1. This decade is already promising to be a stellar one. “Why?”, I hear you ask through your non-focal hipster glasses, as you flick through your homemade bootleg collection of bands from the 90s.

    Let’s first look at the rise and rise of dubstep. Such a rise in an entirely different genre hasn’t been seen since around about the start of the new millennium with the rise and rise of metalcore, with bands like Bullet For My Valentine and Killswitch Engage being the big innovators of the first decade of the century. We saw the rise of emo and we saw it die away, so will dubstep do a metalcore and rise over the course of the decade, or will it cut its own wrists? Dubstep’s been around for longer than most of you reading this, but dubstep reached chart popularity pretty slowly and is now the selling point of nightclubs and DJs across the UK and the world. Chart hits like the Crookers remix of “Day ‘N’ Nite” by Kid Cudi and a handful Britney Spears singles are obvious examples of pre-2010 dubstep which have experienced a fair amount of success but with the rise of acts like Magnetic Man, James Blake, Nero and so on the 2010s are set to be the era which comes to make or break the dance music scene as we know it now. To see dubstep as a plethora of similar artists is perhaps somewhat narrow-minded, simply citing the gulf between Britney Spears’ brand of dubstep and the dubstep of acts on Doctor P’s Circus records.

    The rise of Nero, an act who seem to have been around for as long as I’ve been interested in dance music, is one such case study. Nero began with successful remixes of various club tunes (see their remix of The Streets' "Blinded By The Lights" for an absolute banger) and began to release fairly under-the-radar drum and bass tracks (see "Choices"). Their big break came in late 2010 with the release of the pioneering UKF’s double drum ‘n’ bass/dubstep albums with the exposure of ”Innocence”, followed by successful singles "Me And You", "Guilt" and "Promises". Nero have come to define a modern dance music audience (counterbalance that with the rise of LMFAO and we have a gulf emerging even in dance music).

    While Nero have been pretty widely acclaimed by dubstep fans and pop fans alike, there’s acts around that really split opinion down the middle. I barely need to say the name Skrillex for the fangs to come out on both sides of the argument. The emo singer-come-producer has certainly won my affections, but continues to drive people to murderous anger with his ADHD “bass” music (a term I prefer when referring to Skrillex, as he certainly doesn’t adhere to the more slowed down, grime/garage-influenced dubstep rubric that is an industry staple), his image is one that divides even his fans.

    2011 hasn’t just been the year of the raver, however, with massive releases from bands on both sides of the rock camp: The Strokes released Angles, a tremendous 80s-influenced return to form for the New York quintet which has tunes to rival their debut Is This It, but also reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Blink 182 returned with Neighbourhoods (an album I’m not going to pretend to have listened to) (Editor’s note: lucky you), as did Anthrax and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As well as EDM, I am certainly a fan of heavy rock and punk music, and as such it’s been a gift of a year: Mastodon’s The Hunter was mind blowing, Trivium’s In Waves recaptured the spirit of a 15 year old me, August Burns Red’s Leveler is one of my favourite albums of all time, and Protest The Hero’s Scurrilous did not disappoint.

    Every year has its lows, musically – we’ve had the commercial success of Black Veil Brides, the fucking disaster that is Lulu (a disgracefully shit collaboration between Metallica and Lou Reed that nearly reduced me to tears), and even fucking Cher Lloyd. I’m not going to act as though I was not affronted by these aural crimes. But overall, it’s been a terrific year for music, with the fads (OFWGKTA’s rise to “power”), the triumphant returns (Bon Iver’s absolutely breathtaking self titled album) and not to forget the biannual Dream Theater record that sounds exactly the same as the last. I give 2011 a musical 7/10, a point deducted for the 3 travesties listed above. Here’s to a terrific 2012.

  2. If you’re between the ages of 13 and 21, you will be one of two people. Someone who has heard of Minecraft, or someone who owns a copy of Minecraft . And that’s just the thing. The versatility of the game appeals to people of literally all ages, with families playing together on its accommodating online servers.

    On first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that Minecraft is a PC port of an older game; its graphics ring of very early 3D platforming games and its pixelated art style is definitely a nostalgic touch, but the game is anything but dated. Imagine GTA IV, in an unpopulated, randomly generated universe. That’s Minecraft, in a nutshell; a randomly generated universe of a playground. Anything goes in Minecraft.

