Countdown: 2011: Tracks

This is the eighth year that I’ve done a rundown of the music released in the past year – and every year I seem to end up with more material to cover.

Countdown: 2011

29-Nov: Best Compilations
06-Dec: Best Tracks
14-Dec: Best Albums
20-Dec: Best Gigs


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Countdown: Tracks

2010: In Strict Confidence – Silver Bullets
2009: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
2008: – What Used To Be (Short Storm)
2007: Prometheus Burning – Battery Drain
2006: No tracks of the year list
2005: Grendel – Soilbleed / Rotersand – Exterminate Annihilate Destroy
2004: No tracks of the year list

I’ve probably bought more music this year than I have in the past couple of years combined, so I’ve had to expand this list a little more – as there was no way that I was going to be able to include everything otherwise. Even capping this list at 25 has resulted in a few things having to make way, too. Anyway, as ever I’d like to hear from you too about your favourites of the year. Next week: Albums of the year.

Number_25OK Go
The Muppet Show Theme
The Green Album

This year has been a snarky return to form for the Muppets, with a marvellously entertaining buildup to their new film (which we’ve still not seen in the UK yet. Three months after the US? WTF?) including glorious parodic trailers, snappy twitter feeds (Statler and Waldorf on The Balcony) and an album of bands doing songs from the Muppet Show. The best of the bunch was OK Go’s revamp of the main theme, with an ultra-meta video and an intriguing reworking of the song itself. Obviously this is a pretty hard song to fuck up, after all – but OK Go played it broadly straight, adding their own little touches along the way. Even so, it is difficult to appreciate fully without the video…

Bug Life

Yet another new noisy artist from the US, who like a handful of acts before them straddle the divide between industrial and industrial noise, by using at times extremely harsh electronics but in near-conventional song structures – something that even fewer have got right. The album generally is pretty good, as it happens, but for me the unassailable peak is the closing track – a harsh, snarling take on one of Chemlab’s finest moments, featuring none other than Matt Fanale from Caustic having fun with the vocals. In fact, this wasn’t the only cracking cover Matt was involved in this year – see also his collaboration with Phil Barry from Be My Enemy on the evergreen industrial dancefloor favourite Oxyacetalene (that I’m still pissed that I missed being performed at Resistanz in April).

Neon Girls

Apparently a hotly-tipped band in the London scene, I first came across them being recommended in an interview with similarly tipped London band Blindness (who were near the top of this very list last year). Somewhat different to Blindness, though, in being cocksure onstage, and owing far more of a debt to certain shoegaze bands. But they don’t use that as a Shield (pun intended) – the walls of guitar effects twist and drone, but are underpinned by a distinct punk influence that really makes them stand out from the crowd – and results in songs as fantastic as this.

Number_22Alter Der Ruine
You Owe Me Blood
Son Of A Bitch

The return of ADR has been a bit lower key, perhaps, than was hoped, as the album all but sneaked out recently. A shame, as it really is rather good, and more than anything contains this electro monster of a track. Taking in about six different electronic genres over six minutes, it manages to sound coherent, groovy and fun. Also, it despite the magpie-like picking of little bits that they like from everywhere, there is no suggestion that it sounds like anyone other than ADR. Even better? We have another album to come in a few months.

Judge Of My Domain
Modern Ruin

The album was long enough coming, and like the last album, it ended up being a frustratingly patchy affair. But it could be argued that there are few Covenant albums that are truly brilliant from start to finish (United States of Mind and Northern Light in particular probably have the best case for that) – but one thing they do utterly excel in are bombastic, skyscraping dancefloor anthems. And that was where Modern Ruin delivered brilliantly – the buzz early on was that this was the killer track on the album, and that buzz wasn’t wrong. A sparse, almost dehumanised rhythm and vocal suddenly transforms into an incredible, soaring chorus that Eskil’s voice nails perfectly.

Number_20Rabbit Junk
What Doesn’t Kill You Will Make You A KILLER

JP Anderson returned at last this summer, with the vocal assistance once again of Sum Grrrl, and fucking hell he was angry. This is JP pulling his socks up, before preparing to unleash his fury at the world. Is that because he has somehow been ignored by the wider world? Clearly, some people just have no taste. This is punk-industrial-digital-hardcore-pop that only Rabbit Junk can deliver, that is both heavy as hell and melodic at the same time, drawing as much from punk and metal as it does from electronic realms, and has a wonderfully strange video involving a damned scary rabbit to boot. A new album as good as this would be fucking awesome.

