The year 2011 was a formative year in my young twenty-one years of life. It was the year I graduated high school, the year I decided on a college, the year I left home for the first time to live in a place away from my family, the year where I began broadening my horizons- both in terms of the friendships I made and the classes I took- and the year when I joined WTSR, first working on The Mike and Tom Awesome Show, and later on Keep Calm and Carry On, which sprang off into this very blog you’re reading right now. As a result 2011 was a very important year of music for me, telling the story of sorts about how that year of my life played out. 2011 was also unfortunately the first year I published my top 20 albums of the year list for all the world to see, a decision that now looking at my list I immediately regret. I don’t know what I was thinking when I ranked certain albums at certain spots, but here was my top 20 albums from that list:
20. Charlie Simpson- Young Pilgrim
19. The Far Away Boys- Kyleigh’s Flaw (EP)
18. Transit- Promise Nothing (EP)
17. Moving Mountains- Waves
16. Jacks Mannequin- People and Things
15. Yellowcard- When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes
14. Saves The Day- Daybreak
13. Pianos Become the Teeth- The Lack Long After
12. Childish Gambino- EP
11. Switchfoot- Vice Verses
10. Thrice- Major/Minor
9. The Horrible Crowes- Elsie
8. Fireworks- Gospel
7. Balance and Composure- Separation
6. The Dangerous Summer- War Paint
5. Crucual Dudes- 61 Penn
4. La Dispute- Wildlife
3. Taking Back Sunday- Self-Titled
2. Transit- Listen and Forgive
1. The Wonder Years- Suburbia, I’ve Given You All, and Now I’m Nothing
I will now attempt to re-rank the top 20 albums of 2011 as I would if I made the list right now, in 2015. But first, here are the albums that didn’t make my new cut:
The Far Away Boys- Kyleigh’s Flaw (EP) (19), Transit- Promise Nothing (EP) (18), and Childish Gambino- EP (12) fall off the list because they’re EP and I’m really dumb for including EPs back then. Though Promise Nothing does have the second best Transit song on it, “I’ve Never Told That To Anyone,” it’s still only 2 songs long. Jack’s Mannequin’s People and Things drops off because even though I still enjoy that album, it is still easily Andrew McMahon’s worst record front-to-back. The Lack Long After drops off because I haven’t been able to listen to that album in full since 2012 because it is just too sad. But if you’re looking for a good cry listen to “I’ll Get By” pronto.
And now here is my new top 20, previous rank parenthesized:
- AWOLnation- Megalithic Symphony (NR)
While this project, the brain-child, of Aaron Bruno, has as of yet not been able to hold my attention for an entire record, “Not Your Fault,” “Sail,” and “Kill Your Heroes” are undeniably important and landmark songs, and this is an inspiring and risk-taking debut full-length.
- Switchfoot- Vice Verses (11)
So I had this too high on my initial list, but I also was a way bigger fan of Switchfoot back in 2011 than I am in 2015 (I once counted Switchfoot as my favorite band). This is the second part of an impressive late career return-to-form for the formerly supremely popular Christian rock band. While it doesn’t quite reach the sublime peak of its predecessor Hello Hurricane, Vice Verses still has some of lyricist Jon Foreman’s best existential musings, and one of the most enlightening songs of the band’s career, “Where I Belong”
- Thrice- Major/Minor (10)
Probably unfortunately Thrice’s worst album since Illusion of Safety, and an album I haven’t gone back to particularly much since it came out, but still filled with some incredible lyrics. Whereas The Alchemy Index and Beggars seemed to be Dustin Kensrue working through questions of faith, Major/Minor seemed to be a bit more personal. A scathing indictment of his interpersonal relationships with those close to him and what he sees as hypocrisy in faith, it is some of his most expressive storytelling to date.
- Panic! at the Disco- Vices and Virtues (NR)
I didn’t listen to this album until 2012 (after Don convinced me to finally give it a shot) because the preceding album Pretty. Odd. was a trainwreck of laughably epic proportions. This will, I think, stand the test of time as Panic! At the Disco’s second album though.
- Foo Fighters-Wasting Light (NR)
Recording a rock and roll album entirely to analog tape with no computer editing is an intriguing, but understandably risky proposition in the current state of the music industry. Very few bands could have pulled off such a colossal task as successfully as Foo Fighters did here with Wasting Light. It helps that this is their best collection of songs in close to ten years (“Arlandria” is the best song they’ve written since possibly The Color and The Shape)
- Yellowcard- When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes (15)
Yellowcard’s return album was the most pleasant surprise of 2011. I never expected to get another album from the kings of summery pop-punk, and I expected even less that it would live up to the greatness that was its immediate predecessor Paper Walls
- Crucial Dudes- 61 Penn (5)
Kind of the wild-card pick here. I’m assuming that very few of our readers have ever heard of this band, and even less have actually listened to them. But do yourself a favor and give 61 Penn a shot. It’s only 20 minutes, so it won’t take up much of your day. And after you listen to it, you will be glad you checked out one of the better pop-punk albums in recent memory.
- Saves The Day- Daybreak (14)
Whereas the preceding album clocks in at 20 minutes for all 10 tracks total, this record comes in at about half that (10:30 or so) in just the opening title track alone. The five part suite of Daybreak is just the beginning of the story here though, as the lettered tracks, “E” and “Z” give some vintage Saves The Day pop-rock with a punk edge to it, whereas “Deranged and Desperate” show off new guitarist (at the time) Arun Bali’s extensive talents at crafting memorable riffs
- The Horrible Crowes- Elsie (9)
The Recommended if You Like for this album reads like an eHarmony account profile. For those who like: long walks on the beach, quiet night drives, naps, finding someone to not be so alone anymore, and great music.
