A lot of my favourite bands put out records in 2010, and for that reason, naively, I thought that 2011 might be a slow year. I thought I'd be picking the bones of punk to find records substantial enough to stand up to what last year brought to the table. I was tragically wrong, the last twelve months have had me amped on so many different releases that just drafting a shortlist for this post had me suffering headaches that only Genesis P-Orridge could sympathise with.
My high points of 2011 included moving to London full time, being able to afford more shows and more records, being part of the Twin Infinities show in LA, and above all else, basking in the reassuring glow that Thom Flattley [fellow PP writer] has stopped wearing his Colin of Arabia hoody. Stuff that blew? Well, no Slices full length release last year, not enough money to go to all shows and buy all records, and the debilitating realisation that I cannot write as well as Matt Korvette.
Honorable mentions: The Spits - The Spits V, Brain F≠ - Sleep Rough, American Sun - American Sun, Arctic Flowers - Reveries, Dark Ages - Can America Survive?, Cold Cave - Cherish The Light Years, Condominium - Warm Home.
Demos: Black Age, Rose Cross, Blood Patrol, Sump (Demo III), Brain Slug, Sucked Dry, Synthetic ID
20. RazorXfade - RazorXfade
RazorXfade strike me as a group of highly pissed off, highly intellectual punk rock students. It's almost as if a band of kids from the 80's have sat and observed 30 years of hardcore and decided 'right, we know enough now to record an album that will put all contemporaries to shame.' Their self titled LP offers ten cuts of caustic straight edge hardcore primed with 80's Bostonian influence. There must be something in the water in Chicago.
19. Pop. 1280 - Thirteen Steps
Challenging, noise-addled post punk from New York. Pop. 1280's Thirteen Steps melds definite dance-ability in with the zaniness of Swans' Children of God / World of Skin and manages to come out bearing a noisy punk veneer. This record leans on all the positives to be found in repetition to deliver a recording that's as hypnotic as it is rugged.
18. The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient
The War On Drugs ushered in the post Kurt Vile age with a menage a trois of lilting melodies, plaintive undertones and ambitious song writing. Slave Ambient delivers solidness throughout, and sounds for the most part like Bruce Springsteen by way of REM, with the odd My Bloody Valentine sequence rippling through the centre. There is a deeply rousing quality to the tracks found here - an anthemic outwardness of sorts - tethered down into indie rock territory by the gentle nature of Adam Granduciel's compositioning.
17. Suburbanite - Suburbanite
Onwards the Youth Attack behemoth lumbers, scything down the tepid competition that dares sprout in it's midst, leaving a scarred ashen landscape of blistering hardcore bands in it's wake. Suburbanite hail from New York, and like an elite punk rock gentleman's club they contain the former Aerosols vocalist - Chris, and king lynchpin himself - Mark McCoy. The music is short, drastic and corrosive. Seven songs in six minutes that tear pages out of the Charles Bronson guide to hardcore and deliver themselves, for the most part, in a runaway fashion akin to The Repos. A modicum of sway and dare I say it, melody, push themselves into the fray at infrequent points. Probably the best straight Hardcore 7" of the year.
Download, Out of print almost everywhere
16. Otro Mundo - Jellied
I wrote a fairly substantial piece on these Arizona garage brokers in the latter part of last year, so I wont till the same earth here. But I'd have to peg Otro Mundo with the tag 'favourite discovery of 2011,' as I felt dramatically swayed by their borderline romantic song writing and grounded punk sensibilities. Jellied serves up fifteen minutes of cultured garage punk peppered with watery vocals and strong, undercurrent like guitar hooks. I implore you all to listen.
15. Runny - We've Come For Your Women And Some of Your Men
Last year I spent more time steeping myself in past and present New York hardcore lore than I did breathing fresh air. One dark day I came across the band Runny (whose name is utterly unaccountable for) when going through the Hardcore Gig Volume page, and instantly decided to sneak a taste of this mysterious Brooklyn fruit. The track listing was the one and only precursor for the horror I was letting myself in for. Titles like 'It's The Third Dick You Suck That Makes You Gay,' give off a certain je ne sais quoi that immediately vanish any notions of possible quintessential punk rock on the horizon.
