wire cutting across the heavier than thou low ends. I'd imagine if a steam engine had a soundtrack, it would be Harkonen's discog.
Essential Track: "Bargains Only"
2. Unwound's New Plastic IdeasSome may have been a bit pissed when Unwound ditched the craziness of their debut, but New Plastic Ideas picks up where In Utero left off. It's confident and nasty all together. There are parts on Ideas that sound like it was a full on experiment of creating a sort of clean noise or harmonic chaos. The impact Unwound has on today's nu-grunge sound goes unnoticed by a bit of the younger generation. So here's your homework for the day.
Essential Track: "Entirely Different Matters"
3. Cloud Mouth's Keep WellI discovered this record about six months after the disbanding of the band. Their final four songs, the album boasts some of the most pristine dirt and rough edges I've heard today. A lot of great albums are coming out of the underground recently focusing on a "grit and snarl" means of execution. Five to ten years from now, the best bands will be quoting Keep Well as the "obscurer" album that should have been bigger.
Essential Track: "Walker"
4. O'Brother's Garden WindowI'm seeing these guys for like the fourth of fifth time in September when they come through on Circa Survive's Fall tour. Every time I see O'Brother live, it just blows me away. This is a band that has balled up all the feelings felt through their lyrics and fed them back through their amps tenfold. It's exorcising and crushing all at once. I don't think Garden Window got the real respect it deserved last year for being one of the best sounding records I can recall in the last five or so years.
Essential Track: "Lay Down"
5. Indian Handcrafts' Indian HandcraftsPeople want to bitch about the death of The White Stripes? Last Melvins' record was just "okay" to you? Were you peppered sprayed in the Death From Above 1979 SXSW riot? Okay, well, here is that band to ease all the pain. I'm patiently waiting to get a listen to their forthcoming album, because every tone and riff on their debut is more infectious than West Nile in the swamps. Think of No Age but way more confident and actually striking its mark with every musical phrase.
Essential Track: "Starcraft"
6. Former Thieves' The Language That We SpeakI'm sure I can't say anymore about this band that hasn't already been said. These guys are building their own pedals as I type this. It seems like they're too smart for some, and simply "meh" for the elitist hardcore kids out there. If you talk to some of the more popular hardcore acts right now, this is the band's band. I'm excited to see where they go next, just don't be sitting around bitching about how Former Thieves won't do a reunion 10 years from now because you missed the boat the first time.
Essential Track: "The Language That We Speak"
7. Pedro the Lion's ControlThis record has probably stuck with me the most this past year. I'm not cheating on my wife who will eventually kill me or anything…but the tone and craftsmanship of each note and the aura of every track is different, yet flows through one depressive, cherished dark cloud. There some heavy guitar-laden parts that cut like a buzz saw and keys of floating dark spacious timbre. It's one thing to set a certain mood with lyrics - it's another to construct your music as a perfect counterpoint to them as well.
Essential Track: "Rehearsal"
8. Liars' Drum's Not DeadSo I know most of this list are "heavier" bands, so here's one that isn't. A friend of mine recently went on a big Liars kick over the last few months, and that led me to discover Drum's Not Dead. The back story of the recording of this record is quite insane. Remember when Spinal Tap recorded in a pool? Think stranger than that. Drum's Not Dead isn't some hipster bullshit record you want your "cool" friends to shut up about. It's not just saying, "What if we try this?" It's trying something til it's damn near perfect. This is a record that would drive '70s Brian Wilson even crazier.
Essential Track: "Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack"
9. Young Widows' Old WoundsIt's interesting to see Young Widows change from a band like Breather Resist into their most recent record last year. Between that lies Old Wounds. Heavy, surreal and an album that defines "drive" throughout. The record is one that simplifies an emotion and hones in on its bare structure. Why layer tones when you can have one well executed feeling. It's easy to cover one band member's fault with another's talents. It's another to strip yourself to one captivating bare sound.
Essential Listening: "Lucky And Hardheaded"
10. Engine Down's DemureAgain, mood is everything. Engine Down take you through one hell of a bleak record that deserves all the bands in the Midwest that are influenced by its sleek kill. You can hear all the instruments work together, yet stick out on their own. The timings are sharp and the drumming is simply unreal. There's also a natural feel that you don't hear much these days. There are no nerves to make a better selling record, there are no worries to gain or lose fans, there are no press outlets to impress. Demure is a record that focuses on the tone and quality of a piece of art. That's showing again, but for a while, this seemed like best representation of "Oh shit!" from a lot of different genres.
Essential Track: "Second of February" #thursday discussion
02:23 PM on 08/16/12
Engine Down. That's. Yeah. My heart.
02:27 PM on 08/16/12
easy come and easy go, whatever
02:28 PM on 08/16/12
Social Justice/Wayne State Warrior
4. O'Brother's Garden Window
What I was going to post. My favorite record of this decade so far.
02:29 PM on 08/16/12
It's only one song, but "Stars" by Hum has absolutely unreal tone.
02:39 PM on 08/16/12
Canadian Mall Marriage 6000
I love hum! Agreed, the tone on it is absolutely fantastic. "Apollo" will always been my favourite song by them though
02:43 PM on 08/16/12
Social Justice/Wayne State Warrior
03:08 PM on 08/16/12
edit: young widows used to be breather resist??? I loved charmer - I gotta check young widows out now
and adam, you are my new favorite staffer for making this post. I could talk about guitar tone for days on end.
03:39 PM on 08/16/12
haha the arrested development reference...
and very much so agree with pedro the lion.
04:10 PM on 08/16/12
And in similar 90's alt rock fashion, the tone on Siamese Dream just slays.
Really enjoyed seeing O'Brother and Former Thieves on here. As far as other current bands go, I've raved about the guitar tones on Transit's Listen and Forgive, Tides of Man's Empire Theory, and August Burns Red's Constellations.
04:58 PM on 08/16/12
Pushin' th' little daisies
Definitely. I read somewhere that you can "hear the room" it was recorded in and I think that's accurate. The sonics of that album set it apart in his discog.
05:39 PM on 08/16/12
Social Justice/Wayne State Warrior
06:11 PM on 08/16/12
Just drive me into you and wreck me
Third Eye Blind's self-titled. Always haved loved TEB's guitar tones for some reason. Also, as far as single songs go, Acceptance - Ad Astra Per Espera is an amazing instrumental as far as sound.
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