Welcome to I Rock Cleveland’s Top 20 albums of 2011. Please note, some of the entries below have been condensed due to the sheer number of words involved with quoting 20 reviews in one year end recap. Following each capsule, you’ll see a link for the full album review. If you don’t like words, you can skip all the words and just look at the numbers. If you don’t like words and numbers, you can listen to a Spotify playlist with most of these albums. Some are not available for streaming in the States.  I would like to think the words are important to you.  There’s over 5400 of them and I spent a lot of time with those words.

1. EMA
Past Life Martyred Saints
Soutterain Transmissions

By the time we get to album closer, “Red Star,” Anderson’s recovery is all but complete.  A shifting soundscape and creaky folk melody make way for a murky blues riff, one which gains confidence and volume until it lifts the track out of the murk and high into the sky, onward and upward, until it reaches a big rock anthem ending.  It’s a transformation similar to the one undergone by EMA, and Anderson as an artist.  Past Life Martyred Saints began with the shell of an artist ready to board a grey ship into the abyss.  Then, as it progressed, and she displayed that diversity in her songwriting, from folk to drone, and ballads, rock, and noise, all confidently transitioned from one to the next; And as the songs, themselves, became more personal and pointed, replacing the wild, druggy visions of her past work with a real woman, with real emotion, all expressed in vivid detail, a real star emerged.   She faced her pain.  She has the scars.  And now, she has produced a powerful, gripping and memorable album.  May 9th, 2011

MP3: EMA – The Grey Ship
MP3: EMA – Milkman

VIDEO: EMA – California
VIDEO: EMA – Marked
VIDEO: Ema – Milkman

2.The Men
Leave Home
Sacred Bones

Punk, post-punk, post-hardcore, noise, scuzz, fuzz, pigfuck, Leave Home by The Men is an album that could wear any number of labels.  The guitars are loud, way loud, to the point of blistering distortion.  The vocals are bloodied, throaty and rough.  The attitude is confrontational from side one, track one on through to the end.  And, there are times when all of this becomes unpleasant for the listener.  It’s unpleasant in a good way, but unpleasant, nonetheless.

Yet, those adjectives and those labels barely begin to describe the sounds gathered, here, on the Brooklyn band’s Sacred Bones LP.  Furthermore, to take an academic approach, and attempt to quantify what it is that makes Leave Home a great rock record, is to totally miss the fucking point.  A great rock record does not need justification in that way.  Its  greatness is felt, not analyzed.  And, boy oh boy, does this record have feeling.  Whether we’re talking about The Men’s deranged take on British post-punk (“If You Leave…”), caterwauling, doom metal (“L.A.D.O.C.H.), ravaging, post-hardcore (“Bataille”), or a surf rock track that’s just as much Jesus Lizard as it is Jesus and Mary Chain (“Shittin’ With the Shah”), the end result is the same — Rock ‘N’ Roll music going straight to the nerves in its  purest, loudest, most exciting form, like a vice clamp tightening down on your brain and a steel-fisted punch to the gut, but in a good way, of course.   September 6th, 2011

MP3: The Men ()
MP3: The Men – Bataille

3. Shabazz Palaces
Black Up
Sub Pop

Whether you consider Shabazz Palaces the work of a reclusive genius, Palaceer Lazaro, or, Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, a man fortunate to have a second shot at the big time, their debut LP, Black Up, remains a slick fusion of jazz, world-beat, electro, hip-hop and weird.  It’s an album with strange, nebulous titles (“An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum”) and even stranger sounds.  Seriously, check out that shuddering backing track on “Echo” with the backwards chanting of those wicked demon kids.  And how about that synth sound on “A treatase dedicated to The Avian Airess from North East Nubis (1000 questions 1 answer)?”  It practically plays like a lost Fripp and Eno collaboration from the ’70s. Or, get your ears around those squishy electronics  and sly, sexy jazz beats on “Endeavors for Never (The last time we spoke you said you were not here. I saw you though.)” and the warped African rhythms of “The King’s new clothes were made by his own hands,” and the twisted, down-tempo French electro of  “Swerve… the reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding).”   Now, ask yourself, how many rappers are capable of assembling such a forward, foreign, and insightful collection of sounds in 2011? Does it matter if his name is Ishmael or if his name is Palaceer? Would it help if I told you it was the work of genius? Black Up is genius.  June 28th, 2011 

