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Dante's Top Albums of 2011

(Disclaimer: I have never been, nor will I ever be, a music critic or music reviewer.  Also, I won’t claim to have heard all the albums that came out this past year, so I’m certainly missing a few that would likely have made it on here.)

#10 – Deer Tick – “Divine Providence”.  Deer Tick still has the same delightful rough mix of folk, country, and rock that they're known for, and lead singer John McCauley's distinctive rasp still stands out on every song. The music feels up to their enthusiasm from start to finish, as well, which makes this album feel even stronger than some of their past work. There's a number of top tracks to pick through, but "The Bump", "Let's All Go To The Bar", and "Something To Brag About" were the ones I enjoyed the most.


#9 – Buffalo Tom – “Skins”.  Buffalo Tom has put out good music since the late 80's - hiatus aside - and there's still that alternative rock sound that's refreshing to come back to. Stylistically, "Skins" feels like music that could have been put out a decade ago - but when it's consistent and strong, there's nothing wrong with that. The more uptempo "Down", "Guilty Girls", and "Lost Weekend" are among the better songs, but slower tracks strike with a nice change of pace and remain highly enjoyable.


#8 – They Might Be Giants – “Join Us”.  TMBG albums always seem disjointed - back-to-back songs can be of completely different musical styles - which would seem weird except for the lyrics always being far and away the weirdest part of TMBG. Some past albums, the disjointedness has made each song hit-or-miss - but "Join Us" is memorable all the way through, which makes for great listening no matter what mood you're in. The greatness starts right off the bat with "Can't Keep Johnny Down" - not only one of the best songs of the year, but possibly the best music video, too - and while there's a lot of delightful meanness mixed in ("When Will You Die"), the expected good weirdness is still there for you to enjoy ("Canajoharie").


#7 – R.E.M. – “Collapse Into Now”.
  When R.E.M. broke up this year, a bunch of people said it didn't matter, with their music no longer being good or relevant. Probably a lot of this attitude hit after their "Around The Sun" seemed completely out of place, probably leading "Accelerate" to be overlooked by many and "Collapse Into Now" less regarded by the general public. But this isn't just a good last album or good R.E.M. album - it's solid and feels like it easily fits in with much of their past great work - it's just a fantastic album. "Walk It Back" is another great Stipe ballad to love, "UBerlin" and "Mine Smell Like Honey"feel classic, and the music is feels both fresh and memorable. Good way to go out.


#6 – Gillian Welch – “The Harrow and the Harvest". Some voices are just pleasing and satisfying to sit back and listen to - and it's even more fulfilling when they're accompanied with strong music to match the style and accentuate everything the voice brings to the table. That's what it feels like listening to Gillian Welch and the guitar and strings on all these songs. Sometimes haunting ("The Way It Goes"), sometimes strangely tense ("Scarlett Town"), sometimes mournful ("Down Along The Dixie Line"), striking and beautiful all the way through.

#5 – Noel Gallagher – “High Flying Birds”. Is this what you get when the Oasis Gallagher brothers break up? Less fighting and just good music with some of the more memorable music from one of the brothers in years? This album made me wish the end of Oasis had come along a lot sooner. "AKA . . . What A Life" hits with strong rhythm, and "The Death Of You And Me" is one of the more memorable songs of the year (with just a killer bridge and ending when the trumpet kicks in). There's a lot to enjoy here. At this point, I can't wait for the brothers to stay separated..

#4 – Frank Turner – “England Keep My Bones”.  Frank Turner seems to enjoy himself on every song - whether it's a nice acapella piece or more uptempo - and the entire album will just suck you in for repeated listening. There's a ton of great tracks to recommend here - "I Still Believe", "If Ever I Stray", "Peggy Sang The Blues" especially - but "Glory Hallelujah" is the one that sticks with me. Possibly because it's such a great song with clever lyrics and resounding melody, that I don't mind singing along as loud as I can with an atheist anthem.

#3 – The Lonely Forest – “Arrows”.  The best albums are the ones that keep you strapped in on every track - and after an initial slow start, The Lonely Forest grabs you with some great pounding rock and rhythms all the way to the end. In some ways, it's funny that the song that first really pulls you in is "Turn Off This Song And Go Outside", because the title is exactly what you won't want to do. "We Sing In Time" hits with a guitar and percussion, and "(I Am) The Love Addict" and "Two Notes And A Beat" are both strong uptempo pieces. Great repeated listening.

#2 – Fountains of Wayne – “Sky Full Of Holes”.  It's sad that too many people only think of them for "Stacy's Mom" and none of the rest of their work. And while each song being story-like about completely new characters or people may feel gimmicky, the music is strong and addictive with clever lyrics that you're totally onboard. "The Summer Place" and "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart" uptempo hit you with someone else's sorrow, and a number of other tracks are just fun. "Cemetery Guns" is a fine finish - an excellent addition to the many songs reflecting on war. Such a thorough album, it should change your impression of the band beyond the one song you may know.

#1 – The Decemberists – “The King Is Dead”.  It's not often you hear an album in the first two weeks of the year, and have such a strong favorite for the rest of the year. "Down By The Water" strikes with great harmonica and backup vocals from Gillian Welch, and "Calamity Song" is easily my favorite song of the year - hitting you right from the start and accelerating through with a great bridge. After hearing this album, I have no idea why I never got into The Decemberists earlier. Seemingly no misstep on any track, every song is memorable and enjoyable - such a clear best of the album of the year for me.

Wait, Where Is Bon Iver?: Who cares.