Showing posts with label top 5. Show all posts
Showing posts with label top 5. Show all posts

Friday, January 4, 2013

Top 5 Comics of 2012

I probably buy too many comics, but I can’t help myself. I’ve been a fan of the medium since I was a kid buying Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles books. Every time I’m in a comic book store I get so enticed by everything I see. Sometimes it’s the art, other times it’s the writing, often it’s both. I’ll take a chance on almost any book and more often than not I get roped in for the long haul. I did try to cut down a little bit in 2012, but then Brian Wood decided to come out with several new titles, and there was a Marvel crossover that I couldn’t miss due to it’s major involvement of the X-Men and it’s promise to potentially reverse one of the biggest X-universe plot twists of the last decade. All this along with the random new titles I pick up and the fact that I’ve gotten into several Star Wars books now, has me spending a lot of time and money on my comic book habit. I enjoy it though and there are honestly a lot of quality books in the market today. As long as I’m being entertained I guess I can’t complain and these 5 are some of the comics that have entertained me most this past year.

1. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
I never got into Y: The Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan’s much lauded 2002-2008 running monthly book. Even still, I always recognized his talent and when I heard about Saga and saw Fiona Staple’s brilliant artwork I knew it was a book I’d want to be picking up. Saga is a science fiction epic that’s part Romeo and Juliet, part Star Wars, and entirely captivating. Saga tells the story of Hazel, a child born to parents whose worlds are at war with each other. The tale to this point is told by Hazel in 3rd person from some point in the future, as her parents attempt to flee the forces who see their union and offspring as an abomination. Vaughan’s writing is natural and succinct and his characters feel remarkably three dimensional without ever overstating themselves. Fiona Staples art is a wonder to behold, capturing gestures and emotion with spare, balanced line work and brilliant washes of bold color. Out of 2012’s new books this is the one that overall has impressed me the most on all fronts.

2. Conan the Barbarian by Brian Wood and various artists
I’ve been a fan of Brian Wood’s since Channel Zero way back when I was in college and since the end of his relationship with DC/Vertigo last year he’s been busy putting a lot of new work into the field. I should start off by saying that I’ve never been a fan of Conan, but neither have I ever held any ill will toward the property. Pre-war sci-fi and fantasy has always been an area that I’ve never really warmed to and (despite mainly being known due to to movies from the 80’s) Conan as a property falls into this category. Brian Wood is one of very few writers that I will follow to any book however and based on his excellent medieval Norse-themed book Northlanders I figured I had a good read on what I could expect from a Conan book. In Conan the Barbarian Wood uses his Northlanders experience to color his writing, but approaches the character and the world of Hyboria from a direction tailored specifically to them. The end result combines Wood’s expertise with tone and depth of character with Robert Howard’s pulp mythology in a way that satisfies and strengthens both.

3. Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron and various artists
At it’s heart, X-Men comics are about two things: 1)A persecuted minority that seeks to protect a world that hates and fears them and 2)Teenagers with newly developed super powers going to a school where they can be educated in peace and learn how to control their abilities. Wolverine and the X-Men focuses mainly on the later and concentrates of the lighter, but also more outrageous aspects of the setup in featuring both heroes and villains with bizarre powers. The whole thing takes on an almost Joss Whedon-esque feeling as it recalls both the absurdity and seriousness of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Teen mutants find themselves navigating the rigors of high school while simultaneously saving the world, all before study hall. The end result is incredibly fun and easily one of the best things to happen to the X-Men (and Wolverine) in a long time.

4. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja
Nobody ever says they’re a Hawkeye fan. In his own words he's "an orphan raised by carnies, fighting with a stick and string from the paleolithic era." A comic about Hawkeye’s life when he’s not with the Avengers should be about as successful as Baywatch: Nights but (perhaps knowing this) Fraction manages to make Hawkeye off duty, more interesting than he has any right to be. Armed not just with arrows, but with wit and guile, Fraction and Aja illustrate Hawkeye’s extra-Avenger actions in brilliant fashion as he deals with both the absurd and mundane. All of a sudden a character that most people previously couldn’t have cared less about becomes part Spiderman, part James Bond, and part Robinhood, all wrapped in a slick package by Fraction’s excellent dialog and Aja’s uncluttered, expressive visuals.

