Saturday, December 31, 2011

Previews HYPE: February '12

Here are the books that caught my eye in Previews Catalogue, for books shipping to comic shops in February...

Folly: The Consequences of Indiscretion SC - This is a collection of material that was originally self-published by the creator, Hans Rickheit, who topped my best-of-the-year list a few years back with The Squirrel Machine.

Winter Soldier #1 & #2 - A new ongoing series from Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, featuring Bucky as well as Black Widow.

Harvey Pekar's Cleveland HC - Autobiographical sketches and glimpses of the city he lived in for most of his life, haunt this graphic novel from the late great Harvey Pekar.

Fantastic Four: Season One HC - The first in a series of original graphic novels, these are great for new fans, retelling the origins of some of the greatest Marvel heroes.

DC Comics Presents #6 - Now that Deadman's story has wrapped up, Dan Didio and Jerry Ordway take the reigns of the anthology series DC Comics Presents to debut The Challengers into The New 52.

Conan the Barbarian #1 - A new Conan series launches from Dark Horse, featuring the talents of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan.

Next Men: Aftermath #40 - John Byrne isn't done with Next Men yet!

Thief of Thieves #1 - A new series co-written by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) and Nick Spencer (Morning Glories), featuring a master thief.

Gloriana HC - Collecting some previously published material, this Kevin Huizenga hardcover, featuring his Glenn Ganges character, is sure to make quite an impression on new readers.

Friends With Boys GN - A new Faith Erin Hicks coming-of-age story with ghosts and school.

Batman Beyond Unlimited #1 - This oversized monthly comic features a Batman Beyond story from Adam Beechen and Norm Breyfogle, as well as a back-up story for the series that sees Justice League Beyond's print debut.

Katsuya Terada's The Monkey King (Volume 2) TP - After seven years, the illustrator Terada returns to this adaptation for a rare full-color fully-painted manga.

Showcase Presents: The Losers (Volume 1) TP - While Marvel seems to be running out of good material for their Essential line, DC is still prepping series like this in thick editions.

Journalism HC - A new Joe Sacco collection featuring short journalistic comics.

Quasar Classic (Volume 1) TP - Recently appearing in the Annihilators mini-series, cosmic hero and Avenger Quasar's adventures get collected.

Courtney Crumrin (Volume 1): The Night Things Special Edition HC - A newly remastered, full-color edition of the first book in Ted Naifeh's fan-favorite series.

Sonic: Genesis HC - A new-reader friendly Sonic graphic novel, featuring some fan-favorite artists from the series.

DC Super Pets - There are a ton of DC Super Pets trade paperbacks coming out this month, featuring favorite sidekicks like Krypto, in kid-friendly stories.  Some titles include Attack of the Invisible Cats, The Hopping Hero, Superpowered Pony and Starro and the Space Dolphins.

Glory #23 - Rob Liefeld resurrects his Extreme line with this comic by Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell.

Avengers: Kree/Skrull Wat HC - I think a collection like this could be a lot of fun to read.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Superhero Comics of 2011

Here are my ten favorite superhero comics from 2011, the top-ranking of which will also be featured in my forthcoming overall best comics of the year list.

1. Animal Man (Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman) - Jeff Lemire really struts his storytelling skills in this deliciously dark superhero title that oozes atmosphere and is drenched in horror.  Introducing really cool concepts into the Animal Man mythos, Lemire creates scary villains in a story that sees him protecting his family, and his daughter as she comes into her powers, from those who would harm them.  Foreman designs some great-looking baddies, and illustrates this creepy comic beautifully.

2. FF/Fantastic Four (Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting, Greg Tocchini, Juan Bobilo, Barry Kitson & Others) - The new title FF launched this year, focusing the events of the Baxter Building on the Future Foundation, and bringing Spider-Man into the mix, as Human Torch was presumed dead in The Negative Zone.  And then Fantastic Four relaunched at the end of the year in a thick anniversary issue that brought the culmination of years worth of storylines together in an epic battle on different fronts, involving The Inhumans, The Kree, The Negative Zone and a whole mess of villains and allies.  Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four has been entertaining for years, but he's really paying things off at this stage in two books that remind us why we love superhero comics so much.

