2011 was a great year for music. My #1 was an album that I heard at the beginning of the year but it was able to stay in my top spot, a rare occurrence for me. 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, a great year for new music.
Over the next two weeks on my show, I'll be playing one track each from my 11-40 albums and and then two tracks from each of my top 10. I hope you'll join me as I count them down.
So, without further ado, my top 40 of 2011.
40 James Vincent McMorrow - Early in the Morning
39 Dan Mangan - Oh Fortune
38 Jonny - Jonny
37 The Feelies - Here Before
36 Eilen Jewell - Queen of the Minor Key
35 Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest
34 Robert Ellis - Photographs
33 Joe Henry - Reverie
32 Joseph Arthur - The Graduation Ceremony
31 Richard Buckner - Our Blood
30 I'm From Barcelona - Forever Today
29 Grouplove - Never Trust a Happy Song
28 Real Estate - Days
27 Mates of State - Mountaintops
26 Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire
25 Jill Andrews - The Mirror
24 Yuck - Yuck
23 Le Butcherettes - Sin Sin Sin
22 Title Tracks - In Blank
21 Buffalo Tom - Skins
20 Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What
19 Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
18 Wilco - The Whole Love
17 Okkervil River - I Am Very Far
16 My Morning Jacket - Circuital
15 Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside - Dirty Radio
14 Drive-by Truckers - Go Go Boots
13 Centro-Matic - Candidate Waltz
12 Ha Ha Tonka - Death of a Decade
11 Apex Manor - The Year of Magical Drinking
10 Dawes – Nothing is Wrong
Some say Dawes sound a lot like Jackson Browne from his heyday in the 70’s. I can’t deny the similarities. The laidback 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 kickdrum. 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 2nd 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 3rd 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 music 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 REM. 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 release an album that has no clunkers. Every song is excellent. This may be the best REM 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).
What were some of your favorites during the year?
Allen Dahm - Host of Bittersweet Melody on Wednesdays, 5-7AM