30. GIVERS – In Light
Up Up Up with Givers! This band from New Orleans is making a name for itself; this record is a folkier version of Matt & Kim or Mates of State. I am glad to hear Up Up Up in public (my bar even plays it) and the indie stations have all caught on to its extreme amount of catchiness. Up Up Up is just the beginning. The album is full of other great songs including, but not limited to; Saw You First and Go Out All Night. A theme this year seems to be ten track records, In Light is one of the longest ten trackers, there’s not a single song that runs less than four minutes on the whole album. That’s because the instrumentation is allowed its own time to develop and the lyrics glide along it. The stories get the time they deserve. Saw You First utilizes some great builds, and has an awesome bridge that lasts almost a minute. Go Out At Night turns more into a jam than earlier tracks, and is just as successful as the last.
CHECK OUT: Up Up Up
Go Out All Night
Saw You First
29. Cake – Showroom of Compassion
This band has no pressure at this point. They will churn out records when they want to, tour when they want to, and skip the use of an opening band, if they want to. Showroom of Compassion is exactly what a CAKE record should be. John McCrea (of CAKE y’all) knows exactly what he’s doing. And frankly, doesn’t give an F if you don’t like it. The discography of CAKE is full of catchy alternative pop songs, with their signature sound and McCrea’s signature speak-singing. Lyrically one of the smartest bands out there, the word play throughout their catalogue is unparallel. Every song on this record has a place in the CAKE library, however, there’s nothing new going on here either. CAKE doesn’t care that I don’t think they’ve broken any ground recently, and honestly, I’m very fond of CAKE the way they are, just not much space in the top of the list. CAKE’s last release, 2004’s Pressure Chief was a long time ago, and McCrea has been quoted to say that this record sounds very different. I beg to differ, sir, but I’m not upset by the fact.
CHECK OUT: Sick of You
28. City & Colour – Little Hell
What a beautiful voice. In the era of falsettos, Dallas Green’s ranks amongst the best. He also ranks amongst best Canadians, right up there with William Shatner. It does not come as a surprise that Little Hell topped the Canadian charts, rightly so. Glad to see it get as high as 28th in America, where the music runs a bit on the dull side. Green has such a handle on how to craft a ballad. It is hard to remember sometimes that City and Colour is a sideproject. Little Hell is Green’s finest work yet as it wins your heart. The combination of Northern Wind and O’Sister back to back is heart wrenching. O’Sister may be 2011’s saddest songs; anyone who has sisters and has seen them in their darkest days knows what Green is talking about.
CHECK OUT: O’Sister
27. Maritime – Human Hearts
Got to give the local guys some love, and they deserve it. With Human Hearts Maritime has finally figured out who they are and what they sound like. The band members are a little older, a little more mature and pull together the great things of their previous efforts to put out a great record. Hearts is in every aspect their strongest and smartest record to date, a hidden gem. Paraphernalia ranks as one of Maritime’s all time best, alongside Annihilation Eyes. Between those and Apple of My Irony Davey von Bohlen has hit his stride. Irony is one of 2011’s strongest written songs. Lyrically, musically, dynamically, you name it, it’s got it.
CHECK OUT: Apple of My Irony
26. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
The world of folk music is getting so full. It probably always has been, but each year more and more is brought to prominence. The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow is a bandwagon I jumped on a little late, and we’re still getting familiar. With tracks like I’ve Got this Friend it’s hard to not imagine being longtime friends. Vocally John Paul White and Joy Williams are meant for each other. Their voices blend so incredibly well we are lucky they met each other. The great drive on the title track is something everyone should be able to stomp along to. Every time a band like this rolls around, I can easily hear my parents’ influence on my taste in music, songs like Forget Me Not remind me of an older era of music, and are just so artfully done, how could you not fall in love?
