So as you may or may not have noticed it’s My Chemical Romance week, but don’t worry, while that debate may be raging we’re not going to negate the music world at large, and to illustrate that point, this week’s Top 5 will celebrate the best new music of 2011.
This week we’ve asked our esteemed writing team to single out their Top 5 tracks of 2011. We’re having a clean break; no MCR tie in, no Reading and Leeds tie in – our writers are free to choose whoever or whatever they like.
So without further ado, Scott is up first.
5. “The Artist” – Silverstein
This band may be on album number five, and while they haven’t really done that much to further or mature their sound since their first effort eight years ago, their music is still (just about) relevant. “The Artist” takes the best elements of their sound and adds a depth of hardcore to the mix, giving you a frantic, balls to the wall track that could easily go toe-to-toe with the best on offer from established hardcore outfits. With extra vocals throughout the track provided by Brendan Murphy, lead vocalist of recently signed Counterparts, the track gets given a different take on a Silverstein song, not just reliant on the predictable harmonised vocals of Shane Told.
4. “Digital Veil” – The Human Abstract
Yet another title track on an album that really strikes a lasting impression on me, “Digital Veil” is technical mastery at it’s finest, delivering the most intense track that The Human Abstract have offered to date. Questioning the downsides of the digital era through reliance on technology and the diminishing nature of social interaction, the band give us a track that not only keeps old fans happy, with the return of former guitarist A.J. Minette to the lineup, but also pulls in new fans with the blistering pace, with shrill growls from new lead vocalist Travis Richter. Whether you care for the lyrics or the incredible guitar work, with anthemic lines such as “Pull Me From The Gallows”, you might see your self coming back to listen to the track for repeated listening.
3. “Tandem” – Protest The Hero
Protest The Hero are more renowned for their conceptual takes on lyrical themes such as Goddesses and Kingdoms, but new album “Scurrilous” pushes those ideas to one side and approaches real life issues that are commonly encountered. Tandem is the best track on the record for me, as it retains all sense of tech-metal mastery that the band are famed for, but at the same time assesses how cancer grips us as people, looking at how brave the victim is yet how fragile her family and friends are at the same time. It’s definitely a track that when listening, requires you to take in the technical brilliance of guitarists Luke Hoskin and Tim Millar as they shred though the track, but at the same time, be sure to take note of the the lyrics that lead vocalist Rody Walker commands as he wins you over with the emotion and vigor contained within his powerful voice.
2. “Uni 9mm” – Lower Than Atlantis
The change from melodic hardcore to a powerful rock band has proven to be a successful leap of maturity, showing that the band have come a long way from their rough-around-the-edges debut “Bretton”. The last two albums have really shown the band to stand out as great lyricists, and Uni 9mm is, in my opinion, the best demonstration of this on new album “World Record”. Aided by pounding drum beats in the chorus and vocal harmonies that compliment their melodic approach to music, what sets this song apart from others is the lyrical content, detailing what it is like to be the one that doesn’t go to uni, becoming distanced from old school friends and questioning the band lifestyle.
1. “Free” – Twin Atlantic
Whilst the album as a whole has really struck a chord with me, the title track and flagship single stands head and shoulders above the rest, displaying charisma and emotion that you would want from a song with such grandeur. Wielding the power is Sam McTrusty, who really knows how to belt out vocals as if his life depended on it, which is just as well, as it really defines the track as a whole, giving Twin Atlantic an identity as a stand-alone entity and big league contender in the sea of mainstream rock. Just under two years ago it was all too easy to cast the band off as a Biffy Clyro knock-off, despite being untrue, but with tracks as powerful as “Free” and the rest of the arsenal provided on the album, it’s clear that Twin Atlantic are destined for great things, and good luck to them, as they’ll be providing the soundtracks to many people’s summer, including mine.
5. “Bones” – Random Hand
The lead single off of Random Hand’s new album Seething Is Believing is just about as much fun as you can fit into three minutes and eight seconds. Fist pumping verses, a catchy as hell chorus and an awesome trombone solo. Once again Random Hand are providing ska punk at it’s very finest!
4. “Life Is Life” – Noah and the Whale
The opening track from Noah and the Whale’s brilliant new album Last Night On Earth immediately puts to bed the misery of their previous effort and sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the record. Everything about “Life Is Life” screams new beginnings and finally the band are back to doing what they do best, producing uplifting folk pop.
