The TOP TWENTY ALBUMS of 2011 (The Year-End Awards)

Originally posted 2012-02-05 02:00:04. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

It is the best and truest mark of artistry in the music industry, and sales are no indication of significance.  Sequencing and thematic continuity, sonic experimentation within a basic set of familiar parameters, a healthy range of types and topics: these are the standards by which to judge an album.

The album.

It ascended into an art form in the mid-sixties under the careful work of artists like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Beach Boys.  It was taken to new heights with the experimentation of later bands, from the concept albums of the Moody Blues to the spin-off success of artists like Bruce Springsteen.  The album – and rock in general – saw a rebirth in the nineties, with the work of those like Weezer, the Wallflowers, the Barenaked Ladies, and a slew of others who led a surge of excellent rock music.

These days, the album has faced a crossroads.  Specifically, with the advent and surge of digital sales, the physical formats of music are on the chopping block.  Still, with the rise of vinyl sales even as CD sales continue to decline, there is hope yet.  And, contrary to an army of naysayers, there are still excellent albums being made.  This year, as with the past several years that I have been tuned into a vast array of albums, I would say there are about five albums that will undoubtedly stand the test of time and compete for top spots when I eventually get around to my Best Albums of All Time list.  Which, at this point, might have to wait until I hit retirement.

But, for the moment, you have my Best Albums of 2011 list, and if you’re interested in reading more about any of these albums, you can access my Weekend Review report (including star rating, production info, and a full review) by simply searching the album title and band name in the search bar above.  And, of course, if you see reason for disagreement or any gaps in my list, it’s up to you to leave comments below.

1)  The Whole Love (Wilco)

2)  The King is Dead (The Decemberists)

3)  Last Night on Earth (Noah & the Whale)

4)  Wasting Light (Foo Fighters)

5)  Bad As Me (Tom Waits)

6)  Unfortunate Casino (Gerry Beckley)

7)  The King of Limbs (Radiohead)

8)  Yuck (Yuck)

9)  Lasers (Lupe Fiasco)

10) W H O K I L L (The Tune-Yards)

11) The Graduation Ceremony (Joseph Arthur)

12) Vol. 2: High and Inside (The Baseball Project)

13) Collapse Into Now (R.E.M.)

14) Move Like This (The Cars)

15) The Valley (Eisley)

16) Cloud Maintenance (Kevin Hearn)

17) I’m With You (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

18) Alpocalypse (Weird Al Yankovic)

19) No Color (The Dodos)

20) Nighty Night (8in8)

 

Honorable Mention:

The Way It Was (Parachute)

The Dreamer, The Believer (Common)

The BEST MUSIC VIDEOS of 2011 (The Year-End Awards)

Originally posted 2012-01-23 10:00:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Although the music video may have slid significantly farther down in relevance since its heyday in the eighties and nineties, there are still artists making them.  In fact, it seems to be fairly standard procedure, and the venue of choice appears to have become YouTube’s VEVO provider.  I spent a long time watching more videos than I’m willing to admit here.  The result, below, is a streamlined list of only the best.  To be truthful, I have recognized more than I believe are truly notable, if only because I felt they were worth mentioning after I had taken the time to watch them.

If you like music videos and miss them, I encourage you to take the time to watch those listed below, especially the top ten, all of which are available via YouTube.

1) “Give It All Back” – Noah and the Whale

2) “Calamity Song” – The Decemberists (Inspired by David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest)

3) “Perform This Way” – “Weird Al“ Yankovic

4) “This is Why We Fight” – The Decemberists (Directed by Aaron Stewart-Ahn)

5) “Call” – Joseph Arthur (Directed by Joseph Arthur)

6) “Stay Young, Go Dancing” – Death Cab for Cutie

7) “Born Alone” – Wilco (Directed by Mark Greenberg)

8) “Monarchy of Roses” – Red Hot Chili Peppers (Directed by Marc Klasfeld; inspired by the work of Raymond Pettibon)

9) “Wake and Be Fine” – Okkervil River (Directed by Daniel Gibb)

