Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Ash Gray Proclamation's Top Albums of 2011

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Here we are on the last day of the year and as we prepare to look forward with excitement on all that 2012 will bring, we look back on the roller coaster ride that was 2011. At The Ash Gray Proclamation HQ we continue to be the rash that won't go away, soldiering on and pretending we have a master plan, adding writers, and supporting the criminally overlooked. One of this years highlights for us was co-presenting The Hush Now's Homecoming show at Precinct last fall. We look forward to plenty more of nights like that and thank you for your continued support in readership in 2012.

Musically 2011 was off the charts for us and we would have no problem expanding this list. Weather it was taking the Midriff Records roster for long runs, rediscovering our inner punks with Fucked Up and Iceage, kicking our selves for leaving our ear plugs in the car at Soccer Mom's EP release show, or forcing Boston Spaceships on anyone that would give us an ear, this years music was ear ringingly great. We've collected our 20 favorite recordings below, provided links for your listening pleasure and created The AGP's Top Albums of 2011 Playlist at Spotify if you're inclined, please check that out when your done here.

1. Boston Spaceships - Let It Beard [Guided By Voices, Inc.]
The 26 track swan song from Robert Pollard's Boston Spaceship's is the double album he's been promising for nearly 17 years and it surpasses all our expectations. Plenty of guest appear on the LP, J. Mascis, Steve Wynn(The Dream Syndicate), and GBV's Mitch Mitchell, but the reason we keep going back to this album is that this album is one of Pollard's most cohesive and lyrically rich recordings. The album features varied and dexterous instrumentation courtesy of Chris Slusarenko (GBV) and John Moen (The Decemberists). Plus we always were suckers for the well crafted 3 minute pop song and Let It Beard has those, by the fist full.

Buy|Preview|Spotify|AGP Review

2. Fucked Up - David Comes To Life [Matador]
Toronto's bracing hardcore outfit, Fucked Up gave 2011 the breathtaking 78 minute punk masterstroke, David Comes To Life. The albums is full of massive hooks, crushing rhythms and (of course) Damon Abraham's blitzkrieg bark. But it's also the bands most accessible work, with touches of piano, an opening instrumental, and bewitching female vocals. On paper this album could easily be mistaken for another contrived concept record, but once it comes pummeling out of the speakers you instantly know that your hearing something exceptional and one of the finest records to come out of the genre and very long time.


3. Age Rings - Black Honey [Midriff Records]
Released last year as a double album and then re-released by Midriff Records as leaner 14 track version, Black Honey is an album that is equal parts despair, hope, and beauty. All of these songs have a way of working there way into you head and bouncing around your brain for days on end or at least until you have the chance to play it again. Black Honey is stark and cohesive record filled with pop excellence.

Buy|Preview|Spotify|AGP Forthcoming

4. Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything [Alcopop!]
On their third long player Birmingham England's Johnny Foreigner turn in a sprawling and epic record with plenty of spazzed out noise and gorgeous, albeit heart breaking anthems. Somehow the trio manages to retain plenty of the spit and fire of their earlier releases, while churning out 17 cathartic and cerebral tracks, each one as staggering as the next.

5 . Soccer Mom - You Are Not Going To Heaven [100m]
After a couple of superb singles in 2010, Boston's noise pop concern, Soccer Mom released the annihilative You Are Not Going To Heaven EP. With liberal doses of sludge, screeching feedback, dischord and strong melodies, Soccer Mom issued one of the years most arresting and addictive listens.

6. Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo [Wichita/Turnstile]
Last spring, Super Fury Animals fronter Gruff Rhys delivered Hotel Shampoo, a cohesive and winsome collection of baroque pop, lounge, and sunny psychedelia. The album is filled with some incredible moments, like on the quirky ballad, Take A Sentence and the albums opener, the long lost Bond theme, Sensations In The Dark. Unlike the last Super Fury Animals release, Hotel Shampoo is an inspired and engaging listen from start to finish


7. The Hush Now - Memos [Self Released]
Some records have such a profound effect on us that we can't help but tell our friends, spouses, brothers, sister, and that guy sitting next to us on the train all about it. Memos is one of those records. Not only is it Boston's guitar pop darlings, The Hush Now's most accomplished and varied recording it's the sound of a band evolving, getting better (and better), and pushing their sound forward with considerable hooks and soaring melodies.

Download The Entire Album For Free|Preview|AGP Review

8. Gold-Bears - Are You Falling In Love? [Slumberland]
When we first heard this albums opening track, Record Store we thought we had stumbled onto a long lost noise pop gem from 1993. Then we learned it was the full length debut from Atlanta's Gold-Bears and then it made complete sense that the album was being released by the excellent Slumberland Records, a label that we love for releasing excellent noise pop records that sounds as if they were released 20 years ago. Are You Falling In Love? is no exception. The album is full of fuzz, love sick lyrics, and shoegaze squalls. 11 catchy as all hell pop songs that we liken to The Smiths with better distortion pedals.

Buy|Spotify|Preview |AGP Review

9. Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness [Arts & Crafts]
With the Welsh septets fourth full length, Los Campesinos! have issued their darkest and most lyrically affecting batch of songs. They also have managed to continue a streak of releasing incredibly consistent records. Hello Sadness is a wrenching LP of intelligent and often times exuberant indie pop. With tracks like, Baby, I Got The Death Rattle and Every Defeat A Divorce (Three Lions) had us reaching for this album frequently this fall. I guess it struck a chord with our inner sad bastard.


