Best of 2011… so far

OK, so we all love lists, right? Well, I do anyway, and now that I have my own blog I can indulge myself. Lots of sites seem to be running these “half-time reports” nowadays, so here’s mine (albeit a little late). Note: in the interest of total fairness I haven’t included anything that isn’t actually available to buy yet in some form or other somewhere on the planet.

1. Destroyer Kaputt

2. Shabazz Palaces Black Up

3. Fucked Up  David Comes To Life

4. Bon Iver Bon Iver

5. Planningtorock  W

6. James Blake  James Blake

7. Fleet Foxes  Helplessness Blues

8. Cold Cave  Cherish The Light Years

9. Iceage  New Brigade

10. Machinedrum  Room(s)

11. John Maus  We Must Become…

12. Gang Gang Dance  Eye Contact

13. EMA  Past Life Martyred Saint

14. Bill Callahan  Apocalypse

15. Liturgy  Aesthethica

16. Trap Them  Darker Handcraft

17. Cave In  White Silence

18. Family Portrait  Family Portrait

19. The Men  Leave Home

20. Death Grips  Ex Military

21. The Weeknd  House Of Balloons

22. PJ Harvey  Let England Shake

23. Colin Stetson  New History Warfare Vol.2: Judges

24. Julianna Barwick  Magic Place

25. Cass McCombs  Wit’s End

26. Josh T. Pearson  Last Of The Country Gentlemen

27. Tune-yards  Whokill

28. Austra  Feel It Break

29. Pure X  Pleasure

30. Woods  Sun And Shade

31. Little Dragon  Ritual Union

32. Cults  Cults

33. Toro Y Moi  Underneath The Pine

34. The Antlers  Burst Apart

35. Tombs  Path Of Totality

36. Red Fang  Murder The Mountains

37. Bruno Pronsato  Lovers Do

38. Zomby  Dedication

39. Skull Defekts  Peer Amid

40. Crystal Antlers  Two Way Mirror

41. Ponytail  Do Whatever You Want All The Time

42. Chad VanGaalen  Diaper Island

43. SBTRKT  SBTRKT

44. Holy Ghost  Holy Ghost

45. The Black Lips  Arabia Mountain

46. Ty Segall  Goodbye Bread

47. Kurt Vile  Smoke Ring For My Halo

48. Africa Hi Tech 93 Million Miles

49. Ford & Lopatin  Channel Pressure

50. About Group  Start & Complete

I could easily go another thirty – at least – but honourable mentions go to Cut Copy, Eleanor Friedberger, Lil’ B, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Human Eye, Cut Hands, Gnod and Smith Westerns.  Factor in a dozen or so killer 3rd-quarter albums that I’m privileged enough to have promos for, and you have more than enough ammunition to gun down anyone who wants to claim 2011 has been a bad year for music.

 

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Helms Alee Weatherhead

With an impressively value-for-money Hydra Head triple-header US tour drawing to a close, chances are a lot of people will be getting home and checking out Helms Alee for the first time.  Whilst nobody is going to argue the Seattle trio are the least well-known act on a bill that also includes Torche and Big Business, all that could be about to change with the recent release of the follow-up to their 2008 debut Night Terror. The 14 tracks on Weatherhead play like a one-band Hydra Head primer, with the band skillfully combining hardcore brutality and progressive math-rock with the precision of veterans Cave In, Harvey Milk’s soaring, majestic classic rock nods, and galloping punk riffs and blown-out sludge grooves that would do tour buddies Torche and Big Business proud. Throw in a few Spanish guitar interludes that border on modern classical and some pleasantly melodic male/ female vocals and you’re left with an adventurous and well-rounded document of a group on the verge of big things. Oh, and the cover (above) is pretty cool too.

Listen: “Elbow Grease”  http://soundcloud.com/hydra-head-records/02-elbow-grease/s-ALH8n

The Stepkids

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb6H7KfgXs0&feature=youtu.be

Conneticut’s Stepkids are about to release their self-titled debut album on Stone’s Throw, and it is perfect summer listening. Mixing old-skool funk and psych-soul with easy-listening influences and a modern crate-digger’s magpie sensibilities, the results are pretty much what you’d expect from a Stone’s Throw release, if a little more far-reaching. With nods to ’70 West Coast jazz-folk and Afrobeat, the album recalls, at various points, the Free Association, the Meters, Sly & The Family Stone, Madlib and even Swim-era Caribou, and already sounds vintage. The group have just put a limited edition live LP, Direct To Disc, up for sale on the label’s website (http://www.stonesthrow.com/store/album/thestepkids/the-stepkids-direct-to-disc), and you can view footage of them performing non-album track “Sweet Salvation” via the link above. The album proper is out September 26th.

