And now for the second half of Scott Yager’s Top Ten Albums of the Year from The Sound Magazine. It’s lengthy, so stretch your legs and grab a snack before you get into it. And now without further ado, let’s get to numbers 1-5.
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5) Rise Against – Endgame
I like to think there is an alternate universe in which the alt/punk rock era continued to evolve and prevail and in that universe, these guys are the biggest band in the world. Unfortunately, we live in a world where no matter how many fantastic albums these guys put out in a row — its been at least four now — they will never be as famous as The Offspring were in the mid-late nineties. But Endgame is a refreshing combination of heart pounding vocals and catchy choruses by Tim McIlrath with fast, energetic guitar riffs that get your head moving no matter where you are. Some might call them punk, some might call them hardcore, but whatever they are, they’re great songwriters.
McIlrath’s vocal imperfections become comforting after years of watching the singer deliver a perfectly bottomless amount of intensity every single night on stage. The stand out tracks on Endgame, such as “Satellite” and “Help Is On the Way” have been huge hits on the West Coast all year and even make their way onto Sportscenter as the soundtrack to an absurdly sick highlight package from time to time. That’s what Rise Against does. It pumps you up. If you’re driving in your car it instantly becomes a racecar. If you’re going on a jog, it turns into a sprint. Few bands today provide a better soundtrack to the passionate and electrifying world of sports.
For fans of Rise Against, that passion and intensity transfers over into real life. For a lot of people who have struggles, relationships, decisions to make and chances to take each and every day, there is only one band that can connect with them on such a naturally animalistic level. The same thing inside of us that makes us want to compete with one another, the same thing inside of us that makes us willing to give our all to triumph over everyone else, is why there will always be a place for bands like Rise Against. A truly underrated band that would have been a nationally worshipped commodity a decade and a half earlier, Rise Against still deserves the accolades for their attempt to keep making songs that punk and hard rock fans love and that everyone can appreciate.
Rise Against remind people that they used to listen to music like this when they played sports in high school and in the current age of modern rock music these guys are still at the top of the class.
4) Beyonce – 4
Another female Tour de Force, and not the last on this list, Beyonce is almost incapable of creating a bad song. She provides so many different layers of vocals —from background to stunning high notes and all the way into the rap-like moments in tracks like the brilliant and upbeat “Countdown.” Beyonce and Lady Gaga are in the same boat at this point in the sense that the jury is no longer out on either one of them. Both are bona fide stars who have the entire country in the palms of their hands. Beyonce can own a head-bopping women’s rights anthem like “Run The World (Girls)” and then dig into your soul with a heavy love song like “Best Thing I Never Had” with such fluidity that sometimes it’s hard to imagine that someone this perfect is even real.
If Lady Gaga is the voice of a generation, who provides a bit of “anyone can do it” confidence in not only her lyrics but also in her presence, then Beyonce is the artist who is too flawless to dream of being anything like her. The versatile nature of her skill-set, the hypnotizing dance moves, and her sheer beauty make Beyonce the most polished artist/star combination in the world. To use a sports reference, she’s the number one draft pick. That being said she is STILL not the last female solo artist on this list. DUN DUN DUN.
3) Sublime With Rome – Yours Truly
Out of all of the great albums on this list, including the two ranked above it, Yours Truly is the album that I spent the most time listening to this year. That being said, it might also be the album on this top ten list of 2011 that the least number of people have ever even given a chance.
This is the first piece of evidence that the career resurgence of Long Beach’s Eric and Bud, brought on by their discovery of the twenty-three year old prodigy Rome Ramirez, was not merely based on nostalgia and the ability to recreate old Sublime hits. Simply put, Yours Truly was the most fun album of the summer. It opens up with one of my favorite ska/punk songs SINCE Bradley died in 1996, “Panic,” recreating the angst of the former Sublime front-man, while revealing that Rome too possesses character attributes that will benefit this band. Track 5, “My World,” is a song in a similar vein, brilliantly transitioning from quick smooth guitar strums back to catchy distortion-based choruses, just like the Sublime of old.
