For better or worse, we live in a world of “Best of the Year” lists and this week Pop Bitez is bringing you the first of a few of ours.
Before we get into my picks for the year I thought I’d take a moment to explain the basic criteria for my choices and their respective rankings, it’s really fairly simple. The placement of this year’s Pop Bitez Top 25 Albums of 2011 is based solely on how often I played each of these albums all the way through, in their entirety, at one time. When you consider there are 365 days in a year and I am hearing a number of new albums that is almost equal to those days, you begin to understand how major each of the choices on this list are for me.
Some of these albums you will have seen included on many of the other lists on various music sites and publications, some not so much. To be honest there are a handful of albums included on almost ALL of those lists that you won’t be finding here. Radiohead, Wilco and Adele to name but a few. For the record, I found the Wilco and Radiohead releases disappointing and not at all up to the standards established with their previous albums, as for Adele, I don’t dislike her or the album but, in all honesty, I didn’t play it more than once or twice. For me Adele is a bit overrated and I personally don’t find a whole lot of there there. I consider Adele, as I did Amy Winehouse, an “Emperor’s New Clothes” act, the novelty of everything old being new again is often lost on me, though I will concede, it’s really ALL been done before and there are definitely a few derivative acts on my list this year.
You’ll notice there are no music clips or soundbites with the list this time around, rest assured I have no intention of leaving you high and dry, I’ve simply decided to include them all on a Special “Extended” Edition of the Pop Bitez PopCast. Cuts from all 25 of these albums can be heard on this week’s PopCast by clicking here.
And with that, let’s get this party started Popsters!
25. I Know This Now– Timothy Nelson & The Infidels
Easily one of the best pop records of 2011. The guitars jangle, the layered harmonies soar and the beat goes on. This 5 piece folk & roll band are originally from Perth, Australia and, as much as I try to avoid this particular comparison at all costs, I have to say it this time; if The Beatles had come from Down Under they might have sounded a lot like Timothy Nelson & The Infidels. There, I said it, for the first and last time, I’m not proud, it’s lazy journalism really but I’ve got 25 of these to get through, forgive me, it won’t happen again, I promise.
24. Get Out The Lotion– Low Cut Connie
First, I have to say, this is my second favorite album title of the year, it promises humor and fun and it delivers big time. Get Out The Lotion is packed with instantly memorable melodies and funny, smart lyrics, as a favorite example; “Goin’ out tonight, goin’ out dancin’, gonna put stains on everything..” This album is as much fun as you’re likely to have with your clothes on this year. The lotion, of course, as always, is optional.
23. I Don’t Want To Be An Emperor– Hugo Kant
French Multi-instrumentalist Hugo Kant lays down some tasty grooves on the excellent I Don’t Want To Be An Emperor, a solid collection of instrumentals perfect for late night drives in the city. Sometimes it’s just cool to hear the music and mixing without all the posturing and vocal pollution.
22. Alive In Us– Darkness Falls
From start to finish this is dreamy synth-pop at it’s finest. It’s moody, spacey electronic fun, perfect for an indie film soundtrack about alienated youths making out in their parent’s basement. Danish rockers Josephine Philip and Ina know their way around the battlefield of broken hearts and are more than happy to give us a personal tour of it’s darkest corners, there is great pleasure in their pain and we are the lucky beneficiaries. If the prominent color in your closet is black, this one is for you.
21. No One Listens To The Band Anymore– The Damnwells
The title of this album is a big misnomer, we are in fact listening and we love it. It’s roots rock from a Brooklyn band that sounds as if they grew up on a steady diet of the “Laurel Canyon Sound”. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sounded like this, once, a few decades ago. There aren’t many embracing this sound these days and, in 2011, no one really captured that twang and roll quite like The Damnwells.
20. No Time For Dreaming– Charles Bradley
File this one under: “Baby Makin’ Music”. Bradley is the real deal with a back story that music publicists dream about. He was a chef in California for 20 years before moving to New York City and taking work as a handyman. At night, he lived out his musical dreams performing James Brown routines under the name “Black Velvet” at various clubs in Brooklyn. It was there that the representatives of Daptone Records discovered Bradley and invited him into the studio to make, what I believe is, one of the most authentic modern soul records of the year. Turn down the lights, turn up the stereo and enjoy the groove with the one you love.
19. Rome– Danger Mouse
Throughout his career, Brian Joseph Burton AKA Danger Mouse has collaborated with everyone from Cee Lo Green to David Lynch, and his musical aptitude is seemingly peerless as he continues to experiment with an amazingly diverse range of musical styles. Danger Mouse actually appeared on our list twice last year, first with his band Broken Bells and second with his expert producing duties on The Black Keys’ album Brothers. No surprise, he’s on our list twice this year as well. First up is the album Rome, a dreamy Spaghetti Western/ pop collaboration with Italian composer Daniele Luppi, featuring trippy organs, twanging guitars and the vocal talents of Jack White and Norah Jones. Like the best albums on this year’s list, it’s hard to compare this to anything or anyone you’ve heard before. If you’re unfamiliar you must seek this one out, you won’t be disappointed.
