Monthly Archive for March, 2008

Top 15 Albums of 2007: 10-6

Before it gets too embarrassingly further into 2008, and without further ado:

10. Burial – Untrue
Dubstep is The Thing these days; there is no end of Skream imitators knocking about in the alleyways of Britain, and grime is on its way in as well. However, it’s already all begun to mush together into an unappreciable mess, as tired as the techstep drum and bass beat has become within mere moments of its blaze of glory. Thankfully, dubstep is defined loosely enough that we may feel entitled to call Burial’s music dubstep, and thus we find ourself somewhere entirely else all of a sudden. Burial’s dubstep in Untrue is moody, brooding, and yet always pensive, as if it daren’t reveal its deepest secrets. Melodies shift and slide semi-consciously in and out of what may only be termed an entire musical atmosphere, always coherent yet never cogent. Untrue is the type of album that doesn’t require a particular mood, it sets your mood to it, and thus is truly an achievement.
Key Tracks: Archangel, Ghost Hardware, Shell of Light

9. Matrix and Futurebound – Universal Truth
Universal Truth
Matrix and Futurebound have both been in the Drum and Bass business for a long time, but not until they began to collaborate did they really come to the forefront of the scene. Their American Beauty remix is quite a remarkable adaptation, and when Skyscraper hit, it hit big, staying at the top of the charts for several months, earning it the title “The Eternal Skyscraper” around here. Soulful and nearly spiritual, Skyscraper is the embodiment of something new and different, as is much of Matrix and Futurebound’s work. They have done their best to wrap Skyscraper with a similarly high quality LP, and largely succeeded. The tune Universal Truth itself is more typical fare, but certainly has its own character and, along with most of the album is fantastic. While about half of the album blurs together and is largely forgettable, there are enough gems buried in the wax to make the album truly shine. The sheer variety of music on the album is quite impressive, with the hip-hop infused Knight Riderz (featuring MC Spyda) followed shortly by Sandstorm, a title used altogether too much in electronic music in general, a nearly Trancestep production. My only possible complaint is that all the biggest hits are placed right at the beginning of the album, but as hardly anyone listens to albums straight up in Drum and Bass, this is hardly a significant concern.
Key Tracks: Universal Truth, Knight Riderz, Skyscraper

8. Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
No matter how many times I attempted to listen to this album to garner enough material to write about it for the sake of this post, I simply couldn’t ever focus on the specifics of it after long: I always found myself suddenly at the end of the album, staring at a spot on the wall after an illusory couple of minutes of listening. And in this regard, Explosions did what they do best; they created an album that is nothing short of a hypnotic experience from beginning to end, which is the key quality for which I enjoy their music in the first place. There is no other music that has nearly this effect, and Explosions has mastered it incredibly well. All of a Sudden itself is a slightly emotive beast than my favorite album, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, with more – shall we say – explosive crescendos and perhaps a bit more variety to the various textures that flow through the songwriting. There are moments in All of a Sudden that aren’t simply hypnotic as usual, but downright breathtaking, as if you just strolled into a secret garden of sorts, and there are moments of capricious outbursts which will catch you off guard if you’re not paying attention. Overall, this trade-in of rolling landscapes for perhaps more interesting and emotive ones is a good move for the band, and I’m interested to see where they will take it next.
Key Tracks: The Birth and Death of the Day, It’s Natural to be Afraid, What Do You Go Home To?

7. Blackfield – Blackfield II
Blackfield IIBritish producer and artist Steve Wilson has had a fascinating career, producing most of Opeth’s albums as well as leading the initially fictional and later existent band Porcupine Tree. One quality that is persistent across all his varied works is an incredible attention to detail and an ability to produce incredibly lush songs. This ability has led to Porcupine Tree having been labeled as Progressive Rock perhaps before it truly became progressive, and it has also been lent to side project Blackfield, a collaboration with Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen. Blackfield’s music is indie in spirit, and yet somehow also progressive in breed, with 70’s progressive harmonies crooned over lush productions usually not found out of the prog realm, but with straightforward indie rock backing it all up. With Blackfield II, a lot of the issues with the original Blackfield have been addressed, most specifically the lack of a unified focus within the album, which was compounded by a number of covers of one or the other member’s past songs. Blackfield II feels more like it was written by a collaborative effort than two people trying individually to fill an album, but it seems hard to tell now what Aviv’s contribution to the effort is. Having had very little experience with his solo work, it’s hard to discern elements and signatures in the music that might belong to him, as it seems the whole of the music could have been written single-handedly by Wilson. Nevertheless, the united atmosphere paves the way for an album that is beautifully crafted and lavishly produced from beginning to end.
Key Tracks: Miss U, Where is My Love?, End of the World

