The Year in Review - Steven

[Warning - Stupidly long]

So there are two days left of 2011. Still time to get down to your nekkids with that special person if you haven’t yet gotten around to it (g’wan, give them a call. You lose nothing and you might get to share a bed and start something special) or pick up a ostentatiously massive Cuban cigar for seeing in the new year by breathing in some air you can see. Seeing as 2011 is pretty much behind us, it’s time to look back, past the festive glut in which I consumed roughly my weight in food and drank roughly my weight in booze and at the year in music. Yup, it’s our end of year list-stravaganza. Usually this is the point at which we bestow accolades or distribute lists to the utter indifference of everyone who doesn’t worship us as gods. We can’t be bothered doing that. So what I’ve done instead is to compile a list of records: Single songs, EPs, discographies, full-lengths and live albums that I reckon might have slipped past a few of you but in my opinion represent interesting things. I’m not promising you’ll like these records and I’m not saying I do, I’m just saying all of these picks will either do something extremely well, or do something completely new. I’ll provide links to places of purchase where possible and convenient, but a full-title Google search ought’a set you up with this wicked sounds for yourself.


A little insight into why I don’t bother to do a ‘best of 2011’ list. Firstly, who really cares? Secondly, my opinions shift quite frequently so what I’m loving today may well be different tomorrow. Thirdly, I can’t possibly know the best albums, because I’ve only heard a coupla hundred albums from this year and most of them were crap. Fourthly, a ‘best of’ list tends to simply be a highlight reel from that opinion-formers particular favourite genre. It’s rare to see jazz albums infiltrate the lists of those obsessed with thrash metal, so it isn’t a balanced overview. What I want to do with this article is keep something that is valuable two weeks from now. These are records that will always be interesting or excellent, not just this week; so future archaeologists stumbling upon this blog might still be able to get a kick out of these records.

A few notes on my selections, I’ve limited myself to six records (We’ll call it Steven’s 2011 vintage case), all of these records are listed in my iTunes as a 2011 release. A warning (or guide) that these records tend to lean in the more drone-y doom-y heavy metal direction because those are my proclivities and that’s the scene I’m most plugged in to. It isn’t limited to that, but you know me! I know I just went on about how lists are limited by preference. Look up these records, they tend to be by artists that don’t get as much coverage as they oughta and really deserve your attention. Most of these records are underground, most of the artists give their work away for free. So if you’ve picked up the record for free (or ‘borrowed’ it from a friendly torrent, you criminal) please take two minutes to go over and tell them how awesome you thought it was, and to keep going; tell them to come to your town, order a tee so everyone can see that you love the band et cetera. Music isn’t free, it takes time and love and dedication and keeping up dedication is so much easier for these music-makers when they know there’s some be-teeshirted heads getting blown away by the sounds they’re toiling away on. I you like something, speak up. Also if you have your own best-of list, I’d love to hear it, and if you know some killer records from this year, please email us. We read and reply to every email so don’t be shy. Use a false name or send us encrypted audio messages with that weird electronic voice so we feel like we are in an episode of 24. Okay, without further embuggerance, let’s set 2011 to rights. After that we’ll get into some of 2011’s most interesting albums

I’ll come right out and say it, 2011 wasn’t shaping up well and turned out to be even worse. It saw the demise of my favourite band and all of the interesting released kicked back into 2012. The new Baroness, Nails, Meshuggah and the second part of the new Earth album have all been sent away to stew for a few more dull months. I guess with the economic crisis firmly reinstating itself, there’s more pressure on labels to go with bankable artists than risk it with an outsider. Of what did come out (in heavy music spheres) was a festival of mediocrity when it wasn’t just hilariously awful. There was the new Morbid Angel which proved that there is no stupid decision Vincent won’t make when blood to his brain is cut off due to tight leather vests [note – I am not some kind of death metal fanboy having an emo-wank over my death metal band going all industrial, I’m happy for them to make a move and do something different, I’d just rather it wasn’t crap], some awful crap was released featuring Lou Reed talking over a poor Metallica practice tape (and I’m going to sound like a metal elitist fanboy again, but Metallica haven’t done anything good since the eighties, and they weren’t much good even when they were good), everything else was just so much noise and fury that totally failed to mask the worry that heavy music is hitting a crisis point. I’ve got a bank of really fascinating releases from radical people and where do they reside? Hidden away in the internet and pored over by particularly observant bloggers, and what hits Christmas number one? Safe, effort-devoid, soul-devoid, vacuous empty pointless sludge coughed out as part of the Cowellian apocalypse we’ve slid into. If you are going to wholeheartedly offer your backsides to faceless blameless corporations to stuff with as much wallpaper paste non-talent as they can scrape from the working class cesspit, at least respond with a half-decent mass ritualistic suicide rather than just asking for seconds like a myopic stupid Oliver Twist. Oh, and a happy new year. This year has ended on an up though, the announcement of Earth’s sequel to Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light has been announced, along with an Edinburgh tour date. Eee!