18. When Animals Stare– The Black Ghosts
Two musicians find each other on the internet, form a band and proceed to record one of the best electronic pop albums of the year. I love the energy of this album and the spacey exploration of soundscapes. This is another British band that has yet to break through in the states but I expect that all to change in the very near future. Look for The Black Ghosts to be making an even bigger noise in 2012.
17. Ghost On The Canvas– Glen Campbell
Music legend Glen Campbell was diagnosed last year with the early stages of Alzheimer’s and almost immediately headed into the studio to record what would be his last album, the result is Ghost On The Canvas, a reflective but upbeat farewell and love letter to his fans who have stayed with him through all of his ups and downs these many, many years. Unlike Johnny Cash’s final recordings, Glen wasn’t going to be satisfied saying goodbye with a somber collection of cover songs but instead chose to end on an almost positive note, with a strong list of tunes that look back as much as they look forward into his unknown. The production is sharp as is the musicianship and it’s a perfect ending to a long and rewarding career both for Campbell and for us. I can’t imagine how Glen must feel at this point but I sincerely hope he’s proud of this album, he certainly should be, it’s one of his absolute best.
16. Blood Pressures– The Kills
It’s gritty, it’s sexy, it’s The Kills’ Blood Pressures. Alison Mosshart’s croon has never sounded better and guitarist Jamie Hince is at the top of his game. It’s a prefect soundtrack for druggin’ and drinkin’ …(but don’t kids, that stuff is dangerous…and expensive, you can’t afford it, especially these days, trust me.) Just turn this one up and trip clean, it’s easier than you might think, especially with this sonically delicious album.
15. Stone Rollin’– Raphael Saadiq
This is another album on this year’s list packed with authentic modern soul but, unlike the previously mentioned No Time For Dreaming from Charles Bradley, this is the album you want to play before you turn the lights down. This one is more about the dance and sweat that eventually leads to the other. Saadiq’s Stone Rollin’ is a bit of a Motown history lesson, spanning styles that recall the best of Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and, with the album’s closing track, a little Stevie Wonder from his Songs in the Key of Life days. Be sure to listen for the album’s hidden track that is sure to make Prince purple with envy.
14. Machine Dreams– Little Dragon
I’ve said it before, I’m going to say it again, the Swedes know their electronic pop! Being a child of the 80s, I have to say, I’m really glad the synths are back and in such creative and capable hands. Little Dragon’s Machine Dreams is everything the title suggests and more. If MTV still played music videos these guys would have been huge this year, as it is, we have to surf the net to find the good stuff these days and this one definitely qualifies as “the good stuff”.
13. Scandalous– Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears
In many ways Scandalous is the album James Brown forgot to make, a ripping jam but, unlike the other soul records included on this year’s list, this one is exploring the history of the Texas R & B sound. With the follow up to their impressive debut album, Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is, Black Joe Lewis and his bandmates have a much more confident sound this time around and are less derivative and more focused on their sophomore release. Scandalous is a perfect example of what can happen when Austin meets Motown, think blue velvet pants tucked into cowboy boots.
12. Hot Sauce Committee Pt.2– Beastie Boys
The Beastie’s are back and prove they still throw a party better than most of the pretenders half their age. This latest release is a perfect addition to the Boy’s catalog of experimental Rap/ Rock. The fight for the right to party is still an ongoing battle and Brooklyn is still representing! There really isn’t an obvious radio friendly track on this one and God bless them for that, the boys seem more interested in making music these days than chasing the charts, which makes this excellent album all the sweeter and more daring. Rock on Beasties!
11. The King is Dead– The Decemberists
More than one critic this year compared the new Decemberists’ album to R.E.M., all I can say is, if this is true, The King is Dead is more “R.E.M.” than that band has been in over two decades. True, there is no denying a slight influence but it would be a mistake to shrug this one off as a derivative tribute to the now retired band from Athens, Ga. As far as folk rock albums go this year, this was easily the best of the bunch. The King is Dead, R.E.M. is dead, long live The Decemberists!
10. Will The Guns Come Out– Hanni El Khatib
Hanni El Khatib is best known in California’s skateboard fashion world as a designer for the HUF label but, based on the success of his debut album Will The Guns Come Up, that could all be changing someday soon. It’s a noisy, gritty affair complete with grinding guitars and a thumping rythm section and includes one of the most original covers of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel I think I’ve ever heard. Khatib has said his album is for anyone who has ever been shot or hit by a train, thankfully, thus far, I’ve experienced neither, but I still love this one, I’m guessing you will too, seek it out.
9. Barton Hollow– The Civil Wars
The Civil Wars‘ debut album is slightly reminiscent of the excellent Robert Plant/ Alison Krause collaboration Raising Sand from a few years back. Not quite folk, not quite country, not quite rock but, more or less, a hybrid of the three. The songwriting and harmonies on this debut album are some of the strongest I’ve heard this year and definitely have me eagerly awaiting their follow up.
