Can I just skip the token introduction about how we’ve made it another year?
I mean, shit, am I the only one who WASN’T in that fucking New Year’s Eve movie?
If I know our readership (and trust me, with all the reported posts I’ve had to moderate this year and spam I’ve had to clean up, I believe that I do in more ways than I’d care to mention), you couldn’t care less about [these awesome things that happened to me] and [these shitty things that happened to me] and you just want to get right to the list.
The fact that you’re reading this sentence implies that you might actually look at my list before scoffing at it, so it’s with the utmost sincerity that I say, “Thanks!”
Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of “Well, no shit, it’s a Jom list…” picks on here; however, if, by chance, you stumble across an artist you haven’t yet heard, I encourage you to read my ramblings and listen to the stream provided for each record. I’m not promising that you’ll love it, but my goal is for you to have an understanding as to why it made it onto my list.
To conclude, I wish you all the best, with good luck and good health in 2012; at least, until the zombie Mayans come back from the dead to fuck our shit up.
Thanks again for reading!,
25. Wolverine – Communication Lost
Listen if you like: Ulver, Porcupine Tree, Arcturus
Stream: “Communication Lost” (08:51)
Why it’s here: Admittedly, this record deserves to be a bit higher on this list, but I wanted to start with a record that didn’t make any of the other staffers’ lists but could have the potential of making someone’s “Albums Released in 2011 that I’m First Listening to in 2012 Because Whoops I Done Goofed” list. 2006’s Still is probably the Swedish ensemble’s best effort, and while the record is typically more serene and pacifying (thanks in part to the album’s production, which feels very old-school while still sounding slick, but also due to Stefan Zell’s mellifluous vocals), there’s still a bit of crunch to go around. Clocking in at around the seventy-minute mark, this has the makings of being an exhausting record, but just like any other progressive record, you absolutely have to let the songs build, because songs like the title track, “Embrace,” “Into the Great Nothing,” and “In Memory of Me” are outstanding.
24. Hugh Laurie – Let Them Talk
Listen if you like: the idea of “that House/Blackadder guy” doing some pretty decent New Orleans classics with some friends/guest musicians
Stream: “Let Them Talk” (4:10)
Why it’s here: Obviously, if you’re not a blues/jazz sort of person, you’re not going to be attuned to this very well, but if you listen to it for what I believe its intent was – an outlet for Laurie to express his love for everything that encompasses not just the genres played, but music itself (outside of him riffing in random scenes on his various TV shows) – you’ll find a consistent and certainly passable record. Of course, I’ve read reviews where people chortle over Laurie playing the blues (which brings to mind George Carlin’s rant from You Are All Diseased about how white people shouldn’t play the blues — “What the fuck do white people have to be blue about? Banana Republic ran out of khakis? . . . Hootie & the Blowfish are breaking up?!”), but I think you have to consider that most of the material is his tip-o’-the-cap to the New Orleans culture. The one thing that sticks with me in an off-kilter sort of way is that it sounds like Laurie is singing in his Americanized accent, but I could be wrong. He’s a killer piano player, though, and his guest spots are well-placed.
23. Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man
Stream: “Gift of the Magi 2: Return of the Magi” (2:04)
Why it’s here: This entire record’s “essence” (for lack of a better noun) speaks to me in that AJJ write about some legitimately depressing and sad stuff at times, but Sean Bonnette just kinda shrugs his shoulders, laughs at the situation, says, “Fuck it!” and just moves on with life (as previously alluded to, “fuck” is heard often here — just in case you can’t catch on to context clues). I think that’s appealing: when faced with tragic events or negative news, instead of letting it weigh you down, just say, “Fuck it!” and continue to persevere and be the boss of your life. The lyrics are typically hilarious – if I think something falls flat, it’s probably because I’m just stupid or not in on the joke – and the serious stuff is handled with equal parts grace and vitriol (as odd as that sounds). This record found its way onto a lot of staffers’ lists all over the place, all for different reasons. To see if anybody notices, I’m going to plagiarize the shit out of what Nick Butler says regarding the record: “These guys tackle some pretty major emotional subjects, but they do it in a way that’s funny, graceful, intelligent, and far more thought-provoking than most… [bands] with abandonment issues.” That observation is so good, I’m going to refer you to all Nick Butler-related words and pretend that they’re mine. Go Suns!