3. “Get Up” – Korn featuring Skrillex
Having not enjoyed a new Korn release for a long time, my heart sank further when I saw them teaming up with dubstep producer Skrillex (the recent dubstep craze has gone straight over my head, to say the least). To my surprise however, this actually worked. The new element gave Korn a lease of life that I hope they can take into their new album. If this track is anything to go by, it’ll be a cracker.
2. “White Limo” – Foo Fighters
This song was the first I heard from what I now consider my album of the year so far, Wasting Light. After their previous couple of disappointing records (and the abomination that was “Wheels”) I didn’t exactly have high hopes. After about three seconds, I knew I needn’t have worried and that the Foo Fighters I knew and loved were back.
Dave Grohls time out with Them Crooked Vultures has obviously done him the world of good. He may have even learned a few things from Josh Homme, because to me, “White Limo” sounds slightly influenced by Rated R era Queens Of The Stone Age and I for one am not complaining!
1. “Yonkers” – Tyler, The Creator
I must admit, I’m not much of a hip hop fan. My knowledge streches about as far as Eminem’s Marshall Mather’s LP, but I too have been swept away by the tsunami of hype that is Odd Future. Now I don’t agree with the homophobia, I can’t condone stabbing Bruno Mars in the oesophagus, and I definitely have no clue what pussy n*gger fish bones are. What I do know is that Tyler The Creator is an incredible talent and that I love this song.
5. “Been To Hell” – The Hollywood Undead
This is the first track off of Hollywood Undead’s newest album, American Tragedies. It’s just a really good intro into the album. It kind of catches you off guard. The vocals in the chorus remind me of Chester Bennington from Linkin Park. Mind you, any song that incorporates rap with rock will instantly get compared to Linkin Park. The instrumentation is simplistic, but that is not always a bad thing. The instruments are just enough to make it a memorable song, and Hollywood Undead have never been accused of great individual musicians. All in all, the song makes me sing along and makes me happy. That’s a good recipe for me.
4. “Stand Up And Fight” – Turisas
The main reason I love Turisas is because they write such great anthemic songs. They make you feel like you’re about to go into battle with some kind of dragon and you just don’t care because you’re going kill this dragon. “Stand Up and Fight” does this for me. It may not be Turisas’ greatest work, but it is still Turisas so it is worthy of my top 5. The chorus will have you singing to the top of your lungs, and I cannot wait for the sing-along when I see them at Download.
3. “Hypest Hype” – Chase And Status
I am a big Chase and Status fan, and their latest album, which “Hypest Hype” features on, does not disappoint. The album is called No More Idols, and I could have picked a few more tracks from it, but I feel this is the best of the lot. It’s called “Hypest Hype” and it just gets me dancing about. Tempa T features on the track for vocals, and it works really well. It is so catchy, and if I listen to it on the way to college, I can guarantee that I will be singing it for the rest of the day. Not their best work, but it is still one of the best songs to come out of 2011 for me so far. I hope to catch them on their tour No More Idols tour this coming October, or iTunes festival giving me some free tickets to their show would be nice of them.
2. “Get Up” – KoRn featuring Skrillex
I wrote about this song recently for Strictly Sonisphere, but I think I shall write about it again! After listening to it for the reviewing, I have not been able to go a day without listening to it multiple times. It’s just brilliant. The vocals of Jonathan Davis along with the heavy beats really work (more so than was expected). The introduction really grabs you where it hurts when it comes in all slow and calm then it hits that drop which just gets the song started. It’s onwards and upwards after that with the chorus being my favourite part of the song. Like I said in the other review, I hope KoRn collaborate with more dubstep artists, or better yet, Skrillex collaborates with more bands in the rock world. They delivered the goods this time and I am sure they can do it again! It would be pretty cool if KoRn would play this at Download, I doubt they will, but a man can dream!
1. “Bridge Burning” – Foo Fighters
From the minute I heard the 20 second preview of this song, I knew this was going to be an awesome track. It is just a brilliant way to bring in probably my favourite album of the year so far, Wasting Light. From the beginning it grabs your attention, with the instruments slowly progressing and the drums joining in. Then when Dave Grohl screams “These are my famous last words!” it just gets better an better. A lot of the time, I find songs have great intros and then fade away and do nothing for me. With this track, that isn’t the case. I find myself engaged in “Bridge Burning” throughout and singing everything word for word. The instruments are also brilliant throughout. It all works marvellously.