Still, I dived into what I thought would be an example of mental illness put to record and found myself swimming through a blend of Butthole Surfer's style humour and catchy Dwarves-esque guitar methodology. Onwards I climbed, soaring into rarely trodden patches of Replacements influence and various other Bush Sr-era Sub Pop oddities. This record is a freak anomaly that should probably be ostracized, but quite frankly the maniacal vocal presence, the chiming rhythms and the obvious, yet disturbing, sense of fun is too good to pass up. Party punk for the sexually deviant.
14. Hoax - Hoax
A nuclear Kojak on vocals and a taste for blood led Massachusetts to record one of 2011's most rampant records. They play with a bitterness that's consistent with Vile Gash, only much bolshier and slowed down to an almost mid-tempo dirge. Most of the five minutes playing time gets vacuumed up by a wash of toxic feedback and motor driven guitars, luckily though the vocals cut clear above the underlying destruction to really make an impression. Growls, walls of feedback, misanthropic lyrics and sheer aggressiveness are nothing new within this circle, but the way Hoax process everything together sounds pretty organic and without pretense. 2012 will see them elevated to big hitter status.
13. Leather - Sterile
A much more full figured release from Philadelphia's Leather sees the band nodding their heads to the likes of Necros and the finer points of Age of Quarrel, only to funnel this bastard combination through 90's San Diego. The sloshy guitar of track two 'Novitiate' sounds more like a cover of Joy Division's 'Warsaw' than the actual Swing Kids cover. This release owes a great deal of it's versatility to the vocalist's complete lack of fear. He doesn't give two fucks about flickering between a John Joseph warble-growl, a classic Jack Kelly delivery and an annoyingly confident singing voice. This entire 7" hurtles along like an extended tourettes episode, barking and spitting with all the elements of modern de rigueur hardcore - yet underneath lies a deceptive intelligence and a willingness to write great music.
12. Sex Church - Growing Over
6 Songs by Sex Church whetted my appetite for even more sickly-vibed noise building and Growing Over does not throw salt on the proceedings. From the offset, Sex Church roll into Growing Over with the same fondness for meandering, dream like sound escapades; turning consecutive minutes of gathering tension into eventual nothingness. Not that this is a bad thing, everybody knows what a thunderous climactic sound assault should sound like.. and so for the Vancouver post punk troupe to march down the left hand path of obscurity shows a willingness to reinvent. 'Colour Out of Space' is the closest this record gets to full blown Wolf Eyes style electro-masturbation, but no sooner has the last dial been cranked, the flow ebbs along into the Birthday Party sized chops of 'Treading Water' and beyond towards the strafe-fire attack of 'Beneath The Bottom.' Growing Over is a multi-layered, multi-textured encyclopedia of post punk and noise, romantic and pretty in parts where it's content to play out in rhythm, frightly delirious at all other times.
11. Shoppers - Silver Year
This band blew up last year, thankfully it was due to worthy acclaim and not the hulking great hype machine pushing the wrong band. Shoppers are from Syracuse, NY and share a member (or members) with White Guilt. Silver Year pig-fucks around with a stylistic blend of feedback, perky riffing and noise punk overtones - flooding the landscape with on point deliveries and interesting Big Black type rhythm sections. Instinct dictated that the sheer clamour of this album would force it to buckle inward on itself, but no, it holds itself up and angrily marries together manic noise apparent on say 'ii' with poppish whimsies such as 'iv' to create an explosive yet beguiling denouement.
Download, Sold the fuck out.
