It’s time for my annual album hall of fame post! This year I’m hopeful I’ll get this published much earlier in the year. Last year it was JUNE before I finally got my 2019 post done. Oops! While all three of my highly anticipated concerts for 2020 got corona-canned, the upside is there were still some really amazing albums released last year. These are in no particular order, other than the first two which I consider to be my favorites for the year.
Please keep in my mind that I am in no way a professional music reviewer. I’m just a 30 something mom, wife, & nurse who happens to really enjoy music- & writing about it & sharing it with others. But I in no way have access to hear all the new music that was released last year, even within my favorite genres. This is not meant to be an all encompassing list by any means- it’s really just my personal favorites for the year.
- F8 by Five Finger Death Punch: Is the title “F 8” because this is FFDP’s eighth album, or is it just an abbreviation for the word fate? Or both? Anyway, this is the first FFDP album written with vocalist Ivan Moody completely sober, & it is every bit as amazing as you’d expect. Per the usual, lyrically there are some very dark themes here but they are addressed in a way that is much less angry than one usually sees from Ivan- at least some of them are. And yet the band has definitely not gone soft! I’m not sure I could pick a favorite track on this monumental album but one of my favorites is definitely Living the Dream (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOkkWIOkWl8)- & yes, I loved it even more after the band released such an epic music video to go with it. Musically the most surprising song on the album is probably A Little Bit Off (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ve3fcInpKj0) which incidentally also has a neat music video- filmed at the height of quarantine in a ghost town Las Vegas. In case this song has you worried that the band has indeed gone soft, the last line of the song followed by the next song, the hard-hitting Bottom of the Top (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q9aRCQvplE), proves they most definitely have not. However, two of the most touching songs on the album are the hauntingly beautiful rock ballads Brighter Side of Grey (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JLv8FTO_R8) & Darkness Settles In (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pglKybM4yl0). I for one cannot wait to see what the futures holds for this band now that Ivan has truly addressed his inner demons & achieved sobriety, something that, to be honest, I never thought would actually happen. I am so glad he proved me wrong! Anyway, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Full Circle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xm_T_4Bp_aM), another favorite of mine. By the way, if you’re thinking this album was inspired by Covid & the associated lockdowns, it wasn’t. It was actually released before all that even happened, but it’s amazing how relevant some of the lyrics are to the worldwide situation that unfolded so shortly after its release.
- Tickets to My Downfall by Machine Gun Kelly: A lot of people were surprised to hear MGK go pop-punk but if you listened to his last album, especially the final track with Yunglud, you probably sensed that this was coming. And what a glorious thing it is! MGK had an excellent response to those who accused him of switching genres. As he told Howard Stern: “I make a pop-rock record…. and everyone’s like, ‘you switched genres!’ To me, I just added on to the multiple things I’ve already done anyway, but sure, what a narrow-minded way to look at things.” (see https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/9454468/machine-gun-kelly-interview-howard-stern-eminem). Everything about this album is very intentional & well designed, including the insightful title which was inspired by the way Hollywood, the media, & celebrity culture in general build people up when they are rising stars but are just as swift to throw them away & celebrate their downfall, often only a short time later. The first song, cheekily entitled Title Track, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUBQ0_0Q7j0) is all about that concept. Now I could easily write about every song on this album but I’ll try to condense this to my favorites. Check out Bloody Valentine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSdT-SArM2Q) & the accompanying music video which features his real life girlfriend Megan Fox- although they were not yet officially dating at the time, it is pretty obvious they had a real connection beyond just the theatrics of the video. Another fun song with another fun video, both of which feature Halsey, is Forget Me Too (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tn6nWYNK3Q). One of the most poignant songs on the album is Lonely (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AJ6EI3uda4) which includes a recording of MGK’s dad talking about his son near the end of his life. (Background: MGK’s mom left him & his dad when MGK was just a child & thus he has no relationship with her at all. His relationship with his dad was fractured for many years but was restored somewhat before his father died last year.) On a more upbeat note, Concert for Aliens is a very catchy song that is very reminiscent of 2000s punk that also comes with another fun video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dANJlolAYyA). The album ends with the heartfelt tearjerker Play This When I’m Gone (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kQJOSVwqwc). I could write so much more about this album but let me just sum it up by saying that I sincerely hope MGK & Travis Barker will continue working together because together they are magic.
