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Yet Another 2011 List: My Top 10 Of 2011

I definitely followed music in 2011 closer than any other year. By far, actually. Out of the a-little-over-100 albums I heard this year, here is my top 10.
10Wormrot
Dirge


I found it strange how much this album clicked with me the first few times I listened to it. I'm a guy who wholeheartedly-and-then-some appreciates originality and creativity in his music, and there's nothing particularly innovative about this release. To be honest, by the time of the making of this list, I was expecting it to wear off me to the point of...not making it on this list. But it didn't. Every time I listen to this absolutely punishing collection of 18 ferocious grind songs in 25 ferocious minutes, I'm thrown for the same loops, and find myself punching holes in my walls to the same crushing riffs. I guess the album's quality lies in that: its ability to turn you to dust despite a lack of innovation. Not a single song on this album reaches the 2 minute mark, and yet still so much is crammed into them. Monstrous growls, piercing shrieks, pummeling drums, and riffs and breakdowns galore will keep you entertained for the album's entire length. That description applies to a plethora of other grind albums, I know, but this one just seems to do it a step above the rest (above most, anyway).
9Ulcerate
The Destroyers of All


Everyone who follows their scene knows that Ulcerate is definitely a band to keep an eye on. They play a brand of death metal different from everyone else's, and they do it astoundingly well. Their crushing and slyly intricate riffs seem to slowly climb their way out of deep hazes of dissonance, only to climb back down again and swallow you whole. This unique musical method was definitely the high point, and probably the main appeal of Destroyers' predecessor, Everything Is Fire, but on The Destroyers of All, it has become fully realized. The atmospheres are dark, dense, and dizzying. Jagged, sinister riffs collide into one another while a constant drum assault continues behind them, trapping you inside the songs, bolting every exit closed. Cold, distant growls are then layered on top of everything, not so much to convey a specific message, but to add yet another level of evil to the already suffocating atmospheres. And yes, I mean "suffocating" in a good way. Breathing is overrated, I'd rather listen to Ulcerate.
8Grouper
A I A


2011 was not only the year that I began following music as closely as I could, listening to and forming an opinion on every release I was slightly interested in, but also the year I listened to types of music I never have before, drone being one of them. Grouper's A I A ended up being part of my introduction to the genre, and for that, how lucky I was. A I A is made up of two discs, one entitled "Dream Loss," and the other "Alien Observer." And through the entirety of both discs, not a single weak track is heard. Every song slowly and beautifully burns through superbly written melodies, and all the sounds that contribute to the songs' atmospheres, like wind, feedback, and simple-but-sweet drones played on other instruments, are layered so well, that at times, the album feels like it came from another planet. And when the gorgeous, reverb-y vocals are added to the mix, it makes for an atmosphere you'd have to try (really, really hard) to not get lost in.
7CunninLynguists
Oneirology


With Oneirology, CunninLynguists have given us one of the cleanest, smoothest, most enveloping hip-hop albums in recent memory. There's an underlying concept of dreams throughout the album, and the beats certainly reflect that. They feel dreamy. The album is remarkably fun to listen to, probably because of how remarkably easy it is to listen to. Along with the delightfully unobtrusive beats, the smooth flows and subtly wise lyricism of each member of CunninLynguists are given enough time to shine, giving the album a wonderful balance, making it never overbearing, and making sure it's never lacking anything, either. Oneirology is one of those albums that expands your brain along with making you bob your head up and down.
6Astronautalis
This Is Our Science


This Is Our Science is an album about life. Laced with clever metaphors and a rather exciting urgency, the lyrics on the album weave their way through many different perspectives on life, provoking a large amount of thought while also making you move with its many smoky rhythms and soaring choruses. The album combines hip-hop with a sort of indie-esque DIY ethos, grooving, bouncing, and rocking its way through its many ingenious ideas. A wide array of instruments is also utilized on the album, giving every song its own distinct personality, and luckily, the album never loses an ounce of that personality through its entire duration. From the intense, moving hook of opener "The River, The Woods," to the ten-second closer "One For the Money" (it's simply a pitch-shifted recording of a voice saying "what a hell of a way to make a living"), this album just gets at me, man.
5sleepmakeswaves
...and so we destroyed everything


...and so we destroyed everything doesn't get itself stuck within the common conventions of post-rock. In fact, it dares to actually take a few steps outside them. Yes, it's still obviously a post-rock album, complete with all the genre's trademark build-ups, climaxes and cool-downs. But this album just does it...differently. Large and equal amounts of focus are put on all aspects of the songwriting, so while the climaxes are spectacular, they don't overshadow the beauty of the calmer, more meandering passages. And there's just something about the general atmosphere of this album too, it's so...fun. Many songs are laced with bright, playful electronic bleeps and bloops (most notably "(hello) cloud mountain," which is pretty much joy in audio form), and the production is so crisp and clear. ...and so we destroyed everything seems to do just about everything right. The build-ups increase in intensity and are played for just the right amount of time, the climaxes are jaw-dropping, and all the more wandering passages in between are simply gorgeous. And not only that, but all the melodies are so well-written and well-placed that every single one manages to be genuinely affecting. I dare you to listen to this album without being absolutely exhilarated.
4Glassjaw
Coloring Book


