Staff Picks: Top Ten Local and National Albums of 2011

I'm not one for New Year resolutions, but at the beginning of 2011, I made one I was actually pretty excited about keeping. My goal was to listen to more music this year than any other year before. Thanks to the help of some generous publicists, Spotify and some solid purchases over at Good Records, reaching my goal was a breeze. I had it made by summer.

Looking back, though, I only scratched the surface. There were so many records I never got around to checking out. There are only 365 days in the year, dammit. Still, my eardrums took on tons of records, both local and otherwise, from which I've culled together a list of my favorites. Here are my local picks first.

10. The Strange Boys - Live Music
On The Strange Boys' third album, they've put their pop sensibility at the forefront, trading in the gritty sound of their previous efforts for a more listenable, warmer record.

9. Sundress - Sundress EP

The self-titled EP from Sundress represents a fresh start from a band that spent the last few years searching for its musical identity. Tight drum grooves, sunburned guitars and overwhelming psychedelia look to a bright future from this Denton act.
8. Seryn - This Is Where We Are

Seryn's passionate performances translate nearly perfectly to tape on their full length debut. The album surges with musical swells, emotionally sung four-part harmonies and interesting poly-rhythms, making it a sort of prog-folk gem.
7. The O's - Between The Two

On The O's second full length record, the country/folk duo made up of John Pedigo and Taylor Young took a different approach to songwriting than they had in the past. The resulting record is the band's best yet.
6. Burning Hotels - Burning Hotels

On their self-titled record, Burning Hotels were smart not to traipse back through the post-punk territory of their previous records. Instead, they've matured with a slower sound (even on the dancy first single "Beard") and added more electronic elements 
5. Old Snack - Everything Is Happening So Fast

The best song titles to come from a North Texas act are on Old Snack's debut album Everything Is Happening So Fast. "The Man With The Golden Snack," "Burt Reynolds IV" and "Sally Field's Butt" are choice cuts on this energetic punk record.

4. Sailors With Wax Wings - Sailors With Wax Wings
Technically, this shouldn't be on my list seeing as it came out in 2010, but I don't really care. I came across it after reading an interview with singer R. Loren in a Frontrow piece just a few months ago. It reminds me of Slowdive's Just For A Day, only much darker. Makes sense: Slowdive's Simon Scott actually collaborated on this album.
3. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
It's hard to deny Annie Clark's brilliance. With each album she outdoes the previous one, and on her third record, Strange Mercy, the guitar performance and pop sensibility have never been better.
2. The Blurries - Paper Cuts
Out of nowhere this year, The Blurries went from being an OK band called Slider Pines to releasing this piece of gritty rock. The album is full of incredible hooks (the chorus of "Little Marie" is impossible to shake), beautiful melodies and precise and energetic musicianship.
1. Centro-Matic - Candidate Waltz
If someone asked me to choose the best band North Texas has to offer, I would choose Centro-Matic in a second. From the prolific mind of singer Will Johnson comes yet another brilliant work, one of the band's best. Everything you could want in an album is here: top musicianship, great melody and energy, and Johnson narrates each song like a miniature novel. Not to mention that "Only In My Double Mind" is the band's best single since 2004's "Flashes And Cables."

National Top 10

10. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
I'm still a bigger fan of the band's first album, Album, but Father, Son, Holy Ghost has moments of epic transcendence (the end of "Vomit"). The album shows great pop sensibility, too.

9. Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts

There's something perfectly melancholy about Thurston Moore's Beck-produced album Demolished Thoughts. Moore manages to make minimal instrumentation sound orchestral with only an acoustic guitar, harp, violin and the occasional trap-set.

8. Panda Bear - Tomboy

Panda Bear's Tomboy doesn't compare to his brilliant 2007 effort Person Pitch, but thanks to the production of Spaceman 3's Sonic Boom, this record explores a wider sonic range.

7. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Almost didn't include this because I haven't listened to it since it came out. I remember really liking it then, though.

6. Josh T. Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen

It's a terribly sad, sobering album written by Josh T. Pearson in the wake of divorce. As with all his music, there are more biblical and spiritual references than any Christian band I've ever heard.

5. White Denim - D

This is the closest I'll ever come to liking a jam band. The way the band tears through these jazz-tinged classic psych-rock songs is enough to make me want to white-knuckle the steering wheel and step on the gas. So basically, don't listen while driving.

4. Antlers - Burst Apart

I really enjoyed the arch of this album. It starts out upbeat, runs into some tension, and mellows out toward the end.

3. British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall

I'm an unabashed British Sea Power super-fan. All bias aside, I've probably listened to this record more than any other this year, as it came out toward the beginning. It's explosive, energetic and melodic.

2. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

This 22-song album is too much to digest at first. Once I set a few mile-markers, though, it proved to be an epic, expansive record, well worth the time invested.

1. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

I fought the hype at first, but after a few months it sucked me in. The album's only problem is that it's best enjoyed with good weather -- something we rarely have in North Texas.