3. Angel & Faith (Christos Gage & Rebekah Isaacs) - A part of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine, Gage and Isaacs focus their attentions to Buffy's former flame, the vampire with a soul, Angel, and the badass slayer who has quite the history of recklessness and villainy.  Together, they make a formidable team in a world where magic has been cut off from the creatures that prowl the streets of Earth.  Gage gets the dialogue perfect from the get-go, and Isaacs draws Angel and Faith great, for a resemblance to the characters as we know them, without getting caught up in it. She kind of makes them her own.  This is a fantastic comic, with tense action and a lovely chemistry between the characters.  And it's, frankly, better than anything we saw in the Season Eight comics of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

4. Wonder Woman (Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang) - Wonder Woman seems to have been a comic that creators have had a hard time writing over the years, but Azzarello and Chiang get it right with their new incarnation of the Amazon princess, with a cool origin story and fun villains.  They've found a nice balance of Diana in the real world and the mythological aspects of her story, for a lovely overall package that looks great and reads like an instant classic.

5. Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes #1 (Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart & Chris Burnham) - Grant Morrison's oversized issue that picks up on events from the Batman Incorporated series sees elements come together in an action-packed story here as Batman uncovers the identity of Leviathan, and agents he's recruited over the series make appearances in a high-stakes battle.  But I have to say that my favorite part of this issue was chapter one, which focuses on an all-girls school that trains villains.  It has stunning art by Cameron Stewart, and I just love the hell out of this kick-ass story.

6. Ultimate Comics: X-Men (Nick Spencer & Paco Medina) - They aren't afraid to shake up the continuity on these Ultimate titles, which is why decades of hinting at a Days of Future Past type era in the regular Marvel Universe has come to pass in this Ultimate X-Men book where mutants are condemned to concentration camps and can be shot on sight.  It's this boldness that gives the team a breath of much-needed fresh air.  On a book like this, they don't have to be concerned with the status quo, but shake things up in cool ways, and Spencer and Medina know how to tell a story for emotional impact, focusing on a tight-knit team of young characters that play off of each other well.

7. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (Jeff Lemire & Alberto Ponticelli) - I loved reading about Frankenstein in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers, and Lemire resurrects the big guy, and his lovely bride, in this new series that follows a secret organization, S.H.A.D.E., that deals with supernatural threats.  Lemire has also assembled a great supporting cast of characters around Frankenstein, for a team that resembles the classic Universal movie monsters.  This title is a lot of fun, with lots of personality to each of the monsters, and a crazy, eccentric organization overseeing them.

8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, Dan Duncan, Brian Lynch, Franco Urru & Andy Kuhn) - It's great to have the Ninja Turtles back.  And despite a drawn-out origin, this has been a solid beginning to a new era for the green guys.  Especially once the origin was out of the way, it seemed the creators were ready to cut loose, incorporating elements from the original Eastman/Laird era of comics, as well as from the popular animated series.  It's really cool stuff.  And particularly great is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series, each issue featuring one of the turtles in a solo adventure.  Only Michael and Raphael have come out so far, but they've been fantastic little stories written by Brian Lynch, with cool characters introduced into the books.  This series is just getting going, but it seems like it's already building a rich story very quickly, reminding readers of why they loved these guys in the first place.  IDW, who is publishing these new issues, has also done a superb job collecting the original stories in deluxe editions, in case you can't get enough.

9. Moon Knight (Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev) - An A-list creative team makes this gritty little superhero book a consistently great comic every month.  I never really cared for previous Moon Knight series, but Bendis and Maleev really draw out the cool elements of this character in a story that's constantly surprising, with a fun supporting cast of characters.  It's sexy, action-packed and looks great.

10. Demon Knights (Paul Cornell & Diogenes Neves) - This title takes place in The Dark Ages, for a superhero book that has a more traditional fantasy feel to it than anything.  The Demon stars in this title that sees other familiar faces from the DC Universe in its pages, fighting for their lives, such as The Shining Knight and Madame Xanadu, who has a relationship with both The Demon and his human personality, for a unique love triangle.  The action rarely slows down in this title, and it's unlike anything else out there in the market currently.

