Here reside the finest South Florida releases of the past 12 months, compiled with the help of our resourceful and brainy staff of freelancers. Capturing the myriad styles that reside comfortably at the beach, in the warehouse, at the Snooze Theatre, on the Florida Turnpike, and all of the above wasn't easy, but it was gratifying.
10. Mineo — Beach Season
Mike Mineo's Beach Season is an exciting step forward from his 2010 debut, Eccentricity. The ten joyful, eclectic songs are a collection of progressive, tropical, soul pop. Whether Mineo is singing about the day's first light peeking from beyond the oceanic horizon or about challenging emotions, there is always a sense of humor present. Wackiness still runs wild, and Mineo is more refined in the writing, performance, and production. Here's a mad genius at work and a primal force of nature exploding into space — with excellent accompaniment and direction. These are extremely healthy and infectious tunes. — Travis Newbill
9. Young Circles — Jungle Habits
Some may say Young Circles' Jordy Asher and Jeff Rose are crazy for dramatically shifting from their tried-and-true style of scuzzy garage rock to a less approachable form of ambient, textured indie, but we say they might be crazy as foxes. Tribal-ish beats dominate the first two numbers, "Triangles" and "Devil." The latter dishes out a danceable brand of neopsychedelia that rivals the Stone Roses' glory days. "Summer Nose" simmers down the tempo until reaching the album's most ambitious track, "Love Hitch," nearly eight minutes worth of trilling, waterlogged catharsis that teeters between brilliance and lunacy. — Alex Rendon
8. Lil Daggers — Lil Daggers
Lil Daggers' self-titled debut LP is a varied collection of postpunk, folk, and psychedelia that never feel less than completely entwined. When the music is fast and energetic, the emotions are downtrodden. Behind every driving drumbeat is singer Johnny Saraiva's lackadaisical, unhallowed moans. The tempos change erratically from start to end, often beginning with the best kind of driving, twang-toned guitars and finishing with a sullen, dismal-sounding dirge. Upon completion, the listener feels moved, if not changed entirely — changed in the way one might feel as if carrying a heavy stone across an arid mesa and letting it fall as the last drop of strength is sapped from his body. — Ryan Burk
7. Arrange — Plantation
Caught somewhere between dream and pop lies Arrange. Solo musician Malcom Lacey has crafted a withdrawn sound on Plantation that does not fluctuate in overtly dramatic displays of raw emotion but moves in subdued streams of moroseness. His voice trembles as he wrestles to keep the sentiment from spilling over, creating images not of a man thrashing about in turbulent waters but rather of a stranded sailor bobbing up and down in a life raft, biding time hopelessly. The reserved songs' milky synths and accompanying electronic beats draw the listener into Lacey's intriguing, delicate, thought-provoking world. — Ryan Burk
6. Jacuzzi Boys — Glazin'
On their sophomore LP, Glazin', Miami's Jacuzzi Boys are entering their prime. Every great aspect of No Seasons is here, with an extra coat of semigloss: wild guitars, big hooks, and most important, audible smiles. Overall, the pace is slower and the songs are slightly longer. The result is an album that feels like a road trip on a three-day weekend, replete with detours, sunburns, and alligator barbecues. Opener "Vizcaya," an ode to the Boys' favorite Metrorail station, is a foot-stomping rocker with unadorned lyrics. There's no need for fanciness, anyways — this is about rocking and having a good time in the South Florida sun. — Jose Flores
5. John Ralston — Shadows of the Summertime
John Ralston is masterful at shaping the voice of his guitar and painting sentiment through his words, and Shadows of the Summertime reaches a new high for both. A standout lyric from "Pretty Little Heart" examines the fleeting nature of emotions. (This is, more or less, the overarching theme of the entire album.) As a galloping guitar leads up to the reveal, Ralston sings, "I fought with hope and faith and trust before I ever came to love." The LP is aptly titled, conjuring images of driving through the countryside on a sunny day, windows down, with a hand out just to feel the fleeting breeze pass through your fingertips. Just for a moment, all that matters is feeling a glimpse of beauty. — Monica McGivern
4. Protoman — Beat a Dead Horse 'Til She Resurrects
Fort Lauderdale rapper Protoman knows that the times have changed. And judging by his frenetic output throughout 2011, he's certainly not holding onto a lot of his strongest material for a so-called "full length." But then there's Beat a Dead Horse 'Til She Resurrects. It's a risky venture to tie a batch of songs to one blog cycle and even riskier to carry much of the weight on your own shoulders (Jabrjaw is the only credited feature). But this creative spurt — what skeptics call vanity and everyone else deems determination — resuscitates that dead, old album concept. "Roots" has murderous intensity in the lines: "Are you here for the music or the spectacle?" Ideally, both. And the latter is what ultimately keeps Beat a Dead Horse a fulfilling listen all the way to the end. The skip button provides the scariest impending death, and Protoman isn't taking any chances. — Reed Fischer
3. Betty Wright & the Roots — Betty Wright: The Movie
Betty Wright is our local soul survivor. When she was barely 18, she scored a Top Ten hit with the Clarence "Blowfly" Reid-penned "Clean Up Woman." For the past 40 years, she's been in and out of the spotlight, releasing albums and coaching today's vocal acrobats. It's the time Wright spent out of public view that makes her sound so bold and makes Betty Wright: The Movie feel so real. When she sings about financial woes, acting right, and making love last, we believe her. Cameos by Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne are a perfect pinch of salt in Betty's home-cooked meal. If someone with less taste, talent, and knowledge than ?uestlove had produced this, we would've found our woman fumbling through Auto-Tune, samples of herself, and champagne-room beats. Praise the Roots for bringing us into Wright's world. — Jose Flores
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2. Cop City Chill Pillars — Held Hostage on Planet Chill
If ever a band existed that embraces the "other" vision of Florida music, it's the musty, psychedelic surf pranksters Cop City Chill Pillars. Instead of four-on-the-floor breakbeats, Held Hostage on Planet Chill is dotted with mischievous time signatures that stretch and buckle like the well-worn elastic on that pair of Fruit of the Loom you use to clean your hubcaps. Guitarist C.J. Jankow, drummer Jordan Pettingill, bassist Jimmy Bradshaw — and any of the other dozen West Palm Beach-area musicians who sit in with them — employ a chant-like vocal style akin to the echoing voices in our heads in the middle of a cheap rum hangover. There's a child-like innocence to these rigorous, punk-fueled jams for late-night consumption. — Reed Fischer
1. Plains — Plains
Miami rock outfit Plains' self-titled debut album is damned near perfect. Leader Michael McGinnis' songs beg to be looped endlessly. Though this is no Britpop revival, McGinnis does have Blur frontman Damon Albarn's best vocal qualities: the whispered croon, the cracked falsetto, and syllables that sound bone-dry and deeply saddened — all in the same breath. The build-up intro of "End of the World" is enough for the listeners to buckle up inside the Plains Space Shuttle. As McGinnis sings about not wanting to "be a satellite" in "Poor Little Space Monkey," it's not hard to imagine gliding through the thermosphere and looking down on our sunny state. Beneath the hooks and guitars that sound like synths — or synths that sound like guitars — there's a sense of impending doom. Luckily, Plains' sweet-and-sour harmonies act as a parachute to make sure we land safely. — Jose Flores