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2011 top albums

May 14, 2012

Favorites of 2011
Herald & Review (Decatur, IL) – Friday, January 6, 2012
Author: Tim Cain ; Entertainment Editor
1) Paul Simon – “So Beautiful So What”

A songwriting master at the top of his craft. As opposed to recent efforts, Simon seems to have no overarching method behind this collection, no South African or Brazilian sounds, no Broadway show. There’s an exciting sense of urgency to what he’s doing here.

2) Kaiser Chiefs -“The Future Is Medieval”

This is a bit of a cheat, because this album was only released in Europe. Some of it (with additional new tracks) will come out here in a few months. These guys remain my favorite rock band. Their work is simplistically complex, and everything I want out of a rock band – catchy and open to interpretation.

3) Icon For Hire – “Scripted”

This is not hometown favoritism. This would be here if these guys were from St. Paul or Cleveland or Belgium. This album rocks, and they’re the most visually striking group on the list. If the album ran a little longer, it might have even ended up higher. They have the songs; they’ve played them.

4) Beach Boys – “The Smile Sessions”

Is this really new? Maybe not. Recorded in 1967, processed in 2011, it’s still years ahead of its time, and beautiful. You may prefer the two-CD version if you’re not interested in listening to pieces. But more than an hour of “Good Vibrations” outtakes? How can a passionate Brian Wilson fan resist that?

5) Handcuffs – “Waiting for the Robot”

You’ll never have more fun than in looking for something by this band and plugging their name into a search engine. They’ve stepped forward from power pop and added more depth to the music, but they haven’t abandoned fun. They still seem to play everything with a sneer, which is fantastic.

6) The Jayhawks – “Mockingbird Time”

Soulful county rock. Some tight harmonies and well-constructed songs. Instantly memorable, and a fine addition to their deeply wonderful catalog. Many are just beginning to realize how good these guys are.

7) Wilco – “The Whole Love”

It almost seems a disservice and some kind of slander to refer to this as “accessible.” I’m not sure Wilco has ever NOT beenaccessible. This just hits my ears as higher-quality songs than the band was producing even when they were supposedly the biggest thing in popular music a decade back.

8) Magazine – “No Thyself”

An unlikely reunion from a 1970s New Wave trendsetter, Magazine picks up like the last 35 years never happened, maintaining its quirky yet somewhat stylishly threatening sound. They always were among the most melodic and dissonant.

9) John Hiatt – “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns”

This came as a surprise, since Hiatt just released an album last year. It’s more of the same from one of the country’s finest singer-songwriters, including a 9/11 piece he included only at the producer’s insistence. Not exploitative, it will break your heart. As he often does.

10) Beady Eye – “Different Gear, Still Speeding”

My first reaction upon hearing this album was to email a friend and suggest “maybe Liam WAS the real talent after all,” after years of taking the side of Oasis songwriter Noel over lead singer Liam. This unashamedly nicks licks from The Beatles, and rocks in a crazily entertaining fashion.

11) The Red Button – “As Far As Yesterday Goes”

Another step forward for Seth Swirsky and Mike Ruekberg, who borrowed heavily from 1964 and 1965 influences for The Red Button’s debut two years ago. They move ahead a few years, and remain original, but they’re influenced by tuneful stretches from between 1966 and the early 1970s.

12) Decemberists – “The King Is Dead”

Some of their fans were troubled by what they saw as a backward step for the band. But the simplicity touched me, and the beauty of the songs without layers of extras comes through comfortably. And what’s wrong with that?

13) Smithereens – “2011”

The brilliant opener “Sorry” made me think they’d found a way to exact out one great song, but my expectations were far exceeded by the rest of the album. These power poppers might as well be in their prime still, 30 years after they first popped up on our radar. It’s almost a crime that Pat DiNizio makes this look so easy.

14) Fountains of Wayne – “Sky Full of Holes”

There’s nothing that quite jumps out like songs did from their earlier albums. But Fountains of Wayne remains capable of melodic odes to everyday people, with an acute eye for exacting detail.

15) Feist – “Metals”

She said she wanted to avoid the poppier more commercial aspects of her previous success with “1234,” but you couldn’t prove that by me. This is more meaty pop, with her excellent vocal skills as the centerpiece.

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