CHECK OUT: Barton Hollow
Forget Me Not
I’ve Got this Friend
25. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
This album keeps getting pushed down the list. It’s unfortunate that so much great music came out this year, in the best kind of unfortunate that can be. Nine Types of Light rocks and grooves the way you expect out of the experts behind TV on the Radio. The band is full of professionals. They fuse so many types of music from rock to jazz to a cappella to punk to soul to psychedelic the band surely has something for everybody. The strangely named Second Song opens the album right. The single of Will Do is so well done that it’s frightening. Keep Your Heart, Killer Crane and You also standout. Killer Crane is Nine Types of Light’s longest track, but it also creates one of the best arenas of sound on the record. Dynamically speaking it brings you up and fills you with a great horn section with perfectly executed vocals, and hell, adds a banjo – which is unexpected from TVotR – near the end of the song. Could be a Sufjan Stevens song, but is so certainly still a TV on the Radio song. TV on the Radio continually puts out great records, and trust in the fact that they will continue to do so.
CHECK OUT: Will Do
Keep Your Heart
24. Wye Oak – Civilian
This folk-rock band has a hint of dream pop in its DNA. Bridging some of the genre lines make Civilian one of 2011’s best. Wonderful vocals and skilled musicianship keep you listening. The record is on the mellow side but still is able to maintain a strong guitar line through most tracks, and even have you on the edge of your seat. Holy Holy may be one of the greatest songs in 2011. It brings in folk and shoegaze, and I’m sure other bands do this too, but Holy Holy does it so extremely well that this is the song that defines Civilian. The song explodes, so much that you can even hear the monitor clip in the bridge. The builds and falls throughout the song are artfully crafted, and knows how to just give you enough. Follow up track Dogs Eyes is a perfect answer to Holy Holy, brings in a heavier guitar, thinner drumming, sparser music as a whole, and just lets the music speak for itself. Album closer Doubt has one of the best mixes on the album, the levels on the vocals and on the guitar are perfect, Jenn Wasner’s voice flies and her guitar flies right along side it.
CHECK OUT: Holy Holy
23. Cold War Kids – Mine Is Yours
This is not a popular record. I will not apologize for my love of it. The record is catchy as hell. After a stunning debut in 2006 with Robbers & Cowards I have been waiting for a record from Cold War Kids that embodied the same feel. Mine is Yours is a return to form. Coming out in January Yours has had a lot of time to win its way into the brain radio of listeners. Maybe the critics are expecting something different from the band, but tracks like Sensitive Kid, Royal Blue and Skip the Charades, should have anyone singing praises for this band. Perhaps there is a too strong vibe of commerciality on Mine is Yours, and indie snobs tend to reject that. (See Regina Spektor’s Far). Nathan Willett’s voice is something that gives the band such a unique identity, it’s been described as a yelp before (Hang Me Up to Dry) but on Yours Willett finds that his voice can sing too. On Blue Willett allows his voice to go to places it hasn’t before, and it comes out on top. This is an album that is easy to listen to over and over again; each song has a great hook and, sure, has a touch of commerciality. But since when is being radio friendly a problem, if it does not impact your sound? Willett’s voice is most similar on Kid to earlier tracks like Up to Dry and Something Is Not Right With Me. Vocally more “yelpy” and is a bit more sparse in the instrumentation department. The storytelling in Kid is a great track for anyone who has gone through their parents divorcing. Charades is a perfect recounting of a relationship on the fritz, while no one confronts the issue. Every song has lyrics that weave their way into your mind and will catch up with you weeks later, and refuse to leave. CHECK OUT: Skip the Charades
Mine Is Yours
22. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Maybe it’s not fair to put out a two disc set. Maybe it’s great. The set runs just shy of an hour and a half, but they are great counter parts for each other. Starting out strong with Intro and 1.2 hours later ending, a bit strangely with Outro. Midnight City is a song that personifies M83, crazy synthesizers, spacey lyrics and the ability to make you dance where you are standing. Disc two’s standout track is OK Pal which embodies the same spirit as Midnight City. Raconte-Moi Une Histoire has a great voice over from a child, in fact, it’s got such honest beauty in it in only a way M83 has been able to do, record to record to record.
CHECK OUT: OK Pal
Raconte-Moi Une Histoire
21. Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!
