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Best of Boston 2011: Music edition

Posted by Alex Pearlman  December 30, 2011 09:01 AM

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war presidents minnesoda.jpgBy Mike Flanagan

2011 was an interesting year for local music. With a city so full of young people from countless demographics and cultural backgrounds, it’s hard for the music scene to decide, let alone keep up with, what’s trendy. But this indecision facilitated the rise of some of the most genuine and innovative bands Boston has seen in years. These bands are finding it easier and more rewarding than ever to distribute their records to a city thirsty for great music to call its own. It's a dynamic that will continue to solidify Boston as a hotspot for local music of all kinds for years to come.

With that in mind, here are my picks for the year's best local releases.

War Presidents -- Minnesoda EP. This versatile Allston band evolved immeasurably in just the few short months since releasing their much more straight-forward debut EP. Opening track “Anna” may be one of the best songs of the year, local or not; its hypnotizing melody and taut, whimsical rhythm render it equally fitting for dance floors and headphones. The band pays homage to their idols, Wilco, with the adventurous “Douglas;” true to the “Art of Almost” mold, it's a brief but dense barrage of cavernous drums and sound effects, backed by impeccable songwriting. Although War Presidents stay close to their element with “Strawberry Milk” and “Soda Lake,” their execution and songwriting chops flush the EP with an impenetrable light. Hurry up and catch this band at a local bar while you still can -- they won’t be grounded in Allston long.

Something Sneaky -- No Opinion Needed. The Boston music scene was in desperate need of a band that didn’t take itself too seriously before Something Sneaky arrived with their debut LP in October. No Opinion Needed is as diverse as it is relentless, without trying to be either. The three-piece runs the subtleties of blues and classic rock through a suburban punk blender to create something equally nostalgic and current. By taking all the right cues from bands like Pavement, Built to Spill, and Sparklehorse -- in their attitude and their approach to being a rock band, more than anything -- Something Sneaky sifts out all pretense and still emits a distinctive character and style to which audiences can relate.

Erick Serna & the Killing Floor -- The Grip. Erick Serna is allowed to play the blues for the same reason Sweden’s tallest man, Kristian Matsson, is allowed to play Americana: He is so unfathomably great at it that it would be criminal to deprive the world of his skills because he was born half a century too late in the wrong part of the world. The Grip justifies the use of all the worst cliches in the rock criticism canon; Serna melts faces as he shreds through major riffage, and his band of local buddies kicks the volume to 11. Blues/rock guitar hasn’t been so exciting since Hendrix died.

girlfriends.jpgGirlfriends -- Cave Kids/Eat Around the Bad Parts 7. Girlfriends has tightened and buffed their sound significantly since their debut cassette in 2009. Ben Potrykus is still dragging his incredible way with words and melody through as many different genres -- or non-genres; who the heck cares? -- as he can. “Cave Kids” juxtaposes a soothing tempo with the jarring, clipping tones that have become the band’s signature. “Eat Around the Bad Parts” is more aggressive, with spacey guitars that provide more than a rhythmic point for the vocals to reference. Girlfriends continues to release sub-six-minute singles in short spurts, but, by the nature of their sound and their attitude, it’s almost better that way.

Quilt -- Quilt. Unlike their Sneaky peers, the three members of Quilt appear to take themselves very seriously. Fortunately, they have the aptitude to back it up. The band’s self-titled album is full of superbly crafted, reverb-laced guitar licks and even more infectious vocal melodies to complement them. But the recurring highlight of the album is the male/female vocal harmonies that meld together without blemish -- gratuitous reverb or not.

Who is your favorite local musical act to emerge this year? Check out more of our year-end "Best of Boston 2011" coverage here.

About Mike -- I am a journalism student at Emerson College getting ready to graduate in December. I've done investigative work for the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and covered beats in Bridgewater and Dorchester, but my passion is music. When I'm not blurring the line between obsession and enjoyment while listening to Pavement or Bruce Springsteen, I'm punching walls over the Celtics. Twitter: @mikeflanagan2.

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