10. The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient [Secretly Canadian]
With the release of Slave Ambient, War On Drugs lynch pin Adam Granduciel fulfilled on the promise of his bands excellent debut, Wagonwheel Blues with an even stronger set of songs that pair the unlikely combination of Krautrock and Americana. The dense instrumentation and psychedelic flourishes sounded best on early morning commutes with the windows rolled down, then again it sounded damn good on a lazy Sunday afternoon too.


11. Wild Flag - Wild Flag [Merge]
Let's face it, most supergroups suck. Failed experiments like Zwan are all too common. Wild Flag are the rare exception, though it's members aren't exactly house hold names, but their former bands sit proudly in our record collections. The band features Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), Mary Timony (Helium), and Rebecca Cole (The Minders). Wild Flag's eponymous debut is rife with post riot grrrl punk swagger with some great pop moments, complete with hand claps and a few Uhh Uhh Ohh Ohh's. We don't let too many days pass without hearing this one and neither should you.


12. Real Estate - Days [Domino]
New Jersey's Real Estate are the proud owners of The AGP's sleeper of the year prize, (not that such a thing exists,..yet) with their terrific sophomore release, Days. The trio of childhood chums recorded the set of pristine guitar pop that occupy Days in a converted Barn in New York with Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus). We spent many early mornings and late night come downs with this remarkable and completely addictive LP


13. Destroyer - Kapput [Merge]
Some times it takes 3 or 4 listens for an album take hold, others longer, but Kapput grabbed us by the collar on the very first spin with it's perfect hybrid of the soft rock we heard from the back seat of our moms station wagons and the synth pop that we took shelter with during our formative awkward years. Dan Bejar has turned in one of his strongest song cylcles with the willfully unfashionable, but heart felt and wholly wonderful, Kapput.


14. Explosions In The Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
[Temporary Residence]
On their fifth long player Explosions In The Sky continue to perfect their instrumental prowess with another batch of breathtaking tracks that stay true to the bands formula, start off quiet, build up slowly, before proceeding to blow heads off with pardon the term, explosions of guitar, bass, and drums. But Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is far from just another album from the instrumental juggernaut that is Explosions In The Sky, it's the sound of the band widening their sonic palate with classical guitar, layered instrumentation, and vocal experiements.

15. Iceage - New Brigade [What's Your Rapture]
This album seem to come out of nowhere, but in truth it came from four 18-19 year old kids from Denmark. New Brigade is 24 minutes of blistering post-punk noise, that reminded us a bit of Wire's landmark Pink Flag LP. Although there are some discernible hooks present, New Brigade isn't about to win you over with a catchy pop song, but it will provide a gut punch of bracing and gloomy punk, if that's what you require.


16. Buffalo Tom - Skins [Scrawny]
Buffalo Tom returned after a four years absence with their eighth LP, Skins. The new set finds the band digging into deeper life issues like families, children, and immortality but they do so with the wizened perspective and the vigor of a band half there age. In their 25th year, Buffalo Tom issued an album filled with frenzied guitar pop and striking balladry. Let's hope they have a few more like Skins in the tank.


17. Yuck - Yuck [Fat Possum]
After a few sparkling singles and a healthy dose of buzz, London's Yuck released their highly anticipated debut last winter and managed to do something that few acts are able to muster, they lived up to the hype. Fronter and chief songwriter, Daniel Blumberg deftly marries the guitar fuzz of Dinosaur Jr. with the pristine pop of Teenage Fanclub throughout the LP. But Yuck manages to create something thrilling from those influences with album full of catchy and emotionally charged pop songs.

18. Mogwai - Harcore Will Never Die, But You Will [Matador]
For their their 7th full length, post-rock goliaths Mogwai, issued a dynamic album full of varied textures, that featured plenty of the sonic heft found on 2008's, The Hawk Is Howling. Hardcore Will Never Die, features some quintessential Mogwai moments, like on the furious guitar scorcher, San Pedro, but there's also a few surprises like on Mexican Gran Prix, where the band incorporates twitchy electronics, brushed drums, and piano. Mogwai continues to be one of the few bands who's evolution doesn't seem forced or trite and Hardcore.. not only it enforces that, it finds the Glaswegian's treading some new ground in the process.

19. Guillermo Sexo - Secret Wild [Boy Girl Boy Girl]
Boston's dream pop quartet, Guillermo Sexo issued their fourth LP, Secret Wild in July and provided a melodic and discordant soundtrack to the end of summer. Noelle Dorsey takes the lion share of vocal duties with goose bump inducing affect, leaving guitarist Reuben Bettsak focused in on delivering stunning atmospherics, hypnotic guitar lines, and airy psychedelics. Secret Wild is a rich and varied offering and one of the finest things we heard in 2011.

20. The Motel Beds - Tango Boys [No More Fake Labels]
Tango Boys was released in the beginning of the last month of 2011, but somehow it connected with us immediately. Dayton, OH's The Motel Beds concoct a potent brew of mid-fi pop, while channeling, The Beatles, Big Star, and fellow Gem City residents Guided By Voices, but some the albums finest moments sound wholly original, like on the charging anthem, Fake Army or on the bittersweet ballad, Tropics Of The Sand which features a gorgeous vocal performance by Kelley Deal. The Beds simply should not be missed.

*Photo Credit: The Hush Now's Adam Quane 10/21/11 @ Precinct in Somerville, MA

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