My Top 10 Records of 2011:
1. Balance and Composure - Seperation
From pretty much the moment I heard this record, I knew it would be one of my favourites of the year. Although perhaps losing a little of the heaviness from their songs on the Tigers Jaw split, B&C still retain a quality of song-writing that is largely unmatched elsewhere in the genre and scene that they usually find themselves placed within and I’m excited to see where they progress to next. An essential record for any listener who likes to be challenged and think outside of the box when they put a record on for the first time.
2. Fireworks - Gospel
Another record in this list that marks a step forward in terms of song writing for the band concerned. Where their previous LP had a lot of great ideas and catchy songs, it sometimes felt a bit disjointed and a little forced. This record however, feels like a band who have found a fresh confidence in their ability and as a result the record benefits from being a lot more cohesive and fluid. While a lot of songs are stripped-down numbers, full of pop sensibilities (‘Oh, Why Can’t We Start Old And Get Younger?’), there are still plenty of intricate sections that give the record a longevity and, trite as this may sound, a sense of maturity (album highlight ‘Teeth’ being the prime example.) It’s a shame that this record seems to have been overlooked in many ‘Best Of’ lists, because it’s excellent and should, by rights, push the band on to new levels of success.
3. Title Fight - Shed
I wrote a pretty lenghty review of this record when it was first released and everything I said back then - maturity, cohesion, great decision getting Walter Schreifels onboard - all still ring true. A brilliant record.
4. Polar Bear Club - Clash. Battle. Guilt. Pride.
No doubt some people will say I’m a bit biased when it comes to PBC records, but this release is nothing short of outstanding in my opinion. Full of massive, soaring chorus’ and a couple of unexpected moments (‘3/4 Tango’) this is a record that I keep coming back to and finding new things to love.
5. Into It. Over It. - Proper
Having only really heard Evan Weiss’ (aka Into It. Over It.) songs played solo, it was a pleasant change to hear a record played with a full band behind him. The added musicians create a new depth and dimension to the songs on offer and result in a record that is genuinely beautiful. There may be a danger that with a full band on them, some of the tracks become cluttered, but the production and level of musicianship mean that this is never the case; delicate numbers are given the space they need to breath and then more forceful tunes are backed up by the required level of noise and hostility. It’s a record that seems to collect all of Weiss’ ideas from his prolific back-catalogue and delivers them in one succint, cohesive output and it is truly a joy to behold.
6. Joyce Manor - Joyce Manor
I must admit, this record only made a late run in to this list after seeing it in SO many other people’s end of year favourite lists. I’d heard it when it first came out and really liked it, but I don’t think I fully appreciated its merits until this past week. Discordent and melodic at the same time, there is an urgency on show that conveys Joyce Manor’s obvious enthusiasm for the songs that they’re playing. The record flies by in a little under 20 minutes, but in that time they have crafted enough memorable tunes that it’s extremely hard to not hit rewind and begin the whole record again right away. Definitely ones to look out for in 2012.
7. Action Bronson - Dr Lecter
The best hip-hop record that I’ve heard this year, ‘Dr Lecter’ brings to mind the easy New York flow of artists like Nas and Ghostface Killah, while at the same time putting his own stamp on proceedings and creating something unique. Much of this is down to his lyrics, which frequently reference his background as a gormet chef in New York City and this adds an interesting twist to his songs. So much better than the average outputs from artists like Drake, this is one of several records that is helping to bring New York rap back in to the spotlight.
8. Transit - Listen and Forgive
Their last record saw Transit make significant steps in progressing away from their earlier, more regulation pop-punk sound and on ‘Listen and Forgive’ they’ve truly left it behind. What they’ve created instead is a delicate, intricate output that recalls Taking Back Sunday or more recent Saves The Day. This shift in direction suits Transit perfectly - they’ve never sounded better musicaly in my opinion - and the whole record has a nostalgic feel, partly due to the nods to the 90s emo-punk bands that clearly shaped it. It’s not perfect, some of the songs are maybe too polished and clean, but it’s a progression that stands Transit in excellent stead for the future and elevates them above other bands in their genre, many of whom are quite happy treading water, recycling the same New Found Glory riff. Transit clearly weren’t content with this, and that is to their eternal credit.
9. Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See
In my view, Arctic Monkeys have never made a bad recording. After their critically acclaimed previous record, ‘Humbug’ - that while excellent, left a lot of Arctic Monkeys fans confused - the Sheffield foursome return to more familiar ground, although still progressing as musicians and as a unit. Drawing on the influence of classic 60s guitar pop, this is a record that swaggers and shimmers with a confidence and depth that most indie bands like to think they have, but which few truly possess. Alex Turner’s biting, witty lyrics are still present and the whole output cements Arctic Monkeys as the best guitar rock band around.
10. Omegas - Blasts of Lunacy
Frantic, fist-pumping garage tinged hardcore that is miles better than most of the other hardcore outputs this year. I’ve read some descriptions of Omegas as having a “New York hardcore sound” and while this isn’t strictly true, they do bring to mind the ‘classic’ 80s sound of bands like Minor Threat and Agnostic Front, while also drawing influence from more modern bands such as Fucked Up (the early stuff, obviously) as well as garage acts such as The Mummies. Vibrant, fresh and aggressive, this record is essential for anyone who’s become disinchated with hardcore in recent times.
Basement - I Wish I Could Stay Here
True Widow - As High as the Highest Heavens and From the Centre to the Circumference of he Earth
The Jealous Guys - The Love Mixtape
Fucked Up - David Comes To Life
Touché Amoré - Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
This is one smart man right here. Pay attention.