Best Music Of 2011: TL

author TL date 01/02/12

How do we appreciate music? What factors come into play when we're listening to something and want to assess whether it's good or bad? Surely there are hundreds of answers to this question, yet most music fans seem eager to agree that quality in music is really only susceptible to subjective evaluation. It's a good positive attitude really, because it allows you to like what you like without constantly having to defend yourself against disagreements and criticism, and because it allows you to pull a Good Guy Greg when friends of yours like shitty stuff, rather than having to engage them in a douchy argument, trying to police their taste.

It's not really a helpful perspective for a reviewer however. After all, spending time thinking about a record in terms of good and bad and grades seems borderline pointless, if whatever we eventually write up for you, is 100% relative to your inclinations. Hence we spend time dreaming up various parametres with which we can more objectively gage music, so that we can defend our efforts to separate the shit from the silver, all in your service of course. Is the singing in tune? Is the playing tight? Is the recording crisp? Is the sound original? Does it have 'personality'? 'Authenticity'? 'Ambition'? The more records you hear - The wider your frame of reference - the more justification you have for scoring records, measuring them against these ideal characteristics.

Rockfreaks.net has been around for...? I'm not even sure how many years right now, but I've been on board for six myself, and throughout that time, year in, year out, reasoning along the lines of the above has allowed us to think that we can recognise quality in every genre, regardless of personal preferences. Learning to review is like going from having your appreciation for music handled 100% by your heart, to having the duty shared 50% or more with your mind, and it's what has allowed a guy like myself, who used to have Fightstar and Silverstein at the extremes of my taste, to learn to appreciate and enjoy much more exotic stuff like the mathcore of The Dillinger Escape Plan, the doom metal of Moonspell or the folk metal of Adorned Brood.

Allowing a curious, open mind to widen ones horizons like that is pretty awesome, I must say, but on the flip side, I'm starting to discover that no matter your ambitions of objectivity, you seemingly can never quite let go of your own spontaneous preferences. When you really start following music obsessively, there will be too many records to choose from at any given moment, and you will choose the ones that instantly engage you on a personal level. I see this clearly in the fact that I have been planning to go against the grain with this article of mine, stubbornly claiming that 2011 has been a good year for good music, yet by no means a great year for great music - After all, even in the reviews where I gave 9, I've done so only after long and painful deliberation - There haven't been records in 2011 like Say Anything's "Say Anything", Letlive's "Fake History" or Agent Fresco's "A Long Time Listening", that just blew me out of the water and made me know instantly that I had something special on my hands.

And yet, prior to this article, you've had the opportunity to read three others, in which DR, AP and PP all positively struggled to limit their list of great 2011 releases in the twenties. And honest to God, even though I feel, despite my skepticism, like I've been swimming in interesting releases, I have probably not even absorbed half the records they've chosen. I'm not saying that I would've loved all their choices, had I had the time to really listen to them. I don't have that much faith in objectivity. I just think it's interesting to notice that, despite how we all try to listen to the 'great' records of any given year, and despite how much we talk about music on the staff, our different personalities still come into play in a massive way, forcing our End Of Year lists in remarkably different directions.

Soundtrack 2011 by Tim Kistrup Larsen on Grooveshark

Which brings me (at last) to the task at hand, namely talking about the things that I have selected for my lists this year. But before I get on with it, I'd like to direct your attention to the embedded grooveshark player above this paragraph. On here, I have compiled choice cuts from both the albums that have made my list this year and from the albums that were close, and possibly also a few songs that were just good enough on their own to merit inclusion (all in that order). I hope that you will give the playlist a shot next time you need a soundtrack for a few hours of cleaning house or something, as those songs all come highly recommended by me, and should spark either the joy of recognition or discovery in you as you get through it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a few songs by bands like A Road To Damascus, Siamese Fighting Fish or Man Overboard on there, so you'll have to go hunting for those on your own on occasion, but rest assured, the list should still be awesome even without them.

