Friday, April 1, 2011

Best Of The Year 2011: First Quarter Update

As a new feature this year, all of the site's writers (and I) will be putting out top five lists every quarter of the year in order to keep readers updated on what our end of year lists may end up like. Additionally, it will be able to alert you of albums that you may not have heard of otherwise. This list does not only include albums that have been released as of March 31st, as any album that we have heard so far this year is free to be included. All the lists can be seen below the jump, and feel free to post your lists in the comments.

Casey Whitman
1. Yellowcard - When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes:
Ocean Avenue is one of my favorite records of all time, and this record brings me back to the first time I heard "Ocean Avenue" and "Only One". The first half of the album is one of the best sequences of an album you will hear all year. For more thoughts, a full review can be read here.

2. Yuck - Yuck:
This record came out of nowhere for me. In the future, I will look back on this record for getting me into 80's alternative, because after hearing that this record took from that time period, I downloaded records from Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, and Sonic Youth. "Get Away" is one of the catchiest tracks I've heard all year, and the album is absolutely perfect to blast in the car with the windows down.

3. Thursday - No Devolucion:
Thursday has created a different record than they have ever created before. The vocals sound very different, and the band creates more of an ambient feel rather than their typical post-hardcore feel. I was never a huge fan of Thursday before, but this record is magnificent. I do have a feeling that many fans will not enjoy this, when they should.

4. Bright Eyes - The People's Key:
I could never deal with Conor Oberst's vocals before. The People's Key shows Oberst trying out arrangements that no one would have expected from him, while performing vocally at his best. The spoken word parts of the album are creepy and thought provoking, while "Shell Games" is ridiculously catchy, and one of my favorite tracks so far this year. Even if you hadn't enjoyed Bright Eyes before, this album is worth hearing.

5. Iron and Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean:
Are folk artists giving up on their minimalism and going more towards large, orchestrated pieces? As with The People's Key, Sam Beam of Iron and Wine has decided to go all out for this record, putting together a ten or so piece band to support him in concerts for this record. The best way to characterize the growth of Iron And Wine is to view the album covers, going from sepia, to light greens and blues, to the bright yellow dog, to the psychedelic rainbowness of Kiss Each Other Clean.

Honorable Mentions:
The Weeknd - House of Balloons
Toro Y Moi - Underneath The Pine
Starfucker - Reptillions
Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
Sims - Bad Time Zoo
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong
Panic! At The Disco - Vices and Virtues
The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
Mansions - Dig Up The Dead
Lykke Li - Wounded Rhythms
The Luyas - Too Beautiful To Work
Go Radio - Lucky Street
Frank Ocean - Nostalgia/Ultra
Does It Offend You, Yeah - Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Destroyer - Kaputt
Cut Copy - Zonoscope
Bayside - Killing Time
Eisley - The Valley

Kyle Minton

1. Explosions In the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
I can already hear the murmurs of dissent among post-rock fans that Explosions In the Sky have just shoved out another copy of recycled material, and I can't help but shake my head to any individual who can't feel the great amount of change that Take Care, Take Care, Take Care represents in Explosions' discography. Considering All Of The Sudden I Miss Everyone has been my favorite record for some years now, this would almost feel like an arbitrary choice for my top pick if it wasn't for it, you know, being so damn excellent and inventive in their sound.

2. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Seven records into their discography, and I'm just now bothering to listen to Mogwai. After having my heart melted by painfully tragic displays of distortion and beautifully layered compositions, I can't help but wonder what the hell I was wasting my time with all those years instead of listening to Mogwai.

3. Caroline - Verdugo Hills
If you told me at the beginning of 2011 that one of the most astonishing releases I would come upon in the year would be from the mouth of Japanese singer-songwriter Caroline Lufkin, I probably would have mocked you. Now with hours invested in the cool ambiance of Verdugo Hills, I'm incredibly grateful for the chance of being exposed to this gem of a record.

4. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong
I remember first hearing Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix in 2009 and appreciating how it managed to concurrently tackle my need for fun musicianship while sending lyrical messages that still managed to have a great deal of heart and emotional content. Belong has fulfilled my need for that within 2011, and it's a beautiful thing filled with relentless pop, dreamy vocals, and a rainstorm of gorgeous synth.

5. Wye Oak - Civilian
I've discussed the high points of Civilian ad nauseum at this point, but excuse me as I take this one last avenue to convince those who haven't taken notice of the latest release from this gorgeous indie-pop duo. If your heart hasn't melted by Jenn Wasner's gorgeous croons yet, I can't imagine a reasonable cause for the delay.

Chelsea Benedict

1. Go Radio - Lucky Street
After releasing two phenomenal EPs, I had no doubt that their first full length wouldn’t fulfill my expectations. Lucky Street has some of the best vocals from Jason Lancaster to date. Go Radio needed this album to finally establish themselves and stop the “Mayday Parade 2.0” comments.

2. Adele - 21
I regret not listening to her sooner. She’s an amazing vocalist and could possibly be the best out there. I remember when people first started talking about her and (to me) it was kind of an Arcade Fire Grammy moment but now I see exactly why there was so much hype for her. She definitely topped her previous release, 19. Now that I’m madly in love with this woman, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

3. Yellowcard - When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes
Oh man, where do I begin with this one? This is probably on so many lists for AOTY and we’re only at the end of March. I, personally, have been waiting for this for years. Paper Walls and Lights and Sounds did nothing for me. Ocean Avenue was the album I literally wore out (I’m not even sure if my CD even works anymore.) in like 6th grade. Being able to relive those years with fresh music is more than I could ask for right now.

4. The Weeknd - House of Balloons
This is probably the best project to be released within the last couple years. The mysterious history of The Weeknd only adds to the amazingness. The only thing we really know is that Drake is behind this. It makes a lot sense because these tracks sound like Drake himself released them. Abel Tesfaye’s voice is pretty much what sold me with this and has been played about 100 (not really, but it seems like it) times since I downloaded it. Also, another great thing about this mix tape is that it’s FREE!

5. Farewell Fighter - The Way We Learn
I never heard of Farewell Fighter until Casey featured them on the site. This EP was actually my most played on Last.FM for the longest time. The Way We Learn was so easy for me to relate to. I was at this phase where I was growing up and starting new things and this was the perfect EP to get through that.

Jeff Wilde

1. Caroline - Verdugo Hills
Easily one of the best albums I've heard in a long while, this concoction of reverb-soaked, ambient electro-pop and angelic vocals doesn't have a single bad track. "Swimming" is one of the best songs I've heard. Ever.

2. CityCop. - The Hope In Forgiving & Giving Up Hope
Ultimately, what sets this album apart from others is the incredible acoustic guitar work and mixture of calmer emo sections with vicious screamo bits. A dynamic album from a criminally unknown band.

3. William Fitzsimmons - Gold In the Shadow
Fitzsimmons dependably releases solid albums. With his latest release, he's perfected his Iron & Wine meets Nick Drake style, especially on melancholy laments such as "Bird of Winter Prey" and "Fade and Then Return".

4. The Weeknd - House of Balloons
With the disappearance of D'Angelo and Maxwell's long hiatus last decade, it's rare a quality R&B release finds its way to me. However, this mixtape/album is more than worthy of gracing my ears. "What You Need" and "Wicked Games" are definitive highlights.

5. Lemuria - Pebble
Powerpop/pop-punk outfit Lemuria impressed me with Get Better and Pebble is a worthy follow-up. Their trademark male/female co-lead vocals are again the star, complimenting raw instrumentals. It's rare a band this influenced by punk manages to be catchy without sacrificing musical integrity. Lemuria does just that.

