30 December 2011

The Best Music of 2011

This year saw a bunch of changes in music; rock was out there, but you had to actively seek it out for the most part as indie electronic and throwbacks to decades like the mid-80s and early-90s were popular for new acts to mine.

Below are the Rock Music Menu Top 11 of 2011, and it's a pretty varied list; there's the aforementioned rock and electronic, some Goth a bit of metal and a certain female singer-songwriter who exploded in recent months.

Here then, are some of the best that the year had to offer:

11. Metallica – Beyond Magnetic
This surprise four song EP came out in early December in conjunction with Metallica's 30th anniversary shows, with one debuting each night.  Culled from the 2008 Death Magnetic sessions, the tracks are hardly leftovers, despite being considered rough mixes by the band.

Originally put out as a gift to fan club members, it was then made available for download to the public, and surprisingly made that awful collaboration with Lou Reed seem further back in the rearview.  Each song clocks it at about seven minutes or more, and it's full of shredding by guitarist Kirk Hammett and chunky riffs all over the place.  James Hetfield's lyrics falter at times, but at the very least this is hope that the metal giants still have something left in the tank.

10. Rival Sons – Pressure & Time
Looking for some dirty, 70s style rock?  Rival Sons deliver on its sophomore release, which at times sounds like someone threw Led Zeppelin into a time-capsule circa 1972 and let them out four decades later.  There's thieving of Messrs. Page and Plant at every turn, check out "Save Me," "Gypsy Heart" and the title track to be transported back to the era of bleach-stained denim.  Whether the Los Angeles based quartet can develop beyond knock-off status remains to be seen, but for now it's pretty damn cool sounding.

9. Kasabian – Velociraptor!
While the brothers Gallagher each ventured into post-Oasis projects, someone had to pick up the Britpop attitude and run with it.  Kasabian has been doing it for years anyway, so why not let them take the throne?  "Days Are Forgotten" and "Re-Wired" are full of Liam-like sneer, but Velociraptor! is hardly a retread; "I Hear Voices" is a simple synth-driven piece, and like other experimental spots on the album, never sounds out of place.

8. Anthrax – Worship Music
Joey Belladonna
Bringing back singer Joey Belladonna was a last ditch effort for Anthrax to retain any credibility whatsoever.  Worship Music was finished two years ago with singer number four, Dan Nelson, who was ousted from the band.  Singer number three John Bush was brought back for a few live dates but balked at re-recording someone else's vocals and lyrics.  Re-enter Belladonna, who wasn't really a fit on the surface for the new edition of Anthrax that eschewed high pitched vocals. 

Disaster was miraculously averted, as the New York act released one of its heaviest – and best, albums to date.   Belladonna has been reborn as a singer, none of the music sounds dated, and there wasn't a better metal release even close to being in the same class.

7. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
Horrible Crowes is the side project of Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon, one which he created with guitar tech Ian Perkins with the goal of a darker, more subdued takes than his regular gig.  And while he dwells in his new age Springsteen ideology, some would say a bit too much, Fallon really does it better than anyone else out there.  "I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together" is heartbreakingly raw, but the punk rock side of the singer comes out to play too, like on "Go Tell Everybody."   It would be best to consider Horrible Crowes a companion piece to Gaslight Anthem, which as one of the best new acts in recent memory isn't necessarily a bad thing.

6. The Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps
Greg Dulli
Between the excitement of the recently announced Afghan Whigs reunion and a stellar set Live in New York that was released last month, it's hard to believe that Dynamite Steps came out in 2011.  But it did, in February, and it's one of those slow burners that get into your psyche, becoming a familiar part of your sonic palate without you realizing it until dropping the needle weeks later. 

Frontman Greg Dulli, one of the more consistent pleasures in music, continues to stick his head deeper into the rabbit hole, never quite sure what he'll find.  "Gunshots," "The Beginning of the End" and "Never Seen No Devil" are just some of the wicked morsels he comes back with and spits out with passionate discontent.

5. The Horrors – Skying
The Horrors have been trying to find its footing sound-wise for three releases now, and here's to hoping this is the one the UK act sticks with.  Recalling the likes of Psychedelic Furs and Echo & the Bunnymen, it's a throwback to a bouncy, moody, pop that's been missing for too long.  The haunting "Still Life" and surprise guitar shower in the second half of "Endless Blue" created some of the more memorable tracks this year, and the context they come framed in on Skying will leave you curious for much more down the line.

4. M83 – Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
A double album is always a risky proposition, even more so in this day and age where people are seeking out the piecemeal of singles. The electronic act M83 manages to pull it off, with anthemic-like songs, beginning with the appropriately titled "Intro" and the hit single "Midnight City."  Even off the wall tracks like "Raconte-Moi Une Histiore," with a child providing a narrative about humans turning into frogs retains enough melody to keep it interesting.  Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is full of ambience, and that's what makes it so appealing; it works in the background of the foreground, something special no matter what your tastes.

3. Adele – 21
It's rarely the case, but this year one of the most unavoidable and overplayed artists were also one of the year's best.  I'm as sick of "Rolling in the Deep" as the next person, but there's no denying the honesty and power of Adele Adkins.  At that tortured mid-20s age, she bares her soul on every song, how her heart has been ripped out ("Don't You Remember"), holding out hope for a reunion that will never come ("I'll Be Waiting") and the ultimate getting back at an ex tale ("Rumor Has It").

The comparisons to Amy Winehouse have worn thin, and with the success of 21 Adele has convincingly stepped out of being lumped in with the late drink and drug-addled onetime contemporary.   

2. Peter Murphy – Ninth
The former Bauhaus frontman dropped one of the most overlooked albums of the year in Ninth. The industrial feel of "Uneven and Brittle" serves as a reminder why Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor has been so enamored with Murphy, while "The Prince and Old Lady Shade" and "I Spit Roses" have that classic Goth-feel that Bauhaus pioneered back in the day.  Dig deeper and there's the brilliantly catchy "See Saw Sway" and shoulda-been-a-radio-hit "Velocity Bird." It's criminal that this didn't get more attention in 2011, but then again, the Goth kids are always the outcasts anyway, and it wouldn't feel right were it not.

1. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
It took seven albums for Foo Fighters to put out a career defining work, but is it ever worth it.  Wasting Light and the arena tour that followed proved in 2011 that there isn't, to crib a onetime boast from The Black Crowes, a more rock and roll rock and roll band out there.

Everything just all fell into place here.  The band enlisted producer Butch Vig, who last worked with Grohl when he was the drummer on Nirvana's Nevermind, welcomed back guitarist Pat Smear, who returned to the group after nearly a decade away, and recorded it in Grohl's garage.

From the pop immediacy of revenge track "These Days" and the defiant pick yourself up by the bootstraps of "Walk" to the sad lament of "I Should Have Known" to the blisteringly heavy "White Limo," Dave Grohl and the boys cover all the possible bases and succeed at every turn.

Original article appeared in the December 30 Rock Music Menu in The Daily Times