Crate-Digging: 2011 Year-End Spectacular (Part 3)

Missed Part 1 or Part 2? Click, away, then come on back.

Only seven more to go! I’ve had a lot of fun this year, and despite not being able to listen to nearly as much as I should, I’ve heard some great albums, and I hope you have too. And so, here it is – the top seven records in the 2011 Crate-Digging archives. Part 3 of the Year-End Spectacular. Enjoy! See you in 2012.


7. COOLRUNNNINGS – Buffalo EP / Babes Forever EP

I had my tunes on shuffle the other day, and I had the pleasure to be graced with the presence of “Burnout,” the opening track on the Buffalo EP. Its galloping drums and simple melodies made me long for the car rides to and from work while I was compiling material for this EP’s and Babes Forever’s joint review. The Knoxvillians in COOLRUNNINGS somehow crank out stoned pop that recall the sand and surf of the California coast – it certainly helps that Babes Forever standout “San Dimas Oasis” brings to mind Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and fortunately the band does not sound like Wyld Stallyns. But the vibe is similar – you can surf, get stoned, grab a burger, get stoned, troll the boardwalk for chicks, get stoned, start a band, get stoned, or skate. Sometimes all of these at once. (Well most of them.) Am I making them sound like Wavves? They don’t. I hate Wavves. COOLRUNNINGS is so much better than Wavves. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)


6. Brazilian Money – This Is Not a Dream

A little indie rock goes a long way these days. Brazilian Money – no, I’m not talking about the real – brainchild of Garrett Johnson, the sole full-time member of the band, knows this, and does it the absolute right way on this cassette release for Totally Disconnected. He’s got some other EPs in the tank too, and they’re all available from his bandcamp. That’s where I found him – and I’m so glad I did. See, as much as I try to distance myself from the indie scene in which I studied for years and years, it turns out I do need a bit of it in my life. That’s what surprised me about This Is Not a Dream, a pastiche of the best of the genre from Pavement to Dig! – I didn’t realize how much I missed snarky yet catchy guitar bands. Maybe this just means I shouldn’t give up on the genre just yet – there’s still some gems to be mined, apparently. From the nonsensical yet awesome opener “Give Up That Dog” to the squirrely perfection of “Then You’ll Know” and “Party ’Til I’m Dead,” Johnson and pals seem to effortlessly whip up exciting and engaging tunes that don’t overstay their welcome in the slightest. And despite the mid-album sound experiment lag, it’s worth getting all the way through – “Not a Dream,” Lost All Sense of Time,” and the weird, can’t-quite-place-what-it-reminds-me-of closer “Oscar Finds Me” round out one of the most fun records I’ve heard in ages. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)


5. Death Grips – Exmilitary

You can totally blame me for not doing my homework prior to publishing the review of Exmilitary – I didn’t mention MC Ride once in the review, and all I knew about it was that it was somehow connected to Zach Hill, drummer extraordinaire. (Yes, this is the second Zach Hill appearance on the list.) There just wasn’t much coverage at the time, and I apparently am low enough on the totem pole not to warrant a press sheet. Fine, not a problem. (Even though Pitchfork posted their review of Exmilitary a day after mine came out, theirs was much more factually comprehensive.) (Not that I was wrong about anything…) I’m not bitter at all. Because I had Death Grips on my speakers, a noisy, grimy, angry rap album that came out of nowhere and landed with a sick thud in the midst of the hip hop landscape. And I could download it for free! (Sometimes that’s the best part of albums, but not this one.) But the scrape and bloop and lurch and blast of the tracks were perfect for Ride’s seething bellow, and that dude on the cover just looks like he’s so pissed at absolutely everything that he’s about to turn injustice on its head and go postal on The Man for keeping him down. So when you hear the brutal rumble of Death Grips down the block, duck your head, guy – you don’t want to be around when shit gets heavy. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)