Honorable Mentions
Action Comics (Grant Morrison & Rags Morales)
Avengers: The Children's Crusade (Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung)
Batwoman (J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine (Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss & Georges Jeanty)
Uncanny X-Men #532-544 (Keiron Gillen, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Ibraim Roberson, Matt Fraction, Greg Land & Jay Leisten)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Comics-and-More Podcast: Pogo

This week on the Comics-and-More Podcast, Patrick Markfort and I discuss Walt Kelly's Pogo!


Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips (Volume 1): 1949-1950 "Through the Wild Blue Wonder"
Walt Kelly

Part One:

Part Two:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pick of the Week 12/28

Here is the book you should be paying attention to, in comic shops tomorrow...

Shaky Kane's Monster Truck GN - This new edition of British writer Shaky Kane's (Bulletproof CoffinMonster Truck, from Image Comics, sees one panel sprawl over fifty-two pages, and allows more than the initial 500 copies from the UK Wishbone Studio edition (from 2007) to find its way to more readers.

Other Noteworthy Releases
Brothers of the Spear Archives (Volume 1) HC
Chase TP
Hulk by John Byrne and Ron Garney TP
Mystery Men HC
Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane Archives (Volume 1) HC
Walt & Skeezix (Volume 5): 1929-1930 HC
X-Men: Schism HC

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best Manga of 2011

The following are my ten favorite manga of the year, the best of which will also be ranked on my forthcoming overall best comics of the year list.

1. The Drops of God (Tadashi Agi & Shu Okimoto) - I love this manga!  About a man who learns about wine after his father, a famous wine critic, dies, this book looks great and is completely engrossing.  The world of wine is really fascinating - I had no idea that wine was so complex. And the way the creators take the readers away with taste, transporting the characters to memories and breathtaking landscapes, is a smart choice that gets the point across very nicely. But as interesting as all of the subtleties of wine is, the art on this title is just drop-dead gorgeous and steals the show. From that beautifully-designed cover to the detailed backgrounds to panel-upon-panel of beautifully-rendered talking heads, this books looks fantastic.

2. Princess Knight (Osamu Tezuka) - The title that set the tone for shojo manga is just as wonderful now as it ever was.  Tezuka weaves a wonderful epic story about a princess born with the hearts of both a man and a woman, and the trials she endures to win the man that she loves, and the acceptance of her kingdom.  I'm a huge Tezuka fan, so I wasn't surprised that I really enjoyed this title, but even my high expectations were exceeded. Great cartooning, fantastic plot twists, tons of suspense and action, and a romance that has you rooting for the main character to beat the odds. This is Tezuka at his best, and it hardly surprises me that this title has been such an influencial work.

3. Wandering Son (Shimura Takako) - This story about two transgendered fifth-graders is masterfully told, with great characterization, and a fantastic story with a gentle tone.  Things play out very cinematically and realistically in this charming tale with very likeable protagonists.  There are a lot of great character moments and very subtle reactions that give this manga a feeling of richness.  This really is a gem of a series.

4. No Longer Human (Usamaru Furuya) - No Longer Human is based on a popular novel in Japan by Osamu Dazai, and is a really cool character study about a guy whose life is a complete and utter charade.  He may be popular and loved by his classmates, but it's all a very calculated show for someone who doesn't understand people at all.  We get to witness the slippery slope that the main character travels, knowing that he will reach a very low point in his life, but I loved going along for the ride.  This a thoughtful, sexy read, and it's rendered beautifully by Usamaru Furuya.

5. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (Shigeru Mizuki) - This World War II manga from legendary cartoonist Shigeru Mizuki follows a troop of the Imperial Army stationed in the South Pacific.  There's an interesting blend of humor and really dark material to be found here, but the humor lightens what would otherwise be a pretty depressing read.  Mizuki also draws the characters here in a cartoony style that contrasts nicely with the dangerous, realistic surroundings.  I really like the mixture of styles, and I was surprised by how contemporary this feels forty years after its original publication.  It really speaks to the strength of the creator.

