Thursday, June 30, 2011

Best Of The Year 2011: First Half Update

This is the second edition of Muzik Dizcovery's quarterly update. Every staff member will put out a top five list, allowing them to indicate their absolute favorite records of 2011. Additionally, it will be able to alert you of albums that you may not have heard of otherwise. This list does not only include albums that have been released as of June 30th, as any album that we have heard so far this year is free to be included. You can read the first quarter update here. All the lists can be seen below the jump.

Casey Whitman

1. Yellowcard - When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes:
For the second time in a row, Yellowcard's latest tops my list. And I can see plenty of situations where that won't change. As the weather warms up, I expect to listen to it even more, as it is pretty much the perfect summer album. Those first five tracks are perfect together, and I need to find some way to see them live ASAP. You can read a full review of the album here.

2. Mansions - Dig Up The Dead:
This is one of the few records I've ever listened to that actually gets better after every single listen. It's extremely dark record, but that doesn't make a tough one. In fact, many people I know who aren't fans of this genre still really enjoyed Dig Up The Dead. Chris Browder's live show was incredible, and sadly unappreciated by most of the crowd. But it won over my money, as Dig Up The Dead was my first CD purchase in a couple of years. You can read a show review here, an interview here, and a review of the record here.

3. Fireworks - Gospel:
This record exemplifies the direction that I felt The Wonder Years should have gone in with their newer record, embracing more of an indie influence to their pop-punk core. The lyrics (though not as personal as The Wonder Years) are excellent, and the vocals are a huge improvement from the band's last album. "Summer" is still one of the catchiest songs I've heard all year, and this record is going to be very hard to push out of my top ten. You can read a review of the album here.

4. Farewell Fighter - The Way We Learn (EP)
Yes, I know this record is an EP, but it's too incredible not to include here. I can relate to very few records due to personal experiences, but The Way We Learn is something that every single human being over the age of twelve can relate to. The band reflects on growing up during the teenage years, while throwing in extremely catchy hooks and being a perfect replacement for You, Me, And Everyone We Know. "Golden" is one of the most touching songs I've ever heard, and more people need to know this band. Expect plenty more coverage of them on here in the near future. You can read a review of the EP  here.

5. Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math
Many people enjoy quiet, minimalist folk music. However, I love huge, orchestrated arrangements and a sound that just seems almost impossible to put together with just a few person band. Simple Math is full of string arrangements ("Simple Math", "Pale Black Eye"), horns ("Pensacola"), and even a beautiful children's choir ("Virgin"). "Pensacola" has probably the best sing-along phrase you'll hear all year, and the period of the one-two punch of "Virgin" and "Simple Math" is a captivating ten minute long masterpiece. I just now wonder how much more Manchester can expand their sound. You can read a review of Simple Math here.

Honorable Mentions

Kate Wieking:
1.       The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
I consider this album the pinnacle of the indie/folk genre and the culmination of everything good about indie music—two extraordinary voices without rock star potential get together to build harmonies over exceptionally well-written songs.  Sparse, but tasteful instrumentation rounds out this album, proving that glossy production, noisy guitars, and other gimmicks are no match for true talent.

2.       Kye Kye - Young Love
This unexpected album from the questionably named Russian American family band Kye Kye is a marriage of pumping base, quiet acoustic guitars, and a fairy tale female vocalist.  Olga’s slurred, affected vocals are just as at home over sparkling indie songs as they are adding texture to a delightfully disjointed and dark electronica piece.

3.       Jeremy Larson - They Reappear
I’ve had more transcendent experiences with Jeremy Larson’s melancholy strings spilling out of my car stereo than with any other artist.  They Reappear surprises me every time I listen to it.  It’s a little more grown up than Larson’s previous work and even though we usually say 90% of music is about love, this album is one of the most sweetly romantic I’ve ever heard.  It’s gorgeous with the scope of a movie score, and it’s all built by just one man.

4.       Canopy Climbers - Distances
This was another unexpected find.  Canopy Climbers combines the rhythmic songwriting of MuteMath with the quiet melodies of Copeland.  These songs have a lot of depth even though they are very simple.  The best thing about Canopy Climbers is that I have a feeling they’re not even close to their full potential yet. 

5.       Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Nearly every review of this album has included a warning to fans of For Emma to give this album a chance.  I don’t see this album as quite as different from Vernon’s previous effort—his songwriting is as good as over, only this time his signature vocals rest over beds of expertly orchestrated lush instrumentation with lots of gentle soundscapes.  This album may get a higher ranking after I have more of a chance to listen to it since this self-titled release is a gorgeous release from one of the genre’s best artists.

Ali Welford:

1. Wild Beasts - Smother

For me, this is the album to beat this year. The Cumbrians had already gained a reputation as one of the most inventive bands around with their first two critically acclaimed releases, but this third LP represents a significant step forward. Elegant arrangements, sparse atmospherics and majestic rhythms consistently mix to wonderful effect, and each track is so strong that it is virtually impossible to choose a definitive highlight. A fantastic achievement which should cement their place as one of Britain's best bands.

