EVANS: Best albums of 2011

2011’s almost over. Sad isn’t it? Among other things, 2011 was a fantastic year for music. I’ll keep this short and sweet: the following is a list containing my picks for this year’s 20 best albums. Of course, I’m not implying that I’ve heard every album released this year; these are just the best of what I’ve heard this year. Yes, I’m a little biased. I love metal rock predominately, but I also like music from other genres, so I tried to include as much variety as I could. Since I can’t bring myself to order them by how great they are, the list is ordered by U.S. release date. Cage the Elephant – Thank You, Happy Birthday (Jan. 11): Cage the Elephant jumped on the modern rock scene a couple of years back with their self titled album and the hit song “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked.” They’re back now, taking even more advantage of their talents and displaying their unique blend of indie, psychedelic music, punk, and roots rock for all of the world to see. Adele – 21 (Feb. 22): A modern pop rarity, Adele has scored a mainstream hit while actually having a great voice. Though about half the album has been overplayed by the radio and television, many songs stay enjoyable due to her fantastic vocal range. Her cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong,” while unexpected, may be the best track on the album. Scale the Summit – The Collective (March 1): STS has become pretty popular in the progressive rock community lately, after tours with the likes of Dream Theater, Between the Buried and Me, Fair to Midland, and others. While The Collective ’s instrumental rock may turn off some listeners, avid rock fans will appreciate the complexity and recognize Chris Letchford as one of the most talented and tasteful guitarists in the business. Rise Against – Endgame (March 15): Although their predominantly clean vocals and rock radio hits have attracted quite a following among casual listeners, Rise Against show on Endgame that they haven’t totally left their hardcore roots behind. It’s one of the heaviest, fastest punk albums you’ll hear this year, and the lyrics are well crafted and thought-out. Protest the Hero – Scurrilous (March 22): Protest the Hero may be one of the most mathematical, showoff-y, and all around crazy bands in modern music, but their schizophrenic prog-metal has a strange catchiness to it that should attract quite a few followers. Scurrilous might be their most put together and witty album yet. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (April 12): Oh man, what a year for the Foos: A big headlining tour, a documentary ( Back and Forth ; check it out), and, most of all, their biggest (and perhaps best) album ever. Recorded in Dave Grohl’s garage on tape? It doesn’t make a difference. Wasting Light makes it obvious why the Foo Fighters are one of the biggest bands on earth right now. Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues (April 12): It’s the only EP on the list, but it needs to be on here. Even if you don’t like progressive death metal, this is worth a listen. The Apache Relay – American Nomad (April 12): The Apache Relay is loud, upbeat indie rock with violins and additional percussion. The sheer uniqueness of American Nomad makes it great, but all these guys really know how to play, and their eerie cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” is unstoppable. Foster the People – Torches (May 23): Propelled by the chart-topping hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” Foster the People have emerged as the breakout band of 2011. Torches will appeal to electronica fans, indie kids, old guys who miss the 70s pop, people who make car commercials – basically anyone who digs a catchy tune. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver (June 17): For a guy out in The-middle-of-nowhere, Wisc., Justin Vernon sure knows how to make some music. His Grammy-nominated indie-folk project made its triumphant return this year, with the self-titled album appearing on many a “best of the year” list. Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction/Ghost (June 20): Okay, I cheated. This is two albums released simultaneously: one of bone-crushing death metal with a guest list more star-studded than a Judas Priest/Village People concert, the other of beautiful, atmospheric soundscapes. Only Hevy Devy could pull it off. Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m with You (Aug. 29): It’s been five years since RHCP gave us Stadium Arcadium , and this new record is definitely a good way to come back. The Chilis are as fun, funky, and far-appealing as ever, even with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer in tow. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Sept. 7): Girls is one of the most interesting and diverse bands to come out of the indie scene recently, yet they aren’t widely recognized. Hopefully the new album will change this, as it contains fantastic tunes like the surf-pop tinged “Honey Bunny,” the Deep Purple metal of “Die,” and the Pink Floyd/Muse sounds of “Vomit.” Staind – Staind (Sept. 13): It’s been awhile (ha, Staind pun), but Staind are back with their self-titled album. Full of heavy, angry modern metal that really shows their talents, even radio-metal naysayers should appreciate this. Mastodon – The Hunter (Sept. 26): Mastodon have quickly transformed from underground sludge metal heroes into maybe the biggest metal band of the past 10 years. They might never beat 2009’s epic Crack the Skye , but The Hunter comes pretty close, carrying on their tradition of progressive sludge madness backed by the furious beats of Brann Dailor, crushing rhythms of Troy Sanders and Bill Kelliher, and the guitars of Brent Hinds. Feist – Metals (Oct. 4): Canadian songbird Feist stole hearts with 2007’s “1, 2, 3, 4” (you know, that iPod commercial), but Metals is an even stronger, more complete effort. Straying from the traditional singer-songwriter structure with electric guitars and big drums, Feist has recorded a record that doesn’t really fit a classification but is still fantastic anyway. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto (Oct. 26): I feel like I’m in the 5% of music fans on the planet that neither loves nor hates Coldplay. Regardless, Mylo Xyloto is a really, really good effort, full of catchy pop-rock songs. Heck, this may be their best album to date. Childish Gambino – Camp (Nov. 15): If you’ve ever watched NBC’s awesome, hilarious, best show on television Community , you’ve seen actor Donald Glover, who operates here under the pseudonym Childish Gambino. With serious themes, great beats, and the cleverest lyrics out there, Camp is probably the coolest hip hop album this year. The Roots – Undun (Dec. 6): Sometimes, so-called “legendary” bands get dull (*cough cough* almost every classic rock band) but this isn’t the case with The Roots. One of music history’s most innovative rap groups, The Roots infuse soul, jazz, and rock for a seriously appealing sound. The Black Keys – El Camino (Dec. 6): The Black Keys came out of 2010 as one of the biggest and most successful rock bands of the year. They probably could’ve taken a break, but instead they brought back producer Danger Mouse and put together a group of songs that checks their blues, hard rock, and soul roots while still sounding fresh. Jack H. Evans is a staff writer for The Bark. Follow The Bark on Twitter @BeardenBARK, and like The Bark (Bearden High School) on Facebook.