Mike Baron’s Top Ten Of ’11

Posted on 07 December 2011

TOP TEN  ’11


The time has come, the Walrus said, to speak of many things.  Of Shoes and Pips and Basement Tapes, and the best power pop records of the year.  Forgive me if I repeat myself, but 2011 was a great year for pop music ALTHOUGH YOU WOULD NEVER KNOW IT FROM THE TRADITIONAL MEDIA!

The first six months saw the release of most of the best albums while some of my favorites have already recorded next year’s contenders, but won’t release them until ’12.  These heavy hitters include The Foreign Films, Explorers Club, and Bryan Scary.


One:  Marco Joachim, Hidden SymphoniesHidden Symphonies is a pop masterpiece that achieves a Sgt. Pepper-like grandeur through constant melodic and textural invention.  “Gramercy Park” is as memorable as anything the Beatles achieved in later years.  “Cellophane Sue” is an obvious goof on “Polythene Pam” and a solid hit in its own right.  Marco is immeasurably aided by producer/guitarist Jon Gordon whose epic guitar is all over these tracks.



Two:  Cirrone: Uplands Park Road.  These Sicilian brothers (with Ferdinando Piccoli on drums) reinvent the modern pop song drawing on the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Big Star, the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Hollies, the Zombies and every other great power popper, but they have a unique sound built around three-part harmonies and Alessandro’s and Mirko’s thrilling guitar work.  Don’t believe perfection is unobtainable.  Listen to this record.




Three:  Supraluxe: The Super Sounds of Supraluxe.  The Twin Cities-based trio don’t sound like a trio due to the density of each member’s contribution.  Every song burrows into your skull and contains a surprising but logical development.  “Lester Bangs” pays tribute to the late writer (who once slept in my bed) with a rockin’ raver.  “Sunday’s Not So Bad” should put-paid to “Easy Like Sunday Morning” once and for all.




Four:  Bookends: Proud Of My Stereo.  Silly name for an album of sweeping grandeur and emotional range.  Like Supraluxe, this Finnish trio casts a spell out of all proportion to their size.  The songs by Lauri Leskinen and Ville Terila shun Brill Bdlg. conventions in favor of an experimental melodic palette reminiscent of XTC.  “Shaking Off the Mantra” has more melodic invention than whole albums by other groups.




Five:  The Secret Powers: What Every Rose Grower Should Know.  Mad pop experimentalism along the lines of Yes and XTC yields TSP’s best record yet.  The title track in particular is pop rococo, each change-up sucking you deeper into the experience.  And has there been a better animals song than “Tarantula?”  Or a better Ennio Morricone/Sergio Leone riff than “The Desert?”




Six:  The Turnback: Drawn in Chalk.  Another trio with an enormous sound, The Turnback absorbs every great power pop trope of the past forty years and feeds them back fresh.  Echoes of the Beatles, Moby Grape, The Cars, the Plimsouls and you name it find their way into the songs which emerge totally fresh.  The record serves as a partial soundtrack to singer/songwriter/actor Todd Giglio’s gut-wrenching film of the same name, which asks the question, When do you give up on your dream of being an artist and face the real world?  But not all these great songs appear in the movie.  More about the movie later but in the meantime this is a must-have.


Seven:  Radio Days: C’est La Vie.  Like the Turnback, this Italian quartet has absorbed every power pop trope and turned them into something unique, with stunning harmonies, more hooks than a Russian trawler, and Omar Assadi’s massive guitar to which he frequently adds a lounge-like coda, like a drop of black paint in a bucket of white that ultimately results in the paint appearing even whiter.  “Dirty Tricks” with its stop and go rhythm is a dirty trick on the listener as you want the song to go on forever.



Eight:  Meyerman: Who Do You Think You Are?  Gotta love a power pop pioneer who wears his heart on his sleeve.  Theo Mayer’s quartet, with guitar monster Mike Eckhart, worships at the Fountains of Wayne, the Move, and Ed James, whose “Welcome to the Show” is a predecessor to Meyerman’s “Intro/Tonight” and “Permission to Rock You,” a one-two punch that will leave you reeling and gasping for more.



Nine:  Kelly’s Heels: Playing Into Your Hands.  Another trio with an enormous sound because they all sing.  Bob Kelly’s songs are reminiscent of the Mamas and the Papas and their greatest acolytes, Marmalade Souls.  That is, these are songs of sweeping emotion, brilliant hooks and unending musicality.




Ten:  Kensington: Borders.  This Dutch quartet sounds like a cross between Field Music and the Byrds with great jangle and Everly Brothers harmonies courtesy of the two guitar slingers, Casper Starreveld and Eloi Youssef.  Youssef has a unique guitar style that sounds almost pizzicato.

