So I sat down and rethought this list a week or so after I wrote it up. Some people pointed out that I had missed quite a bit of the music on this years release list so I sat down and thought long and hard about what I missed. I may have spent a few days downloading what I didn’t have and sat there in a room, locked the door, and just listened to music non stop. There were no singles for me, I was that far behind. No list of the top songs that the generic radio friendly tunes would end up charting. There was biased albums on my list, but I didn’t care, they had a special place in my heart. I sat still and worked tirelessly to avoid the ultimate ending. As I prowled through the lists of friends on Facebook trying to find stuff I missed when suddenly I opened my copy of SPIN (which being the cheap ass I was got a free subscription) listed some band called FUCKED UP as album of the year. What the fuck was Fucked Up. But at least I didn’t say this was the number one song of the year…
Now at least that didn’t make the list. Thank god. I don’t know what SPIN was thinking when it called that pop song a number one song of the year. What is worse is the fact that a slew of hip hop and pop made their lists. Oh well I got my list and that’s good enough.
20. Rise Ye Sunken Ships as performed by We Are Augustines
Former Pela band members reformed under the name We Are Augustines. Of course this reached the number one spot on James Adair’s list, partly due to his love of Pela but with memorable tracks that seem somber at moments (“Chapel Song”) and pick up with other blazing instrumentation. “Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love)” stands out as both a throwback to the old Pela album with it’s more faster paced beat, something lead singer Billy McCarthy seems to be quite talented at mixing, fast paced guitars and scratchy vocals.
19. Torches by Foster the People
In their debut year Foster the People took the alternative world by storm. “Helena Beat” the albums first track and one of the later singles soars with synthy beats and the high pitched vocals that the band will become known for. If it weren’t for their toe tapping tune about mass murder “Pumped Up Kicks” this band might have never been heard of. It’s not only a two song band but the album has high moments that just blend in with each other including the dance friendly “Call It What You Want” as well as the beat that snares you on “Houdini.” Even further proof that the band isn’t just one style check out “Chin Music for the Unsuspecting Hero” a more somber lyrical driven tune from the band.
18. Strange Mercy by St. Vincent
Annie Clark continues to be a dream girl for some indie rockers and her latest kicks it up just a slight notch. Her soparno vocals mixed in with the shredding guitar laden art-pop is evident on her third album. The opener “Chloe in the Afternoon” just hits you with a weird sense of fright, well that might not be the right word to use. “Cruel” sounds like a distorted old Disney song from an animated movie at first then gets to the point where the chorus of most pop songs just repeat the same word but this time with a nice riff following it. The opening line on the chorus of “Cheerleader” might be something that you don’t ever hear as Clark belts out “I don’t wanna be a cheerleader.” And who can forget the first line in “Surgeon” that goes something like “I spent the summer on my back” which evokes the wrong images at first.
17. The Whole Love by Wilco
When you start your album with a seven minute long track entitled “Art of Almost” you can easily assume that the band itself is going for some avante garde style. As Billy Bragg’s vocals kick in nearly a minute in a half in it’s a welcoming sound. Wilco is back with a synth friendly track to kick of their 2011 follow up to the self titled album that featured a song called “Wilco (the Song)”. If you are worried that the sound might stay that way lead single “I Might” shows that Bragg and co. don’t want to change it up too much as they go with the indie/folkish sound. “Black Moon” has a nice soothing guitar opening that you just might play your kid as they fall asleep and as Bragg’s first words coo from his throat “I was always right/about the morning” you know this one is gonna be personal. While the opener seems to crawl away from the typical sound, it really doesn’t stretch too far as “Open Mind” shows it’s still Wilco doing what Wilco does best.
16. The King of Limbs by Radiohead
Earlier in the year and even as of a week or so ago this album was a top five candidate. Another listen through really hurts their chances. “Bloom” as some people put it sounds like Thom Yorke taught his penis to sing, and no that isn’t my comment on it. The fact that this doesn’t quite feel like what a new Radiohead album would sound like is where it hurts. “Morning Mr. Magpie” used to be a demo track so the fact that they turned that into a full length song has placed some doubts but it’s one of the stronger tracks on the record itself. “Little by Little” and “Lotus Flower” are the two best tracks other than Magpie on this record while the others fall short. Oh and there was Thom Yorke dancing.
