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Year End Lists - Staff

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10. Jenny Hval – Innocence is Kinky

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Language is the issue at the heart of Innocence is Kinky: how it changes by dialect, accent, personality, interpretation. “The voice,” Jenny Hval posits on “The Seer”, the album’s closing track, “is a wordless tissue, the fog from Heart of Glass. Listen to the lips that feed you.” Who feeds you? For what are we listening? Why the fog from Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass (an infamous little movie where the actors underwent hypnosis)? Hval will answer these questions, but only in the abstract; her aims are for provocation, surely, which is nothing especially new in this digital landscape. But more importantly, Hval means to steer the conversation onto itself, taking many folks to task for their role in the presentation of gender and sexuality in the public view, and does so by cultivating a new sound and appropriations of well-worn (now shimmering, damning) genre tropes.

Which is to say: man, this album rocks. Hval’s aim is unwieldy, rounding out delicate folk reminiscent of 2011’s more spacious Viscera with feedback scorched rock tunes treated with the same scope and fervor that marked that auspicious solo debut. Some songs find the head-turning meeting point between them, as one does in the standout “Is…

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30. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

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Whether unabashed optimist or sterling cynic, everybody can hear a bit of themselves in Pedestrian Verse. It’s a collection of solemn songs, and anybody who’s even vaguely familiar with Frightened Rabbit should have expected that from the minute they learnt of its existence. But this time around, it isn’t such a bad thing to be a downer– the beautiful thing about this record is that despite its dispirited undertones, it certainly has its own way of coping with things– constructive melancholia. Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison is no stranger to woe, but his lyrics have never embraced that as much as they do here. There’s no need for Hutchinson to pretend anymore– he’s too old for that. He can get away with singing “Let’s promise every girl we marry / We’ll always love them when we probably won’t” in opening track “Acts of Man,” because he’s including himself in the very demographic at which he’s scowling. Frightened Rabbit’s music has always been about breaking promises, if not forgetting about them entirely; it just seems that with Pedestrian Verse, the trick is accepting it’ll always be that way. –Jacob Royal

29. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation

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50. Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn

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Summoning have proven time and again that they are absolute masters of their craft, however small their niche may be. Not only are they arguably the best symphonic black metal band ever to play the genre, they take a concept that permeates black metal as a whole and do what nearly all others cannot: turn it into something that is alive and sentient. Old Mornings Dawn brings back the imagery of Middle-earth like only Summoning could, with massive tracks featuring their signature keyboard-laden soundscapes, lumbering guitar melodies, and echoing screams. It has been 7 years since we last heard from Summoning, but they continue to conjure dreams of Tolkien’s universe within our mind’s eye. –Kyle Ward

49. Vali – Skogslandskap

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Vali’s Skogslandskap is one of the most heartfelt and dainty records of 2013. Released at the end of August, just before autumn could start to raise its tenebrific head once more, it is a record that supremely fills the role of a loyal comrade…

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10. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

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I think it’s about time that I let you all in on a little secret: I’m just a touch older than the average SputnikMusic user. Shock horror, huh? In fact, I may even be old enough to have seen items go out of fashion, only to have them return in popularity years later. Thick-rimmed glasses, new wave music, mini-skirts and vinyl records are all examples of such phenomena, so when The Gaslight Anthem released a single titled “45″, you could say that my interest was aroused… When the old-fashioned quartet went on to title their fourth LP ‘Handwritten’, I was officially an acolyte to the Ministry of The Gaslight Anthem. And yes, I do still hand-write many of my reviews, just like Brian Fallon and the guys would want me to. Here, famed producer Brendan O’Brien assists the New Jersey natives in carving out huge, soaring anthems which lose little of the band’s endearing sincerity. The accomplished musicianship takes in every corner of rock, with Fallon’s vocals continuing to improve as his surprisingly introspective lyrics make the detailed storytelling no less captivating. ‘Handwritten’ may downsize the outfit’s punkier leanings and be too familiar for some, but it is ultimately another assured, consistent and cohesive album from a rock’n’roll band at the top of…

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30. Yellowcard – Southern Air

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Ever since frontman Ryan Key took the reins with 2001’s One For The Kids, Yellowcard has been an example of what is right with pop-punk – the sunny vibe, the catchy choruses, the heartfelt lyrics, and the ever-so-rare element of consistency. An entire generation has been afforded the opportunity to follow YC’s career like a book, and Southern Air manages to keep stride with an audience that is not only aging, but is also maturing. Here, the energy flows freely and lyrics are chosen carefully. The result is an album that is equally as meaningful as it is infectious, lacing the subtle contributions of Tay Jardine (We Are The In Crowd) and Cassadee Pope (Hey Monday) with off-the-wall drumming and half-minute violin solos to make the most complete sounding album of the band’s career. With Southern Air, Yellowcard has finally managed to merge all of their best qualities into one disc. Bon appetit, pop-punk enthusiasts! -SowingSeason

