Using an algorithm (read: spreadsheet) first concocted for last year's Year in Music critics' poll, we at the Scene tabulated 2011's results based on the ballots of our 18 go-to music writers, both staff and contributing. Because only full-length albums were eligible for voting, critically beloved EPs like Jensen Sportag's Pure Wet, PUJOL's Nasty, Brutish and Short, By Lightning!'s Sand Down the Edges and Birdcloud's Birdcloud didn't make the cut. Certain would-be contenders — The Black Keys' El Camino and Matt Moody's El Baile de los Muertos, for instance — were released after the ballot deadline, and by the same token, some albums released late last year showed up among this year's finalists — most notably, William Tyler's Behold the Spirit, which placed at No. 5. While Caitlin Rose's Own Side Now and KORT's Invariable Heartache debuted in America this year, both were available via import in 2010 — and thus their respective showings at No. 1 and No. 3 in last year's poll.
Just shy of making the Top 10 were Gillian Welch's The Harrow and the Harvest, The Clutters' Breaking Bones, PUJOL's X File on Main Street, Diarrhea Planet's Loose Jewels and Natural Child's 1971. Loss' Despond, The Non-Commissioned Officers' Money Looking for Thieves, The Ettes' Wicked Will, Leslie Keffer's Give It Up, Jon Byrd's Down at the Well of Wishes, Sugar Sk*-*lls' Secret Fugue Machine, Korean Is Asian's Korean Is Asian, Sam and Tre's The Debut Album, The Coolin' System's The Coolin' System and Vince Gill's Guitar Slinger all received multiple votes, as well. All in all, it was a big year for the locals, and while we'd love to geek out in regard to all the aforementioned records, we had to cut the list off somewhere. Without further ado, here are the top 10 local records of 2011:
Not since the Dixie Chicks has a trio of women snuck up on the country world, spoken their minds and influenced the charts the way Pistol Annies have this year. When Hell on Heels first came out, people complained that they couldn't just walk into Walmart and buy a physical copy, but that didn't stop it from reaching the top of the country and digital charts — and that's a big deal. It's fun to hear Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley stomp all over middle-class propriety. But there's a helluva lot more to the album than attitude, like a triple dose of honeyed, hard country singing, uncluttered, loose-limbed arrangements and the sharpest, least romanticized portraits of home life this side of Loretta Lynn. —Jewly Hight
While we know that Music City isn't going to be changing the name on the tourism brochures to Metal City anytime soon, we did see a significant uptick in quality touring metal acts stopping through town this year. We even saw some locals make a splash in the national metal underground. Across Tundras happen to be among those locals, having released the dusty, driven frontier metal of Sage this year via Neurot Recordings, the label run by legendary post-metal outfit Neurosis. It's an album of epic scope, brutal and beautiful, packed with monster riffs that blaze a bold path for the future of Nashville heavy music. —Sean L. Maloney
Greenville, S.C., native Nikki Lane has more to her than a nomadic past and the features and wardrobe of a movie star — though those qualities certainly don't hurt in terms of mystique. Luckily for us, Lane turned up in Music City, where she made the moody and hardheaded Walk of Shame. In genuine Classic Queens of Country fashion, Walk features ballads, barnburners and soul-shaking odes to following one's own path ("Hard Livin' " and the exceptional "Gone, Gone, Gone"), chasing true love ("Come Away Joe") and the occasional massive fuck-up ("Walk of Shame"). Lane isn't the first neotraditional country songstress in recent memory to blend the time-tested conventions of ladies like Loretta and Patsy with the sonics and attitude of indie rock, but she's easily one of the most memorable. —D. Patrick Rodgers
A devotee of the literate approach of such Nashville songwriters as Bobby Bare, Jonny Corndawg confounds categories of hipness and squareness — two old-fashioned terms you could use when referring to Corndawg — in exemplary fashion throughout Down on the Bikini Line. Corndawg is also a fan of the countercultural approach of super-folkie Michael Hurley: Despite its preoccupation with laser hair-removal techniques and illicit teenage sex, Bikini Line is a very sincere record. Corndawg makes music for divorced fathers who drive the long haul — Del Reeves meets The Holy Modal Rounders — and the great "Undercover Dad" breaks fresh new ground. —Edd Hurt
