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MIKEPOSTMA Hard Rock Contributor
The Mouse and the Mask - Danger Doom
The Mouse and the Mask - Danger Doom
Prior to this, I'd been unfamiliar with rapper/producer MF Doom (vocals), who goes by at least three different aliases depending on what mood he's in that particular week, and whose image is that of an unpredictable anti-hero capable of slaying any nay-saying dragon with an almost too-easy flow. Enter DJ Danger Mouse on beats and production, who made his name in 2004 with his remix/mash-up of the Beatles and Jay-Z (the internet-only release, The Grey Album, was soon quashed by a legal crush). Danger's beats on a few of these tracks remind me of DJ Dust's work in Mars Ill; smooth and uplifting in spots, and up in your face and suited for clubs and headphones alike in others. Doom remains an untouchable emcee, using a rapid-fire flow to conjure up all kinds of twisted imagery and peppering them with obscure references that'll have your head spinning. Inspired by the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, the skits feature some of AS's favourite characters, and unlike most of the skits plaguing hiphop, these are a scream. The best rap album of the year, The Mouse and the Mask will do a lot to advance both Danger Mouse and MF Doom to further prominence.
Free At Last - Stretch Arm Strong
Free At Last - Stretch Arm Strong
Stretch Arm Strong have soldiered on after jumping ship from Solid State/Tooth & Nail and saying goodbye to longtime guitarist Scott Dempsey. Experimenting with a further emphasis on vocals and harmonies, a ballad-esque tune and overall poppier songwriting, Free At Last reflects its title as SAS prove that they're the hardcore band most able to incorporate their pop jones into their songwriting. These twelve tracks are simply busting out with the things that make Stretch great: rousing choruses, actual singing, tasteful breakdowns and the baddest rhythm section in rock and roll — bassist Jeremy Jeffers plays what sounds like a detuned five-string bass for extra depth and low end, and drummer John K. Barry's stickwork is propulsive and precise. The band's ability to remain optimistic even while questioning the things around them, as seen through the lens of singer Chris McLane's lyrics, is perhaps best summed up with an excerpt from opener "The Hardest Part": "We waste our days with regret and sorrow; in the back of our minds, we struggle with tomorrow... and on those days that you feel like you can't go on, I'll do my best to be there". For the ones who say Stretch Arm Strong have gone soft with their last two albums, don't believe the hype: the most versatile hardcore outfit around are still at the top of their game.
The Everglow - Mae
The Everglow - Mae
Anberlin's second album could be argued as T&N's best release of '05, but in the end, the musical dexterity displayed here pushed Mae to the top of the heap. Their 2003 debut Destination: Beautiful introduced the band's multi-dimensional epic rock to the masses, making their sophomore album a hot ticket — and the band blew away the already-high expectations, producing a warm, enveloping embrace of a record, spanning from piano ballads like "We're So Far Away" to rock anthems like "Someone Else's Arms" and lead single "Suspension". Having been tagged early on as imitators of Jimmy Eat World's older material, Mae certainly take a cue from Clarity- and Bleed American-era JEW, but somehow wound up sounding just as arena-friendly as their alleged mentors do nowadays. Dave Elkins' simple, gorgeous tenor fills out the songs admirably, and the band's use of keyboards and electronics embellishes an already rich, bright sound, with smooth chords and swirling melodies being the order of the day. The lyrics tell a story of a man finding his way through life's ups and downs, around its bends, only to discover the Everglow, which, I suppose, could be loosely interpreted as an allegory for heaven. The album cover and CD booklet mightily enhance the album with simple watercolour paintings, lovely portraits of each song(kudos to Seattle art maestros Asterik Studios). The Everglow's music, words and artwork simply cannot help but leave the listener with a smile on their face.
Wake The Dead - Comeback Kid
Wake The Dead - Comeback Kid
Having already kicked the doors down with their debut album Turn It Around back in 2003, Winnipeg, Manitoba's Comeback Kid cemented their stranglehold on the scene with easily the year's best hardcore album in Wake the Dead. Their straight-ahead approach and raw honesty are encapsulated on the optimistic title track: "Something stirs inside / This isn't over yet / Shake off the dirt / Swallow regret / Don't lose hope!" "Bright Lights Keep Shining" reaffirms this ideal, saying, "We are the bright lights, let's not stop shining — this life will always be worth living." Musically, CBK bear little resemblance to most of today's lurching hardcore with its fists-up lyrics and telegraphed mosh parts, opting instead to go back to the old school of fast-and-faster with quick, economical breakdowns sprinkled here and there with almost no warning (think Strike Anywhere's controlled abandon). Former Figure Four vocalist Andrew Neufeld handles one of CBK's guitars, and his roaring background vocals add an even harder edge. The searing guitar and dirty, pulsating bass of the band's live shows are captured perfectly on record: stark, powerful and able to destroy a venue of any size. From speed workouts like "My Other Side" to the thick, tightly-wound heaviness of "Partners In Crime" to the breakdown nineteen seconds into "Falling Apart" that drops the jaw with its dizzying ambush, this band has taken hardcore to a higher level. With no weaknesses whatsoever, Wake the Dead is hopefully just the beginning.
Vheissu - Thrice
#1. Vheissu - Thrice
Thrice have come a heck of a long way from the metal-tinged punk of their early years. The band's breakout album The Artist in The Ambulance (2003) achieved a rare synergy between metal and pop, and with Vheissu, there was worry that Thrice were abandoning their roots in heavy, aggressive music and were about to unveil a hugely-surprising curveball of an album.

