Saturday, December 31, 2011

Casey's End Of The Year Extravaganza

More than likely this is going to be a clusterfuck of information, so I'll keep this intro short. Below, I've put together a list of my favorite EPs, albums, and songs of 2011. My tastes have widened drastically this year, so much that I currently have over 9000 songs in my library just from 2011. While the top of my lists focus more on my customary pop punk and pop rock realms, the deeper cuts of my lists are full of albums that before this year I never would have expected to like. Fireworks, The Wonder Years, Childish Gambino, M83, Farewell Fighter, Yellowcard, SBTRKT, and many more can be seen below. For a Spotify playlist containing the songs of the year list, click right here.

You know, if the Mayans are right, this is my last year-ending list, ever.

The original draft for this end-of-the-year synopsis saw a somewhat dissatisfied me attempting to relate the lack of late-December snow on the ground here in the Northeast to the seemingly incomplete feel of 2011 and its musical offerings. For this writer, 2011 ushered in quite a few much-anticipated releases that ended up falling far short of their predecessors (Battles, Lemuria, and Manchester Orchestra, to name just a few). It paid witness to the disbandments of Philadelphia's Snowing and Frank Turner's departure from Gallows, two longtime favorite bands of your ever-humble narrator. In writing this, I very nearly fell into an abyss of textual lamentation, centered around the simple fact that my 2011 top-ten list is but a sad skidmark in the wake of its beefy 2010 counterpart. But really, what good is it to whine and moan about what this year and music could have been? 2012 is already shaping up to be more promising, with scheduled releases from Every Time I Die, Joyce Manor, and Andrew Bird all dotting the early year forecast, not to mention my 21st birthday and yet another installment of summer Olympics (read: publicized females gymnastics) both looming on the horizon. And so, temporarily dropping the resentfulness of the year's more underwhelming moments, I present you with a handful of moments during which 2011 showed no signs of suck: Eric's Top Twelve Tracks of Twenty-Eleven.

Eli's First Annual Year End Album Tournament

Welcome, welcome, to Eli’s first annual “Year End Tournament.” Here I indulge in egregious amounts of pretentious tomfoolery, all in attempt to wrap up my final thoughts on music in 2011.

My 2011 Alphabet

2011 was a solid year for music but it was a year without any identity. 2011 had no reoccurring themes (unless you are Ali and are a lot smarter than me,) it had no "defining moment," and it had no clear artist or song of the year. 2011 to me was more of a pillar of consistency across multiple genres. 2011 was a year that was so complicated that it cannot be defined with just a few paragraphs or links to a few songs. It has to be defined almost like an alphabet or a dictionary. So here is my 2011 dictionary*

*Songs without descriptions are simply good songs!*

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mat's Top Releases of 2011

There have been a lot of releases that I didn't expect to end up on here, and a fair share that should have been on here, but didn't make it. I'm as surprised as you, dear reader. But no matter - this is my list. You may not agree, but at least listen to what I have to say before you shout profanities at me. Read below for albums including those by Across Waters, Russian Circles, Moonlit Sailor, Tides From Nebula, and many more.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kyle's Albums of the Year 2011

2011 has been a year of both disappointment and pleasant surprises. My taste in music is in constant motion, but at the end of the day, the following are, in my humble opinion, the most impressive and enjoyable releases of the year. 

Album Review: The Weeknd - Echoes of Silence

As a person who typically dislikes most things R&B it’s fair to say that I approached Abel Tesfaye’s entry mixtape, House of Balloons, with skepticism. And even though House of Balloons is - at its core - hedonistic, it veiled the most obvious stereotypes of its genre with meticulous production and Tesfaye’s angelic croons. Shortly thereafter, Thursday was released and helped expand on this potent blend by somewhat breaking away from the aesthetic of its predecessor to feel a little more emotionally resolute and, at times, kind of... creepy. As noted by many a reviewer, Thursday drew from a much darker atmosphere and thrived on its story-telling tendencies. Still though, both mixtapes come across as filthy, grimy sex music on the surface, but there’s something undeniably emotive about them. Beneath Tesfaye’s walls of drug-addled sexism lies a dangerously self-destructive person (“The Knowing”) - one who - knowingly - uses and abuses drugs and women, and even though Thursday saw Tesfaye’s character find a muse - one whom he created and destroyed a relationship with - his character’s demeanor inevitably led him back on the same path. So, after the fallout of failed relationships, finding Tesfaye placed (once more) exactly where he started, the inevitable question is: where does he go from here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Album Review: Drake - Take Care

