Been an interesting year in music that’s hard to sum up. But 2011 seemed to have been the year of the woman. To name a few examples the brilliant Adele was everywhere and made waves bigtime in the US and finally got the recognition she deserved. Taylor Swift became the new queen country music. Lady Gaga told millions of her little monsters and other music fans that they were “Born This Way.” This year also saw Katy Perry tying Michael Jackson’s record for most #1 hits from a single album and saw the rise of another eccentric and quirky diva in Nicki Minaj who put the “boom, badoom, boom, boom, badoom, boom” into music.
2011 also showed that for better or worse that anyone can launch from obscurity to pop superstardom thanks to YouTube (see: Rebecca Black). It was the year the Gallagher brothers from Oasis both released solo CDs (this writer is on Team Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds….sorry Beady Eye). 2011 also saw Mumford and Sons steal the show from the legendary Bob Dylan at the Grammys. It also brought the not so great stage moments like Kings of Leon singer Caleb Followill having a meltdown on stage causing the band to take a break. Everyone was singing about “Pumped Up Kicks,” “Moves Like Jagger” and also the party staple “Red Solo Cup.” Jay Z and Kanye West teamed up to claim their Rap throne. It also brought new music from Coldplay who experimented with their sound and one song even featured Rihanna (who seemed to be everywhere this year)…
Yes 2011 was a very interesting and diverse year musically. There were so many great CDs and EPs released this year that it is hard to pick which ones are the best. But below are my 15 favorite CDs and those are followed by my 10 favorite EPs of the year. Just click on the band name and CD or EP title to hear each one and buy them (except where indicated). My three favorite tracks from the CDs and two favorite tracks from the EPs are also included. At the end are the honorable mentions that just barely missed making the list. A lot of the artists on the list have either passed through the DC area this year or will be coming to the area in the new year too (Black Keys, Coldplay and The Kills to name a few). So stay tuned for more breaking music news in 2012. Also feel free to share your favorite music and moments of the year too in the comments.
FAVE CDs FROM 2011:
1) The Black Keys – El Camino
Fave Tracks: Money Maker; Gold On The Ceiling; Little Black Submarines
The Akron, Ohio duo follow up last year’s amazing CD Brothers with El Camino which is a CD that rocks from start to finish. El Camino blends a little classic rock, rockabilly and garage rock for one flawless CD that should finally make the Black Keys worldwide superstars. The already immensely talented band who have developed a sound that makes them instantly recognizable seem to have produced some of their best music since teaming up with Danger Mouse. They were already making one terrific CD after another before Danger Mouse (and before Brothers) but it seems they have simply hit their stride and found the sound that will define them. Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney prove that two people can make quite a gloriously loud and beautiful noise. From the fun, danceable first single “Lonely Boy’ which sounds like it has a hint of a little Buddy Holly inspiration to the glam “Gold On The Ceiling” this is a CD that will make anyone want to shake their Money Maker (also a brilliant tune).
2) Florence and The Machine – Ceremonials
Fave Tracks: No Light, No Light; Bedroom Hymns; Remain Nameless
Florence Welch, who could very well be a modern day Kate Bush, and her amazing band (harp and all) return with an impressive sophomore CD that touches on subjects of religion, love heartache & longing. The final product is unlike anything you’ve ever heard and is simply angelic, ethereal and haunting. Welch doesn’t hesitate to touch on subjects most would avoid like suicide (“What The Water Gave Me”) but it’s the deep subject matter that makes this band so refreshingly unique. But even despite such heavy subject matter at times the CD is never depressing but in fact just the opposite. Ceremonials is a more mature follow up to the band’s debut CD Lungs and it’s a journey of love and religious awakening that the listener will be happy they were a part of.
3) Adele – 21
Fave Tracks: Set Fire To The Rain; Rumour Has It; Turning Tables
This was definitely the year of Adele and 21 is definitely a masterpiece that most people twice her age wouldn’t be able to create. The 23-year-old singer seems more like a reincarnation of soul and blues singers of generations long before she was born. From track one, the radio hit & likely most covered song of the year, “Rolling In The Deep” to the last track the equally breathtaking “Someone Like You” the CD is gorgeous, heartbreaking perfection. There isn’t one bad track and even her cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” is an inspired revelation. Using her pure, natural gift of a voice (yay no autotune needed!) and honest, heartfelt lyrics there’s no doubt why 21 makes pretty much everyone’s best of list because America finally has Adele fever.
4) Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Fave Tracks: I Know Places; I Follow Rivers; Dance Dance Dance
Sweden’s Lykke Li definitely dances to the beat of her own drum musically and for fans of her music that is a very good thing. Wounded Rhymes is one part indie rock, electronic rock & indie pop and at times Lykke could easily fit into the world of 1960s girl groups (“Sadness Is A Blessing”). Lykke Li even has the ability to make some not so G rated lyrics sound cute, catchy and fun (“Get Some”). But Wounded Rhymes is full of achingly beautiful and unique songs and Lykke Li seems poised to become a superstar which after this gorgeous CD is just where she deserves. She definitely could be called the best import to come from Sweden in years (sorry ABBA and Roxette I think she stole your title).
5) The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
Fave Tracks: Poison & Wine; Barton Hollow; I’ve Got This Friend
One of the best discoveries of the year was the duo of John Paul White and Joy Williams aka The Civil Wars. There is only one word to describe their sound and this CD: awe-inspiring. Barton Hollow is one CD to just put on and get lost in all of its beauty. Civil Wars have been called folk, Americana and alternative country but they are pretty much impossible to classify. The duo has produced their own sound that is unlike any other. Songs like “Poison and Wine,” “To Whom It May Concern,” and “C’est La Mort” are goose bump inducing tales of love, loss and longing. The couple who have such convincing chemistry aren’t even a couple but maybe it’s that believable chemistry and how well their voices work together that makes this CD pure magic. Even the bonus track on the CD “Dance Me To The End Of The World” is incredible. But Barton Hollow is one impressive debut and hopefully this duo will be sharing their breathtaking music with music lovers for years.
6) Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
Fave Tracks: Us Against The World; Charlie Brown; Major Minus
One of the world’s biggest bands returns with a CD that features a lot of experimentation that includes a little inspiration from electronic music (“Paradise”), R&B (Up In Flames) and pop music (“Princess of China”). The latter which features Rihanna shouldn’t work but turns out to be a stroke of genius and is one of the best songs on the CD. All the experimenting works well for the band and despite their evolution in sound the band’s signature sound still remains at the center of every song along with their their compelling and beautiful lyrics. The CD is much more upbeat then past Coldplay CDs. It’s that more “upbeat” nature that seems to have so many people split on the CD. But people need to stop comparing Mylo Xyloto to past Coldplay CDs and give this CD a chance because if they do they would discover a really great CD that stands on its own and shows a band that seems to be having a lot more fun.
7) AWOLNATION – Megalithic Symphony
Fave Tracks: Sail; Jump On My Shoulders; Kill Your Heros
This solo project from Aaron Bruno is one of the most unique and creative releases of the year. Megalithic Symphony can be called electronic rock but the CD seamlessly jumps from frenetic hardcore rock (“Burn It Down”) to slower borderline mellow songs (“All I Need“). But every song definitely leaves a lasting impression and don’t just stop at the popular track “Sail” because there are many equally brilliant tracks on this CD. But AWOLNATION is definitely one of those experimental projects that turned into a jackpot and proved that radio stations still know a good thing when they hear it. “Sail” which is an amazing song became an unlikely hit and the equally incredible “It’s Not Your Fault” is being embraced by radio stations too. But here’s to hoping that whatever noise and music that is hidden in Bruno’s brain will mean that there is more music from AWOLNATION coming soon.
8) Oh Land – Oh Land
Fave Tracks: Perfection; Break The Chain; Sun Of A Gun
While Danish singer Nanna Øland Fabricius who goes by her stage name Oh Land had one CD out before this self titled release this may be the CD that makes her a breakout star. Oh Land produced one of the best electronic CDs of the year. With Fabricius’ absolutely gorgeous voice accompanied by pulsing, enchanting beats this CD is one part trance, one part trip hop and one part dance music. The songs range from sexy and slow (“Perfection”) to fun and upbeat (“Voodoo”). But the CD feels like a soundtrack to a wonderful fantasy movie that doesn’t exist but nevertheless the listener will get lost in it. But all that adds up to one of the best new releases of the year from an artist who’s charisma and talent will no doubt make Oh Land a household name soon.
9) Chris Cornell – Songbook Live
Fave Tracks: Wide Awake; Imagine; I Am The Highway
Fans of the legendary Cornell and his previous work with Soundgarden (“Black Hole Sun” etc.), Audioslave (“I Am The Highway” etc.), Temple Of The Dog (“Call Me A Dog” etc.) and as a solo artist (“Can’t Change Me” etc.) will not be surprised at how good he is live. But for everyone else who is used to hearing his song surrounded by loud guitars and a wall of sound this CD may be a bit surprise. The CD is comprised of songs from his acoustic songbook tour and features only Cornell, an acoustic guitar and stripped down versions of some his biggest hits and a few covers too (“Imagine” and “Thank You”) What’s left is the realization of how truly amazing these songs are and how powerful Cornell’s bluesy and distinct voice really is. Cornell has earned himself a spot as a living legend after many years of making wonderful music. But this CD shows just how underappreciated he is and with these songs made raw and pure it also shows how many underappreciated and magnificent songs he has produced during his long career.
