Friday, 2 December 2011

Top 20 releases of 2011

20. Maybeshewill – I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone

The post-rock scene is and always has been somewhat of an enigma. In fact, it’s a stretch to call it a scene at all. Facts are, 100% instrumental music is not the kind of stuff that racks up big numbers in the grand scheme of things and as such, the vast majority of the genre’s bands give the term “underground” a whole new meaning. What sets Maybeshewill apart from acts like And So I Watch You From Afar, Russian Circles and Jesu is that beneath the first-glance appearance of pretention and artsy-fartsy-ness lays a bubbling undercurrent of symphonic grandeur and beauty. I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone is their most complete piece to date, every track seeming to be so carefully and tenderly structured to feel like a symphony played by an incredibly skilled and versatile rock band. It’s sweeping and completely enthralling in its pure and unadulterated splendour, and in an ideal world would add a shitload more weight to an already colossal genre. If you like music that takes you on a journey both mentally and emotionally then this could be your new favourite band.

Download: Take This To Heart; Accolades

For Fans Of: Sigur Rós; Mogwai; 65daysofstatic

19. Thrice – Major/Minor

Thrice are one of the most consistent bands in the alternative rock genre. Though never particularly reaching the commercial heights of some of their contemporaries, they have always been reliable in their timeframe for releasing albums and you could always rest assured that you were going to get something different with every album, for better or worse. Thankfully, this raw and virtually untouched latest offering is their strongest and most cohesive effort since 2005’s almost flawless Vheissu. The production is ostensibly bleak, adding a wealth of personal gravitas to songs that, although deserving of a spotless and polished production, clearly sound and breathe their best when they sound like a band just hammering it out in a room together. The cracks in Dustin Kensrue’s voice make sure that every lyric hits you right in the heart, because this is an album that thrives on the sheer performance of it all, with no consideration to ensuring that everything lines up 100% correct or that every vocal is perfectly in tune. It’s a laudable decision from a band this deep into their career. They’ll be sorely missed as they embark on an extended hiatus starting this year. All the best to them.

Download: Promises; Call It In The Air

For Fans Of: Sunny Day Real Estate; Alexisonfire; The Pixies

18. TRC – Bright Lights

In a scene where dozens of bands who couldn’t be further removed from the genre are calling themselves hardcore, TRC are without question are the new saving grace. And don’t they fucking know it. While most bands in the modern “hardcore” scene aspire only to play it safe and follow the textbook rules of how to find quick success, TRC have emerged as the offensive, spit-in-your-face-and-call-you-a-cunt kind of band that exists solely to let the kids know how it’s done. You’ll find no sugary pop melodies, no whiny delusional lyrics and not even one swooped fringe here, ladies and gentlemen. What you get here is pure, honest and just plain angry songs that are at times physically painful to listen to, in the best way possible. Toss that in with a healthy dose of UK grime and just the right amount of unabashed cockiness and you get Bright Lights: the highest standard of British hardcore in 2011. More of this, please?

Download: Go Hard Or Go Home; Closure

For Fans Of: Gallows; Every Time I Die; The Ghost Of A Thousand

17. Will Haven – Voir Dire

Will Haven are one of those bands who, quite annoyingly at times, seem to be a little detached from reality, judging by how long they seem to take between albums. After 2007’s generally maligned The Hierophant, thankfully the wait is perfectly justified this time, because Voir Dire is an absolute inarguable beast. The sludginess, the pendulous swinging weight, the sonic just feels dirty, ugly and unwelcome. But totally irresistible. Having Grady Avenell back in the band, who has never sounded this tortured in his whole career, and the addition of Slipknot’s Chris Fehn on bass duties, who predictably adds even more snarl to this lumbering monster of an album, has clearly done the band a world of good. The writing is ridiculously strong in spite of how uncomfortable nearly every second of it makes you feel and the diversity on show brings new depth to a sound so signature and so seldom heard on a large scale. Will Haven are and will continue to be a mystery to most, but if this is the standards they are keeping to these days, then long may they continue.

