NYS Music’s annual rundown of the best and brightest that 2019 had to offer musically rolls on with our selections of the best albums of the year. The staff has spoken and selected the best album release for both national recording acts and those who call New York home. The results ended up producing a well known name in the jam community whose latest release shines and a band well known and revered in the rock scene that just returned to touring after a long layoff. And if you missed our earlier selections for 2019’s best “under the radar” bands, go here and catch up.
Album of the year – NY edition
The one name that seemed to pop up more than any other in our NY poll belonged to a Mr. Marco Benevento. His new release Let it Slide has been received with much acclaim and highlights the keyboard extraordinaire’s signature sound. In a departure from his other solo album releases (this is his sixth one to date), Benevento handed the keys for this one over to an outside producer in Leon Michels and the two Hudson Valley residents collaborated to make a record that’s both complex and an easy listen, combining elements of rock, jazz and funk.
With a host of tracks that feature poignant piano fills and simple yet effective rhythms, Let it Slide has received its fair share of critical acclaim. Rolling Stone praised “the textures and colors available in his keyboards and arsenal of manipulated pedals and effects,” along with his “deceptively rich, catchy melodies and straight-ahead grooves.” The album, as a whole, does a superb job of putting the music first and foremost with vocals and effects that compliment it.
Some of the more interesting tracks on the album are the strictly instrumental ones dubbed “Graffiano” that are brief piano interludes placed between the more traditional three or four-minute tracks. Although they are short in length, it gives an insight to level of creativity Benevento brings to his music. “The piano sound at one point didn’t feel right, so when no one was looking, I put some gaff tape on the strings to mute it,” says Benevento. “Everybody loved it and started calling it the Gaffiano. They’d say, ‘Go play something that sounds like Sun Ra meets Keith Jarrett on the Gaffiano,’ and I’d make up these crazy pieces on the spot.”
Between this and tracks with insightful vocals like “Lorraine” that deals with loss and change and “Solid Gold” which explores tenets of friendship, Let it Slide flows beautifully from start to finish, never getting too high or too low in mood or tempo. And between the initial tracking done at Diamond Mine in Queens with mastering and overdubs being taken care of in Upstate NY, it’s an ideal selection for our NY Album of the Year.
Album of the Year – National
For the non-New York Album of the Year, one seemed to rise above all the others. And it’s from a band that just made their triumphant return to touring to support it. Released in August, Tool’s Fear Inoculum is the group’s fifth studio album and their first one in nearly thirteen years. It features the signature Tool sound of pulsating, driving rock grooves with ethereal vocals supplemented by front man Maynard James Keenan. The album is the product of many years of work with setbacks and injuries to band members laced in between. In retrospect, Keenan recounted that the band constantly second-guessing themselves was a reason for the album taking so long, and that he believes the version of the album the band had going eight years ago in 2011 would have been “fantastic” too. But it still gets the job done in terms of bringing the intense sounds and feelings of a Tool show to your living room.
Not your typical hard rock band, Tool features several tracks on this album that stretch past the 10-minute mark, showcasing the band’s ability to find a groove and explore from within. The album as a whole has a runtime of 80 minutes – the maximum length for any CD. The concept of seven is a recurring theme of the album both musically and conceptually; guitar riffs were written in unusual time signatures related to the number seven, while Keenan introduced ideas related to seven as well. This is highlighted with the song “7empest,” a 15-minute rock exodus that’s the longest on the album.
The album also explores the concept of growing “older and wiser”. Keenan explained that the album covers the idea of “embracing where we are right now, acknowledging where we’ve come from and some of the things we’ve gone through.” They must be doing something right because the album debuted atop the Billboard 200 in September and has reached almost 250,000 album sales. It seems to have been well worth the wait and a recent successful tour in North America helped solidify this. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Take a listen below to the entire and listen for yourself.