[Best joke of the year: The Large Hadron Collider at Cern is an example of huge amounts of money and technology, lights and expensive cameras all focused on a tiny particle of potential – like X-Factor]

Without further adoo, let’s discuss twelve records from this year that are interesting that you might have missed. Omitted from the list is anything I’ve already discussed. So obviously Of Spire and Throne’s latest EP, Het Droste Effect’s debut EP and Heliotropes’ EP as well as Carlton Melton’s Country Ways record are must-listens from this year; but I figured I’d just be repeating myself, my articles haven’t gone anywhere. Also there is an article on Brooklyn black metallers Liturgy’s new album and why it’s brillo in the post for next week, so consider that awesome as well.

בלטה – We are all Terrorists
Well alrighty, any band that names themselves after a 60-year-old refugee camp on the edges of Nablus, and the most densely packed Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank and scene of all of the mutual disgusting brutality of both intifadas; your band better have some pretty hefty political stones. Then if you call your album We are All Terrorists, and then if you tell me that this band specialise in a kind of electronic music that takes elements of drone metal, hardcore punk and zouk, I’d be in mind to tactfully remind the band in question that spinning one plate is impressive, but spinning 5 at once only leaves you picking crockery out of your carpet for weeks afterwards. These drone-heads from Yaffa are taking a full dive-bomb into a swimming pool of political water so hot I don’t know if it isn’t actually steam. But this is in many ways my favourite record of 2011... and I’m not even sure I like it. This is the kind of balls-out naked bravery and instant every-listen shock and awe that all music ought to stimulate. It illustrates part of why I got into music. The ability to amaze and shock and confound and fascinate simultaneously. Check it out.

We are all Terrorists is the second EP from these guys. Combining an almost dubstep sounding bass, elements of grindcore and drone and a production that has most in common with the shredded-metal buzzsaw guitars of High Rise’s album Live. What’s fascinating about this record is that while you’ll pick up grindcore and dubstep, it is not a fusion of the two. Such a cocktail would probably be like mixing Baileys with bleach, and just as graphic. All of these elements are just kinda there in the best possible sense. This is an album you’ll never quite hear the like of again, and it hits you like a noise-train – bound for alienation station.

The Red Plastic Buddha – All-Out Revolution
Okay, and heralding a change of pace similar to splicing five minutes of Pocahontas into the middle of Hostel, I bring you Red Plastic Buddha. This is their second record and debut full-length. Like Kula Shaker in the Britpop movement, this Windy City fivepiece musta sat down one day and said, “are the sixties over? I don’t think so”. Think Thirteen Floor Elevators, the Seeds, Country Joe and the Fish, the Electric Prunes (to that end, there’s a cover of I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night on this record). If you love that particular scene of sixties pop-rock, this’ll brighten your life to know somebody else loves it enough to keep playing it; and if you aren’t into that scene (why the hell not?) you’ll get a kick out of the sugary sweet and instantly catchy vibes coming off this record. What I love is that is isn’t a retro trip like the Darkness were, it is all played totally straight out of a love of the music. This is a CD I bought my dad for Christmas. Invest in a physical copy if you like it, they give you stickers for your window and a poster for your wall, gotta love that!

Mars Red Sky – Mars Red Sky
It is becoming an easy way to find great music. Check out the latest Earth tour, download records by the support. Bingo. It worked for the superb Sabbath Assembly album from last year and it worked this year to find Mars Red Sky. The debut album by this French stoner trio has really been blowing me away play-after-play all year. It plays like an EP (and indeed, at less than 40 minutes doesn’t hang about much through its seven tracks), though the songs are stretched and languid, they feel in the moment tight and powerful. The post-Sleep Sabbathian sound is perfected on this record, with such subtlety and attention to detail, the record feels bespoke and crafted. Also one of the strangest and most unique vocal tones. Definitely one of 2011’s more flawless releases. I am eagerly awaiting the next step by these guys.

[Yes, two releases. I am cheating, although running time of both together comes to about 50 minutes so within one album. Final say, this counts as one album]
American doom-powerhouse Bongripper are a band from whom every release is something a little bit special. The band that have excellent website updates such as “due to our van breaking down, our North East tour is cancelled”. 2011 saw a lot of praise heaped on 2010 latecoming album Satan Worshipping Doom, a new EP featuring some compelling insights into future sounds and a remixed re-release of the Hate Ashbury EP. Bongripper does hardcore riffs? Youbetcha they do. Sex Tape/Snuff Film (oh yeah, by the way, thanks Bongripper for making me have an awkward and totally non-convincing conversation with my mother as to why there was an item in my internet history called Sex Tape/Snuff Film... thanks a whole bunch) features some of the groups most interesting new work. With Satan Worshipping Doom they completely nailed instrumental doom metal – the lines are now closed, please do not make an instrumental doom record as your record will not be counted but you may still be charged - and the band seem to have realised this and are moving on to fresh, more pacey pastures overflowing with new ideas. Both tracks on the new EP move with such relentless neck-straining kinetic force that the heartbreakingly short ten minute runtime seems halved. Definitely up in the top EPs of the year. As for the other release, a remixed version of 2008 LP Hate Ashbury, with the experimental droney parts cut out. While I did lament the loss of those parts (which I enjoyed immensely, natch) their removal has sharpened the whole record and given it direction. The reformatting into two songs also helped that process. Trademark sludge is still present, making the record sound like the audio equivalent of Guinness. The difference being that I don’t much like the black stuff, but I freakin’ love this.

