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article by: Michael Canter

19 January 2012

Top 20 Indie Records Of 2011 (11-20)



Our Year in Music 2011 coverage has already featured our Top 10 EP's of 2011, Top 20 Mainstream Albums of 2011, Listener's Poll Top 100 Spins and our Top Ten Videos of 2011. "Take Your Medicine" by The Quick & Easy Boys was voted song of the year and "Dum Dum Dah Dah" by The Nghiems took top honors as video of the year, and "El Camino" by The Black Keys was our Mainstream Album of The Year. In case you missed them, you can link back to those articles.


Today's feature is The Top 20 Indie Records of the Year. Mini-reviews of these albums that have been posted elsewhere will be credited with links to the entire review, and I will select my personal favorite tracks from each album.

Later this week we will list the Year in Photos and (MY FAVORITE) the Best & Worst Album Covers of the year, along with our list of Top Compilation and Soundtrack releases of the year.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful and musically enriched New Year. I thank you for listening to Jivewired Radio and for supporting indie music, and I hope you will continue to listen throughout the new year.

P.S. - if you want to see our Top Ten selections for 2011, you can follow this link:

Top 20 Indie Records Of 2011 (1-10)

Best wishes for a musically-enriched 2012,
Mike

And now, on to the Top 20 Indie Records of 2011...

11. Indestructible Machine by Lydia Loveless



Buy It At:
Artist Website | Amazon | iTunes

Whether she’s being stalked by a local wanna-be (“Steve Earle”) or musing on the Son of God’s empathy for the common man (“Jesus was a Wino”), Loveless finds a way to put a wicked spin on her Midwestern tales. She doesn’t have all the answers; on the contrary, her narrators are sometimes just muddling through (“I grew up on whiskey and God so I’m a little bit confused”). But they have a fierce sense of just how far they’ll be pushed, and neither the music nor the singer backs off. As fiddle and banjo tangle with guitars that slam and twang over raucous drumming, Loveless digs her boots into the dirt on rabble-rousers such as “Can’t Change Me” and “More Like Them.” But what makes this album such a startlingly mature-beyond-its-years triumph is her openness. The vulnerability in “Crazy,” the heartache underlying the exasperation in “How Many Women” – these are songs that signal a major new voice blowing into the country-punk dives and honky-tonks.
-- Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune

Best Songs: Can't Change Me, Jesus Was A Wino, Bad Way To Go, More Like Them, How Many Women
Team Photo: Steve Earle

12. Can't Get Past The Lips by Broncho



Buy It At:
Artist Website | Amazon | iTunes

BRONCHO are one of alternative rock's big new hopes and they quickly live up to that hype with their debut album "Can't Get Past The Lips", an energized collection of garage and alternative rock anthems that bode well for a promising future. The album deserves classic debut status and is a strong and hugely likeable release that’s worthy of the hype now surrounding them. "Can't Get Past The Lips" is not a bulky record by any means, but it is certainly not a token gesture either. In fact, Broncho's debut demonstrates a strong songwriting acumen and stubbornly heightened emotions that feed their collective energies.
-- Jivewired CD Review

Best Songs: Record Store, Losers, Pick A Fight
Team Photo: Try Me Out Some Time

13. The Dangers Of Standing Still by Red City Radio



Buy It At:
Artist Website | Amazon | iTunes

"The Dangers Of Standing Still" is the aptly-titled, full-length debut from Oklahoma City quartet Red City Radio which has earned them comparisons to the likes of the The Gaslight Anthem, Polar Bear Club and Hot Water Music. It's a hard-rocking and emotive punk/anthemic hardcore hybrid that brings to mind a descriptive or four: Lupine fury. Ravenous ferocity. Muscular relentlessness. Controlled chaos. "The Dangers Of Standing Still" is an unwavering call to arms that jerks the wheel into oncoming traffic and dares you to duck out. Good luck with that.
-- Jivewired CD Review

Best Songs: Spinning In Circles Is A Gateway Drug, Drinking Ourselves Into The Future, This Day Has Seen Better Bars
Team Photo: Nathaniel Martinez, Two For Flinching

14. Smoke Ring For My Halo by Kurt Vile



Buy It At:
Artist Website | Amazon | iTunes

Vile has acknowledged limits in length for the sake of depth. It makes for a full-blown journey. Though there isn't an earworm like "Freeway"-- that endlessly replayable, interstate love song from Vile's 2008 Constant Hitmaker LP-- Smoke Rings isn't that kind of listen. This feels like a family of songs, one whose complexion and course changes as a whole with every spin. In the closing moments of "Ghost Town", Vile leaves us with, "Raindrops might fall on my head sometimes, but I don't pay 'em any mind. Then again, I guess it ain't always that way." He knows exactly what he's trying to say.
-- Pitchfork CD Review

Best Songs: Baby's Arms, Ghost Town, Smoke Ring For My Halo
Team Photo: Jesus Fever

15. Arabia Mountain by Black Lips



Buy It At:
Artist Website | Amazon | iTunes

On their sixth album, Arabia Mountain (out June 7), Black Lips stepped up their game by hiring superproducer Mark Ronson for their most polished collection of garage-rock yet. Ever have a jones to hear snot-nosed punks sing about molested superheroes?? Black Lips have offered up a full stream of the new record, which you can hear here.

