A random assortment of NFI’s favourite records of 2011 (Pt. 1)

Once again I won’t even try to pretend that this is an objective list of any kind. Hell, even out of the shit I like I would probably have written a different list towards the end of December, or if I’d left it another few weeks. Still, here’s a round-up of my favourite twenty records as of late January to mid-February 2012…

(Yeah, I’m running late with this. If I’m honest I had to force myself to write it. Apparently I prefer the present to looking back. Could be I’m finally moving on from all that nostalgia and sentimentality that characterises me… nah, just kidding. My picks will make it pretty clear that that is not the case.)

THE TOP SLIGHTLY MORE THAN TEN IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER BECAUSE SHAUN HATES RANKING THINGS: 

Banquets coverBanquetsTop Shelf, Bottom Shelf

Reviewed here. I love Banquets and we all know it, but let’s just step back from what I’ve said in the past. These guys rock because what they bring to the table is so comprehensive. Catchy rhythms? Check. Warm melodies? Check. Memorable hooks? Check. Practiced songwriting, top-notch fronting and backing vocals? Check, check.

They bring all this and bind this skeleton together with solid musculature and flesh, by which I mean they’ve got an immediately, clearly distinct identity. Vocalist Travis Omilian has an immediately distinct voice, and such is the songwriting and sound that even if you stripped out all vocals I’d recognise a song I’d never before heard as written by these guys within about a minute. That may not sound like much but remember that melodic punk rock is a hugely glutted genre, and it takes a lot to stand out this well.

The Slow Death coverThe Slow DeathBorn Ugly, Got Worse

Not reviewed – in fact I didn’t even know this was out until about a month ago. I picked up their Turnstile Comix 7″ with the Mitch Clem comic and liked it, but those few songs weren’t really much to go on much as I enjoyed the road stories in the comic. It wasn’t until I listened to this album that I realised just how excellent the Slow Death are and just why so many colonists are so excited about them.

Born Ugly, Got Worse is a buzzy and rough-edged pop-punk classic. I’ve seen it described as “better than In Desolation”, and I wouldn’t really agree with that, but after three albums of Off With Their Heads doing their thing this does feel fresher. It hits all the right notes: it makes for awesome party music and good times, it’s full of delicious melodies and simple, hooky guitar work, and it’s full of resignedly heart-broken lyrics.

Unusually for a pop-punk band they list outfits like Cock Sparrer and Blitz as influences and, beneath the cheerful melodies and the whiskey-drenched broken-heart lyrics, you can actually hear it.

Bangers - Small PleasuresBangersSmall Pleasures

Reviewed here. Some pleasures are small, and some offer forty-five minutes of — actually no, I’m not going to try and make some kind of sexual euphemism out of this. The record is too good for that, and the band too full of incredible manliness.

I’m a little saddened that my list of favourite records for the year contains so few British acts, but I’m greatly cheered that one of them is Bangers. Simultaneously familiar and fresh, this has been on regular rotation for the last eight months.

Domesplitter coverDirect Hit!Domesplitter

Reviewed here. Astonishingly hooky and powerful pop-punk that I feel comfortable describing as “knocks Teenage Bottlerocket into a cocked hat”. And I love Teenage Bottlerocket! It helps that Direct Hit!’s lyrics are all about b-movies and are generally quite silly and fun. I don’t get to many parties where people let me play punk rock, but when I do these guys go on.

The Holy Mess s/t coverThe Holy Messs/t

Sometimes you just want to listen to some snarling, snotty punk rock with a sense of humour. Nowadays Propagandhi are older and more inclined to make their mockery subtle rather than in your face, and even though everyone who describes them as shit now is completely and utterly wrong it is a shame that no one is writing songs like ‘The Only Good Fascist is a Dead Fascist’ and ‘Less Talk, More Rock’ any more.

Enter The Holy Mess. Now, they’re not remotely a political punk band. Their schtick is way more about surreal artwork, partying and touring, but in terms of attitude, songwriting, sound and general cheekiness they are deeply reminescent of our Canuck friends’ 90s incarnation. That said, their songwriting is a lot better (quiet down, it’s true), replete with far more vocal hooks and sing-along moments and intense, meaty, jangling hooks.

They’re not above poking a bit of fun here and there, even if just with a pun: witness ‘Captain, We’re Drinking!’ and ‘You Say Party! We Say Where!?!’ Ah, simple pleasures are so often the best.

Sometimes you just want to listen to some snarling, snotty punk rock with a sense of humour and bounce around the room off the walls. Every time I listen to The Holy Mess I want to stop what I’m doing, crack open a beer and just start partying.

Wugazi coverWugazi13 Chambers

I listened to this a hell of a lot back in the summer when it was released. Or, at least, I listened to the first five tracks a hell of a lot. After that point it feels a bit like a byproduct of the law of diminishing returns. But whatever.

Here’s the thing. If I’m honest, I find Fugazi a bit dull overall. I like what they do, I admire them greatly, and I think they have some good songs and some great riffs and licks, but overall I find their albums boring and their songs not terribly memorable. As for the Wu-Tang Clan, well, as a white middle-class British kid I wasn’t really pre-disposed to get into mafioso rap (as I think we call it nowadays). I know a lot of my teenagers-in-the-90s peers did, but I went the punk rock direction instead, and while both are rebel styles of music the things that they value and cherish are kind of antithetical. You would not get too many punk rockers decked out in designer clothes and you would not get many rappers deliberately glorifying the ugly and, well, between punk rock and rap music there’s really only one of the two you would fuck to. So anyway, I found the Wu-Tang Clan really distasteful even though I secretly dug their beats and samples.

Roll on like a shitload of years and my dislike of rap has faded, partly thanks to white middle-class-friendly acts like El-P and ferociously political rappers like Immortal Technique, and partly thanks to reading stuff like this which made music from a cultural experience so distant from my own comprehensible.

Man, that is an awful lot of talking about myself. Sorry for the navel-gazing. Okay, this is awesome because it combines Fugazi’s best grooving riffs and breathy chorus vocals with with the slick rhythms of the Wu-Tang Clan. Listening to this album will make you feel cool as sin.

[Tune in tomorrow & Wednesday for the next bunch of my favourite records from last year…]

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