The Best of 2011: Part Two

Fat Possum Records

YuckYuck

Earlier this year, I wrote a pretty lukewarm review of this record. At the time, I liked it, but I couldn’t find justification for how derivative it is – it sounds like a mix tape I made when I attended high school in the mid-to-late nineties. However, I soon realized that’s not a bad thing. It might be if the songs were second-rate rip-offs, but they are not – they are top-notch, grade A rip-offs. The more I found out about Yuck, the more it all started to make sense – a group of kids from the UK who set out to make a record like the ones that caused them to fall in love with rock in the first place. On their eponymous debut, you’ll hear bits of Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr and early Teenage Fanclub, and you’ll want to call them out on it because sometimes it’s REALLY obvious. But I’ll issue this challenge to anyone – keep listening to this record and try NOT to love it. I always have this negative reaction when songs are obviously derived from something else, but then I realize that this is what ALWAYS happens with pretty much every band. Yuck just isn’t ashamed of it at all, and it turns their debut into a fun and fascinating experiment in the art of tribute.

Slumberland Records

The Pains of Being Pure at HeartBelong

Speaking of ripping off 90’s music in a semi-shameful fashion, The Pains are another band cultivating this trend in entertaining ways. While their debut took more of a straight up power pop approach, Belong finds them wanting to be The Smashing Pumpkins – and with the help of producers Alan Moulder and Flood, they have come about as close as any of us could to their inner Billy Corgan. Though I’m sure that statement would turn a lot of people off, don’t let it alarm you – the music itself still rings power pop, while the production taps into a Siamese Dream-world. On songs like “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now” where breathy vocals contrast sharply with ridiculously overdriven, multi-layered guitars, it makes for a thrilling combination. As the album wears on, it becomes apparent that though there is not a lot of variety in the songwriting, The Pains are pursuing the singular goal of rocking as hard as they can while being as melodic as humanly possible. Corgan would approve, and he might even be jealous. After all, Flood never made him sound this good.

RCA Records

The StrokesAngles

Though this is the first Strokes album that noticeably deviates from the “Strokes sound”, it’s still not a far cry from the first three records. This is a good thing – The Strokes are a band that never needed to change much, because it seemed like they had everything figured out right from the start. With that said, a band is going to want to evolve after doing the same thing for three albums. In the case of The Strokes, however, singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas pretty much forced this progression upon the rest of the band during the making of Angles. It was his policy throughout the writing and recording process that he not be present with the band in the studio, and that other members write their respective parts and arrangements without him – he simply would record his vocals alone and email them to everyone else after completion. Though other Strokes members protested (guitarist Nick Valensi publicly called it “an awful experience”), this struggle is present on the recordings and makes for an interesting change of pace for the band. Some moments are a mix of brilliant and uncomfortable, some are enigmatic, and others – like the single “Under Cover of Darkness” – represent some of the band’s best work. While not the most consistent Strokes album and probably not one that will redefine the band as expected, Angles is another really good album from a really good rock band, plain and simple.

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