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.

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