Friday, September 30, 2011

End Of Year 2011: Third Quarter Update

This is the third 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 September 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, and the second quarter update here. All the lists can be seen below the jump.

Casey Whitman:

1. Yellowcard - When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes
What is there to say about this record that I haven't said in my review or in my first two quarterly updates? The record is still fantastic, though the gap between it and the field is much smaller than it was earlier in the year.  Pretty much every song is absolutely fantastic, and is very close to being my personal favorite Yellowcard album. The only question about this year is if Yellowcard will end the year at top.

2. The Wonder Years - Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing
Three months ago, when I put out my midyear list, Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing didn't even touch my top ten. My original thought was that The Wonder Years created The Upsides Pt. 2 and while musically and vocally it was slightly better, the hooks were a massive disappointment. I considered Fireworks' effort much stronger than The Wonder Years'. But at this point, I have to think that Suburbia has taken the lead. While the songs in The Upsides blended together, each individual Suburbia track stands out on its own, as well as the context of the album. The hooks grew on me massively, and I now easily consider Suburbia a stronger release than The Upsides, and one of the best released so far this year.

3. Fireworks - Gospel
However, Gospel may be one of the most creative and unique pop-punk albums of the year. Fireworks wasn't on my radar at all before Gospel, as most of their previous album had almost no lasting value. Luckily, every single track on Gospel has its own unique feel, from the insanely catchy pop-punk anthem "Summer", to the groovy indie jam "Teeth", to the technical "I Was Born In The Dark". Lead vocalist David MacKinder's vocals have grown incredibly since we last heard from Fireworks, and his vocals have gone from poor to excellent. In my opinion, Suburbia and Gospel could very well be ranked 2A and 2B, but for now, Suburbia takes the lead.

4. Mansions - Dig Up The Dead
On May 10th, I actually bought a physical CD. That's how strongly I feel about Christopher Browder, Mansions, and Dig Up The Dead. Seeing Browder perform to the best of his ability and feeling the emotion surging out of his every movement brought me over the edge to put money into the Mansion Will Stay A Band Fund. Mansions is a criminally underrated group, and Dig Up The Dead is probably the most emotional collection of tracks that I've heard in quite some time. Browder deserves extreme respect as musician, and hopefully crowds will soon realize his brilliance.

5. Saves The Day - Daybreak
Surprisingly, Daybreak is the first Saves The Day album I've enjoyed. I had attempted to enjoy Stay What You Are, but for some reason the hooks seemed week and the flow seemed off. However, Daybreak is eleven tracks of extreme catchiness and variety, most easily seen in the five part epic opening track "Daybreak". Chris Conley is the star, his high pitched vocals never sounding so strong, and Saves The Day ends their trilogy with their best record yet.

Other Records That Pain Me To Leave Off:
Farewell Fighter - The Way We Learn
Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math
Into It. Over It - Proper

Mat Fukano:

1. Moonlit Sailor - Colors In Stereo
If you've read any of my articles before, you'll notice that the 2011 Moonlit Sailor album, Colors In Stereo, has actually shown up on my best-of list before. It's really because it's that good. If I ever need to default to a band that everyone can enjoy, or I want to show someone what post-rock really can be, if I need some well-written musical inspiration, or even if I need some sort of bright pick-me-up, I listen to this album. Every song on here is fantastic, and it's a perfect blend of everything an album should be.

2. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
When we expected a release from M83 sometime this year, we expected it to be big. Not double album big. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming was a huge, long-awaited release that received critical acclaim for it's creativity, depth, and central focus. There's so much to love and enjoy on this album, not only because of it's size, but because of the variety in the sounds of each song.

3. Beware of Safety - Leaves / Scars
Since starting to post on MD, my musical taste has been influenced much by what I review to, and thus I have been cutting out a lot of metal from my normal listing. However, when something like Leaves / Scars comes about, it doesn't really worry me too much, because some of what I review can really lay on the heavy. Leaves / Scars is one of those albums. It might not be chugging, standard C tuned deathgrowls and riffs, but it's some damn fine metal that knows where it's at. Beware of Safety also knows how to soften their sound, as shown by the more mellow, more depressive songs on this record. This is some of the best post-metal I've listened to this year.