10) “Thunder on the Mountain” – Wanda Jackson (Directed by thirtytwo)

11) “Jejune Stars” – Bright Eyes (Directed by Lance Acord)

12) “Suck It and See” – Arctic Monkeys

13) “Rope” – Foo Fighters

14) “Get Away” – Yuck (Directed by Michael)

15) “Lotus Flower” – Radiohead (Directed by Garth Jennings)

16) “CNR” – “Weird Al” Yankovic

17) “White Limo” – Foo Fighters

18) “Casting Lines” – Jack’s Mannequin (Directed by Claire Marie Vogel)

19) “Monsters Anonymous” – Kevin Hearn (Directed by Dr. Minz)

20) “Words I Never Said” – Lupe Fiasco

21) “Louder than Ever” – Cold War Kids

22) “Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog)” – Brett Dennen (Directed by Ben Moon)

23) “Paradise” – Coldplay (Directed by Mat Whitecross)

24) “Summer Place” – Fountains of Wayne

25) “Longing to Belong” – Eddie Vedder

26) “You and Me” – Parachute

27) “Amy, I” – Jack’s Mannequin (Directed by Chloe Fleury)

28) “Waiting for My Chance to Come” – Noah and the Whale

29) “What I Know” – Parachute

30) “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” – Red Hot Chili Peppers (Directed by Marc Klasfeld)

 

Honorable Mention:

“Satisfied” – Tom Waits (Directed by Jesse Dylan)

“Blue Tip” – The Cars

“Royal Blue” – Cold War Kids (Live at Third Man Records)

 

Also of Note:

Nine Types of Light – TV on the Radio (60 minute feature)

 

The Weekend Review: January 2011 Report

Originally posted 2011-05-15 23:30:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to the first Weekend Review of the new year.  I hope you’ll enjoy our new monthly format, optimized for ease of use with the hope that you’ll be able to turn to LaptopSessions.com for new music news in 2011.  Hurry back next weekend for the February report!

The King is Dead
The DecemberistsProducer:
Tucker Martine

Released:
January 14, 2011

Rating:
4.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Rox in the Box” & “Rise to Me”

After the impressive – and yet distracting – complexity of 2009’s The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists return to kick off 2011 with what may very possibly be the best album of the year.  The King is Dead, referred to as a “barn album” by band members in the deluxe edition doc Pendarvia, is an album of simple and yet profound beauty.While, to be fair, it lacks the mind-blowing scale of recent previous efforts, there is something to be said for a cohesive and eminently listenable collection of tracks.

Think of it as an acoustic rock masterpiece, headlined by the soaring “Rox in the Box” and the sing-along anthem waiting to happen “This is Why We Fight.”  Even the fully acoustic, balladic tracks like “Dear Avery” are gorgeous to such an extent that you won’t be able to skip the track, even if you’re on the road looking for a rock song.  Although the lead single, “Down By the Water,” lacks something of the “x factor” that makes songs truly great, it is still a tightly packaged, catchy tune indicative of the best of the King is Dead sound.  Oh, and if you think “Calamity Song” sounds like an aural love-child of R.E.M., you won’t be surprised to learn that it actually features Peter Buck on lead guitar.

Good, good stuff, and a high bar to be set this early in the year.

 

Mine is Yours
Cold War KidsProducer:
Jacquire King

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
2.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Royal Blue” & “Flying Upside Down”

2008’s Loyalty to Loyaltywas the album that introduced me to and left me in awe of the Cold War Kids.  Their unique sound and keen sense for mixing the slow and off-center with the straightforward and single-worthy led me to high expectations for their next release.Well, as is often the case with high expectations, the reality rarely compares.

Whether my reaction is due to what I had expected to find on Mine is Yours is honestly too early to say, but what I’ve heard here is a collection of underwhelming tracks, many of which seem to promise more than they deliver and are often longer than they deserve to be.  Tracks like “Royal Blue,” “Sensitive Kid,” and “Flying Upside Down” stand out as excellent without need of qualification, but others like “Broken Open,” “Louder Than Ever,” and “Cold Toes on the Cold Floor” beg for more consideration, more development, in order to reach the heights established on the previous record.

