Best Albums of 2015


I’m starting the year off right . . . with a mild case of pneumonia.  Woohoo!  For someone who’s never smoked & never spent any significant amount of time around people who do, I definitely don’t have the most robust lungs known to man (or woman).  Oh well, at least I have a few days off of work anyway, & it’s an excuse to be lazy & binge watch New Girl on Netflix (season 4 just became available!!) with Chaucer (our corgi) at my side.  AND I can finally get around to writing one of my favorite posts of the year.

That’s right, it’s time to share my picks for the best albums of 2015.  I couldn’t narrow it down to just 10 this year because there were simply too many great new albums from which to choose.  You’ll notice most of them fall under the rock/metal genre, but there are a few country albums in the mix also.

13. Up by Pop Evilup pop evil

I have to admit that initially I wasn’t too impressed with Pop Evil’s latest venture simply because I missed the heaviness of much of their previous album, Onyx.  However, over time I’ve come to appreciate quite a few of the songs.  While I was excited to see them get some mainstream attention with the Dodge commercial that featured the lead single Footsteps, I have to admit that is definitely not my favorite song on the album.  My favorite is actually one of the extra songs on the deluxe version of the album entitled My Confessions.  While I love their heavier pieces, I have to admit that Pop Evil really shines on more ballad-like pieces like this one (as well as Silence & Scars from Onyx & Stepping Stone from their debut album). I’m also a big fan of the current single Ways to Get High for which the band made a really funky psychedelic video that is reminiscent of the 60s-70s (at least in my mind).  Also be sure to check out one of the heaviest tracks on the record Take It All which makes for a great workout song.

12. Got Your Six by Five Finger Death Punchffdp got your six

After an on-stage meltdown in Memphis in May, like many fans I was a bit afraid of what was going to become of the band after such an embarrassing incident.  However, true to form the guys that make up FFDP returned as strong as ever with their sixth album with the military inspired title Got Your Six.  Don’t miss the title track or Jekyll & Hyde with its hilarious video featuring bassist Chris Kael knitting a baby sock, among other bizarre images.  It’s also really fascinating that the verses of the song are largely lifted straight from voicemails that vocalist Ivan Moody left on guitarist Jason Hook’s phone . . . genius!  Some of my other favorites include Wash It All Away (which has a great live performance video), Digging My Own Grave, & I Apologize.

11. Silence in the Snow by TriviumSilence_in_the_SnowTrivium are an insanely talented band based out of Florida who have been going strong since they were literally teenagers.  However, I didn’t really get into their music until Strife from their previous album Vengeance Falls caught my attention.  After that, I was hooked, but there is no doubt in my mind this year’s album, their seventh, is their best work yet.  I for one am in love with Matt Heafy’s more melodic singing which is excellently featured on the title track Silence in the Snow.  Some of my other favorites include The Ghost That’s Haunting YouThe Thing That’s Killing Me, & the empowering Rise Above the Tides.

10. Dark Before Dawn by Breaking Benjamindark before dawn

I actually already wrote an entire post about this album back when it debuted, so I’ll just direct you to that post here.

9. Threat to Survival by ShinedownThreat_To_Survival_by_Shinedown

I’m still very much in love with Shinedown’s previous album Amaryllis, but this year’s record is every bit as good, albeit a bit different.  I think some fans have been disappointed with the “softer” side of Shinedown featured on this album, & while I understand that, I can’t deny that lyrically & musically Threat to Survival is a phenomenal work of art.  The lead single Cut the Cord is definitely the heaviest piece on the album & naturally one of my favorites.  However, I also love two of the more ballad-like songs, Thick as Thieves & Misfits; lyrically they are both very powerful.  For an empowering piece, don’t miss Dangerous.

8. That’s the Spirit by Bring Me the HorizonBMTH_Thats_The_Spirit_featured_

While I’ll be the first to admit that BMTH’s previous album Sempiternal is still my favorite from this British quartet, this year’s album is doubtless a great listen.  Lyrically Oliver Sykes has certainly done some of his best work to date.  My favorite piece on the album is Avalanche which is a fantastic song about mental illness.  As someone who struggles with anxiety, I couldn’t be more grateful for this song.  I’m also a big fan of True Friends & of course Drown, the latter of which is the song that originally made me fan of BMTH.  I don’t see how you could listen to Drown & not be moved.

7. The Pale Emperor by Marilyn Mansonmanson pale emperor

Ah, Marilyn Manson . . . I know some folks think he’s way past his prime, but I for one am not one of those.  I actually prefer the older, more mature version of Manson, although when I say that I’m referring less to the actual music & more to his general personality & antics.  In any case, I first became interested in The Pale Emperor when I read an interview with MM about the album in Alternative Press magazine last January.  When I read the interview, I was so impressed with how clearly intelligent Manson is that I quickly went out & bought the album, & a few months later I read (& thoroughly enjoyed) his autobiography.  Anyway, back to the album . . . The Pale Emperor certainly finds Manson exploring a rather different side of himself with much more bluesy sounds, but it’s still very much dark & true to form.  I think 2003’s The Golden Age of the Grotesque will always be my favorite MM album, but this one is definitely a close second.  MM’s voice is certainly as perfect as ever, & I love that even at 46 (47 as of last week actually) he isn’t afraid to try something new.  Be sure to check out Third Day of a Seven Day Binge with its infectious beat, Killing StrangersBirds of Hell Awaiting with its dark jazzy feel, & Odds of Even which was inspired by the death of Manson’s mother & features a recording of coyotes howling which Manson captured on his phone.

