Top Albums of 2011

This year in music, no albums came out that I would consider classic. When it came time to put together this list, there was nothing that jumped out. I debated back and forth, and I really think that at one time I had each of albums 1-5 in the #1 spot. I am pretty sure 6-14 could probably all be rearranged as well, that’s just the way that it went musically for me this year. I also, for whatever reason, listened to like no hip-hop; nothing that came out this year really resonated with me, so there is not 1 hop-hop mention. NOTE: Some songs on some albums may contain explicit language, but I don’t think there is anything extremely vulgar, anyway, listen to with care!

4 that just missed:

Florence and the Machine “Ceremonials”

Josh Garrels “Love and War and the Sea in Between”

tUnE-yArDs “WHO KILL”

Elbow “Build a Rocket Boys”

THE TOP 10

10. O’Brother “Garden Window”-A great live performance can do a lot for a band. O’Brother was a band that every band I liked would always rave about. They raved about how great and talented they were and about just how much potential they had. I never really got that from listening to the couple of EPs they had out, but when I saw them live, this all changed. They put in so much emotion to their performance that I was blown away. When their album came out, I rushed to buy it and was not disappointed. It retains the band’s live energy and all the pent up emotion singer Tanner Merritt has in his voice. At times heavy, at others soft and beautiful, O’Brother’s first full length is solid.

9. Thrice “Major/Minor”-One of my favorite bands has released another solid album here. This time, instead of completely changing up their sound (like they have done with every album since 2003’s “The Artist in the Ambulance”) they progress it from their last effort “Beggars”. Where the rawness of “Beggars” failed, “Major/Minor”‘s slightly upped production really works well, showing the band’s ability to craft wonderful songs. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we hear from them.

8. Beirut “The Rip Tide”-Zach Condon’s project is a wonderful blend of deep vocals, acoustic guitars, and gypsy sounding music influenced by styles all over the world. In the last few years, Condon has expanded his sound to include a lot more electronic production (something I felt was a downgrade from his previous efforts.) With “The Rip Tide”, Condon combines his world gypsy influence with his electronic, making for a nice blend of the two. Since he settles for middle ground, it never reaches the potential that Condon has in every song he makes, but then again, since it is Beirut most of it is absolutely wonderful.

7. Thursday “No Devolucion”-The veteran emo group’s latest and final record may as well have been their debut for me, because it was the first I had ever paid full attention to. It was a good time to get into them to, because, as most critics agreed, this was their fullest and most mature work of their career. The songs are atmospheric and catchy, meant to be taken seriously. The heavy parts of the album don’t work as well as intentioned, but they are mostly kept to a minimum, leaving room for what really are a beautiful bunch of songs.

6. Admiral Fallow “Boots Met My Face”-I don’t know a single person that has ever heard of this band (other than the people at Paste Magazine), but these guys from Scotland put together a great record this year (or I guess technically last year when it was released in their homeland). The best way to describe them is like a mix between Mumford and Sons and Frightened Rabbit. Like the aforementioned Mumford their songs often reach a crescendo of fast paced picking with shouted vocals that are some of the funnest parts of any album this year. Check these guys out, they are worth it.

5. Gungor “Ghosts Upon the Earth”-Gungor put more effort and intentionality into this album than any other one I heard all year. Every single sound appears for a purpose and they do a lot with it, combining the music and theme throughout. Gungor may have created the best worship album ever, at least out of those that were purposefully trying to make a worship album. There are a few songs that though they are put together really nicely, don’t quite work for me and honestly that is probably the only thing that keeps it from the top spot.

4. The Decemberists “The King is Dead”-When I first heard the latest album by the Decemberists, I thought ‘oh great, another band going for that country/folk feel’. It felt like a huge gimmick from a band that does not usually create music within this genre. After a couple of listens, I was totally into it. While their other albums go for lengthy, epic storytelling, this one revels in harmonica, acoustic driven folk and sometimes less is more. Getting away from the grand operatic album schemes has lead the way for songwriting that is more touching, which in my book works way better.

3. Sainthood Reps “Monoculture”-My favorite new artist of the year combines the post-indie rock of Brand New with the loudness of a 90’s grunge/punk act. They nail both the heavy parts of the album and the poetic softer songs that the band include in its range. At times they do lean toward sounding a little like Brand New (one of the members was a touring member of that band), but the talent and potential shines. Lyrically, the band mourns the loss of culture and creativity and the creation of a “monoculture” in our society. We live in a place where many settle for the norm; for conformity and thankfully Sainthood Reps is here to speak out against this by creating one of the best albums of the year.

2. Manchester Orchestra “Simple Math”-Kept wanting to rank this album lower, but when it came down to it, I loved just about every song on it, and that I can’t ignore. The band expanded their sound on this album, adding more horns and strings in nearly every song, while Andy Hull’s voice remains spot on. The diversity that often accompanies each Manchester Orchestra album is here with heart wrenching ballads, upbeat guitar rock, and even funky guitar riff-lead songs. Thematically, the album deals with marriage and God and as the title track says “what if everything we thought was right was wrong?”

