11 January, 2012

The Top 30 (or so) Records/EP's etc. of 2011, Part 1: 30-26

2011 was a long year. It was the year that I released my first album as part of Pink City, which means it was the year that I finally released something that I could be proud of artistically. Amazingly, it got a bit of notice. Making that record was the highlight of my year. If you've listened to the album, that should tell you how I felt about most of the year. But, nicely, there were quite a lot of good records released this year - if you knew where to look, that is.

Without further ado, here are the Top 30 (or so, I haven't quite bothered to count yet) Records/EP's etc. of 2011. This is Part 1: 30-26.

30. True Widow - As High As The Highest Heavens And From The Center To The Circumference of The Earth (Kemado)

A lot of people really liked this record, and I really can't say much more other than I did too, though I doubt I liked it as much as other people did. What's going on here, to my ears, is a case of that old syndrome known as "sound over songs." I don't really remember how the songs on this record go, and I've listened to it a fair number of times. But man, is their sound great. Take a few parts Neil Young, add some Spacemen 3 and similar types of shoegaze, drop in slow tempos and hard-hitting, hammering drumming, mix in that patented Steve Albini-esque drum sound, drape the concoction in lots of foggy reverb, and furnish it all with ethereal and impassioned vocals, and you've got yourself a band sound that's both unique and to die for. I can't really imagine anyone not liking this record if you like all the individual components. They're extremely atmospheric.

29. Puerto Rico Flowers - 7 (Fan Death)

Another case of what seems initially like sound over songs: this album has an incredibly uniform sound. There's no deviation from the basic template of pounding drums, Joy Division/Cure-esque assertive basslines, ethereal and romantically depressing synths and John Sharkey's dark, sardonic croon. In a word, this is basically goth - except that there are no corndogs and theater majors in pale pancake makeup and eyeliner moaning about at their concerts. So it's basically goth without much of the bullshit, though the unchanging nature of the sound does get monotonous. So if it's as one-note as I say it is, what saves it? Well, it's not quite a case of sound over songs after all. (I lied.) "3 Sisters" is one of the most memorable songs of the year, with an incessant, roiling, tribal drum rhythm, a strong staircase bassline, extraordinarily catchy synthesizers (the tones suit the melody perfectly) and great lyrics that don't seem concerned with much of anything besides coming up with excellent hooks that stick in your brain: "And it's the same old story, same old story, same old lines I know..." The last three songs in particular all sort of melt into each other in a nice display of atmosphere, melody and songwriting all coming together and sustaining. I hope Sharkey makes more Puerto Rico Flowers records in the future.

28. Felt Drawings - Body (self-released)

This is quite an odd record: it sounds like it was made by an introverted, trembly-voiced loner in his basement with nothing but a M-Audio keyboard, a laptop and Ableton Live. It's a computer-based record. The main influence feels like '80's synthpop and goth, but there weren't really any synthpop records that sounded quite like this. Almost all the melodies are pretty poppy for the most part, but the vocals sound like the singer, in addition to being extremely depressed, is about an inch away from doing something that would get him arrested for indecent behavior in public. The effect is gothy, twitchy and creepy all at once. Combine that with the extremely warped influences from dance music and R&B, and you have a bizarre, homemade little record (and I say little deliberately - the thing is 31 minutes long) that is pretty difficult to categorize. I guess I'll call it electronic, but at the end of the day, I know I like it. It's strange stuff, but worth a listen for sure.

27. Vile Gash - Deluded 7" (Youth Attack)

Hey? Do you hear that sound? That wood chipper annihilating some unfortunate slob? Well, that isn't a piece of unfortunately homicidal machinery, but the first track on this three-song 7". It's thirty seconds of pure violence, an unbelievable assault. The following two songs are relatively more musical, but this is genuinely destructive hardcore. The entire thing lasts 2:56, and were three of the most vicious recorded minutes in 2011. Pick it up. You know it can't miss.

26. Unlearn - When The Reaper Comes To You, Will You Clap? 7"

Because I love all of you just that much, here's some more absolutely insane hardcore. What did they put in the water this year to make so many of these disgracefully unsung bands puke up such beautifully horrifying racket? Unlearn also put out a self-titled 12" this year, and while it's also very good, it's not close to being as unrelentingly nuts as this 7" is, and sheer balls-to-the-wall negative aggression is really of the essence in this band's music. I mean, come on - are you really going to argue with titles like "A Blade," "Landscapes of Deprivation" and "Used + Killed"? Of course you're not. Now sit down, shut up and let Unlearn beat the tobacco juice out of you for 7 minutes. You won't regret it if you have any guts at all.

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