I'm not claiming to be the best music critic in the world here. I'll listen to and appreciate about anything but really mainstream country music. Probably more a sign of my personality than musical taste.
What I listen to on a more regular basis is fairly limited. I tend to listen more to the "alternative" category than anything else.
Here are a few reviews of CDs I've gotten this year:
Band - Title - Rating (out of 10)
Coldplay - Viva La Vida - 9 - This is by far the CD that I have listened to the most this year. I've heard the criticisms that it only has only 10 tracks and that there's only a couple of radio-play tracks on it. However, I really like the fact this was made into a "theme album". The two instrumentals that start and end the CD are reminiscent of the theme Coldplay emphasized in their "How We Saw the World" concert. This is a snapshot, almost like a view into a window of what was going on at the time. Musically, the songs aren't that challenging. I could pick up a guitar and play something that sounded like any of the songs in probably two or three minutes. But the choice of instruments, the mix of unusual percussion and synthetic sounds makes this a well produced CD. Certainly it is their least "mainstream" work to date, but really I'm tired of these CDs I buy that have two or three good songs that are radio-friendly and the rest are filler. There's no filler here.
Kaiser Chiefs - Off With Their Heads - 7 - Just got this one recently. Sort of has a British "Futureheads" meet "Duran Duran" sound. Catchy tunes here, the kind of songs that get stuck in your head. That bright-80s backbeat sound has certainly made a comeback, and this band does a good job with it.
Metallica - Death Magnet - 7 - No slow jams here. This CD is fast and angry. Never been a huge Metallica fan, but I'm sure those who like the band really like this CD. Has more of an "And Justice for All" sound than a "Black" sound. Put it on the IPOD for a good work out.
Smashing Pumpkins - American Gothic - 6 - It would be easy to overlook this, being how it was released New Year's Day and through their website, but the Smashing Pumpkins put out their second CD in a year, an EP. Never has Billy Corgan's voice sounded as bad, which says a lot, because (I'll be kind here) Billy's more known for his song writing than singing. Aside from this, it's a completely different sound than their full-length CD of 2007, mellow, acoustic. Even though the four tracks are decent, it's not a must have.
The Charlatans - You Cross My Path - 6 - These guys have been around awhile. A co-worker of mine in the UK tipped me off to this one. It's a good listen, good Brit Pop Rock. A plus here, this CD has the sound of a very tight band. Not too gimmicky.
Kings of Leon - Only By Night - 5 - I personally didn't like this CD all that much, although I know others did. Has that sort of empty, throaty sound. Tolerable for me, that's about it. The "country" riffs thrown into almost a light-punk sound is intriguing though. Never seen them live, I would bet they are better live than memorex.
Snow Patrol - A Hundred Million Suns - 7 - I got this one a little early. Less "Eyes Open" more "Final Straw". The last track (the long one) is great. Anyone who heard the way Extreme meshed together the last three tracks on "Extreme III" would appreciate this one (OK, it's not that well done). This CD is a little more diverse than the band's last CD. Still gets a little sappy, too mainstream at time.
MGMT - The Oracular Spectacular - 7 - For those of us who do venture into the world of Mike Patton side-projects, this is refreshing (Peeping Tom wasn't that great). MGMT has taken a pretty simple sound and fed it through a kaliedescope in an echoing hallway. Everything echos here. Also out of the Radiohead book, not a lot of verse-chorus-verse here. I wouldn't put this on unless you were in the mood for "something different".
Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight - 5 - Remember Soul Coughing? Why does this remind me of that band? This has a real "alternative sound". I could see this as one of those CDs all the alternative-heads talk about but you never hear. I didn't really find anything that stood out about this CD and found it a little repetitive.
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago - 7 - This one is making a lot of people's top 10 lists. I went in with an open mind. At first this could sound pretty run-of-the-mile, but it's a lyrical advancement on most folk-rock sounding acts. It will grow on you a bit. The folk sound is pre-Elliot Smith, pre-Neil Young even. Banjos fit in everywhere, but the vocals are more modern. Not bad at all.
Ray LaMontagne - Gossip In the Grain - 7 - Unlike contemporary Josh Ritter, Ray definitely made a CD more familiar to his fans than different. It's got a lot of "American sounds" (again with the banjos, even a dixie-band sound at times). The music features Ray's voice more than his voice covering over the instruments. A unique voice it is, which can sound deep or soulful one moment and raspy another.
Keane - Perfect Symmetry - 6 - Another band that has fallen back to an 80s sound, although they don't quite do it as well as others. Keane's vocals got the band popularity in the US with their "Hopes and Fears" CD, then went for a more complicated sound on "Under the Iron Sea" but didn't hide Tom Chaplins' tremendous vocal range. There's a few good hooks in here, but it's watered down and gets lost in redundant failed disco beats. I think Keane suffers from suffering the bar so high with their first US release. They've yet to get back there.
Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul - 7 - I know this one has its detractors, but as a non-Oasis fan, I actually liked it. Sure, you want to know why John, George, Paul and Ringo didn't sing on this one, but the tunes are pleasant in the typical Oasis dreary way.
Santogold - Santogold - 8 - This could be written off as a quasi-hip hop album from the well-known "Creator" single, but really this is extremely diverse. Santogold's voice can almost sound like Stevie Nicks or Aimee Mann at times. One could pull 2 or 3 tracks off this CD and convince you it was a totally different band and you'd believe it.
I didn't review the Aimee Man, Goldfrapp or Portishead CD's yet, because I haven't heard enough of them. What I've heard I've liked, especially Portishead. I keep hearing that the Killers new CD is going to sound like a dance club, so that worries me a bit, but I can't confirm it.
I'm a big fan of Ben Folds, but "Way to Normal" still remains unlistened to other than the catch single "You Don't Know Me". I also love the Futureheads but the verdict is still out on their new one. Check out this band though. Conor Oberst's new one, also very good.
I absolutely hated the Panic! At the Disco CD, although I know fans seemed to like it. Also, the Scarlett Johanson CD is the probably the worst thing I ever heard. And trust me when I say I am willing to give something a little different a try.