28 Responses to “Mike Baron’s Top Ten Of ’11”

  1. Andrew Curry says:

    I, too, loved the Secret Powers and Meyerman discs. I’ve got the Cirrone record, and I’m really looking forward to digging in to it. The others are now on my “Must Get” list.

    Of this year’s releases, I also loved Mike Viola’s Electro de Perfecto, Fountains of Wayne’s Sky Full Of Holes, The Davenports’ Why The Great Gallop, Title Tracks’ In Blank (despite the mono production), and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, The Bangles’ Sweetheart Of The Sun, which edges out The Smithereens’ 2011 as comeback of the year.

  2. Mirko Cirrone says:

    honoured to be in the best top ten here!!

  3. dudeman says:

    Make sure you all go the SURPRISE BOX area – CIRRONE has graciously offered their latest, newest song, which is a Christmas song(!) for Pop Pioneers to download and enjoy! 😀

  4. Shawn Pelata says:

    Nice list…I shall use it as a shopping list!

  5. Theo Meyer says:

    Holy Sh** . Thank You, Mike!!! That’s truly awesome.

  6. Tony Shore says:

    Great list Mike! The best 2011 list I’ve seen! I want to put Marco Joachim on my year end list but this one actually came out in 2010. It was released in December of last year. We all probably have different rules for our lists but I have always kept it to releases that officially come out during the calendar year. Although this year I might make an exception for this one since it was so late last year.

  7. Mike Baron says:

    Thanks, Tony. Marco was new to me this year. If a disc comes out late in December and misses the list, I bump it onto next year’s which I’m doing with The Cry!

  8. omar assadi says:

    Thank you for putting us in the list! Never heard Cirrone Band before! Cool to find a cool italian band here at popgeek 😉

  9. Angelo Mavino says:

    If I’m not wrong, also the Radio Days cd is from 2010 (@ omar assadi: also Radio Days are from Italy… seems that there are a lot of cool bands from the boot shaped country in the last years…).

    BTW, The Meyerman CD is fantastic!

  10. bertrand ricard says:

    i really love army navy also and pugwash, mike zuniga, a great year for power pop
    best wishes from france

  11. tyler blue says:

    As Far As Yesterday Goes/ The Red Button: easily the best pop record of the year.

  12. Bruce Brown says:

    Please – I beg you! Give us LINKS to how to buy these albums! Love your blather but I’d rather hear for myself!

  13. Bruce Brown says:

    Well, after two frustrating hours of surfing the net, and attempted orders at three different Finnish web stores, I scored a big goose-egg on Bookends. Although I did manage to get one free mp3 from a Finnish music blog. So, thanks for the tip about the band. A big raspberry for providing NO info on how to get their music.

  14. Bruce Brown says:

    Was finally able to an order placed for Bookends through a Helsinki shop. Probably won’t know until Monday if they still have it in stock, but at least it was showing on the web site and the order went through. With shipping, came out to about $22/U.S. Not entirely outrageous, but all the hassle sure made me miss Not Lame!

  15. Mike Baron says:

    Bruce–I feel your pain. I got the disc from Bruce–they sent it to him. Have you contacted the label?

    • Bruce Brown says:

      Nope, as I said, I finally got it through a store in Helsinki. No response from a question left on the band’s Facebook page. The label page doesn’t list the band or album and the Geocities address is defunct.

  16. Dave Ambrose says:

    Throwing in a +1 for the Secret Powers – a great CD!
    Thanks for the list Mike.

  17. Katy Wild says:

    As a fan of Kelly’s Heels wanted to let you know you can buy the album from CD Baby, Kool Kat Musik, as well as iTunes etc. Give it a try ….

  18. Bruce Brown says:

    Mike B. Much to my astonishment, I got the Bookends CD from Finland today. Less than a week is faster than I’ve ever gotten anything from the U.K.!

  19. jorge caruana says:

    cirrone record is great!..like Fountains of Wayne’s Sky Full Of Holes

  20. Todd Goetz says:

    Yes, the Cirrone release sounds very tasty indeed. I echo warm sentiments regarding Fountains of Wayne’s Sky Full of Holes, my fave cut has to be A Road Song. I’m a bit dissapointed so far in the Mike Viola release but maybe I just need to listen to it more. My fave release of 2011 though has to be The Kooks “Junk of the Heart” – hands down my favorite band these days. 🙂

  21. thomas bickel says:

    LOVE Meyerman…a jangly album with wry lyric about life for bands that make jangly albums…

  22. Mark Haggard says:

    Many thanks for this list! With the demise of Not Lame, I missed all of these.