13 January, 2012

The Top 30 (or so) Records/EP's etc. of 2011, Part 3: 20-16

Having decided to completely abandon "hilarious" (lame) intros, here we go with the next installment of 5. Let's see what we've got this time, shall we?

20. Avon Ladies - Guns and Gold 7"
(Katorga Works)

Four slices of really quite crazy and threatening hardcore noise. Featuring at least one ex-member of the great Cleveland hardcore band h100s (singer Chris Erba), aka the band responsible for more use of the word "fucksticks" on a live record than any other, Avon Ladies put together completely bruising hardcore with a dangerous, combustible atmosphere, some odd noise around the edges of a few of the songs (check out the slide-molested feedback and fucked-up watery vocals in the background of "Cyanide Lactater"), and most notably, some seriously weird songwriting decisions. This is really bizarre-sounding punk - but oddly, the more standard elements of the band's sound are what make it work so well. If this band wasn't obviously so well versed in more conventional hardcore, and wasn't as obviously tight as they are, their attempts to completely fuck with the genre wouldn't work nearly as well. Listen to those bizarro ascending bass runs in the wacky bridge of "Quality Programming" - that's certainly not standard hardcore, and the entire way the song's been constructed is completely off. It shouldn't even work at all, much less as well as it does. And listen to the way "Power Failure" continually interrupts its' own momentum with that awkwardly deformed bridge slapped right in the middle of the faster sections. Avon Ladies are an extremely rare thing - a hardcore band that is actually taking chances with the genre, and succeeding.

19. Pleasure Leftists - Pleasure Leftists EP (Fan Death)

Let's get it out of the way immediately: this is genre worship, but it's really good genre worship. This is gothic postpunk, and if nothing else, I'm a complete and total sucker for gothic postpunk. You should be able to name the influences without trying too hard - Joy Division, The Cure, maybe a bit of Magazine, a whole lot of Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc. - but this EP proves that you can be really indebted to a certain style without having all of your songs written for you. Because I definitely haven't heard these songs before. Haley Morris's oddly-enunciated, theatrical, sometimes quirky, mostly intense alto wail is a huge, wild, beautiful thing - the effect of her massive voice is heightened live, because she must be about 5'2", if that. (Accidentally missing most of their set when they played in town remains my biggest live show gripe of 2011 - I hope to see them in 2012!) Put that voice together with a rhythm section that's always focused on keeping things moving quickly - strangely and happily, for a band so focused on gothic postpunk, there isn't one dirge on the record - and a guitarist who seems to have enshrined John McGeoch and Bernard Sumner as his two personal idols, and the whole thing just makes for one honking hell of a good time if you're into the style. Basically this band has me, hook, line and sinker, and I'm eagerly anticipating whatever they come out with next.

18. Shoppers - Silver Year (Feeble Minds/Drugged Conscience)

This noise-punk trio from Ithaca, NY has gotten quite a large amount of notice for this album, and for good reason: it's a very powerful, ferociously intelligent and deeply angry record that often features acrid, hectoring vocals (from guitarist Meredith Graves) and great hooks buried within the furious, driving songs. Many of the hooks on the best songs come from Kari Charlsworth's strong, melodic, semi-distorted bass work, and the rhythm section's work in general is faultless. "IV," "V," "VII" and "VIII" in particular (every song on this album is titled with a Roman numeral - Shoppers seem to do this with every song of theirs, which must make their setlists a nightmare) feature real, substantial, great melodies that stick in your head and don't go anywhere. And the lyrics on every song are consistently insightful, penetrating, and filled with a righteous anger that is not easily dismissed. (Plus, I met them once and they were all really nice, solid people.) There's only one problem with the record - but unfortunately, it's a big one. It really, really could have sounded better than it does. The mix of this record does it absolutely no favors, which is a shame considering how good the songs are. While the idea of overdubbing feedback over every song is an old one that works in theory and practice (the Jesus and Mary Chain built their entire legend off of it, obviously), it's more than a little problematic when the actual guitars get this buried underneath not only the feedback, but the rhythm section and the vocals. For a record that I really like, I should not have this much trouble picking out what the guitars are playing on at least half of these songs - I can't say how much I wish the guitar parts and the guitar feedback had traded places in the mix. The problem lessens on the second side of the record, but a lot of the guitar parts on the first side of the album sound nearly indecipherable. And I know they'd be great if I could just actually hear them! Still, even keeping this in mind, Silver Year is a very, very good punk record that deserves repeated listens.

17. Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)

While a staggering amount of best-of-2011 lists seem to have included this album as their sole concession to "serious" music (Hey Look! Look At Us, You Reader You! We Listen To Important, Gavant-Arde Chin-Scratcher Music! Ain't We All Just So Intellectual! Bow Down To Our Superior Tastemaking Skillz, Worthless Peons!), it does happen to have deserved all the accolades it's gotten, therefore nicely rendering any grouching I might do about it moot. But one thing I want to mention is that, in their Best New Ad Kickback review, Pitchfork called it a "dark and claustrophobic record." Maybe I'm just being a contrarian here (with Pitchfork it's always hard to tell), but to my battered ears this is a starkly gorgeous record, one that does what ambient music is supposed to do at its best. It transforms the atmosphere around you, taking you to faraway mental places, and does a tremendous job of lulling and relaxing you - but the reason I believe it's made such an impression is because it avoids the two traps that I believe so much ambient music falls into. Ravedeath, 1972 never ignores emotional connections with the listener, and is never boring. This is ambient music that strikes a natural, intuitive, and ultimately inspired balance between planned, thought-through composition, enormous, possibly improvised organ drone, careful studio layering and deeply felt emotion. It's a true accomplishment that engages the heart as well as the mind.

16. Pop. 1280 - Thirteen Steps 7" (Single) (Blind Prophet)

The sheer fucked-up noisiness and futuristic-winos-in-the-gutter attitude of this single will have you twitching the entire way to the post office, supermarket, hospital, brothel or wherever you happen to be going. Side A of this single, "Thirteen Steps," keeps shifting between a nagging, extremely catchy guitar/synth-bass figure and a truly superb bridge that sounds like it got ripped straight out of the first Suicide album. Powered by
stiff, mechanistic Devo-esque beats courtesy of former Twin Stumps drummer Zach Ziemann, the song just steamrolls its way past all opposition, ending with an ass-kicking descending synth figure you'll soon probably try to rip off for your own band. "Thirteen Steps" is pretty much business as usual for Pop. 1280 - although it's possibly even catchier than some of their other anthems in this style. But the B-side, "Dead Hand," is... oh man. If this is where Pop. 1280 is heading, then I can only say Bring It The Fuck On, Right Fucking Now. They slow the pace down for this one, and the unbelievably twisted cacophony that results is like something out of a real industrial nightmare. The concoction of Ivan Lip's killing Rowland S. Howard-esque frizzle-fry guitar, synth noises that really sound like gears groaning and humming in time with the music, a Flipper-esque dirged out fuzz bassline, brutal stop-start drum hammering, and Chris Bug's trademarked paranoid rock and roll snarling about being the worm in your dirt and lifting up people's skirts is enough to make any true noisenik cream his jeans five times over and then polish off a bag of potato chips afterwards. Pop. 1280 is apparently releasing a new album called The Horror on January 24th, and if this single is anything to go by, it's going to be an easy contender for one of the best albums of 2012. No one sounds like this band right now. They're operating entirely on their own dystopian logic, and I can't wait for the full-length.

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