These go to '11 

The year's sweetest music to our critics' ears

In Butter's Removable Beast, Lisena Brown and Hermina Harold paint dark, pretty landscapes mined—as they once confessed to me—from their apocalyptic dreams. "Cracker Bones" and "Skeletor" are the best kind of earworms, made even more irresistible by Bethany Joyce on cello and Brown's creeping piano. This alchemy is so bewitching you'll crave it, sometimes for days on end. (EF)

Red Fang's Murder In the Mountains is the most elegant hard rock album since the Melvins' Houdini. We can throw pinecones at each other and holler about whether RF is metal enough or heavy enough, but who gives a bippity-boppity-boo? Sure, these songs might be a titch too produced for some, but overall it roars. (JM)

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Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Daptone's best-known artists, tore The Wilma apart in November. The label's also home to many more neo-soul acts and in late 2011 it dropped a nugget-studded, bargain-priced compilation, The World of Daptone Records, with five songs by Jones and company and 15 more by Naomi Shelton and The Gospel Queens, The Budos Band, The Daktaris and others. You know what's great about this? The world needs to dance more, and so do you. (RM)

The flexibility of genre was so great in 2011 that good work could even be done in the field of TV On the Radio. With Nine Types of Light, everyone's favorite band to make you listen to at parties shed its pretensions and did what it does right: funk. Tracks like "Second Song" remind us that music is for dancing, and dancing forgets to resent hipster orthodoxy. (DB)

Fact: While listening to Leave Home by The Men I have bench-pressed over 60 tons. But the music isn't all bombast, boners and ear-scouring noise. And it isn't just '90s name-checking, although the band reminds us of everyone while maintaining its particular voice. All killer, no filler. (JM)

Instruments on Stellarondo's eponymous album include wet wood, boob gourd, xylophone, jumprope and tympani. The group of longtime Missoula musicians has created a collection of strange tunes mixed with frantic sadness and wild nostalgia, but rendered in the most fun way possible. Instant classics like "Strawberry Cake" linger in perfect pedal steel, making it impossible not to put it on repeat. (EF)

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Black Cobra's newest monolithic beast of a record, Invernal, is what I'll be playing when all hell breaks loose and Yellowstone National Park's super-volcano erupts and death becomes imminent. This San Francisco sludge metal duo (consisting solely of a guitarist and drummer) crafts deep-dish slabs of pummeling, bass-heavy riffage that's both fierce and disarmingly addictive, and that can only be described as pure fury mixed with moments of calm. These dudes pretty much slay any other two-piece metal outfit around. (ISO)

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Two words: pure energy. And not the kind Information Society sang about back in '88, Brenda. Fuck It by Bust! is youthful, angry energy backed with percussive, aggressive musicianship. Eight songs, 13 minutes: something's gotta give. (JM)

Buck Kuts from Billings garage band Noise Noise Noise is an ironclad collection of songs that embrace a certain amount of whoa-whoa! pop-punk, woven in with warrior battle cries. "Trick Doves" is epic with its galloping riffs and menacing bassline. I don't know what happens exactly in the last song, but I'm pretty sure the band slays some dragons and uncovers buried treasure. (EF)

It was a good year for bad kinds of music. Rock and roll continued its long decline from the night I drank my first wine cooler, but clever weirdos produced great albums on the fringes of pop. Consider Kurt Vile, whose Smoke Ring For My Halo distilled Neil Diamond through the Stones to sound like everything and nothing, like what 40 years of barroom radio could have been. (DB)

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I keep thinking that among the year's best I ought to pick something more sophisticated than Sunny Sweeney's second album, Concrete—like the updated cumbia of Afritanga: The Sound of Afrocolombia or even a Rolling Stones vintage live album (there were two good ones in 2011). Yet the plain truth is that Sweeney makes dependably fine country pop. "Staying's Worse Than Leaving" was a monster in my mind and a minor hit in real life. (RM)

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Some describe Sallie Ford's voice as an affectation. Fine, but it's a cool affectation, perfect for Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside's old-timey, stripped down style. Her singular sound, along with the tasty guitar licks, means Dirty Radio is tailor made for a Sunday afternoon toodle up Rock Creek with your best gal. (JM)

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Mordecai is a band made of vintage parts hammered together in a dilapidated garage by youthful mad scientists. The band's eponymous album from local Killer Tree Records boasts nine Stooges-style grungy songs that always feel dangerously and deliciously on the verge of falling apart. It's a hungry, honest collection best heard on vinyl; it was recorded in an 80-year-old YMCA in Butte. (EF)

For sheer, brutal weirdness, no album of 2011 was less cool than Destroyer's Kaputt. A masterpiece of what can only be called smooth jazz, it's an album about coke lounges and wounded narcissism that sounds like Hall & Oates, if Hall & Oates were one gay vampire. My 16-year-old self would hate it. My 2011 self listened to it 136 times. (DB)

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You know how it feels when someone sneaks up behind you and tickles your bum with a single digit? That's how I feel from beginning to end of 10yoGF's High, Wild + Free, the best cassette tape I've bought all year. (JM)

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