Best Music of 2011: DR

author DR date 14/01/12

When I first started here at Rockfreaks I had initially set out with the intention of being a bit of a miser with my grading. I was planning on being the kind of reviewer who is notoriously stingy, for no real reason whatsoever. Suffice to say that didn't exactly pan out. However, I did later realise that we have to be reserved with praise and reasonable with our grades anyway, because if we're dealing out 8s and 9s all over the place, suddenly we lose an awful amount of credibility - if everything is 'great', 'great' has no meaning.

This brings me to 2011. I'm still trying to be slightly tight-fisted with my grades, but it was hard in 2011 because the year had been nothing short of an exceptional year for music - not just for the fantastic releases that reach in to the highest echelons of scores, but also for the 'great' scores an echelon below. This has seen me deal out more 8s than any other grade (I think; can't be bothered to check). Looking back, there isn't a single album I wish I had rated a half or whole grade lower. There are some, though, that I think could have justifiably lavished even more praise on! There have been so many truly excellent releases that are likely to get lost admist all of the other really excellent releases of 2011. For instance, there were so many apparently excellent albums that I barely listened to, let alone reviewed!

Last year my article was cold, unwelcoming, and, well, very boring. This year it's just simpler, has bit more of a personal touch, and is hopefully better for it. I realise it may seem something of a wall o' text, but for it should also be formatted clear enough for those who simply want to skim-read, yet still have a bit of depth for those who like that kind of thing.


My Top 25 Songs:

This is a pretty self-explanatory list of the 25 best songs of 2011, in my opinion, of course. The one rule I had was that I was only allowed one song per album, for arbitrary reasons, really. At the bottom you'll find a Grooveshark playlist embedded, and a link to an external Spotify playlist.


25. Collapse Under The Empire - Disclosure, from "Shoulders & Giants"

I picked "Disclosure" out of every other song on the album because it's the one with the accompanying music video. This might seem a bit silly, but "Shoulders & Giants" was a genuinely cohesive listen, and sounds so much like a movie-score for an "Inception"-type thriller. In conjuction with Daniel Tassell's film, the music finds the format it is destined for, and this song ultimately stands out the most because of that.

24. Bombay Bicycle Club - Shuffle, from "A Different Kind Of Fix"

I didn't really give "A Different Kind Of Fix" a listen, although maybe I should have because this briefly-popular-on-the-music-channels single caught my attention amidst all of the blandness that usually populates mainstream indie. I don't think I have ever heard a bouncier keyboard rhythm in my life; it was certainly a master-stroke by the band to build a song around it.

23. The Felix Culpa - Towers, from "Bury The Axe"

So "Towers" was to be the penultimate song The Felix Culpa ever gave us. It would have been fitting if they had closed off the "Bury The Axe" EP with it though, as it combines everything that Culpa were so good at: the light, almost post-rock-ish melodies in the build up, well-crafted lyrics, Marky's soft, believable vocals. This is before it all erupts in everything that Culpa were great at: the ability to transition, under the lead of Marky's singing-turned-screaming, to drop all of that and finish with a crushing hardcore climax. The Felix Culpa, you will be sorely missed.

22. The Wonder Years - Hoodie Weather, from "Surburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing"

There are so many killer pop-punk anthems on "Suburbia..." that I could have conceivably chosen any of three or four songs instead of this, but I eventually settled on "Hoodie Weather" because, for me, it's this band's definitive song. It opens alluding to the college years of "My Last Semester", says how the band have grew up dramatically since the days of "Get Stoked On It", and is centred around the idea that, although they may complain about 'Philly', they'll probably spend the rest of their years there anyway as the city made them who they are. Moreover, it's one of the songs on the album where TWY dial back pop punk deliberately and allow their song-writing abilities to shine. There's a reason why The Wonder Years are one of the best pop-punk bands around right now; that reason is their ability to write songs like "Hoodie Weather".

21. Daytrader - Kill My Compass, from "Last Days of Rome"

This song is just ridiculously catchy.




20. Restorations - NonLocality, from "Self-Titled"

Punk music rarely leaves room for space in its sound, though Restorations, remarkably, not only managed to create some on their self-titled album, they made it sound natural. With fantastic punk ryhthms, alcohol-stained vocals and sky-gazing guitar-lines, "NonLocality" sets what is a wonderful album off with a firm yet graceful footstep.

19. Defeater - White Oak Doors, from "Empty Days & Sleepless Night"

"I'D RATHER DIIIIE!!!! / AT THE HAAAANDS!!!! / OF MY OWWWN!!!! / FAAAMI..."




