2011 In Music: Rants, Reviews, and Upcoming Releases (Oh My!)

2011 to me can best be analogized to the release of the PlayStation 3 back in late 2006, mostly selling on future potential. While we wait patiently for new Opeth, Devin Townsend, Diablo Swing Orchestra, and so on, we’re given a mix bag of some great, and the rest occupying the space between good and mediocre. So without further ado, here is a list of what I think is worth your time this year.

The Great

Mitochondrion – Parasignosis

  • Ever wonder what it would sound like to be trampled by elephants while the apocalypse was underway in the background? This album is probably the closest to fulfilling your bewildering specific (and highly improbable experience). This album is heavy in ways you wouldn’t think possible with just 3 members, but they really poured their hearts into this and in doing so they created something that goes beyond your average Brutal Death Metal album. Definitely not the album that will turn you into a metal believer, but if you’ve ever extended your index and pinky finger whilst curling in the other two, you owe it to yourself to give this a go.

Ulcerate – The Destroyers of All

  • The drumming, oh the drumming. Generally the only drumming I take real notice of is when it’s performed by Gene Holgan or Richard Christy, but it really stands out on this album. Along with Mitochondrion, this is probably one of the heaviest albums of the year so far, bleak, desolate, and incredibly atmospheric at times, this is another album you need to check out if you’re into metal.

Moonsorrow – Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa

  • Foreign for “As shadows we walk in the land of the dead” and let me tell you that this was the first metal album of the year I was actually anticipating. A one hour epic tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world (or so I’m told, I haven’t read the translated lyrics yet) in four chapters, with three interludes, one of which is sure to give you a heart attack. Moonsorrow have continued their excellent blend of folk instruments and organization with the aggressive metal feeling and have added another solid release to an almost pristine discography. It can sound a little over produced at times, but never enough to make it sound hollow or fake. Definitely an early contender for metal album of the year in my books.

Falkenbach – Tiurida

  • My first introduction to the German folk/viking metal band and all things considered, it could have been a lot worse. The album is varied enough to ensure that boredom is impossible and if you’re interested in Norse mythology then the songs have enough to keep your attention. It does slow down in some sections, but other than that its an incredibly good album that will unfortunately get swept aside by many people in favor of the more recognizable “Moonsorrow”. Still, the album is definitely worth your attention, if only to put the band on your mental radar in order to check out some of their older albums (which are apparently much better).

Fen – Epoch

  • Sophomore release from British black metal/post-rock outfit Fen. Just as last year saw the marrying of shoegaze and black metal (Alcest, Lantlos, etc.) to create something a little more… uh… appealing, Fen have brought together the raw and heavy from black metal, and forced it to mate with the subtle and atmospheric from post-rock. It kicks your ass til you’re wearing it for a hat, then coos gentle reassurances in your ears, only to pulverize your back end with a meat tenderizer. That said though, even through the heavy bits, the album is steeped in atmosphere that really requires a set of headphones to truly enjoy to the fullest. Absolutely sublime from start to finish.

Thomas Giles – Pulse

  • Between the Buried and Me’s front man, Thomas Giles leaves the world of progressive death metal behind in favor of a more restrained and refined world. A world where you could be hearing acoustic guitars one second, then the bee boop squawnky keyboards the next. The album showcases a lot of potential and with Tommy’s young age, he has plenty of time to refine his soloist styling, but at the same time, Pulse is a cooky album that will leave you feeling entertained if nothing else.

The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

  • The Joy Formidable has been described as what you would get if you mixed The Breeders’ in your face punky attitude with the approachable and friendly demeanor of The Arcade Fire. Before I go any further though I just want to say this, there is a song that features double bass drums. An indie rock song featuring double bass drums. When they’re not pushing the envelope with what you have come to expect from an indie rock song featuring an attractive female singer, The Joy Formidable do a wonderful job of merging the heaviness of the ’90’s indie rock scene, with the refined and presentable appearance that is guaranteed to create a diverse fanbase and leave nobody feeling alienated. This is what the indie rock scene needs more of these days.

