The Carolinas’ Top 25 Albums of 2011

Our annual critics’ poll is, like every other poll this time of year, an exercise in silliness. Out of the more than 110 albums our panel of 10 critics nominated, only 25 were going to make the final cut. Numbers had to be crunched, ties had to be broken, and something resembling a consensus had to be drafted. Worthy albums had to be left out. (And we’ll certainly hear about ‘em!) Making this sort of list is, invariably, an exercise in frustration, too.

Still, the 25 albums listed below represent what our critics have deemed to be the best and brightest output this year that the Carolinas had to offer.

25. Coma Cinema — Blue Suicide (Fork & Spoon)

S.C. self-recorder Mat Cothran reaches new heights on his third LP, a potent collection of rhythmic bedroom pop where every emotion is cranked to 11. (JL)

24. Phil Cook & His Feat — Hungry Mother Blues (Trekky)

Megafaun member melts folk and blues traditions into a concise collection that feels expansive thanks to Cook’s powerfully fetching touch for melody. (JL)

23. Andy The Doorbum — The Man Killed the Bird, and With the Bird, the Song, and With the Song, Himself (self-released)

A more processional Doorbum, but no less intriguing or eccentric; lyrically his most sophisticated, chronicling personal tales of Southern bizarreness (JS)

22. Young And In The Way — V. Eternal Depression (Antithetic)

The second of two excellent 2011 records from the Charlotte’s outfit, V. Eternal Depression offers four blasts of blackened hardcore bludgeoning before closing with a transcendent, strung-out epic. (JL)

21. Fan Modine — Gratitude For The Shipper (Daniel 13)

Gordon Zacharias emerges from his basement with a gorgeous set of orchestrated pop seven years in the making. (JS)

20. Hammer No More The Fingers — Black Shark (Churchkey)

On their second full-length, this Durham trio reaches a new level of musical complexity, without sacrificing the oddball hooks and singalong thrust of earlier work. (BR)

19. Dex Romweber Duo — Is That You In The Blue? (Bloodshot)

A supremely confident entry into the American rock & roll canon by a pair that long ago internalized the sound and style of early rock. (BR)

18. Ahleuchatistas — Location, Location (Open Letter)

Now a duo, the Asheville out-rockers debut a more dynamic, texture-driven and multifaceted approach for their sixth album. (BR)

17. Phonte — Charity Starts At Home (+FE Music)

Apart from Little Brother and The Foreign Exchange, Phonte proves that his smooth, conversational flow and everyman charm are more than enough to rely on. (BR)

16. The Mountain Goats — All Eternals Deck (Merge)

The best Mountain Goats record since The Sunset Tree features some of John Darnielle’s best writing as well as a new knack for elegant folk-pop. (JL)

15. John Howie, Jr. & The Rosewood Bluff — Leavin’ Yesterday (Hands Up)

As fine a country-rock LP as Mr. Howie has ever put to tape, like George Jones fronting Sweeheart-era Byrds (JS)

14. Naked Gods — No Jams (self-released)

Skewed indie rock songs in the grand Malkmus tradition with some Beachwood Sparks-like psych-twang jams blended in. (JS)

13. Horseback/Locrian — New Dominions (Utech)

Distilling metal to its most haunting atmospherics, two experimental masters craft the soundtrack for a horror film too terrifying to actually exist. (JL)

12. Dan Melchior Und Das Menace — Catbirds & Cardinals (Northern Spy)

After releasing the challenging Assemblage Blues earlier this year, Melchior returns with a reminder that he’s a witty pop songwriter and a master of the lo-fi toolkit. (BR)

11. Braveyoung — We Are All Lonely Animals (The End)

Exit music for the apocalypse from this Greensboro instrumental act, performed here mostly with elegaic piano-and-cello soundscapes (JS)

10. Brain F≠ — Sleep Rough (Sorry State/Grave Mistake)

Perched on the razor’s edge between garage rock and hardcore, Brain F≠’s LP debut is a wild splatter of seizure riffing and droll hooks, a perfect play-dumb platter by a well-read, well-listened, and well-practiced quartet. You could call it a signal flare for Charlotte’s thriving and growing punk scene, a case for punk rock’s growing prevalence in the wider indie-sphere, or you could cut the crap and just call it what it is: one of the year’s best records. (BR)

9. Whatever Brains — Whatever Brains (Sorry State)

After a handful of cassettes and 7-inch EPs, Raleigh’s Whatever Brains showed what they could do with a long-player, and didn’t disappoint. As it pinballs through a warped landscape of lo-fi garage, sneering punk-rock and art-rock eccentricity, listeners are treated to a gleefully weird, bitterly funny, and imminently re-playable album. The Brains’ LP is hard to pin down — and even harder to put down. (BR)

8. Yardwork — Brotherer (Lunchbox)

Born of a variety of punk and math-rock acts, Charlotte’s wild bunch concoct a set of one-for-all singalong anthems fueled by punk’s DIY energy but ultimately tilting tumultuous indie rock. Propelled by dual-drummer rhythmic maelstroms, brass fanfares, coiling guitar lines and full-band vocals, these exuberant odes to defiance-through-camaraderie alleviate life’s shitty odds. “We’re all gonna pass away/So you better speak your piece,” they gang-sing, thereby having done so, and goddamn gloriously, too. (JS)

