Wind-Up Records

Greatest Hits

Creed
Creed weren't just one of many two-album wonders of the post-grunge late '90s, they were the biggest of the two-album wonders, selling more records and crashing harder than any other their peers. All the while they produced unflappably earnest heavy rock -- music that sounded like Pearl Jam, only not nearly as much fun. They also traded on Pearl Jam's unfortunate tendency to place sheer emotion and sound over hooks, and since Creed weren't as powerful or interesting musically as the Seattle quartet, that meant that their albums could sound rather samey in the long haul. Nevertheless, their sincerity resonated among mainstream listeners irritated that Pearl Jam went weird after Vs., and with 2000s "With Arms Wide Open," they had a power ballad hit with universal appeal that helped break them through to an even wider audience than they had before. It, naturally, is the literal centerpiece of Creed's 2004 Greatest Hits, arriving in the middle of the 13-song album. Since it remains their biggest and best song, it's only appropriate that it has such a prominent position on this album, because a listen to the entire album reveals that the rest of their material hasn't aged all that well. Still, for those listeners who want to dig back to the halcyon year or two where Creed were one of the biggest bands in the land, Greatest Hits is the way to do it, since it has all of their charting hits, minus the minor radio hit cover of "Riders on the Storm" from the 2000 Doors tribute album Stoned Immaculate. It may not be timeless music, but Greatest Hits does gather all the noteworthy Creed tracks for those who care. [The initial pressings also contained a bonus DVD, containing all of Creed's music videos, along with some live performances. Unfortunately, the menu interface is not well designed -- it is only possible to play the videos individually, there is no "Play All" function.]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Fallen

Evanescence
Fallen is the major-label debut of Evanescence, a Little Rock, AR-based quartet led by the soaring vocals of 20-year-old Amy Lee. Emboldened by the inclusion of its single "Bring Me to Life" on the soundtrack to the hit film Daredevil, Fallen debuted at an impressive number seven on Billboard's Top 40. But "Bring Me to Life" is a bit misleading. A flawless slice of Linkin Park-style anguish pop, it's actually a duet between Lee and 12 Stones' Paul McCoy. In fact, almost half of Fallen's 11 songs are piano-driven ballads that suggest Tori Amos if she wore too much mascara and recorded for the Projekt label. The other half of the album does include flashes of the single's PG-rated nu-metal ("Everybody's Fool," "Going Under"). But it's the symphonic goth rock of groups like Type O Negative that influences most of Fallen. Ethereal synths float above Ben Moody's crunching guitar in "Haunted," while "Whisper" even features apocalyptic strings and a scary chorus of Latin voices right out of Carmina Burana. "Tourniquet" is an anguished, urgent rocker driven by chugging guitars and spiraling synths, with brooding lyrics that reference Evanescence's Christian values: "Am I too lost to be saved?/Am I too lost?/My God! My tourniquet/Return to me salvation." The song is Fallen's emotional center point and defines the band's sound.

Water In A Whale

Jillette Johnson

Evanescence

Evanescence
Released five years after The Open Door, Evanescence’s third album picks up where the last one left off, with vocalist Amy Lee singing songs about death, angst, and brokenness over her band’s dark gothic grooves. Evanescence also finds room to experiment with other influences, working drum loops and synthesizers into an otherwise guitar-heavy sound. Although Steve Lillywhite was originally scheduled to produce, he was eventually replaced by Nick Raskulinecz, who brings the same sort of bottom-heavy crunch to Evanescence that he gave to the Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor., Rovi

Walk The Line

Original Soundtrack

Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces

Seether

The Sun Comes Out Tonight

Filter

Hot Cakes

The Darkness

King

O.A.R.
O.A.R. streamlined their sound on 2008’s All Sides, downplaying the frat boy anthems and reggae rhythms that launched their career in favor of a slick pop/rock approach. Released three years later, King finds the group reconvening the production team that turned All Sides into a Top 40 hit. The songs are more laid-back this time around, more reminiscent of Dave Matthews than the Snow Patrol epics that filled All Sides.