Several Good EPs and One Amazing 7":
The Republic of Wolves - The Cartographer
Magnificent Defeat - S/T
Caravels - S/T 7"
My Brother, The Vulture - Now's Your Chance
The Felix Culpa - Bury the Axe
Childish Gambino - EP
The Phantom Carriage - New Thing

letlive. - Fake History
The Felix Culpa - Sever Your Roots

Mat Fukano
1. Álfheimr - What Allows Us To Endure
With so many new things going on in the post-rock community this year, this record definitely deserves some props. For intense yet intimate sound layering and the ability to mesh emotion and technique into a miraculous record, Álfheimr is at the top of my list thus far.

2. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
No, I'm not copying Kyle. Yes, I did listen to it. Yes, I have been listening to them for a very long time. Being the essential driving force of post-rock (yet not liking the term at all), Mogwai has the ability to come up with new ideas for every release. Since The Hawk Is Howling came out in 2008, I had worried that Mogwai would have lost their driving passion for new material; this record soon assuaged all of my prior fears. Fantastic listen.

3. Hypomanie - A City in Mono
This record was a complete change in the taste of ambient music I had. It was such an astonishing work, in that the atmosphere it created with sounds drawn from bands like M83 were so different that I couldn't help but listen to this over and over. I hadn't even heard of this band before A City in Mono, but now, it's pretty much top on my recommendations. A hard listen, but a very rewarding listen.

4. Grails - Deep Politics
The hype for the new Grails album was well worth it, let me tell you. A strong listen, far different from any of the Black Tar Prophecies, but containing enough of the weirdo gypsy-ambient sound to be an amusing and intense listen, if you have the time.

5. Kontakte - We Move Through Negative Spaces
Another interesting take on ambient electronic. In a similar manner to Hypomanie and with a song progression similar to Mogwai, Kontakte has mesmerized with an experimental yet very successful album that I'll be listening to for the next week.

Nick Sisti

1. Yellowcard - When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes
This album is, hands down, the greatest comeback of this brand spankin' new decade. Paper Walls was a masterpiece, and Yellowcard's follow-up record tops even that one. Probably ever single day since this has been released, I've been booting it up to full blast and rocking out in my bedroom to it. Let's hope it never gets stale, as I don't think it'll be going away anytime soon.

2. With The Punches - It's Not the End of the World
I loved the hell out of this band's last release. I remember working at a Subway restaurant and blasting it, making the nasty smell much less worse. The band's new EP is no exception to their track record of, well, making awesome, pounding pop punk records. The lyrics aren't watered down whatsoever, and that's what I admire most about this band. They don't sound like a bunch of hardcore dudes playing lighter music just to woo a bigger crowd; they sound like real people playing real music that they really love.

3. Bayside - Killing Time
When it comes around to Bayside releasing a new album, it's always the same fare. They announce it, everyone gets the same "OMQ T3H N3W B@YS1D3 REKURDZ GONNA ROOOL" mindset, and when the record finally rolls on in, it ALWAYS delivers on every promise and more. Bayside, at least not to my knowledge, has never put out a bad record of any sort. Instead of progressing musically, persay, they progress in how brilliant their record-making skills are. Killing Time is a record with witty, clever lyrics, and an overall different vibe than other Bayside records. But it's still 5000% Bayside, and in my humble opinion it's the best Bayside album so far.

4. Glassjaw - Coloring Book EP
Seeing Glassjaw this past weekend made me realize just how relevant they still are. After they stopped releasing music for roughly 8 years, they stormed back onto the scene with a slew of 7" singles in the later part of 2010, leading up to the release of this brand new tour EP, which definitely slays just as hard as their older stuff did. It's slower, with more effects used, but it's an awesome way to start off the new decade.

5. The Felix Culpa - Sever Your Roots
Okay okay, I'm well aware that this was released in 2010. But it's just now being released to the masses by No Sleep records, so I'll count it for this year. This record is a jaw-dropping post-hardcore romp. From beginning to end, it's just one big ball of mind boggling musicianship and unexpected changes in sound. It's an album that has to be taken as a whole to fully understand, but in the end it's all worth it.

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