Best Music Of 2011: AP

author AP date 25/01/12

So what happened in 2011? If you ask me, it has been an exceptionally good year for music, one which will be remembered for years to come. It was the year in which djent, wave and a new breed of punk rock established a strong presence in contemporary music, and provided countless new thinkers, breakthroughs and positive surprises. It seems like we've been dishing out 8's and above with an unusual frequency, but that's simply because they have been well and duly deserved. From each movement I could mention more worthwhile bands than you'd care to read about, but if I were to limit my choices to the pioneering forces, I would point you in the direction of Circles, TesseracT and Uneven Structure; Defeater, La Dispute and Touché Amoré; and Living With Lions, Polar Bear Club and Make Do and Mend, some of which also populate my top albums list a few scrolls down.

2011 was also the year that saw unprecedentedly many Danish bands release impressive albums, even by international standards. Although most of these are not on par with the best albums of the year overall, many of them can be considered equally promising as the wealth of exciting bands coming out of the UK right now. A Road to Damascus, for instance, would not look or sound out of place supporting Deaf Havana, Young Guns or Lower Than Atlantis, while Siamese Fighting Fish, Scarred by Beauty, Essence and By the Patient have established a permanent presence in the European touring cycle, offering serious competition to the leading post-hardcore, metalcore, thrash and death metal acts of the continent. Mark my words: these bands are going places in 2012.

But without a doubt the most exciting development for me has been the immense growth of Rockfreaks.net, primarily due to the long-awaited release of our new website, and consequently our ability to organize events like the first annual bus trip to Groezrock, on which we ferried a joyous crowd of 50 readers to Belgium to watch some of the finest punk, rock and hardcore acts in the world. Our commitment to covering as many rock shows as possible on a weekly basis also meant that we were able to negotiate an arrangement with BETA – Shit Island Clubbing to host our monthly All Killer – No Filler shows and club nights curated by our staff, the first of which was a resounding success. It sold out. In the coming year we hope to replicate that success, and we already have two confirmed events coming up, featuring concerts by Integrity, Rot in Hell and Parasight, and Bane, Cruel Hand and Rotting Out, respectively. A huge thank you to Mikkel Wad Larsen for helping us realize this long-time ambition of ours, and to our dedicated Danish readership for your continued support.

Now, enough with the rambling; the purpose of this article is for you to discover what were the essential albums of 2011 according to me. These are listed below. Remember also to download my soundtrack to 2011 for some of the year’s best tunes.

The most killer tunes of 2011

Rather than embedding only a limited selection of songs that Grooveshark has, or simply listing the songs here in plain text, I’ve created a playlist on Spotify, which you can download here. In order to listen to it, you will of course need to download the program.

The most rocking albums of 2011

21. Thursday – No Devolución

Sadly this album was to be Thursday’s swan song, putting the grand total of influential bands meeting their demise in 2011 at two (Thrice appears closer to the bottom of this list). It saw Thursday make their most significant changes yet, moving into more atmospheric territory and leaving their post-hardcore roots well and truly behind. But when a pack of masterminds like Thursday try their hands at something new, you can bet your balls it’s going to rock nonetheless – and this is exactly what “No Devolución” proves.

20. Blindside – With Shivering Hearts We Wait

Despite continuing internal problems, Blindside managed to push out their most mature release to date. “With Shivering Hearts We Wait” is riddled with powerful anthems that – despite bulging pop sensibilities – never venture too far into radio rock territory, but manage to engage the listener with an instant effect. Songs like “There Must be Something in the Water” and “Withering” are examples of masterfully written post-hardcore, with spine-tingling emotion galore.

19. Darkest Hour – The Human Romance

Although they are still wrongfully dubbed a metalcore band, Darkest Hour released what is arguably the best melodic death metal album of 2011. In a time when even the legends of the genre are exploring a more pop-oriented sound, Darkest Hour have remained true to their influences and continued putting out albums that honestly don’t sound all that different from one another at regular intervals. But even so, the quality of the music is dizzying every time. Quite simply: Darkest Hour write some of the best riffs on the stateside, and there is plenty of them here.

