2011, for all intensive purposes, has been a pretty awful year. I won’t get into specifics, but it just has been a year that I’ll be happy to see go. With that being said a lot of great music made it’s way to my ears and that is one of the few things that provided a silver lining to a pretty poor year.
It’s here that I like to point out that this list is, obviously, opinion based and you may reverently disagree with me. That’s fine. Of course, it’s also worth noting that I am usually pretty much always right and this list follows that rule. Anything I put here I would recommend for you to listen to in a heartbeat. In fact, you should buy all of these records. They’re all worth the price you pay. So without further ado here are the best albums of 2011.
The 5 Best EPs/Non-Album Collections
5. Diamond-Don’t Lose Your Cool
The opening track to this release, Sunburn, is one of my favorite songs of the year. Good punk with enough pop to make you want to dance. Very good. Not a dull moment in the 7 songs that are offered up.
4. Grown Ups-Handholder
I like fun punk music. Add in some gruff vocals and melodies that make you want to move and you’ve made a fan out of me. The album opener, Wigwam, is just gold. It’s what a fun song should be and Grown Ups nailed it.
3. Teen Rebel Dopefiends-Demo
As I’ve already stated, punk rock has and always will have a special place in my heart. This EP is fast, loud, and just the right kind of sloppy. Full of energy and conviction I could see myself being front and center at a show of there’s, sweating and with a raspy voice from shouting back the lyrics.
2. Against Me!-Occult Enemies[7-inch]
In recent years I haven’t heard a band get as much scorn as the boys in Against Me. From the very vocal detractors claiming they sold out with their last record, White Crosses, an album that is actually really great. Sure they weren’t singing about throwing bricks through windows, but eventually you grow up and realize that you can’t behave like that all the time. You evolve. Something this band does. Something that The Clash did. And while not nearly as good as The Clash, Against Me! is the one band that embodies them the most. With the release of the 7-inch Occult Enemies we find a band that seems to be doing just fine after ending their relationship with a major label. If the two songs presented here are any indication of what their next full length will be I have a feeling a bunch of people will be biting their tongues when it comes to this band sucking now.
1. Sledding With Tigers-The Arrested Cats
This is the best EP of the year. It’s a low-fi offering that draws comparisons immediately to The Mountain Goats. Perhaps the best part of this record is that even though it’s filled with tales of heartbreak and sadness, it still makes you smile. A review written on the great site Punknews.org got this completely right. This album makes you happy. What more can you want from a 5 track offering (that you can get for free at their band camp page). Listen to the first track, The Kids Will Be Alright, Eventually and closer Valentimes Is Serious Times and try not to fall in love with this band.
Honorable Mentions: Glassjaw-Coloring Book; Mixtapes-Hope is for People; Self Defense Family-I’m Going Through Some Shit Right Now; Daytrader-Last Days of Rome; Make Do and Mend-Parts and Parcel
2 Best Compilations
I feel the need to mention these two pieces of music because they’ve found themselves in heavy rotation with me. Sure, it’s not really new material, but it’s still damn good.
2. SHARKS-The Joys of Living 2008-2010
SHARKS are the British answer to The Gaslight Anthem and it simply works. It’s feel good music, just like you would get with Brian Fallon and the rest of the gang in Gaslight. Listen to The Joys of Living, Trains, and It All Relates and tell me I’m wrong. Such good music.
1. Alkaline Trio-Damnesia
Alkaline Trio decided to make an album of songs they already wrote and add a new feel to them. At first, it just sounded like they were being lazy. But you know what, any thought like that was wrong. Hearing new renditions of songs like Nose Over Tail, acoustic takes on phenomenal love songs Every Thug Needs A Lady and You’ve Got So Far To Go make this album well worth it. Add to that Matt Skiba’s Olde English 800 and you have a Trio song that is as fun as you can get. Solid release from a band that never disappoints.
