Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011 Albums: Year-End Awards

Now that the Top Songs of 2011 list is complete, it's time to focus on the albums that made their way through car stereos, iPods and record players this year. 

Before we begin, a note: As big as my love for music is, there is absolutely no way I could listen to everything that came out this year. So this list is one that's about 90% what I wanted to attack and 10% what I felt I needed to get to. Some names were left off for specific reasons (While Adele's 21 had some amazing singles, I thought the album as a whole was average at best) and some are left off because I simply didn't have a chance to get to them (Since I am a blogger, I'm using this to explain the absence of Bon Iver).

For plenty of those records that I didn't get to, and alternate thoughts on some that I did, please check out This Song Starts a Craze and Dance to the Radio, two blogs that are both looking at some year-end stuff as well.

Since this is my first time recapping the year at The Sight of Sound, I'm trying something a bit different. Admittedly, I'm borrowing some ideas from people I read and trying to incorporate them into my own. So get ready for part one of a three-day extravaganza beginning today with The Sight of Sound: Year-End Awards.

*note: Some are standard categories, some aren't. And some albums to be discussed in the top 12 of the year - starting tomorrow - will be winners as well.

Debut Album of the Year: Foster the People - Torches; Sleeper Agent - Celebrasion; Grouplove - Never Trust a Happy Song

2011 will be a year remembered for a lot of big names returning to the airwaves and for the dominance of female pop stars. But somewhere in all the comeback love and Gaga glory, there was room for newcomers to step up and steal the spotlight. While there were some other notable debuts (Yuck, The Joy Formidable), there were three that had such a strong opening release that I couldn't pick just one for this award. So strong in fact that (spoiler alert) this isn't the first you will hear of them. Foster the People is perhaps the most well-known of the three with MGMT-but-ready-to-be-famous sounds coming from their tracks. Sleeper Agent brings the old school sound in a new school rock genre and Grouplove provides the soundtracks for bonfires in the place of that pesky "real life." All three will be discussed in depth later, but this trio definitely takes home the prize of debut album of the year.

Most Disappointing Album of the Year: Incubus - If Not Now, When?

Want to know how an album is disappointing? You forget that it is even released. The reason why If Not Now, When? takes this title is because five years is a long time to wait for a new album. In that time, there was a greatest hits package released and Brandon Boyd decided to pull a solo stint. And that's the problem with this forgettable release: Boyd himself. Though he does admit this was going to be different than anything the band had ever done (and to be fair, some tracks were pretty good), it was too much to get used to and quickly got tossed aside.
Honorable mention: Drake - Take Care

One of the superstars in a fledgling rap game had a lot of hype surrounding his sophomore release and it came out as... boring. Some people will appreciate the sophistication in his lyrics and the chill vibe of the tracks, but those expecting the bravado found in "Forever" or "Over" will be disappointed to find it in very small capacity here.

The 'Almost There' Award: Childish Gambino - Camp

The distinction between this category and the one listed above is that the albums here were 'good', but just seemed to be missing that little something to put them into 'great' category. Childish Gambino, aka actor/comedian Donald Glover, gets the nod here for his first major release after a slew of mixtapes. The good stuff: fantastic beats and lines that demand he be taken seriously. The bad stuff: A bit too much of an autobiography. After about the 50th rap concerning him being a "nerdy black kid" and you start to say "ok, we get it." 

Honorable mention: Lupe Fiasco - L.A.S.E.R.S.; Jack's Mannequin - People and Things

It's a shame that Lupe Fiasco had to go through all the label drama before the release of his third studio album because it shines through and makes you wonder what could have been. Still, he brings it on tracks such as "Words I Never Said" and even the pop radio-ready "Show Goes On." For Andrew McMahon, making a record free of the burden of cancer must have been an exhilarating process. But while the third Jack's Mannequin channels some great songwriting, it tries too much to be shoutout to the bands of yesterday.

The "What Year is it Again?" Award: New Found Glory - Radiosurgery

Blink this year and you could question if we were really in 2011. From Taking Back Sunday and blink-182 (to be discussed later) to Panic! at the Disco and Yellowcard, the year was full of solid releases from the names that today's adults enjoyed in their youth. No band embodied that spirit more than New Found Glory. While some of their peers have gone on to craft sophistication and branch out with their new material, NFG stick with what brought them to the dance. Put Radiosurgery on and let your headphones bring you back to a time when pop-punk was just being born.
Honorable mention: Bayside - Killing Time

Coming all the way back in January, Bayside struck gold with one of their best releases in a celebrated catalog. It rivals anything some of the pure rock bands have put out and makes a statement that there are bright days ahead for this once-called 'emo' band.

