Best of 2011 - Rich's picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2011

Rich's picks (2011)

staff picks

Rich is the interviews editor. - ed.

Hi, I'm actor Troy McClure. You might remember me from...

If 2010 was the year I really burst out as a member of the Punknews team, 2011 was the complete inverse. In 2010 I was the new Editor, in 2011 I'm the old timer with seven people on staff with less time than me. In 2010 I bragged about going to three different music festivals in three states; in 2011, I went to zero (and honestly found a hard time leaving my house just to go to show).

But just like how everything that glitters isn't gold, all that's dull isn't shit. Doing the Punknews podcast is still the most fun responsibility I've undertaken (even though I haven't gotten a single free thing from it [Looking at you Epitaph, Google, Fat Wreck Chords, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Powerbar, Old Spice, G4TV and the collective liberal force behind Hollywood]). I've also had the joy of meeting more and more members of the Punknews community and I've come to believe that (despite what you may gather from the comments section) many of you are pretty acceptable people. Alright, let's not get emotional.

In my personal life I've found a new job to pay my bills (or cover the ones that don't accept Punk Points as valid currency) and in my down time I've spent the last six months playing Fallout: New Vegas in 30-minute increments. The good news is I've gotten the Powder Gangers to turn themselves in, the bad news is I believe I have radiation poisoning.

C'est la vie.

Things that held my attention for more than five songs.


Laura Stevenson and the Cans: Sit Resist

Don Giovanni

You know how Zooey Deschanel always plays the "quirky cute girl" who has some incredible draw or talent? This is like that, but in album form...and good. Really good. The songs are heartfelt and Stevenson puts enough emotion in her voice to pluck your heartstrings just so, when she's not overpowered by the music.


Adel: 21

XL Recordings

Adel's major debut, 19, was a complete mess of what could have been an amazing album. There's no arguing she has a phenomenal voice but instead of crafting it into a form producers let her run it everywhere and the result was a Jackson Pollock album. Just runs and octave changes every-damn-where. With 21 Adel was given more focus and reigns in her vocals and the album is so much better because of it. You still get the occasional stunning note, but you also get melody and lyrics that are brought forward and given the proper level of emotion. This record makes me feel the way most people describe Amy Winehouse's music.


Touché Amoré: Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me


I sort of don't want to like this album. There are certain parts of it that tend to drag on me and the lyrical content is about as far from uplifting as you can get. Still, there are parts (like the line "If actions speak louder than words, I'm the most deafening noise you've heard" on the opener "~") that can't help but make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Jeremy Bolm has a way of using a few words to convey complex concepts in an incredibly forceful manner and the musical aspect keeps the album from ever relying strictly on the vocals. It's a testament to how good this album is that it's an epic downer that you keep revisiting.


Frank Turner: England Keep My Bones


It's been insane to see Frank Turner grow from a small name in America playing clubs for 10 people on the West Coast to a headliner taking bands like Andrew Jackson Jihad around the country. Admittedly, I was iffy on Poetry of the Deed but England Keep My Bones finds Turner branching out musically but keeping the heartfelt singer/songwriter mentality that made him so lovable to begin with. It's one of those albums that would be unbearably corny if it wasn't Frank Turner and I'm totally okay with that.


Night Birds: The Other Side of Darkness

Grave Mistake

It's surf punk meets Dead Kennedys. You want something longer than that you're taking too long for Nightbirds.


Deep Sleep: Turn Me Off

Grave Mistake

This is kind of my favorite kind of hardcore. It's fast and punchy but with enough melody to keep my interest. Of course, the "hardcore" I enjoy never becomes really popular, so my condolences to Deep Sleep.


Sims: Bad Time Zoo


This was pretty much the record Sims needed to make. It's far more cohesive than his previous full length and highlights not only his lyrical ability as a rapper but also shows his willingness to tackle a variety of subjects. Also, Lazerbeck makes beats that are second to none.


Mariachi El Bronx: Mariachi El Bronx II

White Drugs

The concept of an LA hardcore band playing mariachi music is corny. Dudes from that band dressing up as mariachis to perform the music is corny. This project SHOULD be corny. However, either through divine intervention or sheer force of will on the band's part it's just note. The songs are well written, catchy and (shockingly) actually highlight a wide variety of the mariachi sound beyond the "umpa" polka style that most people would stereotype the music as. It's the kind of record that's so good, I actually don't mind waiting for another legitimate Bronx album.


