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A Look Back: The Best Music of 2011

  • Ryan Duncan and Contributing Writers
  • 2011 17 Dec
A Look Back: The Best Music of 2011

December is coming to an end, as is the year of 2011, and as tradition dictates the writers and editors of and have taken a moment to make our choices for best music of the year. Some have chosen to list their favorite albums, while others focused on a particular song or artist. Either way, in case the world ends in 2012, here is the music we recommend you listen to before then.       

Ryan Duncan Editor

#5: Switchfoot - Vice Verses: Switchfoot has matured a lot since their 2009 release of Hello Hurricane. While Vice Verses still has plenty of their signature heavy-hitting adrenalin tracks, it's also scattered with a number of slower, and more reflective songs. It's very hard for Christian artists to deliver a message without sacrificing their music in the process. Switchfoot not only pulls this off, but sounds great while doing it.             

(Album Highlights - The War Inside, Restless, Dark Horses)

#4: Owl City - All Things Bright and Beautiful: The music of Owl City is anything but normal, and the latest album is no exception. Playful, odd, and perpetually happy, All Things Bright and Beautiful certainly lives up to its name. The music may not be for everyone, but it's still a nice change of pace from the usual selection of songs about love gone wrong. So give it a try, you may like it.                

(Album Highlights - Galaxies, Kamikaze, Alligator Sky)

3: Angels and Airwaves - Love Parts 1&2: Technically, this album by Angels & Airwaves is a movie soundtrack, and technically a portion of it was already released back in 2010, but it's only with the completed tracks that this album can be fully appreciated. It may not have the most inspired lyrics, but the music is recklessly creative, and being in two parts means there are a lot more tracks to explore than your average album.    

(Album Highlights - The Flight of Apollo, Hallucinations, Moon as My Witness)

#2: Adele - 21: British bombshell Adele has made a lot of headlines with her sophomore project 21, and few people are surprised. In an age where many singers rely on shock value and meat dresses to garner attention, Adele wins her place on raw talent alone. Her powerful voice, coupled with some impressive versatility, mean this album is definitely worth checking out.   

(Album Highlights - Rolling in the Deep, Rumor Has It, Someone Like You)


#1: Coldyplay - Mylo Xyloto: Coldplay is constantly reinventing itself, but it never strays too far from its roots. Mylo Xyloto, aside from having one of the strangest names in music history, still carries some shades of former albums in its background. At the same time though, the band's tracks take on a newer, hipper persona that make for a unique music experience. It's a great album for Coldplay fans and newcomers alike, with plenty of tracks worth a second play-through.                            

(Album Highlights - Charlie Brown, Princess of China, Every Teardrop is a Waterfall) 


Stephen Sanders
A/V Editor-Salem Web Network

#5: Gungor-Ghosts Upon The Earth: If you were like me and didn't value the commercial success of their Grammy Award Nominated album, "Beautiful Things", then you should at least give this one a try. It's much less radio-friendly and much more experimental. They come across more like an indie band than a contemporary Christian act…definitely worth checking out.

#4: August Burns Red-Leveler:
So much hardcore/metal stuff these days is more about the egos than it is about the music. These guys have basically been dominating this scene since their first release in 2005. The riffs on "Leveler" are more of what you've grown to know and love about the band. The lyrics on are edgy, convicting and sometimes even a bit worshipful.

#3: Burlap to Cashmere-Burlap to Cashmere: Unlike a lot of people, I was unfamiliar with this band prior to sampling this album. It's the kind of timeless album that, like their earlier stuff, you'll be able to listen to 10 years from now and appreciate just as much…a great album to toss in on a road trip.

#2: Foo Fighters-Wasting Light:
If you are a Foo Fighters fan like I am, then you probably bought this album the 1st week it came out. "Wasting Light" is the first album from the band to debut at #1 on the Billboard Top 200. It still remains on that list almost 40 weeks later.

#1: MuteMath-Odd Soul: If we could journey back to the early 70's and pile Stevie Wonder, Steve Miller Band and The Jimi Hendrix Experience into a big recording studio and create one epic album, it would sound a lot like this. It's the most impressive thing I've heard in a very long time…and I'm very, very, very hard to impress.

