Top 10 Local Albums of the Year
A lot of music comes across my desk and there is not enough time in the year to listen to it all. This is a list of the top 10 local releases that caught my ear, had me listening, and in most cases listening again. These are 10 artists or groups from Buffalo that deserved your ear in 2011.
Think Captain Beefheart meets the Descendents. ‘Nuff said.
The most mature sounding album on this list comes from a group of twenty-something dudes. But you wouldn’t guess that these guys are barely out of college unless you actually read the titles of their songs like “Handicapped a Jedi” and “Whiskey Wine & Grass.” Contrary to what you might assume based on these lighthearted titles, their music is serious. A mix of bluegrass, jazz, funk, and rock, you’d be pleased to catch these guys in the corner of your favorite bar as you share a drink with friends. And chances are they already frequently gig at some of your favorite spots.
With this straight forward, well executed indie rock record, Arctic Death continue to do the Arctic Death thing on Arctic Death. This is a local band that has definitely developed their own, instantly recognizable sound and formula. The tracks are short and sweet, full of guitar riffs for guitarists, the type you’d want to sit down and learn. Though these 12 tracks tend to blend together a little bit, their sound is tight sound and even better live.
Nobody lays down a fresh and funny line quite like Tone Atlas, and no doubt, DJ Cutler is one of the best mixer-scratchers in town. Aggressive, yet minimal, Dope Grindwork is fun, funny, and a breath of fresh air when it comes to the usually egotistical hip-hop game.
Just by coincidence, the album I was listening to just before I put on Black Umbrella’s latest, Tussie-Mussie, was the Cure’s Bloodflowers. This is funny because it’s hard for me to tell now if I’m still listening to the Cure or to Black Umbrella. This isn’t a problem though, it’s a compliment. Though Black Umbrella’s lead singer Derek James sounds more like a less aggressive Billy Corgan than he does Robert Smith, the production value, melodies, and melodramatic themes, especially on tracks like “Psychic Readings,” are a clear shout out to the twee pop of the 1980s. Out of context, you’d think this album actually came from that time period, but we are lucky enough to be able to enjoy Black Umbrella, here in Buffalo, 2011.
Part Animal Collective, part demented disco, Fed Odd by The Bird Day is certainly one of the most unique records on this list. For seven straight tracks, this five piece from Buffalo—currently relocated to Portland, Oregon—experiment with texture and structure to create Flaming Lips style psychedelic indie-pop. For something with some pop sensibility listen to the Air-like “Steel Cloud.” For something a bit more far-out check out “We Taste Nothing.” This is an intriguing record that begs the question: why aren’t these guys signed yet?
When it comes to rock n’ roll, the Albrights cover all bases on Ask, Tell. From Beatles inspired tracks like “Hard Times,” the soft rock of “Never Gonna Stop,” and modern-rock scorchers like “Good Woman,” the Albrights deliver a well rounded, well thought out album that would appeal to music fans of all ages. The highlight of this album is the second track, “You Don’t Love Me,” a driving piano rock tune complete with hooky guitar riffs, and a strong and splendid vocal performance from singer Joe Donohue.
This album is the only purely electronic record on this list, and it is nearly impossible to pigeon hole. It’s not dance music—although there are some tracks that will certainly get you dancing—it’s straight electronica at it’s finest, and from one of Buffalo’s own. Catamaran is 22 year-old Vincent Brunetto who recently relocated to Manhattan, but not before dropping this album on Buffalo earlier this month. This self-titled, self proclaimed “dark wave” album mixes soaring tones, well chosen and manipulated vocal samples, and sharp synthesizer vamps to create a sound not unlike the sounds heard on some of the most highly praised albums of the year by the likes of M83 and The Field. Highlights include “Holidaze” with its rhythmic, bassy voice samples, and the Field-like “Krokodil.”
He’s got so much ambition. It’s not just a line from his catchy-as-hell single “Ambition,” it’s totally true. Chae Hawk is going places, partly due to that driving, never ending, bowl-you-over-if-you’re-in-his-way-ambition, but also because he’s a really good rapper. “Vagabond Footwork,” the record’s opening track, and one of it’s many high points, is the perfect start to this high energy, honest record. Featuring a cast of nationally known names like Joel Madden of Good Charlotte, who sings on Hawk’s pop single “Lost;” and Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die, who lends his voice to “P.B.S.” as well as an inside shout-out to Buffalo from a raspy-voiced Lance Diamond, Blues of A Journeyman is a benchmark album for the 28-year-old rapper. With that said, I’m even more excited for his next record, Dance Party For The Heavy Hearted, due out in early 2012.
It’s pretty easy to tell when the emotion in a piece of music is authentic. It is even more obvious when a band totally captures their vision for said piece of music. Like A Panther’s Rockpile is both authentic and complete. Listening to Rockpile is like finding an ancient record in your parents basement that they didn’t want you to know about. It’s a little messy, it’s a little muddy, and the songs are deceptively simple. The production on this album is certainly not the best on this list, but it’s not meant to be. Their Facebook page has five “likes” and they are pretty much completely represented online by this record and its artwork. All of these aspects add to the sad, chaotic, mysterious experience it is to listen to Rockpile. As far as the sound goes, the album balances minimal indie tracks like “Ketamine” and “Hide + Seek” with fuzzy noise punk tracks like “Castle” and “What Color” and experimental stoner rock jam sessions like “Nothing’s Out There” and “Behemoth.” When the hissing sound effects on the record’s third track, “Ketamine” fizzle out right in the middle of the song, taking the rest of the instruments with it, there is a brief moment of nothingness before the song humbly builds back up. That moment of nothingness is the height of the album. Like some of the best records in any collection, you might hate this record the first time you hear it, but you’ll love it the second time. Oh, and the record’s title seems to be a Buffalo Bills reference. Go Bills. —cory perla
If you think your album should be on this list, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to 810 Main Street, Buffalo.