Elway: Delusions

Red Scare

Elway is, quiet simply, a band that loves melodic punk. They've done more than listen to it. They've studied it, practiced it and (dare I say) mastered it. This is an album that's rich with influence from bands I know and love but it isn't a copy. It's the best elements of those bands, blended and distilled into one hit after another. Like a fine blended whiskey that you inject into your ear.


World/Inferno Friendship Society: The Anarchy and the Ecstasy


As a big W/IFS fan I was immediately not into this album. Maybe it was the change in personnel or the shift in lyrical content but this record did not click with me. Slowly I found myself going back to it and it came to me why. This isn't the W/IFS spinning yarns about anarchists and heroes of yesteryear. This is a very autobiographical record that focuses perhaps more on the band specifically than anything they've done prior. Songs like "I'm Sick of People Being Sick of my Shit" recall strife within the band itself, while "Lean Times for Heroes" talks about the troubles faced by following your passion and love despite it being completely counter to your own well being. It's a great piece to a band that already has a great legacy.


Junior Battles: Idle Ages

Paper and Plastick

By the sheer number of times I've been asked about it, I can confirm "org-core" exists in some form or another. Though there's no strict definition, one of its tenants seems to be vocals that sound like the singer has lived off nothing but smoke and fiber glass. This may be why Junior Battles is so refreshing. Not only are the vocals not gruff but they're damn near buttery smooth. The band's vocals and harmonies never seem forced or rushed, even at their fastest pace. Couple that with well crafted punk songs about aging and ideals and you have a record can make me look past the unforgivable saxophone solo...and that's not easy.


Bomb the Music Industry!: Vacation

Ernest Jenning / Really

A lot of bands talk about evolving and growing their sound while keeping the elements you love. Bomb The Music Industry! did it. Spazzy, socially awkward punk rock for adults (but the kids can listen too).


Dead To Me: Moscow Penny Ante

Fat Wreck Chords

It's Dead to Me V3.0 (Or Dead To Sam or Ken to Me or whatever). It's hard to imagine a band that changes co-songwriters two times still managing to forge ahead but Dead to Me has done it and come out better for it. Lyrics about everything from songs about personal difficulties to songs about 19th century pioneers for gay rights. Fantastic music form 1/2 of Western Addiction, 1/4 of New Mexican Disaster Squad, 1/4 of Enemy You and 4/4 of Dead to Me.


Kite Party: Baseball Season


It's emo...I guess? I don't know. It's rock music. The songs bounce off each other in a manner that keeps you listening the entire time, and that's worth more than my half ass description. Also, they got picked up by Animal Style Records, so that's awesome.


Seahaven: Winter Forever

Run for Cover Records

The cover for this album is absolutely perfect for the material it contains. The album feels like going through a photo album of younger, more idealistic yet naive years. You can feel the emotion the pictures contain and they can even stir those emotions in you still. Yet, you're separated, by time, by distance or just by knowledge gained in the intervening years. It's an odd feeling of nostalgia and and comfort.


Austin Lucas: A New Home in the Old World

Last Chance

I've been an unabashed fan of Lucas for years. He has the undeniable ability to stir emotion both with his vocals and his lyrics. On older albums, when a song felt like it was about to lag, Lucas would pull off a delivery or phrase that made every moment worth it. With A New Home In the Old World Lucas has reworked his folk formula with a more straight ahead rock style. The improved pacing makes each song instantly accessible and memorable. It's the sort of evolution that has marked Lucas' and promises to keep him interesting for years to come.


Red City Radio: The Dangers of Standing Still

Paper + Plastick

Being into punk has some distinct disadvantages. One of which I try not to believe (but which has some teeth) is that the music can sound incredibly similar and redundant. While many people mean this in the clichéd three chords and a mohawk version, it still exists today in the gruff vocals, sing along choruses and songs about whiskey that seem to inundate a small corner of the punk universe. Red City Radio is one of two bands who have turned that style on its head for me, and I thank them for it. Sure the vocals can be gruff and the songs can be anthemic but there are also sweeping harmonies and songs that build on themselves and refuse to rely on a chorus or single hook. It's beard punk for people who enjoy great song writing. And if that doesn't do it for you, they also like whiskey...So there.


