The Antlers - Burst Apart

Brooklyn's The Antlers arrived on most people's radars in 2009 with their highly emotional and sonically palpable album Hospice. It was at once one of the more overlooked and finest albums of that year. On Burst Apart, the band keeps their emotions a little more subtle (no concept album about love blooming inside a cancer ward this time around), but the quality songwriting remains extremely high. Burst Apart doesn't quite have the mountainous highs or devastating lows as Hospice, but in ten solid songs, it crafts its own identity as a warm, glowing record.

"Putting the Dog to Sleep" from Burst Apart

Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver is as lush a portrait of a serene woodland scene as its cover art depicts and is rewardingly dense as the quiet woods that surround Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where Bon Iver, a.k.a. Justin Vernon, originates. For just under forty minutes, Vernon reveals a mysterious lamentation spread across some of the most beautifully constructed songs anyone has released in years.

"Holocene" from Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Cults - Cults
Cults packed their bags, moved from San Diego to New York City, recorded then hosted three songs on their Bandcamp page, and were instantly a minor indie sensation. They toured and packed venues based on only a couple songs, and when their full-length finally hit, it didn't disappoint. Cults is sinply nonstop fun as it takes notes from old school Supremes-like soul on "You Know What I Mean" to "Oh My God", with its sunshine pop not unlike that of Lily Allen (who also happens to run the label they're signed to).

"Abducted" from Cults

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Even after years of international commercial success, when PJ Harvey released the uncharacteristically muted White Chalk in 2007, she appeared to have found her true voice already well into her career. This softer sound of PJ Harvey reappears on Let England Shake, and it's met with a powerful narrative about the horrors of war. Harvey sings about the brutal realities of wartime over stripped-down and organic John Parish-produced music, making this not only one of the best albums of 2011 thus far, but perhaps the masterpiece of Harvey's career.

"The Last Living Rose" from Let England Shake

Radiohead - The King of Limbs

There's this terrible misconception going around that Radiohead put out a bad album this year. That, thankfully, is still impossible (uh, if you're not counting Pablo Honey). This is Radiohead. They're still the best band on Earth and The King of Limbs is yet another great record from start to finish. The only knock on this album would be that, at eight songs and 37 minutes long, it is about two songs too short. Otherwise, Radiohead's foray into dubstep boundaries and a few more classic ballads is among the year's best releases.

"Separator" from The King of Limbs

Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

FYM favorite Colin Stetson has quickly become an indie rock MVP as of late thanks to his brilliant collaborations with the likes of Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, and TV on the Radio. Judges is Stetson's second solo release:kaleidoscopic (and sometimes droning) avant garde jazz saxophone wrapped around a haunting apocalyptic narrative (thanks to contributions by Shara Worden and Laurie Anderson). Judges is truly one of those rare albums that has the power to simultaneously haunt and fascinate.

The Stars In His Head (Dark Lights Remix)

tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L

East Bay, California musician Merrill Garbus, otherwise known as tUnE-yArDs, unleashed her colorfully frenzied album W H O K I L L this year, which is essentially a one-woman prismatic dance party through the vibrant and occasionally sketchy streets of Oakland. Its vibrance cannot be stated enough, as Garbus utilized primal beats and lively horns to craft one of the most unique albums by a power new voice.

"Bizness" from W H O K I L L

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Portland rockers UMO creeped up on us quietly ever since releasing their self-titled EP late in 2010. The full length version adds even more incredibly catchy lo-fi psychedelic funk punk numbers. Go ahead and throw in even more genres and classifications you can think of, as this spicy little album somehow manages to do it all.

"How Can U Luv Me" from Unknown Mortal Orchestra

James Blake - "The Wilhelm Scream"

Blake's hypnotic single is like a rollercoaster in which its buildup to the drop is the wild ride itself.

Cut Copy - "Need You Now"

These Australians' epic synth pop single feels both timeless and perfectly crafted for our times.

Eleanor Friedberger - "My Mistakes"

The ever enchanting Fiery Furnace sister doing what she does best: melancholy crooning over the brightest summer jam.

EMA - "California"

Erika M. Anderson's ultra-powerful stream-of-consciousness flow takes your attention by force and refuses to release it until she decides it's time to quit.