Andrew Leahey, Rovi

The Great Divide

Scott Stapp
On his first album since disbanding Creed in 2004 -- and his first collection of new material since the band's last album, Weathered, in 2001 -- singer/songwriter Scott Stapp strips his music back to its barest essence. Gone are the indulgent arty flourishes, such as a cameo from the Tallahassee Boys Choir, that weighed down Weathered, and all that's left on The Great Divide are layers and layers of heavy, heavy guitars, which support Stapp's guttural declarations of angst and faith. It makes for the hardest, most immediate music he's made since Creed's debut, My Own Prison, but not necessarily the best. Certainly those looking for another "With Arms Wide Open" will be a little disappointed -- there are power ballads here, but with the notable exception of "Surround Me," not only do they lack the dramatic anthemic quality that made that a huge hit, they're given somber, heavy arrangements that appeal only to the portion of his audience that prefers the Scott Stapp who channels Jim Morrison and favors loud, distorted guitars. Since the prog inflections of Weathered didn't suit Stapp's music well -- his lyrics are so earnest he needs music lacking in affectation -- this back-to-basics approach serves him relatively well, even if it inevitably feels like a bit of retreat, as if he were consciously playing to the core of his base in order to guarantee an audience for his solo work. Nevertheless, this plays well on the surface, providing Creed fans with the basic sound that the band drifted away from at the tail end of its career, even if it does leave the lingering feeling that Stapp is trying to sound like Creed on his solo debut instead of embracing the freedom of being a solo artist.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Stop The World

Aranda

12 Stones

12 Stones
Wind-Up Entertainment struck gold with Creed, and the label has made post-grunge rock its signature sound ever since. The trend continues with this eponymous debut from 12 Stones. The New Orleans natives perfectly combine the melodic intervention of Three Doors Down with a sense of dramatic dynamics right out of Nickelback's bag of tricks. It's all held together by soaring vocals -- akin to a more polished version of (four more stones) Gavin Rossdale -- that will sound oh so perfect coming out of a radio speaker, along with more technical axe-work, particularly in the soloing, than the more commercial fare usually has. When you throw in a solid mix courtesy of producer Jay Baumgardner (Drowning Pool, Papa Roach) that accentuates all of the hit-making potential of tracks such as "Open Your Eyes," lead single "Broken," and the tribal "Soulfire," 12 Stones seems to be a can't-miss prospect from start to finish.

Brian O'Neill, Rovi

Sinner

Drowning Pool
Drowning Pool's debut album, Sinner, is a surprise. Sure, the four guys who compose the band are displayed on the back cover like they were tailor-made for the rap-core scene which had arisen out of the late '90s, but musically they're a little better than the rest. Singer Dave Williams has really impressive vocals, which unlike many of their comrades actually shows diversity and a refreshing breadth. Multiple variations of melodic singing to multiple ranges of screaming that is unlike little of what comes out from the Ozzfest crowd. Musically, Drowning Pool are a cross between Korn and Tool, but much more akin to Tool, primarily in reference to the vocals. Everything else on the album is smooth and perfect, like a plan having gone off according to plan. The riffs on Sinner are huge, with enormous grooves and great dance parts. In fact, the track "Bodies" was written inherently to be a song to get people to dance with its line of "something's got to give/let the bodies hit the floor." While Drowning Pool may not be the next musical Beethoven, they are a welcome breath of fresh air in the midst of all the so-called "hardcore" that is on the airwaves today. A strong starting piece, Sinner shows Drowning Pool's great potential.

Kurt Morris, Rovi

Holy Weather

Civil Twilight
Mercurial, spacious, and immaculately crafted, Nashville-based South African-born indie rock outfit Civil Twilight's sophomore outing sounds like an amalgamation of Coldplay, U2, and Fleet Foxes, with a heavy helping of English art rockers Guillemots tossed in for good measure. If the slick yet winningly elusive, commercial-sounding Holy Weather is beholden to any style, it's the shifty confines of adult alternative rock, but they do enough within the genre's translucent parameters to warrant inclusion in the folk, electronic, and pop worlds as well.

James Christopher Monger, Rovi

Memories Of A Beautiful Disaster

James Durbin
James Durbin was the default "rocker" on the 2011 season of "American Idol" and played the role well, covering tracks by Queen, Judas Priest, and others. He did not win, but finished in fourth place as a fan favorite for his soaring vocals and faux-hawked, "post-grunge meets hair metal" image. Durbin's post-"Idol" debut, 2011's Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, is much more pop than rock, and in that sense a fairly true representation of Durbin's rock theatricality and knack for wailing away on tunes packed with radio-friendly hooks. One might have expected him to deliver a dark, post-grunge album à la his "AmIdol" brethren Daughtry or David Cook, and certainly the leadoff track "Higher Than Heaven" packages Durbin's angelic yawlp with just enough processed electric guitar fuzz and squelch to register as nu-metal dirty. Elsewhere, listeners get a pop-friendly concoction of OneRepublic-esque uplift cuts such as "All I Want," the veritable power pop-infused "Love in Ruins," and the anthemic ballad "Love Me Bad." Ultimately, Durbin does deliver the vocal goods here on material that should appeal to his "AmIdol" fan base.