4. Tides From Nebula - Earthshine
Sometimes, post-rock can have a definite structure, with a set rhythm and chords, set into a specific time signature, and evoke emotions. Other times, they can throw all of those things out the fucking window and still make a great album. Earthshine is one of those albums. It's an ethereal experience, more than anything else, and the soundscape their tonal blending creates is so dark, so rich, and so wonderful an experience that hardly anything else this year comes close.

5. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
It's definitely tragic that I didn't put Take Care, Take Care, Take Care on here, at least in my top 5. However, it's not because I didn't like it. It's because I'm simply more partial to Mogwai's album and writing style. They don't need extravagant reverbs and five thousand different layers to create their music. All they need is one good riff, and you get songs like San Pedro, which will instantly catch anyone's attention. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is some fine writing, and that alone is simply undeniable.

Kate Wieking:

1. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
What I said last quarter still stands. This album holds up well over time and even popularity, since this album has actually received attention from the more corporate music world. This album is still the pinnacle of the indie/folk genre and the culmination of everything good about indie music.

2. Kye Kye - Young Love
This is the album I turn to when I’m tired of exploring new things and just want to listen something I know is good. This album is an album of opposites. “Peace Song” is an acoustic dream and then “Broke” is electric and adrenaline pumping. Kye Kye has the most potential of any debuting band I’ve heard yet in 2011.

3. Eisley - The Valley
This is the only new addition to my list and it didn’t even come out since the last one. Eisley’s latest offering is an album of heartbreak and new hope, making the album a collection of songs that range from frenetic and angry to brightly upbeat. The band’s signature vocals and songwriting are at their peak here.

4. Jeremy Larson - They Reappear
Larson’s two most recent releases, They Reappear and his Fort Christmas side project, are about as different as they come. Fort Christmas is a Beach Boys-informed celebration of young love. They Reappear is a mature, strings-based melancholy affair full of dark and experimental orchestral pieces, topped by Larson’s humble vocals.

5. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
The sheer beauty of Bon Iver’s songwriting and airy vocals has always been nearly undisputable. On his self-titled sophomore release, Justin Vernon increases his instrumentation repertoire, making Bon Iver even more complex and breathtaking than For Emma.

Eric S:

5. Snowing - I Could Do Whatever I Wanted
Well, this one's gonna be a little tough to write. Not because I'm struggling to find awesome things to say about PA's Snowing, not in the least. Rather, I can't help but feel punched in the head with every tap of the space bar, considering the fact that 2011's third quarter saw the emo troupe's subtle but disheartening disbandment. On a much more uplifting note, however, its first quarter witnessed the release of their debut full length, I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted. And whether they wanted to do so or not, the boys of Snowing put together an awesome collection of twinkly, scrambling emo jams that made being sad feel not so sad. Which, considering the recent demise, means now's as good a time as any to spin some Snowing. R.I.P.

4. Bomb the Music Industry! - Vacation
Considering how Jeff Rosenstock has become such a beloved figure in the D.I.Y. punk scene via sad/angry/hungry/dirty/hopeless/frenzied records about being poor and jobless and unhappy and uncomfortable, one might think that toned down Bomb the Music Industry! songs singing about not having reason to complain and being, dare I say, happy(?) would fall flat on their face. Then again, further taking into account the fact that BtMI! have arguably never disappointed regardless of musical endeavor, it really isn't surprising at all to realize that Vacation is awesome, despite its obvious differentiations from their previous efforts. "The point is when you get a perfect wave, a perfect anything, you go for it. You don't worry about what the shark has stuffed up his butt. I mean there will always be sharks, but how often does this once in a lifetime wave come along?"

3. The Rural Alberta Advantage - Departing
As I once mentioned, I would have hated to be part of The Rural Alberta Advantage shortly after the release of Hometowns. As a debut, it was nearly perfect - heartfelt, meaningful, upbeat and yet somehow despondent - Hometowns was the sort of debut that could only entail a breakup soon after a la City of Caterpillar, else risk facing a trivializing fall from grace and a besmirched band name. But no, the RAA would not lay down and die. Rather, Departing lived up to much of the debut's hype, silencing critics and asserting The Rural Alberta Advantage as a salient and confident force in indie rock's future. Woah, that sounds like something to look forward to.

