THiS is SOUND. A Collaboration with Danny Sedlazek and Dominic Gavan.


On Deck This Week: 2011 in Review


Part 2- Electronic           Part 3- Hip Hop

I realize writing a music column that primarily focuses on my favorite songs is an example of a corrupt democracy, so this is my humble attempt to turn the tables on my daft administration. Columnists Danny Sedlazek and Dominic Gavan have teamed up with the solo operation of THiS is Sound to deliver an edition of this column that delivers on all fronts. Danny has written reviews on J-Cole and the mad-hype-machine Watch the Throne, and Gavan’s a pretty avid fan of electronic music. Sized up with my knowledge of everything alternative, you’ve got something better-rounded than your average Harvard University applicant.
And so we present a first for the THiS is SOUND saga: a collaboration that hits higher notes than Whitney Houston and still has a career after The Bodyguard soundtrack. It’s 2011 in review. Can you dig it?



James’s Picks
Spending most of 2011 in a cave writing his first novel, smelling of genius and pizza rolls, he avoided the radio as much as possible. When he emerged back into the real world, he was aghast at the state of the music industry, as Nickelback’s yet-another sequel in their dismal discography was cleared for release (and went to play the Detroit Lions halftime show even though they’re from everyone’s second-favorite country, Canada) and the married sibling charade The White Stripes and Georgia powerhouse R.E.M. called it quits for reasons unknown. However, James came to this conclusion: for every horrible song on 99.5 (as Paul Monk eloquently put it on a Facebook status, it’s “99.5% garbage”), there were excellent releases from upcoming bands, resilient rockers, and imprints within the Rise and Hopeless record-label families. There’s hope for you yet, America!

 Top Five Albums of 2011

5. The Wonder Years: Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing
(Hopeless, June)
      For a band that originally started as a joke (their first LP was chockfull of songs with titles like “Bout to Get Fruit Punched, Homie”), these Philly pop-punk juggernauts delivered an album that both channels the unabashed positivity of their return-to-normalcy record The Upsides and the musical accessibility of The Starting Line and Bayside while penning lyrics that would put your average Tumblr poet to crying shame.
Go Download: “Don’t Let Me Cave In”
4. The Swellers: Good for Me
(Fueled by Ramen, June)
     Snicker all you want, but this punk-rock vehicle more akin to Pennywise is sharing record-shelf space with Paramore. Not the most strategic move in sound, but the boys from Flint, Michigan deliver an album that both caters to their hardcore fanbase (the double-time kicks of ‘Inside My Head’ pack a punch reminiscent of My Everest) and those with scene haircuts just pressing play thanks to their Warped Tour-veteran girlfriends.
Go Download: “Inside My Head”
3. Transit: Listen & Forgive
(Rise, September)
       In a year where indie-rock kings Brand New went without new tunes, it gave room for this band to strut their stuff. On the small-club circuit for years, Transit released a duo on Rise Records (the former being the excellent EP Promise Nothing) that delivered their earnest brand of alternative rock that transports the listener back to the banner years of songs with real heart. Listen for a cameo from Patrick Stump.
Go Download: “1978”
2. blink-182: Neighborhoods
(Interscope, September)
       Not listing this LP among the ranks of the best of 2011 would be a harsh joke to everything this band has progressed towards in their eight-year gap between releases. A logical step forward after 2003’s mature self-titled album, Neighborhoods strays away from the band’s signature teenage angst and builds on the side projects of both frontmen, while keeping fans pleased with their trademark musicianship.
Go Download: “Kaleidoscope”
1. Yellowcard: When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes
(Hopeless Records, March)
      The second outfit on this list to return from an unsettling break, Florida natives Yellowcard hit the ground running. A step backwards into sunnier territory from Paper Walls, the record bleeds classic YC (“With You Around”) and expansive tunes that build on their lasting mark on the alternative scene (the opener, “The Sound of You and Me”). In October, Yellowcard released an acoustic version of this LP: also recommended.
Go Download: “With You Around”

