11 January, 2012

The Top 30 (or so) Records/EP's etc. of 2011, Part 2: 25-21

On to the next set of 5. This will go on in installments of 5 until the final 5 are... exposed. I'm sure you're all looking forward to the next batch of hand-selected recordings! Oh, what will he pick? How will he demonstrate his incredible taste and knowledge this time? Yeah I'm even more bored with my own schtick than you are, so let's go...

25. The United Sons of Toil - When The Revolution Comes, Everything Will Be Beautiful

This "precision Midwestern noise-rock" trio win the prize for best album title of the year, and the music lives up to the title. This is enraged music. While it doesn't quite sound like noise-rock to me - it's a very melodic record, and it's nowhere close to being as demented and sloppy as most of what I consider noise-rock usually is - what it does sound like is really, really, really good post-hardcore with a radical-left political agenda that asserts itself at every moment. And, boy, is that ever needed. In a year where American mainstream politics fully crossed over into a realm that was shameful, toothless, parodic, almost completely undone by convulsive anxiety and utterly bankrupt, it was necessary to have a record that challenged that atmosphere through every minute of its' duration. This is doubly true when you consider where the band is from (and where I'm currently living) - Madison, WI, where Republican governor Scott Walker is so justifiably disliked that he can't even appear in public there. While I'm not always sure that the record as a whole lives up to the two best songs - the devastating opener "Alcoholism In The Former Soviet Republics" and the epic, soaring, but completely unsparing "The Concept of the Urban Guerrilla" - the band's absolute commitment to the music is undeniable, and there's not even a hint of filler. This record is a unified and very well-written reaction to strenuous, bizarre and often intolerable times. Hearing lead singer/guitarist Russell Emerson Hall scream "Too many stars have GOOOOOOOOOOOOONE OUT!" live was a great moment for me during 2011.

24. Suburbanite - Suburbanite 7" (Youth Attack)

YEEEEEAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!! WAIT, WAIT, WHAT? WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? I SAID I'M LISTENING TO THIS 7" BY SUBURBANITE! ARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH FUCK YEAH!!! *moshes* Oh. Anyway. This 7" is just wonderful, well-written hardcore the way it so often should be done, but often never is. Raise up your fists and yell at heaven, your boss, your life, everything around you. Possibly the best thing about it is that it's almost always anthemic, but never stoops to any of the ridiculously lame clich├ęs "anthemic" hardcore almost always stoops to. It's as if it becomes anthemic through the sheer passion of performance. Man, I'm almost tempted to rank this higher in the list...

23. Freddy Ruppert - Dove Hounds (American Tragedies) (Little Cathedral/self-released)

I guess I should just admit at this stage that Freddy Ruppert is a friend of mine (and that some of the bands who I've listed are also friends and/or acquaintances, including The United Sons of Toil and Joe 4). That's fine, though, because this record is really interesting. There's some sort of concept going on here about famous Americans whose lives ended badly (hence the subtitle American Tragedies and titles referring to Elvis Presley and Sylvia Plath), but honestly I'm not too bothered with whatever concept is driving this. For one thing, you can't really hear it in the lyrics anyway - all of them are the type of extremely personal, artless, uncomfortably honest diary-extract musings that characterize Ruppert's lyrics - and most of the time, you're not really paying attention to the lyrics. That's because the music is often, but not always, a very interesting and original melange of icy electronics and buried pop songwriting - and when the album isn't concealing pop melody, it does it's level best to unsettle you. "For The Sake Of" is a highlight of the album, with pleasant, hopeful guitars, relaxing, soothing synths and bright, popping drum programming offset by remarkably cruel, almost methodically hateful lyrics. Topped off with Freddy's detached, brittle, crooning baritone, the effect kind of makes you squirm a bit. The album does have one very noticeable weakness, though; none of the pieces of interstitial music that Ruppert included as a way of tying together the album really work. Nevertheless, the album succeeds enough of the time for me to recommend it - and it's often pretty hard to categorize, to boot. Few tracks this year were even nearly as flat-out creepy as "Our Separate Churches."

22. Joe 4 - Enola Gay EP (Whosbrain)

This is one remarkably tight band.
Joe 4 are a power trio from Croatia that make noise-rock of the '90's Chicago tough-guy variety - but this isn't merely genre worship (though that's definitely going on). There's a solid sense of songwriting, plus they have an unconventional talent for tying together millions of seemingly unrelated parts in their songs and making them work together. When you write songs that contain this many different parts, and when you're playing this kind of noise rock, you have to play with a lot of muscle and remarkable precision. And this band does that. Joe 4 always plays with lots of power - it seems like they're audibly restraining themselves at times, which adds to the sense of release when they let go later on - and can pretty obviously turn around on a dime. I can't imagine you not liking this if you're a fan of bands like Shorty and Big'n, though Joe 4 is less intense than Big'n and much less defiantly weird than Shorty. And really, for someone who hates his own voice, guitarist Josip's rough, furious roar always suits the songs perfectly. I can't imagine anyone else singing these songs.

21. The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient
(Secretly Canadian)

Remember when I was trying to make a not-too-well-thought-out point about how anthemic Suburbanite's music was? Or how it provoked an anthemic response in me? Speaking of music that's anthemic in a completely different way, this band makes indie rock that seems like widescreen neo-psychedelia, all massed Spacemen 3/4AD guitars, beautifully ambient (per the title) synths and organs that would make Brian Eno and Rick Wright envious and studied classic-rock songwriting. Surprisingly, considering it's an indie rock record that was made in 2011, it's actually rock music and it's actually good. Adam Granduciel's Dylan-worshiping vocals can be a little much at times (sometimes he sounds more like Tom "Coyote Swamp Ugly" Petty instead of Bob Dylan, which isn't too good of a thing), but like it or not that's his style, and often Granduciel does the seemingly impossible and makes that run-into-the-ground vocal style work for him. Plus, whoever engineered this record deserves some kind of medal. This album sounds amazing - all those layered guitars and keyboards singing in perfect electro-harmony together while a motorik drum set cuts through the drones and drives everything along (nicely solving that traditional Spacemen 3 problem of not having a rhythm section that did anything at all) makes for one hell of a sound. Put that together with the fact that this record is about as consistent as thickening gel and you have something that was a whole hell of a lot rarer than Pitchfork would have you believe: a very solid, extremely listenable and tuneful indie rock record that actually rocked, and put its' influences together in a way that wasn't completely beholden to them.


  1. Thanks for the kind words. We appreciate the support and enthusiasm.

    Russell (USoT)


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