To be honest, 2011 wasn’t that controversial of a year in the music world. I mean, sure we lost a few great bands (The White Stripes, LCD Soundsystem, etc.) and saw Katy Perry tie with Michael Jackson for their number of chart-topping songs but this year was relatively quiet compared to the past few years.
Judging by some of the artists nominated for a Grammy this year, mainstream music is beginning to branch out a little to include some indie, with the darling Bon Iver catching a nod. And despite Kanye West‘s My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy getting snubbed for Album of the Year, the nominees aren’t all quite terrible.
Needless to say, music lovers have been blessed this year, because 2011 was the year that music came alive again. Pop-punk began it’s ascent to the summer throne, with bands like Fireworks, The Wonder Years, New Found Glory, Yellowcard and Blink-182 all releasing excellent albums. Rap also sought to up the ante in the game, with artists such as Drake, Childish Gambino, Common, and J. Cole leaning away from a more commercial sound to create beautiful experiences.
So as quiet as the year in music was in the news, the same can’t be said for quality releases. There was such a perfect variety of every genre that none of them dominated completely. Overall, it was nearly impossible to try and choose just ten albums that defined 2011 for me. But starting at number 10, here goes nothing:
10. Thursday – No Devolucion
Thursday is the band that made post-hardcore a legitimate genre. For over a decade they have been making quality music that can’t be ignored. Every screamo band that tried to make a mark in the world of music is in debt to this band. That’s why the news that they were going on one of those dreaded “indefinite hiatuses” this year hit extra hard, because we weren’t just losing a band, we were losing a legend.
Luckily, No Devolucion happened to be a fantastic swan song. Dropping the heavier tones for a more atmospheric and ethereal sound, Thursday reached deeper into themselves to produce a truly great album that will be remembered as one of their best for years to come. Geoff Rickly sings his lungs out on every track, and the rest of the band plays their heart out like they knew it was their last chance. Even at number 10, No Devolucion shouldn’t be missed.
9. The Devil Wears Prada – Dead Throne
To be honest, I hated these guys when I first heard them. Everything they presented in their debut album was everything that was wrong with the metal genre. Plus, what a stupid band name. But hey, anyone from Ohio can’t be that bad, right?
That’s why I’m so glad I gave Dead Throne a chance when it came out. After hearing the excellent Zombie EP, I gave it a chance, and I was completely blown away. These guys are heavy but smart, mixing power with brains to make an excellent metal album. Every song is like a punch to the face, and the album never lets up for a second. There’s no doubt that there are better metal albums released this year, but none of them grabbed me by the throat and held my attention for months at a time like Dead Throne did. And honestly, Mike Hranica has one of the most distinctive voices in metal, and his raspy growl is a force to be reckoned with. These hometown heroes have a heavy future in store for them, and I can’t wait to hear what’s next.
8. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Was there ever any doubt that this collaboration wouldn’t make it on the end of the year lists? Putting two rap legends together and letting them face off for as long as they want was a perfect idea, and leave it to Jay-Z and Kanye West to pull it off without a hitch. Crafting an album that doesn’t really have any weak tracks takes a special talent, one that this duo has in spades.
Who can forget the first time they heard Ni**as In Paris? Or how about No Church In The Wild? The whole album is just phenomenal, and no explanation is needed for why it is just plain awesome. If you’re one of the 7 people on the planet who didn’t listen to these two go H.A.M. together, then get on it. Right now. Seriously, stop reading. Why are you still here?
7. The Wonder Years – Suburbia: I’ve Give You All and Now I’m Nothing
Pop-punk really got the kick it needed this year, and there were a ton of fantastic releases from bands in the genre. The Wonder Years is one of the bands that is being hailed as the leaders of the new wave of pop-punk, and it’s definitely for good reason. These guys don’t just write music to write it. Each song is a cathartic story that singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell relates in a way that makes us realize who he is: a guy just trying to get through life.
With songs that deal with everything from religion to the town he was raised in, Suburbia has a little something for everyone. The nostalgia I felt as I listened to this in my dorm rang true even when I was back in my home town. Even songs like Woke Up Older that detail how life can take its toll on you still felt authentic and easy to relate to. Suburbia is more than just a pop-punk album. It’s a testament to the hard work The Wonder Years has put into their craft. When Soupy sings the line “I’m not a self-help book/I’m just a f***ed up kid,” you’ll feel like he really can give you the best advice on life. And that’s a great feeling.
6. Blink-182 – Neighborhoods
When I first reviewed this album, I thought for sure that I was being much too generous with the score and that I had just left my nostalgia blinders on. But months later, I still find Neighborhoods to be a great effort from everyone’s favorite band. The Godfathers of pop-punk made their long awaited return to the world of music this year, and even though I had my doubts, they ended up making an astounding progression that builds perfectly off of their self-titled.
