Bayside - Killing Time
While Bayside had gotten plenty of acclaim over the years, I was never able to get past lead singer Anthony Raneri's unique voice. But with Killing Time, the voice stopped bothering me as much as it used to, and the slickly crafted rock songs helped this album burst into my top ten. "Sick, Sick, Sick" and "Already Gone" are two of my favorite tracks on the year, and Bayside has finally turned me into a fan.
The Bigger Lights - Battle Hymn
It's safe to say that I never expected this, even if I should have. The Bigger Lights finally decided to leave Doghouse Records and create the rock record they wanted to create, rather than continuing to coast along for accessibility and fame. This is one of the greatest maturations of any band in the last few years, as The Bigger Lights finally put some sophistication into both the lyrics and the music. While the band is on somewhat of a hiatus, they at least showed that they have the potential to put out outstanding records.
Bright Eyes - The People's Key
Similar to my issues with Bayside, I could just never tolerate Conor Oberst's voice. Minimalist folk music was never my favorite, so when I heard the synths of "Shell Games", I finally enjoyed a Bright Eyes song. The philosophic monologue of "Firewall" guides the band from the older style folk into the more modern sound of the rest of The People's Key. While the album is a departure from classic Bright Eyes and definitely disappointed many fans of the band, I feel that the bigger arrangements in The People's Key actually improved the record.
I enjoyed Fireworks. I just had no clue that they would burst past the majority of pop punk bands on the way to the top of the genre. Fireworks went from another generic pop punk band with whiny vocals and average lyrics to one of the most unique. "Arrows", "Teeth", and "Oh, Why Can't We Start Old And Get Younger" show the band moving outside the box while "Summer" is one of the strongest classic pop punk tracks of 2011.
Lights - Siberia
I didn't like Lights, and I don't like dubstep. So how can a mixture of the two create one of my favorite records of the year? I don't know, but it doesn't really matter. Lights' twinkly beats have been replaced by dark and grimy beats and Holy Fuck is brought in to help produce many of the tracks. Canadian rapper Shad also has a few appearances on the best tracks on the album, which along with the change in beats shows Lights willingness to experiment with new sounds.
Mayday Parade - Mayday Parade
After the atrocity known as Anywhere But Here, I never expected to care about Mayday Parade again. But the band's self titled album brought a shred of hope that they could actually make another album at the level of A Lesson In Romantics. Luckily, Derek finally felt on sharing the vocal spotlight with drummer Jake Bundrick, bringing listeners back to the dual vocalled days of A Lesson In Romantics. "Everything's An Illusion" is one of the best songs the band has written, fitting in favorably with the hits off the debut.
Daybreak was another situation similar to Bayside and Bright Eyes. While I'd given multiple Saves The Day albums listens over the past year or so, none of them stuck with me at all. There was something about the flow of Stay What You Are that turned me off of it, plus Chris Conley's vocals put me off slightly. The title track is a five movement masterpiece, and the whole album dominates with the hooks unlike any Saves The Day record I had heard before.
And the Hellogoodbye award for biggest stylistic improvement of 2011 goes to Select Start. Before The New Atlantic, I knew the band as a heavily autotuned electropop band, similar to the aforementioned Hellogoodbye. But The New Atlantic shows none of their previous failure, as Select Start has reconstructed themselves as a widely instrumented harmony based indie pop band. New addition Daniel Lancaster (brother of Go Radio's Jason Lancaster) added another dimension to the vocals, while every band member gets a chance in singing harmonies in the a capella "So Far".