When I first heard the whole of this song, it was when I saw Foo Fighters live in February. It was the first song they played and it just tore the place a new one. Everyone was moving to it even though no one knew the words or even what song it was. “Bridge Burning” was written to be performed live. Now that I have listened to the whole of the new album I wish I had bought tickets to see them at Milton Keynes this summer, too. They will be truly memorable gigs. If you ever get the chance to see Foo Fighters live, do it. If you ever see the album Wasting Light by Foo Fighters in the shops, buy it.
5. “And It Was You” – Toy Horses
Toy Horses’ first single, from their self-titled April debut, set the bar very, very high. At once pleasant and sad, they achieved the feat of successfully executed cheerful melancholy. Something which most bands find hard to master, if they dare to attempt it at all. The song’s delicate composition holds magnificent simplicity, and appeals to the pop vibe in us all without appearing manufactured to do so.
4. “Everything Happens For A Reason” – The King Blues
The final, and standout, track on recent release ‘Punk and Poetry’, Itch tells us the story of how he became a father. Touching, catchy and better than much of the dross which comes before it, this is The King Blues at their best. A slight humour runs through the song, which is much better judged than on ‘Sex Education’, but it’s more remarkable for its gentle beauty. Genuinely pleasing.
3. “Disparity By Design” – Rise Against
Taking its cue from Propagandhi’s ‘Supporting Caste’, not only in its style but also its theme, ‘Disparity by Design’ is the finest song on the patchy ‘Endgame’. Powerfully driven by a sense of injustice, as most of Rise Against’s best songs are, Tim McIlrath’s instantly recognisable vocals ring out loud and clear. Fast, furious and determined, lyrically intelligent and musically urgent, this is one of the best things I’ve heard this year.
2. “I Am Disappeared” – Frank Turner
Encompassing all of the features which makes him so popular in the first place, ‘I Am Disappeared’ is typical Frank Turner. But as Frank Turner is pretty great, that means the song is too. Named characters? Check. Use of the first person? Check. Relatable yearnings, feelings and fears? Check. But it doesn’t matter that these things recur in Frank Turner songs, because after all, what do you want from music anyway? His ability to tap into our inner psyches is second to none. Well, perhaps second to one…
1. “Local Man Ruins Everything” – The Wonder Years
Sorry Frank, but The Wonder Years take the biscuit on that front. Picking back up from where they left us, with the excellent ‘The Upsides’, this song goes straight for the jugular. Their brand of pop-punk stands out from the rest, marked out by its sheer honesty, and they are streets ahead of their contemporaries. Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell tells us ‘I’m not a self-help book, I’m just a fucked-up kid’, and when the backing vocals continue ‘I had to take my own advice and I did’, I defy you not to feel anything. This taste of forthcoming album ‘Surburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing’ more than whets the appetite.
5. “Get Away” – Yuck
It would be easy to say ‘imagine what Dinosaur Jr. would sound like if they were called Yuck, and released a song called Get Away’, but to me Yuck are a lot more than that. You could easily mistake this for Dinosaur Jr. when the opening guitar comes in, but after giving this a proper listen, it is clear that this is anything but a rip off. The bass line would fit perfectly into a Pixies song, yet this still feels original; Yuck have taken influences from many great bands, and managed to turn it into their own. I didn’t know what to expect before listening to this, but I was more than pleasantly surprised; Yuck certainly have a very bright future ahead of them. This is a brilliant opener to a brilliant album, which I urge you to go and listen to.
4. “Rope” – Foo Fighters
‘Rope’ shows Foo Fighters at their best, there’s no two ways about it; the rock giants have outdone themselves here, much to everyone’s surprise. ‘Rope’ comes from the best album that Foo Fighters have produced in years, and it really shows on this song. The song begins with a lone guitar striking chords, before the drums kick in and the song comes into full flow. Everything from the guitars to Dave Grohl’s screams breaking up the lines has been worked to perfection here, and has given me a huge reason to be jealous that I won’t be seeing them perform this summer.
3. “Whirring” – The Joy Formidable
Firstly, yes, this song was released in 2009 on an EP, but has been rereleased this year on their full debut album, so it does count. ‘The Big Roar’ is an incredible album from the Welsh three-piece (you’d never guess with a bassist called Rhydian Dafydd) but this is the single that has had the biggest impact on their career. Like most of their songs, ‘Whirring’ brings a new meaning to the word epic; The Joy Formidable know how to create a huge sound, and they’ve done themselves proud here. This is the kind of sound that the likes of Biffy Clyro would have been proud of in the days of ‘The Vertigo of Bliss’. The sound in ‘Whirring’ builds until it feels like a full blown attack on your senses, but manages to do this in a way that can only be described as incredible. ‘The Big Roar’ certainly sums this up.
