Outer edges: Favorite releases of 2011 that aren’t exactly heavy metal

Chelsea Wolfe

Next week begins our countdown of our Top 40 favorite metal albums of the year, and we’re really exciting about bringing this to you. We have some special stuff planned for the top 5 records that has me chomping at the bit to get these pieces out to you. But patience is a virtue.

Before we get to our Top 40 metal records, we have two days of reminiscing on this year with today’s collection of our favorite releases that full under the Outer Edges designation – albums that aren’t metal but certainly have crossover appeal – and tomorrow’s top 40 runners up collection. All of these albums we discuss today and tomorrow, despite not being in our Top 40 collection, still got ample playing time and were important additions to the musical collection. They’re all worth your time and cash, and if you haven’t familiarized yourself with them yet, now’s as good a time as any.

If I was to make a list of my favorite records, all genres included, of the year, Chelsea Wolfe would rank second overall with her amazing, enthralling new album “Ἀποκάλυψις,” pronounced “Apokalypsis.” Her sound is hard to explain, though it often is labeled as black folk and dark folk. That’s accurate, but Wolfe also has a hypnotic, ghostly pop sensibility, and while you might feel like you’re locked in a true haunted house listening to her music, you’ll also likely be shocked by just how catchy and infectious her approach can be. It’s been said before, and it’ll be said again, Wolfe also has a very real understanding of the black metal world and its underpinnings, and she’s tried her hand at putting her own touch on Burzum’s “Black Spell of Destruction.” She’s a unique, once-in-this-lifetime talent who I will follow anywhere.

For more on the Wolfe, go here: http://chelseawolfe.net/

To buy “Ἀποκάλυψις,” go here: http://www.midheaven.com/item/apokalypsis-by-wolfe-chelsea-mp3-download

For more on the label, go here: http://pendusound.com/

People say a rock opera is not very punk rock. What a load of garbage. Most punk bands today are that in name alone, and so few actually pay mind to the aesthetic and philosophy. I’m not sure Fucked Up could have done something more punk rock than what they did on ambitious “David Comes to Life,” an incredible record that has more to do with the Who than with the Clash. The storyline lands perfectly at a time when the Occupy movement has overtaken the news, and its tale of love, loss and redemption is relevant no matter what’s going on in our lives.  If anyone tells you Fucked Up are not punk rock, you have my permission to punch that idiot.

For more on the band, go here: http://lookingforgold.blogspot.com/

To buy “David Comes to Life,” go here: http://store.matadorrecords.com/david-comes-to-life

For more on the label, go here: http://www.matadorrecords.com/

Both Across Tundras and U.S. Christmas are on the decidedly doom metal-friendly label Neurot, but their respective new albums can’t really be labeled metal. And that’s totally cool. AT’s “Sage” is more like a Midwestern, tumbleweed-filled rock record, and while you can hear some of the more metallic strains of their earlier records, the music wouldn’t sound out of place next to classic Neil Young and Crazy Horse. As for USX, they offered up a nearly 39-minute, one-track opus “The Valley Path” that plays like it’s broken up into smaller bits (allowing you scene changes and emotional pauses) but is really one main story. It’s heavier than AT’s record, but it’s something that probably won’t leave you with a sore neck from thrashing your head around. Both of these records will leave you weary, with a parched throat, sending you scrambling for cold water to quench your thirst after a path well-traveled. I recommend both while enjoying some choice ales. I’ve done that myself and it fits just fine.

For more on the Across Tundras, go here: http://acrosstundras.blogspot.com/

For more on USX, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/US-christmas/169528239764664

To buy either album, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/neurotrecordings/categories.php?cPath=1030_1032

For more on the label, go here: http://www.neurotrecordings.com/

Russian Circles probably could be included on the metal list with their latest album “Empros,” easily their heaviest, most aggressive album to date. I was blown away on first listen by its power and majesty and wondered what came over this trio. And certainly I was not complaining. They also recently wrapped a tour with  Deafheaven, who certainly lean way more metallic. The combination live worked wondrously. It’s too early to say if this instrumental group (well, mostly, as one song on this record actually contains vocals) will continue with this approach, but no matter. “Empros” is a blast and is my favorite Circles album to dater.