MP3: Shabazz Palaces – An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum
MP3: Shabazz Palaces – Swerve…the reeping of all that is worthwhile (noir not withstanding)

4. Wugazi
13 Chambers

Also key to the success of 13 Chambers, is the nature of the instrumentals pieced together by Wugazi.  You may have never thought of Fugazi in such a way in the past, but their music was tailor made for a rap collaboration.  Bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty worked everything from dub, reggae, soul and jazz into their rhythms (Check how the dubby, accented beats of “Floating Boy are spliced into “Floating Labels”), while Fugazi’s two guitarists, Ian McKaye and Guy Picciotto, often split duties between high end and low.  As a result, there’s space to be found in even their most aggressive numbers.   The sharp bits of guitar of”Facet Squared” are able to slip nimbly next to Method Man’s “P.L.O. Style” in “P.L.O. Squared,” while on “Shame on Blue,” the ominous guitar shards of “Blueprint” up the mad-cap personality of ODB displays on “Brooklyn Zoo.”   That’s not easy to do.

In the end, Wugazi’s 13 Chambers nearly pulled off the impossible: Reuniting the forces of rock and rap for good after years of damage done by the likes of Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit.  September 6th, 2011

MP3:Wugazi – Ghetto Afterthought
MP3: Wugazi – P.L.O Squared
MP3: Wugazi – Shame on Blue

5. PJ Harvey
Let England Shake

At its core, Let England Shake, the tenth album by English singer-songwriter PJ Harvey, is a protest album in the grand folk tradition.  Blunt and brutal imagery is used throughout as she condemns the mental and physical toll of war  (WWI, Iraq, and more broadly, human conflict, in general) and the misguided exceptionalism of the men who started those wars.  However, once you put aside the lyric sheet, you are transported to a land brimming with uncommon delight — The glittering guitar on “The Glorious Land,” and the operatic vocals on “On Battleship Hill,” are so stark they effectively mask the count of dead, deformed, and orphaned quickly accumulating during the narration of these twelve, dire tracks.  This same duality makes that dirty old town depicted in “The Last Living Rose,” a home worth longing for, and enables “Hanging in the Wire,” a duet with long-time collaborator, Mick Harvey, with its warm keyboard tones and quietly assured vocals, to hide its gruesome scene of unburied soldiers.  Without its light music, Hanging in the Wire,” and Let England Shake, as a whole, would be too much for any man to take.  With its complex soul in tact, however, it offers a sense of hope rarely paired with such grim scenes (Maybe we aren’t cursed to repeat the mistakes of our fathers), and presents itself as an album of such wonder that it can only be deemed as a work of greatness. March 20th, 2011

VIDEO: PJ Harvey – The Words Which Maketh Murder
VIDEO: PJ Harvey – The Last Living Rose
VIDEO: PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
VIDEO: PJ Harvey – The Glorious Land

6. Liturgy
Thrill Jockey

Liturgy aren’t a black metal act, but they do play one on stage and in the studio.  The Brooklyn-based band don’t walk, talk, or dress the part, and consequently, draw much ire from black metal faithful who prefer their machine gun riffs and guttural growls only when they come replete with corpse paint.  It’s their loss for  Aesthethica is as forward-thinking as any metal album, black or otherwise, that you’re likely to encounter.  Listen closely, and the musicianship of Hunter Hunt Hendrix (Guitar/Vocals), Greg Fox (Drums), Tyler Dusenbury (Bass), and Bernard Gann (Guitars) is tight, impressive, and down right inhuman.  Fox’s drumming is as precise as it is relentless.  He bangs out swift, complex rhythms like he has a second set of arms.  The guitars of Hendrix and Gann only know one speed and that speed has many, many sixteenth notes.  Yet, pull yourself away, and listen to the compositions of Hendrix removed from the details and something extraordinary happens — Larger melodies and grander themes begin to emerge.  “Returner” is positively joyful as its melody mimics a triumphant, Easter-morning hymn.  While on, “Glory Bronze” the dual guitar parts of Hendrix and Gann, triumphant and sincere, sound as if they were written for violin and cello and not two dudes shredding as fast as dudes can shred.  And so it goes with “Tragic Laurel,” and its melody of pain, loss, and longing, and with “Red Crown” and its sense of wonderment.  Maybe the black metal faithful are right and Liturgy aren’t black metal, for once you remove the label and all of its connotations,  you find band who have more in common with the instrumental rock of Pelican, Mogwai, and Godspeed! You Black Emperor — Bands who can evoke staggering emotion through melody — Liturgy just happen to do it with screams.  May 15th, 2011 

