Top 25 Albums of 2012: 6-10

10. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist

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This is probably the most “out-of-place” album on my list. As you look through the list, you can see the styles of music I spend most of my time focused on. But, I like the over 40 million others, just could not resist how much fun Thrift Shop was. So, when I went out on a limb and picked up their full album, I had no idea what to expect. Most internet super gods are the ultimate one hit wonders. Who here knows of another song PSY wrote? Or perhaps that awesome follow-up song Rebecca Black wrote? Yet, there was something that caught my attention with Thrift Shop that seemed to rise up above all the jokes and fucking awesomeness. It was a message. It was against consumerism and label chasing. It showed the hypocrisy of defining yourself by your clothes. It was this transcendent ideal that ultimately convinced me to purchase this album, and I could not be happier. For, behind the funny video and hilarious moments is a hip-hop artist with deeply thoughtful lyrics and a beat artist who creates some of the most clever hip-hop beats I have heard in a long time. David Bowie meets Kanye, as the lyrics exclaim is not actually that far off. If there is one part of Kanye’s music that isn’t god awful bullshit, its his beats. Now, its unfair to really give Kanye any ounce of credit for the beats that are half stolen and almost completely produced by anyone other than Kanye West, but that is another long and boring conversation we can have. Back to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. These guys are absolutely incredible. The music is so much fun, and the lyrics are extremely profound. Songs like Same Love, Make the Money and Jimmy Lovine show that Macklemore is not just out for the “fat stacks” but is a true artist and Neon Cathedral brought out so many deep thoughts and convictions. This album is exactly what I love in hip hop. Deeper lyrics and a wonderful balance of natural instrumentation and electronic fun. Seriously, Macklemore is so much more than his moment in the youtube spotlight, and this album is nothing but brilliant.

9. Balmorhea – Stranger

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Sometimes post-rock gets predictable. You get so many bands out there that follow the patterns and it causes one to get bored. You get worn out by two guitar builds and swells. Then comes a band like Balmorhea to change everything up. Part classical, part ambient, part math, and all amazing. This band is just incredible. They not only create hauntingly beautiful minimal songs, but they, on the same album, will craft a toe-tapping, math arpeggio jam that includes banjo and violin, all done to the highest capacity. Their latest album, Stranger is no exception to this. It is at times a bit more upbeat than I would have expected, but that in no means discredits it. I tend to get bored of math rock, because it seems to lack emotion, due to its obsession with technical prowess.  But, man does mixing mathy arpeggios with classical string arrangements and post rock emotion make for one hell of a great album. One of my favorite songs off the album (which I for the record hate to point out on this list, because a great album is not defined by individual songs) Dived is particularly amazing. This whole album is absolutely incredible from its instrumentation to its composition. It never drags or seems to repeat itself. Balmorhea has quickly become one of my all time favorite bands, and this album is proof as to why.

8. Grizzly Bear – Shields

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I am going to be completely honest with you: I would have never listened to this album if it was not on Itunes as the best alternative album of the year. I would have probably never listened to Grizzly Bear if it was not for the countless lists that this album is already topping. Every year, before I write my list, I check out other lists to see if I missed anything. Most of the time it just makes me mad at pitchfork and other hipsters who cant accept that ironic value is not something that should be considered in a “best of” list. This album stuck out. Finding out that they wrote TWO WEEKS, which was featured on How I Met Your Mother helped. But, more than that Shields did something to make it rise above the other typical “Best of” indie albums. It was so much more interesting than The Shins or Beach House. I think it was the way it incorporated all of my favorite parts of bands like Fleet Foxes and Vessels while still having its own unique sonic identity. At times, it very much has a 70’s rock feel to it. At times, it has the fuzzy warmth of Vessels. But, then in the midst of all that, a rogue synth solo comes hurtling through the indie rock bliss. There is just something wonderful about this album and this band that made them stick out from all the other bands that I can compare to them. This album was just so much more interesting than the other indie album greats this year.  It has that wonderful quality of reminding me of bands I love, and even bands I am not terribly fond of, yet still holding its own, and keeping my attention. Popular indie music is actually one of the hardest genres to catch and keep my attention, but this album caught mine, and that is why it is my obligatory “album that everyone will have on their lists” album on my top 10.

