2011 is turning out to be an awesome year for new music, and I could probably make a list of 20+ new albums that I have listened to this year that deserve some attention. But as it is, most of us (including myself) are on pretty tight budgets and can’t buy every new album that comes out, so I have chosen 5 from the first 6 months of 2011 that are essential that you pick up, if you haven’t already.
5. Cults Cults
This may be a bit impulsive of me to throw this freshmen album in the top 5 of the year, seeing as I just got it a few days ago. But this duo combines ridiculously catchy hooks, surf pop, cool vocals, and audio of actual cult leaders. Unless someone unbelievable comes along in the next 6 months, these guys are my favorite new band of 2011.
4. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
The third solo album by former this Drive-By Tucker is his most impressive work since his contributions to The Dirty South in 2004. This album is signature Isbell, intricate lyrical narratives, a dark sense of humor, and a wailing guitar, not to mention a really cool New Orleans ragtime track with vocals by The 400 Unit’s drummer. But this album would be worth picking up if not just for the track “Codeine”, with the great chorus “one of my friends has taken her in and given her codeine”. This is turning into one of my go-to albums, I can’t recommend Isbell any stronger, he has yet to sing a bad song.
3. The Decemberists The King Is Dead
In an interview with NPR earlier this year, Colin Meloy said of his newest album “I just wanted to write pretty folk songs”, and on The King is Dead, that was exactly the result. Recorded in a barn in the Pacific Northwest with the help of the great Gillian Welch, this is the prettiest album of the year, taking Meloy’s hyper-literate lyrics mixing them with Welches great background vocals and somehow managing to sound uncannily like pre-Automatic For the People R.E.M. (before they were boring). Honestly, I may be shorting this album by only placing it in 3rd because it came out in January and is still in constant circulation in my car. This is one to pick up if you haven’t already.
2. Gillian Welch The Harrow and the Harvest
I was 12 years old the last time Gillian Welch released a solo album (Soul Journey) and that album was one of the most important albums of my adolescence, so I have literally been waiting for this album since 2004. Anything coming out the gate with such high expectations has a good chance to let down, but The Harrow and the Harvest does not. It is a beautiful album through and through, the album is carried by Welch’s angelic voice and David Rawlings “Buddy Miller-esque” guitar. I just hope there isn’t another 8 year gap between this album and her next one.
1. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Confession: before buying this album I had never listened to Bon Iver, or really had a desire to. I chalked him up as just another clog in the ever expanding “new-soft-indie-folk” scene, but when people like Paste and Pitchfork started giving Bon Iver, Bon Iver near perfect reviews and everybody that I talked to about it was freaking out about it, I decided to pick it up. That was almost 3 weeks ago, and I have yet to take it out of my car’s CD player. The album is sprawling, creating soundscapes moreso than songs. The arrangements are sweeping and dynamic and the vocals act more as compliments to the bigger picture of the songs themselves. It’s very emotional, very sublime, and I am absolutely blown away by it. It is still early, and I need to put it down for a while and come back to it, as of right now, these ears are saying that it is not only one of the best albums of 2011, but of the last 5 years.
Bob Rynerson Bob Rynerson
The Old 97′s Grand Theatre Volume 2
My Morning Jacket Circuital
Iron & Wine Kiss Each Other Clean
Various Artists Rave On : Buddy Holly
Beastie Boys Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
Drive-By Truckers Go Go Boots
Thurston Moore Demolished Thoughts
The Civil Wars Barton Hollow
Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues
Chris Thile & Michael Daves Sleep With One Eye Open