18. The Horrible Crowes - Sugar, from "Elsie"

Fallon always struck me as a great punk singer, but who knew he could do the sultry, seductive, 'lover come over' type vocals, too? The unaffected swagger of this song is a demonstration of Fallon's abilities not only as a great song-writer, but as a versatile and soulful vocalist.


17. Algernon Cadwallader - Glenwood Ave., from "Parrot Flies"

This band, with only three members, have never had any problems in sounding big. Never has this been more evidenced as in "Glenwood Ave." Throughout its two and a half minute runtime it never ceases in its youthful (over)exuburrence, as the band decided that just the three of them simply wasn't enough. So, they brought a screaming playground full of children to yell something incoherently. It's completely absurb, but it completely works.

16. Glassjaw - You Think You're (John Fucking Lennon), from "Our Color Green"

The first one minute and twenty six seconds of this song is just the same drum beat copy + pasted over, and over, and over. It's fucking stupid! Yet, everytime I listen to this song, I listen to every second of that monotonous, glitchy tapping. In actual fact, it turned out to be a masterstroke. Now, every time I listen to this song the suspense of the drums keeps me on tenterhooks as the track edges slowly closer and closer to the thunderous roaring of Palumbo's scream that kicks the song into action. It's outrageously pretentious, and only Glassjaw could pull it off.

15. Thrice - Words In The Water, from "Major/Minor"

We all know of Dustin Kensrue's self-confessed Christianity and his consideration as his faith being the single most important thing to him in his life. However, considering Thrice a Christian band is trying to tie down a band into pigeon-holes that has long been too great for them. I don't consider myself a believer, but when I hear Kensrue sing of the 'Bible in the water' imagery so beautifully, he manages to do so in a way that is comforting and assuring, because he is so sure of his love that it doesn't matter about our own individual beliefs when listening to him. Instead, we are swept away by how soulfully he sings about topics we may not necessarily understand as he does, but through that voice we are made, at the very least, to understand his love.

14. Balance and Composure - I Tore You Apart In My Head, from "Separation"

The lyrics offered around the interwebs for this song are wrong, only slightly, but wrong nonetheless. The lyrics, when read in the CD booklet, are more clear in the overall 'message', that vocalist Jon Simmons hates someone (I'm assuming his father) for their drug-addiction. He opens the song with a cry of "I tore you apart in my head!!!" that rips through you on the 50th listen as it did on the 1st. The song progresses from their most aggressive to their most atmospheric work to date, to somewhere in the middle, as Simmons realises that, by taking solace by smoking alone his room, he, too, is a drug-addict, and ultimately no different to the person he has been hating. This leads to the most haunting delivery of the album, a rare moment of self-introspection of the otherwise outwards-facing "Separation": "And that's when I knew I was dead".

13. Funeral for a Friend - Old Hymns, from "Welcome Home Armageddon"

Funeral for a Friend were my favourite band growing up, yet after recent lacklustre albums I had all but written off "Welcome Home Armageddon" before having even heard it. Yet, as soon as instrumental opener starts with all its ambience, something Funeral... have never captured before, they sound refreshed. It leads in to "Old Hymns", which some may dispute as the 'best' song on the album, but the technical guitar-work has found new life, Matt's vocals sound as emotive as they have ever done as he bemoans a fanbase (ME!!) that was ready to give up on his band in a linear lyrical structure, getting in quickly and effectively, leaving its mark without overstaying its welcome by needlessly over-playing a chorus. It may not necessarily be the 'best' song on the album, but it's the swift kick to the testicles that fans who were ready to give up on them needed, and in doing so Funeral for a Friend have made us realise why we fell in love with them in the first place.

12. La Dispute - King Park, from "Wildlife"

"CAN I STILL GET INTO HEAVEN IF I KILL MYSELF" has become La Dispute's catchphrase. They'll probably never be able to wash off that lyric. It's almost enough to make a fan like me sick of the song, and it's possibly for the band to, too. Almost. That lines garners the most attention because it's the most dramatic, but it's not what makes the song special. What does make the song special is that finale showdown of killer versus policemen, but it's due to a culmination of fantastic song-writing, both musically and lyrically, that Jordan Dreyer's words carry so much weight.