MP3: Liturgy – High Gold
MP3: Liturgy – Generation

VIDEO: Liturgy – Returner

7.Kurt Vile
Smoke Ring for My Halo

Consequently, it hardly matters that there isn’t one moment of unobstructed bombast in the set.  When Vile slings a big, bluesy lascivious guitar riff, one fit for Clapton, himself, on “Puppet to the Man,” it’s neither extravagant nor cheesy.  By framing it with second and third guitar tracks, and a brutish, pounding beat, it remains grounded, like a working class rocker who’s simply stumbled upon a showier soul.

Vile’s songwriting is more confident, too.  His folkier numbers no longer come off like rambling ruminations of a man without a plan.  Carefully stacked guitar tracks, violin, harp, and those brightly beaming keyboards all lend to a beautiful sense of wonder, one which faithfully compliments his wandering spirit.  The tenderness of “Baby’s Arms,” cannot be denied.   However, ignore the lyrics to “Society Is My Friend,” and you’d never guess society isn’t some chum, but one really bad mf’er.

Later, “Ghost Town” eases along with such grace and gentleness, it’s all too easy to look past its undeniable craft.  Vile slides and shuffles.  Tones shift in and out of focus, as his expanded band of musicians casually enter and leave the mix.  Ultimately, as the track winds down, and the players peel away, Vile is deserted with his lonesome voice and his old guitar his only companions, serving reminder not only where Vile came from — One man with a semi-coherent vision with sometimes engaging tracks to match, but also where he is now — A real talent, all the better off for those who played their part in making Smoke Ring for My Halo an engaging and remarkable work. March 9th, 2011

MP3: Kurt Vile – Jesus Fever
MP3: Kurt Vile – In My Time

8. Wild Flag
Wild Flag

In this era of safe, white, nostalgic, intellectual indie rock Wild Flag stand out for being, more than anything else, fun.  The songs on their self-titled debut are more than songs — They are calls to action.  They are invitations for the listener to join the band — Carrie Brownstein (ex-Sleater-Kinney) on guitars and vocals, Mary Timony (ex-Helium) on guitars and vocals, Janet Weiss (ex-Sleater-Kinney) on drums, and Rebecca Cole (ex-The Minders) on keyboards — and share in those same passionate and enthusiastic feelings for Rock ‘N’ Roll.

The vitality and energy of lead track,”Romance,” is hard to ignore.  Weiss’ drumming is sharp, on the spot.  While Brownstein and Timony alternate crisp, choppy bits of guitar with more robust, classic rock sounds.  Then the chorus comes around, evoking the feel-good sounds of the Go Go’s, and the love-in between the band, their music, and you, the listener is all but settled.

Even as energetic, exciting, and infectious are all apt adjectives to describe Wild Flag, the album never feels dumbed-down in its pursuits.  Brownstein and Timony rarely skip an opportunity to show off their guitar goddess prowess (Between songs like “Short Version” and “Electric Band” no fret goes untouched).  Yet, they’ve both been around long enough to know how to strike the right balance between space and action.  They’ll trade riffs, or inject their own personality as they each work the same melody, or slink in and out of the mix.  Weiss has such a command of her kit, however, that the songs still follow a natural pattern. Handclaps, tight harmonies, and spontaneous screams point the way, and there’s always a hook to come back to.  That hook is usually a big one, too, as on “Endless Talk,” where the band plays The Cars to “Romance’s” Go Go’s.  Even “Future Crimes,” with its patient chord progressions and pointed, post-punk guitar melodies is deceptively catchy. September 14th, 2011

MP3: Wild Flag – Romance

VIDEO: Wild Flag – Romance
VIDEO: Wild Flag – Electric Band

9. Wolves in the Throne Room
Celestial Lineage
Southern Lord

Celestial Lineage, the latest release by Wolves in the Throne Room, does more than redefine black metal for the American audience — It renders the very notion of genre pointless.  And unlike much of the popular music that comes from the Pacific Northwest these days (Folkies Fleet Foxes immediately come to mind), brothers Aaaron and Nathan Weaver do more than craft quaint, pretty harmonies out of the region’s natural beauty, they draw on the full power of nature, both as a creator and a destroyer.  For within these seven songs, blackened chorals share space with rapid, robust drumming and high, arching guitar melodies, transcendental melodies that take the listener out of the depths of despair and skyward to places both ecstatic and triumphant.  When the listener returns to ground, there may be a light, uplifting voice, a portending interlude or a demonic howl.  Yes, when the vocals of angelic half, Jessika Kenney subside, there’s the harsh, hoarse, unpleasant death breath of Nathan Weaver lurking around the corner.  To put it more bluntly, there’s screaming, lots of screaming, the likes of which less adventurous listeners will shun without a barely giving it a chance.  That’s a shame.  In a world filled with dubstep, chillwave, and Coldplay, is Nathan Weaver’s demonic howl really so bad? October 28th, 2011