Number_19Ghost & Writer
Man on a Wire

Is there really nothing that Frank Spinath doesn’t touch that turns to (aural) gold? A low-key release this year was this unusual album, a collaboration between him and JimmyJoe from The Weathermen, that was a sweeping set of soundtracks to imaginary film noir. Well, that was the feeling that it invoked, anyway. Just eight songs, backed with eight remixes (one of each, in order), it was full of gems that many people may have missed totally. The pick of the eight, though, was this track, that returned to the familiar Spinath lyrical territory of a life in the shadows, one riddled with regret and loss. But making it sound so inviting at the same time. Musically it was pretty special, too. A glittering synth-led backing, with a beat that only appeared for the lush chorus like a stab through the heart. Expect to see Spinath return to these lists once again next year, I’d suspect – Seabound make their long-awaited return in 2012.

Number_18TV On The Radio
No Future Shock
Nine Types of Light

Not the first band on this list that I had totally missed prior to this year, but one listen to their first major label release Nine Types Of Light and I was hooked, and wondering why the fuck it had taken me this long. Still, this was one that divided my girlfriend Daisy and I – she just wasn’t taken by them at all, on record or live. Still, I guess they aren’t exactly the kind of band that everyone takes to. A complex mix of art-rock, soul and R&B, but firmly on the rock side of things, they are a band to dance to. And no more is this the case on the new album than on No Future Shock, a furious rail against the corporate nature of everything that sounds like a protest where the emphasis is on having fun while still having a serious message to deliver.

Number_17And So I Watch You From Afar

Plainly and simply the most-thrilling instrumental rock band (ok, post-rock) to emerge in some years, their second album arrived this year and while it wasn’t *quite* up to the high bar set by their debut, it certainly had its moments, and this was one of them. Littered with technical brilliance, the band have a habit of stringing out riffs and sounds for just that little bit longer than you expect, before knocking you out time and again with a monster riff. And this song does this numerous times, propelled along by a hyperactive guitar melody, and a sense of astonishing control as the band lock tight to ensure that the whole sound never spirals into chaos. But like forebears 65Daysofstatic, this band are all about dynamics, and exactly how to use them for jaw-dropping breakdowns. And here, they are so, so obviously a tight-knit group of friends – or a gang, if you will – that have honed their art over a considerable time. In a just world, stadiums should await these guys.

Number_16Imperative Reaction
Imperative Reaction

The much-heralded “change of direction” from Imperative Reaction upon the release of their eponymous album this year was, frankly, little more than a curve in the road. Yeah, so there were new elements – guitars, new rhythms at points, and most impressively the punk-esque “gang” vocals that made the chorus to this track so awesome. But at the core, this was Imperative Reaction broadly doing what they do very well, once again. So stomping, uptempo industrial dance music, with impassioned vocals and tons of catchy hooks. It may not be so much different to what has come before, but why fix what isn’t broken?

Kill or Be Killed
The War Inside Me

Where Gary Zon roared back with his band Dismantled in spectacular style, turning his back on his more recent excursions into synthpop territory with a snarling, seething song that acted as a pretty damned strong pointer to where he was heading with the album that followed it. Oh yes, Zon was spoiling for a fight with his demons, his detractors and just about anyone else, and with this song he was beating his chest and literally daring anyone to take him on. Those of us who know what he was capable of previously were able to sit back and enjoy the show, as aggressive, song/vocal-based industrial this good is in short supply nowadays.

Number_14Anna Calvi
Suzanne and I
Anna Calvi

Released right back at the beginning of the year, the dramatic album that this song comes from was full of great songs, and it has remained on my iPod for much of the year as a result. It was this song – at last a single in the early autumn – that is the pick, though. A massive, pounding drum rhythm anchors the whole song like an incessant, breathless heartbeat, and shimmering, cascading guitars lend the accompaniment to Calvi’s rich, sensous voice. Her voice soars and then whispers, crackling with sensuality as she details an ambigious relationship with the titular character. Is it just the two of them taking on the world, or something else? Either way, it is a thing of wonder.

Number_13Will Haven
When The Walls Close In
Voir Dire

The return of one of metal’s most distinctive vocalists to the fold of one of metal’s must underappreciated bands was certainly a welcome one, especially as the album and live shows that resulted from this were so good – particularly the live show. This song helped to demonstrate better than any other, though, the sheer force of the Will Haven sound. The title is extraordinarily apt: the savage wall of power unleashed here is very claustrophobic sounding, and as the track pushes on it leans in that little bit harder. Will Haven were never an easy listen, but then they were never meant to be. This is difficult, intense music that makes no attempt to be accessible, and in doing so we have to take the band on their terms. More metal bands should follow their lead in terms of philosophy.

