With 2011 already more than halfway over, we at Punks in Vegas decided to look back at the months past and present you with our choices for the 5 best releases of the year so far. From the big releases to the overlooked gems, we think everyone is going to find something they like in here. And to up the ante, we invited a number of very special guests to come in and contribute their best-of lists.
Today we bring you part one of our two part “Best of 2011 (So Far)” series. This installment features Steven Matview (Punks in Vegas), Vinnie Fiorello (Less Than Jake/Paper + Plastick Records), Devon Kay (Devon Kay & the Solutions/Direct Hit!), Michael Roeslein (Caravels), Ashleigh Thompson (Punks in Vegas), Austin Jeffers (Last Call), Max Stern (Signals Midwest), Shahab Zargari (GC Records), Ryan Rockwell (Mixtapes), and Roxie Amoroso (Pigasus/Cowtown Guitars).
Steven Matview (Punks in Vegas founder)
- Red City Radio: The Dangers of Standing Still (Paper + Plastick)
I first heard of Red City Radio from message board posts and Punknews comments, with a lot of people whose opinions I respect telling me I needed to check these guys out. Following an excellent, three song teaser EP last year, Red City Radio released The Dangers of Standing Still in 2011, and it’s one of the best debuts I’ve heard in a very long time. Their music is everything I love about punk rock – gruff vocals, loud guitars, and killer harmonies. I was yelling along with Paul Pendley and co. by the second listen and the album has hardly left rotation since. Now how about a show in Vegas, guys?
Favorite Track: I’m Well, You’re Poison
- Fucked Up: David Comes to Life (Matador)
The Chemistry of Modern Life, Fucked Up’s previous album, was so good and so highly lauded that I was unsure if the band would ever be able to move out of its shadow. And then along comes David Comes to Life, which doesn’t just surpass Chemistry, it soars above it, pushing the boundaries of what a hardcore band can be. Even at 18 tracks, David is the rare concept album that doesn’t seem bloated or overblown, and the injection of more melody to their sound and the smooth female vocals contrasting with Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham’s abrasive growl makes this album one that is truly worth all the praise it has received.
Favorite Track: The Other Shoe
- The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing (Hopeless)
I admit that I was late to the party with The Wonder Years, completely ignoring the band’s previous work until just a few months ago. That was a stupid mistake. Suburbia… is their best work yet and my official “album of the summer,” with the catchy melodies and hooks bringing me back to high school nights spent singing passionately along with The Movielife and Saves the Day. But what really sold me on The Wonder Years are the lyrics of vocalist Dan “Soupy” Campbell, which are intelligent, introspective, and relatable, positioning Campbell as the Craig Finn for the pop-punk scene.
Favorite Track: Life of a Pigeon
- Deadhand: Deadhand (self-release)
Is Deadhand too punk for the rock fans and too classic rock-influenced for the punks? Does it matter when their music is this good? After spending a number of years together under the name Lydia Vance, Brendan Scholz, Jarred Cooper, and Aaron Weislogel regrouped this past year as Deadhand, tightening up their sound and releasing one of the best albums I’ve heard in a very long time with this self-titled release. Tracks like Prehistoric and Sheep slay with Thin Lizzy-esq guitar solos while Places and Back Up introduce catchy punk riffs into the mix. However you choose to classify them, I think we can all agree that Deadhand, simply, rocks.
Favorite Track: Places (love can go)
- Direct Hit!: Domesplitter (Kind of Like)
Wait, you’re telling me there’s an insanely catchy, Dillinger Four-esq Midwestern pop-punk band writing songs about wizards, closet monsters, and zombies that come off as fun and not cheesy? Where do I sign up to hear this? I’m a pretty big comic book geek and a huge fan of hook-riddled punk rock, so it’s no wonder I was addicted to Milwaukee’s Direct Hit! from the first listen. The ten tracks on Domesplitter are actually newly recorded versions of songs previously released by the band, who now have a stable lineup and are ready to unleash their music on an unsuspecting public. The songs are exciting and fun, the prefect mix for a great summer album, though I suspect I’ll be listening to Domesplitter long after the heat dies down.
Favorite Track: Snickers Or Reese’s (Pick Up The Pieces)
Looking forward to:
There’s still half the year left and plenty to look forward to! Polar Bear Club, who I think are ready to break out in a huge way, Heartsounds, who are following up one of my favorite debuts of the past few years, Mixtapes, who are going to become the biggest name in pop-punk, and of course the return of Hot Water Music, who just recently signed to Rise and should have their first album in 7 years out by the end of the year.
Vinnie Fiorello (Drummer for Less Than Jake and owner of Paper + Plastick Records)
Vinnie did a top 10. We decided that Vinnie can do whatever he wants.
