Zach Roth's 2011 Top Ten
1.Dead And Divine - Antimacy
Antimacy grabbed me by the balls and never let go. Each song hits hard, the riffage is visceral, the songwriting catchy for being so heavy, and both the cleans and the screams are taster's choice. But beyond that, Antimacy is a strong album thematically. The lyrics explore morality, faith and the lack/loss of, and death, with strong motifs of grime and macabre. That's what's hooked me so resolutely. Antimacy is by no means a concept album, but there's this palpable thematic unity that ties the tracks together in a much stronger way than through the songwriting and general sound. If there was only one totally complete album in 2011, it's Antimacy.
2.Moving Mountains - Waves
It was tough to award second place to Waves, because I stuck my neck out and gave this album my first 5-star review. I can listen to this album at any time of day or night, under the influence of any emotion. "My Life is Like a Chase Dream (And I'm Still Having Chase Dreams)" is the perfect opener for this album. The lyrics kick in, "You said it first: We'll all end up in different places. When we wake up, you'll be falling. I'll be singing!" and before I know it I've shouted out the rest of the song and am halfway through Waves. "Tired Tiger" is such a stoic and powerful song. "The Cascade" has beautiful lyrics. And of course, I can't forget "Furnace Woods." I still don't understand the disappointment that surrounds this album. Every track on Waves is emotionally compelling and epic in feel, the brilliantly executed mixtures of rock and post-rock atmosphere lending to the effect.
3.Life In Your Way - Kingdoms
"FOR-EV-ERRRR!!" Kingdoms starts kicking ass within .01 seconds of pressing Play. You can read my complete 4.5-star review of Kingdoms another time, but let me just say that I missed Life in Your Way dearly. They're back, and haven't missed a step. For me, not much measures up to their unique take on melodic hardcore. Going back to my piece on Antimacy, I respect the thematic unity on Kingdoms, regardless of my own beliefs. The Kingdom of Man is at heart about being human, being tempted and making mistakes, while The Kingdom of Darkness and The Kingdom of God are about faltering, seeing the darkness, and ultimately overcoming it. Even outside of a religious perspective, you have to respect a message like that, and a project of this magnitude.
4.Fair To Midland - Arrows & Anchors
Arrows & Anchors was a curveball following Fables From a Mayfly. Whereas Fables was polished to a mirror sheen and was refined down to a saccharine, poppy goodness that was almost impossible to quit, the songwriting on Arrows & Anchors is varied, eclectic, and has this latent depth that can only be brought out after several listens. Would I have listened to Arrows & Anchors the requisite number of times for it to really "hit" me if I wasn't reviewing it? Yeah, probably. But I'm still glad I took the time. "Musical Chairs" was the early single had me completely smitten (because it's the closest analog to a Fables track). But songs like, "Golden Umbrellas," "A Loophole in Limbo," and "The Greener Grass" need to unfold in your mind-- to breathe, like wine. That all being said, even if the entirety of Arrows & Anchors was utter crap, the song "Rikki Tikki Tavi" guaranteed it a place in my top ten from the first listen.
5.The Wonder Years - Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing
I don't know how The Wonder Years managed to top The Upsides with such a short writing cycle. They could teach Portugal. The Man a thing or two. Suburbia, I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing builds upon The Upsides' base of aggressively realistic and jaded, autobiographical lyrics and solid foundation of pop punk. While so many bands mellow out and crank up the pop as they progress, The Wonder Years actually put the accelerator to the floor, kicked a ton more ass, and I respect them all the more for it. One of the best bands around right now.
6.il Rumore del Fiore di Carta - LESSON 3/how to live without senses
LESSON3/how to live without senses is hands down the best post-rock album of the year (though I am open to suggestions). At times aggressively moody, others cage-rattlingly intense, and others still, dithering; every song is distinct, has a definite direction, a good sense of dynamics, and beyond that, the band brings a few new tricks to the table in the form of some great horn sections. LESSON3 is everything I want out a post-rock record. Period.
7.The Dear Hunter - The Color Spectrum
In case my series of breakdowns of every song on every EP wasn't enough of a clue, I am in renewed awe of The Color Spectrum every time I listen. The fact that in a relatively short amount of time, Casey Crescenzo managed to write, record, and produce 36 tracks in nine distinct flavors is staggering in itself, but I'm more impressed that each EP is individually a solid listen with quality lyrics. Black, Yellow, Green and White have always been my favorites, White especially. But I've since come to appreciate all of the colors in their own pied beauty (yeah, I just referenced Gerard Manley Hopkins, what now). Casey's voice is incredible as always, but the way he tapped into so many genres and styled in a sustained manner is straight-up impressive.
8.Polar Bear Club - Clash Battle Guilt Pride
Chasing Hamburg is one of my favorite albums, period. I've always felt it petered out during the second half, but there aren't many entire albums for me that can top its first six songs in sequence. So, understand the colossal compliment I'm giving Polar Bear Club when I say Clash Battle Guilt Pride is a stronger, more consistent and complete album on the whole. While a small part of misses the faster pace of songs like "Living Saints" and "Light of Local Eyes," Polar Bear Clubstepped up their songwriting on Clash Battle Guilt Pride, and the sheer quality of the music shines: lots of groove, great vocal harmonies-- very singable. Polar Bear Club have a ton of momentum behind them, and after these past two releases, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they made the jump to a major in the upcoming year.
9.A Loss for Words - No Sanctuary
I'm ashamed to say that I like No Sanctuary so much because it reminds me of Secret Lives! Of the Freemasons' Weekend Warriors. It's dancey pop rock with what I like to call "hardcore potential energy." ...You know, like potential/kinetic energy in physics? Why am I such a god damn nerd? There are some bands out there, and you know that they could at any moment bust out the heaviest single string breakdown ever, but they don't. There's all this mosh and circle pit bursting through in the energy they put into every song. Weekend Warriors did this perfectly: very little actual screaming and agression, just a metric fuckton of energy, big riffs, and huge, singable choruses. A Day to Remember can pull this off sometimes. Four Year Strong used to, until they became a Foo Fighters cover band. Bottom line, No Sanctuary is just a fun album to listen to.
10.La Dispute - Wildlife
Wildlife took a few listens to land for me. It's so intense, but so different in feel from Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair. It initially felt like a musical regression for La Dispute in favor of truly strengthened lyrics (which were already stronger than most to begin with). I mean, Wildlife is chilling, if you actually sit down with the lyrics and experience it. But I realized that for every simplistic, lyric-driven song like "a Letter," there were also groovy tunes like those in "St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues," "Edit Your Hometown," and "The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit," and that La Dispute were still writing some great tunes. And while I still wasn't sure if Wildlife was flat-out impressive enough on music side to really merit a spot on my list, another listen to "King Park" finally swayed me. Of course I'm always going to love La Dispute's debut album, but Wildlife has proven that they can sustain high intellectual and emotional levels across multiple albums. They're not a flash in the pan; they're here to stay, and I'm glad.
Barrow wrote the album for me. I'm not going to lie and say Being Without has broad appeal. It's basically the quintessential album for people who cut their teeth on City of Caterpillar, pageninetynine, Neil Perry and Clair de Lune, and need a looking glass back to the early years of the millennium. For people who know that Raein put an album out this year. Straight-up, these guys know what makes screamo great and execute it perfectly.
Hell fucking yeah new material from Raein oh and by the way it's free and great.
My award for Most Improved goes to Lights, because, c'mon. Sibera kicks inordinate amounts of ass in comparison to her feeble debut.