Editors Note: As a special for the last week of 2011, BestNewBands.com is running lists of our writer's top-5 albums of 2011. Because it's the end of the year and because we want to find out what our writers really like, these albums are not restricted to "New" bands. Here are Matt De Mello's top albums of the past year.
It’s that time of year again, kiddies. That glorious end of year extravaganza where we writers presume our opinions mean something more than yours because we have a forum. That fantastical time where we pontificate about the evils of the mainstream magazine making people like Drake seem bigger than life while we secretly wish that someday we can write for those corporate blowhards. It’s who we are. It’s innate in our souls that we have an air of superiority, because we are good enough to do this kind of thing and you are kind enough to follow. I’ve ran through many of the lists that have already come out and there are some that I agree with and some that make me scratch my head.
I’ve listened to Wilco’s album, The Whole Love, and I don’t think it’s great. Some people have it top-10, some even top-5 and I’m sitting here saying are you kidding me? It’s a solid album, but not that great, but they’re Wilco and so people think whatever they put out must be great. I love Jeff Tweedy and I want more than anything to love everything Wilco does since I some of his lyrics tattooed on my arm, but this one just missed the boat a bit. It’s reminiscent of when Bob Dylan puts out an album. Automatically you know it’s going to be nominated for a Grammy, because well it’s Dylan, how bad can it suck?
All that said, I’m just a guy with a big ego who is consumed enough by music to think I can tell you what albums were the best of the year. I’m still at the stage where I love approval, but jaded enough to not give a fuck what you really think. I compiled a list of 6 albums that I thought were simply put the albums I liked the most this year. I thought these artists albums really spoke to me in ways other albums did not.
This band out of Bloomington, Indiana is the best new band of the year. They aren’t widely known and I’ve caught more than my share of shit trying to get the word out on them. The truth is they’re super talented (I refuse to use the word uber, because I’m not German or a douche) and this debut album is brilliant. It’s inspired, epic and deafening. I don’t plug bands, don’t gesticulate wildly when I describe them and I never bore my friends and colleagues endlessly with calls to listen to their album, but I have with this band. I want this band to make it big, partly because I want to be that asshole that says he called it from day one, but mostly because they deserve it. They’re that good. They play music that is so grandiose that I was thoroughly astounded that this was merely a debut album. The sounds coming from this album reminded me of U2 and Arcade Fire and it’s just a matter of time before they too hit the upper echelons of musical royalty.
Theophilus London hit the scene a few years back with the release of numerous mixtapes that had people confused as to how and peg this emerging young talent. Then he came out with his big label debut and collaborations with Sara Quin (Tegan and Sara) and Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio) and the Hip Hop world weren’t sure what they were getting. I saw him a few months back at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco and he blew the roof off the joint. Timez are Weird These Days is closer to alternative than it is traditional Hip Hop and is brilliant in its complexity. While there are people touting Kanye West and Jay Z as having the ultimate Hip Hop album this year, London is being overlooked because he doesn’t fit nicely into a box. The old world doesn’t want to acknowledge the new world. It’s like when Shaq and Kobe tried to coexist in L.A. It worked for a minute but we all knew where it was headed. Old world will always be replaced by fresh new innovative ideas and Theophilus London is doing shit onthis album that is so new that he may be years ahead of his time.
This was a return to vintage Ryan Adams after a foray into a form of country with the Cardinals that quite frankly didn’t showcase the type of talent we’ve come to expect from Adams. It’s his best album since Gold, but I’d be lying if I said it still didn’t meet expectations that he still hasn’t reached the potential we once saw in him. There seems to be a melancholic feel with many of the songs and while still better than most of garbage being churned out there’s something missing. You can see it when you listen to songs like “Ashes and Fire”. If every song on the album was as good as that one this would be the best album of the year, without question. It reminds you of why you love him so much. It reminds you that he can be so close to Bob Dylan that it’s scary. He strums his Buck Owens acoustic guitar with such vigor and emotion that you know no one else could play it like he does. He’s gifted, talented, and brilliant and still just misses sometimes. You’d think I hated the album, but I really think it’s really well done. I’ve come to expect great things from Ryan Adams and obviously the past few years I was disappointed. I used to feel that way about Wilco that they could turn dirt into gold, but I don’t anymore. I hope I never feel that way about David Ryan Adams, because I feel he still has a few great albums left in him.
When I saw Blitzen Trapper play with Dawes at The Fillmore I’d been listening to their new album, American Goldwing, nonstop for a week and just couldn’t get the songs out of my head. It had that ‘70’s rock sound that was really the only good kind of music to come out of that era. It rocks hard, is catchy in some places and is a really well constructed album from start to finish. Yet, no one is talking about it. No one…I haven’t seen anything on it and believe me I’ve looked. I had to stop and check to see if it came out this year. People are talking about Dawes’ album, which is a solid album, but certainly not better than this one and still no publicity. There isn’t much exciting going on in Portland, Oregon these days except for the Trail Blazers players dropping like flies from injuries, but Blitzen Trapper lends hope to the cause. There’s easiness about Eric Earley’s voice that reminds me of Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne. It’s a subtlety that makes you think of Mint Juleps in the summer, children twirling in fields of flowers and girls in summer dresses. It’s a fantastic album.
It was a hard decision between this album and my top choice because I love them both. It seems like everything the Black Keys do is perfect. They’re the best band around right now and Dan Auerbach has the best voice period. This album is a departure from their bluesy stuff released previously, but still rocks the hell out of my sensitive eardrums. Since it’s come out I’ve listened to it and really is the only album that I’ve ever felt was too short. It has such energy that you really can’t help but dance and be happy when listening to it. This time around there is more than just a drummer (Patrick Carney) and a guitar player/vocalist, they’ve added instrumentation. It makes all the difference and like so many of their predecessors of rock lore they seem to just get better with every album.
I’ll be honest, before this album I wasn’t much a fan of The Decemberists. Not much of a fan meaning yeah I have a few of their albums but they rarely crack the rotation. Then The King is Dead came out and I was floored. It didn’t sound like anything they’d done before. It was upbeat, it was engaging and not pretentious, it was positively R.E.M-esque and it was ultimately brilliant from start to finish. I’ve listened to this album at least a hundred times and it still hasn’t gotten old. It still has a bit of that Decemberists style of using big words when little ones would suffice, but I like that. Bad Religion does that and when I was going through my punk rock phase I reveled in the fact that you could still rock out and be intelligent.The Decemberists made not only the best album of the year, but also the best album of their careers, thus far. It’s uncanny how good this album turned out. It appealed to me on a number of different levels, but what really stuck out to me is in the year that R.E.M decided to call it quits, The Decemberists came out with an album so reminiscent of early R.E.M that when I checked the liner notes I saw that Peter Buck indeed make a cameo on a few songs. It’s almost cheating that it came out so perfectly from start to finish. Isn’t that what you strive for with a great album? That while some songs may stick out, really they all just form one perfect union. This album does that and thus is the best album of 2011. Here’s hoping 2012 has some greatness to look forward to.