6. Sailor Moon (Naoko Takeuchi) - Reintroduced to a new generation of readers, Sailor Moon made a triumphant return this year, and having missed the fun the first time around, I immersed myself in the world of the pretty guardian and her friends.  This is a magical girl manga full of pretty costumes and romance, as the girls begin a quest to fight for justice.  It's just a hell of a lot of fun.

7. A Zoo In Winter (Jiro Taniguchi) - In A Zoo In Winter, Jiro Taniguchi (The Quest For the Missing Girl) recounts scenes from his youth surrounding his beginnings in manga.  I'm a big fan of his artwork - it's very realistic and lush, very detailed with beautiful scenery.  His breathtaking backgrounds and cityscapes, coupled with the cartooning he brings to the expressions of his characters, is just a perfect marriage of art.  And beyond the artwork, Taniguchi recounts some very personal moments that make you feel closer to him, in what is a really solid, if quiet, work.

8. Velveteen & Mandala (Jiro Matsumoto) - I wasn't even sure I liked this after I finished reading it, but this manga is one of those works that's hard to get out of your head, and it makes you think about things and recall scenes.  Matsumoto definitely indulges in the grotesque in this ugly post-apocalyptic world that's often over-the-top and explicit, but there are some really great ideas packed into this story, and I love the dream-like scenes within its pages.  And in the end, it's even a rather sophisticated story that haunts you long after you've set it down. 

9. Bakuman (Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata) - The team behind Death Note tell a story about two manga artists breaking into the industry, and man, is it engrossing.  I tear through these volumes as soon as they come out.  It's suspenseful, engaging, and it just keeps you turning those pages ravenously.  Rarely do I look forward to the new volume of a series as much as I do this one.  It plays out cinematically, with lovely artwork, and it's really neat getting a glimpse into this world.

10. A Bride's Story (Kaoru Mori) - I loved Kaoru Mori's Emma, and as with that title, Mori meticulously researched 19th Century Asia for a look at the Silk Road.  In this tale, a woman is betrothed to a husband in a neighboring village, a husband who is only twelve years old.  We witness her adapting to her new life in a world that is fully-realized and historically detailed.  Mori draws out scenes wonderfully, to put emphasis on body language as much as speech, in fluid storytelling that masterfully breathes emotion into the story.  She creates an array of fully-realized characters that move through this vivid glimpse into the past, indulging in her own interests of the time period, while drawing breathtaking landscapes and scenes of intimate family life.

Honorable Mentions
The Book of Human Insects (Osamu Tezuka)
Chi's Sweet Home (Konami Kanata)
La Quinta Camera: The Fifth Room (Natsume Ono)
Sand Chronicles (Hinako Ashihara)
Twin Spica (Kou Yaginuma)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Three Worst Comics of the Year

I'm sure there's worse stuff out there, if some of the solicitations in Previews are any indication, but here are three comics that I suffered through in 2011...

1. X-Men: Regenesis #1 by Kieron Gillen & Billy Tan - This one-shot that kicks off the relaunch of the X-Men line in wake of X-Men: Schism, is a complete waste of time.  It pretty much shows which X-Men are siding with which new team, as Logan and Scott approach various members of the X-Men to recruit them. As each member decides on which side they are on, the artist flashes to this weird scene where Cyclops and Wolverine are battling each other in loincloths and animal skins, and each X-Man is depicted in this garb. It's...weird. The conversations that the X-Men have that lead them to their decisions are pretty shallow too, not insightful or interesting, but just...seemed like they were talking to fill the pages.