In no particular order:
- The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing (Hopeless)
- Bayside – Killing Time (Wind Up)
- Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones (Epitaph)
- Junior Battles – Idle Ages (Paper + Plastick)
- Red City Radio –The Dangers Of Standing Still (Paper + Plastick)
- Balance And Composure – Separation (No Sleep)
- Childish Gambino – EP (self-release)
- Moving Mountains – Waves (Triple Crown)
- Tyler, The Creator – Goblin (XL)
- Adele – 21 (XL, Columbia)
Devon Kay (Vocals/guitar, Devon Kay & the Solutions, guitar for Direct Hit!)
- The Aquabats – Hi-Five Soup! (Fearless)
This band will forever be my god damned jam. I can honestly say I don’t dislike any record by The Aquabats… and I honestly don’t care if you do. This isn’t about my stance on the band’s release history as a whole, this is about their new album Hi-Five Soup! HFS is a campy mix of new wave, pop-punk, silly rap and catchy fucking fun. The record essentially feels like you are listening to an episode of Adventure Time… which is algebraic! The bats take you down paths of friendship, fighting sharks, going on quests with dragons, hugging your homies, and understanding the relationships formed between you and fat people. Seriously. If you want something refreshing, light hearted, and pretty damn talented you have to check out this record. It’s my favorite so far…and it has cameos from Strong Bad and Biz Markie. What are you doing right now? GO BUY IT FUCK ASS!
- Ida Maria – Katla (Universal)
Ms. Maria roped me in with her first record Fortress Round My Heart and ever since I’ve been eagerly anticipating her second attempt. Katla is a departure from the sweat soaked power pop that was Fortress, but that isn’t bad by any means. This record keeps the drunken honesty and crass wit that Ida does so damn well and places it over American poppy blues and fuzzed out muff diving guitars. The single Bad Karma pushes you around the bar while Ida warns you to watch your dickhole ways cause “bad karma’s a bitch.” While the slower songs on the record My Shoes and Quite Nice People hypnotize you like they did on her debut and continue to make me long for a night where I end up at a dive bar and Ida is singing those tunes only to me… and I’m naked. Check it out if you don’t mind some solid girl-fronted power pop…which you should…you fucking sexist.
- Archie Powell & the Exports – Skip Work
Chicago natives and drinking buddies (more like get drunk and argue about music and Mortal Kombat buddies) Archie Powell & the Exports debut album Skip Work is somewhat of a power pop triumph. Catchy pop rock instrumentation, vocals tainted with the scent of alcohol, lyrics full of longing to get out of where you came from, all wrapped up in a wonderful Costello-like package that makes me jealous I didn’t start a better band…or practice my guitar. The title single Skip Work is just one of the many songs on this record that will have you bopping up and down in your chair while you collate copies or whatever the fuck it is you do at the job you wish you were skipping.
Live, the songs have a bit more grit and a lot more distortion, while on the record they are a tad bit more twangy and country influenced… which isn’t bad. It’s that bar room rock, tear in your beer music that has been filtered out of the mainstream by bands such as Hinder or Limp Bizkit. Pick it up. It’s worth it. Oh yea…this shit came out in 2010. Get over it.
Old fashioned nineties influenced punk rock. There isn’t much else to say about this record aside from that it’s solid in pretty much every way. The guitars chug and ring out with octave harmonies, the vocals are snotty and in your face…where they belong. The drums are full of toms and rolls that will make you want to bounce up and down while punching your friends in their dumb ugly faces. It’s that house show feeling delivered into your living room without the spilt beer and the smell of crust punks. My favorite track is Standing in Puddles. The song bounces around the pop punk genre while forcing you to move, all to climax with epic gang vocals that remind me of only my favorite fist pumping experiences. I wouldn’t say Rid the World reinvents the wheel, but it definitely takes the wheel and makes it a little bitch boy for 11 solid tracks. If you are in Chicago, go pick up this album because the vinyl is beautiful and it will make you cooler then you could ever imagine.
What kind of red blooded American would I be without a bit of shameless self promotion? Do I actually think these records are 5th best of the year so far? In short. A trillion times absolutely! I’m real proud of both of these bands and all the people involved in each respected project. Domesplitter is a solid 26 minutes of face fucking that leaves your ears violated and yet…still slightly aroused. In lieu of Andrew W.K. with a touch of Midwestern Songs of the Americas by Dillinger 4, this record is fun start to finish and properly rehashes the Direct Hit! songs that got you all stoked on DH! in the first place. DK&S’s Never Punt is an honest, balls-out record that boasts catchy melodies alongside personal lyrics all dripping with wit and sarcasm. Just trust me on this one dudes and lady dudes, I wouldn’t push something that sucked…unless it all went straight into my pocket…which it doesn’t.