Album Rating: A
Toronto’s very own Drake may have rushed his debut Thank Me Later, but sophomore effort Take Care finds Drake hitting his stride. The daring 17-track 80-minute behemoth is as enticing and mysterious as it is lengthy. Rarely do I enjoy every song on an 17-track effort, and even more rarely am I somehow convinced that I share emotional struggles with an international icon worth millions. Drake is at his best on Take Care, his most significant release to date and one of the best releases of the year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Album Review: Little Comets - Worry EP

EP Rating: B-
Many a band will purport to have had a whirlwind year, but Little Comets can lay down a stronger case than most. The Newcastle-based indie-pop troupe have endured many of the highs and lows that life in the music industry can bring, having been dropped by major label Columbia, unveiled a marvellous debut album and lost their drummer all in the space of the past twelve months. It's a culmination of events which would prove the unraveling of many, but this quartet-turned-trio have displayed the inner mettle to overcome the setbacks. With temporary replacements on the stool, they've continued to excel in the live arena - with their summer festival slots in particular going down a storm - but perhaps more importantly they're also continuing to flourish in the recording studio, something that this EP of new material goes some way towards proving.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Album Review: He Is We - Skip To The Good Part

EP Rating: B-
Christmas adds a little bit of warmth into the mostly cold and dark season  known as winter. It's fitting that cutesy pop band He Is We releases another heartwarming EP right as the calendar approaches the end of December, as no other band consistently brings sappy warmth into a musical form.

The three new songs look to be a musical progression from the soft and subtle arrangements of My Forever. The stripped version of "Our July In The Rain" features one of the most intense buildups in a He Is We song, courtesy of powerful drums and strings that come in for the second verse, climaxing during the bridge. Rachel Taylor's considerable chops are on full display, as she powers through the song at her strongest. The acoustic version doesn't carry the intensity that the stripped one does, but the fragile nature of this version hits in a totally different way from the stripped one. While "Tell Me" feels like a rehash of fan favorite "Blame It On The Rain", "Skip To The Good Part" is a unique song for He Is We, as they finally use the strings on a lighter, more upbeat track rather than a song like "Fall".

Friday, December 23, 2011

Artist Spotlight: Sigur Ros

The day many a post-rock fan has been waiting for has arrived--the return of Sigur Ros.  Admittedly, the band has not been gone for long (and it's arguable to say that they even left), as their last album dropped back in 2008, to the typical commercial and critical sucess.  After the release of said album, the band announced a hiatus of sorts, which led to the lead singer, Jonsi, to lead a very successful solo career.   And while the sudden announcement left man with pangs in their hearts, the dry spell has been short, as Sigur Ros has revealed plans for an early 2012 release.

Coming off their first ever live album (if you don't count the documentary, Heima), Inni, Sigur Ros plan to head to the studio to create a follow up to 2008's Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, with a slated release of Spring 2012.  The band has stated that the forthcoming album will be much more atmospheric and ambient than their last few releases, hearking back to the early days of Sigur Ros.  And while this announcement is a tad bit dated, it is pertinent because the band has released their first new material in years for free.  That's right, the absolutely beautiful  "Lúppulagið" featured on Inni has been posted online just in time for the holidays.  The sound the band spoke of is definitely present here, as the atmospheric track is incredibly sparse, but fantastically effective.

With the release of a fantastic live album a month ago, and the promise of a new album on the horizon, it's been a great time to be a Sigur Ros fan.

You can (and should) check out "Lúppulagið" here:

Album Review: Build Us Airplanes - At the End of the Day

Album Rating: B
San Francisco's Bay Area seems like a seriously awesome place to live. Its scenery and general aesthetic as a metropolitan area - from the Golden Gate Bridge to the long-legged girls of UC Berkeley; from Richardson Bay in the north to the fact that there is an actual patch of land known as Treasure Island a little further south - everything about the region comes off as borderline ideal. Some of the country's highest per capita income levels, film-site of The Princess Diaries (arguably a young, awkward Anne Hathaway's finest moment), delicious/nutritious seafood, a well-behaved climate - point is, growing up in or near San Francisco sounds like a pretty unreal deal.

