Thursday, July 9, 2009

For archival: 2008 Favorites

Current mood: accomplished
Category: Music

Steven Wilson – "Insurgentes"
Demians – "Building an Empire"
Lunatic Soul – "Lunatic Soul"
Frost* - Experiments In Mass Appeal"
Ephrat – "No One's Words"
Pineapple Thief – "Tightly Unwound"
No-Man – "Schoolyard Ghosts"
Anathema – "Hindsight"
Serenity – "Fallen Sanctuary"
Andromeda – "The Immunity Zone"
Into Eternity – "The Incurable Tragedy"
Amaseffer – "Slaves For Life"
Nosound – "Lightdark"
Opeth – "Watershed"
John Legend – "Evolver"

Steven Wilson – Insurgentes

With a career that spans over 20 years and several bands/projects, SW has finally released his first solo album. The standard edition will be out in early 2009 but fans have already snapped up the Limited internet pre-order edition of which only 3000 were made. (Plus, 1000 on high quality vinyl) The set includes the CD, a bonus CD and a DVD with the 5.1 mix of the album and an 18 minute excerpt from the upcoming documentary about the project, all housed in an amazing coffee table-style book of Lasse Hoile's photography. The art presented here is immense and takes a while to digest. All albums should be put together and packaged with this much care.

Demians – Building an Empire

This French progressive rock project from Nicolas Chapel got high praise before its release from Steven Wilson, "One of the most assured and accomplished debut albums I've ever heard, the textures and dynamics within the music are breathtaking. A must for everyone that appreciates the art of epic and ambitious 21st century rock music" Six months after its release, the praise keeps coming from around the world and the CD is winding up at near the top of most year-end lists. This is easily my most listened to album of the year…and you owe it to yourself to get a copy.

Lunatic Soul – Lunatic Soul

Mariusz Duda of Riverside stretches his musical boundaries with an album he describes as Chinese Alternative and is completely devoid of electric guitars. A perfect companion on those self-reflective dark nights, the CD is another of my most listened to albums this year.

Frost* - Experiments in Mass Appeal

Mixing genre's and styles with ease, you will find lots to enjoy on this labor of love. Watch the two and a half hours of behind the scenes footage on the Special Edition's DVD to get the full grasp of the time and effort poured into this amazing album. This, their second album, is even more assured and interesting than their first and finally hits US record stores in January.

Ephrat – No One's Words

With only six tracks on this hour long disc, there is a multitude of sounds and melodies to feast on. A new Israeli artist whose debut album was mixed by Steven Wilson, Ephrat is one of the freshest Prog releases this year.

Pineapple Thief – Tightly Unwound

This UK outfit's 2008 release is their seventh album and their best yet! I am still amazed they do not have a bigger following on this side of the Atlantic. Moody yet spirited progressive pop that is definitely worth checking out!

No-Man – Schoolyard Ghosts

Steven Wilson's project with Tim Bowness returned in 2008 with an album and tour! Not just a rehash of previous works, the pair let the music and moods breathe, providing their best work yet. Kudos again to Steven Wilson, who created a DVD 5.1 surround mix of the album and included it in the package. I hope this becomes the norm for important releases.

Anathema – Hindsight

Having started as a gothic death metal band, you cannot imagine their latest is the same band. Taking classic tracks from their past and expanding on them in surprisingly mellow ways, created one of the most listenable albums of the year. The sole new song on the disc proves bigger things are yet to come from this UK outfit considering the songs were recorded and mixed by the band, independent of any record company.

Serenity – Fallen Sanctuary

Symphonic Power Metal from Austria, Serenity's second full length album builds on the tradition of their first and other artists of the genre like Kamelot and Threshold. Melodic and symphonic, this album rocks from start to finish.

Andromeda – The Immunity Zone

Sweden's Andromeda made their US debut this year, just a week after the release for their fourth CD. The band performed a stellar set at Atlanta's ProgPower Festival in September and created a whole new fan base. The Immunity Zone shows the band perfecting the differing styles showcased on their first three releases. Short, radio friendly Prog metal tunes mingle with more epic and impressive long pieces.

