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

Best of 2011's Picks (2011)

staff picks

Who We Are is staffed by volunteers. These volunteers write and edit in their spare time and largely of their own individual motivations. There are no full time staff. Everyone has a day job, a school to attend, or a life to lead otherwise. There is no editorial mandate at There are no bands we collectively plan to pay attention to. Likewise we do not plan to praise or pan any individual album or band in reviews. For the record, does not accept money in exchange for news coverage or reviews.

In short, we're barely organized and it's astonishing that we haven't spectacularly imploded yet. Punk rock.

In that spirit, most members of the staff are seeing this list for the first time when the public does.

How this works

This overall list is determined entirely by math. In late November members of the editorial staff, review writing staff and interviewer staff along with a small handful of Org alumni were asked to submit a ranked top 20 list of LPs and a separate list of EPs. These lists were submitted in isolation and each person's list was kept private from the rest of the staff. While a majority of the people involved in submitted lists, several missed the deadline or otherwise chose to abstain, and as such their opinions may not be reflected here. The individual lists were weighted so that we could tally up the results. For example, a person's #1 pick was worth 20 points, #2 was 19 points, and so on down to #20 being worth 1 point. The summation of those rankings determined the list you see below. No additional weighting was given to how many times a record appeared on those lists, nor have we corrected after the fact if the staffer chose to re-order the albums on their publicly published list. Only a subset of the participants in this process have published a solo "Best Of" lists on Punknews this year.

While we believe you'll find a nice cross-section of the tastes of the Punknews editors and reviewers here, the real meat of our yearly retrospective can be found in the individual lists. Make sure to check them out, as there are quite a few this year. Also, don't forget about YOUR list, the top 20 releases of the year as voted by the Punknews community. That list should be posted following this one.

All clear? Smashing. Let's rock'n'roll… Staff's Top 5 EPs of 2011


Jimmy Cliff: Sacred Fire EP [12-inch]

Collective Sounds

Talk about a comeback. Jimmy Cliff's legacy was already assured, but hearing something like Sacred Fire this late in his career is got-damn inspirational. Between the stellar covers (The Clash, Rancid, Bob Dylan) and the awesome originals, it feels good to be rude again. -Joe Pelone


Big Business: Quadruple Single [12-inch]

Gold Metal

On Quadruple Single, Big Business takes everything that is great about the band, riffs that rumble like tanks, ghostly wails, inventive song structure and general wackiness, and condense it into a tight four tracks. While rapid-drone-stomping has been done before, Big Biz's approach, which is equally appreciative and self aware, trims the fat, takes the genre in new directions, and includes one element that most heavy bands forget: The songs actually sound good. Really, really good, in fact. On the final track the band declares "Guns! Guns! Guns are better than everything else!" If that's true, then firearms beat this release by the width of a hair. - John Gentile


The Sidekicks / Tigers Jaw: Split [7-Inch]

Shout Out Loud Prints

While the Sidekicks and Tigers Jaw both occupy the poppier side of the indie/punk spectrum, they have very different approaches to their craft. The Sidekicks' upbeat power-pop has soaring vocal melodies and catchy hooks that are so immediately satisfying they do little to betray the beautiful lyrics and sophisticated guitar work contained within that you only discover upon repeated listens. Tigers Jaw, on the other hand, have a more intentionally obscure path they take you on with their music, having a heavier debt to '90s Midwest emo and alterna-rock, and yet there is something localized rather than universal about their music. Their lyrics are more abstract, their tempos are slower, and their guitar parts shift just enough so they make you wait for that one sweet spot in a song rather than delivering right away. Putting these two bands together proves to be an interesting and overall successful experiment. The Sidekick's cover of of Elvis Costello's cover of "(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" not only respects the original but builds upon it, which is an extremely rare feat for such a classic song transforming this from a great seven-inch into something really special. - Sloane Daley


Against Me!: Russian Spies [7-inch]


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 can keep up this level of quality, we may very well be looking at the future holders of the "Album of 2012" title.- Tori Pederson


Hot Water Music: The Fire, The Steel, The Tread b/w Adds Up to Nothing


The long-awaited followup to 2004's The New What Next from beardpunk's most heralded is a seven-inch teaser that's simply delightful. Sure, it basically sounds like a split between Chuck Ragan and the Draft, but the grizzled recording tone is a fresh feel, and both turn in yearning, ruggedly endearing performances. - Brian Shultz Staff's Top 20 LPs of 2011

20 (Tie)

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. - Katy Hardy

20 (Tie)

Night Birds: The Other Side of Darkness

Grave Mistake

It's surf punk meets Dead Kennedys. You want something longer than that you're taking too long for Nightbirds. - Rich Verducci


Defeater: Empty Days and Sleepless Nights

Bridge Nine Records

Remember when hardcore was the poster child for stagnation? Well Defeater and their ilk are making sure that the aforementioned poster is ripped up, burnt, and stomped on. On Empty Days and Sleepless Nights the band keeps it rough, but drops in twilight tapping, acoustic numbers…oh and a story about the aftermath of mass destruction from flooding. What, you thought only one hardcore band was allowed to make a concept album about catastrophe this year? - John Gentile


