2011 was a terrific year for my music taste. Great albums spanning all of my rather disparate favorite genres were released consistently throughout the year. The Dear Hunter’s Color Spectrum filled my need for ambitious progressive rock, while emotional punk bands La Dispute and Pianos Become The Teeth released truly great albums towards the year’s end. From post-rock to post-hardcore, 2011 was chock full of excellent music, and 2012 looks to be keeping pace. These five albums promise to continue last year’s trend and make 2012 another tremendous year for music.
5. Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground
I became a fan of the musical collective known as Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground by virtue of a happy accident. On a trip to see The Dear Hunter perform at a small venue in DeKalb, Illinois, I happened to catch Kay Kay as one of the opening acts; and what an opening act they were. Their performance was a wild, exuberant frolic through the shimmering soundscapes of retro psychedelia. Crowding the stage with horns, violins, and keys in addition to the traditional rock band setup, they brought the venue to life with funky, danceable rhythms covered in warm vocals and jazzy, improvised guitar solos. A post-show foray into their discography lead me to discover that the band has released 2 albums thus far, featuring a rotating cast of musicians surrounding the core songwriters, two ex-members of Seattle indie rock outfit Gatsby’s American Dream. Both records have earned them a relatively small but dedicated fan base, yet Kay Kay have failed to break into the indie rock spotlight, remaining just on the edge of the radar. This is perhaps due to their existing records; while they are a fun discourse in retroactive rock, the songs often don’t quite capture the band’s live energy. Although some standout tracks like “Hey Momma” or “Oh, Motherfuckers” seamlessly blend the best of Kay Kay’s funky licks and catchy vocal lines, many of their other tracks can sometimes come off as stale rehashes of the musical stylings of the 60’s and 70’s. Now with a more stable lineup and considerable touring experience with the very musicians playing on their third record, the circumstances are aligning for the band to develop creatively and push the quality of their recorded material to new heights. With their third LP, tentatively titled III, Kay Kay are poised to release what could be their breakthrough album in 2012.
4. Glass Cloud
Ex-Sky Eats Airplane vocalist Jerry Roush gained notoriety this past year for all the wrong reasons. After briefly fronting popular Rise Records band Of Mice and Men, Roush was booted in favor of the band’s original vocalist, scenecore demi-god Austin Carlile. Some pissed off tweets and rude remarks were all it took to land Roush in a maelstrom of hate from legions of Carlile’s devotees, and long after the beef was resolved, dissident fans continued to stir up false scandal and insist on divisive side-taking. This messy conflict clearly lead Roush to stray from the scene he was familiar with and branch out into more progressive territory with his new project Glass Cloud. With his first musical venture started from the ground up (he also joined Sky Eats Airplane after the departure of a former vocalist), Roush is seemingly exploring the budding genre of djent. An experimental metal style characterized by 7 or 8 string guitars and groovy, bass heavy arrangements, djent has been recently popularized by bands such as Periphery and Animals as Leaders. Roush has backed himself with a considerable musical ensemble, featuring Berklee graduates on bass and drums and the shred-ready guitarist of insanely abrasive hardcore act The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza occupying the single guitar spot. Early audio snippets online show that Glass Cloud blends the aggressive, heavy sound of djent with some more melodic experimental rock passages. This genre blend is the perfect platform for Roush to play both sides of the vocal spectrum as well, alternating between his instantly recognizable singing voice and a guttural growl. 2012 will be the time to move past scene scandals and put the focus back on music for Jerry Roush and the Glass Cloud crew – and with a promising genre twist and an impressive group of musicians to carry it out, their first album should prove an exciting new addition to the metal charts this year.