Into Eternity – The Incurable Tragedy

If I had not seen this Canadian band pull off what it does live, I probably would not be a fan. Although there is some beautiful music on this disc, other tracks are as thrash heavy as any band you can imagine. It is how they put this together into one cohesive package that shows their musical range and talent. A semi-conceptual album about cancer, it is not exactly an uplifting album, yet when you are finished you feel…better.

Amaseffer – Slaves for Life

An ambitious project to tell the Biblical story of the Jews through Progressive Metal and atmospheric soundscapes, this is the first of a planned trilogy. Put on this CD and be transported back in time with a story of courage and determination. Following the path of bands like Orphaned Land, Amaseffer's opening segment of this massive project is an amazing work of passion and fire that should have a place in your collection.

Nosound - Lightdark

To quote their page, "Nosound inventively combines influences from '70s psychedelia,'80s/'90s ambient and contemporary alternative, post and progressive rock." That about sums it up! A bio from their label says, "Formed in Italy in 2001, Giancarlo Erra's Nosound creates a seductive and original fusion of elements of Progressive, Ambient and Post Rock." Lightdark is their second release and even more unique sounding than their debut. Just on the edge of ambient with more structure than abstract, this is something I listen to often.

Opeth - Watershed

Masters of Swedish Metal released an album that succeeds in perfectly blending the heavy and mellow aspects of their past works into a more cohesive whole. They have tried a similar tact (with Steven Wilson producing) the Damnation and Deliverance albums of heavy and light in 2002/2003. Now with some new blood in the band, they sound even more comfortable in the juxtaposition of styles and moods.

John Legend – Evolver

John stretches a little on his third release and comes up with a surprisingly uplifting R&B album, considering some of the more "interesting" relationships described in the songs. Music's most honest voice, John Legend works with several other artists yet still retains what makes him unique in today's music scene.

My Favorite Live Albums of 2008

David Gilmour - Live in Gdansk

Whichever flavor you decided to buy, this is a live box set of epic proportions! Opting for the 5 disc set myself, the performance is as flawless as the production. Loads of extras plus the 5.1 Surround mix of his most recent solo album, On an Island; this is a "must-have set" for any music lover.

Porcupine Tree – We Lost the Skyline

This would be high on my list even if I had not been present when it was recorded. 200+ people in a small music store in Orlando were treated to an impromptu performance from Steven Wilson, with touring member John Wesley, when the stage turned out to be too small for the full band. Having been there, this CD captures the intensity of the performance like few others can. A very worthy live EP to pick up!

Pure Reason Revolution - Live at Nearfest

Creating a completely different mood than their major label debut, this is a vibrant live performance from a band that is still growing. Seek this out and be amazed.

Rush – Snakes & Arrows Live

Even better than their 20th anniversary tour, Rush is at the height of their game of Snakes & Arrows live. The audio document of the tour highlights killer classics with the best of their new material…which is their strongest since the early 90's. (Since the tour was also captured with high def cameras, spring for the Blu-ray release, too!)

The Police - Certifiable: Live In Buenos Aires

This CD/DVD or Blu-ray set is a Best Buy exclusive and an amazing portrait of a band that has only gotten better with age. Shedding all preconceptions, the band took the stage and rocked. Taking songs that could have mellowed with age and re-infusing them with rock and roll. One of the best tours of 2007 made a great live release in 2008.

Linkin Park – Road to Revolution: Live at Milton Keynes

Linkin Park has always been a very strong live act and this CD/DVD set captures their latest tour in a truly professional fashion. The music mix is hot and having the video makes it.

Muse – H.A.A.R.P.

See the above review but substitute a blistering set at Wembley Stadium. LOL

Best Comebacks of 2008:

Metallica – Death Magnetic

Like most fans, I was very disappointed by St Anger and really hadn't felt the love since before "the black album". Well, Metallica returned with their best album since And Justice for All and proved they still have what it takes to rock. Not the true classic I hoped for but a terrific comeback nonetheless.

R.E.M. – Accelerate

The Athens, GA favorites I practically grew up with returned with their best album in 20 years. It is everything you love about the band and then some.

