10. Immolation – Providence
Providence is Immolation basically giving us more of the same, which just means more really quality death metal. Rob Vigna and Bill Taylor lay down some gnarly trems and pinch harmonics while Steve Shalaty rips it up on the kit. No bells and whistles here, kids – just riffs. And good ones at that. These five tasty tracks pick up where Majesty And Decay left off to show there’s still plenty of momentum and longevity in this quarter-of-a-century-old band. Let’s just hope Scion keeps footing the bill for more free metal of this caliber. – AngelOfDeath
9. Mogwai – Earth Division
It’s been quite a long time since Mogwai has really been able to “wow” listeners. Their 1997 debut, Young Team did an admirable job, as did 2006’s Mr. Beast, but high quality releases have been few and far between for the Scottish post-rock band. Their latest LP failed to make waves, and became a sort of “back burner” type of release. However, the creativity and intrigue absent on Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will survived elsewhere, in the form of a little EP called Earth Division. Earth Division features more thoughtful songwriting, with more lush atmospheres and mellow instrumentation, as well as vocals, a Mogwai rarity. It stands out as wholly unique, with the beautiful and touching songs being some of the absolute best in the band’s catalog. It’s a solid musical experience from start to finish, and for those who’ve jumped off the Mogwai bandwagon, it’s excellent enough to make one come right back into the fold. – Xenophanes
8. James Blake – Enough Thunder
So much has been made of James Blake’s songwriting skills and his natural penchant for sensory groove alchemy that it’s been altogether too easy for us to forget how criminally young and inexperienced he really is. At a time when most of his young adult contemporaries are either struggling with student debt, trying to find jobs, and vainly attempting to get their heads around the vagaries of relationships (it’s true; I’ve checked – women are from Venus), this Enfield lad is already perfecting his brand of dreamy, waveform art and demonstrating a heady artistic maturity way beyond his years.
As a result, frequently the sense is that Blake is peaking too early, and that it’s only a matter of time before he simply burns out, leaving us to gaze in silent regret at the red iris of forgettable nothingness where his star once was. With The Bell Sketch’s swift morphing into CMYK, which in turn gave way to the grittier and rugged edges of Klavierwerke, which itself was quick to melt into the hazy drift of Blake’s fantastic but utterly exhausting self-titled debut LP, it seemed like the inevitable flounder leading to a sudden dearth of ideas was just around the corner.
But in releasing Enough Thunder – exactly a year to the day that Klavierwerke first appeared – Blake appeared to catch on, in that uncannily omniscient way of his, to what some of us might be thinking. Just under a half-hour in length, Blake’s latest EP continues his quest to find and uncover hidden truths of modern musical composition. Once more, we find ourselves exposed to the characteristic sounds of our time: groaning samples bump and bristle against each other, monochromatic wobbles tumble about in the mix, and Blake’s own voice, multi-layered for effect, adds a tinge of blurry sepia to proceedings. True, in many respects it’s simply more of the same, but the emotions that Blake taps into this time around are subtly different. The uneasy flickering and dripping water tick-tock of ‘We Might Feel Unsound’, for instance, speaks to the zeitgeist of sensory deprivation; a ready-made soundtrack to isolation chamber music, if ever it is decided that one is needed. Elsewhere, minimalist shifting and heavily distorted piano chords cut clean through the acres of deafening silence on ‘Once We All Agree’, with Blake swapping between sounding lithe and listless seemingly at will. Towards the middle of the album, guest performer Bon Iver suffuses a headier, oxygenated vibe into the EP on the excellent ‘Fall Creek Boys Choir’, before Blake rounds in on himself and delivers a soul-wrenching 21st century update of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’.