6. Mr. Misunderstood by Eric Churcheric-church-mr-misunderstood1

Eric Church certainly took the world by surprise with this album . . . literally.  There was zero press leading up to the release of this album, but hey, it’s Eric Church; we should know by now he does things his own way, & that’s exactly why we love him so much!  Church has often said he doesn’t write albums quickly, so I was legitimately surprised to find him releasing a new album only about a year and a half after the release of The Outsiders.  This album is certainly a far cry from that one, but that’s just another reason Eric Church is such a genius.  Like any real musician, he’s constantly evolving, & he’s never afraid to step outside the boundaries of the country music genre & try a little rock & roll, a little blues, a little gospel, basically a little whatever the hell he wants!  While The Outsiders explored a more rock & roll sound, Mr. Misunderstood rather feels like Church is bringing back old-fashioned country with touches of gospel & soul.  For his next album, who knows what he’ll explore; whatever it is, it’s sure to be brilliant.  Anyhow, the title track finds Church exploring his journey into music, while Mistress Named Music showcases a more gospel sound.  Don’t miss the story-telling tracks Knives of New Orleans & Chattanooga Lucy, the latter of which also features some delightful gospel/soul elements.  There there’s the lyrically brilliant Kill a Word, not to mention the cleverly crafted Record Year.

5. Immortalized by Disturbedimmortalized

After a 4 year hiatus, like many fans I was hungry for some new Disturbed music, & their latest album did not disappoint in the least.  From the title track to The Vengeful One, there isn’t a bad song on this album.  Be sure not to miss the unexpected cover of Sound of Silence which beautifully features David Draiman’s haunting voice.  Another favorite of mine is Who Taught You How to Hate which contains the incredibly powerful lyrics that inspired this post.

4. Venom by Bullet For My ValentineBFMV_Venom

Though I’ve enjoyed a few of their singles before, particularly Your Betrayal, the song that introduced me to BFMV, this is actually the first full album I’ve ever bought from this Welsh metal band.  And let me tell you, every inch of it is brilliant.  With heavy hitting songs like You Want a Battle (Here’s a War) & No Way OutVenom makes for a fantastic work-out disc.  Don’t miss the fun song about their fans Army of Noise as well as the more melodic title track.

3. Malevolence by New Year’s Daymalevolence

I first heard of New Year’s Day when I discovered the amazing collaboration they did with Chris from Motionless in White in the song Angel Eyes.  However, it wasn’t till a few weeks ago that I started exploring more of NYD’s work, & I’m so glad I did because their third album which debuted in October has quickly become one of my all-time favorite albums.  You will be greatly remiss if you do not check out the powerful title track which perfectly features Ash Costello’s beautiful but fierce voice.  Some of my other favorites include the empowering Anthem of the UnwantedLeft Inside, & Defame Me.  From start to finish, there isn’t a bad song on this album, & I beg you to check it out.

2. Pageant Material by Kacey Musgravespageant materialI’ve often written about Kacey Musgraves on this blog because her lyrics are just so meaningful to me, so it should come as no surprise to see her second album near the top of this list.  My favorite song from the album is easily Somebody to Love with its beautiful & timeless message about the humanity that unites us all.  I wrote a bit about the title track in this post from July.  Other favorites include Die FunBiscuits, & Fine.  As with her debut album, there isn’t a bad song on this disc, & there’s certainly a maturity & sincerity to her lyrics that sets Kacey Musgraves far above most of her contemporaries, many of whom are considerably older & more experienced than her.  Don’t miss this one.

  1. Into the Wild Life by Halestorm
into the wild life

You need this album. You really do.

Considering I’ve often written about Halestorm before, again it should come as no surprise to see their latest album at the top of this list.  To be completely honest, when I first listened to Into the Wild Life I wasn’t sure what to think.  I liked it of course, but it was so raw, so different in certain ways from their previous albums, that I was just a little shaken.  But I couldn’t deny that it was anything short of amazing.  As with most truly great albums, the more I listened, the more I fell in love with the music.  From the infectious anthem of singles like Amen & Apocalyptic to the heavy-hitting Mayhem, there is once again not a single bad song on this record.  Lzzy’s voice is fantastically featured on the powerful ballad Dear Daughter as well as on my personal favorite (though it’s nigh impossible to choose) I Like It Heavy.  Some of my best memories from 2015 are definitely seeing Halestorm in concert twice, first at Carolina Rebellion in May & later on the Jagermeister Tour in September.  I might have initially been a little puzzled by Halestorm’s latest effort, but after a few listens I realized this record only solidifies why they are indeed my all-time favorite band.  Interestingly, this album was produced by Jay Joyce who has coincidentally produced all of Eric Church’s albums, & of course Halestorm toured a bit with Church in 2014 . . . Hmmm . . . Anyway, if you don’t check out any other albums on this list, be sure to make it this one.  You won’t regret it.

That’s it folks.  You have no excuse for not checking out some of these fabulous albums as I’ve so kindly provided links to my favorite songs off of each one. So enjoy them!  Cheers!