7. Austin Wintory – Journey OST

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It is very rare that a soundtrack will be good enough to land itself on a best albums list. I love soundtracks, but they tend to only work when complimenting the art form they came from. It’s the ability to bring you back to that moment when Bruce Wayne is climbing out of the pit, or when you first hear the narrator in Bastion that makes these albums so much fun, but ultimately in almost a bondage to their original art. So, it has to be something so unbelievably incredible to get a soundtrack on to my top ten list, especially a game. But, Journey is one hell of a special game. It is the kind of artistic masterpiece that changes your very notion of what the medium is capable of doing. This game is so much more than entertainment. It is so much more than provoking story or graphical brilliance. This game is art, in a very high form. Journey would not be what it was without it soundtrack. But, with all that said, the soundtrack stands alone as absolutely incredible music. Yes, as I listen through it, I am brought back to desperation of climbing the frigid mountain. I feel the inquiry and exploration of this strange new world. The pure ecstasy of skiing down the dunes of sand. But, I think even more powerful is that these emotions are connected just as much to the music as they are to the gaming experience. Most times, the music reminds you of the moment in the movie or game, and then that moment creates the emotion. But, somehow this soundtrack brings out the emotion, which then leads me to remember the gaming experience. It is this revolutionary journey (HA!) in emotion that makes this game, and its soundtrack so deeply profound. Play the game. Listen to the soundtrack. Allow yourself to have one of the most powerful emotional experiences created by such an experimental medium.

6. Mumford and Sons – Babel

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Mumford and Sons is such a good band. Sigh No More is an incredible album. But, as I heard news that this great band was going into the studio, I was worried. Worried that they would just do another Sigh No More. Worried that they would drastically change their sound and release something like 2nd law (God damn you, Muse). Because as good as Sigh No More was, if it were any longer, it would be boring. Another Sigh No More would be tiring. They did all they could with that album. But I didn’t want them to go and sell out. I didn’t want their next album to go in any of many directions I could see them going in. They could be the next Coldplay/U2 zombie. I felt like they had to release just the right album to appease my very judgmental ideals for a sophomore album. They had to keep enough of their folk roots without boring us with too much 4 to the floor, gang vocal folk. It was a tough task I was unfairly demanding of them in my mind, but man if they did not pull it off. See, I think Babel is nearly perfect. At times it is a bit more gruff, at times it has a bit more polish. It has a 6-4-1-5 emotional powerhouse song, that doesn’t seem overdone. It is fun when it needs to be and it is powerfully serious when its done being fun. But there is more that takes this album to an even higher level. As you listen to this album, you hear them cheering and hollering in the background. You can hear them having the time of their life recording it. It brings me back to listening to CSN and hearing Crosby yell out “mmmmm” to a particularly stunning harmony. Not only did they craft the perfect follow-up album, but they had fun doing it and they allowed that fun to be contained in their recordings. Bravo, guys. Bravo.

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Top 25 Albums of 2012: 11-15

15. Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence

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Between the Buried and Me is not for everyone. Too complex for metal purists, too intense for prog fans. I really wanted to include The Parallax: Hyper Sleep Dialogues on my list last year, but due to it not being a full album I had to omit it. I was very happy when I heard that they were continuing the concept with the full length Future Sequence. Don’t ask me what the concept is, because honestly I have no idea. It is all over the place, and when half of your lyrics are barely intelligible growls, its hard to follow your complex science fiction narrative. Not to say that the growls are a bad thing, because they are not. The beauty of Between the Buried and Me is their unique place in the Prog Metal world. But, the thing that sets this album as not only my number 15 of the year, but possibly as my favorite Between the Buried and Me release is how they have extended their prog influence and sound without sacrificing their intensity and their “metalness”. At the start of this album, it could easily be mistaken for a Dream Theater album. That is, until about 4 minutes into it when the singer starts with his intense metal growls. Their continued progressive influence causes some jarring, but incredible moments, like in the song “Astral Body” where the death metal growling seems in an odd place with the very major chord changes. This album is extremely odd and complex, but if you are the kind of person who likes progressive death metal, this is an excellent offering of  precision, talent and epic storytelling through song.