2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid set the standard high. Build a Rocket Boys! met those expectations, this Britpop band has not gone off their rocker and try to go American (see Muse), staying true to form and writing wonderful lyrics will keep spurring one of the best bands you love without knowing it throughout the years. Someone once called them the ultimate sleeper band, and they were ultimately correct. The Night Will Always Win is an excellent four minutes of music. Great ambiance and wonderful lyrics spur this to the album’s highlight; perfectly placed smack in the middle of the record gives you something to head towards and come down off of. “I miss your stupid face / I miss your bad advice / I tried to clothe your bones with scratches / Super 8s, exaggerated stories and old tunes/ But never by the moon / But not the state I'm in / The night will always win.” The band is a pro at knowing how to use album dynamics, picking you up from the heartbreak of Always Win you are suddenly spurred into High Ideals which has a lot more sound and is another triumph. They’ve done it before, on the same record, even. From mellow Lippy Kids into sing-along With Love flowing while simultaneously changing mentality on harder rocking Neat Little Rows Elbow knows what they are doing, and will continue to do so.
CHECK OUT: The Night Will Always Win
Neat Little Rows
20. Hotel Lights – Girl Graffiti
So I’m biased. Every single list is. The writer has their own taste. Hotel Lights is one of my favorite bands. Headed by one of my favorite people in the world; Darren Jessee. Given Girl Graffiti’s predecessor Firecracker People selected as record of the year in 2008, coming in at number 20 is a considerable downfall. Jessee takes a bit more of a step down path to the folk world since the much more electronic beginnings in the self titled debut. Girl Graffiti is good; it just needs one more song with some pushing power, and some better mixing. Jessee’s vocals get lost in the mix. Shimmering lights of greatness come on the poppy Dave Sharkey to the Dance Floor and the snarky Ben Folds Five era All My Asshole Friends. The honest truth is that this record doesn’t have the staying power Firecracker People had so much of, but, it is still a great record. When the record first came out it was in constant rotation, but since then it’s fallen off once again. Maybe the bar is too high for Darren to possibly be able to jump? Being on a pedestal sucks, man.
CHECK OUT: All My Asshole Friends
Dave Sharkey to the Dance Floor
Into the Blue
Headboard and Asprin
19. Florence + the Machine – Ceremonials
Florence Welch. That seems like enough. This sophomore release isn’t Lungs, but it sure is fantastic too. This is Welch a bit more orchestral than her debut, and her voice is a bit more restrained. It still is one of the best voices around; the album is more symphonic than pop. Unfortunately, Ceremonials is a bit top heavy. The record begins with the two catchiest tracks the entire album long; Only if For a Night and Shake it Out. Heartlines is also a stand out. The album does not have a song less than four minutes. There are some bonus tracks on certain editions of the record, and Bedroom Hymns (the only song associated with the release less than four minutes) deserved to be on the regular record, one of Welch’s best from 2011, certainly spring for the Deluxe Edition. Great to see her do more, but Ceremonials doesn’t weave its way into your brain as well as Lungs did, outside of Shake it Out and Only if For a Night.
CHECK OUT: Shake it Out
Only if For a Night
18. Eisley – The Valley
This side of Eisley is angry, sarcastic, biting. Yet characteristically they sound sound so pleasantly sweet. (I do not love the reason’s they ended up so upset.) These ladies (and sisters) know how to get right back up on the horse after it has bucked you off. That is inspiring. Ambulance might be one of the year’s best break up songs. Smarter is a tour de force when it comes to “I’m better off without you” songs. “Even though I miss you / I’m thankful / it’s obvious that this run was futile / so put your hands together and clap for the things, the choice you made / cause it’s right / I’m smarter than you.” All with one of the best guitar lines of the year. What human being cannot empathize? Please, Oxygen Mask, and Sad are also notable tracks. This family can rock with the best of them, working as a better female fronted rock band than most. The DuPree family has been through divorces, cheating husbands, breaking up with the label, and weddings in the years between records. The DuPree family knows how to turn life into a song. Sherri and Stacy write some of the most honest lyrics around today, and they put them out there in some of the sweetest packaging.