Listen: “Shadows On Behalf”  http://bit.ly/gQa84Q

GDFX One Thing

GDFX cover

We all know a few drummer jokes, right? How do you know when a drummer’s at the door? He doesn’t know when to come in! How do you know that the stage is level? The drummer drools out of both sides of his mouth! Did you hear about the heavy metal drummer that made an electronic album? Hold on… that last one isn’t actually a joke. GDFX’s One Thing is a full-length exploration of electronic psychedelia created from scratch by Greg Fox, drummer with one of 2011’s most divisive bands: Liturgy. Whilst for some reason that outfit seem to be top of most “real” metal-heads’ shit-lists, their new album has proved a big hit with pretty much everyone else, thanks in no small part to Fox’s awe-inspiring rhythmic assaults; still, I have to admit I was surprised at how accomplished One Thing feels. Incorporating chopped ‘n’ screwed hip-hop, motorik trance, technicolour electro, droning synths, blissful ambience and harsh white noise, the album is as well-produced and varied as Four Tet as his toughest. Between this, Liturgy, his work as part of the Boredoms’ Boadrum, Guardian Alien and his Man Forever project with Oneida’s Kid Millions, Fox is fast establishing himself as a real singular talent.

Listen: “Laoqi/Tula” http://soundcloud.com/impose-records/tao-lao-qi/s-GCM1r  

 One Thing is out August 16th on Impose Records

Temporal Marauder Makes You Feel

Temporal Marauder Makes You Feel

Spectrum Spools is a synth-centric off-shoot of Peter Rehberg’s Editions Mego label whose output so far – albums from Forma, Bee Mask, Mist, Fabric etc – has been uniformly excellent. But whilst all of the aforementioned releases have been suitably spaced-out, none have been anywhere near as far-out as Temporal Marauder’s Makes You Feel. There’s an interesting (and possibly entirely fictional) back-story attached to the album, which you can read here (http://editionsmego.com/spectrum-spools-release/SP+006), but it’s the sounds contained within that are most intriguing. Placing equal emphasis on rhythm and noise, this is electronic psychedelia at its most brutal and disorientating; minimal techno beats and pounding percussion collide with queasy drones and synthesized squalls, with an effect akin to standing drunk on the deck of a ferry during a particularly turbulent sea-crossing. In the best way possible of course.  Have a listen, but make sure you’re sitting down first.

Listen: “I Saw You Walking (Excerpt)”  http://soundcloud.com/memorybomb/glances-under-glass-excerpt-by

Siinai – “Olympic Games”

I first heard about Finnish Krautrock four-piece Siinai in the press release for the new Moonface album, where Spencer Krug namedropped the band in relation to a forthcoming collaboration. This piqued my interest, so I went digging and came up with precious little besides the above link to a single – albeit pretty epic – song and the fact they were working on an album. So imagine my surprise when a promo for said album appeared in the mail, then double that imagined surprise and add a whole heap of joy as I realise that the previously mentioned song (the album’s opening track) is indicative of how great the whole record is. Olympic Games (out September 19th on Splendour) is closer in terms of actual sound to original Krautrock bands like Neu! than any other group in recent memory. It is also roughly themed around the titular sporting event, and although – as the album is mainly instrumental – that concept is expressed mostly via song titles (“Marathon”, “Munich 1972”, “Victory”, “Finish Line”), its joyous, triumphant fanfares will leave you feeling like a gold medal winner every time.

Listen: “Anthem 1 & 2” http://soundcloud.com/siinai

http://www.fullsteamrecords.com/app/artist/single/-/id/715

More Recent Reviews…

Just a bit of shameless plugging here… I have been writing for The Quietus for over a year now, and have also written a couple of pieces for Resident Advisor. In future, I will post links to all full-length reviews as they appear, but here are all reviews I have had published over the last couple of months:

Planningtorock http://www.residentadvisor.net/review-view.aspx?id=9065

Austra http://thequietus.com/articles/06305-austra-feel-it-break-review

Efrim Manuel Menuck http://thequietus.com/articles/06327-efrin-manuel-menuck-plays-high-gospel-review

Fucked Up http://thequietus.com/articles/06378-fucked-up-david-comes-to-life-review

Junior Boys http://thequietus.com/articles/06473-junior-boys-it-s-all-true-review

La Big Vic http://thequietus.com/articles/06498-la-big-vic-actually-review

My Disco http://thequietus.com/articles/06503-my-disco-little-joy-review

The War On Drugs “Slave Ambient”

Slave Ambient, the sophomore full-length from Adam Granduciel’s newly expanded project The War On Drugs, is due out August 15th on Secretly Canadian. The follow-up to the Philadelphia outfit’s criminally underrated 2008 debut Wagonwheel Blues is a pretty awesome example of how to take a handful of age-old styles – folk, blues, classic rock, FM pop – and combine them into something that sounds both brand new and timeless. Whilst the album’s hazy finger-picked Americana will no doubt invite comparisons with former collaborator Kurt Vile’s recent Smoke Ring For My Halo, Slave Ambient also packs in rhythmic nods to Krautrockers like Neu! and Cluster, droning Komische synths and Springsteen-sized hooks, leaving Vile looking like an embarrassed kid who has just been shown how it’s really done by his smarter, tougher older brother.

Listen: “Baby Missiles”   http://www.scjag.com/mp3/sc/babymissiles.mp3

http://www.secretlycanadian.com/onesheet.php?cat=SC190