My Top 10 Albums of 2011

Happy New Year!

Hope all of you enjoyed your holidays and are looking forward to 2012. I know I am. But before I think too into the future, I’d like to take a look back on the music of 2011. For me, 2011 got off to a slow start but picked up in excitement by summer’s end – and then a slew of great albums came out in early autumn to intrigue me further! So, which 10 albums did I enjoy the most? Most importantly, which one took my top spot?

Note: If you’re friends with me on Facebook, chances are you’ve already seen this list. This version is a little more interactive, however, and also reveals my favorite songs from each album.

Let’s get started with…

#10: Darren Hayes – Secret Codes And Battleships

After 4 years of writing songs he originally intended for other artists, former Savage Garden frontman Darren Hayes returns with his fourth solo album. Secret Codes and Battleships explores the emotional spectrum while gliding across a smooth sea of electro-pop sprinkled with pop/rock, R&B, and alternative influences. If anything, this album is more like Darren’s first solo album, Spin, in terms of its sound, romanticism, and optimism. I miss the darkness and introspection of his other releases (mostly The Tension And The Spark). However, Darren’s voice is still impeccable, and he hasn’t lost his ability to write songs that you swear could be a page from the story of your life. An uplifting, creative effort from one of pop music’s most underrated artists.

Favorite Tracks: “Bloodstained Heart” (see video above), “Black Out The Sun,” “The Siren’s Call”

#9: Adele – 21

I don’t listen to mainstream music as much as I did 10 years ago – but it seems like a lot of people have been talking about Adele’s 21. They have good reason to do so. This collection of love songs, break-up stories, and searing confessions is heart-wrenching to listen to at times. Yet, every song is so well-crafted, and the merging of contemporary attitude with Motown timelessness so effortless, I find myself liking it more every time I play it. Adele’s soulful voice digs to the core of each track, so you get the feeling she’s speaking from experience. The thing is, she is; 21 was written before and during the aftermath of the end of a serious relationship. This reminds me of a saying that goes something like this: “Good things can come out of bad situations.” Consider 21 a very, very good thing. 

Favorite Tracks: “Rolling In The Deep” (see video above), “Rumour Has It,” “Set Fire To The Rain”

 

#8: Evanescence – Evanescence

I was a huge  skeptic of Evanescence after The Open Door came out. That’s all I’ll say on that, just to keep this paragraph brief. Fast forward to October 2011 – and I bought the band’s self-titled third album just to hear what it sounds like. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. Instead of wallowing further in the gothic-symphonic swamp, Evanescence took a more band-oriented approach this time. The result is a dark hard rock album with the essential Evanescence elements (a.k.a. Amy Lee’s soaring wails and lyrical pianowork), an increased guitar presence, and less noticeable orchestrations. Some aspects of Evanescence turn me off (for example, Amy’s lyric style hasn’t matured at all since Fallen). However, I come away from this album thinking that Evanescence has learned how to be a rock band again. That’s the biggest reason why this album surpassed my every expectation for it. (And those expectations were very low.)

Favorite Tracks: “Lost In Paradise,” “What You Want” (see video above), “The Other Side”

#7: 3 – The Ghost You Gave To Me

The New York based prog rock/metal band 3 opened for Within Temptation during their brief North American tour in September. They don’t sound anything like WT – but that didn’t matter, because 3 put on a hell of a show! Raw, impassioned, and uninhibited, with lead singer Joey Eppard rocking it out first on electric guitar and then on acoustic guitar. That’s also how I’d describe 3’s latest album, The Ghost You Gave To Me. It blends radio-friendly melodies, high-energy rhythms, expertly played acoustic segments, and ripping riffs in such a natural way that it’s difficult to not be impressed. Some songs also have influences from different music genres such as disco (“Pretty”), country (“One With The Sun”), pop/rock (“React”), and flamenco (“Only Child”), all while maintaining that imaginative, band-centric style that 3 is known for. And don’t be fooled by Joey’s singing style: His voice may start off as soft and gentle, but he can belt it out, too!

Favorite Tracks: “Numbers” (see video above), “React,” “Only Child,” “Pretty”

#6: EarlyRise – What If

From Israel comes EarlyRise, the brainchild of singer/lyricist Orly Lari and multi-instrumentalist Raz Klinghoffer. Their goal was to combine edgy rock with more poetic aspects of music. The result of that ambition is What If, one of the most diverse albums I’ve ever listened to. Pop, rock, metal, alternative, punk, electronic, acoustic, orchestral, progressive – and most of the songs have elements from multiple subgenres. Yet, somehow EarlyRise blends everything together to create a cohesive, multifaceted, and refreshing sound. Like Joey Eppard of 3, Orly has a deceptive presence in EarlyRise. Her sweet, childlike voice can reach astounding heights. And in her lyrics, Orly bares her emotions – even anger and frustration – with a sense of maturity while never taking herself too seriously. If you like what I’ve told you thus far, head over to EarlyRise’s website to download four free tracks from What If. They may just convince you to buy the rest of the album.

