As promised, part two of my top ten full length records of the year. These five records are the cream of the crop, the crème de la crème, the bees-knees. So with no further delay
5. Big Kids - Phone Home
While sitting in the lobby of my dorm with the guys from Big Kids after a lackluster show(in terms of turnout, not their performance) vocalist and guitarist Jason Romero asked how I had heard about them. I hesitated to reply because it took me a second to recall. How had I heard about a fairly new punk band from Oakland, CA? My response was “just the internet, I guess.” This is just further proof to me the importance of blogs and writers in music. Bands like Big Kids are exactly why I want to do this, why I am willing to grind away at paragraphs with dictionaries and thesauruses at the ready to figure out the best way to convey what is so great about a record, a band, a show and never expect a penny in return. Phone Home is a gruffer and grungier take on the sound they established on Hoop Dreams. This record is raucous and fun but honest and cuts deep. Between the upbeat, catchy beyond belief, garage punk ragers and the slower moments, as the guitars plunk away, Big Kids take something larger than life and distill it into a simple, immediately familiar but lovingly crafted package. Jawbreaker and early Hot Water Music comes to mind but I will stand by these guys until the oceans dry up and the sun crashes into the earth and even if I had not met these guys personally, I would say just from what I’ve heard that these are three to five(the core of the band is three members, with alternating bass players) solid and genuine dudes making equally solid and genuine music. Put this record on, crack a smile, and let everything that brings you down whither away, at least for half an hour.
Four Songs and BUY IT HERE
4. Restorations - Restorations
You know how they say the best records are growers? I am inclined to agree. There are a lot of records on this list that immediately drew out some pretty amorous feelings but this one took its time with me and it is so much better for it. A lot of times a record will blow you away on first listen but yield less gain for you over time. Restorations is a record that only gets better with each listen. Restorations sound so much like five blue collar guys from some Southwestern part of the US it is shocking to find out they are from Philly. At first listen it sounds like the country punk twang of Lucero is a major influence but there is none of that whiskey soaked and tobacco stained misery to drag this record down. Taking anything other than occasional sonic cues from a band like that would be such blatant plagiarism as to make this record one big phoney mess. Instead, Restorations takes a more positive outlook on life and this completely changes their tone. My heart soars with the elaborate melodic passages and the reverberating punk rock jaunts make this a fully realized and very rewarding listen. There are some 90s alt rock elements and one could also make a comparison to labelmates CSTVT(formerly Castevet) with a strong orgcore or “bearded emo” resonance. There is a very steady classic rock vibe that invokes the spirit of Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty without coming across like hokey old guys who do not own any records that have come out since the mid-80s and spend all their time at big music emporiums trying to talk shop about wah pedals and tube reverb with the guys who work there, hoping they can convince them to come out to their next bar gig. I dig this record a lot, you should too.
Listen or BUY IT HERE
3. Andrew Jackson Jihad - Knife Man
Andrew Jackson Jihad returned in top shape in 2011. The folk-punks were suspiciously quiet last year, only contributing two tracks to a split with The Gunshy and one other track to a four-way split, so I knew we were in for something good this year and we sure lucked out with a nice split 9” with O Pioneers!!! and this full length LP. Knife Man represents the culmination of a collective life time, an upheaval of experiences in a wave of pummeling emotions. The long-time duo of singer and guitarist Sean Bonnette and upright bassist Ben Gallaty have honed their rough-hewn, rocky folk down to a fine point of lush instrumentation and grassroots punk rock ethos. Knife Man is a rewarding listen, if only for the amount of variety it offers. Having a good sense of honesty and humility is the key to AJJ’s ability to shift so effortlessly between jokey folk rock, socially conscious punk rock, to chilling and simple melodies. There is no self-aggrandizing or vain and detached motives lurking under the tongue-in-cheek quips and word play that ramble from Bonnette’s mouth. The heavy social themes of egalitarianism and poverty or the hard questions Bonnette wrestles with on some of the more “God-haunted” songs are never so heavy-handed in their delivery as to cast a pall on the fun. Musically AJJ are spot on this time around with everything from simple acoustic guitar songs, accompaniment from mandolins and kazoos, to full on punk rock anthems. Fans should recognize all of these paradigms within AJJ’s body of work but despite all their songs about laziness and apathy, Bonnette and Gallaty vex our presumptions of what a folk punk band can do. “Back Pack” is a heartbreaking elegy that strangely invokes comparisons to The Flaming Lips with a spacey falsetto in the chorus, “No One” draws immediate comparisons to Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” and the final track “Big Bird” is a beautifully composed arrangement of swelling guitars, a bellowing string section, and an almost doo-woppy choir . This is a living, breathing record that takes in the disparate influences and experiences of it’s every part and weaves them into one self-sufficient bundle of musical bones and organs.
