I've already posted full reviews of each of these albums, so the blurbs are relatively short for this installment.
20. Abriosis—Tattered and Bound
Abriosis are the only other Canadian band to make this list. I had to give them a placing based on their ripping live set and this world-class album. Tattered and Bound is a masterclass in discordant, technical death metal. Old-school, raw metal of death got most of the press in 2011, but I’m always in the market for a few key tech-death albums every year. Abriosis cut through with clarity and precision. Attention, Willowtip!
19. Earth—Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (Southern Lord)
For all their sprawl, the last few Earth albums were tightly wound. There was great discipline in their repetition and tempos. It was like watching a tightrope walker; balance and symmetry in action. On Angels of Darkness... they let go of all that and did not fall. The music often just hovers there as Dylan Carlson directs the band with a light touch on the guitar. Get ready for Angels of Darkness II very soon.
18. Led Bib—Bring Your Own (Cuneiform)
I love Led Bib’s brand of raucous, hard-hitting action jazz. It’s exciting to hear saxophones duking it out for supremacy as the rhythm section races away like Prost and Senna side by side, heading into turn one. The dynamics and live power of five crack musicians playing together delivers the kind of jolt that I don’t often get from rock records. I haven’t sampled much of Cuneiform’s jazz roster, but I’m glad I took a chance on Led Bib, first with 2009’s Sensible Shoes and now with this fantastic follow-up.
17. Nicklas Barker—El Ultimo Fin De Semana
The soundtrack album lives on. Nicklas Barker’s main band is Anekdoten, and he brings that band’s melancholy (and Mellotron) to this collection of instrumentals written for a Spanish thriller. Some rock soundtrack albums work well as rock albums, full stop, such as Pink Floyd’s More Soundtrack (appreciated here) or Air’s The Virgin Suicides. Those albums incorporated songs amidst the musical interludes, whereas this one doesn’t. Still, its eerie snippets of music form a nicely sustained mood piece. The opening theme of “Celestial Ghost” will get under your skin immediately.
16. Six Organs of Admittance—Asleep on the Floodplain (Drag City)
Ben Chasny turned in quite an intimate record this time around. Asleep on the Floodplain offers a number of solo guitar performances as well as forlorn ballads and a big, buzzing hypnotic thing (“S/Word and Leviathan”) that's either the product of inspired improvisation or a happy accident in the studio...maybe a bit of both. Chasny's understated virtuosity has never been more evident. I'll always be impressed by his ability to create such vivid pictures with simple elements.