A random assortment of NFI’s favourite records of 2011 (Pt. 2)

In part 1 I wrote about a bunch of my favourite records from last year. Well, here are a bunch more. They are still not in any particular order and I wouldn’t rate the following above or below the ones you read about yesterday. I am only playing favourites in a very general sense.

Tomorrow, you’ll get to read about my actual favourite release of 2011, and I’ll also throw in a bunch of honourable mentions, partly because they were really good and partly because I’m self-conscious about the fairly narrow generic focus of parts 1 and 2. I do listen to more stuff that isn’t pop-punk or post-emo, promise.

Fucked Up - David Comes To Life coverFucked UpDavid Comes To Life

Fucked Up continue to go from strength to strength, forever pushing themselves further and harder. It’s weird to think that this is the band who started out as an experiment in interpersonal dynamics (by which I mean they deliberately got together a bunch of people from the local Toronto scene who didn’t know each other and probably wouldn’t get along) and played songs that sounded like very early Black Flag.

Their most experimental and interesting stuff can still be found on the Year of the Zodiac series, but they didn’t release one of those in 2011 (the superb Year of the Ox was late 2010 and Year of the Tiger will be coming out a few days after this post goes live) and David Comes to Life is a startlingly ambitious album. It’s a double-LP concept album that explores the life and love of a fictional character from a fictional British industrial town in the 1970s. Fucked Up took this concept so far that they recorded and released a compilation LP, David’s Town, which purported to be a collection of songs from the nascent punk rock scene in their fictional town.

David’s Town is actually a really, impressively good imitation of the styles and sounds current in the era (I’ve played it to older punk mates and they agree, so it’s not just 80s-child me saying this), but it’s a sideshow attraction to this astonishing release, which combines some of Fucked Up’s best songwriting to date with startling conceptual scope. If it sounds like this is all terribly pretentious, well: 1.) you’re abusing the term “pretentious”, my friend, but 2.) don’t worry because songs like ‘Queen of Hearts’ and ‘Turn the Season’ are still catchy as fuck.

Caves - Homeward Bound coverCavesHomeward Bound

The second of only two British releases among my favourite records of 2011. And all the rest are American! I’m really sorry, everyone. I really should try and do something about this inadvertent cultural imperialism. It’s not like I don’t dig British and European stuff, and NFI has reviewed records from as far afield as South Korea. I guess I just really like what the Americans do. Most of the stuff on this list is pop-punk and post-emo after all.

Fortunately, there are always home-grown outfits like Bangers and the excellent, excellent Caves to let us stand on our own. Now, Caves are not doing anything new, I’ll admit that straight off. Musically they play scrappy, melodic punk rock that doesn’t display even half the song-writing chops exhibited on Small Pleasures. But it just works, because here you have a three-piece who throw themselves in heart and soul and deliver a rough, imperfect and beguiling performance. What really brings them together is frontwoman Lou Hanman, whose distinct and imperfect voice soars through some great vocal lines even while she’s slamming hooky chord progressions. The band are awesome live. Lou is also totally righteous. I am a little bit in love with her.

Banner Pilot - Heart Beats Pacific coverBanner PilotHeart Beats Pacific

The brilliance of Banner Pilot is a confusing thing. Melodic pop-punk bands from suburbs in the American Midwest are not a rare thing, and nor are songs about drinking and punk rock and love and life in suburbs in the American Midwest. Amusingly, whilst writing this album one of the member’s of the band posted to their blog asking if anyone out there used drop-D, as they’d never really bothered trying it.

That partially indicates the appeal, I guess: the band are impossibly endearing. But more to the point their songs are impossibly catchy, with hooks big enough to land a whale and a knack for fusing memorable lyrics to sing-along vocal lines good enough to run shivers down your spine even while you’re prancing about, punching the air and singing.

If you have ever liked pop-punk you will like Banner Pilot. They are simply that good. We are talking about a band who can take a ridiculously simple two note piece of guitar lead (‘Forty Degrees’) and somehow make it work. God knows how they’ve done it but these guys have bottled the secret formula. Broken-hearted punks the world over would be jealous if Banner Pilot weren’t drip-feeding a new record to us every year. Thanks, guys!

The Front Bottoms coverThe Front Bottomss/t

I only encountered the Front Bottoms towards the end of 2011, so they scrape through at the bottom here. They were appearing on a lot of early best-of-2011 lists and many people were talking about them being a highlight of last year’s The Fest, so I figured I’d check them out. Lo and behold, they are brilliant.

A description of them which I’m quite fond of, even though it’s quite misleading, is that these guys are Arab Strap if Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton were clean-cut American kids who grew up with American indie rock and pop-punk rather than post-punk and British indie and dance. The comparison is quite meaningless, though; I think it occurred to me when I was first listening to the band because of the dancey basslines and the heartbreaking stories conveyed through the lyrics, and I’ve not been able to get it out of my head since.

Have a read of these lyrics. Look at how beautiful and sad and slightly creepy that story is. Then go and listen to the song itself and see how brilliantly arranged and delivered it is. Then listen to the rest of their songs. Oh my god, I adore this band.

(I know their name is fucking terrible.)

Good Luck - Without Hesitation coverGood LuckWithout Hesitation

Okay, so Good Luck have been going for a little while now and this is their second album (the first, Into Lake Griffy, appeared all the way back in 2008). Why the fuck does no one tell me about this stuff? By rights I guess I should’ve been aware anyway, as singer Ginger was in One Reason who I championed back when folk-punk was the great hope of punk rock. Ah, happy memories.

But that was then and this is now. Good Luck are quite different to One Reason, fusing pop-punk pace and drive with the noodly guitar lines and delicate intricacies of post-emo indie rock. Pretty much every song on Without Hesitation features the sort of guitar licks I’d sacrifice toes to be able to pull off, alongside those delicious, memorable hooks of which I type so much. Plus, Ginger is still an absolutely terrific vocalist, and her soaring vocals have permanently seared Good Luck into my memory.

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