What do an acclaimed jazz pianist, a death metal vocalist and a five piece band have in common?  The answer is, not surprisingly, Tom Waits.  Seven Norwegian musicians from Trondheim’s metal, rock and jazz scenes have come together to form the traveling show titled “Earth Died Screaming (while I lay dreaming of Tom)”, a tribute to Tom Waits.  What comes from this union of Trondheim’s various music communities is an experience that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.  The single disappointment: that the group is sticking to Norway (as far as Years For Beards knows).

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PROS: fan-serving | full-band parts not overdone | heart-felt songs

CONS: not memorable as a whole

If you have heard the name Allison Weiss before, then you probably already know her story.  When she was fifteen, she began playing guitar to impress a boy in her creative writing class.  Several years, a profile on every social networking site you could imagine and eighty-some YouTube videos later, Allison Weiss continues to build an ever-increasing fanbase.  Unfortunately, any fan of hers can tell you that Allison Weiss is most certainly underappreciated.  There is no lack of dedication, talent or heart in the sounds Allison Weiss creates, and it seems as though she just needs a little something to push her over the top.  Her newest release, …Was Right All Along, is a step in the right direction.

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Noah and the Whale - The First Days of Spring

PROS: can mend a broken heart | more mature sound

CONS: depressing | boring | emotionally draining

Noah and the Whale’s second album The First Days of Spring, which came out October 6th, was not “fun fun fun” to listen to.  The album was written about the lead singer Charlie Fink’s recent split from girlfriend Laura Marling, who also used to be in the band. The band lacks variety without a female voice to offset the deepness of Fink’s sound.

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The following is a list of the ten albums that I feel, are the best releases in the last 10 years.  None of the decisions were made based on critical acclaim but merely on what I think are the most progressive and meaningful albums from 2000 to the present.  Every band is trying to do something different with their music and the following are examples of success in that goal.  Every one of these has a quality or style that is purely unique and influential.

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The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

PROS: effectively experimental | change in pace

CONS: Karen O can be a frog

Soon after “Do You Realize” was named “Oklahoma’s state rock song” The Flaming Lips must have grew tired of pleasing the masses.  On the latest album, this psychedelic pop has degenerated into a crunchy nonsensical pile of sound.  I mean that in the best way.  Embryonic is an ingenious layering of textures through which lead singer, Wayne Coyne, leads us on a sort of psychedelic journey.  While the lyrics and compositional aspects of the music are by no means spectacular, it is their presentation that is spot on.  The thought that most frequently crosses my mind when I listen to Embryonic I bet the studio is a mess…I mean absolutely trashed.  By the sound of this music, it seems like Coyne is just walking around smashing on objects lying around the room and pushing buttons on synthesizers with no particular method to the madness.  But then you realize, in the midst of all this noise, a very careful bass line is emerging.  And then if you can sift through all the crunching and crashing you will realize that these sounds have quickly evolved into drumbeats.  Still drenched in overdrive, distortion and the like, the first track “Convinced of the Hex” rises from the sound.

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Flight of the Conchords - I Told You I Was Freaky

PROS: catchy | quality musicianship | never drawn-out | great replay value

CONS: “Fashion Is Danger” | few true “new” songs

I Told You I Was Freaky is, from beginning to end, undoubtedly fun – and perhaps the best comedy music album released in recent memory.  Though ten of the thirteen Flight of the Conchords tracks on this album have been released as singles on the American iTunes store, I Told You I Was Freaky is the first time these songs have been put together in one package for worldwide distribution, and more importantly, this is the first chance fans have gotten to own these songs on an actual disc.

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Sufjan Stevens - The BQE

PROS: incredible sonic landscapes | inventive album packaging

CONS: a lot to chew

As classical music goes, I am no connoisseur. I want something that will hold my interest and that I can appreciate for its artistic merits. The BQE is an innovative piece of artwork. It is a mirror that we can see ourselves in and reflect upon the state of industrialization, innovation and American culture. What The BQE is not is easily accessible. True, you can listen and enjoy with greater ease than the typical neo-classical Phillip Glass or Steve Reich, but it remains challenging even for the most die-hard fan.

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