For more on the band, go here: http://russiancirclesband.com/

To buy “Empros,” go here: http://hellomerch.com/sh/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&page=shop.browse&category_id=38&Itemid=2

For more on the label, go here: http://sargenthouse.com/

While we’re discussing Sargent House-related artists, who could ignore the volcanic wonder that is Teri Gender Bender and her band Le Butcherettes? Their record “Sin Sin Sin” (out on Rodriguez Lopez Productions, the imprint of the Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who’s been playing bass with Le Butcherettes on some recent live dates)  is full of surprises and raucous fun, and Teri’s blood-smeared, aggressive live performances already are the stuff of legend. If you see the band live, you might even get up close and personal with this leading lady because she’s known to thrust herself into the masses. The band’s album is getting accolades all over, and it’s too bad mainstream radio has no balls because there are a handful of songs on the album that could be huge hits. But no matter. Le Butcherettes are one of this year’s most exciting bands, and once the rest of the world catches up, you can ask them all where the hell they’ve been all this time.

For more on the band, go here: http://lebutcherettes.net/

To buy “Sin, Sin, Sin,” go here: http://hellomerch.com/sh/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&page=shop.browse&category_id=145

For more on the label, go here: http://sargenthouse.com/

I discovered a new love this year in the form of Dallas, Texas, trio True Widow. They actually put out two records, the first being the more-than-a-mouthful “As High As the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth” and later with minimalist EP (at least in name) “I.N.O.” The band has been compared to the legendary Sonic Youth, and that’s accurate to a degree, and their warmer, slow-core-style moments will let you chill and immerse yourself into the buzzing guitar work and interloping vocals delivered by guitarist Dan Phillips and bassist Nicole Estill. I’m really excited to hear where True Widow goes next, and one of these days I’m going to have to experience this band live. There’s a nice goal for 2012.

For more on the band, go here: http://truewidow.com/

To buy either release, go here: http://www.kemado.com/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.kemado.com/home/

Barn Owl probably will make fine listening for folks into bands such as Earth, Sunn 0))) and Asva, though what they do isn’t exactly metal. They play a mesmerizing, numbing brand of drone, ambient and doom, and their latest full-length effort “Lost in the Glare” follows both their 2010 full-length “Ancestral Star” and this year’s EP “Shadowland.” The creative duo of Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras go to great lengths to get the right sound and mood on this record, and I’ve found it makes excellent music while I’m trying to read and absorb information. Please don’t read that as boring. I need stimulating music when I’m trying to read, and this band always helps open my mind and get right to the heart of whatever text I’m attacking.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.electrictotem.com/barnowl/

To buy “Lost in the Glare,” go here: http://www.thrilljockey.com/catalog/index.html?id=105353

For more on the label, go here: http://www.thrilljockey.com/splash.html

Marissa Nadler put out as DIY as possible an album this year with her new self-titled collection, put out on her own imprint Box of Cedar. She generated all the money herself via Kickstarter to be able to make this incredible piece of work, and as a result, she turned out the best recording of her career. And that’s coming on the heels of many enrapturing albums. She also had a major role in the final Xasthur record (out in vinyl this year, on disc last year), so there’s your metal connection. Nadler’s dark folk can ride alongside you on a cold night when your soul need a kindred spirit, and her music also can lift your mood at the same time. I’ve never heard a Nadler composition that didn’t capture my heart and mind, and I’d listen to her sing my obituary with a smile on my face (um, if I was alive to hear it).

For more on Nadler, go here: http://marissanadler.com/

To buy her album, go here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/Marissamoon6?ref=seller_info

To visit her label, go here: http://boxofcedarrecords.tumblr.com/wholesale