3 Reasons I’m Ashamed of My Generation


A couple months ago I wrote a post entitled Six Reasons Why I’m Proud of My Generation (https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/02/02/6-reasons-why-im-proud-of-my-generation).  To my surprise, it’s become one of my most popular posts to date.  And I still mean every single word that I wrote in that post.  However, lately I’ve been unable to ignore some of the things about my generation (basically people between the ages of 15 & 30) of which I am ashamed.  Or perhaps it would be more correct to say things that really frustrate me about my generation.  In any case today I will possibly (ok, probably) sound like a grumpy old lady but I really could not care less.  I’m slowly coming to peace with the fact that I am indeed old at heart & there is nothing much I can (or should) do about it.millennial

These are in no particular order.

  1. MUSIC. First off, I do realize that not all modern music is aimed at my generation, but I think it’s fair to say that most of it is.  However, I don’t know how else to put this other than that turning on the radio nowadays makes my ears bleed.  I literally want to shoot the radio because everything on it sounds so BAD.  Almost every song I hear is inane, stupid, vapid, & redundant.  As in singers quite literally repeat the exact same words or phrases over & over & over.  Not to mention popular music (& even country music) is nothing more than an endless stream of partying/drinking songs.  There is a time & place for such music but it should NOT be the mainstay of our musical diet as it has sadly become.  I’ll be the first to admit that some of these songs are indeed catchy, but I’ll also be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a musical snob (&, no, I’m not sorry for that) in that I believe music should be more than just a catchy tune that makes you feel good for a few minutes.  Perhaps even more revolting is the overuse of auto-tuning & other such musical Photoshop.  Eric Church said it best in his usual slightly crass but undeniably brilliant way: “It’s a little bit shallower than it was a few years ago — it’s ‘Let’s drink, forget our worries, beach, bonfire, lake.’ When something’s working, everybody falls into a pattern. One thing I miss is turning on the radio & just having a song punch me in the gut &, as a songwriter, knock me on my ass. And I think we could use more of that.”  Yes, Mr. Church, we certainly could.  And that’s just one reason I have an entire post on here dedicated to his talent (https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/02/25/why-eric-church-might-be-the-musical-genius-of-the-21st-century/).  eric church outsiders quoteFurthermore, what happened to rock & roll being the anthem of young people?  There are still tons of great rock & metal bands, but many of them are seriously struggling to survive.  Rock radio is basically dead with most rock stations playing either classic rock (90’s & older) or this new-age hipster pop-rock that makes me want to puke (not necessarily because it’s all bad but because it’s replacing the REAL rock & roll that ought to be played on these stations).  At every rock concert I’ve attended I’ve been surprised at how many people are in their late 30’s & older.  While I find it admirable that these folks are still going to rock concerts, I can’t help but wonder where all the young folks are.  Oh wait, that’s right; they’re all listening to Luke Bryan, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, & Pitbull.

 

  1. RELATIONSHIPS. Let me preface this part by saying that there are several things in regard to relationships of which I am actually very proud of my generation.  These include our ability to transcend gender roles & our acceptance of inter-racial or cross-cultural relationships.  I consider these to be huge milestones for our society & I’m proud to be part of a generation that is making these ideals come to life.  However, I am also frustrated at the state of far too many relationships in my generation.  Far too many of us are so afraid of commitment, or so afraid of being “tied down,” that we’re incapable of ever defining our relationships at all.  Then of course there are the inevitable “hook-ups” that everyone agrees always end badly & yet no one wants to be the “prude” who suggests that maybe sleeping with strangers (or near-strangers), particularly while drunk, really IS a bad idea. hook up culture I so often find myself wanting to scream at the masses: “Get yourselves together, people!”  It’s not that I think my generation is any more “slutty” (I hate that word but can’t think of anything better at present) than any other generation.  We probably aren’t.  But we could certainly stand to have a bit more honesty in our relationships.  If we want a casual “friends with benefits” relationship, then we should have the guts to say so.  And if we want a more serious relationship, we should have the guts to say that too.  We should also realize that there is really no such thing as uncomplicated sex.  All sex is complicated.  But probably the least complicated sex is that between two loving adults.  I’m not sure why that’s so hard to understand.  Additionally, both girls & guys of our generation need to have the self-respect to only accept a partner who truly respects us as a friend, a lover, & a human being.  We need to realize that putting up with anything less sends the message that such behavior is ok.  We also need to grow up & realize that real life isn’t a fairy tale & wanting to wake up beside someone is just as important as wanting to go to bed with them.  Basically I’m tired of hearing people complain about the lack of nice guys (& girls) when so much of the time these very same people are never honest about what they actually want out of a relationship & then are surprised when they don’t get it.

fairytale tequila

  1. DRINKING. I grew up in a family & a church who believed that all alcohol is bad all the time.  When I became an adult, I realized I didn’t agree with this view of the world because frankly I find it illogical.  But I also discovered that I really don’t like the feeling of being drunk.  Both physically & mentally, it is just not a pleasant feeling for me.  (A little tipsy is ok, just to be clear, but not actually drunk.)  Despite what the majority of the world experiences, alcohol really doesn’t help me relax.  (Trust me, sometimes I wish it did.)  Not to mention I still can’t understand why anyone would willingly sign up for a hangover.  To me this is just common sense.  party cultureTo be clear, I don’t judge those who truly enjoy getting drunk.  As long as you are responsible about it (don’t drive & have someone to watch over you to make sure you don’t do anything too stupid), I seriously don’t think less of people who enjoy getting a little more than tipsy once in a while.  But it really shouldn’t be the foundation of your lifestyle.  When I meet someone & all they can talk about is how much they can’t wait to get drunk this weekend, or how wasted they were last night, or if every story they tell involves being drunk, I can’t help but want to scream “Don’t you realize there’s more to life than getting wasted?!”  I know I must sound like a judgmental prick right now, but seriously I have to wonder if all of these people really enjoy getting drunk as much as they say they do, or if they just do it because it’s the cool thing to do.  Maybe I am just weird (ok, I am definitely weird), but I really can & often do have a great time with my friends without drinking anything at all or while drinking only in moderation (say one or two drinks).  I also much prefer drinking at home (or at a friend’s house) because it’s just way more comfortable.  If this makes me old & boring, I really don’t care because it also means I have a lot more money in my bank account because I’m not blowing it on overpriced drinks at bars every weekend.  End of story.

