Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jay Buettner's Top 10 of 2011

10.We Were Promised Jetpacks-In the Pit of the Stomach: Unrelenting, gut punching in your face rock n' roll. That's what WWPJP offers on their sophomore release. In a day-in-age where most indie rock bands try to differ themselves and offer something unique and complex, WWPJP keeps it very simplistic and straight forward. From the opening chords of "Circles and Squares" you know what you are getting yourself into. Loud, over distorted guitars with the amps cranked to "11." Thunderous and unconventional drumming and a powerful, yet emotional strong Scottish voice. These are the keys to success that made their 2009 debut These Four Walls very good. However, this album is musically more aggressive, powerful and louder (if that's possible). Gone are the tender and quieter moments that were on the first record, WWPJP never stops bringing the intensity, and if they do seem to ease up, it's only a build up to a thunderous chorus or interlude. Lyrically the album is similar to it's predecessor, dark songs about relationships that have not panned out or longing for. When you think of Scottish bands you usually think of Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura and Travis, bands that produce easy to absorb melodic pop music (although Travis has really gone down hill since The Invisible Band, and B&S can get pretty complex), with WWPJP it's nice to see them break the mold and deliver great rock music that, if continued, can possibly put them in the same breath as other great Scottish music makers.
9. The Antlers-Burst Apart: Sad, devastating and dramtic. The New York outfit The Antlers produced a very complex, atmospheric and lyrically heavy album. For those familiar
with their debut concept album Hospice, you knew the kind of ambitious approach this group is capable of in producing a record. The thing that they do so well is find a balance between relying on space while interjecting hooks and grooves. Much of the album relies on Peter Silberman's aggressive falsetto backed with a mellow electronic atmosphere. The standout tracks on the album never blow the listener away, there are no anthem choruses or super charged musical backdrops. Instead, The Antlers forces the listener to be patient and take in the songs at a slow and steady pace. There is a lot going on musically, a mixture of hooky guitars, excellent drum work and lots of electronic noise (there's lots of Kid A moments, just listen to "Parentheses). You have to t
ake in the lyrics slowly as well. Where Hospice was about the death of a relationship, Burst Apart is about the decaying remnants and resentfulness of future relationships. Silberman is frustrated, sad, reflective and scared all at once and it's poured out through that voice. Fantastic follow-up album to a band that clearly has more yet to put forth for the masses.

8. Army Navy-Last Place. I'll bet you didn't know that lead singer Justin Kennedy from Army Navy was at one point in a band with Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard? They were in a band called Pinwheel. It's funny how things work out. Gibbard formed DCFC and released a bunch of albums and becomes famous, while Kennedy moved to L.A and struggles to form a band. But while Last Place is only the bands sophomore album, it's an excellent one. Like their self-titled debut, Army Navy wears their influences on their sleeve. Teenage Fanclub and Big Star just bleed through the speakers. It's the type of power-pop that ends up on movie soundtracks (they did have a few tunes on the Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist Soundtrack), but tends to get overlooked because of bigger names that surround them, or gets dismissed as poppy-emo. Last Place is far from it. It is admittedly about a relationship, but it's about Kennedy's personal relationship ending from start to finish. It starts with the suspicion and doubt and moves to the actual disintegration. Than the hopeful, reflective and angry periods and by the end of the record, acceptance. It is rumored that Kennedy was dating someone famous and their are clues in the songs that indicate this. Even though the record touches familiar ground for the genre it's a fun album meant to be played on a bright sunny day with the stereo at full album.

7. The Decemberists-The
King is Dead: With their last two records
The Crane Wife & The Hazards of Love being extravagant concept albums and with the title The King is Dead I was expecting another, if not more of an ambitious concept album from the folk-rock masters. To my surprise, it's just a regular record filled with amazing songs that feature just as lively characters and emotions that have been in previous records. Colin Meloy proves on this record that he is more than a capable songwriter. One thing that he has always excelled at and continues here, is storytelling. One thing he doesn't get credit for, because so many people want to focus on the theme of the records, is his ability to write a hook. These are some of the catchiest tunes he has ever written. "All Arise," "Don't Carry It All" and "This is Why We Fight" all have amazing hooky choruses. It's an easy album to listen to and digest. Which is helped by the musical backdrop which leans heavy on the country and light on the rock. Banjo's, violins, harmonica's and honky tonk pianos are all used to their fullest capacity. There's a few musical guests that help flesh out the album such as Gillian Welsh and Peter Buck. In fact a few of the songs actually sound like R.E.M songs due to Buck's patented appregio type guitar playing. A fantastic record by one of the more solid musical acts of the 2000's.

