25. Polar Bear ClubClash Battle Guilt Pride

“By all accounts a very strong album, but it lacks to conciseness and directness of ‘Chasing Hamburg.’  A few of the songs meander and would have benefited from some more judicious editing.  However there are many songs on here that rank as some of the best they have ever written.  Here’s looking at you ‘Kneel On Nails,’ ‘Killin’ It,’ ‘Screams In Caves,’ ‘Life Between The Lines,’ and ‘Bottled Wind.’

Trim the fat and you have a top 15, top 10 candidate.”

24. Opeth Heritage

“Some will cry foul at my not having this higher while many others will object to it being included at all.  This is a bit of a grower as it’s not nearly as aggressive as much of the Swedes’ past work.  Their interest in exploring prog-rock tends to reward those who are willing to sit through the album multiple times.  Also refreshing for the band, every song is less than nine minutes.  Most of the tracks are well under this which is a a decided change from the group that is known for not being shy about topping the 20 minute mark.  In a strange way, this makes the album more digestible but at the same time, you still have to put forth the effort.  Once you get it, you really get it.”

23. LemuriaPebble

“Another grower.  Their first full-length ‘Get Better’ is a little shorter, a little more immediate and a bit better of an introduction to the band.  This album tries some different tunings and different approaches that often aren’t as immediate.  Some of the songs can hook you right off the bat (‘Pleaser,’ ‘Different Girls,’ ‘Bloomer’, ‘Chautauqua County,’ and ‘The One’ did just that for me) but most of the other tracks will grow on you in time.  Sometimes the less immediate rewards are the ones you remember better.”

22. Big D and the Kids TableFor The Damned, The Dumb and the Delirious

“2007’s ‘Strictly Rude’ was a game-changer for not only the band but, in many ways, for ska.  The more subdued ‘Fluent In Stroll’ didn’t connect for everybody, but rather than disregard their progress as a band, Big D chose to highlight all of their strengths.  Keeping some of their recently explored retro stylings intact for some tracks, the band hits back with some of the fastest, angriest, and most aggressive music they have ever recorded on others.  Perhaps you will be in the mood to listen to one of their other albums if you’re a specific mood or want to hear a specific variation on ska.  That’s absolutely appropriate.  If you want a great summary of why this band is great, here you go.”

21. Chuck RaganCovering Ground

“Most of us are sick of the punk singers who strap on an acoustic guitar and get all confessional on us.  It’s borderline expected.  Acoustic solo album #3 from Hot Water Music’s Chuck Ragan shows why he should not only be allowed to do it, but should be encouraged.  All of his albums have that important ingredient, consistency.  His first album was spare with nothing in the way of his strong songs.  The second was a lush menagerie of musical guests and contributors while somehow helping to highlight Chuck’s songs rather than overwhelm them.  ‘Covering Ground’ splits the difference while still utilizing Jon Gaunt’s ever-present fiddle.  The approach is much different from Hot Water Music, but Ragan has such a firm grasp on his songwriting, you can appreciate it on a different level.”

20. Touché AmoréParting The Sea Between Brightness and Me

“You know what you’re going to get when you pop on a Touche Amore album.  Here, they stick to the formula, but manage to top their debut.  They pull no punches and leave you wanting more.  At only 20 minutes, you will really be left wanting more, but even an extra 10 minutes would likely dull the impact.  This brand of punk is about a quick catharsis and leaving the scene for all to survey the rubble before the authorities arrive.”

19. 311Universal Pulse

“A tricky choice because, in many ways, this album was a little bit of a disappointment.  Well, to me, anyway.  It’s only eight songs and under 30 minutes so it’s easy to see them caring less about the recorded output and instead seeking a few new songs to throw into their always impressive live shows.  While only two or three of the songs are a little lackluster (that’s a big percentage out of eight songs, when you think about it) the songs that are good are REALLY good.  ‘Wild Nights’ in particular is one of the best songs they have written in years.  This DJ has had a 17 year (!) love affair with this band’s music, so perhaps I’m not the most partial listener, but in this case, I find it hard to fault a band for knowing what they are good at and sticking to that.”

18. IncubusIf Not Now, When?

“This is the selection which will probably earn me the most hate mail.  I named it the ‘Most Underrated Album of 2011.’  Perhaps I should have left it at that.  Nevertheless, their decision to take some serious chances and expand their sound further than ever before pays off more often than not.  Peoples’ preconceived notions of what Incubus should sound like doomed this from the start.  A mellower approach and a willingness to invite pianos to the party combined with some of Brandon Boyd’s most confident vocals ever mean this is a far cry from their early funk-rap-rock days.  Sure, they’re missing a lot of the energy and immediacy of their early work, but considering how derivative the music on their most popular albums was, I would rather encourage a band like this to keep pushing on.  Heck, it worked for Silverchair up to a point.”

