Friday, December 30, 2011

McDurfee's Top 15 Albums Of 2011 (Along With His Top 5 Non-Metal Albums)

 This is Mick making a brief announcement.  After the break we have a Top 15 list and the first post from our newest writing member here at Brutalitopia, Mic.  Yes, there are two Mic(k)s here now.  However, in order to immediately simplify this issue, the new Mic will go by the alias McDurfee, which sounds like either a new breakfast option at McDonald's or a special move you can do in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. 

McDurfee may be new to the blog, but he has been a good friend of ours for quite some time and certainly is no stranger to Brutalitopia the radio show.  So it is with open arms horns atop both hands that Jack, myself, and Nathan welcome McDurfee to the blog.  Enjoy his lists after the break.

Top 15 Metal Albums Of 2011

15. “Of Blood and Salt” – Gojira

Ok, so maybe listing a song in a list of the Top 15 Albums of 2011 is a bit like throwing a Hail Mary on the first play of the Super Bowl, but hear me out.  If we take an album to be a collection of songs or a piece of music that’s roughly a half hour (give or take) in length, and then accept that “Of Blood and Salt” is only six and a half minutes long, it seems far too short.  But what if I told you that the day this song hit the internet I listened to it TEN times?  In a row.  Back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back, never getting tired of it, continuously head banging to the Duplantier brothers and Co, along with special guests Devin Townsend and Frederik Thorndenal of Meshuggah.  In my eyes, that gives “Of Blood and Salt” a special place in the spectrum of musical releases from this year.  Unfortunately, the “Sea Shepard EP” from which the song is taken didn’t materialize this year due to some hard drive problems, but fear not: Gojira is hard at work in the studio, with both “Sea Shepard” and a new full-length album due out in 2012.  If you aren’t so excited for those albums that you start shaking and giggling at the thought of how much heavy, heavy, heavy French metal that is, then I’m not sure what you’re doing on this website.  As a gambling man, I’d say there’s a pretty good shot you’ll see “Of Blood and Salt” featured higher up on next year’s edition of this list.

14. The Collective – Scale the Summit

Their third album, The Collective sees Scale the Summit take a huge step forward with their musicianship and song-writing.  Unlike fellow instrumentalists Animals as Leaders and Pelican, Scale the Summit writes straight up metal tracks that feel like they could have vocals over them, they just don’t.  The album moves from upbeat, energetic songs such as “Whales,” to tunes that feel more mellow like “The Levitated.”  Songs feel tight and streamlined, compacted within the incredible musicianship of lead guitarist Chris Letchford.  The Collective elevates Letchford to the upper echelon of metal guitarists (Metal Sucks had him on the lower end of their Top 25 Metal Guitarist list earlier this year), and I think it’s fair to say that the album (and probably the band as well) is only as good as Letchford, which is to say, pretty damn great.  Scale the Summit is definitely a band to keep an eye on; if The Collective is what they make as their junior album, senior year and beyond is looking mighty bright. 
Top Song: Whales
13. Deconstruction – The Devin Townsend Project

Obviously 2011 was a very special year for music, but I don’t think I realized just how special it was until I made this list and realized that the great Devin Townsend was… thirteenth?  How could that be right?  A lot of great albums came out this year, but really?  DTP is only clocking in at thirteen?!?  After checking the math, looking at the formulas, and consulting a priest, I was forced to accept it: Deconstruction was the 13th best album of 2011, which means that we have twelve albums running around that would have probably topped this list any other year.
Overall, Heavy Devy delivers an album that is chock full of the heavy, progressive, just plain weird goodness we have come to expect from him; actually, if I have one issue with this album, it’s that occasionally it gets too weird (see: Mighty Masturbator, The).  It’s not that the sixteen minute opus isn’t a great track musically (it is), but there’s just something about a song surrounding a super hero who realizes he can save the world by jerkin’ it that is just a little too goofy for me, especially when it’s surrounded by such incredible heavy metal.  Maybe I don’t have a sense of humor anymore in my old age.  A litany of guests, including Mikael Akerfeldt and Joe Duplantier, pepper the album, showing up in ways that fit their own musical stylings well and complement DT’s musical ideas for the album.  Deconstruction is a landmark album for the metal veteran and a fitting end for the DTP phase of his career.
Top Track: Sumeria