Chapel Club – Palace

  • Album debut from U.K. Post-punk group Chapel Club that manages to encapsulate the feeling of the older post-punk groups (Gang of Four, The Fall, Joy Division, etc.) without actually ripping them off (completely). That is admirable in and of itself, however Chapel Club do bring some original ideas to the table and present them in a way that is not aimed at just one particular demographic. Much like The Joy Formidable, Chapel Club is not trying to just entertain the Pitchfork crowd, and their blend of ’90’s shoegaze atmosphere with the driving basslines one expects from post-punk acts is enough to carry the album. Now we wait to see if it was a fluke or if they can make the proverbial lightning strike again with their sophomore album, but until then, give Palace a listen because I can guarantee that you’ll find something about it that you like.

Hotel of the Laughing Tree – Terror and Everything After

  • Another debut album from a band I think will gain quite a following over the next decade. Whereas I think Chapel Club’s debut may have been a fluke, Hotel of the Laughing Tree are definitely no fluke. Their musicianship is tight, melodic, and thoughtful, exhibiting each instruments’ high points, and letting the others take up the slack and work together like cogs, to make something bigger than themselves. Terror and Everything After can best be described as an indie rock group that found their dads’ King Crimson albums, and tried to emulate them, just as a young boy will try to imitate his fathers stride, not quite getting it, but you can’t help but feel touched that they’re trying. And that’s the best way I can describe Hotel of the Laughing Tree, a band that does their best to following in the big boys’ footsteps, and more or less pulls it off. Veteran prog rock fans might not be as moved as this album, but you’ll have to agree, they at least have the artwork down

Random – Black Materia

  • I’m not a Final Fantasy fan. I just feel like I have to say that to give this review some clarity, because I know a lot of people were probably moved to tears as they reminisce Aerith’s death cutscene during the song “Aerith”, but I have no emotional attachment to the subject matter of the album. With that in mind it it make Black Materia all the more awesome for still kicking ass, despite being something largely made for fans. The beats are well made and incredibly catchy in some songs, “AVALANCHE” being one in particular, and the lyrics do a good job at telling the story. Random really stands out because of his obsession with keeping his fans in the loop over social networking sites like Twitter. First he asked for suggestions for songs and album titles, and then he gave away a free EP a week before the release date. My only complaint though was that while Random’s previous Mega Man themed albums got me somewhat interested in the NES platformer, Black Materia still could not get me to care about Final Fantasy VII, however I am sure it will be the album that will act as a starting point for hip hop neonates, and there is something to be said for that.

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath 1972

  • This is good… I mean really good. I never really know how to review ambient/ drone music but I will say this for Ravedeath 1972, it’s not afraid to take charge and make you listen to it. Most ambient/drone hums peacefully in the background as I write a paper or read or something, but not this. Ravedeath 1972 is a foreground album, and that in and of itself makes it awesome.

The Good

Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots

  • Barley a year after the release of The Big To Do the alternative country group is back with what can best be described as their “R&B” album. The album follows a more danceable rhythm one would expect to find in some dive bar somewhere down south. The album is full of songs about love, heartbreak, and other subjects that make up the R&B matter. The best song on the album is easily “Use To Be A Cop” which tells the story of a man trying to cope with his life after he is booted from the police force. It is depressingly beautiful and touches on a number of real problems that permeate the modern day police force. The album is not without its faults though, and it definitely smacks of an album that may have been rushed a little bit, some songs are just boring, however none of them get in the way too much to downgrade the album. Perhaps another year of refining would have been better for the album in the long run, but overall Go-Go Boots is a good addition to anyone’s alternative country library.

