Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Bottom String's Top 10 North Carolina Albums of 2011

It was a fantastic year for the Carolina music scene in 2011 and after taking a bit of time to let it all soak in I think I've fumbled the list around enough to have determined what I feel are the ten best albums to be released in North Carolina from 2011.  In a year that saw both of North Carolina's newest and brightest festivals garner massive national attention thanks to picking up some of the hottest and most talented artists in the national scene, we also saw the local scene continue to pump out fantastic releases.  Between Mount Moriah's long awaited full-length, a sophomore smash from Carolina rap favorites Kooley High, the return of Bombadil and much much more, we have had an incredible year of music in the tobacco state.  So without further ado, let's get down to the Top 10!

10. Kooley High - David Thompson
Though the group has been spread across the east coast, Kooley is still as high as ever and proves such with their sophomore release of David Thompson.  Named after the legendary N.C. State basketball player, Kooley High continues to wear their state pride on their sleeve with their clever lyrical displays throughout the album.  Tracks like "Skyview", "For The Record", and "Unfound" show off the groups always entertaining style, whether it be the stellar production or their memorable punch lines, Kooley High is always giving you something extra to make sure you remember the name.  While there were obvious weak spots on the album, Kooley High is clearly continuing to find their footing, but David Thompson proves that they're not far off from making their big step up to the big leagues.

9.  The Rosebuds - Loud Planes Fly Low
The first release from The Rosebuds since their split as a couple, but one that showed their strongest chemistry as a band to date.  Starting with a powerful opener of "Go Ahead", Ivan croons, "Go ahead and be my world and everything will be okay".  The two hide behind no curtains with this superb release on Merge Records.  The Rosebuds were on the lips of many a North Carolina resident this year between their opening spot on the Bon Iver tour as well as some packed out shows all across the state.  Capable of hushed tones and vibrant orchestration with horns and strings, The Rosebuds have a fully fleshed out image on this record that shines brightly.  With R&B/Soul influence abound, this record marks a pivotal moment in The Rosebuds career with their most accessible and promising release to date.

8.  Hammer No More The Fingers - Black Shark
An affirming release that proves that Hammer No More The Fingers can maintain their fun quirky lyrical styling while still maturing as a band.  Black Shark still contains bits of teenage nostalgia, but with a much prettier packaging than could be found on Looking For Bruce.  Tracks like "Thunder and Rain" boast an out of character but greatly put together strings section, while tracks like "Leroy" have a booming reprise that's almost too fun to shout of "My name is Leroy motherfucker!"  The juxtaposition of the styles make for a great listen and the catchy melodies give it that classic Hammer No More The Fingers feel to it.

7.  Floating Action - Desert Etiquette
Floating Action is a project that has unfolded beautifully over the years with Desert Etiquette being written, produced, and entirely performed by Seth Kauffman.  This is quite the feat once you listen to the album and realize how vibrant the orchestration is on it.  Capable of going from a driving pop song in one track such as "Eye Of A Needle" or to slow brooding tracks like "The Balance".  Psychedelic influences are blended with a blues/folk base to make for a unique sound that creates for a truly invigorating listening experience.  The lovely harmonies, deep reverb, and excellent song composition make Desert Etiquette one of the years standouts.

6.  The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
The Mountain Goats debut release on Merge Records with their new 3-piece band and definitely the most important Mountain Goats release since the powerhouses of The Sunset Tree and Tallahassee.    All Eternals Deck has the trademark sound of The Mountain Goats with it's desperate pleas and Darnielle acoustic driven songs, but it has also been given room to expand with the addition of the drums and bass and occasional piano.  At times it can feel reminiscent of those previous Mountain Goats albums that many hold so dear, but it's got a bold difference to it marked within the aging of Darnielle's songwriting.  Filled with tracks of live performance bliss such as "Estate Sale Sign" and even the first single of "Damn These Vampires", All Eternals Deck is an great way for The Mountain Goats to start their stay with Merge.

5.  David Wimbish & The Collection - The Collection EP
One of the most compelling releases from North Carolina in 2011, The Collection EP is a beautifully composed piece of work that paints a rustic picture filled with biblical references but most importantly, captivating imagery.  David Wimbish has a sense of sincerity in his voice as well as all of his songwriting, it's something that is hard to explain but easy to spot.  The songwriting is what drives the EP, but the orchestration is what keeps you coming back for more.  Whether it be a subtly plucked banjo or a lush mixture of trumpets, accordions, cellos, and glockenspiels, The Collection weaves together a beautiful soundscape that has left me floored.  They'll also be the subject of our next You Should Know Session which is being filmed Sunday in Greensboro.

4.  Des Ark - Don't Rock The Boat, Sink The Fucker
Des Ark has become one of my absolute favorite artists over the past year, especially with the release of Don't Rock The Boat, Sink The Fucker.  Argote has an incredible talent in her ability to silence the crowds with her heartbreaking vocals in one minute and take the next song into a loud, distorted, rock your face off punk jam.  Whether it be punk driven or acoustic, her heart and soul is clearly poured into these songs and it's a quality that isn't found in many songwriters today.  She's got compelling guitar lines that compliment her unique melodies and a knack for moving you to your core with her raw and unfiltered lyrics.  Don't Rock The Boat, Sink The Fucker was a release that was damn near perfect.

3.  Braveyoung - We Are Lonely Animals
One of the most intriguing releases of the year, it was the album that almost ever was.  We Are Lonely Animals is one of the most emotionally packed releases of the year, North Carolina or nationally.  Each song oozes with passion from the barebones piano track that is aptly titled "Flesh and Bone" to the explosive sounds of "And No Two Walked Together".  The band produces absolutely enchanting sounds that wrap themselves firmly around your heart and take it places it can rarely go with music.  It's visceral, it's compelling, and it shows an astounding amount of restraint throughout the entirety of it.  Throughout the rises and the falls, Braveyoung has crafted an absolutely breath taking album that has set a high water-mark for Carolina post-rock to top.

2.  The Light Pines - Into The Night
An absolutely incredible collection of tracks that placed The Light Pines in firm footing right before the band disbanded, but a great release nonetheless.      Into The Night was a release that was filled with meticulously crafted pop excellence from the mind of Josh Pope that has blended elements of post-punk, lo-fi rock, and indie pop.  Countless influences shine through on this album but they're all pulled together with a similar song structure, allowing them to mesh together excellently when topped off with the soaring melodies that Pope has written.  It's a shame the band disbanded and missed out on what I'm sure would have been a stellar performance in opening for Superchunk and The Flaming Lips at Hopscotch, but at least this fantastic album was released.

1.  Bombadil - All That The Rain Promises
An album that defined the Triangle music scene for me in 2011, All That The Rain Promises marked the return of one of North Carolina's most deeply adored bands to the forefront of the scene that they never got the chance to rule.  After Tarpits & Canyonlands picked up steam the band had already begun a hiatus due to health circumstances and band members moving across the country, but 2011 marked the triumphant return of Bombadil with a new approach to their sound.  The band took a step back with their orchestration and allowed the core elements of these songs to take the spotlight, and that's the stellar songwriting that can be found in nearly every single track on the album.  Each member is capable of having their own shining moments in a live performance or on the album, simply put they're a band that's hard not to love.  Bombadil has jumped right back in line as one of the finest acts in the state by releasing a chill-inducing, heart-warming, downright lovable album.

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