Anyone else under 30 understand what I’m saying here?  I know many of my friends do, & I am so incredibly thankful for y’all because you enrich my life in so many ways & remind me that I’m not totally insane.  Like I said earlier, I really hate to sound like an old grump but somebody has to do it, right?

Why Eric Church Might Be the Musical Genius of the 21st Century


If I had to choose one (modern-day) artist whose music never ceases to amaze me, whose talent seems only to grow with each new endeavor, I’d have to choose Eric Church.  Ok, it’s a tie between Eric Church & Corey Taylor, but today I’m going to focus on Church since his recent album The Outsiders is still on frequent replay in my car & on my computer (yes, it is playing as I write this).

eric church the outsiders

As someone who loves both rock & country, Eric Church is for me the perfect combination of these two vastly different genres.  When I had the great pleasure of attending one of his concerts in the fall of 2012 I couldn’t help but feel like I was at a redneck rock concert more than a traditional country concert.  It was nothing short of scintillating.  Church’s music has often been snubbed as “too rock to be country” & “too country to be rock.”  Therefore it’s not surprising that he has made a name for himself less by hit radio singles & more by inspiring live performances in venues from bars & rock clubs to stadiums & arenas.  In an era when few country artists actually write their own music, Church has penned nearly every song he’s ever recorded.  He’s also never rushed his work & when you read/watch his interviews, it’s so apparent that his greatest commitment is always to his MUSIC.  If you need more proof that Church is a horse of a different color so to speak, consider that his albums are produced by Jay Joyce, a man who normally produces rock albums.  Additionally, in an era where most musicians are relying on social media to build their popularity, Church shuns such methods.  He lets the music speak for itself.  This has sometimes gotten him in trouble such as when he got kicked off of a 2006 Rascal Flatts tour for playing too long (he was replaced by none other than Taylor Swift).  Indeed Church has made a name for himself as a bit of an “outlaw,” a country music star who isn’t afraid to sing about smoking weed & teen pregnancy & whose interviews are often studded with curse words not normally spoken by his peers (at least not in public).  Indeed, here’s just a quick sample of some of the words/phrases found on his most recent album that are not normally found on country music albums: cocaine, sex, needle in a vein, bitch, joint, damn rock & roll, tramp, slut, pimp.  Yet it’s well-known that Church tours with his wife & young son so that he doesn’t miss important time with his family.  When speaking of his work, he often uses the term “we” instead of “I.”  It’s obvious he values his band & realizes the success of his music isn’t all about him.  It seems that underneath the tough persona he’s built Church is actually a pretty decent guy.

Above all else, it’s Church’s music that sets him far above his peers.  Today’s popular country music is often more like pop music with a little twang, & the endless “country party” songs are as vapid as any Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears song (consider Luke Bryan’s That’s My Kinda Night or Florida Georgia Line’s Cruise).  Not so with Church.  This is not to say he doesn’t have songs about drinking.  After all his first number-one hit was Drink in My Hand off of his 2011 Grammy-nominated album Chief.  But with Church there is so much more to even his drinking songs.  If a country artist ever knew how to craft clever lyrics with double entendres & unusual rhyme schemes, it’s Church.  (Consider I’m Getting’ Stoned, also off of Chief.)  I’m not trying to trash other country stars.  Indeed I’ve been to Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, & Blake Shelton concerts & enjoyed every minute of them.  But I didn’t go home & buy their albums like I did after Church’s concert . . . There’s just something about his music that is so powerful & that I believe will stand the test of time while many of his contemporaries will fade into oblivion after a few more decades.  Consider some of these gems from his most recent album, The Outsiders, released just a few weeks ago.

eric church

The first song, for which the album was named, starts off on a real rock & roll beat & never gives up.  As Church has explained, this is a song for anyone who’s ever felt left out, like an “outsider.”  The idea isn’t super original but the execution of it sure is.  Wow.

Just when you think Church has morphed into a rock star, he slows it down with the second track, A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young, a song about a man who is amazed that, at 36, he has out-lived Hank (Williams, Sr) & Jesus.  As you listen to the lyrics you can’t help but feel this piece is probably autobiographical for Church (he is 36 after all).  While not my favorite song on the album, it’s certainly a powerful one.

Time to switch gears again.  Next up is Cold One which contains the memorable line “If she had to leave did she have to leave me one beer short of a twelve-pack?”  This one isn’t exactly full of deep philosophy but the MUSIC is superb.  The beat is funky & there’s a very bluesy sound that somehow reminds me of the bayou or some of the really old-school jazz.

