Thursday, December 15, 2011

Top 11 Albums and EPs of 2011

In honor of the fact that it’s 2011, I decided to turn it up to 11 for this year’s edition of my End of the Year lists that nobody reads. So instead of the usual 10 albums (and 5 EPs), you can expect to see 11 each. I can only hope that this kind of publicity stunt helps me skyrocket into internet superstardom.

Anyhow, other than that it’s the same deal as always. These albums are the ones that either left huge impressions on me or I just listened to a lot. Mostly both though.

11. Sum 41 - Screaming Bloody Murder
Yes. Sum 41 is still together. I was kind of surprised, too. The band no longer writes the same sugary hooks like they did a decade ago, but the thing that I always kind of liked about the post-All Killer, No Filler Sum 41 is that they really do write songs that they feel like writing, instead of trying to recreate their past success. The album does have some odd transitions, such as sandwiching a 12 minute, three part epic between two ballads, but overall Screaming Bloody Murder is a step forward for the band, especially after the disappointing Underclass Hero. 

10. Night Birds – The Other Side of Darkness
Night Birds are a surf punk band straight outta Joisey. And Brooklyn, from what I’ve been told. Made up of members of The Ergs!, Hunchback and For Science, Night Birds draw heavy influence from classic punk acts ranging from Agent Orange to the Descendents to the Misfits. The band plays fast and snotty, and there’s not a song on here that’s longer than 3 minutes- just the way I like my punk rock.

09. Farewell Continental – ¡Hey, Hey Pioneers!
Last year one of my favorite albums was Motion City Soundtrack’s My Dinosaur Life. To me, that album encompasses everything that Top 40 pop music should be these days. Farewell Continental’s debut full length takes that pop formula that Motion City Soundtrack perfected and reworks it for the shoegaze genre. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of shoegaze music so I’m not sure if Farewell Continental actually created something that shoegaze purists will readily accept. This album takes it up a notch in terms of production and catchiness in terms of the preceding EPs and creates some wonderful male and female fronted indie pop music.

08. blink-182 - Neighborhoods
Obviously my inner-middle school self is still alive somewhere because that’s the only explanation for how both Sum 41 and blink-182 could have made it on to this list. If only Green Day had released something other than a live album. But on a serious note, I was expecting an Angels and Airwaves album with the occasional Mark Hoppus vocals. To some, that’s exactly what Neighborhoods sounds like. To me, this album is so much more than that though. If you’re really curious to know what I thought about it, check out my review of it

07. Samiam – Trips
I’ve known about Samiam for almost forever now. They come from the same scene that produced bands such as Green Day, Rancid, Jawbreaker, Filth and Operation Ivy. And yet, I never gave them a fair listen until this past year. That didn’t stop me from listening to Trips when it was streaming online, nor did it stop me from falling in love with the band. It’s easily their most accessible album to date, even more so than You Are Freaking Me Out, but it adds a nice variety to their back catalogue and I think it’s a step up from the muddy sounding Whatever’s Got You Down (a fine album, but the production was kind of shoddy). 

06. Banner Pilot – Heart Beats Pacific
Sometimes a band will release a new album and its sound will be a drastic change from its predecessor. This isn’t really one of those times. The songs may be written in a different key but that doesn’t stop this album from essentially being Collapser Part 2. But I missed out on Collapser the first time around (I know, I’m a terrible orgcore punk), so it’s all brand new sounding to me. I also think that Banner Pilot writes the finest Jawbreaker songs that Jawbreaker never wrote. Considering how many bands have tried their hand at accomplishing that, I would say that it is no easy feat. Kudos to Banner Pilot for that.

                                           05. Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room – Hurricane Season
In spite of everything, my biggest problem with Alkaline Trio's Damnesia was that it was lacking in Dandriano. This album makes up for that, big time. I know I’ve gone on record several times in saying this, but for me, Dan’s songs in Alkaline Trio have always been the stronger ones lyrically. So to have an album full of his songs is really exciting. The songs are beautifully written and it’s nice to hear Dan’s voice and lyrics set to different types of music. What I really like is that Dan Andriano doesn’t take the gruff acoustic route that Chuck Ragan has set and instead he takes a road similar to that of Dave Hause’s recent solo output and utilizes an array of full band instrumentation. In many ways it’s a nod to other singer-songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Ryan Adams. It’s secretly my hope that he forms a backing band as The Emergency Room to become his equivalent of the E Street Band or the Cardinals.

