This is not a list of the Top 10 albums of this year. This is a list of the top albums that touched me this year, that I couldn’t stop listening to, that spoke to me or grabbed me in some way and wouldn’t let go. Some are from 2011, and some aren’t. I’m winging it, so just try to enjoy.
14. Kronos Quartet – Floodplain (2009)
Get your butt on Spotify or whatever music service you use and check out this album. More specifically, listen to track #5, Wa Habbi (Beloved). To me, the violin is the very voice of the devil and it embodies all the pain and suffering and angst and torture that life has to give, and this song, the way the violin is played on this song, does something to me that is very hard to express in simple words. Listen, if you get it you get it, if you don’t, then you’ll find it somewhere else, I’m sure. The Kronos Quartet is simply amazing. If you get a chance and haven’t already, acquaint yourself with their music….if you like string quartets and constantly push and challenge the conceptions of what a string quartet should be doing.
13. Adele – 21 (2011)
Many people will say “overplayed, mainstream schlock” when I list this album. Well, those people can eat it. Adele simply has an amazing voice and this album has two songs that slay me – Lovesong, one of the best Cure covers ever and Someone Like You, which almost always makes my heart hit the floor whenever I hear it. If you can’t get over yourself and appreciate a truly gifted singer, then you’re missing out.
12. Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest (2011)
It’s always good when an artist that you love and respect goes back and finds their roots, finds the things that made you fall in love with them in the first place, and then brings them back and makes them relevant again. Gillian and David did that on this album. They went back to doing what they do well – tell devastatingly honest stories with soaring harmonies and amazing musicianship. However, they didn’t just go and make an album just like one they might have made 10 years ago, they brought everywhere they’ve been and everything they’ve learned since the beginning and tapped into it to make an album that hearkens back to their roots without forgetting about the miles of road they’ve traveled in the meantime.
11. The Red Romance – EP (2007)
Ok. This EP is 4 years old. So what? I just found these guys and ALL of these songs were in constant rotation all year long and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere soon…mostly because I don’t even think this band exists anymore. Hah! Power pop that hearkens back to 70s R&B and soul and The Commitments and, well, just about anything you can think of. These songs have serious hooks and are hard to deny. They aren’t deep, they don’t solve all of the world’s problems, but they’re upbeat, well done, and damn fun to listen to.
10. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (2011)
Being a Seattle guy, I’ve frequently found that people assume I have some predetermined allegiance to all things Nirvana….well, screw that. I’ve never been a big Nirvana fan, and I didn’t jump on the Foo Fighter bandwagon until this most recent album, and even then, I did so timidly. With that being said, now that I’ve found the Foo Fighters I’m not letting go and, frankly, this album fucking rocks! However, I don’t think the album really starts until the 5th song…but after that, it’s solid power-rock done well, with ripping riffs and unyielding vocals, meaningful lyrics and the appropriate level of angst.
9. Young the Giant – Young the Giant (2011)
Pure pop fluff…but damn, sometimes there’s just nothing better than pop fluff! I can’t put my finger on what it is that attracts me to these guys, but they’re always in my playlist and I never get tired of listening to a good 5-6 tracks off of this album, which is more than I can say for some other albums that were supposed to be the bee’s knees this year.
8. Glasvegas – Euphoric Heartbreak (2011)
I was cautiously optimistic about the sophomore offering from this Glasgow outfit. Their first album is still among my most favorite, and I wasn’t sure how they’d be able to follow it up. Euphoric Heartbreak doesn’t disappoint and stands out as one of the albums that really touched me this year. Their particular brand of ethereal, poignant indie-rock speaks to me, it encapsulates all of the heartbreak and sorrow I’ve ever felt in my life and lays it out there for me to lap up like warm milk. Their haunting melodies wrap me in a warm, familiar melancholia that is comforting, that tells me I’m not alone in this world and that I’ll never be forgotten.
7. Mariachi El Bronx – Mariachi El Bronx II (2011)
Who doesn’t love hardcore punk bands doing side projects that involve trumpets and really big ass bass guitars?? These buys bring it as a punk band, and then deliver it as Mariachi El Bronx. I love it when musicians explore different genres and styles and are not afraid to push the boundaries of their ability. I never get tired of listening to these guys!
6. Shearwater – Golden Archipelago (2010)
It was a daunting task, following up their Rook release, for that, to me, was a masterpiece of gloom and doom and honestly expressed emotion. At first, this album didn’t speak to me too much….but then I found it slowly creeping up on me when I least expected it, tapping me on the shoulder and reminding me to feel, to embrace and be comfortable with the all of the deep, dark secret places where emotions and fear live. High tremolo nights and the fearful heart-swoosh of freefalling into oblivion, sweet nothingness.
5. Drag the River – Bad at Breaking Up (2009)
In keeping with the punk-rock bands expressing themselves through different genres, here’s another album I came late to but have latched on to like a blood-starved leech. These guys just do what they do damn well. They’re like an old diner that serves the world’s best comfort food, you’re not going to get filet mignon with some fancy-shmancy French sauce, but what you do get is going to be good and it’ll sustain you for a long, long time. They never get old and I can listen to this album from beginning to end without once reaching for the skip-ahead button.
4. Glossary – Long Live All of Us (2011)
Standout album by one of the most kick-ass bands out there, plain and simple. Put on your aquarium platforms and sombrero with chi-chi balls all a-dangling and get down with your bad self – FlyGuy ain’t got nothing on these guys. Love, love, love this album. Not many albums actually make me want to get up and dance – I think dancing is for crazy people – but this one, well, I’d at least do some serious toe-tapping to it! These guys are deserving of much more attention than they get, and I’m hoping that changes soon.
3. Airborne Toxic Event – All at Once (2011)
Not embarrassed about this one. These guys are an amazingly talented band and I’ve been a fan for quite some time now. Their songs inspire me, move me, make me want to get up and get things done…while also reminding me of the dark side of human nature in a hopeful and optimistic way.
2. Only Living Boy – Hide Nothing (2011)
Kick ass band. If you’re a sissy, don’t listen to these guys, cause your feelings WILL get hurt. I have not stopped listening to this band since I immersed myself in them to write my review about this album. When I find myself getting too mucked up in all the melancholic bullshit you’ll find elsewhere on this list, all I have to do is listen to this album to get myself out of it. So grow a pair and take a listen to these guys.
1. The Black Hand Gang – EP (2011)
I can’t get these guys out of my head…or my heart. I didn’t want to like these guys, there’s only so much Scottish you should allow in your life, but goddamn, I cannot walk away from them. Their soaring melodies and musicianship draw me in, their sound mesmerizes me, I’m completely entranced and I don’t’ know why but I don’t really care because I just love their music, their feel, their sentiments, their everything. This Glasgow quartet embodies everything that Americana music is and has been, without being American. Beautiful.