4. Safe – Safe EP

This is my official apology to CF Edley, the man behind Safe, who I referred to as a “walking haircut” and probably a dirty hippie. It was just the column’s hook, honest! The music was so far removed from this perceived image that it’s almost embarrassing to look back on. We writers, dare I say journalists, sometimes rely on the goofy or the inane to get our creative juices flowing, to set in motion our synapses, hoping to pour forth worthwhile content that those aside from your immediate family will want to read. In doing so, I inadvertently backed the bus over Chris, and for that I’m sorry. And see? I’m even doing the hook thing now, aren’t I, trying to teach you something about the writing process instead of telling you how great Safe’s self-titled EP is? For shame. What is there to say? Edley does a Magnetic Fields / Neil Diamond thing, and he does it more subtly than either. There’s a tenderness and a humanness to his downbeat synth pop that is impossible not to empathize with, and the warmth and depth of his subject matter is inviting to even the most hardened nihilist. So again, Chris, my apologies – I can’t wait to hear more. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)


3. The National – High Violet

You may be surprised that it took me this long to get around to The National. I mean really get around to them, as in even listen to them once. I’d never heard Alligator. Or Boxer. Even though both were critically acclaimed upon release, I just didn’t, try to latch on for one reason or another. Maybe it was the description of the music – could be, since my tastes have certainly changed over the years, and the last thing I needed in 2005 or whenever was more indie rock. So I shrugged upon the release of High Violet, seemingly yet another entry into the rapidly maturing genre. (And by maturing, I mean it’s getting old.) And then I heard it – “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” Shoot. For some reason, it was a revelation – “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees” is one of the most descriptively awesome yet ambiguous lines I’ve ever heard, and the deadpan way Matt Berninger delivers “I never thought about love when I thought about home” is both soul-crushing and hopeful in its redemptive opportunity. The rest of the album was a slow-grower, but it played out with this undercurrent of suburban emotional decay that was impossible to ignore as understated lyrical jabs left little mark on the surface, but bruised deeply. It took me a while to write that review. But it gave me the opportunity to listen to High Violet quite a few times. I was sorry I had to move on from it when I finished. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)


2. Sleigh Bells – Treats

Jock Jams. Jock Jams, Jock Jams, Jock Jams. That was my secret, weird, and awesome shame, when I realized that Sleigh Bells cranked out hyperactive pep-rally fodder in the style of your high-school soccer teammates’ favorite idiot artists. So why do I love it so much? Is it the super thick buzzsaw guitar or head-ringing production of ex-Poison the Well member Derek Miller? Is it the manic coy-to-raging-slasher performance of vocalist Alexis Krauss? Er, it’s all that … and more! I’ll paraphrase myself when I suggest it sounds an awful lot like Ministry’s Al Jourgensen and Bis’s Manda Rin smoking crack rocks and Smarties. Or running Gary Glitter through a table saw, but with less kazoo. Gary Glitter through a table saw! C’mon, you want to hear that, right? Your rich-girl friends’ll sing a different tune once they’re covered in Glitter’s blood. They won’t make fun of you for not being invited to the prom then. This is getting way too Carrie on me all of a sudden. I’m gonna stop there. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)


1. WU LYF – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

I might regret this pick a couple of years from now, when I realize that what passes for impassioned delivery merely represents some sort of sneering, narcissistic externalization of nothing in particular, a posturing of sorts to rile up schoolmates and nightwatchmen alike. Indeed, “World Unite: Lucifer Youth Foundation” (ugh, I know), by association positions the band as promoters of the self, the group dynamic, watching your and your mates’ backs as zealots on all sides duke it out for supremacy. And in the end, it may come down to that. But really, what WU LYF is doing is grabbing our collective collars and shaking us hard, and despite their youth, they’re doing it convincingly. Whether it’s the cavernous opening monolith “L Y F” (here, “Love You Forever”), the foundation-shaking heavy pop of, er, “Heavy Pop” (and “Spitting Blood,” and “Cave Song,” and “Summas Bliss”), the accurately titled mopey-but-teeth-grinding “Such a Sad Puppy Dog” (did someone steal a Mogwai song title or something?), or the album’s centerpiece, and culmination of all these descriptors, “We Bros,” WU LYF does not yield an inch of ground. Thus, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain is a cluster bomb of an opening salvo, a war-winning shot before fighting begins, and a generously heady combination of strong-armed willfulness and vulnerability. It’s a macrocosm of disaffected youth. And it stands on its own. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)


Thanks for reading, everybody! Crate-Digging will return January 9, 2012. See you then!


 

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