It Goes to Eleven: With Special Guest: Nick the Mexican: Best Albums of 2011: A Retrospective: A Dance in the Land of Too Many Colons.

Sam: 2011 was a spectacular year.  And by spectacular, I mean spectacularly uneventful.  We saw the Gaddafi regime topple, Michelle Bachmann totally not give a shit about a kid, and probably another celebrity sex tape or two, you never really know.  The high points, though few and far between, are still there.  And now we pass them on to you.

Or not, whatever.

Hey look!  A list!  (In no particular order because I’m lazy)

  1. Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes – Social Distortion – Yes, that Social Distortion.  In their first fresh release since 2004, everyone’s favorite Fullerton boys don’t disappoint.  It makes me want to grow out my hair just so I can slick it back with a bottle or two of LA Looks, roll up the sleeves on my white t-shirt and cuff my jeans.  These guys still know how to rock and have proven it once again. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 4
  2. Let Them Talk – Hugh Laurie – Turns out, Dr. House was actually playing that piano and singing every time you heard it on the show.  Laurie is surprisingly (or maybe not, I don’t know you) good at music, officially making him the coolest dude on the planet.  Among the tracks are some great old standards that somehow become better after all these years.  Somehow, this crazy British dude can moan out an old blues tune on par with Cab Calloway. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 16 (#1 on US Blues Chart)
  3. Join Us – They Might Be Giants – I wrote about them in an earlier article, so I won’t tire it out, but this album is fantastic.  It’s too short, and they need to release more albums.  Try for one every other week, guys, will ya? Highest Billboard Chart Position: 32 (#8 on US Rock Chart)
  4. Paper Airplane – Allison Krauss and Union Station – I’m not much of a country enthusiast, but when it comes to Allison Krauss, I tend to make an exception.  The woman’s voice brings a depth of emotion to a song that is hard to compare.  Add to that the fact that she works with an outstanding band and writes songs that are scientifically proven to manifest a catharsis that would kill a man lesser than Genghis Khan, and you have an unstoppable force that even the most anti-country-music person in the world can’t deny. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 3 (#1 on US Folk, Bluegrass, & Country Charts)
  5. The King of Limbs – Radiohead – Again, I won’t bore you with details, just go read the earlier article, listen to the album and hate the fact that no matter how good your band may be, they’ll never be able to match Radiohead (note: that was opinion, so if you’re getting bent out of shape because to me that includes the Beatles or whatever hipster band you’re into, just suck it up, buddy). Highest Billboard Chart Position: 3
  6. The Fall – Gorillaz – I was really excited when I heard that the Gorillaz were coming out with something new.  I’ve been a fan since Damon Albarn was in Blur, and their albums have just been getting better and better ever since.  Their amazing career can be attributed to the fact that, since the band is cartoons, they can basically do whatever they want to do.  And that’s just fine with me. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 24
  7. Odd Soul – MuteMath – Again, a solid album from a consistently solid group.  I can’t really put into words how to describe the album…  So just go pick it up and listen to it.  It’s good.  I promise. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 24 (Debut position)
  8. Move Like This – The Cars – After… Wait, how long has it been?  Twenty four years?  Really?  What’s really shocking about this album is the fact that even after those mysterious twenty four years, the Cars are sill as good as they were in the 80s.  Not just 80s good, though.  Like, now good.  Somehow, they’ve managed to avoid that disease that affects 80s bands that try to play music now and end up sounding like bad tribute bands. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 7 (#2 on US Rock Chart)
  9. Codes and Keys – Death Cab for Cutie – I really don’t know how you can be as talented a songwriter and musician as Ben Gibbard is, but whoever I need to sell my soul to, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  Despite his recent breakup with Zooey Dechanel, I still love listening to anything this guy can crank out.  His songwriting is still great and this album proves it.  I know there were a lot of people who listened to Narrow Stairs and didn’t like it, but for them, this album should totally redeem them. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 3
  10. Mylo Xyloto – Coldplay – There’s something really strange about Coldplay.  If you listen to their albums in order of release, it begins sounding normal, but then soon starts to sound like the crazy guy on the subway that you really hope didn’t see you shoot him that funny look, because he just might cut you in the belly.  Then something strange happens, that crazy bum says something just crazy enough to make you think that you’re the one who’s crazy, and you start to see everything his way.  This album pretty much does the same thing with you, but in musical terms. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 1 (Selling Platinum in the US)
  11. Camp – Childish Gambino – Everyone knows Troy from Community, and some people know that Troy from Community raps.  Oh, yeah, this is Troy from Community’s album.  And his name is actually Donald Glover.  And in comedy he kills.  In hip-hop, he kills.  This guy puts faith back into me for a true renaissance man to return from the era of musicals where guys could sing and dance and still be manly.  It even gives me faith in the future of hip-hop.  Go figure. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 11 (#2 on US Rap, Hip-Hop Charts)

Nick: This was a difficult list surprisingly.  I didn’t think I would be able to find ten albums that I could call the best of 2011.  Five maybe, but ten?  Then the more and more I started to write I had to start leaving some behind.  Sorry Bon Iver, your sleepy tunes ain’t welcome here.  No room for you Radiohead.  We don’t serve your kind around here Lykke Li.  See you in hell Gaga!