5. The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Not a new comic for 2012, but one that is still going despite what seems to be the culling of DC’s Vertigo label. Unwritten has been one of my favorite books ever since I picked it up on a whim several years ago. If there is any one book that can claim to have picked up the mantle of Sandman and be worthy of it, this is it. Following the misadventures of Tom Wilson as he unravels the secret truth about the nature of story and his own mysterious origins, Unwritten glories in the world of narratives much in the same way Sandman often did. In 2012 Carey and Gross stepped up their game in a big way both in publishing what I believe will serve as the climatic arc to the overall story, but also 6 additional support stories (featuring different artists) that filled in a lot of the blanks we had been left with to that point. As 2013 dawns, Unwritten marches boldly into it’s next chapter and with the stakes higher than ever I find myself eagerly awaiting each issue and whatever revelations may be held within their pages.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Top 5 Games of 2012

2012 was a decent year for games if not a slow year for games. We seem to have settled into a bi-yearly cycle for the release of numerous major blockbusters and this past year was the off year for those releases. A look ahead at 2013 has a number of high profile titles slated to launch before the end of FY12 and are very likely to be the last such titles we see during this console cycle with the all-but-confirmed announcement and launch of at least one next gen console likely to happen before the end of the year.

While the crop of titles was smaller this year the quality was high and innovation still strong. 2012 was the year of crowd funding, with several recognizable developers utilizing Kickstarter to great effect in getting their next projects funded. This however, along with the continued strengthening of the indie games scene, has done nothing to heal the divide between various gamer factions. Forums and comment sections on gaming sites all over the internet have been constantly embroiled in idealogical shouting matches of mainstream vs indie vs old school.

It seems that gaming has finally developed a very vocal elitist class that claims to abhor modern mainstream marketing techniques such as DLC and F2P/MTX while championing niche throwback titles and bold anti-publisher actions by developers. While its an interesting conversation to be sure, several things remain to be seen:

  1. Will these elitist gamers put their money where their mouths are and withdraw support from mainstream triple-A developers and publishers?
  2. Are the numbers of these gamers as large as they seem or are they just loud?
  3. Are these gamers willing to support smaller, less cutting edge games, that look poorer, but meet their exacting aesthetic requirements or will they expect the same type of experience that big developers require millions of dollars and thus a broad audience to support?

I tend of believe that most of these people are all talk and while I want a Baldur’s Gate style throwback RPG and a massive open-ended space sim too, I don’t realistically expect these things to look and feel the same as a game that has a much broader appeal. It’s going to be interesting to see as some of these crowd funded projects begin bearing fruit how the elitist gamer community and the non-funding audience responds and what that may mean for all strata of development going forward.

Enough industry talk though. These are my Top 5 favorite games of 2012:

1. Mass Effect 3 by BioWare
Controversy surrounding the original version of the ending aside, Mass Effect 3 concluded the epic trilogy in a truly triumphant fashion. Taking some of the best aspects of ME1 and 2 and adding a few new tricks of it’s own, ME3 was a solid, enjoyable experience from start to finish. The game and the story didn’t let off the throttle for one moment and the stakes were always high. Not since the Baldur’s Gate series had I felt such affection for a group of characters in a video game both due to their excellently written dialog and personalities, but also due to the decisions I had made for and with them throughout each game. ME3 ended Commander Shepard’s story in grand style and has thusly earned a place of honor in my collection.

2. The Walking Dead by Telltale Games
After a couple lackluster titles with Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, and yes … Law and Order, Telltale came back in a big way in 2012 with the first 5-part series of adventure games based on The Walking Dead comics. I always tell people that The Walking Dead comic is not about zombies, it’s about people and there just happen to be zombies in it. The Walking Dead game apes its source material perfectly in this respect with the zombies mainly being a device to put people into desperate situations and to force the player to make hard decisions. And boy will you make some hard decisions in The Walking Dead. It’s not always a choice between good and bad either, often it there is no good choice and more often than not the consequences will catch up to you in the end. It’s hard to talk in specifics about The Walking Dead without spoiling a game that’s full of honestly surprising twists. Suffice it to say that every element of this game from the art style, the game design, the cinematics, the writing, acting, and sound all come together to create an emotional tour-de-force that everyone should play at least once.