Spotify or BUY IT HERE
2. Daniel Striped Tiger - No Difference
Speaking of triumphant returns, Daniel Striped Tiger finally followed up 2007’s Capital Cities with one barnburner of a record. We did get a nice split 7” with Teenage Cool Kids out of the mysterious group last year but it was not enough to fully satiate. No Difference threatened to burn out my record player this year with some of the most blistering, urgent, skull-rattling hardcore this year. Hands down, this marks the pinnacle of their career and I wait with baited breath to see if the as of yet substantiated rumors of their demise are true. Daniel Striped Tiger are a band that have been there for me for what seems like forever (in hardcore years, it would be a lifetime) and No Difference just fits like the old brown toboggan that still covers my head when the nights get cold. The band who can only be properly described as “loud” stormed right back into my life even after I shelved some of those old “skramz” kid ideas and mannerisms of mine. For some reason I thought that post-hardcore like this would never make a come back. There is no substitution, no one could properly imitate the terrifyingly chaotic guitar lines that push further and further past any comprehensible speed. The only other band I have heard really pull of this sound would be Capsule who also released a killer record this year with No Ghost. “No Reverse” brings a little bit of sanity or at least a different kind of mind-bending to give a brief reprieve before No Difference takes back off again like a jet-engine. Granted, the b side of this record is a little more lax in its neck-injury threats as there is a little more experimentation and ease in pace at times but all the lurching and crunching tilt-a-whirl madness just builds up to that final meltdown on “Goldwood.” The LP sleeve does not lie. “THIS RECORD SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD.” If you have any hearing left in your ears or any hair on your arms and face after handling this record then I am impressed.
No stream I guess yer just gonna have to BUY IT HERE
1. Snowing - I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted
Maybe I am cheating a little bit. I know a lot of people probably included this record on their end of a year lists for 2010, after all, the band did “leak” the record themselves in its early, unmastered form but keep in mind that this record did not truly come out until this year with the LP release. I was fortunate enough to get one of those special screened covers from Square of Opposition. So, if you consider the physical release the true release date of a record then this is definitely, easily, totally my number one record of the year. Nothing got more play from me than this record which is no small task considering the conscious effort I make to listen to as much different music as possible. It is still an unbelievable bummer to me that these guys have already called it a day. One 7”, this full length, one song on a four-way split and one more forthcoming 7”; thus is the lifespan of an emo band I suppose. I probably could not sing any more praise about a record in the last few years than this one. These masters of twinkley, math-rock-ish emo captured lightning in a bottle and they did not leave much room for any bands to follow in their footsteps to improve on the genre. Maybe I am wrong though, after all, most of the music to follow this trend is majorly just Kinsella worship (Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, Owls, American Football take yer pick) and Braid rehashing. I don’t know about you but Snowing managed to completely and utterly make this their own. Music does not always have to break completely new untouched ground or mark off new territories, sometimes a genre takes years to perfect. So many other bands have tried to cop this sound and so much of it falls flat for me, maybe they have all been sacrificing chickens to the wrong Kinsella brother or Chris Broach is not answering prayers but more bands need to tap into the magic well that these four Pennsylvanian’s sprung out of. If the death of this band must be the end of this kind of emo, then so be it, I do not think I could stand to listen to very many more awkward Cap’n Jazz or Mineral carbon copies.
Listen or Buy the second pressing HERE
So that’s it, I don’t know what you expected and I am shocked if you actually read all that but there ya go. That’s what did it for me this year…here’s to next year!
Also, stay tuned, I’ve got two more lists to throw at ya!