Top 10 CDs of 2011 | Laura Hamlett

cd duran-duranThis year marked a return to fine form for many artists, both classic and current. Tasty listens, indeed.

1. Duran Duran | All You Need Is Now (Tapemodern)

With but one exception (2000’s Pop Trash), I’ve always loved Duran Duran’s music. This, though, hits it out of the park. As I said in my review, All You Need Is Now is Duran Duran’s best album since their 1982 breakthrough Rio. The original band members reunited in 2004 and remain together today, with the exception of guitarist Andy Taylor, who left after a falling out. Musically, lyrically, and vocally, All You Need showcases a band in full control of its talent, as fresh and relevant as it ever was.

2. Matt Nathanson | Modern Love (Vanguard)

Following a stint with Universal Records, Matt Nathanson found his home with Vanguard Records and the release of Some Mad Hope in 2007. While that was far and away my least favorite of his albums, it was responsible for putting Nathanson’s music in the ears of most of America—namely “Come on Get Higher.” Perhaps fueled by the success of that release, this year he returned with Modern Love, an album that is, well, nearly perfect. Showcasing a range of Nathanson’s styles and skills, it is truly a disc you can set on repeat and forget about.

3. Panic! at the Disco | Vices & Virtues (Decaydance/Fueled by Rayman)

Like Duran Duran, Panic! at the Disco found a return to form—and to its exclamation point—with this one. Shedding two members seems to have been good for the dance rockers, as they bounce back from 2008’s pretty bad Pretty. Odd. in full style. Almost as entertaining as the band’s debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, Vices & Virtues is filled with songs you’ll gladly find stuck in your head for days at a time. Their live show in St. Louis in November lent further proof to the fact that they’re back—in a big way.

4. Matthew Good | Lights of Endangered Species (Universal)

Really…can Matthew Good release a bad album? While it hasn’t stuck with me as much as his previous releases—most recently, the brilliant and lovely VancouverLight of Endangered Species is still one to play again and again. If you haven’t gotten into the Canadian singer/songwriter, let this be a friendly reminder to do so.

5. Blue October | Any Man in America (Up/Down)

Leaving a major label never sounded so good. The Houston rockers—deeper than their sound sometimes implies—first teased us with the acoustic renderings of Ugly Side before dropping the brilliant Any Man in America in August. This concept album finds singer/songwriter Justin Furstenfeld working his way through the emotional upheaval of ending a marriage and fighting for custody of his daughter. While there are a few uneven m—the sophomoric lyrics rapped on the title track, for one—overall, it’s a solid offering.

6. Black Lab | Unplugged (Black Lab World)

I put Black Lab in the same category of Matthew Good; Paul Durham, the mind and the voice behind this California-based musical chairs of a band, writes and performs music so lovely and perfect, you’ll wonder why you need to listen to anything else. As its title suggests, Unplugged finds Durham breathing new life into some of his prior releases in the form of acoustic re-imaginings. Four new songs hint at the glories to come.

7. MuteMath | Odd Soul (Warner Bros.)

Sometimes, when a band changes direction, it merely blows up in their face (see: The Kooks and Arctic Monkeys, each of whose 2011 releases underwhelmed, if not fully disappointed). In the case of MuteMath and Odd Soul, though, it merely showcases the band’s depth. Here, Paul Meany and Co. dip into their soulful side, unafraid to add a wall of noise, gentle piano, rocking guitar, or indie gem, as appropriate. Odd Soul doesn’t go so far as to abandon prior listeners or negate the band’s previous offerings; rather, it deepens the listener’s appreciation of this talented band.

8. Kevin Devine | Between the Concrete and Clouds (Razor & Tie)

Kevin Devine’s always been a brilliant songwriter, from his early self-released stuff to his Capitol Records release Put Your Ghost to Rest to 2009’s Brother’s Blood. With this year’s Between the Concrete and Clouds—his first attempt at making a “pop” record—he proves why both Manchester Orchestra and Brand New have tapped him for opening gigs in the past few years. While collaboration with Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull certainly helped to brighten Devine’s star, here he further continues to prove why he’s earned his place in the sky all by himself.

9. David Newton & Thee Mighty Angels | Paint the Town EP (self-released)

Continuing the tradition of late for indie/wave rockers of the 1980s to spring back in fine style is former Mighty Lemon Drops guitarist David Newton and his second self-released EP. While I missed the first one, I’m so thankful for these six songs. If you were a fan of the Lemon Drops, you’ll probably hear a little of their sound on this disc; however, such familiarity is by no means required. Newton’s songs stand fully on their own, managing to sound both current and fashionably retro all at once.

10. The Kills | Blood Pressures (Domino)

Alison Mosshart (VV) and Jamie Hince (Hotel) are at it again, following up the brilliant Midnight Boom with the equally captivating Blood Pressures. Hell, the insinuatingly catchy guitar line of “The Future Starts Slow” is enough to put this album on anyone’s top 10 list.

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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