For years a band called Badfish had been touring the country making TONS of cash by simply covering Sublime songs because few things are as certain in this world as the fact that everyone loves Sublime. A few years ago Rome, a young, naïve, lifelong Sublime fan, partnered up with Eric (bass) and Bud (drums). The trio began touring using the name Sublime With Rome, playing old hits and writing their own material as they got to know each other.
The gap in age between the twenty-three year old Rome and the other band members, who are in their forties represents the vast level of appeal that Sublime truly has. Rome sounds exactly like Brad at times, but on Yours Truly, he switches on and off from “Brad Mode” to “Rome Mode” almost as a reminder that it’s his band now. We all love Bradley Nowell, the California-native who wrote all the classics and acted as the front man of Sublime up until his tragic death in 1996. Sadly, for a ton of us though, myself included, our relationship with Sublime didn’t even really take place until after Brad had already passed away.
The cliché that there isn’t a bad song on the album holds true for Yours Truly, a very fun half punk/half reggae record that was made for a beverage-filled get together with friends under the sun. Tracks like “Same Old Situation,” “Take it Or Leave It” and “Murdera” are such perfect reggae-pop songs that they would definitely be massive hits if performed by someone like Bruno Mars, who also uses Reggae and guitar as a base for love songs and emotionally detailed story telling. Rome possesses the very skills that make Bruno the most sought-after songwriter in pop music and it comes through on 100% of this album.
Hopefully people can get past needing to get into a band all over again and doing so without the original front man — something that most bands never manage to pull off. Sublime With Rome are a band that everyone deserves to enjoy, and the only way that can happen is if the nation embraces them, not only as a legendary act who performed many of the songs that got millions of people through high school, college, adolescence and ignorance, but also as a new band that is truly a breath of fresh air in a very compartmentalized music industry.
In an age where the average band will never have ten songs that people know and love, Sublime With Rome was lucky enough to inherit a catalog which is beloved by all and also find a front-man who might actually possess the drive and individuality to make it work all over again. R.I.P. BRAD
2) Adele – 21
It’s hard to argue that there is an introductory verse in any song this year that managed to continuously garner the same amount of emotion in listeners than “There’s a fire starting in my heart…” Not to use the same analogy as I did earlier with Lady Gaga but “Rolling in the Deep” sounded just as appropriate when they used it during the NBA Draft as it would remixed as a techno song spouting from the windows of a pink Jetta on its way to a West Hollywood spin class. It’s that damn good. Although the songwriting and production on 21 are fantastic as well, it seems the main reason so many people have become enamored with Adele and this particular work is her voice. Similar to the same way Amy Winehouse took over the world with her unmatched ability to convey authentic soul, which blatantly overshadowed other musicians of her age and stature, Adele’s voice catches you off guard in a similar way. That is coupled with so much confidence that your brain starts to tell you this woman has been a star since the 50’s or 60’s.
Beyonce is Beyonce and Lady Gaga is Lady Gaga and a great year from both of them got their respective albums pretty high on this list. However, 2011 will always be remembered as The Year of Adele, the year the country got introduced to her and fell in love with her at the same time. For Lady Gaga this year came about two-three years ago and for Beyonce it took place closer to 2004 or 2005. Who knows if Adele will follow in their footsteps and continue to show up on lists like this, or if she will be one of the many young, outstanding female voices to take over the world for just a short period of time — capturing our imagination with their vulnerability and individuality — only to fade into obscurity. I hope Norah Jones doesn’t read this. Not to make this about Amy Winehouse, but in a year where Winehouse tragically left us from what has been ruled an accidental alcohol poisoning, it seems appropriate to make the comparison.
Maybe its fitting that in the same year that we lost the latest great female singer to change the landscape of passionate blues filled “lounge” singing, we were blessed with another cut from the very same mold. It takes a talent as special as Adele or Amy to make everyone realize that a classic genre of music that takes you back in time is also responsible for some of the deepest material about love and life ever created. Adele’s songs like “One and Only” and “Rumour Has It” could have been playing as Dick Tracy walked into a smoke filled bar to interrogate a patron about a crime or as you entered an upper class Oyster Bar for a mad meeting with Roger Sterling or Don Draper.