There were plenty of great albums I left off is what I’m saying.  Great reunion albums from Rival Schools and SAMIAM, wonderfully artsy rock from Antlers, and Deer Tick, and fantastic dance albums from both Justice, and Crystal Castles, but rather than go with the names that are all over Paste and Pitchfork (go die) and the pop walk of fame Rolling Stone had to offer in their pages I decided to go with the albums that I liked, whether or not they were huge names or big sellers.  So this is my list of 10.  I hope you’ll all give them a chance and maybe you will find some new favorites.  Hope you enjoy.

-Nick the Mexican

10.) Wavves – Life Sux

Sadly this is just an e.p., but thankfully in these few tracks we have here are some of the snottiest, fuzziest angsty music I’ve been treated to in past year.  The ‘King of the Beach’ album was nothing if not wonderful, and this follow up picks up where that left of.  Stand out track here is easily ‘I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl’ whether or not that is sincere is really the question. To quote one of the lines in the song ” A joke, a stroke of genius? Probably somewhere in between.”Guest spots from Best Coast on ‘Nodding Off’ and members of Fucked Up on the albums final track ‘Destroy’ are nice little treats, but really when all is said and done these five songs are over way too quickly.  This was the first release for the band on there own label and hopefully we’ll get a full length coming soon, and knowing lead singer Nathan Williams it will be on his own terms and will be done with as much sneering indifferance as we’ve come to expect. Highest Billboard Chart Position: N/A

9.)Post Teens – S/T

Who would have thought that Gainsville, Florida would give the world of punk rock so much win over the past few years.  Post Teens self titled e.p. delivers on every track.  Raw, fast paced music with members of Florida’s own hardcore acts like Assholeparade and Torche, this album is yet another fantastic piece of evidence that Florida is more than just punks with beards and flannels.  This is much more along the lines of early Husker Du meets Zero Boys than HWM or Against Me! Six tracks each coming in at about a minute give or take a few and no filler.  Songs like ‘We Don’t Like You’ have that perfect fuck you attitude about it and the clear stand out of the six songs is a song called ‘Fucked Up Perception’ which also happens to be the longest track here.  So I guess it’s their epic?  When all is said and done, way to quickly too, Post Teens are a band I look forward to hearing again, and hopefully we’ll get a little more from them as well. Highest Billboard Chart Position: N/A

8.) Wugazi -13 Chamber

Much like cheese and cake when you first here Wu Tang, and Fugazi you think “well that’s not gonna be very good.” But when you hear Wugazi’s mash up album ’13 Chambers’ it’s a lot like musical cheese cake.  It’s smooth, rich, and once it’s over with you keep checking the box for more.  Producers Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy haven’t just made the typical mash up album here.  It’s not spliced together like Girl Talk mash ups, and it’s not a jokey combination of music like the Beatallica albums.  This is a surgically amalgamated piece of work where in some instances, for myself anyways, the combinations of tracks on ’13 Chambers’ is more enjoyable than the songs taken alone.  The first track on this album that I heard was Sleep Rules Everything Around Me, a combination of Wu Tang Clan’s ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ and Fugazi’s ‘I’m So Tired’ and as soon is it was over I had to replay it.  I did this 3 more times.  ‘Sweet Release’ is another fantastic track that took me by surprise utilizing Fugazi’s instrumental numbers taken from the “In On the Killtaker” album, and bringing that together with ‘Release Yo Self’ with Method Man spewing out rhymes in only the way he could with an almost recklessness in his vocals. Lots of great stuff here for everyone.  If you are a hip hop fan who also digs skateboarding, or you’re a die hard Ian Mackaye fan with an open mind this album will not disappoint. Highest Billboard Chart Position: N/A

