We’re not really sure why (need for updated content? lack of anything in the way of worthwhile ideas from their editorial staff? an obsession with lists?), but it seems like various online outlets are publishing their ‘best bands’ lists (are there really 40 great new acts this year Stereogum?) and the best of the first 9 months of 2011 just seconds after a best of the first half of the year… So, what the hell, that seems like a reason to chime in with some of what we see as the cooler musical moments to date (since we flaked on a mid-year summation), especially as some of the ‘best of’ ratings are populated with a fair share of clunkers (EMA, tUnE-YarDs we’re looking at you), some that have been much covered but have generated medicore sales and others that we have to disqualify just because (The Head and the Heart really came out in 2010 more than once, and well, there was this too…) So drumroll please… a few of the musical bright spots of the year to date…
Cass McCombs “County Line” (Domino) – quite possibly the track of the year, and McCombs’ finest moment to date. The full length, Wit’s End, is his best yet, though peppered with a couple of jarring moments foiling any aspirations for album of the year (but then, there are more than a few other records in 2011 that seem to suffer from the same affliction)
Middle Brother Middle Brother (Partisan) – a ‘super group’ of sorts, but one that may well be greater than the sum of its parts. Dare we drag up the ‘alt country’ tag, but this trio from Dawes, Deer Tick and the Delta Spirit made an album full of sublime originals (exemplified by the rather superb “Wilderness”) and a rather great Replacements cover (Portland) which will warm the cockles of any Whiskeytown or Ryan Adams fan’s heart.
The Kills Blood Pressures (Domino) – Rock’n'roll at its finest. Guitars and more guitars. A cheap drum machine. And one of the sexiest and most engaging vocalists out there. What else do you need?
Caitlin Rose Own Side Now (Theory 8) – An album that is charming, full of personality and brimming with well crafted songwriting. The spirit of Emmy Lou Harris and Neko Case lives on in the next generation, and for that we are thankful. No wonder the Europeans were early adopters and embraced the talents of this diminutive Nashville singer-songwriter.
Yuck Yuck (Fat Possum) – yes it is derivative, and owes an awful, awful lot to the 90′s, and especially Dinosaur Jr. But hell, J Mascis hasn’t made a truly brilliant record in years, and has headed into old(er)age by making acoustic records, so someone has to pick up the baton in the noise-rock stakes.
The War on Drugs Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian) – The Bloomington, IN label collective does it again, with another great release – this time from the indie rock band from Philadelphia, who once featured Kurt Vile amongst its members. An album both dense and laid back, featuring the droll Tom Verlaine-esque vocals from A. Granduciel. It’s been described in the media as Spiritualized meets Springsteen, and that seems an apt assessment of its dreamy psychedelic-tinged Americana.
Charles Bradley No Time for Dreaming (Dunham) – Both Otis Redding and James Brown may have left this mortal coil, but Bradley makes a brave effort to step in and at least partially fill their ample shoes on his debut album – released at an age when many of his peers are looking to take advantage of those AARP discounts. A slab of sweaty, wrenching soul. Excellent.
Adele Rolling in the Deep (XL) – yeah, so sue us… It doesn’t matter how popular this track is, but it is an absolute monster. The same can’t be said for the whole album, which can veer into schmaltzy mainstream territory, but just for this one song alone, Adele, we salute you!
WILD FLAG - Everything about them. The live show. The limited edition RSD 7″. The videos. The album on Merge. A band that just elicits pure excitement from devotees, both new & old. And they rock. Can’t complain about any of that!
Flaming Lips – live at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. A spectacular light show, with strobe lights and lasers bouncing off the palm trees, gravestones and crypts, and playing their finest moment The Soft Bulletin front to back in one the best settings for an outdoor live show in Los Angeles. Three thumbs up!
TV on the Radio Nine Types of Light (Interscope) – thankfully ditching the more overt art-rock tendencies of their last 2 releases, the kings of Brooklyn return to form. And still may be the most unlikely act signed to a major label…
Beach Boys 7″ (free with MOJO 60′s magazine) – a fine taster from the upcoming Capitol issue of the Smile Sessions box set, and putting Panda Bear in his place, showing him who is the master, and making the point about what a real teenage symphony to god should sound like.
Warner Brothers Record Store Day 7″ series – a genius idea – pairing an original from their storied catalog with a cover by one of their newer acts, for example Jenny & Johnny covering Gram Parsons‘ “Love Hurts”. The only fault is that in playing (on Warner Brothers or on other labels) a few of the originals such as Husker Du “I Don’t Want to Know if You are Lonely” it only amplifies the sense that very few, if any, artists are making recordings even close to being this truly classic and long-lasting in 2011…
Bright Eyes The People’s Key (Saddle Creek) – At the recent LA live show, the Nebraska combo played one track after another which made the listener think, “This is a great song. And so is this…” And many were drawn from the latest (and possibly final?) album from Conor Oberst helmed Bright Eyes. An album that has possibly the most elaborate packaging for a regular CD & LP release for the year. And we’ll say ‘thanks’ for all of the above.
- Cool Hand Luke