Download: When The Walls Close In; Mida’s Secret

For Fans Of: Neurosis; Cancer Bats; The Atlas Moth

16. Times Of Grace – The Hymn Of A Broken Man

It’s no secret that metalcore is on its arse and has been for a while and is in the process of dying an irritatingly slow death. The formula for the genre was laid out long ago and hundreds of bands since then have passed through, copied it, and spat it back out into the world, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there were bands who’d done it before them. And better. Killswitch Engage were one of those bands, and together Adam Dutkiewicz and Jesse Leach helped lay down the blueprint that a whole generation of bands would subsequently rape and pillage. With this in mind, if there are any two humans alive today that are beyond entitled to stick to the formula they created, it’s them, and Jesus H. Christ did it sound so fucking good to hear the Godfather’s of the genre reuniting for an album that is just as instant and identifiable as Alive Or Just Breathing? (Jesse’s last foray in KSE folklore). The songs speak for themselves – it’s Adam D back to his best after a few Killswitch sized slip-up’s and Jesse Leach sounding remarkably assured and inspirational despite spending so long out of the game. A rare metal album that resides in hope as opposed to despondency. Euphoric stuff.

Download: Fight For Life; Live In Love

For Fans Of: Killswitch Engage (obviously); As I Lay Dying; Shadows Fall

15. Touché Amoré – Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me

2011 has seen a wave of hardcore bands of all shapes and sizes coming across the pond from America and finding well deserved notoriety in the UK. Touché Amoré are just one of those bands, and in Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me they have delivered the most emotional, the most excruciatingly cathartic and the most sombre hardcore offering you will hear all year. And most definitely the shortest, with an average song length of about a minute and a half. Don’t let the length of the album put you off though. What the relative shortness of the tracks does is make each song feel like a sudden burst of emotion, exploding so quickly in a fit of rage and ending sullenly with a world of dust left to be settled, and the fact that the band only allow themselves such a short space of time to pack all of their pain into their spontaneous musical combustions gives the album a driving, pulsating feel, almost as though the whole thing could fall to pieces at any minute. But it never does. Instead, it manages the most rarest of feats: making hardcore sound beautiful.

Download: ~; Condolences

For Fans Of: Make Do And Mend; La Dispute; Defeater

14. TesseracT – One

Unless you’re a Nickelback fan and somehow still manage to sleep well at night, you’ll know that djent is the new “in” thing in metal this year, with Periphery, Animals As Leaders, Monuments and a wealth of other acts all rising to sturdy levels of prominence in its emergence. TesseracT fit comfortably under the umbrella as well, but one listen through of this stunning collection of songs makes clear just how far ahead of the pack they are. The jarring rhythms and ambient passages that typify the djent sound are all here, but they are utilised in a far more original and inventive way than simply ripping off Meshuggah. This is a band of unbelievably accomplished musicians who still value the impact of imaginative composition, but at the heart of it all is the now sadly departed Dan Tompkins, whose subtle vocal interplay is woven sublimely into the rhythmically complex music that supports it, but never once seeking to take the spotlight from his bandmates. TesseracT are progressive in the truest sense of the word and we can only hope that they’re this unfathomably good the second time round with new vocalist Elliot Coleman.

Download: Lament; Eden

For Fans Of: Meshuggah; Animals As Leaders; Chimp Spanner

13. Lower Than Atlantis – World Record

If there’s a band in this country who are more enveloped in what it’s like to be British than Lower Than Atlantis, then I have yet to find them, because with World Record Mike Duce and co. have essentially captured the sound of modern Britain and filtered it into one incredible album. There are moments in this album that feel just as important as the first time you heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ or ‘Everlong’ – seriously, it’s THAT good. Mike Duce is from top to bottom a man of the people and just might be our country’s answer to Dave Grohl, such is the strength of his song craft and his effortlessness in turning the simplest of lyrics into the largest of hooks. If you close your eyes at some points during this record, you can see Lower Than Atlantis headlining a festival like Reading, and you’re kidding yourself if you can’t hear the field of kids screaming back at them. LTA have all the elements to become our Pearl Jam, our Foo Fighters, or even our Nirvana. All they need to do is exercise their ability and deliver something truly classic third time round. And being totally honest, there’s not one part of me that doesn’t have the utmost faith in them. LTA are the UK’s true shining light.

