Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 Album Index 20-11

20. dredg - Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy
So many fans, whether they were longtime, dedicated fans, or even newer, fringe fans, HATE this album. Me? I actually never found it repulsive. I probably spent a good 2-3 weeks listening to it regularly, and I more or less enjoyed every song off it. Is it different? yes, for sure. Is it less "epic" yeah, it's probably their shortest record. Is hip-hop producer Dan the Automator's impact on it pretty notice-able? of course. But guess what? the songs still sound like dredg, and that being a FACT, is what matters first and foremost to me.

I don't anticipate it becoming a favorite of mine historically, but this was definitely a case of a band I love, making a somewhat different style of record, that I found still worked. Song-wise, my favorite still remains "The Thought of Losing You" which has one of the huge choruses I can't seem to get out of my head. "The Tent"? good tune, I don't follow why people have crucified that one. It's just a slower, moody track that certainly works within the flow of this album. "Upon Returning" ? I recall only being lukewarm about it live, but it definitely grew on me. Rather catchy, and the sarcastic lyrics I didn't mind.

The ballad "The Ornament" a lot of the fans have been waiting for, for a long time, and it turned out very well. "Down Without a Fight" even with the heavy synths, still really works. 'Somebody is Laughing" "Kalathat" "Another Tribe" etc, to me, EVERY SONG IS GOOD. A lot of people can't handle a band trying new, different things. Me? if the songs still sound good, I find it can almost be better that the artist did something different, just not to get stagnant.

Down the road here, perhaps more people will come around on this record, but for now I'm going to hold true to that I enjoyed this album when it came out, and applaud the band for doing something new. I love dredg, and while this album never became as addictive as their others, I am definitely not going to look at it the way so many others have. And I won't be surprised if others do come around on it eventually.

19. Brice Plays Drums - I Laugh at Your Greener Pastures
I saw this band at the so-called "Prog-gasm 2011" at the 400 Bar back in May with The Royal Veil, Orphan Bloom and Water Colors, and other than The Royal Veil, I'd never heard of any of the bands at that show. But I was impressed by more or less all of them. Brice Plays Drums specifically are a younger group of musicians who hail from the Hastings, MN area I guess. And this debut album of theirs was a long-time in the making.

Their sound, I suppose could be compared to a number of artists. Specifically, music like Carlos Santana, The Mars Volta, Cavil at Rest, RX Bandits, Kaddisfly among others. This record, is in-effect one 30 minute song, separated into 4 movements. Very much in the progressive rock tradition, but it also is successful in being less-is-more. I put it on many times this year, and would get through it, then wanting even more. Which while it sucks to want more, it does show how something may look long on paper, really isn't. It's rather refined, and tight sounding. The transitions from fast to slow, soft to heavy, really seem to fit perfectly. I'd guess some of that is how much time it took to finish.

It has those sections that I love, whether it be a jammy riff, a keyboard solo, the syncopation between guitar and keyboard, the spacey, almost-under-water-sounding parts, or even a lyric or two I enjoy. I'd also say, as their name suggests, the drum work at times really stands out.

A few quotes that come to mind:

"Little gnome, why don't you go back to your home"
"Did you realize?..did youuu reeeee-ahhhh-lyyyyyze??
"There lies an entire disassembled army, just waiting to get off their feet and move their ass's"

The band have another record expected in 2012 titled Man the Animal Cannon which I guess they played a lot of it live at shows I was and wasn't at. But with that coming, and with this debut record of theirs, they've immediately become one of my favorite local or band of any kind. And being as new/young as they are, hopefully this is just the beginning for them. Another band I can claim from my home state, doing progressive rock rather well, and holding promise for the future. Whether the prog-ignoring media sources like 89.3, Radio K, Citypages, Chris Riemenschneider, Jon Bream, Pitchfork, and other notable websites ever notice them? I'm skeptical. But this blog and whatever forums I'm on at least should receive mention from me. The progressive rock scene outside of Minnesota, the jury may still be out on.

18. O'Brother - Garden Window
The 1st time I saw this band's name, it was in I think Alternative Press 100 Bands You Need Know 2011, and why their name caught my eye was due to a comparison to among others, the band Annuals. I also recall reading the highly talented Timbre was going to be playing some Harp on their upcoming album.

