Yeah, yeah, I know it’s halfway through June- almost halfway through the year, & here I am JUST NOW getting around to writing my annual best albums post for the previous year. But hey, that’s life with a very spirited, challenging 3 year old. (Then again what 3 year old isn’t spirited & demanding?)
Anyway, aside from my # 1 choice, these are really in no particular order.
P.S. It should probably go without saying but many of these albums are not for delicate ears/sensibilities. Many come with an explicit label- or would if they were actually sold in mainstream stores like Wal-Mart. Listen at your own discretion.
- Disguise by Motionless in White: I loved MIW’s third album Reincarnate so much that I honestly thought there was no way they’d ever top that one, for me anyway. But then came Disguise. Woah, just woah! Both lyrically & musically MIW really blew it out of the water on this one, but especially lyrically. Lead vocalist & principle songwriter Chris Motionless has stated that he really focused more on the lyrics on this album & it absolutely shows. It’s very hard for me to choose a favorite on this one but if I had to choose one, it would be Another Life. The words are hauntingly beautiful while the melody is truly infectious, making the perfect combination for a song that is sure to be stuck in your head for a long time. Other highlights include the title track, hard-hitting Thoughts & Prayers, & Undead Ahead 2 which is based off of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & is also a follow up to a song on their debut album. Also don’t miss the sarcastic & witty Brand New Numb. But truly there isn’t a bad song on this album, not a single song that isn’t well written in every aspect. And that is why it’s my choice for #1 album of the year.
- Untitled by Rammstein: Confession: this is actually my first Rammstein album. I knew a handful of their songs before this album but never liked any of them enough to actually buy a full album. But then I heard Deutschland on satellite radio & instantly I was blown away by just how raw & powerful it was. The music video, as usual, was controversial but in my opinion is a fantastic portrayal of Germany’s history. The piano part that ends the video (not the actual song on the album) is also hauntingly beautiful & I believe it actually comes from one of their earlier albums. Then there is the almost dance-like Radio which is infectiously catchy & will most definitely get stuck in your head. Other stand-out tracks include Auslander & the surprising ballad Diamant. I understand no more than maybe five words of German but this album is proof that music is universal. You don’t have to understand the lyrics to feel the power of the music & the emotions behind it.
- Gereg by The Hu: While we’re on the subject of international music in languages other than English, let’s discuss the break-out debut album from this Mongolian band. When it comes to most unique sound, this album definitely takes the cake. Mongolian throat singing combined with traditional Mongolian instruments & fused with rock & roll- you got it! If you think that sounds bizarre & unlikely to please the ears, you couldn’t be more wrong. Well, maybe it IS bizarre- but that only makes it all the more interesting. I first came across a remix version of Wolf Totem featuring Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach while listening to something else on YouTube while at the gym one day. That lead me to check out the original version & I was immediately in awe- & in love. Also be sure to check out Shoog Shoog & Yuve Yuve Yu.
- What You See Is What You Get by Luke Combs: After the first three you might not have been expecting to see a country album on this list but Luke Combs is way too good not to mention. This album is chock full of great songs- 17 of them to be specific! From start to finish Luke’s second album is full of brutally honest lyrics & story telling that definitely channel the spirit of his idol & fellow North Carolinian Eric Church (who just so happens to be my favorite country singer). In fact there is even a song featuring guest vocals from Church. It’s very hard to pick favorites but be sure to check out the upbeat Beer Never Broke My Heart & Angels Working Overtime as well as the more somber Dear Today. All Over Again is another great one that gets stuck in my head all the time. There is something so truly “every man” about Luke Combs that you just cannot help but like the guy even if country music isn’t your normal taste.
