Time well wasted

Saturday, January 14, 2012
Top 10 albums of 2011
2011 was a fantastic year for music. Some years I have trouble coming up with 10 albums (I think I had 7 in 2009), but this year was no problem. I'll even list some at the bottom that I liked but didn't make the top 10 cut. This year I'm back to having a desk job, so I've had plenty of time to listen to lots of fantastic albums, lots of not fantastic albums, and lots of albums people swear are fantastic but I just don't see it. I even listened to every (or at least part of every) album on Paste magazine's top 50 albums of the year. You'll find some albums here that you'll find on nearly every other top list, but there are quite a few differences as well. Personal preference I suppose. Anyway, here goes:

10. Ten out of Tenn Vol 4.
I don't normally put compilation albums on my tops lists, but this one is just too good to not list. Ten out of Tenn is a group of friends/musicians who release music individually, but compile a best-of of sorts from each of their individual albums. I'm not sure that I could describe the sound without going into each artist individually, but suffice it to say that you should just listen to it. It sounds like you'd expect music coming out of Nashville to sound - not folk, but not rock, just lots of acoustic guitar, piano, and great singing. Just trust me on this one.
Favorite Track - The Ladder by Andrew Belle

9. Gym Class Heroes - The Papercut Chronicles II
Probably the most unexpected on the list. Hip-hop is a guilty pleasure, in fact, despite the number of times I've listened to this album, you'd have never seen it on my spotify feed because I always go into private listening mode. But I'll admit it here. Not every track is good (which is why it's at #9) but it has quite a few really good tracks, including one (Holy Horse**** Batman) that features Nate Ruess (of the Format and currently Fun.) whose very unique voice is a personal favorite. Speaking of Fun., their new album comes out in February and if the few tracks I've heard off it are any indication, it'll be on my list next year. Check it out. Anyway, back to Gym Class Heroes. You've definitely heard the Stereo Hearts song if you listed to pop radio, and if you liked that you'd be well served to listen to the rest of the album.
Favorite Track: The Fighter

8. Leeland - The Great Awakening
Hip-hop then Christian? I don't understand it anymore than you do. Leeland's albums always make my top lists, so I don't know that I have much new to say about the band. Their sound in the contemporary Christian genre is completely unique, but despite this each album has a unique feel. I don't dislike other contemporary Christian music, but much of it is watered down and tries too hard to be pop music. Leeland's albums seem like honest, authentic prayers put to music. I wish my Church would play their songs.
Favorite Track: I Can See Your Love

7. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
Poison and Wine is such a good song that I'd have considered including this album even if I hated every other track, but luckily the rest are great as well. It's a beautifully haunting song about the impossibility of easy love - the love/hate that characterizes most relationships. It's actually the theme of the entire album with the "civil wars" not referring to our country's past military conflict, but the civil war that rages within relationships. Or at least that's what I assume. Maybe they are just history buffs...
Favorite Track - Poison and Wine

6. Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
I'd say there's at least a 50% chance I'll eventually see this as far better than number 7 of this list, but for some reason, for three of my favorite bands (Coldplay, Snow Patrol, and Death Cab) it takes me a little while to get into their albums. Eventually I end up loving them, but it's not love at first listen. I've had this album a month or so, which really isn't enough time yet. It's already started to grow on me, but it's still one of my least favorite Coldplay albums. I think part of it is they're trying some new things mixed with classic Coldplay and I'm just not sure how I feel about it. Princess of China for example is a good song, but it doesn't feel anything like Coldplay. They've thrown in some hip-hop elements into a number of songs, and while it's good, it's not why I love Coldplay. There are still a few very Coldplay-ish songs on the album like Don't Let it Break Your Heart and Charlie Brown, so I've got those at least, but I'm not sure if I'll ever embrace the newer sounds.
Favorite Track: Charlie Brown

5. The Head and the Heart (self titled)
This one came out of nowhere. I had never heard of this band until a few weeks ago. I'm not positive if I found them on Spotify or saw them on someone else's top list, but it is fantastic folk music - heavy on the piano, upright bass and bass drum with a bit of acoustic guitar strumming, tambourine and cymbal thrown in for good measure. The fantastic sound of the male/female duo closes the deal. It's no Mumford and Sons, but it's probably my favorite folk album since. Paste Magazine obviously loves folk music, so I listened to a number of folk albums, and this was by far my favorite this year.
Favorite Track: Down in the Valley

4. Bon Iver (self titled)
For Emma, Forever Ago was a fantastic album, but in my opinion, this album is even better. In contrast to the other albums, I'm not even positive why I like this album so much. It's very different. The songs aren't sing-in-your-head catchy, but his vocals and the instrumentation just blend together in an indescribable way. This makes it very difficult to pick a favorite song because again, unlike any of the other albums, I never listen to a single track off this album - I listen to it the whole way through every time.
Favorite Track: Perth (but really all of them)

3. William Fitzsimmons - Gold in the Shadow
In 2008 William Fitzsimmon's The Sparrow and the Crow was my favorite album, and probably remains as one of my favorite albums of all time. The album, written as an apology to his ex-wife, is depressingly sad, but beautiful and amazing at the same time. He took a few years off of writing and then came back with Gold in the Shadow which chronicles his resurrection from the darkness that surrounded his divorce. The sound is noticeably more upbeat and positive, but maintains a distinct element of sadness that characterizes his works. It's no Sparrow and the Crow, but it's still very good.
Favorite Track: Fade and Then Return

1. (Tie) Needtobreathe - The Reckoning
You're not likely to find this album on any other top lists - especially not at number 1. I think this is partially because the band has heavy Christian undertones, although is not what you would call a Christian band. If not for this, I think they would be more well known and more critically acclaimed, but that's just an opinion. I've listened to this band for a number of years now and have enjoyed all their albums, but this one is by far their best. It's southern rock at its best in my opinion. Think Kid Rock style music - only good. I was lucky enough to catch this band in concert literally in my back yard this year (probably 200 yards from my apartment). They're even better in concert, check them out if you can.
Favorite Track: White Fences

1. (Tie) Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
This is another album that you won't see on most people's top lists, but it really should be. I think 2008's Narrow Stairs (which is better than people give it credit for but is admittedly my least favorite Death Cab album) left people thinking the band had peaked. Nothing will live up to Transatlanticism (which is one of my favorite albums of all time) but Death Cab is far from being done making good music. It took me a little while to get into it (pretty normal for this band) but I like it so much now it's in the running for second favorite Death Cab album. It's that good. I was able to see these guys in concert this summer and if anything they didn't play enough of this album (they did however play nearly all of Transatlanticism which was amazing). For a few months over the summer I spent about 4-5 hours a day most days studying for my comprehensive exams, and I listened to this album at least once for each of those days. If it's good enough to make studying statistics tolerable, it's at least worth listening to.
Favorite Track: St. Peters Cathedral

#1 Album that didn't actually come out in 2011. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
So most years I include these sorts of albums in my top 10 list, but I thought I'd do it differently this year. This was my favorite album of the year - even though it came out 4 years ago. It's Scottish, a little bit folksy, and a little bit Brit Rock, and all good. It's a breakup album, so it's a bit sad, but the fast tempo will keeps it from being depressing. It's no William Fitzsimmons in other words. But it is fantastic, I honestly can't stop listening to it. It was another staple in the studying routine.
Favorite Track: The Twist

Other artists that released albums this year that weren't my favorite, but that I enjoy:
Ben Rector
Jack's Mannequin
Mayday Parade
Deas Vail
posted by Brian @ 11:45 AM   1 comments
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