Nine Overlooked Rock Records of 2011
And not the Fiona Apple kind either. Just out and out injustice of the highest caliber. I’m a passive fellow, but I do get my ire up when I hear quality tunes go unnoticed, un-enthused over, and generally relegated to the dust bin of core audiences. And even core audiences can’t be counted on too much anymore. I had a chance to see two of these bands this year and just didn’t. No reason. Maybe I had some reasons. I mean, I do have family obligations, a steady job, a stack of novels to keep me company, and a big comfy bed that is way more inviting that a smokey, hipster-laden bar. But there is really no excuse for not owning these records, in my humble opinion. All of these bands have been in the callous business of music-making for far too long and they’ve only gotten better at their craft–a statement that can’t always be made for these flavor-of-the-month buzz bands. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Bon Iver and M83, but I’ll take a grizzled road veteran that’s been around the block a few times any day of the week. Seems like they could teach us something.
These albums aren’t meant to be wolfed down like Thanksgiving leftovers, they have to build a bit. Which means you have to have patience. You may even need to put them down and come back to them in a month or so (which is the only way the last Arcade Fire record made sense to me). These albums have to breathe. Try listening to them in different situations, outside of your normal routine, at different times of day and night. Since much has been written about our disposable culture in the new millennium, we all know it’s easier than ever to watch artists slip through the cracks in our attention span. But we should still know that with great patience comes great reward. These bands and their records bear that out.
I know this list is woefully lacking in certain areas, but feel free to let me know what I’ve missed. There is a mountain of great stuff out there and no excuse for not hearing it. Enjoy.
Will Johnson wants to break your heart. But first he’s going to wrap in a cocoon of warm guitar tones, graveled harmonies, and songs about everything from cats to opening bands. Centro-matic may be Texas’ finest band. Their back catalog is enormous; dive in anywhere, but Candidate Waltz is their most solid.
Halloween, Alaska, All Night the Calls Came In
In 2009, I ranked Halloween, Alaska’s Champagne Downtown as my second favorite record of the year. All Night isn’t as immediately accessible, but it is full of sonic atmosphere, dark textures, and some eerily prophetic songwriting (“Blood on the lip of your life…It’ll be what it has to be”). I’m making it sound darker than it is, but it’s essentially the weighty pop record that Death Cab for Cutie gave up on making.
Glossary, Long Live All of Us
I haven’t found a dud in this Murfreesboro, Tennessee band’s catalog, and this record is no different. This is the sound of too many sleepless nights and being too much in debt to care. Country rock music for the soul–so in other words, what country rock should sound like. Bonus points to Noel Murray of The Onion: A.V. Club for picking “Wooden Crosses” to include in his year-end song list. A great song from a great album.
Joan of Arc, Life Like
Tim Kinsella can’t stop. In addition to releasing his first novel this year, his main band (he has more than one) put out their best record in seven years. Kinsella’s free-jazz stylings and lyrics can get heavy on the ears, but Life Like (produced by Steve Albini, to boot) is nine songs of the right kind of boundary stretching music that we should have more of.
Every year or so The Sea and Cake show up with an original album that blurs the line between rock, afro-beat, pop, jazz, and cuban. And The Sea and Cake were chillwave before anyone ever imagined that could be a real thing. (For more on that, see their excellent LP The Sporting Life.) This time they only released a 6 song album, but showed how much they can do with less. “Up On the North Shore” is The Sea and Cake at their finest: tight, bright, and lucid.
Mock Orange, Disguised as Ghosts/Braid, Closer to Closed
Disguised as Ghosts slipped under my radar until a few months after it’s release. It’s not equal to 2008’s Captain Love, but it does retain all those elements that make them a band worth hearing. Frantic, yet smooth riffs and a powerful pop sensibility. But released with little to no fanfare, Disguised as Ghosts is a great sister album to Captain Love. Go buy them both post-haste. Braid, like their emo brethren (is that still a dirty word? God, I hope not) Mock Orange, released their first new material since breaking up in 1998. And, unlike Mock Orange, it was panned. Unfairly. There’s nothing about this EP that isn’t worthwhile of the Braid moniker, and I keep returning to it again and again. Sure, it’s not Frame and Canvas but it’s also more than a decade later and most of the band members have tried with only moderate success to make a go at surviving in a band for 20 some odd years. Rightfully so, they sound weary, a little resigned, but still ready and willing to do what they can to help you sing along. “Universe or Worse” is easily as good as anything they’ve done.
David Bazan, Strange Negotiations
Bazan has never lived down his Pedro the Lion past in the press, which is unfortunate because he’s a great pop song writer with a lot to say lyrically. He’s the only man I want to hear sing a chorus that goes, “You’re a goddamn fool, and I love you.” Strange Negotiaions is the solo record that he’s been needing to make, though no one seemed to care much beyond his core fans. It’s something I suspect he’s used to, but that doesn’t make it right. The album deserves more than a passive dismissal, it deserves your attention.
Original members Mark Olson and Gary Louris are back together for their first full Jayhawks LP in God-knows-how-long. (There was also an overlooked solo record the two men put out, Before the Flood.) Everyone issued a collective, “meh.” There are far too many brilliant moments on Mockingbird Time than should be allowed, “She Walks In So Many Ways,” “Tiny Arrows,” “Cinnamon Love”–Taylor Swift and co. would be wise to take a few harmony and songwriting lessons from The Jayhawks.