6. Dream Theater – Systematic Chaos
Systematic Chaos
Those who know me might have expected this album to place higher on this list. Having placed it at number six, however, is by no means a mark of dissatisfaction with the album. In fact, it is an incredible piece of music with the standard Dream Theater trademarks to it. The fact that it is placed at number six is in fact not to detract from it, but a credit to the purely amazing top five albums on this list. I digress: Systematic Chaos is Dream Theater at its finest. It won’t win too many people over from the great classics (Metropolis Pt 2, Images and Words) as best Dream Theater album, but it comes damned close. Opening with a standard over the top progressive lick that wouldn’t be found anywhere else and giving way to the now familiar Dream Theater brand of progressive metal, the first three songs drive by in a whirlwind. Taking a trick out of Pink Floyd’s book, the first and last track of the album are in fact one epic song (which united is in fact their longest at 25 minutes and 38 seconds), which serves as a good way to balance out the sheer bipolar nature of the heart of the album: the nearly black metal Dark Eternal Night gives away to the nearly acoustic Repentance and the brooding Ministry of Lost Souls. All of the softer (but still dark) songs of the album are an excellent demonstration of territory Dream Theater has left largely untouched over the years – their ballads still tend to be powerful and extravagant – and are all great songs in their own right, while the more standard songs on the album are great but not necessarily outstanding considering the standard Dream Theater has set for themselves. The true star of the album, however, is the epic: In the Presence of Enemies (The Heretic and the Dark Master). Dream Theater hasn’t done too much in the way of fantasy themes and storytelling over their many years of songwriting (this being the territory of Symphony X), and here they tackle it head on to great success. The story is typical and fairly overlookable; the true success of the story is how it serves to allow the band to explore musical themes in a more flexible framework than previously offered, resulting in a track redefining the definition of the word “epic”. Let’s aim to see more of this in the future.
Key Tracks: In the Presence of Enemies, Repentance, The Ministry of Lost Souls

Look for the top 5 albums in the next few days, followed soon by a list of great albums from 2007 that didn’t make it on the list.

Arthur C. Clarke: 16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, perhaps best known for his seminal story 2001: A Space Odyssey, but also a visionary genius who, among other things, predicted the use of satellites for communication, has passed away today. May his vision and futurism continue on in his stead.

Perhaps I spoke too soon about IE8

It seems that IE8’s standards compliance may not be nearly as impressive as we had hoped. As reported on Download Squad and elsewhere, IE8 only passes the Acid2 standards compliance test if you visit the official one: if you visit an identical mirror elsewhere on the web, it will fail. Microsoft’s reasoning for this?

IE8 fails the copies of ACID2 due to the cross domain security checks IE performs for ActiveX controls. Since IE does not natively handle HTML content in the OBJECT tag, but rather uses IE’s rendering engine as an ActiveX to display this HTML content, the same cross domain security checks also apply.

While it seems like a legitimate enough reason to fail, and Microsoft is understandably scared stiff about anything that might even vaguely resemble a security hole these days, I can’t help but wonder why the other browsers don’t have this problem.

IE8 standards mode, revisited

For true, I never visited this whole debacle in the first place, but now seems like a good time to “re”visit the issue, as the IE team at Microsoft just announced that they have reversed their previous decision to continue supporting by default IE’s “quirks” mode. This is a resounding victory for developers everywhere.

It’s no secret whatsoever that Internet Explorer has traditionally shown a flagrant disregard towards standards in general, especially those put forth by the W3C. There are few to no web developers whose first utterance upon hearing mention of the browser is not a string of curse words; while other browsers’ discrepancies with regards to standards are often minor, easily reparable issues in practice, Internet Explorer’s behavior is often so far out in left field that it would seem far simpler to just code a new site from scratch to account for the browser. This is precisely why standards are important, as they save the developers time, improve the end user experience, and make the world a happier place; however, Microsoft has historically pushed its own idea of “standards” upon the web developer base, which is to say its own idea on how to implement what the W3C has already done. To this day, Internet Explorer supports only VML, and not the W3C-approved SVG that every other browser supports, and indeed was created out of a W3C merger of VML and PGML.

To be sure, Internet Explorer 7 is a step towards the right direction; transparent PNGs are now (finally) supported, and the box model has been repaired to some extent. However, because IE7 continues to support the broken model of IE6, and because there is no standards-compliant method of distinguishing between browsers, the addition of yet another tier in compliance from Microsoft simply made matters worse – now there are three entirely seperate cases to account for when developing for the web, rather than the two that existed before.

The solution of course is to not only improve upon IE’s standards compliance, but also to force the phase-out of the previous, broken models of IE. This isn’t good for diplomacy on Microsoft’s behalf, but it’s the right move to make for the future, and developers would appreciate Microsoft for it. They’d previously refused to make this move, but with today’s announcement, Microsoft is further proving that step by agonizing step, they are making up slowly for the grievances of the past. Here’s to the future.