1. Tom Waits – Bad As Me
Tom Waits should be a national treasure. He creates some of the most unique and creative music I’ve ever heard. He does have legions of fans and it seems everybody loved Bad As Me as well they should have. Waits’ recent work has been so strong this album wasn’t much of a surprise. It has a nice balance of “boom-clang” songs and ballads; both of which Waits executes to perfection. It is hands down the most interesting album of the year.
Check out the song: “Hell Broke Luce”
2. Wilco – The Whole Love
Wilco is America’s greatest living band. They make perfect little pop-rock songs all with interesting textures and Jeff Tweedy writes some of the best lyrics around. The Whole Love was released to much expectation and I feel this is why this record gets overlooked a bit; because everybody knew it would be great.
Check out the song: “Art of Almost”
3. Say Hi – Um Uh Oh
Say Hi is the first “shocker” of my list. I just discovered this band this year and they are fantastic. I would classify them as “nerd-rock” that is very easy on the ears. Say Hi’s songs flow smoothly as much as any band I know, each song is its own little piece of pop wonderfulness.
Check out the song: “Bruises To Prove It”
4. William Elliott Whitmore – Field Songs
William Elliott Whimore make the most “real” music I have ever heard. Everything in his songs is authentic. The subject matter is very personal to him and never strays far from home. A lot of banjo and acoustic guitar fill this album with 10 hymns fresh from the black Iowa dirt.
Check out the song: “Not Feeling Any Pain”
5. Centro-matic – Candidate Waltz
Cento-matic is one of the most under-rated bands in America I think. Will Johnson is a great songwriter and the band’s music along with Johnson’s voice is the most unique listening experience on this side of Tom Waits. The album is loud and abrasive but when paired with Johnson’s smooth, echoey vocals it makes for one interesting listen. Not to mention they have the absolute best album cover of the year.
Check out the song: “Iso-Residue”
6. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Here We Rest
Jason Isbell had possibly the two best songs of 2011 on his album Here We Rest. The pairing of the brilliantly county tinged “Codeine” and the flat out great “Alabama Pines” make this album a must. “Tour of Duty” also ranks with Isbell best-penned songs as well. The album is less cohesive than his last record but the high points are much, much higher.
Check out the song: “Alabama Pines”
7. Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose
Those Darlins are a grungy group of 3 ladies and a guy drummer. They are rough and raw and Screw Get Loose is all the better for it. It is a garage-rock masterpiece. The band opened for the Old 97’s and Drive-By Truckers this year and supported a better album than each of those bands put out in 2011.
Check out the song: “Waste Away”
8. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
I was not an Iron and Wine fan before this album. I thought Sam Beam’s record under the name Iron & Wine were flat out boring. I listened to this album and it is amazingly energetic when compared to the band’s other records. Each song has something really interesting about it, this is a true album that plays all the way through smoothly. I viewed this album as a bit of a re-invention for Iron & Wine.
Check out the song: “Monkeys Uptown”
9. The Black Keys – El Camino
The Black Keys throw out another bluesy gem with El Camino. The record is no big improvement over the rest of the band’s catalog but it is still a solid album. It is still ringing fresh in my ears so it is hard to tell how the record will age right now. I do have a feeling it isn’t a record I will go back to listen to much. It is still better than most music released in 2011.
Check out the song: “Little Black Submarines”
10. Awolnation – Megalithic Symphony
Awolnation is the only band to make the top 10 with their debut album. They are a fresh sound and the music gushes with energy. Megalithic Symphony has way more keyboards than I am normally comfortable with on an album but the band uses them to their advantage in keeping the song amped up. This may be the only album I ever like from this band but it struck me and I feel it is a solid record.
Check out the song: “Jump On My Shoulders”