Best of 2011
By now you’re probably dead tired of end of the year lists, some of them are extremely self-indulgent and, well, they do get a little samey.
It’s always hard to do these End of year things… not only because you’re still struggling with food coma nor because it’s sometimes a bit of a self-indulging thing. No, the problem is that as an editor, you tend to forget stuff around and sometimes even just plain give up in deciding which bands went above and beyond duty.
It’s also hard when the roster of writers and editors compacts, but that’s life, I guess. So, this year it’s only Orestes P. Xistos and me, Sam the Spam. It doesn’t feel right to do them like the previous years and the fact that I reviewed around 200 albums (no social life, me) and reviewed about 25 bands…well…how the fuck am I supposed to narrow them down?
As most of the people who write for this website spent most of their time from elementary school until junior high getting swirlies, thrown into a locker and chased and beaten, we tend to be a little stranger and off-kilter. But you’re not here to read about (fake) childhood traumas, you are here for a best of 2011 list, which we actually didn’t do, but here’s a recap of albums that touched us thoroughly.
Take into account that the vast majority of the reviews here are positive not because we are trying to please all bands. Rest assured, there is a pre-filtering of bands to do because, fuck, what’s the point of investing time and energy in doing a shit, nasty review of something you didn’t enjoy when you could invest that same time and energy into giving a good band some kudos?
Negative reviews are fun but they do get to be repetitive, mean for meanness’ sake, snobby and downright childish. Heck, 75% of the people doing negative reviews have never played an instrument (fact pulled out of my arse). I’ve played and failed. Writing is more my thing.
Anyhoo, this is not about me. This is about music. What drives and fuels us. What makes us cry about the lost one. What makes us sigh with memories good and bad. What makes us keep holding on to dear life when it is the darkest, loneliest place.
Best of 2011
First, a tie for My Morning Jacket and The Ravenna Colt. United because they are part of Removador Records roster. Also united in musical history. On a personal note, both MMJ’s Circuital and TRC’s Slight Spell touched a fibre in me. Circuital is an album about your inner self. Discovery, looking back at things good and bad. Realising the circular nature of life’s cycles. Slight Spell feels like the realisation that it takes you a while to realise how much home is perfect, warts and all. The “feelings in sleeves” approach of The Ravenna Colt is so honest and beautiful I can’t help but relish the time spent back in Mexico with my loved ones, who enjoy this album as much as My Morning Jackets‘s Circuital and its beautiful sounds and honest lyrics.
Firesuite came out of nowhere and kicked two shades of rock from here ’til the plushy cows came home. You’re an ocean deep my brother is such a personal album, with feelings and emotions saturating your senses as much as the heavy distortions, vocal harmonies, crazy bass lines and insane drum shenanigans do. Watching them live makes you appreciate the beauty of a gig: loudness, chaos and honesty seeping through every pore from the artists on stage. Beautiful album.
Seth Woods. A guy from Austin, Texas with a double pronged attack: beautiful, understated slice-of-life poetry in the form of The Whiskey Priest (and their near perfect EP, Lost Wages) and a gestalt of powerful Indie music in the form of Sad Accordions and their beautiful album, The colors and the kill. Impossible to categorise or compare, both bands make music that might not be heavy on the distortions, but in the emotions.
EP Island. A blitzkrieg like approach to create music, this easy going project from Canada delivered three perfect songs in the form of the Sweet’ish EP. Songs heavy with texture and haunting vocals, let’s hope they reunite again in this form or any other. Got our “seal of approval” and is waiting for you to listen to it.
Released in the USA last year and available in 2011 in the United Kingdom, the heavier side of post-rock made an apparition with the always reliable and always emotional The Shipping News, who presented to us a live album full of so many raw emotions that you find yourself changed by the anger, desperation and catharsis found in many their songs (check ‘Bad eve’ and ‘Half a house’). The album, One less heartless to fear features one of the best bassists I’ve had the honour to listen to (“Todd is God!”).
Cats:for:Peru, easily one of the most artful bands in Sheffield and sadly still overlook by those in power (whoever they are). We had this trouble last winter is an EP of those faces. Hope and loss clash in 2 peppy, catchy tracks that intertwine with 2 gloomy tracks. There’s no warning to what a song like ‘Sleeping in tightropes’ will make you feel and, really, there are no words to describe them, it’s simply spellbinding.
Speaking of overlook, The Hope Explosion is criminally overlooked. Three guitar players, one drummer who’s two drumsticks of covering Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Four sticks’ and a passion for great music is the simple but super-effective formula for this band. A freak wave of effects, bluesy notes and an optimistic shade of rock, their proggy-influenced rock is always a sight for sore eyes. A free EP was released and boy, did it rock.
