The Amboys had a busy 2011…as well as being named the Boardwalk’s Top Rock Band at the 19th Annual Asbury Music Awards, the Folk-Rock collective retreated to a cabin in the backwoods of New Jersey to record its appropriately titled sophomore full-length Led Into The Woods, a lauded eight-track collection that landed at No. 15 on SIMGE’s Top 27 Albums of the year list and can be downloaded for free here.
The outfit’s bass plucker, Manny Castanon, was also engrossed in a solo project named You Are The Quarry releasing an 18-song compilation of originals and covers, which you can listen to here…so SIMGE was thrilled that the four-string maestro found the time to submit a list of his Top 10 Albums Of 2011. Check it out below:
10. Urgency EP by Ben Franklin
Remember all those agro-politi-punk bands you used to swear by in high school? Well imagine if those bands could actually play and that their main complaint wasn’t being booted by mall cops for kick flipping in the Boscov’s parking lot. That’s what you’ll get from the now-defunct Ben Franklin; honest opinions about the world at large caked in dirty telecaster tones and fist pounding pop songs. Bassist Eddie Garza has a stand out moment leading the Sunny Day Real Estate-tinged B-side “No Pleasin’ You” while “Smile” takes me back to my own experiences on the road with the Franklin kids and leaves me wondering what kind of powerhouse follow-up to 2009’s “Optimist” would’ve occurred if they’d stuck around a little while longer. While Ben Franklin the Band is as dead as Ben Franklin the Man, their impact is no less important.
Bangers: Urgency, Teamwork
9. Soft Universe by Pnau
Nick Littlemore really knows how to keep himself busy. I mean between being one-half of the Kabuki-laced electro dance monster that is Empire of the Sun with The Sleepy Jackson’s Luke Steele as well as being one-half of the art-rock band Teenager with Ladyhawke (Think Warm Jets era Brian Eno along with a splash of Peaches, Clinic, and Mission of Burma), producing the forthcoming Elton John album, racking up ARIA awards like no one’s business, and dual composing/musical directing this year’s Cirque Du Soleil at Radio City Music Hall, the guy gets around. All that aside though, it’s interesting seeing him going back to Pnau, the project that got his foot in the door if for no other reason than seeing where the bulk of Empire’s musical direction came from. Song like “Solid Ground” and “The Truth” are equal parts Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, and Temper Trap with a bit of Merriweather Post Pavilion thrown in for good measure. Overall, it’s the perfect summer escapist record. One that could serve any day as a masterful follow up to Empire’s “Walking on a Dream”
Bangers: Everybody, Solid ground, Epic Fail
8. Too Young To Be In Love by Hunx & His Punx
California-based Hunx & His Punx follow-up to last year’s “Gay Singles” plays like the soundtrack to a 60s Super 8 stag film. All dreamy, scratchy images of gender eschewing abandon. Singer and part-time hairstylist Seth Bogart has always kept the group on the odd and narrow path of “Ramones meets Chiffons” surf-pop, but on this second outing, you can really see how strong the influence of the latter is. Hunx’s backing band, loving dubbed the Punkettes, deliver backup vocals with all the wistfulness and conviction that you would expect from a Shirelles 45. “Lover’s Lane” plays out like a Queercore version of “Leader of the Pack” while tracks like “Tonite Tonite” and “If You’re Not Here (I Don’t Know Where You Are)” bring the American Bandstand bounce. The real standout on this record though is bassist Shannon Shaw, whose powerful tenor vocals lend a distinct ferocity to songs like “Bad Boy” and any other track she happens to grace. Replete with all the old 60’s teen-pop tropes (lovers’ laments, death rock, school dances), Hunx & His Punx delivers a record that is at once a throwback to the golden age of pop rock as well as a standout contribution to the recent surf rock boom.
