Steven’s Top Albums of 2011

After evaluating my list I’ve realized this year was about surprises for me.  Whether it was newcomers attacking a favored genre with a different perspective, seasoned veterans revitalizing their sound, or a band that catapulted from their previous worthy effort to create something unexpectedly inspiring and crushing. I was never the kid that checked attics or closets for Christmas presents so receiving 2011’s surprises certainly was pleasant even though, to most, the sounds that they make won’t be.

10. Amia Venera Landscape – The Long Procession [Self Released]

So we’re off to a bad start because this album actually came out last year.  However, it came out in December and I’m guessing Amia Venera Landscape didn’t make too many 2010 lists because of it so I wanted to give them a fair shake.  The Long Procession shows these Italians combining technical metal with epic post-metal while delving into dark emotion and still managing to splice in some melody. Whether they’re creating instrumental soundscapes, going fast and technical with harsh screams, or smoothing things out for the more softly sung vocals, Amia Venera Landscape always sound oddly comfortable along their ominous spiral.

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9. The Speed of Sound in SeawaterUnderwater Tell Each Other Secrets [Self Released]

There are an innumerable amount of mathy indie rock bands out there, most of them instrumental, and it’s really hard for a band to take on that style of music and still be able to separate themselves from the slew of other extremely competent musicians.  What TSOSIS does on Underwater Tell Each Other Secrets is perform their brand of technical indie rock delicately and rhythmically enough to not make your head explode from trying to digest everything that’s going on. It’s also difficult to intricately place vocals over what, at first, sounds like a jumbled mess, but TSOSIS attaches ethereal vocals and charming lyrics to ease you in.  It’s the glue that initially holds the band together long enough for the listener to realize this isn’t just a bunch of strange notes thrown together.  These guys are actually interweaving between each other to create a very tightly packaged sound.
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8. Bad MaskStrange Phrases [Self Released]

Tons of angular riffs thrown around with technical proficiency; tight, crisp drumming and vocals that steer through high screams, low barks, and drunken slurring.  Strange Phrases is a throwback to turn of the century tech hardcore that Bad Mask flawlessly performs while stamping it with some of their own signature updates.

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7. Wugazi 13 Chambers [Self Released]

I was hesitant to put a mash-up on a top 10 list, but the Cecil Otter interview is how I found Mezzic so it seems all too serendipitous.  Like their bio states, “a must listen for anyone who even looked at a skateboard in the 90’s” 13 Chambers is masterfully executed with my favorite hip hop group’s anthems dropped over my favorite skate session soundtracks.  This is more than a nostalgic novelty.  It’s a remarkable record that legitimizes a kitschy trend.

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6. Inevitable EndThe Oculus [Relapse Records]

On their last record Inevitable End was just a run-of-the-mill contemporary death metal band.  This year these Swedes took a more grindcore approach to their sound.  The Oculus is so blisteringly fast, frenetic, and surprisingly creative.  Twangy discordant guitars with lots of quirky slides are backed by blast beats and driving bass with unhinged caustic screams at the forefront.  Add the element of mid 90’s metallic hardcore and the transformation from run-of-the-mill to fresh genre bender is complete.

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5. The Joy FormidableThe Big Roar [Atlantic Records]

This is perhaps the album that surprised me the most.  A pop record that packs almost as many brilliantly created noisescapes as any of these dissonant metal records I was digging this year.  A delightful blonde sprite fronts this power-pop three piece with catchy choruses and abstract lyrics that are sung beautifully.  A few double bass laden bedlam outros are scattered throughout the aptly titled The Big Roar showing that they’re not just some cookie-cutter pop band.  I also think it’s important to look up live videos of The Joy Formidable to see their emotional performances and just how much fun they’re having.

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4. Baring TeethAtrophy [Willowtip Records]

At its heart (its black, black heart) Atrophy is a death metal record, but the trio of Baring Teeth pulls in aspects of grind, doom, tech-metal, and atmospheric post-metal to make a well-rounded extreme metal album. A few scattered guttural bellows over a crazy amount of dissonant guitar tones mixed with just as much noodling on the six string bass and octopus drumming, Baring Teeth flow from jazzy odd time signatures to all 3 members locking in to blast forward with traditional heavy death metal.  Plus the fact that they use a slide as a pick on one of the tracks (“Distilled in Fire”) just sounds really fucking cool.

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3. Russian CirclesEmpros [Sargent House]

Empros finds Russian Circles *ahem* (and sorry) circling back around to formulas on their debut album in which there were more intense build ups and unleashed fiercer punches at the height of these crescendos.  Empros strengthens those ideas to become Russian Circles’ heaviest release.  Even though this is Brian Cook’s third record with the band (second as a full time member) I think we’re finally starting to hear everyone getting settled in and creating some of their most vibrant music. Empros is so thickly and deliciously layered and a lot of that has to do with Cook’s pulverizing bass tones.  This record grabbed me immediately and upon first listen I knew it would end up on a lot of top ten lists… and here we are.

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2. Ocoai The Electric Hand [Missing Words Records]

Another lovely instrumental record on this year’s list.  To be honest, though, my opinion on this one may be compromised because I’ve seen these guys live so I know the earth shaking, ear-splitting volume and weight at which these songs can be performed.  Unfortunately, The Electric Hand doesn’t capture this, but to be fair I don’t believe any recording could.  That doesn’t diminish that these songs are a very dynamic blend of post-metal heaviness and post-rock dreariness with piercing solos that cut through the density.  What can be heard on the recordings that are a little drowned out live are the cello, keys, and electronics that add even more depth to the recordings.  Just be sure to listen with some headphones that go to 11 to even attempt to get the live experience.

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1. Capsule No Ghost [Rorschach Records]

I already gave every reason as to why No Ghost would be my record of the year in the review I wrote for Mezzic.  I keep coming back to this album and with every listen I hear something new that I am completely floored by or go back to nodding my head to a favored part and still get chills.  It’s just a fantastically written and recorded punk/post-hardcore/metal album.

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Honorable Mention:

Between the Buried and MeThe Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues More of the same (which is a good thing) from these prog-metallers
Ed GeinBad Luck Focused thrashy hardcore
GlassjawColoring Book The more sensitive side of these post-hardcore titans
Jardin de la CroixOcean Cosmonauts Spaniard jazzy instrumental math rock
Light BearerLapsus Classic post-metal
MarutaForward Into Regression A grindcore swan song
Meek is MurderAlgorithms A new wave of noisecore
Pollution PeopleFuture Trash Metalcore kids doing some growing up
These City Limits–Demos An introduction to a special blend of dark prog-rock and pop
Von WolfeLife’s a Beach Abrasive southern hardcore

Thoughts?