12. Cenotes – Giant Squid

If you name your band after one of the gnarliest animals on the planet, and then name your album after underground caves with crystal clear waters, chances are I’m going to give it a listen.  If this album turns out to be as great as Cenotes, Giant Squid’s follow-up EP to their supremely underrated mid-label debut The Ichthyologist, then I am going to listen to it many, many times.  Unapologetically drawing inspiration from the ocean and all its creatures (obviously), Cenotes is sludge metal at its most upbeat and melodic; it’s like walking through a steady rainfall and stepping in the occasional mud puddle, as opposed to swimming through quicksand in a thunderstorm while a herd of rhinoceroses trample alongside you.  Most of this sound is attributed to lead singer Aaron Gregory’s haunting lead vocals combined with Jackie Perez Gratz’ (also of Grayceon) incredible cello playing.  Which leads to another great point about this band: how many sludge bands do you know that rock a cello to achieve a continued ominous vibe throughout their record?  Giant Squid clocks in at a pretty quick for a sludge album 35 minutes, and I suppose the accusation that it “doesn’t really go anywhere” isn’t entirely without merit, as the band hit their musical spot from the onset and never really waver.  But when you hit the sound of menacing beauty that you’re aiming for on the first shot, is it really a problem that you stay there for a half hour?  Absolutely not.
Top Track: Tongue Stones (Megaptera megachasmacarcharias)

11. Digital Veil – The Human Abstract

Quick admission: As any loyal Brutalitopia readers have guessed by now, I’m new here.  So new, in fact, that this list is my first post.  And I’d be lying if I said there isn’t a part of me that’s a little worried it may be my last for putting Digital Veil just outside my Top Ten, as I know Mick LOVES this record.  But is there really any shame in being Number Eleven in the Best Year of Music Ever?  I think not, and so it is here that The Human Abstract enter the countdown.  (By the way, if this is my last post, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.)
My very first impression of Digital Veil was that it was sort of a Diet Between the Buried and Me record; pretty good, has its moments, but ultimately I’d rather just listen to Colors or The Great Misdirect.  Obviously, in the nine or so months since DV has come out, I’ve gone from being a complete idiot to someone who can put together a decent, coherent thought.  This album owns; from beginning to end, this is an album that we will one day look back on as the moment when The Human Abstract made the leap to being a force in progressive metal (this actually happened for a few bands across multiple genres this year), the same way last season made everyone realize just how good Derrick Rose is going to be in the NBA.  Another quick, thirty-something minute record, Digital Veil packs all the progressive tropes in with The Human Abstract’s metalcore roots to create something unique and special, a sound that is entirely their own, as opposed to Diet BtBaM (which, if you remember, is what the idiots call it).  The Human Abstract had a fairly tumultuous year, losing and subsequently replacing some of their lineup; for our sake, let’s hope the new mix of people can continue on the path of excellence that Digital Veil started.
Top Track: Digital Veil
10. Carbon-Based Anatomy – Cynic

Clocking in at just over twenty-three minutes, Cynic’s Carbon-Based Anatomy is the shortest great album from an album full of shorter, great albums.  However, unlike the rest, Carbon-Based Anatomy didn’t leave me wanting more; as a matter of fact, it left me feeling like I wouldn’t be able to handle any more of the monstrous opus that Cynic mastermind Paul Masvidal has created.  There’s a kind of lazy energy surrounding the album, in the sense that twenty minutes is not that long of a time, but by the end of listening to CBA, you feel like you’ve just completed an arduous task like raking leaves or shoveling snow: it’s not so taxing that you regret doing it, but you definitely know you’ve done some work.  Also, you lawn or driveway is clear.
Top Tracks: Box Up My Bones, Carbon-Based Anatomy

