Listening List


I know that I have awful taste in music and that I listen to all sorts of stuff in various genres.  But I don't care; I just like to listen.  I've never been one of the people who listen to music only for the benefit of other people, to seem cool.  I remember even as a kid, in junior high school, being confused because I just listened to music while the other kids seemed most interested in talking about bands and gossiping about their members.  I often didn't know the names of the people in a band even though I'd listened to their music often.  I also don't listen for lyrics – I listen to the musicality of a voice without trying to figure out what it "means."  Sometimes I don't even think of it as words just as sounds.  In so many ways, I remain my own person, stubbornly.


Anyway, I'm just writing up some comments on albums.  Since I listen to most of them in the car I often don't even know song titles.  I don't know how useful it is, to try to write words to describe the experience of listening to music.  I can't really describe the sounds (I'm not a professional; anyway so much is done with computers not real instruments, I tell myself that it wouldn't matter).  I'm not convinced that I can usefully analyze the listening experience.  I can just say what effect it has on me and try to think why/if I like it. 


I've now been adding on the albums at quite a rate – my Amazon credit card gets me points, which I use to deepen my addiction!  A 2006 NYT Magazine "Year in Ideas" profiled "psychological neoteny" as a necessary part of people who spend their lives learning new things – we can't get settled as "adults" who know a fixed body of knowledge, so we continue with certain adolescent behaviors.  With my long commute it's worse since I spend the hour-long car ride listening to CDs – and when the traffic gets bad, the music gets louder!


Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas.  I got a reference to this from Amazon, since I liked the Soulsavers album so much.  I like the album, it's so dreamy, spare, and sorrowful. (Spring 2008)


Rush, Snakes & Arrows Live.  Another awesome collection, where the band plays an enormous amount of material from their latest album as well as older but less well-known songs.  Whatever your opinion of Rush, you've got to be impressed with a band that, with 30 years of material, plays concerts with music from throughout the entire span.  There are so many concerts by old-time bands that are basically just 'oldies' shows, where the band has not released any new material or done anything relevant for a decade or more: Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bon Jovi, even {it could be argued} Metallica {since nobody listens to St Anger, the album has become a punch line!}. (Spring 2008)


Marc Rizzo, Ultimate Devotion, & Marty Friedman, Loudspeaker, both Shrapnel Records releases.  Rizzo keeps going with another terrific set of material (OK, the stuff where he sings isn't much) – more of his signature 'flamencore' instrumentals with so much energy and speed and beautiful flamenco-ish riffs.  Friedman runs over so many different styles, his album is also really fun but not so easily summarized.  (Spring 2008)


For Xmas I got my first iPod – love!  Got the 8GB Nano and filled it within a week, and that's only less than a third of my collection that I'd like to rip.  I'm going to have to figure out a way to rotate various albums through.


The iPod is really changing my listening: for one, I really haven't bought any new albums.  (I got Drowning Pool, Tom Morello and Incubus as gifts, too.)  Now with the grand shuffle the old songs are newly interesting.  There are many albums that I didn't want to listen straight through but which still have great songs.  Now the deep shuffle pitches them into a new relationship.  Songs that I previously overlooked or had almost forgotten now come up for a new enjoyment.  The economist in me notes that, if this is a general trend, this means that iPods are bad for music demand.


iPod and iTunes are not deities, though.  After hearing so much gushing and raving about the Apple experience, I was looking forward to a real change.  But iTunes doesn't do many things that I want it to, and much of the interface is odd and non-intuitive.  (Maybe that says something about my intuition, trained for almost two decades on MS Windows…)  But seriously!  iTunes has two separate ways of arranging music: playlists and .  It has so-called 'smart' playlists which really aren't at all since they don't allow subsequent modification.  You can't cascade folders.  Getting videos to play was just a nightmare of file format incompatibilities and strange bugs, I've given up even trying to use it for video.  The iPod also has some strange choices, like the way that you have to set "shuffle" in a completely different menu about a half-dozen clicks away from your choice of music.  Memory management SUCKS! since if you try to store more files onto the iPod than it has space for, it just tells you it can't sync.  It's left entirely to the user to figure out how much needs to be deleted or how these deletions will impact the memory use.  From my perspective, Apple products are not any more user-friendly than Windows – not when you want to do anything that's at all complicated.  It seems Apple is easier for the very simplest tasks but that's it.