7.) Childish Gambino – Camp

This is the only album both Sam and I have on our lists, and we have both completely different taste in music.  So this must tell you this is something special.  Some of you know Childish Gambino better as Donald Glover, former 30 Rock writer, stand up comic, and as Troy Barnes on NBC’s series Community (RIP?) but what most of you don’t know or didn’t know rather is that for years he’s put out different albums and mix tapes by himself in order to gain credit as a rapper, instead of using his fame to make it big.  Gambino’s “Camp” has been both highly reviewed, and horribly lampooned by many claiming he’s using beats that Kanye had thrown out and that this album is just a form of self gratification that real members of the rap community would look down on.  That is not the case at all in my opinion. “Camp” shines highest when Gambino is singing about how different his life has been since coming up through his rags to riches tale.  ‘Firefly’ is the best example of how this self proclaimed black nerd is dealing with getting attention from girls, and having fans approach him on the streets for pictures, the kind of thing you really don’t think about until it happens. As listeners we take the trip with him through the good and bad and with Glover growing up as a young black kid from the projects, who just didn’t fit in with the other black kids from the projects is something that lots of us can relate to. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 11 (#2 on US Rap & Hip-Hop Charts)

6.) V/A – Rave On Buddy Holly

I’m not a big fan of tribute albums.  Sometimes you get some good, but most times it’s bad.  Buddy Holly is someone I’ve always been a big fan of and when I saw this album for a minute I was like “Oh hell no!”  After reading the tracklist and seeing the artists covering the songs I decided to give this a shot.  I’m glad I did.  Not only is there a great album in here, there are also some of the best that these musicians have given us.  The problem with cover songs is that for the most part either the artist will put to much of themselves on the song and make it almost unrecognizable in a bad way.  The other problem is that the musician runs the risk of not straying far away enough from the original and making it unrecognizable as a cover.  The perfect example of this is Marilyn Manson.  On the Ramones cover album he covered ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’ and turned it into some sick sluggish gothy number that didn’t pay tribute at all.  He also covered Soft Cells ‘Tainted Love’ and sounded so much like the original it’s sometimes hard to tell the two apart.  The perfect balance was his cover of ‘Sweet Dreams’ by Eurythmics.  Man he covers a lot of songs.  Any ways getting back on topic.

There are a few great covers on this song and a few not so great.  Fiona Apples covers ‘Everyday’ brilliantly and My Morning Jackets take on ‘True Love Ways’ will make you fall in love all over again, but it’s British model/actress Karen Elsons’ cover of ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping’ and Graham Nashs rendition of ‘Raining in my Heart’ that make this an album worth listening too.  Now as I said this isn’t without it’s share of bad, just what the hell Lou Reed hoped to accomplish with Peggy Sue is far beyond me, and Julian Casablancas turn on ‘Rave On’ is better left undiscussed. With those few speed bumps however I can still absolutely put this on my best of list because after all is said and done it has rekindled my love of Buddy Hollys music and brought a fresh sound to a familiar voice.  Especially ‘Raining in my Heart.’ Seriously that song is amazing. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 15 (#2 on US Rock Chart)

5.)Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams

I first heard Dum Dum Girls after listening to Best Coast on Pandora, and ‘Jail-la-la’ came on.  Fuck.  You wanna talk about great girl groups? Dum Dum Girls are it.  Great surf styled 60’s rock with heavy rock twang in the guitars, toe tapping drum beats, and dreamy sugar coated vocals. All girl rock the way it should be done.  Great harmonies bring to mind the old girl groups of the 60’s while never feeling over the top.  Songs like ‘Bed Room Eyes’ are gonna make you fall in love with these ladies, while on flip side a track like ‘Just a Creep’ reminds you these kittens have claws. While their first album “I Will Be” was a nice first meeting, you feel like there is a great band in there somewhere that hasn’t reached that full potential you know they are capable of and with “Only In Dreams” they have succeeded in that.  This is gonna be that band that everyone will be talking about in enough time.I wish I knew girls as cool as these.  To borrow a line from my favorite movie “High Fidelity” these are the kinds of girls I’ve wanted to meet ever since I was old enough to wanna meet girls. Highest Billboard Chart Position: N/A

4.)Frank Turner- England Keep My Bones

Frank Turner seems destined to break out into the mainstream, and with “England Keep My Bones” it sees more apparent it’s about to happen sooner rather than later. Radio friendly is not always a bad word, and with tracks like ‘Peggy Sang the Blues’ with it’s up beat style and ‘I Still Believe’s sing a long chorus of Rock ‘n’ Roll saving us all, damn near any of the songs on this album could have been instant radio hits, or been on the soundtracks to any feel good movie of the year.  This is what can only be described as comfort food music.  I’ve put this on so many times while driving down the road, and on quiet walks and it’s an album I can’t help but sing to and smile.  No flash, no filler, just a singer/songwriter strumming his guitar with a fire in his heart and passion in his vocals.  Passion is something that is missing from so many songs now and Turners songs have this in spades.  A song like ‘One Foot Before the Other’ has an almost stream of conciousness about it and the words flow from his lips with such frenzy like a modern day revolutionary giving us the speech we will be talking about for years and remember his words like they are etched in our skin and burned in to our brains. Think Strummer, Guthrie, and Billy Bragg.  Seriously that good. Folk punk isn’ t all trust fund kids riding rails. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 12 (UK Chart)

