The ubiquitous year-end list... the inevitable bane of music writers
and journalists everywhere, as well as the readers of blogs and newspapers
and everything else under the sun. Everyone loves to disagree and
discuss throughout the coming months. So, here are our lists. We'd
love to know what you think.
1. Richard Buckner - Our Blood
Buckner's long awaited return is worth the wait. These songs are rich
and dark and brooding and everything else that a true fan has been
hoping for. The pop-edge of his last record is once more fallen under
the shadow of lifes rich and haunted pageant, and Buckner proves once
and for all that he is the soul of the poet laureate of deep Americana.
2. Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys
Guy and company have managed to turn in another solid, quirky record
full of epic songs that wring out the best of British pop. There are
songs that soar to the heavens and songs that sweep the listener to
the Underworld, creating the ride of a lifetime and droning along
in the best of all possible ways.
3. Wild Flag - Wild Flag
Fans of post-punk take notice... this indie "supergroup"
has the sound down in spades, backed with the attitude, the art, and
the technical prowess to make it all dangerously sharp. It's like
it's 1985 again and the girls are taking over.
4. Peter Bradley Adams - Between Us
PBA's hopeful end to the cycle of pain that has plagued his solo records.
This record has as much hope and sunshine as it has beauty and pain,
but the darkness of reality looms heavy still. The songs may be bright
and the tempo lifted a touch, but the heart of a true artist realizes
the depth of humanities inky dark.
5. Houses - 4 Seasons Eps
Houses, hailing from Denver, Colorado, has released 4 EPs over the
past 20 months or so that are each focused on a different season.
While not a new or fresh concept, this is the best reckoning of the
concept that I have ever heard, as well as being some of the finest
written and recorded work to ever be made in Denver. There are a handful
of songs here that are not to be missed, as well as some reverb-drenched
beauty and sparkle.
6. Decemberists - The King Is Dead
I gues if Peter Buck lends his hand on the majority of your
new record it's okay for most of the songs to sound like R.E.M.
covers with different lyrics. For such an artistically significant
band it's strange that Colin Meloy has allowed himself to fall
into such an easy trap, sacrificing his artistic vision for simplicity
and security. However, they're still good songs, even if they are
7. Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire
To boast that Adams seems to have once more left behind his overly
pretentious nonsense may seem ludicrous, but this newest set of music
finds the mopey bard doing what he does best; writing amazing, lyrical
poetry with a deeply American flavor. This is proabbly his best record
since Heartbreaker, and serves as a reminder of just why so
many fell in love with his songwriting in the first place.
8. Bone Orchard Revival - Bone Orchard Revival
Denver's local scene has been vibrant the past four years or so, and
Bone Orchard Revival is proof positive. They have made one of the
finest alternative country records to ever grace the Mile High City,
with male and female vocals trading lines back and forth in classic
country form and honky tonk guitars and pianos falling effortlessly
forth from the speakers. They even give some classic twanging truck
driver songs a spin and make good the while.
9. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Noel Gallagher's
High Flying Birds
Yeah. I've always said Noel sings better than Liam, and here's your
proof. This record is a fantastic set of songs, even when stacked
against Oasis records. While it doesn't have the same drive and pure
rock and roll panache that the old band had, it does have Noel's great
songwriting and brilliant guitar playing... what more do we really
10. Wilco - The Whole Love
Jeff Tweedy and friends have made what is probably
their best album of the new millenium. If you have any doubts, take
a listen. While there's no "Box Full Of Records," there
are some amazing tunes and the band doesn't spend any time fucking
around with nonsensical experimentation for the sake of art, but rather
lays down some solid tunes with rock signature rock flair... Nels
Cline's guitars (and noisy craftiness) are not wasted, just reined
in and made to sound perfect in the contest of the songs.
1. Richard Buckner - Our Blood
Long awaited. Well worth the wait. Strong songs, earnest truths.
1. Kenny Vaughan - V
Long time amazing (and twangy) guitar player Kenny Vaughan makes
his own solo record backed by Marty Stuart and the other Fabulous
Superlatives. Maybe the best country record of the past 3 years
2. Gomez - Whatever's On Your Mind
Still one of the best bands ever
and they prove it once again.
3. Peter Bradley Adams - Between Us
The uplift and light at the end of the dissolved relationship
beauty at it's finest.
4. Gillian Welch - The Harrow And The Harvest
Her strongest collection of songs to date. Rich and beautiful.
5. Robert Earl Keen - Ready For Confetti
REK makes the best new country albums without even trying. Catchy
songs, brilliant words.
6. Glen Campbell - Ghost On The Canvas
This swansong from one of the my favorite singers of the past 4 years
is fragile and beautiful, but filled with grace and power.
