9. Bridge by Outside The Box
When you realize what Asbury Park’s own Outside The Box truly accomplishes with its musical artistry it quickly becomes evident how fitting the title of the group’s debut full-length, Bridge, really is. The four-piece is a modernized channel through which to view the history of Rock N’ Roll, Asbury Park’s and beyond, and Bridge is its Bluesified Pop-Rock manifesto. The record resonates with with the Boardwalk’s hodgepodge congregation, revered by members of both the old school and the new guard of Asbury music enthusiasts, which is they spent their Summer flocking to the town’s most famous house of music, The Stone Pony, to experience the electrifying rock revue that is collective. The band’s 11-track collection is an in impressive first effort with instrumental hooks that sink in deep (“You And Me,” “Safe Tonight”), monstrous melodies expressing emotions for members of the opposite sex as well as Jackie Chan (“I Think It’s Love,” “The Ballad Of Jackie Chan”), and refrains that will be engrained in the minds and stuck to the tips of tongues of Jersey Shore beach combers for years to come (“Suddenly Saturday,” “Robert Schaeffer [Part II]”).
8. New History Vol. 2: Judges by Colin Stetson
The way the great blues guitarists communicate through six strings, so does Colin Stetson via his saxophone, creating soundscapes of bass-coated emotion for which there are no words to properly explain. Thus Stetson doesn’t bother to utter a single phrase on his sophomore full-length release, New History Vol. 2: Judges, opting to utilize his piece of brass to the fullest extent, churning out intricate arrangements of pitch and tone, binding and layering sounds together to construct awe inspiring compositions (“Judges,” “The Stars In His Head”). What’s heard on this record isn’t studio magic, nor is Stetson in the business of deceiving his listeners. Every instrumental piece in this collection was done by a single individual, on one instrument, in one take, leaving one dumfounded writer in its wake. However, what I can possibly write will not do this compilation justice, so rather than attempt to explain any further, I’ll leave you with the suggested listening of “A Dream Of Water,” featuring sparse vocal bursts by Laurie Anderson.
7. The Snow & The Full Moon by Accidental Seabirds
Accidental Seabirds emerged as one of the more bewitching Boardwalk Folk-Rock collectives this past summer on the back of the band’s debut release, The Snow & The Full Moon, a 17-song epic of acoustic guitar-led poetic expression and artistry spit forth in Jesse Lee Heardman’s distinctively manic wail. The record garnered the group several nominations at the 19th Annual Asbury Music Awards where the Seabirds melted the cranial contents of The Stone Pony patronage with a trippy live set consisting of such songs as “Lightning Strikes A Raindrop,” an alluring number that’s seemingly more focused on melody, structure, and lyrical flow than a particular theme, “Untitled,” a detailed description of a conversation with a lover presented in a subdued manner with a croon along chorus, and “Automatic Drawing,” in which the outfit sings portraits of several circumstances, the intensity heightening with each successive refrain. As opposed to the follow up, which is currently being recorded at the Seabirds’ AntFarm Studio in Freehold, NJ, this album was solely the brainchild of the aforementioned Heardman, while the forthcoming release will be a more group oriented effort, an undoubtedly promising endeavor that SIMGE can’t wait to submerge itself into.
6. Fire by Green Paper
While discussing Green Paper’s debut studio release, Fire, it was revealed by the North-Jersey-based Psychedelic Pop-Rockin’ fuzz bomb that the 10-track collection would be the first in a conceptual series of five full-length records bound by the elements of the Chinese Wu Xing. The group also divulged that the only unifying aspect intended for this album is that it’s supposed to be “fun to listen to on drugs”…but that’s either modesty or a case of not truly understanding the fruits of one’s labors. Fire is much more than a compilation of songs to play while balls are being tripped and minds lost. These tunes were born out of toxic relationships, the loss of faith in your neighbor, and yes, heavy doses of different mind altering substances, mixed drinks, and Tennessee sippin’ whiskey used to cope with those issues. SIMGE recommends a seat on the floor for your first few listens until an immunity is formed to the impending head rush that hits hard from this sonic bombardment. The catchiest of Pop tunes (“April 27th, 2004,” “Silver Linings”) are intertwined with the haziest of Indie-Rock anthems (“Carthage,” “Summer [Medley]“), not to mention the first track the band ever wrote together, “The Waltz,” a slow building volcanic eruption of a number that’s eerie tidings are properly introduced by a warped Nat King Cole loop.
Continue reading for SIMGE’s Top Album of 2011…
5. The Postelles by The Postelles
The Big Apple-based Postelles have dropped one of the best records of the year, with its 11-song self-titled debut acting as a beguiling Garage-Rock manifesto for the youth of New York City, a soundtrack to draw upon in late evenings on the town and other hours caked in decadent debauchery…it’s too bad SIMGE is the only outlet to take notice. With Strokes axe wielder Albert Hammond Jr. at the helm for portions of this record, including the lead single “White Night,” an in depth description of one of those aforementioned twilight promenades, The Postelles have drawn upon that gritty songwriting style, professing Is This It as a major influence and life altering compilation, and that’s evident on such tunes as “123 Stop,” a tale of extracurriculars with a prospective mate halted by her laundry list of resignations, and “Stella.” However, its “Sound The Alarms,” an anthemic party-time survival guide for the inexperienced in which front-man Daniel Balk instructs the listener to endure your debts and jump in, stressing to said enthusiast “No you can’t be shy/or we’ll count you out/ it’s a slight of hand/ that will shield our doubts,” that puts this compilation over the top.