2. Laura Stevenson And The Cans - Sit Resist
A dozen seconds into 'Master of Art', track two of Sit Resist, "un-uh-ba-shed-oh-muh-dah-lin-you're-uh-mazing" tickles your eardrums, and you realize you've fallen head over heels in love with Laura Stevenson.  And why wouldn't you? She's adorable, she's humble. She and the Cans just put together one of the most serene, heartwarming records of 2011. Shit, she even put that offering up online for free for the first month after release, for those heartless souls who found her meekly beautiful songs worth not even a penny. When I met Laura back in May in a tiny bar up in St. Catharines, Ontario, she fulfilled every expectation to the T. And when she drew that little heart next to her signature on my CD, I knew that such a modest yet powerful musician was for real, and that Sit Resist would forever stand as a timeless and stunning musical creation.

1. Joyce Manor - Joyce Manor
I can't adequately articulate what makes Joyce Manor's self-titled so good, nor can I properly justify its place atop such a list. Really, the only thing I can do is to implore you to listen to it, again and again and again and again. Because in a weird way, these feel like ten songs that any listener could have had a part in writing - raw and catchy, simply crafted yet perfectly executed. And with each successive listen through, the tracks become as if they really are the listener's creation. If you've ever been pissed or sad or disappointed or stoked or flawlessly intoxicated, there's a track or two or ten for you on Joyce Manor. So quit being a boob and just listen to it already.

Honorable Mentions:
Tyler, the Creator - Goblin
Touche Amore - Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math
Twin Brother - Best Frenzy
Palmkite - The Sound of Snowfall
Defeater - Empty Days & Sleepless Nights
Caravels - Floorboards

Eli Kleman:

1. Thrice - Major/Minor
Thrice have really hit one out of the park with Major/Minor creating not only one of their most incredible efforts to date, but my favorite album of this year so far. They’ve never truly stopped growing as musicians, and this album is indicative of that. There are dashes of The Illusion of Safety amongst the very Vheissu backdrop. Add in some of their more alternative influences, a la Beggars, and what you’re left with is something new, whilst being undeniably Thrice.

2. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon not only met the lofty expectations surrounding his sophomore release, but actually surpassed them. Some thought it couldn’t be done. Many thought there would be no way in hell that he could actually match the instant classic that was For Emma, Forever Ago. Yet here I am, four months after I first heard Bon Iver, Bon Iver, and I’m still enamored of it. It expands Bon Iver’s debut far past anything imaginable, making it an instant classic in its own right.

3. Laura Stevenson and the Cans - Sit Resist
To be quite honest, I’m very surprised to see this album still on my list, months after its release. Sure, I fell instantly in love with it upon first listen (Laura has that effect, you know), but I didn’t expect it to stick. Well here I stand proven wrong, because Sit Resist still gets me every time, perhaps more so than ever. Mix Laura’s endearing vocals with fun and exhilarating songwriting and you’ve got a recipe that yields multiple listens.

4. Kashiwa Daisuke - 88
To contrast my previous description, I am most definitely not surprised to see this here. After all, Kashiwa Daisuke’s 2007 release Program Music I is one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard. Sure I had reservations after Daisuke’s abysmal 2009 release, but when it was announced that he would be stripping down musically I knew something interesting was in the works. 88 isn’t the boldest or most profound release of the year, but that’s exactly what makes it so damn great. It’s relaxed, refined, and oh so beautiful; an album whose toned down nature is actually its greatest asset.

5. Trophy Scars - Never Born, Never Dead
The struggle for this spot was a tough one. Yet Never Born, Never Dead edged out Andrew Jackson Jihad’s newest simply because I literally cannot stop listening to it. While I’ve listened to each of these selections to ad nauseum, none of them have gotten more play time than this little record. I’ve committed each heartbreaking lyric, and each sultry, bluesy guitar lick to memory. Only time will tell, however, if this will go down as Trophy Scars’ crowning achievement. But the sheer fact that such a notion can be made is means to sing this record’s praises.

Ali Welford:

1. Wild Beasts - Smother
Smother is by no means the my favourite album, but it may well be the most faultless collection of songs I've ever heard. Whether it's Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming's eloquent vocals, the inventive percussion or the silky smooth atmospherics, everything here works to perfection, without a single note which appears out of place. Wild Beasts career has been a story of consistent improvement, and if they can kick on from here too it's scary to think how good they could become. For now, though, they'll just have to settle with being one of Britain's best bands who've made one of the best records of the past few years.