04. Fireworks – Gospel
I am not a big fan of this whole modern day pop punk thing that’s going on. To me, it just sounds like a bunch of bands trying to be The Movielife or New Found Glory. There’s something that sets Fireworks apart from other bands in that scene. Instead of falling into the same tired stereotypes, Fireworks takes a much different approach to their style of pop music, having a softer energy about them that’s more akin to the Fake Problems brand of indie-punk rather than the peppy gang vocals of The Wonder Years.

03. Junior Battles – Idle Ages
Speaking of modern day pop punk, here’s a band that gets it right. Melding the precise technicality of Latterman and the vocal styling of Fall Out Boy, Junior Battles writes catchy melodies that are fun enough to sing along to (in your head or out loud) while also showing a wisdom far beyond their years. The song writing is tight and it’s hard to believe that this is the same band that released the Hotel Bibles EP a few years back. Perfect for a tired kid who just quit his job and is looking for something to pick him up. Oh, and Damian Abraham (Pink Eyes, of Fucked Up fame) makes a guest appearance, too.

02. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
It’s hard for me to describe why I like Brian Fallon’s work. It’s not particularly relatable for me and it’s not even like I can tell you what most of his songs are about. He just has a way with words. With the Horrible Crowes, Fallon’s lyrics aren’t that much different from his work with the Gaslight Anthem but I kind of expected that. My favorite thing about Elsie is how little it actually resembles a Gaslight Anthem album. Okay, so maybe Behold the Hurricane might have been able to fit somewhere on American Slang but the rest of the album manages to capture a different sound. From the constant picked note in Ladykiller and Crush to the organ sounds featured on I Witnessed a Crime and Mary Ann, this is definitely a project that is to remain separate from Brian Fallon’s main body of work but it’s also solid enough that it would be able to stand up on its own should it ever become his main focus.

01. Direct Hit! – Domesplitter
Lead singer Nick Woods has described the sound of Direct Hit! as “Ramones meets Andrew WK meets The Thermals” and I don’t think there’s any better way to put it. I had some concerns at first when I knew that Domesplitter was going to be re-recorded versions of previously released songs but those concerns were laid to rest when the album actually came out. The songs are notably faster than the originals and there’s a new intensity to Woods’ vocals. These new elements only make these great songs sound even better and it makes me sad to think I had doubted it in the first place. Best album of 2011 by far for me.

Honorable Mentions: 
The Copyrights - North Sentinel Island
Dave Hause - Resolutions
Dead to Me - Moscow Penny Ante
Fucked Up - David Comes to Life


11. Dear Landlord / The Dopamines – Portrait Parle
Two of the best pop punk bands join forces and release a pop punk masterpiece. Dear Landlord write some of the best shout along anthems in pop punk this side of the Copyrights. And the Dopamines are probably a better version of the Copyrights. Two songs each, with some of their strongest material since their last full length albums.

10. Broadway Calls – Toxic Kids
Broadway Calls has always been a pretty solid pop punk band. Toxic Kids is a short release but it’s comforting to know that the band is still active and writing songs. While the songs are structured in the same way that Broadway Calls songs have always been structured, it is interesting to note that they have a much rougher edge to them than their previous LPs in terms of production. I’m not sure if that’s indicative of the direction the band is heading in or if these songs are demo versions of songs for album three.

09. Motion City Soundtrack / Trampled by Turtles Split
Some people are against split releases when the bands involved cover each other songs. I think if the bands are radically different enough from each other though, it can create some pretty interesting sounds. Motion City Soundtrack has perfected the pop formula while Trampled by Turtles takes bluegrass music in a fairly progression direction. Covering each other works for these artists. Wait So Long sounds like it could’ve been a Motion City Soundtrack original, while Disappear sounds pretty good on a mandolin.

08. The Gaslight Anthem – iTunes Session
The Gaslight Anthem covers songs by The Who, Tom Petty and Pearl Jam, while also playing updated versions of older songs. Also an unreleased song and an interview. Maybe not the most exciting of things for a casual fan but it’s definitely something for a hardcore completist.