Honorable Mentions:

Radiohead-King of Limbs
Switchfoot-Vice Verses
Wye Oak-Civilian 


Stephen McGarvey
Executive Editor - Salem Web Network

Top 10 Albums:


1) The Decemberists: The King is Dead
Best song "Down By the Water"  

2) Coldplay: Mylo Xyloto
Best song "Charlie Brown"  

3) 3 Doors Down: Time of My Life
Best song "Every Time You Go"  

4) Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Best song "Dream On"  

5) Owl City: All Things Bright and Beautiful
Best song "Dreams Don't Turn to Dust"

6) Gungor: Ghosts Upon the Earth
Best song "This is Not the End"

7) Angels & Airwaves: Love, Part 2
Best song "Surrender"

8) The Naked and the Famous: Passive Me Aggressive You
Best song "Young Blood"

9) Yellowcard: When You're Through Thinking Say Yes
Best song "Hang You Up"

10) Augustana: Augustana
Best song "Counting Stars" 


Top 10 Songs (from albums not listed above): 

1)            "Walk" : The Foo Fighters
2)            "Gimme Some" : Peter Bjorn and John
3)            "Lonely Boy" : The Black Keys
4)            "Someone Like You" : Adele
5)            "Dark Horses" : Switchfoot
6)            "Hey Mama" : Matt Kearney
7)            "It Will Rain" : Bruno Mars
8)            "Pumped Up Kicks" : Foster the People
9)            "Beautiful Trash" : Lanu
10)          "Thinking of You" : The Maine

Christa Banister
Contributing Writer

#1 The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow

While I've enjoyed interviewing Joy Williams in the past and have always liked her as a fellow human, I was never all that fond of her music. Sure, she had a pretty-enough voice, but there wasn't anything in her pop songs that ever really grabbed my attention. But as one-half of Civil Wars, that's all changed in a hurry. Maybe it's being free of a record label that's freed her up creatively or perhaps, it's finding the ideal collaborator in fellow musician John Paul White. But whatever her secret to success is, it's all working on the Civil Wars' debut, Barton Hollow. Who knew that simple vocal melodies and harmonies could be so incredibly affecting?  

#2 Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials 

That voice. Those songs. Can we say nothing short of spectacular?

#3 Switchfoot, Vice Verses 

Spiritual themes and a thoroughly rocking soundtrack coexist meaningfully yet again.

#4 Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire 

Getting back in touch with his acoustic self, not to mention saying sayonara to his vices, has done a world of good.   

#5 Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto 

Just when you thought you heard everything Coldplay was capable of, they apparently have a few more tricks in their Brit pop playbook.

Honorable Mentions:

Jill Phillips' In This Hour, Death Cab for Cutie, Codes and Keys, Feist, Metals


Glenn McCarty
Contributing Writer 

For this music lover, 2011 was the year the Internet killed the radio star. Sites like Spotify, Noise Trade, and Twitter provided access to music in unprecedented ways. Here are six albums I'll be listening to for years to come: 

Gungor, Ghosts on the Earth is remarkably rich in sonic texture and philosophical vision. The collective resembles Arcade Fire, but also invites comparisons to innovators David Crowder Band. The Decemberists' The King is Dead is a mature, thrilling mix of, rock, blues, folk and Americana, and more accessible than previous work from the band. The Civil Wars' Barton Hollow is a luscious, lovely folk/country album so mature and confident it's hard to believe it's a debut.

Gillian Welch's The Harrow and the Harvest is a bluegrass gem; feels ripped from another century. Over the Rhine's The Long Surrender benefited from Joe Henry's production, resulting in arguably the most impressive album yet from this duo. Sara Groves' Invisible Empires is full of the lovely, piano-driven meditations on life Groves has become known for, and contains my favorite lyric of 2011: "Are you and I an apparition, Flickering up on the screen, Sending out our best transmissions, Waiting in our velveteen?"  

