James Bickers’ favorite songs of 2011

So I’m a little bit late with this, but here goes – these were the ten songs I dug the most in 2011. (In the spirit of being late, a couple of them actually came out in 2010, but 2011 was the year I discovered them and spent a lot of time with them.)

The Twilight Sad – The Wrong Car

Iron and Wine – Tree By the River

Bon Iver – Calgary

Robyn – Call Your Girlfriend

Adele – Don’t You Remember

Nicki Minaj w/ Rihanna – Fly

The Script – You Won’t Feel a Thing

Brett Dennen – Sydney

The Band Perry – If I Die Young

Dawes – A Little Bit of Everything

WFPK’s Top Albums of 2011

Here they are.  The albums that soundtracked the entire year.  Let us know what you think.

Winners in each category voted on by you!
“Local Artist of the Year” – Ben Sollee
“Emerging Artist of the Year” – The Civil Wars
“Artist of the Year” – Adele

100. Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys
99. Jessica Lea Mayfield – Tell Me
98. Ari Hest – Sunset OverHope Street
97.  Tune-Yards – Who Kill
96.  Dave Moisan – Ungravity
95.  Vandaveer – Dig Down Deep
94.  Will Hoge – Number Seven
93.  Joseph Arthur – The Graduation Ceremony
92.  Joe Bonamossa – Dust Bowl
91.  Cold War Kids – Mine is Yours
90.  Lisa Hannigan – Passenger
89.  G. Love – Fixin’ to Die
88.  Matthew Ryan – I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall
87.  The Felice Brothers – Celebration,Florida
86.  Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
85.  Kathleen Edwards – Voyager
84.  Graffiti6 – Free EP
83.  Warren Haynes – Man in Motion
82.  Washed Out – Within and Without
81. PortugalThe Man – In the Mountain In the Cloud
80.  Drive By Truckers – Go-Go Boots
79.  Matt Pond PA – Spring Fools EP
78.  Gabe Dixon – One Spark
77.  Nerves Junior – As Bright As Your Night Light
76.  Bobby Long – A Winter Tale
75. Beirut– The Rip Tide
74.  The Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps
73.  Bell X1 – Bloodless Coup
72.  The Deloreans – American Craze
71.  Young the Giant – Young the Giant
70.  Snow Patrol – Called Out in the Dark EP
69.  R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now
68.  Nicole Atkins – Mondo Amore
67.  The Dears –Degeneration Street
66.  James Maddock – Wake Up and Dream
65.  Harper Blynn – Harper Blynn
64.  The Cars – Move Like This
63.  Sam Roberts – Collider
62.  Walk the Moon – I Want I Want!
61.  Ryan Adams & the Cardinals – III/IV
60.  Gary Clark Jr. – Bright Lights EP
59.  Ben Harper – Give Till It’s Gone
58.  Scars on 45 – Give Me Something/Heart On Fire
57. St. Vincent– Strange Mercy
56.  Radiohead – The King of Limbs
55.  Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
54.  Diego Garcia – Laura
53.  Amos Lee – MissionBell
52.  Silver Tongues – Black Kite
51.  Bon Iver – Bon Iver
50.  Lucinda Williams – Blessed
49.  City & Colour – Little Hell
48.  Wilco – The Whole Love
47.  Noah & the Whale – Last Night on Earth
46.  Mike Doughty – Yes & Also Yes
45.  James Vincent McMarrow – Early in the Morning
44. Florence+ the Machine – Ceremonials
43.  Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
42.  Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’
41.  Sarah Jaffe – Suburban Nature
40.  Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
39.  TV On the Radio – Nine Types of Light
38.  Over theRhine– The Long Surrender
37.  The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
36.  Matt the Electrician – Accidental Thief
35.  Ha Ha Tonka – Death of a Decade
34.  Bedouin Soundclash – Light the Horizon
33.  Company of Thieves – Running From a Gamble
32.  The Jayhawks – Mockingbird Time
31.  Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
30. Feist – Metals
29.  Katie Herzig – The Waking Sleep
28.  The Heavenly States – Oui Camera Oui
27.  Burlap to Cashmere – Burlap toCashmere
26.  Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
25.  Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What
24.  Ben Sollee – Inclusions
23.  Gillian Welch – TheHarrow& the Harvest
22.  Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs
21.  Eastern Conference Champions – Speak-Ahh
20.  Tedeschi Trucks Band – Revalator
19.  Motopony – Motopony
18.  The Features – Wilderness
17.  Jim Ward – The Electric Six EP
16.  Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
15.  The Head & The Heart – The Head & the Heart
14.  Ponderosa – Moonlight Revival
13.  The Black Keys – El Camino
12.  Gomez – Whatever’s On Your Mind
11.  Bob Schneider – A Perfect Day
10.  Foster the People – Torches
9. The Decemberists – The King is Dead
8.  Adele – 21
7.  Abigail Washburn – City ofRefuge
6.  Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO
5. Brett Dennen – Loverboy
4.  Jason Isbell – Here We Rest
3.  Death Cab For Cutie – Codes & Keys
2.  Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong
1.  My Morning Jacket – Circuital


