10. Polar Bear Club- Clash Battle Guilt Pride (Bridge 9)
A lot of people really like this record, proclaiming it Polar Bear Club's best effort to date. While I prefer the more riff oriented guitar work on Chasing Hamburg to the open chord singalongs of Clash, it would be hard to deny that Polar Bear Club really hit what they were going for on this one. Clash, Battle, Guilt, Pride is a far more anthemic and mature record than anything they've released previously, and it seems to suit them rather well. They've laid the groundwork for the rest of their career, and I'm excited to see where they take it next. Also, for what it's worth, it's interesting to see how much Jimmy Stadt's lyricism has improved since The Redder the Better.
9. Harms Way- Isolation (Closed Casket Activities)
About half way through the first listen of Isolation, I thought to myself, “what's the big deal about this band? Sure they're tight crunchy and all, but I've heard this a million times before”. Then, the outro riff to “Breeding Ground” grabbed me right by the dick and slowly dragged me through the rest of the album. From that breakdown on, Isolation takes a decided turn for the sludgy, as well as the experimental. It's here where Harms Way really step into their own thing and start showing off how good their songwriting can be. The band employ drum effects and samples in an extremely tasteful way, using them to punctuate their brutal sludge-yness and tasty mosh parts, instead of trying to detract from their deficiencies (a la Rise Records, etc.). The result is a very unique, forward thinking, grimy as fuck hardcore record. It turns out, you need the fun, moshy first half of the record to carry the momentum into the darker and ultimately stronger second half, which ends up working very well for Harm's Way.
8. Trash Talk- Awake EP (Trash Talk Collective)
Trash Talk, in my humble opinion, is the only Pitchfork-hyped band that actually deserves the attention they've received. Far less pretentious then fellow P4K darlings Fucked Up's latest, and far better than recent releases from similar sounding hardcore artists, Trash Talk's Awake EP is at it's core, good, clean, punk rock fun. Skipping out on all the weird, nearly inaccessible thrashing the band's been known to delve into, Awake sounds like four dudes just having a good time. Don't be fooled however, these guys have the chops to back it up, keep it fresh and free of sounding like self indulgent masturbation. My only complaint? Way too damn short.
7. Form and File- This is Form and File EP (Self Released)
I've pretty much said everything I can about this EP and this band on this blog already. So to sum it up, stop being a hick and just buy this shit already. A fresh take on an old style of music played by great musicians who are really just in it to create art and have fun. Can't ask for much more than that.
6. Various Artists – Run For Cover Records Presents: Mixed Signals (Run For Cover)
Anyone concerned with the state of music in the year 2011 obviously hasn't heard this compilation. If Run For Cover Records can find 12 similar sounding bands, each with killer tracks to spare for a comp, music's gonna be fine. One great thing about this compilation? At the time of it's release, only one of the tracks on it (Polar Bear Club's “Killin' It”) had seen the light of day. Another great part? Every single artist on this comp brought their A-game. Bands like Hostage Calm and Self Defense Family went straight up experimental with spectacular results, while bands like Make Do and Mend, Tigers Jaw, and Balance and Composure straight up wrote the best songs of their careers. Mixed Signals is through and through a testament to the strength of today's indie-punk/pop-punk/orgcore. Somewhere there's a kid in a Led Zeppelin t-shirt dismissing current music as “gay”, and one day that kid's gonna cut his hair, smarten up, and wish he'd always listened to comps like this.
5. Empire! Empire! (I was a lonely estate) - Home After Three Months Away EP (Count Your Lucky Stars)
On this EP, Michigan DIY indie darlings Empire! Empire! (I was a lonely estate) really hit their sweet spot. The band has a tendency, at some points, to get too far ahead themselves and kind of come apart at the seams halfway through songs. There's none of that on Three Months Away, however, as the band shows incredible restraint on a softer, albeit more impacting release. These four tracks are all gems in their own right, but together combine for 11 or so minutes of the most emotional music written all year. It's Mineral worship at it's finest, but in a quirky, completely unique fashion. The replay value on this EP is incredible; you almost can't help but listen to it twice in a row while pretending it's actually a full length.