- The Bastards by Palaye Royale: It’s just in the past few weeks, maybe the past month, that I’ve fallen in love with Palaye Royale. And swiftly bought two of their three albums! With their unique blend of blues, rock, & fashion, these three Canadian brothers are definitely onto something- something good. It was the song Black Sheep (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhSg8Qj0hYM) from this album that I came across on YouTube that initially sparked my interest in the band. I heard it once & I was instantly hooked. And I still am; it is definitely my favorite off of this album. Other great songs include the bluesy Lonely (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5Nc4kiBaIs) & Massacre the New American Dream (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMpUPFARZDg) which was inspired by police brutality (& gun violence in general). Also be sure to check out Anxiety (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCmJSuhRhhw) & F***ing with My Head ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LwpcfuvhlM).
- Weird by Yungblud: If you are offended by bisexual men who have an affinity for pink socks & occasionally wear dresses on stage, then Yunglud isn’t for you, which is a shame because his music is truly wonderful. One thing I love about this album is that, like all of his work, the songs are nearly impossible to categorize. Is Yungblud a pop star or a rock star? Or both? Whatever he is, he’s a brilliant musician. The album starts with the slow-burning Teresa (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5mz9j3Bg3o), a song that I fall more in love with every time I hear it. Other favorites include the heart-wrenching Love Song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzKJ9-3MQBc) in which he croons about having trouble loving others because he wasn’t taught to love himself, & the inspirational God Save Me But Don’t Drown Me Out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSwiHeoYL34) in which he states “I won’t let my insecurities define who I am.” A similar message of reveling in your own weirdness is found in the final track The Freak Show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXaZdp5byE8) which gives me slight Manson vibes & has quickly become a favorite of mine. One of the most powerful songs on the album is the title track (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIWALAgvz2U) which was actually written before quarantine but was such a light for me & so many others during the height of the lockdowns last Spring. It truly is the perfect quarantine song. I also feel compelled to mention that I love the fact that Yungblud’s Yorkshire accent is often audible in his music, whereas so many other British musicians aren’t even noticeably British when they sing.
- Who I Am by Cory Marks: I first came across Cory Marks because he featured Ivan Moody from FFDP on the standout track Outlaws & Outsiders (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsHtLXIAEh0) from this album. The curious mix of country & rock immediately intrigued me, so naturally I dug further. Then I found the gorgeous duet Out in the Rain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awyPddDLzFc) featuring Lzzy Hale, & of course after that I had to have the whole album. Other standout tracks include Another Night in Jail (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ-o_oS3ysg) which was definitely written about a literal night in jail but can also be taken to mean the jail of one’s own mind, which I find very clever, & She’s Hollywood (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gjB_EsU2lg). Take note, this is not your grand-dad’s country! This is country by a Canadian man covered in tattoos who basically looks like a somewhat countrified version of Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. Ladies (or gents), do a quick Google search & you can thank me afterward. The point is, there are a few swear words & a lot more rock & roll sounding guitars than what most folks are used to in country music. But that’s at least part of what makes it so much fun!
- The Human Condition by Black Stone Cherry: A perennial favorite of mine, BSC are the best flagwavers of modern Southern rock, & I will never understand why they don’t receive more attention than they do. Their last album was a bit more blues influenced whereas this album is more of a return to some of their older heavier work. Just listen to Again (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OO4ib5xC7Fk) & you’ll know what I mean. Our world would benefit greatly from listening to the wise words of The Chain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=083JBHnq8XY), plus the song includes a fantastic guitar solo. Other favorites include In Love with the Pain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0x6Cm3Qmu0E), Ringing In My Head (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6J-F2xKVfU), & Push Down & Turn (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N5SHpjHTTM). And if you want a song that will definitely bring a smile to your face & maybe even make you want to do a little redneck dancing, try Don’t Bring Me Down (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO1yFRI–tw).