14. Mono – For My Parent

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I went out and bought this album on vinyl the day I saw their video for Legend. Nothing suits symphonic post-rock like awesome video of Iceland and that song is just so beautiful. Stop reading this, take twelve minutes, and listen to it now. It will move you way more than my inadequate attempts to describe its brilliance. Don’t just play it in the background. Stop what you are doing and really listen to it. Click Play. HD that video. Fullscreen it. Give it your attention. Then come back and talk to me.

See? See how beautiful that is. And that is only the first song on the album. This album is absolutely incredible.  This is the kind of album that I put on and get lost in. I don’t realize that songs are changing. I don’t watch the time. I just let it take me away. Its therapeutic. It is everything that I want out of post-rock music. As an album it flows beautifully, the instrumentation and structure is incredible. I have a hard time recollecting what the songs sound like because I truly know it best as a full album. But, most importantly, this album is full of emotion and if you allow yourself a moment to engage that emotion, it will make your day better. Promise.

13. Sigur Ros – Valtari

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My favorite album by Sigur Ros has always been ( ). Don’t get me wrong, I still love their more accessible stuff as well, but that album has such a simple beauty to it. So, when I heard talk that they were scrapping everything and making a more ambient album that was much more like ( ) I was extremely excited. The issue with simple, ambient albums like Valtari and ( ) is that for many, they are not exciting enough to leave a lasting impression on them. They sound great, and they work wonderfully, but to so many people I know, it just sounds like background music for a really good movie. I, on the other hand find Valtari to be one of Sigur Ros’ strongest releases. It rarely builds, and spends much of its time in the Mezzo-Piano range, but it is one of the most beautiful albums of the year. It shows Jonsi stepping back from his bombastic solo project and allowing Sigur Ros to create simple, beautiful songs. My favorite moment on the incredible album is the last song “Fjogur Piano”. It is by far the simplest song on the album, but it is so hauntingly beautiful and it really shows off how subtle beauty can be just as powerful as bombastic builds and emotional swells can be.

12. Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind

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If you know me, you know that I have been a big fan of Ben Folds for a long time. Ever since my friend Jeff Graf put Rocking the Suburbs on the turntable at a late night poker game, I have always kept Ben Folds in my top artists lists. Recently, I have been a bit disillusioned to Ben Folds. I found out that most of his songs are written in the few days he spends in the studio. I watched him go through yet another divorce. I started becoming more critical of songwriting. Then, in the midst of my Ben Folds iconoclast, he releases Way to Normal. Not to say it was a bad album by any means, but it was so juvenile. It was an odd step, given the maturity of Songs for Silverman which I personally loved. So, when it was announced that Ben Folds Five was recording a new album, I was honestly not that excited. I was burnt out on piano arpeggios and mad-at-my-ex lyrics. Do It Anyway really  sounded like everything he has ever done. I think it was my lack of excitement that made this album so much better. It has the perfect blend of classic BFF and newer Ben Folds. It felt like the natural progression, both from Reinhold Messner and Lonely Avenue. No song feels out of place and it does not drag. It is exactly what it is meant to be, nothing more or less. It is a complete album. Do it Anyway grew on me, quickly. It lived up to its lyric and became something that “I used to not like, but now I think is O—-KAAAAAY.” This incredible album not only blew away my expectations, but made me regain my true appreciation for Ben Folds (and the Five) which is why it is my #12 album of the year.

11. Periphery – Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal

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I love to browse Itunes for new music. When I do this, I tend to judge music based on stupid things like album art and 5 seconds of the 30 second preview. So, when it kept telling me to listen to Periphery, its 90’s Hard Rock cover art kept keeping me away. Finally, I broke down and listened to a preview of one of the songs. I think it only took 10 seconds for me to buy this album. Now, I buy too much music. I have been working on not doing so, because many times an impulse buy of this nature will lead to an album that I never listen to.  Thankfully, that was not the case with This Time It’s Personal. This album is absolutely incredible. It has the technical prowess of a progressive band, without the overly complicated and lengthy songs and extended wanking solos. It is technical, yet accessible and there is nothing I love more that someone taking something extremely technical and musically deep and making it accessible. It has its moments that remind me of my time listening to Mudvayne, without being an annoying 90’s nu-metal band. It reminds me of the catchy and brilliant He is Legend album, I am Hollywood. It is an incredible, talent filled and fun album that is very much worthy of the #11 spot on my list.