9. A Dramatic Turn of Events – Dream Theater

You may not have heard, but some time ago drummer Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater in a bit of a …testy manner.  This blow came after quite some speculation that the band was finished after two poorly received albums.  Such sentiments could definitely lead to some “Oh, Dream Theater is releasing another album?  I mean, I guess I’ll listen.” 
Except then it was great.  The more I listened, the more I wanted to listen.  If I may use the old cliché, it felt like I was hearing the band for the first time again.  It felt like the band was having fun again.  “Bridges in the Sky” finds the band at their most bombastic, arena-ready prowess… and it doesn’t feel forced, it feels right.  It feels like the band is back to being more than “Oh yeah, Dream Theater was a huge influence on prog, but now they’ve gone the way of Metallica…”  Any album that makes Dream Theater relevant again is going to make this list, and Dramatic Turn of Events does just that.
Top Tracks: Lost Not Forgotten, Bridges in the Sky, Breaking All Illusions

8. Opus Eponymous – Ghost

Somewhere in the metal timeline, it became cool for bands to use the Devil as inspiration for lyrics, their look, or anything else they could come up with.  Whether they actually praised Satan or not was open for debate, unless you were burning down churches in Norway.  While none of this has really changed, one thing has:  Ghost has redefined how “cool” the devil can be in music.  I still can’t decide if the band is legitimately satanic, but what I have decided is that their psychedelic, poppy take on the Prince of Darkness is one of the year’s most fun records.  Dressed in a modified pontiff’s robes with corpse paint on his face, The Nameless Ghoul croons about human sacrifices, witches, murder, and a litany of other subjects you wouldn’t expect to hear about in music this catchy and upbeat, let alone from a band that has not a syllable of harsh vocals uttered on the entire album.  A common lament this year, my only complaint with Opus Eponymous is that at just over thirty-five minutes, I’m just starting to really get into the hellish grooves and demonic rhythms when the album ends, which is a bummer.  Until I flip it over and drop the needle back on Side A, and restart the fun.
Top Tracks: Con Clavi Con Dio, Ritual, Elizabeth 

7. Carnival is Forever – Decapitated

Carnival is Forever is actually my first Decapitated album, and I enjoyed it enough to check out their back catalogue.  The tragedy within the band leading up to Carnival has been well documented, and it shows that it had a noticeable effect on the music.  Doomy melodies and song parts are present amidst the brutal technical death metal Decapitated is known for, but they never overstay their welcome.  It’s definitely a death metal record with bits of doom than the other way around.  And in between the mires, Decapitated assaults their instruments to bring forward some of the most intense metal seen this year.  Carnival is Forever could be marking a shift in Decapitated’s sound, and I don’t know any diehard Decapitated fans, so I’m not sure how they feel about this record.  What I do know is that listening to it with no history with the band, Carnival is Forever is a tremendous death metal record
Top Tracks: The Knife, Homo Sum, Pest

6. Mammal – Altar of Plagues

Altar of Plagues is proving a worthy successor to Primordial’s title of Ireland’s Premier Black Metal export.  Mammal is the follow up to Altar of Plague’s well-liked debut full-length White Tomb, and like its predecessor, finds the band burying rich melodies under crushing walls of distortion and feedback.  AoP is black metal at its blackest, yet the music comes off introspective rather than aggressive.  In some ways the expansive song lengths and shifts in tones and tempos seem to be taken from an Isis’ playbook, but if you’re going to borrow from anyone it may as well be Isis, right?  Altar of Plagues is certainly a band to keep an eye on in the ever-improving genre.
Top Tracks: Neptune is Dead, All Life Converges to Some Center