2. WU LYF - Go Tell Fire To The Mountain

A brilliant debut which could well become a classic in some quarters. Recorded in a disused church, the Manchester quartet's LP gives off an appropriately spiritual air which can make their songs sound utterly heavenly. That may sound a bit hyperbolic, but there are plenty moments here such as "We Bros", "Spitting Blood" and "Heavy Pop" which border on perfection. This band have already been touted as legends in the making, and this debut does nothing to undermine such billing.

3. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Polly Harvey has enjoyed a long and distinguished career, but this eighth studio album could well be her finest moment yet. Lyrically, the record is simply stunning, and the morbid tales words of war and death are complemented perfectly by the sparse auto-harp musical backing. The cold and tense atmosphere that this creates can take a little bit of getting used to, but slowly songs such as "The Glorious Land", "On Battleship Hill" and "England" will reveal themselves as the most beautiful in her entire catalogue.

4. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light

I've always had a soft spot for Foo Fighters, but I never expected them to come up with an album like this at this stage in their career. The return of Pat Smear has had a huge effect, with the new three-guitar attack contributing no end to the heavier edge that this record possesses compared to their recent efforts. Moreover, there isn't a single weak track on offer, and there are some individual moments such as "Bridge Burning" and especially "White Limo" which prove as exhilarating as anything they've ever done.

5. The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar

I'd been looking forward to this debut ever since happening upon the band at a festival last year, and the Welsh trio certainly didn't disappoint, delivering the first truly great album of the year. There are a few duds towards the end, but these are hugely outweighed by the rest of the record which provides some amazing highlights. Their sound takes influence from the likes of shoegaze, indie pop and grunge, and produces wonderfully on tracks such as "Whirring", "Cradles" and "The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade".

Eli Kleman

1.) Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver

If there ever was a task that I personally would never desire, it would be to follow up For Emma, Forever Ago. Well, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon not only met that task, but his results exceeded all expectations. Bon Iver, Bon Iver isn’t just a great album, it’s an unimaginably wonderful follow up to one of last decade’s biggest indie recordings. It’s what Bon Iver needed to make to prove that For Emma, Forever Ago wasn’t a flash in the pan. In a nutshell, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is a definitive 2011 album, and one that should be checked out posthaste.

2.) The Dear Hunter - The Color Spectrum

If any album (collection of EP’s?) is going to define 2011 for me, it is probably going to be The Dear Hunter’s The Color Spectrum. The Color Spectrum is simply massive. Clocking in at about two hours, the nine EP collective is Casey Crescenzo’s musical augmentation of the color spectrum. It takes cues from a myriad of genres, ranging from electronica, rock, and pop, all adding up to one exhilarating musical endeavor.

3.) Laura Stevenson and the Cans - Sit Resist

Well I am simply head over heels for Laura Stevenson and her folk rock side project, namely, her debut full length album, Sit Resist. The album is just an absolute joy to listen to. Songs like “The Wait” and “Barnacles” are destined to be on my play list for quite some time. Whether it is her phenomenally lovely voice, or the surprisingly varied instrumentation, Sit Resist will have you listening months after your first listen.

4.) Maybeshewill - I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone

After a couple of the genre’s heavy hitters fizzled out early this year (I’m looking at you
Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky), I had all but abandoned hope for 2011 post-rock. Silly me, of course, as it seems like Maybeshewill are damn near unlikely to release sub-par music. Their latest sees the band shed their heavier, quirkier side, but almost perfect their sound. I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone is eerily polished, and unbelieveably consistent; a true 2011 post-rock stand-out.

5.) Beau Navire - Hours

Although it’s tough to call Hours the best emo record so far this year (has there even been any other emo album??), it’s not tough to call it one of, if not the most evocative recording in 2011. Tapping into the veritable passions of yesteryear, al a Orchid and Saetia, Beau Navire have crafted an abrasive, thoughtful album that sees emo once again actually being emotional. A truly engrossing album if there ever was one.

Kyle Spalding

1) The Wonder Years - Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing

As it stands, The Wonder Years’ 2011 release is my favorite so far. The pop punk group ceases to amaze me with each of their releases, and Suburbia is no exception. For anyone who enjoys the genre or honest music this release is a must. Read my full review here.

2) Transit - Something Left Behind

2011 has been a big year for Transit, including signing to Rise Records (in what is an effort to broaden their previously metalcore heavy roster), the release of their two track 7”, Promise Nothing, and the release of Something Left Behind. Something Left Behind features acoustic versions of old pieces and a few new ones just for the release, but they don’t feel like typical half assed acoustic versions of songs. Each takes on its own new character, almost entirely independent of each song’s respective electric counterpart. Beautiful and moving, Something Left Behind has become one of my go to albums for chill music.

