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!