11) Falconer “Black Moon Rising”
To me Falconer sounds like a symphonic metal band without the symphonic part. They don’t have a keyboard player, just a trio of guitars, which actually surprised me to learn after a few listens. The confident and clear vocals of Mathias Blad separate the band from other guitar-driven metal acts.
12) Paul & Storm “Ball Pit”
These nerdy novelty rockers only put out gems. I imagine them hanging out with other nerd-for-profit pioneers Chris Hardwick, Jonathan Coulton, Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, though Paul & Storm are likely lesser-known names.
Highlights for me are “Dusty California”, “Right Here With You” and “You Left Me”. “This Song” didn’t mock the corporate-backed indie “Hey!” quite enough. “The Irish Sing-Along Song (Live)” was great the first time, and a lot of fun live, but I find myself skipping over it on repeated listens.
13) Epica “The Quantum Enigma”
Some symphonic metal bands will always make this list, and Epica is certainly one of them.
14) Glass Hammer “Ode to Echo”
I know little about Glass Hammer for a band I’ve been following for 15 years. I’ve never seen them live, they don’t really tour, and with a constantly revolving line-up I don’t really have a good mental image of who’s playing these instruments.
To me the Jon Davison years were forgettable. They just didn’t demand additional listens. The glory years were the early 2000s (Lex Rex, Shadowlands, The Inconsolable Secret) and moments from these albums still give me shivers. “Ode to Echo” was a return to their glory years and this can largely be attributed to the returning vocals of Susie Bogdanowicz. When she finally returns with the line “… that tells me I’m alive” in Misantrog in brought back those shivers.
15) Mark Erelli “Milltowns”
I felt bad that I didn’t like this album when I first heard it. I didn’t really like it for the first few months. I expect a lot from any project that Mark Erelli puts his name on, even if it’s an album of covers.
I didn’t know Bill Morrissey’s music either so at first listen it was just a Mark Erelli album. The songs seemed simple and didn’t catch my attention. It wasn’t until a mid-November train ride from Boston to New York City that I began to appreciate it for its lyrical content which added the necessary complexities to the simple melodies.
The train drove by working-class town sequels like New Rochelle, New London and New Haven CT. Many of the neighborhoods looked run-down and likely didn’t show their best side to the train passengers going from one urban hub to another. I imagined these to be the Milltowns and neighborhoods Bill sang of, though I can’t be certain I saw a mill (or remnant of).
16) Steel Panther “All You Can Eat”
I love Hooter’s wings. I’d want to get Hooter’s wings if they were delivered by a (sanitary) homeless man. What does this have to do with Steel Panther? They’re a novelty act, sure, but I’d listen to them even without the crude lyrics and stage show. Their music (just like the wings) is good enough to stand its own without the gimmick.
17) Tori Amos “Unrepentant Geraldines”
This album makes me feel the need to apologize to all women, though I did nothing wrong (really). And then feel depressed that society throws away older people (30+) and that we’re all too old to learn new tricks. Then to top it off it makes me feel bad for any prior diet mistakes.
I’ve stuck with Tori through all her 2000s work and I’m a fan. She doesn’t really take risks here but I think she wanted to make a more accessible album to win back fans she may have lost with “Night of Hunters”.
18) Flying Colors “Second Nature”
Flying Colors managed to top their debut album with Second Nature. It’s tough to rank Mike Portnoy’s bands but if forced to chose I’d put this only behind Transatlantic (Winery Dog’s being third I suppose). While Transatlantic can tend to sounds like solo Neal Morse with a surprise Roine verse every once in a while, Flying Colors is its own band with Neal taking a backseat to lead vocals. When he does sing it’s refreshing.
19) BrentalFloss “Flossophy”
BrentalFloss has the job we all wanted, but didn’t know could exist – he writes lyrics to video game music and sneaks his own original material in just because he can.
I forgot how awesome Ken’s Theme is from Street Fighter. I never played Cave Story but am happy to get the theme stuck in my head today. Earthbound was one of my favorite games growing up but doesn’t really appear in pop culture. I’m glad to be reminded of its quirkiness 20 years after I played it.
20) Sonata Arctica “Pariah’s Child”
While I feel like I’m laughing along with Edguy at their cheesy lyrics, with Sonata Arctica it seems to be more of a English-as-a-second-language issue. It doesn’t take away from the driving melodic metal they produce though. This is music to jog and smile to. It’s my heavy metal guilty pleasure.