Atlanta Music Roundtable ’11: Best Local Albums of 2011

In case you haven’t heard by now, the Atlanta Music Roundtable is a series of collaborative posts covering the past year in music. Ten local music bloggers came together to discuss ten music-related topics, and we’ve been posting the results of that collaboration all week long. Today is the last day of AMR2011, and our final two posts will be about the year’s best albums. This particular post focuses on the best Atlanta albums of the year, and the range of responses speaks to the quality of the local scene. You can read our discussion of the best non-local albums this afternoon over at I’m a Bear, Etc.

The response to this year’s roundtable has been incredibly gratifying, and I’d like to thank everyone who’s read and shared the posts, as well as everyone who showed up to The Earl for our show on Wednesday night. It was amazing to see that many people show up on a weeknight for an all-local lineup. People even showed up on time! Big thanks to Little Tybee, Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun, New Animal, and Spirits and the Melchizedek Children for performing. Bands like those are the reason we bloggers have something to talk about in the first place.

Finally, I’d like to thank my fellow bloggers for indulging this idea for the second year in a row. This project wouldn’t have gone anywhere if the Atlanta blogging community wasn’t filled with such awesome people. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

Below is a list of all the previous AMR2011 posts in case you need to play catch-up. You can also see a full list (including links) at atlantamusicroundtable.com.

Day 1: Most Underrated (Ohmpark), Mediums and Formats (Hijacking Music)
Day 2: Break Out in 2012 (Max Blau), Best and Worst (Latest Disgrace)
Day 3: Favorite Shows (Wholly Roller), Visuals (BeAtlanta)
Day 4: Best EPs/Songs (Promising Chord), Best Places to Buy and Hear (Atlanta’s A-List)
Day 5: Best Local Albums (Little Advances), Best Non-Local Albums (I’m a Bear, Etc.)

Check out our discussion of the best local albums after the jump.

Bret (Hijacking Music): I’ve got two albums in mind, Cloudeater – Sun and Sidearm and Ethereal – Abstractica.

By chance I got a hold of Sun and Sidearm a little early and could not stop playing it. They did a great job of mixing electronic and organic instrumentation, and the vocals are on point. No need to drench them in reverb and hide them under guitars because the dude can sing for real. At this point in my listening career it takes a solid piece of work to not only keep my attention, but to make me want to hear it more and more until I am sick of it. That is pretty much what happened with this album and I am excited to see what they are up to next.

Ethereal – Abstractica was an easy one for me to get in to. From the first notes of the first track, you can tell this music is coming from a good place. Not only is the production stellar, the kid brings some fresh raps to the table. ATL is such a great place for hip hop, it’s unfortunate that the wack hop is what ends up getting most of the limelight. It’s time for artists like Ethereal to come to light.

Denton (Little Advances): Lyonnais’ Want For Wish For Nowhere is my local album of the year, and it’s probably one of my top 5 albums of the year, period. They managed to synthesize shoegaze, drones, and rhythmically intense post-punk into a near-perfect set of songs that shows off considerable range while still cohering into a unified whole. It’s hard to believe this is their recorded debut; it sounds more like a third or fourth effort from a band that has already figured out what works and accordingly excised all the unnecessary fat from its sound. Lyonnais is the best band in Atlanta.

Spirits and the Melchizedek Children’s We Are Here To Save YOU! and New Animal’s self-titled debut are also albums that I feel can stand toe-to-toe with anything else released this year, local or otherwise. Spirits found the perfect balance of haunted folk beauty and swelling shoegaze guitars, crafting an album that’s soft even when it’s loud. New Animal released a 75-minute chunk of bedroom-pop that sounds bigger than the bedroom.

Other highlights: Wizard Smoke’s The Speed of Smoke is a ridiculously satisfying piece of stoner metal that hits all the right reference points. On Humorous to Bees, Little Tybee made adventurous folk-pop that is as intricate as it is accessible. And I’m a sucker for the synthesizer-based soundscapes on Warning Light’s Wild Silver.

Finally, Places deserves some kind of body of work award for releasing three full-length collections of songs in 2011. March is my favorite of the three, but Half-Done’s and The Future are both nearly as good.

Moe (Latest Disgrace): I’m going to second Bret on Cloudeater. I think you’ll see a lot of love for Sun and Sidearm in this post, so it’s a bit of a mystery to me why they didn’t garner more attention this year. Their alt-industrial sound may have arena-sized aspirations (the production is top-notch and the hooks are huge), but the music retains a raw sense of urgency that feels vital. By almost any standard imaginable, this is one of the best local releases of the year.

And if you pay any attention at all to my blog, you’ll know my love and appreciation for Lyonnais’ Want for Wish for Nowhere also runs very deep. It’s ambitious experimental rock music that’s murky, dark and difficult, but that to its credit never once dissolves into obtuse abstraction. Even in the farthest reaches of one of the band’s avant noise drone explorations, there’s always a melody to cling to, some fragment of a hook that braces you against the cosmic storm of massive shoegaze tectonics and squalling post-punk intensity. I’m not ready yet to declare Lyonnais Atlanta’s best band, but they certainly turned out the year’s best album.