Next time on doesitsuck: the final ten albums. What will be on the list? You will just have to wait and see!

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Top 25 Albums of 2012: 16-20

20. Rush – Clockwork Angels

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Rush has a very long career. I, for better and for worse, know of it all because my wife is one of those special people who seem to think that this band can do no wrong. This means every year I get to see them play their tour as they pass through whatever city we happen to be in. Over the years I have come to enjoy parts of Rush quite a lot, more than I could have ever thought. My personal favorite era of Rush is their old prog rock days. Back when they wrote killer science fiction and fantasy epics about Necromancers and space and snow dogs. Now, if you know anything about Rush, you know that they abandoned their prog roots long ago and have yet to pick up the old kimonos and release an album on the same level as Hemispheres. So, when they got picked up by Roadrunner and started talking about their new album in the form of a concept and not a collection of songs I got excited. I got more excited when I heard Neil talking about his drum parts being the most challenging he has ever done. The nerdgasm reached critical mass when I found out that it was not only a concept album, but a steam punk concept album. Clockwork Angels is by far the best album Rush has released in nearly 30 years. No, it is not the valiant return to their prog rock greatness, but it is really damn good. Tight jams, odd moments of time, and some of the most compelling string parts I have heard a modern rock band use. The story is a bit complicated, but if you read the book that Neil Peart and Kevin J. Anderson wrote to accompany the album, I hear you get a much clearer picture of the complex steam-punk world that has taken over this drumming god’s mind. I feel like this is the album that I wanted Snakes and Arrows to be. If I let go of the dream that Rush will ever do a Cygnus X-1 Book 3, I can be content with this album. It is harder than anything they have done. It has their Led Zeppelin style rock roots. It has a slow song by Rush that I don’t hate and to top it all off, Geddy Lee’s voice is actually finally reaching a range that is listenable. So, whether you gave up on Rush in the 80’s or never got into them because up until a few years ago, it was not cool to like Rush, this is a great album to check out.

19. The Soil & The Sun – What Wonder is this Universe!

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I love the age we live in. A world where technology has become so accessible that it does not take a million dollar record contract and the loss of at least part of your soul to make a quality record. Yes, this means that the internet is teeming with wanna-be “artists” releasing terrible music. But, if you learn to wade through the endless sea of mediocrity you can find some incredible, independent artist doing absolutely amazing things. Bands that make you sad that people are listening to Taylor Swift’s producer’s latest album, instead of giving bands like The Soil and the Sun the light of day. It in the same moment encourages you, inspires you, and makes you lose hope for the society that makes Honey Boo-Boo a celebrity, but refuses to listen to something as inspired as “What Wonder is this Universe”. This album has the varied instrumentation of Sufjan Stevens, the harmonic excellence of Seryn, and the musical styling of a more Post-Rock Anathallo. The songwriting, for whatever reminds me of Seven Swans, with the massive collection of instrumentalists, drum clicks, and harmonies of A Floating World. I feel bad though, for even though I feel the comparisons can be flattering, I don’t want it to seem like this band does not occupy their own space in the musical world, because they absolutely do. This album is absolutely incredible, and if we start giving bands like this the admiration and time they deserve, the world of music and the world in general will be a much better place.