Download: Another Sad Song; Deadliest Catch

For Fans Of: Nirvana; Lostprophets; Manic Street Preachers

12. Funeral For A Friend – Welcome Home Armageddon

Given that Funeral For A Friend are far past their most commercially successful point after a series of patchy records, it was a truly massive surprise when Welcome Home Armageddon dropped this past March. Gone was the conscious pandering to mainstream airplay and in its place was a more familiar side to FFAF, only this time with more balls and bite than they’ve ever had before. The songs are still catchy as fuck and still have the potential to become mainstays in their future live sets, but FFAF have rarely sounded this urgent, and they’re playing to their strengths in every conceivable way – even to strengths we didn’t know they had. The Iron Maiden-esque twin harmonies are in full throttle and there’s a distinct post-hardcore edge throughout that matches up far more with Refused and Blood Brothers than The Used and Finch. The true key to this album is just how authentic it sounds, and how much they’ve thrown caution to the wind now that the media hype that once surrounded them has well and truly died down. It’s done them an endless amount of favours. A sterling job all round.

Download: Aftertaste; Owls (Are Watching)

For Fans Of: Thursday; Poison The Well; Senses Fail

11. Opeth – Heritage

Opeth are one of the most revered metal bands on the planet, almost to the point of ridicule. With the majority of people with functioning brains you can have intelligent and well-informed musical debates until the sun comes up, but don’t you dare say a bad word about Opeth to these people if you ever plan on going to sleep again. I am one of these Opeth devotees who will blindly stand by them through pretty much anything, even as they risked majorly alienating their stubborn fanbase with their last album Heritage, a sprawling tribute to prog rock of the 60’s and 70’s, something the likes of which they’d never attempted before. While you may disagree, the truth is that Opeth have fully earned the right to such experimentation, and if you open your mind just a touch more than usual you’ll find it works incredibly well on so many levels. For one, it’s pushed their songwriting into areas they’ve scarcely touched on before – there are moments where you can genuinely dance to this album. And secondly, it’s brought Mikael Akerfeldt’s awe-inspiring singing voice to the forefront for the first time since 2003’s Damnation, and he sounds simply breathtaking throughout. Get past what may at first seem like self-indulgent meandering and what you have is a treasure chest of ideas that is a more than worthy edition to an already expansive catalogue, and one that opens up so many more doors for Opeth’s future.

Download: The Devil’s Orchard; Slither

For Fans Of: King Crimson; Van Der Graaf Generator; Jethro Tull

10. Glassjaw – Our Color Green/Coloring Book (EPs)

Glassjaw are quite possibly the most influential post-hardcore band of all time this side of Fugazi, setting an unbelievable standard in 2000 with Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence and smashing their own rulebook with the more experimental Worship And Tribute in 2002. After a brief hiatus and a myriad of line up changes, Glassjaw returned in 2011 with two sterling EPs in Our Color Green and Coloring Book, the former a collection of brand new songs which kept one foot in the signature Glassjaw sound while still looking towards the future and the latter giving birth to a brand new side of Glassjaw. What the band have done here is not groundbreaking, but what these EPs do is confirm that Glassjaw have not become a stagnant heritage act in the wake of group turmoil and a loss of commercial grounding. It ensures that their legacy remains healthy and their complete lack of willingness to conform to anybody’s expectations should be righteously applauded. It remains to be seen whether or not the brand new Glassjaw can harness all this new energy into a consistent full length that can compete with their legendary back catalogue, but for now, these eleven songs provide high hopes.

Download: All Good Junkies Go To Heaven; Black Nurse; Gold

For Fans Of: Far; Cave-In; Blood Brothers

9. Nightwish – Imaginaerum

Nightwish are a funny old gang when you think about it. Their last album, Dark Passion Play, sold a cool two million copies worldwide (a rare feat for a metal band in this day and age), and was by a country mile their most successful to date. So how do you follow that up? Why, with an overblown concept record that’s part-album, part-soundtrack with its own accompanying feature length film of course! Any band that creates an album this ridiculous and pulls it off with such shameless grandiose aplomb is a band deserving of respect. The thing about Nightwish that keeps their reputation intact is that they have always seemed not only wonderfully aware of their own absurdity but have always embraced it with absolutely no apologies. This has always allowed their theatrical styling’s to shine through in a way that defies derision simply for the fact that they don’t take themselves too seriously. This, their second full length with Annette Olzon, is one of their best moments. Musically, it’s standard Nightwish fare, with elements of classical, metal and folk swirling throughout as always (with even a slight nod to Mr. Bungle, whodathunkit?), but it’s Annette who shines through on this album. Here, she has truly found her place within the band, and the versatility of her voice is genuinely striking. A world class achievement. This band don’t need Tarja one bit. She’s got a 50p head anyway.

