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2011: Jon Treneff

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Dusted’s Seattle correspondent was thankful for bands that bid their time and bucked his expectations.

2011: Jon Treneff

  • Press play to hear music from Jon’s favorite LPs of 2011:

  • 2011 was better than 2010. It had to be.

    Most of all, when I think about this year, I see the beginning and continuation of finally doing the things I always thought about doing but never did. It’s easy to become cynical about music when you’re constantly surrounded by it — working in, writing about, and playing music has been at the center of my existence for a long time, and never more so than this year. Maybe no one ever truly gets there, but I feel like I’m closer to doing exactly what I want to be doing than most people. I’m incredibly lucky to be leading the life I lead, and resolve to be less cynical in deference to it.

    These are some of the things that reminded me, again, why I do what I do, and why I still love it.

    The Sandwitches
    Mrs. Jones Cookies
    (Empty Cellar)

    A refreshing example of a band exploding my expectations. Three girls playing haunted, histrionic pop that hits a lot of my sweet spots, from the dark entries of The Renderers and the glory days of the Billotte sisters (Quix*o*tic, Casual Dots) to Mo Tucker’s twilight odes to the small hours. Cutting through the weeds of an overcrowded field of garage and psych-pop with simple songs full of true soul and humanity.

    Pure X
    “You’re In It Now” 12”

    The return of snorecore. Hazy slowburners soaked in reverb with the loose charm of a band waking up mid-jam to find they’ve accidentally written some songs. If you can still lose yourself in romantic longing or Galaxie 500, you know what I’m talking about.

    Total Control
    Henge Beat
    (Iron Lung)

    One of the consensus great “punk” records of the year, Henge Beat brought a lot of people on board and was one of the strongest, most cohesive arguments from a scene (Australia) currently brimming over with great bands. A lot of groups mining this territory don’t translate well to the album format, but Total Control moves from dark synth-pop anthems to frenzied punk blasts smoothly and confidently with nary a dull moment or lapse in quality. A flawless record.

    Cass McCombs
    Wit’s End
    Humor Risk

    A year with two new Cass McCombs records can’t be all bad. It’s been a joy watching him come into his own as a songwriter and artist, in the old-world tradition. Cass is playing a long game, whittling away at his craft like a German cobbler and taking risks that broaden the narrow definition of singer-songwriter. Timeless songs in a world with no time for it.

    Krypton Ten

    Compilation of songs originally released as a tape/vinyl series on the ONSET OFFSET record label based out of Christchurch in the 1980s. A winning collection of some of the more underdocumented, but no less worthy post-punk and experimental pop acts making the scene around the time Flying Nun was becoming an International concern. Essential listening for anyone interested in the history of New Zealand underground music.

    Shin Joon Hyung
    Beautiful Rivers and Mountains (1958-’74)
    (Light In the Attic)

    Much-needed overview of the various incarnations of Korean savant/svengali, Shin Joon Hyung. A virtuoso guitarist, bandleader, producer and arranger among other things, Mr. Shin was like Arthur Lee, Jack Nitzche and Hendrix rolled into one superhuman music machine. The total package.

    Water Borders
    Harbored Mantras

    Cast under the shadow of a label generally associated with Witch House, I initially had a hard time letting this one in. Almost everything I’ve heard with ties to this woe-begotten “genre” has left me unmoved. Water Borders are on some genuinely “other” tip, though. Their music brings forth all the mystery and creepiness that the term “Witch House” implies but rarely fulfills. Kind of a post-dubstep, darker slant on the vibe The Knife worked so well before they shuffled off the grid. Reminded me to get back into beats.

    (Captured Tracks)

    The girl’s voice does bear a striking resemblance to Hope Sandoval’s, but Mazzy Star always bored me a little, and Widowspeak don’t do that. I wish I had known about this band when I was living in New York and complaining about the lack of good bands (I know, I know...). There are a lot of young bands circling the Spector sound right now, but this record has the spirit, songs and confidence that make those bands look like a blind squid fumbling around in the shag for his glasses.

    The Clap
    Have You Reached Yet

    There was a point a couple of years ago where I realized I referencing The Velvet Underground in pretty much every review I wrote. As much as I love them, it’s not something that I put on much anymore. Which is fine — it’s still out there in so much of what’s happening and been happening that there’s always something new to rekindle those warm feelings. The Clap are among the countless lost garage bands of the early post-VU years. Like a sloppier Stones with the melodic instincts of the Velvets. I swear one song on here was lifted wholesale for that Exploding Hearts album. It’s that catchy.

    Martin Newell
    Songs For A Fallow Land
    (Fixed Identity)

    Huge look and public service from this relatively low-lying Brooklyn label. I suppose we have this to thank for the imminent Cleaners From Venus reissues coming from Captured Tracks next year. Newell eschewed the industry for most of his career, putting out murky, homemade cassette-only transmissions from his bottomless pit of cracked pop hooks. To re-appropriate Mark E. Smith’s initial reaction to Pavement: Ariel Pink is driving around in Martin Newell’s Benz.

    King Krule
    King Krule
    (True Panther)

    A slight entry at five short songs, but I have to include this because like The Sandwitches and Water Borders records, it spit in the face (mine) of the jaded and spiteful music critic. Mixing a wizard’s brew of R&B, pop, club beats, and naïveté in the way only an Englishman would dare, King Krule emerges victorious, overcoming the odds with a sophisticated charm and world-weariness most people spend their whole life accruing. Hadn’t you been wondering what it would be like if the Biz Markie and Rik from The Young Ones made a band that sounded like Aztec Camera?

    Kitchen’s Floor
    Look Forward To Nothing

    On here just as much for the show I saw them play on this tour as the record itself. Bitter blasts from the bottom of the well (Australia) that’s currently holding the rest of rock music hostage like Pacino. If these songs were any less catchy and vital, you might be mad that the record is only 17 minutes long.

    Milk Music

    Their Beyond Living record from early this year is a total burner, but it’s really about the overall package with these guys. So refreshing to see a band succeeding on their own terms, letting the world come to them — and knowing that it would — because they’re building a band in the image of the old-world model. Take your time finding your sound and whittling it down to its raw essentials, then tour it until it’s a bulletproof Clydesdale fit to trample these Cabbage Patch bands under foot. Judging by the new songs in their summer WFMU session, they’re only going to be more of a force in 2012.

    By Jon Treneff

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