Best of 2011 - Katy's picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2011

Katy's picks (2011)

staff picks

Katy is a news editor. - ed.


As one of the new editors around here, I suppose a brief introduction is in order. I've worked in music for a number of years now, handling publicity at labels, PR firms and venues, but I returned to school in the fall of 2010 to pursue a sociology degree, and have spent the last year or so trying to work my way OUT of music, slowly, though I keep getting sucked back in.


Fortunately, I don't mind at all, and with everything that's happened this year--on both a political scale and a personal scale--I'm being reminded constantly just how much music means to me and why I wanted to get so involved in the business in the first place. I may be a few years older now, with a little more experience under my belt and a slightly more jaded perspective (it is inevitable after a point), but at least I still feel that rush when I hear something great. And hey, I've even started to appreciate hip-hop this year! Finally!

Fortunately, 2011 has been a great year for music. I tried slowing down my music consumption so I could spend more time with fewer records, but I found that impossible. A number of bands I already love have put out great records, others have reunited, I've seen some pretty awesome shows and finally got to attend a Fest, and other bands I hadn't heard or gotten into before have released music that blew me away. So much of it rose to the occasion to fill those specific roles I needed music to fill when I was feeling particularly stressed out over something political in nature, or when I was feeling particularly upset over something going on in my own life. Seeing as I've found myself itching for musicians to get political again and start writing more protest songs in the last few years, I'm grateful that so many are finally stepping up to the plate--either more bands are getting political again, or I'm just coming across the ones that happen to be political already. With the turmoil happening in the world as of late, domestic and global, it really is long overdue. So despite how stressful and emotionally charged this year has been on myriad levels, at least I can look back at the great music that pushed me through, reminded that there are still musicians who care about their art, and realize that I've also learned a lot--and that's worth the all the hard days.

The records I'm enjoying and definitely recommend, but can't write about because I haven't dug in enough to have the words just yet

Farewell Continental: ¡Hey, Hey Pioneers!

Paper + Plastick

The Wombats: The Wombats Proudly Present... This Modern Glitch

Bright Antenna

Honorable Mentions

Wild Flag: Wild Flag


As a huge Sleater-Kinney fan, I anxiously awaited both Corin Tucker's solo record (released in 2010), and the grand debut of Wild Flag (featuring S-K's other two ladies, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss). "Future Crimes" is one of my favorite songs of the year, the type of song that makes me want to make a playlist that explains how I think, and had me pumped up to finally hear the full-length. While there are a few killer tracks on this release (like the opening track, "Romance," an ode to music itself), there's a certain fire I can't hear, and majority of this record unfortunately blended together. Maybe I was hoping too much for Sleater-Kinney? I still recommend it for the few standout tracks, and I eagerly await an opportunity to see them live-if nothing else, I've heard their shows are mind-blowing.

Dessa: Castor, The Twin


Confession: the only reason this record is an "honorable mention" is because it's composed primarily of re-recordings of previously released Dessa songs. Don't let that fool you--unlike other records that came out this year that are composed of "reimagined" tunes from older work (not naming names here), Dessa's recordings here, backed by a string band, touch on something new. Her previous work, more hip-hop and beat-oriented, is both touching and angry at situations such as the injustices of relationships-gone-sour and abusive partners. These re-orchestrated tracks, no less angry when anger is justified, feel even more personal and introspective.

Top 10 of 2011


Big D and the Kids Table: For the Damned, the Dumb & the Delirious

Side One Dummy

As bad as I feel saying it, this record only barely snuck in here, to be completely honest. Though I seem to be in the minority on this, I've been a huge fan of the progression Big D's music has made over their last few records. As a fan for nearly a decade, Good Luck and Gypsy Hill provided the soundtrack for many of those awful high school situations that I'm sure we all remember. But these days, Strictly Rude is my favorite of their releases--energetic, catchy, intelligent. Fluent In Stroll showed a lot of artistic growth, but still had their soul, and while it was a grower, it sits high on my list of Big D releases. For the Damned, The Dumb, and The Delirious feels like a return to form. The band is still tight and energetic (and still, as always, fantastic live), but the record feels immature in comparison to the direction they were beginning to take. While it's a fun record, and I still recommend a listen, it feels like it would have been a much better follow-up to Good Luck than their newer material. And I still can't get over the unexpected relevance of "It's Raining Zombies On Wall Street."