The fifth song on the album, Talladega, chronicles a trip to a Nascar race with friends during the summer after high school graduation.  While I have never had any interest in Nascar, that’s beside the point.  The song isn’t so much about racing cars as it is about being young & making memories & how fast life goes by.  The mark of a good song is that listeners can relate to the emotions & ideas conveyed by the song, even if the actual content isn’t 100% relatable.  This is just one example of how Church continually succeeds with this.

I can’t say I ever thought Eric Church would record a sex song, but he did.  Like a Wrecking Ball is another bluesy-sounding song with an organ, of all the damn things, propelling the piece.  And unlike some of the popular country songs that reference one-night stands after nights of drinking too much beer or moonshine (consider this line from Jason Aldean’s My Kinda Party: “Baby if you’re in the mood you can settle for a one night rodeo/You can be my tan-legged Juliet, I’ll be your Redneck Romeo”), this one is full of heart & soul & longing to which anyone who’s ever spent too much time away from their partner can relate.

Next up is what might be my favorite piece on the whole album (though it’s very hard to choose), That’s Damn Rock & Roll.  In this piece Church argues that rock & roll isn’t about the drugs, sex, & partying that so often get so much attention or even about the money to be made from selling records.  Instead he says it’s about the love of music & that rebellious, fighting spirit that never gives up.  Consider the lyrics:

“It ain’t about the money you make, when a record gets sold

It’s about doing it for nothing, ’cause it lives in your soul . . .

It’s doing what you want instead of doing what you’re told.”

The song references the many great musicians who have died at age 27 & how often such incidents are pointed to as reasons why rock & roll is inherently sinful:

“Drowning demons feel no pain

Found Nirvana wasted shame

Gone too soon just like a song

Hendrix, Joplin, what went wrong?

Need some answers, right or wrong

Need something to blame it on

That’s damn rock and roll”

I don’t know about y’all but I can just hear the old-fashioned Southerners saying “That damn rock & roll!”  It’s almost like Church takes the words out of their mouth & uses them to prove his point.  For those of us who know that rock & roll is so much more than “ sex, drugs, & rock & roll”, this is an anthem we’ll be clinging to for a long time.

Next up, Dark Side explores the eternal conflict between good & evil that we all face every day.  It’s not an original theme, but Church explores it with a brutal honesty that is unmatched by his peers.

The tenth song on this album, Devil, Devil, is by far the most bizarre song Church has ever recorded.  At eight minutes in length, the first half of the song is a poem written by Church that criticizes the entire Nashville music industry.  While it will almost certainly never be a hit single, it’s a superbly incisive look at the dark side of the music industry that I’m quite certain no other country artist today would ever tackle.  You’ve got to admire Church’s bravery here.  (If you’re wondering which song contained “bitch, slut, & pimp,” it’s this one, in reference to the music industry.)

The next to last song on the album, Give Me Back My Hometown, is full of nostalgia & longing for a hometown that has been “ruined” by the memories of love-gone-wrong.  While this one is far more radio-friendly than many of the other pieces on this album, it’s no less interesting or full of the genuine, raw emotion for which Church is so famous.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit puzzled as to why Church chose to end the album with the story-telling song The Joint.   While I love this song, I can’t help but feel it’s a little anti-climactic after some of the harder-hitting songs on the album.  But maybe that’s the point.  It fades off into the distance & makes you want to replay the whole album immediately.  In any case, The Joint is actually not about smoking weed even though that’s a valid assumption considering Church has recorded more than one song with obvious references to smoking weed (Smoke a Little Smoke & I’m Getting’ Stoned).  Instead it’s an old-fashioned story-telling song about a woman who burns down the bar her husband frequents a bit too often.  With repeated trombone licks, this one is definitely full of jazzy influences that bring to mind the bayou or some sleazy pool hall deep in the South.  It’s full of understated magnificence & I love it.

I sincerely challenge anyone who’s reading this who doesn’t normally like country music to take a long hard listen to Eric Church.  His music might not be “love at first listen” but I bet it will grow on you until eventually you can’t deny his incredible talent.  I’ll be the first to admit that when I first began hearing his songs on the radio years ago, I thought he was too rough & too naughty & just not my type.  Of course that was also before I really got into rock music.  In any case, my initial disdain slowly melted away as I realized what a fantastic musician Church really is & how his music continually evolves as he refuses to “color in the lines.”  To me the mark of a good musician is often that their work isn’t always super catchy.  Music that has depth & real personality often takes more than one listen to really comprehend.  I’ll end my treatise to Church with an excerpt from a recent article about him which I think sums him up perfectly:

The most rock’n’roll (or rockist) thing about Eric Church may be his devotion to “The Album” as a hallowed, sanctified ideal to which all the other nonsense — certainly press-cycle considerations, but even tours, even said album’s individual songs, even if they’re alleged runaway smashes — must genuflect . . . “I hate the fame part. I hate getting recognized. I hate press. I hate all that stuff that is just so — I want to make music.”

(See http://www.spin.com/featured/eric-church-marks-his-territory-february-cover-story/)

Would that all musicians were so focused on their craft.

The 10 Best Albums of 2013


I realize it’s a little late into 2014 to be writing this, but I didn’t get the idea until mid-way through January & it took me a while to compile this list, so I’m going ahead with it anyway even if the post seems a bit belated.  A few of these albums were actually released in 2012 but didn’t become truly popular until 2013, or at the very least I didn’t discover them until 2013 so I’ve included them anyway.  I’ll be upfront & tell you that 90% of these albums are rock albums, so if you don’t like rock music I guess this post isn’t for you.  But I challenge you to read it anyway because you never know what might trigger your interest.