Matt Collar, Rovi

Slice

Five For Fighting
Continuing the journey into full-blown soft rock Five for Fighting began on 2006's Two Lights, 2009's Slice takes its title from a Don McLean "American Pie" allusion and its sound from early-'70s Billy Joel and, especially, Elton John, whose grandly orchestrated albums with Paul Buckmaster provide a touchstone for this, John Ondrasik's fifth collection of originals. Indebted as he is to the past, he is indeed a man of his time, well-manicured and polite, never coloring outside of the lines, but this inherent good nature serves him better on Slice than it did on his early recordings because the emphasis is on the sound, not his quivering sincerity. Each song is richly, fully arranged, placing an emphasis on his symphonic soft rock, and in pure musical terms, this is his most appealing set of songs to date, precisely because it pushes his melodies, not lyrics, to the forefront.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

King Of Conflict

The Virginmarys
King of Conflict is the debut album from British rock outfit The Virginmarys. While forming in 2006, the band did not ink their first record deal till 2012, spending their early years touring with the likes of Feeder, Eagles of Death Metal and Skunk Anansie. Produced by Toby Jepson (Little Angels, Gun), the album sees the band deliver a blast of classic rock, inspired by the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who and Nirvana., Rovi

Bones

Young Guns
Young Guns recorded their sophomore record in the remote Karma Sound Studios, Thailand, where it was produced by SikTh guitarist Dan Weller (Enter Shikari, Gallows, Johnny Truant). The British alt-rock outfit pick up from their successful debut - All Our Kings Are Dead - and firmly cement their melodic rock sound here, with lead singer Gustav Wood’s powerful vocals matched by the ferocity of the drums and soaring, infectious guitar hooks., Rovi

Civil Twilight

Civil Twilight

Ordinary Riches

Company Of Thieves
With their fondness for Oscar Wilde quotes and inclusion in Wind-Up Records' roster -- a place normally reserved for post-grunge and alt-metal groups -- Company of Thieves know how to set themselves apart from the pack. Musically, however, the band doesn't quite establish a unique personality with Ordinary Riches, originally released in 2007 as the band's independent debut. Singer Genevieve Schatz confidently steers the album's best number, "Oscar Wilde," with a mix of belty choruses and girlish verses, sighing through the high notes with breathy sex appeal. Meanwhile, guitarist Marc Walloch alternates between arpeggiated chords and swirling riffs, all of which he reprises throughout the record to diverse effect. Where the group falters, though, is in the actual songwriting, which yields several standout tracks ("Quiet on the Front," with its harmonica-filled intro, and the neo-jazz tune "In Passing") but also produces a good deal of alterna-rock filler. Few songs on Ordinary Riches are concise -- only two tracks finish before the four-minute mark, and one does so with four short seconds to spare -- which makes the filler songs all the more troublesome, since they often continue for upwards of five minutes. Had Company of Thieves reentered the studio on Wind-Up's dime, they may have left with more worthy partners to "Oscar Wilde." Instead, Ordinary Riches ends up sounding like a very good independent release swamped by major-label expectations.

Andrew Leahey, Rovi

Life Turns Electric

Finger Eleven
Finger Eleven’s sequel to 2007’s Juno Award-winning Them vs. You vs. Me sees the onetime Rainbow Butt Monkeys embracing their slow slide toward respectable middle age. All lingering elements of rebellion, noise, and aggression have been banished; their funk -- when it surfaces -- is not a breakneck freakout but digs into an actual groove (“Living in a Dream” almost yo-yos to a disco beat); and they’re not afraid to get full-out hooky and poppy, as they do on the rather excellent “Stone Soul.” The aforementioned two cuts are Finger Eleven at their extreme ends of the spectrum. Most of the time they’re hugging the middle, turning out big anthems that are confident and catchy modern rock, the work of a band whose members have found their comfort zone and are happy to inhabit it fully.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Thriving Ivory

Thriving Ivory