17. Wild FlagWild Flag

“Where the heck did this choice come from?  I honestly don’t know.  It’s a supergroup comprised of Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, Mary Timony from Helium (and Team Sleep), and the Minder’s Rebecca Cole.  They certainly sound like they have been playing together for a lot longer than just the past year or two.  In fact, if one of my honorable mentions, The Coathangers, stick together for another decade or so, there are some similarities.  This band is certainly tighter and more accomplished.  All of the members are strong musicians and all four members contribute vocals, granted Brownstein and Timony do almost all of the leads, but there are three-part harmonies aplenty.  If you want a good sample of the band at their best, listen to ‘Romance’ and ‘Boom.’  You’re welcome.”

16. Rival SchoolsPedals

“Their longtime fans may cry ‘foul!’ and demand that I prefer the debut ‘United By Fate,’ but I can’t.  I heard this first and the polished sound is hard to run away from.  In fact, this may have been the album I listened to most of all in 2011.  ‘Eyes Wide Open,’ ’69 Guns,’ ‘Shot After Shot’ were some of my favorite songs to play on the air and in the rare instance when I wanted to slow things down, ‘Small Doses’ got the call.  Walter Schreifels is a legend for a reason.  Maybe he has mellowed with age, but his songwriting pen is as sharp (and inky!) as ever.”

15. In FlamesSounds of a Playground Fading

“How would this long-running Swedish band bounce back from losing their final original member and primary songwriter, Jesper Strombland?  The truth is, they didn’t really miss a beat.  Guitarist Bjorn Gellote stepped up his game and wins the MVP award for this album.  A huge percentage of their longtime fans feel like the band hasn’t made a good album since the 90’s, but there are still some of us who have stuck with them through thick and thin (‘Reroute To Remain’ and especially ‘Soundtrack To Your Escape’ being the thin).  Okay, maybe they still have too much keyboard going on in the background but did you honestly expect them to completely abandon that?  While there are a few duds (a result of experimentation and a few concessions to accessibility, more than anything) the guitar harmonizing which has always been their foundation remains intact and thrilling.  Singer Anders Frieden put more effort into this album than any other and he has come a long way as a vocalist.  It’s hard to say where they’ll go from here, but you can be sure it will delight and anger fans no matter what.”

14. The Living EndThe Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating Itself

“This makes two albums in a row that the Australian trio haven’t bothered to release in America.  Phooey!  There might not be anything with the potential to be as big as ‘Roll On’ but the band sounds more comfortable than ever and it’s always nice to hear Chris Cheney letting loose on his guitar.  The Living End have never had less of a presence in the United States than they do now, but it hasn’t stopped them from sounding as big and bombastic as they ever have on this album.  In a lot of ways, this builds upon the previous release ‘White Noise’ only with slightly more consistency.  It’s a shame that this will be hard/expensive to track down in stores, but it’s worth some effort.”

13. La DisputeWildlife

“Always compared to Touche Amore, this band takes the approach of having lyrics that are akin to verbose prose poetry read over propulsive, yet non-traditional punk.  Think a secular, less Sunday morning youth group version of mewithoutyou with a bit more intensity.  Of the two band’s debuts (between La Dispute and Touche Amore), La Dispute was the more inconsistent, but that was because they took a lot of chances.  That was the one thing that both made them great and held them back.  On ‘Wildlife,’ the band has raised their game and has offered 14 songs that are strong across the board.  It’s worth reading the lyrics to these songs as they tell some good stories.”

12. Protest The HeroScurrilous

“When you’re as young as this band, growth is inevitable.  Well, that or the quick demise of your career.  The Canadian metal band has indeed continued to grow on their third album.  Musically it’s about refinement and ditching the keyboard dalliances of ‘Fortress.’  Also worth mentioning is that singer Rody Walker took over the lyric writing duties from bass player Arif Mirabdolbaghi which means no more songs about mythological beings or scenarios rooted in fantasy.  It’s all about real life subjects this time around so you might actually be able to relate!  Protest The Hero has always been reasonably reliable, mostly being quite skillful at avoiding filler and the trend continues here.  The playing is sharp and often unpredictable.  The worst thing about it is that they are still so young and you might feel terrible for not being nearly as talented as they are when you were their age.”

