favorite releases of 2011

FIDLAR - DIYDUI EP (White Iris)

I’ve sung the praises of Los Angeles-based punk outfit FIDLAR from the moment a friend passed along a link to the band’s debut EP earlier this year. Delightfully raucous with hints of post-teenage crassness, DIYDUI proves that LA’s underground punk scene is not dead — it’s just been incubating in suburban garages and underage circles, much like the hardcore movement of yore.

Mosh pit inducing party anthems like “Wake Bake Skate” and “Max Can’t Surf” possess the same tongue-in-cheek humor and imagery as Black Flag’s “TV Party”; it’s an apt connection for a band that lists “El Pollo Loco” and “Cheap Beer” as its interests online. The instrumentation begs a serious look, too, as FIDLAR skillfully blends surfy drums and sing-along hooks with raging, sludgey guitar riffs.

A touch of “angry young male” ennui peppers FIDLAR’s tracks just as much as references to marijuana and skateboarding — but the band’s California boredom feels less like a marketing ploy and more like an authentic manifestation of FIDLAR’s observations on Southland living. If you want to know what living as a 20-something in Los Angeles feels like, look no further than DIYDUI.

The Babies - S/T (Shrimper)

Full disclosure: The cassette label I run released The Babies Live at the Smell in October 2011, but that has no bearing on my opinions of this release. Moving on.

While many of the songs on the Babies’ full-length debut LP were previously released as 7" singles (“Meet Me in the City,” “All Things Come to Pass”), experiencing the Brooklyn-based band’s creative output as a collective whole revealed an aesthetic strength and continuity unseen in many contemporary garage pop ensembles.

Fronted by Cassie Ramone (Vivian Girls) and Kevin Morby (Woods), the band's brand of ramshackle pop carries subtle tones of mid-century Americana fused with the gritty stylings of the duo’s other musical endeavors. Ramone and Morby tend to split singing duties — but when the two join together for a vocal pas de deux on tracks such as “Breakin’ the Law,” the result is an endearing one that services the Babies’ sound without appearing cutesy or forced.

Among the Babies’ best tracks: Jangly album closer “Caroline” builds slowly before exploding into an anthemic singalong chorus; the punk-tinged, distortion-driven “Personality” blazes by in just over a minute’s time.