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Charlotte’s Best Albums of 2011

by Bryan Reed

Charlotte’s Best Albums of 2011

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Picture by Andy the Doorbum

February 7, 2012

2011 proved a productive year for music in Charlotte. With a mix of long-time players and ambitious newcomers, straightforward song crafters and experimental adventurers, there was plenty to be excited about. The following is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of output, but to my mind, it’s the cream of the crop. Albums are listed alphabetically by artist.




Andy the Doorbum - The Man Killed The Bird, And With The Bird He Killed The Song, And With The Song, Himself (self-released) / Appalucia - Appalucia (self-released)

2011 was a productive year for Andy Fenstermaker. His latest solo outing as Andy The Doorbum is as ambitious and accomplished as its title is long. Fenstermaker’s long been an ace storyteller with a Tom Waits-ian knack for casting affecting tales of derelict characters, but here he shows a keener knack for arranging as well. That impulse is what drives the full-band effort from Appalucia to such delirious highs. Joined by a gang of buddies, The Doorbum leads a rambunctious, humorous rave-up not unlike a riled-up and fully inebriated not-so-distant cousin of the Avett Brothers.

Aqualads- Treasures (self-released)

On their fourth outing, Aqualads don’t reinvent any wheels. They do, however, fill the old ones with plenty of fresh air. Here, the long-standing surf band barrels the crisp guitar runs and swinging drums of genre forbears like The Ventures into picturesque settings. Heat-stroked Morricone-esque Spaghetti Western melodies give “Vientos Del Sur” a smoldering Latin swing, while the moody, moonlit exotica of “White Sands,” suggests more shore-bound activities. The sound might be revivalist, but it’s no reenactment. In the Aqualads’ capable hands, surf-rock stakes a mighty claim for currency.

BrainF≠- Sleep Rough (Sorry State/Grave Mistake)

After a pair of stellar singles, Brain F≠ outdid itself on its full-length debut. In its turbulent 10 tracks, Sleep Rough emphasized all of Brain F≠’s strengths — and particularly the vocal interplay between front-persons Elise Anderson and Nick Goode. As the band whips itself into a storm of jittery guitars, counter-intuitive bass lines, and muscular drumming, Anderson sings at the center with an unfazed detachment, grounding the band and drawing its volatility like a lightning rod. That tension, driven equally by the rough melody of early West Coast punk and hardcore’s strident urgency, makes Sleep Rough one of the year’s most exciting records — from anywhere.

Click here to stream (2 songs)

The Catch Fire - Rumormill (No More Fake Labels)

For long-time local music fans, The Catch Fire might be considered a supergroup. Fronted by Alternative Champ Mike Mitschele and Jon Lindsay, an in-demand sideman and up-and-comer in his own right, and bolstered by Bellglide’s rhythm section of bassist Adam Roth and drummer John Cates, The Catch Fire’s polish is less than surprising. The chemistry between Mitschele and Lindsay is undeniable, and Rumormill, the band’s debut, is an effervescent pop-rock primer build from a thorough synthesis of all that is catchy — from the Elephant 6 swells of “Sing Along” to the Comboland jangle of “Choking Chain”; from the spacey dream-pop of “Ambulance” to the punchy power-pop of “Back In The Band.”

Click here to stream

Elonzo- A Letter to a Friend (self-released)

On A Letter to a Friend, Elonzo’s easygoing Americana finally delivers the confident, cohesive statement the Rock Hill band has long promised. Frontman Jeremy Davis leads the band — which also includes his sister, pianist Maggie Davis Bourdeau, her husband, drummer Dan Bourdeau, and bassist Stephen Narron — with his honeyed vocal and the casual sway of his acoustic guitar strums. But its the sonic impulses at the band’s edges — Maggie’s elegant piano, Jeremy’s undercurrent of electric guitar squall — that helps the band bolster the narrative drama in its songs.

Click here to stream

Great Architect - Cultural Games (Kinnikinnik)

Easily dodging the so-called “sophomore slump,” the now six-piece Great Architect showcases a less-improvised, but more dynamic voyage of instrumental avant-rock. Drawing heavily from the free jazz backgrounds of many of its members, Great Architect maintains a sense of spontaneity and a fearlessness of the din it can create. But it’s not all chaos, either. And at its best, which is not uncommon on Cultural Games, Great Architect crafts a clear picture of time and place. Songs like “Ocean” and “Pageturner” suggest daring unmade films, filled with taut pacing and explosive conflict.

Click here to stream

The Houston Bros. - Empty Spaces (self-released)

On their fifth recording, the veteran outfit displays a remarkable consistency and an unwavering knack for muted melodic hooks. Draped loosely in dreamy reverb, and with principals Matt and Justin Faircloth singing in drifting harmony, songs like “The Future Is Here, Part 2” become bittersweet mirages of nostalgia, pushed along gently by Justin’s unhurried drumming. Nothing here is overstated, favoring instead a patient and spacious mood that lets wavering guitar twang, horns, and piano seep into the recording’s farthest corners. Likewise, nothing is out of place, or unnecessary. Indeed, Empty Spaces is a document of veteran restraint, and assured craftsmanship.

Moenda- Moenda (Kinnikinnik)

Moenda’s full-length debut is also the final statement of the band as a quartet; electronics whiz Steven Pilker departed the band before the album was released. The din captured here, though, was worth preserving. Pilker, in league with synth-player Robin Doermann and guitarist Ross Wilbanks, fill the spaces between Davey Blackburn’s hard-swinging drumming. And special note should be taken of Blackburn’s drumming, a gymnastic whirlwind that feels like it could fit a jazz-riot or a heavy metal blitzkrieg. The band’s rhythmic instrumentals act as a soundtrack to an apocalyptic dance party — and what a party it is!

Click here to stream

Yardwork- Brotherer (Lunchbox)

The long awaited full-length from Yardwork finally arrived this year — and it was worth the wait. The band’s knotty, exuberant pop still defies easy definition. It sprints with the urgency of punk, but swings like a worldly funk; its layered arrangements suggest the polyglot pop of contemporaries like Yeasayer, but the rootsy sing-alongs lean toward Akron/Family freak-folk. Whatever it is, though, Yardwork’s sound is vibrant and infectious, and totally their own.

Click here to stream (1 song).

Young And In The Way - V. Eternal Depression (Antithetic) / I Am Not What I Am (self-released)

In their three years of existence, Young And In The Way have released five recordings. With no shortage of ideas and refinements to their approach, the band has also steadily improved on each record. So with the double-feature of this year’s I Am Not What I Am and V. Eternal Depression, their brutal and captivating blend of grinding hardcore and atmospheric black metal has further embraced the band’s own extremes — from tight, volatile bursts of hardcore to panoramic expanses of chilly ambient metal. Growing attention beyond Charlotte seems to attest to the band’s continued potential, too.

To stream, click here and here

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Tags: bryan c. reed, bands, album, music, charlotte

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