The Top 12 Albums of 2011

Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2012!  As usual, I am a little late getting my best album list out.  The holidays always seem to gobble me up a little (to say nothing of everything I gobbled up during the holidays).  But I’ve spent some good time sweating and anguishing over which albums to include and I think I’m ready to release it.  First, let me just say I love lists.  Especially completely subjective lists about music.  I love reading someone else’s year-end article and having the feeling “Yes!  I agree with that guy!  Why doesn’t anybody else see the same greatness in The Hooters that we do?  Obviously this guy gets it!”  There is a kind of camaraderie that builds from such a moment.  Hopefully, we can build a little camaraderie here today.  At the very least, I hope I expose you to some great albums you have not yet checked out.  This is my first year-end best album list for The Meeting, which makes it feel kind of special.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been doing year-end music lists for more than 25 years, but this somehow seems more important.  I better not screw it up.  Actually, it’s tough to screw up a subjective list, unless I’m not honest with myself.  But you would never know that (although, I am a terrible liar. You would probably know. YOU: “Hey, Dire Straits didn’t make your favorite album of 1985!”.  ME: “You’re right.  I’m lying. My favorite album was by The Hooters.  Sorry.”)

But trust me, these are my favorite albums from 2011. For now, anyway. It could change over time.  I am a big believer in the Hall of Fame five-year rule, where you don’t vote on a player until five years after his career is over.  It gives you better perspective.  It’s the same with music; I will likely feel differently in five years than I do now about certain albums.  Plus, I will probably continue to hear albums from 2011 that I missed the first time around believe they merit a spot on the list, while also reconsidering others (“Did I really say The Hooters made my favorite album in 1985?  I don’t think that’s right.”).  Of  course, at this point, nobody really cares about my favorite album from 2006 (The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America – just sayin’). And I don’t want this to sound like I’m making excuses.  This is my list, baby!  No apologies here.  So let’s make the best of my first impression from 2011, shall we!

Oh yeah – one more thing:  At some point I started making it a top 12 list.  Top ten always seemed to leave out someone really great, and top twenty felt a little pretentious.  So I just kind of settled on 12.  It works for me.  Now let’s get started, moving backwards!

12.  Abandon Kansas Ad Astra Per Aspera

Big, sweeping anthems tailor-made for the kind of rock radio that rarely exists anymore.  This is a very accessible piece of pop/rock.  Bands of this style are a dime a dozen and easily forgettable.    But these songs struck a strong chord with me this year and stuck in my head (in a good way).  .  Jeremy Spring delivers the right kind of passion in his vocals with lyrics that manage to avoid the obvious clichés that tend to plague power pop anthems.  Be sure to check out “Heaven Come My Way”, “A Conversation With The Sky”, “Like It Or Not”, and “Where Else Can We Go?”.

11.  Tom Waits Bad As Me

Tom Waits is hit or miss for me, and more miss than hit.  His voice always sounded a little, um, “well lived”, but round about 1980 he started sounding like he was singing through a Marlboro filter on his microphone.  But I get his appeal.  He is an amazing song writer.  I still adore his 1973 debut album.  But his albums never quite captured me in that same way again.  Until now.  Bad As Me is gritty and dirty and bluesy, just like you’d expect a Waits album to be.  My favorite Waits moments have always been the ones when he displays a softness and likeable vulnerability.   And the one’s featured on Bad As Me are his best in years.  Be sure to check out “Back in the Crowd”, “Last Leaf”, “Kiss Me” and “New Year’s Eve”.

10.  Cults Cults

This album seems noisier than it really is, I think.  It’s also very retro-y and kind of excites me!  Even the quiet songs have an energy behind them that gets in your face. But despite its apparent noisiness, this album still manages to be absolutely gorgeous and surprisingly simple.  The melodies feel like they come from a bygone era, though thata era is not entirely pinpointable.  Which is good, because it leaves the album sounding thoroughly modern.  Great debut.  Be sure to check out “Abducted”, “You Know What I Mean”, “Go Outside”, and “Rave On”.

9.  Allen Clapp and His Orchestra Mixed Greens

This is so thoroughly likeable.  It’s like listening to the sweetest winter candy you’ve ever tasted.  And I don’t even know what winter candy is.  Well, I do now!  The Orange Peels frontman has recorded something so seemingly easy and infatuating.  This is what pop music should sound like and I’m pretty sure it’s the kind of music I would write if I actually wrote music.  But I don’t need to worry about it as long as Clapp keeps doing it for me.  Be sure to check out “All or Nothing”, “Downfall No. 3”, “If The Wind Is Right”, and “The Winter In You”.

8.  Death Cab For Cutie Codes and Keys

It took me a long time to warm up to this album, which is a good thing.  It keeps getting better with each listen and I’m actually thinking I should have rated it higher (we’ll see what happens in five years).  I still don’t know what Death Cab For Cutie means, but I don’t care.  I love their music and this is a great collection of synthed up pop tunes that really feels like an album, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Thata being said, be sure to check out “Stay Young, Go Dancing”, “Codes and keys”, “Some Boys”, and “You Are A Tourist”.

7.  Colin Hay Gathering Mercury

Colin Hay has been quietly continuing to make great music since the breakup of Men at Work in the late 1980’s, but most people just aren’t aware of it.  My favorite concert of this past year was Hay, alone with a guitar, in a small Santa Cruz theatre.  He performed many of the songs from this album and it was truly captivating.  And the material holds up on record.  This album is largely inspired by the passing of his father which adds and endearing intimacy.  Be sure to check out “Gathering Mercury”, “Dear Father”, “Send Somebody”, and “Family Man”.