Looking at my list in progress, it's pretty clear to me that 2011 has mainly been the year of roughed up melodic punk rock and indie rock for me, and my declining interest for heavier stuff is making itself felt, as the heaviest candidates for my list have come from Emery and A Lot Like Birds. I guess if you came here for metal, you just read a whole lot of blabla in vain then. That being said, let's get started on the list. It'll be a top 20 and we're starting at number 1, to get the records over with where I can only babble inanely about my irrational love for them, and quickly move on to the less obvious, yet probably more interesting, lower selections.

2011 Album Power Rankings

1. Album of the year: Living With Lions - Holy Shit

When I speak about subjective taste and irrational love, it's all really just to justify my irresistible urge to crown "Holy Shit" as the top 1 record of 2011. For a long, long time, I had it in second place, because let's be frank, this record does not reinvent the wheel by any stretch of the imagination. It is a straight forward melodic punk rock record, with scratchy singing, conventional song structures and lyrics that are often about getting over a woman. It is that and it is completely fuckin' magical. From the awesome title+cover combination, to the ridicilously many infectious hooks, this record is pure gold, but probably mostly because of its excellent vocal dynamics, its warm forthcoming energy, and its directness in doing away with all intricacies and just taking straight aim at connecting with the listener on a supremely honest level. Me and my reviewing colleagues may speak at great length about all the parametres I wrote about earlier, but this is just the kind of record that says that we may all just as well shut up, because sometimes, simpler is better and less is way, way more. Most importantly though, this is a record I know beyond shadow of doubt, will gather more plays from me than any other record on this list, and that, first and foremost, is the simple, merciless reason for why it's number one.

2. The Wonder Years - Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing

Like I hinted above, "Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing" actually had the lead for album of the year in my head for quite a long time. In many ways, it is a similar record to "Holy Shit", in that it is also a gritty, roughed up pop-punk record, and in many ways, it is a much better record objectively speaking. The songs are much more diverse, offer more different elements to listen for, and the lyrical content of the record is much deeper and richer. So why isn't it number one then? Truth be told, I can't defend the decision with anything but gut feeling, and the gap is so close, I guess it could go either way. It's not so important though, because you should just listen to both, seeing as both have seriously heightened the ceiling for what pop-punk as a genre is capable of.

3. A Lot Like Birds - Conversation Piece

And now for something completely different. I've been a fan of singer Kurt Travis ever since he joined Dance Gavin Dance for two albums - outshining phenomenon Jonny Craig in my opinion - so his debut with intriguing Sacramento band A Lot Like Birds was one of my most anticipated records of the year. And what they delivered together was probably one of the most unusual records in 2011, marrying proggresive ideas to jagged post-hardcore elements, on an album that defies characterisation as either one or the other. Listening to "Conversation Piece" will expose you to an uncanny wealth of musical ideas and cryptic lyrics, and challenge your attention to keep up, as the record changes from frantic to tranquil and back in the blink of an eye. It's probably the most unique and diverse album I've heard all year, and considering its consistent serving of stunning creativity, I think it clearly deserves a spot this close to the top.

4. Saves The Day - Daybreak

For the longest time, I couldn't really get into this record, and yet somehow, I was putting it on all the time. For the longest time, I thought I preferred lyrics in music to be all quirky and mysterious, and yet somehow, I found myself singing along and putting myself in the place of Chris Conley while listening to "Daybreak". This record is the polar opposite to the one listed above here, as Saves The Day make music that can hardly be accused of wearing the stylistical trappings of more exotic genres than maybe just 'rock' and 'emo', while writing lyrics about heartbreak and recovery that are more surgically precise than they are cryptically artistic. Yet both melodies and words are so elegant and eloquent here, that you cannot help but feel your heartstrings being tucked at from the first notes of four-in-one opener "Daybreak" to the painfully vulnerable closer "Undress Me". If one record this year made me wonder "how can somebody sound so good doing so little", "Daybreak" is definitely it.

5. Polar Bear Club - Clash Battle Guilt Pride

While Polar Bear Club have been a good band with a superb sound already from their first album, this year's "Clash Battle Guilt Pride" saw them, in my opinion, take their game to an entirely different level. How PP only rated it 7½ is just completely baffling to me, as Jimmy Stadt and company showcase a vastly increased understanding for songwriting here, finally twisting their (you guessed it) raw punk-rock into track upon track of catchy awesomeness. "Screams In Caves" alone would be in strong contention if I had to pick a song of the year, and its really just one pick from an album that's all quality.

6. Marianas Trench - Ever After

Right, so here's where I have to duck and dodge to avoid a volley of rotten eggs and veggies, no? I thought as much, because after all, Marianas Trench is a shamelessly poppy band to champion on a site full of readers who like to keep things either punk, metal or hardcore. If you guys tried doing what I explained above however, engaging your minds instead of just your subjective taste, I wonder if you too wouldn't have to stand back in awe, at the staggering ambition and attention to detail that has gone into the devilishly catchy "Ever After". Personally, I can't help but to be impressed, when I imagine main man Josh Ramsay conceiving of this, writing it, playing it, singing it (immaculately by the way) and then labouring for ages over the production tables trying to get everything to sound according to vision. Oh and then there's the part about me having no issues liking pop-rock as long as it's excellent pop rock, which this unquestionably is. If you feel the same, I'm sure you'll think the same. If not, I'm just sad you're missing out.

7. Emery - We Do What We Want

By now, I guess regular readers should start to suspect that I keep hyping Emery because they're pretty much my favourite band. The way I see it, Emery are my favourite band because they constantly put themselves in a position to deserve this much hype, and even after the departure of singer/songwriter/guitarist/bassist Devin Shelton, "We Do What We Want" still did nothing but solidify Emery's position hiiigh above almost all competitors in the genre of post-hardcore/emo-core/metalcore or whatever you call it. The singing is real and soulful, the content heart-scraping, the compositions twisting and turning, the beatdowns heavy and the hooks omnipresent. I've said it before and I'm running out of ways to say it, but this band is a model for other band's to be inspired by.

8. Twin Atlantic - Free

About the first Twin Atlantic full length, I don't really know what to say other than what I said in its review. It's something as rare as an honest to God, larger-than-life rock record, full of the desire to raise hell on a large scale and put good, infectious melodies in your mind and have them stay there. To boot, it comes from a Scottish band, which means singer Sam McTrusty's already unique voice is made further awesome by the local dialect AND it has a song simply called "Yes, I Was Drunk". And those are just a few of the things that make it awesome.

9. Charlie Simpson - Young Pilgrim

I'm sorry Bon Iver, but if I have to choose between your ethereal arrangements and vocal effects, and some good old fashioned awesome singing and catchy hooks, I'm so shockingly conservative that I take the latter. Former Busted and present Fightstar singer might take obvious inspiration from Bon Iver on this first solo outing of his, which I guess could spark an outrage at me putting "Young Pilgrim" on my list over "Bon Iver, Bon Iver", but again, it's all due to the realisation that this record is going go gain vaaaaastly more spins at my place in the future. It's a record booming with engaging hooks and compositional intricacies which I think are sadly overlooked, so the next time you're in the mood for some chill, folksy tunes, I highly recommend you check Mr. Simpson out.

10. Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys

If there's one odd record out on this list of mostly hook-ladden, energetic rockers, Elbow's "Build A Rocket Boys" is likely it. Forget about pumping tempos and ear-catching riffs and instead settle in for some of the most intricate and uniquely progressive music released in rock last year. The tracks on "Build A Rocket Boys" are more symphonies than songs, and Elbow's sentimental, soaring moods are completely different to everything else on this list. Overall it is a record that likely only opens up to those who really have a taste for the subtleties of careful compositions, but when it does open up, it offers such a bounty of a listening experience that one can't help but to hold it in high esteem.

11. Kasabian - Velociraptor!

Of the records on this list, Kasabian's "Velociraptor!" is probably the one I can envision listening to the least in the future. Its trippy, retro-inspired indie rock is simply quite far removed from my normal moods. That doesn't matter much however, because what this record has proven is that once you do put it on, it delivers a cool, fascinating experience from end to end, being such a richly textured record that you can just walk around and let yourself be immersed in it, no matter what music you normally listen to.

12. Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks - Mirror Traffic

Long time Pavement fans may very well question if Stephen Malkmus' new material isn't just a pale shade of what he created while he sang and played in the seminal 90's indie rock band, but even if that's true, I've got to ask if even a pale shade of Pavement isn't still good enough to outshine many things in today's music scene. It starts with the retardedly good single "Senator", and once you've gotten into that, it's really just one chill, hazy track of goodness after another. Probably my favourite record for relaxation in 2011.

13. There For Tomorrow - The Verge

For the next entry, we're back in the genre of shamelessly ambitious pop-rock, but as it was the case with Marianas Trench, so it is with There For Tomorrow's "The Verge", that when someone makes a record this good, I think it's perfectly cool for them to have their sights set on wide mainstream appeal. And "The Verge" may very obviously aim for large audiences, yet it doesn't leave anything to coincidence the way other lazier pop albums do. Every riff, beat, word and transition is arranged with a master musician's precision on this incredibly slick and sexy offering of, you guessed it, retardedly catchy songs. It's the kind of disc that has the audacity to try to be larger than life, and then proceeds to sound good while succeeding at just that. Accomplishing that always means instant recognition from me.

14. A Road To Damascus - A Road To Damascus

For a long time I thought that Siamese Fighting Fish would have secured the spot as my favourite Danish album of 2011, yet - even though I am among the most ardent fans of A Road To Damascus - these guys completely pulled my pants down with their debut LP. They may be late arrivals at the pop-punk/emocore party, but still records that sound this good in terms of production, and offer great songs so consistently (there isn't really a bad one among the 9 on offer) don't really come around in Denmark at all, and nor do they come around often in the genre at large. I keep thinking that I love this record more than it deserves because I know the band personally, but every time I put it on to check myself, I have to face that it's just impossible to take it back off. Seriously, how is this for setting the bar high for your sophomore?

15. Airship - Stuck In This Ocean

2011 was the year when I really started to get into the whole contradictory indie/mainstream layer of bands, yet, annoyingly, most of the established bands I reviewed (Glasvegas, The Vaccines, Kaiser Chiefs etc.) failed to truly connect with me and make me feel what it was all about. Newcomers Airship on the other hand, came out of nowhere with a record that pretty much won me over while I was looking the other way. Equal parts Arcade Fire and Kings Of Leon, these boys have the recipe for solid and easily enjoyable tunes, and they've already started mass production of such if this album is anything to go by.

16. Panic! At The Disco - Vices & Virtues

Panic! At The Disco have faced more adversity than most bands can handle already in their career, blowing up fast at a young age, trying to overcome massive artistic differences and eventually splitting up and changing name twice. So it was probably fair that people looked forward to "Vices & Virtues" rather hesitantly. They didn't need to however, because this is probably the most focused record the band has produced to date, with Brendon Urie's fantastic voice and knack for theatrics once again paving the way for a torrent of easily memorable songs.

17. Chapel Club - Palace

You know the intro I just wrote for the Airship record two spots above this one? You can repeat that here, except I saw Chapel Club's debut album "Palace" coming, as the band was already quite well-hyped in British music media before its released. The hype proved to be deserved however, on an album so calm and confident that it put competitors to shame in my opinion, and relistening to it today while writing this, I'm still positively surprised to realise how much I enjoy it. If you were sad that bands like The National or The Twilight Sad didn't release records this year, this is one you should definitely listen to.

18. Sleeping With Sirens - Let's Cheers To This

Normally, I am of the opinion that the whole post-hardcore/scene-core genre started going straight to hell some time after Blessthefall's 2007 album "His Last Walk", after which bands have only rarely produced anything more than generic re-takes on a formula that has hit several dead ends in its development. And for a long time it seemed to me like A Skylit Drive was going to be the lone exception in 2011, with their surprisingly solid third album, yet, eventually Sleeping With Sirens came around with their equally surprising sophomore. Doing away with silly breakdowns and focusing on great choruses and sexy melodies - yep, that'll get me on board, and if that works for you too, this should be your scene release of 2011 too.