    The basis of the game is a 3D adventure, built on cube upon cube of various types of terrain, objects and so forth. You disassemble blocks and items with one click of the mouse, and place blocks and items with the other. Onward from that, you can use the blocks that you harvest for creating items and objects: the crucial ones, of course, the ones that allow you to harvest and collect resources much quicker. Once you’ve assembled items, you can start to be creative – perhaps build a house, or if you’re more of a trouble maker, craft a sword and take the fight into night-time. The third level of Minecraft appears now; as the landscape swarms with nocturnal enemies that seek to eat/dismember/explode on you. You can fight these enemies and collect supplies and XP for them (the XP is a newer innovation for the game and is the first sign of an RPG-styling on the game, as you collect the XP in order to upgrade weapons, armour and tools).

    Starting as an alpha, Minecraft was distributed for free for some time, moving into Beta for a low price. Update upon update meant that players literally saw the game evolve from a sandbox building game to a hybrid of the Sims, Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim. It’s this amazing success story of the Swedish developers who spent less money on marketing for the game than they charged for the tickets to 2011’s MineCon at which super-DJ Deadmau5 performed.

    If you like video games, and you’re patient, and don’t depend on the latest graphics card to have a good time, you like Minecraft. It’s as simple as that.

  3. Reuben are my favourite band. I reckon they always will be too; in my relatively short-lived music obsession Reuben are the longest standing favourites – I got into them in late 2006, shortly before their split and I’ve literally just fallen deeper in love with them as the years go on. The band’s story begins in the late 90s, and several name changes and lineup switches later, in 2004, Reuben released their debut album Racecar Is Racecar Backwards. Criminally underappreciated, the record had two singles, “Moving To Blackwater” and “Freddy Kreuger” which charted decently for a band of their credo and allowed them to be nominated for Kerrang’s Best British Newcomer Award.

    The record is in my opinion, a British classic. We open with the blistering "No-One Wins The War", a blasting drum intro into one of Reuben’s trademark discordant riffs, and lyrics discussing vocalist Jamie Lenman’s approach to life as well as their contemporaries: “Hell is for heroes/They got another single out/They’re my contemporaries/A top 40 smash no doubt”. For the rest of the 48 minutes of the album, you’re hooked. Reuben’s literally perfect balance between heavy and melody (which literally every band you listen to will talk about when discussing their newest albums) was struck in their debut, and is so fascinating, particularly in combination with the ambitious spectrum of songs – the fact that "Missing Fingers" and “Horror Show” are on the same record is astonishing. With Horror Show’s ambling drum beat and alt-rock guitar work, it seems like the record would be just another British indie disaster – but Horror Show’s got these nuances to it that makes it far and above better than any other British rock band around at the time.

    Guy Davis’ complex drumming is present in every song, from the truly insane "Fall Of The Bastille" to the simple, but effective "Parties Break Hearts", his off-kilter brand of drumming is consistent – making even the simplest, cleanest riffs sound heavy if he wants them to. Few drummers can actually build atmosphere on top of rhythm. Jon Pearce’s bass is just as worthy of the classic status I impose on Reuben – with beautiful interpolations when the guitar stops, and a healthy thickness to every guitar riff that we hear, the bass feels like a rhythm guitar. Jamie Lenman’s guitar work is incredible, playing in a variety of tunings and styles to produce really nice, quilted guitar sounds that are at once warm and sharp – the closer, Dusk’s transition from bluesy strumming to a heavy as fuck riff that doesn’t at any point sacrifice the melancholy note of the song.

    The lyrics are amazing, finding a suitable line to represent the album’s mastery is a task in itself, but I chose Dusk’s upset, bitter tones: “So you are beginning to choke/How can you not see the joke?/The sound of your voice still rings in my ears/it’s tired and angry/and quiet all these years/the situation/it tears us apart/we joke about it/make jokes of ourselves”. My love for this album spans seas, cities, space. If you do one thing today, have a listen to at least a couple of tracks from this simply amazing album.