22. Adele – 21
Stream: “Someone Like You” (4:41)
Why it’s here [I want to preface this by saying how much it bothers me that people rip on her for her figure]: I love sandwiches. This record’s bread slices – “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” – are stunning. If you’re making the sandwich a triple-decker, then “Set Fire to the Rain” is that middle piece. Food tangent aside, Adele has a beautiful voice, and I can’t over-emphasize how wonderful she sounds on those two aforementioned tracks. The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me on this record is how those vocals don’t exactly match the content: some tracks wear thin a lot quicker than others because the record seems almost over-produced, but I swear to you, if you can’t find any redeeming qualities about any single part of the songs I’ve mentioned, I feel sorry for you. I’m not saying it moves me to tears, but it is absolutely beautiful. Privately: “Someone Like You” depresses the hell out of me… but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? It’s depressing content, but it’s also empowering in a way. That bridge and final chorus is so fucking powerful. LiveJournal-esque sound-off: complete.
21. Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Sit Resist
Stream: “Master of Art” (3:58)
Why it’s here: I want to give Laura Stevenson a hug. Not just a standard hug, but the one where I run up to her, pick her up, spin around a few times, and be like, “Hiiiiiiiiiiii!” This record is extremely relaxing, sounding like it’s equal parts Americana, folk, and artsy-fartsy spunk. A lot of people I’ve talked to about this record seem to like “Barnacles” for its brass accompaniment, but while I feel that there’s no true stand-out track on this record, I don’t think you can go wrong with “Master of Art.”
20. blink-182 – Neighborhoods
Stream: “Ghost on the Dance Floor” (4:17)
Stream: “Even If She Falls” (2:58)
Why it’s here: I have to be honest: this record (AKA “Almost all of the Tom songs”) grew on me a lot the past couple months. If you haven’t heard anything from this record, what I’m gonna write here isn’t going to surprise you: every single blink-related band, from Angels & Airwaves (to an uncomfortable degree) to Box Car Racer to +44 to even Travis Barker’s Give the Drummer Some Love (and every other band I’ve omitted on purpose), can be heard on this record. I think it goes without saying that Mark’s songs have always been better than Tom’s – and yes, “Heart’s All Gone” is probably the best Mark track on this record – but Tom actually penned a couple great songs on here. Sonically, Travis is still a beast, and I’m pretty sure the opening riff to “Natives” is an awkward homage to “Thunderstruck”‘s opening riff (of course, I say this in jest… sort of), so there’s really not a lot of surprises on this record, except that there are, I guess? Whatever you decide: this isn’t so much a homer pick as it is legitimately deserving, although the whole “this is a natural progression from their self-titled record, except for the fact that they’re at least ten years behind on the whole synths-being-cool thing” is a reasonable critique. I still love this record, though.
I put two tracks for streaming. They’re both “Tom” songs, but they do a fair job juxtaposing the wanna-be-U2-fest with the straightforward pop-punk/rock hybrid blink’s known for.
19. Defeater – Empty Days & Sleepless Nights
Stream: “I Don’t Mind” (3:49)
Why it’s here: Personally, I quite like the acoustic singer/songwriter stuff (the last four tracks) more than the melodic agro-punk stuff (the first ten tracks). I don’t think this comes as a huge shock — I’m the same person who likes the strictly-acoustic version of Rise Against’s “Swing Life Away” compared to the album version because I think it sounds more organic and powerful with the whole less-is-more thing. Oh, and while on the whole “I’m in the minority on this” train: I think this record is better than Travels. COME AT ME, BRO. In all seriousness, though, they could have mixed up the tracklist a bit better — it sounds like they recorded the melodic agro-punk record and then were like, “This seems like an awfully short record. You know, we should be like that shirtless guy who walks around college campuses with his acoustic guitar around him strumming Dave Matthews chords and just put those songs on the end of the record.” Yes, I’m kidding. We all know/knew that guy.
18. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Stream: “Bridge Burning” (4:47)
Why it’s here: Love him or hate him or think that he’s a pretty okay dude sometimes, Dave Grohl can still scream and shriek with conviction (“These are my famous last words!” is a fun way to open the proceedings) and for an album recorded in a [probably pimped-out] garage on [probably really good] analog equipment, this sounds killer. “White Limo”‘s shocking heaviness certainly caught me off guard upon first listen, but as one of the best cuts across their entire discography, “Rope” was a smart choice for a single, and the instrumentation is as tight-sounding as ever. My apologies if this read lethargically; it’s just another one of those records where each staffer who has it on his list has something better to say about it.