Michael Roeslein (Vocals for Caravels)
In no particular order:
- Young Widows – In and Out Of Youth and Lightness (Temporary Residence)
It’s a very dark and sinister album and they take a lot of chances, with nearly all of them paying off.
- Explosions In The Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Temporary Residence)
They trimmed the fat and distilled the instrumental rock experience down to its bare bones, and made a really great album, too.
- Bon Iver – Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
More of a full-band album then a dude-with-his-guitar album, and I welcome the additional instrumentation. He’s obviously trying to distance himself from that image (and the Wisconsin cabin he’s become associated with) and he does a pretty good job of that. At the end of the day, the dude can sing circles around everyone else.
- Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
A very obviously gorgeous album, great for summer days and driving around and feeling good.
I don’t really know what to say, this band just shreds. To be honest I don’t even know if this is 2011. But I do know it’s great for summer nights and driving around and feeling good.
Ashleigh Thompson (Editor for Punks in Vegas)
- Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (Matador)
- Old Man Markley – Guts ‘n Teeth (Fat Wreck Chords)
- Laura Stevenson & the Cans – Sit Resist (Don Giovanni)
- Mixtapes – Hope is for People (Animal Style)
- Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones (Epitaph)
Austin Jeffers (Vocals for Last Call)
In no particular order:
- Fucked Up – David Comes to Life (Matador)
I had always liked Fucked Up, what they represented. They have an attitude and an aesthetic that was clever, unwavering and dare I say frakking (I’ve been watching Battlestar a lot) cool. Still, I’d never list them in my top 5 most years, maybe top 30ish? Until David Comes to Life …this album blew me away, it’s simply amazing. I’ve just got my hands on it and every time I start to listen to something else…it calls me back. It’s like a screaming, loud, abrasive, yet somehow soothing and slick Siren’s song. It moves from a shoegazing thick guitar line into Fucked Up’s stark explosive style in a quick turn and takes no prisoners both sonically and integrity wise.
- Defeater – Empty Days and Sleepless Nights (Bridge 9)
Ok, so far I have two concept albums on my list, next I’ll be talking about RUSH. (I do love Rush though.) Defeater is just the sort of thing I needed out of hardcore or post-hardcore this year. If anyone knows me, I’m a Modern Life is War JUNKIE and Defeater has me back on my horse high as a kite. That’s not to say that Defeater is a repeat of Modern Life is War’s career, because they have a vastly huge cult fanbase and a style that is all their own. This band had set an amazing history by making super strong impassioned albums but had not come to control that power any more than in Empty Days and Sleepless Nights. This album cooks and tears relating a tragic tale of growth in a father’s shoes that never lets up and never give you anything less than 200% passion. Then when you don’t think they can do anything more amazing…they break the mold and deliver a second half of acoustic songs that croon and move like a seasoned folk artist. All in all this is a must-have album.
- Fireworks – Gospel (Triple Crown)
Last year, Fireworks was touring off of arguably one of the strongest “pop-punk” releases of the last two years and rose to a level of fame that a band that works so hard deserves. Normally this can be rough for a band to follow up and it causes a sophomore-slump. NOT FIREWORKS. Gospel is the great American pop-punk record that destroys the notion of pop-punk. Gospel is a strong indie album more so really but don’t be turned away by that you punk enthusiasts. It moves and has heart and real honesty. It also has a lot of positivity in it too. All in all, a wonderful album to have on for a very long time. Wonderful.
- David Bazan – Strange Negotiations (Barsuk)
David Bazan is a man who has truly never made anything short of masterpieces. Strange Negotiations is no exception. It’s alive with truth, passion and the things that David Bazan has experienced. I’ve followed David his whole career and have no qualms with saying that this album is truly amazing, crooning and real. A must have.
- Title Fight – Shed (Side One Dummy)
They heard what everyone wanted them to do, said fuck that and made an album that will be considered a true masterpiece of our generation. Shed is thick, aggressive and passionate. A punk hardcore record that doesn’t ever let you get comfortable with what it’s doing which makes it an adventure to hear. A band that is pushing against its expectations to better music as a whole.
Max Stern (Vocals/guitar for Signals Midwest)
In no particular order:
- Big Kids – Phone Home (Solidarity)
This is weird, fuzzed out, down-tuned gruff pop punk with just enough melody to keep it all together. Weird time signature changes, tons of feedback and distortion, and a song called Dad’s Datsun. So good!