Laura Shine’s Top Ten Album picks of 2011

Oy! this was a tough year to make such decisions as to the ten best albums of the year! About drove me crazy. A lot of my choices were quite frankly made because of time spent with the music. It’s likely Ryan Adams and The Black Keys would have made the list if they had come out earlier in the year and I’d had time to get to know the music better. Same for Feist and several others. But in the end, as fate would have it, the ten I chose were the ones who got my attention the most and often returned to for many listens. So here they are:

10.  Adele – 21 – The British songstress made an album this year that may be the best of her career not only from the past but into the future. Undeniable great singing and songwriting with the number one hit of the year “Rolling In The Deep”.

9.  The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow – John Paul White & Joy Williams are both established songwriters and solo artists. After meeting at a songwriters workshop and playing together they soon realized they had amazing chemistry. They joined forces and voices and Barton Hollow is the beautiful result. Check out “Poison & Wine”.

8.  Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What – Never a one trick pony Paul Simon keeps on keeping on and produced one of his most gorgeous records yet. Check out “Getting Ready for Christmas Day”, “The Afterlife” and “Rewrite”. Excellent!

7.  Silver Tongues – Black Kite – Louisville rockers Silver Tongues stole the show for me this year after sifting through hundreds of local releases and some other great contenders for this spot on the list. They have the edge I wish Coldplay had and surpass many great bands who’ve been at this game for years with just their debut. Tracks recommended are “Warsaw”, “Broken Strings” & “Wet Dog”.

6.  The Head & The Heart – Self-titled - The Northwest is brimming once again with some stellar bands emerging from its decidious forests. Oh, and from Seattle too. There’s not one bad song from The Head and The Heart but these tracks really stand out “Lost In My Mind” and “Down In The Valley”.

5.  Motopony – Self-titled – Read number six. Only difference is different songs. Suggested are “King of Diamonds” and “Seer”.

4.  Burlap to Cashmere – Self-titled - One of those bands that had success in the ’90s then disappeared only to reform, rejuvenate, recover and reemerge with an excellent album this year. Check out “Don’t Forget to Write” and “Build A Wall”.

3.  Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Here We Rest – One of my favorite songwriters ever, guitarist and Southern rocker Jason Isbell put out a relatively light hearted record with some really fun songs. As always don’t let the light-heartedness fool you. Depth and remarkable songwriting are all over this album too. Favorite tracks are “Alabama Pines” and “Codeine”.

2.  The Decemberists – The King Is Dead – Colin Meloy and his Portland, Ore. bandmates put together an album of brilliance this time around. Some would argue they always do but this one caught me by surprise and I fell madly in love with the whole album. Having Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings guest on the record didn’t hurt. “June Hymn” is some of the best poetry put to song I’ve ever heard. “Down By The Water” is good Americana fun too.

