Top 20 Albums of 2011
2011 may not have been a banner year for album sales but that’s nothing new. And unless Elvis and Michael Jackson decide to collaborate posthumously on a rock opera about the life of Amy Winehouse, we’re not likely to see a record-breaking record sales year anytime soon. Having said that, it was a pretty good year for music, and there were plenty of releases that caught our attention, despite having only listened to a fraction of the music that came across our desks this year. Here are 20 of the releases we played the most, and usually, and joyfully, at excessively loud volumes.
Atlas Losing Group, “State of Unrest” | Melodic hardcore from Sweden that is at once powerful, political and philosophical. A raging album from start to finish.
Banner Pilot, “Heart Beats Pacific” | The Minnesota punks may not have expanded their sound on their third record, but they sure honed it on “Heart Beats Pacific,” a gruff and melodic pop-punk romp across the lonely landscapes of a Minneapolis winter with a half-empty bottle of whiskey in hand.
Blink 182, “Neighborhoods” | The once-potty-mouthed punks return with a record devoid of humor and severely lacking in Mark Hoppus songs, which basically makes this sound an Angels & Airwaves record, which isn’t a bad thing. But then there’s drummer Travis Barker, who elevates and expands the band’s songs and sound, planting them into your brain and hammering home the hooks.
Butch Walker and the Black Widows, “The Spade” | The pop producer and songwriter behind hits for Avril, Pink and Panic! At the Disco, put together a new band and a new record, giving us the second best power-pop record of 2011.
Chixdiggit, “Safeways Here We Come” | Canadian Ramones-core geeks Chixdiggit gave us seven new songs in 2011, and though we’d have rather had a full-length, we happily gorged on this EP filled with goofy yet charming pop-punk.
Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room, “Hurricane Season” | The first solo outing from the bass player of The Alkaline Trio doesn’t rock as hard as his main project but retains the melancholy melodies that make the Alkaline Trio great.
Dawes, “Nothing Is Wrong” | This record may have been released in 2011 but it sounds more like an early ’70s Jackson Browne record, like the kind of tunes coming out of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon during that decade, which likely explains why Robbie Robertson hired the group to double as his backing band. “Nothing Is Wrong” is hot licks, rich harmonies and soulful pop-rock tunes.
Fountains of Wayne, “Sky Full of Holes” | They may not be the most prolific band on Earth, but their records are always worth the wait, and their latest is no exception, a smart, tongue-in-cheek power-pop record, and the best current band at writing this kind of material.
Frank Turner, “England Keep My Bones” | Like Billy Bragg channeling Bruce Springsteen, Turner’s latest long-player is his best yet. This has folk music tradition with a living, beating, punk rock heart.
Frenzal Rhomb, “Smoko at the Pet Food Factory” | Though these Australian punks have been off the radar for the past few years, they returned with a vengeance this year with the blistering “Smoko.” The lyrics may be inane, but the songs are catchy as hell and just the right recipe for blasting airs off a half-pipe or barreling down the slopes on a snowboard.
Fucked Up, “David Comes to Life” | If Fucked Up revived the concept record in 2011, Lou Reed and Metallica may have slayed it once and for all, but don’t let that keep you away from the third record by these Toronto punks, a story told in four acts about the romance between a light bulb factory employee and an activist in 1970’s and ’80s England.
Mike Doughty, “Yes and Also Yes” | His syncopated rhythms and pop hooks alone would be a blissful combination all by their lonesome, but throw in some smart lyrics as well and you’re left with one of the best pop-rock records of the year. With each excellent record Doughty puts out, the ghost of Soul Coughing fades deeper into the fog.
Smoking Popes, “This Is Only a Test” | It may not have been the record we hoped for from this reunited Chicago quartet — a concept record told from the perspective of a high school student. But hell, it was a new full-length from the Smoking Popes, and at least they challenged themselves, even if the results weren’t as successful as we hoped.
Social Distortion, “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” | They take forever making records, especially for a band whose rarely use more than a few chords in a song, but at least when Social D does put out a new LP, it’s always solid, and “Hard Times” is no different. It’s as good as anything in the band’s catalog.
Teenage Bottlerocket, “Mutilate Me” 7″ | This release includes just two new songs from the band plus a Bad Religion cover, but the title track is a pop-punk gem, and one of our most played tracks for the year, elevating this three-song seven-inch to must-have status on the strength of that song alone.
The Copyrights, “North Sentinel Island” | There was no better three-chord Ramones-core record this year than the fifth full-length from Carbondale, Illinois’ Copyrights, whose sing-along choruses make the real North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal seem like one of the happiest places on the planet.
The Lonely Forest, “Arrows” | When the Lonely Forest are at their best they are nearly unstoppable. That’s the good news. The bad news is that on their third full-length, and first for Chris Walla’s Atlantic imprint, the band misses more than they hit. Even still, half the album is amazing, bringing to mind bands like Jimmy Eat World and Sunny Day Real Estate at the most majestic, and overshadowing the less interesting pieces of the record.
They Might Be Giants, “Join Us” | Taking a break from writing kids songs to make another record for grown-ups, rock’s quirkiest duo are as witty and wonderful as ever on their fifteenth LP, which includes several classic TMBG tunes, like “When Will You Die,” easily the year’s best kiss off song.
Thrice, “Major/Minor” | At times heavy, at others delicate, Thrice continue to expand their musical boundaries on their latest album, an epic rock adventure that finds the band at the top of their game.
Unwritten Law, “Swan” | Always on the verge of breaking through but never quite fully doing so during their heyday, the venerable San Diego punk band, who returned after six years away, may have had better luck breaking through if they’d released this album in 2001 instead of 2011, perhaps the best record of their career.