Iceage – New Brigade

  • This is perhaps the antithesis to Chapel Club’s Palace, whereas the former is calm and atmospheric, New Brigade is noisy, chaotic, and a wonderful throwback to albums like Wire’s debut, Clocking in at just over 30 minutes in length, the album is bold, noisy, angry, and surprisingly artistic at times. It’s definitely not an album for everyone though, it can be a little harsher on the ears if you’re not already use to the noisy and chaotic nature of bands like Sonic Youth or Big Black, but as a starting point, there are a lot of worse bands you could start off with. The album does suffer from a little lack of direction, and some of the songs are indistinguishable from each other, but I’m not a guru on noise music so I’m not sure if that’s deliberate or not. Moments of pure noisy brilliance, unfortunately cluttered with some of the unfortunate attributes that generally accompany a debut album from a relatively young band. Still there’s enough here to sink your teeth into if you’re into this sort of music and it’s definitely something you can earn obscurity points with by bringing it up in conversation.

Motorhead – The World Is Yours

  • It’s Motorhead, need I say more? It has some good, some decent, and some crap, but at the end of the day… it’s Motorhead.

Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes

  • After over half a decade silence Southern California’s favourite cow-punk rockers, they are back with an album that for all intents and purposes, isn’t a punk album. It’s a rock album. A damn good rock album. It’s an album that has no deep meanings or hidden agendas for you to try and decipher, it’s an album you put on on a sunny Saturday afternoon, crank up the volume, sit back and enjoy. Seriously that’s all there is to it, it doesn’t push any envelopes or do anything that hasn’t been done before, but its enjoyable in the same sense that ordering the same takeout, from the same place, on the same night is weirdly satisfying.

Kaizer’s Orchestra – Violeta Violeta Vol. 1

  • I wasn’t even aware this album was out (or that the band was still active) ’til maybe 3 weeks ago. When I think of Norway I generally think of vikings, snow, and of course black metal. In fact, I have this weird notion in my head that everyone in Norway listens to metal, so I sometimes take it as an insult when I find bands from Norway that don’t play metal. I don’t understand it either, but what can you do right? So here’s Kaizer’s Orchestra, a non metal band that plays a mixture of alternative rock and gypsy punk completely sung in foreign. My only other experience with Kaizer’s Orchestra was their 2XXX album Maestro but it definitely seems like they’ve grown as musicians since then. Songs like “Femtakt Filosofi” sound like a demented circus where you’re unsure of whether the clowns are going to entertain you or kill you and cannibalize your body (perhaps it’s the language barrier). If you’re a fan of the growing dark cabaret scene and bands like Gogol Bordello then you owe it to yourself to give Violeta Violeta Vol. 1 a listen.

Buck 65 – 20 Odd Years

  • Everyone’s favourite Canadian hip hop artist is back with an onslaught of songs celebrating his 20 years in the music industry. I wouldn’t say this is his best work and it’s definitely not the album to use to create a new fan, but if you’ve found yourself enjoying his past albums like “Situation” or even his 2009 collaboration “Bike For Three”, then you will find enough on 20 Odd Years to entertain. Plus it’s got a song about zombies, and that makes it awesome by International Law of Go Fuck Yourself.

Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light Pt. 1

  • The “Pt. 1” in the title leaves me anticipating a “Pt. 2” later this year (but don’t quote me on that). Much like with Tim Hecker’s ambient/drone album, I am a little unsure of how to critique it. I will say this though, it’s definitely not The Bee’s Made Honey in The Lion’s Skull, but very few things are and we can’t begrudge something for not being able to live up to its ridiculously high rated predecessors. Basically if you like Earth, Sun O))), Boris, or any other drone bands, then you’ll enjoy this for what it is. If you’re not a fan of drone music, then I don’t think this will be the album to make you a believer.

Twilight Hotel – When The Wolves Go Blind

  • Progressive Bluegrass. Fun, enjoyable, high energy music mixed with the driving rhythms of indie rock. Very similar to Nickel Creek. I have only listened to it once but I enjoyed almost every second of it. A few songs felt weaker than others but overall it was a unique experience that I hope more bands will explore in the future.

