2011 Top 10 ListGary (The Basement Couch)
Even with a pretty in depth knowledge of power-pop, I still find it hard to describe to some people. Each era brought something really different to the table whether it was the more rootsy pop of the 70s, the inspired synths of the 80s, and more 90s one-hit wonder bands than I can name. But, here we are in 2011 and all I can say is that this year was a spectacular explosion of all of these influences and some new ones as well. So, let's take a look at what really hit me this year.
10. Sloan - The Double Cross
Whether or not you followed the Canarock movement from 1985 to 1995, chances are you’re familiar with Sloan. Though not as popular as their famous fans like Broken Social Scene or The Dears, their impact on Canadian rock is undeniable. They've been making amazing pop music for twenty years now and what better way to celebrate the big 2-0 with another amazing album? If I can find one thing I don't like about Sloan it's that their albums are so good they defy any kind of logical review. So I'll pose a question to you. Do you like throwback 60s pop rock? This album is for you, hell, this album is for anyone. I hope these boys go for another 20 years.
Favorite Song: Follow The Leader (Those last 25 seconds...my god...)
9. I Fight Dragons - KABOOM!
Chiptune is still a growing genre, but it's definitely making it's way into the public eye. For those who don't know, chiptune is a style of music that relies on 8-bit and 16-bit video game music. While mostly used in electronic circles, Chicago's I Fight Dragons is a band that takes the best aspects of pop music and chiptune and blends them into a fine stew. The song structures is similar to bands like Fountains Of Wayne or Rooney, but they take it step forward by integrating chiptune so well into their music that it's seamless. Every time I listen to this album, I find a new little production quirk I wasn't aware of. Producer, Matt Mahaffey (SeLF) should be thanked there, as well. KABOOM! avoids the many pitfalls of geek rock as well, including a refreshing lack of nerdy references and that's coming from a comic book geek. If I Fight Dragons continues their innovation on the chiptune genre and makes more albums as good as this one, I'll listen.
Favorite Song: Fight For You
8. The Davenports - Why The Great Gallop?
Local artists The Davenports get pop music to a tee. This is probably one of the best amalgams of different decades ever. Lead singer and songwriter Scott Klas is one of those rare pop writers that simply understand how to tell a story. Songs like "Anything For Amelia" and "Girl I Brought Home" paint some very descriptive pictures of characters that I can see having conversations with. Much like his spiritual elder, Adam Schlesinger, I expect many amazing things from Klas in the coming years.
Favorite Song: Figure Me Out
7. Jonsez - Gruffalo
What some may say Mark Stewart lacks in groundbreaking material, he makes up for in pure power and melodic bliss. Openly honest about his influences and how he uses them, Australian one-man-pop-machine Mark Stewart takes his band, Jonsez, to awesome new heights with this album. Taking a more aggressive approach on some songs like "Crevelli" and "Magic Beans", Stewart still insists on getting awesome songs stuck in my head. Fans of his last release Betty's Soup, will have no problem picking this one up and loving the hell out of it.
Favorite Song: Coffee & Cream
6. Big Troubles - Romantic Comedy
How weird is it putting a former NYU DJ on a top 10 list? Well...not that weird actually, but it's still kind of crazy. Big Troubles ditches their lo-fi sound to peruse more radio-friendly waters. That's not to say that they've lost any integrity, in fact, in my book, they've gained some. There isn't one song on Romantic Comedy that feels like it hasn't had special attention put into it. Anthems like "Misery" and "Softer Than Science" are infinitely listenable. Taking what sounds like a mid-80s Athens scene influence, songwriters Alex Craig and Ian Drennan bring warm summer days to mind. The two singers also trade places on every other song, creating a really cool atmosphere of different songwriting styles. Keep it up guys.
Favorite Song: Make It Worse
5. Ian Axel - This Is The New Year
Besides the title track, chances are you haven't heard the genius piano stylings of Ian Axel. Which is a shame, because he deserves some attention. Following in the footsteps of Ben Folds, Axel delivers some amazing piano pop. There's something about his music that just makes me want to get up and start a musical number in the middle of the city streets. There's a ton of cheery pop to go around, but there are some tracks where Ian just gets downright depressing...in a good way. Stuff like "Waltz" and the tear inducing "Say Something" are more than enough to turn even the most cynical critics head. Also, see this man in concert. You won't regret it.
4. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong
Slumberland Records seems to have a hot hand this year when it comes to amazing releases. The sophomore effort from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart Is no exception. Belong is plays like John Hughes movie soundtrack. Tell me you can't see "My Terrible Friend" playing in a montage. Tracks like "Heaven's Gonna Happen Now" and "Heart In Your Heartbreak" are instant classics in my book and I'm sure most people would agree. However, it's not just the 80s Pains takes influence from, tracks like "Girls Of 1000 Dreams" feel directly inspired by bands like Ash. The band sticks to no-one influence and just keeps churning out hook after hook.
Favorite Song: My Terrible Friend
3. Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines
Telekinesis continues it's domination on pop in the indie world with it's sophomore album. Jeez, how many times have I had to write that? Michael Benjamin Learner takes his music in a more broad direction, rather than the focused 60s-pop effort on his first album. Something about this album feels wider. There definitely feels like there's some slight experimentation. Tracks like "Dirty Thing" and "Fever Chill" are examples, weather it be with a departure from Learner's usual fast paced progression or more distortion, but then there's just classic rockers like "Car Crash" that are the backbone of Learner's awesome style.
Favorite Track: Dirty Thing
2. The Wellingtons - In Transit
Australia is missing out. The Wellingtons should be the country's sweethearts by this point. The band's fourth album proves that lead singer and songwriter, Zac Anthony loves pop. As if it weren't apparent enough already. In Transit takes some time to evolve the band's usual fast-paced power-pop to take some ballad routes like "I Fell For You" and "Your One", which are both ready for a love sick teenager's mix tape. Of course the hyper-spastic style has not died. "Keep Me Holding On" is a synth driven number that is sweet-sweet candy for my ears. The most glaring and beautiful difference, however, can be found in the sweet, yet dark "Baby's Got A Secret", where bassist Kate Golby gets to share her lovely voice. An extremely well-made sequel to 2008's Heading North For The Winter.
Favorite Track: Back To You
1. Matthew Pop - Avalanche
Man, Matthew Pop is just awesome. For those who don't listen to my show, I adore this guy. His brand of pop is the kind of personal storytelling that sucked me into the genre in the first place. His, fifth and possibly last album, has some of his best songs ever. Taking a melancholy tone, similar to his second album, Hopeless Melodic, and combining it with a dirtier production creates a world where Pop can tell us all about his most personal joys and pains. This guy is a hook-beast. Songs like "Secrets" and "A Final Farwell..." show that he's done his pop-songwriting homework and some extra credit on the side. Even the darker songs like "Wine And Cocaine" offer a type of earworm only Matt can produce. I don't really know what else to say about this album other than, it's my favorite album of the year.
Favorite Song: Last Year's Monday
Ben Lee - Deeper Into Dream
Fountains Of Wayne - Sky Full Of Holes
Matthew Sweet - Modern Art
Favorite Re-Issue Of The Year:
Sugar - Copper Blue
Looking Forward To New Albums By:
One word to describe 2011: Nostalgia
A prediction for next year: The 90s will return...hard.