3. Far Cry 3 by Ubisoft Montreal
Like films that only play in New York and LA in the last week of the year in order to squeak by for Oscar consideration, Far Cry 3 launched at the beginning of December and immediately made an impact on numerous game critics. The thing here is that even if it had launched earlier I’m betting it would have made just as big an impact on many people’s year end considerations. The format is simple enough: Assassin’s Creed 2 meets Far Cry 2 and it’s a combination that works very well. What pushes this title above and beyond however is the main characters (like the brilliantly acted antagonist Vaas) and the story subtext. On the surface this is a very clear cut story of an outsiders getting into trouble abroad and going native to get out again. Far Cry 3 plays subtly with metaphor and allegory however making it’s beauty much more than skin deep. Add into this mix a protagonist that actually grows as a characters (not a common occurrence in this genre) and you've got something unique and refreshing on display here.

4. XCom: Enemy Unknown by Firaxis
The original XCom and it’s few immediate expansions/spin-offs are classics held in the highest regard by PC gamers over a certain age. Sadly in the decade+ since the last traditional XCom game, no one has been able to continue the tradition in a satisfying manner. When Firaxis announced that there were taking a stab at the franchise the PC gaming world breathed a sigh of relief. This new XCom is both homage and a much-needed modern update to the franchise and brings all the core elements one who has played the original would expect, but with modern trappings and manicuring. The end result is a product that new and old XCom fans can both get excited about.

5. FTL by Subset Games
Somehow 2012 ended up being the year of the spaceship crew simulation with games like Artemis, Spaceteam, and FTL each offering their own interpretation of managing the perils and teamwork required to pilot a sci-fi craft through space. FTL is simple to play, but difficult to master as it simulates operating a space craft on the run from an enemy fleet. The simulation is straightforward enough: players choose a craft and on each turn they plot their course through the galaxy. At each stop there is a chance of running into enemies, friends, plunder, or nothing at all making each jump a potential risk. In order to improve one’s chances however qualified captains need to upgrade their ship’s systems and purchase new equipment and that requires scrap gained from successfully navigating these chance encounters. While this is all straightforward enough, players will ultimately have to face the mothership of the enemy fleet, a multi encounter battle that’s seriously hard even on easy difficulty settings. It’s this difficulty that drives the deeper elements of the game and even as the player crashes and burns they’re already thinking of how best to outfit their ship for another go.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top 5 Films of 2012

I say it every year, but this time I mean it “what a shite year for movies”. I honestly don’t know what the problem is anymore because it’s not just Hollywood, even the independent films were lacking this year. Are there no good scripts out there? Is the creative talent pool running dry? Have we run out of things to say?

Overall I didn’t see as many movies as I should have in 2012 and so far 2013’s movie-going outlook appears to be slim as well. Of the movies I did see I don’t recall being blown away by anything. A good litmus test of how much impact a movie has made with me is whether I decide that I need to own it on home video or not and there were precious few movies in 2012 that I felt met that criteria. Even among my Top 5 there are few I feel I need to own although I’d certainly be interested in seeing them all again.

1. Argo
Brilliant casting, brilliant script, brilliant directing; Argo hit all the right marks. This is a film that could have been plodding and arduous or extremely overwrought, but Affleck and crew found the perfect pitch with which to make this story feel both historically accurate and dramatically compelling. The final half hour of this film was the most tense I’ve felt in a movie theater in quite some time and I loved every minute of it. I’m glad that Affleck recently confirmed that he is not planning on running for senate anytime soon, because as a director I think he’s really coming into his own if Argo is any indication.