Journey – Revelation

The YouTube addition of Arnel Pineada re-energized these arena rock stars back into an image of their former fiery selves. No, it is not the same as the old days….but it is a lot closer than you think. Seeing them live proved it.

AC/DC – Black Ice

The Australian rockers returned with a heaping helping of what they do best. Arguably as strong as any album since Back in Black, the Wal-mart exclusive is a worthy spin of retro heavy rock.

The Pretenders – Break Up the Concrete

The Pretenders' new album rocks, plain and simple! The band returns to its "punk-ier" roots and adds a dash of rockabilly jam. They haven't sounded this good since the debut.

Zappa Plays Zappa - Live

Dwezel worked hard to come up with a fitting tribute to his late father Frank and took the show on the road. The audio document is not really a comeback but a re-introduction of what made Zappa's music great. And I am so glad it is back!

Extreme - Saudades De Rock

Boston rockers Extreme returned from the land of lost rock bands with a tight album of polished rock and roll. Bettering most of their 90's output, this album captures the spirit of a band maturing…in a good way.

Guns N' Roses– Chinese Democracy

Too many years and WAY too much money, I honestly think the album would have been better received as an Axl solo CD. Not nearly as bad as I expected, some of it was obviously "overcooked" but there are some interesting musical ideas in the mix. Here is another rock artist maturing, in surprising ways…it is more listenable than anything that followed Appetite and Lies.

2008 Honorable Mentions:

Nine Inch Nails – "The Slip" and "Ghosts I-IV"
ASHES dIVIDE – "Keep Telling Myself It's Alright"
Joe Jackson – "Rain"
Richard Barbieri – "Stranger Inside"
Dr. Horrible Cast - Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Soundtrack
Austrian Death Machine – "Total Brutal"
Henry Rollins – "Henry Rollins Provoked"
Truth – "Machine"
Evergrey – "Torn"
Shinedown – "The Sound of Madness"
Dust For Life – "The Consequence Of Vanishing"
Snow Patrol – "A Hundred Million Suns"
10 Years – "Division"
Unitopia – "The Garden"
Sia – "Some People Have Real Problems"
Thea Gilmore – "Tearjacker"
Jupiter Society – "First Contact Last Warning"
Seven Steps To The Green Door – "Step In 2 My World"
Sieges Even – "Playground"
Sylvan – "Leaving Backstage"
King's X – "XV"
Alanis Morissette – "Flavors Of Entanglement"
Satellite – "Into The Night"
Black Tide – "Light From Above"
Apocalyptica – "Worlds Collide"
Jenny Lewis – "Acid Tongue"
All That Remains – "Overcome"
Pistol Opera – "Obama EP"
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Re-masters

All of the above are great efforts, I just ran out of room and time. NIN and Joe Jackson are among the artist's best work and Ashes Divide made a formidable debut. I need to listen to Richard's album more, I enjoy more with each. When I want to smile, Dr Horrible and ADM bring much joy…for different moods. I haven't had this much fun with an album since the first Tenacious D.

Best Re-releases:

Genesis – 1970-1975 Box Set

Every classic collection should be handled with this care. Re-mastered CDs, DVDs with 5.1 mixes, interviews and archive footage, booklets and bonus tracks (also in surround)…this is one amazing set, equaling, and maybe even topping, the 1976-1982 set from 2007.

Kansas – Two for the Show (Re-master)

Take a classic live album, remaster it and include a full second CD of tracks that never made the original 30 years ago. Wow. The band comments that the first thing they thought when they heard it for the first time in years is how fast they played everything. This is a document of a band on fire and at their peak. Grab it!

3 – The End Is Begun Special Edition

Add a classic Pink Floyd tune and a DVD of live performances and videos to one of the best albums of 2007 and tadaaa…a classic! No one does Progressive Rock live 3!

Kamelot– Ghost Opera Second Coming

Add a second CD with their first concert from Belgrade to an already great CD from 2007 and the Tampa band is still not as huge as they should be in the US. Symphonic Power Metal as it's finest.