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath 1972
This was my introduction to Tim Hecker. I’ve just missed him up to this point, sailed past looking for something a little more... engaging. But after a friend recommended me this album I couldn’t re-endorse it highly enough. Hecker creates a dense and yet featureless soundscape in track after track of this album, and featuring three epic tracks sadly broken up on the digital copies. What one reviewer termed a ‘soundtrack to the post-apocalypse city’ and featuring one of the best covers of the year. There isn’t much to be said about Ravedeath 1972 except that you really do need to wait for it to grow on you, this isn’t a one-listen appreciation deal.

Pink City – Designing Women
Well, I suppose this is it. My full-length album of the year. This year didn’t really have an addition to my top-five-of-all-time, or even my top 25; but of all the albums of the year, one of the most pop-sensible is probably going to be one of the most overlooked. I’d been digging Pink City ever since someone let me get a hold of their Wrung single early in the year You like noise? Well there’s certainly a lot of that; but these are indie-rock song structures strained through an old coffee filter full of distortion, just listen to those riffs. This isn’t poor production, it’s intentional. In fact, this would work far better as a companion piece to the בלטה record with its predilection to drift into feedback noise and nods to the drone and heavy metal fuzz of bands like Sunn O))). I love this record, definitely. The way it so effortlessly combines the familiarity and comfort of indie with the ear-bleeding mayhem invoked by their more extreme influences and never sacrifices one for the other. I don’t think it’s a flawless record, it is a bedroom record and unapologetically so, the mix requires a little more prominence in all its aspects; things tend to feel a little fuzzy and far away. But for a debut full-length made in a bedroom it takes quite a few listens to pick up these flaws. They aren’t even bad, if lo-fi production is your thing it won’t even spoil your enjoyment. It’s a pop-indie noise record brimming with ideas. Between sat-back-arms-folded instrumentals so killer feedback this record will indulge and surprise and satisfy on many levels in a single listen. There is a superb sense of pace and of rawness. That’s something I’ve been craving after so many plastically unreal high-production albums, I wanna hear that buzzsaw guitar and the drums like machineguns over distant howitzers.

That was it. Hope you liked it. My six picks of the year. Steven’s 2011 Vintage Case. Didn’t say I loved them. Didn’t say you would. But each of these releases will offer you something new. That’s about it. Wishing you all the best in the new year whoever you are and wherever you’re headed. If you’re in a band and didn’t make the list, I’m not sorry; make better and more revolutionary records. Challenge me. I’m sitting here with my headphones and all my expectations and preconceptions and all these records kicked them about the head. They were brash and sharp and fun and unapologetic. They had something to say, not literally but emotionally. If you don’t have something to say, ask why you’re making music. If you do have something to say, ask why you’re not. I listen to music to be told something emotionally, if you aren’t telling, I’m not listening. I’d rather listen to a failed experiment than a cynical attempt at mimicry. If you don’t seek to be challenged, ask why you bother to listen to music at all. The amount of dreary soulless cynically created crap I had to sift through was unreal this year. Remember, money is temporary, but to lie on your deathbed and say “I made a record that’ll change people’s lives long after I’m gone” is a thing few people can claim. These records can. Can you? To everyone mentioned here as an entry or in passing and everyone I’ve told in person or online or in previous articles and many more I haven’t told... You are awesome. The music you are making is great. Please keep doing it. More gigs. More albums. I want a band shirt. If you make music, remember, people who listen to it love it dearly. Make music for them, make music to challenge and excite and satisfy those fans, don’t try to make music for the people who don’t buy your shirts or attend your gigs because they probably still won’t.

Please tell us your list. Comments, emails, on my twitter. Did you pick up one of these records on my recommendations? Email me and tell me what you think at winewomenandasongortwo@live.co.uk we will reply to you. Made or heard a record you think would be up my street that I’ve completely neglected? Get tapping!

Thanks for reading my stuff, hope you had a good year and have a good one coming at you and remember: don’t take life too seriously.

Malaho.

Things coming that I’m looking for. The new Meshuggah album. The new Nails album. The new Earth album. Possibility of a new Electric Wizard album that doesn’t suck. And hopefully my album of the year will be one I’m not even aware of yet.

Written under duress by Steven.

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