Lain with the Wolf
Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand

For what was a black metal band originally, they are now so far removed from this origin to be a band that majestically stand alone. Alone as a band that release lengthy, folk-infused metal songs with deep thought and meaning, and crucially with immense metallic power. It really is pointless trying to pigeonhole them as part of any scene, as they have transcended anyone that might be considered a peer. Saying that, the last two albums set expectations so phenomonally high that they perhaps were always going to struggle to meet them, and for me this album falls short a little. It isn’t bad, by any stretch, it just doesn’t (yet) have the staying power that the last two had. It still has some incredible tracks, though, as this is the pick. Nearly nine minutes of Primordial doing what they do best musically, and lyrically being a musing, seemingly, on an internal monologue of a warrior who is questioning whether the death he caused is the right thing. Which, of course, like most Primordial songs, probably has a much deeper and wider meaning than this…

Ice Cream
Gloss Drop

Last time around – four years ago, in fact – Battles came out top of this list with the still-astonishing Atlas, and in the meantime a fair bit has changed. To be fair, there are still few, if any, bands with the technical ability and sheer musical scope that Battles have, but having lost one member, Tyondai Braxton, they have perhaps lost a little bit of the sparkle that they had before – and certainly live they now don’t play anything from that first album – correctly perhaps taking the view that trying to play music created as a four piece with three, when each play multiple instruments already, would be a step too far. That any of the sparkle had gone, though, was not immediately obvious when Ice Cream arrived in the spring, a bright, summery pop tune with a vocal in portuguese (I think) that sounds gloriously otherworldly, and an emphasis on rhythm and melody that means it is hard not to dance away when this comes on – even if you are cornered into a tight space on the ‘tube, and this is on your iPod. It is best, though, perhaps, too see this as a new chapter for the band – one that is very different to that before, even if many of the elements that make it up are little changed.

Number_10††† [Crosses]
EP †

Chino Moreno is on something of a roll at present. Fresh from the quite astounding Diamond Eyes with the Deftones last year (runner-up in my albums of the year last time around), this EP appeared out of nowhere at the beginning of August and immediately had me hooked. As a collaboration with Shaun Lopez from Far, it is rather wider in scope than Chino’s work with his main band, but the link is definitely still there. Things are rather more downtempo, and a whole lot more electronic, but Chino’s songcraft shines through. This song was the first of them that I heard on the EP, and it is still the best. A languid, after-dark grind with Chino’s restrained croon adding oh-so-slight suggestion of sleaze to proceedings. More of this, please.

Come On Go Off (Rotersand Remix)
Dependence 2011

As a sign of things to come, sadly this was a little bit of a red herring. The latest KMFDM album, introduced by this and the storming single KRANK, were basically the best things about KMFDM in 2011. And perhaps damning it a little, this was a vastly superior remix of an album track, and KRANK was basically a rehash of the standard KMFDM sloganeering template, no matter how good it was. But it is the remix that wins out – Rotersand clearly understood what can make KMFDM so fantastic – Ultra-Heavy beats, kick-ass riffage…and added to the table an utter monster of a build for the track to build anticipation on the dancefloor before it explodes into life. I knew I was onto a good thing with this track when the dancefloor when apeshit the first time I played it, pretty much the week it was released.

Union Black

It was plainly obvious from the first time I heard this song – unleashed during Skindred’s support set with Rob Zombie, way back in February, that this was a killer of a track. Benji Webbe has been plugging away for well over fifteen years now – firstly in the uncompromising “ragga metal” of Dub War, and then for the last decade or more with Skindred, who are perhaps a more accessible variant of his previous band. But not only that, Skindred have a real way with a tune, and when they hit heights such as this they are catchy as fuck, too. This track isn’t comprised of much – a great, bouncy riff and the title being repeated an awful lot are the bits you will carry away with you. But put in the live arena, and it becomes something else entirely. Back to the recorded version, and apparently Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach is in here somewhere, but I’m fucked if I know where – Benji runs the show here.

Number_07Tori Amos
Shattering Sea
Night of Hunters

A warm welcome back to Tori Amos, who after some years of experimentation with her sound, adding layer after layer of electronics, and seemingly intent on obscuring her own core sound as much as possible, has returned with what could be termed as a “back to basics” album. But intriguingly, each of the songs on this album is based around a classical movement, but this has simply encouraged Tori Amos to strip the sound down to a string quartet, her piano and voice – and in this song, the opening track, unleashes a towering song of such drama and intensity that it left me slack-jawed the first time I heard it.

