Musicians Speak: Sam Pinola’s Favorite Albums of 2011

Written by Sam Pinola, Bassist For Ghosts in The Valley

At first, I thought 2011 was not a good year for music. I have spent the past couple of days putting together this list of my top 10 albums of 2011. Let the comments begin. I have included some links so you can chase down the band, if you missed the release. I know I missed a few releases, and I’m still on the fence with a few like Wild Flag, so from one geek to another, here is my list:

Fucked Up – “David Comes to Life”
I have very strong words for this record: Album of the year, and one of the best records of the past decade. Do you believe me? Buy this record. This record will actually change your life. How can anybody make a record so angry and brutal that is also beautiful and uplifting? I have no excuse as to why I never listened to this band before, so I won’t claim to be a longtime fan. I think I was put off by a bunch of Canadians with a band name that seemed like a forced provocative act. My bad, people. “David Comes to Life” will wake up your ears and make you drive too fast. This might just be the best hardcore album since The Refused put out “The Shape of Punk to Come.” It’s a wall of guitars, and three guitars under normal circumstances is way too many, but I’m giving them a pass because somehow it all makes sense without ever seeming excessive. This record makes me smile way more than I should, because I’m 38 and I still listen to hardcore.
If you’re not familiar with Fucked Up, watch this!
Tom Waits – “As Bad as Me”
Things will be better in Chicago. Late nights, neon signs, greasy dinners and tear drop tattoos. The circus of Tom Waits pulled back into town this year, the ringmaster, the carnival barker and the troubadour are all here. Like pots and pans clanging in the bone yard at midnight – “As Bad As Me” is one of the best collection of songs that Waits has put together since “Rain Dogs.” I like the macabre side of midnight images that Wait’s songs invoke like old black and white cartoons. My home life went through some drastic changes a few months ago and I have been spending too much time listing to this record. I’m not alone, I’m on the couch with the dogs, it’s raining outside and it’s raining in my head. This is the soundtrack to my life in exile and it keeps me company while I cook dinner and let the dogs lick my plate when I’m done.
Dropkick Murphy’s – “Going out in Style
The Murphy’s fall into one of two categories, and that is bands you either love or hate. I love these guys, but if you don’t keep reading I can’t change your mind here.  Is it ground breaking or life changing? No. Does it get me going in the morning on the train? Hell yeah it does. By lunchtime I still have the songs stuck in my head (I like bouncy punk rock records that get stuck in your head and this record achieves that feat). Yes, if The Pogues had half-stacks they would have made this record years ago. This is the record that I can remember the most songs off of in 2011. You know what you are getting into when you play a record like this; go ahead, it’s okay.
Mike Watt – “Hyphenated Man”
You might think that 30 songs clocking in at 47 minutes written about one painting (Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights) sounds kind of artsy-fartsy right? Think again. This is the Mike Watt record that I have been waiting for. The peaks and the valleys in just one song will reaffirm your faith in punk all over again. It’s a dynamic performance executed by a tight three-piece band and Watt’s bass just howls. This is a record that I can just play over and over and over. “Hollowed Out Man” and “Man Shitting Man” are two of the best song Watt has ever written.
Yuck – “s/t”
A squall of feedback kicks off a catchy chord progression and then a lead comes in that is played on the front pickup of a beat-up guitar that has enough Big Muff on it to make even the most jaded indie rock fan smile. “Daydream Nation,” “Secret Swingers,” “You’re Living All Over Me,” and “Painful” – These UK kids have my American college rock heart beating. You won’t believe that people still make records like this. I didn’t. Did I mention fuzz? Well it’s the good kind, not the kind that ruins an album like Wavves, but the kind that makes the guitar parts fun and memorable. Also this record wins the title of, “record my sister is most likely to enjoy, if she would just listen to it.”
Foo Fighters – “Wasting Light”