'Boro dwellers Glossary have been around long enough to become a rock-scene fixture, and sometimes becoming a fixture gets you taken for granted. This year's Long Live All of Us offers a rumbling shake out of complacency. It's not a new Glossary — the album still bears the mix of blue-collar rock energy, rootsy storytelling and unpretentious approachability that the band's been building on for a decade-plus. It's just sharpened and focused, built on the kind of cohesive songwriting that only grows out of years of doing. It bumps like Motown and celebrates like gospel and stomps like Springsteen, but it sounds like Glossary, perfected. —Nicole Keiper
When I first saw William Tyler in 1998, as the fresh-faced guitarist in the power-pop band Lifeboy, his impeccable taste and restraint didn't cry "future guitar hero." But that's exactly why he's become a guitar hero, working with indie-rock luminaries like Lambchop, Silver Jews, Cortney Tidwell and Superdrag. Despite being an instrumental guitar record, Tyler's solo debut Behold the Spirit further displays his unique sense of elegance and understatement: Fingerpicked acoustic and electric guitars churn out beautiful, haunting melodies and hypnotic accompaniment, in the service of compositions that are layered and intricate, yet feel as natural as the morning sunrise. The album earned an 8.6 on Pitchfork, where writer Grayson Currin gave a glowing review, comparing Tyler to John Fahey and Pentangle, heady company to be sure — well-deserved praise, even if Currin still doesn't know what a waltz is. —Jack Silverman
Middle Tennessee's power-poppy indie-rock institutions The Features have seen it all — from flirtations with national stardom to a proper major label shafting. But here, on their third full-length effort and their first to be solely released by Kings of Leon's imprint Serpents and Snakes, The Features are more at home in their sound than ever, mining their own stylistic predilections and influences — from Britpop to New Wave — and coming up with a record that is boldly honest and packed top-to-bottom with extraordinary songs. Wilderness is where cynicism and optimism, proficiency and accessibility all meet, and The Features' most well-executed effort to date. —D. Patrick Rodgers
Remember when Those Darlins were known more for their quirky country tap-dance routine than they were for writing infectious garage-rock toe-tappers? Well, neither do they. And that's a wholly damn good thing. This year's sophomore LP, Screws Get Loose, showed Nashville-by-way-of-Murfreesboro's favorite singing switchblade sisters and drummer bro completely shed any shred of novelty Carter Sisters worship ever foisted upon them, opting instead for a rough-and-tumble garage-rock swagger to complement their girl-gang-turned-girl-group-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks harmonizing about getting kicks from long nights of misdemeanors and initiation rituals at their suitors' expense. When it comes to playful cuts like the ever-clever "Be Your Bro" — in which lyrics like "I just wanna run and play in the dirt with you" are defiantly NOT euphemistic — to the veritable "Whole Damn Thing" sequel "Fatty Needs a Fix," the band's campy humor is still in effect. But with bubble-gum hooks as hot as the ones heard in pulp punk gems like "Hives" and the album-opening title track, Those Darlins demand to be taken seriously. And this record seriously rules. —Adam Gold
JEFF the Brotherhood is kind of like that one-in-a-million weed dealer who always delivers. And in 2011, with We Are the Champions, the hometown heroes of the Nashville garage-punk scene dealt out one helluva stoner-punk soundtrack to complement the dankest 'dro, rightfully galvanizing the band's growing international fan base. Dynamically displaying a pronounced growth spurt — from the braying rawk riffage of "Shredder" to the whistle-worthy pop hookery of "Diamond Way" and the Mellotron saturation of a lighter-cuer like "Endless Fire" — Champions shows the J-Bros broadening their stylistic palette and flexing their sonic muscle with a warm, towering production that does justice to their steamrolling stage show. —Adam Gold
Even with competition from beloved local rock stalwarts like The Features and JEFF, was there any doubt that Tristen's long-awaited debut would take top honors? Charlatans at the Garden Gate took two years and just about every local rock musician we've ever met to finish, but damn if it wasn't worth the wait. Charlatans is a strikingly confident record, marrying intense lyrical depth with some of the catchiest pop hooks we heard all year. It's a testament to perfectionism that this record feels so free of filler — we just hope that we won't have to wait quite so long for the next one. —Lance Conzett
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