10) The Kills – Blood Pressures
Fave Tracks: Future Starts Slow; Satellite; DNA
Can a modern day female singer get any cooler then Alison Mosshart? The answer after listening to this CD seems likely to be no. After going off to work with Jack White and The Dead Weather Mosshart returns to working with her The Kills partner Jamie Hince. The CD seems influenced by Mosshart’s work with the Dead Weather with more gritty guitars and a creative blending of a little blues with the dark rock n roll. The first single “Future Starts Slow” could arguably called one of the band’s best songs to date. The CD itself doesn’t start off slow that’s for sure. The first four songs are hard rocking tour de forces with killer beats that lay the groundwork for this brilliant CD. Even the slower songs like “Wild Charms” where Hince showcases his remarkable voice are awesome. So welcome back The Kills and thank you for producing Blood Pressures which could possibly be the band’s best CD yet and one of the best rock releases of the year.
11) Radiohead – King of Limbs
Fave Tracks: Lotus Flower; Codex; Morning Mr Magpie
Radiohead definitely like to experiment and do things a little different and they did just that with King of Limbs. King of Limbs is one of their shortest releases but also one of the most compelling and yes is even a bit sexy (“Lotus Flower” is a perfect example of that). But Thom Yorke and company prove why they are one of the most popular bands out there because they are willing to take risks. The CD has a less rock feel to it and seems a bit more trip-hop which works really well with Thom Yorke’s stunning, falsetto voice. King of Limbs isn’t necessarily a CD to rock out too like past efforts such as The Bends and is more of an atmospheric, laid back CD to just put on and chill. But it definitely earns its place as one of Radiohead’s best and most creative CDs to date.
12) TV On The Radio – Nine Types of Light
Fave Tracks: Killer Crane; Second Song; Will Do
With tales of love and longing Nine Types of Light is one of TV On The Radio’s best CDs and definitely a great follow up to their amazing 2008 release Dear Science. The CD ventures more into the realm of funk with a little rock thrown in but has a very ambient quality to it. The CD was released in the midst of the loss of bassist Gerard Smith which gives it a hint of sadness. But this is definitely one of the best TV On The Radio CDs and doesn’t have a weak track on the entire CD. The band proves why they are so good with captivating and hypnotic songs like the first single “Will Do” and the absolutely majestic “Killer Crane.” This isn’t just a great follow-up to Dear Science and Return To Cookie Monster it could be one of the band’s best and most honest releases.
13) Airborne Toxic Event – All At Once
Fave Tracks: Welcome To Your Wedding Day; All At Once; All I Ever Wanted
What do you get when you combine one part rock, one part punk, great songwriting and a viola…you get Airborne Toxic Event. This wonderfully unique band followed up their amazing self titled debut CD with the even better All At Once. All At Once is the type of CD that defines a band and puts them on the map. All At Once is also one of the most sincere and honest rock CDs of the year where you feel lead singer Mikel Jollett is laying his soul bare to the listener in pretty much all of the songs. While radio single “Changing” is brilliant listen to the rest of the CD because it’s just the tip of the iceberg that range from mosh worthy (“Welcome To Your Wedding Day”) to gutwrenchingly gorgeous (“Half of Something Else”). Seems this a band ready to claim their spot in the spotlight and deservedly so.
14) Gotye – Making Mirrors
Fave Tracks: Somebody That I Used To Know; Eyes Wide Open; Save Me
Belgium born Wouter “Wally” De Backer who goes by his stage name Gotye could win the award for most diverse CD of the year. He has been compared to artists like Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bono and even early Phil Collins. But Gotye really doesn’t sound like anyone else. His song “Somebody That I Used To Know” is an example of simply exquisite song making. But the entire CD is a diverse tapestry of songs that range from 80s throwback tunes, experimental electonica, borderline Motown and so much more. But the final result is a CD that can’t help but leave the listener happy, make them want to dance and realize Gotye is the real deal.