Dreyer's story is a bit over-wrought in the build-up, but it sets the scene perfectly, while the musicianship up to the end is nothing spectacular as creates the right atmosphere to compliment the story being told. It all comes together for the end, as the repeated suspenseful guitar-line in the background raises tension within the listener as you sense something big is coming, while the rest of the band gradually increase the intensity, perfectly setting the stage for that aforemention catchphrase of a lyric. However, it is the following lines, in which this apparent cold-blooded murderer begs for forgiveness, even offering his own life in exchange for redemption, that blows right through you. So, while scene kids continue to repeat that line until the rest of us start to despise it, we shouldn't forget that "King Park" is more than that: it's a song in which La Dispute's anguish and story-telling abilities melted together perfectly.

11. Aficionado - Open Doors, from "Aficionado"

Aficionado's self-titled debut album didn't want to be just another debut. Instead, it took on slightly different topics about growing up, what it takes to be charismatic, and even questioned listeners who claim to like bands/songs/albums without even listening to or caring about what it is the band are saying. The closer, "Open Doors", is a perfect way to tie all of these themes together with an ambitious flair and raw aggression whilst still leaving it open (no pun intended) ended enough for the listener's own interpretation. During its seven-minute runtime frontman Nick Warchol writes of wanting to be able to see things from the perspective of others, and therefore, maybe, being able to understand the world around him more. If more people had this mindset and more people were willing to open their minds then bands like Aficionado would get the attention their talent deserves, because this song is utterly eye-opening. Or should that be ear-opening?

10. Radiohead - Give Up The Ghost, from "The King of Limbs"

The minimalistic nature of "The King of Limbs" took a few by surprise, which led to the album being one of their most divisive. One thing that a lot of Radiohead fans seemed to agree on, though, was that "Give Up The Ghost" is just typical Radiohead brilliance. The composition is dominated by Yorke's wonderful vocals and the gentle picking of an acoustic guitar, and for most artists that would be enough, but Radiohead being Radiohead decided to add a few more instruments. This included a horn in the background and a slight effect on Yorke's voice, ultimately endowing the song with that mark of Radiohead brilliance.

9. Bon Iver - Beth/Rest, from "Bon Iver, Bon Iver"

The journey of "Bon Iver, Bon Iver" was one of a lot of guest-instruments, and I mean a lot. "Beth/Rest", too, has a few, but it closes off the album with a throwback to 80s soft-rock dominated by Vernon and his love of 80s balladry. You either loved this song or you hated it. To me, it made perfect sense as a hopeful closer. Amist the electronic slant, auto-tuned vocals and the borderline cheesy guitar work is an honest affection, and if Vernon hadn't created this with 100% sincerity it would not have worked. But he did. Therefore, this love-song works, and works magnificently.

8. Sleepmakeswaves - a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, from "...and so we destroyed everything"

As the quiet murmuring of the guitar welcomes you into the first of eleven minutes, the last thing you're expecting is the click of a tape recorder and Matt Finney's sombre spoken words to set the tone for this post-rock epic. As Finney concludes his cameo, the pulsating guitars take matters into their own hands, driving the song onwards and upwards into an early wall of sound as though to take it upon themselves to be the bigger picture Finney so ominously predicts. After seemingly exhausting themselves, the members take a few moments to calm before launching everything they have at one awesome final climax. If any song from 2011 is likely to leave you breathless and loving every moment of it, it is this post-rock brute.

7. Hyro Da Hero - Section 8, from "Birth, School, Work, Death"

Section 8 is something to do with low-income households in America, which involves the government paying the difference between what the tenant can afford to pay and what the landlord is asking to be paid. Hyro Da Hero takes on not the idea of Section 8 itself, but the communities and areas that it breeds. Throughout this battle-cry Hyro is always growing in intensity, but never past the point where he loses control, even as he screams "Murder! Murder!! Murder!!!". With punk-royalty from At The Drive-In, Idiot Pilot, and The Blood Brothers behind him, Hyro has the fitting musical backdrop for his impassioned vocals as he cries "I don't want to be in Section 8! Get us out of Section 8!". He 'raps' so passionately that it drives his vocals to deliver his words at an absurb speed, almost making the punk-rhythms behind him seem sluggish. Rap and punk might not be expected to co-exist in the same album, but with efforts like "Section 8" Hyro Da Hero transcends boundaries and trends in a manner that can be appreciated whatever your musical fancy.

6. Thursday - Sparks Against The Sun, from "No Devolución"

The textures of this song are impeccable, from the astute timing of the piano to the rumbling of the bass at the centre of this song, to the heavenly guitars, to the game-esque electronics and Geoff Rickley's atmospheric vocals. What I like about this song is that there is almost no trace of the post-hardcore band they used to be in it. Not that there is anything wrong with their former selves, but it's pleasing to hear Thursday cut all ties with their past and venture into experimental waters, and do it this successfully. Rickley may assume Thursday will "disappear, just like the little sparks against the sun", but any band who can create music this beautiful and surpassing need not be quite so humble.

