Who would have thought? Whereas 2010 was the year of reflections on suburbia, 2011 follows up with what else than the “hardcore opera.” Bookending this year’s list are two “hardcore punk narrative albums,” a term I’d have cringed at a year ago. But Defeater and Fucked Up pulled them off, in excitingly different ways. In 2011, punks became storytellers. And really good ones.
City and Colour – “Little Hell,” Real Estate – “Days,” True Widow – “As High As The Highest Heavens…” Cold Cave – “Cherish the Light Years,” Joyce Manor – “Joyce Manor,” Thursday – “No Devolución,” Weekend Nachos – “Worthless,” Balance and Composure – “Separation,” Pulling Teeth – “Funerary”
On “Empty Days & Sleepless Nights,” Defeater turns their attention to domesticity, telling the story of a young man and his deteriorating family and love lives. Over the course of the double LP, the nameless man endures the death of his father and the blaming of his brother, his descent into alcoholism, the beginning and end to love, his mother’s drug addiction, and ultimately the climactic confrontation with his brother. It is a gripping story told hand in hand with the music, which is already some of the best in melodic hardcore.
This mashup record by Doomtree’s Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy takes Wu-Tang Clan rhymes and puts them over legendary Fugazi tunes. “Sleep Rules Everything Around Me,” made up of Wu-Tang Clan’s “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” and Fugazi’s “I’m So Tired,” captures both groups at their best and seamlessly combines them. What results is by far the most interesting hip-hop record of 2011.
The cover artwork for Baltimore duo Wye Oak’s “Civilian” captures the record perfectly. “Civilian” is a canonball of an album- its songs plunge into down-tempo, contemplative darkness and then ride the energetic waves that result. It’s a ride.
Yuck didn’t do anything revolutionary on their self-titled album. In fact, they owe a great deal to the ‘90s indie rock bands that so blatantly influenced them. But what they lack in trailblazing originality, they make up for in simple, solid music, front to back.
Touché Amoré has catapulted to the top of the heap in the hardcore scene in the past three years, and “Parting the Sea” confirms their deserved attention.
Bon Iver’s self-titled follow up to “For Emma, Forever Ago” is hauntingly beautiful. The emergence of powerful, hard-hitting and fuzzed-out guitars in “Perth” out of a military-march snare rhythm were alone enough to outdo just about anything released in 2011, but the rest of the album follows suit. Had it not been for the excruciating ‘80s pop throwback and album-closer “Beth/Rest,” “Bon Iver” would have been even higher on this list.
Consistency. Although “England Keep My Bones” isn’t a wild departure from Turner’s prior work, it doesn’t need to be. He has mastered the perfect blend of folk, punk and rock ‘n’ roll, and it shows. The songs are built for singing along, and by the end, you can’t help but join in and belt out along with Mr. Turner.
Kurt Vile’s “Smoke Ring for My Halo” is one of 2011’s best composed albums. The fact that hiis creative lyrics and Dylan-esque crooning are able to keep up with his brilliant guitar work, is a testament to his songwriting capabilities. “Jesus Fever” has the most infectious riff of 2011, and once you learn to play it on the guitar, you won’t be able to stop.
2. Pygmy Lush – “Old Friends”
My first few listens to “Old Friends” sent chills across my body. Pygmy Lush, the band that rose from the ashes of hardcore pioneers Pg. 99, wrote what is as good of a contemporary folk record as anything in recent memory. Listen for the little things: the intricately layered guitars, the always moving rhythms and the unbearably human lyrics.
1. Fucked Up – “David Comes to Life”
It’s not even close. FU ran away with 2011’s top spot by releasing the prolific band’s magnum opus- an epic 18-song 80-minute narrative hardcore punk opera. No hardcore band has ever attempted anything on this scale, and FU pulled it off and made it look easy. Mike Haliechuk’s songwriting mastery is displayed full-force, both in the realization of FU’s long-developed mythology and in the complexity of the music itself. This is one musical I would love to see staged. It is also the only album I’ve ever given a full 5 stars.