29. Menomena – Moms

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Breakups are hard, but you wouldn’t know it from Menomena, who followed up a split with founding member Brent Knopf and another in a long line of critically acclaimed albums with Moms, which just might happen…

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50. Propagandhi – Failed States

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Failed States is Propagandhi’s bitter album. The Canadian punk rockers have always worn their angry, fist-raising politics on their sleeves – a particularly effective formula when mixed with the band’s more recent thrash-punk inclinations – but this time around it’s accompanied by a rather stark sense of futility. Guided by figures such as Chris Hedges, Failed States lambastes the vapid state of affairs which places more value in material culture, political, and religious talking points over genuine discussion. It isn’t hard to find reason for their cynicism; months ago, the band posted an interview of Hedges conducted by Fox News wannabe, Kevin O’Leary. Rather than engage Hedges in a discussion of the Occupy Movement, O’Leary was content in resorting to ad hominem attacks and semantic traps. It was an embarrassing display from what is supposed to be a serious political talk show, and for a band that’s built their career on promoting political activism and intelligent discussion it has to be a bitter pill to swallow. Consequently, much of the Failed States features diatribes against such stupidity, political apathy, and inaction; where previous albums parried against ideological opponents, this time around Propagandhi lament the seeming lack of engagement outside major social movements such as Occupy, YoSoy132, and 15-M. Propagandhi accentuates this with a ferocious…

10. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

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Robin Pecknold wants to be the man on the screen – that much is clear from the get-go – but how far are we willing to bend to accommodate him? Quite a bit, it seems, judging by the Santoshian levels of patience with which all of us waited for his band’s sophomore release, Helplessness Blues, to drop. Although three years usually isn’t seen as a particularly long gestation period for an album – just ask Kate Bush – it wasn’t really the length of the wait that ended up toying with us big time, but rather the stop-start nature of the band’s initial recording sessions and Pecknold’s sketchy vision of what he wanted his group’s second album to be like. Having first said that he wanted the album to be released in late 2009, and that, “even if there are fuck-ups, I want them to be on there: I want there to be guitar mistakes; I want there to be not totally flawless vocals”, the principal songwriter for the Fleet Foxes ended up scrapping virtually the entirety of their first batch of recording sessions once he decided that he didn’t quite like what he was hearing, thus sending his entire crew back to the drawing board and about $60,000 in the hole. Once famously described by Seattle producer Phil Ek as having “talent coming out of his ass”, the Seattle native…

30. Deafheaven – Roads To Judah

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Riding on the curtails of a buzzing demo, followed by the left-field addition into hardcore/metal label Deathwish, Bay Area’s own Deafheaven is a poster child of success this year.  Essentially springing up out of nowhere, their own special blend of “My Bloody Valentine meets Weakling” has spring boarded them into the limelight, reaching and relating to fans of multiple genres and styles.  Roads To Judah carries so much depth as an album that its nearly unimaginable to believe that it’s only a debut, leaving the door open for countless possibilities and directions as to which path this enigmatic group will tread upon next.  Whether its the shoegazey haze of ‘Violet’, to the post-rock/black metal hybrid of ‘Unrequited’, Roads To Judah is a melting pot of various musical styles that blend together to create one of the most memorable debut albums this generation has ever seen. – ThisLifeisGenocide

29. Protest The Hero – Scurrilous

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“Vulgar verbal abuse; foul-mouthed; coarse, abusive, or slanderous,” reads the dictionary definition of “scurrilous”, which, while a more-than-decent descriptor of Canadian progressive metal band Protest the Hero’s (PtH) third studio effort, doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Scurrilous sees PtH indulging in shenanigans that frankly didn’t seem possible during their unpolished (but much-heralded) Kezia and Fortress eras. Most evident of all is their…

50. Esoteric – Paragon of Dissonance

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At this point, Esoteric can be called the forerunners of funeral doom metal, because they’re just that good. Paragon Of Dissonance is more of the same from the esteemed band, only this time massive improvements have been made. The rhythm section and melodies that weave into the thick, crushing guitars are more interesting than usual, making massive song lengths seem shorter than they are. When I say massive song lengths, I mean that the longest song here is eighteen minutes long – that’s pretty long. Still, as usual, Esoteric handle their songs excellently, somehow keeping the listener hypnotized the entire time. It’s no easy task, but they make it look like child’s play. Now that’s some proper funeral doom! – Pizzamachine