I think I had seen their name previously, from them going on tour with a band I knew. It may have been The Dear Hunter, or another band. But they did tour in 2011 with The Dear Hunter, and were at the show at The Triple Rock Social Club in July.

At that show last Summer, I recall liking some of what I heard, but also was a little wary about their sludgey/doomy sound overall. Ironically, it wasn't that long after seeing doomy local band Zebulon Pike, and more or less writing them and most of that style of music off. But I recall being curious enough, I wanted to not forget to check out this record of theirs coming soon.

And the overall result ended up being a fair amount better than I expected. The flow, textures, styles explored, etc, really work on here. The doom Metal element I don't think hurts this album, in fact I think it adds to it. There's a very thick, heavy, almost wall-of-sound side to this album, that is impossible to ignore. There's also some extremely memorable, even catchy/poppy parts. I'd say the track "Easy Talk (Open Your Mouth)" is *easily* one of the best songs of 2011. I instantly loved it.

 The echoing chorus "Why don't you open your mouth and let it out now" 30x's

That song is one of those tunes that stays with me. It reminds me of Kaddisfly, dredg, Ours, Fair to Midland, The Velvet Teen and a bunch of other bands, when they come up with a piece that just is so powerful, it stays with me. The dreamy vocal harmonies, soaring guitar textures give me goosebumps every fucking time I hear it.

This was beyond a pleasant surprise, but one I kind of a had feeling about. And O'Brother are now a band I'm on board with, and will look forward to what they do next. But this record of theirs is one I'm actually still discovering a lot about.

17. Vektor - Outer Isolation
2009's Black Future album took down that abhor-able Animal Collective record on rateyourmusic.com and I could never forget that. And I'll admit to checking that out, and up-rating it a bit, because I can't stand the childish activities so many of those users have by creating multiple accounts to down-rate an album that may be rated/ranked higher than their hipster trash (Radiohead also comes to mind). But there was some legitimacy to rating Black Future pretty high, as it was a really well composed, somewhat new spin on (progressive/modern) thrash metal.

So, naturally I was excited to hear this album, and I can't say it disappointed in any way really. It's filled with intricate parts, from the drumming, to the guitar solos, to even how the blackened vocals blend so well. It really is a badass, ballsy metal album. I can't say I'm a huge fan of thrash, but when it's done like this, in a really tasteful and punchy way, I get sucked in

I'd put this album on some times, and instantly get a high energy level. And that's one thing that scores well for me with any album, especially a Metal record.

16. For the Imperium - For the Imperium
As I posted about this album a few weeks ago, I have been more or less shocked how quickly I started to enjoy this, and how much. This is a new Finnish avant-garde Metal band's debut record. They sound like they are fans of a number of bands, namely Avenged Sevenfold, Faith No More, Coheed and Cambria and System of a Down. Their singer specifically. And some of the stuff written about them says how much of a Mike Patton fan he is, which may be true. However, I don't think it hurts this record at all.

I love it when a band is odd/weird/quirky/outrageous by combining genres and manages to do so while not losing song composition quality. It's not easy, but when pulled off, is some of if not my favorite kind of music. It shows they are taking chances, and trying to push boundaries. And For the Imperium have managed to do that on this debut album of theirs.

I'd say most notably, from about 3rd or 4th track on, it just comes at you left and right with unexpected parts, dynamics. Whether it be a really poppy chorus that almost sounds cheesy, but ends up sounding catchy. Or some technical section that is followed by something tongue-in-cheek.

And because I'm almost surprised what they pulled off here, I keep going back to this album. Like Apes and Androids, Crotchduster, Between the Buried and Me or some other out-there kinds of music (Mr.Bungle certainly, Unexpect), I am drawn to this stuff when it works. And it's melodic enough, and not boring, that I keep playing it and enjoying it more and more. I think this band may have just begun, in that a few years from now, I'll remember 1st hearing this band and album for the 1st time. I still need to check out their previous EP, but I'd certainly include this band with the likes of Painted in Exile, Leprous, Ne Obliviscaris and a few others in the next wave of experimental Metal bands actually doing different things, being progressive, and still being able to write impressive songs.

15. Bruce Peninsula - Open Flames
As I posted many times on this blog over the last year or more, this album was a minor miracle, with Bruce Peninsula's lead singer Neil Haverty being diagnosed with Leukemia. Thankfully, the Leukemia went into remission, and the band were able to finish this album and release it.

