Rocks Off Lists Our Favorite Downloads of 2011

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It's getting to be that time of year, when the temperature drops and the lists start rolling in. Read any blog, magazine or newspaper and you're bound to run across at least a handfull of year-end lists, particularly when it comes to music. We all like to talk about the stuff we like. It's just what we do and Rocks Off is not very different.

This year, we added a slightly different twist to our list gathering efforts. We asked our writers to tell us what their favorite records were -- national and local combined as we'll have a local rundown next week -- but the stipulation was they had to be downloads and they had to be purchased. Not only are we geek friendly, we're pirate free! Oh, and the music didn't have to come from this year. If someone downloaded a great record from 10 years ago for the first time this year, so be it.

Our writers didn't disappoint running down a list filled with diversity. We're certain you had a lot of different choices as well. Leave them in the comments.

Craig Hlavaty

I bought Guns N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction for the fourth time in 24 years in 2011, and it was well worth it. There was a point this summer when new release after new release, local and national, would come across my desk or in my email, and none of them could shake them Gunners boys off. This either means that I was in a critical butt-rock rut or shit really does suck in 2011, and an album that is older than most artists on the Billboard 200 slays everything else.

I am inclined to think that it is the modern music that indeed sucketh. This album finally blew out the speakers in my car about an hour after buying it, necessitating a trip to Best Buy for an expensive trip to the car stereo department. God bless you Axl, Duff, Slash, Izzy, and Steven. I ain't even mad.

Jeff Balke

I often use my "purchased" folder in iTunes and my digital orders on Amazon as a marker for what I was into in a given year, so it was easy for me to glance through those lists and find my favorites. First up was Trouble in Mind from Hayes Carll. The 2007 release was my introduction to the Houston-born songwriter and I was sold at track one. "I Got a Gig" basically sums up the totality of my many gigs around Houston over the last 25 years.

After that, it has to be Wasting Light from the Foo Fighters. I'm a fan of the Foos and consider them the best straight up rock band out there. Wasting Light is everything you'd expect from them. Dave Grohl said in an interview that they wanted the songs on the record to have huge hooks, so much so that they would write one hook and then write another bigger one to follow it. Mission accomplished, Dave.

Neph Basedow

While my top choices for favorite musical purchases of 2011 were decided with relative ease, it's necessary to note how many quality albums were released in 2011. Albums by Fucked Up, Generationals, Beirut, Those Darlins, Kurt Vile, St. Vincent, Real Estate, and the Decemberists all weighed in my decision. It was a good year for music, indeed.

PJ Harvey, Let England Shake: Though a lot of free music comes our way, I will always support and purchase my favorite artists' releases, and Miss Harvey is no exception. Let England Shake is a stark collection of heavy imagery of violent war as much as it is an homage to Harvey's English homeland. It is my favorite album of 2011, so I clearly consider it a purchase well made.

Yuck, Yuck: I was introduced to these shoegazing Brits when they opened for Smith Westerns in February, and thankfully so. Their self-titled debut is a modern take on that '90s guitar-driven grunge I love so dearly. The guitar tones on this record are flawless. With palpable influences like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr., it's no surprise I consider this a very wise purchase.

Charne Graham

The best download purchase I made this year was Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne. It was also one of the most anticipated albums of the year for me as well. The download was available digitally at midnight on August 8, which was coincidently my 23rd birthday.

I previewed the album first while I pouring my birthday champagne and then purchased it to ring in another awesome year of life. Watch the Throne was every bit of greatness I'd expect from Jigga and Kanye West. I played the album back to back for a week straight and I heard it everywhere I went.

Jef with One F

This year two of my favorite musicians released new albums after long delays, and both of them were worth plunking down money to download. The first was Peter Murphy's Ninth. We got to see cuts from the record live at one of the few successful Mike Kelley shows at Numbers, and you would not believe the power and energy that Murphy can still deliver, particularly with material that has more pop energy than anything since Deep. The master of all that is goth remains that. Now if we could only get him to do a full studio album with Trent Reznor.