6.  Coldplay Mylo Xyloto

I’m a little surprised I ranked this so high, but I just keep returning to this album with a bad name.  The five-year rule may push this down a little.  Or maybe not.  I still can’t figure out how I feel about Coldplay.  But I do know there is enough on this album that is just so easy to like, and I can just put the album on and go about my business without worrying about a bunch of duds bumming out my groove.  Be sure to check out “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall”, “Us Against The World”, “Paradise”, and “Charlie Brown”.

5.  We Are Augustines Rise Ye Sunken Ships

First of all, “Book of James” might be my favorite song of the year.  There is so much going on with it that I hear something new in each listen.  But the entire album follows that song’s pattern of desperate and urgent vocals and lyrics combined with steady and pulsing rhythms.  I was completely surprised by this album.  Listening to it felt like I was being allowed into someone’s personal life, but as a trusted friend and not as a barely tolerated creeper.  There is something magical going on here.  More people should be aware of this album.  Be sure to check out “Book of James”, “Chapel Song”, “Juarez”, and “Patten State Hospital”.

4.  Gungor Ghosts Upon The Earth

Easily the best album this group has put out yet.  Michael Gungor’s collective creates worship music that sounds like nothing else in this genre, which is a GREAT thing.  The best moments on Ghosts Upon the Earth come when Gungor’s wife Lisa is featured.  She is an absolute delight to listen to.  There is no “Beautiful Things” on this album, but it so strong a collection that it deserves to be listened to over and over, with no distraction.  Close your eyes or turn out the lights, and then turn this up and let it soak into your soul.  Be sure to check out “Let There Be”, “The Fall”, “This Is Not The End”, and “Brother Moon”.

3.  Foster The People Torches

Impossibly good pop.  By now, even your grandma has found herself involuntarily singing about what she is going to do to those kids with the pumped up kicks.  But every track on this album pops and jumps and soars and just feels good. Some of it isunexpectedly dark, but that only seems to increase my love for this album!  Never before has a lyric like “I took a sip of something poison but I’ll hold on tight” sounded so fist-pumpingly hopeful! Everything here is great, but be sure to check out “Helena Beat”, “Pumped Up Kicks”, “Waste”, “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)”.

2.  Fitz and The Tantrums Pickin’ Up The Pieces

I found these guys early in 2011 and I have continued to come back to this album with gleeful regularity.  Evoking the sounds of Stax and Motown, this L.A. based band has created an exciting and, despite its influences, unique sound this year.  The often bitter tone of the lyrics don’t change the fact that this is an upbeat collection of jump-up-and-down-ers.  The sharing of vocals by Fitz with Noelle Scaggs further increases the appeal of the band’s sound.  This is soul music that deeply excites me.  Be sure to check out “MoneyGrabber”, “Breakin’ The chains of Love”, “L.O.V.”, and “Don’t Gotta Work It Out”.

1.  Glen Campbell Ghost on the Canvas

I know I am alone here, but I don’t care.  This was an easy selection for me.  I believe this album was quickly dismissed by most simply because it’s 75-year-old Glen Campbell.  But this is a masterpiece.  And knowing it was recorded with the backdrop of Campbell’s Alzheimer diagnosis makes it that much more compelling.  That real life drama absolutely influences the quality of this art.  This is a deeply heartfelt album, with songs that resonate emotionally.  Musically, Ghost on the Canvas creates a beautiful sound scape that, along the way, manages to pay tribute to Campbell’s legendary career without simply rehashing old material.  The tributes are subtle and they enhance, not distract from, the listening experience.   This is a complete album.  the last one Campbell ever plans to make.  What a great way to close out a career.  Be sure to check out “Your Amazing Grace”, “Ghost on the Canvas”, “Hold on Hope” and “Strong”.

And now, in alphabetical order by artist, here are a bunch of honorable mentions:

Adele, 21 – Wow.  This probably should have been in my top 12.   Let’s call it a baker’s dozen.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver – I probably need to spend a little more time with this one, but do like it a lot.

Dawes, Nothing Is Wrong – This is a solid album of west coast folk rock that produced one of my favorite songs this year, “Time Spent In Los Angeles”.

Dropkick Murphys, Going Out In Style – These guys are always reliable.  Another strong effort from these Boston boys.  And bonus points for the Springsteen guest appearance.

Dum Dum Girsl, Only In Dreams – Chick surf rock.  Works for me!

Katie Herzig, The Waking Sleep – This a delightful pop record that I believe will continue to grow on me more.

My Morning Jacket, Circuital – I was really surprised that this didn’t make the cut.  There are some GREAT songs on this album.  Five years…

Never Shout Never, Time Travel – Cool and introspective and kind of proggy at times, this is delightful synthpop.

Nicole Atkins, Mondo Amore – I LOVED her first album and wanted to like this so much more, but just could never quite get there.  Her torchy moments continue to be her best.

Okkervil River, I Am Very Far – This is another one I kind of expected to end up in my top 12.  Artistically, this is definitely an “album”.

Stories in Braille, Here Is Love – A refreshing, alterno-take on some familiar modern worship songs.

Wilco, The Whole Love – Almost made the cut, if only for the amazing “One Sunday Morning”, which may be my favorite song of the year.

Alright, there is my list.  I’d love to hear what you think and what you favorites were that I missed.  Happy New Year!

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~ by themattmorrisshow on January 2, 2012.

2 Responses to “The Top 12 Albums of 2011”

  1. Matt – great list. good to know that Foster the people have more good songs besides kicks.

    One album i really liked this year was Tired Pony’s “The Place we Ran From” I actually think it may have been 2010 but it was 2011 for me 🙂

    Happy new year to you guys.

    • Thanks Phil! The Tired Pony album was 2010, but I never really listened to it. But “Dead American Writers” was one of my favorite songs last year. I need to go back and listen to the album. Happy New Year, Phil!

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