10. Rational Animals - Bock Rock Parade
Forgive me oh Father, for I have sinned. When I first heard Rational Animals I thought 'Well fuck me, Every Time I Die have had an epiphany.' I thought the unusual vocal delivery bore more than a passing resemblance to Keith Buckley's once slightly punk swagger. Anyway, I grew up and really gave this Rochester, NY band a listen, finding to my suprise that my early analysis was far off the mark. Bock Rock Parade screams at you with it's '84 and onwards Black Flag influence, brewing over with Ginn licks, forcing you to take note of the band's anomalous hardcore methods. The range of influence is astounding. Highly metallic guitar work, a youthful Rollins on vocal duty, punctured, arithmetic drumming and an overlay of noisey punk rock. The connoisseur's record of 2011.
9. Raw Nerve - Midnight
I wonder if there was any sort of ceremony whereby Mark McCoy passed the torch along officially to Raw Nerve? Last year saw the release of Tall Tales - an interim discography and the Midnight EP. Midnight unfurls with a minute and thirty seconds of uncharacteristic bombast, 80's as fuck, trundling along in an almost Crucifucks inspired beat until the conflagration dies out on the line 'I'll fuck you just the same.' The following 7 tracks are of stock Raw Nerve fashion; blistering, unyielding, without respite. Raw Nerve beat the same drum they've had for the past few releases, but why fix it if it isn't broke? This output is enough to keep any fan coming back, and further cements these Chicago, IL noiseniks as the creative benchmark in the American Midwest.
Download, Sold out
8. Total Control - Hengebeat
I've lost count of Total Control's recorded output, but last year's Hengebeat sat atop many writer's and fan's best of lists. Not only did they take Wire's notion of 'easy' cover art and thoroughly put them to shame (Microsoft paint strikes again), they carried the torch of ambivalently downbeat post-punk into the 21st century. Hengebeat chimes with Carpet Rash's plaintively uttered 'Please please me,' and eventually breaks into a strangely ever-stretching neon melody - accurately encapsulating the tone of the rest of the record. Most of what's to be heard here skates over thin post punk ice, dropping at times into imbroglios of garage rock. Dish-rag dreary vocals compliment everything going on, wafting in and out like a valium state of mind. The rise of the Australians in 2011 was not to be sniffed at.
7. Omegas - Blasts of Lunacy
Unashamed, unchecked and violent. Omega's full length 'Blasts of Lunacy' kicks off with so much wanton aggression that you can't help think that the record title was an act of prophecy. The 80's influence comes at you with a headbutt to the face and a free lesson in how to emulate Jerry's Kids & friends without sacrificing new vitality. Omega's sound like Raw Life if only they were comfortable with their sexuality. The macho-ness is dulled down, and the intensity is kept at 11. This is the kind of dynamic hardcore that wont suffer death by neglect, on the contrary, Blasts of Lunacy is a document of the modern day hard punk zeitgeist that begs to be replayed.
6. Brown Sugar - Sings of Birds and Racism.
Angry, but not too-hate-filled hardcore from Buffalo with a Cleveland by way of 'What The Hell.. It's Roach Motel' flavour. Complete with rock solid riffing, the weirdness builds and builds until twinges of psychedelia break off from the main vein of unhinged hardcore. 'Total Fucking Garbage' blows it's load almost immediately after the opening saxophone affair is dealt with, rattling and humming with some of the most irresistible melodies i've ever found in hardcore. This record hovers somewhere around mental disorder, but something within me begs for it to be considered a serious record. It's as if everything laid out here is too superb to be shackled by cries of immaturity. Imagine The Shitty Limits injected with a Circle Jerk serum.
5. Iceage - New Brigade
It sucks a tremendous amount of dick that having to say this is necessary but, no, these four Danish boys are not racist. They are fervently anti-racist. I've spent time with them and feel obliged somewhat to do my bit to quell this 2nd / 3rd wave backlash. They are a great bunch of lads who wrote one of the greatest debut full lengths you're likely to hear in some time. Media; reign in your imaginations for a change.