5. Hugh Laurie - St. James Infirmary, from "Let Them Talk"

Hugh Laurie has become reknown for his acting abilities. However, without delving into a biography of his previous works, he is, believe it or not, one of those gifted, multi-faceted people. In particular, one who is blessed with a musical ear. So, the only surprise that he decided to release an album should be that it was a blues one. A white middle-class Englishman covering New Orleans blues? It shouldn't work, yet it does. Of the album, which I may one day get around to reviewing, I found opening piece "St. James Infirmary" (originally by Louis Armstrong) the jewel in the crown. It's a song of two parts: the instrumental mood-setting opening, and then the moment when the protagonist enters the infirmary and sees his 'baby' dead. This song has been covered an awful lot, so much so that Laurie's version is likely to get lost along with many other versions sitting below the original, but if you are willing to overlook Laurie's decent-at-best voice and instead admire the brilliant story-telling within the composition of the musicianship, Laurie left a mark on this song he can call his own.

4. This Will Destroy You - Killed The Lord, Left For The New World, from "Tunnel Blanket"

Sitting as a beacon of light amidst the secluded and dark post-apocalyptic world of "Tunnel Blanket", this William Bazinski-esque gem takes the 'less is more' mentality, offering a brief moment for the listener to catch air, a period of light shining down from the heavens amidst the storm. The steady drum beats, sliding pedal effects from the guitars and even the voices of children in the background make an odd combination for a song, but this piece stands as a testament that This Will Destroy You can no longer be tied down to post-rock, and if they keep producing songs as good as this, it's surely for the better.

3. Tangled Thoughts of Leaving - They Found My Skull In The Nest Of A Bird, from "Deaden The Fields"

At fourteen minutes long this track is easily the longest on this list. Don't let that put you off, though. This song changes in character and shape enough times to seize the attention of any fan of musical artistry. There are a plethora of sounds utilised, the detailing of which would take a review in itself, but from the pianos that dances throughout to the psychotic electronics adding a gloss to the composition, to the references of metal-influenced guitar-noise, this song is far more ambitious than it has any right to be. It's a breath-takingly brilliant execution of how to write a song seemingly in free form mode, that changes in shape too many times to count on one hand, yet come the final moments all the loose ends are tied together. It all makes perfect sense. That song title is no ordinary song title, this song is no ordinary song, and Tangled Thoughts of Leaving are no ordinary band, that's for sure.

2. Pianos Become The Teeth - I'll Get By, from "The Lack Long After"

For a band often attributed as combining hardcore and post-rock, I never really heard a lot this supposed combination in "The Lack Long After". Except in closer "I'll Get By". It's less constricted than the rest of album, allowing more room for the space of post-rock to come to the fore as vocalist Kyle Durfey choses opportune moments to scream, often opting to speak as though he's doing so directly to his passed-father. He sounds sincerely tortured at the worst of times throughout the album, but "I'll Get By" is a message of positivity, ultimately building to the crescendo when all emotions boil and agonising tension is released, brooding and building to the moment of realisation and acceptance: "I want you to know I'll get by, always barely scraping / with just a hunger, with just a heart apart / it's a hell of a thing". Few, if any, songs from 2011 felt as raw, honest, powerful or down-right life-affirming as "I'll Get By".

1. Bon Iver - Holocene, from "Bon Iver, Bon Iver"

Well fucking duh. I know I said I was going to limit it to one song per album, but come on, it's "Holocene"! It's hard to put into words why this song is so special, probably because there is so much going on it that you're not sure where to start. Everything is built from the base of a simple arpeggio on the guitar, stretching to the heavenly highs of Justin Vernon's vocals as he makes simple lyrics sound angelic, while in between is an astounding amount of cameo instruments. Yet, Vernon's trademark intimacy is never in danger despite this grand production scale. Therein lies the brilliance of "Holocene" and ultimately "Bon Iver, Bon Iver": he's still that man who wrote that album that cabin in those woods, but he's finally found the light. "Holocene" is, well, magnificent.

Spotify Playlist

Grooveshark Playlist:

Top 25 Songs of 2011, by DR. by AirIndex on Grooveshark


My Top 25 Albums:

Last year I did two separate sections for the best EPs and LPs, but this year they'll all be under one list. There are some albums that I never got around to really listening to, let alone reviewing, such as the new albums from And So I Watch You From Afar, Russian Circles, Fucked Up, Maybeshewill, O'Brother, Mogwai and Destroyer, so that's why they are excluded. Otherwise...

