Alcest – Les Voyages de L’Âme
I’m not usually fond of post-anything genre labels. How can anything be post-rock? There’s still plenty of rock. But Alcest really is post-metal, in the sense that it used to be identifiably a metal act, and now it isn’t. This is shoegaze/dreampop for guitar tone freaks. If you’ve listened Pale Saint’s epic “Henry” more than once, you probably want to check out Alcest (although, to be fair, Alcest is denser and Pale Saints more spacious). (In the more minor key moments Alcest’s overlapping arpeggios also remind me a bit of Fields of the Nephilim.) There’s a tiny, tiny bit of metal left in here: drum moments that approximate the eight-on-the-floor “blast beat” and two songs (“Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles” and ”Faiseurs de Mondes”) have a few screaming passages. They feel out of place to me, but they’re brief (and pretty low in the mix).
Cate le Bon – Cyrk
Unsettling folky stuff. Balances a (mild) sixties vibe with the sparse-but-exploratory spirit of early post punk. The last tune, “Ploughing Out, Part 2,” is a knockout.
Aficionado – Aficionado
Tremendous lyrics (“You don’t even like the things you like” might be my single favorite line of the year) and a restless, adventures spirit. I’d basically call this punk rock (or punkish indie rock), but it’s a very unorthodox variant of the beast, with some assertively, even defiantly, non-punk arrangement details. (Is it “punk” to be “defiantly non-punk”? The question is left as an exercise for the reader.) I don’t care, I think it’s flat-out awesome. I checked this out on Spotify and made it through less than 2 songs before deciding to buy a permanent copy. And then I bought their 2010 EP “When It Comes to Creation” before I made it through the album even once. Because I knew I wanted more, more, more. (If really you need a who-does-it-sound-like? try Mixtapes crossed with Human Sexual Response.)
Bastions – Hospital Corners
Somewhere between hardcore/grindcore/metalcore. I love the thick sludgy guitar tone, and I love that the band uses space and dynamics more than most working this territory.
Blanket – Rabbits We Chase Fish We Eat
Despite a band name and album art/title that collectively screams “twee!” not to mention song titles like “Hailey Fought the Law,” this is indie rock that wants to be taken seriously. Long songs with lots of dynamic shifts, fairly wrought vocal delivery. Hasn’t really commanded my attention so far, but may have earned another chance or two.
Dead to Me – Moscow Penny Ante
Multiple lead vocalists (and, I’m guessing, songwriters) is a definite asset for this melodic punk outfit. Makes for an engaging listen throughout.
Deep Sleep – Turn Me Off
Awesome retro hardcore. Only one song cracks the 2-minute mark. Aw yeah.
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
How did I sleep on this great record for so long? It’s for sure modern hardcore, but catchy modern hardcore that evokes the Mekons and the Clash.
Heartsounds – Drifter
On the cusp of punk and pop punk: not always hooky enough for the “pop”; not always raw enough not to need it. Was lukewarm on this through the first half or so, but the end I was queuing up their previous album too.
The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
I was skeptical about this Gaslight Anthem side project — my aversion, not to say allergy, to most most modern blues is well documented. But strong writing, performances, and production won me over. Even in the identifiably bluesy songs.
Hostage Calm – “War on a Feeling” (single)
Hostage Calm – “The ‘M’ Word” (compilation track)
“The ‘M’ Word” (from the Run for Cover label’s Mixed Signals comp, which I generally endorse) is for my money the year’s best early Beatles-inspired track. The cymbals sound a bit trashy (even when I bought a high quality download), but aside from that I think it’s almost flawless: gorgeous harmonies, a short, sharp solo break, and a killer chorus hook (and I think it’s a little more harmonic sophistication than the usual for pop-punk that reads as so very Beatlesque). The two songs on “War on Feeling” don’t hit me as hard, but definitely cut from the same cloth. I am a fan.
Howler – America GIve Up
Everytime I think I’ve hit my absolute saturation point for low-fi fuzzed-out garage, some new band gets through my defenses. Howler’s the latest. This band has dashes of surf and shoegaze in the mix, vocals that remind me a bit of Calvin Johnson, and, most importantly, hooks that don’t sound half baked.
Kayo Dot – Coyote
In the same general skronk/rock territory as sextet-era King Crimson or The Book of Knots (although the prominence of reeds makes it feel maybe a little jazzier). I would prefer slightly more understated vocals. I liked “Abyss Hinge 2: The Stinking Armature” best.
Amanda Mair – “Doubt” (single)
Amanda Mair – “House” (single)
Indie-pop (on Labrador, I guess that’s indie?) that’s almost too smooth for me. But undeniably pretty, with a few interesting arrangement details.
No Problem – And Now This
I’ve been going through the punknews.org editors’ picks for best of 2011, a commenter complaining that this record had been overlooked jumped out at me and I gave it a spin. Sure enough, this is ace stuff, in the same retro-hardcore vein as Nightbirds, Deep Sleep, Police & Thieves, and such. All endorsed, ayup.
Pete and the Pirates – One Thousand Pictures
Listened through most of the record trying to figure out the band the vocals occasionally really, really reminded me of: Kitchens of Distinctions? James? Finally decided it is probably The Chameleons U.K.. Pete’s tuneful indie rock isn’t quite as obsessively retro as that list suggests, and not quite as smooth, either. But still, if you liked that kinda stuff, you might like this. And vice versa.
Police & Thieves – Fracturing
Yet another killer retro hard-core EP. Singer dude in this one is sometimes a dead ringer for Mike Palm of Agent Orange, but this is DC through-and-through, geographically and musically. But with better production than the first flowering of harDCore. Geddit at Youngblood Records’ Bandcamp site.
Red City Radio – The Dangers of Standing Still
A fine punk rock record. Checked this out because it was on a lot of (punk-type-folks) years’-best lists . . . a wee bit too much a genre exercise for my short list, but the production is tight and the writing is sharp. I definitely like this quite a bit.
The Saddest Landscape / We Were Skeletons – Split (EP)
(Needs more time to sink in? Did not make as much of an impression as I expected.)
Title Fight – Shed
Young punks who sound like they mean it.
Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
It may have been unfortunate that I know Turner is on some bills with Dropkick Murphys because it made me more cognizant of the aspects of this record that could appeal to DM fans (especially on the songs that feature electric guitar) — there’s an anthemic vibe to much of this that I never associated with, say, Billy Bragg.
Annneke Van Giersbergen – “Circles” (single)
Annneke Van Giersbergen – “Feel Alive” (single)
“Circles,” is a piano/strings ballad; way too smooth for me. “Feel Alive” is slick mid-tempo rock. Not terrible, but five minutes later I can’t recall it. Van Giersbergen used to sing for goth/atmospheric metallers The Gathering; you’d never guess it.