Samiam: Trips


Trips serves as both a literal return for Samiam and A spiritual return of sorts for the band. After five years between this and their last proper LP, Whatever's Got You Down, Samiam has created a generally upbeat collection that is perhaps their most immediate release since You Are Freaking Me Out. Trips continues exploring thoughtful and mature melodic punk in a way that only a band who has been around for twenty years can but expands upon a foundation of more traditional guitar pop like they never have before. Lyrically the themes of perseverance through life's trials and tribulations might not be complex but they really ring true both for the band and hopefully the listener. Maybe these tricks aren't entirely new but they are more focused and inspired than anyone might expect. This should be everyone's go-to "feel good" album of the year. - Sloane Daley


Touché Amoré: Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me


I sort of don't want to like this album. There are certain parts of it that tend to drag on me and the lyrical content is about as far from uplifting as you can get. Still, there are parts (like the line "If actions speak louder than words, I'm the most deafening noise you've heard" on the opener "~") that can't help but make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Jeremy Bolm has a way of using a few words to convey complex concepts in an incredibly forceful manner and the musical aspect keeps the album from ever relying strictly on the vocals. It's a testament to how good this album is that it's an epic downer that you keep revisiting. - Rich Verducci


Elway: Delusions

Red Scare

Legal issues aside, Colorado's Elway usher in their new moniker beautifully, with 11 killer, melody-laden punk songs. The new takes on the 10-4 Eleanor material, alongside the new songs, are fantastic, and the hooks will get firmly stuck in your head. - John Flynn


Chuck Ragan: Covering Ground

SideOneDummy Records

It's difficult to stress just how warm and comforting Chuck Ragan's solo work sounds, to me at least. There's a lot of flack gets thrown at punk and hardcore musicians who have embarked on more folk-based solo work in recent years, and I've never really understood that. As I see it, the song is everything, and the songs, reduced to their most essential and timeless components, are the things that stand out most in Chuck's work, as well it should be.

Covering Ground isn't a huge departure from the musical styles of Feast Or Famine or Gold Country, and that's no bad thing. It's no secret that Chuck is a gifted songwriter and musician, and his solo work continues to show us a man with everything to say, but nothing to prove. That Chuck seems so comfortable in his work, speaking for myself, allows me to listen to his work in comfort, even when that work deals with uncomfortable things. This year I've come back to this album again and again, on those nights when I'm feeling rough, and there's nobody on hand who can talk to me. When nobody is around to listen, I listen to Chuck, and it's like getting understanding and advice from a true friend. Magnificent. - Andrew Waterfield


World/Inferno Friendship Society: The Anarchy and The Ecstasy


The Anarchy and The Ecstasy is the definition of a "grower record." Much more subtle than their past releases, World/Inferno switches their swinging ‘20s horns for meditative acoustic ballads and opera-influenced duets. It takes some time to sink in, but once it does, it shows that this might be the album, with all its quiet nuances and sly tricks, to define the punk-cabaret collective. Plus, the lead single, "I Am Sick of People Being Sick of My Shit" is not only the best song they've ever recorded, but it probably encapsulates a band in three minutes with more definition than a documentary could in 12 hours. - John Gentile


Balance and Composure: Separation

June 28 on No Sleep Records

The '90s became nostalgia territory well before 2011, but its emotive, powerful musical landscape continuously provides an expansive spectrum to pull from. Case in point: The first proper full-length from Doylestown, Pa.'s Balance and Composure, Separation digs its heels in and grinds out a cathartic and thunderous display drawing blood from the likes of Nirvana, Neutral Milk Hotel, Jawbreaker, Red House Painters and countless others. The running cliché about musically thoughtful bands brilliantly mining their record collections has admittedly become a tiresome one (although, as noted in my review back in June, there's a metaphor for B&C that's quite literal). But Separation's unrelenting drive of dynamic exercises, unpredictable turns and persistently distraught tensions puts Balance and Composure in a class all their own--in other words, its title creates just that for the band.- Brian Shultz


Banner Pilot: Heart Beats Pacific

Fat Wreck Chords

Banner Pilot writes really great songs about drinking and/or failing. When played at sufficient speeds, these songs almost sound triumphant. So while Heart Beats Pacific reads like a depressing, endless winter journal, it plays like a beautiful piece of punk spirit. I'm pretty protective of the Jawbreaker tag, but Banner Pilot is one of the few bands I would compare them to, at least in spirit. - Joe Pelone


Restorations: Restorations

Tiny Engines

I took a long time to warm to Restorations' self-titled full-length. The Philadelphia band shares a certain aesthetic with my post-punk heroes the Constantines and that similarity made my standards impossibly high. It was a long buy-in on my part, but it was cemented with a brilliant, life-affirming set from the band at a small bar in Gainesville this October closing out The Fest. These punk-informed rock'n'roll songs are pensive, slow-building and ultimately deeply rewarding. That's a lot of what made me love the Cons, and Restorations are more than worthy of taking up that banner. - Adam White


