I often end up posting my Top Ten Records lists after the year has ended. Usually that’s because I’m waiting on a late-release to fully sink in or I had to wait to get something on my Christmas list. Or I’m just being lazy. But this year, I’m ready to go early. So with no further ado…here’s a picture of my Top Ten Records of 2011…with a disgustingly thorough write-up following.
You probably can’t quite see all that…so let’s break it down:
- Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
There was little if any doubt that this would be my number-one of the year from the first moment I popped it in the player. (And yes, I still buy and use the PHYSICAL PRODUCT.) This record just DELIVERS from moment one. Every track is solid. This is the record Foos fans have been waiting on since the days that “Learn to Fly” was the only song you heard all summer. It’s like I’ve been waiting for someone to write “Walk” ever since the 90s ended.
- Flogging Molly – Speed of Darkness
Definitely the band’s strongest release since “Drunken Lullabies,” and possibly better than that. Less Irish than previous releases and more focused on the rock side of the group. A strong record that serves not only as a great rock record, but also an excellent chronicle of the political, economic, and human state of our society (but never in a preachy way). I’m not going to say that the fans who’ve been waiting for Dave King to call up Eddie Clark and reunite with Fastway would be happy with this one…but I am going to ask when the hell was the last time you heard someone talk about Fastway?
- The Black Keys – El Camino
A shockingly late entry to the list, and it shot right to the top five. Came out just a little while ago—and I wasn’t even aware it was coming until like a week or two before it dropped. A true, worthy follow-up to “Brothers.” Not only does it have catchy melodies, infectious grooves, and fun, witty lyrics; it’s also got all the fuzz you can ask for, all in one place. Great record, from a great band. Good to see them getting the attention and acclaim they deserve.
- Tom Waits – Bad As Me
I love Tom Waits, but even as a fan this one knocked my socks off. Popped it in for the first listen, and it immediately felt like it’d been in Waits’ catalog for a decade or so. That’s how you know he did it right. Waits seems to touch on all parts of his career on this one. He has the bizarre “is he just stomping on stuff, and that’s supposed to be drums?” elements…but there are also grooves that, if you didn’t know better, you’d have thought were written for Elvis. And Keith Richards plays guitar on about half the record. So that’s kind of cool too.
- Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu
If nothing else, this record belongs in the top five because it was by far the most controversial record of the year. People (like myself) either stand by it as a bold, experimental, awesome statement, or they hate it for…reasons unknown. Probably they just have no idea who Lou Reed is or what he does. And I guess Metallica fans were expecting a Metallica record or something…because that seems to be how Metallica fans work these days. Okay…granted…it sounds like Metallica got together and improvised to the rants of their crazy grandpa. But I say what’s not to love about that??? The record would have been better billed as a solo Lou Reed record that just happened to have Metallica as his background band…I think that would’ve helped…but taken on its own merit instead of comparing it to what everyone assumed it would be, it’s a damn fine record that, though completely not catchy, will stick with you for a long time. Probably the thing I’ve drifted back to the most this year, since buying it…and I think it’ll be a regular in my rotation for a long time.
- CAKE – Showroom of Compassion
I missed the boat on CAKE in high school/college. I was kind of aware of them, but not a big fan. I think I was listening to Rush or something, probably… Saw CAKE perform “Sick of You” on Conan at the end of last year and knew I’d be buying this record when it came out (at the start of 2011). It’s a strong return for a band I didn’t know I liked all along. It’s infectious and fun. Nothing not to like…and at one point, it was much higher up on the list, before “Lulu” and “El Camino” came out.
- Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding
The whole world wondered “What will happen to Oasis now that Noel has quit the band?!?” The answer? They stopped sucking and started kicking serious ass…and changed their name for some reason. Beady Eye’s “debut” sounds like anything but, and delivers on every level. If there were any justice, this would be what Brit-rock is all about…but unfortunately X Factor is a thing.
- Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO
(KMAG YOYO is military shorthand for “Kiss My Ass Guys, You’re On Your Own!”) Why Hayes Carll isn’t the biggest name in country music, I’ll never know. Guess he doesn’t love America and beer and 9/11 enough or something. This is an amazing record. If the list were genre specific, this would be my number-one country record of the year. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s catchy, and he manages to deliver a couple of messages along the way, too.
