Jen Stratosphere Fanzine’s Top 3 Albums of 2011

It’s always tough to narrow down a list of favorites, especially to a Top 3, but I’ve finally prevailed instead of failed.  I’m also looking forward to several 2012 releases including albums by Blood Red Shoes, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Twilight Sad, Little Boots, Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy, Rykarda Parasol, Maribel, Therapy?, Lana Del Rey, and The Smittens.

mr. Gnome - Madness In Miniature

mr. Gnome - Madness In Miniature

Kick-ass duo Nicole Barille and Sam Meister share some sonic DNA with Queens Of The Stone Age, which is displayed in the precise, exhilarating blasts of guitar riffage and stop ‘n’ start, battering drum rhythms, and also in the knowledge of when to hold back to create a disquietingly mellowed out mood.

Madness In Miniature is mr. Gnome’s third album and was recorded, like previous effort Heave Yer Skeleton, at Josh Homme’s Pink Duck Studios, and the kinship shows in the assured handle on quiet/loud dynamics of low-tuned guitar grind and razor-sharp power riffs.  Decelerated verses are imbued with a dreamy, calm-before-the-storm portent with sing-song, short phrase refrains.  Chorus segments frequently explode from the tranquility, releasing rollicking paroxysms.  Nicole’s arresting, shapeshifting vocal take of vinegary drawls, tangy cries, and prowling howls ranges from innocent to anxious to sharply fierce.

Album opener “Ate The Sun” is suffused with a dazed ‘n’ glazed buildup of shimmering cymbal crash and the echoed drift of Nicole’s rounded, drawled out words.  The soft start of “Bit Of Tongue” runs headlong into a sudden, brief whirl of distorted guitar, cymbal bash, and speedy beat and is spirited away by Nicole’s airy vocals.  “We Sing Electric” follows the Queens Of The Stone Age template to jolting effect with uppity, serrated jags of guitar, tapping percussion, and Nicole’s keening vocals.  The end of the song stuns with an escalating, full-scale guitar assault and machine gun drum beats.

Official page for Madness In Miniature album at Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/mrgnome/sets/madness-in-miniature/

The Twilight Singers - Dynamite Steps

The Twilight Singers - Dynamite Steps

As ringleader of The Afghan Whigs, partner in duo The Gutter Twins (ably aided and abetted by Mark Lanegan), flying solo, and presiding over The Twilight Singers, Greg Dulli brings a certain defiant, “all in” bravado to the table.  Greg’s in it to win it, even as he chronicles the consuming desires, seedy underside, or luckless lives of lowlifes, lotharios, and lifers.

Whether raw and roiling with guitar pyrotechnics and propulsive tempos or smooth and simmering with introspective piano, strings, and measured beat, Greg is always at the fore, radiating an intensely (a)rousing allure.

Greg exudes a sinister cool, alongside guest vocalist Mark Lanegan, on the smoldering “Be Invited.”  “Waves” churns with the dissonant of aggressive guitars and gritty, fevered vocals, displaying that the indignant rage from Greg’s The Afghan Whigs days has not dissipated.  The subdued start of “On The Corner” gives way to Greg’s passionately exclaimed vocals, pressing piano, and squelchy guitar riffs.  A full-bodied Greg swoops upwards on certain phrases on the stripped down “She Was Stolen”, as he pushes his words out against a constant piano refrain.

Official page for Dynamite Steps album at Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/twilight-singers/sets/dynamite-steps/

Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy – White Magic

Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy - White Magic

Steve Kilbey, a founding member of long-running and much-lauded and laurelled Australian band The Church, has been involved in numerous side (and solo) projects including Jack Frost with the late Grant McLennan of The Go-Betweens, Isidore with Jeffery Cain of Remy Zero, David Neil with Ricky Maymi of Brian Jonestown Massacre, and All India Radio’s Martin Kennedy.

Ever-entrancing, and extremely prolific, Steve has found a mesmerizing musical match in Martin Kennedy and their collaboration has yielded two albums so far, with a third in progress.  On this sophomore release Steve and Martin take the listener on a hushed, but lush journey, traveling through a changing landscape of sedately-paced soundscapes that evoke images of the desert, the mountains, and the sea.

Martin’s understated mix of acoustic guitar strum, electric guitar reverb, warmly flowing strings, measured beats, cymbal shimmer, and electronic touches creates a perfect milieu for Steve’s vivid lyrical flights of fancy and perpetual quest into human connections and metaphysical conditions.  Stalk along with Steve as he surreptitiously gets “Close” to his lover – or is it his enemy?  Breathe in the lucid, tranquil air of “The Mountain.”  Drift away on the serenely-paced storyteller “The Broken Sea.”

Official page for White Magic album at:  http://stevekilbeymartinkennedypresent.bandcamp.com/album/white-magic