To begin, Glassjaw's latest release, the Coloring Book EP, sounds pretty much nothing like their most popular and most influential album, 2002's Worship and Tribute. There's no more ferocious, aggression-laced riffs hiding beneath piles of dissonance, and for the most part, no more intensely visceral and quirky vocals from vocalist Daryl Palumbo. The band seems to have calmed down a bit (other releases after Worship and Tribute are evidence of this as well). But that doesn't make these songs any less wrenching, any less moving, or any less awesome. Daryl is crooning his creative, but still catchy melodies on top of brilliantly written guitar and bass lines, and each of the six songs here are just as good as the last, but they're still all different from one another. "Black Nurse" is probably the song most reminiscent of the band's intense post-hardcore past, being raw, catchy, and entrancing all at the same time. "Daytona White," however, is hardly like anything the band has ever done before, being soft and carefully touching. But, as expected, the band does it so well that it sounds like they've been writing ballads for years. That's pretty much what Coloring Book is, six songs from a band who's not afraid to try new things, because they know they'll get 'em spot-on.
3Scale the Summit
The Collective


Instrumental metal tends to get a bad rap from a lot of people, and I can understand why. A lot of music the genre has to offer tends to shred and shred to the point of becoming emotionless, self-indulgent fodder that even guitarists get bored listening to. Well, if you for some reason think that this sentiment applies to all instrumental metal, please, do yourself a favor, and let Scale the Summit and their latest offering, The Collective, set you straight. This album is nothing short of incredible. It's not just solo after solo after solo after solo, the songs here are actually songs. An extremely admirable amount of restraint is shown through the album's entire duration, and it does the album nothing but good. Besides passing the mere "good entertainment" mark, that's what sets this album apart from many other instrumental metal albums, what it doesn't do is just as important as what it does do. Not even every song on The Collective has a solo. This not only makes the album unpredictable, but it makes it feel like the album is actually taking you on a journey, rather than just showing off the musicianship of the band. Actually, a great way to put it would be to say that the album uses the musicianship of the band (which is insane, I may as well add) to make the album take you on a journey. The riffs are always huge and meaty, the solos are always dazzling, and the songs always transition from one to the other with ease and style. The Collective is a beautiful diamond in the rough of stereotypically self-indulgent instrumental metal.
2Thursday
No Devolucion


No Devolucion means serious business. Its atmosphere is cold, and it may take a while to reveal all of its subtle and incredible nuances to you, but once it does, you won't be able to stop listening. Along with being emotionally, breathtakingly bare, the songs on this album are simply epic. The choruses are soaring and huge, and the passages of each song swell and swell with amazing ease. The atmospheres are so deep and full of life, they sound like an ocean that there's no way could have been recorded in a lowly, human recording studio. I don't know how perfect melodies, like the ones in "Sparks Against the Sun" or "Magnets Caught In A Metal Heart" came into being, but in terms of songwriting and creating a world in which your average listener will be entranced, one thing's for sure: the guys in Thursday know what they're doing. Whether they're making you jump around, singing the words at the top of your lungs, making you sway back and forth, lost in a brilliant melody, or nearly bringing you to tears, No Devolucion covers the full emotional spectrum, and lets every emotion breathe as much as possible. Nothing is missing from this album, its very few flaws simply lie in transitional mishaps. But that doesn't matter, No Devolucion will blow you away anyway.
1Andrew Jackson Jihad
Knife Man


Hm..what can I say about Knife Man? What can I say about my favorite album of 2011 (a year filled to the brim with amazing music), and now one of my favorite albums of all time? What can I say about an album that helped me make sense of so many emotions I've been feeling lately? What can I say about an album that I honestly believe has the power to help anybody in need of a little explaining? Knife Man is life. Being one of the best albums I've ever heard lyrically, it swiftly moves from track to track, never without simply and elegantly solving some problem you've been having with either yourself or someone else in your life. And not only are the lyrics themselves brilliant, but how aware of themselves they are is simply astounding. When "I hate whiny fucking songs like this, but I can't afford a therapist, sorry guys, here's a solo!" is sung in "Distance," how can you not laugh, and examine your own actions at the same time? The lyrics aren't just perfectly stated, concrete observations though, there's plenty of abstract metaphors, like in the album's enormous and amazing closer, "Big Bird;" "but the big red bird that lives under the city, doesn't give a damn about me, and it dies every night. So I bought a knife. I am a knife." So, in conclusion, the lyrics are perfect. But did I mention that the way the songs are written is, too? Not one of the album's sixteen tracks is forgettable in the slightest. And not only are they all vital to the course of the album, but I swear I've had every single one of them stuck in my head at some point. And that did me good too, because it meant I was (and still am) remembering some hilariously clever way (you know, like "why didn't I think of that?") to fix some kind of social problem, or make sense of some philosophy I've been trying to wrap my head around. Knife Man is joyful, withdrawn, abrasive, soothing, melancholy, triumphant, and absolutely brilliant. I can safely say that I would be a much more confused, angsty teenager had this album never entered my life.
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