Saturday, December 31, 2011

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.

12. 'Springing Leaks'

by Algernon Cadwallader

from Parrot Flies

'Springing Leaks' is everything an Algernon Cadwallader song can and should be. Commencing with what can best be described as a line of guitar gibberish, it quickly jumps into something worth jumping around in a beer-splashed basement with your best friends over. It's quirky, it's rushed. It's lonely but uplifting. Its words are spattered and sputtered and muddled by the rest of the band's generally slapdash yet surprisingly on-cue musicianship. And when its six-minute lifespan is up and the fuzzed-out guitars fade away once and for all, it's hard not to feel as if you've just sat and absorbed an Algernon Cadwallader record in its entirety. Oh, how fortunate we foolish listeners we are - 'Springing Leaks' is only track one of eleven on Parrot Flies, the Philadelphia trio's loopy, doopy, and most certainly derpy 2011 release. Merry Christmas. 

11. 'Words With Friends'

by Pentimento

from Wrecked 

See, I'm allowed to unabashedly admit that I'm a total sucker for a track like this, and you are too. I mean, what isn't to love about no-frills pop-punk with the perfectly articulated angst and carpe diem sensibilities that go hand in hand with staying eighteen forever? Perhaps I'm just a tad bit biased here, seeing as Pentimento do hail from my cold and unforgiving hometown of Buffalo, NY, but the point is clear that these kids really can sing it proud and sing it loud. And if your third listen through Wrecked doesn't have you shouting mercilessly along to this track's bridge of "I've got that itch again/to make things worse/in steady increments," well then I suppose you've just got more self-control than I do. What can't be denied however is Pentimento's deep-rooted, well-learned punk rock roots that really come to fruition on 'Words With Friends'. So what if we'll all grow up someday. So fucking what.

10. 'At Sea In St. Paul'

by Cain Marko

from At Sea

A track like 'At Sea In St. Paul' presents itself as so immediately likeable for a number of reasons, the first of which has to be its shameless honesty. "The universe can go without another song about drinking," boasts its first line, and the boys of Michigan's Cain Marko are absolutely right. Yet, they give it their best shot anyway, with driving guitars and grinding vocals competing for listener's attention. By the end of the track, Cain Marko have made quite a mess for themselves, but that's exactly what they came to do. The remainder of At Sea follows in a similar fashion, with the EP's four tracks leaving as much of a mark as they possibly can on a stale scene in a disillusioned industry, and reminding us all why we came to love punk rock's unfiltered passion in the first place.

9. 'Pensacola'

by Manchester Orchestra

from Simple Math

It's hard not to appreciate the grandeur and poise with which Manchester Orchetra chose to approach a track like 'Pensacola'. Its minimalistic verses, building up and culminating in a chorus of "
My daughter she barely sleep/she barely sleeps/she barely speaks" - all of it is executed without flaw. Frontman Andy Hull showcases
his magnificent pipes that have allowed M.O. to make such a name for themselves throughout the track, and just when it all seems too good to be true, an epic, lighthearted, and almost comical choral rendering of "Alcohol, dirty malls, Pensacola Florida bars" closes out the track - a moment that might just take the cake for 2011's best sing-along opportunity. 

8. 'Outlaws With Style, With A Class All Their Own'

by Palmkite

from The Sound of Snowfall

As a band, Palmkite sort of seem like nobodies. As social creatures, Palmkite sort of seem like nobodies. The sort of apathetic resignation with which their nobody vocalist sings on The Sound of Snowfall suggests this, the result of which is nothing short of ooey-gooey emo goodness. 'Outlaws...' is a song with a message worth carrying with you at all times; just be sure to remember that when everything is too much and nothing is worth it, you'll be alright. "There's a chance this is temporary/we're not fucking done until we're dead and buried." Amen. 