CHECK OUT: Smarter
17. Portugal. The Man – In the Mountain in the Cloud
There’s always a worry when an indie band moves up in the world of labels. People worried about The Avett Brothers and I and Love and You, people worried about Portugal. The Man with In the Mountain in the Cloud. People really should stop worrying. From time to time it goes askew, but, when a band knows who they are so certainly like the aforementioned, all a bigger label means is better quality sound, and a better budget. Mountain is just that, a better sounding Portugal record. So American is a fantastic way to open up a record. The lyrics these guys write are just spot on. Social commentary has a place in pop music. Whoever said it doesn’t is just clueless. If you cannot identify with the ideas behind Sleep Forever, you have not had a job that has worn you out properly. It would be remiss to not mention the great falsetto vocals that this band has perfected, in a completely different sense than Justin Vernon or Alec Ounsworth. The beats throughout this record are why this record is in my top 20. Honestly this year is far too stacked to have a fair list. This record really is a top 10 sounding record. There are just more than 10 records that are. Artwork also gets a shout out.
CHECK OUT: So American
All Your Light (Times Like These)
16. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
Album opener The Valley is driving. Okkervil River is driving along the road of their careers, and Will Sheff knows where he’s heading, willing to let us hitchhike. I Am Very Far features some of the best orchestral moments we’ve heard from Okkervil River. The evolution of this band has been wonderful to listen to. I Am Very Far blends some of their best sounds into one cohesive record. It is not, perhaps, the best record to introduce a new person to the band through, however for fans around the world it is a welcome inclusion in the discography. Track after track they continue to excel, and perhaps become a bit more abstract as the record goes along. Your Past Life is a Blast should remind fans of some of Okkervil River’s older work. Show Yourself is one of Sheff’s best sung songs. The third track Rider could be the album’s best, it combines the pop sensibilities of 2007’s The Stage Names, the orchestral builds and dark underlings of 2005’s Black Sheep Boy. I Am Very Far is a record of continuance. It’s a record that keeps Okkervil River as forerunners in indie music today. They are an essential inclusion in anyone’s music library. This record, admittedly, is a bit of a sleeper, but it is a sleeper that reminds you why you selected it each time you listen.
CHECK OUT: Rider, Show Yourself
Your Past Life is a Blast
15. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
Annie Clark knows how to rock. There is something about how her voice is just so sweet over that fuzz bass. It’s what makes St Vincent so enticing. The juxtaposition of almost too-sweet vocals with an experimental surrounding is what makes St Vincent so good. Cheerleader is a perfect example. Clark’s lyrics are meaningful and vocally smooth as butter, and accompanied by a buzzing drumbeat and fuzzed to hell guitar. Strange Mercy is much more of an album one must listen through start to finish. Each track lays the ground for listener to be ready for the next track. Cruel has one of the greatest beats of the year. Clark hits being a woman in love on the nail with Neutered Fruit, which highlights some of Strange Mercy’s best sounds and best lyrics. Surgeon is just full of some of the coolest sounding guitar pedals that they’re essentially irresistible, every pass Clark changes it up. This album is much better as a whole than a series of singles, which is becoming rarer in today’s music world.
CHECK OUT; Cheerleader
14.The Antlers – Burst Apart
Surprise find of the year. Opener I Don’t Want Love is so strong that it made me stop what I was doing the first time I heard it (thanks whoever it was on Turntable). Burst Apart is so well crafted as a whole. There is such a great use of falsetto on the record that people may even think there is a woman in the band (see Parentheses). There isn’t. The two strongest tracks on the record may be the bookends, but only by a margin. Each track has its own feel, its own story, and does it incredibly well. The final track of Putting the Dog to Sleep is the closest thing to a power ballad of the 80s in today’s music; it also may house some of the saddest lyrics of the year. The guts of the album, including major highlight of Rolled Together remind the listener of Radiohead to Arcade Fire to Sigur Ros while maintaining its own identity.
