Best of 2011: Cameron

December 27, 2011

Note: In the next few weeks, we’ll be posting “Best of 2011” lists from Black With Sap’s family and friends. This was by far the most exhaustive and meticulous write-up I’ve ever done. It probably wasn’t even worth the time I put into it, but here goes nothing:

Honorable Mentions (In No Particular Order)

Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Tom Waits is back from a spell of inactivity to prove he’s still the king of barrooms everywhere. This album has been dragged through the gravel, soaked in whiskey, set on fire, and run over by a train, but it still comes out smelling like roses. Seriously, how can one man be this good for this long?

La Dispute – Wildlife

I’ll be honest. I wrote this band off when the masses began to adore them (because I’m way too cool for popular hardcore, or something…), but this album surprised me. La Dispute gave up their heart-on-the-sleeve urgency for a more subtle, mature sound. This album is dark, inspiring, and incredibly well-executed. I still can’t listen to “King Park” or “Edward Benz, 27 Times” without getting goosebumps.

Lee Corey Oswald – Moon Songs

At first, Lee Corey Oswald might seem like just a bunch of dudes with punk influences that can’t decide what style they want to play. Give it a little time though, this one’s a grower. Once you realize what makes these 14 songs so special (namely: the musicianship, crafty songwriting, vocal melodies and harmonies, etc.), the truth becomes evident: these guys are just too talented to pigeon-hole themselves into one particular sound. Lucky for us, they don’t have to.

Mike Adams at His Honest Weight – Oscillate Wisely

Half way between singer-songwriter and a lo-fi garage band, Oscillate Wisely is its own beast entirely. Mike Adams plays every instrument on the album and isn’t afraid to layer on rich instrumentation along side healthy doses of fuzz and reverb. It’s an interesting dichotomy, but it serves his ambitious songwriting well.

Portugal. The Man – In the Mountain In the Cloud

Portugal. The Man has released some pretty mediocre albums lately, in my opinion. Interestingly enough, their major label debut turned out to be my favorite in recent years. In the Mountain In the Cloud is the perfect balance of psychedelia, pop, and rock n’ roll. It’s simultaneously the most experimental and the most accessible album they’ve written in years, and I guarantee it will leave songs stuck in your head for days.

Wu Lyf – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

Even with the mysterious persona and blogosphere hype aside, I think this band is super fascinating. On paper, the combination of  soaring guitars, almost unintelligible growls, church organs, and banquet hall-sized reverb seems almost laughable. Yet Wu Lyf (short for World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation) pull it off in every way. Check out this awesome video for a taste of what I’m talking about.

Restorations – Restorations

Seeing Restorations at The Fest is what really cemented this album as one of my favorites of the year. To fully appreciate the dense and complex nature of these songs, they should be played at full volume in a packed bar. I love how the low end of this album makes it as heavy as it is melodic and expansive. Even punks have to grow up sometime, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a great album to showcase their newfound maturity.

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo

A smoke ring is the perfect imagery for this child prodigy’s newest album. These songs are ethereal at times and well-defined at others, floating carelessly through smokey landscapes and smooth melodies. Just when you think you’ve got a good grasp on what defines Kurt Vile’s songs, his “smoke ring” starts to lose shape and dissipate, replaced by something different – a halo, maybe?

Future Islands – On the Water

Heart-break album of the year. On the Water is a synth-heavy, low tempo pop album full of bitter-sweet melodies and ambient textures. The group’s signature vocals are a bit strange, but they complement the music well and the vocal delivery only enhances the already stirring lyrics. This album may be a bit one-dimensional, but Future Islands are so good at what they do, I really can’t complain.

By Surprise – Mountain Smashers

An endless supply of disposable emo bands seem to be appearing as of late. By Surprise have separated themselves from their peers by crafting an album that doesn’t “twinkle” or “noodle” in any way. Instead of recreating the standard emo formula, this album seems to be more influenced by 90’s alternative and indie rock. It’s quirky, fun, catchy, dynamic, and refreshing. By Surprise is here to show us the light, and thank God, it’s not shining on American Football for once.

BOAT – Dress Like Your Idols

I’m a sucker for shameless 90’s alternative worship, and well, that’s pretty much exactly what this album is. It’s clever, retro, and full of more hooks than you can shake a telecaster at. Any disillusioned thirty-something with graying hair will fall head over heels for this band, and particularly, this album.

Top Albums

10. Algernon Cadwallader – Parrot Flies

I don’t think Parrot Flies is as immediate as Some Kind of Cadwallader was, but it reminds us why we all fell in love with this band. If you can manage to listen to the whole thing without cracking a smile, I’ll be surprised. I think Peter’s lyrics have really improved on this album, and Joe’s guitar playing is out of control. These boys are still the best at what they do. See them live before you die.