Bangers: He’s Coming Back, Tonite Tonite, Bad Boy
7. The Rip Tide by Beirut
The new album from Zach Condon’s Balkan indie folk outfit harkens back to more to their Gulag Orkestar days than the new electronic direction hinted at on the March of the Zapotec/Holland EP, save for a bit of Casio keys on “Santa Fe”. Condon’s lilting vibrato still swims over the lush orchestral tapestry woven by his backing band. Songs like “Payne’s Bay” still evoke images of cobbled backstreets and old world Vienna. Beirut doesn’t cover a whole lot of new ground on this endeavor, but it’s still a welcome trip.
Bangers: Santa Fe, Vagabond
6. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Spending years as the main creative force behind the ever outspoken and the ever-contentious Britpop behemoth Oasis, Noel left the group in August 2009 after a particularly bad row with brother and front man Liam. Fast-forward two years later and Oasis has rebranded itself under the moniker “Beady Eye” and Noel left with all the talent and promise. With an arsenal of songs stronger than anything on “Be Here Now”, Gallagher pumps out steady, assured pop songs with little to no falter. Yeah, you aren’t going to find any “Supersonics”, “Wonderwalls”, or god forbid “Champagne Supernovas” on High Flying Birds and that’s the way I like it. High Flying Birds isn’t a middle aged pop star trying to hold onto his youth (See: The debut Beady Eye record). It is a man unfettered jangling out jaunty, boot-stomping pop tunes and just plain killing it. With its Elliott Smith raggy jangle, “The Death of You and Me” is as contender for stand-out single of the year if I ever heard one while “A Simple Game of Genius” proves that biting on the Lennon/McCartney catalogue for a living isn’t always the worst thing in the world. In Gallagher’s case, it kicks a fair amount of ass.
Bangers: Dream On, If I Had A Gun, The Death of You and Me, AKA… What A Life, A Simple Game of Genius
Continue reading for the rest of Manny’s favorites from 2011…
5. Submarine by Alex Turner
This past year saw Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys release not one but two records; one a solo debut that served as the soundtrack for the Richard Ayoade film “Submarine” and the other the fourth release from his flagship group the Arctic Monkeys. Culling influence from “Cole’s Corner” era Richard Hawley, Turner churned out six of the most intimate, and dare I say honest, tunes of his career. Alex Turner’s strengths have always lied in his use of playful turns of phrase and snarky asides and he puts them to good use in these sparse, reverb-drenched songs that truly speak on youth and misanthropic love. In “Hiding Tonight” Turner reflects those little affirmations we give ourselves during the burgeoning days of new love, promising to do just a little better this time around. “Glass in the Park” is a four-minute vignette of the hazy honeymoon period followed up by the inevitable downturn in “It’s Hard to Get Around the Wind” And the pitch-perfect “Stuck on the Puzzle”. Wrapped up with an intimate, almost twee-pop version of “Piledriver Waltz”, a song he’d later retool on the newest Arctic Monkeys record; Submarine serves not only as a great solo debut from an already accomplished artist, but also the perfect companion piece to what I can only describe as one of the best films I’ve seen all year. Take notes Honeymoon Suite, “How even love can become a lethal weapon” is just doing it wrong.
Bangers: Stuck on the Puzzle, Piledriver Waltz
4. Tent City by Elevator Art
Elevator Art’s sophomore release plays a bit like something you’d hear if your nephew in the Glassjaw hoodie found your stack of Zeppelin and pre-Dark Side Floyd LPs. On Tent City, they’ve thrown aside the dreamy, twee-pop sensibilities that adorned their self-titled debut for Orange stacks, vintage grit and visible confidence. But the central Jersey sextet haven’t lost an ounce of wit or innovation as they glide effortlessly from head-banging four-to-the-floor disco rock (Wind-up Toys) to Black Magic Woman cool (Homicidal Desert) to early 90s Edge-tinged arena rock (My Lesbian Father). The back-up vocals from Moe McGowan, Jennifer Mustachio, and Liz Dayback (who also makes her debut on the record as lead guitarist) shine out like fried gold. These six tracks belong on wax. These six tracks belong on your iPod.
