16. The Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud
The latest entry in Townsend’s ever-expanding discography (and his fifth under the ‘Project’ moniker) took some flak for its familiarity. While these criticisms aren’t baseless, it should also be pointed out that with a back catalogue as diverse as Hevy Devy’s (which has ranged from the crushing metal of his Strapping Young Lad days to the jazz of albums like Ki, with stops at prog, industrial, and even pop-punk along the way), that’s practically bound to happen. What Epicloud does, and quite well, is pare down DTP to some of its leanest straight-forward tracks in years. Even then, the album is bookended by a choir singalong and dabbles in techno (the stellar “Save Our Now”) and power balladry (“Hold On”) right alongside crunchy rockers like “More!”, the deservingly re-recorded “Kingdom,” and fittingly bizarre mission statement “True North.” Epicloud may not be all that loud compared to Townsend’s past work, but even in its relative brevity, it’s certainly epic.
15. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
There’s a reason Converge is widely regarded as the currently-reigning Platonic ideal of hardcore, and their eighth(!) full-length attests to just how far the band is from slowing down. Yes, even with tongue-in-cheek titles like “A Glacial Place,” not to mention the borderline actual singing (egads!) of Jacob Banning and the (comparatively) melodic mood-setting of moments like “Precipice,” Converge is still firmly and furiously within the genre it’s helped keep vital for two decades and counting. Special credit to drummer Ben Koller, whose bludgeoning percussion remains the perfect coup de grace in this unrelenting auditory beatdown. It’s enough to make masochists of us all.
14. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
As touched on back in Summer of 2012, Japandroids isn’t much on challenging conventions. Songs feature choruses consisting predominantly of “whoa-oh”s, the guitar sound is so fuzzy you can practically hear the garage around them, and just about the same template maps out every track. The thing is, Brian King and David Prowse do it all with such fun, energy, and confidence, it seems hard to imagine the chemistry working any other way. When songs rock as hard as “Fire’s Highway,” “Nights of Wine & Roses,” and “Younger Us,” it’s no wonder they’re celebrating.
13. Katatonia – Dead End Kings
One of the many doom metal acts to gradually eschew the lumbering thunder of their roots in favor of newer grounds, Katatonia stands apart in that, in some ways, they’ve actually gotten heavier. Make no mistake, Dead End Kings is still perfectly within the moody melodious vein that’s mapped out most of the band’s past decade, but it also features some blistering guitar work and Meshuggah-esque rhythmic touches that allow it to easily avoid the criticism of a simplistic ‘softening’ of sound. And Katatonia’s knack for atmosphere and texturing has matured right along with the band itself. They may not roar like they used to, but they prove that sometimes subtlety can be just as sinister.
12. Deftones – Koi No Yokan
Speaking of subtlety, nu-metal survivors-turned-alt metal visionaries Deftones continues its streak of excellently layered albums that began with 2000’s White Pony and has scarcely stopped since. “Leathers” is vintage Tones in its blending of shrieking severity and enveloping hooks (a la past standouts “Hexagram” and “Rapture”). And “Tempest” pretty much perfects the epic in miniature project the band has been toying with ever since “Change (In the House of Flies).” Mentioning these throughlines isn’t meant to label Koi No Yokan mere retread. The album picks up some of the tricks and trends of past albums, sure—right down to the way it continues the band’s tendency towards expansion.
11. Beach House – Bloom
A more in-depth unpacking of the Baltimore dream pop duo’s fourth full-length can be found here, but suffice it to say, this album is a grower. Victoria Legrand sounds more assured (and relaxed) than ever, and the deceptively vast sonic landscape that she and guitarist Alex Scally are able to conjure is masterful in its ability to meld nuance, restraint, and minimalism for results that are sweepingly, shockingly grandiose, all without ever seeming self-conscious or showy. And “Lazuli” might just be the best song the band’s ever written.
10. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Cracking the top ten is the first album in a decade from post-rock recluses Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Allelujah! feels fresh and timely, acting as a much-needed shot in the arm for a genre that has grown lamentably cookie-cutter during its lifetime—primarily during Godspeed’s absence, curiously enough. This micro-orchestra blends chiming guitars, off-kilter spoken-word samples, Arabic-mode horn melodies, and (seemingly) simple rhythmic sections. The latter are particularly impressive in that they make minutes of accelerating quarter notes riveting—not because of what they do, but what they suggest. And all of this is on the first song. Godspeed is not an act typically associated with subtlety, but its under-appreciated knack for suggestion, its innate sense of dynamic and movement structuring, and, yes, its nigh unassailable reputation and aura of intrigue all contribute to making this icons return a resounding success.
9. Bloc Party – Four
As mentioned in the review, Bloc Party’s fourth album is a bit less focused than their previous offerings have been. This, it turns out, is a boon to the band. Rather than merely giving itself over entirely to a style, be it Britpop, post-punk, or club-ready electronics, Four takes all of these things and then adds to them. Hints—and sometimes outright answers—of metal and country appear and disappear (here?). That description might make it sound scattershot. Honestly, it sort of is. But that’s also part of where it draws its strength from—its ability to oscillate so quickly song-to-song, style-to-style, to make the band’s history into its future, and still remain uniquely their own.
Next time: In the Great Eight, we return to outer space, jump back to 1878, and travel to Compton. For real this time.