1. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
I generally don't get much time to check out new music, and I generally don't give the time of day to most popular music. I just hate wading through the garbage to find gems like Fleet Foxes. Thankfully my friend Dale subjects me to great new music outside the DIY metal realm I'm generally immersed in. Helplessness Blues is such a painfully beautiful record, I don't know how they even write these songs. After falling in love with this album I sort of wish I would've paid a bit more attention during the vocalist's solo performance opening for Joanna Newsom.
2. Ash Borer - Ash Borer (Psychic Violence/Pesanta Urfolk)
It's not often a band evolves so much in between releases, but Ash Borer definitely pulled it off. I love the songwriting here, so memorable. I almost feel like they're taking a path similar to Krallice… not in genre or style, but in aesthetic. Beginning in black metal but breaking out of that mold and changing into something very unique.
3. Loss - Despond (Profound Lore)
My pal Chad turned me on to LOSS a few years ago during my last casual trip to Minneapolis. When Despond came out this year I took notice, but didn't have the time to pick it up. Unfortunately that meant it fell off my radar until September or October. Man, I screwed up. LOSS have unleashed one of the best doom metal records I've ever heard. And that track with the vocalist from Pallbearer? Damn… great stuff.
4. Young Widows - In And Out Of Youth And Lightness (Temporary Residence)
Young Widows are a band I've always enjoyed, and more so with each record. I feel like they evolve in the same direction and at the same pace as my own musical interests. I heard mixed things on In And Out Of Youth… and hesitated to check out it. Finally my friend Brian forced me to listen to some songs on YouTube, and I'm very grateful for that. Even though these songs are subdued and relaxed compared to their prior material, Young Widows have managed to evolve into a fantastic mellow band. There's a lot of great atmosphere on this record.
5. Algernon Cadwallader - Parrot Flies (Hot Green Records)
Yup, it's guitar laden indie rock with off-key vocals… and it's absolutely fantastic. My pal Seth and I went to see Algernon in Chicago this past summer, it was the most disgusting show I had ever been to, and I think I was the oldest guy there. Weird. But the show was a ton of fun and it's always great to get to Chicago. Seth also calls this one of his favorite records ever… it's definitely worth it if you're into weird indie rock that blossoms from the DIY/punk community.
6. Hell - II (Pesanta Urfolk)
Gritty, dark doom from Salem, OR. What is in the water over there? So many awesome bands. HELL does the best job of capturing the feel and emotion of Buried At Sea while remaining unique and crafting songs that are themselves memorable. Not at all another modern doom clone. The 2LP is expertly presented by Pesanta, as well.
7. Hammers Of Misfortune - 17th Street (Metal Blade)
I would never have anticipated a Metal Blade release ever crack my top 10… or my CD collection in general. Surprise! I have no beef with the label, they just generally don't release records that interest me. Well, I blind bought 17th Street without any prior listening. Sometimes I get burned, this time I got stoked. It's not the type of band I'm usually a fan of, but the songwriting rules and the vocals hit a very, very fine target. It's easy to do this style in a very cheesy way, and that turns me off. Hammers pull it off, though. Superior riffage.
8. Panopticon - Social Disservices (Flenser Records)
There's a lot to love here if you're into black metal. There's also a lot to love here if you're into extreme metal with lyrics and concepts that break the mold a bit. The entire album is based around the sole member's experiences in social work and social services fields. There's a great essay included with the record, and that's something that really drove home the appeal of this album for me. Great songwriting, to boot!
9. Battles - Glass Drop (Warp)
I've been in love with Battles since the B and C EPs came out years ago. Mirrored was a good record, but the vocals drove me nuts sometimes. I think I was the only person that was excited to hear Tyondai Braxton had left the band… but I was also somewhat concerned about what would happen to some of the band's depth. Crisis averted! The guest vocalists here really add a great deal to the record, and the songwriting is so incredibly focused. Battles continue to boggle my mind, and Glass Drop took a potentially terrible turn of events and capitalized on it with immense skill.
10. Ascension - Consolamentum (World Terror Committee)
People are overlooking this record, and it's driving me nuts. It came out at the end of 2010, so officially it's not a 2011 release. But every list-compiling maniac had their year-end records selected before it was released… so to me that means it's eligible this year. German black metal, reminds me at times of Deathspell Omega, Glorior Belli and the like, but Ascension have a very unique feel. The production is spot on and the songs vary in tempo so you're never bored by a series of continually blazing fast tracks. To top it off the artwork is fantastic on this record. I actually blind-purchased this based on the art alone. The fact that this record is overlooked is seriously criminal.
Implodes - Black Earth (Kranky)
Ordo Obsidium - Orbis Tertius (Eisenwald)
Thou - To The Chaos Wizard Youth (Vendetta/Howling Mine)
The Decemberists - The King Is Dead (Capitol)
Absu - Abzu (Candlelight)
Hollow Sunshine/The Austrasian Goat - Split/Collaboration (Vendetta)
Deafheaven - Roads To Judah (Deathwish Inc.)
Lycus - 2011 Demo (Graceless Recordings)
Barghest - Untitled CS (Big Mountain Tapes)
Velnias - Velnias CS (Land Of Decay)
Ash Borer - Discography 2CS (Land Of Decay/Psychic Violence)
Hell - II CS (Eternal Warfare)
Algernon Cadwallader - Live CS (Sex Cave Records)
Ruin Lust - Ruin Lust CS (Psychic Violence)
Mutilation Rites - Mutilation Rites CS (Poison Infiltration)
Alda - Tahoma CS (Eternal Warfare)
False - Irish Knot, Milwaukee, WI
Thou/Northless/Protestant - Borg Ward, Milwaukee, WI
Rocky Votolato - Cactus Club, Milwaukee, WI
Alcest - Bottom Lounge, Chicago, IL
Utech Records Music Festival - Cactus Club, Milwaukee, WI
Mutilation Rites - Maritime, Appleton, WI
Algernon Cadwallader - Strangelight, Chicago, IL
Best records released prior to 2011 that I just heard in 2011
Mastodon - Crack The Skye (Reprise)
Alcest - Écailles De Lune (Prophecy Productions)
Deathspell Omega - Paracletus (Season Of Mist)
Astomatous - The Beauty Of Reason (Self-released)