…or the soundtrack to the inside of my head over the last year.
Top Albums of 2011
1.Harmony – Self Titled
Really there’s not a lot more I can say that isn’t said here.
I will add though that while I am Australian, I am in no way nationalistic. There are however been a small (very small) number of albums that speak of places I have lived in and the things I’ve seen – things that seem part of the unique Australian psyche as far as I can make out. There’s something about suburbia swallowing you alive in the music of The Mark Of Cain. There’s the discovery of our country in The Triffids. There’s the urban solipsism that you may not make it out in The Drones. I’m adding to this, not the pain of modern life in Australia, but what comes after that with the music of Harmony. Not someone you love dying, but what happens weeks and months after they’re gone. Not the achievement of owning your first house but sitting alone at night years later in something that never became a home. Things that might be universal but seem intrinsically slanted to our Australian way of looking at things. These things don’t make easy listening but you can’t deny that they’re not out there and if it’s not us, It’s someone we know who fits into some of these characters. This seems like an album that couldn’t have come from anywhere else. It comes at you like a bored driver hitting a cyclist. It also can hurt as much if you’re on the wrong end. It’s easily the best and most challenging album to come out of this country this year.
2.Harmony – Self Titled
No not a typo. That’s just how much time I’ve spent listening to the band Harmony that they take up the top two spots on my list. Coming at it from a really narrowed, personal aspect (as opposed to thinking of the album in a broader context) – I can’t think of another band or album that has perfectly articulated the psychosis that goes on in my head on a daily basis better than these 10 songs. There’s a few tracks here that stack up as mirror images to things in my past I’d sooner forget and there’s emotions in this music that I get to indulge in all the while hiding any evidence of those emotions from those I love. Maybe, just maybe I’m not the only one in this world with these fears and desires… and that’s what makes music so special.
3.PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
For the past 20 years I’ve listened to punk records (amongst everything else) and my enjoyment never wanes with them but from time to time I wonder about the argumentative nature of a small band of people disgruntled with modern paridigms yelling and screaming at another small group of people who we colloquially speak of as preaching to the converted. Now I’m not saying that this isn’t worthwhile (see above for the power of feeling connected to a message). But I do look out upon the landscape and wonder where are the albums that challenge and call out the wrongs to those whom we think of as the unconverted. I can’t help but think that it’s much more rebellious for someone in the comfort and trapping of a successful career to push themselves to call out the wrongs they see. It’s from this perspective that I have to say that PJ Harvey’s latest is the best punk album released in the last 10 or so years (GY!BE being the one before that comes to mind).
Her songs are beautiful. Her voice angelic and alluring but it’s a poisoned chalice of a message that slips from her tongue. Drink up these songs and think about their words and it’s a telling damnation to our blood-thirsty ways – both of the past and present. Let England shake is a harrowing album if you let it be. I just hope a decent proportion of her vast audience take the time to listen and not just hear.
4.Tommy Guerrero – Lifeboats & Follies
From here, the emotional drama of my musical tastes start to fall away a bit. Tommy is from San Francisco, an ex-pro skater and the maker of great dub-styled jams. This is what goes on in my house when there needs to be some grooving in the kitchen, some chillin’ and relaxing and when everyone in the house just needs to put a smile on their dial. And you know what? Just like the rest of his back catalogue, it works a treat every single time!
5.Teargas – The Way Of All Flesh
A large part of my obsession with this Brisbane hardcore punk band is the musicianship of its members. I’ve seen plenty of sloppy, fun punk bands making a racket and starting a mosh pit but something very different happens whenever Teargas play. Sure things often get violent and I’ve seen a few bloodied noses over the last year or so but the music is so ferocious and so fast and so damn tight that your head feels like an expanded rubber band held that way for half an hour – the tension of it all unrelenting. I figure that’s why folks loose their shit so easily to these five guys.
For me as a drummer, I am mesmerised by Lee Parker, Teargas’s drummer. It’s one of those things where you watch someone and you know what they are doing, you understand the mechanics but you still stand there, a confused expression plastered across your face, not understanding HOW the music is played that way. Teargas are amazing. Great on record. Phenomenal live!
6.Tom Waits: Bad Like Me
Again, I possibly said it better here but Tom is just doing what Tom does and god knows we all dread the day he hollers his way into the hereafter. A really heart-warming album.
7.Earth: Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light
There are not to many people who can make Metal truly soothing. Dylan Carlson is someone who has mastered this art. Metal that is slow and seeps into your pores. Metal that weighs down on you like a dense fog and Metal that takes you places that no other metal bands do (not even Sunn O)))).
8.REM: Collapse Into Now
I’ve always thought that you can’t effectively appreciate music unless you have vast and broad tastes and reference points. Hey, it’s just how I look at things. REM are one of those bands I like that sit at the other end of the spectrum of most of what I listen to these days. When this album first came out I wasn’t to fussed on it. But over time, the stronger songs came out and the “I’ve heard all this before” kind of disappeared into the background. Sure they’re probably not repeating themselves as well as Mr.Waits above but upon the news recently that the band had called it a day, I couldn’t help but think that this was as good and as strong a note as any to bow out on. An added pinch of Pattie Smith also makes any REM album that much better!
9.Boris: New Album
I listen to pop. I own Dépêche Mode records. So I didn’t have to stretch myself that far to take in the latest tangent of Japans Boris. This trio’s version of pop music still doesn’t fit into your standard definition but this album is the most far removed from the heavy hitting Doom and Metal of some of their albums. This is still an album that holds the high standards the band employ on everything they do and while it won’t change your life. It is a great listen and a great record.
10.Boris: Heavy Rocks 2011
For the Most part, what I said above applies to this album too. Not as heavy as Heavy Rocks Mk.1 but I can’t think of Boris ever repeating themselves or their music. This is fun skuzzed out rock that will no doubt really hit it’s mark when we get to see it live in a few months time. Sure it’s quite possible that this band might not ever make an album as life changing as Smile (to me) but still this bands ability to marry the beauty of their music with the sheer force of amplification and distortion that only metal can provide makes them one of the most important musical discoveries of my life.
Best Album/Band/Music discovered in 2011.
Julie Christmas/Made Out Of Babies/Battle Of Mice
You ever skip a band because they have a weird/silly/nonsensical name? I do, all the time. Sure Made Out Of Babies are on Neurot Recordings but they’re still called Made Out Of Babies. Now that’s the biggest single musical mistake I’ve made in a long time. I picked up a cheap three-way split release on Neurot because there was some Neurosis on there I hadn’t heard. The other two bands were Battle Of Mice and Made out of Babies. Both of the latter bands featured a lady named Julie Christmas on vocals.
I was fucking slack jaw after hearing the Battle of Mice song. I bought the album 24hrs later and was left virtually in tears by the emotional vehemence of its music. A few days later I bought ‘The Runiner’ by Made Out of Babies and listened to it more than any Unsane album I owned. The only tempering aspect of all this was Julie Christmas’s 2010 solo album ‘The Bad Wife. Equally beautiful and bad-tempered. These three albums being just about the best thing in both Metal and music I discovered all year.
Top live shows in 2011.
Teargas / No Anchor / Last Chaos @ Burst City
It’s probably because it was at Burst City, run by friends and with bands, who are our friends. This was a great and punishing night. No Anchor tried and in some ways succeeded in punishing folks with light and sound. Teargas just proved that not just anyone can make great music. One of the first shows of the year and still a favourite.
Propagandhi @ Hi Fi Bar
The second of two nights of seeing Canada’s Propagandhi. A band that keeps getting better and better. Almost a religion instead of music.
Built To Spill @ The Zoo
Indie rock never got so good. They played all the favourites and made good on years of wearing their records out.
Bronx @ Step Inn
The night before the big festival and several hundred folks crammed into a room fit for only a hundred. Another one of those shows where rock is meant to be uncomfortable and visceral and memorable for enjoyment that all this brings.
Kylesa/High On Fire @ Hi Fi Bar
Metal in its varying degrees. From the power of High On Fire to the psyched out dirge of Kylesa, it’s shows like this one that prove I enjoy metal more now than any other time in my life.
Future Of The Left @ The Zoo (Both in Jan & Dec)
Snotty, cathartic and funny as hell. Another one of the few rock bands on the planet that have gotten it so damn right. And don’t bother trying to tell them otherwise, you’ll just get hilariously cut in two by their frontman Andy.
No Anchor Album Launch @ Woodland
I have to put this one in. The Launch of No Anchor’s third album went a lot smoother than the launch of the second on (which resulted in a heart attack on my part). Still stressful, still fun and worth all the effort when those amps get dialed to 10 and the wash of sound cracks your skull. Sometimes it’s fun not being in the crowd.
Harmony @ The Toff
A funny one to put in. From all reports, this was a shit show on the bands scale but not to me. I put in a few kilometres to get to this, the bands 7” launch but it was worth it. I heard all their songs for the first time and was devastated by the brevity, brashness and brilliance of this band. It really is a battle between the forces of darkness and light.
Harmony @ The Zoo
Not the only time in 2011 where Harmony were the support band and I didn’t even bother staying for the main act. No point really when you know there’s no chance the headliner is going to be any better. The trauma is worth so much more when it’s mixed with the volume of full PA.
Harmony @ The Waiting Room
Jeez. How much do I have to bang on about this band. It’s embarrassing. At least you didn’t try to listen to the album a 100 times like I have at home. It’s definitely easier being a fan on your own, with your stereo. This intimate show, supported by locals Turnpike was a the second best Harmony show I saw this year but most beautiful of all their shows – thanks in a lot of ways to the surroundings and folks there.
Footnote: About 15-20% off all music I listened to this year was actually released this year.