Cube X – Kanzi’s Word List

  • For fans of Estradasphere I cannot recommend this EP enough. It is that perfect mix of noisy and chaotic metal, with noisy and chaotic jazz to create something that is well… noisy and chaotic. The band members are clearly fans of both free jazz and metal, and have taken the time to learn enough of both genres to not make one genre outshine the other. It’s an EP though, so it’s short, but it still manages to leave an impression, which is all you can really ask for from an EP.

Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers – Teenage and Torture

  • With a name like that how could you go wrong? Honestly I don’t know, what I do know is that this is one of the most straightforward punky, rocky, garagey albums out this year. It’s that kind of “in your face” attitude that is not so overdone that you just want to smack them in their smug fat stupid face, but it makes you well aware of their presence in the room.

OK

Tre Watson – Death of a Monarch

  • Tre is kind of like Cloudkicker, metal one-man band musicians who like to release stuff online for free Tre Watson’s biggest influence is the djent styling of Meshuggah, bass heavy sounds based around precision timing, and overall it works out pretty well. The biggest problem is that it gets a tad bit monotonous after awhile, and unfortunately becomes background noise, something it is not intending to become. Still though, Tre Watson is a young musician who has the right idea, and I’m sure will get better as he continues to master his craft.

Neuraxis – Asylon

  • I have a soft spot for Canadian bands so I’ll get the nice out of the way quickly and move on. The band’s timing is damn near perfect… which is also one of their problems. It seems a little too perfect, like the bands are the children of Chinese parents and are afraid that if they miss one note they’ll be forced to sleep outside while the dog gets to shit all over their bed. Kind of a dumb analogy I know, but this is a long list and honestly I’m running out of somewhat funny ones. If you just can’t get enough of somewhat bland technical death metal, then by all means give Asylon a shot.

Black Pistol Fire – Black Pistol Fire

  • They are trying so hard to be the Black Keys, and while they ultimately pull it off, they sound hollow because they have no real individuality of their own. Still if you really like blues rock then it’s an album worth listening to once.

Radiohead – The King of Limbs

DeVotchKa – 100 Lovers

  • This album kind of reminds me of Gogol Bordellos Trans-Atlantic Hustle in a lot of ways. Besides adding Eastern European styling to their music, both bands’ previous efforts seemed to be a lot more upbeat and exciting than their latest releases. Now that’s not to say that they’re band in any stretch, but compared to the spit roasted chicken that was their back catalog, 100 Lovers is something you’d find in frozen foods section. The only song that really stood out for me was “The Man From San Sebastian”, however I haven’t given up on the album yet, because it took me awhile to fully appreciate Trans-Atlantic Hustle and I have no reason to believe that DeVotchKa will let me down.

The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing

  • Perhaps the best thing The Rural Alberta Advantage have going for themselves is that they don’t have a gimmick. Their music is catchy fun mix of indie rock with a pop shine and fans of Neutral Milk Hotel will find themselves enjoying this devilish little blend. The problem that some people might have with The Rural Alberta Advantage is the singer’s devotion to Jeff Magnum’s singing style, which can put off a lot of people. Departing might not win over everybody but it surprised me enough to want to keep it and give it a better listen later on down the line.

Ohene – I Am Ohene

  • I think this was my first hip hop album of the year, and it was thanks to Random that I found out about it. Ohene is a good emcee with his head on right and the ability to say what he means without having to rely on an image or a style. Plus he’s one of the few independent hip hop artists that doesn’t have a song about how great their rapping is, which is pretty nice for a change. Also he released the album at a “name your price” model which is getting increasingly more popular thankfully. All that said though, the album just didn’t do much more than light off a few fireworks in my brain. I would definitely recommend it, but only after you’ve exhausted all your other hip hop albums.

Meh

Cake – Showroom of Compassion

  • I like Cake, but I don’t like like Cake, if that makes any sense (it’s OK, I didn’t think it did either). This is an… alright album I guess, but it was kind of boring for me, also when 2 minute interludish instrumental track happens to be your favourite, I think something has gone wrong. Still though, veteran Cake fans should find enough enjoyment here, but I highly doubt Showroom of Compassion will turn anyone into a believer.