49. Grouper – A I A

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Well, isn’t this fitting. A I A, elusive and gorgeous little double-mini-album that it is, is perfectly content here, as the forty-ninth of fifty great albums this year, sandwiched between two metal albums you probably forgot to download. This is an album destined to be eternally lodged in the periphery of music criticism communities like the one we have here–something that distinguishes it from, say, Bon Iver, Bon Iver or James Blake or what have you. This isn’t to say that A I A is worse than those other albums–after all, it’s my fifth favorite…

10. Immolation – Providence

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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

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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 DivisionEarth 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…

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10. Touche Amore – Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me

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A few months ago I made my way down from the San Fernando Valley ‘burbs which I call home to the city of Echo Park, which is situated half way in between the seedy faux-glamour of Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles, to see Touche Amore’s homecoming show at the Echoplex. As I drove past the venue in my feeble attempts to find a parking spot it hit me just how big they have become since the release of Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me. The show that night, also featuring La Dispute and Pianos Become the Teeth, was a microcosm of the current rebirth of and the post-hardcore scene that some have been calling “The Wave” and others like myself just call a welcome change of pace. And just like that night, with Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me Touche Amore have positioned themselves at the front of this movement.

Taking influence from early 2000’s post-hardcore bands such as Thursday, the 90’s emo underground, and the last 20 years of indie scene, Touche Amore’s Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me is a quick burst of artful yet emotional punk rock. Driven…

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30. Givers – In Light

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In the ever-changing world of the music industry, indie-pop is no longer the flavor of the month. Even its stalwart mainstays from New York City, California and England are expanding their instrumental palette in order to open up new sounds, vibes and textures. Who knew that it would be the Cajun and Zydeco hotbed of Louisiana which would produce one of the most promising talents that the genre has seen in years: Lafayette’s Givers. Their debut LP ‘In Light’ takes you on a trip around the musical world, with subtle Cajun & funk influences differentiating the band from the pack. The finger-picked acoustic guitar of ‘Saw You First’ adds a Southern feel, ‘Ripe’ has a decidedly Asian flavor, ‘In My Eyes’ and ‘Ceiling of Plankton’ contain some Caribbean calypso, while the beautiful ukulele boasting ‘Atlantic’ convincingly carries a Celtic vibe! With all 5 members being multi-instrumentalists and a brilliant boy/girl vocal dynamic, an expansive array of sounds and influences are apparent. Creative and experimental without sacrificing accessibility, ‘In Light’ is without filler and begs for repeated listens to explore its numerous layers, rhythms & melodies. Recommended Tracks: Meantime, Up Up Up, Atlantic, Noche Nada & Ceiling of Plankton. – Davey Boy

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50. FaltyDL – You Stand Uncertain

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Despite its title, Drew Lustman’s follow-up to 2009’s Love Is A Liability is anything but; it’s an album built upon an almost obsessive dedication, one that sees itself rising far above his debut LP because this time Drew wisely chooses to pursue just one of his many personalities. And he follows that trajectory almost aggressively, to the point where each song plays out as a natural extension of everything that’s come before it. You Stand Uncertain is a definitive statement of sorts for Falty, one that sees his affinity for doe-eyed house and garage absorbed to the point where one becomes wholly inseparable and almost indefinable from the other. It’s an album that sounds completely at odds with its surroundings; recorded in New York, it rebels against the timpani of a bustling city, the skyline framed by towering concrete monoliths by opting instead for more open climes, the kind defined by porcelain-white beaches and oceans that stretch out far beyond the line on the horizon. As such, You Stand Uncertain is a muggy, almost sweaty affair, coated in a thick haze of melting percussion and teary-eyed wonky synths, that dips from the junglist hardcore of ‘Lucky Luciano’ through the robotic…

When the powers-that-be at SSC (that’s “Sputnik Staff Central” for those out of the loop) almost ruled that all staff were to place their year-end lists on the blog this year, I quivered at the thought. It usually takes me about 15 minutes to center one picture, so could you imagine 25 or 40 of them!?

As it thankfully turned out, the consensus suggested such posting would be non-mandatory, allowing staff to be flexible with what they put up on the blog. All of a sudden, I thought that I would manage to scrape something half-decent together. And then, my learned colleagues had to get all artistic on me, didn’t they? Sowing led out before I even knew what my Top 25 albums consisted of… Chan & Tyler posted cool photos which would probably see me in jail for licensing infingements… Newbie Adam Knott went with the simple – but cool – idea of just listing songs instead of albums… Jom posted more links than I could click at… While Matt appeared from nowhere with a Hemingway-inspired half-a-dozen that totalled all of 18 words!

It was all too much for my feeble mind to take in… Resulting in this hodgepodge of albums, EPs, songs, videos, gigs & one final defining moment of 2011. Hopefully, it doesn’t come off as too informal and/or half-assed in places, and in the next week or so I will be formally posting my Top 40 albums & songs of 2011… As a LIST! Fuck…

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!,

Jom

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