I hate asking for a do-over, but it turns out there were a lot of good albums from 2011 that I didn't get to hear until it was too late. I don't want to shaft some otherwise great artists, so before it's too far gone, I'd like to mention these five albums from 2011 that definitely should've been counted among last year's best.
1. Elder - Dead Roots Stirring
This absolutely beautiful amalgamation of doom metal and stoner metal absolutely must be heard to be believed. The beauty of Isis paired with the psychedelia of Sleep and the intensity of Dirge create one of the most rewarding metal experiences of the year.
2. Omega Massif - Karpatia
Omega Massif may not be entirely original, but it's hard to fault their near-perfect take on sludgy post-metal. This is the kind of once-in-a-career album that every band aspires to create and yet few are able to actually produce.
3. Kevin Hufnagel - Transparencies
This ambient album is an absolutely beautiful change of course for Dysrhythmia and Gorguts guitarist Kevin Hufnagel. The sublime aesthetics and cathartic musicianship make for a relaxing, easy, and yet still satisfying release.
4. Horseback - The Gorgon Tongue
A compilation of two early, hard-to-find Horseback releases Impale Golden Horn and Forbidden Planet, this album serves not only to make them more readily accessible, but is a wonderful release in its own right. The contrast between the softer, more melodic former and the harsh and aggressive latter make for an intense 85 minutes of music.
5. Baring Teeth - Atrophy
An absolutely pulverizing combination of death metal and prog, Baring Teeth have managed to pack more power into 42 minutes than most bands do in a full career. Half precision and half cacophony, this is one of the most spastic, yet oddly appealing, albums to come out in 2011.
1. Brown Sugar—Sings of Birds and Racism LP (Feral Kid/Feeble Minds)
Brown Sugar takes cues from both the past and present—sponging The Germs and Black Flag as much as contemporary hardcore’s boundary-bending tendencies ala Nö Pöwer or Raw Nerve—while lacing it with their own unique weirdness. They start with some mysterious-guy underpinnings, add a little saxophone buffoonery, sprinkle it with DIY cut-n-past imagery, and make it a vinyl-only release. The end result is Sings of Birds and Racism; the pluperfect amalgamation of fast art punk.
2. Vallenfyre—A Fragile King (Century Media)
When I asked my friend who writes for Decibel Magazine if Vallenfyre’s debut album A Fragile King was really as good as they said it was in their year-end feature he replied, “I’m not sure; I’ve never actually heard it, but I think it is knuckle-dragger death metal.” (Not listening to a record your employers say is one of the best of the year? Typical.) Knuckle-dragger roughly translates to “old guys playing old school death metal.” And that is pretty much exactly what Vallenfyre is—they are a British super group featuring members of My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, Cradle of Filth and Doom. For an upstart band A Fragile King shows them standing head-n-shoulders above the congested pack of classic Swedish death metal revivalists that were making the rounds in 2011. The guitars and vocals are absolutely enthralling and it’s all held together masterfully by a Dis-tinged doom-trodden rhythmic pounding. Half way into the New Year, and I keep going back to this one—it’s inescapable.
3. Triumph Of Lethargy Skinned Alive To Death - Some Of Us Are In This Together (DSB)
Based out of Seattle, WA and featuring current and former members of a slew of other PNW notables like Murder City Devils, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Modest Mouse, Cold Lake, Mongrel Blood, Rabbit Ears and others, TOLSATD has quietly been creating some of the best wierdo-art-punk-noise for close to a decade now. Whether it be cassettes, CDs or various vinyl formats, they have already amassed an extensive catalog of music, spread accross a number of different indie labels . Last year's Some Of Us Are In This Together is their latest, and most varied to date. Where their early work came off like experimental home recordings, the new record plays like the perfect culmination the band's yearly progression. They have structured marvelous, albeit boundary-less, songs. The dual vocal approach of Spencer Moody and Andrea Zollo recalls both the anger and angst of their old hardcore band Area 51 as well their eclectic arty and dance-informed features on fellow band member Dann Gallucci's A Gun Called Tension record. The whole thing plays like a vagabond experience—it's poectic, emotive and incredibly alluring.
1. The Manix - Neighborhood Wildlife (It’s Alive Records)
I’ve know the band for some time, and I enjoyed the Van Activities 7” they dropped a couple of years back, but it took me a while before I got to this one. It delivers Midwestern pop-punk with an emphasis on the pop. Sharing a member with Banner Pilot, there isn’t a lot in common between the two bands’ sound, but there definitely is in their ascethic. Neighborhood Wildlife is a record of uptempo group singalongs. Well produced to capture the energy without losing the rough-around-the-edges feel. While I’ve never seen them in Gainesville, somehow putting this disc on making me reminisce about Fest.
There are names you see floating around the scene—in zines, online, on show flyers, etc.—but you never get around to checking them out. It turns out I was missing something by not hearing Vacation, despite the group having some name recognition on my end. Their self-titled debut rips through fourteen noisy yet contained tracks, blending pop-punk and garage in a beautiful, sloppy singalong punctuated with just the right amount of feedback. The record captures DIY energy but it’s still hi-fi enough that you don’t have to turn up the volume whenever the record starts, you just choose to do so.