2. Animal Land (Volume 1) by Makoto Raiku - This manga, about a human baby raised in a world full of animals, had a lot of problems.  Monoko, the tanuki who raises the human baby, is perhaps the most irritating character I've ever come across, boasting a deep desperation to love the human baby and care for it and be its "mommy." She cries whenever anything goes awry, and is so suffocating and selfish in her need to "love" this child that she comes across as utterly pathetic.  And then the creator also shamelessly uses the baby to try to bring emotion to a book that, while characters show a lot of emotion, is pretty emotionless. Just because a character cries, the audience is expected to feel upset, despite no feeling or genuine emotion behind the gesture, and this happens often. Plot points are solved very conveniently as well. The baby is sad that he doesn't have a name, and the paper that Monoko hid from him says his name on it (and that's all). The end. It's almost insulting how little thought seemed to go into the writing here. I can't imagine anyone caring about the characters in this book, let alone remembering it the moment they set it down.

3. Catwoman #1 by Judd Winick & Guillem March - With DC relaunching their entire DC Universe line, there were bound to be a few duds, and this one takes the cake for the worst of the bunch.  It's a very straight-forward book, with nothing of interest to set it apart from other superhero books, and the protagonist is fetishised in a distasteful way, with a completely ridiculous, tacky final page that's, frankly, an embarrassing moment for comics.  The dialogue is clunky, the art is eh, and Selina Kyle is just not fun to read about here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pick of the Week 12/21

Here is the book you should be paying attention to, in comic shops tomorrow...

Memorial #1 (of 6) - This new title from Chris Roberson (iZombie) and Rich Ellis sees a young woman inherit a magic shop, and propels her into the world of the supernatural.

Other Noteworthy Releases
Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes #1
Blondie (Volume 2) HC
Fantastic Four by Waid and Wieringo Ultimate Collection (Book 4) TP
Siege HC
Spider-Man: Chapter One TP
Strange Girl Omnibus HC
Tales Designed To Thrizzle #7

Monday, December 19, 2011

Manga Monday: Book of Human Insects

The Book of Human Insects
Osamu Tezuka

The Book of Human Insects, published in the US by Vertical, is a minor work of Osamu Tezuka's when compared to the staggering amount of fantastic manga out there from the god of manga.  That being said, this is still one of the best manga to come out this year.  Even a minor work from Tezuka is superior to most of the stuff being translated currently.  Princess Knight is a first-rate work from Tezuka, the second volume of which just arrived in comic shops and bookstores a few weeks ago, if you're looking for something to compare it to, or want to experience Tezuka in top form for your first look at the artist.

This graphic novel may have the title of a horror story, but it's really a drama, with thrills, and twists and turns aplenty.  It begins with manga creator Toshiko Tomura winning a prestigious award for her debut manga "The Book of Human Insects" at the same time as her former roommate, another manga artist, commits suicide.  We learn that Tomura stole the work of this artist and had her murdered.  This becomes Tomura's MO throughout this book, as she steals from people to gain fame and happiness.  The title of the book comes from the fact that she mimics people, much like some insects do to lure in prey or escape predators, before utterly destroying their lives.  A lot of this book is about people discovering her secrets, and the ways she thwarts their attempts to expose her, as well as watching her getting elaborate revenge on a few people who slighted her.  She's a smart, cunning woman who knows how to use her assets to get what she wants, but is really just a lost child, with some weird issues.  This is an interesting book, almost like a series of connected stories, some better than others.  It's really neat when we get to see her outwit a cold assassin, but there are times when it gets really bogged down, like when she marries the CEO of a company and it goes into detail about a hostile takeover that goes on for too long.  It also kind of leaves you unsatisfied.  There are a lot of loose ends, and the one romance that carries through the story kind of just dangles and never really comes to anything.  The whole thing sort of led to nowhere, with Tomura learning no lesson whatsoever by its conclusion.  Like I said, this is one of the weaker works of Tezuka, but he cartoons the hell out of it, and it's more compelling that most of what's out there on the shelves alongside it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Favorite Comic Book Covers of 2011

I may have missed a few, but here are some of my favorite comic book covers of the year...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Best In Music 2011

The following are my favorite songs and albums of 2011, a great year in music.  For songs, I kept it to one song per artist to feature the most talent, and overall, it makes for one hell of a mixed CD if anyone's looking for some great tunes.  I do tend to gravitate toward female singers, but there are some guys in there to mix it up.  Enjoy!