As we note in our 7 out of 10 review of the album, Black Lips undergo a transformation in the hands of Ronson this time around, morphing from piss-swilling louts to savvy psych-soul pros: "[The Black Lips] are sculpted into garage-rock sophistication, adding extended psychedelic guitar lines, fleshed-out percussion, even retro-soul sax."
-- First Listen, Spin Magazine

Best Songs: Raw Meat, The Lie, You Keep On Running, Family Tree
Team Photo: Bicentennial Man

16. The Deep Field by Joan As Police Woman



Buy It At:
Artist Website | Amazon | iTunes

In the dark boogie-woogie soul of her songs is the same maudlin murk that exists in Hegarty but also female (and equally non-heteronormative) singer-songwriter precursors Nina Simone, Patti Smith, Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco, who Wasser very much channels on The Deep Field’s ear-worm, first single, “Magic”. Contemporaries such as Regina Spektor and Feist are also accurate RIYLs. But few contemporaries have the snide-talking, Northeastern, Cash Belt swagger Wasser does. She’s confident in her sound, despite being maybe five years into her solo career. The finale of The Deep Field, “I Was Everyone”, shows it off in spades, capturing the lightning of a perfect soul groove in a bottle of swirling, churning, life-giving, invigorating water.
-- Consequence Of Sound

Best Songs: Human Condition, I Was Everyone, The Magic
Team Photo: Run For Love, Flash

17. Cults by Cults



Buy It At:
Artist Website | Amazon | iTunes

At just over a half hour, Cults feels like the perfect length-- just long enough for the bus ride to school (or to work). But more importantly, it executes what it sets out to do masterfully while allowing the group room to grow and mature. They've also set themselves up to take their sound and subject matter in any number of possible directions in the future, and that's a good position for a young band to find itself in. Cults built up a lot of goodwill last year on the strength of just three tracks; on their debut album, they've rewarded it.
-- Pitchfork CD Review

Best Songs: Never Saw The Point, Go Outside, Abducted
Team Photo: Bumper

18. Burst Apart by The Antlers



Buy It At:
Artist Website | Amazon | iTunes

"Burst Apart's" atmosphere is nocturnal and desolate. Foreboding death-crawl "No Widows" fears for vehicular disaster; brief flickers of light are allowed full exposure on the gorgeous, incantatory centerpiece "Rolled Together", whose brushed drum work and silvery guitars could be heard as a studiously completed homework assignment on Agaetis Byrjun. Meanwhile, the tender, nearly beatless balladry of "Hounds" and "Corsicana" are wholly the Antlers' own and painfully pretty to behold-- however depressive Silberman's lyrics, one can simply revel in the zero-gravity synth and vocal moans and feel some sort of uplift.
-- Pitchfork CD Review

Best Songs: Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out, Parentheses
Team Photo: Corsicana

19. Kaputt by Destroyer



Buy It At:
Artist Website | Amazon | iTunes

The production and arrangements evoke a narrow window of time-- sometime between, say, 1977 and 1984, or between Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" and Sade's Diamond Life with stops along the way for Roxy Music's Avalon and Steely Dan's Gaucho. It slides between soft rock, smooth jazz, and new romantic pop. The bass is fretless; the synths have the blocky contrast of a Nagel painting; there are heavily reverbed trumpets and saxophones that almost serve as a Greek chorus, trilling away at the end of every line to enforce the beautiful plasticity of these songs. For Destroyer, this sound is new, and it's there for a reason.
-- Pitchfork CD Review

Best Songs: Chinatown, Kaputt
Team Photo: Song For America

20. The Head and The Heart by The Head and The Heart



Buy It At:
Artist Website | Amazon | iTunes

This debut by the aptly named The Head and the Heart is a solid showcase for the band’s easy, earthy Americana-pop sound that taps into both body parts with the familiar touch of an old friend. The Seattle six-piece has a winning combination of vocals in Charity Rose Thielen (who also plays violin) and core members Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell, who deliver refreshingly reverb-free performances; they are masters of heartpounding crescendos and deliriously infectious folkisms (foot stomping, hand-clapping, etc.). Pianos and guitars rule, and smart, touching lyrics are uncluttered by clever instrumental overkill. The carefree “Cats and Dogs” opens things up, like a rope swing on a summer day: “My roots have grown/but I don’t know where they are.” That theme of wandering roots is further explored in the gorgeous “Down in the Valley,” which uses a lithe violin and a beautifully nostalgia-laced vocal melody to sculpt a palpable longing. If you like your new Americana music honest and direct — think Avett Brothers or The Civil Wars — you’ll be delighted to discover The Head and The Heart.
-- iTunes Review

Best Songs: Lost In My Mind, Sounds Like Hallelujah, Honey Come Home
Team Photo: Ghosts, Heaven Go Easy On Me

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