- La Dispute- Wildlife (4)
While the front half of this album is pointless at best and completely throwaway more accurately, the entire back half is a near-perfect display of storytelling in song form. I have discussed ad nauseum the work lyricist and vocalist (if you can call it that) Jordan Dreyer does here, telling the tale of a short-story writer slowly descending into madness, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive 4 years later.
- Bayside- Killing Time (NR)
I don’t think I listened to this album at all in 2011 (probably for similar reasons to Panic! at the Disco- I didn’t enjoy Bayside’s Shudder at all) but once I corrected that mistake, I was greeted by an album that is potentially at the top of the band’s discography. Filled with awesome straightforward rock tracks like “Already Gone” (which has become part of the best live show tandem ever with “They’re Not Horses, They’re Unicorns”) or absolute headbanging, singalong crowdmovers like “Sick, Sick, Sick,” Killing Time has everything a Bayside fan could want.
- Taking Back Sunday– Taking Back Sunday (3)
Taking Back Sunday’s “reunion album” with the Tell All Your Friends-lineup is surprisingly and refreshingly not a retread of the same style that made the lineup popular in the first place. A late-era attempt to cash in on the nostalgia and youthful exuberance of those songs was probably to be expected, but instead fans were treated to a more mature take on the band’s recent alternative-rock style. Whereas they were previously singing about adultery and lipstick-stained collars, Adam Lazzara and John Nolan traded all of that off for affirmations of fidelity and faith. It’s amazing what 9 years can mean in a person’s mindset.
- The Dangerous Summer- War Paint (6)
While The Dangerous Summer may have been terrible at actually being a band (see guitarist Cody Payne’s numerous and progressively more awful screw-ups since the band’s breakup if you need more proof), they were a phenomenal band at making music. War Paint was, in my opinion the band’s magnum opus.
- Moving Mountains- Waves (17)
While this album was probably overlooked and underappreciated at the time by myself and others because of its supposed similarity to Thrice’s earlier material (a fair criticism), there is simply no reason for this album, still a phenomenal effort from one of my all-time favorite bands, to have been on the back half of my top 20. It has a song on here which is tied for my favorite song by the band (“The Cascade”) and simply doesn’t have a bad song on the entire thing. Easy top ten choice here.
- Charlie Simpson- Young Pilgrim (20)
Okay, so here’s the thing. The initial list that precedes this re-rank was made less than one week after I listened to Charlie Simpson’s Young Pilgrim for the very first time. If I had given the debut solo album from the former Fightstar and Busted singer more time to cement itself into my music rotation, it would’ve probably ranked here on my year end list back then as well. This is just one of those albums that just grows on you and grows on you with repeated listens, until one day it just punches you in the face and you get it. Just gorgeous melodies left and right here.
- The Wonder Years- Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing (1)
This is the farthest one of my number 1 albums has ever dropped in my Throwback Thursday re-ranks. But I chalk that up not to the decreasing quality (in my eyes) of The Wonder Years’ still phenomenal record, but just a function of how many great albums came out in 2011, easily the best year of music I can remember in my lifetime. This album just hit me at the perfect time and was an instant lightning in a bottle release for me. I had just been reading about the beat poets and Allen Ginsberg while simultaneously getting into the new-school pop-punk movement and then the perfect combination of both, the best pop-punk album since 2002, a concept album based around Allen Ginsberg’s “America” poem comes out. Just instantaneously clicked with me.
- The Front Bottoms- The Front Bottoms (NR)
One interesting thing about The Front Bottoms is just how quickly a person can go from being a casual fan to binge-listening their albums on repeat. Their fanbase, myself now included, has a sort of fanaticism usually reserved for bands like Brand New. I remember, them being a local New Jersey band, hearing the band’s song “Maps” a few times around, and not really thinking much of it. Then one day in 2012, I listened to the bands self-titled album in full, and I was hooked. There was a point in the Spring of 2012 where this was the only album I listened to.
- Fireworks- Gospel (8)
Brace yourselves, the summer months are coming soon, which means that this will go back to being my go-to driving album with the windows down and the radio blasting. Gospel to me is just the feel good album of 2012, in that whenever I’m in a good mood, I will put it on and no matter how dark or introspective the lyrics get, the music and that tinge of optimism is enough to get me in the right mindset.
1b. Transit- Listen and Forgive (2)
This was the first album I purchased after I left for college for the first time. Living on my own for the first time, seeing the leaves change in a new way as I wandered around my new home trying to get my bearings, and dealing with losing touch with old friends while simultaneously making a bunch of new ones, Transit’s Listen and Forgive spoke to me in a way that few albums I heard before were ever able to, and truthfully that no album will probably ever be able to again. When I hear those first, prescient words of “Skipping Stone,” “I’m getting good at saying goodbye, but I’ve always been better at believing that you’re better off,” I think back to that time in my life and what leaving home has given me.
1a. Balance and Composure- Separation (7)
It’s kind of a cop-out to put two albums at the top of the list, I know, but I have to attempt to recognize how formative these two albums are on my music listening and why I’m writing what I’m currently writing. Balance and Composure’s Separation is perfection in the emo genre, not simply because its songs are still some of the best I’ve ever heard or because there’s not a single not-great track on it, but because it’s the album that I needed at the exact time that I needed it. I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in my life, and it seemed as though vocalist Jon Simmons understood that perfectly. These two albums are part of the reason why the new era of the emo genre spoke to me so vividly in 2011 and 2012, and it’s a reason why I joined Donald on what would become The Garden Statement. It’s very possible that without the top 5 albums on this list, you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now. So thanks to The Wonder Years, The Front Bottoms, Fireworks, Transit, and Balance and Composure.