11. UnearthDarkness In The Light

“These guys are often the forgotten metalcore band from Massachusetts.  They have to share the spotlight with Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, and All That Remains, after all.  These guys might have the sharpest chops of them all.  They’re certainly not afraid to display their skills.  While some of this album might not be as immediate as ‘The March’ a lot of it is and overall, it’s the more consistent album.  You have to be willing to take it as a whole which is how you should listen to an album anyway.  For this collection, the band borrowed Killswitch’s Justin Foley for the drums, which is a perfect fit while guitarists Buz McGrath and Ken Susi still play faster and better together than almost any other combination out there.  Though Trevor Phipps is what you’d expect as a singer from this genre, there are a few mostly successful clean vocals utilized now and again to offer some variety.  It’s a crime that this band isn’t thrust ahead of their peers by more people.”

10. SilversteinRescue

“Okay, Silverstein is a band that is known for putting out a good album every other release.  They were due for a letdown on this, their fifth full length.  The strange thing is, this was a very good album.  In fact, it could even rival ‘Discovering The Waterfront’ as being their best.  Their catchy moments are as memorable as ever while at the same time, they are becoming more open about embracing their love of melodic hardcore punk.  The growth really suits them.  As long as they have found their strengths and continue to write music in the vein, Silverstein might eventually win over as many fans as they truly deserve.”

9. HeartsoundsDrifter

“My other list explains this one, but instead of the sophomore slump, the band has experienced the sophomore jump.  I just came up with that term on the spot.  Maybe it’ll catch on, but it needs your help!  Anyway, everything about this album is better than their debut.  The guitar-work is occasionally jaw-dropping and both singers have made vocal progress.  Most of all, it’s catchy and the pop elements work within the context of the music.  If they keep growing at this rate, album number three could be scary good.”

8. Red Hot Chili PeppersI’m With You

“Losing John Frusciante would have killed a lesser band.  I was hesitant about this release going into it.  New axe-slinger Josh Klinghoffer is no guitar virtuoso and his background vocals are certainly weaker than Frusciante’s, but he does add a lot of understated textures to the songs.  Often, his less prominent voice is a nice blend with frontman Anthony Keidis’.  This album is really a showcase for Flea.  We all know he can play bass like a madman, but who knew he could be front and center when it came to the songwriting?  His bass overwhelms some of the songs, but in a good way.  After all, how often in the instrument highlighted so prominently?  Much of the growth of their past few albums is retained and a few risks really pay off.  ‘Did I Let You Know’ has a nice trumpet passage and some (but not all) of the piano is incorporated quite well.  Some laid back moments might not sit well with a few fans and there are some nice acoustic numbers, but this is offset by much of the album’s front half which has some genuinely funky tracks.  ‘Monarchy of Roses’ borders on funk-disco.  It’s certainly a different dynamic for the band, but against all odds, it actually works.  For me, anyway.”

7. The Mighty Mighty BosstonesThe Magic of Youth

“This makes two straight phenomenal releases from a band that was once on ‘indefinite hiatus.’  Age has allowed them to regain their mojo and this lean album doesn’t seem to have much time for songs that aren’t topnotch.  Some tracks might be a tad nostalgic, but it’s balanced by plenty of genuinely energetic offerings.  They are far-removed from the rough ‘n’ tumble early albums, but at this point in the game, they have practically perfected their winning formula.  Let’s just keep enjoying their career second (or is it third?) wind.”

6. MastodonThe Hunter

“Some people find this album to be lacking cohesion.  It’s the band’s first without an overarching theme, so that accounts for that.  As it stands, it’s a collection of songs that are consistently good.  Most releases that come out aren’t concept records, so assembling 13 good songs on one release is really the goal in almost any circumstance.  The band takes a lot of chances here.  At this point, they can afford to.  Helping the accessibility is the fact that they have abandoned the long-winded prog rock of ‘Crack The Skye’ in favor of significantly shorter songs that run the gamut in terms of subject matter and approach.  There are some soothing moments, a reverential track (‘The Hunter’) and some downright strange songs, but also some loose bluesy stabs ‘Curl of the Burl’ along with the groove-centric ‘Blasteroid.’  ‘Spectrelight’ featuring Scott Kelly of Neurosis may very well be the thrashiest thing the band has ever come up with.  Yeah, it’s all over the place, but when you are on as much of a hot streak as Mastodon, sometimes the unexpected is the next logical step.”