2. The Cabin in the Woods
I’m not one of those Joss Whedon apologists. I love Firefly, but Buffy never did it for me and Dollhouse (while I enjoyed it) fell flat in many respects. I say this so you understand that I can view Whedon’s work objectively unlike say ... Bruce Willis, who can do no wrong in my eyes. When it comes to horror I’m more a fan of the meta aspects than I am the genre tropes. I like Romero’s work because of his social commentary. I like Evil Dead 2 and From Dusk Till Dawn because of their gratuitous, almost satirical gore and genre exploitation. The Cabin in the Woods is the ultimate meta horror film, but if it were just the script that served to sell it then it wouldn’t have worked. Instead, every aspect of this movie comes together like clockwork in order to sell the story and serve the meta-narrative with a payoff that is totally worth the price of admission.

3. Wreck-It Ralph
Based on several of the critic’s reviews of this film I have to assume that if you don’t have a history with or affinity arcade gaming then much of this film’s charm misses the mark. As someone with an extensive gaming background, this movie hit the sweet spot for me both in terms of subject, art direction, script, and acting. Yes, the cameo’s and inside jokes were clever and entertaining, but I felt the film did a great job of being more than just gamer kitsch and in telling a classic tale in a modern trapping of overcoming adversity while being true to oneself.

4. Chronicle
The trailers for this film almost ruined it for me. It really wasn’t the film’s fault either, rather it was the fact of there having been several “moody teenagers with super powers” movies over the last few years that were nothing more than excuses to hook young, beautiful actors up to wires and try to catch a crossover dude-brah and comic geek audience. It wasn’t until I looked past the “yo bro, I can fly!” surface layer of Chronicle that I realized there was something of substance there. While this isn’t a complex movie and the found footage/faux documentary style (while appropriate) was stretched to the limits of believability, the message and the execution remains un-muddled and works in the film’s favor. The end result is a distilled, but successful version of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira a modern classic using super powers as a metaphor for adolescence and the difficulties of responsibility associated with becoming an adult.

5. The Master
Out of all the films that I saw in 2012 this is the one that I’ve probably thought about the most after leaving the theater. This is a heavy, layered piece of art that is worthy of both discussion and repeated viewing. The Master is what an art house film should be. This is the kind of movie that asks a lot of the audience both while they are in the theater and after they leave. Most audiences don’t like to have to work that hard for a film and for those people there is still a compelling narrative, expertly acted and directed, although somewhat cryptic in its resolution. For the braver moviegoer, The Master rewards deeper inspection and dissection and provides a wealth of detail and subtext to be explored.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 5 Albums of 2012

Mainstream, indie, and even the indie-mainstream have been bereft of good, major releases this year. When the best that outlets like Paste and Pitchfork can muster are albums by Best Coast, Beach House, Tame Impala, Alt-J, and the Lumineers, it’s obvious that we’ve been dealt a poor hand in terms of new music on the national level.

Overall it feels like the indie-mainstream in particular is waiting for a new movement. The Arcade Fire sound-alikes (which used to be Modest Mouse sound-alikes) have finally worn out their welcome. New Grass (or Banjo-core as I prefer to call it) never had the ability to sustain more than a few bands at a time and with Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons, and the Lumineers on the scene, that quota has been filled. Like the generic “techno” outbreak in the mid-late 90’s, dubstep isn’t ever going to catch fire in a big enough way nationally and anyway, most of what people are calling dubstep isn’t really dubstep to begin with. And finally, the wispy synth-ish indie-pop movement (see: Alt-J, Tame Impala, and especially M83) isn’t worth taking a second look at and won’t last very long unless something changes.

The airwaves are bored and I couldn’t have picked a better year to dive head first into the Austin local music scene. In 2012 four out of five of my top picks come from artists local to the Austin, TX area. For several of these groups this will be the 3rd or 4th time I’m writing critically about their albums, having covered them for OVRLD earlier in the year. Given that fact, I ask you to forgive me if my blurbs about those albums seems lifted from my previous articles.