PJ Harvey, White Chalk.  This one, and the next, Donna got me for my birthday.  Not the hellbent thrashing of my usual listening, instead PJ gives a quiet but intense album of her singing with minimal accompaniment.  She worked with John Parish, but this is much better than their previous co-worked album (dull beyond words!).  This one is just so minimal, sometimes just a few notes on an instrument, repeated again and again, to drive a whole song.  But I've kept going back to it to listen again. (Fall 2007)


Soulsavers, It's Not How Far You Fall…  Donna got me this because Mark Lanegan provides vocals.  He has such an amazing voice!  Like White Chalk, it is often quiet and sparse, yet still deep and evocative.  Like White Chalk, I keep going back to listen again and again. (Fall 2007)


Shadows Fall, Threads of Life.  They sound very much like All That Remains; like their album, this one has a few good tracks and then the rest is rather dull.  (Summer 2007)


Linkin Park, Minutes to Midnight.  Not quite as spectacular as their previous efforts, which possessed a certain uncanny perfection.  This new album isn't quite so tight. (Summer 2007)


Sevendust, Alpha. Honestly, a disappointment.  Their last 2 albums really have not excited me as much a previous work.  I've been a fan from their first album but they seem to be leveling off. (Summer 2007)


Lamb of God, Sacrament.  Oh yeah!  Words fail.  These guys are demons, they just offer killer heavy stuff!   (Spring 2007)


Bjork, Volta.  On one level, it might seem odd to find this album in amidst the deathmetal.  But I really like Bjork's albums, going a long way back.  And Amazon suggested that "people who bought Volta also bought" NIN's latest – and that's not too bad, I think.  Both Bjork and NIN are united by the fact that they are not limited in the sounds that they can conceive of and make into wonderful art.  Some artists might use only a few instruments (guitars and drums, in classic rock form) but Bjork and NIN have a much more expansive sound palette.  They're transcendent of any limits – and often that's good.  Sometimes it turns into a "why, exactly?" but they're allowed to have some screwy weird songs.   (Spring 2007)


Nine Inch Nails, Year Zero.  As I wrote above, I ordered this with Bjork, and Amazon told me that it was a common pairing.  I also ordered them both with Lamb of God (next above) which probably threw some noise into Amazon's famous algorithms!  I don't think this album reaches the level of, say, The Fragile; in fact it may be one of Trent's weaker works.  But that's still a very high level.   (Spring 2007)


Rush, Snakes and Arrows.  I've been a Rush fan ever since I started listening to contemporary music back in junior high school, so a new album from them is kind of like reuniting with an old friend.  You just know that you'll enjoy their company and you want to see what they've been up to lately.  Their last (real) album, Vapor Trails, was 4 or 5 years ago so they've had plenty of time.  There are a few tracks that jump out at me: The Main Monkey Business (instrumental), The Way the Wind Blows, Far Cry, Working Them Angels (great artwork for the song!), etc.  I don't get Sprindrift but right now that's the only one, the rest I am quickly growing to love.    (Spring 2007)


All that Remains, The Fall of Ideals.  Apparently there is a "Western Massachusetts Sound" – these guys are, like Killswitch Engage, from that geographical area, and they sound very familiar as well.  Which is good – I'm not complaining!  I mean, I don't complain that there are so many different brands of chocolate, do I?  All That Remains don't find it quite so easy to invade my brain and encamp there, making me hum that tune all day and night.  But they're good and I think I will buy their previous album.    (Spring 2007)


DevilDriver, The Fury of our Maker's Hand.  Doesn't the name say it all?  Same with Hatebreed (next).  They could never be prosecuted for false advertising, like Ten Thousand Maniacs (actually such a mellow band!) or Lamb of God (actually so devil-driven!).   (Spring 2007)


Hatebreed, Supremacy.  Along with DevilDriver, these have got me thinking more about how the iPod has killed the album, at least for most bands.  Some like Tool or NIN can string their listeners along, but most really need to make sure that every track carries their "brand identity" so that, when it comes in the midst of a shuffle, we can say "Yeah – Hatebreed!"  And, frankly, the flip side is that while I love them for a few songs, an entire album can get a bit tedious.  It's not a far-ranging album like, say, Physical Graffiti, where there is a huge range of songs.  They're mining a particular vein of ore.  (Spring 2007)


John5, Vertigo.  I lost Mark Rizzo's Colossal Myopia and had to re-order it; Amazon suggested this one, too.  There are a few tracks that I like – the early ones on the disc where he really tries to go in new directions.  Then some of the later tracks seem more like homages, trying to prove that he can play a classic tune like the old guys.  (Spring 2007)


Swift, The Absolute Uncontrollable.  A few decent tracks but nothing great.  I liked a few of their songs that I found off Pandora but I guess that's it for now. (Winter 2006-07)