10.Boston Spaceships
Let It Beard
GBV Records

Another thing those beloved GBV records didn’t have, is the big rock sound of Let it Beard. This is not a lo-fi record. The guitar tracks laid down by Slusarenko and guest shredders J Mascis (Dinosaur, Jr.) Mick Collins (The Dirtbombs), Dave Rick, Steven Wynn, Collin Newman, and one Mitch Mitchell (GBV) are thick, boisterous and teeming with intensity. Moen’s drumming, meanwhile, is nimble, inventive, forceful and always spot-on.

The one minute-stomper, “Juggernaut vs Monolith” has the type of bruising, low-end throttle a song like Guided by Voices’ “Poastal Blowfish” would only reveal on stage. While songs like “I Took on The London Guys,” “The Vicelords,” and “Let it Beard,” pile on the riffage with leads that would make The Who’s Pete Townsend proud.

Ultimately, it’s that mix of Guided by Voices’ quaintness and quirkiness with Boston Spaceships ability to flat-out rock-out, that makes Let it Beard such a successful album. It will mess with your anticipation, wander into oddities, confound and then floor you with that pure, Rock ‘N’ Roll sound. It will remind those who have seen Guided by Voices perform 20, 30, or 40 times why they jumped aboard the good ship, Pollard over 15 years ago, and prove to the youngsters they’re not crazy. August 1st, 2011

MP3: Boston Spaceships – Tabby and Lucy
MP3: Boston Spaceships – Christmas Girl

11. Yuck
Fat Possum

Think Superchunk, Dinosaur, Jr and Ash.  Think Sloan, Yo La Tengo and Teenage Fanclub, or any number of 120-Minute staples whom at one time or another paired their pop songs with a sick stack of amps and said, “This is right.” That’s the self-titled, debut record by Yuck, a New Jersey/London/Hiroshima band, whose aim is to bring back the sounds of ’90s alt-rock radio in a big, big way.  Whether it’s the Chapel Hill inspired buzz of “Georgia” and “The Wall,” or “Holing Out,” a gem of a power pop number rousing with the swirl, screech, and squawk of amps teetering on overload, this is a band who know how to strike the right balance between noise and melody.  It’s an accord they maintain throughout the course of the album, as well.   Come-downs like, “Sunday,” where the absence of racket and static reveal harmony and deliberate, cleanly strummed guitars, and “Suck,” a number which gets by on little more than a whisper and a well-placed slide guitar, ensure that when the rugged grunge and arena-rock ecstasy of “Operation” hits it isn’t lost within one continuous din.  Rather, it stands out as one of many tracks which would have been hits on radio or MTV during an earlier era.  Ultimately, it’s that exact abundance of quality which makes Yuck’s debut more than the sum of its influences.  For whether you want to admit it or not, your ’90s rock idols did have some duds in their back catalog.  Yuck, on the other hand, with both the benefit of youth and the knowledge to never let a swarming riff get in the way of a gifted melody, gets each number on its debut ragged, clanging, banging right .  February 15th, 2011 