1. Balcones by Zlam Dunk
While never intended to be the band’s swan song, “Balcones” nonetheless performs admirably in this regard. Having recently called it quits, Zlam Dunk’s 2012 EP saw the group maturing, both instrumentally and lyrically. While still offering a unique blend of technique and danceable punk grooves, the absence of their debut’s synths along with the return of Charlie Day’s impassioned, raspy vocals create a more personal, introspective space on Balcones. There is a definite theme of coming into adulthood and striking out on one’s own here and while it leaves the EP feeling darker than Zlam Dunk’s previous work, it’s all the more powerful for it.

For fans of: At the Drive-In, Q and Not U, Cinemechanica

2. Lessons on Love, Sharing, and Hygiene by The Capitalist Kids
Austin’s prolific political punks came back this year with their 3rd full length and it may just be their best yet. Here’s the kicker though: it’s full of love songs! “Lessons on Love…” skates gracefully between political snark, finger-pointing anthems, and blisteringly fast ballads in a way that few bands could accomplish. The Capitalist Kids manage to find the goldilocks zone with every song in providing politics without being preachy and love songs without the sap. If you can’t get your toes tapping to this album then you may be a robot or possibly a Republican.

For fans of: Bad Religion, Screeching Weasel, Green Day

3. Arab Spring by Literature
I think it’s safe to call this album Austin’s sleeper hit of 2012. “Arab Spring came out of nowhere early in the year and this first full-length LP by Austin’s Literature has subsequently ended up on the “best of” lists of many major local outlets. Literature play a lo-fi, punkish brand of jangle-pop that’s both catchy and playful. Never overproduced, but laden with poppy hooks, Arab Spring skirts the line between old-school punk and pop like a tightrope walker. The end result is an incredibly catchy collection of songs with a very genuine, DIY feel.

For fans of: Polaris (the band that did the songs for Pete and Pete), Vampire Weekend, Talking Heads

4. All Our False Starts by Pswingset
For me to compare an album to the mid-Atlantic post-punk music scenes of the late 90’s/early 00’s is high praise indeed and in my mind Pswingset’s debut LP “All Our False Starts” is worthy of no less. This album is full of the kind of jangly, technical, minor-key, post-punk music that scored much of my 20’s and continues to be a favorite. There’s a moodiness to All Our False Starts that while subtly reminiscent of mid-late 90’s emo, is at once more mature and less affected. The end result as presented on this LP is both gripping and chill.

For fans of: Shudder to Think, Bats and Mice, Sunny Day Real Estate

5. Fang Island by Fang Island
Despite being my #2 most listened to album of 2012, Fang Island’s self-titled sophomore release has to come in at #5 on this list simply for the fact that it’s actually a 2010 release. Fang Island is not your typical instrumental rock band. For one thing, they often have lyrics (though if their 2012 release “Major proves anything it’s that they’re more interesting without them.) For another thing, this is the most positive, feel-good instrumental music you’ll ever hear. Where most instrumental bands tend to lean towards meandering, building epics, Fang Island aim to play fast, loud, and fun. This self-titled album is the perfect demonstration of what these guys do best and though it’s a quick listen that just means there’s plenty of time to hit “repeat”.

For Fans of: People who fall within the middle of a venn diagram of pop punk and post rock

Friday, January 6, 2012

My Top 5 Albums of 2011 – Number 1

Self Titled by Office of Future Plans
Twitter: @officeplans

Well, this was bound to happen. After letting this album sit on “repeat” on my iPod for over a week straight when it was released there is really no other album I can pick as my #1 for the year. To say that I was a fan of this album before it ever arrived is probably a bit of an understatement. As a fan of J. Robbins work over the last 2 decades (even though I’ve only been listening for the last 6 years or so) I was eagerly awaiting this release, but nothing could have prepared me for what they served up.

Office of Future Plans full-length debut pulls no punches and leaves no ground uncovered. This is an album by a group of incredibly talented musicians at the top of their game and having a blast. From the moment J’s guitar strums the first notes of Salamander I am hooked by this album and once Brooks’ bass and Derek’s drums join the procession, there’s no turning back. This album runs the gamut from full on punk, to mellow indie rock, and all the subtle gradation in-between. While J’s influence is unmistakable, this is definitely an ensemble album. There’s a little bit of every band member present here and the fact that it all gels so perfectly is what makes it shine. I could go on about this some more, but there’s little I could say that I haven’t said already.

