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My Top 40 of 2011

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).

Best of 2011

What were some of your favorites during the year?


Allen Dahm - Host of Bittersweet Melody on Wednesdays, 5-7AM


Discussion started by Allen Dahm , on 1178 days ago
Allen Dahm

I'm glad I'm not the only one who loves that Lydia Loveless album. I was just listening to it again tonight. "Learn to Say No" might be my new favorite song on the album. And I too was disappointed by the new DBTs album. I miss the rock of Southern Rock Opera or Decoration Day. But, I still think there's some good songs on there. "Pulaski" is a favorite.
1174 days ago
Allen Dahm

That is a REALLY good song. Unfortunately, I didn't give that album enough listens to really rank it. If you like that song, there's a song from an earlier album called "Welcome Home, Son" that's outstanding.
1174 days ago
Mike Hopkins
Agree 100% on Lydia, what a great album. write my paper I had Dave Alvin, Social Distortion and Fountains of Wayne on my list also. Thought Drive-By Truckers was a major let down...
1176 days ago
Jeff Fister
I first heard your show early one morning when I couldn't sleep. It was great. But the song that caught my ear was "Always Gold" by Radical Face/Ben Cooper. I'd never heard of him and was captivated by the sound. I got "Family Tree" and downloaded a bunch of his free stuff. You've got a great list, but I was hoping this one would be on it. Thanks for your show!
1176 days ago
Allen Dahm
Sunny pop ... good stuff.
1178 days ago
Roy Kasten
Great list, Allen. A few on here I have not heard. What's Grouplove like?
1178 days ago

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