VIDEO: Yuck – Holing Out
VIDEO: Yuck – Georgia
VIDEO: Yuck – Rubber

12. Ty Segall
Goodbye Bread
Drag City

With the untimely passing of Memphis garage rocker, Jay Reatard, in 2010, many tabbed San Franciscan Ty Segall as his logical heir; Someone young and brash who would light a fire under the American rock underground and make the old sound new again.  There’s just one problem.  Segall has no intention of being the next Reatard.  Album opener, and title track, “Goodbye Bread,” makes that much clear.  It owes much more to the thoughtful, dream-like ballads of John Lennon than anything in the American garage rock canon.   And, it’s a point he makes time and again as his rapidly maturing songwriting effortlessly guides the listener through the quaint sounds of The Kinks and early British Invasion (“I Can Feel It”  and “You Make the Sun Fry”) on to sludgy, proto-metal (“My Head Explodes” and “Where Your Head Goes,”)   and, yes, even a primitive garage rock stomper in “Comfortable Home,” a song whose deceptive heaviness, spot-on harmonies, and righteous shredding make it the album’s standout cut.   The fact that here, Segall chooses to equate a life of domestic tranquility with classic garage rock cannot be a coincidence.  Not on an album as diverse as this; Not on an album whose strength is its wandering spirit and the way Segall easily slides between eras.  Rather, consider it a message straight from the artist, himself — “I could settle down quite nicely from this Rock ‘N’ Roll trip.  I can rip the way you want me to rip.  I could be the artist you want me to be — The next Jay Reatard, the next John Lennon, or the next Ray Davies.  Right now, I’m too busy being me.  Can you dig?”  We dig,Ty.  We dig it a lot.  June 20th, 2011

MP3: Ty Segall – You Make the Sun Fry

13. Earth
Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light
Southern Lord

With a tempo barely moving beyond dead, and an ever-present feeling of dread, studiously executed notes on guitar, on bass, and violin stray, then return, to a basic melody on “Father Midnight.”  Every bend of the string, every touch of the instrument is savored.  “Descent to the Zenith,” meanwhile, takes the band’s slow-motion study of American roots music into even deeper realms, aided in no small part by Goldston’s billowing cello.  Later, on the title track, the quartet employ a style and structure similar to the early ambient work of Brian Eno as Carson and Blau trade a short series of notes, one starting as the other trails.  Each tone is golden and vibrant.  It’s minutes before the first drum beat is heard from Adrienne Davies, and minutes more before one realizes Goldston is overlapping with a similar melody.  Far from joyless, music this precise in its execution, so intricately detailed, and so darkly beautiful must excite.  And if it doesn’t, try a different speed, one uncommonly free of distraction, and one open to transcendence, then you will surely see its radiance, too.  March 20th, 2011

MP3: Earth – Father Midnight

14. Wilco
The Whole Love

Now in their third album cycle, the current lineup of the band — Jeff Tweedy (Vox/Guitar),  John Stirratt (Bass), Cline (Guitar), Glen Kotche (Drums), Mikael Jorgansen (Keyboards), Patrick Sansone (Multi-instrumentalist) — have never sounded so in control, so tight and so precise.  This is evident not only in the tight integration of Cline, an underused asset who is finally finding much needed space within the band’s up-tempo numbers, but also on those quieter moments.  In spite of its sleepy-eyed tempo, the aforementioned, “One Sunday Morning,” absolutely thrills during its twelve minutes.  As it lulls the listener to a dream-like state, members trade variations on the lead melody, adding depth and texture in a slow-motion, spaced-out jam session.  Meanwhile, “Sunloathe,” adds a nice spin on the Wilco ballad by channeling the solo work of George Harrison and “Black Moon,” with its patiently picked chords, mournful pedal steel, and tastefully arranged strings is as foreboding as anything in Wilco’s extensive catalog.   September 28th, 2011

VIDEO: Wilco – Born Alone
VIDEO: Wilco – I Love My Label (The Whole Love Bonus Track)

15. JEFF the Brotherhood
We Are the Champions
Infinity Cat

With just three strings, three drums, three cymbals and one tasty racket, JEFF the Brotherhood’s We Are the Champions is an album which covers broad swaths of the rock canon, yet, is neither dumbed down nor needlessly polished.  Lead track “Hey Friend” sets the stage with a highly combustible combination of simmering stoner-rock and blustery, grunge rumble.  And while that guitar may me missing a few strings, it sure isn’t lacking in tone, volume, or versatility.  “Cool Out” and “Shredder” both blast high-tempo, desert rock.  The duo then takes a much different approach on “Diamond Way,” a track with a noticeable kraut-rock lineage, and spacey, blissed out guitars.  Later, the brothers easily tackle pogo-ready power pop (“Mellow,”) fuzzy, ’90s styled slacker-rock (“Bummer,”) and even work in a sentimental ballad (“Endless Fire.”)  June 21st, 2011

