2011 and I’m still on a high. Last year, I regained footing with a new job by year’s end. This year I’ve continued to excel in it, established myself in the nonprofit arts sector, got engaged and launched my own business venture. To top it off, I’m now a contributor for the little blog site that could, Popblerd! In any case, they make up K-Box’s Top 11 for 2011… love it or leave it.
Just missed the cut: Thrice, Major-Minor (Vagrant). What turns out to be the band’s swan song (as “hiatuses” go) after 13 years together – is one of their most focused efforts to date. Some great songs on this record.
11. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Belong (Slumberland): Fantastic indie-hipster album from a band that can’t decide whether they want to sound more like Stone Roses or Smashing Pumpkins. The results are a fine dish of fuzz-drenched disaffected pop. Favorite tracks: “Belong” and the Cheap Trick nod “Even in Dreams”.
10. Wednesday 13, Calling All Corpses (Wednesday 13, LLC): This is my nod to “I love rock n’ roll in all its simplicity.” NO parlor tricks (unless you’re counting funeral parlors), no hidden gimmicks (though there is a natural level of gimmickry in the very genre this comes from), stripped down; it’s just a damn good big dumb rock record. Cheers to that.
9. Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee, Vol.2 (Parlophone): Don’t call it a comeback. But what you can call it is perhaps the Beasties’ best album to date. Maybe that’s not good enough to land in my Top 5 of the year, but it definitely fits in my top 10. Great beats and fantastic lyrics. Lyric: “If you feelin’ chilly/I’ma bring you a shawl…”) (“Ok.”)
8. Raveonettes, Rave in the Grave (VICE): Finally, on their fifth album, the Raveonettes embrace their inner Goth and create an album that’s just as much about dark atmospherics and keys as it is distortion. Cases in point: “Apparitions,” followed immediately by the surfer lullaby “Summer Moon”.
7. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar): What can really be said about an artist that was critically lauded before ever entering my ears? It’ll end up on a shitload of year-end lists and he’ll probably ride some Grammy love next year in renewed interest for the album. The more time I spend with it, though, the nicest thing I can say about it is that it’s “nice”. Were there better albums that deserved to be in my Top 10 this year? No. There’s still a lot of talent but where I wish Iron & Wine wouldn’t progress so far away from the first few albums and EP’s, I’m still looking forward to further progression from this troupe.
6. The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch): The Keys finally hit their stride on this one. Once again they re-team with Danger Mouse – but this time, Dan and Patrick truly transition the incredibly straightforward promise of Rubber Factory into a pop crossover rock framework that got lost in some artistic dabbling on Attack & Release and was honed by the duo, but not fully realized on Brothers.
5. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Roc-A-Fella): Hov and ‘Ye finally lay down an album’s worth of tracks that’s every bit as golden as the album cover. If popular rap in 2011 can be timeless, this is as close as it gets. Probably one of my favorite rap albums ever – and that’s saying something, for whatever it’s worth. Lyric: “Sunglasses and Advil/last night was mad real…” (“Ni**as in Paris”)
4. Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire (Capitol): R.A.’s first proper studio work in three (!) years after the dissolution of the Cardinals sees him right in the middle of his comfort zone. Album standouts include “C’mon,” “Invisible Riverside,” and the single “Lucky Now”.
3. Cold War Kids, Mine Is Yours (Interscope): For CWK purist fans that dug the weirdness of the 1st two albums, you’re probably not spinning this disc as the year winds down. For those of us who believed in the potential this band had with the right producer in making a crossover to more fertile mainstream ground, this is the culmination of those hopes. Jacknife Lee transformed Kings of Leon and Caleb Followill from a cotton-mouthed southern act without much to say and hipster cred into an arena act with some great musical chops. That success continues here.
2. Ben Harper, Give ‘Till It’s Gone (Virgin): Harper’s last two albums have been with three lads from Texas backing him. They’re called the Relentless7. To be quite honest, these two albums (this year’s Give and last year’s White Lies) are the most energized Harper has been since Burn to Shine. I am enamored with the great songs on this record. From the ballads (“Feel Love”) to the smoldering (“I Will Not Be Broken” and “Do It For You, Do It For Us”) to classic rockers (“Don’t Give Up On Me Now” and “Clearly Severely”) there’s both little margin and actual error here. Lyric: ‘’It’s not what we do/but what we do with what we feel/It takes all you have to stare it down/and whisper ‘Devil, no deal.’” (“Don’t Give Up On Me Now”)
1. Repeater, We Walk From Safety (unsigned): For a band to so completely throw Joy Division, the Cure and early U2 into a blender and completely get it right is a joyous thing. The band creates a raw emotional backdrop to Steve Krolikowski’s vocals which possess an otherworldly tortured bend to them. With all due respect, it’s Interpol without the monotone and the canvas is wide open. Ross Robinson found these guys on MySpace and decided to work with them. The band has no label. These are interesting times in music again where people have to find gems like these in the ethers of the internet as opposed to crate diving at the local record store. Lyric: “Hands tied/to taste the void/A face escaped/to the other side/Diamonds fall/from moisten lips/open up /and let the water in/Hands tied/to taste the void/a face escaped/to the other side/Diamonds fall/from your starving mouth/scattered up and faded out…” (“Black and Selfish Love”)
Best of The Rest:
Thursday, No Devolucion
Blindside, With Shivering Hearts…
Blue October, Any Man in America
Bush, Sea of Memories
Chevelle, Hats off to the Bull
City & Colour, Little Hell
Fair to Midland, Arrows & Anchors
William Fitzsimmons, Gold in the Shadow
Foo Fighters, Wasting Light
RHCP, I’m With You
The Kills, Blood Pressures
Incubus, If Not Now, When?
Mates of State, Palomino
Water & Colors, Light Years
Best Songs of the Year (No Order):
Bush, “All My Life”
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, “Belong”
Jay-Z & Kanye West, “No Church in the Wild”
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie”
Snow Patrol, “Called Out In the Dark”
Thursday, “A Gun in the First Act”
Raveonettes, “War in Heaven”
Bon Iver, “Towers”
Cold War Kids, “Mine is Yours”
Beastie Boys ft. Santigold, “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win”
Ryan Adams, “Lucky Now”
Raphael Saadiq, “Stone Rollin’”
Repeater, “Black & Selfish Love”
The Black Keys, “Little Black Submarines”
Staind, “Eyes Wide Open”
Cold, “What Happens Now”
Wednesday 13, “We All Die”
William Fitzsimmons, “Fade and Then Return”
City & Colour, “Grand Optimist”
Ben Harper, “I Will Not Be Broken”
Biggest Disappointments/Worst Albums:
1. Lady Gaga, Born This Way
2. Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean
3. Dredg, Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy