Monday, December 19, 2011

Top Ten Releases of 2011 With Video Highlights

This year, I made my list early so I could enjoy reading about other top picks.  While I may not always agree with other choices for a top ten, I still appreciate the passion for new music discoveries even in genres that are not my favorite (thinking about bro-rock, folky types or anything else I consider snooze-worthy!)  It's also a nice way to revisit releases I might not have explored thoroughly the first go around.  In fact, I've already started my Winter 2012 New Music Playlist and there are a few leftovers from this year that will make an appearance.  For now, enjoy this walk down memory lane for 2011 -- a truly great year for new tunes.

1. Peter Bjorn and John, Gimme Some
This Swedish trio hit one out of the park with Gimme Some, their sixth release since the band formed in 1999.  The single "Second Chance" was all over both TV and online radio with its punchy vibe and feel good refrain.  But the rest of the album is a worthy listen as well, a diverse offering the band presents with confidence.  Their concert last spring was also a top five for the year -- relive it here.

2. CAKE, Showroom of Compassion
As a long-time fan of the band CAKE, I was thrilled that a new album finally appeared after six long years without anything new.  It came as no surprise that the collection was filled with rockin' anthems and quirky sing alongs, such as "Sick of You."  My big Christmas present last year was an overpriced StubHub tickets to a WRXP radio (R.I.P.) holiday show featuring the band and it was well worth it!  They previewed the new songs and I was loving them at first listen -- write up of that show here.

3. Radiohead, King of Limbs
Radiohead released this album last spring and even though it has the shortest running time of any other of their albums, it was enough to easily earn a top ten slot.  The band continues to create innovative approaches to music after almost twenty years together (as well as some new dance moves by Thom Yorke as choreographed by noted UK choreographer Wayne McGregor in the video for "Lotus Flower" below).  After stopping by SNL and The Colbert Report, they played a few dates in the city, but I was not one of the lucky fans to see them.

4. Washed Out, Within and Without
Georgia native Ernest Greene put the term chill wave on the music scene map, with just a few songs composed in his childhood bedroom back in 2009. Hard to think that someone with a proper name like that would choose the sexiest cover artwork of the year... too bad his stage show I saw last summer didn't sizzle quite the same way, even with his new wife on the stage (review link here).

5. Portugal. The Man., In the Mountain. In the Cloud.
This band from the Pacific Northwest (two of the members even grew up in Alaska) have been together for five years, but I only just discovered them.  Their expansive sound reflects their surroundings and lays the foundation for the soulful vocals of singer/songwriter John Baldwin Gourley.  In the Mountain. In the Cloud. was a release I listened to over and over, capped off with a stellar concert appearance at Terminal 5 headlining the 2011 CMJ Music Marathon (review of the festival night here).

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., It's a Corporate World
When I heard this band's single "Simple Girl" I was hooked, but I didn't realize the band had some serious writing chops and depth of talent until I witnessed them live (review link here).  The music pulsed through the venue with layers of synths over a rock band format, encouraging me to revisit the entire release with many satisfying listens.

7. Moby, Destroyed
Moby released his latest CD with a book of photographs taken while out on tour, many of them in the middle of the night.  The reflective mood is found throughout the album, and his singing on the single "The Day" revealed one of his most soul-searing melodies ever.  One of my highlights of the year was definitely interviewing this guy who grew up in my hometown (link here) to hear first hand about the new tunes.  I was also able to catch him doing his big time arena show act at Moogfest 2011, although I was disappointed he only stuck to older hits.

8. M83, Midnight City
Anthony Gonzalez is a charming Frenchman who released two discs worth of world-shaking synth creations this year, then formed a band in order to figure out how to play everything live and tour extensively. I only saw them doing a festival slot at this year's Moogfest, but it was enough to make me a fan forever.

9. Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys
Elbow is another long standing band from the UK (recently chosen to create a theme for the London Olympics next summer).  Their fifth studio album is another stellar collection of tales of life across the pond, as sweetly sung by singer/songwriter Guy Garvey.

10. My Morning Jacket, Circuital
This rock band from Lexington, Kentucky, released their sixth studio album to much acclaim this summer and it's complexities made for an interesting listen.  From the full throttle group singing in "Holding on to Black Metal" to Jim James' solo in "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)," there was something for everyone to latch on to and enjoy.