07. Against Me! – Russian Spies / Occult Enemies
It’s pretty easy to hate on Against Me! these days but I still have a lot of love for them. Sure, this release still has that “White Crosses” sound but let’s be honest: the actual sound of the band hasn’t changed as much as everyone says it has since As the Eternal Cowboy. There are less acoustic songs, sure, and maybe Butch Vig has crunched up their sound but throw someone who is unfamiliar with the band into an Against Me! show and they wouldn’t be able to tell you there's an 8 year difference between Cliché Guevara and Occult Enemies. I’m absolutely positive about that.

06. Latterman – Our Better Halves
“New” Latterman song.
Recorded before they split up but never released.
Until now.

05. Direct Hit! – Monster in the Closet
So I already knew that Monster in the Closet ruled. I checked this single out though for its b-side, Message to the Angels. It’s the closest thing that Direct Hit! has done to an acoustic studio track and it’s kind of weird to listen to because it consists of nothing more than Nick Woods and his electric guitar. It describes a battle of Heavenly proportions though, so the lyrics are pretty standard fare. Worth checking out.

04. Daytrader – Last Days of Rome
Daytrader features former members of Crime in Stereo, The Motorcycle Industry and Latterman to name a few. But even if they didn’t have such a high profile background, they’d still rock. They take more influence from early 2000’s emo than the bands that they come from yet they manage to keep it sounding fresh. I’m highly looking forward to the full length when it drops.

03. + 02. Mixtapes – Companions / Castle Songs
Mixtapes has had several releases this year. Most notably are the Companions EP that came along with the reissuing of Maps and the two song, minute and a half Castle Songs. They’re both brilliant and welcome additions to the ever-growing Mixtapes discography. Companions is made up of 3 full band versions of songs that originally appeared as acoustic compositions, plus two brand new tunes. I always really like how Maura and Ryan’s voices complement each other on their acoustic tracks and hearing these songs played electrically only strengthens my opinion. Even if this EP had been released on its own and not as a, well, (ahem) companion piece, it would still be strong enough to stand on its own.

As for Castle Songs, I don’t even if two songs really counts as an EP or a single even- especially when the two songs only total one minute and forty seconds. But these two songs are really good, so I don’t think any of that matters. I’m a Genius is a cover of some Disney Channel show called Zeke and Luther, which I’ve never actually heard of until I looked it up. It is 30 seconds long and kind of a ska song. The other track, Hey Baby, is an acoustic ditty that’s a wonderful, bitter break up song to listen to. Just download it

01. Masked Intruder – Masked Intruder
Pop punk band with a gimmick. I would hate it if they weren’t so awesome. Kind of like the Ramones but with more guitar solos. Available on bandcamp. I spoke with Blue when I got to see them in August and I’m pumped for the full length to come out. I can only hope they get out of prison to finish the mastering soon!

Compilations/Live Albums/Reissues/Etc
05. Mixtapes – Maps
Still one of my favorite albums from 2010 to listen to but it’s even nicer to listen to while on the go now that it’s been remastered. There was always a jarring difference between the acoustic songs and electric songs but that problem is no more.

04. Explosivo! – If the Devil Has a Guitar…
I got to see these guys open for Latterman. That was super exciting. Especially once I realized who the band members were. Apparently this album has been floating around unofficially for years but was given a proper release a few months ago. More Long Island punk needs to sound like these guys- I’m aware that such bands exist but I don’t think there are enough of them.

03. RVIVR – The Joester Sessions
Okay, so all these songs are only like two or three years old and I’ve heard them all already. I’m mostly including this one because of the new track, Elizabethan Collar, is extremely catchy and because having all these songs condensed together as one album helped clean up a bit of the clutter in my music library of 1000+ albums. Good stuff. (Although I’m not sure why the acoustic version of Real Mean was left off this release).

02. The Steinways – Promise It’ll Never Happen Again
The Steinways are one of my favorite pop punk bands. They write short songs about girls. Sometimes those songs are borderline creepy, but they’re also silly. Much like the Joester Sessions, every song here has been heard before, as Promise It’ll Never Happen Again collects all their singles and EPs into one large collection for listening convenience. 31 tracks in 36 minutes. Essential listening for fans of the modern pop punk genre.