Children of Bodom, Are You Dead Yet?  This was a complete shot in the dark, and I missed.  They're Euro-metal, where the "euro" means synthesizer solos, they sound like embarrassing 80s hair metal. (Winter 2006-07)


Killswitch Engage, As Daylight Dies.  Love it, love it, love it!  KsE rock!  This one has even gotten some limited airplay on the radio.  These guys are just great, I like their music from the very first listen but then I go back to it and it still sounds good, it still moves me, when I get out of the car (my main listening area) the tunes still play in my head. (Winter 2006-07)


Mushroomhead, Savior Sorrow.  These guys, who have apparently been around for quite a while, remind me of Faith No More – and, like them, are probably doomed to lists of "top 10 most under-appreciated bands". (Winter 2006-07)


Atreyu, A Death-Grip on Yesterday.  This album is quite different from others of the genre – the lyrics are about love and relationships (ok, it's still metal, they're all complaints), which really bring home the reality that apparently most death metal lyricists don't have girlfriends!  (Or at least their prime target market doesn't.)  This album has a few good tracks but doesn't seem to bear much re-listening. (Winter 2006-07)


Trivium, The Crusade.  I was very excited to get their new album since I was such a fan of Ascendancy.  This one is pretty straight-up: the guitar work gets even fancier, the songs pound out, the lyrics are dumb-dumb-dumb-dumber…  It kind of bothers me to get a song stuck in my head with such lame lyrics spinning with it.  Obviously, then, their instrumental track is a real favorite, as are the tunes where the lyrics don't go for the trite, like Can't Stop Us Now or Anthem (We are the Fire).  Their lyrics would be better if they just lifted them randomly from the bottom of penis-enlargement spam!  Actually it got me thinking about how to write a computer program that would auto-generate death-metal lyrics, it would just need a list of suitable words (maim bleeding revenge) that would just ask for the pattern/number of stressed/unstressed syllables and fill in words by random number generator.  Could be fun! (Fall 2006)


Since I'm waiting for their new album, I went and got Killswitch Engage's previous album on Roadrunner, Alive or Just Breathing.  This has their previous vocalist, who was actually surprisingly similar in style to their new guy – even though I thought that it was a rather unique and un-replicatable sound!  But I've been loving the album and have been killing off auditory nerves with it. (Fall 2006)


Audioslave, Revelations.  Grabbed their new album about as soon as I could get my hands on it – I've loved RATM since their first album and Soundgarden since Badmotorfinger.  This album is a bit slower, not as hard-rocking as their first two were (maybe it's their analog to Led Zep III).  (Fall 2006)


Gizmachi, The Imbuing.  I found this band on, which I got to in a rather circuitous manner.  I happened to meet some guys from Synthetic Delusion on MetroNorth.  They were clearly not regular train riders – black clothes and piercings set them off from the business suits or Westport kids.  They had come from Denver to do a show in Shelton, of all places – just for some kid who was a huge fan.  An impressive display of fan service!  Anyway they referred me to their website on, which linked to that had their songs available for listening.  I like their stuff but then I scanned some of the other bands (those with the most popular downloads) including Gizmachi and Holotype.  Gizmachi has their own unique sound, not really heavy metal, with their own particular tuning, songs that turn on a dime from banging to oddly-tuned choruses (maybe a bit like Helmet?).  My favorite, that I found from and that convinced me to buy the album, is People Show.  Find it and give it a listen!  (Spring 2006)


Trivium, Ascendancy.  Another strong, melodic, metal album.  I love their sing-along songs, although I'll admit that many of them are tough to actually sing with.  Many of the lyrics sound like cuttings from George Lucas' Star Wars scripts: bombastic torrents that don't scan with the rhythms of the tune so the vocalist has to stretch some and compact others, that are filled with ponderous silver-dollar words in place of nickel terms like their single "Bullet to the Head of Trepidation".  Don't get me wrong, I really like them – the tunes keep echoing in my head.  But it can be annoying to get a tune caught in your head all day when you don't know the words, "da da da dum genocidial rage" or something.  And I'm clearly Road Runner's bitch – this band is on their label along with Soulfly, Chimaira, Killswitch Engage, and some others.  Maybe I should start just buying whatever they put out (with the exception of Nickelback – sorry, Canada).  Heavy metal, two guitarists, melodic crunching – yup, yup, yup!  (Spring 2006)


Mark Rizzo, Colossal Myopia.  He's Soulfly's guitarist, presumably largely responsible for some of the change in the "feel" of their most recent album.  His album of instrumentals is great.  Some songs are definitely metal; some pluck from other disparate genres – sometimes right in the midst of a song!  Like some of Soulfly's stuff, a song will just jump styles right in the middle – creates a sort of musical diptych.  There's also a strong Hispanic element, whether the near-flamenco stylings of some to the mariachi vibe of others.  I read an interview where he called it "flamencore." (Spring 2006)