This is not to say that it should be like a sequel to Loyalty to Loyalty, but the songs of Mine is Yours should at least be as interesting.  While I was initially turned off by the slicker production values, I’ve entirely come around on that, which makes me wish that more attention to detail had been paid.

 

The Party
Ain’t Over

Wanda JacksonProducer:
Jack White

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Shakin’ All Over” & “Nervous Breakdown”

Slogans like “The Queen of Rockabilly” don’t typically entice me to purchase music, but in this case, it was bookended by Jack White’s name in the production credits and a nod to Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain.”In short, I couldn’t resist at least one listen.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Party Ain’t Over holds up to repeated listens, fronted by the outstanding “Shakin’ All Over,” a track that aptly blends the gritty alternative sound for which White is so well known with the sonic signature of 50s rock and, I suppose, rockabilly.  Here, as on the rest of the record, riffs abound and Jackson’s ragged voice establishes her in my mind as the female equivalent of a contemporary Dylan, in vocal delivery if not in lyricism, craftsmanship, etc.  In the area of originality, it is clear she doesn’t hold a candle to aforementioned Bard, but her choice of covers is impeccably fitting: a devastating take on “Busted” (see: Johnny Cash), the closest anyone has come to covering a 2000s Dylan track without earning a sneer from me, and a redefining arrangement of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know That I’m No Good.”

Even the latter half tracks are enjoyable, foot-tappers like “Nervous Breakdown” and “Dust on the Bible,” as well as slower tunes such as “Blue Yodel #6” (not to be confused with #4, or my personal favorite, #9).  All in all, for an impulse purchase out of raw curiosity, The Party Ain’t Over is a testament to Jack White’s capabilities as producer and studio musician; it may not be the best album of 2011, but it bears a certain quality and strength of arrangement (both within tracks and across the album) that it deserves to be noticed.

Yes, No, or Maybe So: One-Sentence Reviews of 2009 Albums

Originally posted 2010-03-27 12:30:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

(Arranged in ascending order by release date)

With so many albums being released every week, what are they all like?  Which are worth your time?  These one-sentence reviews are the answers to those questions!

Battle Studies – (John Mayer) – MAYBE

(November 17, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Battle Studies may not be Mayer’s best work, but as a thoughtfully arranged collection of songs, it’s head and shoulders above Continuum. Top Two Tracks: “Heartbreak Warfare” – “Assassin”

Alter the Ending – (Dashboard Confessional) – MAYBE

(November 10, 2009) Review: About mid-way through, some tracks begin to blend together, but there are some standout songs that are both upbeat and engaging. Top Two Tracks: “Belle of the Boulevard” – “Until Morning”

Sainthood – (Tegan and Sara) – MAYBE

(October 27, 2009) Review: Their best work since So Jealous. Top Two Tracks: “Someday” – “Don’t Rush”

One Fast Move or I’m Gone – (Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard) – MAYBE

(October 20, 2009) Review: Not a breathtaking masterpiece by any means, but there is a hypnotic quality to the combination of Farrar and Gibbard’s sounds and Jack Kerouac’s words. Top Two Tracks: “These Roads Don’t Move” – “California Zephyr”

The Fountain – (Echo & the Bunnymen) – MAYBE SO

(October 12, 2009) Review: Most reviews have jumped to the extremes, and mine is no exception; The Fountain is an outstanding rock album from a band that most major music magazines have essentially ignored. Top Two Tracks: “Live of a Thousand Crimes” – “Drivetime”

Forget and Not Slow Down – (Relient K) – YES

(October 6, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Hands down the best concept album of the year, perhaps the best album of the year overall. Top Two Tracks: “Part of It” – “Sahara”

Backspacer – (Pearl Jam) – YES

(September 20, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: This is the album that may single-handedly be responsible for my eventual hearing loss – it’s simply too much fun not to listen to at high volumes. Top Two Tracks: “Got Some” – “Speed of Sound”

Levitate – (Bruce Hornsby & the Noise Makers) – NO

(September 15, 2009) Review: I try to avoid comparisons to past work, but this new Hornsby album is just a little too far out from the norm for my tastes. Top Two Tracks: “Space is the Place” – “In the Low Country”

A Brief History of Love – (The Big Pink) – NO, PLEASE, NO!