Bangers: Tent City, Killing Time, My Lesbian Father
3. Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow
So how do you follow up a on an album as massively successful and acclaimed as The Seldom Seen Kid? Do you try catching lightning twice? When melancholia is your bread and butter, how does one function at the top? These are the questions Guy Garvey and company faced when recording “Build A Rocket Boys!”, which they answered by looking back to the days before the Mercury Prize, sold out arenas, and Jools Holland. Build A Rocket Boys! is a love letter to fleeting youth and a testament to a time when you felt more raw and electric than any other. Songs like “The Birds” and “Lippy Kids” are long, pensive examinations of a period in one’s life where they are never freer and never more trapped by their surroundings, while “Open Arms” recalls the days of 80s Mancunian dance halls and socials. The debut single from the album “Neat Little Rows” might remind the listener of a somehow more Peter Gabriel inspired version of “Grounds for divorce” but with more focus on distorted bass and grand piano keys. Build A Rocket Boys is a overall a very quiet record but then again, nostalgia is almost always a quiet and wistful experience.
2. Go Tell Fire to the Mountain by WU LYF
WU LYF, or World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation, has lit quite the fire under the British press as well as a number of American blogs; partly for producing a sound I can only describe as Tom Waits wailing with Vampire Weekend at the end of the world and partly for utilizing a rather ingenious form of anti-promotion to garner attention. Refusing interviews from major music publications, stadium shows, and major record deals has somehow created a mystique that has catapulted the Mancunian quartet to the forefront of indie music. Go Tell Fire to the Mountain at once combines lyrics that feel as though they were ripped from the book of revelations with the reverb-drenched Afro-Cuban surf sound that has flooded the indie market in the latter half of the Naughties along with seemingly every genre their hometown is famous for (Post punk, Madchester, Britpop) and meld it all into what they describe as heavy pop. Go Tell Fire is all fire and brimstone, bloody crowns, and social upheaval. It asks its listener to rethink the way they view financial, social, and governmental power, to question authority. The lyrics for “Dirt” and “Spitting Blood” seem tailor-made for kids to scream in drum circles in bold defiance of encroaching batons and pepper spray. Though nearly indecipherable on the first listen, while it may falter in spots, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain is one of the most important and socially relevant records of the year.
Bangers: Dirt, Spitting Blood, We Bros, Heavy Pop
1. Suck It & See by Arctic Monkeys
The lessons Alex Turner & Co. seemed to glean from producer and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme on their last record seemed to have stuck. The group foolishly tried to recreate the magic that was their first record on the subpar follow-up “Favourite Worst Nightmare”. They backed off from the spotlight, learned out to get weird on the Homme produced “Humbug” and came out even stronger on their fourth release. The cheekily titled Suck It and See gives us twelve flat out bangers that would feel right at home anywhere on Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets collection. The opener “She’s Thunderstorms” kicks off with a dark, warbly guitar jangle that sets the tone for the rest of the record and lets the listener know that the Arctic Monkeys are miles away from the days of disco post-punk and hoodie culture. “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved your Chair” and “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” seem to at once mock and embrace the mindless chants of anthemic post Kings of Leon rock music. Turners takes a more minimalistic approach to lyric writing this time around, almost bordering on nonsense. Though it complements the overall surreal tone of the record, especially on “Brick by Brick” and “Library Pictures”. Piledriver Waltz, previously released on the Submarine EP, gets a facelift on Suck It and See; namely, livelier drums and the trademark guitar warble that pops up on nearly every track. The fourth Arctic Monkeys album rarely, if ever, falters. It would be a mistake to call it a return to form, as it is more a return to quality songwriting that shows they’ve more than recovered from the sophomore slump. It lends itself perfectly to late night bar crawls set to the rhythm of your 16-hole boots clacking along the wet pavement underfoot.
Bangers: Black Treacle, The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala, Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved your Chair, Library Pictures, Brick by Brick