Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kyle's Albums of the Year 2011

2011 has been a year of both disappointment and pleasant surprises. My taste in music is in constant motion, but at the end of the day, the following are, in my humble opinion, the most impressive and enjoyable releases of the year. 

10) A Lot Like Birds - Conversation Piece (Doghouse Records, 10/11)

Kurt Travis managed to bring a well deserved spotlight to Sacramento's A Lot Like Birds when it was announced that he would be joining the group. The post-hardcore band, previous to Travis' arrival, was pretty far out there, often reminding me of Circle Takes the Square. However, with Travis' entrance, the group went a bit more mainstream to appeal to a wider audience. This in no way means they sold out or resorted to a tired breakdown oriented formula. Conversation Piece is a prime example of how good post-hardcore can be when artfully crafted by talented musicians. Melodic at times and chaotic at others, A Lot Like Birds has established themselves as a top dog in the genre.

9) Artifex Pereo - Antidotes & Ailments (Self-Released, 7/23)

Antidotes & Ailments is quite an eclectic effort. Self-released and recorded with Chris Krummet, it is essentially a progressive rock release, though there are many atmospheric sections featuring keys to contrast frantic and scathing guitar spasms. The musicianship on the record is quite impressive, particularly for an unsigned band. The guitar arrangements are clever and intriguing. Vocalist Lucas Worley somehow manages to tie everything together with his whimsical approach. Though the record does become slightly one dimensional as it progresses, the sheer quality of the music is enough to garner it this spot on my list. 

8) Childish Gambino - Camp (Glassnote Records, 11/15)

Donald Glover's first full length release proved to be one of the most impressive hip-hop efforts of the year. Gambino's distinct style is serious yet amusing, often confronting serious social issues facing our nation. Gambino shares his interesting perspective of  one not accepted by white culture for being black, nor accepted by black culture for being too white. Even while seemingly clowning around, he throws interesting observations into his rhymes. Produced by his long time collaborator Ludwig Goransson, the record sounds big and has an identity distinctly its own. Gambino humorously addresses topics both of little and great significance with convincing style and confidence. 

7) Transit - Listen & Forgive (Rise Records, 10/4)

2011 brought about great success for Boston's Transit, garnering enough hype to earn themselves a spot on Rise Record's roster. Their first effort on their new label was a bit of a shock to the system but definitely has been a grower. Transit dropped their distinctive style of dark pop-punk for a more lighthearted pop rock influenced record. The maturity level of the group has risen greatly since they started, but the heart and emotion is still there. Listen & Forgive is a thoroughly enjoyable record, the perfect soundtrack to long summer evenings with friends. 

6) Aficionado - Aficionado (No Sleep Records, 7/26)

Straightforward and humble, Aficionado's debut LP manages to impress with clever instrumentation and tangible honesty. Featuring both a male and a female vocalist as well as keys and a flute, Aficionado somehow manages to make everything flow organically. Nothing feels out of place despite the simplicity of the music. Aficionado grows on you, winning you over with its dark yet optimistic theme. 

5) Saves the Day - Daybreak (Razor & Tie, 9/13)

The old dudes are still at it and they still have it. In fact, they've gotten better. Though perhaps not their most significant release, Daybreak is Saves the Day's most impressive effort to date. The instrumentation is understated yet confident, straightforward yet somehow flashy and endlessly appealing. Chris Conley gets better with each release with one of the greatest vocal performances of the year. Daybreak is one of the best surprises of the year and will surely remain in rotation for a good bit longer. 

4) La Dispute - Wildlife (No Sleep Records, 10/4)

One of my most anticipated albums of the year, Wildlife took a good bit of time to digest. Wildlife is an unnerving experience, a record that is truly uncomfortable. The musicianship has greatly progressed since the days of Vancouver, clearly evident in the first moments of the 57 minute ride. Jordan Dryer wonders about life and death, sharing his dark lyrics with his harsh cry. Dryer's collection of stories and anecdotes can feel repetitive as the record approaches its conclusion, and sitting through the entire thing is a grating experience. However, King Park remains my favorite track of the year, and La Dispute faces little adversity in claiming their spot at the top of their game. 

The Wonder Years released Suburbia at the top of their game, riding off the success of their previous effort, The Upsides. With all eyes on them, The Wonder Years managed to produce one of the greatest efforts of the year. Honest, catchy, and distinctly The Wonder Years, Suburbia is everything one could hope for from the Philadelphia natives. The instrumentation is a huge step up and a step in the right direction, and it is hard to deny the appealing lyrics. Everyone will find meaning and something to enjoy in Suburbia.

2) Drake - Take Care (Young Money Entertainment, 11/15)

Though he may have botched his first effort, Drake took special care to ensure that his second was perfect. Take Care is a truly impressive record, spanning 80 minutes and hooking me in for every one. Take Care is deep, dark, and brooding, offering us mere mortals perspective on life at the top. Despite his undeniable swag, Drake is troubled and his  introspective analysis of his life and the game reflects this. Along with top notch production and beautiful artistic direction, Drake's strangely enticing attitude makes for one of the best releases of the year. 

1) Fireworks - Gospel (Triple Crown Records, 5/24)

Firework's second full length threw a wrench in their formula, taking them from an enjoyable but ultimately mediocre act to one worthy of accolade. The progression from their debut is truly astounding. Departing from their generic pop-punk approach, Fireworks developed an indie vibe while adding progressive guitar work and quality songwriting, producing a distinct and thoroughly enjoyable sound. The hooks are huge and refreshing, the lyrics are entertaining and honest, and the record is just plain fun, making Gospel my album of the year. 

Honorable Mentions:

Bright Eyes - The People's Key
From Indian Lakes - Acoustic EP
Hoodie Allen - Leap Year
Into It. Over It. - Proper
Secret Band - Secret Band EP


  1. Overall, good review. However, Drake? Really? No way he should have made this list, let alone number two.

  2. Drake's album was pretty good. I dug it. Definitely a worthy contender.

  3. I found a lot of depth in the release and thought the production was particularly noteworthy. I can see why one might not find it appealing, but it clicked with me for some reason.

  4. Glad to see Aficionado getting some love!

  5. I approve of this list.

  6. I approve of you, Blair.