MP3: JEFF the Brotherhood – Shredder
MP3: JEFF the Brotherhood – Diamond Way

VIDEO: JEFF the Brotherhood – Hey Friend

16. Herzog
Cartoon Violence
Exit Stencil

On Cartoon Violence, Herzog’s second album for Exit Stencil Records,  this talent manifests itself in tracks like “Fuck This Year” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Monster,” a one-two punch of crunchy power pop in the vein of early Weezer, the likes of which Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo himself hasn’t been able to duplicate in 15 years of trying.  “You Clean Up Nice,” takes a similar approach with an over-sized guitar sound and clean vocal lines, but instead of whipping up a furious ending, it eases back and slowly reveals vintage harmonies in the style of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

Later, the diversity of songwriters Nick Tolar and Tony Vorrell comes into focus with the West Coast, country rock of “Dreaming Man II.”  Here, Tolar’s carefree, easy delivery is backed by the solemn sound of pedal steel, wandering guitar melodies and a steady shuffle of a beat.  Meanwhile the diversity of the assembled band (Tolar on guitar/vocals, Brian Hill on bass, Dan Price on drums and Dave McHenry on guitar), shines on “Alexander the Great,” the album’s closing number where Hill and Price, who double as the rhythm section for Cleveland stoner-rock band, Megachurch, provide the thrust behind the shred fest.  November 23rd, 2011

MP3: Herzog – Fuck This Year
MP3: Herzog – You Clean Up Nice

17. Thurston Moore
Demolished Thoughts

Similar in tone to recent offerings by Kurt Vile and Dinosaur Jr’s, J Mascis, Thurston Moore’s Demolished Thoughts features a musician who’s been known to rip things up from time to time working in a more thoughtful, deliberate, and sedate manner.  Gone is the fuzz, buzz and squalor which has marked much of Moore’s work with his legendary band, Sonic Youth.  In its place there’s Moore and his acoustic, violinist Samara Lubelski, and harpist Mary Lattimore, and producer Beck, meditatively piecing together unsuspectingly lush arrangements with few highs, fewer lows, and one long and smooth, mellow groove.  The fact that nothing immediately stands out, shouldn’t wholly be taken as a negative.  For, again, like those records by Vile and Mascis, it’s in the subtly plotted details where this one really shines.  It’s there, in the stretched and wavering notes which close “Illuminine;”; In the juxtaposition of Lubelski’s agitated violin melodies with Lattimore’s stubbornly, elegant harp throughout “Benediction;” In how Lattimore, Lubelski, and Moore are able to mimic a noisy, crescendo in the traditional Sonic Youth style on “Orchard Street,” but do so quietly, and at a measured pace, with dissonant melodies and loosely played strings taking the place of relentless static and overloaded amps.  Demolished Thoughts may not be what we expected, or what we thought we needed from an alt-rock guitar idol like Moore.  And it certainly won’t help bring about a sea change to the Rock ‘N’ Roll landscape like Sonic Youth’s classics.  However, this album, like J Mascis’ Several Shades of Why, are both bold statements in their own right as they prove the old adage, “Is it better to burn out or to fade away?” is no longer an either/or proposition.  There’s a middle path emerging –  To age with dignity.  May 25th, 2011

MP3: Thurston Moore – Benediction
MP3: Thurston Moore – Circulation

18. The Peoples Temple
Sons of Stone
Hozac Records

Key here, is the maturity and variety of their songcraft.  Sons of Stone begins with the title track, a mid-tempo, psychedelic rock track driven by a glimmering and repetitive guitar riff and surrounded by generous amounts of feedback and echo.  “Visions of Stone” and “Where You Gonna Go,” meanwhile, are more stripped down, and steeped in the tradition of early British Invasion bands.   Later you’ll encounter atmospheric meditations, a la Spacemen 3, on “Never Really (Saw Me Comin’ Round”) and Middle Eastern influences creep into  “The Surf.”  It’s on tracks like “Starscreamer” and “Axe Man,” though, that the brothers really show their skill.  The former is a blazing garage rock number, played over a track of excited screams.  The background could be uncontrolled teenagers seeing The Beatles for the first time, guitar strings being shredded to death, amps on fire, or some of each.  On the latter, The Peoples Temple, incorporate elements of early 21st century garage rockers like The Strokes or Franz Ferdinand into their mix.  The bass line is positively danceable, as is the beat, and the guitars alternate between short, pointed bits and looser, dangling rhythms.  It all culminates in a huge, memorable chorus that is both agitated and delightful to sing.  Give this one a quick studio shine and it could dominate airwaves.  Give yourself in to this album, however, and there’s no doubt it will dominate your turntable.   May 3rd, 2011