25. The Guru - Native Sun

If any 'other' band had wrote "Native Sun", the level of imagination, energy and technical ability on show would be considered impressive. Factor in that the members are still only teenagers, not even of drinking age in America, and it's dazzling. They're not stuck in that phase that most bands seem to begin in, where it's blatantly obvious who their influences are because they 'borrow' from them so unashamedly. Instead, The Guru offered one of the most refreshing and energetic albums of 2011, and it's only the beginning for these guys.

24. Beware of Safety - Leaves/Scars

2011 was a decent year for post-rock, by all accounts. There were quality releases that I managed to get around to reviewing, and then others that received acclaim but I never found time to even listen to, let alone review. In the midst of all of this was Beware of Safety's third full-length "Leaves/Scars", which seemed to get lost, unfortunately. Unlike many of their contemporaries, they know how to make an album flow with beast-like moments of heaviness and periods of serene beauty married. It's a shame this didn't get the attention it deserves because this execution of post-rock-cum-metal was as assured and nailed on as any you're likely to hear from 2011.

23. Contemporary Noise Sextet - Ghostwriter's Joke

It had been a great year for Denovali Records. They would certainly get my 'Label of The Year' award, if I had one. I could have chosen a handful of their releases and scattered them throughout my list, but only two made the final cut. One of which is Contemporary Noise Sextet's modern re-imagining of jazz, "Ghostwriter's Joke". It has the overall aesthetics of really fine jazz, but with a contemporary twist. That's what makes this record great, in my opinion, because while it's technically stunning and very much a throwback record, it doesn't sound out of date.

22. Collapse Under The Empire - Shoulders & Giants

Released shortly after their decent split with Mooncake, this duo from Germany defied expectations by not releasing an out and out post-rock album. Instead, it was one that could, and should, be used as a film soundtrack. The attention to detail put into the album in the production is clear as you listen, and it's this attention to their songs and the sounds within that make "Shoulders & Giants" a thrilling listen.


21. The Horrible Crowes - Elsie

This is an album I got into late in the year, but "Elsie" earned many repeats throughout December. I was never a big fan of The Gaslight Anthem, but it's hard to deny the song-writing abilities of Brian Fallon and the musical talent of guitarist Ian Perkins. "Elsie" is twelve wonderful songs of love and romanticism, the charm of which is incredibly difficult to deny.


20. Radiohead - The King of Limbs

"The King of Limbs" certainly sparked a lot of discussion, as Radiohead often do, but even though it wouldn't be ranked among their best albums, the world of this album is entrancing in its own right. It's one of the most affecting headphone albums of 2011.


19. Moonlit Sailor - Colors In Stereo

Disappointingly excellent. That's how I initially felt about "Colors In Stereo". It was billed by their (great) label Deep Elm Records as some otherwordly, epic masterpiece - which it isn't. After a few spins I learned to take it for what it is: their colourful post-rock/indie sound without the fat. Ultimately, it wasn't a masterpiece, but it was one of the finest instrumental works of 2011. Still, this band have the potential to be so much more. 'Disappointingly excellent' is still how I feel about "Colors In Stereo". For most post-rock bands that would be more than enough, but Moonlit Sailor are a cut above most post-rock bands, even when they are 'disappointing'.

18. Terra Tenebrosa - The Tunnels

I've been getting into post-metal a fair amount this year, and Terra Tenebrosa's "The Tunnels" was the finest the genre had to offer (that I heard). What made this album stand out above the others was how it was though the metal aspect of this album was merely a by-product of their desire to create the most, twisted, unwelcoming, scary, sounds as possible. It would be terrifying, if it wasn't for the tiny factor that it's utterly captivating in the best of ways.

17. Terminal Sound System - Heavy Weather

It blows my mind that Terminal Sound System is only one man. As "Heavy Weather" progresses throughout its hour-long runtime it delves into varying sounds and atmospheres seamlessly, from crushing post-metal to Massive Attack-esque ambience. How TSS incorporates so many influences and experiments so much yet never loses control of the album's coloured thread is astounding.


16. Heinali and Matt Finney - Ain't No Night

The concept of a depressed spoken-word mumbler from Alabama teaming up with a Ukranian 'doomgaze' composer is not something that should have worked, but it somehow did. They've only been working together for a short space of time, but haven't been shy in releasing material. And, with each new release, they have got gradually better. "Ain't No Night" is, logically, their best work yet. No longer is Heinali's 'doomgaze' inhospitable, there's a lot of space there for Matt Finney's interesting words. "Ain't No Night" is the sound of two artists, continents apart, finding each other's groove.

