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Top 10 albums & singles of 2011

Some writers claim to have a formula, and even assign a wacky number when creating a "Top 10" or "Best of" article, but all lists are ultimately subjective, and the two you'll find below are no exception.

I based my own top 10 of 2011 picks on a few things: the influence a band has had this year; the potential of continued influence; rising popularity throughout the year; and how much I actually listened to that particular song or album. I ignored some of the more popular selections for year's best, like Britney Spears (which shocked me) and the Jay-Z/Kanye West collaboration. Those artists receive constant accolades, most of it undeserved and superficial.

The lists below feature some heavy hitters (Adele, Blink-182, and the Foo Fighters), but even those put forth a sound that is aligned with the indie cornerstones of experimentation and meaningful lyrics. Whether you agree or disagree with my choices doesn't matter to me, I only hope that you explore a few bands you're unfamiliar with. Enjoy!

BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Artist: We Are Augustines
Title: Rise ye Sunken Ships
Label: Turnout/Oxcart Records

Think of Bruce Springsteen laced with punk while boasting pathos-induced lyrics and you'll have a rough composite of the unique We Are Augustines' sound. This three piece rock group isn't reinventing the wheel, or even trying to do something remotely different, they're simply making great music that resonates in a cathartic way. With an unparalleled backstory and a true commitment to the craft, I'm expecting the trio to make the jump into the mainstream shortly.

CHECK OUT MY INTERVIEW WITH FRONTMAN BILLY MCCARTHY BY CLICKING HERE.

#2
Artist: Adele
Title: 21
Label: XL Recordings

I haven't always been a big Adele fan, and, truth be told, I'm not really one at the moment either, but it would simply be irresponsible to ignore this album. Randy Jackson recently stated in an interview with Esquire that if not for music's digital age, Adele never would have ascended to such heights since critics have such a difficult time categorizing her. Is her music rock? R&B? Easy listening? Pop? It truly engages all listeners in innumerable ways.

#3
Artist: Foo Fighters
Title: Wasting Light
Label: Roswell Records

The Foo Fighters are one of the few American alternative bands that still have a global influence, and their best work is still ahead of them. Touting an exciting live show along with a slew of singles on their latest LP, there were few releases this year that were able to parallel the Foo Fighters in terms of energy and actual composition.

#4
Artist: PJ Harvey
Title: Let England Shake
Label: Vagrant Records

PJ Harvey has been consistently good for years, and this might be the best piece in her entire catalog. It has a true indie feel to it, which will likely be a turn off to most, but she deserves credit for experimenting with her sound and somehow pulling out songs that are sonically precise, engaging, and thought-provoking.

#5
Artist: The Static Jacks
Title: If You're Young
Label: Fearless Records

One of the best young bands on the underground circuit today. Described as an American punk-alt band with Brit-punk influences, the Static Jacks have developed pieces with detailed compositions yet maintain a clear pop-sensibility.

CHECK OUT MY INTERVIEW WITH THE STATIC JACKS BY CLICKING HERE.

#6
Artist: The Black Keys
Title: El Camino
Label: Nonesuch Records

Feeling the newfound pressure that comes with national success, the Black Keys have openly discussed how they felt El Camino needed to be infused with greater energy and poppier sound to please their fan-base. The LP does just that, but the duo refused to sacrifice the quality of each track to simply appeal to the proverbial masses. Fans old and new should be pleased with this record. It's the band's best yet.

#7
Artist: Fleet Foxes
Title: Helplessness Blues
Label: Sub Pop Records

For a while, I believed the Fleet Foxes were going to become one of the most popular rock bands in America. Obviously, this hasn't happened in the way you'd expect, and it's largely due to the group's commitment to their cornerstone sound, which is layered with swooning vocals and three part guitar melodies. Overall, they're so polished and so precise I had a hard time not placing them in the top 5, but their influence is waning and they are becoming more of a "musician's group" than a mainstream draw.

#8
Artist: Xylos
Title: Xylos
Label: 1000x Records

I first saw Xylos a couple of years ago at the Mercury Lounge when they were still defining their sound. Their recent debut mixes 80s new wave with a soft-serve modern-rock vibe. The album makes for a great listen and betrays the musical skills of the young group quite well. I'm surprised they haven't garnered a larger following.

CHECK OUT MY INTERVIEW WITH THE BAND BY CLICKING HERE.

