Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fifteen Songs I Dug in 2011

It is now the third of January, and you know what that means: That's right, it means we're long past the point where people care about reading a list of my top 15 songs from last year! Well, tough noogies, because here it is anyway.

(links below go to youtube videos where I could find 'em; like the song? buy the record.)

15. "Gold" by Glassjaw (from Coloring Book EP)
Glassjaw returned from a long hiatus with a retooled lineup in 2010, and while I didn't find Coloring Book (an EP handed out at shows on their 2011 tour dates) quite as impressive as last year's singles collection Our Color Green, it still had some standout tunes, particularly this one. Daryl Palumbo's vocals are still as show-stopping as ever, but the real star here is Durjah Lang's polyrhythmic drumming.

14. "Generals of Dark Hymns" by Pulling Teeth (from Irons/Pulling Teeth split LP)
Pulling Teeth put out their much anticipated (and final) album, Funerary, this year, but in my mind this song from their split with ambient grou
p Irons was their best effort in 2011. It's a great showcase for every shade of their music, segueing from a quietly haunting intro into the sheer speed, lead guitar theatrics and bilious vocals that first marked them as a band to watch in the metal-infused-hardcore scene. It's in the final minutes that this song really makes its mark, though, with a tremelo-picked guitar outro I can only think to describe as "triumphant," as goofy as that makes me sound. Whatever, they were one of the few bands around that could pull something like this off.

13. "27" by Title Fight (from Shed)
As I've mentioned before, I unfairly dismissed Title Fight for a long time based on their name, believing them to be the kind of tough-guy hardcore I norm
ally avoid like the plague. Instead, I was surprised when I listened to Shed and found a band that had more in common with, let's say, Hot Water Music than, let's say, Terror. This track was one of the catchiest punk songs of the year, easy.

12. "Paths of Glory" by Dropdead (from Converge/Dropdead Split)
Now, this is one that surprised me, as Dropdead has previously been a band that really did nothing for me. But damn if these guys didn't show up Converge - one of my favorite bands - on their 20th anniversary split seven-inch. Dropdead's con
tribution is predictably a 90 second slice of powerviolence and political vitriol, but it really feels like the Aristotelian ideal for such material. In large part this has to do with Kurt Ballou's excellent production, giving the guitars and vocals a punch they rarely have on records of this type. And that breakdown towards the end is just killer.

11. "Evictionaries" by Trap Them (from Darker Handcraft)
At this point, Trap Them have firmly established themselves as the most take-no-shit metal/hardcore band to emerge in the past decade. If I had to sum up their approach to heavy music on the Darker Handcraft LP in one word, that word would be "effortless." They just make kicking absurd degrees of ass sound so easy. Here, they strip away any of their past post-grind theatrics to show that they can craft a simple, stomping hardcore tune free of any bells and whistles. It's the sound of a band with nothing to prove, out to not-prove it in the most aggressive way possible.

10. "Hell Broke Luce" by Tom Waits (from Bad As Me)
I've heard this record described as being like a "Tom Waits' Greatest Hits" album, but comprised entirely of new songs. I guess that would make this song the Bone Machine analogue, with a bit of Mule Variations thrown in. It's Tom Waits in full-on w
hackjob mode, spitting lyrics that are remarkably straightforward (it's one of the most overtly political songs I've heard of his) over a loud-as-hell drumbeat and a dirty lead guitar. It's nice to know that old age will seemingly never soften Tom Waits (this is also one of his most overtly vulgar songs in a while). His weirdness is a universal constant.

9. "Arrows" by Lunglust (from Western Syndrome/Lunglust split)
I wrote about this one a bit in my review of the Boston Ph
oenix's "Born of Fire" sampler in October. I wasn't sure I expected going in that anything from that sampler would really stick with me to the end of the year, but damn if this song didn't. It's a hell of a Botch-influenced metalcore song with a really burly low end that knows when to slow things down for optimal heaviness but also knows not to wear out its welcome. Definitely looking forward to more from these guys.

8. "Visualize Latham" by Drug Church (from Drug Church EP)
This one definitely takes the prize for "'90s Throwback of the Ye
ar." The new side project from Patrick Kindlon of Self Defense Family is pure Quicksand/Helmet, post-grunge-but-before-the-scourge-of-nu-metal chunky guitar riffsmithing. If you're not moshing in your chair within the first 30 seconds of this song, you're only cheating yourself. A promising debut.

7. "Strange News from Another Planet" by ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead (from Tao of the Dead)
Trail of Dead have caught a lot of flack for their post-Source Tags And Codes work (and, yes, this is their best album since that one). An hour long prog rock opus consisting of two 15-30 minute long 'parts' or 16 'movements' is unlikely to convince any of
the naysayers that these guys aren't pretentious as shit and/or huge nerds, but what can I say, I dig the bombast. This song in particular is their "Echoes," sixteen minutes of unmitigated prog-rock excess (and I have to say, it took true sack to open their set with this when I saw them back in April). Either you're into it or you're not. Personally, I think they pull this off a lot better than most bands trying to do the 'prog-revival' thing these days.