30 Best Songs of 2011

1. "Rolling In the Deep" by Adele - It's hard not to fall in love with this song.  It's infectious, with a great beat and a powerhouse of a voice.  Adele pours her heart and soul into this one, and it comes through loud and clear.

2. "Blue Jeans" by Lana Del Rey - Her video for "Video Games" went viral, but it's her single "Blue Jeans" that's the real show stopper.  Great lyrics, interesting sounds, and a versatile voice with a unique delivery that's hard to stop listening to.

3. "Hear the Bells" by Vanessa Carlton - Vanessa Carlton really experimented with sound on her new album, and the eerie bell tolls and what I can only describe as wailing during the final chorus, paints a compelling overall song when coupled with the haunting lyrics.

4. "Little Red Boots" by Lindi Ortega - This folksy country song has the sound of an instant classic, confidently told with simple, yet fun lyrics, and a toe-tapping beat.

5. "Paper Forest (In the Afterglow of Rapture)" by Emmy the Great - Showcasing the singer's range, this song goes from fast-talking lyrics to an angelic chorus for a fantastic, bold final product.

6. "Sun of a Gun" by Oh Land - I love songs with an unique sound, and this dance number has a great hook, and a nice build-up to it.

7. "Invisible" by Skylar Grey - A great beat and a great chorus elevate the everyday lyrics of this song about not fitting in, to a whole new level, with a song that's hard to get out of your head.

8. "Hell On Heels" by Pistol Annies - Cheeky lyrics about a woman on a rampage makes for a deliciously fun song set to a lazy country beat that suits the song perfectly.  Award-winning country artist Miranda Lambert heads this trio of ladies, to stunning results.

9. "Lights Low" by Madison - Madison provides some of the greatest dance music of the year from her EP, this one full of odd, but cool sounds and flirty lyrics, that build to a great chorus.

10. "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" by Katy Perry - This song is nearly impossible to resist, and has Katy Perry's fun, in-your-face style all over it. 

11. "I Wanna Go" by Britney Spears - THE song of the Summer, there isn't one part of this number that isn't fantastic.  Great chorus, great lead-up, and I love that whistling.  It's different and a hell of a lot of fun.

12. "What the Hell" by Avril Lavigne - I haven't really been a huge fan of Avril's, but this song blew me away.  It's catchy as hell, nice and flirty, and really fun to sing to.

13. "Siberia" by Lights - I like how Lights sings this song.  I like how she puts the emphasis on words like "Siberia," and the lyrics, which are pretty universal but still interesting.

14. "Get Over U" by Neon Hitch - There have been a few great dance songs this year, and this is one of them.  Lots of anticipation going into the chorus, which is where the song reaches a nice fervor, and I love the little interlude she does before the final chorus.  Solid song.

15. "Shadow" by Colbie Caillat - This is a very simple song, but it's really very lovely with a nice beat.  Sometimes songs like this, very pared down, have a way of sneaking up on you and punching a wallop.  It's just kind of elegant and nice.

16. "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People - This song has a fantastic beat that's hard to ignore, and I love when songs with a fun beat are pared with dark lyrics like this.  It's very fun and playful.

17. "Army of Love" by Kerli - Another great dance number from this year, this one is more of a traditional dance song, but I love how Kerli sings it, almost like she's telling you a secret or something.

18. "Zombie" by Natalia Kills - From the horror film-inspired opening to the deliciously dark and wrong lyrics, Natalia Kills, well, kills it with this song.  There's a great chorus, and this is one of those songs that's just suited to be auto tuned in some parts, and it works for a really great overall sound.  The delivery in this song is second to none.

19. "The Shield and the Sword" by Clare Maguire - This song is epic, with great swells of music and strings, and Clare Maguire's voice is amazingly strong.

20. "Jungle" by Emma Louise - The chorus on this song is really simple, but very infectious.

21. "The Broken Ones" by Dia Frampton - A really good song can get you really emotional, and perhaps this ballad just struck the right chords with me personally, but it got a reaction out of me, and that's what art should strive for.

