Alex Biese is a busy man. As well as reporting on the Asbury Park music scene for the Asbury Park Press and Metromix sites, Biese, a solo Americana artist, is in the midst of recording his debut EP, The Anchor & Hope EP, and prepping for a show on January 15th at The Court Tavern with The O>Matics, and Calamity Menagerie. Thankfully, the artist was able to take some time to pen a list of his favorite albums of 2011.
10. Dancing Backward in High Heels by New York Dolls
Don’t let the name on the disc fool you — this isn’t a New York Dolls album, not really. The band’s two remaining original members, David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain, may still record under that name, but fans of “Personality Crisis” and “Trash’ are in for a shock with this one — the blues and girl group roots that were always behind the band’s sound are now in the forefront, while the punk tendencies have basically been phased out entirely. The resulting record is soulful, quiet and incredibly revealing. It’s a great album, no matter what the band is calling itself these days.
9. Nothing is Wrong by Dawes
Remember how a few years ago every band was showing the world their best Bruce Springsteen impression? Well, if “Nothing is Wrong” is any indication, the Boss had better make way for the Pretender — Dawes seems hell-bound to record the best album Jackson Browne never made, and the resulting LP is like a warm blanket for lovers of folksy-leaning ’70s rock. (The fact that Browne shows up for some guest vocals on one of the album’s best cuts, “Fire Away,” doesn’t hurt.)
8. Bon Iver by Bon Iver
This album was probably the year’s biggest surprise for me. Bon Iver got a lot of folks’ attention a few years back with his quiet and folksy debut, but on this record his takes the sonic building blocks of ’80s station wagon pop (sweet sax, plenty of synths, reverb-heavy drums) and constructs a weirdly brilliant stunner.
7. Live at the Royal Albert Hall by Adele
She had the biggest-selling of the year with “21,” but Adele has never sounded as brilliant as she does on this live record. She segues so effortlessly from working class NSFW banter to stunning vocals that it left my jaw on the floor.
6. Bad Ingredients by Scott H. Biram
The perfect bluesman for the 21st century, Biram combines sweet country, hardcore, metal and dirty delta blues into a style that’s entirely his own. Long a force to be reckoned with live, “Bad Ingredients” is his best studio album yet.
5. Artificial Heart by Jonathan Coulton
This geek-friendly singer/songwriter is probably best known for “Still Alive” and “Want You Gone,” the tracks he wrote for the smash hit video games “Portal” and “Portal 2,” respectively. Both those tracks are here, along with 16 other smart and unbelievably catchy power pop gems that touch on topics as wide-ranging as married life, mustaches, local news anchors and Rick Springfield.
4. We Can Take Care of Ourselves by Roadside Graves
Jersey’s roots rock kings take on S.E. Hinton, and we all win. This concept album inspired by “The Outsiders” should be required listening — it’s a sophisticated, mature and quietly stunning work by a band that consistently blows minds and breaks hearts. Cheers.
3. 13 Chambers by Wugazi
This mash-up of Fugazi instrumentation and Wu-Tang vocals is damned genius. Ian McKaye and the RZA working together in perfect digital harmony. Believe it.
2. Bad As Me by Tom Waits
Welcome back, Uncle Tom, it’s been far too long. Rock’s great carnival barker returns in a big way with this record that finds him at his bluesy rock best. Yes, the album is a little restrained by his standards, and I could have done with a bit more of the good old weirdness, but the songs are too brilliant to deny — in fact, there’s at least two tunes here (“Last Leaf” and “Hell Broke Luce”) that would make my list of all time favorite Waits tracks.
1. Go-Go Boots by Drive-By Truckers
Hands down, the album I listened to most this year. The music is a mind-blowing gumbo of country, soul and dirty southern rock, all of it driving the best lyrics I’ve heard all year. Every track is a master-class in songwriting and musicianship. This will leave you stomping your foot, slapping your knee and with a tear in your beer. And, now that bassist/singer/songwriter Shonna Tucker has left the band, it’s a feat that will likely never be repeated.