Chris’ Top 11 Releases of 2011

Long time writer Chris Breslin announced to us late last month that his work with would be coming to an end as he pursues further opportunities. Chris wrote exceptional articles and reviews for the site and we couldn’t be happier that he spent so much time with us. As his farewell to the site and to you all, he’s compiled his Top 11 Releases of 2011 to share with us. Chris chose some interesting and accurate picks that our other staff left of their list. Thanks so much for your hard work and good luck –

Chris’ Top 11 Releases of 2011

11 – The Black Keys – El Camino

A fashionable latecomer of a 2011 release, the Keys followed up their acclaimed Brothers LP with the throbbing El Camino.  While you may have seen them on SNL or Colbert, or heard their near-constant soundbiting on ESPN highlights, these Akronians seem to have kept their profile as low as possible, using their success to fill arenas and hire Danger Mouse production, but staying true to their gritty Great Lakes roots (unlike other Akron Royalty, it seems unlikely that these two will be “bringing their talents to South Beach” anytime soon!).  Dan Auerbach harkens to his solo LP with Little Black Submarines and Hell of A Season, or even to the self-produced Thickfreakness/Rubber Factory days with Nova Baby.  Money Maker and Gold on the Ceiling may or may not wind up in a movie trailer or three this spring.  Despite being (rightfully) identified as Vampire Weekend’s only commercial rival, with singles like Lonely Boy, you cannot really blame these guys for their prodigious output and remarkable exposure.  Applause for a garage blues duo with a hip-hop producer, who’ve thus far outlasted the garage rock craze of the early twenty-aughts (The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, The ________s…) is perhaps a more appropriate response.

10 – Hiss Golden Messenger – Poor Moon

West coast transplant M.C. Taylor came east to North Carolina to study folk history, with this year’s Poor Moon he contributes a new piece to it.  Fitting squarely into the realm of Bonnie Prince Billy and following in the mystically inquisitive footsteps of guitar giant John Fahey, Taylor sprinkles these golden messages formed from the ether into a delightfully mellow, but surprisingly intricate LP.  If you listen closely, the rolling Carolina hills sing on Pittsboro FarewellJesus Shot Me In The Head leaves you wondering whether the Son of God’s tactics were for his good or untimely detriment.  While this record only came out a couple of weeks ago to relatively small fanfare, it is poised to fit into the sleeper slot that Phosporescent filled in 2010.

9 – The Rosebuds – Loud Planes Fly Low

Kelly Crisp and Ivan Howard’s follow-up to 2008’s Life Like, both strains and sparkles, perhaps sparkling most in its strain.  After a 2010 detour with yacht-rock supergroup Gayngs, these North Carolina vets released a studio effort that sat down and dealt had that talk.  If Life Like largely danced on top of the underlying tension caused by Crisp and Howard’s marital separation, Loud Planes chronicles from both perspectives what it really felt like. The result is a heartbreaking, angry at times, and completely engrossing album.  Go Ahead & Without A Focus use tidal rhythm to lament loss and disorientation, while one of the record’s stand-out tracks, Woods, employs the screams and thuds made indelible this year by the band’s touring mates (Bon Iver’s Perth).  The Rosebuds prove the axiom, “If it can’t be happy, make it beautiful.”  This beauty of Loud Planes comes precisely through the honest anguish.

8 – Wilco – The Whole Love

Jeff Tweedy and Co.’s first venture on their own label, dBpm, finds them with a crunchier sound than either their most recent eponymous release’s cheekiness or Sky Blue Sky’s (2007) sprawl.  Standouts I Might and Born Alone come from a playful yet mature set of “dad rockers” who haven’t played quite all of their cards yet.  The last two tracks, the title track and One Sunday Morning, are Wilco at their very finest.  Whole Love is vintage Tweedy folk falsetto over Nels Cline’s shred and Glenn Kotche’s plodding percussion.  One Sunday Morning returns to some of the finest and most melodramatic moments of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Ashes of American Flags, Reservations), relying on lilting, hypnotic piano and clocking in at more than twelve minutes.

7 – The Head & the Heart – S/T

With singsong choruses and dramatic familial ballads, tH&tH is apply named.  Heads will nod and bob, hearts will swell, break and heal again.  Between Rivers and Roads and Honey Come Home, you feel the ache and catharsis that these familiar Appalachian sounds afford (never mind they come from the Pacific Northwest).