6.Okkervil River-I Am Very Far: Okkervil River is another band that is known for writing concept albums as well, but abandoned that philosophy for this release. Songwriter/singer Will Sheff's songs in the past have been about the trappings and downfalls of being in a rock band and life on the road. Their last album The Stand In's was a bookend to The Stage Names a twisted tour diary about a front-man hellbent on destroying and attempting to mend failed relationships while on the road, all the while coming to acceptance of his personal failures. This time around Sheff opts to create songs that are capable of standing alone. The songwriting still has the snarky sense of humor "The Vally" and cynicism"Wake and Be Fine" that are trademarks on previous records. Also reminiscent is the wall of sound that can be found on previous records. Sheff loves to double up instruments, drums, pianos and guitars all get maximized for a huge explosive sound. This works well since most of the songs are meant to be epic pop songs. When I say this I don't mean they are going to be 13 minute prog-rock songs, but each track feels like it's explosive and meant to really draw the listeners attention. The two things that they have mastered specifically on this album are creating the stomp romp sing alongs "The Valley" and "Wake and Be Fine" and creating slower building emotionally charged tracks "Hanging from a Hilt" and "Show Yourself." The only thing missing is the EP Mermaid they released earlier in the year. Both tracks off of that record were fantastic and would have made a nice addition to an album that is a nice departure from what their catalog usually suggests.

5.Rural Alberta Advantage-Departing: On their 2009 debut Hometowns RAA depicted what it's like to live, work, breath and die in Alberta. It was not glamorous, sexy or even remotely attractive. However, it was filled with real fears, love and contempt for the place where you grew up. An honest record. Departing is a little different in a few ways. It's still honest and heart-felt but the context of the songs are about leaving and letting go. Whether it be about personal relationships or coming to grips with actually being away from the place you grew up. It's about embracing unfamiliarity, which is boldly revealing from a band that seemed to want love and change to happen so badly on their last record. Musically, the band is even tighter. Great harmonies between lead singer Nils Edenloff and Amy Cole flesh out some of the choruses and are reminiscent of Rainer Marina, although the male vocal is the predominant in this group. The most underrated drummer in indie rock resides in this band, Paul Badwatt gives the songs a whole new dynamic and turns them from simple folk tunes, to raucous rock songs. "Stamps" is the standout track on the album and really utilizes all of the members talents and their ability to write great song. The Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons will be abundant throughout the record due to Edenloff's vocals, but this is a fantastic and honest record from a band that is capable of taking what they know and experience, and making fantastic music.

4. Washed Out-Within Without: I was fairly psyched to listen to this when it came out. I was a big fan of the E.P. Life of Leisure that released a few years ago. I was unaware of the "chillwave" movement, and it's backlash. Regardless of what has been said, this is a fantastic album. It's got hooks, dreamy synths and crazy melodies. It's got a great non-cheesy 80's feel to it, (which is possible). It's like if Gary Neuman, Human League and Kraftwerk got together and created an atmospheric record that was more focused on melodies than catchy choruses. It's best listened to in a dark room with headphones, you can really get absorb all of what is going on, and there is a lot. Layers and layers of synths and digitized noise tracks give it a futuristic yet nostalgic feel. The opening track "Eyes Be Closed" starts it off with a dreamy pound of the keyboard and creates an atmosphere that puts the listener in a bubble of sound that isn't intruding at all. "Amor Fati" is the standout on the record that puts everything together and lets the listener know that nothing is going to get to crazy/to dull. Great album in a genre that sometimes is to afraid to embrace itself or lean to heavy on it's influences.

3.Cults: I was honestly unaware of the pre-internet buzz that surrounded this band, this was a total random Emusic pick for me. However, "Abducted" ended up being the most played track of the summer for me. It's a dark and clever song about falling in love and the relationship ending. Of course the backdrop is completely misleading, intense catchy summertime 60's pop. This is what the entire record is like! Madeline Follin's pretty girl-pop voice combined with catchy guitar and base hooks and light xylophones deceive the listener that this is a fun filled wholesome summertime record. However, the context within these songs are about dying relationships that don't quite have good resolutions. To top it off, Cults combat their sunny 60's girl group pop, and prom-pop sounds with the use of actual cult leaders giving speeches in the backdrop to songs like "Abducted," and 'Most Wanted." You can never understand what's being said and it's never a focal point, but it does detract your attention for a little bit. It's like that part in Fight Club where you are watching the building explode at the end of the film, and than you see a glimpse of a penis. You swear you saw something, but weren't quite sure what it was, that's what Cults do to throw you off. It actually detracts you from the lyrical context, which isn't complex, but with the sugary sweet voice of Follin, you hardly care. It's a great debut album that if Cults are able to grow and mature musically, could go a lot of different ways on their next record. Or they could be playing at a prom near you.