MTV2 Headbanger's Ball, The Revenge.  This "tasting menu" is helping me expand my reach.  I really liked Trivium's contribution and so picked up their album.  There are a couple of other bands that I've liked, too, as well as pieces like Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society with River, that I wouldn't buy as part of an album but are nice to have.  (Spring 2006)


I've joked about my musical taste, how being a fan of heavy metal just doesn't get no respect.  If I were a fan of, say, experimental jazz (which would also be considered basically un-listenable by someone who's not a devotee) then that would get cred; but certain genres get no respect.  People with otherwise broad artistic taste, who are long past whether certain visual arts are legitimate or not, still would write off heavy metal.  Sure, the main fan base are teen boys with bad acne.  Sure, most album covers are predominantly black (or sometimes red).  Sure, most song titles involve death and despair.  It has its silly tropes!  But I like it.


Tool, 10,000 Days.  This album rocks – and given how long has been the wait, it better!  Donna says it sounds more like some of their older work.  It confirms Tool as this decade's version of Pink Floyd – I'm waiting for the movie to be made to slam-dunk it!  (Spring 2006)


As often is the case, I bought these next 4 in a bunch: Fear Factory's Transgression, Next from Sevendust, Chimaira, and Killswitch Engage.  (Spring 2006)


Killswitch Engage, End of Heartache.  This is just awesome, I've really been enjoying this album.  Imagine if Pantera's Phil Anselmo got together with Mike Patton of Faith No More, and they made an incredible hard-edged but melodic album.  The almost operatic stylings of some of the songs recall Faith No More or early Tool.  Their "When Darkness Falls" is the first single – it's really catchy and rolls along.  But the rest of the album crunches too – the first 5 songs are just awesome.  I'm not sure I could pick a favorite.


Chimaira.  Very heavy and sludgy but it grows on you.  Perhaps the best track is the last one on the disk, Lazarus – and that one really gets going a whole 4 minutes into the song!  It has an actual, honest-to-god, awesome heavy-metal guitar solo!  I'm old enough to remember the era that brought guitar solos into disrepute (I saw Ace Freely playing a guitar that lit up when he played, Ugh!) but I'm very happy to hear these.  Most songs are pretty long, making it clear that they're not going for radio airplay, they're going to become popular in other ways.


Sevendust, Next.  Although there was a big deal about how this album would be a radical departure from their former work now that they had escaped the lash of their former record label, I don't see it.  Most songs could be on any of their recent albums, without standing out as a disparate style.  I like Sevendust and I like their style of songwriting, nonetheless this album didn't move me all that often, it didn't touch me quite as much.


Fear Factory, Transgression.  I've hardly listened to this one.  They cover U2 pretty faithfully – never my favorite song and I don't like their version much.  I will probably warm up to it but it's still not as good as previous discs.  (Spring 2006)


Soulfly, Dark Ages.  This one has really swept over me – at first it left me rather cold but then a few of the tracks have really just set up inside my brain, squatting in my subconscious so that the melodies go in the morning when I get up and all day as I work.  Some of the later tracks are the best: Inner Spirit, Stay Strong, Riot Starter, and Soulfly V.  This was a birthday gift from Donna (of course, both Sevendust and Fear Factory have new albums out, so I've still got some buyin' to do).  (Fall 2005)


System of a Down, Mezmerize.  I've liked their singles and finally tried a whole album.  It's really growing on me.  They're very weird songs – reminiscent of the Butthole Surfers or Talking Heads in the way that they take a few cool riffs and, instead of building a solid single, intersperse them with freak-ass crazy changes and breaks.  (written Summer 2005)


Lamb of God, As the Palaces Burn, has been fitting my mood lately.  I'm not a fan of the death-metal trope vocals (I just imagine Beavis and Butthead saying, "Heh, first he's mad in a low voice, then he's mad in a high voice").  But the music rocks – it can be almost mechanical and precise, somehow methodically virulent, it sounds like a whole factory running at once.  I know that I have awful taste in music.  I know that this is one of the more bizarrely age-inappropriate albums to own.  But I don't care; I just like the music.  (I will note that one of my students, Ikhtiar Allen, turned me on to this band, repaying my help getting him caught up on some of the golden oldies like Alice in Chains.) (written Summer 2005)


REM, Around the Sun.  This hasn't caught my interest yet, but then again sometimes their albums take a while to catch me.  (Up took several listenings; now I believe that Walk Unafraid is one of their best songs.) (written Summer 2005)