MP3: The Peoples Temple – Sons of Stone
MP3: The Peoples Temple – Axe Man

VIDEO: The Peoples Temple – Axe Man

19. J Mascis
Several Shades of Why
Sub Pop

Writing for the Onion’s AV Club, and noticing the distinct lack of shredding on Several Shades of Why, the solo-acoustic offering by Dinosaur, Jr’s lead axe man, J Mascis, Noel Murray makes the following observation: “A mellow Mascis is like a sports car stuck in a school zone: The chassis still looks good, but we don’t get to see what it can really do.”  He’s right, of course.  We never do get to hear one of Mascis’ classic, six stack of amps, gut-shaking mega-riffs on Several Shades of Why.  It all becomes a moot point, however, when a track like, “Is it Done,” comes along at old-man-tan sedan speed and still invigorates — Heavy with heartbreak, Mascis’ voice aching, tunefully strummed, and rich in details — A finely picked line here, a little bit of electric guitar there, Band of Horses’ Ben Bidwell chipping in on backing vocals — This could be a J Mascis song, a John Oates song, or a Jim Nabors song and it would still be a jam.  Should you listen patiently and listen without prejudice you’ll find Several Shades of Why has many more moments just like it: Guest musician Sophie Trudeau’s elegiac violin melodies on the title track; The interplay of saw, flute, and Kurt Vile’s slide guitar on “Make it Right;”  Vile, Kevin Drew and Bidwell harmonizing like a modern day Crosby, Stills and Nash to Mascis’ Young on “Not Enough.”  Perhaps, a better comparison would be the one made by Pitchfork’s Ryan Drombal, who compares Several Shades of Why to Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. No one seemed to mind when Young turned down the volume.  Maybe it’s time we re-align our expectations of Mascis, too.  Several Shades of Why makes a compelling argument March 17th, 2011

MP3: J Mascis – Not Enough
MP3: J Mascis – Is it Done

20. The Horrors
XL/Beggars US

To that end, Skying plays as a continuation of Primary Colours.  Lead singer Faras Badwan has become stronger and more confident (His voice bears an uncanny resemblance to The Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler at times), while he and his bandmates have retained Barrow’s method of building songs with carefully stacked layers and obscure textures.   On the opening track, “Changing the Rain,” Badwan sings in long, exaggerated, and slightly accented tones (Again, think Butler) as he is accompanied by elegantly swirling keyboards and a beat which can best be described as a backwards shuffle.  The melody, meanwhile, is pure John Hughes romanticism, fit for an ’80s, coming of age movie soundtrack.  The breathy “You Said,” works in more trickery as guitars, samplers and keyboards are twisted and processed into tidy, chopped bits in the back of the mix with larger, sweeping notes occupying the front along side Badwan’s tender croon.  Another early highlight is provided by “Endless Blue.”  It builds on the airy, delicate vibes of the album’s opening numbers, there has to be four, maybe five, maybe more keyboard melodies stacked in the intro, before a throbbing, almost-industrial guitar riff appears, inspiring Badwan to take on a glam-like persona akin to Bowie’s space alien.

Barrow has indeed taught these boys well.  While each song is loaded with tasty headphone nuggets, numbers like the new-wave ballad, “Still Life” and the dream-pop of “Wild Eyed,” where the drums are seemingly the only instrument to survive extreme tweaking, still manage to work as pure pop songs.  Key here is no matter how many tracks are stacked in a particular song, and no matter how much those tracks were fretted over in the studio, there’s always more room.  Not every instrument is played at the same volume at the same time, a tactic often missed by young bands with dreams of grandness.  Consequently, when The Horrors do stray from their basic formula, as they do on the motorik, work out, “Moving Further Away,” and again on the album’s closer, “Oceans Burning,” which itself  incorporates elements of ambient drone and one head swirl of a climax, they don’t feel like indulgences, but rewards, for both band and listener August 14th, 2011 

MP3: The Horrors – Moving Further Away

VIDEO: The Horrors – Still Life
VIDEO: The Horrors – I Can See Through You

Honorable Mention: Nine Types of Light by TV on the Radio, Carrion Crawler/The Dream by Thee Oh Sees, The Hunter by Mastodon, David Comes to Life by Fucked Up, Party Store by The Dirtbombs, S/T by Trouble books and Mark McGuire, Pleasure by Pure X.

For more from the I Rock Cleveland 2011 Spectacular, click here.