Top 20 Albums of 2011
20. Shannon and the Clams-Sleep Talk
I didn’t think I would enjoy this 60’s power pop inspired as much as I did. To be honest, I didn’t want to like it all. They’re a weird looking band and have a sound that, I guess, fit’s the look. Needless to say I found myself playing this a lot more than I intended and it definitely grew on me. Pretty fun stuff.
19. Broken Gold-Recovery Journal
So it seems pointless to not begin this little review by saying how front man/guitarist Ian MacDougall was hit by a car while riding his bike home one day. While in the hospital, recovering from some frightening injuries, he decided to keep a journal. A recovery journal, so to speak. What resulted was an album based on the journal he kept to get through this hard time. You can hear it in the music, too. The yearning to get better, the pain he must have felt, and it all comes across as beautiful and unafraid. Recovery Journal is a great, honest release.
18. The Darkest Hour-The Human Romance
Every year end music list needs a good metal album (mine has two ). The first is The Darkest Hour’s Human Romance. To me, the thing that stands out on this record is the drumming of Ryan Parrish. The guy simply tears it up. Add in the rough vocals, and blistering guitars and you have a fine, fine record.
17. Dead To Me-Moscow Penny Ante
This is probably, in my opinion, the best punk album of the year. Dead To Me has always been known for brining forth great/fun songs that are full of sing alongs and good times. It took me awhile to give this a chance (there was no reason for this) but when I did it was well worth the multiple listens.
16. The Decemberists-The King Is Dead
The previous Decemberists album, The Hazards of Love, was a sprawling literary/fantasy based concept record that had 17 songs and genre jumped often. It was a great release. For The King Is Dead they cut the dramatics down a little bit (upped the REM influence) and showed why they are one of the best, most consistent bands in indie rock today.
15. Unearth-Darkness in the Light
Unearth is the best metal band out there today. They’re loud, aggressive, and really just incredible. The musicianship that the band is known for (ie: intense drumming, spiraling guitar work, pounding bass) are all here on this release. If there was an album to listen to to get pumped up, it would probably be this. If you consider yourself a fan of metal you probably already love these guys out of Boston. If you don’t, well I would suggest getting this album and joining in on the love.
14. Nothington-Borrowed Time
This was another album I got into late. Their previous release, Road, Bridges and Ruins, was a record I really enjoyed. I was excited to hear their newest release, after a promising EP I can say that Borrowed Time surpassed all expectations I had. This is the best thing this band has released and I really hope that they can top it, though it will be a hard task.
13. Frank Turner-England Keep My Bones
Frank Turner has grown up. And while one of the best things about his previous releases were how they had a youthful flare to them, it’s pretty nice to see the guy grow up and do so in such a graceful way. This is some of Turner’s best music put to tape and honestly, it’s a great record for someone who’s feeling the effects of getting older. I only hope that I’m able to do that in a way like Frank Turner.
12. The Get Up Kids-There Are Rules
I have a confession. Ever since I heard The Get Up Kids debut record, Four Minute Mile, I’ve been a fan boy. They could record an album of them spitting into a bucket and I would like it. Thankfully, I am able to put my love for the band aside when looking at There Are Rules and can say that it’s a fine indie album. Sure, it doesn’t have the great “emo” sound of Something To Write Home About or the brilliance of On A Wire, but it’s good in it’s own right. And every fan of the band should be very happy with the release. And if you never heard any of their stuff before, well, I still think you would find this record to be a gratifying experience.
11. Crazy Arm-Union City Breath
I had no expectations whatsoever regarding this band and thusly this album blew me away. It’s just the right mix of straight up rock with punk sensibilities. You know, UK punk sensibilities. Anti fascist kind of stuff. And it’s just great. The music is wonderful, the lyrics are smart and heartfelt, and you can’t help but want to throw your fist in the air and sign up for some labor movement.
10. Defeater-Empty Days and Sleepless Nights
This band rocks. I would call them the best band in hardcore today. But that would be selling them short considering that on this record they transcend hardcore for folk, rock, and just overall great music. From start to finish, Empty Days and Sleepless Nights will keep you captivated and wondering why you haven’t been listening to these guys before. Just such a great band that reinvents what hardcore music is and what it could be. So good.
9. Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room-Hurricane Season
I love pretty much everything that Alkaline Trio has ever released. Hell, I’ve loved the bands they were a part of before becoming the Trio. All of the side projects and solo recordings that Matt Skiba and Dan Andriano have been a part of have been gold to my ears. I always enjoyed Skiba’s out put a bit more, but to be honest I’m not sure why. My favorite Trio songs are all Dan songs and Dan’s solo output has been just as good if not better than Skiba’s. Which brings me to Hurricane Season. I’ve found that on the past few releases my favorite songs have definitely been the “Dan” songs. When I heard he would be putting out a solo record I was excited and honestly couldn’t wait. Andriano always had the ability to write forlorn lyrics but craft them in a way that spoke universally and didn’t come off as anything but genuine. Just read the lyrics to Maybe I’ll Catch Fire and tell me that you’ve never felt what the lyrics are saying. Thankfully, the same kind of melancholy that Dan would bring to songs like the previous mentioned Maybe I’ll Catch Fire are there in full abundance on Hurricane Season. It’s not a depressing record per se, but it’s a record that showcases a kind of loneliness and longing that is felt by people everywhere. It’s exactly why when you hear him sing on the opening track: I woke up with no one to tell/About the stains on the ceiling in my hotel/So I laid here for hours/Just trying to spell out your name; you can’t help but fall in love.
8. Balance and Composure-Separation
A review I read about this album on the aforementioned website Punknews.org said how this record was heavily influenced by the amazing In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by the band Neutral Milk Hotel. Considering that In the Aeroplane…. is one of my favorite records ever I didn’t really think that much could ever top it. That still stands true today, but after listening to Separation several times through I began to understand what the reviewer meant. The vocal delivery is similar, though much more aggressive, than Neutral Milk Hotel and the songs are harder. But there is something about the record that just makes you feel like you’re listening to a classic. I don’t think a band could ask for more than that. I know I couldn’t.
7. Seahaven-Winter Forever
This is a winter album. That might not come as a shock considering the title, but it really is a quintessential winter record. There’s a sense of loss in the songs that make you feel like you’re driving down a dark highway in the freezing cold, but instead of hating the journey you’ve grown to love it. That’s this album. It’s instantly accessible to the listener and you’ll be playing it over and over. The one complaint some people have is the vocal work of Kyle Soto. I really don’t understand the criticism since to me his hesitant, world weary sound fit’s the music perfectly. And the guy can still belt it when he needs to. This is a wonderful debut full length for a band that seems to be coming into their own.
6. O’Brother-Garden Window
This is the best debut album of the year. Taking influences from music acts such as Manchester Orchestra, Thrice, and Pink Floyd O’Brother has crafted a concept album that revolves around God and does so in a way that never comes off as pretentious. It’s really just an amazing release. Add in the fact that they are some of the nicest guys I’ve had the privilege to speak to (both times that I saw them they were nothing but kind and appreciative). I can see this band taking off soon and I am very happy to have been there from the get go. And if they do get big it couldn’t happen to a more deserving group of guys.
5. The Horrible Crowes-Elsie
Brian Fallon can seemingly do no wrong. His and the rest of the gang in Gaslight Anthem they have crafted some of the best records of the past 10 years. In fact. All of them are classics. The solo-ish album, Elsie, is simply fantastic. It’s the perfect night time album and also the perfect breakup record. As excited as I am for the New Gaslight recording coming out later this year, I am more than happy to listen to Elsie on repeat till The Gaslight Anthem drops.
This could very well be Thrice’s swan song (I really hope not though), but if it is, it’s a hell of a way to go out. For a band that has spanned a decade they have never disappointed. One of the things that I love about Thrice is that they rarely (if ever) have put out an album that sounds like their previous release. They always try new things. I love it. I want my bands to evolve (much like the great band Brand New). I don’t want stagnant music. I want dynamic flourishes that test the scope a band has to offer. Sometimes it falls flat, but when it comes to Thrice they nail it every single time. Add in one of the best songs of the year in Anthology comes from this release, it just adds to the allure. So, so, so good.
