I realize music is very personal. What I enjoy may not be what you would ever listen to in a million years (unless you're Kos). Therefore I would never dare title my musical entries 'The Best of 2011'. I'm nowhere near educated enough to declare anything better than anything else.
I merely present to you - dear readers - what I've enjoyed the most over the past twelve months. I ask only that you listen to the examples I post (and, please, listen to the entire song and give it a chance) and make up your own minds.
Three quick hits before we get this going:
1: You'll notice quite a few hard core entries this year. My musical tastes tend to reflect my moods and I was not in a good mood due to work related reasons. I'm better now, but my anger is represented strongly.
2: I know I'll forget something. Happens every year and I don't expect this year to be any different.
3: 2011 was a great year for music. Prepare for lots to sift through.
Off we go!
Beastie Boys -Hot Sauce Committee Part II: The Brooklyn trio return with more funk, hilarious name dropping (John Salley and Tippy Hedren in the same song?), and musical inventiveness than any other 10 albums combined. Easily my most addictive album of the year.
Check out: Really, you can pick any song from this and be happily bouncing along in seconds. Here's 'B-Boys in the Cut' for one. Or how about 'Lee Majors Come Again' which demands to be played loud. Hell, here is 'A Little Something For Ya'. You're welcome.
Mastodon - The Hunter: Still trying to smash the prism through which heavy metal should be viewed and, most importantly, heard. These guys are ferocious, yet intelligent and thoughtful in how their songs are constructed. It should say a lot that this isn't their best album but is still head and shoulders above what everyone else in their field is even attempting.
Check out: Even you non metal heads, please listen to 'Dry Bone Valley'. Just once. If I can convert just one of you, my mission will be accomplished.
MuteMath - Odd Soul: This album is all over the place in the best way possible. A soulful rock album whose best moments are the seemingly random instrumental breakouts midway through some songs. Even the lyrics are weirdly abstract yet personal enough that it makes you wonder if they came from one of the band member's dreams.
Check out: 'Walking Paranoia'. Jesus is coming back...gonna catch me...at the porno rack...
Talons - Hollow Realm: According to my iPod, I've listened to this album more than any other over the past six months. And I have no argument whatsoever. A creative, hard core, completely instrumental album that I simply can't get enough of. Besides, who am I to disagree with a piece of computer electronics?
Check out: 'In The Shadow Of Our Stilted Homes' for some of the best guitar work you'll hear this year.
Crooked Fingers - Breaks in the Armor: I’m 90% positive Eric Bachman (former Archers of Loaf leader who will make this list, too, believe it or not) could grab three people off the street and crank out a great album. Proof that the 'singer songwriter' label doesn't mean things have to be dull.
Check out: A live version of one my favorite songs of the year 'Bad Blood'.
Bayside - Killing Time: I've always enjoyed this NJ band, but I never fully committed because I got the impression they were trying to be something they weren't. Namely another emo-pop punk band with darker lyrics. I even debated wasting a buck on their new one until I heard the opening song. Rock on!
Check out: Allow this song to do the talking for me. Apologies if you need to skip an ad.
Hard-Fi - Killer Sounds: Dance rock at its most addictive. Think I listened to this album straight through six times in a row when I first got it. Even Wifey enjoys it - which sort of alarms me.
Check out: 'Stop' which epitomizes the Hard Fi sound - catchy music combined with amusing, self loathing lyrics. I really enjoy these guys! For the hell of it, here is 'Bring It On'. Get your grooves on!
Imelda May - Mayhem: Foot stomping, jazz - rockabilly fusion that somehow invokes old school while being completely fresh and lively. While Adele deservedly gets a lot of attention, I wish May would get her reward. Instead she'll have to settle for being mentioned in my yearly review that (maybe) 10 people read.
Check out: Live version of 'Mayhem'. If you like this song, pick up the entire album.
TV On The Radio - Nine Types of Light: Bittersweet that the last release before TV's bass player died of lung cancer is also their strongest, most consistent, most enjoyable and best so far.
Check out: A strange, dance video for a song about abusing drugs.
NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART
MachineHead - Unto The Locust: Since we're into my hard core phase, allow me to scare the shit out of people. Old school throwback metal with machine gun drums, guitar solos and pulse pounding bass. I cranked this from work to home and my entire car was vibrating. Bonus points for covering two of my old favorite bands - Judas Priest (The Sentinel) and Rush (Witch Hunt) and doing them justice.
Check out (if you dare): 'Be Still And Know'. The cover art on this album is - as my boys would say - SICK! That means good.
Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage: An epic mix of death metal and opera like atmosphere. Creepy and exhilarating.
Check out (if you dare): 'Astral Blood'. I'm fully aware this proves I have some underlying issue I have yet to address.
Cave In - White Silence: Uncompromising (as usual), eclectic and completely original. These guys truly make music for themselves and really don't care who they please and who they alienate.
Check out: Here is live version of 'Centered'. Here is 'Heartbreaks, EarthQuakes'. And, yes, these are both off the same album. Now you get the idea.
Russian Circles - Empros: Six epic, hard core songs that express more musically than most bands do with words.
Check out: One of the milder songs, Mladek. Note how even this one turns dark about 2 minutes in.
Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See: The Monkeys take a step back in their warped time machine and do some old school, classic rock anthems while maintaining their trademark, quirky lyricism.
Check out: A live version of 'That's Where You're Wrong' that sounds fantastic. I now want to see them live.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers - 2120 South Michigan Ave: Thorogood sounds reinvigorated while covering a bunch of Chess Record tracks (hence the address of the title). Guess he wants to show how the old school operates.
Check out: A live version of Chuck Berry's 'Let It Rock'. Man still has it.
Bombay Bicycle Club - A Different Kind of Fix: Straight ahead, sensitive, school boy, pop which is totally not my bag. Yet, I find this blissfully distracting.
Check out: 'Take The Right One'
Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys: Like Mastodon, this isn't their best stuff (for my money 'The Seldom Seen Kid' is going to be tough to beat) and - like Mastodon - their lesser stuff is still better than most other bands on their best days. Bet you didn't think I could compare Elbow to Mastodon, did you?
Check out: A real live version of 'Lippy Kids'. I love how the lead singer always looks like he just rolled out of bed.
The Generators - Last of the Pariahs: Punk rockers return with a ferocious bunch of new songs that provide the argument they should have never gone away.
Check out: The video for 'You Against You'.
Talkdemonic - Ruins: In the past ten years, I've probably bought one or two completely instrumental albums. This year I have three that I love. Ironically, a band named Talkdemonic is the gentlest and most atmospheric of them all.
Check out: Their video for 'City Sleep'. Give this one a few minutes before making up your mind. On a side note, is it me or are all female violin players hot?
Thursday - No Devolucion: I've always been a bit frustrated with Thursday and their lack of commitment. While Cave In use variety to define their sound (and somehow always sound like Cave In while doing so), Thursday seems to just go with what's trendy. While that continues here (esp on the electronic laced 'Magnets Caught In A Metal Heart), the intelligent songwriting and the use of different genres blends into their heavy sound rather than detract from it.
Check out: 'Past and Future Ruins' which sums up the glorious schizophrenic nature of this album.
The Wonder Years - Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing: Nothing extraordinary here, just good old fashioned pop punk at it's finest. Crank and sing along!
Check out: 'And Now I'm Nothing'. Enjoy.
Archers of Loaf - Ickey Mettle: If you want to check out my personal musical evolution, you can start with Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Rush and Judas Priest then stumble across Arches of Loaf who open your eyes for all sorts of alternative possibilities. Holds up shockingly well after 20 something years.
The Kooks - Junk Of The Heart: A band I thought had no boundaries takes another misstep. They've gone from a fun, freewheeling band to one that would have a hard time making the cut on a 'Very Special Grey's Anatomy'.
Lady Gaga: I don't even care about her music (although 'Born This Way' sounds an awful lot like Madonna's 'Respect Yourself'), I just want her to stop showing up like a performance art exhibit or Al Pacino. I'm no psychological expert, but when a person goes to any length to be anyone but herself, I think help is required.
OK, need to stop and do some actual work. Hope you find something you enjoy.