Every year I wonder if my tastes (musical and otherwise) are getting just a little narrower, a little less open to the new and the strange. I look at this list and can say yeah, these are all guitar rock records of one form or another. But it’s a testament to the seemingly unending variety of possibilities with respects to git/bass/drums/vox that records as wildly varying as John Paul Keith’s to Wild Flag’s to Arboretum’s to Fucked Up’s can even be considered in the same ballpark, so to speak. So give me guitars every time. I suspect I’ll never run out of artists finding pleasurable, exciting, passionate and (occasionally) new things to do with them.
Here’s a list of my favorite new recordings of 2011 in no particular order with some brief commentary:
Reigning Sound – Abdication of Your Love EP — After the unfocused, soft Love & Curses, Greg Cartwright comes back with a concise collection of beautifully crafted 60s garage-pop tunes. And please don’t ask me to be upset that the whole thing was underwritten by a car company (Scion) and given away online. I bet the band had as much freedom as they’ve ever had, and were probably paid better than usual to boot.
Hazey Janes – The Winter that Was — Beautifully structured power-pop with just enough glam rock shine to keep things exciting and loose (as so much of what passes as power-pop is too rigid and formal by half). The Scots need to make it to the U.S. again soon.
Wild Flag – S/T — Not pop with guitars, but a straight up rock record that rewards repeated listens with plenty of hooks and unabashed performances. Let’s hope they keep this going for a least one more – recent live shows display an exuberance that hasn’t yet been fully captured. But this will do for now.
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost — A classic-rock move by a previously twee indie-rock band. Shows what focused performances (and powerful drumming) can bring to even the slightest songs. One of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
John Paul Keith – The Man Time Forgot — More simple, good-timey rock’n’roll from a terrific singer/songwriter/guitarist with a jones for a sinpler past. And “Someone Ought to Write a Song About You” may be the best song of 2011.
Fucked Up – David Comes to Life — Complicated stuff (and I ain’t talking about the whole Concept Album aspect – it makes just as much and just as little sense as any other rock opera or whatev). No, the complicated part is how singer Pink Eyes navigates his straight up H/C growl through his bandmates increasingly dense and forward looking brand of hard rock.
Sloan – The Double Cross — Not a duff album in their now 20 year career, I suspect the secret is four distinctive songwriters who compliment each others strengths perfectly. And playing together for 20 years certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Title Tracks – In Blank — In mono for reasons I don’t entirely understand, this could be one of those “formal” power-pop exercises I speak of above. It is saved but the quality of John Davis’ songs and the joyful bashing of his backing band. Much closer to the reckless fun of their live show than their debut.
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light — Their best in a long time thanks to a re-found emphasis on big, dumb guitar hooks and a clean, streamlined sound.
Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding – Who’d a thunk that Liam and crew would put out the better post-Oasis debut?! Full of great songs and just enough little flourishes to keep you guessing, this is the album I would have expected from his brother (who managed nary a hook on his solo debut).
Arboretum – The Gathering — If I had to pick one record of the year, this may be it. No other album got inside my head like this swirling, psychedelic, hard rock masterpiece. And Dave Heumann has one of the best voices in rock today. A record to get lost in.
Lifeguards – Waving at Astronauts — Bob Pollard’s arena rock move circa 2011 helped enormously by Doug Gillard’s songs and playing.
Disciplines – Virgins of Menace — After an all too generic garage-rock debut, these guys come on like some Scandinavian answer to AC/DC on this muscular slice of greasy hard rock. And as always, Ken Stringfellow throws himself full throttle into the mix with some seriously unhinged singing. A great performance.
Telekinesis! – 12 Straight Desperate Lines — More immediate, focused and just plain fun than their debut, Michael Benjamin Lerner has concocted as catchy and propulsive record as any this year. And their live show was so surprisingly over the top and reckless that it left me grinning like an idiot for days afterwards.
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Sal Cannestra is a New York City native who relocated to Philadelphia in 2006. He has been writing about rock’n’roll music since 1984 for various publications. He also plays in the bands The Gerunds (www.thegerunds.com) and The Thirteen (www.myspace.com/thethirteenphilly)
Check out Sal’s blog here: http://thesecretchild.blogspot.com/