1.  Vandaveer – Dig Down Deep – This band is made of two: Mark Charles Heidinger & Rose Guerin who were obviously made for each other – musically that is. Gorgeous harmonies, fantastic songwriting, mezmerizing melodies swept me off my feet this year and landed this record as my number one pick of 2011. “Concerning Our Past and Future Conquests” and “The Nature of Our Kind” are just two of the 10 amazing tracks on this record.

Michael Young’s Top 20 Americana Albums of 2011

Here We Rest1. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Here We Rest [Lightning Rod]
Thank God Jason Isbell left the Drive-By Truckers or we would never have this, the finest album of 2011. Where to start? How about the killer cover of Candi Staton’s classic Heart On A String? The rootsy Alabama Pines? The sing-along chorus of Codeine? The devastating Stopping By? The dude can do no wrong.
2. The Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots [ATO]
When I first heard the title, I knew this one was going to be a good one. One of the most consistent bands of the last 15 years is on a post-Jason Isbell tear. Nobody writes stories like these guys. Patterson Hoods vocals are perfect. The South rocks. Mercy Buckets rules. Nothing was catchier than the cover of Eddie Hinton’s Everybody Needs Love in 2011. They’ll survive the departure of Shonna Tucker, too. Patterson and Mike are clearly the Mick and Keef at work here.
3. Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong [ATO]
In the beginning, people kept comparing Dawes to CSNY and the whole Laurel Canyon scene, but that had more to do with geography than sound. These guys are closer to the Band fronted by Jackson Browne. Their second great album in a row. Go ahead, drink the Kool-Aid.
4. Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest [Acony]
I don’t have to sell you on Gillian Welch. You already love her. Her and Dave Rawlings’ performance at the Brown Theatre this year was spellbinding. So is this album. Tennessee, Hard Times, Down Along This Dixie Line, Dark Turn Of Mind – all standards that could have been written 100 years ago. Mesmerizing.
5. Diana Jones – High Atmosphere [Proper American]
Wow. You must get to know Diana Jones. She was totally unknown to me until this album arrived and I fell in love instantly. She’s the real deal in the way that Iris DeMent is the real deal. Simply and effectively produced (and played on) by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor, this set blew me away and announced the arrival of a major singing and songwriting star.
6. The Black Lillies – 100 Miles Of Wreckage [Attack Monkey]
Out of the ashes of Robinella & the CC String Band and the Everybodyfields comes the Black Lillies. Cruz Contreras fronts this unit from Knoxville and takes the mantle of Knoxville’s finest from the late, great V-roys. Solid writing, toe tappers and heartbreakers alike, and a great live band. I can’t wait for the next one.
7. Richard Buckner – Our Blood [Merge]
This is Buckner’s first album since 2006, and the first Buckner album in many years to have that Buckner sound that his cult following loves so much. There are stories about a lost laptop that required him to do this album twice. Whatever happened, you sure can’t argue with the results. I have a feeling that Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes are fans, but Buckner’s better than both of those bands. No one sounds like this, and that’s a good thing.
8. Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) [Lost Highway]
What separates Hayes Carll from a lot of other Americana hell raisers are the tender, poignant songs like Chances Are and Bye Bye Baby. KMAG YOYO gets all the press, but it may be the worst song on here, an updated Dylan rewrite. Look deeper for the real rewards.
9. Lucinda Williams – Blessed [Lost Highway]
It would be easy to take Lucinda Williams for granted. After all, she’s settled into an album every-other-year pattern and always manages to sound like Lucinda Williams. But look closer, and you’ll see that a song like Born To Be Loved is stunning. Simple, a timeless message, easy to sing and play, and the hardest kind of song to write.
10. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire [Pax-Am/Capitol]
I love the fact that Ryan Adams is taking the Neil Young career path and making music that strikes his fancy at any given moment. But, like Neil, there are a few things that he unquestioningly does best. Whiskeytown is Harvest and Rock n’ Roll is Crazy Horse, am I right? This is Ryan at his ghostly, pedal steel best.
11. Matraca Berg – The Dreaming Fields [Dualtone]
An accomplished songwriter who writes hit after hit for Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, and Deana Carter, Matraca hadn’t made an album of her own in 12 years. This one is stunning. No wonder Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter jumped on You And Tequila and are riding it all the way to the Grammys.
12. Merle Haggard – Working In Tennessee [Hag/Vanguard]
The greatest songwriter that ever lived (you heard me) keeps on delivering the high points on his latest album. The first half of this record is damn near perfect. What I Hate is a tour de force, my song of the year. When he brings the family, however, the album loses momentum. Son Ben is a fine guitarist, but when you’re duetting with Willie Nelson on a remake of Workin’ Man Blues, we’d all rather hear Willie take Ben’s verses. And while I’m sure your wife Theresa is a wonderful person, we don’t need to hear her, um, sing anymore.
13. Dave Alvin – Eleven Eleven [Yep Roc]
Dave Alvin’s accomplishments as a singer and songwriter have now officially equaled his status as a hotshot guitarist. A standard-bearer of the Americana genre, he continues to write beautiful and dirty sketches of great American characters with a bluesy burn that feels so bad in a good way. Somebody, anybody, please bring this man to Louisville for a show!
14. Tom Waits – Bad As Me [Anti-]
Is Tom Waits really Americana? Yes, of course he is. He’s more Americana than any other genre, so don’t fight it and get on board. Talking At The Same Time is a great American commentary and Back In The Crowd will break your heart.
15. Rod Picott – Welding Burns [Welding Rod]
This former construction worker is a house concert favorite in this region and writes some hard-hitting songs about blue-collar life that will resonate with Fred Eaglesmith and Steve Earle fans. He perfects it on this, his 5th album, with the song 410.
16. Whitehorse – Whitehorse [Six Shooter]
Based on this, the Canadian husband and wife duo of Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet should have joined forces years ago. I can’t listen to this without thinking of Buddy & Julie Miller’s Gasoline And Matches. Plus, a truly smoldering cover of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire done as a duo! More, please.
17. Eilen Jewell – Queen Of The Minor Key [Signature Sounds]
This Idaho girl now based in Boston has a crack band that can play any style. It’s hard to sound both retro and vibrant, but they pull it off with some of the cleanest production you’ll hear on record. She has a cool, detached vocal delivery wrapped in a tight rockabilly sound that’ll get your toes tapping.
18. Malcolm Holcombe – To Drink The Rain [Music Road]
Malcolm has an unorthodox finger-picking style that keeps your interest with unexpected notes and insightful lyrics about a life lived hard and the lessons learned from it. Equal parts gravel and grace and a captivating live performer.
19. John Hiatt – Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns [New West]
I run hot and cold on John Hiatt, one of Indiana’s favorite sons. On some albums he seems to be going through the motions and spouting cliches. This is not one of those. Echoes of Hiatt’s best work (Bring The Family, Slow Turning) are frequent enough to put this one in the keeper category.
20. Owen Temple – Mountain Home [El Paisano]
On this Austin, TX songwriter’s 6th album, he sings about dusty Texas towns and the sometimes dark characters who live there (at least in his mind). Features some tasty playing by Charlie Sexton.