18. The Wonder Years – Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing

On their previous albums The Wonder Years never managed to speak to me, in part due to the low key production and haphazard inclusion of synths, and in part due to the lack of seriousness of their lyrics. But all that has changed with “Suburbia…”, which is set to become this band’s defining album. Gone is the adolescent humor and poor production: in its place are a heartfelt message and a crisp, modern production. The Wonder Years became mature, and put out one of the best pop punk albums of the year.

17. Living with Lions – Holy Shit

The forecast says Living with Lions are the future of punk rock, and this album is the proof. It takes some time and patience before “Holy Shit” exposes its full rewards, but when it does, what you have on your hands is one of the most infectious and intelligent punk rock albums this year. Living With Lions are not afraid to paint their songs with pop colors to get their message across, which also explains why this album failed to open itself for me before I had witnessed the band live twice. Mark my words, these guys will be playing big stages in no time, and the sing-songs will be humongous.

16. Essence – Lost in Violence

As this is the only Danish album on my list this year, it should be your cue to download it straight away. Essence took the country by storm last year, unleashing not just one of the best thrash metal albums ever to come out of Denmark, but indisputably one of the best thrash metal albums of the year in general. Essence proved that it doesn’t take decades of experience to produce old school thrash metal on par with the giants. What separates this album from the host of other thrash metal albums coming out every year is that Essence are also not afraid to incorporate influences from a variety of genres into their music, resulting in songs that are as instantly memorable as they are punishing. Essence will be going places this year.

15. Mastodon – The Hunter

On “The Hunter”, Mastodon paradoxically return to their roots and continue to push their sound beyond heavy metal conventions. The meandering prog of “Crack the Skye” is but a distant memory; instead, the focus here is on striking heavy metal bangers like “Curl of the Burl” that are sure to induce large-angle headbanging in concerts. But at the same time, “The Hunter” manages to combine both the acidic sound and cleaner vocal style of the 2009 behemoth, and the muscular grooves of old. Mastodon are well on their way to becoming one of our generation’s biggest and most respected metal bands and “The Hunter” is proof their potential has not even been fully realized yet.

14. Glassjaw – Our Color Green EP

Granted, these may not all be new songs per se, having been released via various obscure viral marketing campaigns over the course of several years, but for fans of Glassjaw, who have been awaiting new material from the band far too long, this is still golden stuff. “Our Color Green” is one of two new EPs released by Glassjaw in 2011, and while the post-rock tendencies of “Coloring Book” were certainly full of promise, the combination of introspection and raw fury on this disc is in a class of its own.

13. Defeater – Empty Days & Sleepless Nights

That Defeater’s latest creation lands at “only” number 13 on this list should not be seen as off-putting. It might not have struck me with quite as much force as the three other “wave” albums in the higher positions of my list, but when you listen to as much music as we at Rockfreaks.net do in any given year, the 13th best album is always worth your time. What separates Defeater from most hardcore bands is their unique approach to lyrics, which are based on stories set in the 1920s, not to mention the urgency with which they are told. But even if it’s just the music we’re talking about, Defeater is onto something great this time with their constantly evolving melodies, clever refrains and transcendental build-ups.

12. Thrice – Major/Minor

Although some say that Thrice were at their best on “Vheissu” and everything that came before it, I have always considered “Beggars” to be the finest release by the band yet. No wonder it landed comfortably in my top 5 of 2009. This new disc, “Major/Minor”, might not be on par with its brilliance, but it still cements Thrice as one of the best and most innovative rock bands of our time. They have always had the unique ability to make me all watery-eyed live, so unsurprisingly it was on the verge of tears that I received news that Thrice would be calling it a day now, making “Major/Minor” their bittersweet swan song.

