So, it’s been another year of great Lansing music, as well as music from all around the state. As an FYI, this year we will be including other non-Lansing, but mid-Michigan, nominees for the Album of the Year award.

Let’s go through some of the best albums released in 2011 by some of Michigan’s best artists and bands.

Chris Bathgate “Salt Year” (Quite Scientific records)

Released in April, “Salt Year” is a great slice of Michigan indie folk. From my review, “Brimming with the same bottled up, lyrically driven but musically dynamic ethos as other Michigan bands Frontier Ruckus and Nathan K., Bathgate’s approach to folk music is a breath of fresh air. He concentrates on the musical side of his songs as much as the lyrical side. On the opener “Eliza (hue)”, he sings “Was it sacred? Did you scream out?” as pianos drip and coalesce into a emotional landscape filled with warbling strings and steady drums. The flourishes of electric guitar are nice to hear as well.”

Good Weather for Airstrikes “To have our hearts emptied, to be left as we came” (self-released)

I absolutely love this album. I love the lyrics, via singer/guitarist James Raddick, which are all-together confident and passionate yet sad and melancholy. I love the post-rock instrumentation. It’s not necessarily the most innovative approach to post-rock but what they play, they play well and with great energy and enthusiasm. From my review in Central Michigan Life (which you can read here): “What I really love about this record are the lyrics written and sung by Radick. He’s honest and heartfelt. He puts real emotion into his voice. On “25 years tomorrow” Radick sings “But maybe this is what’s best for all of us/To have our hearts emptied, to be left as we came” with the most heart wrenching emotion and sincerity you can’t help but sing along. It’s honesty to its core.”

Small Houses “North” (Good Time Gang records)

“North” by Small Houses (aka Jeremy Quentin) is a quiet and beautiful record. The best pure folk record to come out in 2011 by far. From my review: “Less is more with “North”. A song like “Late July” with its subdued vocal by Quentin, quiet acoustic guitar melody, ringing piano chords and lap steel guitar, has more than a few musical elements but holistically they act as one quiet, emotionally subdued piece.

I’ll end my list of the “Best of the Rest” there but certainly there were a lot of other great records that came out in 2011 by bands like Josh David and the Dream Jeans (“Can you believe we landed on the moon?”), Jake Simmons and the Little Ghosts’ (“self-titled”), Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers (“On Being”), Honah Lee (from New Jersey but their album “Life Won’t Let Me” was released on GTG Records this year).

….and the 2011 Lansingmusic.TV album of the Year is: The Plurals “The Plurals today, The Plurals tomorrow: A Futurospective” (Good Time Gang Records)

I first saw The Plurals play in June of 2010 at Basement 414. It was loud, chaotic, noisy and funny all at the same time. After hearing their second album “Whatevers Forever”, I instantly loved their pop hooks and distorted,  crunchy guitars melding together to create a humble Midwestern noise-pop fusion indebted to Husker Du and The Replacements but augmented by the boy-girl vocal take via drummer Hattie Danby, Tommy McCord (guitar/vocals) and Nicholas Richard (bass/vocals). I knew this band was something special.

When their third album, “Futurospective: The Plurals Today, The Plurals Tomorrow”, was released in May I knew the pop hooks and noisy guitars would still be there. Upon my first few listens, I was torn as to how to think about the album. On one hand, it felt like they were all comfortable with their respective songwriting roles in the band (Hattie singing the quieter songs, Tommy taking leads on the rocking songs and Nich screaming his lungs out on the noisy, short tracks) and it felt like the same old, same old. But after Ryan Horky reviewed the album for Revue mid-Michigan, saying how the album was what The Plurals had been ready to make for years and how it was the record that perfectly translated their live show, I knew he was right.

Horky’s review was the turning point for me. “La la la” is the perfect introduction. It’s fast, Ramones-esque and all consumed by poppiness and hooks. “Crush” continues this pattern. The guitar riff is instantly catchy; you’ll be humming along for days. The noisy guitar tones serve a purpose, helping to conceptualize the lyrics about the mixed feelings of having a secret crush on someone. The best Lansing song of 2011 is “Free Burd” with its quiet and introspective intro (McCord sings “All I can think about is that your guitar is not here for me to play”) then the thoughts burst into song as, later, McCord belts out for a good 10 seconds. This definitely impressed me and it’s a great moment on the record overall. My favorite moment on the record, though, is the second verse section. I love the intensity and energy brought to it. It’s unrivaled and incredible. Richard adds his raspy, gruff response vocal of “I’ll keep you warm” as McCord warmly and assuredly sings “After the storm”.

The album’s closer “Happy Songs” is a wild and adventurous song, to say the least. At first, it might sound like a standard, rough pop-punk song. McCord and Danby’s backup vocals add to the poppiness and the guitars are rough and edgy. Once you get toward the end, though, it changes drastically. Richard goes on a stream-of-consciousness rant, saying “I’m going to go off my prepared notes for this song” and “trying to convey the human spirit, trying to make you understand. Be clever and witty and fun and all at the same time but poignant” he says honestly. As this diatribe is going on, McCord’s guitar is let loose with feedback as Danby keeps the beat. This epic section ends with Richard screaming “I want a freaking pepsi so bad I could die!”. I love that. It’s one of my favorite lyrics ever.

There you have it. The LMTV album of the year. I really enjoyed this year in Michigan music and am definitely looking forward to 2012. See you then.

Sean Bradley