Aside from #1, these are in no particular order.

I’ve included links to at least one of my favorite songs from each album because I’m awesome like that.  🙂  At the end I’ve also included some of my most anticipated album releases for 2014.

1.       The House of Gold & Bones, Volumes 1 & 2 by Stone Sour

It’s nigh impossible for me to pick a favorite album of all time but if I had to do it, I think this dual-album would be my choice.  There are a lot of reasons I say that, not the least of which is that I find myself subconsciously judging other albums based on this one.  I don’t mean to do that because consciously I realize that a concept album such as this is not THE standard for all albums ever made & yet this one is just so breathtaking that it’s become my point of comparison for just about everything.  I didn’t know a lot of Stone Sour music before this dual-album debuted, but when I started hearing Absolute Zero on the radio I fell in love immediately.  I was at Best Buy purchasing another album one day & just happened to see Volume 1 of The House of Gold & Bones & decided to take a chance on it.  Best decision ever.  Within a few weeks of purchasing Volume 1, I was completely entranced.  Every single song is just so perfect & they all flow together like a rock symphony so that often it is difficult to tell where one song ends & another begins.  Volume 2 is exactly the same way.  Between the two Volume 1 is my favorite but honestly they are both phenomenal.  From ballads to harder songs that are more Slipknot in feel, the vocals, the lyrics, the music itself, everything is in top form.  Just about every emotion human beings can experience is touched on in these songs.  There is so much more I could say about this dual-album but I’ll stop now for fear of boring you.  Just buy the albums.  You won’t regret it.

Volume 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7dHBjXnbtk

Volume 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwkGatmflbw

2.       Same Trailer, Different Park by Kacey Musgraves

May I just say that I am really proud of myself for having this album months before Kacey Musgraves started garnering national attention & winning a very well-deserved Grammy?  I used to be so behind the times when it came to music & popular culture & I still am in a lot of ways, but with music I am often quite ahead of my time nowadays, at least in certain genres.  It’s often been said that Kacey Musgraves sings country music for people who don’t like country music.  I think the reason for that is that Kacey’s lyrics are so profound while also being extremely wittyShe also isn’t afraid to write about the nastier side of small town life.  While most popular country stars are singing about pick-up trucks, fishing, & drinking beer, Kacey is penning such scathing & controversial but inspiring songs as Merry Go Round & Follow Your Arrow.  Every single song on this album is a real winner & it’s rare for me to say that, especially about a country album.  If you don’t want to buy the album or don’t typically like country music, just look her up on YouTube.  You might end up buying the album after hearing some more of her songs, just like I did.  (Also of note, Kacey has written many popular songs sung by other country artists including the recent Miranda Lambert hit Mama’s Broken Heart.  No offense to Miranda, but I like Kacey’s version of it even better.  Again, look it up on YouTube.)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo212zOUKxI

3.       The Wrong Side of Heaven & the Righteous Side of Hell, Volumes 1 & 2 by Five Finger Death Punch

FFDP is one of those rare bands whose songs I almost always fall in love with immediately upon hearing them.  They are just that good.  From ballads to thrashing rock & roll anthems, Ivan Moody’s voice is mesmerizing & the band behind him is top-notch in every way.  When you hear a FFDP song, there’s never any question about whose song it is.  You just know.  Like Stone Sour, FFDP released a dual-album in 2013.  These are not concept albums but they are fantastic nonetheless.  There are plenty of the traditional “angry” songs for which FFDP is famous, but there are also plenty of powerful ballads.  The titular song on the first album is one of my favorites along with Battle Born & Cradle to the Grave on Volume 2.  Volume 1 contains several compilations with other artists including Rob Halford from Judas Priest & Maria Brink from In This Moment.  There is also a remake of the LL Cool J song Mama Said Knock You Out featuring the rapper Tech N9ne.  A hard rock/metal band remaking a rap song?  Yes, that’s right.  And it’s amazing.  There’s a reason FFDP is the number one band I listen to on the way to work: their music is just so energizingIs it ironic that what most people would consider to be “angry” music energizes me to provide compassionate care to sick people?  Maybe, maybe not.  There’s a lot more to this kind of music if you just take the time to listen a little deeper.  Bottom line: whether you are already familiar with FFDP or not, check out these albums today.

Volume 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxVQX95GtgU

Volume 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyA1GL1touw

4.       Amaryllis by Shinedown

This is definitely a 2012 album but I love it so much that I decided to include it anyway.  I know a certain segment of rock/metal fans think Shinedown isn’t “hard-core” enough for their taste, but I’ve always found that to be a rather superficial & undeserving judgment.  Shinedown is one of those rare rock bands who have somehow found that “sweet spot” of writing songs that are “tame” enough to be played on mainstream radio (sometimes even on stations that aren’t pure rock stations) while not becoming a pop band.  I’ve seen Shinedown in concert twice & each time my respect for them has only increased.  Amaryllis is an album that covers a vast amount of subject matter as well as an impressive range of musical styles.  There isn’t even one song on this album that I would give less than 4 stars.  If you don’t usually like rock music, I’d recommend Shinedown as a great place to start.  It’s not necessarily that their music is “softer;” they just seem to have a way of reaching out to people across all genres of music.  Even in their more angry/cynical songs, Shinedown has a way of inspiring hope.  Perhaps that is what makes them so powerful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGhJKiMR4XY