Foo Fighters, In Your Honor, double album – the first one is electric and the second acoustic.  The first one is more immediately likeable; but the second disk has been growing on me as I listen to it more.  It's a bit surprising that they're already 10 year veterans – I still consider Grohl as first a member of Nirvana and second Foo Fighters (despite 5 albums of material from the latter).  He writes such nice songs – you hear it once and it seems like you've already heard it many times before.  I know that's one reason he doesn't get as much critical respect; people worry that they're like Def Leppard or Boston or Stone Temple Pilots or something, like eating a candy bar – no nutrition just a short-term good feeling.  Who knows?  I'm not wise enough to be able to tell. (written Summer 2005)


two old Incubus discs – Enjoy Incubus and Fungus Amongus.  Since SCIENCE is our favorite album (we saw Incubus way, way, back at a late-90s Ozzfest and went out to buy their album, back before they had their later hits or their evolving reputation as less rock and more pop) I decided to hear what they did before it.  These discs (Enjoy is an EP with many of the same tracks as Fungus) are both fun, if not quite as "wow!" as SCIENCE.  They have that same ska-funk sort of Fishbone sort of sound that Incubus has now, apparently, abandoned (I guess not enough people like it – that's the power of the marketplace!). (written Summer 2005)


Nine Inch Nails, with_teeth.  If you're the sort of person who likes NIN then this record is good; if not then it's not.  Reznor does his thing and some people (me, for example) are happy with it.  It's not some major stylistic departure, it's just him mining some more from the same vein.  The first track has a very South-Asian sort of vibe (reminds me of the continuous-play background music when we stayed at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami).  One track begins eerily like a ZZTop single, if you could imagine a weirder mash-up. (written Summer 2005)


Mudvayne Lost and Found.  After enjoying their first album (which I bought, solely on the basis that they were opening up for Metallica on tour a couple years ago), I was looking forward to this one.  This one has a couple of good singles but the rest just doesn't grab me.  Of course the lyrics haven't changed: the same sort of overly-sensitive-high-school-sophomore stuff.  But their sound is good and just fits well – the sort of thing to play loud in the summer with the windows down as you're driving down the highway. (written Summer 2005)


Audioslave, Out of Exile.  From the very first track, with its old-fashioned riff, this is a traditional album.  It could be called roots rock, where roots means Physical Graffiti.  When I heard the first song (Your Time Has Come, their second single), I spent most of the song thinking "they can't possibly do anything new with this ancient riff," along with trying to come up with all the songs that previously used it.  But then I eventually relaxed an enjoyed it.  The album is that way overall: sometimes you wonder how they could possibly do it, go to that same well, that thousands of other people have drawn from in the past four decades, and possibly find something new!  But then the songs lurk in my subconscious; I wake up with snatches of their tracks spinning through my head.  I just keep listening to this album – it's in sustained heavy rotation.  Certain songs just achieve these incredibly beautiful moments!  My favorite song might be "From Yesterday Comes Tomorrow," with such lush beautiful pellucid guitar riffs.  (Quite a distance from "Tomorrow Begins Tomorrow" back when Cornell was writing lyrics for Soundgarden, too.) (written Summer 2005)


Soulfly, Prophecy, 2004.  In some alternate universe, Metallica fractured along different lines, leaving Lars, Kirt, and Jason looking for a singer.  They found Max and together the four put down some incredible songs.  Somehow those tracks ended up on this Soulfly album, in our very own universe!  Seriously, you read the listing of track titles and note all the similarities to 'Tally tunes.  Tracks 2 and 3 on the album are vintage classic metal: screams of hostility and joy with powerful crashing chords.  Soulfly has long been a favorite of mine, since I happened to see them at a long-ago Ozzfest and was impressed enough to go buy the first album.  Since I heard "Bleed," I've been a hardcore fan.  Their last album, 3, was under-rated but very strong.  The best song was a cover of Sangue de Barrio by some Brazilian band.  Soulfly gave it the icy pure beauty of a mathematical theorem – clear logical inexorable procession!  This album is great.  The first track, with its keening siren/prayer call riff, is an awesome single.  The next ones pound into your brain, before the album goes onto a madcap tour of world music with Max.  There's the ska inflections of "Moses," the mariachi band wrap-up of the gospel blues tune (12).  Tracks 9 and 10, "Porrada" and the "Meantime" cover, return to the pounding metal that Soulfly does so well.  "Meantime" melds Helmet's precision discord with gracious punk ballsiness, ending in a Layla-evincing coda.  Maybe Paige Hamilton will return the favor and cover "Tribe" – hey, a guy can dream…  (written Summer 2005)