Now comes the time each year when we draw close to the extensive holiday break in the music industry. In the past, I'd be called upon as early as November 30th by the magazines I wrote for to generate my top picks. Rolling Stone just issued their Top 100 albums of 2011 yesterday, and I've been mulling over my favorites for about a week, so let's get on with it, eh?
This year saw many changes in my life and as my obligations surmounted, I was able to dedicate only enough time to the music industry to keep abreast of things. While most of my readership musically-speaking come from the metal and punk sects, this year found me probing through the indie and alt folk scene, much as I did in the late eighties and early nineties when heavy metal died in America and I deeply explored the original alternative scene.
Thus I feel my listening experiences for 2011 were more well-rounded and enlightened. My metalhead brethren are probably going to find me mad for mingling my metal album picks with the others, but so be it. It summarizes the chaos and disorder of my life this year. Without these albums and the rest in my collection, I might've gone insane from the chronic stress and headaches this year. At least I was able to relieve some of the ever-present tension by working on my novel "Saved by Zero" and by spinning music on a constant.
There are a number of albums I wanted to hear this year based on singles that caught my attention and unfortunately did not. A couple surprised me by their success, such as Foster the People, who put out an average album overall, though they capitalized off of their tremendously catchy "Pumped Up Kicks." Of course, the Black Keys' new album El Camino is sporting a stout pre-release hype and eventually I will check out the new Amy Winehouse archives album plus any others that should've hit my radar. I'm looking forward to hearing the new Snow Patrol album in January since their current single is irresistible.
So, out with this year and onto the next. We will see what 2012 holds for my involvement in the music industry, but for your edification (more so mine), here are the top forty albums I heard this year:
1. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
2. Zombi - Escape Velocity
3. Devotchka - 100 Lovers
4. Wilco - The Whole Love
5. Anthrax - Worship Music
6. Mastodon - The Hunter
7. Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'
8. Thomas Giles - Pulse
9. Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1
10. Gary Moore - Live at Montreaux 2010
11. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
12. Rachel Yamagata - Chesapeake
13. Ana Kefr - The Burial Tree (III)
14. Opeth - Heritage
15. Paul Simon - So Beautiful Or So What
16. Totimoshi - Avenger
17. Long Distance Calling - s/t
18. Sepultura - Kairos
19. Adele - 21
20. Alice Cooper - Welcome 2 My Nightmare
21. Tedeschi Trucks Band - Revelator
22. Between the Buried and Me - The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
23. The Cars - Move Like This
24. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
25. A Pale Horse Named Death - And Hell Will Follow Me
26. Chthonic - Takasago Army
27. Admiral Browning - Battle Stations
28. Wino - Adrift
29. Iron Claw - A Different Game
30. Megadeth - Th1rt3en
31. Flogging Molly - Speed of Darkness
32. Hemoptysis - Misanthropic Slaughter
33. Givers - In Light
34. Primus - Green Naugahyde
35. Josh Freese - My New Friends EP
36. Young Circles - Jungle Habits
37. Black Tusk - Set the Dial
38. Saxon - Call to Arms
39. Ghost - Opus Eponymous
40. Hank III's Three Bar Ranch - Cattle Callin'
Honorable Mentions: Even though it's only a two-song split, ambient metal artisans Junius and Rosetta delivered a spectacular, emotive EP which leaves you begging for their next full-lengths. Also a hefty nod to Jimi Hendrix's South Saturn Delta. Considered a posthumous album full of new pieces and alternate takes of old classics, the Hendrix estate has been on fire issuing all of these hidden archives. This one may be the best of the lot so far. Then there's Gary Clark, Jr.'s blazing The Bright Lights EP...Robert Randolph and Ben Harper had better keep an eye out for this Texas slinger...
Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.
He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.
Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.