Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eric Droege's Top 10 Albums of 2011

10 - Bon Iver – Bon Iver

The cover art sets the scene for this album. Not only because it depicts a place where I would love to be; but also, the music reflects the frontier setting. Vernon reached out to others to guide him because he realized he had so much to learn. By taking input from his mates, he was able to put together a simply outstanding folk-rock album. This is a soothing and relaxing escape and could probably be much higher than number 10 if only I could listen to it over and over again. But I can't.

9 - FOMO – Liam Finn

FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is all about the mental disorder of constant social networking. Liam Finn is the finely talented, son of Crowded House's kiwi Neil Finn. Finn plays all of the instruments on this album and his perfect vocals make you want to sing along. This is the kind of album that you and your friends could sing along to in the car. Aside from that, you can enjoy this interpretation of what social networking has done to people in this constantly connected society.

8 – Days – Real Estate
Days says summertime all the way through. If you are looking to trick your mind into thinking you are in LA in August, listen to this album. Real Estate does a great job of taking you to a different time and place. They may be from Jersey, but their music says Pacific Coast Highway. They have amazing vocal combos and the reverb is totally addictive. This is a stellar sophomore album and I am hoping for many more to come from Real Estate.

7 – Modern Love – Matthew Nathanson

A very solid rock album from this time-tested singer-songwriter. Following-up his first platinum single, Come on Get Higher(2009), he puts together a very likeable but not oh-my-gosh-this-is-amazing type of album. He doesn't really miss but could likely hit even higher. It is easy to get into and I can't find anything to dislike in this album. As he keeps progressing, he may expand his scope and that can only lead to an even higher profile. For now I will take what I can get from Matt.

6 – Demolished Thoughts – Thurston Moore

I am not sure what more can be said about this weathered talent. Thurston Moore came into this album with an astonishing body of work already behind him. Sonic Youth has been woven into the fabric of Alt/Punk Rock and much of that is due to Moore. Demolished Thoughts is very laid back and heavy on acoustics. This is all about vocals; about telling stories. I am not sure if there is a more soothing album release this year. Moore's vocals lure you in and once he has you, you are caught. But you don't want to get away, so it all works. This could likely be much higher on my list but hey, it's not the only good album of 2011.

5 – Kiss Each Other Clean – Iron & Wine

Samuel Beam, aka Iron & Wine, is another brilliant singer-songwriter. Kiss Each Other Clean is so easy to listen to; almost too easy. Beam told NPR: 'It sounds like the music people heard in their parent’s car growing up… that early-to-mid-’70s FM, radio-friendly music.' That is the best way to describe this entire album. It is so easy to warm up to if you like short stories and superb vocals.
From SPIN: 'Iron and Wine's last album, 2007's The Shepherd's Dog, seemed to complete singer-guitarist Sam Beam's journey from spare, black-and-white acoustic sketch artist to full-color aural panoramist. But Kiss Each Other Clean explodes his palette even further.' And that, is good enough for me!

4 – Chuckles & Mr Squeezy – Dredg

Dredg has reinvented themselves on Chuckles & Mr Squeezy. This is a follow-up to their very popular progressive rock The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion(2009). This time around, however, what they deliver is less prog rock and more pop. Less guitar on most tracks but then on some they go back to their Pariah style. Honestly, I prefer the pop-influenced C&MS. This is more my style as it is easy to follow the story lines with enough rock mixed in to accentuate the emotion the writers are trying to convey.

3 – Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes

Wow! Holy harmony. These guy are tops when it comes to using the power of the human voice as an instrument. They blend vocals so well. The accompaniment takes a supporting role on Helplessness Blues and the vocals are the main course. The entire album is one vocal merriment after another. This is as enjoyable for me to listen to as anything from CSN or CSNY. There is not much more I can say other than if you think this should be higher on my list, I agree.

2 – Love Part Two – Angels & Airwaves
Oh how I love these guys. This is very introspective and the stories DeLonge tells resonate with the listener. For the most part, it is a fairly clean album too.
There are themes about the decay of the human condition, human relationships, God destroying the world, accepting God into your life, and hope. There is a lot going on here and it is very deep. The musical style and vocals make the stories even better. This is a grown up Blink 182. I used to miss them but after getting in A&A, I realize just how un-inventive and amateurish Blink was. This is a truly brilliant album and well deserving of #2.

1- Into the Dark Unknown – Holcombe Waller
By now it should be readily apparent that I am into vocals in a big way. Holcombe doesn't disappoint and in fact is one of the best I have heard. His voice is unlike anything I have heard before and that is fine with me. Half the fun, or more, of music is the discovery and this discovery was amazing.
In Into the Dark Unknown he tells a heart-wrenching tale of overcoming self-defeatism and the obstacles of daily life, finally putting up a fight against the onslaught of societal adversity.
This is less an album and more a soundtrack because he wrote this as a stage play. He wrote this to tell a story from start to finish, not to tell a number of short stories.
One reviewer writes, 'I was stunned by his absolutely sweet vocal ability and keen lyrics that cross James Taylor with say, a simplified Sigur Ros' The latter of which was my favorite vocal ensemble of all time until I discovered Holcombe Waller. Just like Sigur Ros, this album can bring a tear to my eye.

Top Ten CD Contents(Track name has link to song and Into the Dark Unknown is a link to the album):
Calgary – Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Cold Feet – FOMO – Liam Finn
It's Real – Days – Real Estate
Mercy – Modern Love – Matthew Nathanson
Benediction – Demolished Thoughts – Thurston Moore
Tree By the River – Kiss Each Other Clean – Iron & Wine
The Thought of Losing You – Chuckles and Mr Squeezy – Dredg
Battery Kinzie – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Surrender – Angels & Airwaves – Love Part Two
Hardliners – Holcombe Waller – Into the Dark Unknown

Honorable Mention:

Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
Crystal Antlers - Two-Way Mirror
Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
Foster the People - Torches
Radiohead - Tkol Rmx 1234567
Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines
We Were Promised Jetpacks - In the Pit of the Stomach
Shawn Lee & AM - Celestial Electric
City and Colour - Little Hell
Owl City - All Things Bright and Beautiful

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