-Folk- Coming Soon
-Doom Metal- Coming Soon
-Experimental- Coming Soon
Indie rock continues to be the dominating force in rock music, but this section of the guide focuses on the heavier side of rock in 2011. Maybe it should have been called “hard rock,” but I feel like that narrows it down a little too much. Here you’ll find what I believe to be the 10 best punk (non-hardcore), psychedelic, garage, stoner, and general hard rock albums of the past year.
Ballo delle Castagne
Italian rock band Ballo delle Castagne know how create atmosphere. Between the haunting Italian vocals, psychedelic instrumentals (including some gothic sounding keyboards), and progressive undertones, Kalachakra is a solid atmospheric rock album. At times Ballo delle Castagne channel their inner Pink Floyd to mixed results, but when the band puts the heavier rock at the forefront everything meshes quite well. “Passioni Diabolichi” might be the highlight, as it’s the most concise track and shows what this band can do when the atmospheric, progressive, and gothic elements combine. The way that the male and female vocals on that track work together is also stunning, and after hearing that it’s hard not to be disappointed by the slower pace and straightforward psychedelic approach of some the later tracks. Even then, much of Kalachakra works, and when it does it’s a very good psychedelic rock album with some serious atmosphere.
I wrote in my review of the Black Lips’ Good Bad Not Evil that their sound is a difficult one to describe to non-fans. The same statement needs to be echoed for Arabia Mountain, another goofy garage rock album that is largely a quirky take on lo-fi rock music. Established fans will likely love it, while even the most open-minded newcomers might need a few listens to digest how the odd vocals mix with the laid back instrumentals. With that being said, the music is deceptively catchy, and Arabia Mountain stands out as music directly influenced by some of the bands modern indie artists are indebted to, while still having that sloppy sound that most “hipsters” won’t be able to get behind. Instead, Arabia Mountain is a quirky garage album for rock fans willing to embrace something a little different. Anyone who fits that description should give it a listen.
Going Out in Style
If you’ve heard Dropkick Murphys before, chances are you know what to expect from Going Out in Style. For those who haven’t, Dropkick Murphys play an aggressive yet mostly accessible brand of Celtic punk rock. They embrace every stereotype of Boston and Ireland, and go over-the-top without becoming corny. Like with their past albums, the music is catchy, fun, and has a hard edge to it, and they vary things up just enough to keep their sound fresh throughout. At this point, Dropkick Murphys have their sound, and they play it better than anyone else. There are no surprises on Going Out in Style, but it’s hard not to appreciate some quality Celtic punk.
Center of the Cyclone
If you’ve never heard an :Egocentrics albums before, chances are you’ll expect a rough baritone vocalist to start singing at any minute. It never happens, and while it’s rare to see instrumental music work in a structure that calls for a vocalist, it’s probably for the best here. The riffs on Center of the Cyclone are raw and heavy, pure stoner rock influenced by Kyuss, and they build into more abstract and melodic sections before the stoner riffs return. The :Egocentrics have their formula, as this structure doesn’t change a whole lot on the album, but it really doesn’t need to. The riffs are simply great and are strong enough to be the center point, and the sections they build to are interesting and just varied enough. You know they’re coming, but you never know what exactly they’re going to be.
Fair to Midland
Arrows and Anchors
Best known for their minor radio rock hit “Dance of the Manatee,” Fair to Midland have returned with what may be the best hard rock album of 2011. Their style might be best described as a more melodic (and at times heavier) System of a Down, but there’s really a lot more to Fair to Midland than that. Arrows and Anchors is an incredibly diverse album that sees the band seamlessly blending legitimate heavy metal with progressive rock, acoustic rock, and just about every conceivable form of contemporary alternative and hard rock. All of it mixes to from a unique sound, and one that is much less of a mess than their first album. Throughout the constant style changes, Fair to Midland never lose the coherency of their music. It all fits, and while you never know what’s coming next, you learn to embrace the unpredictably, trusting that the band will somehow make it work.
It’s great to hear contemporary post-punk that embraces the past without trying to relive it. Skying is a post-punk album clearly influenced by the psychedelic rock of the 70’s and 80’s, but it’s also the type of album that could only be released in 2011. There are modern indie and shoegaze influences, creating a nice mix of accessible trippy rock that fuses just about every prominent style of psychedelic-influenced music since the 70’s. That’s not easy to do, and The Horrors do it quite well. The highlight has to be their vocalist, who does a nice David Bowie impression without sounding like a rip-off. That’s really what makes Skying great, not just in terms of vocals, but that the whole album borrows from their influences without outright copying them. This is distinctly The Horrors.
Conditions of My Parole
Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle)’s second album under the Puscifer name is considerably less experimental and perverted than the first. While I liked V is for Vagina more than most others, the change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Conditions of My Parole is more of a straight-up rock album with some interesting twists and enough of Maynard’s humor to make it worthwhile to Tool and A Perfect Circle fans. This is actually a pretty solid release that falls somewhere in between a V for Vagina follow up and a new A Perfect Circle record. There are some quality female vocals here as well, making for a nice contrast to Maynard’s rough and distinct voice. It’s definitely for more established fans of Keenan, but there’s a reason this man is so well liked among rock fans.
The second album from female-fronted stoner rock band Sahara Surfers improves on the first in just about every way. The vocals are slightly stronger, albeit still mostly devoid of range, and the music is far more concise. If Spacetrip on a Paper Plane showed promise, then Sonar Pilot is where the band really puts it together. The riffs still pack a punch, ranging from bluesy melody to heavy crunches, and it fits together well. The female vocals are a great touch, even if they are mostly lower in order to fit with the music. And while the vocals may seem like an odd fit to some, the music here is really pretty accessible. If bands like Down and Clutch can attract big audiences, there’s no reason for rock fans to pass up Sahara Surfers. Sonar Pilot is an exceptional album, and it’s an easy recommendation for fans of hard rock.
Sex Church’s Growing Over is a record rooted in the past. The sound is pure 70’s garage rock and 80’s lo-fi, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. This fuzzy hard rock album nails the rare balance of noise and melody that few aside from Sonic Youth have been able to do successfully. Much like Sonic Youth, the music is harsh and perverse, but never to the point of inaudibility. For all it’s lo-fi sludge, Growing Over is a listenable record, and one that any rock fan looking for more original lo-fi, post-punk, and/or garage rock album should check out.
South of Salem
Just a few weeks ago I wrote about South of Salem as part of Sound Writer’s “Free Album of the Week(end)” feature. I wrote that this great album had just missed a spot on the Buyer’s Guide, and well, I changed my mind. After another listen, South of Salem is far too good of an album not to make the list. For those who missed that feature, Witch Mountain are a psychedelic rock and doom metal hybrid from Portland, Oregon. South of Salem is their second full length album, released a massive ten years after the first. Their sound is unique, while still maintaining somewhat of a retro vibe that should appeal to both fans of classic psychedelic rock and 90’s doom metal, and if you’re a fan of either I highly recommend checking this one out. The vocals really stand out, in part because they trade the usual one-note sludge signer for a varied female vocalist that isn’t afraid to test her range. It makes for a nice contrast to the sludgy instrumentals, and makes me think of what Jefferson Airplane would sound like if they played stoner rock.