4. Counterfeit Arcade by Shayfer James
The ivory riff slinging outlaw they call Shayfer James dropped Counterfeit Arcade in November, his follow up full-length to a 2010 debut dubbed The Owl & The Elephant, yet another compilation of hypnotic Piano-Rock that will have congregations of the sinful crooning along to lush, cryptic choruses (“Villainous Thing”), and dancing in the shadows to beautiful candle lit waltzes (“L.V.S. [Your Lady Waits],” “Under The Willow”) for years to come. The sophomore release churned out by this sinister pied piper of the Garden State’s underground contains poetic compositions, which ride turbulent waves of melodious verses, backed by a storm of intricate instrumentals (“Battle Cry,” “Diggin’ Up Hatchets”), with a pair minimalistic testimonial type-tracks mixed in amongst the bunch (“Peace,” “Have A Seat Misery”). However, the cream of this crop rose to the top in “Weight Of The World,” an impressive piece of Pop balladry in which this maestro serenades the listener with an enthralling set of dark lyrical poetry spread over three verses discussing the Darwinist notion of survival.
3. The King Is Dead by The Decemberists
Unlike the rest of the Portland, Oregon outfit’s back catalogue, there is no guiding concept nor paranormal activity binding its sixth full-length studio release The King Is Dead, and, rather than the Folk fronted artistry in which the group is privy too, this collection can instead be filed under an Americana-Rock heading, influenced by the likes of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and a substantial dose of R.E.M. thanks to the assistance Michael Stipe’s long-time axe wielder, Peter Buck, who performs on a trio of the record’s best tracks, including “Down By The Water,” an ode to the river nearest front-man Colin Meloy’s home, “Calamity Song,” the most beautifully descriptive tune of the impending 2012 apocalypse that brings to mind The Boss’ classic B-Side “From Small Things,” and the opening salvo “Don’t Carry It All,” a piece of balladry revealing exactly where the band’s head was at during the writing process with the very first note played, a blaring and extended harmonica blast of energy. It takes a special type of recording artist to craft a Pop-Rock number about the most tragic hard rock mining disaster in United States History, however, Meloy did just that on “Rox In The Box,” a soaring barroom blazer in honor of The Granite Mountain Mine disaster of 1917 in Montana. Despite mixed reviews, “Rise To Me,” “January Hymn,” “This Is Why We Fight,” these songs will go down as some of the best ever constructed by The Decemberists, with The King Is Dead standing as the group’s finest album to date.
2. Never Trust A Happy Song by Grouplove
L.A.’s own Grouplove crafted a captivating 12-track collection of ear candy with the outfit’s debut full-length release, Never Trust A Happy Song, the aptly titled record featuring a pastel palette of whimsical Pop-Rock that’ll have listeners singing along with Christian Zucconi’s sun soaked croon on tune’s about death, love lost, and homelessness, packed up pretty with several selections of euphoric bliss. On “Lovely Cup” the front-man sings of emotions left behind in fear of being trapped by his own insanity, while the ukulele-led “Spun” is an up tempo tale of a homeless youth questioning if all is lost, exclaiming, “Reason is gone! I’m so low!” and the soaring lead single, “Colours,” glorifies heavy drug use to cope with self deprecation…not the greatest message to deliver, but it’s fun to sing. The party-rock anthem “Tongue Tied” landed Grouplove an Ipod commercial earlier this year, while The Fratellis-esque barroom blitz, “Chloe,” careens forth, fronted by a collection of raw and dirty guitar chords and a huge made for festivals scream-along refrain. But it’s the tone setting opening salvo, “Itchin’ On A Photograph,” a seemingly nonsensical string of lyrical poetics spewed forth by a drug induced head trip, exploding at its choral seems, that sits affixed as the crown jewel of this intriguing compilation.
1. The Front Bottoms by The Front Bottoms
With an advancement in technology, the signal-to-noise ratio has dropped so low that a personal connection with new collections of music, and new artists, has developed into something of a rarity…then the Bergen County, NJ duo, The Front Bottoms, surfaced with its self-titled debut full-length, an exhibition in the power of imagery drenched in stunning familiarity, of character development in fixed increments, stylistic originality, and a conviction that causes listeners to place their trust in this music, to hang on every syllable of this scattershot poetry, and believe that everything will be okay as long this record spinning. Brian Sella and Matthew Uychich have bottled what its like to be a young 20-something year old in the suburban Garden State and neither painted a grandiose portrait nor a dreary deprecated landscape, but an honest depiction of emotional, nerve-hindered, expression down to the slang-riddled eloquence with which we communicate.
“She said ‘a lot of the kids we graduated with are now homeless/which puts them in mad shady situations/with mad shady people/if not everyday then on an every other day basis,’” croons Sella on “Flashlight,” an in depth view of young love and the messy situations surrounding it, while “Maps” and “Looking Like You Just Woke Up” rage forth, speculating about the best laid plans laid to waste, warning the listener that “[life] probably won’t get easier, [and issues] just easier to hide,” so “prepare for an aching, the rest of your life,” and reassuring them on “Rhode Island” that “everything you’re feeling is common/even though you’ve never felt so alone.”
But life is never as bleak as we make it out to be and that’s represented by the basement party anthem “The Beers,” a comedic channel through which the songwriters recant a Summer spent sipping alcohol from coffee mugs and taking steroids simply because “you like a man with muscles/and I like you.”
The actions we take, the moment we live in, the emotions we generate, the difficulty we have stringing the right words together to properly express our feelings…all of this and more captured in time over 12-tracks acoustic guitar-led Indie-Punk. The Front Bottoms me feel better about myself, and for that, I thank them.