Other great titles: Tom Waits (Bad as Me), Ryan Adams (Ashes & Fire), Paul Simon (So Beautiful or So What), Joe Henry (Reverie), Shaun Groves (Third World Symphony), Burlap to Cashmere (self-titled), Radiohead (The King of Limbs), The Hawk in Paris (His & Hers EP), Ben Shive (The Cymbal Crashing Clouds


Susan Ellingburg
Contributing Writer 

Sometimes the best new songs are the old ones—especially when one of the classic voices of our time decides to re-imagine classic songs from musical theater. Enter Sandi Patty's new Broadway Stories CD. If you're expecting a collection of nothing but big, "blow out the speakers with a high note" songs, Sandi's smooth, lazy (in a good way) rendition of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" will be a revelation. The energy kicks up a notch in the toe-tapping "Swingin' Love Medley," a track that evokes a 1940's radio broadcast. Other standout songs include the poignant "Send in the Clowns," a version of "Love is Only Love" that gives Barbra Streisand's "Dolly" a run for her money, and an irresistible "Sound of Music Medley." (Don't even try to fight the urge to sing along with that last one. Resistance is futile.) 

Noting that the best Broadway songs often go to male leads, Sandi includes medley called "A Doll Sings the Guys" that's probably my least favorite track—at least until she gets to "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables. Like any good Broadway production, the collection wraps up with a big finish, a quintessentially Sandi rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone." For us theater buffs, especially those who are also Sandi Patty fans, Broadway Stories is a must-have. 

Chad Estes
Contributing Writer

Adele, the amazing singing-songwriter from England followed her debut release 19 with the amazing compilations of songs that compiled her album 21.  

Amazingly, the female crooner covers rock, pop, country, R and B, and gospel music genres. But instead of feeling like a shotgun of styles Adele pulls the songs together with two powerful themes - heartbreak and her deep, soul-filled voice.  

None of these 11 songs want to make you rush to the marriage altar. Adele has apparently experienced some relational pain in the past couple of years. It has fueled her lyrics and inspired music anthems that resonate with anyone that has been damaged by love. However the album is far from being fatalistic about opening your heart. If anything the songs speak of self-realization, understanding, voicing the truth, and then moving forward and risking again.  

One of the reasons I loved this album so much is it made me go back and listen to 19 again to hear what was happening in Adele's life with her first album. It also makes me eager to hear what will come in the future - hopefully no later than her 23rd year. If she continues on this same path her albums will be a music reflection of her life, which is so much more enlightening than just a dozen songs put onto an album for entertainment reasons.  

21 is one of the few albums this year that my whole family agreed to keep in the rotation in our living room stereo. Whether it is the music, the themes, or Adele's amazing voice there are six people in Boise, Idaho that are huge, huge fans.  


ED Cardinal
Contributing Writer 


While some tunes rocking the Cardinal house in 2011 reflected current chart-topping realties (Adele, Lady Antebellum), given a chance to recognize five top albums from the year of the Kardashian (that received much less attention than those sisters), it goes something like this.  

Hands down, Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What proved to be an essential work of art; a legend turning 70 and still arranging easy pop melodies, poetic lyrics, and world rhythms into fresh creations that are often spiritually engaging ("The Afterlife," "Questions for the Angels").  

On a related note, Burlap to Cashmere by the long lost New York band of the same name was a nice surprise, bursting with Simon & Garfunkel influence ("Love Reclaims the Atmosphere") and passionate Greek-folk roots ("Orchestrated Love Song"); the comeback of the year.  

Switching gears, Augustana's self-titled set met the goal put forth by cool singer Daniel Layus: "to make a big, catchy American rock record" in the spirit of early Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty albums; definitely check out "Wrong Side of Love."  

On that note, Relient K Is for Karaoke was an all-out tribute to other artists where the seriously talented, often comical punk-pop group devotedly carbon copied "The Distance" by Cake and made Justin Bieber's "Baby" sound a lot less cheesy. Great fun!  

And finally, a wild card; Michael W. Smith's second instrumental project, Glory, bears witness to a remarkable melodist who could be scoring Hollywood films were he not such an in-demand pop and worship performer.  

*This article first published 12/16/2011

**Listen to the albums on Spotify