01. Wugazi – 13 Chambers
Mash ups are something of a novelty to me. They’re fun to listen to in my spare time but they’re never something that I enjoy listening to in my spare time or while I’m on the train. That said, 13 Chambers is on a completely different level than most mash up albums. It flows really well and if I wasn’t familiar with Fugazi I could easily be fooled into thinking that the beats were created specifically for each track. That’s some skill right there.

Albums I Overlooked in 2010
The Menzingers – Chamberlain Waits
Iron Chic – Not Like This
Two Cow Garage – Sweet Saint Me
Nightmares for a Week – Don’t Die

Yes, I’m aware that The Menzingers, Iron Chic and RVIVR were at the top of everyone’s lists last year. I’m a bit slow sometimes to catch on to things. I listened to them all last year- it just didn’t click until this year.

Nightmares for a Week just had the unfortunate timing of being released in late December. I'm highly considering changing the way I do these top lists and consider albums released between December of the previous year through to November. That way, end of the year releases have a better shot. Just something for me to think about for the next couple of months. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dead to Me - Moscow Penny Ante

I consider Dead to Me to be one of my favorite live bands ever. Every time I've seen them they've outperformed the headlining act. Every time I've seen them has also been with a different line up and they have still blown me away. Just wanted to throw that out there before I get into the album itself.

The amazing thing about Dead to Me is how solid they have continued to be in spite of their ever-rotating cast of guitarists/second vocalists. Some would argue that 2009's African Elephants was a bit of a step backwards but the only real fault I've found with it is that the sequencing doesn't really flow and you're more likely to get a better  track list by putting it on shuffle. Moscow Penny Ante fixes that problem by being less ambitious with the diversity of genre and the album flows much better from song-to-song. However, there are some missteps. It seems as if the band is taking some caution after all the line up changes and letting the guitarists do less and less singing while bassist Chicken takes the lead on about 2/3 of the album. While he's a strong vocalist, this is a pretty drastic change especially since a majority of the band's best songs were when they would take advantage of having someone sing the verses and someone else to sing the choruses. It's also a shame since new co-vocalist Sam Johnson (New Mexican Disaster Squad) does a pretty good job at picking up where Nathan Grice left off, as opposed to his Kid Dynamite imitation that fans might be more familiar with.

In spite of that, this album rocks and it's pretty standard Dead to Me. The songs are energetic and they're fun to sing along with. Often times when a band goes through so many line up changes in such a short time, it doesn't bode well for the members. But Dead to Me has found a way to make these changes work for them. With One Man Army back together and recording a new album, it might be awhile before Jack re-joins the band, but Dead to Me has shown that they will continue to progress forward with their music no matter how many changes they go through. (Although now we can all cross our fingers for a OMA/DTM tour in 2012)

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Horrible Crowes - Elsie

I don't even know why I bother trying to write about albums that came out more than a month ago.

The Horrible Crowes is a side project of Brian Fallon from the Gaslight Anthem. He manages to write songs that sound exactly like The Gaslight Anthem but not like The Gaslight Anthem at all. At the same time, nonetheless. It's a bit more on the laid-back side of things, as both the album opener, Last Rites and the surprisingly un-religious album closer, I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together, both show. Some songs still show that classic rock 'n' roll influence such as the first single, Behold the Hurricane, while others show a different flavor to the types of songs that Mr. Fallon can perform (the reggae-tinged I Witnessed a Crime specifically comes to mind, although Mary-Ann shows a very heavy blues-rock side of things).

Again though, I'm not sure why I bother to write about albums that came out months ago. Assuming anyone even stumbles upon this blog, chances are that you've already decided that you love or hate this album because you've also probably already made up your mind on whether or not you love or hate The Gaslight Anthem. The most enjoyable thing (or perhaps the most relieving thing) about Elsie is that Brian Fallon managed to create something new for the fans to enjoy (as opposed to writing another Gaslight Anthem album) while not completely distancing himself from the sound that his fans love. That can be a very thin line to walk sometimes, but he sure walked it.