2011: Looking Back

by Jason Warburg

Nothing makes you feel old like a year in which you liked more reissues, retrospectives, and restarts than new music.  But frankly, 2011 felt like a year in which the market was flooded with new music that, with a few notable exceptions, didn’t live up to the promise of what came before.  That, of course, doesn’t mean there weren’t high points—it just means they were achieved by bands I was already well aware of when the year started.


Best Idea That Shouldn’t Have Worked This Well (But Did)

Tedeschi Trucks Band -- Revelator

What to do when husband and wife are both formidable bandleaders in their own right, but want to raise their family together rather than apart? The answer that Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi came up with was brilliant in its simplicity: combine their bands into a 12-member powerhouse blues-rock ensemble the likes of which hasn’t been seen in years.  Revelator was indeed a revelation.


Best Reissue

The Jayhawks – Tomorrow The Green Grass (Legacy Edition)

The original was the high-water mark for alt-country cult favorites The Jayhawks; the Legacy Edtion reissue of Tomorrow The Green Grass adds a full disc of what were once known as “The Mystery Demos,” a much-bootlegged collection of terrific demos from the same period.  A sweet package heralding one of those reunions that may have seemed better in concept than in execution, judging by the rather tepid Mockingbird Time.


Best Revisitation

The Cars – Move Like This

This album should have been a pale shadow, a momentary blast of nostalgia from 80 percent of a once-great band. Yet the 25-year gap between albums and the absence of deceased bassist-vocalist Ben Orr seems to have, if anything, fueled the determination of the remaining quartet to deliver their best album since their turn-of-the-’80s prime.  Imitators, take note: this is how it’s done.





Best Retrospective

Ben Folds – Best Imitation Of Myself (Expanded Edition)

A handpicked, quirky collection of hits and album tracks, plus a dynamite disc of live cuts, plus a disc of rarities and unreleased material… *and* the first new Ben Folds Five recordings in 12 years?  This is the unusual deluxe package that lives up to the hype, from one of the most talented songwriters of his generation.






Yes Or No? Award

Jon Anderson – Survival And Other Stories
Anderson/Wakeman – The Living Tree
Anderson/Wakeman – The Living Tree In Concert Part One
Circa – And So On
Billy Sherwood – What Was The Question?
Yes – Fly From Here
Yes – In The Present: Live From Lyon
Yes – Union Live

There were so many Yes-related issues this year it might have made Pete Frame’s head spin.  Ironically, the best of the bunch came from those individuals farthest removed from the current divide within the group itself.  Ousted lead singer Jon Anderson’s solo album Survival was pleasant enough, but made little impact musically, and his Living Tree collaboration with Rick Wakeman was similarly gentle and sparse.  Meanwhile, their old band put out an album of Buggles music with tribute band singer Benoit David that succeeded mostly in demonstrating how creatively barren the touring machine still calling itself Yes has become.  It was left to ex-Yesman Billy Sherwood and his band Circa – featuring founding Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye – to issue the two most enjoyable Yes-related albums of the year.





EP of the Year

Last Charge of the Light Horse – Curve (EP)

I might not have been crazy about the emphasis on electronic over organic tones this time around, but those details melt into the background once you focus on the power of the poetry flowing from extraordinary singer-songwriter Jean-Paul Vest. If you enjoyed the deeply insightful suburban everyman angst of  Getaway Car and Fractures, you need this one, too.





Indie Of The Year

Chris Cubeta & The Liars Club -- Chris Cubeta & The Liars Club

There was really no contest for this one this year.  An abundance of good-but-not-great indie material found its way into the in-box in 2011, with precious little reaching the upper tier.  The best of the best by a substantial margin was the self-titled disc from the hard-truth-telling Chris Cubeta And The Liars Club, “a cycle of songs about love and need, solitude and togetherness, truth and lies that simultaneously rocks as hard as anything Cubeta has ever recorded… a majestic, heartfelt, beautifully crafted album.”



Album Of The Year



4.  Switchfoot – Vice Verses

A pretty good album from these guys is better than most everything else on the shelf.  Not quite on par with either last year’s Hello Hurricane or their pinnacle as a band, 2005’s Nothing Is Sound, Vice Verses remains a terrific example of Switchfoot’s trademark blending of anthemic rock, soaring ballads, and heartfelt idealism.


3.  R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now

Way to go out on top, boys.


2.  Death Cab For Cutie – Codes And Keys

These guys are just so, so, so good.  Supple melodies, brilliant lyrics, and in Ben Gibbard, a voice for the ages, full of vulnerability and stark beauty. 


1.  Fountains Of Wayne – Sky Full Of Holes

Talk about a grower.  Sky Full Of Holes started out as my third favorite of FOW’s five superb albums.  That’s still its standing vis-à-vis its catalogue brethren – Welcome Interstate Managers is probably my favorite album of the last decade, and Traffic And Weather isn’t far behind -- but another 20 listens or so to Sky crystallized the brilliance of these tunes for me.  The generally-acknowledged "Dean Of American Rock Critics" Robert Christgau has called Fountains Of Wayne "lyric poets" and "true art heroes" -- what he said.



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