- CMFT by Corey Taylor: Ah, the long awaited solo album by Corey Taylor of Stone Sour & Slipknot fame! I for one was very disappointed to hear that Stone Sour are now on hiatus, especially since the concert of theirs to which I had tickets a few years ago was canceled due to a hurricane, so I’ve never gotten to see them live. An assuaging factor, however, is that Corey’s solo album is quite similar in style to Stone Sour, so I’m hopeful that when he eventually is able to tour for this album maybe he’ll throw in a few Stone Sour songs too. Anyway, my favorite from this album is the caustic & blistering Culture Head (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5a6NQcDaE8). Other highlights include Everybody Dies on My Birthday (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbIKWawcQ4I), Black Eyes Blue (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=og1RMTP2fYk), & the somewhat country-inspired Highway 666 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btM3xwtF9o8). For a lighthearted turn, check out the ridiculous CMFT Must Be Stopped which features rapper Tech N9ne (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEPI69cx22E).
- We Are Chaos by Marilyn Manson: After the accusations that have come out against Manson the past few days, I suppose it would be the “right” thing to do to delete this album from my list. But good music is good music & I stand by that, even if it was created by a very flawed man. Besides I still believe in innocent until proven guilty, though clearly much of our society does not. Anyway, Manson’s new work with Shooter Jennings is definitely a mature new version of this always talented & ever evolving musician. The title track on this album immediately reeled me in with its gritty darkness that is somehow still uplifting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQJFP1INGxs). Other stand out tracks include Red, White, & Blue (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKn_PxGKq7M), Perfume (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKn_PxGKq7M), & Solve Caligula (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTEW762-Ci0). The last lines of Solve Caligula are “I’m not special, I’m just broken, & I don’t wanna be fixed.” As much as I love Manson’s music I sincerely hope that isn’t a reference to being an abuser… I must say I find it suspicious that he & Johnny Depp are such good friends (they even have matching tattoos) & of course Johnny was recently painted as an abuser by his ex wife only for the truth to come out to be quite the opposite. Obviously I’m biased because I love Manson’s music, but it just makes me wonder. I know society today says always believe the victim & as much as my heart bleeds for abuse victims, I still think evidence is important & everyone should get a chance to tell their side of the story before “canceling” someone. Anyway, no matter what comes out, I still stand by this as an excellent album. After all, society still worships plenty of music by other less than perfect individuals…
- Hunter Gatherer by Avatar: I first discovered Avatar when I saw them open for Trivium a few years ago. It was love at first listen, so naturally I was very excited for this album. While I enjoyed their previous two albums, I was glad to find that this one is a return to a darker, heavier sound, more akin to Hail the Apocalypse. Be sure to check out the creepy but fascinating video for the stellar track Colossus (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLMCsFjawNU). First single Silence in the Age of the Apes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBlb8TTO0c8) is also fantastic, as is God of Sick Dreams (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tHlijWX21s). Lastly, don’t miss A Secret Door (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKqVB_e8u5w) which features an interesting cameo from the aforementioned Corey Taylor- trust me, it’s not what you’d expect. This is yet another album that was written prior to Covid & yet is so fitting for the current state of the world.
- Post Human: Survivor Horror by Bring Me the Horizon: After BMTH’s previous album was much softer I was very excited to hear how much heavier this album is. My favorite track is the politically charged Obey (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AolstL1_MhE) which actually features Yungblud. (How appropriate since BMTH & Yungblud are both from Yorkshire!) Other highlights include Teardrops (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5uV3gmOH9g) & Kingslayer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKyXvNkGQKc), the latter of which features Baby Metal. The album closer featuring Amy Lee is gorgeous & also should not be missed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jjl2aomHrLQ).
I’ll end this post as I often do by including my picks for my most anticipated albums of 2021:
- Death By Rock & Roll by the Pretty Reckless (out 2/12)
- The Phantom Tomorrow by Black Veil Brides
- Heart & Soul by Eric Church (April)
- TBA by Beartooth
- TBA by Halestorm
- TBA by Machine Gun Kelly (Yes, he is awfully prolific!)
- TBA by Nothing More