Artist Spotlight: Storm Corrosion

Progressive rock and metal all-stars Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt are teaming up. What does this mean for the layman, you ask? The respective frontmen of Porcupine Tree and Opeth have been collaborating for a while on their records, with Wilson beginning his tenure with Åkerfeldt by helping produce and provide background instrumentation and vocals for Blackwater Park in 2001, and Åkerfeldt in turn helped Porcupine Tree out with vocals and guitar on the 2005 record Deadwing.

The two artists had decided upon this collaboration last year, March 2010. However, they have stated explicitly that they do not want this just to be a prog-metal supergroup, because it "would have been so easy to do - and kind of expected, in a way" (discussed in Gunshy Assassin interview here). No, what this project will ultimately become is a complete and thorough experimentation of what progressive rock is, can be, and may become, told through the minds of two brilliant and innovative men. According to Wilson, it's a congruous feeling between Åkerfeldt and him that this record will take a different direction than would be expected by fans, for the sake of real music-making, but I'm sure anyone who really listens and cares about the releases by either would have a conscious sort of understanding of that feeling. Either way, it'll be exciting to see what happens on the record, and what Åkerfeldt and Wilson will have planned for the future, if anything.

The record comes out April 2012.

Album Review: Luther - Siblings and Sevens

Album Rating: B
Philadelphia’s Luther makes their first mark on the music industry with their debut release Siblings and Sevens. The EP is a seven track journey of sincerity and ambiguity. Luther walks the fine line between not trying hard enough and trying too hard with great dexterity, an impressive feat worthy of great praise for a band of only two years.

Siblings and Sevens is a punk rock effort at its core. Most of the tracks are driving and simplistic, catchy but not overtly so. While there is a great deal of backbone and attitude to the record, there is no effort made to be heavy or particularly aggressive, instead often nodding to folksy roots. Luther also displays a vulnerable side with great consistency, frequently lamenting about personal tribulations. While the lyrics tend to be vague and introspective, the delivery seems genuine, to the great benefit of the record. Luther leans on no gimmicks to draw attention away from a lack of substance, and in this respect, Siblings and Sevens delivers. Luther finds their greatest strength in their relatable character and honest delivery.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Year In Retrospect: The Musical Themes Which Have Shaped 2011

When I first set about writing this article, the vision I had was simple; a concise, coherent and informative summary of the past year in music without disappearing up my own backside or boring any unfortunate readers into submission. Alas, by the time I'd discarded my sixth draft, I began to accept that it wasn't possible, and so this long-winded, cobbled together mess was born - precisely the opposite of what I'd aimed to achieve! No one's reading this for the intro, so, without further ado, I present my 2011 retrospective, based around some of the major themes which have shaped the year in music...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Album Review: Across Waters - More Light Is Never Ending

Album Rating: A
Across Waters is an interesting post-rock band that developed out of the heart of Denton, Texas. Four guys, with a juvenile burning desire to play music for fun, came together and matured into a group that spreads the Christian word of love and creation, and the beauty of the entire world. Their vision is truly reflected in More Light Is Never Ending, the debut album from this funny band in Texas. This album is a wondrous work of aural literature, drawing up passions and tales from far past, and emotions that run deep within the soul, feelings that have existed for thousands of years, since biblical times and beyond; they conjure up affects that make us feel and know that we are human, and that itself is a powerful and moving idea.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Album Review: Modus Aurora - Modus Aurora

The holiday season has suddenly turned into a season of material discontent and greed. We spend hours upon hours fascinated and frustrated about what gifts to give each other and what gifts we should give ourselves. But I always thought the biggest gift of the holiday season was the simple gift of comfort. The comfort that is found in knowing people are "there for you," the comfort found in knowing that people might actually care for you, the comfort found in knowing people want to make memories with you, and the comfort that is found with whatever we assume the true meaning of the Holiday season is. This kind of comfort has always been the most precious part of the season for me.

Live Review: Little Comets, Northumbria University, 10/12/2011

It's a sad fact of life that no matter how great the band on stage is, a bad crowd always has the potential to spoil a show - something Little Comets found out at Northumbria University last Saturday. This should have been a great occasion, the homecoming of an excellent local act after a whirlwind twelve months, but sadly - inexplicably - it was almost completely ruined by a minority of those in attendance who completely killed the celebratory atmosphere before it even had the chance to rear it's head.

