2011 is drawing to a close and we have another year of music behind us. What follows is a list of the best (and worst) of 2011 as voted by the Mind Equals Blown staff. Leave us your opinions at the bottom!
Though his EP earlier this year was solid enough to help propel him into a quite successful tour in the spring, his release of his first proper full-length Camp has sent the actor/rapper/writer to a headlining tour playing venues significantly larger. The reason? Dude can twist words and phrases with a slice of spice and nerve – all with a noticeable breath of fresh air to the currently meddling rap game. His cleverness and brash honesty make him a shoo-in for the award as we watch to see what ridiculous heights Gambino will rise to in the coming year.
Design The Skyline
Oh boy who can forget the strong feeling of hilarity and disgust we all felt that first time we listened to “Surrounded By Silence”. In a way we all hoped it was a joke, and it could have been, music this perfectly bad doesn’t come around that often. The music video that featured all sorts of weird gestures and face expressions, the band’s clichéd appearance, and most of all their incoherent abomination of a song, it was the kind of music you listen to with friends for a laugh. As long as we waited we never got a message from Victory records telling us it was all a joke. The joke got old when their debut album surfaced and we realized it was too generic to be funny. This band had everything that makes a band detestable, the look, the hilariously bad song, and a bunch of boring and forgettable tracks.
Thursday’s sixth, and final, record, No Devolución, delivered beyond anyone’s possible expectations. There was always something just missing in previous records like Common Existence. Rarely there are records about devotion where so many lyrically talk about the end- but No Devolución breathed an atmospheric and heavy new interest to the band’s and fans’ ears. It was daring enough for riddles, trumpets, and artwork that showed bright light. The album is cathartic and chilly but steps it up notches musically and that’s not only why it’s one of the best records of the year but made Thursday a successful band again. That one last scream at the end shows us that all along Thursday had nothing to prove about who they are or their career. In case you need reassurance, No Devolución not only should – but will prove it.
A Lot Like Birds
The expectations for Conversation Piece were quite high; Plan B was the surprise EP of 2009, and adding Kurt Travis to the equation only meant we demanded more. The debut full-length from A Lot Like Birds delivered in every way category, providing a fantastic record under their new label, Doghouse Records. Whether you still listen to ____core, abandoned it for “The Wave,” or gave up on the genre altogether, this was the album that made post-hardcore matter in 2011. To say this band has a bright future is an understatement; we fully expect this band to be main stage at Warped 2013, right where they deserve to be.
Transit being the Biggest Surprise of 2011 should, erm, surprise no one. The fact that these early-twenty-somethings matured from a band that helped lead the resurgence of pop-punk to one that has completely forged its own path in music is respectable, as well as entirely surprising. After last year’s great pop-punk epic Keep This To Yourself, to completely disown a formula that works and release THREE incredibly strong releases in one year is a daunting task not many bands could handle. Between the great reimaginings on Something Left Behind, the complete distinction of the too-short Promise Nothing, and the amazing Listen & Forgive, Transit has transitioned from a band on the rise to a band that cannot be stopped.
When Set Your Goals was slated to release their third full-length titled Burning At Both Ends the anticipation of pop-punk fans across the world rose after the general success of their last release This Will Be The Death Of Us. Unfortunately Burning At Both Ends turned out to be the exact opposite of what people wanted from the seasoned pop-punk vets. With a little more polish and not enough punk, Burning At Both Ends came off as 13 tracks of mediocre pop-punk that were a little too sugary for the more punk-oriented minds of the band’s fans. Even though this album was Set Your Goal’s most commercially successful, those long-time fans that have stuck with them since the Reset EP will continue to hang their heads in shame along with most of the underground music community.
This Time Next Year – Drop Out Of Life
This Time Next Year’s sophomore album, Drop Out Of Life, delivers much of the same pop punk we have come to expect from them. Pete Dowdalls’s vocals have lost their edge and, overall, the album lacks originality. With New Found Glory’s guitarist Chad Gilbert as producer, this album is very reminiscent of bands past such as Green Day and Yellowcard. TTNY has not progressed much from the sound exhibited on their previous releases, and Drop Out Of Life depends too much on sounding like NFG. Truly, the very best thing the album has to offer is the much- improved production value. Here’s to hoping their next release is a step up.
Polar Bear Club
I walked away from Bledfest in 2010 having watched Polar Bear Club play a couple songs, but didn’t really get the full gist of what these guys were bringing to the table. Yet, three months ago when the band released Clash Battle Guilt Pride – it was easy to see that something changed about this band. Tighter, confident and more passionate than before, the new PBC seemed poised to their brand of punk rock to the next level. Now with a headlining tour in support of that record under the band’s belt, the year of 2011 has been good to Polar Bear Club – with 2012 looking to be even brighter for the band with a plethora of promising tours on their plate.