Biggest Surprise of the Year: letlive. - Fake History

The singing-screaming genre is one that takes a lot of getting used to. Some can do it with pop tweaks (A Day to Remember) and some can do it with an in-your-face all-or-nothing attitude (The Devil Wears Prada). Since letlive. has been compared to those type bands, I was hesitant to give them a listen. But what I found was not only tracks full of energy, but a record that took legitimate effort to make. The band makes a point to give nods to the past Gods of hard rock while paving their own sound for the future. It's a gutsy release and one that anyone who needs to just put on some music and play it loud will definitely enjoy.

Honorable mention: Sublime with Rome - Yours Truly; Sum 41 - Screaming Bloody Murder

Take all the chaos surrounding the revamped lineup of Sublime (contractually obligated to now include WITH Rome) and set it aside: the album is pretty good. The only setback is that the band don't seem sure who they want to be. A ska band that gets played on skateboarding videos or a jam band that is featured in the next Disney-Pixar movie. It's a "press play and relax" type of album and it succeeds in that forte. As for Sum 41, the band seems to know what they are trying to do: channel Green Day. Piano ballads mixed with fast drums make Murder a convoluted effort, but when the elements come together they are on point. See: "Jessica Kill" and the title track.

The "Don't Knock It Till You Try It" Award: Patrick Stump - Soul Punk

Those expecting a Fall Out Boy-lite record will need to look elsewhere. But those who are willingly to give a talented songwriter and musician a shot at doing his own thing should give this one a listen. The Michael Jackson influences are obvious, especially in the opening "Explode," but Stump puts on his own personal dancing shoes for the remainder of the album. But don't be fooled; this isn't a mindless groove record. The 'punk' part comes in when you realize this guy used to front a successful band. He knows what he's doing.

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Lil Wayne - Tha Carter IV

It's not going to go down as one of the greatest rap albums of all time. Hell, it's not even a great record. But it's entertaining. And I enjoyed it. There's not much more that needs to be said about that as the title of the award pretty much explains it.

Up Next: We begin counting down the Top 12 albums of 2011!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Top 50 Songs of 2011: Part 4 (The Finale)

We have finally found the end of our countdown here at The Sight of Sound. Just in case you have missed a couple posts, here is a recap.

Now bring on the final three.

(EDIT: If you are a Spotify user, here is all 50 songs in a handy-dandy playlist. Well, the ones Spotify would let me add that is.

3. Foster the People - "Pumped Up Kicks"
Whether you absolutely loved the song or you think it’s one of the worst you’ve ever heard, whether you’ve been a fan since 2010 or only recently heard it and have abused the replay button, whether you think it’s a unique track that shows promise for new artists or is a cheap rip-off of MGMT, one thing is for sure – “Pumped Up Kicks” was HUGE in 2011 and if you’re reading this you most likely have some kind of opinion on it. It was the debut track for Foster the People that came not only before a proper album was even released, but before an album was even recorded. “Kicks” also pulls off something that newer artists are becoming better and better at. That is, recording vocals that if read on a sheet of paper would be disturbing but sung as a folkish electronic track give off a bouncy feel good vibe. Speaking of electronics, for as much as the debut album relied on non-traditional instruments the band has a stellar way of displaying amazing acoustic range, giving the songs new life. The acoustic version of "Kicks" is a perfect example.

2. Kanye West featuring Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Jay Z & Nicki Minaj - "Monster"
Before this year’s Watch the Throne, Kanye West came out with an Album of the Year-snubbed solo release in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in late 2010. In a foreshadowing of one of the biggest rap releases in history, two songs on that release featured Jay Z, fittingly back-to-back. “So Appaled” was a minimal effort and reflects on the down tracks of Throne. Meanwhile, Jay’s verse on “Monster” left everyone salivating for what the two could REALLY do together. Add in the fact that they had a little bit of help in everyone from Rick Ross to Bon Iver and also featured one of the better verses from Nicki Minaj’s short career. Everything came together to create a monster track, pun intended, that carried well into 2011.

