PRINT December 2011

Music: Best of 2011

Tobi Vail

Mecca Normal performing at Northern, Olympia, WA, 2010. Photo: Jack DeGuiseppi.

1 Mecca Normal, Malachi seven-inch (K Records) Vancouver, British Columbia’s punk-protest duo Mecca Normal have been changing the world with art and music since 1984. “Malachi,” the A side of their latest single, tells the true story of Malachi Ritscher, a Chicago man who, in 2006, immolated himself on the freeway during morning rush hour to protest the war in Iraq. By recording this story in song and performing it to audiences across the globe, Mecca Normal participates in the long-standing folk tradition of spreading political dissent through music.

2 Hysterics, Hysterics seven-inch (M’Lady’s) Well, it took thirty years, but finally there is a girl revolution happening in American hardcore—and it starts with Hysterics from Olympia, Washington. Lead singer Stephanie obliterates three decades of silence with six songs about gender, economics, depression, alienated youth, and waiting for the bus. Adriana (guitar), Jessica (bass), and Shannen (drums) back her up with solid, fast punk rock that totally rules.

3 Freakapuss, “Honesty” (self-released) Freakapuss is the latest incarnation of Zarjaz (aka Ziro Baby) from the Tronics, who were the Velvet Underground of British post-punk. “Honesty” could be about the recent Rupert Murdoch phone-tapping scandal, except that, according to popular rumor, Zarjas wrote the song almost ten years ago. Whether or not he is a magician who speaks from the future, he certainly sounds like some starman on this track, singing us awake from an undisclosed galaxy.

4 Dum Dum Girls, Only in Dreams (Sub Pop) Lead Dum Dum Girl Dee Dee Penny reveals the truly empathic power of her voice on this sophomore release. Imagine Chrissie Hynde singing for a 1960s girl group backed up by the Shop Assistants. Only in Dreams is full of femme pop for lonely people who need sad songs to help them discover the luminescence of a broken heart.

Sandy from the Dum Dum Girls performing at Komedia, Brighton, UK, April, 6, 2010. Photo: Tamsin Chapman.

5 Comet Gain, Howl of the Lonely Crowd (What’s Your Rupture?) Comet Gain’s David Feck is a conduit of romantic, alienated anthems that will keep you up at night connecting the dots. Howl of the Lonely Crowd uses mod guitar, cinematic refrains, and punk poetry to examine the place where city and soul meet. Obsessive outsider pop to get you dancing in the library.

6 Azita, Disturbing the Air (Drag City) Disturbing the Air the fifth solo record by AZITA (Scissor Girls, Bride of No-No) for Chicago’s Drag City, is a collection of minimal piano-and-voice songs that are timeless and grand in scope. The twists and turns her limber voice takes are as alive and varied and surprisingly familiar as a river. This is a pensive, hypnotic album by a great American chanteuse that will command your full attention.

7 Sewn Leather, Sikknastafari Slash Crasstafari (Hundebiss) Sewn Leather is the point where Flipper meets Throbbing Gristle. Utilizing minimal beats, repetitious chants, and dirty, spaced-out electronic riffs, Griffin Pyn creates lucid, nihilistic noise jams that celebrate the banal absurdity of life on planet Earth.

8 Myths, Myths (self-released) Myths are a new electronic duo from Vancouver starring Lief Hall (Mutators) and Quinne Rodgers. Their debut album features feminist lyrics set to noisy beats and dissonant synthetic sounds to dissect while you dance. The vocals are excellent: Imagine a more-punk-than-ethereal Diamanda Galás singing for a no-wave version of Kathleen Hanna’s Julie Ruin.

9 Grass Widow, Milo Minute seven-inch (self-released) San Francisco trio Grass Widow have mapped out their own musical language over the course of three records (and a recent tour with the Raincoats), creating a space for audiences to respond to their sound without the prejudice of genre or easily digestible marketing categories. On Milo Minute, their first self-release, the band pays tribute to two key post-punk influences by covering songs by Portland’s Neo Boys and British art-rock instigators Wire, but the title track is an original composition that sounds good on repeat.

10 Wild Flag, Wild Flag (Merge) Wild Flag are Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein (both ex-Sleater-Kinney), Mary Timony (Autoclave, Helium), and Rebecca Cole (the Minders). Their debut album is full of energy, ambition, and great-sounding songs. Timony’s beautiful voice and precise, expressive guitar nicely complements Brownstein’s wild, percussive style. The rhythm section is tight, nuanced, and lyrical. Rock ’n’ roll seldom sounds this fresh: I want more!

Tobi Vail is a writer and musician based in Olympia, Washington, best known for her work in Bikini Kill and Jigsaw. Now the drummer of Knife in the Eye and the leader of Spider and the Webs, she has since 1989 run the print zine, now blog, Jigsaw Underground and is currently preparing the first issue of Sham Pants, a print zine due out early next year.