Andrew Lampela’s Top Music Picks for 2011

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I approach the end of every year with more than a little dread.

Not for the passing of time (can’t do much about that, can we?), but because it means that I’m going to get asked about my yearly top ten list.

What makes it? What doesn’t?

These are night sweat-inducing questions for music nerds; not just because of the choosing but because other music nerds are going to see it.

I’m comfortable enough this year that I haven’t lost too much sleep over my choices. After a few early colossal disappointments (P.J. Harvey and Low Anthem, I’m looking at YOU), it turns out some pretty great stuff came out. Zippity bop, here we go…

1.  Russian Circles, Empros: Instrumental metal at its finest. Russian Circles streamline everything they did well on their first three albums into an absolute monster.  Beautifully orchestrated, emotionally packed and superbly sequenced, Empros is as expressive as it is heavy.

2.  Cymbals Eat Guitars, Lenses Alien: Hot damn! Indie rock that remembers the rock! As much as I liked their debut, nothing prepared me for this. Complex without being overpowering, Cymbals Eat Guitars have managed to make indie rock interesting again for this curmudgeonly old record store guy.

3.  Wye Oak, Civilian/The Knot (reissue): Wye Oak was an outside shot to make this list when Civilian came out, but coupled with The Knot reissue, I find myself listening to them all the time without being able to pinpoint when exactly that happened. Folky indie rock (The Knot, in particular) that really opens up after repeated listens. Both are worth checking out.

4.  Crocodiles, Sleep Forever: Technically, this came out last year, but I was lazy about picking it up. Well, that was stupid. Fuzzed-out pop-rock a la the Jesus and Mary Chain, I’ve crushed this record for months.

5. Skeletonwitch, Forever Abomination: These hometown boys nailed it with this one. Finally getting a production job to match the top notch musicianship, Forever Abomination is a blistering slab of thrashy, blackened metal. Skeletonwitch also get points where others fail by making this stuff just as fun to listen to as it is menacing.

6.  Julianna Barwick, “Keep Up the Good Work” (from The Magic Place): A haunting blend of looped vocals and minimalistic piano, Barwick’s music is absolutely gorgeous. If you’re looking for something a little different, I can’t recommend this enough.

7.  Wild Flag, Wild Flag: Hooray! Carrie Brownstein is back! Along with Mary Timony, Janet Weiss and Rebecca Cole, she’s responsible for a supergroup that goes beyond the hype. These ladies bring the rock as well as a bunch of awesome choruses that lodge themselves into your head. Welcome back. Oh how I’ve missed you!

8.  Meg Baird, Seasons on Earth: Meg Baird returns with a fine collection of folk with Seasons on Earth. Her songs reside in a pretty traditional vein of folk, elevated by her stately guitar picking. This one definitely gained ground as soon as fall hit. Perfect for quiet nights and a bottle of wine.

9.  Kurt Vile, Smoke Rings for my Halo: A great album of hazy, narcoleptic rock. This thing could have come out anytime in the 1970s and not been out of place. It was just re-released with a bonus EP containing a stunning cover of Springsteen’s “Downbound Train.”

10.  Aeges, Roaches EP: At two songs, this might seem a bit short to make the list, but I cannot stop listening to it. Recalling the glory days of the melodic post-hardcore movement in the 1990s, Aeges have me absolutely frothing for the forthcoming full-length dropping in April. Clean vocals, guitar hooks aplenty and breakdowns that aren’t knuckle-draggingly stupid all add up to an extremely happy me.

Obviously, there were other albums that came close to landing a spot. Shout-outs for J. Mascis, Trap Them, Crystal Antlers, Gypsyblood and the final four Nick Cave Remasters are certainly in order. Here’s looking forward to all the music that doesn’t suck next year!

Andrew Lampela has been pushing music on people at Haffa’s Records for a long, long, long time. You also might have seen him playing out in numerous local bands. He only looks mean.

This is the fourth in a series of year-end blog posts by WOUB staff, volunteers and contributors, as well as area musicians, music retailers and plain old music fanatics. Think we missed something? Let us know at