2. “Yonkers” – Tyler, The Creator
If everyone is supposed to have their fifteen minutes of fame, Tyler, The Creator is certainly making the most of his. Taking the world by storm, Odd Future and Tyler have exploded onto the music scene over the last few months; ‘Wolf Gang’ being the words on everyone’s lips. ‘Yonkers’ is the lead single from ‘Goblin’, the follow-up to Tyler’s debut solo album ‘Bastard’. Following the short intro, Tyler opens up the song, and it is clear straight away that ‘Bastard’ wasn’t a one-off. Tyler has in no way backed off when it comes to his lyrical content, with extreme imagery that will certainly put off many listeners. However, Tyler certainly has moments of genius in his lyrics, and this song is in no way different. The Odd Future of rap music has arrived.
1. “I Am Disappeared” – Frank Turner
After listening to this song more times than I can count, it still hits me in the same way as the first time I heard it, and in fact the same way as the first time I listened to Frank Turner himself. The one thing that one can never fault Frank for is his emotion, and that is exactly where this song is fast becoming my favourite song he has released. The weight of life that everyone feels from time to time can be a clichéd topic for a songwriter to delve into, but Frank makes it work. The feeling of being able to escape from everything that has been shown in this song gives an uplifting feel, without it being anywhere close to a song that could be described as ‘cheesey’. From the opening guitar chords, to the closing piano, this song does nothing but deliver. When the line is delivered that Frank Turner keeps ‘having dreams… of Bob Dylan’, one can only think that this is foreshadowing not only an album as good as one of Dylan himself, but perhaps the 21st Century Bob Dylan in Frank Turner.
5. “Wilhelm Scream” – James Blake
Having released some of the most exciting and challenging EPs imaginable in 2010, James Blake prepared to make his mark on the world at large in 2011. His self titled debut album was a mess of contradictions that had dub step purists tearing their hair out en mass as their one time icon turned fragile singe songwriting. Post Dub-Step became a dirty word as people saught to sully Blake and his contemporaries, regardless James Blake became a superstar with a sly cover of a Fiest number.
However, “Limit To Your Love” represents neither Blake nor the best his debut had to offer. That duty fell to the sublime opening salvo of “Unluck” and the sensational single “Wilhelm Scream”; a gloriously spacious piece that allows Blake’s lonesome thoughts to drown in the sparse emptiness of Blake’s eerie soundscape. Subtle movements in the music create a sense of grandeur and virtue for Blake’s weary despair. “Wilhelm Scream” is forward thinking music at its most beautiful and resonant.
4. “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See” – Nicolaas Jaar
From an artist creating deadly serious bleak music to Nicholaas Jaar a man who specializes in creating formidable brooding soundscapes and shattering them with ironic juxtaposition. Played back to back Jaar almost feels like a parody of Blake, “Space Is Only Noise’s” drooping bassline transcends moping and transform into something sexy, danceable and ludicrous. You can almost imagine Jaar cracking a smile as he solemnly stares at his shoes, whispering the lines “Grab A Calculator And Fix Yourself, Read The News Baby, Read The News Baby, Watch The Clock Baby” in a delicious dead pan. Recalling Hot Chip at their zenith Nicholaas Jaar finds humour in the humourless.
3. “Judas” – Lady Gaga
Picking between “Judas” and “Born This Way” was not an easy task, the latter is a G-A-Y anthem that references every key trend in camp culture sonically while paying homage to a defining moment in pop history lyrical, the former, is well, just a pop song….But what a pop song! Does it sound like “Bad Romance”? Yes. Does “Bad Romance” sound like anyone else? No it doesn’t. For all the comparisons to Madonna, and there are of course similarities, people forget that Gaga sounds like Gaga. She’s created out her own sound and niche that is entirely separate from what Rihanna, Beyonce and Katy Perry are doing right now.
“Judas” is driven by an insatiable pounding that refuses to relenT even as Gaga playfully leaps around lyrically the track maintains an unrelenting pace, perfect for the dancefloor. The track is layered with hooks, smashing well-established and seemingly juxtaposed sounds together at will without losing an steam. While Gaga finds plenty of room to be Gaga, from yelped vocals to randomly saying “Eww”, Gaga makes it work and even after multiple listens, sounding fresher and more intriguing than her peers.
