I've been threatening to put fingers-to-keyboard in order to summarize my favorites of 2011 so far, and here it is. I've grouped them in bunches that make sense to me and hopefully, my explanation will bear out why that's so. With the exception of the first three, I'll make no claim to any kind of ascending order. I think it's been a pretty good, just short of great year. How about you?
The Unimpeachable Top
Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
Yuck - YuckLindi Ortega - Little Red Boots
Calvi's been on top literally from the start. She has a style and a persona that will likely make me a lifelong fan, much like an artist down the list with whom she's oft compared to. Yuck's simply made a record that sounds like a collection of singles. I dig its cohesion. And maybe it's my coming up on two years in Texas but I've gotten a bit more receptive to tha twang, which Ortega's got in abundance. She's major label talent - signed to Interscope at one time - one can presume they didn't know what to do with her. It's an indie country-pop album: lots of catchy tunes with a li'l bit of sass.
And Then There's...
Braids - Native Speaker
SBTRKT - SBTRKT
Braids does dream pop. No big whoop in the present landscape but a heavy Cocteau Twins influence sets 'em apart from the pack and into my heart. Check back with me in December to see if SBTRKT turns out to be more than a fleeting crush, which it currently is. My guess is yes: a clubbier version of the James Blake/Jamie Woon debuts, if you will.
Cults - Cults
The Globes - Future Self
Iceage - New Brigade
Rumer - Seasons Of My Soul
Washed Out - Within and Without
The Weeknd - House Of Balloons
Those with a low tolerance for sugar should steer clear of the Cults disc, even though it personifies summertime indie pop v.2011. I thought Barsuk would've given The Globes a bit more of a push. Released in May, reviews have been scarce. They have a slightly prog, quiet-loud-quiet sound that on occasion, reminds me a bit of the Dismemberment Plan. Shamefully being slept upon. OTOH, Iceage (You go, Denmark!) seem to have been anointed as the saviors of Class of '77 punk rock, and why not? They've got the genre all to themselves and thankfully, they've also got the chops. A welcome kick in rear at a time when most seem content to chill; wave. The debut from Rumer, not out in the US until September, takes me back to a safe place: childhood. 70's style soft rock, Karen Carpenter smooth. A little Dusty without quite the soul. A palate cleanser. But if you must do the chill, wave; you'd be hard pressed to do better than Washed Out's debut. When you look back at what 2011 sounded like, you might point to this disc as Exhibit A. The Weeknd disc seemed to arrive from nowhere (can this really be the third Canadian act so far? Beauty.) It's dubstep, neo-soul, trip hop and witch house all in one sitting. So cool it's, um, chill.
The Feelies - Here Before
Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Radiohead - The King Of LimbsThe Radio Dept. - Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010
The freakin' Feelies! Please don't stay gone 20 years next time, k? Folks, this is how you make jangle pop and honestly, I hope Stipe, Buck & Mills hear this and decide hang their shit up. Y'know, I finally saw Mogwai live and my brains didn't bleed out of my ears. Not even once. Truth is, anyone can play it loud these days but their pretty is better than most everyone else's pretty, and Hardcore was best when it was pretty. PJ, my love, you've bored me for a decade and while conceptually, you had this one down, I still wasn't blown away. I still respect you in the morning and all but I can't stop looking at Anna cuz, girl, she done studied you up. Radiohead showed up one day, let everyone download their latest, then asked if we were happy and told us not to bother them again until after Phil releases a few more albums. Radio Dept. put out the one compilation everyone should have. Listen to it and wonder why they don't have Casey Anthony's lawyer suing all of these bands who're doing the chill; wave. Because they should.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See
Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light
I kinda like where Alex Turner's going, primarily because he doesn't care what you think. Dude's doing it on his terms. Much respect. What makes me a bit sad about Elbow is the realization is that (like Doves), they're probably never gonna do what it takes to make it in the States. Whether it's writing the song or not touring here like they've got a cab waiting and the meter running. Truth is, that like EU politicos, they simply don't need to dick with the Home of the Brave in order to make coin anymore. Just ain't gonna happen, unless Coldplay handpicks them to open every date on the inevitable 100 city US tour; and then 'maybe'. Fleet Foxes: not as pretty as their first, but a solid listen. Just not a band I can get excited about. Would've liked Tunde to rock me a bit more but in any event, TVOTR just may be the best US band of the last 7 years or so. Agree?
There are hundreds of bands from Austin. Here are 3 of them:
Ringo Deathstarr - Colour Trip
Not In The Face - Bikini
Shapes Have Fangs - Dinner In The Dark
There's very little that's original on Colour Trip, right down to the British spelling which outs them as pretentious Euro wannabies to most Tea Party types. Did I mention originality is overrated? Especially if it's in a style I like. I mean, some guy told me once he could never like Arctic Monkeys because he already had Green Day and that's all he needed in that 'punk' style. He was lame, RD is not. Not In The Face (BEST NAME EVER) have the two guys, Black Keys thing going but if Dan Auerbach was Paul Westerberg. Bikini is barroom ready, a record to drink Lone Star to if I ever heard one. You know what's lo-fi about Shapes Have Fangs? Everything. A greasy, grimy, sloppy little Texas psych punk record. Very little in the way of pretension; never mind that it first came out on cassette. It's worth owning.
Everybody sing! "We like American Music.."
Mount Moriah - Mount Moriah
Other Lives - Tamer Animals
Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'David Wax Museum - Everything Is Saved
If Dolly Parton was an indie chick, she'd probably sound like Heather McEntire from Mount Moriah. Their debut is soulful Americana with a spring in its step. They're from North Carolina. Other Lives is from Oklahoma, just like The Flaming Lips, but sound nothing like them. Not even a smidge. And their 2nd album has so much orchestration on it that it's safe to assume that a few of the band members might be from somewhere else or have actually left the state on occasion. (I keed!) Saadiq is a smooth cat. He's got soul and gets major props for pulling in Yukimi from Little Dragon on a cut. Robert Randolph, too. Your parents would like it. David Wax's name is really David Wax. Thankfully it's not David Wax Jr. Jr.. Anyway, he spent a lot of time in Mexico and that's deeply influenced this little self-released record that's earned good notices but precious little in the way of buzz. Damn hippies.
...and then there's these:
James Blake - James Blake
Conquering Animal Sound - Kammerspiel
The Phoenix Foundation - Buffalo
Young Prisms - Friends For Now
Younger Brother - Vaccine
WU LYF - Tell Fire To The Mountain
Let's see: Blake, Younger Brother and WU LYF are English, Conquering Animal Sound is Scottish, The Phoenix Foundation are Kiwis, and Young Prisms are from San Francisco, which is equally as foreign in the eyes of most Americans. All have released CD's in the first half of 2011 worth investigating. And so say all of me.