3. Cut Teeth
The demise of midwestern post-hardcore act The Felix Culpa was easily the saddest musical moment of my 2011. The Culpa were local legends, playing their trademark mix of indie, hardcore, and post-rock with unabashed sincerity for almost 10 years. I followed them religiously ever since I caught one of their incendiary live performances at a local venue, and they always inspired with their mixed genre songwriting, unorthodox recording practices, and passionate live shows. Still, despite recently signing to the revered independent punk label No Sleep Records, The Felix Culpa dissolved due to difficulties sustaining themselves in the current state of the music business. Yet from the ashes new music will rise in 2012. A sort of indie punk supergroup, Cut Teeth features ex-Culpa guitarist, pianist, percussionist, and back up vocalist Dustin Currier, along with former members of local acts Monday’s Hero and Red Knife Lottery, and the drummer of No Sleep Records pop-punkers Stay Ahead of the Weather. While details surrounding the band have been scarce, the lineup alone is enough to incite anticipation. With the kind of DIY aesthetic No Sleep have been cultivating for the past few years, fans can expect a band composed of No Sleep veterans to exercise a lot of creative freedom. The genre influences on this group are diverse, and with creative musicians at the helm their first release could easily land them among the ranks of the best contemporary midwestern emotional punk acts. With the emergence of “The Wave” subculture (bands like La Dispute, Pianos Become The Teeth, Touché Amoré and Make Do And Mend) and the indie rock sensibilities of Cut Teeth’s members, they could stand at an advantageous middle ground between two currently popular scenes. With their first EP already finished recording, Cut Teeth’s introductory release this year could be a big moment for fans of genre-bending independent punk rock.
2. Just Like Vinyl
In his time as the sole vocalist and guitarist for spastic mathcore act The Fall of Troy, Thomas Erak distinguished himself as one of the most innovative and technically impressive guitarists in all of modern music. The Fall of Troy earned themselves a sizable fan base for their implementation of shifting time signatures and Erak’s mind-blowingly fast shredding. The band called it quits in 2010 in order to pursue new musical ventures, leaving fans waiting with bated breath for Erak’s new project. That project is Just Like Vinyl, a step away from the abrasive sound of The Fall Of Troy in favor of a more straightforward rock and roll vibe. While this change alienated some of Erak’s more elitist fans, I was still wowed by Erak’s insane guitar skills in the form of Just Like Vinyl’s ballsy solos and catchy riffs. On top of that, his singing voice has improved dramatically, and while there’s significantly less screaming than on any of The Fall Of Troy’s releases, when it does appear it’s as raw as ever. Still, Just Like Vinyl’s debut certainly had it’s flaws. The album came out without label support the same year as The Fall Of Troy’s break up, and the speed at which the album was recorded and released left many of the tracks feeling rushed and underdeveloped. For a full length record, the overall sound was more reminiscent of a demo release than a finished product. In October, however, Just Like Vinyl released a song more fitting of their potential: “First Born” is a full throttle banger, easily trumping their earlier releases with bold rock and roll riffs, face-melting solos and some pissed off, pit-inducing heaviness. If this is any indication of what is to come from their second release coming some time in 2012, Just Like Vinyl have honed their craft. A fully developed set of songs from Just Like Vinyl is sure to win them the legions of fans that The Fall Of Troy once had, fans they certainly deserve.
1. Circa Survive
The album Blue Sky Noise, released in 2010, catapulted Circa Survive to a new level of popularity and reeled in an entire new audience for the progressive rockers. Their previous two albums had established a unique sound built on spacey instrumental ambiance and frontman Anthony Green’s unique high register vocals. Blue Sky Noise broke the mold by adding in edgier and catchier elements, merging more mainstream indie rock vibes with their patented tripped out post-hardcore. The album was followed up with the equally impressive Appendage EP, continuing the trend with previously unreleased songs from the Blue Sky Noise recordings sessions. Despite their breakthrough success and recent genre shift, Circa show no plans of slowing down or coasting off their accomplishments. A new album is in the works for 2012, and I couldn’t be more excited to see where this group of incredibly talented musicians take their craft now that they have reached such a peak in mainstream accessibility and critical acclaim. I struggle to find any glaring flaws in Blue Sky Noise which would allow me to predict the way in which the band will continue to improve, yet I am confident they have the ability to surpass even such a tremendous accomplishment. They have improved both individually and as a unit: both guitarist Colin Frangicetto and Green have released solo albums showcasing their songwriting strengths, and they have toured rigorously across the world in support of Blue Sky Noise and Appendage. The band themselves even seem confident despite the considerable pressure of following up such a series of successful releases. In a blog on their website, Frangicetto expressed excitement for the new record, saying they had finally achieved the balance between pop-rock and progressive songwriting they had always been striving for. If that is what we can expect from Circa Survive in 2012, their fourth full length is indefinitely my most anticipated release for the coming year.