15. Nine Types of Light by TV on the Radio
Following up their mainstream success that was 2008’s Dear Science the band returns with Nine Types of Light. Unfortunately the bad news came in wheelbarrows for this band as their bassist had passed from cancer right before their tour. Tracks like “Will Do” and “You” are the slower paced standouts on an album that features upbeat and at times soulful sounding alternative rock music. On the opener “Second Song” the track sounds a lot more different than their last huge single “Family Tree”
14. Only in Dreams by the Dum Dum Girls
The Dum Dum Girls take dream pop to a new level on their second studio length. With opening track “Always Looking” having a positive sound that makes you want to bob your head to the follow up track and single “Bedroom Eyes” leaving you in a gaze. The dreamy vocals and soaring guitar riffs often leave you in a dream like state. As lead singer Dee Dee coos beautifully on “Heartbeat (Take it Away)” and “Just a Creep” gives the twee genre new life, well at least helps maintain the genre’s new powerful all female group. “Caught In One” shows off the power of the leads vocals and closer “Hold Your Hand” is a classic album closer that focuses mainly on the lyrics and the vocals as compared to driven guitars.
13. Hurry Up, I’m Dreaming by M83
The last time I checked M83 was more of a straight up electronic band. Not some pop sounding band but on Hurry Up‘s sprawling two discs Anthony Gonzalez crafts a pop masterpiece that reminds us all of better times from the 1980’s. “Midnight City” is obviously the most loved track off the record and it’s quite obvious to see why. Driving synths and muffled vocals with catchy dance beats dominate this tunes four minute radio friendly duration. “Reunion” follows “Midnight City” with relative ease and the transition is seamless. “Wait” blends a nice soothing guitar riff with slow moving drum beats to create what could easily be a great finale at senior proms all over the country but it won’t be because it’s not by Gaga. There was no need for the album to be two discs but every song seems to flow exceedingly well between each other and that is what great production does. Even the fact that the track “Raconte-Moi Histoire” starts off with a child reading off some silly little article doesn’t hurt the song either. The fact is while most artists talk about shitty lives Gonzalez talks about how great life really is.
12. Suck it and See by the Arctic Monkeys
One thing most people have noted is that Alex Turner has matured in his song writing. He’s 25 now and he has quite a few albums under his belt. “She’s Thunderstorms” opens the latest from the Monkeys and it’s a lot better than the previous effort the band turned out Humbug. While the track has an edgier poppier feeling to it, it certainly is better off than “My Propeller” off of the last one. As the album moves on it does get heavier but at the same time it maintains the same lyrical style. As with former singles, “Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” this time Turner and co craft and album full of potential singles. “Don’t Sit Down, Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” is gloomy and brooding and it works well. While “Black Treacle” is a slower moving lighter track. Even the title track features a slower moving tune at least in the start.
11. Ceremonials by Florence and the Machine
When Florence Welch first burst on the scene with poppy sounds like “Dog Days are Over” and “Kiss With a Fist” those that first caught wind prior to the Twitards knew something special would be coming along the way. With bellowing vocals blasting out strong lyrics Welch helps capitalize on another stellar album. A song of all cliches became a hit, Shake it Out while other tracks like the opener, “Only if for the Night”, and the follow up, “What the Water Gave Me” all demonstrate how powerful the voice can be. Sure it’s not the strongest album of the year but it’s a good one nonetheless. I wonder how Welch would sound in Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theater, one of the more intimate venues in the city itself. Needless to say Shake It Out is one of the top singles of the year, even if the girlfriend disagrees.