Favorite Tracks: “Become Mad” (see video above), “What If,” “Over”

#5: Omega Lithium – Kinetik

I almost didn’t check out Kinetik when it was released this summer.  Omega Lithium’s 2008 debut album, Dreams in Formuline, was… not something I cared to replay after the first listen. That’s not the case with Kinetik, though. This is a much more interesting and consistent record, with a more evenly balanced mix. I also like how Omega Lithium explores every corner of the industrial metal / electro-rock realm. Kinetik is packed with club-ready beats, Mya Mortensen’s low and smooth voice, layers of synths, and guitarwork that varies from deep chugging to lighter chords. Not to mention the lyrics tackles a wide range of subjects, from partying and lust, to introspection and religion. It seems like Omega Lithium has learned how to balance having fun with making a statement, and they do so quite well on Kinetik.

Favorite Tracks: “Colossus” (see video above), “Time Of Change,” “I Am God,” “Dance With Me”

#4: Intemperia – The Mothman Prophecies

I listen to a lot of international bands because of my work with Sonic Cathedral. However, Intemperia is the first artist ever from Venezuela in my iTunes library, and one I’ll be listening to for a while. Their debut album, The Mothman Prophecies, is a delightful collection of melodic metal with hints of pop, power metal, and electronica. Every instrument on this album exudes confidence and energy – not energy for metal’s sake, but a kind of earnestness you only get when the creators are passionate about their product. The band also shines thanks to solid songwriting, memorable melodies, and Juls Sosa’s fierce vocals. What I enjoy most about Intemperia’s sound, though, is that it’s original. The band has been influenced by Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, Sonata Arctica, and a host of other well-known metal acts. Yet, I can’t compare Intemperia to those bands because… well, Intemperia doesn’t sound a lot like them. Instead, they’ve crafted a unique style that is bound to captivate fans around the world.

Favorite Tracks: “Chains Of Gold” (see video above), “No Hopes,” “Vulture,” “I Hold On To You”

#3: Autumn – Cold Comfort

I love just about every album Autumn has released to date, even their gothic doom metal bewitcher Summer’s End. That came out in 2004, and Autumn’s music has evolved drastically since then. Cold Comfort, the band’s fifth album, takes a turn toward down-tempo, atmospheric alt-prog metal. While I wouldn’t consider this to be their strongest album (that would go to either My New Time or Altitude), it’s certainly their best-sounding one. The band put such great care into shaping the mood and ambiance of each song without making anything sound forced. Lead singer Marjan Welman thrives on Cold Comfort, too; the more melodic direction suits her warm, harmonious voice so well. The biggest reason for this album ranking so high on my list, however, is one single song: “The Venamoured.” I love its chasm-like ambiance and its long, sinister instrumental ending that sends shivers down my spine. It’s hands down my favorite song from a 2011 release.

Favorite Tracks: “The Venamoured” (see video above), “End Of Sorrow,” “Cold Comfort,” “Black Stars In A Blue Sky”

#2: Divine Ascension – As The Truth Appears

If you like female-fronted symphonic or progressive metal and have not checked out Divine Ascension yet, you need to do that – right now! This sextet from Melbourne, Australia blends the dynamics and guitar foundations of progressive metal with the band’s love for movie soundtracks to create a thrilling, majestic sound that focuses more on the band’s talents than on orchestral bombast. And, the voice of singer Jennifer Borg is powerful and emotive thanks to her time in theater and cabaret. (No operatics to speak of here!) What I love about As The Truth Appears is its overall sound and execution. The guitarwork is varied and full of great techniques, and tiny details in the orchestral arrangements peak through the metal music bed. Every time I listen to As The Truth Appears, I get excited about what I currently hear and what Divine Ascension could do later with their music. It makes me root for them even more! Easily my favorite debut album of 2011.

Favorite Tracks: “Answers” (see video above), “Another Battlefield,” “Garden Of Evil,” “In My Mind”

I honestly toyed with placing Divine Ascension as my #1 of 2011. But, in the end, I had to go with…

#1: Within Temptation – The Unforgiving

No surprise! After all, the symphonic rock band Within Temptation is one of my absolute favorites. However, this is the first time I’d ever consider one of their CDs as my favorite of any year. (My favorite album of 2007, when WT’s previous album The Heart of Everything was released, was After Forever’s self-titled final album.) However, on my very first go-round with The Unforgiving¸ two thoughts crossed my mind. The first one: “Wow! This album makes me feel so… happy!” And, the second one: “I think this might be WT’s best album yet!” I do agree that the music on The Unforgiving is more commercial than anything Within Temptation has done before. However, this album contains the band’s strongest songwriting, lyrics, and melodies, as well as Sharon den Adel’s most varied and moving vocals to date; and it’s devoid of all of the shortcomings of WT’s past albums. And, interviewing Sharon for Sonic Cathedral and going to Within Temptation’s Worcester show in September has made The Unforgiving all the more special on a personal level. So, in the end, I couldn’t imagine putting any other CD at the top of my 2011 list.

Favorite Tracks: “Faster” (starts at 3:22 in above video), “In The Middle Of The Night,” “Where Is The Edge,” “Sinead”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Losing Scarlet – Learning to Bleed
  • Ultimate Fate – Beyond the Horizon (EP)
  • Ex Libris – Medea (Promo EP)
  • Stream of Passion – Darker Days

Favorite Albums Released in Previous Years:

  • Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here
  • Triosphere – The Road Less Travelled
  • Die So Fluid – The World Is Too Big For One Lifetime
  • Ayreon – The Human Equation
  •  Colbie Caillat – Breakthrough

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