Songs like Ghost on the Dance Floor and After Midnight showcase the more serious tone of the album while also letting Blink-182 craft their music in a new, more mature way. Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus still bounce around on vocal duty, and hearing them go back and forth again is enough to bring anyone to tears (well, Blink fans at least). Not just a great reunion album, but an overall surprising quality album, Neighborhoods has earned its spot here.
5. Marianas Trench – Ever After
Canada darlings Marianas Trench have been the kings of pop-rock since they released Masterpiece Theatre, a fantastic album that mixed muscle and polish to make some pop music you didn’t have to be embarrassed about liking. Although Ever After doesn’t totally topple the king, it’s still the best follow-up album that the guys could have made. Telling the story of a guy who feels lost in his own life and disappears into another world, Ever After is the epic concept album of the year.
Ranging from the eponymous opening track, which introduces strings into the mix, to the pounding Fallout, almost every song on this album is pop perfection. Josh Ramsay sings his heart out on every song, showcasing one of the best voices in modern music. Even if you’ve never heard of these guys, be sure to check this one out.
4. Drake – Take Care
With so many tracks on this album, it was impossible to find something to hate. Drake really poured all of himself into his sophomore album, and it shines even brighter than his brilliant debut did. So many of the tracks are perfect, and the lyrics ring more true than most of his contemporaries, which is something that he should be commended for everyday.
When an album has a single as strong as Headlines, you know you’re in for a treat. Songs like Marvin’s Room and Over My Dead Body are poignant and heartbreaking while Underground Kings and Make Me Proud pound their way through the rest. There’s a reason that Drake is so successful, and it’s because he is extremely talented. Take Care finds him at his most emotional, but he’s also never sounded stronger.
3. The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday/Echoes of Silence
I read somewhere that The Weeknd mastermind Abel Tesfaye had created the Star Wars trilogy of perfect R&B EPs this year. That’s pretty much the perfect summary of these three brilliant and haunting albums. All of them were released in one year, and all of them were absolutely amazing. Releasing each one for free, his website was constantly crashing as it tried to support the rush of fans trying to get each one. Trust me, I was definitely one of them.
Transforming the generic R&B experience into something beautifully dirty is what The Weeknd does best. Ranging from the falsetto that rings through The Zone or the voice modifications that swirl through Initiation, Tesfaye has yet to create a bad song. The XO to Drake‘s OVO, his appearance on Take Care this year will be sure to turn plenty of heads. If anyone deserves to make it big, it’s definitely The Weeknd. Now go tell everyone about him so that we can finally get a full-length from him.
2. Childish Gambino – Camp
Donald Glover is a busy guy. When he’s not writing for 30 Rock, playing Troy on Community or doing stand-up comedy, he’s rapping as Childish Gambino. You would think a guy that busy wouldn’t have the time to even be a good rapper. But the complete opposite is true. Glover gets the chance to pour all of his passion into his music, eschewing the standards of rapping about women and clothes and instead leading us through his life in the most personal, intimate way he can. His first major full-length, Camp is probably the best debut I’ve ever heard from a rapper.
Glover can go hard on songs like Bonfire and Backpackers, but he’s at his best when he slows it down on songs like All The Shine and tells his story from the beginning. His dedicated fanbase is making sure that he is heard everywhere, and with an excellent debut and his best EP ever released earlier this year, he’s got a big enough catalog to do so. The fact that he released a full-length without enlisting the help of a million other rappers is also worth note. No guest features, just Glover and a microphone. Keep your eye on Childish Gambino because he is definitely set to break the game wide open.
1. The Story So Far – Under Soil & Dirt
The only word that can describe this album is perfect. Just perfect. This debut from The Story So Far is the most promising album I’ve ever heard, and it gives me hope for the future of pop-punk music. Leaning a little more towards the punk side, Under Soil & Dirt is the album that got me through 2011. I listened to it whenever something amazing happened to me and I listened to it when terrible things were tearing me apart. It’s the only album I heard this year that was there for you in every situation.
Fans of rock music in general should find something to love on this album. Anybody transitioning from high school to college (like I was) should find something to relate to on this album. It’s just that amazing of an album. I can honestly say I listened to it all the way through once a day for months, and it still hasn’t lost its appeal. Singer Parker Cannon delivers like no one else did this year, giving the most earnest performance with his heart resting on his sleeve. Guitarists Kevin Geyer and William Levy create some of the most fierce lines to back him up as well. The whole band works together to give us the best album of 2011. But enough of me talking about it. Listen for yourself.
Well there you have it everyone! These are my ten favorite albums from 2011, and since I know we all have different opinions, feel free to tell us which ones made your top ten in the comments below. I hope everyone finds some new music to love in 2012!