2011 Thus Far In Rock

Overall assessment: This year is getting off to a slower start than last year. In 2010, we already had a classic by January (Owen Pallett’s Heartland), and I don’t see anything of that caliber as we near the middle of February. Still, there’s a good number of new records worth checking out, amongst them a pretty good representation of the sweet crop of budding new songwriters abound.

Merge Records

Apex ManorThe Year of Magical Drinking

Merge is certainly on a roll so far in 2011 – they have already put out one of the year’s most acclaimed albums (Destroyer’s Kaputt, which is pretty good, I guess, if you like Destroyer), and this Apex Manor record has become very well-played on my iPod’s 2011 playlist. I’m a sucker for power pop, and it’s here in droves, albeit not in any way you’ve never heard it before. Still, it’s a pretty solid record with some great melodies, notably “Under the Gun” and “The Party Line”. Matthew Sweet fans take note. ***1/2

Polyvinyl Records

DeerhoofDeerhoof vs. Evil

Deerhoof must love the fact that they frustrate people so, their fans included. In 2007, they put out this epically great, potentially-revolution-starting guitar rock record (Friend Opportunity), but have since refused to follow it up with anything sounding even remotely close to it. And you gotta love that! Deerhoof is that band that consistently reminds us the term “Indie”, like the term “Punk”, is an attitude or way of doing things rather than a genre of music. The moment you call it a genre and give people rules on what constitutes it as such, that’s when it loses its meaning. If that doesn’t make sense, maybe it will after hearing the first track on this album, “Qui Dorm, Nomes Somia”, which legitimately sounds like nothing else ever, really. ****

Merge Records

DestroyerKaputt

This is a record that will go on to be one of the most beloved of 2011, surely, but I still don’t really get everyone’s Destroyer trip. Dan Bejar does write some good songs, but he’s mostly proven that to me in his other band, The New Pornographers, in which his contributions are more concise, catchier, and (dare I say) less pretentious. I do think a few of these songs are gems – mainly “A Savage Night at the Opera”, which sounds like a perfectly executed sound collage of the best moments in songs by The Cure and The Church – and there’s an atmospheric quality to it all that’s kinda nice, but mostly it just bores me. I gotta be honest. ***

Quality Hill Records

The Get Up KidsThere Are Rules

This record took my body and tore it in half (sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of Degrassi lately). I want to like the first full-length from The Get Up Kids in nearly seven years, but I’m having trouble doing that totally and completely. Granted, in looking back on my GUK fandom, I’ve always had to warm up to their albums – with the exception of Something to Write Home About, every other record has required a lot of what movie critics would call “suspension of disbelief” on my part, meaning concessions must be allotted to the medium in order to fully appreciate it, flaws and all. In the case of their last record, Guilt Show, this mentality led to me ranking it as one of their best. I guess only time will tell with There Are Rules, but the bottom line is there don’t seem to be as many gems on this one. True, opener “Tithe” is darkly excellent, Jim Suptic’s standout contribution “Automatic” is a tasty distorted-bass treat, and closer “Rememorable” has classic GUKs written all over it. But it seems most of the album finds the GUKs relying on their top-shelf musicianship, the studio wizardry of producer Ed Rose, and that little slice of synth personality that is James Dewees to distract us all from the fact that the songs themselves are not that interesting. There is a severe lack of standout vocal hooks from Matt Pryor on most songs, which is likely the intention. It’s kinda the cool thing nowadays to minimize vocal melodies and put the vocals low in the mix. It’s also kinda cool to litter your tunes with sonic embellishments and noisy synth parts. You’re right guys, there are rules, and you followed them all to a T – except one of the main ones, which is to write great songs. **1/2

Dead Oceans Records

John Vanderslice with the Magik Magik OrchestraWhite Wilderness

The dry, abstract pop of John Vanderslice occasionally fascinates me, but it has never floored me. This new album of his, which finds him dabbling in orchestral-based compositions a la Owen Pallett (Heartland=game changer, totally), is no exception. You know how good songs have moments that make you stop whatever you’re doing and listen? Well, some of these songs have those moments, but not necessarily in good ways. “Convict Lake” has this vocal harmony that the people involved in the album’s recording probably liked because it was weird and new-sounding, but to anyone who doesn’t live and breathe music 24 hours a day, it just sounds odd. Screw them anyway, right? But then, sometimes, I’ll hear something a couple times and it starts to make sense, like the ridiculously over-the-top yet beautiful “Overcoat”. ***

