Top 20 EPs/Demos/Splits/Singles of 2011
Following a debut album that played by at least some of the rules of dance music that exist today, I thought perhaps Los Angeles’ Free the Robots was heading down a less weird path than his early work may have suggested. But most recent EP The Mind’s Eye definitely proved that idea wrong because instead of turning into a brostep clone like many of his peers, this man is going in the opposite direction entirely. The Mind’s Eye sounds like an electronic circus with jazz instruments, dancing, and perhaps mind control. Chris Alfaro wants to lead you down the rabbit hole.
A curious exploration into the sonic potential in Top 40 hip-hop, A Way almost reminds me of an exercise in ‘found-art’. Ryan Hemsworth seems to be playing a similar game to jj’s “Ecstasy” (remember them?), putting infectious club beats behind airy synths, and featuring samples that you might scoff at – before you heard the song, that is. But he does it with class, and with a clear appreciation of the source material he’s created an upbeat celebration of all the music that inspires him.
San Francisco hardcore group Punch have been surging in popularity throughout the past few years; it’s nice to see a pissed off, self-described ‘fastcore’ band not break up after one album! They’re still blowing listeners away away with deceptively intricate musicianship and lyricism, with vocalist Meghan’s incessant howls rallying together angry men with beards and burgeoning beer bellies the-world-over. Hold onto your hats, because Punch means business, and you’re not going to hear anything else til they’re done (or for a while after).
Featuring an eclectic cast, new band Wharf Rats has members of Alexisonfire, The A.K.A’s and Anti-Flag, but also is another project of Doomtree frontman and rapper P.O.S. Playing a noisy punk rock that leans towards post-hardcore with a clear political bent, they so far have offered up only these two short tracks, but they’ve made me very interested to hear more.
A split release put out before La Dispute’s 2011 full-length, Never Come Undone has one new track by each featured artist, followed by a stripped-down acoustic version of Somewhere at the Bottom of the River‘s “Last Blues for Bloody Knuckles” and Koji’s interpretation of Ted Leo’s “Biomusicology” (a song that I am very fond of, and which Koji does justice).
Hauntingly rhythmic, Montreal band Dekoder should make quite a name for themselves with this demo. I love the gothic atmosphere created on this tape, with the jangly, post-punk guitars and pained female vocals. Calling back to the best parts of dark ’80s music, Dekoder sounds to me like it’s been meticulously crafted, so even if we wait a while for a full-length it should be worth it.
Never a band to do the same thing long enough for expectations to be created, Future of the Left continue to defy most conventions of rock music, instead opting to create something that, while always identifiable as their work, pushes the storytelling of music to some very unique places. Even calling this release ‘rock’ feels as if it doesn’t do it justice, but I’m not sure what category to put such music in. If you’ve heard Future of the Left (or past projects) you know what I mean.
One has to wonder why Snowing, the best band featured on this four-way split, is the one that broke up, but I guess the world is unfair like that. But at least this gives us one more great song from them, plus some awesome tunes by 1994!, Boys & Sex, and Algernon Cadwallader (who steal the show in my opinion). Snowing may be dead, but midwest emo isn’t!
Gritty, honest, sarcastic and sardonic punk rock. Based in Minneapolis, but sounds like an artifact from the back-in-the-day Dischord roster – in a good way, not in a rip-off way. Psyched to hear some more from this one.
Debut EP from Oklahoma City band Fos shows way more production value and studio professionalism than many of the entries on this list – not that that sets it ahead inherently, but it suits very well the no-nonsense approach of the group. They may not be pushing boundaries on this release, but they’ve got the passion to go far and the voice and talent to take them there. Solid rock songs with headstrong female vox and a brazen dynamic between her and the rhythm section. Maybe they’ll turn into some hometown heroes for us Okies.