5. Path of Totality – Tombs

Path of Totality was an album I didn’t spend much time with upon its release.  I remember listening to it streaming somewhere and enjoying it, but I don’t really remember thinking it was anything I needed to pursue, and I forgot about it for a few months.  I don’t remember how I came across it again, but I gave it a re-listen, and something clicked.  I was very curious as to why I didn’t really latch on to it the first time, as its sludgy riffs are typically right in my wheelhouse.  Even after catching on to it, I still only listened to it for a few weeks or so before falling into something else; even now Path of Totality is probably my least-listened to album on this list.  I recognize it as a great album, one that finds a way to make sludge upbeat without sounding boring and tedious in the process, I just don’t listen to it as much as you should listen to great albums.  Be better than me, and give it a listen.
Top Tracks: Silent World, Blood Letters, Red Shadows

4. Weightless – Animals as Leaders

This album completely and totally blows my mind every time I listen to it.  Every single time.  Like Altar of Plagues, Animals as Leaders are on their second studio album.  Both bands have expanded upon the sounds of their debut albums, but where AoP delved deeper into their ambient black metal, AAL has exploded… deeper?  Outward?  I honestly have no idea what to make of it.  I know guitarist Tosin Abasi’s guitar playing is exceptional, playing riffs that seem to exist in no musical time structure I’ve ever heard.  I know that it’s something I want to listen to, but it’s also something I really have to think about when I listen.  It can’t be background noise; it has to be in the foreground, given my full attention.  Sometimes I could justify moving this album up to Number 1 or down to Number 8.  I just don’t know.  Just… try it.
Top Tracks: Somnarium, Cylindrical Sea, To Lead You to an Overwhelming Question

3. The Hunter – Mastodon

Nearly eight years after its release, there are still people who say Mastodon peaked with Leviathan and have made nothing but boring, sell-out, diet prog garbage ever since.  These people will not like The Hunter, and in my humble opinion, are also idiots; much in the same way that they think I’m an idiot for liking Crack the Skye.  But I digress.  The Hunter is an amalgamation of Mastodon’s last three albums, each of the album’s thirteen tracks feels like it could fit more or less comfortably on Leviathan, Blood Mountain, or Crack the Skye.  Gone are the album-length concepts and semi-coherent stories; kept are the impeccable musicianship and obligatory Scott Kelly cameo (this time on “Spectrelight”).   The Hunter is easily Mastodon’s most commercial-friendly album, as none of the songs top six minutes, and a few (“Curl of the Burl,” “Octopus Has No Friends”) seem to have hooks tailor-made for airplay; do not mistake this for selling out, or for Mastodon losing their edge.  All of the songs are heavy, but Mastodon has embraced a Led Zeppelin approach to heavy directly alongside their Melvins and Neurosis approaches.  The Hunter is a fun record, the kind of album that could serve as the soundtrack to your summer barbecue as well as a drunken bar brawl, which I’m sure is exactly what Brent Hinds had in mind.  And in case any Leviathan fans are still reading after I called them idiots, I apologize, but give this album a chance.  I pretty much guarantee you’ll at least like “Blasteroids” and “Spectrelight.”
Top Tracks: Curl of the Burl, Stargasm, All the Heavy Lifting, The Sparrow

2. Celestial Lineage – Wolves in the Throne Room

The last two years have been phenomenal for black metal, as bands from Agalloch to Anaal Nathrakh to Blut Aus Nord to Krallice to the aforementioned Altar of Plagues all released stellar albums that further pushed the boundaries of the genre.  Yet even in a possible golden era of black metal, Wolves of the Throne Room separated themselves from the pack with their fourth full-length album Celestial Lineage, which takes some of the harshest, heaviest, blackest elements of the genre and pairs them with some of the most ethereally haunting moments this side of an Alcest record.  Wolves in the Throne Room, and ambient black metal in general, has always made a point of blending the bleak with the beautiful, but Celestial Lineage does it in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish the difference between the two.  From the ominous bells and chimes that open the album on “Thuja Magus Imperium” to the howling wind that closes it at the finale of “Prayer of Transformation,” Celestial Lineage radiates with energy; even the quiet moments carry a tension, a weight that captivates the listener with its melancholy.  To listen to Celestial Lineage is to listen to a band performing at the peak of their artistic and creative mindsets.  Absolutely worth multiple listens.
Top Tracks: Woodland Cathedral, Astral Blood

