The albums below represent those that I enjoyed most and listened to most frequently this past year. I found that each album could be listened to without skipping a track. The songs featured provided inspiration, happiness, insight into life, etc. Overall, 2011 was an incredible time for the discovery of new and phenomenal music. As this finals period begins, I hope these tunes can act as a stress-relief or stellar soundtrack to ground-breaking study sessions and paper writing.
5. Gimme Some by Peter Bjorn, & John
I first became a huge Peter Bjorn and John fan when their stellar album, Writer’s Block, was released in 2007. As I’m sure many others can attest, I was first reeled in by the unbelievably catchy “Young Folks,” but my love grew for such jamming tunes as “Amsterdam” and slower ballads like “Paris 2004.” You would have been blown away by the frequency with which my friend Nia and I sang PB&J tunes in our high school classes. Peter Bjorn and John’s most recent release, Gimme Some, may be their strongest release yet. Tunes like “Second Chance” have a newfound energy and impressive hook. Whenever I hear “Second Chance,” I envision myself bodysurfing on a huge Pacific Ocean wave.
4. The Head and the Heart by The Head and the Heart
The Head and the Heart’s self-titled debut album really hit home for me as left San Diego for my junior year here at Swarthmore. The tunes make numerous allusions to moving away from home and starting over in a strange new place. On “Rivers and Roads,” lead vocalist Josiah Johnson sings, “Been talking ‘bout the way things change/And my family lives in a different state.” It is a right of passage in modern day America to grow up, leave home, and attempt to live independently. This may seem like a daunting prospect, but the other lead vocalist, Jonathan Russell, offers some comforting words of wisdom on “Lost In My Mind”: “Momma once told me/You’re already home where you feel loved.”
*Note: The Head and the Heart was technically released independently by the band in 2009, but I feel that it is eligible as a 2011 release since Sub Pop Records remastered and re-released it in April of this year.
3. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
The front men for Britain’s Oasis, Liam and Noel Gallagher, have been just as famous for their non-stop fighting as their internationally recognized music. In 2009, Noel had enough with his brother’s ridiculous ways and left Oasis. In July of this year, Noel announced that he would release an album in October with his solo project Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. It should come as no surprise that the self-titled debut of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is filled with musical gems, as Noel was the brains behind the majority of Oasis’ hits. Such tunes as “AKA…What a Life!” are filled with driving percussion, catchy guitar licks, and soaring vocals. My favorite song lyric of the year is actually in this song, as Noel belts out: “I’m gonna take that tiger outside for a ride.” I have no idea what that means, but it sounds like a blast. Noel made sure to pay homage to his acoustic guitar-lead roots in the form of “If I Had a Gun,” which I consider his new “Wonderwall.” Overall, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds flows beautifully and is such a pleasure to listen to from start to finish.
2. Torches by Foster the People
I first learned of the phenomenal Los Angeles band, Foster The People, back in February. Their tune “Pumped Up Kicks” was a breath of fresh air — a grooving bass line with an easily-stuck-in-your-head chorus. I was ecstatic when the group’s first full album release, Torches, became available this past May. Put simply, it is one of the catchiest albums I have ever heard. Every track is strong, with meaningful lyrics, impressive instrumentation, and hooking choruses. You can listen to my current favorite song off of Torches, “Life On The Nickel,” here. The chorus alone is epic: “Yet again, I’m hustling, hustling, hustling.” So, my friends, I recommend you download Foster The People’s debut album, drive to the beach (if you can) with its glorious sounds blasting, and soak up the sun (when it decides to show its face).
1. Pala by Friendly Fires
It took three years for Friendly Fires to follow-up their self-titled debut effort. Let me just say, IT WAS FULLY WORTH THE WAIT. Pala is filled with high-energy, dance-inducing ballads. Each song keeps you wanting more. My friend Ben described the tunes as “exploding with dance ecstasy.” He hit the nail on the head. The songs’ content is equally as impressive, with lead singer Ed Macfarlane acting as a voice for our generation on “Live Those Days Tonight.” Macfarlane is fed up with hearing people from the 1980s saying how much better things were back then. He stands up for himself and the young people of today by responding to these naysayers with, “Won’t feel the times you had/I can’t touch your precious past/But I’ll live, I’ll live, I’ll live/I’ll live those days tonight.” I had the pleasure of seeing Friendly Fires in concert at the end of October and my love for the group and their tunes increased tenfold. For one, Ed Macfarlane’s dance moves are one-of-a-kind and a sight to see. In addition, he jumped and sang while in the middle of the crowd. At one point, he even sang directly into my face — it was glorious. Pala embodies 2011 for me: a year that was high throttle, inspiring, and an incredible time. Do yourself a favor and experience the musical magic of Friendly Fires firsthand via CD or ultimately, in concert.