15. Restorations - Self-Titled

The idea of Restorations' "Self-Titled" album is relatively simply: spacious punk. It would seem an odd concept as the two words wouldn't seem to suit each other, in theory. However, Restorations made it work without doing anything too complex, convoluted or complicated, ultimately proving there is beauty within simplicity.



14. Funeral for a Friend - Welcome Home Armageddon

After a few member shuffles around the time of their debut EP, Funeral for a Friend were a band who's only drama stemmed from being pushed in a direction by their major-label they obviously didn't much care for. The band itself always struck as a tight-knit group, so it was a surprise when two of the members (Darran Smith, guitar; Gareth Davis, bass) left, albeit on positive terms. It transpired to be a blessing in disguise with the two new members giving the band fresh impetus. "Welcome Home Armageddon", in a sense, felt like a debut. The technical riffage was fresh and Matt and Ryan's vocal interplay had renewed energy. Funeral for a Friend sounded more like FFAF than they have done in years. The band essentially have a second-chance because of this album, let's hope they capitalise on it.

13. Tangled Thoughts of Leaving - Deaden The Fields

It would take a band of seriously-endowed genitalia to even entertain the idea of writing songs that last ten-minutes plus, let alone write an album that contains three of them. "Deaden The Fields" has only six songs yet lasts an hour. But, even through the eccentric, cataclysmic song-structures, you get the idea there's a method to Tangled Thoughts of Leaving's madness. I don't understand what that method is, but maybe I'm not supposed to. What I should know is that Tangled Thoughts of Leaving do know, and that's all that matters.

12. Aficionado - Aficionado

Instead of being psuedo-political or such, Aficionado instead ask questions of the listener about pretty ordinary things that I've rarely heard bands ask, such as "do you really like the music you listen to?". What's more, they've done so with interesting songs that lean on many bands but without copying any particular styles, and with a passionate punk edge and intelligent, direct and honest lyrics. There might very well be bands out there who have 'something to say', but I've rarely come across a band who articulate such messages into memorable songs as well as Aficionado.

11. Monument - Goes Canoeing

This is the highest ranking album to not have any song from it included in the song list above. This is because "Goes Canoeing" is one of those albums that works best as an album, rather than a collection of songs. There's no discernable theme or thread running through the lyrics or anything like that, but at a brief twenty-nine minutes "Goes Canoeing" is a quick burst of an emo/indie album that encapsulates everything great about this style whilst also giving it new breath.


10. This Will Destroy You - Tunnel Blanket

Their self-titled debut was, in a way, the post-rock album to end all post-rock albums. I don't mean that it was just that good, but it was every post-rock album ever rolled into one. For new-comers to the genre, such as myself, this was a good thing. However, the band are now done with 'post-rock'. Fans of "Young Mountain" wouldn't recognise the band who knew how to create simple yet engaging melodies, as "Tunnel Blanket" is a claustrophic, suffocating album that can only be experienced, not heard. Twelve-minute opener "Little Smoke" is relentess, distorted ambient throbbing that tells you everything you need to know about this new change in direction. This Will Destroy You don't give a fuck, though. They are doing their own thing, which is going to cause them to lose a few fans in the process, but that's what you get for progression - even if it pays off like "Tunnel Blanket" does.

9. Hyro Da Hero - Birth, School, Work, Death

This stigma attatched to hip-hop, that it's all about money, women, cars and jewellery, is as cliche as all the hip-hop that revels in such stereotypes. There are rappers out there who don't care about the money, who have something to say and an eloquent and passionate tongue with which to say it. Hyro Da Hero is one of these. With a backing band comprised of former At The Drive-In, Idiot Pilot and The Blood Brothers members, nobody can doubt the rock credentials of "Birth, School, Work, Death". It stumbled upon comparisons with Rage Against The Machine, no less, and without actually meaning to sound like them. Hyro Da Hero might well be on his way to not only changing hip-hop, but perceptions surrounding it, too.