Download: Storytime; Slow, Love, Slow; I Want My Tears Back

For Fans Of: Within Temptation; Leave’s Eyes; Epica

8. The King Blues – Punk & Poetry

If Mike Duce perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being the average British bloke, then Johnny ‘Itch’ Fox deftly captures the feeling of being the average British bloke in a country that doesn’t give a fuck about you. That being said, this is not an album that revolves around any depressing themes or “real talk”, whatever the fuck that is. All it does is paint a simple portrait of life in Britain in the modern age, and somehow, this feels none-more-English than when wrapped in The King Blues’ immaculate brand of ska-punk. This is The King Blues’ most varied record to date, taking influences from pop-punk, dub, ska, and even chart pop in a subtle way. The man of the match is undoubtedly Itch, whose lyrics are immediately personable and relatable in such a profound way that it’s a wonder The King Blues havn’t found the kind of success they indubitably deserve. But in another sense, it’s this kind of muted appreciation that keeps The King Blues as a band for the disaffected majority. And in all fairness, it’s clear that the band don’t want it any other way.

Download: We Are Fucking Angry; The Future’s Not What It Used To Be; Headbutt

For Fans Of: Sonic Boom Six; Rancid; Madness

7. Mastodon – The Hunter

Mastodon are one of the best metal bands of all time. Indisputable. No argument. End of fucking story. They are probably the most consistent metal band of the last 20 years and are endlessly humble and gracious in spite of their overwhelming success. The Hunter, like every album before it, serves only to reinforce these facts. There’s not much else to say, really. Another nigh-on perfect piece of Mastodon jizz-conjuring. All hail.

Download: Black Tongue; The Hunter; Spectrelight

For Fans Of: Clutch; Isis; Kvelertak

6. ††† (Crosses) - EP

There are a few musicians within our world who you can’t help but have immense amounts of respect for, regardless of your opinion on their musical output. Chino Moreno is just one of these noble musical ambassadors. For 23 years he has been the captain of the H.M.S. Deftones, one of the most forward-thinking and truly original bands in this universe who still to this day urge to experiment and push out their own boundaries. But Chino being the intellectual mind he is, he’s not content to stick to one outlet for expression, and this is where Crosses excel. What would normally be a fairly impressive experiment with electronic soundscapes is elevated to a whole other level by Moreno’s soothing tenor and powerful melodies, and the astonishing dichotomy between heavy, danceable beats and serene, melancholy sequences is just fucking lush. But don’t let it go without saying that Shaun Lopez of Far has done an obscenely good job on the writing side of things. His textural mesh of a vast array of sounds is absolutely superb, and the immense well of inspiration both artists have to draw from only heightens the anticipation for what’s to come from Crosses in 2012.

Download: †his Is A †rick; Op†ion; †hholyghs†

For Fans Of: Team Sleep; Joy Division; Placebo

5. Textures – Dualism

As previously mentioned, the djent scene has come full throttle this year and only threatens to expand if the level of quality keeps up. Dualism is one of the highlights of the year, but it should also be rightfully held up as a landmark of the movement. Textures have always been one of these bands that, while showing potential, could never reach the lofty heights they so laboured towards, so the sheer unrelenting potency of Dualism was a much welcomed revelation. Though their writing style may have remained much the same, if you’re searching for the key to this albums excellence, you need look no further than new vocalist Daniël de Jongh, making his Textures debut. The flexibility of Daniël is so absorbing that you almost feel a little jealousy towards him, as he peels off unpredictable vocal lines with flashes of Mike Patton, Chris Cornell and Phil Anselmo emanating vigorously throughout with all the effortlessness of putting one foot in front of the other. The musicianship is outstanding, the songwriting is at a whole new high, and the band just sound on fire as a whole for the first time in their career. This may very well be their peak. Soak it in while you have the chance.