City and Colour – Little Hell
City and Colour has yet to disappoint in their short, 3-album career. Being formerly of the post-hardcore band Alexisonfire, Dallas Green- the founder and driving force of the band, (yes, there is a set lineup now, it’s a band), started City and Colour as an escape from that type of music, so that the ideas realized in City and Colour would not leak into AOF. Since Sometimes, their first album C&C’s music quality in all facets has greatly improved. This was all consummated in Little Hell, everything is better than it was just 3 years earlier. There is a much broader use of instrumentation, which was clearly never lacking, lyrics depict much more vivid pictures while maintaining a generality that fans can relate to, and Dallas’ delivery on vocals has never sent such chills up so many spines. If Dallas Green can keep up this trend, it will be amazing to see what he can do. But for now he is at his peak of not only his music, but there are few out there that could hold a candle towards he and his.
Protest The Hero – Scurrilous
Protest The Hero returns with one of the best metal albums in years. In a year oversatturated with pop-punk, Protest proves that metal is alive and well. Vocalist Rody Walker picks up a pen, writing lyrics for most of the albums songs. While themes on this album may be a bit more forward, and less abstract compared to previous albums, the lyrics are quite strong overall. Luke Hoskin and Tim Millars’s dueling guitars are impeccable yet again. Complex and technical, yet approachable, Scurrilous easily wins a MEBbie for Metal Album of the Year.
If you’ve read the above entry for Best New Artist, you already have a pretty good idea why he was an easy pick for Hip-Hop/Rap Album of the Year. In a year that saw albums by Jay Z & Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Tyler, The Creator, somehow the comedian managed to write the record that topped the work of some of the most highly-regarded rappers in music today. What makes this album great is its universal appeal, with Glover’s undeniable flow, honesty, and emphasis on personal things. Despite his fame, he seems like a normal person and is instantly relatable. In a scene where everyone else is trying to do it “big,” he’s just trying to be himself. Camp was a great trip, and we here at Mind Equals Blown can’t wait to see where he takes us next.
La Dispute – Wildlife
La Dispute’s Wildlife is a genre-changer, but more importantly, it’s one of the finest albums of the year. Packed with an emotional punch that hasn’t quite been rivaled in a long while, Wildlife is La Dispute’s crowning achievement as a band, transcending them to a place to set the bar for what other bands can only hope to achieve. Wildlife is pure genius.
The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing
The anticipation leading up to Philly pop-punkers The Wonder Years’ Hopeless records debut was pretty thick and deservedly so. Their third full-length titled Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing not only met the expectations of avid pop-punk fans but blew the roof off of them. Vocalist Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s voice is more passionate than ever and his lyrics are just as honest and relatable as they have ever been. Suburbia shows a hefty improvement from all other members of the band as well. The guitar parts are more interesting and complex than the band’s previous efforts and Mike Kennedy brought one of the most impressive drumming performances of the year to the table. The improved instrumentation, top-notch stick work and Campbell’s ability to give kids a chance to think “Finally! Someone gets me” were enough for the staff here at Mind Equals Blown to deem it this year’s best pop-punk album.
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Robin Pecknold is a perfectionist. This may be why Fleet Foxes took 3 years to follow-up their self-titled debut. Unlike their first record, Helplessness Blues is not a tale of the natural world around us, but rather an introspective look into the life of Pecknold. While the lyrics follow the struggle with the search of one’s own place in the world, the music is serenely beautiful. Pecknold’s voice is soothing without being bland, which is his main asset. The arrangements found in the album show us why this record took 3 years to make. The ambition is there and is executed perfectly. Helplessness Blues might just be 2011’s most beautiful record.
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
It’s not every day that you hear an album as perfect as the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light, but one little fact often goes unknown when hearing such a successful release: the band recorded the entire thing in Dave Grohl’s garage solely on analog tape. In a day and age where technology is crucial in the music industry, Wasting Light broke the cliche and became one of the best records of the year. For a band that seemed to be a bit unsatisfied with Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace, an album that put them on top of the rock world, Wasting Light is a huge step up. Recorded by Butch Vig (who recorded the ever-famous Nevermind), it’s full of great hooks, layers upon layers of grungy guitar, and many guest appearances, the most notable coming from former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic in the track “I Should Have Known.” Wasting Light is the epitome of modern rock and represents everything that’s good about music right now, and is easily the best mainstream album of 2011.
The fact that this band still qualifies for this category makes MEB’s collective mind numb. The band has yet to go on a full-length tour, yet they continue to have an ever-growing fanbase that shows no signs of slowing down. How this band is unsigned is mind-boggling. With last year’s full-length Varuna coming in late in the year and the EP The Cartographer being released early this year, the band had a good majority of 2011 to cool down and possibly sign a contract. Yet, no deal happened. This isn’t to say hype has died: if anything it’s grown, especially with the release of the two-disk CD and DVD release, In the House of Dust. Hopefully 2012 proves to be a big year for the band and please, for the love of god, someone sign these guys.