6. "The Greatest Story Never Told" by Saigon (from The Greatest Story Never Told)
I don't listen to nearly enough current hip-hop, and as such there's probably a lot I missed from the past year, but Saigon's debut studio album, released in February, made enough of an impression on me that it's still on rotation nearly a full year later. The title track sums up just about everything that makes the album an instant classic, f
rom Just Blaze's immediately catchy beats to Saigon's forceful lyrics, angry and hopeful in equal measure.

5. "The Shit That You Hate" by Bomb the Music Industry! (from Vacation)
Bomb the Music Industry! have done the slow, sad song thing before - about once an album, in fact. This song is the first time they've really sunk into out-and-out melodrama, though (If you knew the new BtMI album would feature a string section at any point, you're a more prescient listener than I). That it works is a testament to Jeff Rosenst
ock's songwriting, some of the best and in punk rock today. Vacation manages to be maybe their most accessible album while at the same time feeling like their most oddly specific.

4. "Violet" by Deafheaven (from Roads to Judah)
I really feel like there's very little I can say about Deafheaven that hasn't been said all over the internet already, but hot damn. It's really rare that a band can take such well-worn musical tropes and combine them in a way that feels totally unique w
hile still paying homage to their predecessors (in this case, Burzum, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Smiths - an interesting combo). The first four minutes or so of this track are some of the most haunting of the year, and the last eight should be enough to get anyone headbanging (at least as much as one can at a black metal show).

3. "The Blessed Void" by All Pigs Must Die (from God Is War)
If you were looking for a record to straight up beat the shit out of you this year, you could do a lot worse than God Is War by All Pigs Must Die. While their first EP was a fun teaser of angry-as-fuck music to come, the new album is a towering achievement, o
ne of the most crushingly heavy records to come from the Entombed school of metal in years. "The Blessed Void" opens up side two with a terrifying bang, but as scary as this band can be, I defy anyone to listen to the last 38 seconds of this song (I'll give you a hint: "DESTROY!") and not hear a band that's having a total blast.

2. "Sing My Loves" by Cave In (from White Silence)
Every year needs at least one good comeback record, and in White Silence, 2011 got one of the best in recent memory. Cave In have finally managed on this one to make a successful melange of everything that's ever made them underground favor
ites, from effects-laden technical metal to equally effects-laden spaced-out radio rock. This song, already the consensus favorite from an album not starved for standout songs, distills all of that into one eight-minute centerpiece. It's heavy, it's pretty, it instantly closes all the wounds opened by Isis breaking up... Is there nothing Cave In can't do?

1. "I'm Going Through Some Shit" by Self Defense Family (from I'm Going Through Some Shit b/w All Fruit is Ripe)
Self Defense Family (formerly End of a Year) but out a lot of great material this year: another two-song single for Run for Cover Records, and one side of a split with Fires that would've made it on this list if I wasn't consciously limiting myself to one
song per artist. It was even hard to narrow down which song I would choose from this seven-inch; All Fruit is Ripe, a first-person diatribe by way of religious invocation, is as energetic and clever a song as they've ever done. This song had to be it, though, if not for the way the mournful guitar melody gives way to an uplifting and more typically punk rock outro, then for Patrick Kindlon's vocals, never sounding quite so anguished or purposeful as here, and his lyrics, rarely more evocative. In my eyes, no other lyrics in 2011 contained the power of the couplet "Found no luck in finding work / but money is why they invented sex." Their first release under the Self Defense Family moniker, the band has musically reinvented themselves as well, and remain the most exciting band to watch in the punk scene.

Other stuff I dug this year:
Cold Cave, Kendrick Lamarr, True Widow, Clams Casino, Gods and Queens, Blut Aus Nord.

Other Stuff I might've dug if I'd bothered to listen to it: Killer Mike, Pharoahe Monch, Helms Alee, KEN Mode, Russian Circles

Top Ten Live Shows I Saw this year:
10. Mike Watt and Dirty Dishes at T.T. the Bear's
9. Glassjaw at the Paradise
8. Deftones and Dillinger Escape Plan at Lupo's
7. Doomriders, Sweet Cobra, Ramming Speed and Lunglust at Great Scott
6. Deafheaven, VYGR, The Proselyte and Western Syndrome at O'Brien's
5. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Surfer Blood and True Widow at The Middle East
4. Bomb the Music Industry and Cheap Girls at the Middle East
3. Cave In at Great Scott
2. The Dismemberment Plan and Certainly, Sir at The Paradise
1. Converge, Dropdead, Trap Them, Burning Love and All Pigs Must Die at The Middle East (Holy shit, I still can't believe that bill. I almost feel bad for all the other shows.)

Prettiest slab of goo that I bought this year: Roads to Judah by Deafheaven.

The record itself looks like a pint of Guinness, but it sounds more like shotgunning straight absinthe.

(Runner Up: Tao of the Dead by ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead)
Okay, so this record looks doofy as hell. But between the laser etching, the 16 page comic book printed on the record sleeves (double album, natch), the CGI artwork and the random Starfox cameos, it's a definite conversation piece.

Best song that sounds like "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears: "Sing My Loves" by Cave In (Runner Up: "I Can't Work a Straight Job" by Self Defense Family)

Best Movie of the Year: I'll go with the consensus for my demographic and say Drive. Shame, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Captain America were also great.

Best Book I read this year: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem almost instantly became my favorite sci-fi book of all time. (Runner Up: Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincey).

That's all, folks. Enjoy 2012.

-Michael James Roberson