(September 14, 2009) Review: I’m reminded of the Byrds song “Everybody Gets Burned” – if you have any respect for rock music, steer clear of this album and do your best to never consider this band and the amazing debut release of The Band (to which their name alludes) in the same thought. Top Two Tracks: n/a

Humbug – (Arctic Monkeys) – MAYBE SO

(August 25, 2009) Review: The distance between how little I like early songs like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” compared with how much I like this new release is vast; overall, Humbug has a cohesive, infectious, and interesting sound, blending alternative rock/punk stylings with echoes of the Who and the Moody Blues in all the right places. Top Two Tracks: “Crying Lightning” – “Cornerstone”

My Old, Familiar Friend – (Brendan Benson) – MAYBE SO

(August 18, 2009) Review: From “A Whole Lot Better” onward, Benson’s latest release is joyful power pop that borrows generously from the sixties and seventies; it’s a great deal of fun from start to finish. Top Two Tracks: “Garbage Day” – “Misery”

Release – (Sister Hazel) – MAYBE NOT

(August 18, 2009) Review: This album is the perfect choice for background music: it is consistently upbeat without being too frenetic, certainly won’t offend anyone, and yet isn’t likely to inspire or even excite anyone either – the heinous typos in the booklet don’t help their cause. Top Two Tracks: “Vacation Rain” – “Ghost in the Crowd”

Ursa Major – (Third Eye Blind) – MAYBE NOT

(August 17, 2009) Review: There will supposedly be another 3eb release soon titled Ursa Minor, culled from tracks that didn’t make the cut for this album; suffice it to say that Ursa Major gets an “eh” and barely a “Maybe Not” rating with the so-called best songs from their recent sessions, so… Top Two Tracks: “Bonfire” – “Summer Town”

xx – (The xx) – MAYBE SO

(August 17, 2009) Review: This debut release by the xx is a gripping, murky, beautiful collection of songs that won’t fail to draw you in to their world each listen. Top Two Tracks: “VCR” – “Shelter”

The Ruminant Band – (Fruit Bats) – MAYBE SO

(August 4, 2009) Review: Aptly titled after the Fruit Bats took twice as long as usual to release this record, The Ruminant Band is worth all the extra wait time:  still quirky but with a lot more energy, backbeat, and attention to making a great album, rather than just a compilation of songs. Top Two Tracks: “The Ruminant Band” – “Singing Joy to the World”

Strange Cousins From The West – (Clutch) – MAYBE NOT

(July 14, 2009) Review: You’ll have to go back to Blast Tyrant or so if you want original, innovative Clutch; what you’ll find here is confined by the blues parameters the band has imposed on themselves – which is not to say you won’t find largely powerful performances of largely predictably structured songs and a couple true gems. Top Two Tracks: “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” – “Minotaur”

Horehound – (The Dead Weather) – MAYBE SO

(July 14, 2009) Review: The Dead Weather certainly deserve credit for having forged a unique sound and presence – Jack White best described their music as “ferocious” – but the riffing, repetition, and other indulgences can be distracting; overall, as a debut release, Horehound is promising… Top Two Tracks: “I Cut Like A Buffalo” – “Hang You From the Heavens”

Ocean Eyes – (Owl City) – MAYBE

(July 14, 2009) Review: A bit too placid for me, but I can perceive at least part of the reason that this album’s simple, soothing numbers have spread so quickly and been embraced by so many. Top Two Tracks: “Fireflies” – “The Bird and the Worm”