Download: Arms Of The Sea; Reaching Home; Sanguine Draws The Oath

For Fans Of: Cynic; Darkane; The Human Abstract

4. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light

In spite of being a shameless Dave Grohl fanboy, even I have found myself questioning his songwriting skills over the last few years. It seemed that with each passing album his ability to write a genuine classic waned just a little bit more, and truth be told, on first listen I thought he’d fully lost it on this album. But, this being Grohl, I gave it another chance, and listened again...and again...and again, and again, and again until I couldn’t hold it in another bloody second before screaming to the skies that this was Davey G’s best album since The Colour And The Shape. No frills, no gimmicks, no cheap experiments, just a fully charged hard rock album that, while not without its fair share of dodgy moments, just reminded me why he and his band are so loved the world over. Long live Grohl. Up the Foo’s.

Download: White Limo; Arlandria; I Should Have Known

For Fans Of: AC/DC; Weezer; Biffy Clyro

3. Rise Against – Endgame

Much has been said about Rise Against’s more recent output, gradually moving towards stadium rock territory and further away from their punk roots, much like Green Day have in recent times, and Rise Against have received just as much flak for it. Sadly for those unconvinced by their new sense of mainstream tendencies, Endgame is just another step in the direction taken with Appeal To Reason, only this time the songs are 10 times more immediate, catchy and rabble-rousing. The punk flavour is there, it just takes a while to taste it. And when you do, this album becomes a masterclass in Songwriting 101. The choruses on almost every one of these tracks are absolutely unbeatable, and while the music is not exactly original, it’s not what you go to Rise Against for in the first place. This band has never been one for grand artistic statements. Instead, their mission is to unite people through the power of song, and if these songs don’t do that for them, then nothing ever will.

Download: Make It Stop (September’s Children); Satellite; Broken Mirrors

For Fans Of: The Offspring; Anti-Flag; Bad Religion

2. Circles – The Compass

While it’s fair to say that djent is the next stage in the evolution of metal, it’s difficult to gauge how far it can really go in a widespread sense, given that in general it’s geeky music made by geeky people (no offence intended, but it’s the truth). If djent interests you but all you feel it’s missing is just a little touch of commercialism then look no further than Aussie newcomers Circles, who have managed to fuse one of the most technically proficient and mind-bending variations of the metal genre with absolutely world class songwriting and put it all into an EP that owes just as much to Periphery and Meshuggah as it does to Faith No More and Porcupine Tree. It’s key changes galore as the band take you through endless melodic plains, unpredictable in execution but indomitable in the overpowering catchiness of it all. Sorry to get all overly verbose on you, but this ridiculously epic EP just demands this kind of linguistic waffling. Technical prowess aside, this band have a commendably good grasp on how to make a song groove, fluctuate and feel like it’s progressing through an astute understanding of dynamics, with synths (in the least wimpy way possible) and effects blending seamlessly into some remarkable compositional work and a truly fucking outstanding vocal performance from Perry Kakridas. Meshuggah are the kings of djent – Circles are the rightful heirs to the throne.

Download: The Frontline; Eye Embedded; Ruins

For Fans Of: Periphery; Scar Symmetry; Mnemic

1. letlive. – Fake History

Last year, upon this album’s initial release (though only in their native homeland), I placed it at number 18 having only listened to it once all the way through. A year later and having now listened to it more than any album in my whole collection, Epitaph Records has released a reissue, allowing me to put it in the spot it truly deserves. Anyone who knows me should’ve known there was never going to be another number 1. The emotions this band invoke in me genuinely take my words away. It’s so difficult to describe my love for this album and this band to anyone. I end up stuttering because I get so worked up about it. Put simply, letlive. get it. They get what it takes to be in a band, they get the kind of spiritual bond you can have with your fans through your music and they get the importance of being a band you can believe in. Fake History is an album of defiant, soul-bearing and passionately charged post-hardcore perfection that you’d have to be soulless to not feel some connection or relation to. It’s a masterpiece. A stonewall classic. A landmark that WILL in years to come be remembered in the same breath as Relationship Of Command, The Shape Of Punk To Come, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence, or any of the timeless post-hardcore records we’ve all come to love. letlive., like all these bands that came before them, point the way to the future. And if the future sounds like this, bring it the fuck on. ll.ove.

Download: Renegade 86’; Muther; Day 54

For Fans Of: At The Drive-In; Deftones; Glassjaw

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