Mark Bacon’s Top Albums of 2011

1) Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 — Miles Davis Quintet
Miles Davis always wielded his musical acumen as precisely as a diamond cutter uses tools. In this latest set from Miles’ archives, there are three brilliant CDs of previously previously only bootlegged or unreleased  material, and a gem of a DVD. The genius is that, unlike many box sets where an overwhelming all-encompassing attitude prevails as to the content selection process, Live in Europe is a specifically defined moment-in-Miles Davis-time, with similar set lists from recording to recording. Presented here is Davis’ “second great Quintet,” featuring Herbie Hancock (piano), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Ron Carter (bass) and a young Tony Williams (drums), on George Wein’s Newport Jazz Festival in Europe tour. There are no breaks between songs; in 1967 Davis instituted the format of playing sets as a continuous jam. It is very much like a filmmaker utilizing one continuous shot. The effect is progressive, often dream-like, and demonstrates dazzling virtuosity throughout.

2) Smile — The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys’ “Smile” is the album that haunted Brian Wilson for four decades. The unfinished Beach Boys work devastated Wilson even though it later confirmed his legend as a musical visionary. He abandoned it in 1967 amid doubts from his record company and even his own bandmates about its orchestrated whimsy. “Smile” follows the template of Wilson’s 2004 re-recording to sequence 19 songs and snippets from the 1966-67 sessions into as close to a definitive “Smile” as we’re likely to ever get, followed by voluminous fragments, outtakes and snippets of studio dialogue. With lyricist Van Dyke Parks,  Wilson turned “Smile” into a compact history of America – or at least the idea of what America once represented in its naïve optimism. It traces a journey to that begins at Plymouth Rock and makes its way west to the Promised Land, a montage of historical references and mystical reveries (the eternal “Surf’s Up”). The music embraces the epic and the fanciful, evoking a prairie church service in one sequence (“Cabin Essence”), while providing a soundtrack for an acid trip in another (“Vega-Tables”). A must for Brian Wilson fans.

3) Fugazi Live Series — Fugazi
From dischord.com: “Between 1987 and 2003, Fugazi played over 1000 concerts in all 50 states and all over the world. Over 800 of these shows were recorded by the band’s sound engineers. This project makes each of these recordings available to download for a small fee. The project starts with 130 shows and will release more monthly until they’re done.” There never was, or will ever be anything like a Fugazi live show. They were simply one of the most powerful and dynamic live bands ever, both sonically and visually. I know lots of people who never got to see them live. Here’s the chance to remedy that. The quality ranges from cassette sources to board recordings. Here’s a chance to hear one of the greatest bands of all time the way they should be experienced: live.

4) Captain Black Big Band — Captain Black Big Band
The Captain Black Big Band is a group of musicians displaying a range of skill, experience, and sound to create what is one of the most progressive sounds of late—progressive not because of a particular moment of conspicuous ingenuity or some easily discernible avant-garde approach, unless you consider the audacity to embrace big band music at this point novel enough to come off as that. The Captain Black Big Band succeeds at pushing the limitations of the very distinct tradition of sound from which it is born, because it preserves the elements of classic big band music in a brand new way. Instead of shunning everything except the mold, Leader and pianist Orrin Evans opts to break it and meld that nostalgia laden style of playing with the sensibilities of Big Band era rebels who usually struck out at tender ages to form the more memorable trios, quartets, and other small experimental groups. Simply put, this will blow you away.

5) Red Hot + Rio 2 — Various
For the last 20 years, the “Red Hot” organization has curated impeccably cast, all-star compilation albums mining every genre from freak folk to jazz to alterna-rock to Afro-pop to American standards – all to raise money in the fight against AIDS. But there’s one musical nexus they keep returning to: Brazil. It’s no surprise Brazil has become Red Hot’s default mode. Not only is it tempting to promote safe sex with the sexiest music on the planet, it’s hard to resist the chance to re-expose the movement the music references: Tropicalia (Brazil’s late ’60s/early ’70s equivalent of classic rock). The set can be faulted for over-representing Veloso and Gil at the expense of other Brazilian standard-bearers like Chico Buarque and Jorge Ben. The quality of the songs and recordings is extremely high. Beirut’s “O Leãozinho” is a rhythmic stunner. Alice Smith and Aloe Blacc’s “Baby” is a sweet and gentle jaunt. Jorge’s assist on Beck’s “Tropicália” gives the song an added groove. This record is easy to like. And it’s even easier to dance along to.

6) Ninety Miles — Christian Scott, David Sanchez & Stefon Harris
Ninety Miles is a collaboration among rising young trumpeter and native New Orleanian Christian Scott, frequent New Orleans visitor and vibraphonist Stefon Harris, and tenor saxophonist David Sanchez. The trio had not played together before traveling to Cuba in May 2010 to perform and record with Cuban musicians. It was a challenging session, but as Ninety Miles shows, a rewarding one. The songs have consistent energy, and the American and Cuban musicians gelled and sound like a group that had been playing together for years. As both a musical and geographic setting, Ninety Miles is a fine album from these three musicians.