 1. Heritage – Opeth

Masterpiece.  Game changer.  Instant classic.  Jaw-dropping.  These are words and phrases some might use to describe Heritage, Opeth’s latest studio album.  I could use those words, or I could tell you a story.  I was hanging out at a Cubs game with two non-metalhead friends when I learned that this album had leaked.  After the game, I suggested we hang out, drink some beers, and listen to it.  Both friends agreed, so we went to their apartment and played it.  An hour later, we all sat there, still absorbing what we had heard.  My buddy Nick spoke first.  “I don’t really listen to music just to listen to it,” he said.  “But if more of it is like this, I may have to start.”  If that’s not the highest praise possibly bestowed upon a record, then I’m at a loss to say what is.
  Make no mistake; Heritage is an album not to be missed, to be listened to all the way through in one sitting, followed by an immediate second listen.  The album completely grips you from the opening piano prologue of the opening title track, moving through the swirling, labyrinthine passages of “The Devil’s Orchard” to the flute and drum intro of “Famine” to the everybody go apeshit insanity of “Famine” into the sweeping finality of “Marrow of the Earth…” And those are only half the tracks.  Much was made of Heritage’s lack of death vocals and its apparent departure from metal; ignore all of this.  Opeth may not have made a progressive death metal album, but they have certainly made a metal album that just happens to be progressive as hell.  I hesitate to say much more for risk of setting you up for disappointment, so I’ll leave you with two things: 1. Watch the video for “The Devil’s Orchard,” because it’s just as good as this album.  2.  Listen to this record, straight through, start to finish, without doing anything else, because it is the best album of 2011, metal or otherwise.
Top Tracks: The whole thing.  Think of it as one song.  Trust me.

Top 5 Non-Metal Albums Of 2011

5. Take Care, Take Care, Take Care – Explosions in the Sky

Instrumental post-rockers Explosions in the Sky return with their first album in two years, and to be completely honest, it’s more of the same music as the rest of their discography.  Sweeping, emotional soundscapes of guitar, bass, drums, and other assorted percussion instruments all converging together to form something that becomes the perfect soundtrack to the BBC’s Planet Earth (seriously, try it now; this list will still be here in an hour), a long walk across a beach in the winter (I can wait again), or just sitting around doing nothing and letting your mind wander (Take your time).  What I love about Explosions in the Sky (as well as this album) is that they continue to make the same type of music they’ve been making for a decade, only it doesn’t get dull or stop feeling inspired.  It’s as though they’ve taken ten years to release seven pieces of one really long, really great, really intense album.  Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is another terrific addition to their catalogue, defying genres and making fans out of all kinds of music lovers.
Top Tracks: Human Qualities, Trembling Hands

4. El Camino – The Black Keys

My how time flies; it seems it was just a year ago that I was lauding a Black Keys record for being one of the year’s best.  What’s that Father Time?  Brothers came out last year?  I did put it on my Top 10 of 2010 list?  But… that means The Black Keys have put out two incredible albums in two years!  Oh, they did?  But I still haven’t graduated… low blow Father Time.  Yes, The Black Keys are back with their insanely catchy, insanely groovy blend of blues and rock n’ roll, this time mixed in a manner that suggests a bit of garage band influence as well.  El Camino is a fun record through and through, the kind of record you put on while you’re barbecuing on a summer day with a baseball game on tv.  Lucky for those of us about to endure a Chicago winter, it’s also the kind of album you can put on at a party to get everyone up and dancing, which has become a rarity in rock music these days.  Any other year, El Camino would have been a shoe in for the top rock record of the year.  Unfortunately for the Ohio duo, another Ohio native brought his band back in a big way this year as well…
Top Tracks: Gold on the Ceiling, Little Black Submarines, Money Maker, Hell of a Season