#IFOWONPRO. That’s all you need to know about Trojan Horse and their self-titled album (which is very free at their bandcamp). Many shades of rock are painted, several styles are juggled and only one phrase pops in front of you: Prog is not dead.
The Payroll Union shows us that history doesn’t need to be boring and that you don’t have to be from a certain country to play one of their bonafide genres. Two EPs filled of well-researched lyrics and some awesome music, the band also graced us with an interview and did a couple of Hoedowns that were a hoot.
Finally, a big round of applause has to be given to that little gang that seems to be plotting in the darkness with many a powerful song and always an energetic show. Referred in the coffee room at Sloucher HQ as The Machiavellian Mix o’Evil (TM), these bands are The Legend of 7 Black Tentacles, Renegade Brass Band, Captives on the Carousel, Cobra-Fist and Screaming Maldini. They all know each other. They might be sharing members. They all play different genres quite deftly and they all give their best in their shows. Legend of 7 Black Tentacles will confuse you with their organic mix of genres masterfully welded together, Renegade Brass Band will make you dance, whether your knees can take it or not, Captives on the Carousel will take you to an enchanted forest (ales on sale too), Screaming Maldini will show you the more evil (and pink) shade of Pop and Cobra-fist will make you yearn for the years of coin up videogames.
Honourable mentions (that means these artists rock too).
The Clench – Walking in the devil’s tracks : Rock and roll ain’t dead, it just went with someone with a better motorcycle and you were left in the dusty bar to defend yourself.
Mazes – A thousand heys. Proof that you can still make fun, breezy rock and be awesome live. ‘Bowie Knives’ is one of the songs that defined my 2011 and the fact that the band has now shared the stage with Sebadoh is proof of their talent.
Repomen – Occasional sensations. They might never “hit it big” but their music is honest and their live shows are always a fun experience. A recopilation showing the history of the band is a great taster, you can work your way around them at their Bandcamp.
Lumiere – Coloso. Many a tear was shed to create this album, but the final result is worth it. Dream like lyrics, heavy riffage (‘Vertex’, what a beast) and creativity (‘Géminis’, Lumiere at its best and rawest) are the name of the game for this Mexican band. Bandcamp.
The Fervor – Arise, great warrior. With only seven tracks, we got sold on the rock and roll swagger of this band. It was also the introduction to the catalogue of Karate Body Records , a label we are very fond of. A quaint video also helped to sell the idea, but it’s their live power what really sells it.
The Wooden Birds – Two Matchsticks. Andrew Kenny, one of the unsung heroes of American music, possibly the one that gave Indie its intimate sound and a true musical genius (and a nice guy to boot). Pair him up with legends like Leslie Sisson and Matt Pond and you got yourself an unstoppable leviathan. A couple of great covers (Hall and Oates, Kenny Rogers) and some free downloads, Two Matchsticks makes you think of warm, idle summers and that first kiss (and the horrible break up further down the line… “you gonna burn alone”). Website (with free downloads).
Owen – Ghost Town. Mike Kinsella delivers that beautiful acoustic sound that welcomes electronics, distortions and even a little chorus (‘I believe’). A wonderful album from beginning to end, it’s the jewel in the crown of several Polyvinyl releases that kept our believe in music very high. Hallelujah indeed.
Mamá Pulpa – Tocadiscos. A band that made a great and funny album waaaay back in 2005 reinvented itself, just keeping the general framework and made a warm, rocking album filled with their usual humour, but with a more mature touch. All in analogue.
SleepingDog – With our heads in the clouds and our hearts in the fields. Look, they almost upstaged Low when I saw them live. I think that says everything (and Low rock my world). Beautiful droning (courtesy of Adam Wiltzie from Stars of the Lid) and a beautiful, angelic voice (Chantal Acda, from True Bypass), this is a band of dreams, good and bad.
Jóhann Jóhannssonn – The Miner’s hymns : united to obtain the just reward of our labour. Classical music in every sense, this soundtrack creates the oppressing atmosphere of the dangers of being underground, wasting your life away for a few pieces of minerals and the even greater danger of an industry on its knees. Haunting.
Richard Knox and Frederic D. Oberland – The Rustle of the stars. The sounds of being lost in the coldest regions of Earth; a voice from the stars soothing you (or leading you to your demise). Free track.
Decibully – Selftitled. I’m heartbroken that this band has now gone to the great gig in the sky, but, man, what a way to go! Full of funk, rock and emotional indie passages, this is one heckuva swansong. Honourable mention goes to Ryan Weber and his new project, Eric & Magill , which follows some of the ideas of Decibully while still have its own two feet (and angel wings) to stand (and soar).
Farewell Poetry – Hoping for the invisible to ignite. The soundtrack to a performance piece based on one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, this album confuses you so many times, plays with your emotions and then disappears in the dark. Then it comes back to explain what it all was and you give it another go to pick up the little hints and details. Free track.