22. "I Follow Rivers" by Lykke Li - Incorporating all sorts of interesting sounds into her music, Lykke Li creates a real gem with this song, leading to a wonderful chorus.

23. "Loud Music" by Michelle Branch - Michelle Branch took some time off from solo work to be a part of the country duo The Wreckers, but her return to her roots is a welcome one.  She rocks it with this song.

24. "Gold Mine" by Breanne Duren - I love the sound of this one, and especially how Duren sings the chorus, teasing out the words playfully in a lively, fun song.

25. "I Will Be Waiting" by Daphne Willis - Another pretty simple song, this has a nice build to the chorus and I love how she says "And when you get home, I'm gonna lock you in."  It's just a fun, sunny song.

26. "Miss Me" by Andy Grammer - This is a great pop song, sung with a strong voice that's hard to get out of your head.

27. "Get Your Leavin' Done" by Sherrie Austin - Only a few country songs really impressed me this year, and this is one of them, showcasing Sherrie's songwriting talent and her strong voice.

28. "Shake It Off" by Florence + The Machine - This neat song is somewhere between new age and dance music, and is just cool and makes you want to move.

29. "Bones" by Misty Miller - This song along with "Evergreen Love" gave Misty Miller's self-titled full-length debut CD some really solid tracks.  I enjoy the lyrics to "Bones" and the toe-tapping beat.

30. "Pinky's Dream" by David Lynch featuring Karen O. - Creepy and dream-like, David Lynch demonstrates why he's a master of atmosphere on his new CD, this show-stealer featuring the compelling vocals of Karen O.

10 Best Albums of 2011

1. "Rabbits On the Run" by Vanessa Carlton - After a four year hiatus, Vanessa Carlton returns with a mature, beautiful album full of incredible songs.  The classically-trained musician very thoughtfully uses instruments in her music, with beautiful swells of strings and piano that pull emotional reactions from listeners.  Even vocals at times seem to be used calculatingly as an instrument, using swells of a children's chorus in a song like "I Don't Want To Be a Bride," or the eerie shrieks in the background of "Hear the Bells."  And the songs are so atmospheric!  With "Tall Tales for Spring," you can't help but conjure up the imagery as she sings, not to mention the haunting atmosphere of "Hear the Bells."  She arranges these songs to a pitch-perfect degree, with amazing lyrics.  A phenomenal album, this is my pick for best of the year.  Key Tracks: I Don't Want To Be a Bride, Fairweather Friend, Hear the Bells, Tall Tales for Spring.

2. "21" by Adele - It's hard not to feel the heartache and emotional punch of Adele's songs when she belts them out with that powerful voice of hers.  On her sophomore effort, Adele manages to create a CD full of amazing songs, from ballads like "Someone Like You" that almost everyone can identify with, to soulful tunes like "Rumour Has It."  Adele has real star power and deserves the attention she's garnered over the past year over this gem of a CD.  Key Tracks: Rolling In the Deep, Rumour Has It, Set Fire To the Rain.

3. "Femme Fatale" by Britney Spears - Britney hit one out of the park with this one.  She has incredible dance numbers on this album, some of the best of the year, like the first single off of this CD "Till the World Ends," and of course, the infectious "I Wanna Go" was almost impossible not to fall in love with.  Sure, some of the lyrics can be a little cheesy at times, but you can't dismiss a CD that's full of such appealing pop music.  Key Tracks:  Till the World Ends, Inside Out, I Wanna Go.

4. "Perfectionist" by Natalia Kills - Natalia Kills certainly grabbed my attention with her debut single "Mirrors," a song about S&M with a catchy beat, but she really proved that she wasn't a one-trick pony with a CD chalk-full of amazing music.  From the auto-tuned chiller "Zombie" to the feisty "Break You Hard," which illustrates her versatile voice, many of the songs on this CD have the makings of classics.  Natalia records some very bold sounds with bold lyrics, and hopefully this is just the tip of the iceberg, because as far as debuts go, they can't get much better than this.  Key Tracks: Mirrors, Kill My Boyfriend, Zombie, Nothing Lasts Forever.