4. La Dispute- Wildlife (No Sleep)
To be honest, I was worried about Wildlife before it came out. This band's first full length was amazing, and I was afraid La Dispute would go all Protest the Hero and take three years trying too hard to top it. However by the minute mark of “St. Paul's Missionary Baptist Church Blues”, all fear I had was stayed. Where to start with this one? First of all, Jordan Dreyer is a genius. Using an album as a collection of short stories? Are you fucking serious? If you have any doubts about his ability to pull this concept off, listen to “King Park” and kindly shut the hell up. The guy's a novelist trapped in a hardcore kid's body. As for the music, think Altair but with more restraint, more jazz, and more punk. In other words, some of the most interesting shit in modern music. The only downside to Wildlife is, like Altair, it's longer than it needs to be. However, that doesn't take away from how hard songs like “The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit” and “Edward Benz” hit. Great stuff.
3. Defeater- Empty Days/Sleepless Nights (Bridge 9)
I can guarantee anyone who picks this album for their year end list is going to talk about the four acoustic songs at the end. To me, those tracks were just the cherry on top; Empty Days is a tour de force in it's own right. On this release, Defeater etched out their own little place in the annuls of hardcore history, moving out from the shadow of Mod Life/Have Heart with a sound uniquely their own. What's perhaps most impressive about the album is that it manages to keep up a heavy intensity without a single “mosh part” or chugga-chugga riff on it. It's atmosphere, subject matter, and Derek Archambault's piercing voice that make this album as great as it is. The Empty Days part of this album deserves a top 10 spot alone; Sleepless Nights catapults it into the top 5.
2. Trap Them- Darker Handcraft (Deathwish)
For years, Trap Them seemed to be lacking something vital. They've always been a talented band with a decent following, but could never separate themselves from the massive pack of “extreme music” bands nestled forever in the under-underground. With 2011's Darker Handcraft, the band seems to have broken that invisible ceiling in a highly unlikely way – with actual hooks! Sure, the guitar tones are amazing, the drumming is impeccable, and Ryan McKinney's vocals are crisp as all hell, but what makes Darker Handcraft a truly great album is the fact that it's actually a lot of fun to listen to. A lot of the songs on Handcraft follow a verse/chorus/verse structure, allowing the tasty guitar licks to get stuck in your head over and over again. Also, McKinney provides arguably the chorus of the year on “The Facts”. Seriously, listen to that song three times and try not to sing along by the last listen. It's impossible.
AND THE WIENER IS!!!!!!
1. Title Fight- Shed (Side One Dummy)
I don't know exactly what possessed me to love this album so much, but holy shit did I ever. My iTunes says I listened to Shed at least 86 times, and that's without mentioning the fact that the CD hardly left the player in my car all summer. Title Fight came out of left field on this one, shedding their pop-punk punch for a more mature songwriting approach and a sound heavily influenced by 90's post-hardcore a la Small Brown Bike. The results are nothing short of spectacular; old school emo mixed with older-school hardcore to produce a sound that's as relevant and refreshing as anything else out there. Add plenty of variance in tempo and dynamic, near-perfect production by Walter Schreifels, and a whole fuck-ton of energy, and you have your record of the year, ladies and gentlemen.
Listen to: Society, or just go buy the damn record...
Annabel/Empire!/JDV/Reptilian- 4 Way Split EP
Dead End Path- Blind Faith
Joyce Manor- Joyce Manor
Pianos Become The Teeth- The Lack Long After
Daytrader- Last Days of Rome EP
Teenage Bottlerocket- Mutilate Me EP
La Dispute/Koji- Never Come Undone EP
Touche Amore- Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
Retox- Retox EP
PS Eliot- Sadie
I Hate Our Freedom- Seriously
Cake- Showroom of Compassion
Foo Fighters- Wasting Light
Shit I didn't get to listen to enough to make an opinion on/haven't heard yet.
Raphael Saadiq- Stone Rollin'
Wugazi- 13 Chambers
Bon Iver- Bon Iver
The Fucking Hotlights- High Society Torture Party
Foundation- When the Smoke Clears
Cancer Bats/Black Lungs split (SERIOUSLY! GET ME THIS!)
Self Defense Family/Fires split
New Make Do and Mend
So there you have it, my opinions on some albums you'll never listen to/didn't like. Keep it real, nerds!