1. Adele - "Rolling in the Deep"
There are countless “best of the year” articles going around right now and the one thing that the majority all have in common is Adele placed somewhere at the top of the lists. And it’s for good reason - she deserves it. The only way you can realistically deny she was in the top talent, or THE top talent, this year is if you also admit you don’t want to like what is “popular.” Case in point: the fact that you have to make a decision between “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You.” Ultimately, “Deep” gets the nod because of its longevity. Oh, and the fact that everyone from John Legend to Linkin Park has covered it, along with Go Radio for Punk Goes Pop Vol 4 . Don’t forget to include the remixes like this one that has a 60s roller-skating kind of vibe. Or the sample from Lil Wayne. Or the remix/sample from Childish Gambino. It’s one of the catchiest songs in history and the #1 song of the year.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Top 50 songs of 2011: Part 3

3 days down, one day to go. And today is packed with some superstars and newcomers alike. Lots of material to cover so let's get right down to it.

(Also, for an introduction to this list check out the first post here)

15. Sleeper Agent - "Get it Daddy"
The debut track from this Kentucky-based band comes out guns-a-blazing to create a sugary-sweet yet knock you out combo

14. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Factory of Faith"
RHCP stick to what they know best - making songs that you end up bouncing and singing along to - and this track is a perfect example

13. Blink-182 - "Hearts All Gone"
The "older" Blink may not please their entire fan base, but it's hard to not like this punkish rock track. Oh, and Travis Barker is a beast

12. Lil Wayne - "6 Foot, 7 Foot"
The song is simple: An absolute banger of a beat with a list of one-liners that can leave you laughing while your bass is exploding

11. Death Cab for Cutie - "Stay Young, Go Dancing"
For an early "emo" band, "Dancing" is uncharacteristically uplifting. And it's one of the best songs they've ever produced

Top 10
(more attention given; click on the title for youtube links)

After years of mixtapes, Childish Gambino goes big and refuses to go home on his first major single. "Bonfire" displays the best that writer/actor/artist Donald Glover has to offer - a beat that rivals anything the big names in rap put out and some of the best wordplay lines this year: "The shit I'm doin' this year? Insanity. / Made the beat then murdered it: Casey Anthony"

9. Foo Fighters - "Bridge Burning"
"Bridge Burning" opens up the latest effort from the Foo Fighters, Wasting Light. It's the perfect track to get the album started as it features a minimal guitar intro/buildup before bursting into chaos with a Dave Grohl grow. The energy never stops, making this not only one of the best pure rock tracks of the year but one of the best pure rock tracks in general.

8. Cage the Elephant - "Shake Me Down"
The boys who brought you "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" slow it down slightly for the lead-off single from Thank You, Happy Birthday. While the debut album had some great jam sessions, "Shake Me Down" is an example of their strong writing ability. Don't worry, they still jam with the best of them but it's nice to see their song range on tracks like this.

7. Manchester Orchestra - "Virgin"
It's really hard to describe what makes a track like "Virgin" so valuable to a band like Manchester Orchestra, but it's the kind of song that captures your attention immediately. And that's good for any band that is still making a name for themselves three albums in. The Atlanta-based band up their game by adding in a horn section and children's voices to give the song a kind of vibe that would make Dexter Morgan proud.

6. Jay Z & Kanye West - "N****s in Paris"
This track was an instant favorite to most listeners of Watch the Throne. Why? Let's count the ways: a fun beat that is hard to sit still to, clips from "Blades of Glory," two strong verses from two of the best rappers in history, the creation of "Ball so hard..." and "Dat Shit Cray" as sayings and not even batting an eye when Kanye West talks about his girl ordering a fish fillet.

5. Taking Back Sunday - "El Paso"
On a personal note, I don't think any song had more of an impact on me this year than the first time I heard "El Paso." I usually hate to listen to a song on repeat, but I must have played this track 20 times the first day it was released. After years and albums of inner band turmoil, "El Paso" was a call-to-arms that the reunited TBS lineup was back and they meant business. They weren't as angry as they were at 18, but adult anger translated into one of the hardest rock songs of 2011.

4. Coldplay - "Paradise"
When "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall" was released as the first single off Mylo Xyloto, the majority of Coldplay fans weren't impressed. It's a good song in its own right, but something just felt slightly off. Enter "Paradise." The song features everything you could ever want out of Chris Martin and the gang including a story that could read like a poem, plus instrumental work from the band that leaves you feeling like you are that girl the song describes. 