Title Fight: Shed

SideOneDummy Records

I remember the first time I saw Title Fight was January 2009. While a flood of kids were losing their minds, the most memorable moment for me was when they kicked off "Youreyeah". I had heard the song before and yet still thought, "Oh, cool, they're covering something from Can't Slow Down." Obviously, they weren't, but that kind of mistaken perception sums up their nascent material well: sloppy, emotional pop-punk/melodic hardcore that might have been a little derivative for its own good. And sure, Shed still reeks of its influences (namely Lifetime and Jawbreaker), but the variety and depth Title Fight achieves with their long-anticipated full-length debut is warm and enriching. They're growing leaps and bounds, and you can hear it in both their enthusiastic, signature speeds and slow-churning, gravelly mood pieces. - Brian Shultz


Laura Stevenson and the Cans: Sit Resist

Don Giovanni

While it was no surprise that I was taken by her gorgeous voice and the wealth of accordion and brass backing, it is a bit surprising that it was the 'Org that introduced me to Laura Stevenson and the Cans. As un-punk as they may be, they seem intertwined in the scene and everyone is the better for it. Sit Resist improves upon A Record in both production and breadth of songwriting, and Stevenson's voice fits marvelously whether it's a lilting stripped-down track, bouncy indie pop, or full-tilt folk rock. - Greg Simpson


Frank Turner: England Keep My Bones


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. - Tori Pederson


Red City Radio: The Dangers of Standing Still

Paper + Plastick

Following a handful of splits and an EP, 2011 was finally the year of the proper Red City Radio full-length release. And it's a goodie. The quartet from Oklahoma City had been kicking around for a couple years before their first LP came out this year on Paper + Plastick. The Dangers of Standing Still has a healthy dose of "woahs," fast guitars, gruff vocals and sing-along choruses. It's super accessible and helps remind you how fun punk really can be. I look forward to singing along loudly with my fist in the air at one of their shows soon. Come play DC, y'all. Fav Track: "Drinking Yourself Into The Future" -Kira Wisniewski


The Horrible Crowes: Elsie


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. - Tori Pederson


Dead To Me: Moscow Penny Ante

Fat Wreck Chords

It's Dead to Me V3.0 (Or Dead To Sam or Ken to Me or whatever). It's hard to imagine a band that changes co-songwriters two times still managing to forge ahead but Dead to Me has done it and come out better for it. Lyrics about everything from songs about personal difficulties to songs about 19th century pioneers for gay rights. Fantastic music form 1/2 of Western Addiction, 1/4 of New Mexican Disaster Squad, 1/4 of Enemy You and 4/4 of Dead to Me.- Rich Verducci


Bomb the Music Industry!: Vacation

Ernest Jenning / Really

I highly anticipate every Bomb the Music Industry! release yet somehow I wasn't expecting this record to be as great as it turned out. BtMI! are a band whose sound is constantly evolving and Vacation is the result of the band's creativity at it's absolute best. This record contains a side of BtMI! that we have never seen before with a more mature, polished sound but still accompanied by Mr. Rosenstock's relatable lyrics. I believe they truly outdid themselves on this record and my obsession for this band is reaching dangerous levels. - Brittany Strummer


Fucked Up: David Comes to Life


If Fucked Up is truly winding down, this would be a wonderful way to go out. David Comes To Life is a career-defining record. Of course it only works as a concept album if you can follow whatever narrative established between Damian Abraham's shouts and growls, and I can't, but that doesn't matter when the songs are so good. Fucked Up remains gloriously over the top. Their sense of play is second to none. Their willingness to flaunt the conventions and pretenses of hardcore punk is no less daring now than it was early in their career. This is a monster of a record, and only a brilliant band like Fucked Up has the levity to pull it off without being consumed by it.- Adam White

It really doesn't get more interesting than Fucked Up; their gleeful ability to subvert expectations even as they embrace genre conventions makes for consistently powerful and inspiring tracks. I can think of few bands since the Who with both this level and ambition and the talent to realize it. - Aubin Paul


Joyce Manor: Joyce Manor


Joyce Manor remind me of past Punknews "record of the year" winners the Sidekicks, both in their raw pop-punk sound and their ability to slice across the entire spectrum of our editorial staff and please just about everyone (and probably for different reasons). There are huge hooks in these songs, but they never stick around long enough to overdo it before you're hit with the next. The majority of these tracks clock in well under two minutes and that's exactly what the makes this work so well. The first asshole producer to talk this band into padding out their songs is fired from punk. - Adam White

Joyce Manor is everyone's favorite new artist. Those who disagree are clearly lying because I know for a fact that no one can listen to "Constant Headache" and not enjoy it. It's impossible and I don't believe you if you say otherwise. - Brittany Strummer

A little over two years ago I saw Joyce Manor open up for Andrew Jackson Jihad. At the time they were an acoustic two-piece that weren't too impressive but since then have grown to become a full four-piece band that released one of my favorite albums this year. The energy found on this album is virtually unmatched by any other release this year and with lyrics that give Blake Schawarzenbach a run for his money what's not to like? - Armando Olivias