15. The People's Temple - Sons Of Stone
When I first picked up Sons Of Stone, it didn't really register. After the first couple of plays, this Michigan band of brothers just seemed like regular ol' garage rockers, even if they did get the primal, sun-baked 60s sound down pretty well. After awhile, the sprawling opening title track seeped its way into my brain and never shook itself out. Jesus, are these dudes really singing "Do you care if I'm alive? Do you care if I died?" The People's Temple back up their sick joke name with some of the most sinister, downright scary psychedelic rock n' roll music I've heard since Phosphene Dream by the Black Angels came out last year. They manage to sound more like a Texas band than a Michigan one, more 13th Floor Elevators than the Stooges. The busy guitars twang and bend and drone and never fucking stop, the drums pound all tribal and swing sometimes like a low-rent go-go-bar band, and the tinny speakers on the keyboards sound like they're about on their last legs. "Axe Man" is the most evil sounding three minutes waxed in 2011, and the rest of the record tries it's best to be as otherworldly and mean. Sons Of Stone is an album that demands repeated listening.
14. Vivian Girls - Share The Joy
After the tepid reception of their second LP Everything Goes Wrong, Vivian Girls ended their association with venerated garage punk label In The Red, lost one-dimensional drummer Ali Koehler to Best Coast, and started intriguing side-projects La Sera and The Babies. Such seismic change usually crushes a band, but Vivian Girls emerged on their latest album with a more technically advanced drummer in Coasting's fantastic Fiona Campbell, a richer production courtesy of Woods' Jarvis Taveniere, and a focused set of tracks that betters their debut by a hair. With a solid foundation for the first time, the focus is on Cassie Ramone and Katy Goodman's vocals, and they light up the two-step explosions of "Trying To Pretend," the Shangri-las'-inspired silliness of "Take It As It Comes," and the sinister cover of Green On Red's cowpunk classic "Sixteen Ways." The Pitchfork set shrugged and went back to pimping James Blake or whatever, but Share The Joy is an exciting leap for a band most people had already written off.
13. Heavy Times - Jacker
Heavy Times is rough, loud, and Chicago as FUCK. Jacker sounds tailor-made for tattooed, Old Style-swilling dudes in beards and Fidel Castro hats, and its thirteen brief songs are piled with heads-down chugging guitars and pounding drums. While its geographical sound is easy to pinpoint, trying to figure out WHO Heavy Times is most similar to is a trickier concern. Usually, it's easy to listen to a band, throw out a quick "welp, they're like a cross between X and Y," and go on your merry way. After playing Jacker dozens of times, I can pull out bits of the beery shout-along Archers Of Loaf style in the vocal hooks, but their deliberate, driving rhythms don't sound anything like the Archers more easy-going moments. There are moments of Superchunk's hyperbolic, bratty kid punk, but singer Bo Hansen's throat-shredding bellow bears no resemblance to Mac McCaughan's strained tenor. They kinda sound a bit like the Wipers too, with a whole bunch of gruff Greg Sage angst but not so much of his end of the world epic heft. Jacker is swift and brutally efficient, and it's easier to listen and enjoy it than it is to get too hung up in comparing it to everything else.
12. Bare Wires - Cheap Perfume
Bare Wires main man Matthew Melton doesn't seem too keen on putting a cork in his prolific, seemingly bottomless jug of tough rock n' roll songs, and who am I to stop him? Last year, I wondered if the sugary doo-wop pop of Seeking Love's closing track "The Last Thing On My Mind" was a hint that Melton might be looking to expand the Bare Wires' vision past leather jackets and bubblegum, and Cheap Perfume expands the band's sound until shit is about to BURST from the sides of this 10" cherry red EP. Opening track "Don't Ever Change" came out way back in the winter on a limited edition 45, and it sounds like a teen movie closing credits theme, or at least a suitable substitution for "I Just Wanna Have Something To Do" when the Ramones come into town in Rock N' Roll High School. Tracks like "Back On The Road" and "Sweet Little Stranger" are prime examples of the lean, muscular proto-punk rock n' roll that got me listening to Bare Wires in the first place, but elsewhere the songs take a little bit longer to develop, give the blunt-force hooks a rest, and instead evolve into something a bit more sticky and insidious. Melton played all the instruments, sang on, and produced "Now Or Never," which sounds like a nervous, jittery Tin Pan Alley reject. Buried deep on side two, it proves that the Bare Wires aren't running out of gas, and Melton is probably stockpiling songs for the next record that will probably be out before your ears and wallets can adjust.
11. Wax Museums - Eye Times
Consider this an all-inclusive blanket slot for the INSANELY prodigious output of the Denton, Texas punk rock scene, including fantastic LPs from High Tension Wires, Bad Sports, OBN IIIs, Video, Silver Shampoo, Wiccans, Mind Spiders, and probably three or four other bands I'm forgetting about right this second. The Wax Museums self-titled LP on Douchemaster from 2008 was my gateway into that scene, and their long-awaited second album is a killer from start to finish. Back in September, I wrote, "Really, the Wax Museums have simply remade their first album, only a lot tougher, smarter, and BETTER, but 'maturity'? Eh...I dunno about all that. The two longest songs are 'Bruiser,' which retells 'Whole Lotta Rosie' with a bratty sneer, and 'Breakfast For Dinner,' which is sludgy and kinda heavy and rhymes with 'I'd rather be in her.' Love songs, I guess? Just as much as 'Mosquito Enormo' is a love song about a big-ass bug bite." Eye Times is straight-up classic dude punk rock at its silly finest.