California English: 10 Favorite Albums of 2011, Part I

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The albums below represent those that I enjoyed most and listened to most frequently this past year. I found that each album could be listened to without skipping a track. The songs featured provided inspiration, happiness, insight into life, etc. Overall, 2011 was an incredible time for the discovery of new and phenomenal music. As this finals period begins, I hope these tunes can act as a stress-relief or stellar soundtrack to ground-breaking study sessions and paper writing.

10. The Gromble by The Gromble
I first learned of The Gromble from my cousin Cody, who is best friends with the band’s lead guitarist, Steven Lindenfelser. Cody sent me a text message back in July encouraging me to check out his friend Steven’s band and I was pleasantly surprised with the solid tunes I found on this album. The Gromble’s popularity has quickly grown from their hometown of Laguna Niguel, CA to the greater Orange County area. I feel that this band has the necessary talent to become a NATIONWIDE phenomenon. Their name alone is awesome, borrowed from a character on the Nickelodeon TV show Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. I downloaded their debut, self-titled EP in August and listened to it everyday for about a month straight! The instrumentation is well polished and the singer’s voice is unique and engaging, complete with intriguing song lyrics about young love and relationships. One of the highlights from The Gromble’s debut CD is “Carolina,” which you can enjoy here. The chorus is extremely catchy and I love everything from the gorgeous electric guitar parts to the handclaps.

9. Cults by Cults
This New York City based indie pop duo has had a unique rise into the music spotlight this past year. In the winter of 2010, Cults posted a few songs to their Bandcamp page, but offered up no other background info. Cults have come a long way since receiving “Best New Track” honors from Pitchfork for their first single, “Go Outside,” back in March 2010, having released their debut self-titled in June of 2011 and extensively toured all over the globe (I actually had the pleasure of seeing them in concert twice). Put simply, when you listen to the catchy tunes on this CD, you are taken back to the 1960s on a beach in Southern California where the documentary Endless Summer is being filmed.

8. The King Is Dead by The Decemberists
Past CD releases for The Decemberists have been hit-or-miss for me, but Colin Meloy and his band of Portlanders hit their stride on The King Is Dead. The band opted for a folk-Americana sound complete with harmonica and accordion, resulting in the band’s most organic and best set of songs yet. The cherry on top is the backing vocals of American bluegrass star, Gillian Welch, on seven of the tracks, including “Down by the Water.”

7. In Light by Givers
I have been a big fan of Givers, an indie pop band from Lafayette, Louisiana, since the release of their EP in 2009. The release of their first full-length CD, In Light, came at the perfect time to accompany the easy and breezy mood of the summer months of 2011. Some highlights from the CD include “Up Up Up,” an extremely catchy and uplifting tune, which will most definitely inspire you to get up from your cubicle in McCabe and dance. Another track, “Meantime,” builds slowly and eventually takes you on a ride down a golden rainbow slide. The rest of In Light is just as stellar, so be sure to give your ears a listen to the other Givers gems.

6. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
After the release of their highly regarded debut album in 2008, Fleet Foxes had extremely high expectations to meet for their sophomore follow-up. Boy, did they step up to the challenge. The gorgeous, orchestral sounds of the Portland, Oregon group reign supreme on their second LP, Helplessness Blues. The anthems appropriately suited my beach bum mindset when I was home on vacation in San Diego at the beginning of May. In addition, as I settled into my summer living situation at UPenn, the album took a suddenly new form. It melded with the buzzing concrete jungle of Philadelphia that I experienced on a daily basis. You can listen to the title track here. It begins simply with beautifully strummed acoustic guitar, followed by the inspiring voice of Robin Pecknold, and eventually leading to an uplifting ballad flooded with vocal harmony. This tune, in addition to such gems as “Battery Kinzie” and “Grown Ocean,” will definitely blow your burly Pecknold-esque beard back.


Some background on myself: I am a huge music aficionado and frequently go to concerts in Philadelphia and back home in Southern California. For example, I went to 4 concerts in a 7 day period at one point this semester (and yes, I still got all of my work finished on-time)! I sing constantly and was given the nickname of “The Human Jukebox” back in high school because I knew the lyrics to so many songs. I am passionate about discovering up-and-coming bands and hearing incredible new tunes. Most of all, I love being able to share great music with those around me.


    • OK, I’ll take the bait.

      My top 10 (rock) albums, in no particular order:

      Wild Flag – Wild Flag
      Wilco – The Whole Love
      St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
      Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Mirror Traffic
      Russian Circles – Empros
      M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
      tUnE-yArDs – WHOKILL
      The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
      Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
      Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
      The Antlers – Burst Apart

      Hon. Mention:

      Destroyer – Kaputt
      Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil
      TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
      The Horrors – Skying
      The Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

      • Excellent selections Professor Paley! I look forward to witnessing your excellent music taste in person when I take your Orgo II class next fall.

  1. Organicchemlover: Coincidentally, I will be taking Organic Chemistry II with Professor Paley next fall, so I guess our music tastes will go head to head at that time. I’ll let you make the call!

  2. Right now, I recommend Professor Paley’s music as study music. I probably should not put this as a competition between the two of you, I enjoyed all of the selections!


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