The Stripwax Top Ten Elpeez Of 2011 (!!!)
10. Wild Flag – Wild Flag (Merge)
I heard Wild Flag for the very first time while waiting my turn to play deejay on turntable.fm, an online spot where you can play/listen to music with other people. “Future Crimes” was the track chosen, and I was pretty much hooked from there. Lazy comparisons to 90s alt-rock (a way of saying Sleater-Kinney without actually saying SLEATER-KINNEY) are loitering everywhere in the music press, but I (still) hear more late seventies Lene Lovich in Carrie Brownstein’s voice and in their warmer-than-Cars pop hookery. Fun without a trace of cuteness, and 100% solid.
9. Uh Oh – Uh Oh (Self Released)
What I wrote in October: “Uh Oh (whether they know it or not, but they probably do) plays punk rock, at least on this here collection o’ songs, and punk rock doesn’t really take too long as music to absorb, at least not for me. One or two hits and I’ve caught the buzz in both ears. What Uh Oh offers here is fourteen helpings of UNBRIDELED NOISE ENERGY from start to finish, and they gave me the boost I needed to get off of my ass, get out of bed, and the comic job done. Immediately, Uh Oh reminded me of an Austin, Tex. band I loved back in 2003 – 2004 called Pink Swords (heh heh), the slight difference being Pink Swords snarled a little more and Uh Oh plays a little faster.”
The only difference between then and now is this: I’ve now absorbed this elpee entirely, and I love it even more now than I did then.
8. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)
“Annie Clark unleashes waves of plangent electromagnetic energy that interrupts the reflex arc which is to say, her music is nerve-wracking and is not of this time or even of this world. That’s her genius. More often than not in a Clark composition, there is an underlying anxiety lurking ghost-like in the periphery. In the title track, for example, the track is built around Clark’s plush, lullaby voice, but the rhythmic flow conveys a feeling of finiteness. Death, even.” That’s part of the short bit I wrote about this elpee back in the fall. Strange Mercy is her best work yet; beautiful and uncomfortable at the same time. As I write this, it just occurred to me how perfectly well she fits into the 4AD roster, (of which I’ve been a fan since the beginning) which historically has advanced artists who’ve walked the line between the frightening and sublime, like Dead Can Dance and His Name Is Alive.
This delightful detour into the guts of American roots music played with particular relevance in 2011, as it was yet another tough year economically with no end and no relief in sight. The music is a make-do clattering of sounds coming from instruments that feel as if they were found lying around the house, and the songs are chiefly tales of the down-and-out, from the fella caught driving while drunk in “Under Arrest” (where Miss Golightly’s capable partner Lawyer Dave takes the lead) to the observations of society’s needy in “Burn Ol’ Junk Pile, Burn.” This is Miss Holly’s best so far.
Layered with futuristic beauty, Nine Types of Light is a record that is difficult to absorb on the first few listens because there is SO MUCH TO ABSORB. The album reveals itself gradually over repeated listening, and that is its reward to the listener. Nine Types Of Light is a somewhat nervous, restless, and, at times, mournful record. Not exactly what the kids are buying en mass these days, not exactly what gets massive play on the radio, and yet, these guys do well. I was listening to my old Pere Ubu records when this came out, and learned that TV On The Radio does not have as self-created a sound as I originally thought, but no matter – Pere Ubu was two decades ahead of their time, as is TVOTR. I’d like to hear these guys do a record with St. Vincent, but together they might tear the fabric of the space-time continuum, so maybe not.
5. Chris Connelly – Artificial Madness (Relapse)
This was a very last-minute 2011 release that blew me away, as Chris Connelly has been the voice of some of my favorite bands – mainly, The Revolting Cocks and The Damage Manual. The elpee opens up with a monster, the urgent, pounding title track “Artificial Madness,” and keeps up the breakneck pace through “Wait For Amateur,” “Classically Wounded,” and the massive, galloping “Compatibility.” If you pick this one up (and I suggest you do), get the deluxe edition that includes the fantastically elegant “British Drug Lords.”
I first saw this band open up for Modest Mouse at the cavernous and horrible-sounding Eagles Ballroom section of The Rave in Milwaukee and have been a fan ever since. Only one other band convinced me that their players could defy gravity on stage, and that band was Fishbone about a million years ago.
Here’s what I wrote in 2011 about Life Fantastic: “Alongside the usual Man Man zaniness (perhaps the finest example this time around is “Piranhas Club”… its chorus is an infectious disease that causes goofy grins, twisty hips, and enthusiastic singalongs) are a few songs that smolder in quiet desperation like never before. “Steak Knives” is lined up sequentially on the elpee right after the exuberant “Piranhas Club,” plunging the listener immediately into the lonely dusk of a love that will never be returned. Simple acoustic plinks and plunks on a wooden guitar carry the beat, Honus howls like a wolf into the expanding darkness, and in the middle of the track, strings rise up, wrap themselves around yer heart, but then just fall away, and soon it all ends like it began. It’s heartbreaking and brilliant, and makes Man Man just a little bit more difficult to pin down.”
Yeah, that’s about says it.
I took this record’s highly energetic, punk-edged battle-cry-to-positivity personally, and can say with 100% certainty that it made a difference in my life this year. At a time when I was feeling beat down by work, economics, and life in general, “These Things Are Facts” appeared toward the end of summer and lifted me up. It also inspired what was some of my best writing and an unprecedented deep conversation with two of my favorite Stripwax characters, Spike and Blondie. “These Things Are Facts” is all about kicking against the pricks, and it’s loaded with messaging that’ll end up lost on the folks standing in long lines for the privilege of spending what little cash they have on the latest version of overpriced Air Jordans, but will inspire those who refuse the status quo.
I will never take this guy’s brilliance for granted. Ever. Those who do will miss Tom Waits when he’s gone. The problem with an artist who puts out such consistently great music and builds a sound over several decades and becomes HIS OWN FUCKING CATEGORY OF MUSIC (ferfucksake) is that eventually, people listen and yawn and say “Oh, another great Tom Waits song, super…”
Not me, brother. First, I happen to be one of those people who believe that the roots of American music are important to our history and our overall culture, and that maintaining those roots by threading them through strategically-located spots in our modern music culture is vital. Tom Waits does this in the best way possible: He wraps the ancient roots of Memphis, New Orleans and elsewhere around himself so tightly that they become indistinguishable to the casual ear, and therefore seem fresh and new. “Bad As Me” is old as new, and is his most rocking record in some time, AND… it would be a mistake to miss the relevance of this record’s lyrical subject matter. Tom Waits is one of our most gifted songwriters, and on this elpee, he takes on corporate greed, weasel-like politicians, life after wartime, and has created a more than a rock and roll record, but a record of historical importance.
It is my sincere wish that this fresh, young decade see a resurgence in the popularity of rock music. And I see no reason why that resurgence should not be centered on this band, Police Teeth, but I would settle for enough people picking up an interest in these guys so that they did not have to return to their day jobs so quickly after putting out a record as perfect as Awesomer Than The Devil. Seriously, having crossed paths with this band and this record made me feel better about writing about music and doing the comic strip every week. I had heard that they were great, to the point where my expectations were sky high. No matter. They are so good it’s ridiculous.
This elpee is loud, has repopulating hooks and muscle-bound song structures, perfectly placed pop flourishes amidst all sonic hell busting loose, thoughtfully written songs about the tanked economy, the value of friendship, crime in the first degree, the clear-eyed view of the ridiculousness of their own situation in the music biz… it knocked me to the floor. I can’t wait to hear more from them in 2012.