CHECK OUT: I Don’t Want Love
Putting the Dog to Sleep
13. The Rosebuds – Loud Planes Fly Low
Loud Planes Fly Low will keep you company in your lonesomeness because it’s lonely too. Album opener Go Ahead set the tone for a record that grows in your heart, it doesn’t have to hit you over the head, it comes to you as it is. Each song is built to lead you into the next. Utilizing both band members’ vocals Kelly Crisp and Ivan Howard is one of the band’s strong points. Kelly’s strongest work comes with Come Visit Me. Ivan’s most heartfelt music comes from Worthwhile an actual letter he wrote to his estranged wife, and band mate, while separated. The album’s rockiest track Woods wins them into anyone’s soul, and deserves so much more attention. The record encompasses the divorce of Ivan and Kelly. The whole situation must be strange. Their divorce, while most likely awful for them, gave the band what it needed to make their best record. Hopefully Ivan and Kelly can maintain their friendship with each other enough to continue to tour and make beautiful music together.
CHECK OUT: Woods
Come Visit Me
12. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
2009’s Album was a masterpiece, and 2011’s Father, Son, Holy Ghost is a welcomed follow up. Album opener Honey Bunny let’s you know what you’re in for; an album that is a love song to the music of 60s and the 70s. Honey Bunny has such a Beach Boys feel to it, if the Beach Boys had grown up in a cult like lead vocalist Christopher Owens did. Beach Boys plus Pink Floyd seems to equal out to Girls. There’s nothing wrong with that. Girls cover their bases when it comes to great tracks; Alex is a great love song, Die is a great rock song (great, great opening guitar riff), but all are eclipsed by the stellar Love Like a River. River calls upon The Beatles’ classic Oh Darling more than anything, and is so wonderfully executed. It also calls upon 60s soul with its back up vocals – piano and vocals alike, even the lyrics are reminiscent of that time. The album works as a great cohesive unit, and it continues to impress on each listen.
CHECK OUT: Love Like a River
11. Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing
The opening four tracks are outstanding. The following seven are also as fantastic. You can hear the John Prine influence all over American Goldwing, or the sheer fact that this genre has more than a few forefathers, but if you can’t hear Prine in Fletcher you’re listening. Lyrically and the execution both seem like a song that could have come out mid-70s. Love the Way You Walk Away may be one of the band’s all-time best, it’s got fantastic drums, beautiful harmonies and a perfect banjo part throughout, they bring in a beautiful harmonica as the song dies down, right before it blows up in finale. Blitzen Trapper’s take on rock-folk is one of the best out there right now. They made a name for themselves with Wild Mountain Nation, and American Goldwing will keep their place in the forefront.
CHECK OUT: Love the Way You Walk Away
Might Find It Cheap
Taking it Easy Too Long
10. Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math
Andy Hull. Hull has seemingly figured it out that his voice is what sells this band, in the same vein as Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), and hell, Florence Welch. This band has grown up. Mean Everything to Nothing was fantastic, and put them on the map with I’ve Got Friends. Simple Math picks up where Everything leaves off, and adds a more developed sound, more contemplative lyrics, and a better blend. Speaking of blend, one of the best things about this band is the blend between heartfelt sung lyrics and diving right into rock anthems, see Pensacola. The album’s closer Leaky Breaks is a seven minute rock triumph. Hull’s lyrics, when at their best, are autobiographical, Breaks, reeks of authenticity; “Yelled about a bunch of things that if you looked / you'd never see for our eternities / and I blamed you for not being / someone you could not be, someone you'll never be”. It is also one of the albums slowest tempo songs, reminding you that Manchester Orchestra is more than just any old alternative rock band, and that good things are still to come.
