Welcome to another installment of Up on the Sun's 2011 Review. Over the next couple days we'll be counting down our favorite songs, shows, national and local releases of 2011. This entry comes from Chase Kamp, a Phoenix musician and writer. Kamp began writing for Up on the Sun with a tour diary while on the road with French Quarter, and we liked him so much we asked him to stick around. Enjoy!
This year I found myself most impacted by extremes, music that was either dark and cathartic or redemptive and positive. I decided to fold my best local picks in with the rest, since they got just as much play as the big-timers on my car stereo and living room receiver.
10. St Ranger - Life Coach (self-released)
This one crossed the finish line at the very last minute. Life Coach isn't available on LP until February, but five new tracks from the most promising young band in Phoenix just went live on Bandcamp. "It's 'Appening" is the standout: Plenty of beautiful Grizzly Bear/Animal Collective group harmonies with the expressive syncopated percussion that lesser indie-pop projects don't realize is key to those bands' impact.
09. Krallice - Diotoma (Profound Lore)
From writing about Mayhem to learning gravity blasts from Swedes on YouTube, 2011 was the year I began my metal education in earnest. For amateurs like me, Krallice's Diotoma is an accessible but unrelenting torrent of propulsive drumming and black metal riffage. The growl of vocalist Nick McMaster is always menacing and avoids theatricality, but at times sounds introspective or even flushed with doubt on top of the rumbling, somber chord shapes.
08. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up (Sub Pop)
A heady, smooth avant-rap comeback by a member of '90s hip-hop collective Digable Planets. Black Up is all unconventional beat meters and spaced-out textures with complex flows that feel effortless.
07. Arcsin(100) - Distant Lens (Holy Page)
My pick for the best local record from Pima County. Tucson-based Arcsin(100) makes meandering, scrappy indie rock with loads of exuberant distortion and memorable Built to Spill-like hooks.
06. Vegetable - Castration Frustration/Sol 7" (Gilgongo)
My pick for the best Maricopa County release. Razor-sharp staccato post-punk that gets right to the point. For fans of Wire, Devo and doing more with less.
05. Death Grips - Exmilitary (Third Worlds)
"Exmilitary" went against this year's outsider rap trends of minimal beats and ambient textures, showing how distressingly hard some guys are still hitting it. The production team behind Death Grips includes maniac drummer Zach Hill from indie rock matheletes Hella, so the beat conduction and samples are almost more informed by cracked experimental rock leanings than the hip-hop rulebook. Not to mention MC Ride has the gnarliest voice ever. It sounds like DMX if he grew a fourth testicle.
04. Religious Knives - Smokescreen (Sacred Bones)
I'd been dying to hear more from this Brooklyn three-piece after 2008's Resin, and I wasn't disappointed. Religious Knives are experts at sparse and cavernous organ dirges with spooky floor-tom processions below the slow-burn. Someone should book them at Bonnaroo under the name "The Doors" just to see what kind of bad trips result.
03. tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L (4AD)
A great record and my favorite live show of the year. Merrill Garbus is a loop pedal wizard with a strangely powerful voice. Frankly, she should be given a medal just for breathing life into the ukulele.
02. EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)
Erika M. Andersen crafts sung-spoken Patti Smith-like narratives on top of open-ended distortion soundscapes. Her heartbroken imagery holds nothing back in a delicate balance between submerged noise and soaring melody. EMA is figuratively and literally one letter away from emo, but it's like the difference between an embarrassingly tortured break-up email and a teary but dignified severing of ties.
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01. Peaking Lights - 936 (Not Not Fun)
Indra Dunis and Aaron Coyes, married parents of an infant child, cut 936 in the basement of their Madison, WI, home using Coyes' circuit-bent and hand-altered electronics, with some wonky drum loops and rubbery bass patches to sling it all together. The result is a tripped-out but sunny collection of long-form psych-pop grooves that burst with affection throughout. Best vibes of the year.