5.       The Strange Case Of… by Halestorm

I had the privilege of seeing Halestorm live in 2013 & the best way to sum up that experience is this: I can’t wait to see them again, preferably on a head-lining tour.  A hard rock band with touches of metal here & there with a seriously bad-ass female lead singer?  I mean, what is not to like here?  The Strange Case Of… is a great follow-up to Halestorm’s first album.  From the fast-paced Grammy award-winning Love Bites to powerful ballads like Break In & Here’s to Us, Halestorm is in top form in every way on this album.  In the traditionally male-dominated world of rock & roll Lzzy Hale makes female rock fans like me feel right at home.  At the same time, her music is far from “feminine” & many of her top fans are actually guys.  And it’s not just because she’s sexy.  She, & her band which includes her brother Arejay on drums, is seriously talented too.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmkHqUwa4zg

6.       Blood by In This Moment

I had never heard of In This Moment until 2013.  As soon as I heard the titular song Blood, I knew I had to have the whole album.  Maria Brink & her band are just that talented.  This isn’t music for the faint of heart; it’s raw & sometimes a little raunchy.  But, wow, it is powerful! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulgE1v1eyRk

7.       Onyx by Pop Evil

I am proud to say I owned all three of Pop Evil’s albums before they became more mainstream this past year with the success of their hit singles Trenches & Deal With the Devil off of their 2013 album Onyx.  I first started listening to Pop Evil after the moderate success of  Monster You Made in 2011.  It was that song that prompted me to buy their first two albums & I was thoroughly impressed with both of them.  Then came Onyx.  Each album Pop Evil has released gets better & better so I can only imagine what their next album will be like.  Pop Evil is definitely on my list of bands that I most want to see live in the next year or two.  (P.S. Ladies, the lead singer Leigh Kakaty is a sight for sore eyes.  Do a quick Google image search & I promise you’ll thank me.)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWdtN7pCZug

8.       Fortress by Alter Bridge

Alter Bridge is one of those American bands who have actually had greater success in Europe than here in their own country.  But I’ve been a fan since high school, thanks originally to my husband.  In any case Fortress has made it on many lists of top albums for 2013 & rightfully so.  This isn’t an album that you’ll fall in love with at first listen.  Or at least you might not.  Alter Bridge isn’t known for writing songs with super catchy tunes; in other words they don’t always get stuck in your head immediately.  But what marks them as a truly great band is that their music gets better & better the more you listen to it.  Their music is like an onion; there are so many layers & each time you listen you hear a little more & a little more.  To me that is the mark of great musicianship & these guys have it.  I think Alter Bridge has always resonated with me because they aren’t a flashy band & their music somehow walks the fine line of facing the harsh darkness of life while always retaining a bit of hope.  To me they are a band that will stand the test of time, & I won’t be surprised if fifty years from now they are more respected & popular than they are now.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M9QxzpTjec

9.       Brave, Bold, & Broken by Mindset Evolution

I first heard ME at Uproar Festival in Raleigh in Sept 2012.  At that point they only had a 5-song “album” out but I bought & loved every song on it.  So when their first full-length album debuted in 2013 I purchased it the very day it came out.  And I’ve been nothing short of pleased.  Why these guys don’t get more radio-play I’ll never understand. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fFHCXscp3k

10.   Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies by Volbeat

Ok, here’s a rock album that evokes the feeling of the American Wild West.  As if that isn’t a great enough feat on its own, consider that Volbeat isn’t even an American rock band.  They are actually a Danish band!  I’m not sure that this album really qualifies as a concept album, but all of the songs are about characters from the Wild West.  Volbeat is another of those bands whom you can never mistake for anyone else, yet somehow they manage to really evoke the sound of the Wild West in these songs while still remaining true to their own unique sound.  It’s seriously impressive stuff.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj1sVQ2qdnI

And lastly, my most anticipated albums of 2014:

The Outsiders by Eric Church (debuting tomorrow, February 11!)  I have a soft spot in my heart for this NC native because he is passionately devoted to his MUSIC above all else.  He comes across as kind of rough around the edges, but in reality he’s a family man who travels with his wife & infant son on his tour bus.  I admire his willingness to speak whatever’s on his mind even when it’s not always popular & his refusal to bend to the whims of popular opinion.  I’m also partial to his music because of its rock & roll feel.  Going to one of his concerts felt like being at a redneck rock concert.  Needless to say, I loved it & would love to see him live again someday.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_P-YNJIdNc

Magic Mountain by Black Stone Cherry (coming May 6)  BSC is a band I discovered in 2013 after seeing a picture of an Alter Bridge member wearing a BSC sweatshirt.  I figured if Alter Bridge liked them, they had to be good.  And they are!  The 2011 album Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea by these small-town Kentucky rockers is fabulous & has me eagerly anticipating their new album this year.  I love the fact that BSC’s music has a very Southern rock feel while still being very hard-core.  I also must point out that the current Florida-Georgia Line hit Stay is actually a BSC song from their 2011 album mentioned above.  It really grinds my gears that BSC isn’t getting credit for that song.  (Sorry FGL fans, but their version sucks anyway.)

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover


Yesterday I renewed my gym membership and in the process of doing so someone said something to me that I hear quite often which got me thinking that this could make for an interesting blog post.  So here goes.