Laura Stevenson and the Cans: Sit Resist

Don Giovanni

While I've heard Laura Stevenson & the Cans before, I'd still say listening to this record was my first legitimate exposure because it's the first time I've truly intentionally listened. I'm glad I finally did. It took a while to really dig in, but once I did, it felt like a different track surfaced every other listen. Her soft voice is the perfect companion to the music that's sweet, but avoids being twee--perhaps because the lyrical content carefully straddles that line between completely devastated and obnoxiously happy.


The Swellers: Good for Me

Fueled by Ramen

While the Swellers haven't changed their formula all that much between each of their records, they continue to write uplifting melodic punk. This was more of a grower for me than 2009's Ups and Downsizing or My Everest, but worth the time.


Dead To Me: Moscow Penny Ante

Fat Wreck Chords

As I write this, I keep wishing I could put Dead To Me's last record, African Elephants on this top 10 list. I slacked on that record and only picked it up on New Year's Day this year, and it didn't leave my stereo for several months. How does a band follow something like that? While Moscow Penny Ante is certainly different, and takes some getting used to--if not least because of the vocal changeover--the result is still earnest and political, and the same brand of catchy punk rock we've all come to expect from Dead To Me. It's good enough that I suppose I can also forgive them for the lack of songs about scientists this round.


I Am The Avalanche: Avalanche United

I Surrender Records / Xtra Mil

It's hard to believe that I Am The Avalanche's debut record was released over six years ago. The self-titled record was dark and pessimistic, and actually quite creepy at times, in a way that makes for an incredibly cathartic listen. Despite a heartfelt song for a close friend that's passed on, Avalanche United lacks the sinister quality that characterized the previous release, but the overwhelming PMA more than makes up for it. We're left with sing-alongs celebrating good times spent with friends and reminded that life itself is too precious to take for granted.


Bayside: Killing Time


It's like you can actually hear that Bayside finally freed themselves from Victory Records on this one. Anthony Raneri's songwriting no longer feels restrained and overwhelmed by over-production, and the band is in top form throughout. This is another band whose often foreboding lyrics, expressive vocals, and shredding guitars provide a cathartic release, and while Killing Time is no exception, there are a number of more tender and empowering tracks as well. And really, who can deny Raneri's voice?


Andrew Jackson Jihad: Knife Man

Asian Man

As fans of this band are more than aware, they have a gift for writing about the most dark, twisted and upsetting moments of life with a certain kind of clarity. Sean Bonnett's delivery of these gut-wrenching tales has the power to be either depressing as all hell, or surprisingly uplifting. From discussing his own straight, white, male privilege, to the inadequate system we have for taking care of our nation's poor, to the pure desperation in realizing how far any of us can fall, it's hard not to feel something listening to the record. AJJ may not yet present solutions, but they urge their listeners to pay attention to the people around them and the situations they're in that may not be entirely their fault. The moral of the story? Have compassion, don't feel bad for your own suffering, and stay true to your convictions.


Sims: Bad Time Zoo


Have I mentioned that I'm a nerd? One of the things I've become quite fond of in Sims' music are his literary references (Alvin Toffler and Herbert Marcuse are the two obvious ones), as well as pop culture references, like a nod to the popular TV show It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Like Frank Turner, Sims can shift easily from songs questioning consumer culture and how we live our lives in modern times, to cheesy but adorably shameless songs about how his significant other's greatness. The package is multi-faceted, as any introspective album should be, and leaves me feeling empowered and ready to take on the world, dismantling the problems I see. With all the political turmoil happening in the world as of late, this feels entirely necessary.


Frank Turner: England Keep My Bones


Mr. Turner is one of those artists who can shift seamlessly from overtly political tunes about wanting to change the world to deeply personal ones about unrequited love and friends who've gone before their time. This new record follows the latter path. Every song offers something different, and gut-wrenching in its own way. There's that feeling of wanting to simply leave to escape all of life's problems, that knowledge that rock ‘n' roll can save your life, that recognition that perhaps you're not cut out for love, the request for your friends to call you out when you don't follow through on your convictions, and even a (divisive) atheist anthem of sorts. All sung with Turner's familiar honesty that's perhaps taken as even more trustworthy due to his English accent.


Doomtree: No Kings


It's only been a few weeks since Doomtree released their second full-crew disc, but it's managed to shoot its way up to the top of my list in that short time. In light of the changes we've seen in the world in the last year alone, the record feels in-your-face political if you're looking for it, but otherwise feels simply empowering, which I love. Instead of overt messages attacking specific political targets, they instead ask that people start pushing back. There's a wonderful Audre Lorde quote that I have to remind myself of when I'm particularly drained: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." Ultimately, that's what this record feels like to me. The tracks are catchy as hell, to the point that I've listened to on repeat far too many times, and it's far from lacking substance.