18. The Welcome Wagon – Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices

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It’s rare that such a straight forward worship album catches my attention like this one did. So after the last bombshell that David Crowder dropped on the world left me ultimately underwhelmed and bored I was happy to find that The Welcome Wagon had knocked it out of the park with their latest album, Precious Remedies. This album manages to accomplish several extremely difficult tasks. First and foremost they make their unique brand of worship music not seem stale and overdone. It is hard to make worship lyrics profound. Mostly because the art of Sacred music has been dumbed down to an industry that pays money for simple, unoriginal music. On top of that, there are only so many ways to compare G-d to light without your lyrics becoming tiring. This album is fantastic, because although the lyrics are at times, very simple, they are profound and earnest. At all times you feel like this album is exactly where Presbyterian  minister Vito Aiuto was at. It is honest, simple and beautiful. Another great task is making an album that is musically, quite simple, sound as good as this album does. This album is simple, but it doesn’t need to be complex. It’s honest, profound, and intimate. It is a shining light in a world, otherwise made cold and impersonal by endless chants of “How Great is our God” remakes.

17. The Lumineers – The Lumineers

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Speaking of perfectly executed simplicity, if you haven’t you should check out The Lumineers. Riding on the new wave of folk popularity, The Lumineers are very fortunate to be making the music they are making, in the time they are making it in. 10 years, a band like The Lumineers would have never been played on the radio. Just as The Avett Brothers. But, thanks to the aforementioned brothers dedication and folks sudden rise to popularity with bands like Mumford and Sons, bands like The Lumineers are able to play their simple and beautiful folk pop and have it be heard by many. It makes me feel good when a band who puts their heart out there gets rewarded with the attention of an otherwise ignorant mass of people. I love The Lumineers because they conjure a simpler time in the musical world. A time without over-dubs and auto tuning. When you listen to this album, you feel like you are sitting in their living room, listening to them share their thoughts through song. It is the heart of folk, and it is desperately needed in this world. It makes me very happy that they have achieved the success they have. My only complaint is that this album isn’t nearly long enough. But, with that being said, I have yet to get sick of it, and I have listened through it many, many times.

16. Dave Matthews Band – Away From the World

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This was the year I became a Dave Matthews fan. I have always enjoyed Dave Matthews. Before These Crowded Streets was one of my favorite albums growing up. That being said, I was never a Dave fan until recently. I found myself listening to the live albums over the studio albums because that’s when there music really shines. I found that my best mixes would have at least 3 different versions of Grey Street on them. I found myself getting bored with the pop hits and looking more for the “Deep Cuts”. Then came Away from the World. I was very excited for this album. I have known Jeff Coffin for a long while, and I was excited to see him shine a little more on this album and Groogrux King was absolutely incredible. I will say, this album could have been more. It could have had a little more of the magic (read trumpet) that made Groogrux King that ultimate album it was. I wish this album could have been in my top ten, but alas it was not quite what I wanted. Thankfully, Dave at 85% is like most of the world on overdrive. This album is extremely solid, and has some incredible moments. It flows beautifully, and only has one song that has not grown on me. It is a bit more simple than Groogrux king, but that is not a bad thing. I think I am just gonna have to wait for a new live album to come out for the songs to really become what I want them to be.

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Top 25 Albums of 2012: 21-25

2012 has been one hell of a year for the artistic medias. I have long lists of favorite movies, music and video games. Artists all over have been stretching and honing their mediums to new levels of quality, making list making all the more challenging and fun. My initial list of favorite albums of 2012 had over 60 albums on it. And I was conservative with that list. I decided to do a top 25 list because there were so many albums that were so worthy of mention, that a mere top 10 list would not adequately suffice. Each of these albums held its own not only in its genre, but in the wider world of music. I tried to be as open as possible, considering all forms of musical expression. I judged these based on a long list of things including, artistic value (whatever the hell that is), expression, invocation of feelings, songwriting, lyrical quality, musical quality, composition and also, just how much I liked it. Music is such an intensely complicated matter, so know that I did not take this lightly. Here are my top 25 albums of the year, which a short explanation of why they are on the list.