This year we also got the latest and possibly last album from Houston's reining goth electronica act Asmodeus X. The Bright Ones continues the evolution into a higher ethereal plane that they've been charting across all four albums. Life has gotten hectic for Paul Fredric and Brad Marshall, the last two remaining members, and Fredric has indicated that continuing to perform and release just may not be possible. Then again, we've known Fritzi a long time, and all it takes is one good book about space or Satan to send him and Marshall off on a grand adventure. The Bright Ones may be the best thing Asmodeus X has ever done, hopefully it won't be the last.

Matthew Keever

I can't even remember how much music I bought this year, but off the top of my head, I can think of three albums that pleasantly surprised me: Manchester Orchestra's Simple Math, Nico Vega's self-titled album, Drake's Take Care and Yelawolf's Radioactive. Simple Math seemed to be a mixture of everything I've come to love about Manchester Orchestra. The sincerity of Andy Hull's whining vocal lines stands tall above the ever-changing music he and the rest of his band play on this lyrically-driven album. I knew the album was going to be good, but it surpassed my already high expectations, and I still listen to it regularly.

On Nico Vega, Aja Volkman's vocals refused to be pigeonholed. She screeches above heavy, bluesy guitar riffs and pulse-pounding drumbeats, but she'll coo in your ears alongside an acoustic guitar, too. Take Care may be an overly dramatic tale of coming of age, recurring mistakes, too much booze, too many women and attempting to remember where you came from without losing sight of where you're going, but Drake tells it so well, and it's both a story we can all relate to on some level and an interesting way to tell it. Yelawolf's Radioactive is still digesting in our subconscious, but I've heard it enough to know that lyrically the album is solid, and the backing beats are varied enough that it's clear to me that Eminem's newest protege is trying to keep his options open as an artist, and there's more to his music than one might think on first listen.

Adam P. Newton

Thora Vukk - Robag Wruhme Space Is Only Noise - Nicolas Jaar

The older I get, the more I'm interested in exploring left-of-center, minimalist electronic music. Sure, I still listen to my fair share of indie, folk, punk, rock, and hip-hop, but I find the aural soundscapes created by artists of this nature so extremely compelling. This isn't the sort of music you blast over your speakers -- you need to invest in an excellent set of headphones in order to hear and grasp all of the tones and shades present on these records.

Marco Torres

I first learned about Los Tigres Del Norte's MTV Unpluggedalbum while I was in line for tacos on a warm Sunday morning at Taqueria Laredo. The owner is known to blast DVD's of Mexican music for his guests. I looked up from my breakfast and saw Paulina Rubio singing "Golpes En El Corazon," her voice both spicy and smooth, just like my tomatillo salsa. Also included on this collaboration are Colombian rocker Juanes, Rage Against The Machine's Zack de la Rocha (singing in Spanish!), and Residente from the group Calle 13. Los Tigres are one of my favorite musical groups of all time, and hearing the remixed versions of their classics makes this album my favorite of the year.

I took my 2 year old niece to see the new Muppets movie over Thanksgiving break. We were both excited, albeit for different reasons. What surprised me was how much she loved the soundtrack, and how quickly she learned all of the catchy songs, especially Kermit The Frog's "Pictures In My Head". A mix of old and new Muppets songs makes this one a fun album for kids and adults alike.

Allison Wagoner

Buying music is a big part of what keeps musicians and their content alive and spawning. The writers for Rocks Off probably spend more money on music than clothes.

With that being said, even "music journalists" with old school integrity bootleg an album from time to time. It's hard not to, even if we fully intend on purchasing the record after our next paycheck.

One group that got some of my money when they requested it was Das Racist. I pre-ordered and purchased their first album, Relax. However, I also bootlegged it immediately afterwards so that I could listen before I got what I paid for. They understand. I appreciate the fact that they gave away their first two mixtapes, even though the first was more of a joke than an earnest pursuit into the world of hip-hop.

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