I got introduced to them I recall in early 2010 from a big fan on The Mars Volta forum.They released their debut record A Mountain is a Mouth in 2009, and had I heard it back then, it would likely have finished pretty high on my 2009 Index. It's a great record, filled with tribal drumming, frequent female-gang vocal harmonies, and some really nice, almost earthy melodies. Along with Haverty's trademark gruff vocal style, almost like a more digest-able Tom Waits.

And thanks to the same user from the Mars Volta forum, a lot of the new songs were made available live. Many of them intrigued me how they'd sound on recording. I'd say they for the most part were as good, if not better than I expected. They included more of those energetic percussive parts, and those passionate female vocals. Sometimes lead, sometimes harmonies. Songs like "Say Yeah," "Pull Me Under," "Chupacabra," "As Long As I Live" all have a hook or something I look forward to hearing each time I play this album. And I'd say there isn't any song I skip, including some of the ballads. My only disappointment might be Neil Haverty's lead vocals aren't as noticed as on A Mountain is a Mouth. But perhaps with their next album and some other related projects, that will return.

I guess the only other thing about this band is the bands they get compared to like The Rural Alberta Advantage, I don't really follow. Nor is their popularity probably close to what it should be. They're from Canada, the Toronto area specifically. I suppose they have sadly found the same fate of Bend Sinister, Neverending White Lights and a few others (People for Audio?) in that I know they could and should reach a much wider audience, but for various reasons, largely being in Canada, it hasn't happened, yet at least. Maybe in due time.

14. Jimmy Gnecco - The Heart: X Edition
Some people might remember from my 2010 Index including this album, the original, stripped-down version. And to be honest, as much as I love Jimmy and Ours, that album ended up as low as it did due to not being as impressed, attached, etc to it. Even a bit of swallowing on the vocals didn't help.

But, I often felt seeing those songs live, it might change my mind. And having seen many of them, in person or hearing/seeing live recordings, they did. And this is the re-recording of those songs like they are live; with the full band. And for some reason, they all pretty much sound even better. The piano, some electric guitar, or even a little bit of re-arranging/extended parts.

I knew songs like "Gravity," "Darling," "Mystery" were great live, but they finally came out bigger and more layered on this. Plus, I cannot discount the inclusion of the last/new track "The Bells" also improved how much I enjoy this. That tune is just terrific, although admittedly, it's more or less an Ours song. Except that, Jimmy and Ours are one in the same pretty much. But for anyone who loves Ours, loved 2008's Mercy or really any awesome, soulful screaming vocal parts, check out that tune. It's one of the best songs Jimmy's ever recorded.

go here, as it was uploaded by Jimmy himself on Youtube.

So, while the acoustic edition I bought, and still like a lot of, it's clear these songs were made greater to me with more of a full sound. And I'm not sure exactly the status of Jimmy with his solo work, because Static (Ours/Jimmy's guitarist) posted something recently about writing new Ours music. Plus he will be working with Slash and/or Velvet Revolver soon, along with Weathervane and even an appearance on the upcoming 2nd Neverending White Lights part of Love Will Ruin next Summer. But for now, this is another release supporting why he's my favorite singer and one of my favorite, and best songwriters working today. All the work he's doing right now also adds to that.

13. Water & Bodies - Light Year
The debut full-length from 4 of the 5-members of Kaddisfly, after 2 promising EPs in 2009 and 2010. Every time I listened to this album I enjoyed it, even given how different it is to Kaddisfly. It's more song-oriented and poppy I suppose in some ways. Some of the best songs, have those parts I always enjoy. From "Written & Read" with it's wonderful, sad guitar melody over subtle layers of synths. "Free World" being quite the rocker to "Moments in a Life" having the inspirational line "We've got to live before we die."

Some others like "Lonely Night" has this great groove to it and yet is rather catchy and upbeat at the same time. "1980," 'Echoes," and "Parallels" have really grown on me. The title track, and even the last epic, saying-goodbye track "Already Gone" really work for me. Tight songwriting, really nice blend of layers including the often slow, sad yet beautiful guitar work from Aaron Tollefson on many tracks. Those slow yet soaring lines just grab me and add such a richness to many of these songs.