11. The Carrier – Blind to What is Right

Sadly this album turned out to be The Carrier’s swan song – but a triumphant one at that. Intricately layered legato melodies, driving hardcore riffs and suffocating intensity combine in the best melodic hardcore album of 2011. The lyrics are alarming; the screams soaked in despair; and the instrumentation bears witness to a band at the absolute top of their game. “Blind to What is Right” sends The Carrier to hardcore history books in style.

10. Today I Caught the Plague – Lore

What happens when you combine the youthful extroversion of Protest the Hero with the ambition of Between the Buried and Me and color it grey? The answer is “Lore”, the debut album by little-known progressive metal group Today I Caught the Plague. Virtually the entire album plays like one guitar- and keyboard solo, with beautiful, triple-layered neoclassical arpeggios dominating the soundscape. The fact that Dave Journeaux’s singing often nears the sublime is merely a bonus.

09. TesseracT – One

TesseracT’s take on the djent genre is dark and melancholic, with lengthy progressions and haunting background ambience creating a mysterious context for the thick djent grooves that give “One” its pulse. This is no ordinary djent group, but a strange concoction of Tool-like mystique and Meshuggah’s dire guitar tone and odd meter riffs. Not only is this one of the best releases in the genre thus far, “One” is also unwittingly the progressive metal album of the year.

08. La Dispute – Wildlife

On this second album La Dispute demote the guitarists to providing the context for Jordan Dreyer’s anguished storytelling rather than delivering jagged, reverberating riffs, and the result is stunning. “Wildlife” plays almost like a poem; with the musicians shadowing Dreyer’s every note with frightening accuracy. Intricately layered, intelligently arranged, and downright disturbing, “Wildlife” might demand patience from the listener, but the end rewards are immense. As far as the “wave” movement goes, it will surely be considered a masterpiece in its own right in the years to come.

07. Pianos Become the Teeth – The Lack Long After

This album was a late entrant on this list, but the impact it bestowed upon me was no less powerful. Combining classic screamo with hardcore and post-rock, Pianos Become the Teeth are the fourth quintessential “wave” band to make it into my top albums this year; there is simply no way music this charged with emotion won’t leave a lasting impression. For me, “The Lack Long After” is one of the most riveting albums of the year; a genuine maelstrom of despair, anguish and darkness – with a cinematic backdrop. Fantastic stuff.

06. Deaf Havana – Fools and Worthless Liars

Deaf Havana underwent a major transformation this year after the loss of their front man and screaming vocalist Ryan Mellor. His role was hesitantly absorbed by the band’s humble driving force, James Veck-Gilodi, whose stage fright and frustration with the band’s persistent inability to break through form the backbone of what is one of the best, and certainly most honest British rock albums this year. Few could have predicted the quality and frightening consistency of the band’s second coming with “Fools and Worthless Liars”, an album that epitomizes the resurgence of British rock music and raises Veck-Gilodi to a well-deserved pedestal. This guy’s voice is as unbelievable as the frankness of his lyrics; no wonder every tune on the album sticks like a leech on the first listen.

05. Touché Amoré – Parting the Sea between Brightness and Me

As one of the proprietors of the “wave” movement, it comes as no surprise that Touché Amoré belongs among its best practitioners. With virtually every song clocking in at less than two minutes, this is a band that understands how to convey urgency – short and precise, songs like “~” and “Method Act” epitomize the conviction, intensity and fury characteristic of this movement. These songs may not tell stories like Defeater and La Dispute, but they do pull the listener into the midst of vocalist Jeremy Bolm’s cathartic storm and unleash a maelstrom of emotions.

04. Make Do and Mend – End Measured Mile

Although this album has been available since 2010 in the States, its official European release took place in 2011, which entitles me to include it in this list. True this sounds precariously similar to Hot Water Music, but the gruff vocals, powerful expression, and unbridled passion evident in every song, not to mention the instant memorability of the whole thing, makes this the punk rock record of the year for me. Starting with the brilliant “Unknowingly Strong”, this album is packed to the brim with pissed off sing-alongs à la “Ghostal”, “Transparent Seas” and “Thanks” that should transform their set at Groezrock this year into an absolute rager.

