Music

Top 10 Albums of 2011

#10. Lydia Loveless "Indestructible Machine"

Darren C. Demaree

This album didn't leave my car for a full season. As in, for Fall, I listened only to "Indestructible Machine". At any given time, I would have a different favorite track, though in the end "Do Right", "Crazy", and "Steve Earle" were the tracks I would add to my friend's year-end mixes. Loveless embodies the spirit of every short, liquored-up, angry girl from a small town in Ohio. I grew up with a ton of those, dated a few, and ended up marrying the nice one. Finally, one of them can sing like an "Indestructible Machine".

#9. R.E.M. "Collapse Into Now"

Brian Ahnmark

Precious few bands bow out on their own terms. Fewer do so with grace. And only a blessed handful do so at the top of their game. R.E.M.'s swan song is a satisfying cross-section of a 30+ year, genre-defying, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career. Triumphant and bombastic (“Discoverer”), defiant and ageless (“All The Best”), inspiring and poetic (“Every Day Is Yours To Win”), this final chapter captures R.E.M. at their best; a breathtaking array of styles guided by Michael Stipe's brilliant wordplay, Mike Mills' nimble bass and invaluable harmonies, and Peter Buck's lean fretwork (with some mandolin sprinkled in as a nod to a bygone era). An immortalizing bookend fit for legends.

#8. Talib Kweli "Gutter Rainbows"

Darren C. Demaree

Talib Kweli might be the best rapper alive. Talib Kweli might be the smartest rapper alive. "Gutter Rainbows" does an amazing job of smacking you in the face with both of those possibilities. "Gutter Rainbows" and "I'm On One" belong on every year end mix, and the rest of the album might as well. In fact, just burn "Gutter Rainbows" as your year-end mix. You will no be dissapointed while listening to this purest form of Hip Hop.

#7. The Black Keys "El Camino"

Chad W. Lutz

The sound for El Camino was hard to pinpoint at first listen. My mind kept telling me, “This is the same album you’ve heard a hundred times before from them!” But that is precisely what remains so great about The Black Keys. No matter what style or sound they play around with, The Black Keys always seem to retain that little something.

#6. Explosions In The Sky "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care"

Shawn Braley

If there’s one thing that can be said for Explosions in the Sky, it’s that they’re incredibly consistent. Each album has a familiar sound containing simple yet complex songs that crescendo into explosive (seemed a fitting word) climaxes. It can be argued that EITS isn’t trying for anything new, but it can’t be denied that they aren’t damn good at what they do. With Take Care their lack of deviation is welcomed simply because it still sounds incredible. The emotional core of Explosions In The Sky is still retained because the emotions lie in the subjectivity of the music striking whatever emotional cord you may be feeling that day (happy, sad, melancholy). Take Care is no different but who the hell would want it to be when it’s so good?

5. Middle Brother "Middle Brother"

Brian Ahnmark

Borne of three obscenely gifted young songwriters (John McCauley of Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit), this charmingly ramshackle debut album crackles with warmth and energy. Thankfully, it's not some half-baked batch of leftovers. From McCauley's aggressive rasp (“Middle Brother,” “Me Me Me”) to Goldsmith's bruised introspection (“Wilderness”) to Vasquez's unhinged croon (“Blue Eyes”), this heaping serving of songcraft fills the belly with flavors both sweet and savory. Here's praying this isn't a one-off project.

4. Fruit Bats "Tripper"

Chad W. Lutz

Although they’ve been around since 1997, Fruit Bats still garners a largely underground following. If you haven’t heard of Fruit Bats, the time is now. Tripper’s tracks are fun and extremely listenable to music lovers of all genres. “Each empire who inherits the sea rises and retreats into repose,” declares Wild Honey. “To penetrate pure life, you’ve gotta suffer some.” While Fruit Bats may not be to “Legendary Rock God” status, this album shows they’re definitely worth a listen. To pass this album up, you’d have to be, well, as blind as a bat.

#3. Fleet Foxes "Helplessness Blues"

Shawn Braley

With a debut as good as Fleet Foxes had, many feared for the sophomore slump that tends to strike bands with such high caliber debuts. Fleet Foxes not only skipped the slump but their latest effort, Helplessness Blues, is a powerful, calculated, daunting piece of work. “Montezuma” opens the album modestly with soft playing building to a harmony with great background oh’s and ah’s while Robin Pecknold laments, “Oh, man what I used to be, oh man, oh my, oh me.” The standout track, “Helplessness Blues”, is an anthem for the helpless youth and speaks to what many of us feel in terms of having a voice in the world. Fleet Foxes sophomore album is ultimately important because it’s real. Helplessness Blues is as honest an album as they come.

#2. Bon Iver "Bon Iver"

Darren C. Demaree

Bon Iver creates beautiful music, music that wants things, and isn't so rude about the wanting. With "Bon Iver" he delivered a near perfect album of songs, with highlights in "Perth", "Holocene", and "Calgary", he seems to create whole wooded worlds with each tune. He has too many famous friends in the music business to not vary from his current system of delivery, but it has been thoroughly enjoyable to hear this early work.

#1. Southeast Engine "Canary"

Brian Ahnmark

This astonishing concept album centers on an Appalachian family struggling to survive the Great Depression. On the surface, it hardly sounds like inspiring source material. But the finished product could not be more inspired. Principal songwriter Adam Remnant delivers a narrative simultaneously devastating, hopeful and inspiring – with chilling thematic ties to the present. His weathered voice bleeds a pained honesty; brother/bassist Jesse Remnant, keyboardist Billy Matheny and percussionist Leo DeLuca create a sonic palette of timeless grace. A career-defining classic, written and recorded in Athens, OH.