Earthlings – Insomniacs’ Ball

  • Insomniacs’ Ball is kind of like regular porridge, edible on its own but why you’d want to eat it without adding something to it is beyond me. If you’re in dire need of some new trip hop you could go here, or you could go to your music directory, throw on some Portishead or Massive Attack, and have a much more pleasant listening experience.

Macabre – Grim Scary Tales

  • This is perhaps the most polarizing album of the year, you will either find it enjoyable enough (for a bit) to get through a few listens, or you will just turn it off after three songs. It kind of sounds like someone tried to grab as many genres as they could and sew them onto death metal, and the end result is a lumbering monster that occasionally shits itself.

Wire – Red Barked Tree

  • This along with Gang of Four’s newest album (which I didn’t bother with) seem to be those last ditch attempts of older bands desperately trying to stay relevant when their fans would much rather just put on their late ’70’s/’80’s albums instead.

Talib Kweli – Gutter Rainbows

  • I’ve never been a big Talib Kweli fan, even when he was working with Mos Def in Black Star I grudgingly listened to his verses and waited for Mos Def to come back. Gutter Rainbows hasn’t really changed that position, but if you’re a fan of Talib then you’ll probably enjoy this for what it is.

Stateless – Matilda

  • Muzak pure and simple, completely monotone and boring trip hop that makes Earthlings sound somewhat more bearable.

Esben and the Witch – Violet Cries

  • After two truly impressive EP’s, this is the best they can come up with? It’s boring, flat, monotone, and utterly predictable. If you enjoy bland post-punk, then this will be right up your alley, but if you’re fast, sexy, and exciting, give their EP’s a go.

Albums I Grabbed This Year But Didn’t Bother Reviewing Summed Up In A Few Words

Forge of Clouds – Forge of Clouds (Post-Metal)

  • zzzZzzzzz

36 – Memories in Widescreen (Ambient)

  • zzzZZZzzzzz

Universum – Mortuus Machina (Melodic Death Metal)

  • zzZZZZzzzz *snort*

MyGrain – MyGrain (Melodic Death Metal)

  • zzzZZZzzzzz *ruff ruff*

Arafel – The Battles Once Fought (Folk Metal, Melodic Black Metal)

  • Yeah it’s pretty good

Yuck – Yuck (Indie Rock, noise)

  • Title says it all

Shpongle – The God Particle EP (Psybient)

  • Enjoyable but too short (even for an EP)

Omnium Gathers – New World Shadows (Melodic Death Metal)

  • Out of all the melodeath albums out this year, this is perhaps the most tolerable.

Gil Scott-Heron – We’re New Here (Spoken Word, Electronic)

  • If you like remixes give it a try, if not, go listen to I’m New Here instead.

… And You Will Know Us From The Trail Of Dead – Tao of the Dead

  • Decent rock album, nothing more, nothing less.

The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation – Anthropomophic

  • For fans of dark ambient.

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble –From The Stairwell

  • See The Mount Fuji Doomazz Corporation.

Upcoming Albums

And now to make up for all the diarrhea of the fingers I made you put up with, here is a list of some of the upcoming releases, enjoy.

March

  • The Haunted – The Unseen (03/21/2011)
  • CunninLynguists – Oneriology (03/22/2011)
  • Zion I & The Grouch – Heroes in the Healing of the Nation (03/22/2011)
  • Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising (03/25/2011)
  • Vintersorg – Jordpuls (03/25/2011)
  • Obscura – Omnivium (03/29/2011)