Forging bravely ahead, paying no worry to the possibility that they may one day run out of Vin Diesel quotes to name their songs after and have to break up, Look Mexico continue trying out a more pop-oriented approach on Real Americans Spear It. While some fans may lament their departure from their math rock roots (even though those roots are still represented here, they’re just not the focus anymore), I for one think these Tallahassee boys are rather suited to singing hooks and being a pop band. Here’s to a third album soon!
Companion piece to his full-length Bad Time Zoo, Wildlife is the newest EP by Doomtree rapper Sims. One of the more oft-ignored members of the hip-hop collective, Sims nonetheless has brought some well-deserved attention to himself in the past year. No doubt helped tremendously by Lazerbeak’s expert production skills, Sims’ ultra-conscious style of writing does what it can to open minds and shine lights, like the rest of his Doomtree peers. Don’t sleep on this guy.
Probably named after the Cure song, Siamese Twins are (I believe) from Chicago and show more than a little resemblance to their namesake, if everyone in the Cure was a girl (please, save the jokes here, it’s too easy anyway). More ’80s throwback to be sure, but while Dekoder channels “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, Siamese Twins channel “Friday, I’m in Love”. They also remind me of Velocity Girl, a band from a quite different spectrum but the dreamy harmonies cannot be ignored. Maybe they’ll turn into a twee band, or maybe they’re post-punk in a girly disguise. Time will tell.
7. The Guilt – Worth Nothing Demo
Up-and-coming hardcore group from DC that has big things on the horizon if they keep doing what they’re doing. I can’t find any streams of these songs, but these guys are aggressive, intelligent, melodic and have an ear for songcraft. There’s lots of shouting and sneering, but they sound like a band on a mission. If punk rock is your thing you’ll like Worth Nothing.
It’s hard to categorize Tracked Love From the Electric cleanly. On the one hand, it’s a a triumphantly pounding hardcore album with awesome riffs and vocals I’d want to shout along with if I could understand them, and on the other, it’s a thudding, trudging, sludgy experimentation that you might be inclined to call post-metal. This group really knows how to create an atmosphere, and it envelops you as a listener and takes you to a very interesting place in fifteen short minutes. I’ve never heard something quite like this one.
Apparently recorded in the rainforests of Chile, Pacarina is a lo-fi, psychedelic folk exercise, mainly relying on a guitar but also featuring what I assume to be natural sounds of the forest scattered throughout, and ritualistic bangs of the drums in the closing track. Calling this chillwave is too easy, although people already are. To me, this sounds a lot more authentically ‘chill’ than some white kid with a computer, if you know what I mean.
Blistering psychedelic space rock from the Netherlands? Sign me up! Balls out rock n’ roll with no shame and no earthly obligations, transforming into kraut-influenced experimentations and ambient passages, then blasting back with more face-melting guitars and topping it off with moaning saxophones. This is my kind of party.
Canadian rapper Kay the Aquanaut has found a solid place in my heart over the past year, and this EP was my second step in his discography after Waterloo. We Sold Our Clothes to the State follows the same pattern of insightful, political, open-minded and honest rap topics that Kay’s been especially fond of lately, and he seems to be becoming more and more desperate for change (aren’t we all). Expert samples, passionate storytelling and logical thinking are what make this Aquanaut an important artist to me.
The link includes Psychic Blood’s other two 2011 releases (LEAVES and their demo), but they’re placed on this list mainly for the two-song 7″ STRAIN. I fell in love with their shoegaze punk rock – something that has not been explored much and which Psychic Blood has a keen vision of. Loud, noisy, and chaotic – just they way it should be.
There’s been a lot of subpar math rock getting hocked around the blogosphere for as long as I can remember, and it’s made me wary of the term anytime I see it, but I’m glad it didn’t keep me away from Kidcrash. I love the way that they marry intricate math rock to passionate post-hardcore, reminding me in the best way possible of where At the Drive-In may have ended up if they’d continued as a band (although hey, now we might get a better answer of that question!). I don’t drop that name lightly either! Naps may just be an EP but it’s a masterful release. A new full-length from these guys is highly anticipated.