3. Bayside-Killing Time
Bayside gets better with every release. Their most recent offering, Killing Time, finds the band coming into their own. The guitar work is amazing, the drums have never sounded so tight, lead singer Anthony Raneri’s vocal sound simply amazing, and the band offers up some aggression that was missing from some of their previous releases. There is not a bad song on this record. It’s instantly relatable and instantly attention worthy. The band out of New York has created their best album to date and I am excited to see where they go from here. Looking at their track record it seems like they are due for a masterpiece.
2. Manchester Orchestra-Simple Math
The title track on this Manchester’s new album is the best album of the year. It’s also the best music video that came out this year as well. But the amazing vibe this album gives off doesn’t end there. Now, a quick little aside, I turned 23 in May and lead singer/principal songwriter/mastermind behind Manchester Orchestra, Andy Hull, also turned 23 this year. Simple Math is an album full of questions that Andy Hull has asked himself and the world. Full of songs regarding religion, God in general, love, addiction, and sex I have not heard an album that has discussed these topics in a more poignant and intellectual way. As stated before, turning 23 myself definitely helped me get through the year. Especially considering the drunken questions I had regarding my faith, God, relationships, and everything else. This band gets better and better. 2009’s Mean Everything to Nothing was the best record of the year and Simple Math may have even surpassed it.
1. The Mountain Goats-All Eternals Deck
John Darnielle, along with Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, are the best songwriters/storytellers in all of music. Sure, they both might have a soft spot for bands such as The Replacements and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, but I will say that both The Mountain Goats and The Hold Steady eclipse those two classic bands. And between the brilliant songwriting/storytelling of both these bands, I may have to go with The Mountain Goats. It’s just fantastic, eclectic music that simpley knows hoe to envelope you into a story/song. It’s so good. Regrdless if it’s the overtly personal offering such as The Mountain Goats great record The Sunset Tree or the varied story telling of All Eternals Deck, you can’t help but be captivated. If you may forgive my language for a moment, this record is fucking great from the opening quiet drums and soft guitar strums of opener Damn Thee Vampires (a great song to sing along to in concert) to the final hushed, yet slightly tense ending track Liza Forever Minnelli. The thirteen songs offer up are simply great. Sure they aren’t the concept laden album of records of past Mountain Goats records, yet All Eternals Deck is. It’s an album that is life affirming and follows a path of getting through tough situations (even if they are based on horror movie themes, done in a smart and classy way of course). And to be honest, the 1-2 punch that ends the album in Never Quite Free (one of the best songs/best songs lyrically of 2011) and Liza Forever Minnelli are two of the best songs to close an album that I have ever heard. Needless to say, The Mountain Goats have knocked it out of the park. A simply brilliant, captivating release that deserves all the attention it can muster. They don’t seem to be slowing down and I am incredibly excited to see what they offer up next. I’m sure it to will be great.
Pain-You Only Live Once; Old Man Malarkey-Guts N’ Teeth; Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band-Between the Concrete & Clouds; La Dispute-Wildlife; Title Fight-Shed; Laura Stevenson and the Cans-Sit Resist; Saves the Day-Daybreak; Radiohead-The King of Limbs; Smoking Popes-This Is Only A Test; Title Fight-Shed; The Twilight Singers-Steps; Fleet Foxes-Helplessness Blues
I’m sure that I missed a bunch of great releases this year and if you want feel free to add them to this list in an angry way or in a kind, Keith must just be forgetful way. Either way I appreciate it.
As for 2012, I am very much looking forward to releases from The Menzingers, The Gaslight Anthem, Rancid, Gatsbys American Dream, SHARKS, Weatherbox, Make Do and Mend, and Hot Water Music. There’s more I’m sure. Feel free to correct me.