Best Music Of 2011: PP

author PP date 28/01/12

What a year has it been for both Rockfreaks.net and the music industry as a whole. Old giants have fallen and new start-ups have taken their place. Amazing albums have blown us away while others have left us sorely disappointed. Our readership records have bitten the dust almost every month since June, and if our January 2012 statistics are any indication, it's going to be one hell of a year for Rockfreaks.net, and by transition, you guys. But who else were the big winners in 2011? What about the losers?

For starters, the recorded music industry was shaken by two seismic events this year: the demise of EMI, and the enormous success of Swedish music streaming service Spotify. The former was bought by Universal in a $2 billion bid where their publishing division was sold to Sony BMG, bringing the Big Four major labels down to just three: Universal, Sony BMG, and Warner. Has the revolution started? Who will be the next giant to fall? Time will tell, but by the end of this decade I would be surprised if the majors were still around in the same form as they are today.

But more importantly, Spotify cemented itself as the go-to place for a legal alternative to torrents and illegal downloads. Some estimates say music piracy was reduced by a margin of almost 30% in markets where Spotify was successfully introduced. And although there are still questions about how much money the non-major label artists actually make from the service, the whole point is that Spotify is proving it is possible to compete with free, provided you have a good enough product to offer. The next step? A legal torrent service that charges a fixed monthly fee for unlimited access much like Spotify. It is the future; who will step up and fill the void?

At the same time, Myspace continued its slow but inevitable demise, with its market share being slowly degraded by far superior music services such as Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and, yes, Facebook band pages. The closer we moved towards the end of the year, the fewer bands, it seems, bothered to upload their new material to Myspace, instead opting to use one of the aforementioned for music streaming services. Those three were clearly the big winners in 2011.

In terms of music, I thought 2010 was a hard year to top in terms of quality of music. Yet, here we are again, looking back at the year passed and I'm having serious trouble in deciding which bands to omit from my 'best of 2011' list. Much of this has to do with the emergence of a whole three new movements that have brought back the 'message' to the music scene: the 'wave', a brand of post-hardcore spearheaded by the likes of Touche Amore, La Dispute, and Pianos Become The Teeth, the 'defend pop punk' or 'realist pop punk' movement with The Wonder Years and Man Overboard at the forefront, and last but not least, the rise of meaningful melodic hardcore bands like The Ghost Inside, Hundredth, Counterparts, and others like them. All three movements have one thing in common: genuine honesty and passion in their respective genres. Perhaps that's why most metalcore and deathcore sounded so generic and uninspiring in comparison this year. But without further ado, let me present you my favorite albums of 2011.


Spotify Playlist

I've taken the liberty to pick my favorite songs from the records listed below, with the exception of a few artists whose music is not on Spotify.

Click here for my 'Best Music of 2011' Spotify playlist


The Wonder Years topped my end of year chart in 2007. They do so again in 2011 with their career-defining release, a touching, melancholic, and introspective look at living paycheck-to-paycheck, reflecting on growing up in your early to mid twenties, and, to quote the definitive line from the album, "It's not about forcing happiness; it's about not letting sadness win". It's a reactionary album to the polished pop punk records of recent years which deal with superfluous topics that don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. It embodies the constant struggle of the suburban youth through infectious melody lines that are drenched in nostalgia and melancholia throughout; it is catchy, but not annoyingly so. The focus is in the lyrics and the smoothly flowing dynamic between their vocalist Soupy's slightly angsty deliver and the more rock oriented pop punk approach of the rest of the band.


2. Junior Battles - Idle Ages

Coming in as a close second, "Idle Ages" by Junior Battles is another pop punk album that turns the genre upside down by taking a far more intellectual and meaningful approach to the genre. Much like The Wonder Years album above, it is a loose concept album in the sense that it did not intend to be one, but turned out that way anyway because of the common theme of looking back at different eras of one's youth. Junior Battles do this from a remarkably cynical point of view where self-realization of 'life didn't pan out the way we thought when we were idealistic teenagers' reigns above all , executed over an incredibly varied and intelligent instrumental base, without forgetting angst-laden, infectious sing alongs in the process. It's a grower, but once you start connecting the dots, it's hard to turn away from this album.


3. Touché Amoré - Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me

I remember watching the first two songs of Touché Amoré at Hevy Music Fest this year in awe. I'd never seen a band throw themselves at the audience at such a raw, unrelenting force and intensity, and the audience responding by screaming back every lyric at the band. "If actions speak louder than words, I'm the most deafening noise you've head" must be one of the best lyrics written in 2011, and this band lives up to that lyric in every way. The intensity, the urgency, the immediacy of "Parting The Sea..." is undeniable, and makes a complete mockery of regular hardcore bands through its immeasurable honesty and instantly grabbing chaos.


4. Living With Lions - Holy Shit

A maddeningly catchy pop punk record with a melodic hardcore tinge to it and a boatload of depth compared to the 'standard' in the genre. It's a record that on first listen sounds bland, but like all grower albums, once the melodies start opening up it's impossible to put the record down. One of the bands to watch in 2012.


5. Thursday - No Devolución

"No Devolución" is the most different-sounding Thursday album to date. It's also the album that elevates Thursday from merely being a post-hardcore band into something entirely different. the musicianship on display here is hauntingly beautiful and ethereal, drawing parallels to the artistic completeness of Thrice while integrating elements from experimental rock and post-rock in the process. If you like your music nuanced and rich in detail, this is the album that provides both.


6. Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto

"Mylo Xyloto" is undeniably the biggest sounding record in 2011 in terms of soundscape - and perhaps even beyond that. Words like megalomania, grand, majestic, and epic don't even begin to describe the level of ambition Coldplay offers throughout the album. They combine their pop-rock sensibility with a refreshing sense of experimentation and a flair for humongous soundscapes that rival Muse in their ambition. It could've easily gone wrong, like on "Viva La Vida", but "Mylo Xyloto" restores Coldplay's status as one of the best pop rock bands on the planet. You'll seldom hear a soundscape so fully formed and as immersive as this. It's a record that proves mainstream pop rock bands can also take chances and add depth to their arsenal - big time.


7. Lower Than Atlantis - World Record

"World Record" saw Britain's Lower Than Atlantis leave melodic hardcore behind them in favour of an alternative rock sound. I'm glad they did, "World Record" is the best alternative rock record in 2011 by a wide margin.


8. Such Gold - Pedestals EP

Such Gold is this year's Caleb Lionheart and With The Punches. Put those two bands together, and you have "Pedestals", a ridiculously catchy pop-hardcore effort that's drowning in energy and bouncy rhythm.


9. La Dispute - Wildlife

The only reason La Dispute isn't ranked higher on my list is because their record might be too complex at times. Lyrically the best album of 2011, the anguished delivery of their vocalist makes for an exceptionally consuming listen. If you don't pay attention 100% of the time, you won't get what this album is about.


10. Pianos Become The Teeth - The Lack Long After

You'll never hear a howl more desperate and grating than on "The Lack Long After", an album which seamlessly mixes together 'the wave' style post-hardcore and post-rock.


11. The Dangerous Summer - War Paint

The Dangerous Summer have potential to become the next My Chemical Romance if they play their cards right. Anthemic, emotionally charged alternative rock with cinematic moments aplenty.


12. Red City Radio - The Dangers Of Standing Still

Hot Water Music style gravelly punk rock with shouty vocals and ridiculously catchy melodies.


13. Frenzal Rhomb - Smoko At The Petfood Factory

The pioneers of no-frills pop punk release the best album in the genre in a while.


14. Lemuria - Pebble

Awkwardly sung, minimalistic indie-flavored garage punk songs that impress through their simplicity.


15. Rabbits - Lower Forms

The best sludge metal release this year. "A Tale Of Tales" may be the best sludge metal song in the last few years.


17. With The Punches - It's Not The End Of The World

Frantic speed, hyper-melodic and bouncy pop-hardcore that places With The Punches as one of the bands to watch in 2012 as they gear for the release of their debut full length.


18. Hawthorne Heights - Hate EP

Hawthorne Heights haven't been this heavy, catchy, and cliché since the "cut my wrists and black my eyes" years. Love it.


19. Bush - The Sea Of Memories

Whatever happened to straight up rock music? Bush's first album in ten years reminds us how great alternative rock used to be in the late 90s when it had a hint of post-grunge attached to it.


20. New Found Glory - Radiosurgery

New Found Glory return to form and release the summer album of 2011.


21. Social D - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes

Punk veterans still have it in them, their best album in two decades.


22. Defeater - Empty Days & Sleepless Nights

Speaking of anguished howls, Defeater give Pianos Become The Teeth a run for their money. Desperation-filled hardcore album that underlines why we generally disapprove of monotone-hardcore bands here at Rockfreaks.net


23. Dropkick Murphys - Going Out In Style

Celtic folk punk masters don't disappoint on their latest album.


24. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light

Foo Fighters haven't sounded this good in a decade.


25. The Strokes - Angles

The Strokes return to the playful and uber-catchy sound of their early indie/garage rock albums.


26. Rival Sons - Pressure & Time

Zeppelin-style retro rock done right, probably the best new vocalist in 2011.


27. Small Brown Bike - Fell & Found

Original post-hardcore masters show why they are as revered as Hot Water Music.


28. I Am The Avalanche - Avalanche United

Reunited I Am The Avalanche produce their best album yet, straight up melodic punk rock for the ages.


29. Banner Pilot - Heart Beats Pacific

No frills punk rockers release their cleanest, and arguably best album yet.


30. Hundredth - Let Go

Hundredth are only triumphed by The Ghost Inside when it comes to melodic hardcore.


Honorable mentions

The Aquabats - Hi-Five Soup

Crucial Dudes - 61 Penn

Joyce Manor - Joyce Manor

Bayside - Killing Time

Screeching Weasel - First World Manifesto

Face To Face - Laugh Now, Laugh Later

Saves The Day - Daybreak

Confession - The Long Way Home


Best Danish Albums in 2011

in no particular order

Siamese Fighting Fish - We Are The Sound

Vanir - Særimners Kød

Essence - Lost In Violence

Scarred By Beauty - Sutra

The Interbeing - Edge Of The Obscure

The Respirators - Neverending Days EP

A Road To Damascus - A Road To Damascus


Big Disappointments

Flogging Molly - Speed Of Darkness

What happened to the jolly irish folk punk? Boring album.

Yellowcard - When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes

After the punk-driven violin pop punk of "Paper Walls", it's sad to see the band regress to formulaic mainstream pop rock. Album is filled with boring ballads.

Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones

Better than before, but still no match to his old albums. Time to drop the band and go back to being a pissed off acoustic punk.

Dredg - Chuckles & Mr Squeeazy

Way too experimental for its own good. Zzzzz.

Metallica & Lou Reed - Lulu

Well, to be disappointing you need some expectations, I suppose. But this is just horrible.


And so there you have it, my picks for the best and worst albums of 2011. Here's to hoping that 2012 will be as full of amazing records as this year was, and with records lined up from Anti-Flag, The Menzingers, Napalm Death, Taproot, Sharks, Your Demise, Say Anything, Mxpx, Such Gold, and many others, it's starting to look like we have nothing to worry about.

- Petteri 'PP' Pertola

Editor-in-Chief

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