Restorations: Restorations [12-inch]

Tiny Engines

So these guys are from Philadelphia and they aren't the Menzingers. Also, some of them apparently used to be in a better band. That's about as comfortable as I am making definitive statements about Resotrations. Everything else they do seems to be purely at their own whim. They have a 10-plus minute song on a split release, they have records and merch that don't have their name anywhere listed on them. Restorations have had terms like "folk" "country" "Shoegaze" "post-hardcore" "stoner rock" "Beard punk" and others all used in a single review. They're a kind of band that doesn't actively defy classification, they simply don't care about it. The lack of confines is what makes the band so interesting and so dangerous for music critics looking for a quick "Really sounds like," tag. This album can be sprawling, noodely, and vast but it can also be tight, fairly quick paced and direct. To avoid making it anymore confusing, it's good. Really, really good.

Also, it's 100 percent NOT crab-core. So there's one classification.


Astronautalis : This Is Our Science

Fake Four Inc.

As a kid my brother and I loved hip-hop. In my teens, I used to imagine what sort of music would exist in 15 years, when the new breed of artists were brought up with rap and hip-hop. Not creating it, but knowing it from birth, having records from the likes of Big Daddy Kane and N.W.A. pretty much their entire life. I'm disappointed that the main result seems to be a crop of commercial artists more concerned with cars and dressing cool than with making quality music. However, the flipside of that coin is stunning artists like Astronautalis.

Astronautalis has intrigued me since I first heard Pomegranate a few years back. His skill and vocal delivery astounded me, while his lack of musical confines both impressed and frustrated me. He was like that kid in high school who was good at everything, so he was unable to focus on any one thing. But it was ripe with the sound of a kid who grew up with hip-hop and wasn't content to simply replay it, but wanted to forge his own path. With this album Astronautalis has finally quelled some of his ADD and made his first truly autobiographical album and it's stunning. The record chronicles the life of a man who live of a man who exists in transit. Who spends his days spread between chasing his dreams and running from them. It's a record that bursts with the personal pride and triumphs of refusing to be content.


Doomtree: No Kings


Last year I said I was really looking forward to the long hinted collaboration between Doomtree's P.O.S. and Astronautalis. While that collaboration has yet to materialize, I find comfort in the fact that both artists have released the best material of their careers. No Kings is, without a doubt, the best thing Doomtree has put out collectively and arguably individually. Five rappers, two full time beat makers plus the additional beats of P.O.S. and Cecil Otter make a monster of an album. These songs take their subjects and pick them apart from all angles (whether it's human nature or just subpar hip-hop contemporaries), giving you every vantage point and making you listen to each track several times just to soak it in. It's not just an amazing rap album, it's an amazing album that forces you to sit up and notice.

On a slightly related note, No Kings also makes one thing abundantly clear and that is the world needs a new Mike Mictlan solo record. As one of the more traditional rappers in the crew Mictlan has always had to work to keep pace and on this album he takes every opportunity to shine brighter than ever before. Lines like, "In the belly of a robot / out the valley of a microchip / Dialysis in Wonderland/ Apple Z the viruses / I've never been myself, there is no human experience / you can't Apple S yourself / this is the Grand Experiment," show a rapper who matches great metaphors with a fierce, rapid-fire delivery. Here's to hoping 2012 is a breakout year for another of the Doomtree elite.

It's like an album in 45 RPMs or more!


Weatherbox: Follow the Rattle of the Afghan Guitar

Youth Conspiracy Records

The guitars on this record sound excellent. Also songs about how people all do cocaine and own guns. It's pretty great.


Vultures United: To Live and Die in Gainesville [7-inch]

Kiss of Death

A song about Gainesville and a Good Riddance cover...That's all you need to get into my top 10, literally.


Know Your Saints: Landmarks

Solidarity Records

Something about this record makes me want to call people I didn't like in high school and tell them to get bent. That's a good thing.


Casey Lee: ComRoms


Known best as the multi-string-playing hippie for Fake Problems, Casey Lee has compiled songs that show his roots in blues and folk. It's a slide guitar, banjo, harmonica, booze and pills fiasco. It's almost uncomfortable in the best way possible. Download them shits.


Coliseum: Parasites

Temporary Residence

This is what I want to hear when I'm driving a monster truck into the devil's ass.


Captain, We're Sinking: With Joe Riley [7-inch]

Evil Weevil

Why is this only three songs long? It's a damn crime.