7) Spacer — Jason Adaciewicz’s Sun Rooms
One of the most amazing players to ever pick up the vibes – an artist with the sort of boundless creativity that Bobby Hutcherson brought to the instrument in the 60s. Jason Adasiewicz has an amazing ear for both sound and music – and manages to balance the two perfectly – reaching for completely fresh sounds from the vibes, yet also with a sense of structure that’s never too free – really maintaining a musical, melodic approach that keeps us rapt and attentive all the way through. Jason’s music has always been great, but this recent set is even a cut above – proof that the new Chicago scene is a powerful force in 21st Century jazz.

8) Kaputt — Destroyer
Destroyer continue to map out unexpected territories with referential landmarks, with magnificent results. In a teaser paragraph that accompanied this releases’ information, Bejar cryptically described the album as,  “80’s Miles Davis…90’s Gil Evans…fretless bass,” exploring the “hopelessness of the future of music” and the, “pointlessness of writing songs for today.” Perhaps this is why he’s made an album that is so clearly steeped in traditions of modern music; music with smooth jazz, soft-rock disco, and 80’s new wave overtones throughout. Traditions that an individual talent has internalized, morselized, and grafted into an album that goes down smooth before tearing at your insides. It isn’t clever, it’s superb. Those genre tags listed above didn’t turn out to be volatile for Bejar and company. In fact it might be the first fully realized album, in all respects, of Destroyer’s history. This is a triumphantly singular album that explores a space that only this band could have made.

9) The Coimbra Concert — Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Noted post-bop quartet Mostly Other People Do The Killing (to be referred to by their initials for the rest of this review) have used their own CD covers to pay tribute to classic jazz releases for several years now.  This, their latest release, is easily the most audacious cover-cover yet, poking fun at Keith Jarrett‘s The Köln Concert, offering both front and gatefold photos of the four bandmembers (none of whom is a pianist) hunched grimacing over the keyboard. This two-CD set was recorded at a pair of shows the group performed at the 2010 Jazz ao Centro festival in Portugal. Describing MOPDTK’s music is difficult; simply playing it for someone, and watching a broad grin split their face, would be much easier. The quartet (trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist/composer Moppa Elliott, drummer Kevin Shea) combine hard bop’s melodic heads, the conversational, polyphonic interplay that characterizes the work of both Louis Armstrong and Albert Ayler, and an infectious spirit of fun, creating a music that swings ridiculously hard, displays wild technical skill without ever going so far out that a relative jazz neophyte couldn’t follow along, and is a joy to hear. Do yourself a favor, explore this release and this band.

10) James Farm — Joshua Redman, Matt Penman, Aaron Parks & Eric Harland
James Farm is a collective recording from four potent young jazz players that attempts—and utterly succeeds—at making instrumental jazz that is catchy and fun to hear while still offering serious pleasures in the originality of its compositions and the verve of its improvisations. The band consists of saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland.  James Farm places Redman’s expressive tenor saxophone into this trio’s shimmering, exciting world.  Using compositions from all four members of the group, James Farm sounds like a leap in the right direction.  Each song establishes a scrambling, skittering rhythm that pushes and pulls in an exciting way.  Harland almost never plays a “swing” beat, but he infuses the backbeats a with a loose-limbed elasticity that is, nevertheless, pure jazz.  Penman plays with economy and melody, and Parks continues his ascent: sounding just a little like Keith Jarrett at times, but more often playing with a jittery freedom that is all his own. While the record is not a flatly innovative recording, it is just the kind of thing that modern instrumental jazz needs these days.  Continuing an arc of superb discs by relatively young players who are finding ways for jazz to rise above the merely accomplished to become something that is emotional and compelling for aficionados AND listeners who might not listen to jazz as a habit.

honorable mention–
COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres — Matana Roberts
Alma Adentro — Miguel Zenon
The Story This Time — Jason Stein Quartet
Smoke Ring For My Halo — Kurt Vile
Watch The Throne — Jay-Z & Kanye West

Kyle’s top albums of 2011

Some years, it’s all obvious by the end of it all what my top albums will be.  This wasn’t one of those years.  With as many great LPs that floated through, it became a challenge to decide which were the most important.  And that’s what I based these on.  The list below was the soundtrack to my year, both professionally, but more times, personally.  When great events are happening around us, it’s that song that we connect to next that stick with us forever.

