Sean’s Top 11 Releases of 2011

This was one of the most difficult lists I’ve made all year. I make lists for everything and I’m usually very good about being able to prioritize things but there were at least 30 albums that were contenders for my list. Keep in mind,’s staff will be posting their individual “Best of 2011” lists in the next few weeks to help you out with your Christmas shopping. Hope you enjoy

Sean’s Top 11 Releases of 2011

11 – Quiet Company – We Are All Where We Belong

The Austin, Texas based, piano-driven band delivered a charming blend of invective pop songs that worked themselves into my head and heart over the course of weeks leading up to their Deluna Festival performance this year. We Are All Where We Belong is a pinch of Ben Kweller, a bit of Fanfarlo, and a heaping scoop of originality and passion.

10 – Gardens & Villa – Gardens & Villa

I am a firm believer that just about any record that TW Walsh will put his hands on will wind up being one of the year’s most hyped releases and I wasn’t far off with my prediction when it was announced that he would be mastering the Santa Barbara based groups’ debut full length. The self titled record clocks in at around 45 minutes of swirling electro synth vibes complimented by leading flute melodies. (“In the year of the saxophone, Gardens & Villa give us the flute.”). Each track carries a unique and intentional effect, where I either found myself tapping away with my feet, drifting off in my imagination, or slowly falling asleep. Highly recommend.

9 – O’Brother – Garden Window

While not a physical release of 2011, O’Brother digitally released Garden Window in November and blew away both critics and fans alike. It’s always an amazing pleasure to find an album that is solid both musically and lyrically and the Atlanta based 5-piece have done just that. After spending the past year on the road playing shows with Brand New, Thrice, Manchester Orchestra, mewithoutYou and many more, they’ve built a huge following from the songs on this album. The album is officially released on January 6th at a show in Atlanta. I hope to see you there.

8 – Stepdad – Ordinaire EP

After randomly seeing these guys at Southgate in Newport, Kentucky while on a trip to Cincinnati, I immediately realized I had stumbled across something truly unlike any band I’ve heard in years. Because the band didn’t assume that a crowd would show up, they all drank way too much. A large crowd showed up to see them and needless to say, things blew up. Ordinaire was re-released in this year much to my enjoyment. Dreamy-buzzing dance-pop meets one of the most unique voices I have ever heard.

7 – Young Buffalo – Young Von Prettylips EP

Oxford, Mississippi churned out yet another impressive band with the formation of Young Buffalo, a fuzzy, chiming rock act headed up by Jim Barrett, brother to the multi-talented Bass Drum of Death frontman. Where these guys succeed is through their ability to pack incredible talent into a very short EP. The earnestness with which the group writes and performs shines through on the record as they trade off instruments and vocals the entire time. Also a band to look out for in 2012.

6 – The Front Bottoms – The Front Bottoms

The Front Bottoms may have perfected an indie-pop gem that could take them all around the world if they market themselves right. Their debut full length is a hand crafted mixture that captures the energy of early Taking Back Sunday and mixes it with the emotive, reflective writing of The Mountain Goats, all in the spirit of crowded basement punk shows. For being so young, the two guys have created an incredible record. I would expect big things from them in 2012.

5 – Wild Beasts – Smother

Hayden Thorpe has, in my opinion, one of the prettiest falsetto’s in modern music so I was thrilled when the band announced they would be releasing an album in Fall of 2011. Smother‘s expansive and ethereal sounds are easily approachable while maintaining their unique brand of dream pop. Rave reviews from everyone from the New York Times to NME have shot this album to the top of alternative charts all around the world and they’re not lying.

4 – Kevin Devine – Between The Concrete & Clouds

Kevin has stood out as one of the most impressive singers, songwriters, and performers of our generation and he continued the trend with his 6th release. He and his band delve into the exploration of themes of love, loss, emotional development and the realization of personhood and it’s significance. The polarities of life are put into a sincere and revealing perspective through his lyrical content and his band’s talent for writing beautiful accompaniments.

3 – Reptar – Oblangle Fizz Y’all EP

Athens artists have always been neck and neck, if not ahead, with the trending genres of other music hotbeds like the Brooklyn-Williamsburg area, D.C. and Los Angeles. The city has one of the most amazing scenes in the country and they produced one of indie rock’s most talked about artists this year, Reptar. The groups oddly titled EP had bloggers and radio hosts all over the country in a buzz. Oblangle Fizz Y’all is a wonderful blend of off-beat rhythms, looping samples, jangling guitars, all complimented by singer Graham Ulicny’s spastic, shining voice.  The album has dance worthy tunes, downtempo hum-along’s, and ear worms alike, all perfect for late nights and long drives.

2 – Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness

Brit-pop continues to dominate airways around the world and Los Campesinos! kept up with the trend in 2011. Their most recent release, Hello Sadness, finally achieves the “grown up” sound the group needed. Textured synth leads are the backbone for swelling group choruses and trebly guitars. Lead singer Gareth sings brightly and boldly about his romantic shortcomings over what seems like an equally as ADD band.

1 – Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Bon Iver‘s self titled second full length has stood out to me more than any other release I’ve heard this year. Vernon and his band, plus a crew of additional musicians (horns, pedal steels) secluded themselves in his personal studio and produced 10 distinctly different tracks, each conveying unique emotion and imagery. The album is a evolution from For Emma, Forever Ago, but Vernon’s signature falsetto and evocative lyrics provide a soundscape that is as explorative as it is sincerely personal. Following the album’s nomination for Best Alternative Album of the Year and 3 other Grammy nominations, you can expect 2012 will be an incredible year for Bon Iver.