CHECK OUT: Simple Math
09. The Decemberists – The King is Dead
Colin Meloy is a pro. There isn’t much more that can be said outside of that. On The King is Dead you can tell that Meloy’s songwriting has hit a sweet spot. Dead is a beautiful mix of the musicality of 2009’s Hazards of Love had and the pop sensibilities of 2005’s Picaresque, in short, it’s The Decemberists at their best. The record is smoothly run from Don’t Carry It All through Dear Avery. The one downfall of the record is the lack of length. However after Hazards there’s a beauty in the simplicity. Track after track is certain to remind you, and me, of why you fell in love with The Decemberists all those years ago. Halfway through the album is standout January Hymn. January may be one of Meloy’s finest songs; his voice soars over the plucked guitars and backing vocals. January is one of 2011’s best songs, hands down, in clocking in at a shockingly short three minutes and thirteen seconds, January holds some of Meloy’s best intonation to date. The record makes 2011’s top ten for that reason alone.
CHECK OUT: January Hymn
Don't Carry It All
This Is Why We Fight
08. Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong
From the get go this album has your attention. Their blend of Americana/folk is timeless. Taylor Goldsmith’s voice has such a beautiful feel to it. The lyrics are straight to your heart, and the music lends itself to its ageless feel. From track one, Time Spent in Los Angeles to closer A Little Bit of Everything Dawes created a fantastic follow up record to 2009’s North Hills. Once again a family band (the two vocalists are Goldsmiths), therefore born into what should be easier harmonizing, uses it to a huge advantage. This record is a long lost friend. Everything has some of the most heart wrenching lyrics. It’s fantastic piece of storytelling that explains the heartache of a boy attempting to jump and a police man attempting to talk him down; the story of a homeless man who’s in a food line and recounting his life having passed him by; And a story of an engaged couple who the man is clueless into why the woman is putting in all this work into their future. Everything about this record is a step up from that already great debut record. Every song is a masterpiece. Now that they’ve topped one record, will they be able to top this one? The stakes are frighteningly high. If Girls’ Father, Son, Holy Ghost is a 60s album, Nothing Is Wrong has much more 70s to it.
CHECK OUT: A Little Bit of Everything
Time Spent in Los Angeles
Coming Back to a Man
If I Needed Someone
07. My Morning Jacket – Circuital
Circuital is also another phenomenal record from such a prolific band. Track after track is so meticulously thought out and executed. Album opener Victory Dance is such a wonderful title and beginning mindset of a record that is, in fact, a victory. Holding on to Black Metal has some of the best, and strangest, child choir parts to date. Jim James’ voice is spot on in Wonderful (The Way I Feel). Outta My System is perhaps the most honest song around about life and drugs and the way being a young 20 something impacts your judgment. The 45 minute, ten track, album may not be the longest My Morning Jacket record to date, or have the best artwork, but it could easily be the best crafted. My Morning Jacket is on a roll, knows how to rock and will continue to slay fans wherever this journey takes them. Psychedelic rock plus enough alt-country and their energizing live performances translates so well onto this record that fans off Off the Record and Highly Suspicious should both be pleased (and those of us that love both).
CHECK OUT: Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
Holding On to Black Metal
Outta My System
06. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Robin Pecknold and Justin Vernon should call a truce, and not release records in the same year. Two of this generation’s most soaring and beautiful voices should not have to compete with each other. Helplessness Blues is a great continuance from 2008’s debut Fleet Foxes and the same year’s EP Sun Giant. Helplessness deserves the Grammy nomination for best folk record of the year. The harmonies Fleet Foxes made their name on are still here. The orchestral sounds are still here. Helplessness is just simply chapter two in the story of Fleet Foxes. Helplessness sounds familiar from the very first listen, song after song flows one into another in this fifty minute adventure. Every track is wonderful, but Helplessness Blues is a quintessential Fleet Foxes track, alongside Montezuma. Pecknold’s lyrics are incredibly identifiable; “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique / like a snowflake distinct amongst snowflakes unique in each way you can see / and now after some thinking / I say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me / but I don’t, I don’t know what that will be / I’ll get back to you someday soon, you will see” The album’s title track is a masterpiece in of itself.
