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Best CDs of 2011
Ellie Goulding, "Lights" (Interscope)
Real Estate, "Days" (Domino)
The Decemberists, "The King is Dead" (Capitol)
Foster the People, "Torches" (Columbia)
Emperor X, "Western Teleport" (Bar None)
The Rosebuds, Loud Planes Fly Low (Merge)
Doomtree, No Kings (Doomtree)
Okkervil River, "I Am Very Far" (Jagjaguwar)
Farewell Flight, "Out for Blood" (Mono vs. Stereo)
Bon Iver, "Bon Iver" (Jagjaguwar)
The Year in Review
Best local album: Mechanicsville native Ross Wright released "Hallelujah, There's a Place for Me," an album full of folk rock meets indie-synth pop that doesn't focus on any one genre but is excellent enough to keep on repeat.
Best show at the National: The National has had some amazing shows this year, including Crystal Castles, Jimmy Eat World, the Flaming Lips, Foster the People and Sufjan Stevens. But for me, the one that stood out the most was from the Mountain Goats in March. The group gave fans a taste of songs it was playing live for the first time. This is where I learned that Mountain Goats followers are pretty much on par with Justin Bieber fans when it comes to losing their minds at the concert.
Best show at a smaller venue: The farewell show at Sprout, which featured a huge roster of bands playing into the night while they said goodbye to their favorite venue.
Best new local discovery: No band caught my attention this year like Dead Fame, a newly formed group of dark, indie-pop rockers that reminded me so much of the Cure and Bauhaus that I feel instantly in love.
Best "Richmond-music-makes-the-big-time" moment: No BS Brass trombonist Reggie Pace joined Bon Iver and appeared on various talk shows including "The Colbert Report" and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" before coming home to a sold-out show at the National and overwhelming support from fans.
Saddest moment in local music: Many of Richmond's best music venues shut their doors this year, including Sprout, Grandpa Eddie's, the Triple, Plaza Bowl and Shenanigans. Although Kingdom rose from the ashes of Alley Katz's demise, the loss of so many venues was a definite blow to the music scene.
Most uplifting local music moment: A group of local musicians including White Laces, the Atkinsons, VCR and many others got together to honor their friend and fellow musician Ross Harman, who took his life last year. The touching benefit show at Edo's Squid raised more than $4,000 to release a tribute album entitled, "Love Me When I'm Gone," featuring covers of Harman's songs.
Best show that I'm kicking myself for not going to: The National appearance of Okkervil River. It figures that I fall in love with the group's latest release, "I Am Very Far," right after its appearance here.
Top 11 CDs of 2011
St. Vincent, "Strange Mercy" (4AD) -- Annie Clark's angelic voice delivering songs full of sex and darkness flanked by psychedelic riffs is intoxicating. Album of the year. Period.
Lydia Loveless, "Indestructible Machine" (Bloodshot) -- Think a dust-kickin' Neko Case circa "Virginian" with more F-bombs.
Lykke Li, "Wounded Rhymes" (Atlantic) -- A collection of feral songs that pounds with intensity and occasionally smashes your heart.
Adele, "21" (Columbia) -- Adele got dumped and we got an amazing from-the-guts soul record inspired by the singer's exploration of songs by ladies such as Loretta Lynn and presumably a few shots of whiskey.
Jeff the Brotherhood, "We Are the Champions" (Infinity) -- Jagged guitars and hammering rhythms rock your face off in fewer than 30 minutes. "Stay Up Late" quickly became a late-night party anthem. Quite a punch for a team of two.
Wild Flag, "Wild Flag" (Merge) -- Four ladies with solid, post-punk pedigrees crank it to 11 and make up one of the most revered super groups to surface in years.
Widowspeak, "Widowspeak" (Captured Tracks) -- Don't discount this Brooklyn trio if you're part of the hipster-be-damned set. Molly Hamilton and company churn out swoon-worthy tracks that shimmer and fade with intensity.
Yuck, "Yuck" (Fat Possum) -- Off-kilter tuning and reverb quakes sparked countless Sonic Youth comparisons ever since Yuck emerged from the London scene. Its debut is pure, glorious dissonance that indicates these kids are less concerned with being intentionally complex and more into having fun.
The Head and the Heart, "The Head and the Heart" (Sub Pop) -- The sweet harmonies of this Seattle outfit rival those that emerged from Laurel Canyon back in the '70s.
The Kills, "Blood Pressures" (Domino) -- The quintessential rock 'n' roll duo explores bluesy new territory on its fourth album, stepping away from its signature sound, which suggests that Alison Mosshart may have been influenced by her work with Jack White.
Best Shows of 2011
St. Vincent at the Jefferson Theater (Oct. 30): My heartfelt sympathy to anyone in the audience who had an adverse reaction to the spastic light show that accompanied songs played to utmost perfection by Annie Clark.
Hopscotch Festival in Raleigh, N.C. (Sept. 8-10): With its eclectic lineup, day parties and incredible beer selection, Hopscotch continues to set the bar for how festivals should be executed.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. at the Camel (May 18): NASCAR jumpsuits and crowd participation fueled a show by this Detroit powerhouse.
Cults at the National (Sept. 23): Foster the People got schooled by one of the most worthy upstarts of the year. Joined by a few extra players, Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin proved far more powerful live than one would expect.
Iceage at Strange Matter (Aug. 12): These Denmark youngsters blew into the River City and brought furious, throwback songs from their debut, "New Brigade," to a rabid crowd of youngsters and a handful of seasoned punks.
Lucinda Williams at the National (July 26): The living legend proclaimed mad love for Richmond during her stop here. The feeling was mutual from the nearly sold-out crowd.
Carolina Chocolate Drops at the National (May 1): This was a show, folks. Musical history, storytelling and straight-up solid pickin' from some of Durham's finest old-time string players.
Brandi Carlile at the National (May 22): This is a voice that folks will still be talking about years from now. The Seattle songwriter and her mighty band play a solid set that will make you squeal like a schoolgirl at a Justin Bieber show.
Sleigh Bells / CSS at the National (May 6): CSS lead singer Lovefoxxx demanded we throw down to her Brazilian beats, and Sleigh Bells blew eardrums gaining a little cred as more than just a studio band.
Jeff the Brotherhood at Strange Matter (Sept. 7): Sweat! Riffs! Beer splatter! Wait, two guys are responsible for this?!