10. Mirror Traffic by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Following the Pavement reunion, Malkmus returns to make another solid album. With opening track “Tigers” cooing out lines such as “We are the tigers/we need seperate rooms” and follows it up with a lighter sounder dubbed “No One Is (As I Are Be)” a track which ends in soothing piano keys hitting with several other instruments. Malkmus crafts a poppy sounding alternative album. He does lift up the sound with hot sounding track “Senator” and with lyrics like “I know what the senator wants/the senator wants a blow job!” seems to show Malkmus doesn’t want to leave the Clinton era behind. The album triumphs with tracks like “Stick Figures in Love” with the guitar chords that it features in the beginning plus a sped up vocal accompaniment from Malkmus himself makes this one of the stronger tracks on an album that flew under the radar for most.
09. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
A few years ago Fleet Foxes were the shit. Their debut album topped the list of many many many year end lists but now it’s barely making the cut here. Now lead singer and main song writer Robin Peckold has tried writing more from the first person perspective than what he is used to. What we get is an interesting sound. Tracks like “Sim Sala Bim” and “Helplessness Blues” stand out on an album that is not just straight folky like the last one but more of an introspective look upon one person’s personal struggles. “Montezuma” kicks off the album in a way “Sun Giant” kicked off the previous one. The haunting echoes in the background make this album feel more like a 1970’s folk record than a modern one. “Helplessness Blues” helps wrap up an album of solid tracks that try to be different than the previous batch from Peckold and the group.
08. Wasting Light by the Foo Fighters
The heaviest rock record on this list is one that might not have made the list if I didn’t have friends who were so huge into the Foo. When the album dropped I gave it a listen just out of respect for the friends. It was okay. When they played the tracks live for Letterman and I had to record it off the air, it was then that I knew that this was a rock record. I listened to the album again and from start to finish it wasn’t just a harder rock record, it was a blend of the different varieties of rock music Dave Grohl has been in. From “Bridge Burning” to “Walk” the album is a tour de force of heavy guitars and driving vocals. “Arlelandria” is one of the stronger tracks and an under appreciated one at that. While the Foo have captured the essence of grunge and it’s evolution in a nice forty minute package no other band still can do it.
07. Belong by the Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart opened up their sophomore album with a heavy but somber sounding 1980’s sounding “Belong.” This is a band you expect to see having a few songs littering the soundscape of a John Hughes movie soundtrack. This is twee pop at it’s best. Belle and Sebastian helped master it. Los Campesinos developed it into a punkier sound and Pains helped solidify it as a sorrowful piece. Evolving from what might be the scenesters this album takes sadness to a new level. “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now” and “Heart in your Heartbreak” focus heavily on crafting choruses that the listener finds themselves toe tapping to and even singing along with. “The Body” features a synth sounding guitar riff as well as lyrics such as “tell me what the body is for/I want to feel like I did before.” “Anne With an E” and “My Terrible Friend” fill an album up with single worthy tracks that ended up on college radio stations across the country.
06. Yuck by Yuck
Bursting onto the scene and into many year end lists is the ultimate 1990’s band from all time, Yuck. Matching sounds with great 90’s bands like Sonic Youth and the grunge masters, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, as well as alt rockers the Smashing Pumpkins and even channeling early Rivers Cuomo and Weezer on a few tracks. Opener “Get Away” channels some Sonic Youth and what seems like a little bit of the Get Up Kids. “Shook Down” has a seemingly slower tempo and channels a more slower temp Weezer without the nerdy lyrical style. SPIN was so high on these guys they only reached 31 on their list on the year end albums but made the statement that they were the ’90’s best band. “Suicide Policeman” is a phenomenal track that features strong audible lyrics, unlike the heavier tracks but Yuck should be featured in many playlists hopefully for years to come.
05. Zonoscope by Cut Copy
Aussie electronic act Cut Copy finds a high spot on this list because simply they featured a shit ton of plays in both Winamp and the iPod this year. Released earlier with summery tracks like “Need You Now” that litter the albums one hour running time Zonoscope feels more like a long drive type of album that you throw on during a sunny day when you head down to the beach. While it sounds a bit more 1980’s synth pop than previous efforts the group maintains a phenomenal sound on tracks like “Pharohs and Pyramids” as well as “Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution.” While the band does miss it slightly on the fifteen minute long closer entitled “Sun God” (this track sounds way better live than on record). The highlight and personal favorite of the album is none other than “Corner of the Sky.” With a chorus that chants “If you see a comet/In the corner of the sky tonight/Maybe you can catch it/Keep it secret til the end of time” sticks in your head for hours.