- Who Do You Trust? by Papa Roach: The follow up to 2017’s Crooked Teeth is a real blend of the different variations this band has explored over the past two decades. The best testament to the strength of this album is that I heard three of the songs for the first time live & immediately fell in love with all of them- so much so in fact that I ordered the album from my phone right there during the concert! Those three songs, in case you’re wondering, are still some of my favorites off the album: Feel Like Home, Renegade Music, & Come Around. The title track is also incredibly relevant for our world today, perhaps even more so now than when it was released last year. Though it’s less than 1.5 minutes long, the very punk rock track I Suffer Well is a fun addition to the album, particularly in contrast to the more hip hop influenced songs like Elevate. While this album could perhaps be accused of being a bit disjointed & not “flowing” super well, it’s still a fantastic addition to the Papa Roach catalog. P.S. If you haven’t seen Papa Roach live, as soon as we’re allowed to have concerts again, DO IT. Nevermind that these guys are in their 40s now- they have more energy & intensity than many bands half their age.
- Hotel Diablo by Machine Gun Kelly: Ok, so you probably weren’t expecting a rap album on this list either but here it is. To be honest I wasn’t expecting a rap album to ever make one of my annual best albums lists, but then I discovered this jewel by MGK. Truthfully I’ve forgotten quite how I got into this album but I’m pretty sure it involved going down a YouTube wormhole which probably led me to the last song on the album which is actually not a rap song at all. That song, I Think I’m Okay, is still my favorite from this disc. Other great tracks include Hollywood Whore, El Diablo, & Death in My Pocket. Rap will never be my favorite genre by a long shot but there is a rawness, honesty, & cleverness to MGK’s lyrics that I can’t help but love. It probably helps that he actually plays guitar & clearly has an appreciation for rock. In fact he’s actually just made a pop/rock/punk album entitled Tickets to My Downfall & I for one can’t wait for its release next month.
- 21st Century Liability by Yungblud: I discovered this album as a direct result of the previous one on this list. MGK’s I think I’m Okay features Yunglud & after watching the music video for that song I was immediately intrigued by this obviously unique young man. By the way, it turns out MGK & Yungblud have actually become great friends & are absolutely hilarious together (search YouTube for some great videos of them). If you’re offended by outspoken British dudes in pink socks who occasionally wear dresses, then Yungblud definitely isn’t for you. But it’d be a real shame to miss out on the wit & charm that is Yungblud. Standout tracks on this quirky record include Die For the Hype, Polygraph Eyes, & the title track.
- N.A.T.I.O.N. by Bad Wolves: The second album by Bad Wolves comes across as an even more polished version of this clearly talented group of men. Outspoken lead singer Tommy Vext has quickly become one of my favorite rock stars, largely because he is so impossible to pigeon hole. He is truly a man who thinks for himself & says whatever he wants, regardless of what anyone else may think. But back to the album: there are plenty of great heavier tracks like No Messiah & I’ll Be There but I think my favorite is the deeply personal & more somber track Sober. Vext’s soulful voice really shines on songs like this where the emotions are so strong they’re almost palpable.
- I, The Mask by In Flames: Confession: I knew almost nothing about legendary Swedish metalers In Flames until I started hearing I Am Above on Octane & Liquid Metal last year. After that I was instantly hooked, bought the album, & even saw them live when they came to Raleigh. There isn’t a bad song on this album but some of my other favorites include the slow burning Stay With Me which starts off soft & gentle but builds into a real powerhouse by the end & Follow Me which follows a similar pattern. Call My Name is also excellent.
- Southern Hostility by Upon a Burning Body: UABB will always be among my top choices for underrated bands. These Texans deserve so much more attention than they get. This entire album makes for a great work-out soundtrack. I for one can’t wait to get back to jamming to this at the gym someday . . . Anyway, vocalist Danny Leal’s screams are in top form on this album. Be sure to check out Reinventing Hatred, King of Diamonds, & From Darkness.
- Earth & Sky by Of Mice & Men
- Walk the Sky by Alter Bridge
- The Ghost of Ohio by Andy Black
- Shades of Blue by Danny Worsnop
- High Crimes by The Damned Things