5. MaritimeHuman Hearts

“I was not overly familiar with Davey VonBholen’s previous, and more universally beloved project, The Promise Ring.  Sure, I had heard a few songs here and there, but I was far from hooked or knowledgeable.  Upon hearing this on a whim, I had no expectations or hang ups going into it.  This is Maritime’s fourth album and, by all accounts, it is their most produced/polished.  It’s also a fine introduction. The execution is somewhat comparable to Interpol at their best because it is mostly a low-key affair, but when the band finds its groove in a song, it sucks you in completely.  It also has the benefit of not being derivative of or comparable to Joy Division.  VonBholen isn’t a strong vocalist, but he knows how to use his voice to compliment the music and vice versa.  Track down ‘Paraphenalia,’ ‘Peopling of London,’ ‘Air Arizona,’ and ‘C’mon Sense’ to hear the band at their best.  Once those songs sucker you in, the rest should fall into place.  Get this album along with their second, slightly rawer album ‘We, The Vehicles’ and you’re gold, ponyboy.  Stay that way.”

4. ThriceMajor/Minor

“Thrice really got it right on their third album ‘The Artist In The Ambulance.’  Then, for fear of writing themselves into a corner, they took the logical step of experimenting.  ‘Vheissu’ and ‘The Alchemy Index’ were intriguing but also wildly inconsistent (though they have their defenders).  ‘Beggers’ was a concerted step back in the right direction.  With ‘Major/Minor’ the band has given us, quite possibly, their most consistently accessible offering since ‘The Artist In The Ambulance.’  Every song is teeming with urgency and vitality.  There is no quarter for the listener and certainly none is desired.  All of the fat has been trimmed away yet we are still left with 50 minutes of rock solid music.  If the band is indeed calling it a day, it will be sad, but at least they are leaving on an album that I consider to be quite possibly my favorite thing they have ever done (it’s neck and neck with ‘TAITA’).”

3. Foo Fighters –  Wasting Light

“The Foo Fighters have been one of the biggest names in rock for years and for good reason.  ‘The Colour and the Shape’ is a masterpiece and they have had more hit singles than you can shake a stick at (literally).  The problem with the Foo’s over the last foo albums (couldn’t resist) is that besides your huge radio hits, there wasn’t too much to get excited about.  Three great songs do not make an album.  Believing them to be long dead, I allowed myself to be roped in by their admittedly impressive first single, ‘Rope.’  (Brilliant wordplay, I know).  Diving into the album, I was expecting a few more good songs, and the requisite filler.  Surprise surprise!  ‘Wasting Light’ turned out to be the most consistent album the band has ever recorded.  They have never sounded more alive and in your face.  The return of Pat Smear (that’s three guitars now!) helps, but perhaps recording in Dave Grohl’s garage on analog tape with Butch Vig didn’t hurt either.  A duet with Bob Mould is a nice touch but more than the bells, whistles, and frills, these are just consistently inspired songs.”

2. Mariachi El BronxMariachi El Bronx II

“The Bronx are very well-respected (and apparently very lost) band out of California so that made their decision to form a mariachi alter ego a few years back baffling.  It turns out, they were good at replicating the traditional Mexican music.  They were so good, that this DJ likes this incarnation of the band more than their everyday versions.  It’s hard to put my finger on it, but their reverence for the genre comes through.  The music has the potential to transport you if you allow it to.  You just might have the urge to ride a horse in the desert, start a bar fight in a cantina, fall in love with some senorita (or senor) or at the very least, eat a burrito.  The shock of this project’s success apparently still hasn’t worn off for me which may be obscuring my impartiality, but no matter what the cause, I found it to be the second most enjoyable album of the year.”

1. Fucked UpDavid Comes To Life

“So much has been written about this album, there is no need for me to put in my two cents.  I will anyway.  This band has been taking Canada by storm over the last few years.  Their previous juggernaut ‘The Chemistry of Common Life’ also won universal praise, but it never completely ensnared me.  I only listened to it a few times and will give it more listens in the future, but something was lacking for me.  Then, I heard this.  An overarching concept is an easy way to reel me in and ‘David Comes to Life’ has that.  It also has some of the catchiest songs you’ll hear (‘Turn The Season’ wins song of the year, for me).  Singer Damian Abraham (AKA Pink Eyes) doesn’t have a traditionally appealing voice, but its gruff nature blends well with the music and the layers of guitars are somehow never overwhelming.  Everything succeeds despite itself.  It’s very ambitious, long-winded, and grandiose hardcore punk that shouldn’t be listenable for 78 straight minutes, but it unfailingly is.”

This post was written by:

J.J. Ellis – When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!

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