- Imelda May – Mayhem
My brother introduced me to Imelda’s music earlier in the year, and it’s a blast. Kind of like if Reverend Horton Heat and Brian Setzer had a daughter…and she was a cartoon. If nothing else, the cover of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” is worth the purchase price alone…but fortunately, there’s plenty else to dig into here, too.
- Deer Tick – Divine Providence
VERY recent discovery for me. Saw them on Conan about two weeks ago (maybe less?) performing “Funny Word” and they seemed like my cup of tea, so I picked up the record. It’s got a few slow moments, but all in all they marry most of my favorite music styles into one super fun goulash. Probably the best description I can come up with for them is that if you’ve ever wondered what it would’ve been like if the Clash had been an alt-country band… Deer Tick.
And in case that wasn’t enough for you… Here are the “runners-up” that I’ll probably re-listen to at some point in 2012 and wonder why they didn’t make the Top 10…
- Centro-Matic – Candidate Waltz
This one was in the top 10 until very recently, and I really struggled to drop it. It’s a strong release. More rock based that some of their more recent records, but still laid back. Worth checking out.
- Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose
Super fun band, and it was heartbreaking to cut them from the top 10. Blame The Black Keys and Deer Tick for Those Darlins not making the cut. Mostly girl group filled with both twang and rock at the same time. You know that “Red Light Love” song from the Kia commercials? That’s them!
- …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead
I love ToD more than most people love the Beatles…but this record, though it was good just didn’t grab me quite enough to make the top 10. Part of the problem is a poor vocal mix (can’t understand a word except for “pure cosplay.” But mostly, I just feel like the last three records were so strong, this one just doesn’t quite match up. Their previous record (“Century of Self”) is a hard record to follow, and there’s not shame in releasing something good, but not AS good. But it IS good. Don’t think I’m saying it’s not good. It’s just not in my top 10.
- Wilco – The Whole Love
This is another record that is hurt by the group’s previous record. I loved “Wilco (the album)” and while I admire the fact that they released something that isn’t just a carbon copy of what I already liked…I just find myself listening to this one and saying, “It’s great…but where’s the rock?” Still, taken on its own, a wonderful record, and it almost made the top 10.
- Old 97’s – The Grand Theater Vol. 2
I think I just need to spend more time with this record. I like it a lot, but it just never would’ve made it to the top ten, especially on the heels of “The Grand Theater Vol 1” from last year. I really think they should’ve just done a double-record, and it would’ve been perfect. Still…good release. I’ll probably regret not having it in the top ten by this time next year.
Biggest Disappointments (Which doesn’t necessarily mean they were bad records!):
- Drive-By Truckers – Go Go Boots
I love the Drive-By Truckers more than some Christians I know love Jesus. (But I love Jesus more than I love DBT…so that works out.) But this record just isn’t very strong. The title track is probably the weakest on the record, and the whole thing just seems like they went in on the heels of “The Big To Do” and said, “Alright, that was fun…but let’s stop rocking and being so awesome all the time.” Don’t get me wrong…there are some real highlights, and I don’t HATE it. “Everybody Needs Love” and “Mercy Buckets” will be on my DBT playlist forever…but—with no disrespect intended—when Shonna’s couple of tunes don’t sound out of place, then your rock band just isn’t rocking. (But recently Shonna announced that she is parting ways with the band in an amicable split. Perhaps more rocking is in our future? Or less? Or what the hell?)
- Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn of Events
Good record…but only good. This is the band’s first ever record without founding member Mike Portnoy at the drum-kit. They needed to blow me away…and they didn’t. Don’t get me wrong…it’s solid. Mike Mangini is a good fit and the record sounds like a bunch of guys who’ve been playing together for a couple of decades…but I think that’s the problem. There’s not a lot of FIRE here. They had something to PROVE with this record, and it sounds like they went in thinking they had NOTHING to prove. But my real criticism isn’t with the songwriting (except for the bizarre choice to include a throat-singer on one track), but rather with the mix/master. Everything’s in the mix, I guess…but there’s just no BALLS to the master. It just seems like they recorded it, played it back and someone said, “That’s too loud. Make it sound weaker.” Maybe a remaster is all it needs…but as it is, it’s okay, but it’s not exactly the one I’d put on to impress anybody.