5. "Little Red Boots" by Lindi Ortega - Full of sassy country songs, this CD is fast-talking and feisty one minute, and heartbreaking and sympathetic the next.  Boasting a unique voice, Ortega proves her song-writing talent with this album full of winners.  Hands-down the best country CD released this year.  Key Tracks:  Little Lie, Little Red Boots, Fall Down or Cry, Jimmy Dean.

6. "Red" by Dia Frampton - I really liked songs like "Here, Here and Here" from Meg & Dia, and this is half of that duo, Dia Frampton, with her debut CD.  People probably recognize her more recently as a finalist from The Voice, but Dia's already a seasoned musician, as she proves with this CD, playing multiple instruments and demonstrating a strong songwriting talent.  Her sound is more mature than her Meg & Dia days, even if they are still playful and youthful.  This is one consistently good album, with great ballads like the emotionally powerful "The Broken Ones" and fun experimental songs like "Billy the Kid."  Key Tracks: Don't Kick the Chair, The Broken Ones, Billy the Kid.

7. "The Waking Sleep" by Katie Herzig - Katie Herzig has been making music for awhile, but her latest CD is something to be reckoned with. This album is full of unique sounds and experimentation, with beautiful swells of vocals. It's very atmospheric and expertly assembled, with lovely lyrics. Everything you could want in a great album.

8. "Sparks EP" by Breanne Duren - This five-song EP introduces listeners to a unique voice, with playful songs like the irresistible "Gold Mine" and songs like "Summer Days" that suck you into her vision of Summer and forces heartache upon you.  Duren illustrates on "Summer Days" how to sing perfectly for that emotional reaction, with the perfect pace and accompaniment of music.  It's this masterful arrangement that she brings to her songs, bringing to life five beautifully rich songs.  Key Tracks:  Gold Mine, Daydreams, Summer Days.

9. "Bells" by Laura Jansen - Laura Jensen's songs are simple and elegant, with plenty of emotion pouring forth through her voice.  This is her first full-length album, but she gets it right with her pared-back sound.  The lyrics are vulnerable and honest, and she strikes a chord with her beautiful dreamy voice.  Key Tracks: The End, Bells, Use Somebody.

10. (TIE) "Circus Girl" by Sherrie Austin - Country singer Sherrie Austin's first CD in eight years represents a welcome comeback.  Admittedly, I was a huge fan of Sherrie growing up.  She's one of the few people I actually stood in line for to get an autograph (at the Mall of America).  She spawned some great CDs back then, and she shows that she's still got the goods.  As before, she releases songs that sound like instant classics, like "Get Your Leavin' Done," and has those sassy, fun-loving songs that I loved growing up like "I Didn't" and "That Kind of Happy."  The songs can be a little cheesy at times, but they're so much fun you hardly care.  Her strong voice shines through wonderfully in this album, which was released on her own record label.  I'm very excited to have Sherrie back, as she's a breath of fresh air to country music, truly embracing the medium, and just having fun with it.  Key Tracks: Get Your Leavin' Done, Sleep With Me, That Kind of Happy.

10. (TIE) "Two" by Lenka - I loved Lenka's debut CD from a few years back, so was very excited to see a new one from her come out.  I was a little disappointed at first, but this is a CD that really grows on you the more you listen to it.  Lenka's songs are fun, with great beats, and once you have a song in your head, it's hard to get rid of it, let alone keep from singing it.  Listening to her music is like listening to sunshine.  Key Tracks: Roll With the Punches, Everything At Once, You Will Be Mine.

Honorable Mentions
"The Noise Some People Make EP" by Madison - A great EP of dance songs, lots of fun and upbeat with cool sounds.  I'll be really looking forward to the full-length CD from Madison.  Key Tracks: #1, Lights Low, Hot Hot Love.

"Born This Way" by Lady Gaga - This 80's-tinged CD had some great songs, and were very different from one another, yet cohesive as a whole album.  I'm not a huge fan of 80's music, but this CD wanted me to like it more because it was a pretty impressive final product.  Key Tracks: Judas, Scheibe, You and I.