My limited exposure to the radio keeps me from getting burned out on albums that become popular and overplayed. I’m sure this record was huge. I’m sure it’s still pretty big, but I don’t care. Big props to Dave for putting old Bob Mould back in the national spotlight. The big hook choruses are offset by some nimble give and take parts amongst the guitars before they all come charging back together. “White Limo” kicks the keester off of anything recorded, from a desert session with an all-star cast. Butch Vig knows how to make a big guitar album sound huge, even if you are recording in a garage in Maryland. Viva la rock!
Joe Lally – “Why Should I Get Used to It”
I was surprised. I was not blown away by Lally’s first two solo albums. I have had a mixed reaction to Joe’s post-Fugazi albums. After all, in my mind, he was one of the bass players who taught me how to play. I learned to play bass by playing along to Fugazi records. I always wanted a little more from Joe, I wanted more of the playing that inspired me. I found it on this record. The album is stripped down and sparse, and Joe’s voice lends itself to the haunting grooves recorded within. It churns inward onto itself and the angles of the bass lines give the songs propulsion and direction that is just lacking from a good deal of music made anymore (I am biased and here is my disclaimer: On 11/18/11 Joe Lally played in Philadelphia, and I got to join him on stage and play bass, his bass, on a song thanks to a hook up from my friends in The Gerunds. When I looked down at the bass rig and saw that it still had a red FVGAZI stencil on it I felt like I was going to shit my pants.) That said, this album is one of the more interesting records made in 2011, complete with angles, hooks, grooves and just a touch of arty noise.
Booker T. Jones – “The Road From Memphis”
R&B isn’t dead; it just takes a long ass time between albums. Booker could play it safe. He doesn’t have to take risks and he could play his hand close to his chest. I am thankful he chooses to show everyone his hand and smile. The drums laid down by Questlove never sounded tighter and thank God Booker knows that a small backing band will always sound bigger, so all of you New Jack Hustlers take notice and see what happens when you don’t quantize every beat. Also, Lou Reed makes an appearance as a vocalist, making up for the atrocity of an album that he made with Metallica. The album leaves me wanting more. Nothing ever goes on too long and the hooks are memorable. Booker still has it and maybe someday he will pick up the phone and get Cropper and Dunn back into the studio with him.
Wilco – “The Whole Love”
I like arty noises. I like arty noises that build and churn and I really like well-crafted songs. The opening track, “The Art of Almost,” is catchy and cinematic. This song just moves along, unfolding around every turn. The track is thick with sounds that blend back-and-forth around a solid bass line (See a pattern? Good bass lines can make a song move.) And then the Can-like ending just makes me want to jump around and break stuff. Wilco actually makes me want to get up and break things with excitement. One of the other strong points to this Wilco album is that the musicians let the parts breathe and no one is fighting anyone for musical elbow room. It’s nice to see that somebody found their rock pants again. The record has other great moments, but I’m just being honest when I say that I can listen to the opening track over and over. It’s epic and it’s well done. Someone make a long distance call to Radiohead and tell them to watch this clip of Wilco on Letterman so they can see that big arty rock songs can be interesting and exciting once again.
Mastodon – “The Hunter”
Big scary metal bands will never go out of style. Mastodon never resort to cookie monster vocals or mechanized grooves or crab walking for that matter (look it up on YouTube. It’s insanely funny what some loud bands do while playing. Attack Attack, I am looking at you). Like a lot of the Savannah bands, Mastodon have swagger in the rhythm section so the songs have a bit of soul. Sabbath, at their best, had a killer rhythm section to offset the scary guitar parts and Mastodon seems to have a grip on that. You need something moving under all of those Marshall stacks. Like the last couple of albums, there seems to be a touch of prog rock at times, but it never gets in the way of the riffs that pummel. I am always impressed when Mastodon sneaks into the mainstream, like Jools Holland. Here is the clip that will show you how Mastodon made me become a believer in metal again.

About elephanttalkindie

Elephant Talk: The Music Memory
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One Response to Musicians Speak: Sam Pinola’s Favorite Albums of 2011

  1. Jerry says:

    I just don’t get it when it comes to the foo fighters and wilco.

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