7. Hiss Golden Messenger — Poor Moon (Paradise of Bachelors)

M.C. Taylor finishes a song cycle that began with the acoustic ruminations of last year’s Bad Debt on this lush, full-band LP. The music itself is stunning, melding Nashville glitz with funky swagger and elements of blues and folk as it sets out on a vivacious journey through American tradition. But the writing makes this an essential with Taylor working his way through a wrenching spiritual struggle that targets Christianity as a source of both deception and hope. (JL)

6. Megafaun — Megafaun (Hometapes)

Megafaun’s fourth LP broke the Durham-based trio through to a wider audience, and no wonder. The band mothballed their longer, more challenging free-form journeys to focus on tightly crafted songs instead, showing off their skill set in a variety of genres. There’s Piedmont twang-rock and early Dead jams, orchestral pop and Califone-esque digital/tape alchemy, Memphis gospel-soul and Appalachian banjo laments — all expertly delivered in the band’s own enthusiastic voice. (JS)

5. Toro Y Moi — Underneath The Pine (Carpark)

A mild departure from the synth-saturation of Causers of This, or his dance-centric Les Sins side-project, Chaz Bundick proved Toro Y Moi’s staying power with this, a 40-minute platter of organic funk and psych-stained disco. Here, the chillwave haze hasn’t lifted entirely, but it has gotten more dynamic, less distant, and a whole lot more complementary to Bundick’s skill as a songwriter and arranger. (BR)

4. Reigning Sound — Abdication…For Your Love (Scion A/V)

Yet another garage revival, and still Greg Cartwright stands out from the masses. In a hit-and-run eight tracks and 22 minutes, the Ashevillian drops more memorable hooks and bridges than a lot of acts notch over their careers. The band taps garage founts like Memphis soul, Brit-psych pop, Velvets balladry, and girl group choruses with expertise and zeal, and does it here for free. If you’re squeamish about the Scion/AV sponsorship…listening will help with that. (JS)

3. Des Ark — Don’t Rock The Boat, Sink The Fucker (Lovitt)

Stuck in release-purgatory since early 2010 when Aimée Argote left N.C. for Philadelphia, this emotional assault is laced with shockingly honest narratives that make the catharses of the band’s bombastic pop-rock even more rewarding. It’s a wrenching journey through twisted sexuality and bad relationships, and pairs the gritty impact of punk with the insistence of power-pop. Argote deftly deals with her own problems while inviting you to shout along madly as you struggle with your own. (JL)

2. Floating Action — Desert Etiquette (Park The Van)

Desert Etiquette is both the most blissfully simple and overwhelmingly complex record to come out of the Carolinas this year. Floating Action mastermind Seth Kauffman has long been a master of rough, relaxed soul that moves with an irresistibly sensual sway, and that is still the case here. But here he digs deep into his psychedelic side, layering his super-accessible jams with colorfully distorted tones, arriving at a near-classic that’s as mind-bending as it is instantly likable. (JL)

1. Mount Moriah — Mount Moriah (Holidays For Quince)

The country-flavored rock of the eponymous debut from Mount Moriah, the Durham band led by singer Heather McEntire and guitarist Jenks Miller, struck a chord this year, and with more than just our critics’ panel. These eight tracks read like fading photos rendered into 3D by McEntire’s topical — yet emotionally timeless — stories of hardship and perseverance, as well as Miller’s intricate modern guitar decor. As Shuffle’s Jordan Lawrence examined in this issue, that knack for comfortably folding the new in with the traditional is what sets Carolinas country-rock apart. “Lament” was the perfect indie-tinged single, two-and-a-half minor-key minutes of swirling organ and snaking guitar capturing a relationship’s implosion. Over a shuffling beat and forlorn pedal steel, “The Reckoning” relates the moment McEntire came out to her deeply religious mother. The quick-tempo “Social Wedding Rings” hums with the regret of “mistakes made” while Miller’s fuzzed-out guitar singes those memories, and the processional “Hail, Lightning” ends things with resolve, offered like prayer, to “let us heal, let us grow.” Concise, redemptive and beautiful, Mount Moriah reminds us what makes this region’s music so wondrous and fertile. (JS)

16 Responses to The Carolinas’ Top 25 Albums of 2011

  1. Pingback: Shuffle Magazine’sTop 25 of the Carolinas | Scene SC-South Carolina's Music Playground

  2. Jonn says:

    Nicely done, Definitely agree with the Mount Moriah as #1 and I would have placed Hiss Golden Messenger even higher on the list.

    I also would’ve included The Beast’s recent Guru Legacy EP.

  3. Stephen says:

    Very compelling list, but the absence of Concrete Animals is almost criminal. Still a good read, thanks for putting this together.

  4. Dave says:

    What a joke. The Rosebuds’ Loud Planes Fly Low is at least Top 10, and you don’t even have it in the Top 25. who cares about this list.

    • mb says:

      As soon as I saw this list, I knew someone would cry foul that The Rosebuds weren’t on it. It’s not a bad record. It’s not a particularly exciting one — at least not compared to most of these records. Have you listened to any of the records on this list, Dave?

  5. Jimmy says:

    Great list, however, it would have been awesome to see 2013 Wolves get at least an honorable mention. Their new album is amazing… unfortunately, it’s only available in streaming form at the moment, which might be why it didn’t make the cut.

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  7. Tim says:

    No Stephanie’s Id? Really?

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