 6 – Bon Iver – S/T

From the percussive opener, Perth, to the oft-maligned Hornsby-influenced and Korg-rich closer, a gripping narrative of place, memory, and dream unfolds.  Perhaps no other collection of material could be both continuous with the universally acclaimed and lore-laden For Emma, For Ever Ago, with its abstraction grounded in grit and flesh and simultaneously revelatory and polar, with its synthetic crunch, strings, and brass.

5 – Mandolin Orange – Haste Make/Hard-hearted Stranger

Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz combine with a slew of Carolinian friends (sometimes self-dubbed “Expandolin Orange”) for a double-stuffed sophomore effort.  The first disc, titled Haste Make, features a full band and fleshes out their familiar sound with a Neil Young plod (Not a Word) and the Josh Ritter-like maritime Ship Sail Away, complete with cymbal crashes and violin splashes. Hard-hearted Stranger (the latter half) strips the duo back down to just two in order to most poignantly paint their pictures of faith and faith neglected, love and love lost, and of course trains.  Big Men in the Sky is a particular stand-out, reformulating the Folsom Prison Blues into an introspective if still hesitant prayer.

4 – Mount Moriah –  S/T

Mount Moriah‘s debut LP carves out a niche within the nauseatingly amorphous genre known formerly as and now as Americana: Southern gothic.  Literary and dark.  Allusive and illusive. Heather McIntyre’s vocals float over double bass and ghostly vocals on Old Gowns, drift over the red clay grids on Plane, and tear through the storm on Hail, Lightning!  Lament is perhaps the clappiest and most hypnotic sing-song breakup tune as ever conceived.  Reckoning offers a damning, hymnal-ripping critique of her mother’s own judgment in typical southern fashion: with a lilting tempo and melodic drawl.

3 – Gillian Welch – The Harrow & the Harvest 

Vets Gillian and Dave Rawlings make a reliable folk album with gems like The Way It Goes and Down Along the Dixie Line.  Their music is trustworthy and homespun, even artisanal, an aesthetic painstakingly sought and cultivated even down to the letter-pressed and individually hand-coffee-stained album jackets.  While by no means out to shock or surprise, the Harrow & the Harvest satisfies and soaks you in the Bourbon barrel of Southern folk music royalty..



2 – Megafaun  – S/T

If this year’s Bon Iver release deserves praise for being more adventurous, experimental, and at times odd, former DeYarmond Edison mates, Joe Westerlund and the Brothers Cook, take the opposite tact.  They opt for restraint and more straight-forward structuring and sounds, adventuring mainly on These Words & Isadora, but balladeering on the resplendent Hope You Know (with Mount Moriah’s Heather McIntyre) and getting help from Frazee Ford on Everything.  Westerlund lends well-worded enlightenment between Resurrection and You Are the Light, and we even get our banjo fix from Phil Cook on State/Meant.  Restraint suits these freak-folders well. In my mind, this mix of four minute pop songs and steady outros trumps their previous penchant for twelve minute comprovisations.)

1 – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

West coast baroque folkers Fleet Foxesblues are somehow rosier than tunes from their White Winter Hymnal.  This years’ Helplessness puts forth a freed Robin Peckinold.  Free to expand upon  his already well-crafted, if dreary, Pacific harmonies.  Free to find brilliant vales of vulnerability (HB, Someone You’d Admire, Grown Ocean) and whole landscapes of (possibly) fictive drama (Sim Sala BimThe Plains/Bitter Dancer, The Shrine/An Argument).  The combination and intersection of these two themes forms, in my opinion, the most interesting and breathtaking (especially live) album of 2011.


Other releases of note: Ryan Adams; Alexander; Birds and Arrows; Richard Buckner; The Cave Singers; The Civil Wars; Cold War Kids; Phil Cook & His Feat; Dawes; Frank Fairfield; Floating Action; Generationals; Skylar Gudasz & The Ugly Girls; Gungor; The Low Anthem; James Vincent McMorrow; Middle Brother; Daniel Martin Moore; My Morning Jacket; Kurt Vile; War on Drugs.