1.Jason Isbell – Here We Rest
I don’t think an Americana record has ever topped my list before, but Isbell’s latest was one great song after another.  A flawless collection that I’d be happy to take to the desert island.

2. Eastern Conference Champions – Speak-Ahh
The one that wouldn’t go away.  Speak-Ahh had come through in a big stack of mail with with no notes or added pressure to play it first, so it sat around for a bit, unlistened.  But every few days over the course of two or three weeks, I would see it’s cover staring right at me.  Speeeeeeeak Ahhhhhhhhh.  When I finally put it in, I quickly discovered that I was listening to one of the best rock albums of the year, and come to find out that it was from a band that, by and large, were doing the whole deal on their own.  Word of mouth is slowly spreading on this group, and if you haven’t yet found the time yourself, make sure this is the first buy of 2012.

3. The Decemberists – The King is Dead
This one seem to resonate with just about everyone this year, and why not?  The King is Dead is The Decemberists at their most accessible, sing-songy selves, while still carrying the ability to interject the most profound poetry in modern music.  This one is a classic.

4. Foster the People – Torches
We knew this one would be big when we started playing Pumped Up Kicks in 2010 when it was just a lonesome track kicking around on the internet.  The band went to get signed by Columbia, completed Torches and released what was the best pop album of the year.  Need to feel good?  Put this on, add water, and an instant dance party appears.

5. Brett Dennen – Loverboy
First off, he called the album Loverboy and posted a big ol’ face shot right on the cover.  That’s awesome.  Second, Brett wrote the album of his career (so far) by letting loose and giving into the pop sensibilities that were hiding underneath all along.  Pick a song, any song.  They all work.

6. My Brightest Diamond – All Things Will Unwind
Shara has always been one of the more interesting artists out there, but with All Things, she took it to a level reserved only for the greats.  Combining pop, opera, Disney, and a few other sub generes, what you get is a full length that allows itself to be played fully without intermission.  Pay attention and you’ll find a great puzzle.  Put it on while you’re doing the dishes and you get a whimsical soundtrack to a sunny day.

7. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
Admittedly, my first few listens were rewarded with not much more than a “yeah, this is ok.”  Where was the boogie? Where was the rock?  Why did Ryan only seem to have one speed – first.  This is where a shuffle on an iPod really earns its keep.  I uploaded it and throughout the next couple weeks found myself being able to listen to the songs individually for what they were.  And they were perfect little stories; stories about love and hurt, all smoldering in Ashes and Fire.

8. Mike Doughty – Yes and Also Yes
It’s beyond me why Mike’s solo career isn’t much bigger than it is.  The man can lay a groove, preach his brand of lyrical uniqueness, and all in three minutes or less.  Yes and Also Yes is hands down his best solo effort ever.  Now go tell your friends.

9. Over the Rhine – The Long Surrender
From a band I had never spent much time with, but have since devoured their entire catalog.  The Long Surrender is amazing.  It is the soundtrack to my winter, last and current.  An Lp that could have easily had been my number one, five, or ten, if that makes sense.

10. Death Cab For Cutie – Codes & Keys
Stella got her groove back.  I thought Narrow Stairs was a misstep for whatever reason, so when hearing that Codes & Keys was the band back on track, I rarely took it off of the turntable.  Plus, the remix EP that they followed it with was a perfect companion.  Double the pleasure.

* Barely missing the cut, but definitely worth mentioning is Abigail Washburn‘s City of Refuge, Dawes‘ Nothing Is Wrong and Noah & The Whale‘s Last Night On Earth.  We’ll call them all tied for number 11. or all tied for number 1.