Number_06This Morn’ Omina
Enuma Elish
L’Unification Des Forces Opposantes

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I may have suggested in my review of this album a few months ago that another track was the best track on the album, but a few months on it is this track that keeps popping into my head. A track simply burning with the power of rebirth, this is the perfect analogy for the blazing return of This Morn’ Omina to utter brilliance. A thundering tribal beat, a repetitive, hissed vocal that comes across as a powerful incantation, and peak after amazing peak that the track rises through – glorious clubland stuff, this.

True Colours
Death Is Birth EP

The shortest track in this list by a long way, this was one hell of a statement of intent by a revitalised Gallows, fresh with a new singer after the departure of Frank Carter, and perhaps a suggestion that the band want to head back towards their hardcore roots. And this forty second blast is like being in the wake of a jet engine – no fat, no waste just forty seconds of searing hardcore at full tilt, a furious vocal and the best breakdown this side of Pig Destroyer.

Number_04Necro Facility

This is perhaps unique – the second time in three years a song from this album has been in the top five of this list (the last time was in 2009). Which shows just how long this album took to make, and how long the anticipation was building for. And it was Do You Feel The Same that got me interested in the first place. Previous Necro Facility albums were basically fan-led remakes of Skinny Puppy, no matter how good they were, so to hear them finally develop their own sound was something to behold. And oh, what a sound. Taking a cue from their pop production work in Sweden, when Wintermute finally appeared, it was electro-industrial, but not as we know it. Stuffed to the gills with staggering pop hooks, it almost felt like an attempt at pushing industrial into the pop scene by stealth. Sadly the album hasn’t yet made them megastars, but to be honest they may need a better name first to break through. But anyway, back to the song. The best example of just how “pop” they were willing to go, it starts out as run-of-the-mill electro, but it the chorus that is killer here – it takes the whole song to an entirely new, joyous level – despite the apparently quite bleak lyrics about a disintegrating relationship.

Number_03God Module
Devil’s Night

In the four years or so since their really quite poor Let’s Go Dark, GodMod appear to have undergone something of a reinvention. The songs have become snappier, the tunes better, and simply more focussed. So the latest album, this time based around the paranormal, simply crackles with energy – and none more so than on this brilliant dancefloor track. Yes, it is a teeny bit obvious, and the stabbing synth line and rhythm that dominates the track could have come from 2 Unlimited, but this is dancefloor-bound industrial made with such aplomb that it is hard not to applaud how great it is.

Dead Market
New World March

The return of Haujobb in 2011 was a welcome event – in this time of seemingly identikit, trend-following industrial acts, an act as unique as Haujobb is sorely needed. And their return didn’t disappoint – pretty much picking up from where they left off in 2003 with their last album proper, Vertical Theory. This first single was the sound of the cogs whirring back into life, of the Haujobb machine displaying a sonic intricacy and Daniel Myer’s sombre, but impassioned vocals injecting a little humanity into a cold, stark production. One apparently about the digital world, and how it is ownership rather than content that is now king. And in that world, the return of a band with such attention to detail and progress is one to cherish.

Number_01Frank Turner
One Foot Before The Other
England Keep My Bones

As I’m sure regular readers will have realised by now, I’m not afraid to admit that I can be late to the party when it comes to some music. I’m something of a voracious consumer of new (and old) music, and in the process of listening to any number of bands, there are always a few that I miss. Despite certain friends telling me more than a few times that I should listen to said bands. And yes, this is what happened here. I’m well aware that there has been a buzz about Frank Turner for a few years, but I remained somewhat oblivious to the whole thing, and of course have not seen him live either (apparently the best way to appreciate his music). So when the various reviews started coming in about his new album – I decided that it was perhaps time to get hold of it and see what the fuss was about.

And I must confess that I wasn’t quite expecting what I got. A defiantly English folk-rock singer, with a keen grasp of his roots and English history, entirely unafraid to go a capella and also to be heartfelt and somehow avoiding falling into a territory with a distinct whiff of cheese to it while doing so. But of the strongest songs on the album – of which there are three or four – it was this song, that opens the second half of the album, that is the most striking by far. An anthem for the age, one with a chorus destined to be roared back to him at gigs, and a core message of going out and fucking doing something with your life – a call to leave your mark in this world. In a year where I have pushed myself beyond where I ever thought I would be, this resonates and means a lot.

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