  4. A rebirth of British post-hardcore?

    I saw Spycatcher play a few tracks recently on the Rock Sound Riot tour with Trash Talk, Defeater, and Every Time I Die, and unlike their tour mates, Spycatcher weren’t quite the punishingly heavy metal/punk fusion that would’ve been expected. I suppose their purpose was to promote their debut album, Honesty, to a crowd that they felt might appreciate it. Certainly having seen them perform these tracks live, I have a deeper level of appreciation for the record and I bought it off iTunes.

    The album opens with the introductory "Tabs", which feels like a synth heavy attempt at an atmospheric intro with a lot of conflicting sounds and confusing vocals, which really passed me by. It transitions into one of the singles from the record, "Don’t Like People", a track that really captures the spirit of the band: disenchanted lyrics, classic punk basslines and a catchy, poppy chorus where the singer announced “If you feel we’re slipping away/It’s not personal/I don’t like people”. A real good track to introduce us to the rest of the album. It’s a really interesting album, sonically – incredibly varied. While some songs have these almost new-wave keyboard sections as the centrepiece to the song ("Honesty" and "Remember Where You Were When Michael Jackson Died"), others are standard pop punk tracks ("Livewire") and some are just so hard to place a finger on (the 90s post-grungey "Reason To Breathe In"). It’s got a sort of early noughties British Post-hardcore sound; which is always exciting – the sound that gave us Biffy Clyro, Reuben, Million Dead and Hundred Reasons.

    The record’s lyrics span genres and could be just as much found in a Spycatcher record as in a Green Day album or a Hundred Reasons album, and the production is solidly on form, almost as though it’s a wetsuit around the band’s sound, snug. Although I do take issue with moments on the record where the vocalist doesn’t seem to know who he is; moving from an English to American accent in one sweep of the tongue, and I don’t have a problem with either, but I would like a bit of consistency. His voice is incredibly versatile and textured, and I think it is suited to the band, but it just bothers me when there are these moments of slight fluctuation. All in all, it’s a skilful first record, clumsily stepping across genre boundaries from time to time, never falling and never failing.

  5. Skrillex is an opinion divider, that doesn’t need three pages of argument on pitchfork. His first EP, My Name Is Skrillex, a lovely foray into tech house for the LA producer was largely unnoticed but for a few and his second EP Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites was a lightning rod for critics, both good and bad. The second was a mashup of modern house music with “filthy” dubstep and a few cheesy pop synths thrown in for good measure. It’s with the credo of a superstar, despite having been making music for just under 2 years and only having released 2 EPs, one of which free, that Skrillex weighs in with his third EP Bangarang.

    Bangarang opens with "Right In", an innocuous Skrillex track with slappy bass guitar sounds and a new found wobble. My Name Is Skrillex had barks, Scary Monsters had the “wobs” and Bangarang has the screech. While he’s used the synthy sound before, it comes into its own on this record and thunders out dissonant screeches and squeals. "Right In" rings of early Daft Punk at first, with the vocal samples sounding a bit like “Oh Yeah”, before the beat dropping and Skrillex signing his signature. No melody is spared, of course, in the interludes between bassy explosions. The title track opens with a guitar-y intro and has a female rapper (Sirah, who also provided vocals for the first EP’s “WEEKENDS!!!!”) dominating over the verses. There’s also a quiet breakdown where we get time to gather ourselves and predict what’s coming next, a predictable dubstep drop – not to say its effect is dulled because of course the song is dancy enough that it’s enjoyable. "Breakin’ A Sweat" is Skrillex’s collaboration with members of The Doors and what comes together is a step back in the right direction for Skrillex, more focus on melody and nice synths and less focus on dubstep “filth”. "The Devil’s Den" kicks off the second part of the EP, and this is the centrepiece. A collaboration with famed house DJ Wolfgang Gartner, this sounds like Skrillex’s maturation into his sound, and what his sound ought to be – a banger, keeping Skrillex’s signature sound, but more focused on the housey style of his first EP – an almost Deadmau5-esque blast of inspiration to create what is easily his best song to date.