- Get Up Kids – There Are Rules
I loved the Get Up Kids before they broke up. I was excited to hear they were going to do a new record. Then I bought it and wondered if I’d gotten the wrong CD in the right case. The thing I loved about the Get Ups was their harsh, abrasive edge. It’s just not there on this record. Objectively, there are some really catchy songs here, and it’s a good record…but I’d rather it hadn’t been as polished and had a little more “fire” behind the sound.
- My Morning Jacket – Circuital
Huge disappointment for me. I loved “Evil Urges” and this one just doesn’t follow it very well. Then I realized that the riff to the standout song on the record (“Still Holding on the Black Metal”) was just “Paperback Writer” with the last couple of notes switched around a little…and I don’t know if I have much use for this one. I recently re-listened to it in my car and actually forgot it was on while it was playing. There’s just nothing to grab onto here. It’s like one of those acoustic folk acts playing in a restaurant you’re patronizing. It’s fine…but it’s background music. You’re not likely to applaud. But I’m not DONE with them or anything…I’m just hoping I like the next one better. (I think this one was a response to their hardcore fans who thought “Evil Urges” got too experimental, and they just went too far in the other direction.)
- Jayhawks – Mockingbird Time
Just doesn’t measure up. Everyone went apeshit about the fact that they got the classic lineup back together (as though any of us knew what the classic lineup was before we heard “Save it for a Rainy Day” in the first place), but I’ll be much more excited if they get the “Rainy Day Music” lineup back together. I don’t know what’s missing from this album…but something is…and I miss it badly.
- Over the Rhine – The Long Surrender
I don’t know… I like it better than the previous record (“The Trumpet Child”) and maybe I just need the benefit of time to get used to it…but it just seems like they took the parts of “Drunkard’s Prayer” and “Ohio” that I DIDN’T like as much and made a record out of that. (And I liked the majority of those two records.) Plus, I just feel like they tried too hard to be “cute” or “clever” on some of the lyrics and it just fell apart for me on that level.
- Rush – Time Machine Tour
Always good to hear from Rush, and it’s a fun release, but live records are ineligible.
- Wanda Jackson – The Party Ain’t Over
LOVED this release…but there’s no material written just for the record on it. Just covers…and that’s ineligible too.
- Ray Davies – See My Friends
I love Ray Davies, and I love every song on this record. But I can’t allow a covers record and I can’t allow a tribute record…and this is somehow both and neither and also a dude just playing his old songs…and I LOVE it, but it’s too confusing to make the top 10, ha ha. (Seriously though…buy it.)
Other Stuff I Liked:
- Steve Martin – Rare Bird Alert
Yes, it’s that Steve Martin…and it’s a bluegrass record. It’s not top 10 good, but it’s good.
- Anthrax – Worship Music
A respectable return for Joey Belladonna. I’m a little tired of the Satan lovin’…but it’s a good record.
- Chickenfoot – Chickenfoot III
Lots of fun, but just not quite top 10 material…but Sammy’s in the best form he’s been in a long time on this record, and if you’re a fan of the Red Rocker, you should check it out.
- Dropkick Murphys – Going Out in Style
GREAT release. Best one since “Sing Loud, Sing Proud.” And I might regret not giving it more attention down the road…but for now, it’s great, but there was just other stuff that was greater.
- Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
It’s fine, and I like it a lot…but I kept forgetting that it came out this year, and that tells you all you need to know about why it didn’t make the top 10.
- Mr. Big – What If?
Eric Martin kinda seemed to phone in the lyric writing…but the performances were strong.
Stuff I’m Completely Overlooking—and this post is too damn long anyway!:
- Social Distortion
- Tori Amos
- Pearl Jam
- Hugh Laurie
- Devin Townsend
- Alice Cooper
- Hank III
…and that was 2011. So…whatcha’ got 2012? Pressure’s on!