2. “Vanessa” – Grimes
There’s an inherent risk to picking the track of the moment when making these kind of lists. “Venessa” is the new track in town, it’s a fresh cut, it’s on my mind, in a month or a year will it still hold my attention? I think it will, partly because of my love of shimmering soundscapes and partly because of its wonderfully understated saccharine hook. The layering of vocals and the use of the voice as instrumentation on “Vanessa” is staggering, the track feels airy and light, like a seductive 21st Century siren call. “Vanessa” doesn’t impose, it suggests, it caresses, it intoxicates; descending like a heavenly vapour only to disappear into the ether almost instantly. C’est Magnifique.
1. “Swim Good” – Frank Ocean
Well this was an absolute no brainer. In 2011, in my eyes, no other song comes close to “Swim Good”. Frank Ocean, Odd Future’s resident R’n’B super star, is laying the foundation for a full blown renaissance for the genre. His mixtape, Nostalgia U.L.T.R.A, was an emotionally mature and intellectual take on heartbreak, love life and his own father issues.
In recent years R’n’B once the world’s most forward thinking genre has been over taken by a bland veneer and has been intellectually overwhelmed by the sex crazed materialistic brashness that has defined down mainstream hip hop down in recent years. Last year’s great records came either on artistic extreme (How To Dress Well) or were forged from the depths of hedonistic gluttony (The D.R.E.A.M).
“Swim Good” is a reprisal to The D.R.E.A.M’s LoveKing, rather than gloating at his romantic conquests Ocean is weighed down and repulsed by them. Hating himself for being so shallow, for treating other carelessly and feeling the pain of genuine rejection. His past lovers become the dead bodies in his trunk, haunting him, never leaving his side and scuppering his vision of success. His conscious cannot be overcome, no matter how much success he achieves or what car he purchases his guilt cannot be overcome, he’s hallow: “I would have put tints on my windows but what’s the difference if I feel like a ghost”. Frank’s wonderfully metaphorical conclusion is to pack every last ghost, every dead body, in the back of his car, strip himself metaphorical and drive his Lincoln into the ocean, to either drowned under the water or his brief to arise baptised anew. And to think, last year’s defining r’n’b statement was “I make every nigga irrelevant, I’m sex intelligent.”
5. “Shake Me Down” – Cage The Elephant
The first single off their second album Thank You, Happy Birthday and it just follows on from what made me like the songs off of the first album so much. Quirky lyrics and catchy fun songs that brighten your mood and get your feet tapping. Quite a fan of the video too which features a middle aged man reliving vivid childhood memories in his sleep.
4. “You Don’t Know My Mind” – Hugh Laurie
Actors crossing over into music is often a recipe for disaster and even though im a fan of Hugh Laurie i checked out his music with a critical mind. It’s a major success in my opinion and he captures the essence of one of his biggest influences Lead Belly perfectly in this song. It’s evident in this song as well as his others how much soul and feeling he puts into it. A song i’ve frequently found myself singing in my head ever since first hearing it.
3. “Lights” – Ellie Goulding
Self confessed Ellie Goulding fanboy here but I cant help loving every song of hers. Such a breathtaking voice that i appreciate more everytime i hear it. This song really sums up what I love most about her voice, it has that acoustic singer songwriter vibe to it but at the same time it’s equally comfortable performing a more upbeat dancy number like Lights. I like the blissful intro to the song and it gradually turning more bouncy.
2. “Wonderman” – Tinie Tempah
Usually the type of music I would steer well clear of and i cant stand the guy. The fact it features Ellie Goulding is probably what made me check it out in the first place and as much as I want to dislike it I just cant. One of those songs I find myself able to listen to on repeat due to its sickening catchyness without losing my interest at all and I feel that Ellie just fits into it perfectly in her parts.
1. “Side By Side” – Feeder
The song had been written before the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami disasters in Japan but got released as a downloadable single to aid the the victims of the disaster. I’m a big fan of the band but also one of their biggest critics so wasn’t sure what to expect from this song. It’s a very anthemic Rock song which Feeder are great at doing and even though it was written before the disaster the lyrics just seem to conjure up the right feelings when you hear them.
That’s your lot for this week, we’ll be back again next week; in the meantime feel free to tell us which tracks are capturing your imagination.