    "Right On Time" is the strangest piece on the EP, with dubstep stylings courtesy of co-producers Kill The Noise and 12th Planet. Bizarre, to say the least – but far from bad. "Kyoto" has been floating about on the internet since Scary Monsters dropped, previously under the name “Ruffneck Bass” and while the name and classic sample have been dropped, the basis of the track remains and it’s a blistering assault on the human body. I must say, I preferred the old version of the track when it had more of a classic drum and bass vibe to it, but the rap section from Sirah again on this track is welcome. "Summit" is the EP’s closer, and you guessed it, it’s a slow number, recruiting Ellie Goulding for vocal duties. My fear for this track was that Goulding’s star status would eclipse Skrillex’s, and I was pleasantly surprised. Summit is wonderfully calm and relaxed, not a wobble in sight, and Ellie Goulding’s vocals aren’t a dominating presence – the short verse she sings for is a nice one but it doesn’t take or give much to the song, it suits it well but Goulding’s vocals could’ve been anyone’s. Bangarang recaptures what made me love Skrillex in the first place – a neo-Daft Punk twist on the dubstep/fidget house style that was dominating club music, combined with a cartoon violence to the tracks. Sonny Moore has a long way to go before achieving his true potential and it’s far from this EP, but this has made me all the more excited for the full length.

  6. Frightened Rabbit are a fairly unnoticed Scottish band that have released three stellar albums in just over 6 years and are expected to release their fourth in 2012. Their second release, The Midnight Organ Fight was my first brush with the band, when I heard the track Keep Yourself Warm. This track is a brilliant introduction to Frabbit, but not necessarily the most accurate. I went on to buy the whole album and instantly fell in love.

    The folk-ish acoustic stylings of Frightened Rabbit have hints of traditional Scottish music, but the energy of modern indie bands. Either way, Frabbit don’t fall into either camp. The opening track, "The Modern Leper" is one of the most representative tracks that the album has, beginning with a solitary acoustic guitar and vocalist Scott Hutchison’s light voice passing over the top. The track reaches crescendo as the lyrics swell with optimism. Truth be told this isn’t an optimistic album: it’s heartbreaking. It details the story of a brutal breakup. But in no way is it angsty, it doesn’t complain, it simply notes the feelings and situations that one finds oneself in during a breakup. It’s so beautifully observant that it’s hard not to empathise with Hutchison, who drew from personal experience to pen the lyrics for this album. Between the lines, though, the music doesn’t ever feel immediately depressive, aside from tracks like "My Backwards Walk" and "Keep Yourself Warm", but the vocals change the major chords to minors. There are so many layers to each track, with multiple guitars twisting and tweeting, the occasional keyboard or piano, almost inappropriate upbeatness to the drums over the slower numbers. There are the permeating backing vocals supporting most melodies in the record, meaning that fans can even sing along with the instrumental sections in a live show. It’s been penned with such artistry that there’s no point on a single track that doesn’t feel out of place for a single second. The tracks are compacted into 3-4 minutes of absolute songwriting. Switching from acoustic guitars to electric for tracks like "Fast Blood", from which the album takes its title, allowing a more echoey sound for the instrumental. The production on the album too holds its own, making the album sound like it’s been recorded at one time but still each track has its own individual sound.

    There are dancier tracks too, with songs like "Old Old Fashioned", an oddly cheerful song pining for the return to happiness in a doomed relationship – “Let’s get old fashioned, back to how things used to be/If I get old, old fashioned, would you get old old fashioned with me?” which seems like the dancey counterpart to "Poke", which is probably the quietest song on the album and because it’s so understated, it feels like the low point of the album.

    In all, The Midnight Organ Fight has the highs and lows that all the best albums do, heartbreaking and oddly uplifting at the same time. The music is one hundred percent on point and the sound is so atmospheric. If you like the current indie-folk revival, chances are you’ll love Frightened Rabbit, and if you like Scottish music, you’ll love Frightened Rabbit, and if you like albums for when you’re upset, you’ll love Frightened Rabbit, and if you’re a fan of albums for when you’re in a great mood, you’ll love Frightened Rabbit.

    Get this album.

    Best Tracks: “Floating In The Forth”, “Keep Yourself Warm”, “The Modern Leper”, “My Backwards Walk”

  7. Crosses are my personal project this year, having popped up out of nowhere. The † EP, which is available to download from their Facebook is a 5-track taster of their album, expected this year.