This album was both expected and surprising. I knew I’d be a fan before I even heard it, but I had no idea how much. I have to wish Office of Future Plans the best of luck with this release because it’s truly brilliant and these guys deserve some major recognition.  This is an accessible, fun, well-written, well-played album that I think can appeal to a broad range of listeners. Check it out and judge for yourself. Maybe it will end up being your album of the year too.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Top 5 Albums of 2011 – Number 2

No Composure by Be My Doppelganger
Twitter: @bmdoppelganger

First off, I have to qualify the following statements by saying that while this is NOT a 2011 album (it was released and I purchased it in 2010) I really didn’t give it a good listen until 2011 … and then I continued to listen to it many, many times. Every year, when the weather gets warmer, I find my musical taste begins to shift very quickly towards all things punk and hardcore. There seems to be a direct correlation between the air temperature, the amount which my car windows are opened, and the likelihood of something loud and fast coming out of my speakers. This year, more often than not, it was No Composure by Be My Doppelganger.

There are few bands that, when people say “punk is dead”, I will hold up as evidence to the contrary. Certainly Ted Leo is on that list, along with Dead to Me, Hollowpoints and now Be My Doppelganger has joined the ranks. With a sound reminiscent of both the fast and fun shredding of late 80’s/early 90’s mall/skate punk as well as the heavier melodic kick of mid/late 90’s hardcore, No Composure is high-energy music for punks that just want to have a good time. The album leads off with Ignition On, a loud and fast warning shot across the bow of the listener to let them know it’s OK to get pumped for this record. Cha Cha Chump follows soon after in what can best be described as a major label pop-punk hit that someone has gone and done right by virtue of NOT adding 4 extra verses, more reverb than the Grand Canyon, and a string section in the background. Turning Seventeen is either the quickest ballad ever played, the most “punk” love song ever written, or both, while Peggy, Sue Me gives us the obligatory “solo vocals and guitar” track for this album, but still manages to maintain some bravado and balls. What you end up with on No Composure is a perfect punk soundtrack for summer; it’s clean and uncomplicated, lo-fi and deliberate, but without sounding low quality or under-produced. This is basement punk rock for a new generation.

I don’t know what the future holds for Be My Doppelganger, but with any luck they’ll record something new for 2012 and maybe even do some touring. I think it would be great to see these guys at one of the punk showcases at SXSW this year, both because I’d love to hear this stuff played live, but also because I know that with a little more visibility they could catch on with others the way they have with me.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Top 5 Albums of 2011 – Number 3

The King is Dead by The Decemberists
Twitter: @TheDecemberists
Band Website:

How do you follow an album like The Hazards of Love? Talk about digging your own grave. What’s next after an epic 17 song narrative concept piece, more of the same? The answer could make or break you. I would like to say that I felt bad for Colin Meloy of The Decemberists for having put himself in that situation, but he proved more than up to the task by managing to actually pull off a decent (if not different) follow up this year.

For their 6th LP, The Decemberists shirked concept entirely and released a palette cleanser of an album with The King is Dead. On this record we find The Decemberists trading baroque pop-rock for a decidedly more folk-rock sound and succeeding in every possible way. Where previous records often conjured images of a decidedly more European flavor (Legionaires, Chimbley Sweeps, and the like) The King is Dead’s stripped down yet masterfully played and well-rounded songs feel more like classic Americana. While the themes, language, and musical virtuosity remain the same as ever, the intent is simpler and more relaxed; the songs themselves seem less self-conscious. The end result is an incredible album that is honestly difficult for me to dissect because I find myself loving every minute of it, from the hoedown beat of Calamity Song, to the weeping guitar of Dear Avery.