CHECK OUT: Helplessness Blues
Montezuma, Battery Kinzie
Someone You’d Admire
The Shrine / An Argument
05. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
Sam Beam. Sam Beam with a full blown horn section. Back up singers. A confident voice. Previous Iron & Wine efforts have been phenomenal. It is hard to imagine Beam putting out a record that was not at this point. Each album in the discography has a distinct feel, Kiss Each Other Clean says that Beam can convince you instead of compel you, and that he is a master at each. Track after track is artfully filled out. Me & Lazarus has such a great beat, which is a crazy thing to say given who the artist is. Beam maintains his artful, and storytelling, lyrics throughout, he just packs a harder punch vocally here. Tree By the River utilizes some of Beam’s smoothest vocals on the album. The harmonies throughout are just gorgeous. Rabbit Will Run holds some of Beam’s strangest lyrics “she blew me a kiss / when they caught me the cuffs got the blood from my wrist/ cause a rabbit will run and a pig has to lay in its piss”, Monkeys Uptown gives it a run for its money “no one likes a beggar slightly over dressed/ trouble comes in funky clothes/ you can always find a razor lying in the road/ and it’s looking like you’d better do what they say / those monkeys uptown told you not to fuck around”. Both are highly successful. Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me is one of Beam’s grooviest songs to date, on a fairly bass heavy, for Iron & Wine, record. Another Creek Drank the Cradle would have been good, but Clean proves that music is an ever growing process. Beam gets to show us another side of him. Even the album’s artwork is in a different style than previous efforts. Beam is not scared to take leaps in to uncharted territory. We cannot be scared to follow him. Everything thus far has been completely positive.
CHECK OUT: Me & Lazarus
Tree By the River
Rabbit Will Run
Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me
04. The Black Keys – El Camino
The Black Keys are incapable of creating bad records. They’re incapable of creating half-assed albums. Each and every album is excellent. El Camino picks up right where Brothers dropped us off and feels like songs you loved on records all the way back to The Big Come Up. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are two incredible musicians, impressing how much noise these two guys make so damn well. It’s a short record, almost twenty minutes shorter than Brothers, but that doesn’t make it less of a record by any means. The record has only been out for a few weeks and it’s hard to not be completely enamored with it. The guitar riff in Lonely Boy, Gold on the Ceiling has one of my favorite sounds on the record, Dead and Gone may be the singalong-ist, the dynamics on Little Black Submarines (and the break down, OH THE BREAK DOWN), the absolute Black Keys purity of Money Maker, is just the first five tracks. Everything about it screams great record. Everything about it puts it up amongst the years’ bests, though; expect to see it on 2012 lists left and right. Most year end lists were written before the album was even dropped.
CHECK OUT: Money Maker
Little Black Submarines
Gold on the Ceiling
Dead and Gone
03. Kevin Devine – Between the Concrete and Clouds
Words cannot describe this record. Kevin Devine is more than a fantastic musician, he’s a fantastic artist. Lyrically and musically and production on this record are just ahead of the game. Every track is better than the last. Record after record this man out does himself. Between the Concrete and Clouds houses some of Devine’s most haunting vocals to date. This is saying something, Devine’s voice and lyrics are what set him apart from his friends of Jesse Lacey and Andy Hull. Everything is much more thought through. Everything is believed just a bit more. Devine as a solo set is much more believed, much more honest, and more brutal in the social commentary aspect. Devine lets his voice raise the standard through The First Hit. 11-17 features a great guitar riff, as Devine moves more and more into electronic guitar (see the title track from 2009’s Brother’s Blood) he continues to develop and continues to excel. Devine is a real songwriter. A true songwriter, which is missing so much in today’s day and age. A songwriter who knows that one isn’t constrained to just plucking out a few songs on the guitar to get there. Devine’s influences are great ones, and the listener can hear it; from Neutral Milk Hotel, to Nirvana, to Elliott Smith, Devine has great taste, and makes great albums.