    Of the many things this EP has to boast about, it’s the simple layering and build up of the sounds. Chino Moreno’s (him out of Deftones) smooth yet crackly vocals seem to float effortlessly over the top of buttery synths and hip hop drum beats, while all retaining a cool atmosphere. Every track uses the band’s (or Christianity’s, I guess) icon, from the instrumental opener “†” to “†his is a †rick”, the theme holds tight with the tight sound of the whole thing. The latter is a speedy and nearly aggressive blast of sound, with growling bass and hypnotic vocals, while the former is a sleek instrumental that keeps its cool entirely.

    The similarities to Deftones are almost non-existent and the link to Moreno’s other project, Team Sleep is much closer, but this is a new sound – very much drawing on the glazed over sound that seems to be the standard of 2012’s new music. Imagine Odd Future’s The Internet mixed with Team Sleep with a gracious dollop of James Blake and This Will Destroy You as a backdrop.

    The EP is cool. Simple as that. More to come from ††† on the 24th of January.

  8. Monstrosity of the year. But in what sense?

    Off the bat you have to know, Resolution is not for the faint hearted. The ferocity with which the Virginia quintet explode into their seventh studio album is one that lifts you off your feet and into METAL LAND!!!! (you must be *this* tall to enter). "Straight Towards The Sun" is by far the most explosive track the groove metal bruisers have ever put out, screaming and howling into their newest album. They waste no time for breath though, and into "Desolation" we are thrown. Or rather, suplexed. Each impact on the record is heavier than the next, with punch upon punch of rage filled groove metal.

    Even a couple of minutes into “Desolation”, though, I can’t help feeling like I’ve heard this very song before. 2009’s Wrath was my album of the year, a colossal record which murdered every kitten loving part of my soul. And while "Resolution" has the feel of Wrath, it is more like its namesake. A resolution of this part of Lamb of God’s career. Where they go from here, I can’t say where for sure, but they need to move on and access new crowds by taking more risks.

    Resolution doesn’t really go wrong very often, the fillers are killers after all, and tracks like "Ghost Walking" which is probably their best song to date with a groovy southern acoustic riff opening up into the sprawling hate song that it precedes. A lot of the songs feel a lot faster than ever before, and there’s a lot more explosive power behind the kit as Adler pounds the kick drum like it’s a speedbag, and the twin guitars work like a double headed snake. Randy Blythe’s vocals are versatile as always, fattening the tracks out like the carrion swallowed by the vipers on guitar. Still, most places on the record Resolution feels more like closure than exposure, and nobody is going to be invited into the songs on this record because they’ve changed nothing to suit the current trends in metal. However, there are some solid melodies, songs and riffs on this album that will please the die-hards and appease the casuals.

  9. I make no denial of the fact that I am a Shikarite through and through. Since hearing their breakthrough single, "Sorry You’re Not a Winner", I have been interested and since their unbelievable second album Common Dreads I’ve been a hardcore fan. With nearly 80 B-sides and studio recordings my itunes greets their third full length studio effort, A Flash Flood Colour. And I am excited.

    The album opens with "System…" with the same synth strings as the band’s sophomore album, but has a bit more of all-out electronics as vocalist Rou Reynolds tells us of his dreams and understanding of the world. Suddenly "…Meltdown" begins and we’re attacked. Hard. Melody, energy, electronics, instruments all fuse nicely into this opener which lacks the all-out grandeur of the previous album’s second track, Solidarity, but is a far bigger track and is definitely a song that showcases the band at their prime. Production doesn’t hinder and the album sounds so consistently cohesive that it’s hard to process that this album is actually a fusion of that many genres and styles.

    "Sssnakepit" is the first single from the record, a track opening up with jungle drum and bass effects and drums, with the band tempting us into joining “the party, leave anxiety behind”. The track explodes into energy with almost grunge guitar sounds working over a relentless drum beat and Rou Reynolds on full rage mode. The breakdown is a crusher, and before we know it we’re swept into "Stalemate", the “soft track”. A politically driven track, it isn’t lacking in the electronics so standard for Shikari but isn’t quite as much as a build up as “Gap In The Fence” was on the last record. It’s a tumultuous, crescendo at the end of the track with a piano outro, all the while, Rou sings about the state of foreign affairs worldwide. At this point it’s obvious to see that the lyrics have almost split in half – some are no-nonsense protest lyrics and some are less obviously putting across a message, they seem to divide their lyrics between the style of the first record and the style of the second.

