Local Heroes: The CL music team presents the best local records of 2011.

We've spotlighted the folks behind the local music scene. Now let's take a look at the artists — whether they're locally based, or play the Bay area often enough that we've adopted them as our own — via the year's best albums.

Auto! Automatic!!, Auto! Automatic!! (Brokenmold) The instrumental trio's second album is less reliant on Brian Larsen's virtuosity than in their debut, though he's still the sort of guitarist who makes other players want to practice harder or hang it up. The melodies are more pronounced, the electronics better integrated: a great leap forward for a band making math rock with humor and heart. —Curtis Ross

BC, Surface (Timepieces Part 2) The second release in Bryan Clardy's post-apocalyptic hip-hop trilogy finds us back in a dirty city full of brainwashed aliens in search of ultimate truth. Is it the soundtrack to the new Ridley Scott film? A veiled allegory for the slums of Tampa Bay? Whatever it may be, BC earned the Best MC award in 2011's Best of the Bay for good reason. His rhymes are a visceral head trip that's equal parts Saul Williams and Zev Love X. —Joran Oppelt

Ditchflowers, Bird's Eye (Sunshine Drenchy) The Ditchflowers' sophomore effort continues the band's mastery of the sort of well-crafted pop that makes Squeeze/XTC fans swoon. But don't get too comfortable, lest a jagged Lennonesque guitar line, tough R&B bass groove or moody psychedelic turn snap you out of your reverie. Scene veterans Brian Merrill, Ed Woltil and Steve Connelly deftly avoid too-many-chiefs syndrome, each playing to his strengths, to make Bird's Eye fly. —CR

Easybreezy, Blowing Up It's ironic that a band known as Easybreezy is Blowing Up, but good-natured Josh Greenberg and his pals do have a dark side. We see their playful and sinister makeup in full effect on their latest cavalcade of catharses. Blowing Up goes beyond Easybreezy's usual live sound with bigger, badder, fuller and a more polished convergence of avant-garde angularity and straightforward rock. —Julie Garisto

Have Gun, Will Travel, Mergers & Acquisitions (Suburban Home) There are reasons why Bradenton's Have Gun, Will Travel are consistently lauded as Bay area music-scene MVPs, and it may or may not have to do with Americana's eternally arguable hip factor. But the bottom line is, these guys make great music. Mergers & Acquisitions is the deepest and most diverse full-length from HGWT so far, and the third grouping of consistently excellent songs in a row. —Scott Harrell

The Hip Abduction, One Less Sound A bright and breezy horn-infused full-length that draws more heavily on The Hip Abduction's South African and Malian influences, with jangly guitar melodies and authentic instrumentation adding exotic texture to their reggae swaying rhythms and hip-shaking funk-jazz grooves. —Leilani Polk

Infinite Groove Orchestra, People Music (Brokenmold) The jazz-defying foursome blend funkadelia, drum-and-bass, and spacey jazz fusion on their debut LP. From the silky sax of the straightforward "Entrance Music" to the dark ascension and menacing breakdown of "Hippy Strut," the nine-track release is a strong collection, heady yet accessible. —Evan Tokarz

Magadog, Ybor City For the past two decades, Magadog (which includes CL Online Producer David Russell) has been one of Tampa's best local bands, delivering classic Jamaican ska with bold and brassy catchiness. The band's most recent endeavor is a well-rounded, loving paean to their hometown with reminders of the sights, tastes and smells of everyday places, from "La Teresita" to "Ropa Vieja." —JG

Marksmen, Sister of Mine On Marksmen's second full-length, frontman Matt Segallos' warm approachability once again serves as the foundation of his band's sound. Subtly dynamic arrangements form a shimmering backdrop against his urgent vocals — powerful, direct and made human by a singular vibrato. Marksmen show signs of a healthy evolution, combining unadorned instrumentation with sly recording embellishments, and Segallos' confessional, soul-punching lyrics hit home without being too sappy. —JG

The Pauses, A Cautionary Tale (New Granada) A perfect gem of an indietronic pop album that mixes trip-hop, electro-rock and '90s alt-rock influences, and is brightened by lush instrumental flourishes and the honeyed soprano of singer/multi-instrumentalist Tierney Tough. Intricate instrumental breakdowns, noisy electro synthesized explorations and lift-offs, and a consistent use of opposing sonic themes — melody and dissonance, quiet and loud, cutesy playful and dark moody — make this album a must-have. —LP

Rise of Saturn, Sex, Drugs and Comic Books (Mohawk Bomb) If there's one band that has the potential to break out on the road and capitalize on their funky "Cee-lo meets Ozomatli" vibe, it's these guys. If you caught them at our Loafies Awards show, you know why they recently scored a live audition for the producers of America's Got Talent. For fans of hip-hop, jazz, funk, classic rock, reggae, Latin, fusion, prog, alternative, and, y'know, music in general. —JO

The Semis, Decapitator Blues The psychedelic drones, classic rock riffs and vivid lyricism that make a Semis record so awesome and difficult to remove from rotation are present, and Lemonjello Kane does a fine mastering job, once again de-tangling the hundred or so guitar and vocal tracks that go into every Semis album and meticulously presenting the arrangements as they're intended without a mess of flattened compression. —JO

Shunda K, The Most Wanted (Fanatic) Quick-spitting emcee of the now-reunited Yo Majesty, Shunda K brashly asserts "I'm Da Best" in the single off her finely produced debut solo LP. She is, indeed, a hip-hop champion with lyrical chops to spare who delivers her clever and complicated rhymes with cheeky finesse over bangin' beats and well-textured production. —LP

Sleepy Vikings, They Will Find You Here (New Granada) There wasn't a more compulsively listenable album released this year than Sleepy Vikings' debut. Every note and lyric is a hint or a clue to a story that unfolds constantly but never completely reveals itself. Hushed vocals, taut rhythms and a three-way guitar conversation create a sense of beautiful foreboding. —CR

Sons of Hippies, Fade to White The new Hippies disc, while technically an EP at five tracks, finds the band stretching out a bit with songs that a bit longer and weave together into a cohesive, conceptual ride just a few minutes shy of the trip from St. Pete to Ybor. They've also abandoned some of their signature anthemic shouts and doubled vocals, with frontwoman Katherine Kelly's singing more prominent in the mix and drummer Jonas Canales’ Sugarcubes-style call-and-answer vocals nearly absent. Note: With the departure of Joe Crespo, SOH is currently seeking a bassist (again). Interested parties can contact the band.—JO

Sunbears!, You Will Live Forever (New Granada) An album brimming with so much sentimentality and musings on life and love could make for a maudlin and over-saccharine affair, but Sunbears! come off as refreshingly sincere and back it up with lush psyche pop marked by dreamy walls of iridescent sound, textured big beat percussion reminiscent of the '60s, some '70s-style piano-and-bass grooves, and a healthy dose of Sunbears! pop-tronic pretty enhanced with various bright sonic embellishments and heart-squeezing sweet vocals. A Jacksonville band repped by a Tampa label considered our own by virtue of their awesomeness (and the fact that they play here regularly …) —LP

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