04. The King is Dead by the Decemberists
From the opening riffs of “Don’t Carry It All” through to the end of “Dear Avery” Colin Meloy and co create an album worthy of redemption. With Hazards of Love well behind them the band goes back to their roots and craft a more folky baroque pop sounding album. It does have it’s downs at times and it’s evident in their more country sounding tracks but those get overlooked with some strong outings including a personal favorite “Calamity Song” which is all about the end of days and Meloy in typical fashion deeply roots the tracks with two dollar words. “Rox in a Box” has a poppy Southern style of flavoring to it that sticks with you as you scratch your head. “June Hymn” and January Hymn” have somber sounds that differ and contrast between the two. “All Arise!” is the country track that has the fewest plays from me but “Why We Fight” is the kind of song you want Meloy and co. to play as they end their show. It’s been an up and down year for the group ranging from being number 1 on Billboard to a cancer scare from a band member.
03. Bon Iver by Bon Iver
Either you are a fan of Justin Vernon’s solo project Bon Iver or you are a fan of the story of Bon Iver. A man who went into the mountains alone for a prolonged period of time and just mulled over a break up. This time he’s back with the follow up and it flows like a waterfall. The opening track features a somber sound that one has come to expect from the folky singer-songwriter (“Perth”). Flowing into a strong track “Minnesota, WI” in which Vernon’s vocals dominate a landscape of beautiful instrumentation including the soft plucking on a guitar with other rustic sounds. Vernon crafts a sound that may find itself atop many album of the year charts, oh wait it’s number one according to Pitchfork but only in the high teens according to SPIN. Single, “Holocene” is a haunting track that leaves you as a listener scared and needing someone to hold on to.
02. El Camino by the Black Keys
From the opening riff of “Lonely Boy” the lead single to the point where Dan Auerbachs gravely soulful voice kicks in thus making it a bonafide hit. “Lonely Boy” soars in ways that few songs failed to do so this year. The catchy chorus, the intense blues rock riffs, all of this led to the fact that this, not Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” was the true song of the year. “Dead and Gone” and “Gold on the Ceiling” continue the formula established by “Lonely Boy”. “Little Black Submarines” slows it down only to pick it back up as a testament to Auerbach’s singing. The album reaches “Money Maker” and “Sister” two tracks that help climax the album as it reaches the conclusion on “Mind Eraser” and thus create a solid film noir feeling album from the duo. By the way they hit Philadelphia in March with the Arctic Monkeys. If you are wondering.
01. Codes and Keys by Death Cab for Cutie
Starting the album with a synth heavy track like “Home is a Fire” brings haunting memories of the Postal Service back into the minds of huge fans of Ben Gibbard as well as his side projects. It’s a great way to start what I consider the album of the year. While it’s not the greatest track on the album it’s a solid start. “Codes and Keys” the title track is a piano ridden pop song that if only gotten more exposure might be fun for the ears of the listeners while repetitive “Some Boys” reached radio waves it seems to lack just a smidge in the terms of being a great song. “Doors Unlocked and Open” is one of the stronger tracks on the record not just in terms of lyrics but overall. The drum beats are more noticeable than before and I kind of like it. Gibbard’s vocals are more muffled and hidden in the verses. Lead single “You Are A Tourist” offers a very radio friendly jam that was stuck in my head for weeks after it dropped. The chords are catchy and so is the lyrics. Damn you Gibbard, you could be a great pop writer if you really wanted to be. “Unobstructed Views” is the most Brian Eno like track on the album. When they said they were ditching the string friendly sound and going more progressive this might be all they meant. Who knows. “Monday Morning” opening up the second half is a nice chance to just sit back and relax and enjoy a good tune while “Portable Television” follows it up with a nice fun track. “Underneath the Sycamore” is more like the Killers in Death Cab’s skin. The two closing tracks are some of the strongest on the album “St. Peter’s Cathedral” and “Stay Young, Go Dancing” end the album with such raw certainty that leave me wanting more but won’t be getting it.