Symphony X - Paradise Lost 5.1 Edition

The already classic 2007 album remixed into digital 5.1 surround and includes both videos made for the release. The best part is the inclusion of the lyrics on screen while you listen. (So few audio DVDs do that, why?)

Current mood: thoughtful
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

I made the switch to Blu-ray in the summer of 2007 and I have been loving high def movies ever since. As a consequence, I buy very few standard DVDs anymore. Other than a few releases near the bottom that are not available ..ay, all of the titles below are next gen:

My Favorite Blu-rays of 2008

Wall-e - A classic, period.

There Will Be Blood - Surprised me in many ways, a must see for original cinema

No Country For Old Men - Perfectly executed film, a beautiful Blu-ray.

The Dark Knight - Attains levels above all super hero movies!

Iron Man - As fun as a super hero movie should be.

Hellboy II The Golden Army - Took a super hero movie into the fantasy world and topped the original.

Tropic Thunder - A classic comedy with a smokin' Blu-ray picture!

Wanted - The action movie re-defined on a perfect Blu-ray.

30 Days of Night - A modern vampire classic, beautiful Blu-ray.

Speed Racer - No matter what you think of the movie, nothing else blows away eyeballs ..ay better than this.

The Fall - A visual tour de force that become a feast to enjoy ..ay.

I Am Legend - The closest in tone to the original book gets a perfect HD transfer.

Sweeny Todd - Tim Burton's most beautiful Blu-ray.

Shoot Em Up - A pure action movie with a razor sharp HD transfer.

Sunshine - An almost perfect sci-fi mind job with a flawless Blu-ray transfer.

Cloverfield - Surprisingly effective style translates perfectly to high def.

The Proposition - A quirky little western from down under that looks amazing in HD.

The Bank Job - Classic style done today, with a really sharp transfer.

Across The Universe - One long music video with colorful images that sing in HD

3:10 to Yuma - A remake that becomes a modern classic western is given stellar treatment ..ay

Catalog re-releases

Baraka - The restoration from 70mm must be seen.

Dark City: Director's Cut - A better cut of the movie that looks brand new ..ay.

James Bond 007 - Six movies have been restored digitally frame by frame and released: so far, so amazing!

Serenity -A modern classic gets a sweet HD transfer.

The Matrix Ultimate Box Set - The first gets the most re-mastered treatment, but what really makes the set shine is the Animatrix in HD

Batman Begins - A cut above the average super hero movie and a great transfer

I, Robot – A Perfect Transfer

The Nightmare Before Christmas Beautifully restored

Jet Li's Fearless – Looks amazing. Now where is Hero??

Young Frankenstein

Kill Bill


Event Horizon



Sin City (Canadian Import)

Starship Troopers

Resident Evil Trilogy

From Dusk Till Dawn (Canadian Import)

Eastern Promises


Life Of Brian


The Doors


All of these movies look "night and day" better than their standard DVD counterparts, highly recommended!


Band of Brothers

Firefly – The Complete Series

Weeds - Season 3

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season One

Supernatural - Season 3

Lost – The Complete Fourth Season

Mad Men – Season One

Some TV was made for High Def; these are the best looking and most improved with Blu-ray transfers.

Music Blu-ray

The Police - Certifiable: Live In Buenos Aires

Rush - Snakes & Arrows Live

AC/DC - No Bull

Heart - Alive In Seattle

The Moody Blues - Lovely to See You

When live concerts are filmed in high def it is almost better than being there. The seats sure are better!

Standard DVD

David Gilmour - Live In Gdansk

Lacuna Coil - Visual Karma (Limited 4-disc)

Spaced - The Complete Series

Penn & Teller Bullshit - 5th Season

Dexter - Season 2

John from Cincinnati - The Complete Series

The Frolic - Collector's Edition

Zappa Plays Zappa – Live

The Swell Season - In Concert

Genesis - When In Rome

Iron Maiden - Live After Death

Lost Highway - Spotlight Series

Who knows when some if any of the above will be released ..ay, at least we finally got a legitimate copy of Lost Highway instead of a foreign bootleg from EBay!

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