Album #9
Artist: Chuck Ragan
Title: Covering Ground
Label: Sideonedummy Records

Ragan eschews modern-rock conventions by putting forth a gritty voice with the acoustic melodies of Mumford & Sons, leading to what one could only call acoustic punk. The LP will take you on a weird ride, but I guarantee you'll be a Chuck Ragan fan by the end.

Album #10
Artist: Blink-182
Title: Neighborhoods
Label: Interscope

Blink-182's "Damnit" is what made me an avid music fan. I heard that single back in 1998. Thirteen years later, the so-cal punks are still around and attempting to redefine their once sophomoric sound. Many might be critical of placing a Blink album in the top 10 spot, especially since it received luke-warm reviews, but the more I listen to it the more gems I find. Despite the critics' consensus, I believe it's one of Blink's best albums and I'm looking forward to seeing where they go from here.

BEST SONG OF THE YEAR
Artist: Adele
Title: "Rolling in the Deep"
Label: XL Recordings

If you don't like this song, from one of the best singers in the world, you're not human.

#2
Artist: Kina Grannis
Title: "In Your Arms"
Label: One Haven Music

Kina Grannis is an interesting story. After being anointed the unlikely winner of a national contest, she walked away from a recording contract with Interscope and decided to self-release her material via the Internet. The gamble initially paid off as Grannis found herself able to make a living off of touring and constant self-promotion. She truly crossed over into the mainstream, however, with the video for this engaging pop-tune, now referred to as the "jelly-bean video".

CHECK OUT MY INTERVIEW WITH KINA GRANNIS BY CLICKING HERE.

#3
Artist: Cloud Cult
Title: "You'll be Bright"
Label: Earthology/The Rebel Group

Cloud Cult is defined by a bizarrely beautiful mix of strings, aggressive drums, and the high-pitched vocals of Craig Minowa. Always obscure and experimental, this track is no exception. Originally finding a home on 2010's Light Chasers, the song, and its video, found new life on the web this year. It's one of the band's best.

CHECK OUT MY INTERVIEW WITH CLOUD CULT FRONTMAN CRAIG MINOWA BY CLICKING HERE.

#4
Artist: Seasick Steve
Title: "You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks"
Label: Third Man Records

Seasick Steve's recent LP was a bit of a disappointment, but this track captures the southern-rock and blues elements that made him such a draw at music festivals throughout the country.

#5
Artist: We Are Augustines
Title: "Book of James"
Label: Turnout/Oxcart Records

An interesting amalgamation of emo, modern-rock, and minimalism that shows listeners everything this band is and can be.

CHECK OUT MY INTERVIEW WITH WE ARE AUGUSTINES' FRONTMAN BILLY MCCARTHY BY CLICKING HERE.

#6
Artist: The Black Keys
Title: "Lonely Boy"
Label:Nonesuch Records

There are few bands skilled enough to transfer the energy of their defining live performances into the studio (Phish and Pearl Jam come to mind as unfortunate failures), but the Black Keys found a way to do it with El Camino, and it rings true with their lead single. If you haven't been to a Black Keys' show, listen to "Lonely Boy". It's the next best thing.

#7
Artist: The Static Jacks
Title: "My Parents Lied"
Label: Fearless Records

This is actually one of the first songs the Static Jacks wrote and it served to set the band's musical direction, which is why it made it onto their debut album. Infused with relentless energy and dynamic tempo changes, the track is one of the most interesting and unique you'll here in 2011.

CHECK OUT MY INTERVIEW WITH THE STATIC JACKS BY CLICKING HERE.

#8
Artist: Blink-182
Title: "After Midnight"
Label: Interscope

Blink's best single since "Feeling This".

#9
Artist: The Front Bottoms
Title: "Maps"
Label: Bar None Records

The Front Bottoms are a pop-punk duo who have been struggling to find an audience for the last two years. "Maps", a narrative about a boy wanting to leave home to pursue his dreams, is their best work.

#10
Artist: Gold Motel
Title: "Cold Shoulders"
Label: Good as Gold Records

Gold Motel is promoted as a "summer band", and this is a summer song that's best listened to while driving down the California coast in a red Mustang convertible with the top down. Yet, I often myself cranking this in my Camry on the coldest of days. It's a great tune.

CHECK OUT MY INTERVIEW WITH GOLD MOTEL FRONTWOMAN GRETTA MORGAN BY CLICKING HERE.

TO READ MORE ARTICLES AND STORIES BY MATT THOMAS, VISIT HIS BLOG. AND BE SURE TO CHECK OUT HIS NEW SHORT STORY, "RESETTING THE ARMAGEDDON CLOCK", WHICH YOU CAN PURCHASE ON AMAZON.

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