Not far behind, though, is O’Brother’s Garden Window, an epic, sprawling monster of an album that manages to conjure up hints of Converge, Thrice and Torche, and that’s just in the first five minutes. Alternately aggressive and melodic, gorgeously elegant and brutally heavy, this is a record that successfully covers a wide sonic spectrum without ever crumbling under the weight of its own lofty aspirations. By all accounts, the anticipation for this record was huge, and O’Brother delivered on every promise.

Max (Paste Magazine): When I was looking at the best local albums, I measured them by seeing which ones would’ve made my overall best 2011 albums list. Using that litmus test, I only felt really strongly about two local full-lengths. Little Tybee’s Humorous To Bees was a no brainer in this regard, and it’s easy to hear why minutes into that record. Despite the instrumental dexterity and musical insight that they possess, the members of Little Tybee rarely outshine each other, striking a delicate balance that’s greater than any of its individual parts. That’s the beauty of this record–it’s an elegant arrangement of orchestral pop that equally blends instrumental complexity and pop simplicity into one enjoyable record.

But personally, I think Spirits and the Melchizedek Children’s We Are Here To Save YOU! runs away with local album of the year. It’s the most cohesive local album this year and one of the better psych-rock/shoegaze records I’ve heard in some time. I can’t wait to hear them perform it live at The Earl this week.

Christina (Promising Chord): Cloudeater’s Sun and Sidearm hands down is my pick for best local album released this year. Sun and Sidearm speaks to me on so many levels, and as previously mentioned the production is insanely good. Sam Dew’s vocals are showcased on each track with no need to cover their beauty. Even with a polished sound it really brings out so much vulnerability and emotion.

The release of Garden Window was a highly anticipated one from O’Brother, and I made sure to follow the process up until the release. From the creation of the album art work to the recording process, I knew that this was going to be a great album. With my first listen to Garden Window I nearly lost my breath and screamed profanities. Garden Window really can pull a lot out of the listener and is a perfect album from start to finish.

Another release that I believe was one of the year’s best local albums is Jack of Heart’s Hard Feelings. Hard Feelings is a dreamy album filled with piano-driven pop rock. I couldn’t help but be drawn in by lyrics that are catchy and tell stories of love and heartbreak.

Emily (Wholly Roller): We are really lucky, y’all. Really lucky. Atlanta has one of the greatest music scenes in the entire world, I think. I just had to get that out before I really got started here.

Anyway, I’m going to start with New Animal. I seriously love these dudes to pieces. Everything they’ve released this year is golden. Their self-titled release at the beginning of the year gives me the chills every time I listen to it. And I’m really excited to see what 2012 brings these guys.

Spirits and The Melchizedek Children’s We Are Here To Save YOU! is another favorite of mine. I second Max and Denton, it’s definitely among the best of the best.

Finally, I have to mention Turf War. Those guys know how to have a good time and that totally shows through in Years of Living Dangerously. They are wild and crazy and they’re one of my favorite Atlanta-based rock bands for sure.

Adam (BeAtlanta): I have to start out with Manchester Orchestra’s Simple Math. It’s an amazingly deep and heartfelt album that can’t be denied. It’s both local and national, and I think it’s an amazing progression for the band. The Atlanta music community should be proud they have such a band claiming Atlanta as home (technically, they’re from Alpheretta, but nationally they’re contributed to Atlanta – it’s close enough).

I would have to agree with Cloudeater’s Sun and Sidearm as well. As for the attention factor for the album, I think they will gain more attention as more folks see them live. They played a BeAtlanta house show and blew the crowd away. Atmospheric space rock with an electric feel.

Special TV Microwave Computer from Gun Party was an awesome mix of party tracks. It has this B-52s feel to it, but definitely with a modern, party-punk feel to it. They put on an awesome live show, too.

I agree with New Animal’s self-titled. They have been mentioned throughout these posts and I think that speaks for itself.

Clan Destined, Imagination Head, Blair Crimmins, New Terminus, Young Orchids, Fishhawk, Today the Moon, Tommorow the Sun, Shepherds, A. Grimes – look up their new albums.

Tim (I’m a Bear, Etc.): How can I say anything besides New Animal here? It’s up there in my favorite albums of the year, and not just Atlanta. This album came out of nowhere and I was surprised to see such heavy national blog backing on it, but it’s well worth it. “Fires in the Backyard” is my favorite track of the year. If there’s one song that sums up my year it would be that track. Then they continued to slowly release material throughout the year and 2012 looks very bright for these guys.

Other highlights are Spirits and the Melchizedek Children’s We Are Here To Save YOU!, Little Tybee’s Humorous to Bees and Cloudeater’s Sun and Sidearm.

Also, we didn’t have a Deerhunter record but Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound project delivered one of the best records of the year with Parallax. I still stand by my stance from last year that he’s Atlanta’s MVP. I will get behind anything Bradford puts out.

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