Welcome to another installment of Up on the Sun's 2011 Review. Over the next week, we'll be counting down our favorite songs, shows, national and local releases of 2011. Enjoy!
Okay. I'm done. Spent. No more lists.
But this one? This one was the toughest. Phoenix often gets bashed for not being "a music town." We're not Austin or Chicago or New York. Who cares? Anyone who's actually looking for good music in Phoenix can find it.
They'll find more than they can condense into a Top 15 list, even. Here are the 15 Arizona releases -- singles, EPs, LPs -- that moved me most in 2011. I can't wait to hear more in 2012.
15. RoQy Tyraid, "RoQ'upy Music" single (self released)
Though technically a single, "RoQ'upy Music" is essentially an extension of RoQy's The Podium mixtape, released earlier this year. Political music is tough to pull off without sounding didactic and preachy, but RoQy does it right, defining the 99 percent movement in ways that make sense ("I do this for my children), and rapping dense, humanistic lyrics over killer drum breaks.
14. Ladylike, "Cinema Kiss b/w Old Young" single (self released)
A teaser for the band's forthcoming debut LP, the "Cinema Kiss/Old Young" single is a showcase of nice things to come. "Cinema Kiss" is a straight-forward guitar rocker, with a kiss-and-kick melody, while "Old Young" sounds like a Faces-outtake, with strumming acoustic guitars and aching harmonies. The two songs show two sides of the band, and both feel real good.
13. Destruction Unit, Sonoran (Volar Records)
Last year's Eclipse found Destruction Unit (which featured the dearly departed Jay Reatard in its earlier, synth-trash days) turning toward a more contemplative, blissful sound. Sonoran takes things a couple of warp-jumps further, opening with the droning, gigantic "Desert Snow," which connects desert rock mythology to German art-rock via some dusty autobahn.
12. Good Amount, In a Quiet Way (Holy Page)
Inspired by Miles Davis' classic jazz-fusion album In a Silent Way, Good Amount's In a Quiet Way borrows as much from pilfered therapy sessions on cassette, Steve Reich minimalism, and lo-fi noise pop as it does from the legendary trumpeter. The results can be oddly pastoral ("I Mean It"), demanding ("Orange Pack"), and almost pop ("Affection Fact"), but are always stretched and pulled in unexpected directions.
11. Through and Through Gospel Review (Common Wall)
The "gospel" part of Gospel Claws always felt a little cheeky, but with Through and Through Gospel Review, songwriter Joel Marquard aims for something entirely reverent. Gorgeous, distorted anthems of belief for even nonbelievers, the album feels like mixtape of holy styles, at once pretty and unsettling. Perhaps the next Gospel Claws record will be as raw.
10. Source Victoria, Slow Luck (self released)
There's something to be said for youthful exuberance, and then there's grown-ass rock music. It's no insult -- songs like "Black Luck Black Label" and "When You Say Congratulations" require years of craft-honing, and one like "Once I'm Dead," in which songwriter Brendan Murphy stares steadily into the inevitable, can only come from a songwriter who's lived enough life to know that it's worth singing about.
9. Vegetable, "Castration Frustration/SOL" (Gilgongo)
Two songs of jutting, angular deconstruction rock. "Castration Frustration" is like Devo taking on the jocks (well, taking on the jocks more), and "Sol" finds drummer/vocalist Anna Nxsty shredding her vocals as she proclaims: "We have to fight the disconnect."
8. Kinch, The Incandenza (self released)
Nothing from Kinch has been bad, but The Incandenza is the first release from the band that truly grabs and holds; "That's Just the Mess We're In" could appeal to fans of Spoon's piano pop, "Once I Was a Mainsail" flashes a smartass grin, while "VHS" could even grab a few fans from, dare I say it, Vampire Weekend.
7. Dogbreth, Chookie (Skulltula Records)
The three-song combo of "Black Coffee," "Cum as a Star Pt. 1," and "Cum as a Star Pt. 2" only takes up four minutes and 28 seconds of your time but packs as much emotional punch into that time as most bands' full-lengths. Recalling Blink-182, Weezer, and They Might Be Giants, Chookie is the album songwriter Tristan Jemsek and friends have been hinting at for years.
6. Father Figures, Lesson Number One(AZPX Records)
Featuring former members of JFA, Pinky Tuscudero's White Knuckle Ass Fuck, and Northside Kings, it's no surprise that the members of the Father Figures can write songs. But the album is no nostalgia trip. This is vital, urgent post-punk, with melody, heart, and, most important, soul.
5. Weird Ladies, Each and Every One of Your Limbs (self released)
I got the first Weird Ladies cassette last year (adorned with some nice R. Crumb artwork), but the progression from that noise to the sound of Each and Every One of Your Limbs is remarkable. "Capitol Letters" rides a death-disco beat, "At the Door Step" lurches, and "Terror Show" sounds like something that could have been on mid-'90s Touch and Go. Can't wait to hear more from this band.
4. Mouse Powell, Where It's Cloudy (AOTA Recordings)
A late-in-the-year contender, Mouse Powell's LP debut is confident, sly, and funky. Featuring production by LES735, Kira Best, and more, Powell raps effortlessly, teaming up with Brad B and ILL Al for "Another Day," the album's standout track.
3. Otro Mundo, Jellied (Ascetic House)
Featuring members Pigeon Religion, Avon Ladies, Nihilism, and Acid Dawgz, Otro Mundo's debut release might be a shot fired in the direction of a '90s Revival, but the strength of songs like "Heart Thrush" and the title track, bathed in reverb, crushed stomp-boxes, and blurred vocals, dismiss the need for any sort of trend-branding.
2. Andrew Jackson Jihad, Knife Man (Asian Man Records)
Never mind that singer/songwriter Sean Bonnette is living Chicago at the moment; no album reflects Phoenix the way Knife Man does. Even if you love it here, this is a rough place to live, and it's only fitting that our punk poets are sarcastic, biting, and foul-mouthed. But if you only focus on the four-letter-word-laced screeds, you'll miss what makes Andrew Jackson Jihad so resonant: a hopeful, passionate love of humanity.
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1. Luz de Vida (Music Against Violence/Fort Lowell)
In the wake of the terrible Tucson tragedy nearly a year ago, the town banded together to heal. This sprawling, 37-track album reflects the sound of Arizona, with artists like Giant Sand, Jon Rauhouse, Lenguas Largas, Calexico, Rainer, Jimmy Eat World, Meat Puppets, Tracy Shedd, and many more contributing, as well as national artists like Robyn Hitchcock, John Vanderslice, Spoon, Neko Case, Mark Growden, and Chuck Prophet adding songs. Arizona gets brought up a lot in the national meda (justifiably) as some sort of wasteland, but artistic responses like this prove the resilience and grit of the communities here.