15) Theophilus London – Timez Are Weird These Days
Fave Tracks: Last Name London; All Around The World; Love Is Real
Trinidad born and Brooklyn, NY bred Theophilus London could very well be the next Kanye West (minus the antics away from the stage of course). Blending pulsing dance beats, infectious rhythm and his mastery for rap every song sizzles on this wonderfully diverse CD. What really sets the CD apart is how the blend of electronic/dance music, alternative rock and rap sounds fresh and even slightly British. It’s definitely one of the most underrated CDs of the year. “Love Is Real” and “Wine and Chocolates” are both pulsating dance tracks that could easily be played in clubs. But as the first track on the CD says remember “last name London first name Theophilus” because he will be one artist to watch for years to come.
FAVE EPS OF 2011:
1) The Chevin – Champion EP
Fave Tracks: Blue Eyes; When The Party’s Over
Electrifying, energetic and impressive are three words that perfectly describe the debut release from The Chevin. This foursome from Leeds, England comprised of Coyle Girelli, Mat Steel, Jon Langford and Mal Taylor perform musical magic when their respective gifts are combined. The EP starts off strong with the dynamic and attention getting self titled track “Champion.” “Champion” has that sold-out arena ready feel to it and seems destined to be a breakout hit. But there is no letdown on the EP and every track is spectacular in its own unique way. The songs range from the heartbreakingly beautiful song about losing someone “When The Party’s Over” to the extremely catchy “Blue Eyes” which has just a touch of country/rockabilly infused with rock n roll. The EP is extremely diverse and shows how multi-talented the band is. Bonus points for any band that uses what sounds like a ukulele on a song (the short but sweet “Songs From The Sun.”). The final product is something that sounds more like a release by a polished band of pros who have been doing this for decades. The powerful and stunning vocals of lead singer Girelli adds that extra je ne c est quoi to every song as he pours heartfelt and believable emotion into every word he sings. The Champion EP showcases what a great band The Chevin are. If this EP is any indication everyone will be hearing a lot about this band next year especially when their first CD is released in 2012. So heed the band’s words when they sing “people love a rising star” in “Champion” because these guys are definitely rising stars and there’s certainly a lot to love about their music. (To buy the EP go HERE)
2) River James- River James EP
Fave Tracks: Dreams; In My Blood
Organic, genuine and enchanting are three good words to describe the music of River James. Featuring the lead singer of Army of Me (Vince Scheuerman) and the drummer for MAE (Jacob Marshall) along with bassist John Hutchins and guitarist Tyler Strickland this band comprised of four friends from Virginia seems destined for big things in 2012. Each song on the EP features understated melodies; deep, poetic lyrics and gorgeous vocals that stick with you long after you stop playing this lovely and inspiring EP. With lyrics like these from the songs “Dreams”: “In the dead of the night, love came to my side. Opened wide my chest, her words became my light. I don’t remember much more, wondering why do I forget my dreams” the songs are quite intimate and poignant. Scheuerman’s distinctive, soothing and beautiful voice makes the songs about love and longing all the more powerful and unique.
The songs have an effortless feel to them and the band is very hard to categorize since they have a bit of indie and alternative rock along with folk all rolled into each song. In fact the lyric “Intimate as a whisper you played the loudest bell” from “In The Blood” is a good description of their sound. River James manage to create a balance of being both mellow and relaxed while also being a really great rock band at the same time. According to the River James Facebook page the band name was inspired by “Earl Swift’s collection of essays Journey On The James about a man’s journey along the entire James River, from its trickling mountain origins in Virginia’s Northwest corner to the mile wide mouth at Hampton Roads.” That inspiration can be felt in every song because each brilliant track feels like a part of an unforgettable journey or quest of discovery with four people the listener would want to know. Only bad part of the EP is that it sadly comes to an end too soon. Hopefully a full length CD is in the works for this talented foursome. While the songs can be moving and a tiny bit sad at times they still leave the listener with a sense of warmth and positivity and the feeling they experienced something quite amazing. But hopefully this is only chapter one in a long journey and career for this band who have produced one of the best works of musical art of 2011.
3) Uh Huh Her – Black & Blue EP
Fave Tracks: Fascination; No Sacrifice
Uh Huh Her and the Black and Blue EP proves girls can rock and put their own unique stamp on electronic music. This EP came after the band’s debut CD Common Reaction and before their new CD Nocturnes and features some of their strongest work to date. It’s also a perfect accompaniment to both of their amazing CDs. Every song showcases the gorgeous voices of Leisha Hailey and Camila Grey and the band’s ability to seamlessly blend pop and dance music together. The title track, “Philosophy” and “Fascination” offer up even more of the exquisite techno/electro beats that UHH fans crave while mellower tracks like “Never The Same,” “I’ve Had Enough” and “No Sacrifice” complement the more uptempo, dance tracks. Discover one of the best, most underrated artists out there and also please check out the equally brilliant Nocturnes while you’re at it.
