In no specific order:
Taking Back Sunday – Taking Back Sunday
I am indeed a self-proclaimed Taking Back Sunday fanboy, and when I found out the band was returning to their Tell All Your Friends-era lineup, I may have shed a tear or two (or more) of joy. It turns out, that change was precisely what the band needed. If you had the opportunity to catch them live this year, you know what I’m talking about. For a band who has been around almost a dozen years, all signs of ‘old-age’ shed with the lineup changes. For the first time in years, you can tell that Taking Back Sunday is loving every second of their time together.
Transit – Listen & Forgive
I’ll readily admit that my favorite albums came out of the 2002-2005 era of bands like The Starting Line, The Early November, Fall Out Boy, Transit, and Taking Back Sunday. Oops, did I accidentally slip Transit in there? My bad, but Listen & Forgive fits right in. I’m not saying Transit is five years late to the party. I’m saying that they’re bringing it back, and they’re doing it with style. Listen & Forgive is one of those albums that somehow stirs up nostalgia on first listen. I can’t help but feel that Transit is a reincarnation of earlier (better) times.
The Dangerous Summer – War Paint
I remember the first time I listened to The Dangerous Summer’s first album, Reach For The Sun. Trying to describe their sound to those who hadn’t heard them, I was at a loss for words. Eventually I settled with, “The Starting Line 2.0″ … as they’ve grown, I’m not sure if I feel that way anymore. Now, I describe them as, “Catchy as hell and if you don’t check them out you’re stupid.” It usually works. You would be hard pressed to find a ‘pop-punk’ (call the genre what you want, but you know what I’m talking about) band who can write songs like The Dangerous Summer. Bryan Czap and Cody Payne consistently write killer guitar riffs, Tyler Minsberg is one of the most exciting drummers I’ve seen in years, and AJ Perdomo’s lyrics and voice are refreshing in a sea of unoriginality. War Paint is an album filled with standout songs, to the point of making nothing stand out besides the album itself. Dear every other band; take notes. And if you haven’t listened to War Paint yet, check it out, because it’s catchy as hell and if you don’t check it out, you’re stupid.
States – Room To Run
To anyone who doubted Mindy White, and the Laurenson brothers; sucks to be you. To say they proved you wrong this year would probably be an understatement. If anybody deserves to say, “I told you so,” it’s this band. Room To Run cemented the fact that White (ex-Lydia) and the rest of the ex-Copeland members can make wonderful music without their previous groups. White has bloomed into a strong front-woman, who finally has the opportunity to show what she’s made of. Room To Run is an indie pop piece of art, and just the first step for a talented group of individuals.
Lydia – Paint It Golden
Speaking of Lydia, they were one band who blessed us with a ‘reunion’ effort this year. After a hectic 2010 plagued by member changes and concluding with a breakup, Lydia appeared done. Drummer Craig Taylor and singer Leighton Antelman remained the sole members of the band. After planning on releasing music under a different name, the duo decided to put out a new album under the Lydia name, and announced this plan earlier this year. By October, the two released Paint It Golden, the first new Lydia material since 2008′s acclaimed Illuminate that put the band on the map in a huge way. The new album proves that Antelman and Taylor were perfectly capable of continuing Lydia’s legacy on their own. Paint It Golden is a delicate and beautiful album, filled with songs that could make you drift away into some fantasy land. And I love it.
Eisley – The Valley
Now that you’ve listened to Lydia, take that sound, throw in female vocals, replace the slight electronic sound with a more orchestral tinge, toss in a dash of “umph” and then pretend you’re in a fairy-tale. Perfect. Now, welcome to Eisley’s The Valley, please enjoy your stay. The brothers and sisters Dupree know how to make pretty music. A number of tracks pack a bit more of a punch than what Eisley’s crafted in the past, but in an endearing fashion. Eisley’s signature floaty, piano and acoustic-driven sound remains prominent. The Valley is a beautifully detailed, haunting, and lovingly crafted album that deserves a loud listen through your best headphones while staring out your window longingly on a rainy day. Trust me on this one.
The Cinema – My Blood Is Full of Airplanes
Leighton Antelman fronted bands automatically get a spot on my top ten, so here’s the second (and last) on the list. Antelman and producer-powerhouse Matt Malpass formed The Cinema as something of an outlet for more electronic driven songs they created together. My Blood Is Full of Airplanes combines some of the best elements of Antelman’s Lydia influences on an electronic foundation. The two mix incredibly well. I have trouble explaining what The Cinema sounds like, so you just have to go listen for yourself.
The Story So Far – Under Soil & Dirt
This is the band I’ve been waiting for. The Story So Far has managed to write upbeat new-wave pop-punk songs that they can (and do) play to 50 kids in packed basement house shows, but are also incredibly appealing to mainstream listeners. They might look like a bunch of punk kids, but I’ll be damned if they don’t know what they’re doing. These guys have what it takes. Under Soil & Dirt is the bands first full-length, and a strong effort at that. “Roam” is one of my favorite songs of 2011, and “Mt. Diablo” isn’t far behind. Neither is “Quicksand.” It’s too early to tell, but I hope that a few years from now, Under Soil & Dirt is going to be The Story So Far’s Tell All Your Friends or Say It Like You Mean It. Only time will tell. Oh, and as far as bands named after New Found Glory songs go, this one is my favorite.
Thrice – Major/Minor
Like everyone else, I’m going to miss Thrice in a major (not a pun … okay, kind of a pun) way. Thrice braved the industry for a dozen years, and has weathered all the ups and downs of it. Major/Minor is another outstanding effort by a band that is going to be missed dearly. There aren’t many bands who can exemplify progression the same way Thrice has over the years. They’ve left their mark, and Major/Minor is just the next high note in their career, and unfortunately the one that they leave us on.
Saves The Day – Daybreak
Daybreak is the final piece of Saves The Day’s trilogy consisting of their last three albums. And it is really, really good. As another band who has paid their dues and helped invent the music that exists today, Saves The Day continues to impress. Daybreak is versatile and packed with emotion. As a longtime Saves The Day fan, I could not ask for more. Chris Conley and crew know how to put together one hell of an album, and have done it time and time again. Daybreak is no exception.
blink-182 – Neighborhoods
Though this is the part where my top 10 turns into top 10-ish, there was no way I was leaving Neighborhoods out. I mean, it’s blink-182. The first new album brought to us by Travis, Mark, and Tom was definitely influenced by what the trio has been doing since the band went on hiatus six long years ago, but remains a blink-182 album nonetheless. I could write 5,000 words about how I wouldn’t be where I am today without blink, and how much I missed them, but I’ll keep it short; I’m glad they’re back. Neighborhoods is great.