8. Balance and Composure - Separation

Full disclosure: Balance and Composure are a band I have been following since their very first EP. They have become one of those bands I would comfortably class as one of my favourites, if not my very favourite. Maybe it's that I have been following this band since around the time they begun, maybe it's that members are all (roughly) about my age, maybe it's their killer live show, or maybe "Separation" really is one of the best debut albums of 2011. Given how they've blown up in 2011, I'd say it's the latter. The first five songs in particular are excellent, but then so are the ones after it! This demonstrates their variation, from the aggressive "I Tore You Apart In My Head", the dragging opener "Void", to balladic "Stonehands", to southern-y "Galena", to the epic "Patience". It has been awesome listening to B&C grow up and mature so far, with "Separation" being their most mature, and best, output yet. It seems inevitable that they'll become one of those seminal bands that, in five/ten years time, we can say 'we were there'.

7. The Wonder Years - Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing

I think it's great that pop punk has had the heart shoved back in it in recent years, and I think The Wonder Years' third album and masterpiece is possibly the best release in the genre that I have heard [note: I haven't heard that many]. What stands out most about it, though, is it's not your typical boy-likes-girl pop punk, but it deals with the problems of growing up in a sketchy town, and about how your friends are what get you through the days. They did so with incredibly memorable pop punk epics bursting with positive messages, like "Came Out Swinging" and "Local Man Ruins Everything". Is the concept album where the genre is headed? Maybe, and if so it will be The Wonder Years leading the charge.

6. Thrice - Major/Minor

From my review of this album to my too lengthy retrospective piece that I'm sure almost nobody read, I'm still not even sick of writing about Thrice. A band like Thrice is worthy of being gushed over, which is basically all I've ever done about them. Their 'final' album, "Major/Minor", generally had the feel of a band coming to the end of their career, at least for now. The band seemed to settle on a sound that had a comfortable feel to it, as though they were trying to remind us of what has made them great for so long. The sentiment that the album ends on with "Disharmed", the idea that death has had its sting removed, is one of epic proportions, and a fitting way to end their career given the year the members have individually had. No ordinary band could sum up such feelings so gracefully, but Thrice are not an ordinary band: They're Thrice.

5. Sleepmakeswaves - ...and so we destroyed everything

There's nothing too original about what Sleepmakeswaves did on their previous releases, or indeed on this, but they are one of those post-rock bands who just seem to know the genre and how to do it right. They showed progression in developing their electronic side for the quieter moments, which gives a nice balance to the loud guitar-driven crescendos in efforts like "to you they are birds, to me they are voices in the forest" and "a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun". "...and so we destroyed everything" was the stand-out post-rock album of 2011, in my opinion, and it became so by offering little more than the genre perfected. That's all they've needed to do, though.

4. Pianos Become The Teeth - The Lack Long After

2011 was an awesome year for hardcore. I know some people prefer the albums by Touché Amoré or Defeater to this, but for me, neither of them marked me like "The Lack Long After". This album, this brutal, relentless, depressing, agonising epic of an album tore through me like a bullet through a bottle. This is largely due to Kyle Durfey. Listening to him I felt scared. Imagine that: a vocalist in so much pain that fear overcomes the listener! It's like hearing someone scream because of his suffering, knowing full-well that you'll one day have to go through that same thing. I have never heard any vocalist sound as tormented as he does on this. He sounds as though he needed to purge his emotions out in whatever form they came - they just happened to come, for the most part, in the most tortured screaming you're going to hear from 2011.

However, at the end comes shades of optimism in "I'll Get By", and that's why you keep coming back to it. It's not a monotonous journey of anguish, it's a cycle of learning to deal with watching your father die, and trying to overcome it. It's so viciously open-wounded and caused by such a specific pain that they'll probably never capture this intensity again, but that's okay, because we'll always have "The Lack Long After" and the marks it inflicts upon us.

3. Thursday - No Devolución

I was never a particularly great fan of Thursday. I guess it's because I never grew up with them. I was certainly aware of them, and I could hear the influence they had on the scene, but I never quite understood why they meant so much to so many people. Yes, this band helped define what a genre meant, but they seemed unable to shake it off as it clung to the bottom of their feet while they tried more ambitious albums later in their career. However, with "No Devolución" they decided that rather than scrape that genre off the bottom of the shoes, they'd instead chop their feet off. "No Devolución" succeeds in that Thursday, the post-hardcore band, had no right to write an art rock masterpiece like this - but they did anyway! The songs here are so beautiful and at the same time so far removed from their previous band that it's nothing short of astounding. It's fitting, really, that almost ten years after possibly their most popular album, "Full Collapse", they release possibly their greatest album, "No Devolución". Moreover, they signed off with a message that they've lived by: "Stay True". Unaffected by not being rewarded with grand lumps of money, nor chasing after it, Thursday were a band that always remained true.

