19. Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
The sophomore effort from California-based road warriors Dawes didn't quite meet my high expectations. A solid effort, seemingly teleported straight out of 1975 - but just didn't grab me the way North Hills did. Still among the best live bands you'll see, though.
18. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
A welcome return to the straightforward folk sound that the band had moved away from on recent records. No bloated arrangements or convoluted storyline - just simple songs and Colin Meloy's lyrics on full display. Plus a little help from Peter Buck and Gillian Welch.
17. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
Where past records were draped in a haze of guitar effects and muddy noise, Smoke Ring For My Halo is crisp and clear. The melodies and lyrics are discernable and the genius of Kurt Vile's songwriting is on full display.
16. Real Estate – Days
On Days, New Jersey beachniks Real Estate clean up the production a bit without losing their lo-fi charm, and deliver another batch of summery pop songs that range from roadtrip-ready singalongs to slow-burning sunset jams.
15. The Devil Whale – Teeth
A lucky discovery early in 2011, The Devil Whale released their sophomore effort Teeth in May. The Utah-based band creates catchy indie-pop that recalls Dr. Dog or a grittier The Head And The Heart.
14. Roadside Graves – We Can Take Care of Ourselves
Ramshackle, whiskey-soaked folk-rock from New Jersey's Roadside Graves. A concept album loosely based on S.E. Hinton's classic "The Outsiders", the story of the Greasers and the Socs sets a backdrop but never feels forced or contrived.
13. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
Ryan Adams' music ushered me through the most formative years of my life, from high school to college and beyond. 29, Easy Tiger and Cardinology kind of lost me - but Ashes & Fire has me back on board. Focused, honest and sans-Cardinals...welcome back Ryan.
12. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh
Local favorites The Low Anthem return with their third full-length. What Smart Flesh may lack in cohesiveness it makes up for in spirit - with whisper-soft hymns standing alongside ragged folk-rockers.
11. Tristen – Charlatans At The Garden Gate
I was late to come around on Tristen, but have been making up for lost time. Tristen treads in similar waters to Sharon Van Etten, a strong woman writing about ellusive love and failed relationships. However, she paints with a more vibrant and diverse pallette - great stuff.