The Decemberists may very well decide to return to the more baroque sound of their previous albums in the future, but I’d like to think that with The King is Dead they have discovered another dimension to their music. I don’t expect future releases to sound like this one, just like I didn’t expect this one to sound like The Hazards of Love, but I’d love to see this aspect of the band show up again. When all is said and done it’s just great to see this group continue to grow and challenge themselves.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Top 5 Albums of 2011 – Number 4

Last Looks by The Sour Notes
Twitter: @TheSourNotes
Band Website:

The Sour Notes were one of the first local bands that I looked up after moving to Austin in 2009, based on what I believe was a review in the Chronicle that fall. At the time they had released The Meat of the Fruit EP and the Received in Bitterness LP. I ended up acquiring the former and while I enjoyed it, didn’t think too much about them afterwards. Fast-forward to early 2011 and one night while browsing Waterloo Records for something else entirely I come across Last Looks, the latest release by The Sour Notes. Not having been offended by their debut EP and having come up empty handed in my primary record search, I decided to pick it up. What followed was a month-long love affair with this record and a desire to consume everything else the band had recorded in the interim.

Last Looks is a featherweight powerhouse of an album that all at once evokes thoughts of early Radiohead, a less European Blonde Redhead, a less pretentious Arcade Fire, Spoon without the swagger, and Death Cab for Cutie with bigger balls and louder guitars. From Nothing More Contagious Than Evil’s anxious and ominous opening through the subtle (but massive) build of As Crude as Watercolor, and on to Particularly Shrill’s airy adieu, Last Looks is a collection of catchy and competent tunes that finishes all too quickly, but begs to be replayed. The production and mix leave little to be desired as subtle textures and delicate flourishes accent and enhance each track and ultimately make for a homegrown recording that many bigger bands could learn a thing or two from.

With three LPs in as many years, a split with Austin up-and-comers Marmalakes dropping later this month, and a fourth full-length planned for later this year, there is no stopping The Sour Notes and I couldn’t be more pleased for that fact. The only thing I could hope for is that more people check out The Sour Notes and get these guys the recognition they deserve both in and outside of Austin in 2012 and beyond.

Key Tracks: Hot Pink Flares, As Crude as Watercolor, Particularly Shrill

Related Info: For more great year-end lists featuring Austin musicians, head over to ... NOW!

My Top 5 Albums of 2011 - Number 1
My Top 5 Albums of 2011 - Number 2
My Top 5 Albums of 2011 - Number 3
My Top 5 Albums of 2011 - Number 5

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Top 5 Albums of 2011 - Number 5

White Silence by Cave In

For almost their entire career Cave In’s EPs have been harbingers of what’s to come for the band’s next full-length recordings. Creative Eclipse’s spacey experimentalism was followed by the supernova that was Jupiter, while Tides of Tomorrow’s more poppy leanings heralded the oft-maligned major label release Antenna. It should be no surprise then that after 2005’s almost retrospective sounding reunion album Perfect Pitch Black, 2010’s grinding Planets of Old EP would give way to 2011’s full-length return to metalcore White Silence.

Proving that you can always go home again, White Silence bellows, chugs, and grinds its way through 35 minutes of classic-sounding Cave In. This is a band that, despite taking some sonic detours in their time, has managed to take the best of all possible worlds and combine them yet again. While tracks like the titular White Silence and Vicious Circles sound more like a return to Until Your Heart Stops-era Cave In, the 8 minute space-metal monster Sing My Loves, Summit Fever’s almost progressive loftiness, and the comparatively quiet psychedelic strains of Heartbreaks, Earthquakes all owe something to the Jupiter era in some form and prove this is a band that has come full circle.

Is this the last Cave In album? Who knows? I doubt even the band members themselves know for sure. Having seen them on a small tour in support of White Silence however gives me hope. One thing is for sure: whether they keep making new albums or not, Cave In has risen from the ashes of major label ruination louder, stronger, and better than ever before.

Key Tracks: White Silence, Sing My Loves, Summit Fever

My Top 5 Albums of 2011 - Number 1
My Top 5 Albums of 2011 - Number 2
My Top 5 Albums of 2011 - Number 3
My Top 5 Albums of 2011 - Number 4