4) Lana Del Rey – Video Games EP
Fave Tracks: Video Games; Blue Jeans
Lana Del Rey came out of nowhere this year to produce this short but impressive EP that is leading up to her first CD next year. The songs sweep the listener away into a world of love lost and two different worlds coming together for better or worse. But too many people can’t seem to get past the story of young Miss Del Rey and how she became a musician. That is truly a shame because if people would give her a chance they would find two of the best songs of the year and a truly talented artist destined for big things. “Blue Jeans’ has a very “Wicked Game” feel to it and is both seductive and sad. Del Rey has one of the most beautiful and compelling voices yet and she could very well be the second coming of Tori Amos.
5) Phantogram – Nightlife EP
Fave Tracks: Don’t Move; Turning Into Stone
Ethereal and unforgettable are two words that immediately comes to mind when describing this brilliant EP by Phantogram. It mixes light, airy pop, electronic music and trip hop flawlessly to produce an EP that will leaving the listener wanting more. The vocals on each song work perfectly with the lush and tribal beats that accompany them. This is one EP to put on and just let yourself get swept away into another world by it’s beauty and splendor.
6) Gary Clark Jr – Bright Lights EP
Fave Tracks: Bright Lights; Don’t Owe You A Thang
Everyone should familiarize themselves with the name Gary Clark Jr because he is destined to be a superstar. With his killer soulful vocals, memorable songs that blend blues, rock and R&B and the ability to shred on the guitar he is very reminiscent of such legends as BB King, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. He is one extremely talented singer and an impressive guitar virtuoso and at just 27 years old this amazing EP definitely shows a promising young talent with a very bright future ahead of him.
7) Broken Bells – Meyrin Fields EP
Fave Tracks: Meyrin Fields; Heartless Empire
Danger Mouse seems to be everywhere the past few years including helping bands like The Black Keys produce two of their strongest CDs and is even helping U2 with their new CD. But while he hasn’t worked with the band that made him famous Gnarls Barkley in a while his side project Broken Bells that he formed with The Shins lead singer James Mercer is both experimental and awesome. This EP follows the band’s self titled debut CD that came out last year and features several songs that could have easily been on the CD and been hit songs.
8) Dum Dum Girls – He Gets Me High EP
Fave Tracks: He Gets Me High; There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
Dum Dum Girls may single handedly bring back surfer rock and that’s a very good thing especially if they keep producing such great songs. This wonderful EP that came before their full length release Only In Dreams feels like the perfect companion piece to days spent at the beach. With a sound that could be described as a combo of Karen O, the Pretenders, 60s girl groups and surfer rock Dum Dum Girls are refreshingly different. The band even puts their own absolutely brilliant spin on The Smiths classic “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” to close the EP.
9) MONA- Mona EP
Fave Tracks: Listen To Your Love; Teenager
MONA are one of the most promising new alternative rock bands to surface in a while. The band who are from Tennessee seem poised to become the next Kings Of Leon. Only Nick Brown may have an even better voice then Caleb Followill (sorry KOL fans). Anyone who has seen the band live can also attest that their confident stage presence is like that of seasoned veterans. The first track and single the catchy “Listen To Your Love” has huge hit written all over it. Their full length CD is set to be released in the US in 2012 and if this EP is any indication get ready for the next big radio sensation.
10) Lissie – Covered Up With Flowers EP
Fave Tracks: Games People Play; The Ship Song
Lissie’s Catching A Tiger was one of the best CDs of 2010 and with this CD of covers Lissie proves why. Lissie blends folk, rock or country into her songs and her selections for this CD demonstrate how she has such a diverse taste in music and can make any song more melodic and charming. She put her own unforgettable and unique spin on songs from Lady Gaga (“Bad Romance”), Kid Cudi (“Pursuit of Happiness), Metallica (“Nothing Else Matters“), Joe South (“Games People Play”) and Nick Cave (“The Ship Song”). Lissie has a voice of an angel and she has only shows that off even more on this EP even while offering up the cutest version of “Pursuit of Happiness” you’ll probably ever hear.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (just missed the top 15 best CDs list)
- Kasabian – Velociraptor!
- Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
- Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams
- Lady Gaga – Born This Way
- White Lies – Ritual
- Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
- Mute Math – Odd Soul
- Cults – Cults
- PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
- Kaiser Chiefs – The Future Is Medieval
- Chris Isaak – Beyond The Sun
- Friendly Fires – Pala
- The Duke Spirit- Bruisers
- Uh Huh Her – Nocturnes
- Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!
- The Wombats Proudly Present This Modern Glitch
- Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi – Rome