The Middle East - "Hunger Song"

The Middle East's "Hunger Song" is a life-affirming stomp through the Australian back country. Like a far superior Mumford and Sons. Call it Australian Americana?

Purity Ring - "Ungirthed (Christian AIDS Remix)"

A rare instance where a remix completely fills in empty space left over by an already solid song.

Radiohead - "Bloom"

A Radiohead song that can get you moving like none other. The drums and the bass lay the foundation, and when that horn comes in, you're flying.

Yuck - "The Wall"

These British lo-fi professionals sound like a rock band playing a really fun, rowdy house party.

Arcade Fire @ Ukrainian Cultural Center - Los Angeles (Feb. 11)
Arcade Fire marched into Los Angeles during Grammys weekend and decided to play an intimate "secret" show at the rarely-used Ukrainian Cultural Center and, if you know Arcade Fire even just a little bit, they completely blew everyone away. FYm camped out all night to get a pair of tickets. You can read all about that experience by clicking HERE.

Har Mar Superstar / Marijuana Deathsquads @ The Satellite - Los Angeles (Feb. 25)
(Ryan Olson of Marijuana DeathsquadsPhoto by Gabby Mayer)
Har Mar is always great to see live, so news that he had a residency at The Satellite was very welcome. But attendees were unknowingly treated to a performance by Marijuana Deathsquads, a wild new musical collective headed by Gayngs mastermind Ryan Olson. The first night of the residency, the Deathsquads were joined by Har Mar, as well as Eric Wareheim and Doug Lussenhop of Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job fame, and proceeded to melt faces with their prog/industrial/hard rock force of a sound. Their live show is an absolute must-see experience. Download their Daytrotter Session for free HERE.

Tearist @ Show Cave - Eagle Rock (March 12)

Tearist spent the first half of 2011 quickly becoming one of the buzziest and most intriguing new bands in Los Angeles. Their March 12 show at the delightfully seedy Show Cave in Eagle Rock highlighted singer Yasmine Kittles' unique untamed stage presence as she thrashed around the stage and crowd, mesmerizing the audience like a dancing cobra.

James Blake @ Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery - Hollywood (May 24)
You know a show is going to be something special when its originally $25 tickets are selling as high as $200 in the days before the show. James Blake did not let the Los Angeles crowd down. In a wonderful setting inside the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Blake's unique combination of dubstep electronics and soulful crooning proved to be one of the best shows of the year (so far) from the biggest newcomer on the scene. Read more about the show HERE.

Hunx and His Punx / La Sera / Bleached @ Nomad Gallery - Los Angeles (June 18)

As you'll see below, sadly our camera died before Hunx went on, but here's a rundown of what went down at this show:

1.) There was Mexican wresting between acts, which is about as solid as mid-band entertainment can get at a little art space show like this one.

2.) The bands played in a separate wrestling ring.

3.) New band Bleached (made up of the sisters from Mika Miko) opened and we're excellent. Singer Jennifer Calvin has a bit of a Courtney Love/Brody Dalle rasp that works wonders and, if I must say so, looks out to the audience while singing with some puppy dog eyes which emphasize the sincerity of the lyrics of Bleached's songs. Listen to their song "Think of You" after the pictures below.

4.) Vivian Girl Katy Goodman's solo project La Sera was added to the lineup at the last minute (her band had also played the Make Music Festival in Pasadena earlier that same day, so it was their second show in the matter of hours).

5.) The second Hunx went on, the LA crowd went batshit crazy. This long piece of rope floated through the audience for some reason and some people decided to throw it over a beam on the ceiling and either try to pull the entire building down and/or climb up to the building's rafters, leaving some wondering if the crowd would make it through the show alive.

6.) Hunx frontman Seth Bogart briefly made out with Blaque Chris in the middle of a song.

7.) Bogart later literally urinated on some people in the crowd. Yes, you read that right. Taking a play out of the GG Allin playbook.

8.) And on a personal note, I randomly ran into a friend from Tokyo at this show, 5500 miles from his home, which is pretty crazy when you think about it.

...and that was the best show I've been to in a long time.

(La Sera)


"Think of You" by Bleached: