Jordan’s Top 11 Releases of 2011
Jordan’s Top 11 Releases of 2011
Nashville’s Harrison Hudson returned in 2011 with his second full length effort, American Thunder. The end result? An all-around success story. Fully funded by online pledges from fans, this is the epitome of a DIY project. Success of the project aside, Harrison Hudson puts on a clinic in songwriting. Catchy lyrics about girls and rock-n-roll abound. Stir these in with the rock-n-roll bread and butter of guitar, bass, and drums, then pepper in various classic indie rock keyboard sounds, and you get a solid sophomore release from Harrison Hudson.
Cults has been one of those bands with tunes that I find myself randomly humming throughout the day. I was an immediate fan when “Go Outside” debuted in 2010. When the full LP finally dropped earlier this year, I was ecstatic to find the rest of the songs equally, if not more, enjoyable than the debut single. The one thing I wish for this band? That they don’t become one of those one-and-done bands, falling off the map after their first release was successful. Let’s hope for many more years of brilliant music from Cults.
Being raised in a home where listening to Contemporary Christian music was an every day occurrence, the name Joy Williams was a familiar one. You can imagine my surprise when I read an article online about what could be considered the breakout band of 2011, selling out venues from show #1, featuring Joy Williams and John Paul White. Not being a country music fan in the least, liking this record is a little out of character for me. Still, great songwriting, impeccable vocals, and beyond solid recording from The Civil Wars make “Barton Hollow” one of my favorites from 2011.
I might take some heat for this statement, but I did not enjoy this album on my first listen. However, the closer I listen to John Mark McMillan‘s follow up effort to the highly successful “The Medicine”, the more I enjoy it. With the release of “Economy”, I am reminded of this one thing: McMillan’s talent as a songwriter is unmatched. The ability to write songs that forces one to think, and think differently, about a subject is simply mind-blowing. I know this for certain: “Economy” is another huge step forward for McMillan; an impressive feat considering his past releases.
2011 was a huge year for South Carolina’s Needtobreathe. A highly anticipated fourth LP and a direct support slot for Taylor Swift (yeah, that Taylor Swift) are just a couple of the highlights. After such a critically acclaimed album as “The Outsiders”, brothers Bear and Bo Rinehardt and company faced a daunting task in writing and recording “The Reckoning.” What these four southern natives gave us was a solid album, relate-able to anyone who listens, especially with songs such as “Slumber” and “Tyrant Kings.” Overall with “The Reckoning”, Needtobreathe continues to up the ante.
It’s been awhile since the world has been graced with a Sigur Ros release. While none of this is unheard music, hearing the 4 Icelandic musicians in a live setting adds another dimension to the band’s already impressive discography. For me, this album is about the subtle changes, the little things executed differently from the albums in a live concert setting–the re-arrangements, the vocal nuances (and little imperfections), and the addition or subtraction of instrumentation. Inni is a bit of a marathon record, the 15 song tracklist is quite extensive (especially with the average song length being around 9 minutes). Nevertheless, Inni is a must-have for any Sigur Ros fan.
I was late jumping on the The Head & The Heart train. After seeing these guys at Bonnaroo 2011, I quickly realized what I had been missing out on. The Head & The Heart is one of those bands that is seemingly impossible to dislike. The songs on their self-titled 2011 release are simply, simple; but therein lies their greatness. From the crisp guy/girl harmonies of “Lost In My Mind” to the driving piano of “Rivers & Roads”, The Head & The Heart gives us a record of songs everyday people can relate to, accessible songs; songs that will stick with you.
I’ll be honest, I only found this record a month ago. Complete honesty would as well force me to disclose that I toyed with the idea of putting “My Head is an Animal” in my top 3. And yes, it is that good. This would count as the second Icelandic band on my top 11 list, a country that seems to constantly pump out solid bands. This is just good folky, poppy music. Tastefully written, and endlessly irresistable — I mean, just listen to “Little Talks.” They may have flown under the radar in 2011, but watch out for Of Monsters & Men in years to come.
Sam Beam has come a long way from his days of intimate, roughly recorded songs with just his acoustic guitar. With the early 2011 release “Kiss Each Other Clean”, Beam takes another musical step forward. Blending shades of jazz, blues, and soul, this record won me over the first time I listened. Iron & Wine more than outdid themselves musically. Pair this undeniably excellent musicianship with the enigmatic lyricism of the one and only Sam Beam, and you get an incredible record.
As much as I tried to pull myself away from this record, I just could not do it. Since Bon Iver‘s self titled album came out in late Spring, I’ve been hooked. I was never the biggest fan of “For Emma, Forever Ago”, so I downloaded this album almost begrudgingly, expecting to only hear one or two songs that would stick with me for a couple weeks until something better came out. Boy, was I wrong. Justin Vernon wastes no space on this album. Every intricate detail is so carefully placed: The guitar hook in “Perth” that will move you to tears, the soft vocals of “Holocene”, and the redemption of auto-tune and 80’s electric piano in “Beth / Rest.” Such a thoughtful, creatively written record deserves all the attention its been receiving.
If you read my review of “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”, you know my thoughts on it. This is the kind of record that an artist builds up to for their entire career. The hype garnered through a seemingly endless amount of interviews led to such high expectations — I don’t think anyone expected such a masterpiece. M83 holds nothing back with this release. The 22-song album is a lot to take in. Sensory overload would be an adequate term to describe “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” From the first notes of the appropriately titled “Intro”, to the playful, childlike nature of “Ok Pal” and “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire”, to the final chord strike of “Outro”, the listener is grabbed by the ears and taken to new heights of imagination and wonder.