True, it’s a lot to stomach in such a short time, but it seems utterly churlish to chide Blake for simply having that much to share (incidentally: Love What Happened Here, Blake’s latest EP, was released as recently as December 6th; no doubt it simply didn’t have enough time to make most folks’ end of year lists). In the face of such an unstoppable production train all we can do is close our eyes, cross our fingers, and hope that Blake never decides that he has made enough thunder. – Irving
7. Crosses – EP
The beloved Chino Moreno (Deftones’ lead singer) joined an electronic side project that released an EP – it’s called Crosses. Although one can’t help feeling that the whole thing is a bit pretentious, perhaps an effort to rope attention, the music is still quite good. It claims some breathtaking moments, with wistful melodies and ethereal ambiance. Chino’s overly dramatic (as usual) vocals sometimes overpower the minimal electronics, but it works in the EP’s favour, adding an element of humanness to the otherwise cold atmosphere. Driven by Chino’s brooding vocals, Crosses turns out to be a successful debut, and a tantalizing salad before the meat of a possible future release. – Pizzamachine
6. Circle Takes The Square – Rites of Initiation
Seven years is a hell of a long time to wait, especially if it’s a follow up to an entire genre’s most heavily revered creation. Well, as heavy handed as that may seem, it says a lot about the incredible amount of praise Circle Takes the Square’s debut record As the Roots Undo has received. Yet after its release, the band went through somewhat of a dry spell, with touring becoming sparse, and releases, well, stopping completely. It goes without saying that the band’s first material in years, Decompositions, Volume I, Chapter 1: Rites of Initiation made huge waves when it was released earlier this year, quenching the almost decade long thirst of those yearning for a follow up. Thankfully, the EP didn’t disappoint. Featuring the beautifully composed chaos that fans fell in love with back in 2004, the record is not only a wonderful throwback to the groundbreaking Circle Takes the Square of yore, but a subtle evolution of the more mature and refined Circle Takes the Square of today. Decompositions, Volume I, Chapter 1: Rites of Initiation is only a small part of what the band promises to deliver, but for right now, the winding labyrinth of ‘Way of Ever-Branching Paths’, and the sparse yet effective ‘Spiritual Narrative’ will do just fine. – Xenophanes
5. Glassjaw – Our Color Green (The Singles)
Returning eight years after their last official release, Glassjaw’s first EP of the year Our Color Green was more a collection of singles than it was a self-containing entity. Despite the furore surrounding its release, the material on Our Color Green is as good as anyone could have hoped for. From the stylistic aggression of ‘Jesus Glue’ to the mesmeric guitar riffs supplied by ‘All Good Junkies Go to Heaven’ this is trademark Glassjaw from the off, with only ‘Stars’ showing any signs of weakness. As expected, each song works better on its own than it does within the EP itself and the lack of new material hinders the record’s relevance somewhat but overall it’s as-you-were from Long Island’s most erratic quartet – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. – mutatedfreek
4. Between The Buried And Me – The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
As with most people, when BTBAM announced an EP, I imagined one long track. Instead, what The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues gives the listener is a more focused and “concentrated” BTBAM. As much as the announcement of this EP lead me to believe that their new label, Metal Blade, was attempting a quick cash-in of their new artist, after a few listens, it becomes clear that this is their best work since Colors. While a typical BTBAM album usually consists of 5-8 tracks and clocking in around 50 minutes to an hour, The Parallax… halves that. As a BTBAM fan, this would normally be discouraging, but the result is a focused half hour of killer progressive technical wizadry without the filler. – twiszted689
3. Cynic – Carbon-Based Anatomy
Carbon-Based Anatomy isn’t so much of a change in direction as it is a natural progression. This transition may prove jarring, and even disheartening for some, but for many, it will be a welcome breath of fresh air. The lacking death metal influences and riffs will be somewhat missed, but they are absent for the sake of something grander and something larger in scope. Carbon-Based Anatomy is both a wonderful reflection and a glimpse towards the future. And the future, well, it looks bright indeed. – Xenophanes
2. Glassjaw – Coloring Book
If the release of Our Color Green saw Glassjaw re-announce their presence in the post-hardcore scene, then Coloring Book saw them move away from their roots and reinvent themselves with a more prominent melodic edge. With the exception of ‘Black Nurse’ a lot of the immediacy of their previous work was lost in favour of deeper textures and denser sounds. This exploration results in a renewed maturity, the rhythmic progression of ‘Vanilla Poltergeist Snake’ and the subdued ‘Daytona White’ definitely wouldn’t have been possible circa 2002, whereas ‘Gold’ and ‘Miracle in Inches’ take on a familiar formula but are more refined in their execution. Though there are outstanding performances all around, it is the chemistry between Durijah Lang and Manuel Carrero that provides the foundations for the slower build-ups that follow, causing each track to blend into each other to form an almost dreamlike individual movement. Coloring Book more than makes up for the long wait that Glassjaw fans have had to endure and hints at a promising future. Let’s just hope that this time the wait isn’t so long. – mutatedfreek
1. Trophy Scars – Never Born, Never Dead
Trophy Scars has always thrived under the EP format, with instant classics such as Darkness, Oh Hell and Hospital Music for the Aesthetics of Language displaying the band’s crass approach to modern day post-hardcore, all wrapped up nice in tight cohesive packages. Well it’s time to add another notch in the band’s belt, as this year’s Never Born, Never Dead sees Trophy Scars at the height of their creative powers. The use of samples is sublime, and as always, the bluesy feeling that permeates the band’s sound is perfect. ‘Never Dead’ and ‘Angels’ rank up there with some of the best songs the band has ever created, while the rest shines just as brightly. Comparatively, Never Born, Never Dead is Trophy Scars in a much more “hopeful” light, as opposed to the dark, somber Darkness, Oh Hell. Surprisingly, the band feels comfortable here, with the less heavy themes being displayed just as brilliantly as their more melancholy counterparts. This is one of post-hardcore’s finest and most creative acts at the height of their abilities, and one would surely be missing out by not hearing Never Born, Never Dead, 2011’s most exceptional EP. – Xenophanes