17. Pianos Become the Teeth – The Lack Long After
Stream: “I’ll Get By” (5:37)
Why it’s here: A couple friends of mine saw their fathers pass away this year, so I surmise that they can empathize with Kyle Durfey. In what probably seems to be a pretty common theme with me by now, I found the slower, calmer songs to hit home with me more (arguably because of the overarching lyrical theme — I think the post-rock-esque elements are especially fantastic given the content), but I can’t discount the chaotic frenzy and blistering speed featured in songs like “I’ll Be Damned” and “Such Confidence”. Durfey’s screaming is haunting, disconcerting, and downright uncomfortable to listen to at times, but it’s still a can’t-miss record: “It seems we all get sick – we all die in some no-name hospital with the same colored walls – and I guess that’s fine… but I want to live” still gives me chills.
16. Beardfish – Mammoth
Stream: “Akakabotu” (5:41)
Why it’s here: With each record, this Swedish group (side note: am I the only one surprised that all my Swedish bands so far aren’t Gothenburg-endorsed melo-death or post-hardcore?) evolves each and every time – each record is denser, richer, and more complete with each layer of instrumentation added. The keyboards, in particular, are phenomenal, and give each of the record’s seven tracks a sturdy backbone. Along with the keyboards – which sound both retro and contemporary – I’m a huge fan of all the saxophone heard. This entire record is beastly (no pun intended), but if you’re gonna listen to one song, pick the one here.
15. Funkoars – The Quickening
Stream: “Where I Am” (3:51)
Why it’s here: Again, no surprises here: I can’t quite put a finger on why I’m consistently drawn to Aussie hip-hop (or maybe just all Golden Era artists), but it probably has to do with how diligent the lads are with obtaining killer samples, recording awesome live instruments, and how tongue-in-cheek they can be in their storytelling. Obviously, the Hoods have a new record dropping in 2012, but The Quickening is far from a consolation prize: songs like “It’s All Good”, “Vamoose”, “The Quickening”, and “Law and Order” feature heavy guitar parts, crystal-clear production, and effortless delivery from the group’s MCs. My favorite song, though, is “Where I Am”, because of how complete-sounding and just how catchy the damn track is.
14. And So I Watch You From Afar – Gangs
Stream: “Think:Breathe:Destroy” (4:42)
Why it’s here: One of the loudest and most frenetic records I heard this year, full of bonkers time signature changes, strong, oftentimes bruising riffs, and frequent volume swells, like if Explosions in the Sky wanted to be like Battles strung out on cocaine. It’s a technical affair to be sure, but one that’s wrapped around in fun. Where this record differs from their self-titled effort is that each song can stand on its own merit instead of sounding like an out-of-place (but really fucking cool-sounding) jam session. It’s also a rather engaging record; at first, I was concerned that it’d be just mindless wankery, but it’s nice to be proven wrong with such an immersive, “I hear something new each time I listen” type of album.
13. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
Stream: “Queen of Hearts” (4:35)
Why it’s here: After The Chemistry of Common Life, I’m not sure Fucked Up had their sights on making a rock opera, but despite the Byzantine storyline and some excess fluff that could be trimmed from its seventy-eight minute runtime (I’m sure the answer to “At what point do at least two of the eighteen total songs sound the same?” will differ across the board), David Comes to Life was a rewarding listen with a solid amount of replay value. Abstract concepts like truth and love are sardonically blasted by vocalist Damian Abraham, while other “mini-topics” within the course of the main David/Veronica storyline (e.g. “Truth I Know”‘s confrontation with faith, “The Other Shoe”‘s perspective on the delicacy of the human spirit, and so on). To be blunt, I’m not sure you’re supposed to comprehend all the intricacies of the story, but it’s not like there’s a quiz on it at the end of the record. Give it a whirl if you haven’t already.
12. Florence + the Machine – Ceremonials
Stream: “Shake It Out” (4:37)
Three sports Florence should stereotypically be good at: volleyball, basketball, rugby
11. Departures – When Losing Everything is Everything You Wanted
Stream: “Sunday” (3:56)
Why it’s here: My favorite debut within the genre – and one of the better UKHC records this year overall – despite the band’s tendency to wear its influences a bit too much on its collective sleeve (see: Defeater, Modern Life is War, Architects, [insert any other geographically-relevant hardcore band here], etc.). “I’ll walk up and down these streets – these old familiar streets – but the concrete won’t feel like home to me.”
