Thursday, December 22, 2011

My favorite local releases of 2011

`Tis the season for year-end lists. Critics far and wide - from Amazon to the posters on my husband’s favorite message board ( - post their favorite releases of the year around this time.  In the past I treated our annual gift guide as a sort of “best of” list that at times included local recommendations, but I believe this marks my first local Top 10 list. It’s not intended as a complete overview or to slight anyone (since not every band sends us its releases). These are just my personal favorites - the ones that contain songs that continue to get stuck in my head as the New Year approaches. (Many of these releases are available at local record stores like Lunchbox and Manifest as well as digitally).
The Lights, Fluorescent “The Lights, Fluorescent” - I really couldn’t ask for anything more than a posthumous collection by my all-time favorite Charlotte band. Sure, I’d dreamed about a big studio production/label release that could capture its intricate arrangements, dynamic songwriting, and live energy, but this time capsule when combined with its other EPs serves as a great reminder of its all too short run.

Cement Stars “Form and Temper” - Both a throwback to the shoegazing fuzz-pop of My Bloody Valentine and a modern take on dreamy electronic rock, the Olson brothers and company capture cinematic longing within catchy hooks like few others.
South 85 “Too Much Town” - Between Kathy Noonan’s songwriting and Tracy Wyatt’s fire this female-fronted South Carolina combo boasts an entire catalog of strong and heartbreaking tales from the female perspective that should be in rotation on country radio.
Scapegoat “I Am Alien” - Having matured from an adolescent hardcore band (literally, its singer was 12 when it started), this long running unit continues to top itself with busily complex arrangements, catchy, jerky hooks, palpable angst, and meticulous production that’s in line with most anything coming out of Hollywood major labels.
Sugar Glyder “Lovers at Light Speed” - Also produced by Scapegoat’s Kit Walters, the hard working Sugar Glyder make grand, infectious pop-rock anthems that surf the same arena-ready waves as Muse or Coldplay while remaining consistent record after record.
The Hot Gates “Ride It Out” - As leader of the Noises 10 Jason Scavone worked with well-known pop producers and flirted with label deals, but I find that on his own he released some of the best, most diverse work of his still young career on “Ride It Out.”
The Catch Fire “Rumor Mill” - A late entry that was just released earlier this month, this collaboration between music veteran Mike Mitschele (Jolene, the Alternative Champs) and well established singer-songwriter Jon Lindsay has quickly grown on me. It combines all the things I like about Mitschele’s work in the Champs and Lindsay’s blissful, classic pop sound topped with harmonies and lyrical curiosities.
Temperance League “Freedom From Evil Spirits” - Sold as two singles (but given to me on one disc so I consider it more of an EP), the Charlotte garage rock quintet’s output included infectious and raw modern protest songs like “No Jobs/More War” (which my kid digs) and “Ain’t Nobody Listening.” Perfect shout-a-longs.
Grown Up Avenger Stuff “Disagreements with Gravity” - Technically released locally in late 2010, Spectra Records put this out nationally in August. The arrangements are a testament to creativity and invention while remaining accessible. Deirdre Kroener’s riot-grrrl referencing voice scales tall buildings as it should to duly represent this band name.
Lucky 5 “La Resistance” - A group that’s evolved into one of the city’s best and busiest live bands, the songs on its debut while still raw and rocking reveal great soul and funk chops. A comparison is hard to pin down. One track will blend elements of Prince and the Police, while others reference Stevie Wonder, Dave Matthews Band, `70’s A&M pop, late `80s hard rock, and modern pop. But it’s a fresh recipe that combines its influences seamlessly.

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