03. Uneven Structure – Februus

Much has been said of the burgeoning djent scene. Some call it a fluke and a pseudo-genre; others embrace it as progress. Uneven Structure simply play it: unembellished, unapologetic djent, the way it was meant to be played when Meshuggah originally conceived of it. “Februus” might have been two years in the making, but its release this year was no less symbolic given the band’s ability to distill everything that rules about the sound – all the intensity, time-bending instrumentation and futuristic concepts – into one album which, just ahead of TesseracT’s “One”, takes the prize as the best album yet in the genre. Just listen to the opening track “Awaken” and tell me that crescendo isn’t immense.

02. Envy – Recitation

The influence of this Japanese screamo/post-metal group is undeniable; yet somehow, their legend has always escaped me. Until this year, that is. Envy’s latest creation, “Recitation”, came to my attention first and utmost because of their fantastic performance at Beta in October, and since then, this album has been making regular and frequent waves in my earphones. Indeed, “Recitation” is best enjoyed this way rather than through speakers, as it is an album in which to immerse yourself. It is a lesson in writing post-rock, post-metal and post-hardcore, its moods and atmospheres constructed with an unparalleled attention to texture and detail. It is as uplifting as it is epic – a true demonstration of music as art. If bands like Devil Sold His Soul and Rinoa appeal to you, do yourself a favor to find out where their inspiration comes from.

It always sends ripples into the comment section when we slab that coveted 10 as the grade for an album – and believe me have I regretted doing so on more than one occasion a couple of months after – but in this case I feel I have no need to defend my decision. Machine Head faced a difficult challenge after “The Blackening”, which I feel is one of the best metal albums of the decade and would certainly also have graded a 10, for how could they possibly surpass its brilliance? But such worries were swiftly swept aside by the seven songs that comprise “Unto the Locust”. It is in many ways a vastly different opus, with more focus and more immediate rewards than its predecessor, but my god do these songs hit you hard. To me, this album is the stuff of legend; the kind of album that will be remembered and revered for decades to come. And if nothing else, it cements Machine Head’s status as one of the Big Four of our generation alongside – in my opinion – Hatebreed, Lamb of God and Mastodon.

So what does 2012 bode?

Well, for starters: Refused and At the Drive-in, the two main reasons why post-hardcore even exists have both reunited, and I will get to see at least the former live at Groezrock. Chances are that most European festivals are trying to secure the latter by any means necessary, and I would be genuinely surprised if At the Drive-in didn’t appear on this year’s Roskilde Festival poster as one of the sub-liners. Rumors about new albums from both bands are also circulating.

Other essential concert highlights of 2012 will undoubtedly be the last ever mainland European concert by Thrice at Groezrock, which I’ll be watching in a mixture of tears and ecstasy, as well as Metallica performing the “Black Album” in its entirety at an old decommissioned prison in Horsens, Denmark. Not to forget the two mental tours coming our way, which will surely result in the recently reopened Pumpehuset closing up shop once again, this time due to the destruction of most of their inventory first by Norma Jean and The Chariot, and then by Every Time I Die, Cancer Bats, Set Your Goals and Make Do and Mend.

Looking at our monthly statistics, it is also starting to look like we’ll all have to quit our jobs and studies and commit to Rockfreaks.net fulltime, lest we manage miraculously to secure a team of new writers with the willingness and ability to commit a huge portion of their free-time to keep the webzine running – we are accepting applications. Be that as it may, I look forward to another year bulging with exciting new music, shows, festivals and Rockfreaks.net events. We are living some of the most exciting times in the webzine’s history – let’s hope the world won’t end in December so that we can continue next year as well.

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