25. The American Dollar – Awake in the City

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I love the American Dollar. The things this duo can accomplish in the world of textured ambient post rock is incredible. They are one of my all time favorite bands. That being said, this album, although incredible and worthy of the 25 spot on my list, is at the bottom because it did not hold up to their other releases. Don’t get me wrong, it is an incredible record, I was just left wanting more. Although not necessary, I would have loved to hear at least one sprawling, epic song like Starscapes on this release. With my apprehensions put aside, this album is still great and my #25 album of the year. The album flows beautifully from one track to the next. It incorporates a wonderful balance of post rock ambiance and chill electronic groove. I have always loved the way The American Dollar layers synths, guitar swells, and piano all over incredible drum tracks and this album is no exception. The builds conjure all sorts of feel good emotions with hair-raising crescendos and trance inducing beats. It is a fantastic album, I just wish it could have been higher on my list.

24. Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion

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Take one part Porcupine Tree and one part Opeth and one would expect to get an album somewhat similar to Opeth’s Damnation. But, Steven Wilson has never been one to repeat himself. For that matter, he tends to throw curve balls at any chance he can, making people turn their heads and go, “huh?”. This album is no exception. Its slow, barely building, acoustic sludge ambiance is like nothing either of its members have done, and it is incredible incorporating Jazz, Sludge Metal, Acoustic, Ambient, Classic Rock, Doom Rock, Prog Rock and more in this genre defying, extremely rewarding album. This album is not for everyone, and is not even remotely accessible to the average listener with its sprawling, almost aimless form. But, if you allow yourself to be immersed in it, it will take you away. It is this, combined with expert songwriting and musicianship that makes this album my #24.

#23. MotorPsycho – The Death Defying Unicorn

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The album is called The Death Defying Unicorn, does it really need any more explanation? I mean, even the simplified album art screams, “Fuck it, our album is called the Death Defying Unicorn. We don’t need art. Just put the title on and people will buy it.” But to talk about this album only on the merits of it’s totally kickass name would be doing it a huge disservice. For those that don’t know, Motorpsycho is a psychedelic progressive rock band from Norway. That would normally be enough to credit an albums awesomeness, but Motorpsycho wanted to go a step further. So, they recruited the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra to play on their “Fanciful and Fairly Far-Out Musical Fable”. That’s right. This is a prog rock concept double album, that prominently features A FUCKING JAZZ ORCHESTRA. Its like if you took TANK! from Cowboy Bebop and slammed it into a more jam based Dream Theater. Seriously, this album is one of a kind, and although the songs reach the 16 minute plus mark, it is absolutely worth it to check out this prog rock masterpiece. If I have not gotten your attention yet, you are honestly dead to me. MOVING ON.

#23. Hammock – Departure Songs

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I love ambient music. I love the way so little can create so much. I feel that the mark of a great ambient album is the emotion it can create, using its minimalist techniques. Hammock have always been masters of the craft of ambient music, and this double album is no exception. My only fault with this album is that, at times, some songs seem arbitrary, only being included to pad the run time. I feel if you are going to go for a double album, you need to create the feeling that every song on this album was absolutely necessary. That slight nitpicking aside, this album does a great job of not only creating those hauntingly beautiful instrumental tracks, but of accomplishing the very challenging task of incorporating lyrics into the post rock/ambient genre successfully. It builds a bit more than previous works of theirs, and has moments of quiet brilliance, that only a band like Hammock can pull off with such powerful execution.

#21. Fun. – Some Nights

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I loved The Format. I have all of their albums and I always thought they had such an incredible ability to combine fun, pop sensibility with deeper ideals and more earnest songwriting. It always shocked me that they did not get so popular. When they broke up, I was very saddened that I would not get to hear more of their unique and extremely fun music. So, when I heard that Nate Reuss was starting a new band, I got very excited. I loved their first album, which sounded a bit like a more orchestrated version of The Format. I continued to wonder why this band was not more popular. Then, they exploded with an album I would have never expected to catapult this band to the mainstream. I have to admit, at first I did not particularly enjoy Some Nights. I thought it was too much of a change from all of Nate’s previous work. But, with time, its kooky electronic drums, auto-tune, and 80’s electro-pop feel grew on me. As I fell more in love with it, I noticed that its singles started to get played more and more. I am very happy that this exploration into a new and honestly incredible sound was so well accepted. I feel all of their choices in timbre and tone were absolutely fitting. This album was huge inspiration for me as I finished working on my music, and is very deserving of the mainstream attention it has gained.

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