    "Search Party" starts with melodies and an electro intro, busting into a breakdown-ish intro, interpolated by sharp synth stabs, sounding a bit like “Anything Can Happen In The Next Half Hour” in bits, with big anthemic gang vocals throughout. A real singalong track, there’s less screaming on this one but the metal is still out there, busting out with double kick drumming and plenty of open palm muted guitars, speeding up into a groovy riff and glitch electronics at the end. This is a real old school Shikari track and should recapture some of the fans that were disillusioned with Common Dreads. "Arguing With Thermometers" is one song that’s been parading around the internet for a while but this is my first time hearing it, it’s also the next single – another punishing breakdown before switching to a more fun, clean guitars bouncy verse. The electronics are more subtle now, until Rou busts into his first proper “rap” of this record, on into a sort of understated breakdown. It feels a bit weak, with little aggression – the synthy stabs are definitely a nice touch, and the gang vocals and screams towards the end are brutal. "Gandhi Mate, Gandhi" is another one release before the record and has a spiel at the start where Reynolds reveals the axe that he’s been grinding for years. “We’re sick of this shit!” kicks off a dubby break before the guitars kick in, with some sub-par vocals and some decent ones – I am not the biggest fan of this song, particularly in the context of what’s so far a mashup of epic proportions. The anxious sounding riff at the end of the song will be massive live, though.

    "Warm Smiles Do Not Make You Welcome Here" sounds like something Linkin Park might chuck out to begin with, and is the least Shikari song on the album, sounding a bit like the bizarre “Antwerpen”. It’s an odd track and something new for the band to toy with in terms of style. There’s a bizarre but interesting break with dubby synths and crackly drums, leading into the coolest riff of the album, some insane dual harmonies and a big ending which gives the album its title. “Pack Of Thieves” begins with a Hospital Records-esque introduction, clean vocals. The electronic elements of Enter Shikari have reached full maturation on this track and the guitars are sidelined for a forceful arpeggiating synth line. This is another big track which sounds a lot like “Solidarity” in places, and has the hardest breakdown on the album. Another big crowd-pleaser, I’ll wager. "Hello Tyrannosaurus, Meet Tyrannicide" starts with an odd, baroquial guitar sound and big explosions of synths, with Rou addressing a tyrant (the titular Tyrannosaurus). This is some “Take To The Skies” shit, with big, reverberating guitars and synths, sounding a bit like “OK, Time For Plan B” and influenced by the more dissonant side of hardcore punk.

    "Constellations" is a fitting outro – like an epic final scene in a film, the atmospheric intro builds tension and almost sets the scene – a low brass and some keyboards, synth strings and sweeping FX make the intro seem so peaceful, with some soft vocals from Reynolds – this could be a song by The Streets almost, as he praises the band’s fans as “Constellations”. This is an echo from “Fanfare For The Conscious Man”, as it calls for unity, the prevailing theme of Enter Shikari’s music.

    At the end of the record, I’m left feeling pretty much as I expected – relieved that Shikari aren’t losing creative steam, that they’ve kept up the high bar of really good music and I can’t wait to see this record performed live.

  10. Having finished the production of his debut album, Northern Ireland’s Look See Land has released Echoes, the prelude EP to his debut Eon//Heim – a collection of tracks made after the completion of the album tracks. His perfectionist production style means that the dreampop/chillwave he’s churning out (at a worryingly fast and consistent rate) leaves nothing to the imagination, no bum notes and no discordance.

    Sweeping pads and synths are the order of the day with this release, with feathery sounding drums and pianos providing their counterparts. In songs like the title track, LSL swaps old school orchestration and cutting edge grooves at the flick of a switch. The cavernous "Setriseuses" delayed drums and plenty of reverb to make a resonant track both eerie and calming at once, with generous helpings of bass. "Shut Her Down" is an LSL remix, taking vocalist Anneka’s acapella for the track and putting a more stripped down instrumental behind it, letting the groove and sparse xylophone/glockenspiel sounds take foreground. Almost oriental, "Retina" is a much simpler song, a single kick driving Eastern guitars and light synths.

    Echoes is on the whole a nicely composed EP, not quite Look See Land’s full plethora of styles and sounds but enough to whet the appetite for the upcoming full length, expected this June.

    The Echoes EP is avaible for free download from Bandcamp and Mediafire