2. La Dispute - Wildlife

I've never quite agreed with La Dispute being classed as a hardcore band - their sound has too much going on for such pigeon-holing, and I don't think hardcore-purists, nor La Dispute themselves, much care for it, either.

Now that's out of the way: Of all the albums I listened to in 2011, "Widlife" was definitely the most challenging. From the vaguely post-hardcore musicianship, to the folk-y experimental sounds, it's an album of such density, especially lyrically, that you're never quite sure how to approach it. Its predecessor was melodramatic and contained a lot of lyrics, but it was relatively thin and single-tracked in its themes. With "Wildlife", however, La Dispute grew up! Jordan Dreyer no longer yelps of lost love, but he speaks, shouts, sings, and screams of complex emotions through a character two, three times his age, almost like an actor, and he does so of the sort of despair that only comes from a slowly worn-down life and increasingly defeated soul.

This album has so much going on that almost every time you listen to it you'll likely discover something new about it. If you want to take it solely as a collection of songs, you can. If you want to take it as a concept album, you can. If you want to delve really deep into the meaning behind each introduction beginning the with a lowercase "a" in the title, and then draw parralells from the short stories/songs to them, you can. The care and attention La Dispute put into "Wildlife" is remarkable. Therefore, "Wildlife" should be that album that sees people stop taking them as that immature band who used 'darling' and 'lover' a lot. La Dispute are now a genuine, respectable, and mature, artistic force, and "Wildlife" is indisputable proof of that.


1. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver

An obvious choice for number one, maybe, but that's because there obviously haven't been many, if any, better albums this year. Some fans seemed to abandon it for essentially not being "For Emma, Forever Ago: Part Two". No, Justin Vernon didn't sit down in a lonely cabin and write songs on his guitar, but those who were expecting that have missed the point entirely of "Bon Iver, Bon Iver". Vernon is no longer the guy secluded in the woods, he has long since left that cabin behind.

Justin Vernon avoided writing a follow-up to the raw and bleak "For Emma..." by instead painting colourful and polished mosaics. Now Bon Iver is a group effort. This meant a lot of guest instrumentalists were utilised in recording, all seemingly allowed to exhude as much creativity as possible, under the watchful producing-eye of Justin Vernon, of course. Consider the fact that this record was possibly the most extravagant in terms of production of any in 2011, it is so deliberately over-the-top, its horizon is so ridiculously expansive, yet it's held together and grounded by Vernon's trademark intimacy. When he sings he's clearly the same guy he was a few years ago, he's just a few years older now, and without such a massive beard. That's the remarkable thing about "Bon Iver, Bon Iver": it's as far removed from "For Emma, Forever Ago" as Vernon could get it, but it's still the next logical step; the spring after winter.

"Bon Iver, Bon Iver" is an album that outright refuses to settle, constantly shooting for a sound as excessive as possible, yet it's never in danger of becoming over-stretched. Therein lies the brilliance of this album: affecting beauty seems to come effortlessly for Bon Iver, and "Bon Iver, Bon Iver" is simply over-flowing with it.


Honourable Mentions:

It has been a great year for the 'wave' of hardcore in terms of quality and in terms of quantity. Despite leaving both out of my list, I had spun the albums by Defeater and Touché Amoré many times, they just seemed to go down in my estimations once Pianos Become The Teeth hit me.

Denovali Records had a pretty great year, as along with Contemporary Noise Sextet and Terminal Sound System, the likes of Blueneck, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation and Omega Massif released fine albums.

If you're looking for a post-rock fix, you wouldn't go wrong with the latest albums by Kerretta, Our Ceasing Voice, They Say We're Sinking or Kovlo.

Otherwise, the following albums are definitely worth a listen if you missed them: Transit's "Listen & Forgive"; Algernon Cadwallader's "Parrot Flies"; Bayside's "Killing Time"; Cattle Drums' "The Boy Kisser Sessions +3"; Hawkboy's "Hawkboy"; Sainthood Reps' "Monoculture"; Dads' "Brush Your Teeth"; Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Esate)'s "Home After Three Months Away".

As for 2012...

Well, with so many awesome releases from last year, it's going to be interesting to see if 2012 will come anywhere close to it, let alone top it. It'd be amazing if it did, but even looking at some of the bands (off the top of my head) who will likely release new albums, such as mewithoutYou, The Appleseed Cast, Oceana, Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate), Circle Takes The Square, fun., Letlive, we are certainly in for a good year. Whether or not it will be a great year... I guess we'll just have to wait and see!


Thanks for reading!

P.S. It really fucking sucks that we lost Thrice, Thursday and The Felix Culpa all in one year.

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