Top 25 Austin Albums of 2011: #25-16

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And for our final countdown of 2011 (Yeah, it’s 2012 – so what? We know you still like countdowns), we’re counting down the top 25 albums of the year from Austin artists. You’ll find artists that run the gamut of genres from folk to punk. Some artists are represented here by their debut album, and others by their fourth, fifth or sixth albums. We hope that this exposes you to some new artists, and helps you revisit others that you’ve enjoyed over the course of 2011. Here’s to an equally exciting 2012!

25. Love Inks – E.S.P. - 'Rock On'

In this minimalist tour de force, Love Inks keep things simple. Their stripped-down approach brought them attention from all over the world this year, and they are poised to be one of Austin’s breakout acts in the years to come. Their sound is probably most similar to the XX or Beach House with their dramatic use of space, sweeping melodies and hushed female vocals. Their version of “Rock On” by David Essex is really the perfect cover for them, but also check out the sneaky-good “In My Dreams.”

24. Whiskey Shivers – Batholith - 'Dooley'

Batholith is packed top to bottom with some of Austin’s finest bluegrass music. Sure, there are some gimmicks scattered throughout, but they can’t hide the quality of the melodies in songs like “Dooley,” “Wookie Boogers” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” The group’s irrepressible sense of humor shines through best on “Drunk Dial” (“You’re the kind of girl I’d like to drunk dial,” they sing), but mostly because the song doesn’t rely on the humor – it’s good even without it. Their personality, which permeates the entirety of the record, is just the icing on the cake.

23. Wheeler Brothers – Portraits - 'Home For the Holidays'

The Wheeler Brothers have quietly put together a fantastic record of folk-rock songs with Portraits. There are well-written songs, tight harmonies and soaring melodies all over this album. Notably, single “Home for the Holidays” elevates the listener regardless of the time of year. However, songs like “Long Hard Road,” “Jersey” and “Focus” remain engaging and resonant after repeated listens. There are currently no Austin tour dates on their schedule, but our listeners around Texas and the rest of the Southwest should grab a chance to see these guys before they return home.

22. Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care - 'Trembling Hands'

Instrumental rock can be a difficult genre for some to embrace, but Explosions in the Sky have found a successful way of doing that for years now. This year’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care found the band exploring more of what has made it such a distinctive outfit over the last decade. It’s got the huge drums, the soaring guitars and the fluctuating dynamics that have formed EitS’ signature style for years now, and serves as the perfect soundtrack to that winter drive or that afternoon in a coffeeshop with a good book. This what Explosions does better than anyone else on the planet right now. You know, if you needed a reminder.

21. MoTel Aviv – Post Modern Nation - 'The Unknown'

Post Modern Nation, the highly anticipated debut from post-punk-pop outfit MoTel Aviv is filled with jangly guitar riffs, soaring vocals, stomping bass and booming drums. Reminiscent of U2, The Clash and The Smiths, MoTel Aviv have crafted a sound that is at the same time evocative of yesteryear and still fresh-sounding today. On the LP, there is a mix of both uptempo danceable singles with huge choruses like “The Unknown” and “Suffering Eyes” and dramatic mid-tempo songs that leave more room for Rodney Connell, the lead singer, to belt out the tunes. Throughout 2011, the group has released impressive music videos and has continued to put on high energy live shows that further fuel the fervor behind this release and we can’t wait to see what’s next for MoTel Aviv in 2012.

20. The Midgetmen – Loud Enough - 'King Kong'

The Midgetmen weren’t trying to make a classic record with Loud Enough. They weren’t trying to break new ground or explore the possibilities of the form. And frankly, that’s what makes this such a good album. These guys are loose, unpretentious, and doing whatever they feel like doing, which leads to long horn-infused jams about Fleetwood Mac (“King Kong”) or short, brash, juvenile tracks (“Sword Fight”). Songs like “Advice” – where singer Alex Victoria gives advice to his newborn – led the group to call this (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) an autobiographical rock opera, but songs like “Beer’s Gone” – wherein the beer is gone – ring just as true. Ultimately, it’s a record that doesn’t care whether you care or not, and that is the Midgetmen’s greatest gift.

19. Suzanna Choffel – Steady Eye Shaky Bow - 'Raincloud'

Choffel was just born at the wrong time. In an earlier incarnation, she was probably a famous jazz singer, wrestling with some of the classic melodies of the Great American Songbook. We may yet see that from her, in fact. Now, however, she’s taking her sultry and talented pipes in a more pop-oriented direction with the funky adult contemporary of Steady Eye Shaky Bow. All you need to hear are opening tracks “Archer” and “Raindrop” to know that you’re encountering a supremely talented individual who has surrounded herself with other supremely talented musicians. The music here is pristine and Choffel’s compelling voice helps it stand out from the pack.

18. Mother Falcon – Alhambra - 'Fireflies'

Mother Falcon is an orchestral collective that really knows how to put their vast instrumental resources to good use. The strings are frequently showcased (as on the gorgeous “Waltz”), but at other times, they are complements to a sound that includes piano, horns, woodwinds, guitars, multiple harmonies and intricate percussion. With the grandeur of Sufjan Stevens, they can overlay melodic lines to build an epic cacophony, but they can also quiet things down to highlight a single piccolo. There is very little pop music being made with the kind of sophistication and beauty evident on Alhambra.

17. The Preservation – Two Sisters - 'Outtasight'

You know that feeling you get when things are good? Not great, and not fine, but actually good. You’re content with your life for no particular reason, and just want to watch the world go by from your front porch. Well, that’s the sound of Two Sisters. It’s got horns and major keys and light, repeated piano chords. The songs are about love and life with titles like “Happiness” and “Just Want to be Loved.” And it’s sweet, fun and bouncy. Whether it’s the cheeky wordplay of “Comisery” or the rhythmic build of “Backstreets,” Two Sisters is full of winning numbers.

16. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead - 'Weight of the Sun'

Tao of the Dead is full of crunching guitars and pounding drums that create an inescapable wall of noise – everything that Trail of Dead does best. However, the music is never overwhelming; it’s always grounded in melodies and excellent songcraft. And for every moment defined by power, Trail of Dead pull back the distortion and let some sweetness shine through, as on “The Wasteland” or “Weight of the Sun.” The songs all bleed into one another, creating a cohesive feel and culminating in an epic 16-minute suite that just summarizes the strengths of the album as a whole. It’s a masterful turn from a band that are clearly experts at what they do.