Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best of 2011, part III: Honorable mentions

Today I'll run down some honorable-mention releases, 2011 titles I enjoyed but didn't end up including on either my jazz or all-genres-in-play lists.


Protest the Hero Scurrilous (Vagrant)

Lindsey Buckingham Seeds We Sow (Buckingham)

Aside from the records that did make my TONY top 10, these are the two that came closest to cracking the list. In the end, I just didn't feel that I could recommend either in full, but the highlights on each are magical.

I stumbled across Protest the Hero a few years ago while writing event listings for TONY. I'd heard a few bands fusing prog, metal and emo before, but never with such flair, talent and unabashed bombast. There are some dud tracks on this new one, but wow, the good stuff on here just floors me. Imagine a super-techy, less psychedelic, more overtly metallic Mars Volta circa De-Loused in the Comatorium and you're getting close. The frontman, Rody Walker, is unspeakably good: incredible tone and control combined with pure sardonic attitude. It baffles me a bit that you don't hear more about these guys on the indie-metal buzzfeed, but I think they might be too Warped Tour–ish to win over that crowd. Ignore the subgenre barriers; Protest the Hero is an outstanding band. This video is a little silly, but the over-the-top-ness fits the PTH aesthetic just fine:

Along with my wife, I awakened to Fleetwood Mac in a major way in 2011. The 1975 self-titled album, Rumours and Tusk have been on constant rotation this year (especially the breathtaking "Crystal", which I've started to think of as proto–Will Oldham). I loved Buckingham's fierce live show, and Seeds We Sow, the solo record he supported at that gig, was pretty damn respectable. In the end, there were a few too many weak tracks, but as with PTH, the best ones hit me hard. "Stars Are Crazy" is borderline holy:

And I love the punky chorus on "That's the Way Love Goes":


New York Dolls Dancing Backward in High Heels (429)

Paul Simon So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music)

Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers Teenage and Torture (Knitting Factory)

Gillian Welch
The Harrow & the Harvest (Acony)

I guess you could lump these together loosely as singer-songwriter records. Again, I couldn't stand behind the full meals, but certain courses were delicious and memorable. I love the surprisingly wistful mugging of the Dolls track, the low-key aging-hipster vibe of the Simon (the "You've got to fill out a form first / And then you wait in the line" bit of which always summons fond memories of the waiting-room scene in Beetlejuice), the world-weary sneer of the Shilpa and the trouble-in-mind creep of the Gillian. Take a listen:


40 Watt Sun The Inside Room (Cyclone Empire)

Raspberry Bulbs Nature Tries Again (Hospital Productions)

Cannabis Corpse Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise (Tankcrimes)

Liturgy Aesthethica (Thrill Jockey)

Exhumed All Guts, No Glory (Relapse)

Five very good metal records. Next year, I may start compiling a metal-only list, but for now, this (along with the three selections on my overall top 10: Anthrax, Deceased and Disma) will have to do. These records deliver top notch takes on, respectively, majestically depressive doom; crusty blackened punk, seething with bad vibes; super-tight, organic (i.e., beautifully recorded and not over–Pro Tools–ed to shit), uncommonly hard-rocking death metal; blissfully enveloping (and reliably argument-starting!) black metal; and riff-choked, cartoonishly gore-fixated thrash-grind. (NOTE: The Liturgy track I chose isn't really representative of the record as a whole, but no matter: It's my favorite.)


Multitudes Twelve Branches (Palanquin)

Freddie T and the People People In (self-released, I believe)

Yukon Yukon (New Firmament)

Three records to which I have either a personal or sentimental connection.

I'm proud to call the good folks of Multitudes and Yukon friends. The former do super-raw and consistently inspired punk fusion (read more here); the latter, state-of-the-art, prog-minded (but not retro in the slightest) art rock, featuring dazzling virtuosity employed in the service of ear-bending yet improbably hooky composition. That's a mouthful, but please, listen.

I don't know Freddie T (a.k.a. Fred Erskine, formerly of Hoover, the Crownhate Ruin, June of 44 and Just a Fire) personally, but I feel like I do; I've loved his music for over half my life. More on People In here. (This one may technically be a 2010 release, but I didn't hear it till ’11.)


Death The Sound of Perseverance; Human; Individual Thought Patterns (Relapse)

Extremely classy reissue campaign focused on a band that I've come to realize was one of the very best, most consistently rewarding metal has ever known. I loved the liner-notes essays included with each of these, penned by collaborators of Death leader Chuck Schuldiner: Shannon Hamm on TSOP, Paul Masvidal (also of Cynic) on Human and the hilarious Gene Hoglan on ITP. Clear, punishing sound too. The demos and other bonus tracks don't do much for me, but the full live set bundled with ITP is a real keeper.

Ozzy Osborne Blizzard of Ozz; Diary of a Madman (Sony)

Another essential reissue program. I really didn't know these records at all (aside from "Crazy Train" and maybe another single or two) before I heard the new editions, and they definitely overhauled my perception of Ozzy. I had no idea that he was such a force outside of Sabbath; his stuff from the ’90s and beyond never did much for me, but god, these LPs are special. So much range and—this is what got me—pop know-how; I've heard Ozzy discuss the Beatles in interviews, and you really hear that influence during this period. Amazing bonus video footage included with these as well.

(I should also throw a quick mention at the Paul McCartney reissues. Haven't spend enough good time with ’em yet, but I'm psyched to investigate further.)


Lou Reed and Metallica Lulu (Warner Bros.)

Morbid Angel Illud Divinum Insanus (Season of Mist)

Ah, the year's red-headed musical stepchildren, two sure-fire scorn magnets. I defended both Lulu and Illud on this blog, and I stand by those statements. I definitely gleaned decent enjoyment (and fruitful puzzlement) from both records. All the same, their absence from my proper year-end list is telling. Are these albums out-and-out, never-shoulda-been-made pieces of crap? Definitely not; and even if they were, that kind of bandwagony hater-ism isn't something I can endorse. And yet, will I return to these albums consistently in the future? I'd have trouble answering a firm "Yes" to that.

Again, though, I'm happy these records are in the world. Their respective makers needed to make them, and beyond that, they have no obligation to us. All this business about legacy-sullying, it really doesn't mean very much. In the case of Lulu, everyone who was going to write off Metallica on grounds of poor taste most likely did so around the time of Metallica, if not Load, Re-Load or St. Anger. (Can't really comment on Lulu's place in the Reed canon, as I'm no expert.) And as I argued in the piece linked above, Morbid Angel may be the greatest death-metal band of all time, but their pre-Illud discography is not without its frustrating inconsistencies.

So enough with the dogpiling already (Hitler parodies aside!); let's let these records lie. I, for one, will still flaunt my Metallica and Morbid fandom without an asterisk.

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