American Central Dust – (Son Volt) – NO

(July 7, 2009) Review: As the title implies, Son Volt’s latest album could have been found buried in a collection of Americana; while it certainly hits high points on certain tracks, the simplicity of the arrangements and even the packaging (no lyrics – really?) confine this album to mediocrity. Top Two Tracks: “No Turning Back” – “Jukebox of Steel”

Leaving Wonderland…in a fit of rage – (Marcy Playground) – MAYBE

(July 7, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Overall, Leaving Wonderland hits emotional pay dirt with the theme of losing love and youth to the ravages of time, and yet John Wozniak’s lyrics and arrangements leave much to be desired in terms of depth and artistry. Top Two Tracks: “Gin and Money” – “I Burned the Bed”

Wilco (the album) – (Wilco) – YES

(June 30, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: An atypically brief release, Wilco (the album) is dominated by a wide range of interesting sounds and ideas all packed into tight tracks that ebb and flow just right; multiple listens are a must. Top Two Tracks: “Wilco (the song)” – “You Never Know”

Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King (Dave Matthews Band) – MAYBE

(June 2, 2009) Review: “DMB” has produced a very strong album that starts off with focused, expressive tracks yet lags somewhat in the second half’s instrumental, repetitive, and nonsensical indulgences. Top Two Tracks: “Funny The Way It Is” – “Time Bomb”

Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane (Elvis Costello) – MAYBE SO

(June 2, 2009) Review: Finally, a stripped-down recording from a rock artist that doesn’t reek of the urge to “jump on the acoustic train”; Costello’s songs here could just as convincingly  have been recorded a century ago. Top Two Tracks: “Complicated Shadows” – “Sulphur to Sugarcane”

21st Century Breakdown (Green Day) – YES

(May 15, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Another concept album of epic proportions from Green Day:  big, in-your-face power chords at some points, acoustic guitar and piano high in the mix at others, and strong vocals all around – a well-executed album from start to finish. Top Two Tracks: “Last Night on Earth” – “East Jesus Nowhere”

Together Through Life (Bob Dylan) – MAYBE SO

(April 28, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: As per usual, Dylan says it best: “I know my fans will like it; other than that, I have no idea.” Top Two Tracks: “Shake Shake Mama” – “I Feel a Change Comin’ On”

Tinted Windows (Tinted Windows) – NO

(April 21, 2009) Review: I remembered while listening to this that there’s a reason I stopped buying Fountains of Wayne albums since Traffic & Weather, and there’s certainly a reason I’ve never bought Hanson albums. Top Two Tracks: “Back With You” – “Nothing to Me”

Halfway There (Jim Fusco) – YES

(April 7, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: It’s as if all of Fusco’s previous work was only “halfway there” – combining ambitious vocals, innovative guitar parts, and a track listing that boasts eleven great songs, this is easily one of the great albums of 2009. Top Two Tracks: “I Got You” – “Ruins”

The Hazards of Love (The Decemberists) – MAYBE NOT

(March 24, 2009) Review: The Hazards of Love will keep you guessing and trying to piece it all together, but it may not get a lot of immediate repeat listens based on the quality of individual songs; kudos to the Decemberists if only for keeping the concept of the concept album alive and well! Top Two Tracks: “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid” – “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”

No Line On The Horizon (U2) – MAYBE NOT

(March 3, 2009) Review: There’s something to be said for Bono’s energy, but it’s not always enough on this record which fluctuates between moments of mastery and moments of mediocrity. Top Two Tracks: “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” – “Stand Up Comedy”

Keep It Hid (Dan Auerbach) – MAYBE

(February 10, 2009) Review: Essentially, what you would expect — gritty, bluesy rock with excellent guitar work. Top Two Tracks: “Heartbroken, In Disrepair” – “My Last Mistake”

Working On A Dream (Bruce Springsteen) – MAYBE SO

(January 27, 2009)  –  CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: The past three Springsteen albums have been exercises in purposeful songwriting, raw acoustic and harmonica work, and upbeat pop/rock respectively — Working On A Dream has it all! Top Two Tracks: “What Love Can Do” – “Life Itself”