My 2011 in Music: #20-11

You probably thought that Honorable Mentions post was my 11-20, right? Wrong! I couldn’t squeeze everything into a top ten or fifteen this year, so I did a top twenty, split into two parts. My top ten will post tomorrow, though between you and me, you could hop over to Row Three and see it now.

20. The Belle Brigade – The Belle Brigade

The first album from local sibling act The Belle Brigade was a self-produced collection of solid and sweet folksy songs. This time around, they have a label, a bunch of promotion (I’ve even seen them featuring on some big-name year-end lists!), and a bigger, bolder, more rollicking sound. Los Angeles musicians have their own take on country, sort of an indie-country hybrid, and I like it.

19. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong

Every time I hear The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, I really enjoy them (also lead singer Kip is like the nicest guy ever). They don’t stick with me for that long, though, which is the main reason this album isn’t even higher on my list. This one’s even catchier and more fun than their previous stuff, if possible, and the video for “Body” is a great tribute to the endless summers of childhood.

18. The Dodos – No Color

I quite liked The Dodo’s first album Visiter, but didn’t care for the second at all – with No Color, they’re back in form, with intricate arrangements and exuberant drumming backing up soaring vocals. Plus, this time they’ve got Neko Case on background vocals, which lends an extra air of awesome to many of the songs, especially “Don’t Try and Hide It.”

17. Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness

The most surprising thing about this album is that Los Campesinos! haven’t used this title before. Yes, you won’t find much new on here if you’re a long-time Los Camp! fan, but if you are a fan, you’re probably okay with that. It continues the slightly slower, gloomier tone that characterized the second half of Romance is Boring, with lyrics that are slightly more mature and considered. Losing more original members is starting to take its toll, though – nothing against the replacements, who are solid, but Aleks’s sunny counterpoint to Gareth’s desperation is missed.

16. Wild Flag – Wild Flag

A band combining former members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, the Minders, and others, I knew I had to check Wild Flag out as soon as I heard about them. I don’t love all of the songs (some tend toward the same noisiness that makes Sleater-Kinney just a sometimes band for me), but the ones I do like I like a LOT. Especially “Romance,” which also has a really fun video – basically a short film, really. Carrie Brownstein is also active as a comedienne (currently on IFC’s Portlandia with Fred Armison), and that sense comes through here.

15. Ida Maria – KATLA

Somehow I missed until a few weeks ago that Ida Maria had a new album out this year! Thankfully I got hold of it in time for this list, because this is one fun punk throwback album. There’s a few songs that tend a bit too abrasive for me, but for the most part, KATLA is immediately and unavoidably catchy. Throw in Ida Maria’s sly wit, and this is at least as fun, maybe more so, than her debut. “Cherry Red” is one of my favorite songs on the album; this version is acoustic, but the album is not.

14. Florence + the Machine – Ceremonials

I didn’t give Florence + the Machine’s debut album Lungs nearly enough listening time when it came out, beyond the two or three singles that got a lot of play, but I tuned into this one more. I’m still not totally sold on the whole package – her voice is amazing, there’s no doubt of that, but it often overpowers everything else that’s going on. I think that’s part of the point. But there’s a lot to appreciate here, and there are several songs definitely standing out to me on here.

13. Mates of State – Mountaintops

It’s so great to hear Mates of State back doing original music again after an admittedly-great cover album. I need more time with this one; the second half starts to get a bit same-y to me, and they’re definitely moving into a more melodic and pared-down style that I like, but doesn’t excite me as much as Bring It Back, which remains my favorite of their albums. That said, songs like “Palomino” and “Maracas” are right up with their best.

12. Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls

A friend has proven to me he shared UK band Veronica Falls with me last year, which I don’t remember at all, but after stumbling across them on Stereogum earlier this year, I find myself more taken with Veronica Falls’ eponymous debut LP every time I hear it. The combination of gentle vocals with melancholic chord progressions, tight harmonies, and just a hint of medieval intervals feels fresh and unique, and imminently pleasing.

11. Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams / He Gets Me High EP

The EP He Gets Me High was my #1 of the first half of the year. I still love it, and I quite like Only in Dreams as well, but it’s a lot less noise-poppy and a lot more polished than their previous album, which is throwing me off. With more time to get used to Only in Dreams, I’ve little doubt this pair of excellent discs would jump back into my Top Ten, but as of right now, I’m not getting the same exhilaration from Only in Dreams that I got from the EP or their previous album, so I’m reluctantly bumping them down here.