Album Review: Jonsi - We Bought A Zoo Soundtrack

Album Rating: B-
Icelandic singer/songwriter, and overall musical icon, Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson, has been a busy man over the course of the last few years.  While touring with his main act, Sigur Ros, Jonsi started a little side project which allowed him to expand his “poppier”, more whimsical sensibilities, yet still retaining a certain ethereal flare.  The man has always attempted to imbue a sense of “magic” into his music that tapped into a child-like wonder that comes off a wholly pure and majestic, but his solo project has seen him go beyond anything he’s ever done with Sigur Ros.  With the soundtrack to We Bought a Zoo, Jonsi has further compounded his jovial new direction, and made a lively, interesting record in the process.

Album Review: Disseriph - Warp Tunnel

Album Rating: A-
Personally, I would not call growing up a fear, but it is definitely something I am wary of. I have accepted that it is going to happen, but while I am not afraid of it, it is something that keeps me wondering. Sometimes I stop and contemplate what I'm going to think of myself ten years from now. Surely I will probably look at myself and reflect on how foolish and naive I was at this age, but will I stay the same at all? While listening to the opener of Disseriph's debut release, Warp Tunnel, it really makes me ponder the exact same things about my future. "Sorta Grown Up" begins with the verse "so far away from my past, I'm looking at it through a telescope/and down this tube of refracted light, see myself waving to a future me", which paints the exact image of me sitting down, thinking about what it will be like when I'm ten years older while sitting down and seeing myself sit down ten years ago and think about what I will be like when I'm ten years older.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

End Of The Year 2011: Surprises Of The Year

While there are always records that I expect to top my end of the year lists, there are always some that come out of the depths to surprise me. I'm not talking about bands that I never listened to before, but bands that released records that I never expected to enjoy as much as I did. For example, I never expected Hellogoodbye to release a record as strong as Would It Kill You? after releasing the autotuned monstrosity that is their older work. In alphabetical order, here are nine records that I would call "surprises".

Bayside - Killing Time
While Bayside had gotten plenty of acclaim over the years, I was never able to get past lead singer Anthony Raneri's unique voice. But with Killing Time, the voice stopped bothering me as much as it used to, and the slickly crafted rock songs helped this album burst into my top ten. "Sick, Sick, Sick" and "Already Gone" are two of my favorite tracks on the year, and Bayside has finally turned me into a fan.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Album Review: 65daysofstatic - Silent Running

Album Rating: A
65daysofstatic has been pretty active as of late, what with the Heavy Sky EP, and We Were Exploding Anyway both being released last year. With this year came a dynamic work for the band that started as a fundraiser through Indie Gogo, and came to fruition through the support of loyal fans everywhere. Silent Running is a testament to the band's new direction, and this change is not something we should reject - rather, we should hold it close, cherish it, and admire this brilliance 65 has graciously handed down to us. The album feels so natural for the band, yet has many different tastes, ones that have evolved and matured since the likes of The Destruction Of Small Ideas. Where there was once angst, static, and anger, there is now creativity, fluidity, and feeling.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Artist Spotlight: Options

Options doesn't sound like the work of a single person. One-man projects can often seem amateurish and cobbled-together, but Seth Engel's creation is anything but. Having recorded under the moniker since 2008, the Chicago songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has established a firm base emo-tinged alt-rock not dissimilar from the likes of Manchester Orchestra and Brand New's earlier work. Engel - also a member of bands Cage Match and Like So - hasn't reached those heights yet, but even at this early stage the indicators are positive. His debut album Some Light was a solid effort which displayed plenty of promise, but it's the two EP's he's released this year which have really impressed, and gone some way towards delivering upon that potential. The most recent of the pair, Little Victories is especially excellent, seeing Engel all but perfect a balance between the delightfully raw scuzz and twinkling melodic passages he specialises in, often within the same song. There's still room for improvement on the songwriting front, and there are times when the lo-fi distortion can become overbearing, but the all of the components for success are already in place, and there are already tantalising glimpses as to how good this project could become in the shape of gems like 'Yours Truly.'

You can stream and download Options' music on their bandcamp page.