April

  • Blueprint – Adventures in Counter Culture (04/05/2011)
  • The Kills – Blood Pressures (04/05/2011)
  • Alcest – Le Secret EP (04/11/2011)
  • Atmosphere – The Family Sign (04/12/2011)
  • Meat Puppets – Lollipop (04/12/2011)
  • Classified – Hand Shakes and Middle Fingers (04/12/2011)
  • Between the Buried & Me – The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues [EP] (04/12/2011)
  • Pentagram – Last Rites (04/12/2011)
  • Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (04/12/2011)
  • Blut Aus Nord – 777 – Sect(s) (04/18/2011)
  • Primordial – Redemption at the Puritans Hands (04/23/2011)
  • Torchbearer – Death Meditations (04/25/2011)
  • Boris – Heavy Rocks (04/26/2011)
  • Boris – Attention Please (04/26/2011)
  • Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get out of This World Alive (04/26/2011)
  • Ulver – The War of the Roses (TBA)
  • Iced Earth –TBA (TBA)
  • Lock Up – The Embodiment of Paradox and Chaos (TBA)
  • Negura Bunget – Poartă De Dincolo [EP] (TBA)

May

  • Samael – Lux Mundi (05/03/2011)
  • Novembers Doom – Aphotic (05/10/2011)
  • The Antlers – Burst Apart (05/10/2011)
  • Necrophagia – Deathtrip 69 (05/16/2011)
  • Anaal Nathrakh – Passion (05/17/2011)
  • Flogging Molly – Speed of Darkness (05/24/2011)
  • Thurston Moore – Demolishing Thoughts (05/24/2011)
  • Amorphis – Beginning of Times (05/27/2011)
  • Tyr – The Lay of Thrym (05/27/2011)
  • Arch Enemy – Khaos Legions (TBA)
  • Devin Townsend Project- Deconstruction (TBA)
  • Devin Townsend Project – Ghost (TBA)
  • Draconian – TBA (TBA)

June

  • Pain – TBA (06/03/2011)
  • Morbid Angel – Illud Divinum Insanus (06/06/2011)
  • Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See (06/06/2011)
  • Battles – Gloss Drop (06/07/2011)
  • Rhapsody of Fire – From Chaos to Eternity (06/17/2011)
  • In Flames – Sounds of a Playground Fading (TBA)
  • Virgin Black – Requiem – Pianissimo (TBA)
  • Communic – The Bottom Deep (TBA)

Later 2011

  • Meshuggah – TBA
  • Opeth – TBA
  • Tool – TBA
  • Lacuna Coil – TBA
  • Steven Wilson – TBA
  • Blut Aus Nord – 777 – The Desanctification (TBA)
  • Blut Aus Nord – 777 – The Cosmosophy (TBA)
  • Be’lakor – TBA
  • Gojira – TBA
  • Queens of the Stone Age – TBA
  • Dream Theater – TBA
  • Bad Brains – TBA
  • Agrypnie – Asche (TBA)
  • Mastodon – TBA
  • VoiVod – TBA
  • Russian Circles – TBA
  • Pain of Salvation – Road Salt 2 (TBA)
  • Devin Townsend – (TBA)
  • Insomnium – TBA
  • OSI – TBA
  • The Gathering – TBA
  • Cynic – TBA
  • Jesu – TBA
  • Diablo Swing Orchestra – TBA
  • Wintersun – Time – (TBA)
  • Testament – TBA
  • Aesop Rock – TBA
  • Cult of Luna – TBA
  • Nine Inch Nails – TBA
  • Sigh – In Somniphobia (TBA)

Sources

Here is where I got these upcoming releases, so if they don’t come out, yell at these guys:

http://www.hiphopdx.com/index/release-dates/
http://www.metalunderground.com/upcoming_metal_releases/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_in_heavy_metal_music
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_albums_released_in_2011
http://features.metacritic.com/features/upcoming-album-release-calendar/
http://www.metalkingdom.net/album/upcoming_releases.php?start=14
http://www.metalstorm.net/events/new_releases.php?upcoming=1

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About loathsomepete
Avid reader/ writer of all things intelligent and thought provoking. Same goes for my music, any genre will do me as long as it conveys intelligence.

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