3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Soundtrack – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Yep, a soundtrack made the list.  A lumbering, three and a half hour behemoth of a soundtrack, conceived by the mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails, mind you, but a soundtrack nonetheless.  Like the movie it underscores, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is bleak, cold, and minimalist in parts, while being bleak, cold, and epically huge in others.  Kicking things into high gear from the onset is Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s doing vocals on a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song that damn near outdoes the original.  You heard me.  From there, the music slows down, and speeds up, and gets quieter, and crescendos, and changes, and moves for three and a half hours without ever letting up on the intensity.  I realize that’s a long time to sit and listen to music, and the album does work split up between errands and listened to over the course of a day on your iPod, but I urge you to try and find the time to listen to it all at once.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Top Tracks: Immigrant Song, Under the Midnight Sun, Another Way of Caring

2. EP – Childish Gambino

Childish Gambino, also known as the actor Donald Glover, has been rapping for nearly a decade, recording and releasing mix tapes in his NYU dorm before dropping his debut album Culdesac for free last year.  That album saw him mix the funny with the serious, vicious gut-splitting one liners right next to mind-numbingly sad confessions about his personal life.  His follow up, EP, a five-song… um, EP that he released for free back in March, is more of the same.  But my God it’s incredible in every single way.  The one liners are funnier (“I’m the boss Michael Scott, y’all bitches is just Phyllis”), the confessions sting more (“Goddamn man, there’s gotta be a better way than pill-poppin’ all these drugs so I can stay awake”), and the beats complete the package.  Gambino released his debut record Camp in November, and while parts of it keep the fresh, new intensity that made Culdesac and EP such joys to listen to, other parts felt very commercially inclined.  Here’s hoping he can get back to the good stuff on the next record, because if he keeps writing songs as good as the ones on EP (especially “Freaks and Geeks,” which I’ve listened to 100 times since March), there’s no reason to think he can’t become as big a household name as Kanye.
Top Tracks: Freaks and Geeks, Not Going Back

1. Wasting Light – Foo Fighters

Everyone who hasn’t, take note: the band that started as an afterthought, a sort of goofy solo project for the drummer of the band who changed everything, has now become the biggest, most important rock band in the world, and their latest record is the crown jewel on a sixteen year career.  Wasting Light is not only the best rock album of the year, it is one of the best rock albums of the decade, and surpasses Dave Grohl and Co.’s 1997 album The Colour and the Shape as the most complete album in the band’s complete album-filled career.   Every member of the band is firing on all cylinders; Dave Grohl’s manic energy on vocals and guitars is infectious, Chris Sheflett and the newly re-Foo’d Pat Smear tear up the guitars, Nate Mendel gets the bass grooving, and Taylor Hawkins may have finally established himself as the best drummer in the band. Every track on this record is a winner, from the staccato opening of “Bridge Burning” to the howling metal screech of “White Limo” to Grohl’s implored singing on “Miss the Misery.”  I don’t really know how else you want me to tell you this album is great, so I’ll leave you with this analogy: Wasting Light is the Michael Jordan to El Camino’s Scottie Pippen: together, the Foo Fighters and Black Keys have rock n’ roll in a very, very, very good place, but if you were going to build a team with one of them, it’s not even close.
Top Tracks: Bridge Burning, Dear Rosemary, White Limo, Miss the Misery (seriously, the whole record is great)

- McDurfee

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't nearly as high on that Opeth album, but I did like it.

    Also, nice call on TGWTDT. It's not as listenable as The Social Network score, but everything Trent touches turns to gold.