I spent much of 2011 lamenting the lack of awesome music and complaining that it was somewhat of a down year. That’s only to be expected considering we were coming off a year where we got some fantastic albums from bands/artists such as Kanye West, The National, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Beach House, Deerhunter and so on.
2010 was inevitably going to be a tough year to match. There was still plenty of quality music from 2011 that has been rated, ranked, and so on in various end-of-the-year lists. I realize we are now in the second month of 2012 but that doesn’t mean we should completely throw aside all the pop culture from last year (for example, the number of people who’ve ignored my insistence to watch the second season of Justified is nothing short of appalling).
Before we fully move on to 2012 here are five albums from last year that are worth a revisit or first listen on Spotify or wherever it is you stream/download your tunes from these days.
Peter Bjorn & John — Gimme Some
The Swedes of Peter Bjorn & John may have brought this upon themselves by following up their 2006 album Writer’s Block, which featured the unavoidable single “Young Folks”, with a mostly instrumental album in 2008 (Seaside Rock) and 2009’s significantly darker Living Thing, which proved to be rather challenging to listeners.
Personally, I recall finding myself clicking the mute button ASAP whenever its lead single, “Nothing To Worry About,” would come up on the Internet radio station I was listening to regularly at the time. Gimme Some, though, finds the band returning to their guitar-heavy indie pop roots, though, and features no shortage of radio-friendly songs such as “Dig A Little Deeper” and “Second Chance,” which attentive ears may recognize from a Bud Light Lime commercial earlier this year.
Fans of Writer’s Block who were turned off by the band’s recent output should definitely considering giving this album a look.
Beirut — The Rip Tide
Going into any Beirut release, it’s usually safe to assume that you will get two things: world music with lots of horns, strings, winds, etc., and Beirut mastermind Zach Condon dabbling in electronica. The Rip Tide kind of threw us all for a loop because we got neither of those things.
Sure, there were still horns, strings, etc., but this time they were without any influence from the Balkans or France, they were just there as part of the fabric of this group of songs. Condon took a pared-down approach to this album, not only in length (only nine tracks that clock in at under 34 minutes) but instrumentation as well. The Rip Tide may not transport you to the streets of Paris or Belgrade like previous Beirut albums have but the smaller scope is worth it in exchange for songs like “East Harlem,” “A Candle’s Fire,” and Condon’s ode to his hometown “Santa Fe.”
The War On Drugs — Slave Ambient
Some might argue that this album shouldn’t really qualify as overlooked. After all, everyone’s favorite music site Pitchfork ranked it 39th on their Top Albums of 2011 list. Even with that esteemed distinction I still think this album didn’t get the love it deserved as seemingly every mention of this album brought up how the band used to include Kurt Vile. Yes, the same Kurt Vile who’s Smoke Ring For My Halo placed 16th on the aforementioned Pitchfork list.
As a result of this Slave Ambient spent the year taking a back seat to Vile’s latest release. Those who did spend time with this album, however, were rewarded with a beefier and, in spots, more ambient (like the title!) take on Vile’s lo-fi strumming. Anyone looking to give this album a shot should check out “Brothers” (which recently got a music video to go along with it) or the Springsteen/Arcade Fire-esque “Baby Missiles.”
Wilco — The Whole Love
You’re probably wondering how a Wilco album could possibly get overlooked and that is a fair question. Wilco’s The Whole Love dropped at the end of September and seemingly left the consciousness of the music scene shortly thereafter. You’d think when a band that has often been deemed “The American Radiohead” releases a new album it would warrant a lot of attention, but it came and went almost right away this time.
Then again, 2011 was a year where Radiohead themselves came out with an album that also came and went in a short window of time as well. The Whole Love is more of Wilco being Wilco, and, as always, that’s a good thing. Opening track, “Art of Almost” recalls the more experimental Wilco of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born while the title track and “Dawned On Me” both recall the more recent “dad rock” Wilco umbrella. These are all good songs, however, as are many others on this album. If you’ve ever considered yourself any sort of Wilco fan, The Whole Love is a worth a listen or revisit.
Handsome Furs — Sound Kapital
Full disclosure: I am a staunch proponent of pretty much anything that involves Spencer Krug and/or Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade. That mainly stems from the fact that they are responsible for a lot of great music, but I also find myself frequently singing their praises because so much of what they do simply does not get the appreciation it deserves. Handsome Furs is the “side project” (I put the quotation marks there because Wolf Parade is defunct at the moment) of Boeckner and wife Alexei Perry.
While their first album Plague Park’s sound was very reminiscent of Wolf Parade, the Furs’ sound has evolved since then, taking a more guitar-centric approach on their second album Face Control. This latest album essentially sounds like what you would expect a Handsome Furs album to sound like in 2011, meaning there are lots of synths and beats. Synths and beats also happens to describe approximately 85 percent of the music that comes out nowadays which is why I say if you are at all into current “indie rock” scene (or whatever you like to call it) you should at least give it a try.
If “Memories of the Future” wasn’t my favorite song of 2011, it at least contains my favorite 1:20.