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Matthew Tsai

Written by: Matthew Tsai (12/07/11)
2011 has definitely been the weirdest year by far for my taste in music. I started the year entrenched in grizzly, gravelly punk rock and ended the year on a gigantic alt-country kick. That said, there has been a lot of good music this year that won't make the following list (which I've somehow squeezed down to 10 slots). If you haven't, do yourself a favor and check out the albums from City of Ships, Andy Zipf, Social Distortion, Joshua, All Get Out, Chuck Ragan, Have Nots, The Roots and Denison Witmer that came out this year. Want to be ahead of the curve? Hit up John Amadon, Sassparilla and We're Not Afraid. All of them deserve honorable mentions for putting out great albums in 2011, and that's only scratching the surface of this year's haul. But with that said, there's no way I could devote the time and attention needed to properly applaud every last one of them. So I've decided to focus on 10 exceptionally good ones instead. See below, and see you in 2012. Remember, you can always follow me on Twitter @the_tsai_guy.

2011's Top 10

1. Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
This could be here for its lyrics alone. It's cemented by the fact that it's also beautifully performed. Taylor Goldsmith strung some amazing sentences together (if you need proof, read the lyrics to "A Little Bit of Everything") and knocked it clear out of the park. Brilliant, brilliant album.

2. Portugal. The Man - In the Mountain In the Cloud

They went in a simpler and more straightforward route and churned out gold as usual. "So American" and "Everything You See" were two of the catchiest as well as cinematic songs I laid ears on in 2011, and "Sleep Forever" was undoubtedly one of the best closers of the year. The chord progressions on this album were glorious.

3. Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing
This got flack for being too derivative after how progressive Destroyer of the Void was, but it doesn't bother me at all. I've had this album on repeat for the last few weeks. It's just a big, American rock'n'roll album that could care less what you think. The title track has to be up there on the year's best songs list. So, so good.

4. Needtobreathe - The Reckoning
It sounds a lot like Kings of Leon but really holds its own. Great melodies, strong, thick sound, inspiring faith-filled lyrics - the perfect fall album. "Drive All Night," the title track and "Angel At My Door" were clear standouts. This was probably my most-played album of 2011, which is probably why I'm completely burnt out on it now. But it was a heck of an album while it lasted.

5. Red City Radio - The Dangers of Standing Still
Big and grizzly. An offensive lineman of a pop-punk/punk rock album. Definitely one of the best of its ilk this year. Tracks like "I'm Well, You're Poison" still ring in my ear, and honestly who can resist a song like "Drinking Ourselves Into the Future?" Not me.

6. MUTEMATH - Odd Soul
MUTEMATH just keeps evolving, and unsurprisingly, for the better. Odd Soul made up for what This Armistice lacked in experimental flavor and at the same time kept some of the catchy - an unbeatable combo. I've yet to see this band live, but you can tell from the recordings alone how crazy their live show is.

7. Switchfoot - Vice Verses
This one surprised me because I thought I had outgrown Switchfoot. Lesson learned: You never outgrow Switchfoot. There was nothing remotely groundbreaking here, but it was such a solid radio rock album I just got swept up in it. "Selling the News" practically has hip-hop swag to it, and then the catchy chorus hits and wins you over. "Souvenirs" was Jimmy Eat World-y in its sentimentalism. There were some big-time rockers too ("Dark Horses," "Afterlife"). Typical Switchfoot.

8. The Swellers - Good For Me

Just good freakin' rock. Reminded me a lot of The Ataris. "Best I Ever Had" and "Inside My Head" are jams.

9. Polar Bear Club - Clash Battle Guilt Pride
I didn't like this as much as Chasing Hamburg at first, but upon repeated listens it really sinks in that they've outdone themselves. They went in a more poppy direction with this one, coming up with something like a HWM meets JEW sound. Can't go wrong with that. Songs like "Screams In Caves" are huge.

10. Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots
People said this was an R&B vibe to the album and I can hear it. Mostly I just put songs like "Everybody Needs Love" and "Pulaski" on repeat forever. Drive-By Truckers show why they've been around for 15 years here.

*Favorite "unofficial" album goes to The Gaslight Anthem's iTunes sessions. Aside from an awkward "State of Love and Trust" cover and just decent "Baba O'Reilly" cover, every track on here is pure gold. "Our Father's Sons" is probably my most played song of the year. Brian Fallon took his The Horrible Crowes vocals and applied it to Gaslight songs and the result is jaw-dropping at times. Consequently, my most anticipated of 2011 also goes to Gaslight.

2011's Most Disappointing

1. The Horrible Crowes - Elsie
Brian Fallon is a hell of a songwriter so I came into this with high expectations. Unfortunately, this album wouldn't have satisfied me even if I came in with the lowest of expectations. There were literally two things that were memorable for me here: Fallon's mind-blowing vocals, and "Mary Ann." Everything else was so forgettable. Weak melodies, weak songs. No lasting value whatsoever.

2. Thrice - Major/Minor

It hurts me that this album made the list because Thrice was and will remain my favorite band. But Major/Minor was just a weak album for me, especially coming off the brilliance that was Beggars. Almost every song felt monotone; there seemed to be little sense of dynamics. Don't get me wrong though, there were still some genius songs: "Promises," "Words In the Water," "Anthology" and "Disarmed." And the lyrics were nothing but top notch. All in all not a bad album to go out on, but by no means one of their best.

3. Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
It wasn't bad, but I thought it lacked the haunt of his more acoustic stuff. A little too all-over-the-place for me.

4. Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math
Mean Everything to Nothing was a huge album, but Simple Math didn't come close to replicating that feeling. Unfortunately, "Virgin" was probably one of the most awkward songs of the year.

5. Tom Waits - Bad As Me

Like with Thrice, it feels weird that this is here since Tom Waits is another one of my favorites. Bad As Me was just an average Tom Waits album though, and despite the fact that even average Tom Waits albums are very very solid, this one doesn't hold much lasting value. "Chicago" and "Back In the Crowd" are probably the only songs I return to.

Most Anticipated For 2012
1. The Gaslight Anthem
2. Bruce Springsteen
3. Craig Finn
4. Hot Water Music
5. Leonard Cohen
 
Displaying posts 1 - 13 of 13
10:54 AM on 12/27/11
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Jack Appleby
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THANK YOU.

I completely agree with everything you said about The Horrible Crowes. It's not remotely what I expect from Fallon in terms of quality. We'll have to team up and tell Nassiff how it really is.
10:59 AM on 12/27/11
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MikeYabs
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Horrible Crowes, Thrice AND Manchester Orchestra being disappointments?

11:38 AM on 12/27/11
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trojanick
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I've actually heard two Switchfoot songs off that album on the radio and quite enjoyed them. I'll have to check out that album.
12:40 PM on 12/27/11
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Horrible Crowes, Thrice AND Manchester Orchestra being disappointments?


For real, I'm pretty curious what someone disappointed by Elsie was actually expecting and didn't get.

In a strange way I can understand being disappointed by Major/Minor, though, because it's the type of album that either comes at you as subtly immersive or just bland. Myself, I definitely preferred it to Beggars.
12:47 PM on 12/27/11
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JinxRemoving
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I love that Dawes album so much. Such an underrated band.
01:51 PM on 12/27/11
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cubsml34
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Haven't seen anyone with The Swellers and PBC so high in their lists, thanks for recognizing these great albums.
03:42 PM on 12/27/11
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InfiniteArms
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I surprised at all but one of your disappointments.

I'm was also disappointed with Major/Minor.
04:07 PM on 12/27/11
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phaynes1
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Horrible Crowes, Thrice AND Manchester Orchestra being disappointments?


Basically this. It makes my head hurt.
05:26 PM on 12/27/11
Cody Nelson
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More power to you for providing a dissenting opinion on albums that have been almost universally praised this year.
02:11 PM on 12/28/11
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Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for being an oasis of reason. Elsie probably won't be remembered after the new Gaslight comes out, Thrice broke my heart by putting out a mediocre album after Beggars, and Manchester Orchestra fell prey to the super polished world of "XM Alternative".

And thank you for putting Drive-By Truckers on the list, even though I personally have it #2. Good man.
10:45 AM on 12/29/11
Matthew Tsai
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THANK YOU.

I completely agree with everything you said about The Horrible Crowes. It's not remotely what I expect from Fallon in terms of quality. We'll have to team up and tell Nassiff how it really is.

Horrible Crowes, Thrice AND Manchester Orchestra being disappointments?

For real, I'm pretty curious what someone disappointed by Elsie was actually expecting and didn't get.

In a strange way I can understand being disappointed by Major/Minor, though, because it's the type of album that either comes at you as subtly immersive or just bland. Myself, I definitely preferred it to Beggars.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for being an oasis of reason. Elsie probably won't be remembered after the new Gaslight comes out, Thrice broke my heart by putting out a mediocre album after Beggars, and Manchester Orchestra fell prey to the super polished world of "XM Alternative".

And thank you for putting Drive-By Truckers on the list, even though I personally have it #2. Good man.

GlassyLight nailed how I feel about Elsie. Apart from Fallon's breathtaking vocals, it's really unspectacular in every sense of the word. "Biloxi Parish" is single-handedly better than the entire album.

Drive-By Truckers might've ended up higher but I haven't gotten the chance to listen to it as much as I'd like yet.

I've actually heard two Switchfoot songs off that album on the radio and quite enjoyed them. I'll have to check out that album.

Definitely check it out, it's amazing.

I love that Dawes album so much. Such an underrated band.

So true. I'm so glad they got Jackson Browne to sing on the album though (and tour with them). At least they've got that going for them haha.

Haven't seen anyone with The Swellers and PBC so high in their lists, thanks for recognizing these great albums.

Yeah! Solid albums that I feel definitely fell by the wayside for a lot of people.
11:11 AM on 12/31/11
Mario57
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Quote:
1. The Horrible Crowes - Elsie
Brian Fallon is a hell of a songwriter so I came into this with high expectations. Unfortunately, this album wouldn't have satisfied me even if I came in with the lowest of expectations. There were literally two things that were memorable for me here: Fallon's mind-blowing vocals, and "Mary Ann." Everything else was so forgettable. Weak melodies, weak songs. No lasting value whatsoever.

2. Thrice - Major/Minor

It hurts me that this album made the list because Thrice was and will remain my favorite band. But Major/Minor was just a weak album for me, especially coming off the brilliance that was Beggars. Almost every song felt monotone; there seemed to be little sense of dynamics. Don't get me wrong though, there were still some genius songs: "Promises," "Words In the Water," "Anthology" and "Disarmed." And the lyrics were nothing but top notch. All in all not a bad album to go out on, but by no means one of their best.


4. Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math
Mean Everything to Nothing was a huge album, but Simple Math didn't come close to replicating that feeling. Unfortunately, "Virgin" was probably one of the most awkward songs of the year.

I thought i was the only one being disappointed.unimpressed by these. thank you
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