2. Youth Lagoon- The Year of Hibernation: Impressive debut from the 22 year-old Boise native Trevor Powers, and I do mean impressive. Bedroom pop has been done. It's been done well (Passion Pit) and it's been terrible (Owl City). The tendency of a lot of people that make bedroom pop is to put as much sound and noise in a song and let it explode. There is always this sense of extreme joy and fun, even if the lyrics are not. An almost over exuberance and nod to 80's synth pop. Youth Lagoon has taken that idea and completely turned that idea upside down. This record is sad and complex with cryptic lyrics. Powers has figured out how to create a sad bedroom pop record that still contains hooks. Whether their from the guitar, drum machine or synth, they are not jovial in any way or forced into the face of the listener and blaring out of the speakers. As in other words, there is no mistaking these songs as happy. Not only is the atmosphere setting the tone for the record, but Powers voice is fragile and hurt. It gives the record and songs depth. The album is about his anxiety in dealing with different aspects of his life, focusing a lot on personal relationships. His tender vocal work reveal a young man that is extremely reflective and thoughtful for his age. One of the best releases of the year that is quite different from his contemporaries and puts the record more on par with something like the Postal Service.

1.Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: I had been waiting for this since 1995! Seriously, ever since viewing Live By the Sea and watching Noel play solo acoustically "Sad Song" "Talk Tonight" and "D'yer Want to Be a Spaceman" (sort of, he fucked up and forgot the words) I have always wanted their to be a Noel solo album. I never really realized why it took him so long to do this. I remember being a kid and reading interviews that Noel didn't like to sing, and he didn't like being a front-man. Which was odd because if I go through my Rolodex of Oasis tunes, the ones where Noel sings are for sure in my top 10 of all-time Oasis tunes. Well, in 2011 I finally got my wish! The album actually acts as what would have been a natural progression after the ill-fated Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (I say this because most of the Noel written songs were pretty good, the Liam written ones were garbage). Instead, songwriting duties were shared not only with Liam but with Gem Archer and Andy Bell, none of the Oasis albums in the 2000's have sounded like complete albums. A case of to many cooks in the kitchen. But, now that Noel is on his own he is able to expand upon on his strengths, which is his songwriting. The album is more than excellent and exceeds expectations. It has elements of Oasis that you would be familiar with. Huge, bright and catchy choruses that stick in your head for days; "If I Had A Gun" and "(Stranded) On the Wrong Beach." Simplistic chord and song structures, Noel has always been a slave to the verse-chorus style of songwriting. But this is both refreshing and a relief that he didn't stray to far from a formula that has worked for him for years. Also, hints of electorica on "AKA...What a Life" something he experimented with the Chemical Brothers back in the late 90's. Something that Noel always understood (at least in my mind) that was quite understated on earlier Oasis albums and forgotten on most of the latter ones, was his ability to harmonize. Harmonies, no matter how subtle, always make a fuller sound and add depth to maybe a simplistic verse. There's plenty of harmonies on the album that give the choruses more punch. But once again, Noel's strength is his ability to write a fantastic song that has staying power. Not a single one of the tracks on the album are "throw-away's." Everything has tremendous staying power in your head. It takes you back to the days of Defiantly Maybe & What's The Story Morning Glory, when everyone of those songs on the record was fantastic. "If I Had a Gun" is my pick for song of the year. It's a classic Gallagher track and a tremendous representation of the album. Brilliantly stated love song with a phenomenal chorus; "If I had a gun/I'd shoot a hole into the sun/And I would burn this city down for you." That is love. Poetically and touchingly stated. I am a huge Oasis fan (through the good and bad) so this may have been a biased pick, but I really don't think so. The more and more I visit this record the more I think that head and shoulders these songs are just better than anything I have listened to all year. What it also did was give relevance to Noel. I think Oasis had been kind of buried in that '90's bands that still make records and tour" group, (however, they are still massive in the U.K.). I think this record gives Oasis fans what they always wanted and introduces a whole new audience to Noel Gallagher. Well worth the 15 year wait for me.

Honorable Mentions:

Fleet Foxes-Helplessness Blues
Bon Iver
Cut Off Your Hands-Hollow
Cut Copy-Zonescope
The Head and The Heart

1 comment:

  1. You are a legend for picking Noel #1...can't wait for his collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous which Noel has said that it takes in genres that he would have stayed well clear of in his days with his former band. Noel Gallagher has admitted that his second solo album, which is due for release next summer, is "fucking far out."