And they did — stepping up and hitting one clear out of the ballpark. What startled me the most upon very first listen to lead single "Image of the Invisible" and beyond was the fact that almost every single song contained references to a higher being, to "screaming the name that could save us all" ("Stand and Feel Your Worth"). Upon further inspection, I began to wonder if there had been a conversion to Christianity in the case of lyricist and frontman Dustin Kensrue, which I later confirmed in an interview. If The Artist in the Ambulance was a collection of the works of a "seeker", as some have said, Vheissu is the lyrical testament of a Christian who has found what he believes to be the way, and it's a stunning tour de force from beginning to end.

There's "Christian music" that's manufactured by, marketed towards and purchased by Christians, and then there's this: professing Christ as part of a million-selling rock band on a major label. Yes, yes, I know, Switchfoot are exactly that, but something about Vheissu packs a more powerful punch. Perhaps it's the fact that Thrice reference such a wide range of artists, from masters-of-sludge Isis (see the unbelievably heavy throb of "The Earth Will Shake") to Coldplay (the sweeping crescendos of "Red Sky". Maybe it's the soaring, anthemic exultation of "Music Box" and its chorus of "We are not alone / We feel an unseen love / We are sons and heirs of grace / We the children of/a light that never dims / A love that never dies", which has moved me to tears on more than one occasion.

Or maybe it's the fact that Kensrue's words, like the ones that I wish I could bring forth, are so nakedly hopeful in their longing for redemption and unity. The finale of "For Miles" (incidentally, a nod to renowned pianist Miles Davis), roared at full throttle by Kensrue over scathing, abrasive guitar, reinforces this idea: "We must see that every scar is a bridge / And as long as we live / We must open up these wounds / When someone stands in your shoes / And will shed his own blood / There's no greater love / We must open up our wounds". God's Gospel has found a new platform in this young man's pen, and it's exciting to know that stadiums and stereos all over the world are hearing it.

And it's not like this is The Dustin Kensrue Show, either. Guitarist Teppei Teranishi and bassist Eddie Breckenridge contribute musical ideas, solid backup vocals and inventive, superior work on their respective instruments, while drummer Riley Breckenridge handles a lot of the songwriting and anchors every song with percussion that alternately embodies subtlety and power. The CD booklet is a terrific addendum to the recorded material; every song is briefly written about from the perspective of each band member, making for a thorough look at each one, from the influences to the studio work to the songwriting ideas. In short: with Vheissu's scope, depth and skill, Thrice have ruled 2005.

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