After I paid for my annual membership, I told the gym manager that as a paying customer I thought he should consider changing up the music selection a bit because I’m tired of hearing Britney Spears every time I work out.  The manager asked me what I would prefer & I told him that to be honest a lot of the music I like probably wouldn’t be appropriate for the gym because a lot of people are much more easily offended than I am, but nonetheless a few hard rock songs here & there would be a refreshing change of pace.  The manager, who is a man probably in his mid 30’s, told me what I have heard so many time before.  “You just don’t seem like the kind of girl who would be into rock music.  You’re too nice & soft-spoken.”

[Ok, those of you who really know me should get a good laugh about the soft-spoken part of that comment!]

The real crux of this scenario is that I am often told I seem “too nice” to like rock music.  I just don’t understand where our society gets the idea that a “nice” person can’t like hard rock or heavy metal.  This is 2013 & yet people who like this kind of music are still invariably considered “weird, different, mean, angry,” and a whole lot of other generally negative adjectives.  Now let me give you a little background about how I got into this kind of music before I explain why it’s my favorite genre.

I grew up thinking rock music = devil music.  I had no interest in it & on the rare occasions that I actually heard real rock/metal I hated it.  I honestly couldn’t understand how anyone could like this stuff.  However, as I got into high school I started hearing a few more rock songs here & there, & I gradually, gradually began to realize that there is so much more than initially meets the eye (or should I say the ear?) with this type of music.  Once I got to college & finally had the freedom to listen to whatever kind of music I wanted, I gradually began discovering all kinds of music that I never even knew existed: European symphonic metal bands like Nightwish, American metal bands like Five Finger Death Punch, and so much more.  I soon realized that I loved this music, & I think after a solid six years of listening to rock/metal more than any other genre I am finally figuring out why this music appeals to me so much.

Anyone who has glanced at my iTunes collection knows that I like a little bit of everything.  My music collection spans everything from Alice in Chains to Godsmack to Toby Keith to Eric Church to Flo Rida to Lady Gaga to Beethoven to Mussorgsky.  In short, there really isn’t any genre of music I don’t like.  Some, like rap & bluegrass, aren’t my favorites but there are still certain pieces from those genres that I do really enjoy.  However, I think the reason rock music speaks to me so much is its brutal honesty.

By comparison, rap music so often celebrates an urban, party-it-up or “gangtsa” lifestyle that exists only in manufactured music videos.  Country music too celebrates a lifestyle that doesn’t actually exist in real life.  Trust me, I grew up in small town America & I can tell you from experience that the only country music singers who consistently tell the truth about rural life are Eric Church & Kacey Musgraves, especially the latter.  It ain’t always a pretty picture either.  The vast majority of modern pop music is so superficial & vapid as to hardly be worth mentioning.  (I’ll discuss classical music in another post some day.  As many of you know, I am a total classical music junkie.)

So that brings us back to rock music.  Yes, the stereotype is that rock music celebrates sex, drugs, & devil worship & generally seeks to push the envelope in every possible way.  Sure, there are a few groups whose music focuses largely on those things.  But would you judge all Christians based on Westboro Baptist Church or all Muslims on the 9/11 terrorists?  I certainly hope not.  You cannot make an accurate judgment about any group based on its most extreme members.  That is just unscientific.

People often say that rock music makes people angry or inspires people to commit terrible acts of murder & violence.  I say music is music.  Nothing more, nothing less.  If someone’s mind is so twisted & sick as to commit heinous violent acts, music isn’t to blame.  The person is.  I say music is perhaps the greatest form of therapy known to mankind.  If you listen to enough rock you’ll find that every emotion you’ve ever felt is covered in this music, from love to anger to jealousy to confusion to pain to joy.  It’s all there.  And it’s all expressed in an outlet that cannot possibly harm anyone.  We all get angry sometimes & experience other “negative” emotions.  That is not a sin.  Emotions are what make us human; they are what tells us we are still alive.  It’s what we do with these emotions that can be sinful at times.  (If you want to read more about this fascinating topic, check out Corey Taylor’s book “The Seven Deadly Sins.”  It is without a doubt one of the most intriguing & well-written books I’ve ever read.)  What better way to express your anger or hate than through a song?  It’s much preferable to actually hurting someone or bottling it all up inside so that inevitably you explode.  Besides, what other kind of music pumps you up enough to make you want to finish that grueling workout at the gym or to stay up all night caring for sick people?  On my way to work I invariably pop in a fist-pumping rock album & by the time I get to the hospital I am ready to face whatever comes my way.

So in summary, no, I don’t have tattoos or unorthodox body piercings.  I don’t dress in all black or wear dog collars around my neck.  I don’t give a crap if other people do those things but they just aren’t for me.  I am not an angry person who hates the world.  But I do love rock music.  I am proud to be a headbanger.  And some day I hope that the world will realize that rock stars & their fans are some of the kindest people in the world.  And more importantly I hope our society will learn the greater lesson here: don’t judge a book by its cover because we are all more than meets the eye.

So what do y’all think?  For those of you know me, is it really that surprising that I like this kind of music?  If so, why?  Or better yet, have you experienced anything similar to this where people are surprised to find out you like a certain type of music or whatever?

In the spirit of the post I’m including a link to one of my favorite rock bands, Pop Evil.  I have been following them religiously for a few years & own all three of their albums, so naturally I am very happy to see them finally getting some great radio airtime with their latest hit, “Trenches.”  (Ladies, google Leigh Kakaty & I promise you will thank me.)   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWdtN7pCZug