8. Any Man in America– Blue October
Once again, Blue October’s lead singer and primary songwriter Justin Furstenfeld’s pain is our gain. Any Man in America is another deeply personal collection of songs that come straight from Furstenfeld’s bruised heart and troubled head and is a solid addition to the band’s catalog of rock and roll confessionals. The bulk of the material deals in large part with Furstenfeld’s divorce and, most importantly, the bitter custody battle that is still ongoing. It’s a sad story , told with great passion, eloquence and hope. As a band, Blue October are majorly underrated, their work is maturing quite nicely and, if this album is any indication, their best days are surely still to come.
7. Suck it and See– Arctic Monkeys
And here we have my number one favorite album title of 2011, I think I’m going to need to buy the t-shirt when I see them on tour with The Black Keys in 2012, which promises to be the biggest MUST SEE tour of next year. The Arctic Monkey’s are everything we’ve come to expect from authentic U.K. rock and roll, strong melodies, bluesy guitars and danceable beats and, in 2011, no one from across the pond did it better.
6. Wounded Rhymes– Lykee Li
Judging from the lyrics and the album’s title, Lykke Li is a troubled girl. That being said, she has an incredible talent for making her psychosis incredibly sexy and groovy. The dark tribal beats that are featured on many of the album’s best tracks make it nearly impossible to resist getting up out of your chair and shaking your ass. “Like a shot gun, needs an outcome, I’m your prostitute, you’re gonna get some…“, damn girl, you just love teasing the bad boys, don’t ya? No worries, we love to be teased.
5. This Train– Chrysta Bell
Chrysta Bell‘s collaboration with David Lynch was over a decade in the making and, while I have enjoyed many of Lynch’s previous musical experiments with everyone from Trent Reznor to Julee Cruise, This Train is easily his absolute best team up yet. The time and care Chrysta Bell and Lynch put into creating this collection of songs was well worth it. Bell’s dark alto is a perfect match for Lynch’s haunting poetry and the results often border on the profound. The album lives somewhere in that place between the sexual and the spiritual and is often breathtaking in it’s dark beauty. Have you ever had a climax so powerful it moved you to tears? Set that moment to music and you’ve got Chrysta Bell’s This Train.
4. SUPERMEGAFANTASTIC– IAMDYNAMITE
IAMDYNAMITE‘s debut album was released in early September of this year but if you didn’t get it then you’re going to have to wait until March of 2012 when it will receive a re-release with a bigger push from a major label, that’s no surprise to those who have already heard it and I fully expect to see this one on several best of 2012 lists NEXT December. So, guess what Spin, Rolling Stone and Paste? I’ve scooped your asses with this one! The album was produced by Matt Noveskey, member of the previously mentioned Blue October, and he smartly handles this freshman release with one ear in the garage and the other at the show. It’s a raw and visceral collection of instantly infectious rock and roll, a tight, high energy 30 minute ride that you’ll feel compelled to repeat many times over. SUPERMEGAFANTASTIC is the best debut album I’ve heard in a long time. Play it loud and play it often!
3. Bad As Me– Tom Waits
Tom has had us waiting (bad pun intended) 7 years for this album and, man, was it ever worth it! With Bad As Me Waits has turned down the experimental a bit and turned up the melodic which, at this point in his career, is the right choice. Only one song on the entire album goes slightly over the four minute mark which makes this one a perfect hit and run collection of instant Waits classics. I own everything the man has ever recorded and this is a very welcome addition to his stunning catalog, (and probably my favorite in over a decade.)
2. El Camino– The Black Keys
Leave it to The Black Keys to wait until the last month of the year to release one of the best albums of 2011, they made it just under the wire. With Danger Mouse returning to his producing talents, the boys from Akron, Ohio deliver another solid rock and roll album that may actually be their best yet, which is actually something I doubted was possible after last year’s career high release, Brothers. It’s a rare thing to see a band repeatedly top itself with every new release but, so far, so amazing. I was so close to giving this my number one spot but, in the end, I surrendered to the power of the Foo!
1. Wasting Light– Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl and his band recorded this one much in the same way they began so many years ago, which is to say in a garage on analog tape. No click tracks, no digital layering, just hard core rock and roll, 100% old school. Wasting Light reunited Grohl with legendary producer Butch Vig, best known for his work on Nirvana’s seminal classic Never mind. Grohl’s guest list on this one includes a vast and varied cast of legends including Bob Mould, Fee Waybill and, his former Nirvana band mate, Krist Novoselic. Let this album be a testament to all the other bands out there who think they need to throw money around a studio to get a great album, sometimes all you need to do is just get back to the garage. This is the album that establishes the Foo Fighters, once and for all, as a legendary rock band for the ages.
* Don’t forget Popsters you can hear selections from ALL 25 albums on this week’s Pop Bitez PopCast! Until next time, Cheers!