20. Maritime, Human Hearts (2011)
The Promise Ring! There, now that the name of the influential emo outfit that two Maritime members occupied has been written, focus can shift to the now-11-year-old band with five releases to its credit. The latest addition to Maritime’s catalog is arguably also its finest from front to back. From tumultuous table-setter “It’s Casual” to sage and optimistic ender “Apple Of My Irony,” Human Hearts is some of Davey von Bohlen and Dan Didier’s best work since… well, you know.
19. Yo Dot, Red Mist (2012)
There’s nothing radio- or college-crowd-friendly about Yo Dot’s stunning Red Mist, an album that grapples with growing up in a one-parent household, fatherhood, and the realties of the streets, among other things. Standout track “I’m Just Trying To Live” subverts hip-hop’s perennial obsession with material wealth and instead broods on the struggles of just getting by and enjoying the moment. Flawlessly produced, Red Mist is harrowing at times, but never hopeless.
18. Old Earth, A Low Place At The Old Place (2012)
After reluctantly leaving San Francisco to help tend to an ailing property that had been in his family before Wisconsin achieved statehood, Todd Umhoefer literally tethered himself (guitar in hand) to an amp in the basement of a Menomonee Falls house shrouded in loss. He emerged from the depths toting something beautiful. In Low Place, Umhoefer’s Old Earth and a cast of collaborators—including Christopher Porterfield—transport listeners to the dank, eroding edifice over the course of 18 chilling minutes.
17. Dogs In Ecstasy, Dat Cruel God (2013)
Buzzy, distorted, and shot through with an extra shot of fuzzed-out synth, Dogs In Ecstasy’s giddy Dat Cruel God splits the difference between the shambling ’90s grunge-pop of Pavement and the chirpy ’90s guitar-synth of The Rentals. (Notice a theme?) There’s a refreshing sense of humor, too, with singers Molly Rosenblum and Willy Dintenfass tossing off lines like “She is a rocker / he is a roller / we’re getting wasted in the Toyota Corolla.”
16. Midnight Reruns, Midnight Reruns (2013)
When Graham Hunt left Trapper Schoepp & The Shades to focus on Midnight Reruns, he was surrendering a cherry role in an established—not to mention signed—scene staple. He must’ve known he had something special. In Midnight Reruns, Hunt shines in the role of a sneering, give-zero-fucks bandleader with an almost prideful penchant for self-deprecation. “King Of Pop” might be the song of the ’10s, but each of the 11 dingy and infectious power-pop gems is an absolute treat.
15. Catacombz, Catacombz (2011)
A year and a half after Soul Beats, and bookended by Mother Tongue One and Mother Tongue 2, the self-titled Catacombz is the band’s shortest, but also best work of its busy ’10s. While relegated to just five songs, the snack-sized portion of palatable psych grants the most apt and concise description possible for the altogether incalculable band. From driving opener “Russia” to slow-percolating rocker “Moon Dawg,” listeners are locked in for something special… emphasis on something.
14. Northless, World Keeps Sinking (2013)
Death, decay, and destruction may not be the only things served up on Northless’ aggressively grim World Keeps Sinking, but they’re certainly the main course. As a follow-up to 2011’s equally uncompromising Clandestine Abuse, World succeeds in broadening Northless’ sludge- and doom-metal scope (it could easily be taken for a loose concept album about, well, death, decay, and destruction) without breaking the mold. The playing is technical but never fussy, and the noise is as pummeling as ever.
13. Painted Caves, Painted Caves (2011)
With indie-rock sensibilities projected through an Arabic lens, there’s little else like Painted Caves, here or anywhere else. In a self-titled debut, bandleader Ali Lubbad affixes elements of his Middle Eastern lineage to modern American musical mainstays that range from folk to the vicinity of rock. In “Half-Human” and “The Ocean,” Lubbad’s soothing voice lacquers a sense of calm atop already entrancing hymns of positivity, while rhythmic “Paper Tigers” and “Blood In The Water” bare teeth.
12. Altos, Altos (2011)
Paring down its name from Group Of The Altos to simply Altos, the city’s resident “surly high school orchestra” stuns and unnerves in equal measure on its self-titled debut. At 12 members strong, Altos borrow the scale and instrumental post-rock DNA of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but soften the edges with melancholy strings and haunting, ethereal vocals. Not that Altos is easy listening—it’s an emotionally fraught, ultimately cathartic journey that leaves listeners deliriously off-balance and forever rewired.
11. Klassik, In The Making (2012)
Album titles can be misleading. Take Klassik’s breakthrough debut, In the Making, which suggests a work in progress, but instead blasts forth fully formed. Cool, funky, and fleet-footed, the deliriously overstuffed record (17 feature-length tracks in all) effortlessly displays Klassik’s jazz, classical, and hip-hop influences without ever breaking a sweat. One listen to supremely confident tracks like “Running 2” or “Forever Whatever” prove that In The Making, and Klassik himself, are far from forming; they’re already made.