My Top 10 Favorite Albums in 2011

I’m hesitant to call this a “best of the year” list, because best is a very subject term. So, here are my favorites:

10)Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
They still got it. No lie. I’ve seen enough live performances from this album to know that NO one can rock a room like the Foos. “Walk” is likely one of the best mainstream rock songs that came out this year, and Dave Grohl & co. continue to make their messages known and connect with society. Even thought “Wasting Light” may not have the staying power of their other catalog titles, the band still sure does.

9)Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math
A band we hadn’t heard from in a minute came back with power, with perspective and punch. Take a listen to the title track, or “Apprehension” and you’ll see that Andy Hull pours out his heart like it’s made of cheap vodka. True, that’s the biographical text we’ve come to know and love from this band, but this time around in it’s a new glaze. Emo chords are traded in for darker, twisted sounds, and there’s as much layering as there is stripped-down, laid-bare musings.

8)The Dangerous Summer – War Paint
This band captured my heart early in the year when I discovered “Reach for the Sun,” and when their sophomore “War Paint” came out, the band quickly became the soundtrack to my summer. Loss, redemption, struggle, rinse, repeat. The title track is a rallying call to rise above, “Work in Progress” is a retreat from the world. Album closer “Waves” could make you conquer the world, while reminding your loved ones to do the same.

7)Bon Iver – Bon Iver
It had been too long since “For Emma, Forever Ago” and we needed to hear from Bon Iver again. We did, this fall, and the self-titled album captures a place that feels snowy, warm, effervescent. “Minnesota, WI” is just one example of how production should enhance instrumentation, not bury it, and “Towers” clips along almost like an Old West saloon song, maybe one that mated with binary. I dig the style.

6) The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
I discovered the Welch trio on Pandora around the same time this album came out and holy shit was I blown away. Shoegazey rock? Big guitars? Chick singer? Count me in! Don’t let the radio edit of “Whirring” fool you – these guys know their riffs, they know their layers, and they know how to blow your mind.

5)Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire
One of my most-anticipated albums of 2011, and it didn’t let me down a drop. Ryan is back with a pillow-soft smile, but the beat-up, broke-down desperation lives on. “Lucky Now” will hopefully be played on Grey’s Anatomy when the second half of this season airs. If I’m lucky. Songs like “Dirty Rain,” “Save Me” and the title track show that Ryan Adams is a master of the ballad formula in its truest sense, and with this album he’s shown us no age, illness, marriage or critique will keep him from developing his talents.

4)Wilco – The Whole Love
Wilco is an awesome band. We knew this, we knew this because of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” we knew this because of “Sky Blue Sky” but Jeff Tweedy continues to come up with some of the catchiest, sly-ist little songs I’ve ever heard. “Born Alone” is the type of song that makes me want to dye my hair dirty blonde, wear daisies behind my ears and hop in a pick-up owned by a guy with just the right amount of stubble on his cheeks. This album should be enough to make this band triumphantly mainstream, but for some reason I still feel like they are kind of under everyone’s radar. Maybe that’s where they want to be.

3)The Decemberists – The King is Dead
“Don’t Carry it All” is, in my opinion, the song that sums up where we need to go as a society. And for that, I give them extreme props. While it’s lacking a strict storyline, you know what this record is about all the same and I think that’s a strength. Instead of a script, characters and drama, we have scenes and messages. I also know that “Down by the Water” was overplayed like a motherfucker on indie radio, so we can only assume that means The Decemberists, with this release, are cemented in indie history. Applause.

2)Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
“What good is it to sing helplessness blues?/Why should I wait for anyone else?” If you’re looking for political philosophy musings as you yearn for an apple orchard to run through, Fleet Foxes will certainly soothe your desires. This is a band who I respected and enjoyed, and that’s only been furthered by this record. It rises, peaks and falls like an orchestra might, uncovering safeness in smallness and boldness in triumph.

1)The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing
Just when I thought I was maturing out of pop punk, The Wonder Years came along and gave me a reason to stay. I was familiar with a few songs from their last release, “The Upsides,” and picked up “Suburbia” on a whim ’cause I liked the title. I am a little amazed at the story they’ve woven through this record. You can see the sad town, you can feel the bitter winter, and you can hear the kids partying in backyards late at night. The opening track is an anthem for recovery from the toughest falls, the longest stretches of self-deprecating doubt. “And Now I’m Nothing” is acceptance, surrender to the now and the way it is. In between, “I Won’t Say the Lord’s Prayer” is an atheist seeking not answers but apathy, and “I’ve Given You All” is my favorite song I’ve ever heard about a homeless man. If you were about to write off the genre, don’t, because the honesty is still there. This is the record for those who want to get out of this town and start again, even if there’s no way out yet.

Honorable mentions to the following albums which I enjoy but have not listened to thoroughly enough to rank against the others: The Black Keys – El Camino; The Civil Wars – Barton Hallow; Laura Marling – A Creature I Do Not Know; Dia Frampton – Red.

EDIT: Aw shit I forgot about Taking Back Sunday. With John Nolan! I missed them in concert ’cause my car died and I was kind of homeless for a couple days. But good record, blasted it many times on 5 and 20 in Canandaigua.

EDIT 2: Iron and Wine! I suck at this.