What did you think of today's list? Were some songs overrated, were you glad some got attention? Let me know in the comments. 

Be sure to look out for the top 3 songs of 2011 in tomorrow's Friday's post.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Top 50 songs of 2011: Part 2

After yesterday's introduction and part one post of the top 50 songs of 2011, we move forward to day 2 with a lot of ground to cover. So let's get to it.

35. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - "If I Had a Gun"
34. M83 - "Midnight City"
33. Drake featuring Rihanna - "Take Care"
32. Panic! at the Disco - "Sarah Smiles"
31. Paramore - "Renegade"
30. Young the Giant - "Cough Syrup"
29. The Wonder Years - "Came Out Swinging"
28. Radiohead - "Lotus Flower"
27. Fleet Foxes - "Helplessness Blues"
26. Lupe Fiasco featuring Skylar Grey - "Words I Never Said"
25. Yellowcard - "With You Around"
24. Florence + the Machine - "Shake it Out"
23. Hugo - "99 Problems" (Jay Z cover)
22. Bayside - "Sick Sick Sick"
21. The Airborne Toxic Event - "All I Ever Wanted"

Top 20
("tweet" descriptions - 140 characters or less)

20. The Black Keys - "Lonely Boy"
Following up on the success of Brothers, the Keys come out swinging with this rockin lead-off single. And pick up right where they left off

19. Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine - "Stereo Hearts"
Levine helped elevate this track to major pop success, but McCoy employed some of his best wordplay in years to make GCH new again

18. Beastie Boys - "Make Some Noise"
Maybe the saying should be that old dogs can teach old tricks? The Boys bring the party in a hip-hop track that could be strong in 91 or 11

17. Atlas Genius - "Trojans"
A hit song before even recording an album? It worked for these Aussies. The smooth vibe leaves anticipation for a proper future release

16. Grouplove - "Colours"
A hippieish jam track that you don't realize you are in love with until you picture yourself in an open field humming along

Now that we're in the middle of the list, what did you think of these selections? Agree, disagree? Wondering if your favorite is going to make it? Let me know in the comments.

Be sure to look out for numbers 15 - 4 tomorrow

Monday, December 5, 2011

Top 50 Songs of 2011: Part 1

So now it begins. The time of year when every blogger and their follower's brother puts up their thoughts on the best music of the year. The Sight of Sound is no different and the inaugural edition of looking back on the musical year that was will be broken up in to three weeks.

Week 1: The top 50 songs of 2011
Week 2: The Sight of Sound Year-End Awards
Week 3: Top Albums of 2011

So that's what will happen throughout December, but as for today we get right into the top 50 songs of the year.

Disclaimer: I'm only one person and as much as I love music there is absolutely no way I could listen to every single song that comes out in a given year. So the following list is made up of songs that have made their way through my airwaves and left an impression on my ear.

The only criteria were as follows: One song for each artist (this was a difficult choice to make for some, but others only really had one strong choice anyway). A song didn't necessarily have to be a single - for some artists I selected a stronger track on the album that never made it on the radio or had a video release. Also, the song didn't necessarily have to be released this year, but if its impact was felt in 2011 (ex: the album was released in winter 2010) then it made it.

And there will be some notable names absent from my list. This could be that either I didn't get a chance to give them a proper listen or... I didn't think they were worthy. It will be up to you to make a guess ;)

To kick off the top 50 songs of 2011, here are the first 15. 

50. Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi featuring Jack White - "Two Against One"
49. Farewell Continental - "Who's the Boss?"
48. Of Monsters and Men - "Little Talks"
47. The Vaccines - "Post Breakup Sex"
46. The Naked and Famous - "Punching in a Dream"
45. Cults - "Go Outside"
44. Travis Barker featuring Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Swizz Beatz and The Game - "Can a Drummer Get Some?"
43. Sum 41- "Jessica Kill"
42. The Joy Formidable - "Whirring"
41. Givers - "Up Up Up"
40. Switchfoot - "Dark Horses"
39. TV on the Radio - "Will Do"
38. Yuck - "Get Away"
37. Sublime with Rome - "Panic"
36. Pierce the Veil - "Just the Way You Are" (Bruno Mars cover)

And that's it for today. Check back tomorrow for numbers 35 - 21.

What did you think of these songs? Loved them, hated them, never heard of them? Let me know in the comments section.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...