Hudson's Best of 2011, Pt. 4: Best Albums #1 - 20
In many respects, this is a year similar to the last few years. Despite the drum beats of friends and music experts decrying the state of music, I'm able to find tons and tons of material worthy of making my year-end list.
Yet there is one main difference between this year and the last few - many artists who would normally find themselves near the top of the list didn't make the cut. Sorry, but I was bored by the latest Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket, and Steve Earle releases. Others that were strong enough to make the list found themselves farther down than usual (Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes, etc.). Were they disappointing albums or were there just an abundance of even better releases? I'd say it was a bit of both.
1. Tom Waits Bad As Me. His first album in seven years is also in some respects a look back at a legendary career. Yes, the "clankety-clank" of recent albums is still present, but it's mixed with the gravelly crooner style of his early days. The result is one of the best albums of his career, and certainly the best album of 2011.
2. Fucked Up, David Comes to Live. A punk rock opera? Ok, Green Day did the same thing a few years ago but this band manages to tell their story without resorting to arena rock cliches. This isn't a band for everybody, but once you get used to Damian Abraham's wounded growl you'll be hooked. Also of note is the "companion piece", David's Town, featuring guest vocals by various friends of the band.
3. Black Keys, El Camino. Despite the presence of all star producer Danger Mouse, the latest by Akron, Ohio's greatest band since Devo is a bit of "back to basics" release with plenty of nods to 70's glam and hard rock.
4. Wilco, The Whole Love. Almost ten years after the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album pitted them against conventional major label wisdom Wilco is finally a true indie band. Their first self-released album is also their best since that album, as The Whole Love combines Summerteeth power pop, YHF experimental noise, and even a bit of A.M. country-rock for one of their strongest albums ever.
5. The Decemberists, The King Is Dead. The Decemberists are so good that even their weakest album make the top 5. This is a back-to-basics album that is reminiscent of Reckoning-era R.E.M. that is certainly not as clever as 2009's The Hazards of Love but is still an essential part of their discography.
6. Wild Flag, S/T. An all-star collaboration between former members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, Quasi, and Stephen Malkmus's band whip up a shitload of noise that stands tall with anything each member had previously recorded.
7. Tommy Stinson, One Man Mutiny. Recorded during breaks between Guns 'n' Roses tours, Tommy Stinson's first album in a few years has a loose Faces-ish feel harkens back to the greatly underrated Bash and Pop album.
8. John Doe, Keeper. John Doe can do no wrong. That is all.
9. The Feelies, Here Before. Twenty years after their last album, The Feelies act like they never broke up. Here Before is a natural progression from 1991's Time For a Witness, utilizing acoustic and electric instruments to create sonic landscapes that sometimes require multiple listens to appreciate.
10. Buffalo Tom, Skins. Their second album since their mid-2000's comeback sits comfortably next to their acclaimed 90's albums.
11. Drive-By Truckers, Go Go Boots. Recorded at the same time as last year's more rockin' The Big To-Do, the tracks on Go Go Boots is both more soulful and twangy than its predecessor.
12. Art Brut, Brilliant! Tragic! Recorded in just two weeks, and once again produced by Frank Black, Art Brut's latest is in many ways just a carbon copy of their previous releases. Instead of singing about The Replacements, though, they're now "crooning" odes to Axl Rose and Martin Kemp.
13. John Paul Keith, The Man That Time Forgot. Possibly my favorite discovery of the year, as the former V-Roys guitarist combines elements of Tex-Mex, garage rock, rockabilly, soul, and even a hint of jazz-blues.
14. Glen Campbell, Ghost On the Canvas. Ok, I'll admit that if it wasn't for the inclusion of two Paul Westerberg songs (and a Guided By Voices cover) I probably wouldn't have paid attention to this album. For his final album (Glen is suffering from Alzheimer's), Campbell's son has selected tracks that create a perfect swan song to a legendary career.
15. The Jayhawks, Mockingbird Time. Another great reunion of one of my favorite bands. While the resulting album may not be as strong as Hollywood Town Hall or Tomorrow the Green Grass, I'll always be a sucker for the harmonies of Mark Olson and Gary Louris.
16. Yuck, S/T. Yes, I know they're just a Dinosaur Jr. ripoff. I don't care. It rocks.
17. Deer Tick, Divine Providence. After three albums of pretty typical twangy Americana, the band turns up their amps for what is possibly the most Replacements-ish album of the year. Obviously, that's something I'd like.
18. Dave Alvin, Eleven Eleven. The story of this album is that Alvin supposedly "threw away" everything he had learned throughout his 30 year music career. Instead of creating during "down times", for this project he wrote and recorded while on the road. He also (apparently) mended fences with his brother Phil, who sings with Dave on three tracks. The result is his best album in close to 20 years.
19. Lucinda Williams, Blessed. There was a time when a new Lucinda Williams album was an event. That hasn't been the case for quite some time, though, but Blessed is easily her best album since Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.
20. J. Mascis, Several Shades of Why. Although primarily an acoustic album, the latest solo release by the Dinosaur Jr. leader isn't all that much different than a proper band album. Yet it's nice to hear Mascis' rasp without the usual ear-piercing guitar leads.