Top Five Songs of 2011

5. You Me At Six: “Bite My Tongue (featuring Oliver Sykes)”
Hear it on Sinners Never Sleep (Virgin)
       Exported from Surrey, this quintet stepped into harder-rocking territory with their third album. Borrowing elements from Emery and the guest vocalist’s deathcore band Bring Me the Horizon, YMAS deliver their most abrasive single yet, with lyrics that push vocalist Josh Franceschi to new highs, and instrumentals that scream energy. Think Paramore’s “Misery Business” with a testoster-tone.
4. Death Cab for Cutie: “Stay Young, Go Dancing”
Hear it on Codes and Keys (Atlantic)
      Arguably the strongest cut in recent years from the worst-named band in history, the song’s strong section, riveting drums, and accented piano add an ethereal approach to an album harshly overrun by the absence of Sea Wolf-era guitars and the presence of foreboding electronic elements. Welcome back, kids. Narrow Stairs wasn’t your best.
3. Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows: “The Only Thing You Talk About”
Hear it on D.R.U.G.S. (Decaydance)
       After the ousting of Chiodos crooner Craig Owens last year, he went to form his new band that embraced the symphonic elements of his former band (Illuminaudio, the latest offering from the band, is a step backward) and the vivacious intensity of his contemporaries (Dance Gavin Dance, The Devil Wears Prada). Adjectives to describe this track? Angry, powerful, and anthem-like. Not bad for post-hardcore’s chief poster boy’s return to form.
2. Alive, In Standby: “Mac Attack”
Hear it on Dream Status (Currently unsigned)
       Even though this band is comprised of my friends back home in the American Mitten, this track of vocoder-less technocore is worth a listen despite that. Vocalist Chris Koo (a kid I’ve taken Algebra II with in the past) trades soaring vocals with punishing growls from drummer/screamer Anthony Perschetti (U mad, Underoath?). The instrumentation is no slouch either, barreling drums, soaring solos, and tinny piano lines that bring this generic genre back into creative zones.
1. Alkaline Trio: “You’ve Got So Far to Go (Unplugged)”
Hear it on Damnesia (Epitaph)
         Originally released on the 2000 smash Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, this downplayed punk-rock romp from the hardest-working three-piece in Illinois sports a different vibe when stripped of its fearless exterior. The result? Frontman Skiba’s anti-romantic lyrics on a backdrop that would make Tom Petty proud: markedly-diluted acoustic drums, intense clamoring Marshalls, and a bassline that been copied more than the “arrow to the knee” Skyrim quip.

Granted, for every diamond in the rough, there’s a copious amount of unbelievably horrid crap. Remember, this is the year one-time super-fart Rebecca Black oozed out “Friday” from her talentless tentacles, and the year Miley Cyrus proved her inability to be tamed with a shamed cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” only to realize she was the one who stank. Take this next (and final) ranking at face value, and don’t be afraid to laugh. This is Sound at its worst – viewer discretion advised.

Top Five Worst Musical Trainwrecks of 2011
5. Christina Aguilera’s gump performance of the “National Anthem” at the 45th Super Bowl: More razzed on than Rick Perry’s consistent knack to bury his campaign in an immovable grave of idiotic comments, Miss Aguilera had the premier spotlight on her in Cowboys Stadium. Her gaff not only became more exciting than the Steelers’ big choke in the actual contest, but spawned more than four million views on YouTube, countless parodies, and a widely successful meme, Wrong Lyrics Christina (at left: a butchering of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”). At the rate she’s failing, she could find herself a spot next to the Forever Alone guy soon.
   4. Herman Cain’s quoting of the credits fanfare of Pokémon 2000: More a political hiccup than a musical one, at the close of his illustrious run, Mr. Pizza-Man brought the world the most inspirational quote in ages since the Bushisms calendar, verbatim, from the credits of the second greatest movie of all time. Sprinkle in some universal acclaim from the 25-and-under demographic and you’ve got a story to tell the grandkids and a reason to restart a prized copy of Pokémon…number 9-9-9.
3. The hipster fad: According to Wikipedia, hipsters have been on the rise since the 1940s, an epidemic that, wait…you’ve probably never heard of it anyway. Common characteristics of these mongrels? The need to create stores akin to their “anti-mainstream” lifestyle (Urban Outfitters, where a pair of socks can cost you your allegiance to Taylor Swift), create subgenres of music that no one can tolerate or access (until a Google search brings our less-hipster minds to the idiosyncratic blog Pitchfork Media), and create “photography” of grayscale lawn chairs to post on their mega-hidden Tumblr accounts. The next step for these kids? Avoiding the Potomac. It’s too mainstream.
2. Kidz Bop Over-9000: Razor & Tie Records, home to Saves the Day and the Semi-Precious Weapons, gave birth to this atrocity in 1999, where candy-coated remakes of “All the Small Things” smashed together with Enrique Iglesias in a mess that far exceeds Ke$ha’s glittery vomit. The latest offering from the brand, number five-hundred or something, gives us abysmal covers of “Rolling in the Deep” and the Barney theme song.
1. Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup”: I’ve gotta hand it to country’s poster senior citizen. After releasing a strong string of singles that have populated horrendous radio turntables for generations and have spawned a movement to actually erect Honkytonk University after his 2006 LP, he releases probably the worst song in musical history. Co-written by the same people who birthed Nickelback from a test tube, this is the cut that might have spawned a cease-and-desist request from the Solo Company themselves, it’s hard to top this trainwreck. Did I mention the single cover is probably the handiwork of a five-year old on MS Paint? Go back to the drawing board, and then, maybe you’ll place lower on this list for 2012.