2. WU LYF - Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
2011 has boasted plenty of strong debut outings, but of all the newcomers it's mysterious Manchester four-piece WU LYF who have impressed me the most. It's remarkable that Go Tell Fire To The Mountain is their first major release, because every aspect of it seems so fully formed, from the lush organ-led instrumental backdrops to the improbably mature songs that they have crafted. Moreover, though, this is an album with some astonishing moments, such as the joyful gang cry that concludes "We Bros", the apocalyptic opening of "Dirt" or the stunning transition at the beginning of "Heavy Pop", which all but confirm that WU LYF truly are a special band in the making.

3. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago is one of my favourite albums ever, but at first my attatchment to that record prevented me from fully embracing Justin Vernon's full band follow-up. As the weeks passed, though, I finally came around to the subtle beauty of tracks like "Perth", "Calgary" and the breathtaking "Holocene", which easily meet the standards set by their predecessors. It's not an especially immediate sophomore, but given the time this is a record which will work it's way under your skin just as For Emma... did, and although matching that modern classic was always going to be a bridge too far, Bon Iver, Bon Iver certainly comes close.

4. The Horrors - Skying
Not all bands start off on the right footing, but even so it's remarkable how The Horrors have turned their career around. 2009's Primary Colours was the key turning point after their gimmicky debut album, and this follow-up proves an even bigger step up as they can now lay a legitimate claim to being one of the UK's best current bands. The immense shoegazing swirl which encapsulates the record is in equal parts dazzling and exhilerating, and but for a few lesser tracks towards the end we'd be looking at a new standard for Kevin Shields wannabes to aspire to.

5. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
20 years into her career, Polly Harvey has done the improbable and delivered arguably her best album yet. Let England Shake is a lyrical masterpiece concerning war and the various issues which revolve around it, but while her words are always at the forefront Polly's bleak autoharp backdrop does a similarly great job in creating a solemn atmosphere in which they can flourish. A worthy winner of the Mercury Music Prize, and so long as she keeps delivering records like this there seems no reason why PJ Harvey can't remain one of the most vital artists in the world today.

Kyle Spalding:

1. The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing
The Wonder Years’ follow up to The Upsides still stands as my album of the year thus far. Structured impressively and with Soupy’s trademark vocal style, Suburbia is hard to resist. Musically a step up from The Upsides but emotionally a step down, Suburbia is to this day a fun listen but a bit stale for having been out for such a short period of time. Though I can’t choose anything to take its place yet, my enthusiasm for this record is not as great as it was last quarter, just after the album’s release. Regardless, Suburbia is still a top notch record.

2. Fireworks – Gospel
Fireworks’ sophomore effort has been a huge grower. I was honestly disappointed with the record for the first month or two after its release, but after revisiting it and with some time, it has truly grown on me. Thinking back on it, I’m not even sure what I really was disappointed by. Gospel is a definite deviation from Fireworks’ prior style, and I knew at its release that it was musically superior. However, it has an entirely different appeal than that of All I Have to Offer is my Own Confusion. Finding none of this appeal in Gospel, I wrote it off as a weak record. After giving it some time, I have found the beauty in the record and am now a huge fan of it. I strongly recommend that those of you who also wrote it off at first check it out again.

3. Aficionado – Aficionado
Aficionado’s self-titled debut was another grower, though even more so than Gospel. I wrote a review for the record mostly because a press agency asked me to, and though happy to listen to it, it wasn’t really for me. Nothing really stuck out too much about the record beyond the fact that it was extremely well rounded. However, the tracks have really grown on me and the depth of the lyrics has also presented themselves after a lot of time to think about them. And finally, Nick Warchol’s vocals have finally significantly deviated from those of Adam Lazzara in my mind, mostly due to the fact that though they do have similar vocal deliveries, the atmosphere that Nick’s lyrics create is entirely different than Adam’s. Anyone who gives this record some time and a few good spins is sure to fall in love with it.

4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Bon Iver’s self-titled release is honestly my least favorite personally of any record on this list, though it is truly worthy of this slot. The instrumentation and atmosphere of the record is fantastically done. I won’t elaborate too much on this record because I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about it.

5. Saves the Day – Daybreak
Daybreak is the only record on this list that hasn’t really had the time to sink in, but I am pretty certain that its appeal will be pretty static. Daybreak is a fantastically written record with a fresh spin on many overdone themes that gives the album a very refreshing vibe. Chris Conley has truly mastered his craft in the combination of impressive lyrics and an even more impressive delivery. Daybreak is a thoroughly enjoyable record that I definitely recommend to all.

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