7. Dave Alvin - Eleven Eleven
Deep and powerful songs from one of the masters of the modern guitar
and voice. I can't imagine a world without Dave's voice.
8. Mike Doughty - Yes And Also Yes
Doughty is still churning out clever songs that may not be as clever
as he once was but they are fun and easy to listen to and beautiful.
9. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Noel Gallagher's
High Flying Birds
Better than Oasis? No. Better than no Oasis? Definitely! Great songs,
solid, articulate playing.
10. Nick Lowe - The Old Magic
Lowe proves once more that he is a defining and powerful force in
11. Various Artists - This One's For Him: A Tribute To
A fantastic tribute to one of the greatest songwriters who have ever
lived... and he's here to hear it!
2011 was a strange year for me musically. Usually when I sit down
to write a Top 10 list it's an exercise in whittling down all my favorites
from the year. I usually have to spend excruciating hours justifying
which albums to cut. This year I had a hard time coming up with a
full Top 10 roster. I ended up futzing about trying to decide which
albums should rise to the status of a Top 10 entry. This problem didn't
come from a lack of good albums in 2011. Indeed, 2011 was filled with
records that I really enjoyed and many that I loved. The problem was
that there were very few that I think will make their way into my
permanent jukebox-very few that I'll be listening to in 20 years.
With all that said, here is the spinthis45 Top 10 Albums of 2011,
in no particular order:
· tUnE yArDs - w h o k i l l -
This is one of a few entries on this year's list where there was never
any question about its Top 10 status. From the moment I heard the
first tracks from this record I knew that Merrill Garbus had
created something special. Her magical way of taking African rhythms,
simple drum loops, and her ukulele and creating something that mashes
world beat, jazz, dance music, and indie rock is nothing short of
· James Blake - Self-titled
Another mash-up of sorts. Blake's vocals, in a different environment,
would probably be considered traditional soul singing. But when processed
through Auto-Tune and applied to his spare, glitchy electronics you
get something else entirely. With this release Blake defined a brand
new post-dubstep dance music genre. Others will be sure to follow
but for the time being, hats off to the inventor!
· Those Darlins' - Screws Get Loose -
You may remember I discovered this band accidentally when they opened
for Black Joe Lewis And The Honeybears early this year. From
the moment I saw them they took off like a rocket-touring and interviewing
constantly, and maintaining some of the most amusing tweets in my
feed (@Those_Darlins). These raucous ladies (and their male drummer)
play the greatest retro-girl-group-garage-rock that I've heard in
years. They tear the roof off the club with every show and managed
to translate their fierce live energy into an equally fierce record.
· Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I
Slow-core? Heavy-Metal-Spaghetti-Western-Soundtrack-Music? Putting
a name on what it is Earth plays is probably a worthless endeavor.
Their excruciatingly slow instrumentals bring time to a screeching
halt while painting a desolate, dusty, desert landscape, haunted by
lonely travelers and tumbleweed.
· Fucked Up - David Comes To Life -
The critical acclaim that's been heaped on Fucked Up these last few
years was been lost on me until this year. The sheer audacity of a
hardcore band creating this double album concept record is what finally
won me over. The fact that the story line is cohesive without being
heavy handed is nothing short of amazing. Add to the mix that this
hardcore band is comprised of talented musicians, intent on bringing
their brand of music out of the basement and into respectability and
you have a record for the history books.
· Wild Flag - Self-titled -
Wild Flag's self-titled debut marks a return to the punk rock sound
of England in the eighties, mixed with the grunge of the nineties.
The 'super-group' tag that Wild Flag has been burdened with made me
skeptical at first - they actually had to earn this spot on the Top
10. But one listen to the record reveals the pure joy these ladies
have for making indie-rock noise.
· TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light -
TV On The Radio is another band for which critical acclaim fell on
my deaf ears
until this year, that is. I have to admit that
had I not been dragged by Mark to see them play live, with the carrot
of a half-price ticket through Living Social, they probably never
would have made this list. Seeing them play live is what did it for
me. Their mix of jazz, punk, space rock, and Avant-garde noise was
truly something to behold. That show led to a thorough reassessment
of my opinion of them and introduced me to one of my Top 10 albums
of 2011 (Thanks, Mark!).
· Adele - 21 -
Adele didn't make many of the indie-rock taste-makers' Top 10 lists
this year. I'm sure that the ubiquity of Adele on the radio and in
the press led to a measure of overload and something of a backlash.
I found it impossible to ignore a record that made my seven and eleven
year old kids, my wife, and me spontaneously break into top-of-our-lungs
singing for an entire year running.
· Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
Iron & Wine might have made the Top 10 List on the merits of the
album title alone. It's probably just me, but Kiss Each Other Clean
evokes something deeply loving and sensual - I melt each time
I see the album title in print (I know, I'm a freak). And I haven't
even mentioned the music. Sam Beam created a folk-rock masterpiece
with this release.
· Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee, Part II (HSCP2)
After what seemed like 100 years the Beastie Boys returned in 2011.
They broke absolutely no new ground with this release, but who really
wants the Beastie Boys to break new ground? HSCP2 simply picks up
where they left off. Snarky lyrics, funky grooves, and pop culture
Susan Frances - Top 10 Albums of 2011
1) Miwa Gemini - Fantastic Lies of Grizzly Rose
New York City-based folk singer/songwriter Miwa Gemini delivers a
handful of roots rock stompers and country fair/folk-style singalongs
loaded with feel good vibrations.
2) Matthew Mayfield - Now You're Free
Acoustic pop singer-songwriter Matthew Mayfield blends shades of romantic-pop
fringed in melodic rock cuts and atmospheric folk on his 2011 release.
3) Fernandez & Wright - Unsung
The Australian blues-pop duo of singer Vanessa Fernandez and
multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright foster a dreamy soul jazz
sound with shards of lulling ambient pop and bossa nova grooves on
4) The Birthday Massacre - Imaginary Monsters
The Goth rock raptures of The Birthday Massacre's 2011 release is
draped in haunting soundscapes and smoldering synth effects that alleviate
the aural senses.
5) Kelly Clarkson - Stronger
Dubbed a pop princess, singer-songwriter Kelly Clarkson shows there
is more to her than dancehall pop and branches out into power punk
rhythms and ruminating ballads.
6) Lee Brice - Love Like Crazy
Country-pop singer/songwriter Lee Brice is a sprig of fresh country-driven
porch folk and shivering southern rock harnessed in hummable melodies
and lyrics that show a man's vulnerable side.
7) Toby Keith - Clancy's Tavern
The songwriter behind some of the best modern American anthems tempers
his penchant for country western tunage and Celtic-brewed singalongs
with romantic ballads and his unique blend of drinking songs - in
particular "Solo Cup."
8) Pamela Hines with April Hall - Lucky's Boy
Combining a mix of cocktail jazz, smooth soul, and swing-inspired
blues, the duo of Pamela Hines and vocalist April Hall produces a
lounge ambience in the listener's living room.
9) Marisa Yeaman - Voices From The Underground
Australia's mistress of soulful folk rock, Marisa Yeaman emerges with
her 2011 release and shows that her love for roots rock and blissful
country-blues is engrained deep in her songwriting.
10) Nickelback - Here And Now
The dukes of modern rock have returned, and though the album is typical
of the band's octane-charged guitar shredding, their album shows that
the quartet have not lost what has made them enamorable to rock fans
around the world.
1. Innerpartysystem - Never Be Content
When your favorite band takes a new direction it's always a little
scary. Are you going to like it? Or will you be disappointed? Well
when Innerpartysystem released their new album Never Be Content
this year, my admiration for them only grew. Between "American
Trash" that almost literally blew the roof off their live show
and "Not Getting Any Better" that combined techno dance
with hip-hop and alternative rock, this album was unbelievable. The
only bummer was the band's announcement of their hiatus a few months
after this release.
2. Ha Ha Tonka - Death Of A Decade
Pretty sure any time Ha Ha releases an album it'll make it on my Top
10. But Death Of A Decade was extra special. Their music takes
"infectious" to a new level. And the new album shows (through
perfect harmonies and addictive melodies) that the future of this
band is bright and promising.
3. Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
Who knew two voices and one guitar could create such amazing music!?!
But when John Paul and Joy put their creative brains
together they did just that and created Barton Hollow. By nature
the music is acoustic, but the magic they used made for warm and intoxicating
sounds. I suppose it could be described as Southern Folk, whatever
it is, I would call it beautiful.
4. Awolnation - Megalithic Symphony
The thing that initially got me about this album/band was the inexplicable
Jackson 5 vibe coming from the beats. Next was the confusion
my body had to deal with, was it supposed to head bang or bust into
a dance groove? Expertly placed hooks, on top of techno-dance rhythms
and mixed with the occasional raw chord strum, makes this album a
hodge-podge of awesome music.
5. Thrice - Major/Minor
As veterans, Thrice has moved through a variety of sounds in their
career. Each time remaining true to the original "band"
sentiment, but adjusting and maturing just slightly. Major/Minor
feels like the best version of Thrice yet. The hard rock of their
early albums is there, the acoustic elements and light melodies of
later albums like Beggars and The Alchemy Index are
found as well. Everything intertwined into a fantastic package.
6. The Black Keys - El Camino
They barely made it into 2011 with a December release, but The Black
Keys still managed to make it on everyone's Top 10 list. If Attack
& Release was a first hello (in a sense), and Brothers
was a "high-five", then El Camino is a firm handshake.