9. Big Kids – Phone Home

Big Kids were busy this year. With all the touring and split releases, I’m surprised they had time to write another full length at all. Still, this record was so much better than their last that it caught me off guard. The sound they produce is still huge, but they’ve added so much more to their song writing. Songs like “Catchers Mitt” and “Full Gainer” pack an emotional punch I didn’t know they had. Throw in a few anthemic sing-alongs and some noticeably dynamic songs, and well, I loved the hell out of this album.

8. Kite Party – Baseball Season

Baseball Season is an album that hits the sweet spot between post-punk, indie, and emo. It’s the perfect halfway point between nostalgia and looking forward, between listening your favorite classics and finding something new and exciting. Few albums this year managed to keep my attention after so many rotations. It’s both playful and thoughtful, and I think it paints a picture that will remain as timeless as its name sake.

7. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

I take some weird sort of pride in knowing that this album was born from Boise, Idaho, even though I had absolutely nothing to do with it in any way. Youth Lagoon is the bedroom recordings of Trevor Powers. These songs are filled to the brim with soaring melodies, textured synths, airy vocals, and heaps of longing. It’s like electronic indie’s version of an emo album, and while that may seem like a bad combination, it’s passion and sincerity makes it really quite engaging.

6. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

I’m not sure where to even start with this album. Only a band like Fucked Up could have created such an ambitious album. The story, instrumentation, and lyrics are all perfectly crafted. The only real reason this album isn’t higher on my list is because it sort of drags on in the middle for me. Still, that’s hardly criticism. This album is a masterful, moving piece of art that needs to be experienced in its entirety. Don’t sleep on this one.

5. Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math

Liking this album so much might lessen my punk cred (Do I even have punk cred? Is that a real thing?), but I don’t care. It’s amazing. Every song is extremely passionate, original, honest, and different. I think my favorite part about this album is how it relies on subtleties to express emotion rather than just spewing it out haphazardly. It almost follows a story-arc with only 10 songs, but I’m amazed time and time again by how much weight each one of those songs can carry.

4. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie

I always knew that Brian Fallon could write a heartfelt punk tune, but I never had any idea how soulful the man really was. For his side project (alongside The Gaslight Anthem’s guitar tech Ian Perkins), Brian tries his hand at about a half dozen other genres. My God, that boy can sing. If you’re not convinced that his voice was meant for something greater than Springsteen-esque punk songs by the end of the second song, you’re delusional. But this album is great for so many other reasons too. Fallon’s sincerity and lyrics are at a career high, plus the duo have a knack for constructing bluesy songs with some major hooks. I pretty much fall in love with a new song every time I listen to this album.

3. Bomb the Music Industry! – Vacation

Bomb the Music Industry! seriously gets better with every album. As you might imagine, this album was the perfect companion for a careless summer. Rosenstock and company are growing up a bit, adding a healthy dose of positivity to their usual cynicism and brutal honesty. Drinking beer whilst listening to “Hurricane Waves” or “Can’t Complain” is usually enough to cure me of any bad mood. If you’re interested in catchy, thoughtful, quirky, intelligent punk rock or indie, look no further. Hell, even if you’re not in to that sort of stuff, download this album anyway.

2. Pygmy Lush – Old Friends

If Vacation is the perfect summer album, Old Friends is the perfect Fall and Winter album. Pygmy Lush’s ability to make emotionally charged  folk is unparalleled in music today. This album is so much more multi-dimensional than their previous effort, Mount Hope, which was already incredible. Songs vary from haunting dirges to high energy acoustic rompers and everywhere in between. We could talk about this band’s pedigree in the hardcore scene for days, but the truth is, they’re carving a better niche for themselves as Pygmy Lush than even the most influential bands they’ve been a part of in the past.

1. Teenage Cool Kids – Denton After Sunset

Have you ever heard a song and thought to yourself, “I could/should have written this.”? Well, that’s how I feel about this entire album. I’m not implying that I have enough talent to do such a thing, only trying to illustrate how much this album resonates with me. I think it’s pretty much perfect. There’s not a single thing I would change. The laid back vocal melodies and smooth delivery, cynical and disenchanted lyrics, skillful use of guitar dissonance, shimmering acoustic solos, prominent bass lines, etc… It all complements itself so well. Teenage Cool Kids may have drawn heavily from their 90’s indie influences, but this magnum opus has proven that they are so much more than just imitators. They’ve created a sound as relevant and distinguished as any other band you’ll hear this year.