2011 was an interesting year. I turned 21, had a couple failed relationships, moved out of my home state of Colorado for the first time in 17 years and began attending college at the University of Idaho. Most relevant to the task at hand, I joined the review staff here at Punknews back in the spring. Of my current favorite bands, I'd wager at least 50 percent of them are bands I found through the .org, so to be able to give something back to this community in any small way is an honor and a privilege. I listened to lots of music this year, these are my favorites:
Explosions in the Sky are the best at what they do, and Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is a shining example of that. Possibly their best work since The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place.
Ghost: Opus Eponymous
The most unique metal record of the last decade. Calling it metal might be a bit of a misnomer, but that's the closest point of reference I can think of. There's seriously nothing out there that compares to it. While it may be a little one-note lyrically, (Yeah, "Satan!!!1!", we get it, guys), Opus Eponymous is strong enough musically to overlook that.
As one of the few who loved 2007's Under the Boards, I was happy to hear that Saves The Day hadn't strayed too far from that sound. Other than that opening 10-minute rock opera, Daybreak is just more of what I've come to love about Saves the Day post-In Reverie, and that's all I ask of them at this point.
It's rare that a band gives me exactly what I want in an album, even though it doesn't seem to be the album that anyone else wanted. Taking Back Sunday fuses the huge rock sound of New Again with the refined songwriting John Nolan gained from his time in Straylight Run. "This Is All Now" has one of the strongest choruses you'll hear all year.
Released early in the year, I had kind of forgotten about The People's Key. Seeing Bright Eyes live in the summer totally actualized the album for me, and made me revisit it, over and over. Seriously, how good is "Jejune Stars?"
Atmosphere are the Off With Their Heads of rap. I love how bleak and depressing they can get. Their last full-length, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is one of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time, and while The Family Sign doesn't quite reach the same heights, it's a great album nonetheless.
While not as huge of a stylistic leap forward as Thrice are accustomed to taking from album to album, Major/Minor is a fine album on its own merits. While it can be summed up as Beggars 2: The Grunge Years, it has more going for it than just that. If this really is their last album, it's a good note to go out on.
After the high concept prog-rock opus Crack the Skye, Mastodon went in an entirely different direction on The Hunter, and created an album that can only be described as fun, something sorely lacking in most metal music today.
A triumphant return if ever there was one. Like most of Waits' work, Bad as Me is all over the place stylistically, from heartbreaking ballads ("Face to the Highway") to hard rock stompers ("Hell Broke Luce") However, there is a hint of accessibility here not felt in previous albums. A perfect place to start with Tom Waits if you haven't already.
Jesu put me to sleep in the best way possible. I can't count the nights I've laid down in 2011
with Ascension in my headphones. They've finally created a worthy follow up to their 2007 masterpiece, Conqueror.
Sprawling, epic, tuneful, and a bit of a chore to listen to front to back. Try not walking around with "The Other Shoe" or "Queen of Hearts" stuck in your head after listening to David Comes to Life. It's impossible. Fucked Up are above and beyond hardcore.
On Simple Math, Manchester Orchestra experiment with additional instrumentation and it works wonderfully. Not to mention Andy Hull's continually growing songwriting skills, resulting in arguably their finest work to date. This band deserves every bit of success they've achieved.
Songs like "I Am Disappeared," "Redemption" and the controversial "Glory Hallelujah" make
more effective use of Turner's band the Sleeping Souls than we've heard to date and are some of the finest songs he's ever written. Other than that weird a capella bit in the middle, England Keep My Bones is consistently great from front to back.
Another album, another major lineup change. Would I rather Jack Dalrymple was singing on some of these songs? Yes. Does it really matter when the songwriting is this strong? Not at all. Moscow Penny Ante fuses the aggression of Cuban Ballerina with the maturity of African Elephants and proves why Dead To Me are one of the few straightforward punk rock bands worth caring about in 2011.
After being a bit underwhelmed by 2009's Can't Maintain, Andrew Jackson Jihad blew away my modest expectations with one of the best folk-punk records of recent years, possibly ever. There's not a bad song to be found amongst the 15 that inhabit Knife Man. There's also not an upbeat lyric to be found, and while that can make the album seem overbearing and exhausting at times, when all is said and done it's a cathartic experience. They're finally out of the shadow of People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World.
One of my most anticipated albums of 2011 that managed to live up to my every expectation. Dan Andriano is at the top of his game in every department on Hurricane Season; lyrically, vocally, songwriting-wise. It displays a wide range of styles, proving itself more than simply Punk Guy Goes Acoustic vol. 362. This album is the best thing anything associated with Alkaline Trio has been involved with in years. To put it another way, Hurricane Season is as good as Damnesia is bad.
I've never given a 10/10 score to an album in my time at Punknews, finding that rating reserved for classics of the Rain Dogs/In the Aeroplane Over the Sea variety. However, if I had written the review for Elsie, I would have been compelled to do just that. In pulling from influences beyond what is expected of him, Brian Fallon has created an instant classic, not to mention the perfect breakup album. Elsie is a masterpiece.
Mixtapes improve with every release, and they have A LOT of releases under their belt. This EP displays their strongest, sharpest songwriting to date.
The Sidekicks/Tigers Jaw: Split [7-inch]
Shout Out Loud Prints
The Sidekicks deliver a new song that wouldn't feel out of place on 2009's excellent Weight of Air, and an Elvis Costello cover that does the original justice while adding a bit of spunk and energy. Tigers Jaw are apparently on here, too. I don't know, I wasn't paying attention.
I was pretty underwhelmed by Lemuria's Pebble, so their two songs here are a nice consolation, especially "Lemons." Cheap Girls also turn in one of their best songs of their career thus far in "Pure Hate."
Against Me! amp up the energy level (Thanks in no small part to new drummer Jay Weinberg) and deliver two extremely catchy punk rock anthems. If their next full-length doesn't claim my Album of 2012 prize, I will be very surprised.
Anyone who spends more than five minutes talking to me knows that I'm a huge Against Me! fan, and Searching For a Former Clarity is my favorite record of theirs. The demos here don't differ greatly from their finished studio counterparts, but the "new" songs alone are worth the price of admission.
The demos here, however DO differ pretty drastically from their finished studio counterparts, and as such, Black Crosses is a fascinating look into the creative process of one of punk's most important current acts.
Beach Boys: The Smile Sessions
Every bit as good as Pet Sounds. With this long-delayed release, as well as Brian Wilson's recent reunion with the band, it's a good time to be a Beach Boys fan.
As a huge fan of Lemuria, and a huge fan of J. Robbins' production work, I was thrilled to hear the two parties would be working together. Well, sometimes two great tastes don't taste that great together. At least the split with Cheap Girls was good.
This could have been great. Dan and Matt could have sung each other's songs, they could have put a fresh spin on some of the classics or even dug into some deeper album cuts. The took what could have been a cool idea and screwed it up in every way possible.
Lou Reed and Metallica: Lulu
I'm a huge Metallica fan. They were the first band I listened to growing up that I called my
favorite. I'll even defend Death Magnetic and the Loads. I also enjoy the Velvet Underground and some of Reed's non-Metal Machine Music solo work on occasion. Thisâ¦ this is just bad. On every level. I'm actually not sure how fair it is to include on this list as I've never been able to make it through the whole thing. Let's just pretend this never happened.