Basically these two guys have safely secured a hold on the music scene
with this album. You never knew you liked blues music until you've
heard this album. Dan's vocals are the perfect balance of gut-wrenching
honest and smooth attitude. And that's not even mentioning the crazy
talent that comes out of that guitar!
7. Moving Mountains - Waves
They won me over with Forward, so the release of Waves
was just a complete bonus for my Moving Mountains library. These guys
figured out how to put a level of dynamics into their music you'd
think it was produced by a major motion picture guru. The best part
is hidden between the angry drums and ear piercing guitars - strings.
The occasional violin comes out of nowhere and steals my heart away
with each song.
8. The Head And The Heart - The Head And The Heart
My first experience with The Head And The Heart was literally in a
living room. This new band who was supposedly "the next big thing
from Seattle" was playing a house party in KS. Who knew their
self-titled debut release would take off the way that it did. From
a living room of 20, to a venue of roughly 200, they are definitely
finding their foothold. Like with Civil Wars there's a bit of Southern
Folk in the music. There's also a lot of acoustic guitar, melodic
piano and overall "good-feeling" vibes for everyone to enjoy.
9. Needtobreathe - The Reckoning
Oh man. That pretty much sums up my initial reaction to the new album
from Needtobreathe called The Reckoning. The Outsiders
was a fantastic record, but this one took the bands already inspiration
filled powerful ballads and added some new spice. "Oohs And Ahhs"
is a prime example of the new kick. Just listen and you'll hear some
a few strings plucked to lead you into an all-out explosion of hard
10. Boxer Rebellion - The Cold Still
Every year has to have a new introduction from overseas, at least
one. This year's was The Boxer Rebellion. Their album The Cold
Still blends warm chords and soothing vocals to create some elegant
soundscapes. While at the same time knows how to get the booty shaking
with songs like "The Runner" and its two-stepping rock rhythm.
1. Josh Ritter - To The Yet Unknowing World
2. The Black Keys - El Camino
3. Richard Buckner - Our Blood
4. Decemberists - The King Is Dead
5. Snow Patrol - Fallen Empires
6. Death Cab For Cutie - Codes And Keys
7. Wye Oak- Civilian
8. Feist - Metals
9. The Cars - Move Like This
10. The Strokes - Angles
The Black Keys - El Camino
Even though The Black Keys can afford a lot more production value
since their days as an Ohio garage band, "sellout" is not
a phrase that comes to mind on their latest. Most of the album describes
a doomed romance in that special way only blues chords can convey.
"Lonely Boy" has been a hit since before the album release,
but some of my favorites include "Sister," "Little
Black Submarines," "Run Right Back," and the heartbreaking
"Nova Baby" (and literally every song on this album, it's
just so good). Some people have been cranky to see the two-piece band
collecting more instrumentalists, but after hearing El Camino
I can't imagine anyone's still complaining. It's just that good.
Portugal. The Man - In The Mountain In The Cloud
The uncategorizable indie-ish band channeled The Beatles (as
they tend to do) and Oasis on their first major label release,
their fifth album in five years. The former Alaskans/current Porlandians
made a beautiful, well-rounded album ranging from the melodic single
material like "So American" to the genre-bending "All
Your Light." Of course my favorite part of Portugal is their
live show, but In The Mountain... is an excellent embodiment
of the soul and spirit of the band, and I'm so happy to see them getting
their due props these days.
The Kills - Blood Pressures
Let's be clear. Allison Mosshart is a better frontman that
just about everyone out there. If you disagree, just watch The Kills
or Dead Weather live, eat your words, then get back to me.
Blood Pressures is a groovy, soulful mix of blues and rock.
Favorites include "Future Starts Slow," "The Last Goodbye,"
"Baby Says," and "Satellite." I just love the
mix between Mosshart's female lead vocals and Jamie Hince's
Florence + The Machine - Ceremonials
Florence's pipes are indescribably amazing, so I won't bother. The
album showcases her talent and seals her place as a major recording
artist. "Shake It Out' was the first song I heard off the album
and it's still probably my favorite. I also love the spooky "Breaking
Down" and heart-wrenching "No Light, No Light." The
vast range of instrumental accompaniment along with Florence's vocals
makes for one epic album.
Lady GaGa - Born This Way
Don't even start. Love her or hate her, Gaga's got talent. She is
particularly adept at creating art with layers of depth, which puts
the "art" in "pop art." Her electro dance will
make you want to dance, and her powerful vocals will make you want
to sing. About a third of the 14 tracks have already been singles,
which should be an indication of how listenable this album is, but
some of my favorites won't make it to the radio, like "Government
Hooker" and "Scheiße." I'm not normally one to
advocate listening to MTV friendly music, but Gaga stands apart from
the rest. Don't miss out.
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