Life Melters 2011

Words: Kevin Stebner

2011: The year of the Castle? (photo: Landon Speers)

Funny how the only thing that truly marks the passage of the year are year-end Top 10 lists.

Well, once again, major media failed me. All the true life melters flew under the radar; all the true life melters had to come from active digging. Every record that moved me and was actually worth staying on the turntable longer than a listen or two were, once again, divided into two camps: either Country or Hardcore — those two most blessed of genres able to distil emotion into minute little gems. Sure, there were a few other alright things that crossed my path, but they don’t need my help.

So let’s just be subjective!

Raein – Sulla linea dell’orizzonte fra questa mia vita e quella di tutti gli altri (self-released)

Needless to say, I’ve had to spend a pretty penny on international mail-order to really keep up on all the new stuff coming out of Europe. If any proof is needed that the best skramz (if we dare start to use that term) is coming out of Europe, one need not look any farther than this record. Italy’s Raein released an utterly astounding record (THE BEST record of the year in my humble estimation), one that, while still firmly and definitively hardcore, nevertheless defies strict genre classification: screaming full-bore, yet following its own melodic course; bits of post-rock played fast; time changes that defy all logic. Even after a slew of really strong output prior to this, nothing even comes close to the strength of Sulla linea… The truly amazing thing about this record is exactly how perfectly everything is wed, so fast and aggressive and utterly breathtaking in its beauty. Must jam.

Enablers – Blown Realms and Stalled Explosions (Lancashire & Somerset)

After last year’s somewhat disappointing Tundra, it is a blessing that Enablers have returned with a record so absolutely stunning. Pete Simonelli’s spoken vocals are at their most heady, dare I say even out-Slinting Slint with dark humour, unsettling candour and sheer poetic cadence. The double-guitar-and-drums attack of the rest of the band is of one mind, often ethereal and morose, and at other times crushingly hard hitting. In a world where arty noise-rock has fallen out of vogue, such a concentrated statement as Blown Realms comes to remind us that bands can still actually rock, that it isn’t all lightweight lo-fi meaninglessness, and of the sheer power a single band can yield.

One Hundred Dollars – Songs of Man (Outside)

This was easily the most listened to recording of our cross-Canada tour. When radio fails and iPods die, how thankful was I to have Songs of Man on the drive. Once again, One Hundred Dollars have delivered the best country album of the year, so assured, so jam-packed with wailing country licks, campfire acoustics and poetic serenades. Just seeing a band like this open for another so much their junior in terms of weight and merit proves the world is an unjust place. “Where the Sparrows Drop” is an absolute blessing distilled into song (and very likely the most listened to song of my year). And the piano lines on “Brother”… I defy any eye to remain un-misty after listening to that. Simone Schmidt’s voice could likely be the most powerful voice ever to set down a country drawl. I would propose marriage just to be able to hear that voice every day. I guess this record will have to do until then.

Jennifer Castle – Castlemusic (Flemish Eye)
Castlemusic // Wyrd Visions – “My Boat” b/w “Voice of God” (Blue Fog)
Deloro – s/t (idée fixe)

I managed to catch two sets from Jennifer Castle when she came through Alberta both times this year. With just a guitar and her wonderful vibrato, her sets were absolutely crushing in their honesty, absolutely unsettling in their nakedness. Her full-length is nearly perfect, whether with the Joni Mitchell-like waver on “Neverride” all the way to the jaunty, psychy trem of “Poor as Him;” it’s got country steel, melodies that bore like ear worms, understated guitar work — just a truly memorable collection of moody folk jams. On the split with Wyrd Visions she presents one seriously haunting dirge, one that rests uneasily in ones consciousness for days after hearing it. Deloro, then, is something of a super group, featuring members of One Hundred Dollars and Constantines (among others), as well as Jennifer fronting a few of the tracks. The unevenness of the record is almost one of its biggest appeals — the grab-bag of songs and styles, ranging all the way from Rick White-styled freezing cold psychedelia to unashamed pop smashes. Powerful, varied, haunting. Everything Jennifer Castle did this year killed. 2011 could have been the year of the Castle.

Slates – Prairie Fires (Handsome Dan)

I can think of no other Canadian band who has worked as hard as Slates have (touring Cuba AND Eastern Europe in the last while!) and yet remains so unjustly underrated on their home turf. Slates once again forge out one major punk rock record, and it is punk rock, almost in the classic sense. I’m speaking in the Wipers, no screwin’ around, every song is a jammer-sense; the Springsteen, I’m talking about you, everyman-sense. Prairie Fires is chock full of some of the most memorable punk rock to have come around in forever, with riffs that Greg Sage would envy, and such a universal appeal. This record could be the one to unite all scenes. Not throwback — classic.

Daniel Striped Tiger – No Difference (Clean Plate)

I’ve written about this record before, but allow me to reiterate: No Difference is an incredible collection of post-hardore rippers. The guitar are clean, the songs super inventive. Daniel Striped Tiger have simply gotten way better; all the old trappings that can mire hardcore records — gone. Even the meanderings sound like excited blasts. Also, easily the best album cover of the year, without question.

Baton Rouge – Fragments D’eux Mêmes (Bakery Outlet)

France’s Baton Rouge has members of Daitro and 12XU, and that’s almost exactly how it sounds: a combination of the best elements of both of those two bands. It’s got pieces of Daitro’s smart post-hardcore, and 12XU’s dry rock, but without the trapping that bogged down those bands. All the senseless meanderings and jarring vocal takes have been stripped, while everything else has been blended into some seriously genre-riding, hooky rockers. I only wish my French was better so I could sing along.

*If I may take a moment to be nepotistic, allow me to say that the record I listened to most this year was something that I put out: Town Ship’s Future Confusion. In my mind, it’s the grossest, most thrilling, most ripping record. Town Ship are my jam, so I had to get as close as possible. May next year rip even harder.