It was a polarized year in music. Pop was comically grandiose, its factory settings hardwired to "spectacle" (Gaga, Watch the Throne), while underground rock wallowed in 90s grunge—the only bands who weren't nostalgic were oldster acts revivified and coasting on that nostalgia. But a smattering of releases this year—all of which went almost entirely unheralded—did more than recycle the familiar, instead looking forward or culling sounds from unlikely inspirations. Here are some of the best of 2011:
This group of mostly brand-newbies (with the notable exception of saxophonist Jenna Thornhill-DeWitt, late of Mika Miko and the Strange Boys) skronks and flails through a stomping din of basement punk on its aptly titled debut. Crazy Band is all about inside jokes (though you can try to follow along on Tumblr), and its members seem to feel nothing but unrequited loathing for most humans outside their cadre of Valley girls. The influence of way-dead fecal punk G.G. Allin bleeds from their two chords and crassness—a bit unexpected in 2011, and all the more charming because it's coming from 80s-baby girl skaters. Their unhit "Can You Lick Your Own Boob?" (the source of a micro meme in their bloggings, which showcase an obsession with the amateur grotesqueries of the Interweb) sounds like a schoolyard taunt and is just as memorable. Fuck You is repulsed and repulsive, stoned and giggling—a wild 11 minutes of girly hate punk.
"The Power" seven-inch
(Blocks Recording Club)
"The Power," the debut seven-inch from the Toronto duo of Carmen Elle and Andy Smith, was one of those magic summer singles, a lusty ode to desperation that's just a little too pretty to count as punk. Smith's drumming gives it a kind of mod shuffle, but Elle's songwriting and voice—dulcet and a little scratchy, soulful and insistent—is the real story. Elle put in a few years as a guitarist and backup singer for Austra, but relegating her to a supporting role, even behind a siren like Katie Stelmanis, rates somewhere around travesty. On this single, produced by Ben Cook (Fucked Up), her voice is right out front in the mix, as it should be.
Lucky Dragons' only substantial release this year is a two-track drone cassette of infinite loops that zing and twinkle in beatless languor. It wasn't until the third time through that I realized my cassette was playing back on the wrong speed. That said, I liked it just as well the right way, and also when the sound started to fade and drawl as the batteries slowly died: Lucky Dragons are rapturous at any speed. So much ambient music is frosty and anemic, as though hemmed in by the lasting influence of the Teutonic big names, but Lucky Dragons reject that old-school cool stasis with their radiant LA vibes—Shape Tape is a new jubilation.