With a circle of friends including the less than innocuous Jackman, the scally-lads of Pagan Youth and the black punk teen fiends Sexdrome, the wunderkinds in Iceage have risen as part of a roughly defined collective. New Brigade is a landmark in Danish punk culture, at least that's what it's destined to become. 12 tracks of scathing originality - fusing together a love for The Pogues, Bruce Springsteen, Death In June, Void and others to birth a dextrous document of post-punk grounded rock and roll. The whole scope is reeled in under frontman Elias' prolific gift for writing his vocal melodies in such a way that they almost act as an extension of his guitar. The crowning princes deliver unbroken greatness with New Brigade, sauntering between jangly garage parts and testing sonic backdrops. Anyone with more than a passing interest in punk rock already has an opinion on this record, most likely one of laudation.
4. Kitchen's Floor - Looking Forward To Nothing
Australia's own Kitchen's Floor have that careful balance of playing music that sounds careless, whilst retaining a strong sense of craftsmanship. Looking Forward To Nothing expands on the glimpses of stellar lo-fi melody present on their last opus 'Lonliness Is A Dirty Mattress,' only this time Matt Kennedy has made the same kind of giant leap that KC made from Bleach to Nevermind. It's that impressive. The dreariness of his lyrics serves to highlight the delicious bites of tunefulness apparent on tracks such as '116,' 'Needs,' and 'Kidney Infection.'
There is a master songwriter functioning at the core of this project. Nervous about his art, loyal to independence, susceptible to bursts of harmony. Looking Forward To Nothing goes a long way to define 2011 for me. The honesty is overpowering and without pretension, the intimacy is all apparent and it's all offered up as K Records-esque morsels of greatness. There is nothing not love about this LP.
3. Adolf Butler - Holland
Holy fuck, Dutch noise the likes of which I have never come across. Admittedly, I am no scholar of Nederlandse muziek, but this record.. THIS record, is a wall of grooving noise punk devastating enough to act as our continental equivalent of The Men. Worshipping at the altar of The Jesus Lizard, and spending equal amounts of time inebriated at the House of Melvins has coloured these Dutch darlings with an overriding penchant for the noise rock arts. Each track bristles with squalls of drawn out guitar lines, thundering along to the sound of a man splitting drum skins like his life depended on it.
Lineage can be drawn back only a few years to the cripplingly feral sounds of Clockcleaner - and perhaps the calmer natured Drunkdriver tracks (Half Mast). Every so often a sequence of hardcore identity rears up to choke the rockiness, but other than that Holland holds itself together as a noise punk record we Europeans can be fucking proud of.
Listen / Buy
2. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Let us not kid ourselves, Let England Shake permeated almost all corners of the grand music demographic last year. It's a bleak soundtrack to soundtrack bleak times, coercing pure vulnerability into twisted, beautiful forms. Polly Jean's most complete and enchanting set of songs ever laid down had NME falling over themselves to get the 10/10 stamp out. Deservedly so. Let England Shake is a palette of perfectly weighted vocal gushes laid delicately across stretches of spirited instrumentation. An almost untouchable record.
1. The Men - Leave Home
An astounding symphony of unbridled punk rock at it's most effective, The Men - Leave Home is my album of the year. Leave Home is simply too expansive to ignore, too chock-full with the best influences a band could seek to work from. The opener 'If You Leave' squeezes tight on the neck of Beatles' psychedelia and bangs the head of Thurston Moore against a Brookyln brick wall with the other hand. To say this record is disjointed is an understatement. The instrumental savagery of Lotus is followed by a three minute hardcore drenching. There almost as if to mock mere punk mortals, still busy slaving away over their less than mediocre hardcore efforts.
L.A.D.O.C.H pushed the wall of noise further, searing like a sharpened edge, as visions of Cult Ritual cloud my mind. Baitaille sounds like Fugazi had Ian Mackaye broke edge and jammed with Greg Sage a little. The whole record is a series of extended waves of carefully aligned influence, pummeling us all with passages of Dinosaur Jr, Butthole Surfers, The Jesus Lizard, Iggy & The Stooges and the curveball Kraut-rock appearances on Night Landing. As something singular, it's terrific to behold, and plays out more like an orchestra than a punk record. The world awaits their forthcoming 2012 LP - Open Your Heart.