10. A Winged Victory for the Sullen – A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Stream: “We Played Some Open Chords and Rejoiced, for the Earth Had Circled the Sun Yet Another Year” (6:09)
Why it’s here: I don’t have the vernacular to describe all that’s going on here, and quite frankly, I don’t know much about the genre to begin with, but I do know that there’s much more piano (courtesy of Dustin O’Halloran, the other member of the duo) and sad, somber cello, and it’s very mollifying and assuaging to listen to. As a bonus (and I’m being facetious when I say this), I know where to go for adult lullaby tunes when I have a cold and doing multiple shots of NyQuil isn’t quite knocking me out.
09. In Flames – Sounds of a Playground Fading
Stream: “A New Dawn” (5:53)
Why it’s here: See: my sound-off (opens in a new window). And yes, I still believe “A New Dawn” is one of their best songs across their entire discography.
08. Vents – Marked for Death
Stream: “Rollin’ Balls” (4:16)
Why it’s here: Between this and that Funkoars record (at #15), this record garnered more replay value from me. I just enjoy Lardner’s overall delivery throughout this record, and his video for “History of the World” (available on Youtube at this location – opens in new window) was masterfully made. As is the case with Golden Era-based artists, the beats and production are crystal-clear, top-notch, and give off a grassroots/workingman’s vibe while still sounding innovative. His deeper vocal register and harsher delivery is juxtaposed wonderfully by the political and social commentary throughout, and selfishly, it certainly helps that his views of the world nearly mirror my own. My favorite hip-hop release (with lyrics, anyway) this year.
07. Butch Walker & the Black Widows – The Spade
Stream: “Every Single Body Else” (3:00)
Stream: “Summer of ’89” [song of the year] (4:15)
Why it’s here: You’re catching on that this is a Jom feature, right? With Dave leaving us in 2011 (but always leaving open the possibility for a triumphant return!), I’m the only Butch Walker fan left on the site, I think. Anyway, Butch put on a hell of a show (again) this year. He and Chris Unck gave me sweaty man hugs when I donated a fifth of Jameson to them for their tour bus (I’m sure it was gone before they made it to Cleveland). Seriously, the man (and his band) can do no wrong – they tried to record this record on a single take, which explains some of the ‘white noise’ you may hear in between songs – and if you like reading things, you should read his book, entitled Drinking with Strangers, which is a hysterical account of his progression through the industry (opens in a new window). Even if you’ve never heard of him by name, you know of bands that he’s worked with (or possibly heard him in one of his multitude of previous bands and you just didn’t know it?), and his anecdotes and stories throughout the book are a blast to read. Be sure to check out Fran Capitanelli’s video review, which warms the cockles of my heart in ways only Reading Rainbow can:
06. Blue Sky Black Death – NOIR
Stream: “Sleeping Children are Still Flying” (06:00)
Why it’s here: I know people clamored over Late Night Cinema in 2008, but I feel this is their best work. Again, I don’t have the best vocabulary to describe this, and quite frankly, I’ve never heard of “dream pop” as an acceptable genre, so I’m just going to stick with “instrumental hip-hop” and call it legit. Whenever I’m in a brainfog, writing, deep in thought, or stairing aimlessly into space because my brain is on screen saver, this is my soundtrack. The entire record is available as a playlist on Youtube, but if you like what you hear, you should definitely consider making the purchase. “To the Ends of the Earth”, “Gold In Gold Out”, and “Where the Sun Beats” are all excellent, but “Sleeping Children are Still Flying” is their crowning achievement to date.
05. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
Stream: “Peggy Sang the Blues” (3:33)
Why it’s here: You ever have those records where you think the artist is writing your biography, or you wish all the stars were aligned to the point that you were writing your own autobiography with fucking incredible music to complement it? I’m convinced upon reading my British comrades’ reviews of this that, being Canadian, I’m not allowed to have as strong of a connection to the record as they are, but whatever. Upon listening to this record, I couldn’t help but be suckerpunched by two particular stanzas, one from “I Am Disappeared” (“I keep having dreams of things I need to do / And waking up but not following through / … I close my eyes and I never say I’m still having dreams”) and “Peggy Sang the Blues” (“It doesn’t matter where you come from / It matters where you go / No-one gets remembered / For the things they didn’t do”). Admittedly, this would probably be higher, but I stumbled onto this record a bit too late in the fall. If it were the summer? Never say never, but you never know…
04. Maybeshewill – I Was Here for a Moment, Then I was Gone
Stream: “Opening” and “Take This to Heart” (altogether, 6:08)
Why it’s here: Bar none their best work to date. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the samples and nearly all of Sing the Word Hope in Four-Part Harmony, but this is just a much deeper, more intense listen, beautifully juxtaposing heavy, bruising guitars with elegant post-rock grace that, altogether, flows and segues with effortless ease. Again, I love the piano on this record, and the production and electronics are mesmerizing. The ambiance, the atmosphere, and the melodies radiate powerfully throughout the record, and while I’d love to have “Farewell Sarajevo” as the song to stream, I don’t want to steal anyone else’s thunder, so here’s the epic 1-2 punch that kicks off the record.
03. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
Stream: “Go Tell Everybody” (4:17)
Why it’s here: I actually wrote a review this year. It’s for this record, and you can read it here (opens in new window).
02. Fair to Midland – Arrows & Anchors
Stream: “Uh-Oh” (4:16)
Why it’s here: Another staffer already picked “Whiskey & Ritalin” for streaming, so I picked my third favorite off the record (behind “Amarillo Sleeps on My Pillow”). Fair to Midland maintain their idiosyncratic folk/art-rock mannerisms while aligning their rather unorthodox songwriting into a more conventional approach – look no further than straightforward rocker/lead single “Musical Chairs” receiving ample radio play outside their native Texas. The record’s production has been understandably slighted because of the album’s somewhat claustrophobic, there’s-a-lot-going-on-at-once sound; consequently, this is pretty easily their heaviest – yet still most accessible – album to date. Darroh Sudderth is still a monster with his three-octave range, the guitars maintain a thick crunch throughout the record, but just like last time, it’s Matt Langley who’s the unsung hero as the keys connoisseur, and it’s his work throughout that truly completes the band’s eccentric sound. Although longtime fans seem to wince at the band’s tilt towards being more radio-friendly, the lyrics and structure are just as quirky and weird as ever, and the record is – without question – a grower. It doesn’t make the record any less of an absolute gem, though.
01. Dropkick Murphys – Going Out In Style
Stream: “Going Out In Style” (4:08)
Stream: “Broken Hymns” (5:03)
Stream: “Peg O’ My Heart” f/ Bruce Springsteen (2:20)
Why it’s here: My album of the year. I didn’t think they’d ever top The Warrior’s Code, but they did… many, many times over. There isn’t a single poor song on this record. “Broken Hymns” is their best moderately-paced song to date. It just sounds like the Murphys had a fucking blast making this record, and from the opening drums to “Hang ‘Em High” to the rollicking cover of “The Irish Rover,” there isn’t a single second of bad music on here. There’s far more harmony, melody, antiphony, more foot-stomps, bagpipes, banjo, accordion, and tin whistle, the band has never sounded better instrumentally. Vocally, Ken Casey and Al Barr continue to split time, and guest appearances once again abound on the record. There’s just an indescribable amount of heart, character, and joy on the record, and while the record is supposedly a concept album, the songs don’t seem to be in any particular sequence, instead telling their own tales.
Privately, “Take ‘Em Down” isn’t my favorite track on the record, but after getting laid off from my teaching gig – and experiencing firsthand the huge fucking political nightmare teachers across Canada and the U.S., especially the unionized teachers in Wisconsin that endured an extraordinary amount of injustice earlier this year in their battle with their state government – it was easy to see why teachers semi-adopted this song as part of their soundtrack against all the bullshit, and it’s such a great song to take ownership of in your own way. Of course, I’m sure the Murphys were envisioning a pub sing-along more akin to their earlier “Boys on the Docks,” but the way the band stepped forward in support of not just teachers unions, but especially healthcare unions in their native Boston with their “Solidarity Rocks” campaign (which began in 2010 and has since carried over to present-day), has been truly touching and simply extraordinary.
On the record, we see the Murphys take great pains in striving to incorporate the traditional Irish instrumentation into the album’s very essence, rather than just having a punk song with some windwoods and strings absent-mindedly or superficially slapped onto the record just for the hell of it. From “The Hardest Mile”‘s story of some railway workers’ murder, to the anthemic “Memorial Day”, to the aggressive “Deeds Not Words”, to the fucking party that is the title track – you can’t find a more complete-sounding record this year from a group that continually experiments in sound, that constantly strives for improvement, and has emphatically stood the test of time.