Adele’s singles like “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” have lent themselves so well to remixes because most of the music we listen to today -pop, dance, techno, hip-hop, and R&B — are in essence based on a much simpler, bluesy type of music that most vocalists simply don’t have the ability to perform today. Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s album’s are great not only because they are fantastic performers, personalities and vocalists, but because the dozens of people involved in those two very high-profile pop albums wrote and produced a ton of great material. 21 by Adele is the second-best album of the year due entirely to the voice of that young woman and that alone is why she deserves to be here — high above all the rest of the ladies in 2011, and behind only one other act.
1) Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Sometimes my friends and I like to play a game called “If you were in charge of picking a rock band for the Superbowl Halftime Show and could only select a band less than twenty years old, who would it be?” The game is fun because its not easy to find a band that has been able to get to that level, that U2 level, that Metallica level, that Superbowl level, ever since radio and music has broken off into so many different sectors.
In today’s age, pop artists like Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga or Beyonce are likelier candidates than any rockers based merely on the fact that the number of rockers who are beloved, or are even known by everybody, has dwindled. The game causes participants to defend suggestions like The Killers, The White Stripes, Muse, or Arcade Fire, all of which are great bands and all of which would KILL the Superbowl Halftime Show. But that being said, none of those bands are the Foo Fighters.
I have gone on record in the past calling the Foos the band whose songs you know, but you’ve never purposely put on, requested, or paid for. I have always enjoyed the three or four Foo Fighters songs that take over rock radio every few years, and a Halftime Show set-list could easily be made up by classics like “Monkey Wrench”, “Everlong,” “Hero,” and “The Pretender.” That’s only a fraction of the catalog that almost all of my friends know and love, even if the Foo Fighters were never anyone’s favorite. Always in the public conscious and always delivering, Dave, Taylor and the guys never broke up, never cancelled shows, and best of all, never strayed too far away from the original sound Dave created when he formed the band after the death of Kurt Cobain and subsequent disbanding of Nirvana in 1994.
2011, among other things, will be remembered as the year I put my foot in my mouth in regards to the Foo Fighters, finally admitting that in this year they were not merely good, satisfactory, catchy, enjoyable, fun, or reliable but in 2011 the Foo Fighters made the best record of the year. Yes, one of the first times I heard this album in its entirety was during a special two-hour performance I attended the week of the album’s release in the intimate Ed Sullivan Theater, the stage for The Late Show with David Letterman. Although this almost certainly caused me to appreciate the album a little bit more from the get-go, it doesn’t change the fact that Wasting Light provided the best rock n’ roll soundtrack to the experiences of 2011, all the while displaying the comforting qualities that the Foo’s possess. Dave’s one of a kind voice and signature shrieks and Taylor’s always perfect drum fills are ever-present. On top of that, every one of the thirteen songs just fees louder.
The album marked the return of old friend Pat Smear on guitar, and the guitars on this album are some good old-fashioned hard rock guitar riffs that are absolutely flawless. “Walk,” “Rope,” “These Days,” “Bridge Burning,” “White Limo,” the list goes on when trying to pick out the stand-outs on this picture-perfect modern rock album. It demonstrates that rock artists can still get better even after a fifteen year career, all without betraying the style and sound that got them to where they are today. By adding these terrific songs to their catalog and tearing up arenas and stadiums every night — sometimes teaming up with legendary musicians like Jimmy Page for surprise Led Zeppelin covers in the United Kingdom — The Foo Fighters have cemented themselves as the last ascending band from a period of rock music that most people stubbornly believe is no longer with us.
The Foo Fighters belong in The Superbowl Halftime Show sometime soon and that’s something I never thought I’d be able to say again about one of “today’s” rock artists. Wasting Light is a top-to-bottom lesson in rock performance that ironically, does not waste one single note. Dave Grohl, after years and years of making music that everyone was fine with, and maybe even appreciated, has finally created an album that no one will be able to take lightly.