Thrill Jockey Records

Matthew FriedbergerNapoleonette

Like Ben Folds on meth, crack and whippitts, Matthew Friedberger is the piano-pounding, songwriting half of the brother-sister duo The Fiery Furnaces. I have never been a fan of that band, and listening to this album doesn’t necessarily make me want to go download their entire catalog. However, though a lot of Napoleonette isn’t very good, some of it is interesting, and that can go a long way. I was on about a five-day kick listening to “St. Giles Parish”, and I still can’t figure out why. It’s a near-six-minute jam with a schizophrenic piano riff played on loop with a one-note vocal melody spouting incoherent lyrics about puddles and popes and red Lincoln Towncars. Even writing it here, it does not sound appealing to listen to, but it was pretty much like meth and crack to me for those few days. Nothing else on the record really measures up to it, but I still say it’s worth a listen, just so you know it’s out there – this way, if you like it you can seek it out, and if not, you know to avoid it. **1/2

Red General Catalog

Only SonSearchlight

Only Son is Jack Dishel, who is mainly known as the lead guitarist for twee pop act The Moldy Peaches. I had no idea of this when I started listening to Searchlight, and by the sound of it I would have pegged him more as a member of Jason Falkner’s entourage or something. Man, this is a good pop record. Compared to Moldy Peaches, Only Son already sounds like the bigger band. They definitely sound more important, that’s for sure. I’ve been really digging the track “Solo Mission”, a brooding ballad with a killer French horn hook that’s been pounding in my head for days. Apparently Dishel has been putting out solo records for years, first under the name Stipplicon, and since I am only now just finding out about him, I don’t have that much to write other than general gush of how much this album is brightening my days at this point, so save both of us the ramble tamble and just check it out. ***1/2

Startime International

Peter Bjorn and JohnGimme Some

I think I might be kinda done with this band. Granted, this isn’t a horrible album, and it’s way better than their last one, Living Thing. It rocks a lot harder and all that. I’m just bored by their songs, I guess. Since Writer’s Block, they have all sounded gradually more and more tossed off, and it seems PB&J are attempting to broaden their sound to the point that they are basically flattening themselves into a lifeless rock and roll pancake. **1/2

Merge Records

Telekinesis12 Desperate Straight Lines

This is my favorite album of the bunch right here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it made my top ten at the end of 2011. Telekinesis is Michael Benjamin Lerner, a Seattle, WA songwriter who records all the stuff himself and tours as a three-piece band (which features Cody Votolato, former guitarist of The Blood Brothers). The music ranges from power pop with a modern tinge to driving, Cure-influenced rock and acoustic bedroom jams. It’s upbeat, infectious, and begs to be listened to over and over and over again (perhaps because it’s all over in under half an hour). In fact, it’s all over so quick I don’t even really know any of the song titles, I just know every time the record plays, I’m rocking out all the way home. ****

Fat Possum Records

TennisCape Dory

Nostalgia can be a great thing, and actually, it could be the basis for all music. Tennis are certainly promoters of this theory. I mean, they have to know how much they sound like The Sundays. Maybe they have never heard The Sundays, but I really doubt it. I think it’s more likely that they have heard The Sundays, they realize they sound like The Sundays, and have chosen to either accept or deny this fact. Whatever the story is there, Cape Dory is a pretty solid debut any way you slice it. A lot of bands are doing the 90’s retro thing right now, and these guys do it well, so why stop them? They also have a sound that could be likened to modern bands such as Camera Obscura or A Camp, with a little Beach House-y guitar thrown in for good measure. How could this not be what the kids are listening to? ***1/2

Fat Possum Records

YuckYuck

I’m gonna call these guys the Surfer Blood of 2011 – sure, they make good rock music, but it’s all a sort of color-by-numbers, “bust out your Pavement, My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr records and let’s try to make our own!” kind of experience. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing to do, because that’s where all bands start, you know? That’s just it, though – it seems we are seeing the very, very early stages of this band that certainly has some potential, but is more or less just ripping off their influences at this point. Seriously, I like the songs “Get Away” and “Georgia” and “Suicide Policeman”, they are good, good songs. But they are certainly not original. That’s all I am arguing. And I know whether something is original or not is not the end-all-be-all of what makes it good, but it’s annoying when something so blatantly uncreative gets so much blown-up attention. ***

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One Response to “2011 Thus Far In Rock”

  1. Tweets that mention 2011 Thus Far In Rock « Record Geek Heaven -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Dead Girls, hellohawk. hellohawk said: Record Geek Heaven explores 2011's crop of new music thus far. http://bit.ly/e5cBQf […]

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