Favorite Track: Pier 14 Locals
- Reverse the Curse – Hither & Yon (Paper and Plastick)
These three (now four?) kids from a little town about 45 minutes outside of Cleveland called Hiram have been playing together for the better part of a decade, so it’s no surprise that they made an incredibly tight, layered & intense punk rock record. The songs pulsate and breathe like a more drawn-out Small Brown Bike, but they’re great at doing the quiet parts too. Tight harmonies, killer guitar work and drums that sound HUGE.
Favorite Track: To Dig a Hole
Seven songs in six minutes. You can tell these kids love the shit out of Lifetime. Dual vocals that are somehow depressed and jubilant at the same time. Lightning-fast drums, huge singalong choruses, and it’s over before you even realize what the fuck just happened. Well done.
Favorite Track: Power Converter
- Spraynard – Funtitled (Asian Man)
These kids went ahead and wrote an uplifting and surprisingly complex punk record that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It shows a huge growth from their first full-length Cut and Paste and the honesty in Pat’s voice just resonates out of every syllable.
Favorite Track: Damn You, A Box
I think technically this came out at the end of 2010, but I discovered it only a few months ago so it’s going on the list. Simply put, this is the best punk record I’ve heard in two or three years. It sounds like Guided By Voices meets Pinkerton-era Weezer in a car crash. The last track, Constant Headache, instantly became one of my favorite songs of all time after the very first listen. Get into this band.
Favorite Tracks: Beach Community, Derailed, Constant Headache
Shahab Zargari (GC Records owner)
- Holding Onto Sound – The Sea (GeyKido Comet/National SouthWestern)
- The Copyrights – North Sentinel Island (Red Scare)
- The Gateway District – Perfect’s Gonna Fail (It’s Alive Records)
- Citizen Fish – Goods (Alternative Tentacles)
- The World/Inferno Friendship Society – The Anarchy and The Ecstasy (Chunksaah)
Ryan Rockwell (Vocals/Guitar for Mixtapes)
In no particular order:
- Big Sean – Finally Famous (G.O.O.D. Music, Def Jam)
I like Big Sean because of his lyrics and his voice, but also because he’s been doing his thing for a long time, and worked really hard at it and it finally paid off and he got signed to a big label and is still making songs the same way. It’s basically radio rap with the production and such, but I don’t care. Clever lyrics, awesome voice, and a great record, one of my favorite things to come out this year and I listen to it all the time.
- Young Jeezy – The Last Laugh
Young Jeezy’s first official album Thug Motivation 101 is one of my favorite records ever. I still listen to it regularly, and have a tattoo of it on my leg. Something about the way Jeezy came out and was totally different than all of the other rap, he talked shit, he was slow, and didn’t have any interest in making friends. Yet he still made some catchy songs with some original beats, and his delivery was very unique. His 2 albums after that were good, but honestly didn’t match up at all to the first record for me. The Last Laugh is his new mixtape, and is the precursor to his new album and it’s great. It reminds of me of his old albums, it’s catchy and fun to listen to. It made me very excited for his record, so it got the job done!
- Junior Battles – Idle Ages (Paper + Plastick)
This record is awesome. It is straight pop punk and it isn’t really something that fits in with the current generation of pop punk, nor does it try to be old school pop punk (both of these are good things). It’s upbeat, catchy, and great to listen to at any time. Anyone should like this record, so guy buy it! Or if you are broke, download it. I don’t think they would care much. [Editor’s note: it’s worth paying for (don’t sue us)]
- They Might Be Giants – Join Us (Idlewild)
TMBG have always been one of my favorite bands, so many good songs and always being unique. The last 2 records The Else and The Spine had some good songs but just didn’t stack up to their older stuff for me. The new record I think overall is great and somehow doesn’t really sound like their older or newer stuff, it’s something new but still very TMBG. The songs are great and I’d say Can’t Keep Johnny Down is easily one of the best They Might Be Giants songs ever, and the album holds up throughout the whole thing. I’m stoked on it!
- Drive-By Truckers – Go Go Boots (ATO)
This album is different for the Truckers as it is more country influenced and less rock, and it rules. I like all of the Drive-By Truckers albums but the lyrics, melodies, and catchiness of this record make it great for any occasion. Get it, and love it!
Roxie Amoroso (Bass for Pigasus, owner of Cowtown Guitars)
- Vivian Girls – Share the Joy (Polyvinyl)
- Hunx & his Punx – Too Young to Be in Love (Hardly Art)
- Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (Epitaph)
- Deadhand – Deadhand (self-release)
- The Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (RCA)
Join us here tomorrow morning for part two, featuring the rest of the Punks in Vegas staff and some more very special guests. While you wait, we want to know what your favorite records of 2011 are! Leave us a comment here, in our forum, or post on our Facebook page with your choices for the best album of 2011 (so far)!