Album Review: Nujabes - Spiritual State

Album Rating: A-
When Jun Seba was killed in a car accident last year, his absence left a gaping hole in not only the hip-hop scene, but the world of music as a whole.  Known for his gorgeous, cool-jazz instrumentals, paired with some of the most infectious beats out there, Jun Seba, better known as Nujabes, was a musical force to be reckoned with.  2003’s Metaphorical Music is still hailed as a land mark release, and we really have not been treated to anything quite like it since.  Sure, Modual Soul was yet another astonishing entry, but it didn’t really capture the magic of his debut.  Unfortunately, even well before his passing, the world was pretty much starved for more Nujabes’ music.  There was that brief stint with anime, which yielded an excellent soundtrack, but nothing in the way of a true LP ever surfaced past 2005.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2011: My Favorite Albums (Blair Chopin)

What can I say about 2011 that has not already been said? Nothing. So here's my 42 (I love you Coldplay) best albums of the year:

42. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lenses Alien

Lenses Alien is just a cluster mess of potential. Once Cymbals Eat Guitars stop trying to make songs that sound like 8 minute Built to Spill and Mars Volta covers and find their own sweet spot they will be one of the best bands around. Right now they are just really inconsistent. The album has a few moments of brilliance though that make it one of the better listens of the year.

41. Bomb The Music Industry! - Vacation

Vacation is the poor man's version of Knife Man. That makes it one of the best records of the year.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Album Review: The Roots - undun

The Roots are the most consistently great hip-hop band of all time. Such a statement is daringly bold, but I can’t at this time think of any other group out there who’ve managed to keep in with the current trends of hip-hop without sounding somewhat disingenuous in doing so. How I Got Over is the most obvious indicator of this: The Roots made their sound considerably more streamlined, but they were still able to one-up the vast majority of their contemporaries in doing so. Now, undun still retains that new-age sound, but it also brings the quirks - coming hot on the heels of their 2010 record, undun sounds surprisingly consistent and ingeniously crafted. It’s the Roots’ first concept record, detailing the life of a fictional protagonist named Redford Stephens. Through cultivated beats and introspective lyrical rumination, several guest vocalists lend their voices to help channel energy to breathe life and give a piece of themselves to the role of this character. The end result is an atypical hip-hop concept album that threatens to not only be a huge success, but one that also challenges some of the Roots’ best material to date.

Album Review: Gallows - Death Is Birth

EP Rating: A-
Who’d have thought it? After losing Frank Carter, their colossal lynchpin and one of hardcore’s finest frontmen, Gallows may – whisper it – have got even better. Former Alexisonfire guitarist Wade MacNeil wasn’t exactly an obvious choice of replacement; For one, he’s never fronted a band of Gallows' ferocious ilk before, but perhaps more importantly the irreversible fact that he’s Canadian renders lyrics like “The union jack has bled away/ Its black and white and its fucking grey” a little obsolete. Surprisingly, though, his addition has done little to curb the momentum which they kicked into gear with previous records Orchestra Of Wolves and Grey Britain, and shows that they remain a cut above the rest in the hardcore game.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Artist Spotlight - Olde Pine

The midwestern emo style as of late is generally pretty hit-or-miss. The band either falls flat on it's face, failing to stand out amongst their peers, or it comes out really, really good. Olde Pine, which consists of "two guys from MA playing rad music", are really, really good. For a band with nothing to their name but a two track ep that spans over the course of seven and a half minutes, Olde Pine does an extraordinarily good job at getting their point across and making an extremely promising statement for any of their work to come. Their two track ep, entitled Reservoir, has the exact same youthful energy present in genre greats such as Cap'n Jazz. One thing that Olde Pine is great with is backing up the imagery of their lyrics in the instrumentation. "For Twinny" contains the line "as the brown blanket sits soaking up our history, I'm lifted up", followed by a drop in tempo, as the listener can almost feel themselves being ascended by the light drums and feedback. Although Reservoir seems like more of a tease than it does an ep, we could only hope that whatever Olde Pine has in store for us is on its way soon.

You can listen to and download Reservoir for free on bandcamp

Friday, December 2, 2011

Interview With Marianas Trench

Sometimes called the "Fall Out Boy of Canada", Marianas Trench has already reached superstardom north of the border. But in the US, they are just another emerging band. The band has just recently released their brand new record Ever After, and their current US tour opening for Simple Plan is their first tour supporting the record. The band agreed to take some questions from me, talking about topics such as the reasons for  Ever After being a long cohesive product, how different it is opening for small shows in the US compared to headlining huge ones in Canada, wanting to sign to an American major label, hopefully playing Ever After from front to back on a future tour, and much more which you can read below.