CHECK OUT; 11-17
Sleepwalking Through My Life
Awake in the Dirt
The First Hit
I Used To Be Someone
02. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart
We can argue about the date this record was really released, but did any of us in the Midwest know who this band was before 2011? Don’t think so. Easily the best new artist to the collection of 2011, and there are some good ones out there this year. Also, if the national debut of The Head and the Heart had come without Rivers and Roads the album would likely not rank nearly as high, being the only track added to the label debut. Rivers and Roads is what music is about. It has the dynamics we all crave, the end of the song is jaw dropping 30 listens later. The vocals give you the goose bumps, and it is surrounded by beautiful track after beautiful track. On first listen Rivers and Roads will sell you into this band and the tracks Lost in My Mind, Down in the Valley, Heaven Go Easy on Me and Sounds Like Hallelujah will cement you into loving this record. (That being said, they all will.) The blend between the voices of Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell and Charity Rose Thielen is special. Charity’s voice gives a certain texture to the vocals, and Josiah and Jonathan’s voices blend so extremely well together, while maintaining personality and dynamics. In fact, The Head and The Heart work best when all three are singing, each voice can lead a song and each voice is also a great harmonizer. A short record, coming in just shy of 40 minutes, these ten songs will win their way into your heart, their blend of folk just on the verge of Americana and great vocals should appeal to anyone. This is a record that everyone should include in their collection.
CHECK OUT: Rivers and Roads
Lost in My Mind
Sounds Like Hallelujah
Down in the Valley
01. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
2008(7, held the self release)’s For Emma, Forever Ago has a remarkable tale and won over the hearts of millions across the globe, including Kanye West and me and those guys over at Pitchfork. It’s hard not to list Bon Iver as the year’s best record. In fact, it’s impossible imagine any other record up top. This collection of songs is very different then those of the debut. Bon Iver’s ten tracks have a fuller sound. It will punch you square in the gut if you’re not paying attention. Resounding drums, horn sections, and the defining vocals all come along on this sophomore record. Vernon was clearly trying to show yet another side of him to us. Opening track Perth starts, most assuredly with the six quietest seconds you can imagine, and builds into a great song filled with drums we’re all not accustomed to. Vernon isn’t playing around, Bon Iver sounds completely different for a reason. Minnesota, WI starts with Vernon’s vocal register starting slow and flying into his now famous falsetto. Lyrically speaking, half the time you cannot understand what Vernon is saying; this is clearly on purpose. Half the time when you can hear what he is singing you don’t even follow the story, but the music of it all, the music of the notes coming out of his mouth included create such an emotion that the story doesn’t matter. It’s the feeling for each and every one of us that is important here, what it means to Vernon isn’t necessarily what it means to you or me. Grammy nominated Holocene is maybe one of the best understood Bon Iver tracks, it is also the album’s longest. It swells and compels repeated listens. With all the sound that wasn’t on Emma, Bon Iver will still be able to bring you to those tears Skinny Love, Wolves and RE: Stacks got us with a few years ago. This man is a genius. Towers contains one of the biggest uses of auto-tune. But it’s not auto-tune to fix that gorgeous voice, it’s there to distort, to add texture, and Towers has plenty of texture. The dynamics that Vernon brings to the table with Bon Iver are unparallel. The man is a master at his craft, and cannot wait for the next step, the next show, the next EP. Hinnom, TX might contain some of the album’s best harmonies. “All this time with your heart in mine, didn’t you edit.” Calgary may be the defining song of Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Vernon’s voice used the most as the thread throughout, it allows for a great pedal infused voice and gorgeous vocals “there’s really nothing to the sound.” And then it brings us right back down as soon as it’s really started going. Vernon keeps everything in check and stays immensely true to himself. Flowing right into the album’s shortest Lisbon, OH which is almost around to say that Bon Iver is more than just a voice. No vocals at all in that minute and a half. It flows seamlessly into Beth / Rest. You could not ask for a better song to close your album out. The most use of vocal distortion on the record opens the track. The horn section is phenomenal. The electric guitar is phenomenal. Some of the highest reaches (probably with the help of autotune) of Vernon’s voice come near the end of this beautiful song and album. It just has an everlasting feel. I hope he goes out there and wins the pants off of all the fellow nominated Grammy bands. He deserves it, his musicianship is outstanding.
CHECK OUT: Calgary