My top 10 also included an album (The Black Keys) that I didn't hear until about December 1. After more time, it may have been higher (or lower). Others were new finds for me in 2011. All in all, it was an excellent year for new music.
10. Dawes - "Nothing Is Wrong"
Some say Dawes sound a lot like Jackson Browne from his heyday in the '70s. I can't deny the similarities. The laid-back style and vocals are eerily similar. Dawes, however, brings a modern take to the sound. Favorites include "Time Spent in Los Angeles" and "Fire Away."
9. William Elliott Whitmore - "Field Songs"
Having never heard Iowa-based William Elliott Whitmore prior to this album reaching the stacks at KDHX earlier this year, I didn't know what to expect. His distinct bluesy vocals and spare Americana arrangements certainly don't lend themselves to parties. In concert and on the album, the songs are accompanied either by his guitar or banjo with some songs also featuring a kick drum. But the songs need no more than this to exude both power and warmth. Favorites include "Everyone Gets Gone," "Field Song" and "Bury Your Burdens in the Ground."
8. The Lonely Forest - "Arrows"
The Lonely Forest, from the Pacific Northwest, signed to Chris Walla's (guitarist in Death Cab for Cutie) label and released their debut full-length album in 2011. Their album is full of power-pop gems. Favorites include "Turn Off This Song and Go Outside," "We Sing in Time" and "I Am the Love Addict."
7. The Black Keys - "El Camino"
Much poppier than any previous Black Keys album. Almost as if they wanted to experiment with hand claps, short songs and pop structures. As a fan of their darker albums before this one, initially I wasn't sure if this was a direction I was entirely happy about. Luckily, the songs have grown on me. Favorites include "Stop Stop," "Little Submarines" and "Gold on the Ceiling."
6. The Blind Eyes - "With a Bang"
Locals the Blind Eyes released a terrific album in 2011. My only hope is that their indie-pop songs reach outside of St. Louis. Favorites include the title track, "Hold Down the Fort" and "Into the Breach."
5. Wild Flag - "Wild Flag"
Sleater Kinney on Helium, literally. Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, longtime members of Sleater-Kinney combined with Mary Timony of Washington DC based Helium and Rebecca Cole to form Wild Flag. Signed to Merge records before playing a show together or recording any music, Wild Flag takes the multi-vocal frenzy of Sleater-Kinney and adds extra melody. Favorites include "Race Horse" and "Romance."
4. Blind Pilot - "We Are the Tide"
If you're familiar with my show Bittersweet Melody, you know how much I love Portland's Blind Pilot. I've hosted them in-studio twice, one each for their first two albums. While this second release may not be as strong as their debut, "3 Rounds and a Sound," they manage to grow and evolve with this 10-song set. The songs are more polished, giving the band a fuller sound. I look forward to their third album (and their show at Plush this March). A few of my favorites from the album are the title track, "Half Moon" and "Keep You Right."
3. Lydia Loveless - "Indestructible Machine"
My find of the year. Lydia Loveless is a dynamo with a voice that sounds a little like Neko Case with a growl. She plays country music for the not so faint of heart. And she shows a great sense of humor with tracks like "Jesus is a Wino" and "Steve Earle" (you may never look at Steve Earle the same after hearing this track – check it out on Spotify). Also check out "More Like Them."
2. Telekinesis - "12 Desperate Straight Lines"
Michael Benjamin Lerner, leader and songwriter of Telekinesis, has written more great hooks after two albums than most songwriters do in a lifetime. The band's power-pop songs seem to jump through the speakers pulling the listener into a state of musical bliss. Favorites include "Car Crash," "Please Ask for Help" and "Gotta Get It Right Now."
1. The Decemberists - "The King is Dead"
The Decemberists have long been known for being a hyper-literate, quirky indie folk band. For this album, however, they mimic early R.E.M. Enlisting the help of Gillian Welch on vocals and a cameo from Peter Buck and steeping themselves in more of an Americana sound, the Decemberists released an album that has no clunkers. Every song is excellent. This may be the best R.E.M. album since "Automatic for the People." Favorites include "Calamity Song," "Rox in the Box" and "This is Why We Fight."
For those of you on Spotify, I put together a little compilation of my favorite songs from my top 10 (excluding The Black Keys and the Blind Eyes, who don't have their albums on Spotify). Listen.
Check out my full list of top 40 albums of 2011 at KDHX.org. What were some of your favorites during the year?
Allen Dahm hosts Bittersweet Melody on 88.1 KDHX on Wednesdays, 5-7 a.m. Central.