I guess the reception to this album was mixed at best from others, with some being surprised, and others just sticking with wanting Kaddisfly back and nothing more. My feeling is now, nearly a year later, is it's still a very  good, consistent album song-to-song. It's not really found the blow-me-away factor like Kaddisfly, but I also never really expected it to. It's just a solid album without a bad song it, with less amazing songs, but just one with many very good ones.

I'm not sure the immediate future for the guys, given the recent Kaddisfly demos that were shared and everything, and the level of success of this 1st album. They've sort of found their audience locally in Portland and somewhat on the West Coast, at least for touring. Whether it makes sense to focus still on W&B's or mix things up with both, I guess we'll see. I am still a fanboy of Kaddisfly, but at the same time I will continue to look forward to what Water & Bodies do in the future.

12. *Shels - Plains of the Purple Buffalo
This band I 1st listened in early 2008 with their debut album Sea of the Dying Dhow. I recall liking that album, but for some reason not going back to it all that much soon after. For some reason, I thought they broke up, but I may be thinking of another band of a similar name or style.

They are another one of these "post" bands making a rather distinct style of music. They use this thick wall-of -sound at times that is just breathtaking. Along with stuff like trumpet and vocal harmonies, they have this recipe that is really epic or just incredibly dense sounding. That is probably the best way I'd describe most if not this whole album.

And considering some factors, I really wondered after a little time, if this might be an album-of-the-year contender.  But sadly, it never quite was. That outstanding combination of layers and textures works extremely well on Plains of the Purple Buffalo for maybe 40 or 45 minutes. But the final 3 or 4 tracks seem to go on a little too long for me to bump it into 4.5 star or album of the year status. Why that is, is I'm not sure they flow as well as those 1st 8 or 9 tracks, and some of the cymbals I recall clipping a bit here and there.

While that was the fate I gave this album up to this point, it's certainly one I'd suggest to anyone into a somewhat original style of Post-Rock. It's just ended up with a little too much on the end to find myself addicted to it. But I would certainly call myself a bigger fan of this UK band, and also might want to include something more on their last/debut record Sea of the Dhying Dhow as well.

11. Tangled Thoughts of Leaving - Deaden the Fields
I wrote about this band a lot this year. Like their fellow Australian "post" band Meniscus, they had a debut record coming, after some pretty impressive music on EPs previously. And the video footage the band shared online sounded awesome. Great dynamics, blending of textures. From major to minor keys, heavy to quiet, dark to beautiful.

As I wrote more than once, I really thought this record would be one of those statement debut albums, and in some ways it is or was. It's very meticulous and extensive in a lot of ways. It only has 6 songs on it, but it clocks in over an hour. That on paper, appears like an homage to many traditional progressive rock albums. One reason why it's as long as it is, or just each song is, is due to the fact the band write music within jam sessions. They love jazz, and a lot of jazz is composed in a similar way.

I guess I never grew addicted to it enough for it to find my top 10 due to a few factors. One being, the cymbals do clip on it intermittently. As sad as it is for me to accept, they do, and not just in one or two spots. Not to the point I wouldn't listen to this album again, but enough so, it hurts my feeling about it. Although a record like The Reign of Kindo's Rhythm, Chord & Melody I can claim the same about, yet I still love that album.

Another factor I suppose is how long some of it is, even though I'd support its flow for the most part. It never reached the point of wanting to play it everyday. The opening 17 minute piece "Landmarks" might be part of that.

But at the same time, there's more than enough to enjoy about it, to have it still hold intrigue for me. The interval patterns, driving piano parts, many of the songs have those gradual builds. And I will say, I happen to love the climax of the last song "They Found My Skull in the Nest of a Bird." It's incredibly intense and layered. It almost captures something from a movie score, and it's like a realization of something, or a reaching of a bigger, ultimate goal, in the final scene.

I would still highly endorse more people check it out, as this is one of the most talented instrumental bands in the music industry today, like *Shels, doing their own take on Post or just progressive rock. Are they carrying on a tradition from a band like Tortoise ? (jazzy post-rock), I guess I can't agree with that, but I honestly haven't heard an extensive amount of music from Tortoise to know. I guess it doesn't really matter at this point to me. Deaden the Fields is a very impressive debut album that I can see myself, even despite some tambourine-toned cymbals in spots, to explore in the future along with whatever else they put out.