3) The Human Abstract - Digital Veil

While The Human Abstract isn’t your typical fare for MuzikDizcovery, Digital Veil is well worthy of its placement on this list. The Human Abstract earned the respect of many with their 2006 release Nocturne, but after a weak follow up, The Human Abstract have done a fantastic job with Digital Veil. Featuring great production, mature songwriting, very clever riffs, and a good bit of artistic license, The Human Abstract have cultivated a sound that is both unique and refreshing.

4) Dance Gavin Dance - Downtown Battle Mountain II

Again, not typical material for MuzikDizcovery, but as a student of music, I have found great redeeming value in Dance Gavin Dance’s highly anticipated ‘reunion’ effort, Downtown Battle Mountain II. Dance Gavin Dance has managed to garner a bad name for themselves through label association, fan association, and incredibly immature behavior by numerous band members. Regardless of the drama, as long as Will Swan and Jon Mess are involved, the band’s music is worth the effort. Swan’s odd yet enticing approach to melody creates interesting and unique soundscapes with catchy hooks and trademark spasms. Though Jonny Craig continues with his monotonous approach, Jon Mess’ signature scream has matured greatly, becoming one of the key selling points of the band. If one can brave the negative stigma the band suffers from, DTBM II is well worth the listen.

5) Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

The last spot on the list could have been occupied by any of the honorable mentions below, but I went with Explosions in the Sky’s latest effort, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care for no reason besides the fact that I really enjoy listening to it. Sure, the record does little to push the band’s limits; in fact Take Care is if anything a bit disappointing, given what we know the band is capable of. However, despite the fact that Explosions have not tested their boundaries much, the record is still extremely enjoyable. Take Care is a great exploration of sound and will surely leave the listener satisfied.

Honorable Mentions

The Appleseed Cast - Middle States
The Swellers - Good For Me
Balance and Composure - Separation
Between the Buried and Me - Parallax Hypersleep Dialogue
The Black Dahlia Murder - Ritual
Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Born of Osiris - The Discovery
Bright Eyes - The People's Key
Defeater - Empty Days & Sleepless Nights
Fireworks - Gospel
I Am Alaska - So They Say
Touché Amoré - Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me

Mat Fukano

1. Moonlit Sailor - Colors In Stereo
To me, this album is absolute perfection. From the minute I started the CD, I had this itch that I just couldn't rid myself of, the excitement you get when you know you've found some investment that's worthwhile, that'll pay off. To me, that was Colors In Stereo. From the acoustic, Album Leaf-esque introduction of "Kodac Moment", during the hypnotically pushing rhythm of "Weekday Escape", until the slow fading of "Berwick Upon Tweed", this album inspired some sense of reverie and fantasy that had been left unsatiated until this work of majesty came along and kicked everything I knew about what music could be out the window. Check out a review of the album here.

2. Álfheimr - What Allows Us To Endure
This album is harder to budge from my top list than I would have thought. After slogging through all of the music I've been reviewing, I got back to listening to Álfheimr, and realized that I'd been missing music like this. The record commands my respect for the pure control over the flawless blending of technical and artistic aspects of the music, pushing onto the listener something that feels inherently ladened down with intense emotion, yet coming off as an intimate, fragile piece of work. To me, that's brilliant orchestration. Check out a review here.

3. Tides From Nebula - Earthshine
The true beauty of Earthshine hadn't actually dawned upon me until after the first couple of listens to the album. However, once I got into it, I expected the glorious blaze of the synths in the back as the drums pounded away, forcing everything forward like a torrent of solar wind at the beginning of "These Days, Glory Days". There are moments on this album that remain uniquely beautiful to Tides From Nebula, with sophistication far beyond the reach of other artists, and the more they are recognized, the more impressive they seem. Check out my review here.

4. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Every time I listen to this album, I think of how excitedly I preordered it, and how much it was listened to when the time came to decide if it was on my Top 5. That excitement hasn't faded yet, and probably never will, because - and I may get disagreed with on this point, but I feel like I need to make it - Mogwai has NEVER MADE a bad album. I've enjoyed everything they released so far, and this holds just as much spirit as Young Team, if not more sophisticated, with an evolved sound. Check out a review here.

5. Días de Septiembre - Días de Septiembre
This little gem was a total shock to me. I found them one day after wading pretty deep through the Google swamp, and I decided to give them a try. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise, with a smooth blend of indie and post-rock, and I was happy to have found them. The self-titled charm was vastly superior than many debut albums I've listened to, and I feel like the band knows this, showing by the talented writing in songs like "El Péndulo" and "1984". True brilliance flowed out of this album, like an auricular river flowing from Venezuela to the rest of the world, instilling a strong sense of camaraderie and hope into everyone lucky and cultured enough to experience this album. Check out a review here.

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