3.) Night Birds – Other Side of Darkness

As soon as I heard this album I was hooked.  Great lyrics, fantastic vocals, and a guitar player that plays like he’s the bastard son of East Bay Ray. Thisis the kind of album that comes along and renews my faith in the new breed of punk bands.  “The Other Side of Darkness” has been on heavy rotation for quite sometime now, and when I was thinking of this list there were 3 albums I was absolutely sure of, and this was one of them. ‘Demon Haunted World’ sets the tone, and ‘Neon Gray’ roars with the same ferocity that brings to mindbands like Adolescents, and the Dead Kennedys but it’s the title track ‘Other Sideof Darkness’, and the track ‘Landfill Land’ that really make this album from enjoyableto instant classic. For my money this is the best punk rock album to come out all year.  It’s exactly what hardcore punk should be.  Fast, raw, angry, vocals with a sense of urgency and crazy surf guitar influences. If more bands that called themselves punk rock, would stop focusing on who or what exactly is punk rock and quit trying to define the word punk they could focus on making records as amazing as this.  I look forward to so much more from this group in the coming years. Highest Billboard Chart Position: N/A

2.) Beach Boys – Smile Sessions

Okay, okay yes I know this has tracks that have been previously released as singles many years ago and recorded as Smiley Smile, and yes Brian Wilson did release his own version of Smile a few years back, but for crying out loud this album is A-mazing!  The thing about Brian Wilson is that he was a genius.  The things he was able to do in the studio when it came to production, his arrangement was spectacular.  When they were recording the album in the mid 60’s the rest of the band thought it was just a little too out there. The band didn’t think the songs would be translatable to live performances and most involved felt that the album would be a failure.  They were right. Listening to Smile through these recording sessions gives us a glimpse into the mind of someone who had finally been released to do everything his brain could think of and it was like filling a water balloon with a gallon jug of water.  Smile is finally made available to us as close to as what Brian Wilson would have wanted it to be, and I’ve been listening to this over and over.  This is for me what the Beatle Anthologies were to Beatles fans. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 27 (#25 on UK Chart)

1.) Tom Waits – Bad as me

It really couldn’t be anything else for me.  The man is perfection, and every album gets better and better.  “Bad As Me” is Tom Waits back to basics, stripped down to the core of what he does best, great four minute stories about places we’ve all been and people we know but doing it in a way that makes them all seem to be millions of years and miles away.  No six minute epics here, and that’s fine, this album reminds me most of Waits’ time on Island records, in the era of “Rain Dogs” and “Frank’s Wild Years.”  Never afraid to test the boundries of song writing and style, ‘Chicago’ is as good of a song with it’s bluesy horns, and straight up blues guitar as Waits has given in the past decade, while ‘Get Lost’ has a rockabilly, 1950’s style rock and roll swagger that would make the most modest wall flower wanna dance and the album’s title track brings to mind ‘Hang on St. Christopher’ and ‘Big in Japan’ while still feeling fresh and new.  “No good you say, well that’s good enough for me” he sings with his trademark sinister laugh.  While lots of artists begin to show their age in later releases or as many others take that trip back to the well “Bad As Me” is an album that is like rekindling a long lost love.  It’s new, but still somewhat very familiar.  In a year that saw his induction into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, with virtually no mainstream radio play, Mr. Waits has also given us this fantastic album.  I could go on forever about what this artist means to me, but if you know me, I’ve no doubt introduced you to this man or you’re already a fan so I’d just be preaching to the choir.Easily number 1 with a bullet.  Thank you Tom. Highest Billboard Chart Position: 6

Quick Note: I haven’t heard all of Nick’s albums, but of the ones I have heard, I totally agree. Bad as Me was on my list, but unfortunately got chopped on by the final draft. Smile is fantastic, and I’m not really a huge Beach Boys fan. The Buddy Holly tribute is smashing, but, like Nick, has mostly made me remember why I love Buddy Holly to begin with. And finally, Camp is awesome. So go get it, you filthy beatnik.

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~ by Sam on January 3, 2012.

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