Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Best Album of 2011: The Big Roar

Yep, I’m going to jump on the “best of” lists that permeate the internet this time of year. Mostly because they are quick, but fun, articles to write that come as a godsend when your self-imposed deadline comes at the end of a 10 day work week. Yeah, hope everyone else out there had a happy holiday.

Not many bands that boast 1990s stylings stir the same kind of hazy eyed nostalgia in me that The Joy Formidable do, with the only possible exception being The Silversun Pickups. While The Pickups are a direct descendent of Billy Corgan’s signature sound, The Joy Formidable are not a sonic descendent of the Corgan sound-a sound that has become cool to emulate in commercially viable alt-rock. Rather, The Joy Formidable are a descendent of Corgan’s penchant for saga-like compositions, esoterically personal lyrics, and carefully crafted guitar noise. Throw a little of the regularly referenced My Bloody Valentine noise blur into the mix, and The Joy Formidable might just be best 90s band to not record in the 90s. While all this talk of 90s music, in comparison to TJF’s sound, is waxing clichéd, it is relevantly telling that perhaps the last true rock revolution that we as a species will ever experience was perhaps the most interesting one, if not the best, and will forever rival the 60s as a musical touchstone. As I suggested at the outset, while TJF’s sound definitely references this time in rock music history, TJF is one of only a handful of bands that actually make interesting use of said reference. What I stated in my review of The Big Roar for comicbookbin.com pretty much sums it all up:

Mix some heavy guitar distortion and reverb with a bit of white noise. Add a substantial amount of echoing drums (with a sprinkle of double bass throbbing here and there—a la metal—to taste). Toss in some sensually and variably whispered and screamed female vocals. Label it all with some esoteric song names and lyrics then drag it all out a little too long or cut it a little short and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a winning alt rock/drone/slightly shoegaze tinged mega sounding mega band. While The Joy Formidable and their first major label release The Big Roar aren’t that much of a cookie cutter band, they are pretty original (especially these days), they really aren’t anything we haven’t sonically tasted before…but that in no way detracts from their music. It’s some of the best strum and drone that we’ve heard in quite some time. With a major label release, the last ingredient is now in place for them to become the biggest band out of the UK since Muse. Based on the promise of their work on The Big Roar, they just might live up to this expectation.”

One of the metrics I use to judge whether or not a band can hold their weight live is by critiquing their performances on late night television. Okay maybe that’s a little strange, but it’s a habit I can’t break since as a teen I had to wait for a band I was interested in to play SNL, Letterman, or The Tonight Show  since the little conservative Bible Belt town I lived in didn’t believe in MTV. Seriously, the town’s “ruling family” got it banned from the local cable company until the mid 1990s or so. The energy and enthusiasm this band puts out isn’t faked. I’ve seen scripted performances. This one is not. Most bands will put a lot of fuss into their worldwide late night debuts. The good ones just get out there and rock, and this performance of “Whirring” off The Big Roar freakin’ rocks. The Big Roar is my favorite album of 2011. I have a suspicion that their next album, whatever the title, might end up being my favorite of its realease year as well.

Honorable Mentions for Best Album:

Foo Fighters Wasting Light: This album makes the cut mostly because at this point there really isn’t a rock song or rock ballad that Dave Grohl hasn’t written, yet he still managed to put out an album that not only kept me interested, but boasted one of the Foo’s best songs ever written: “Walk.” This song has stayed with me for most of the year on ever running playlist in the background of my mind. Maybe I’m feeling my mortality kinda like Dave is on this song, or maybe because I’ve felt as alive this year as Dave does on this song as well. Either way, The Foo Fighters’ legacy of great music will never die, even if we must one day.

Tres Mts Three Mountains: Jeff Ament, dUg Pinnick of King’s X, and Richard Stuverud of Fastbacks (along with guest Mike McCready) finally got together and made that “heavy R ‘n B album that Jeff joked about making with dUg for years, and it totally rocked. I covered this album for GrungeReport.net back when it came out, and what I raved about then remains true now. I remember thinking about how sad the music will be when the mega groups of my youth broke up and formed super groups from the pieces of each others ensembles. Turns out I was just being a snide, snot nosed, elitist poser because while some of the groups of my youth have broke up, many have soldiered on to continue to make great music (Pearl Jam) WHILE forming side groups with their musical and cultural peers to make some pretty awesome music (Tres Mts). Yeah, who said “all wisdom comes from youth…” uh, well…strike that…

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