19. Yellowcard - When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes

It's true that Yellowcard may not exactly have gone Christoffer Columbus on us all, with their relatively safe return to form "When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes", but in a time where pop-punk seems divided between the ragged bands that top this list, and the super bubblegum-ish ones that didn't make it here, I love the fact that Yellowcard are still travelling the middle road, making sentimental, catchy, super-American pop-rock, with lots of good energy, yet also moments of nice and shiny production. It worked in 2003 and in my opinion, it works still, and better than quite a lot of things, if you care to listen closely.

20. Lower Than Atlantis - World Record

Truth be told, the reason there are just 20 spots on my list is because the remaining canditates are so close in my estimation that trying to rank them seems hopeless. Lower Than Atlantis made a super catchy and energetic record with minimalist rock elements, and they get the nod for the last spot simply because listening to all the contenders for it today, my gut told me they were a hairs width ahead. Don't let that fool you into thinking this is not a good God damn record though, lest you miss out on another little banquet of songs that can stick with you for aaaaaages.

No cigar

Siamese Fighting Fish - We Are The Sound

As regular readers will know, I jump at every chance to go see Siamese Fighting Fish, and hear the great songs from "We Are The Sound" live - but that is also partially because the band never got the production quite right on their otherwise exciting debut LP, and that ultimately prevents it from breaching the list.

Red City Radio - The Dangers Of Standing Still

While Living With Lions, The Wonder Years, and Polar Bear Club eventually ran away with the punk-rock places I had on my list this year, I really did listen to and enjoy a lot more records in the same vein, and one of the best of them was "The Dangers Of Standing Still", on which Red City Radio really utilise the advantage of having four singers, to keep things interesting with plenty of dynamic vocal arrangements. I felt like the songs were a bit back and forth between awesome and just plain good however, which eventually kept them out of the list .

White Lies - Ritual

With "Ritual", White Lies actually managed to be one of the few super-hyped British indie rock outfits that convinced me of their worth, as the record is just a joy to listen to in all its lofty coolness. As with Red City Radio, the quality of individual tracks being just a tiny bit up and down ended up making the big difference.

A Loss For Words - No Sanctuary

I got around to listening to the second A Loss For Words record much too late I must admit, but when I eventually discovered the pop-punk qualities of this energetic rocker, I did briefly consider putting it on my list. When I eventually decided against it, it was because I thought the bands on the list all had just a bit more personality than A Loss For Words have shown us yet, but again, that really doesn't mean that this isn't a pretty great record.

Deaf Havana - Fools And Worthless Liars

Man did I listen to this record a lot of times in December and man can frontman James Veck-Gilodi sing, and man can he pen direct, honest and instantly engaging tunes. What he couldn't quite do yet, was make them stand apart from each other in my mind, which keeps him juuuuust short of the promised land.

Seahaven - Winter Forever

This record has the kind of characteristic sound and the penchant for songs that are better than the sums of their individual parts, that may mean I have to regret not rating it higher in the future, but for the moment, there's still a bit of sameyness and some reservations regarding the singing, that make me stay my praise a bit. Close one though.

Kids In Glass Houses - In Gold Blood

I still stand by what I said about this record having some pretty brain dead choruses back when I reviewed it, but somehow, it's gotten a renaissance on my playlist anyway, with songs like "Teenage Wonderland", "Diamond Days" and "Fire" repeatedly making me second guess my own criticism. There are some real good pop-rock moments here, but overall, the drawbacks did keep the album out of the final list.

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable are the kind of band I owe a little apology, because I don't feel like I quite understood their album before after I had seen them live. Before that, I had already reviewed the album, and failed to appreciate just how much I would like it when I gave it spins later, with it eventually sneaking into my considerations as a bit of a dark horse which, as you can see, didn't make the cut in the end.

That's it, that's all

You know, I was planning to round this article off with a section on which gigs Danish concert goers should start preparing to see in this spring, but seeing as things have already gotten really long in the teeth, I might either save that for a separate article, or you might just have to keep an eye out for me hyping things up on the Rockfreaks.net facebook profile as we go along. In the mean time, check out my playlist and the records I've spoken about, and know that we in the staff really appreciate you guys taking the time to read our blabbering. Have a great 2012 and see you all out there!

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