7. 'King Park'

by La Dispute

from Wildlife

Now here's a song that's way too easy to put on an end-of-the-year list. Chronicling an inner-city drive-by-shooting, 'King Park' encapsulates the horror and brutal emotion of so trying an occurrence in song form, as it climaxes in the gut-wrenching repetition of "DO I STILL GET INTO HEAVEN IF I KILL MYSELF?" The story of the incident is terrifyingly sad as is, but vocalist Jordan Dreyer and the rest of the band make all the right moves in writing a song to encompass it, resulting in a track that refuses to lose its bite, even dozens of listens later. 

6. 'Condolences'

by Touché Amoré

from Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me 

Suffice it to say that Touché Amoré had quite the task on their hands in attempting to follow up 2009's ...To the Beat of a Dead Horse.  The record was a phenomenal and heard-hitting debut, in which vocalist Jeremy Bolm screamed himself hoarse over his daily discontentment with the world around him.  Parting the Sea... picked up pretty much where the debut left off, with Touché Amoré following up in a big way, a feat most obviously manifested in a track like 'Condolences.'  Less than two minutes are all that Bolm needs to let his audience and everyone else within earshot know that it's okay to be afraid, it's okay to be alone, and it's okay not to see things as others do.  He's been here before. 

5. 'Stamp'

by The Rural Alberta Advantage

from Departing

When Departing was released, I wrote a review essentially stating that I'd really hate to be The RAA come 2011, finding myself needing to follow up 2008's Hometowns.  In short, Hometowns was nearly perfect, bursting with heartfelt three-piece indie jams.  Despite slowing things down a bit on the follow-up, The RAA had their moments on Departed, none better than 'Stamp,' a track entirely reminiscent of the debut's best moments, with frontman Nils Edenloff leading the charge via impassioned songwriting, further augmented by the beautiful (and talented!) additions of Amy Cole and effervescent drumming of Paul Banwatt. The track comes together as well as any other they've written in the past, showing signs of a bright and (hopefully) long-lived future for The Rural Alberta Advantage. 

4. 'Campaign for a Better Next Weekend'   

by Bomb the Music Industry!

from Vacation

From a band that's found their niche in writing anti-establishment anthems and countless songs of self-failure, alcoholism, and all other shortcomings, you might come to think that an entire record about generally feeling better than before and not having reasons to complain would fall flat on its face.  Then again, if you knew that it was an album from Bomb the Music Industry!'s charismatic, multi-faceted, and always lovable frontman Jeff Rosenstock, you'd come to understand that such a record could work just fine.  'Campaign for a Better Next Weekend' starts off such an album, with a typical Jeff rant about reasons to be excited and people being dicks, finally building into what I might call one of punk rock's most memorable finales.  Death, taxes, awesome songs from BtMI! - simple as that. 

3. 'Master of Art'    

by Laura Stevenson and the Cans

from Sit Resist

If I could adequately put into words why 'Master of Art' just might be one of the twenty-first century's defining moments in music, well then I wouldn't be cutting this blurb off early and providing you with a direct link.  You really, really need to hear this if you haven't already; if you have, then you understand just why you should definitely hear it again.

2. 'Derailed'

by Joyce Manor

from Joyce Manor

There's something so immediately gripping about Joyce Manor's entire selt-titled, most likely rooted in the fact that it feels like a bunch of songs that you could have helped write.  If you've ever felt pissed or bummed or stoked or lost or perfectly intoxicated, there is absolutely a moment or ten on this record for you.  'Derailed' is but one such instance of Joyce Manor's ability to perfectly articulate, both verbally and musically, how nice it'd be just to write the whole fucking world off from time to time.  Screaming along live back in May, I came to realize that there's a few people out there worth keeping around - the dudes from Joyce Manor without a doubt included in that group. 

1. 'Driving' 

by Dowsing 

from All I Could Find Was You 

Dowsing's 'Driving' is essentially every awesome moment you've had between the ages of fifteen and twenty-eight - during which you realized that you've got people who really give a damn about your existence; that the rainy days really do make the sunny ones that much better, and that the only person who knows how to live your own life is YOU - perfectly compressed into just over two and a half minutes.  Learn to live better: listen to Dowsing.

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