Nat Johnson & The Figureheads – What the heart pours into. Three heartfelt songs that will stay with you. Check Margot.
Ninetails – Ghost ride the whip – Fantastic math rock ready to shake your bones.
Legend of the 7 Black Tentacles – Vol. 1 Let’s begin, now. – Love it but… where’s the rest, yo? Don’t leave us on the dark. Ch-ch-check it.
Captives on the carousel – self titled: The soundtrack of many a fairy tale. Not Hans Christian Andersen, though, he was a dick. Beautiful, dream like music, only a cello, a guitar and a great voice. Bandcamp.
Renegade Brass Band – Radio Rebelde: The sounds of any Barrio in the seventies (afro not included), a fantastic band with a very lively show. Bandcamp.
URSS bajo el árbol – Lín3as M3ntal3s: A trip down that lane filled with Mexican mysticism and intricate musical lines, these guys are unto something. Let’s hope they continue to evolve on this path of magic and music.
Los Impresionistas – Maquiladora de Sueños A sister (or doppelganger) band of URSS bajo el árbol, the name of the game is lucid dreams and odd time signatures. The songs take their sweet time so you can relish on their textured atmospheres, like the musty wallpaper of a long abandoned mansion. Soundcloud.
Everyone an army – A coastal dance on the grave of romance Rocky and psychedelic, post rock and math rock took a bus all around the north of the UK and it came back with a four pack of Super Tenants and some rightful riffs. Bandcamp.
Bleaklow – The sunless country A brutal, 22 minute masterpiece from this trio who shifts in and out of existence. Listen to it and revel in its magnificence. Bandcamp.
The Violet May – TV Always the band with the swagger (and the riffs to prove it), it’s the second band we’ve seen the most live in 2011 and they always delivered (even when it ended up in getting kicked from a small club in Rotherham). A solid 5 song EP with two standout tracks (‘TV’, ‘Queen Teen’), let’s hope they keep this pace on. Get ‘What you say’ for free here.
Dead Sons – Boom Booom Trippy and retro, another Sheffield band that deliver the goods in spades on both live shows and recordings. Not happy with two great free songs (‘Berlin’, ‘Junk room’) and a fuckin’ superb single (‘I am the lord’), the band offered this EP, Boom Booom, 4 rock and roll tracks with a lot of haunting sounds delivered at neckbreaking speeds.
Don’t Sleep Dream – Just a ride So many emotions clash in this release. The music is beautiful and honest, the artwork (handpainted by lead singer Mark Johnson) is touching and the whole package is just a fiver that’s worth it’s weight in gold. Some bad memories that left a scar that might fade (or not) with time, what remains is the lesson given by the standout track: Life is just a ride.
Mega Aquarians – Special Beast One of the heaviest songs about flying monsters, interplanar trips and the monster hiding in the corner of your eye, this Sheffield band rules. Oh, and it’s free.
obLONG – Mothership Another band that’s heavy on the sounds and emotions, all members look like they lost their respective bands and just joined forces out of spite (and musical compatibility). ‘Mothership‘ is a rockier shade of obLONG (they do have the slower songs though), with some solid rock riffs and the always reliable bass that grabs your attention from the get go.
Club 60 : A handmade single with four very different bands from Sheffield, you get rock (obLONG), blues-based psychedelic rock (Black Cat White Cat), dream pop (Michael Eden) and … I don’t know what it is but it’s pretty good and, sir, could I have some more (The Don Genes)? A beautiful package (designed by Michael Eden) and 4 songs from all sides of the spectrum that only want to deliver a solid track for your listening pleasure. Website.
Finally we have seen all of these bands live, we thoroughly recommend you catch them live:
The Violet May, Dead Sons, Wet Nuns (POONTANG!), Hey Sholay, Mega Aquarians, The Payroll Union, Firesuite, The Unfortunate Incident, Goodbye Good, The Monicans, Cats:For:Peru, The Legend of 7 Black Tentacles, Smashing Pumpkins, Low, Sleepingdog, Carl Woodford, Skeletons and the Empty Pockets, Twins, Kill the Captains, Black Cat White Cat, The Hope Explosion, Death Rays, Cobra Fist, Shields, Drenge, obLONG, URSS bajo el árbol, Liars Beware, Repomen, Screaming Maldini, BloodSport, Renegade Brass Band, Captives on the Carousel, Carl Woodford, Don’t Sleep Dream.
We will miss these bands with all our hearts:
Skeleton & The Empty Pockets, Electric Tape Recorder, Mabel Love, Colonics, R.E.M., Decibully, Rilo Kiley, The Stills and, of course, Headlights, who have marked the last 5 years of my life.
Finally…apologies to anyone we forgot to mention.
Sam the Spam & Orestes “P is for Phictional Character” Xistos.