1. Bon Iver “Bon Iver”-I did not believe the hype. There was no way this dude was as good as everyone said. As more and more sources I trusted kept hyping the album I decided to give the stream on NPR’s First Listen a shot. After about 10 seconds I was hooked. Justin Vernon creates grand symphonies of epic proportions on the smallest of musical scales. This album was the one that I could count on and enjoy the most out of everything I listened to this year. They are beautiful constructions that go beyond the bearded dude with a guitar montra that he was previously known for, at times even using a 90’s muted keyboard effect with auto tuned vocals which works surprisingly well and still maintains the feel of the whole foresty folk feel of the album. This is music for the soul.

Honorable mentions: Adele “21”, Set Your Goals “Burning at Both Ends”, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster “IV”, Cool Hand Luke “Of Man”, Cold War Kids “Mine is Yours”, The Civil Wars “Barton Hollow”, Son Lux “We Are Rising”, Seryn “We Will All Be Changed”, Switchfoot “Vice Verses”, Needtobreathe “The Reckoning”, The Hawk in Paris “HIS+HERS”, Hawkboy “Ep”, Gideon “Costs”, Defeater “Empty Days and Sleepless Nights”

The Top 30 Songs of 2011

Not much to say other than these are my top 30 songs of the year. There are 22 different artists. The most songs by 1 artist is 3. Check the playlist out on Spotify: The Best Songs of 2011

30. “Hunter” by Sainthood Reps

29. “Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars

28. “Never Let Me Go” by Florence and the Machine

27. “When Death Dies” by Gungor

26. “Virtue” by Gideon

25. “White Owl” by Josh Garrels-Not on Spotify, so not included in the playlist. Check it out here. Also check out his fantastic album “Love and War and the Sea in Between” for FREE here

24. “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes

23. “Lippy Kids” by Elbow

22. “Vice Verses” by Switchfoot

21. “To Whom it May Concern” by The Civil Wars

20. “Royal Blue” by Cold War Kids

19. “Simple Math” by Manchester Orchestra

18. “Lay Down” by O’Brother

17. “Words in the Water” by Thrice

16. “Life’s a Happy Song” by Jason Segel and Walter

15. “Magnets Caught in a Metal Heart” by Thursday

14. “Certain” by Set Your Goals

13. “Towers” by Bon Iver

12. “Bizness” by tUnE-YaRdS

11. “Blinded” by Thrice

The Top 10

10. “Only if For a Night” by Florence and the Machine-Florence’s voice telling this tale of some ghostlike lover/friend that may or may not have died which all might be a dream makes you able to forgive her for telling such a confusing story and even actually care about whatever it is she is talking about.

9. “Deer” by Manchester Orchestra-A stripped down song basically showcasing Andy Hull’s amazing voice while simultaneously questioning God and his marriage. It is heartfelt and wonderful.

8. “Holiday Makers” by Sainthood Reps-The opening riff and vocals are just so slick and catchy and smooth that it’s impossible not to like, well I think so anyway.

7. “Old Balloons” by Admiral Fallow-It starts slow with its piano and picking and builds into a rompin’ blast of a song.

6. “June Hymn” by The Decemberists-As the title shows, this is the Decemberists version of a hymn, an acoustic harmonica riddled ballad about the past.

5. “Four Bulbs” by Admiral Fallow-A definite part of my calm down playlist as it is one of the most soothing songs I heard all year. Definitely has a depressing tone to it, but at the same time feels really reflective and full of meaning.

4. “Someone Like You” by Adele-I love a sad song and Adele absolutely nails the sad song here. The sad piano, the internal argument, the power and emotion in her voice all make it great. Kind of hated that it became such a huge hit, because it made it feel as if she was cheating on me by expressing her sorrows to the rest of the world and not just me. It’s okay Adele, I’ll be here when you record your next break up song. NOTE: Apparently Adele’s whole album has been taken from Spotify, so it is not on the playlist.

3. “A Candle’s Fire” by Beirut-A perfect Beirut song, with horns, acoustic guitar, a gypsy tone, lead by Zach Condon’s booming deep voice. It has a strange similarity to “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” which is an awesome song, so it works.

2. “Perth” by Bon Iver-It’s so small, yet reaches the highest of highs from it’s soft opening to it’s grand musical crescendo with drums and horns. This intro to the album hooked me from its first few moments and lead the way for what is one of the best albums of the year.

1. “Virgin” by Manchester Orchestra-A grand scaled creepy ode to keeping a marriage together that slowly builds toward an epic children’s choir lead all the way by Andy Hull’s passionate quivering voice. Stands alone as the song of the year.