5. Blink 182 – Neighborhoods
This isn’t your Jr. High Blink (get over it, they’re in their upper -30s now), but a more mature, harder rocking and experimenting Blink. Although there’s a few songs for the oldies (“Heart’s All Gone,” “Even If She Falls”), this album is filled with rockers, such as “Snake Charmer,” “Up All Night” and “Kaleidoscope,” and experimental tunes like “Fighting the Gravity” and “This is Home,” the latter featuring some synth. Despite a few missteps-and less of Mark Hoppus than we might have liked- this is a terrific album that was well worth the long wait. One thing that has not changed: Travis Barker remains a bad-ass behind the drums.
4. Thursday – No Devolucion
If you’re reading this, chances are you already know that Thursday have gone on an “indefinite hiatus.” But let’s not mourn. Let’s be happy that they went out with the best album of their already illustrious discography. The drumming, the vocals, the keyboards…it’s all better than ever. With No Devolucion the band embraced their experimental side more than ever before, delivering atmospheric beauties such as “No Answers,” “A Darker Forest” and “Empty Glass.” And for the older fans, there’s “Open Quotes” and “Millimeter.” Simply put, the band saved their very best for last. If we never hear from Thursday again, I’ll be okay with that; this album is the perfect swan song.
3. Meg & Dia – Cocoon
Looks like getting dropped from Warner Bros. Records was the best thing to happen to Meg & Dia. These sisters have always put out consistently good material, but their latest album Cocoon is on another level. They’ve made a pretty big shift musically, straying far away from the pop-rock of previous albums and deep into the folk world. Dia’s vocals are impeccable as always, but the lyrics sound more thoughtful and heartfelt than ever. Every song stands out on its own, yet they all fit perfectly together. Meg even takes the vocal reins on a couple of songs (listen to “Better Off” late at night and be amazed). But the best thing about Cocoon is that it sounds like the album Meg & Dia always wanted to make.
2. Panic! at the Disco – Vices and Virtues
No Ryan Ross? No problem. While Ross was busy trotting out mediocre songs with The Young Veins, Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith went and put out the best album of their careers. Vices and Virtues takes the theatrics of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out and the intimacy of Pretty Odd and combines them to brilliant effect. There are songs for older Panic fans (“The Ballad of Mona Lisa,” “Hurricane”), there are songs for Pretty Odd fans (“Sarah Smiles,” “Always”), and it all culminates with the stunning closer “Nearly Witches,” one of the best songs of any genre to be released this year. Even after countless listens, this album has not become remotely stale. Oh yeah, and there’s a children’s choir that sings in French. Gorgeous.
1. Lydia – Paint it Golden
For anyone who ever doubted that true beauty exists in music, check out this album. After the rather poor effort of their supposedly final album Assailants, indie rockers Lydia thankfully returned with Paint It Golden, an album that can proudly stand alongside Illuminate at the top of their discography. Straight from the cries of “Hailey if you’re out there,” you know you’re in for something special. From the uplifting “Dragging Your Feet in the Mud” to the softly haunting “I’ll Bite You,” this album is great for any mood, any season, any time of day. Critics may say these ten songs blend together a little too much, but when the music is this good, who the hell cares?
Biggest Surprise: Lights – Siberia
Biggest Disappointment: The Dangerous Summer – War Paint
Best Live Show – Paul McCartney @ Wrigley Field: 7/31
Most Anticipated for 2012: Anberlin, The Gaslight Anthem, The Early November, Muse, The Maccabees
Click here to check out my Spotify playlist of 25 favorite songs from 2011.