Luther: Siblings and Sevens

Black Numbers

What the hell is in the water in Pennsylvania (I mean, besides legally questionable levels of lead)? These guys play what is described to me as emo. I don't know about all that but I do know it's awesome. Somewhere between catchy melodies, quick harmonies and the crunch of the guitars you can lose seven whole songs. So you should probably listen to it a few more times, just to be safe.


Campaign: Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!


These guys have gotten consistently better with each new release. If giving this EP away wasn't enough to make you want it, the content inside surely will. It's quicker and shorter than their previous releases but it just serves to channel their energy straight into your earhole.


Let Me Run: Let Me Run


Hey, remember that cool punk band who's had a bunch of different members over their releases? Which one? Well in this case it's Let Me Run. Their third release with as many vocalists and Let Me Run has either figured out how to work with no sort of stability or they got a set up that works. Let's hope they can keep this momentum going.


PJ Bond: 22 April: Vienna, Austria

Shield/Black Numbers

According to Black Numbers this was released Dec. 29, 2010. What kind of bullshit is that? There's no way I'm letting 48 hours keep this off my list. PJ Bond is an amazing musician who has always had better live shows than recorded material. This release highlights Bond's best element, live and raw. If you knew nothing about him, you would still be able to feel his core in this recording. You hear his passion, his emotion and his desire in every track. It's an intimacy I've only experienced when Bond played small living rooms and I'm happy that they were able to capture it on recording.

It's like a record on paper!

Janet Cheatham Bell: The Time and Place That Gave Me Life

Indiana University Press

I'm going to proceed to go "off script" and suggest not only a book but a fairly old book (that I just read this year). However, with the explosion of racially bland feel good movies like The Help taking off this year I was encouraged to check out Bell's autobiography of living in segregated Indianapolis. While this book is likely to never be made into a movie of the week, it provides a great look at a world I (and probably some of you) have never had to experience first hand.

Absolute let down of the year (seriously)

Lady Gaga: Born this Way


I don't joke when I say I like Lady Gaga. I don't mean it in an ironic or corny way. I mean it. I felt her combo of The Fame and The Fame Monster were a one-two of amazing pop goodness. The songs were well crafted, catchy and just plan good. Over the years you've been able to see Gaga's transformation, as she's risen in success the corporate label that controls her has relaxed its grip. She went from being sold as a fairly generic pop princess with "Just Dance" to being allowed to make an avant-garde 13-minute video for "Telephone." All the while she was more and more successful.

However, Born this Way is proof positive that a little control and editing is a good thing. This record was an absolute mess. It poured on terrible metaphors like bad high school poetry and use religious symbolism with less regard than The Da Vinci Code. Everything about it is designed to be attention grabbing and shocking but all it does is drown itself out in its own white noise. It's a pretty large let down from a pop artist who had so much promise. I'm sure she'll have a hard time sleeping in her bed of money tonight.

Hey but you forgot…

I'm sure there are a ton of records people love that I've overlooked or just omitted. Sorry. Some of the ones I loved that were just out of the top 20 include:

Banquets - Top Button, Bottom Shelf
Chev - Charles
Nothington - Borrowed Time
The Horrible Crowes - Elsie
Banner Pilot - Heart Beats Pacific
Florence and the Machine - Ceremonials

So, sorry to you guys and a lot of others (mostly Florence, who I'm sure frequents my reviews). Part of making these things is letting people down. It's one of the things that makes these lists a blessing and a curse. So please, before you fire off, "Any list lacking [this album] is shit," know that I've probably considered that album, wrestled with it and left it off with great difficulty.

If you're really upset, get in touch with me about "sponsoring" a spot on my 2012 list.

Looking ahead to our inevitable Mayan deaths

Well, with only about 11 months left to live, there's a lot of things I look forward to in this coming year. There are new records on the horizon for both the Sidekicks and The Menzingers (both record of the year recipients in years past). The always outspoken Brendan Kelly is promising his long awaited full-length (and is promising it will alienate at least some fans). And I'm sure there's tons of great bands I don't even know who will blow me away this coming year.

So with only 11 months left in theAmerican Presidential campaign season (before the next 48 months season), it's time to settle down with a good book, some cheap liquor and comfortably wait for our impending doom by highly intelligent apes that James Franco should have murdered in like the first 10 minutes of that movie. See you all in the comments section.