Here's a rundown of some of the new (to me) stuff I've been listening to in 2011.
Hammer No More the Fingers - Black Shark
Despite being released April 5, 2011 I actually had a copy of Black Shark last year, so technically it's not a 2011 discovery for me. However it was my personal pick for best album of 2010 and it is still growing on me now that I have an official copy of the CD with lyrics. This is the only release of the last couple years that I would consider an "all time favorite". At approx. 34 minutes it's short with absolutely no fluff. I'm really pleased with this selection of songs.
Floating Action - Desert Etiquette
I've already done a full-review of Desert Etiquette on this site, but it's still my leading contender for best new album so far this year. The overall sound is appealing - great musicianship, expertly layered production and in the now lyrics that certainly bypassed the normal editing process. Knowing that Floating Action (AKA Seth Kaufman) basically recorded every note himself using various instruments really adds to the enjoyment of these tracks. And then seeing Floating Action as a full band opening for Dr. Dog only solidified that appreciation.
David Byrne and Brian Eno - My Life In the Bush of Ghosts
Recorded in 1979 and released in 1981; this still sounds hip today. Okay, it sounds a little dated (hints of Ghostbusters, Axel F, 80's type sounds). Although it could pass for a current band or DJ who wanted to sound sorta retro. I actually had this album at some point a decade or more ago. I must not have been ready for it then. For whatever reason, it recently occurred to me to give it another go. Tribal, spooky, found vocals, chants, relentless beats, synths and bass lines. How cool it must have been in the early 80's to have heard this. I don't know that it influenced the music that came after it so much as it predicted where music was going. David Byrne + Brian Eno = Musical Nostradami.
Del McCoury Band with Preservation Hall - American Legacies
We pretty much knew this one was going to be good, right? And of course it is. I'm sure it basically wrote itself. Just put some great players in a studio, give them some good songs to do, and hit the record button. Done. Even though I can't think of a previous bluegrass/trad jazz collaboration, this pretty much sounds the way I thought a combo like that might sound. No real surprises here, just good plain picking. This is a fun, easy to listen to album that is instantly likeable. A refreshing dose of clarity - a sound you want others to hear.
Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
I do and don't like this album. Do: I always prefer to think that I have the ability to recognize something really good when it comes along (as this could be). I don't want to simply fall for indie-rock conventions. It almost seems like Local Natives took a poll on how a cool band should sound in the year 2010 and then went out and made exactly that sound. While it is similar to some of the bland soft-rock that's popular these days, it also connects on a more visceral and tribal level that is to my liking. I'm just not sure that overall they make a sound that I am in need of.
O'death - Outside
The previous output by O'death has been exceptional, automatically putting any new album by them into must hear status. Their last one Broken, Hymns, Limbs and Skin was my favorite album of 2009. However they kinda dropped off the map this past year (due to the illness of their drummer) so I didn't know they were putting out a new record until just days before the release date, only to discover that it was already available for streaming. That left no time for build-up, hype or a wait. All of a sudden it was just there and as I was hitting play I had the feeling that I was in store for some much needed musical nutrition. Unfortunately I can't really say that it blew me away or even bowled me over. It doesn't suck, but the fact that it's not mind blowing sucks.
Cowboy Junkies - Demons
The Cowboy Junkies are sort of an anomaly for me. Their Black Eyed Man album has resided in my all-time top-five for over 15 years now without fail, however, nothing else from them has floated my boat. Primarily I've just been satisfied having Black Eyed Man be the extent of my Cowboy Junkies listening. But recently I've been streaming their new album Demons, which is a tribute to Vic Chesnutt. I am not familiar with Chesnutt's music. It might as well be an album of original songs as far as I'm concerned. I like the first two tracks - "Wrong Piano" and "Flirted With You All My Life" - and then a few more after that. Getting all the way through it without losing interest has been a challenge though. .
Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
This is in the same boat as Local Natives as far as a finger on the pulse of current indie rock, but I'm even less convinced. Surfer Blood falls far enough outside of my normal tastes that it just isn't winning me over. I sorta like the overall sound and it's got a lot of guitar hooks. Ultimately I'm left wanting more.
Akron/Family - S/T II: The Cosmic Birth And Journey of Shinju TNT.
Yeah, whatever. Are they having a laugh? Is it at my expense? Weird. Up 'til now Akron/Family has put out albums with some incredibly brilliant, catchy songs mixed with songs that made you scratch your head. A couple years ago I culled all their really good songs (IMO) and made a "best of" Akron/Family mix that was a pretty damn awesome 70 minute epic journey. Now that I've heard this new Shinju TNT thing-a-ma-jig, I'm not sure if any tracks on it are worthy of adding to that 2009 best of mix. Not to say that this album is any worse than their previous ones. I could argue that overall it's actually more consistent than anything they've put out. While there aren't any stand out tracks to make you hit repeat, there really aren't any that I would call awful either. So yeah maybe it's their best album so far without having any great individual songs on it. Or something like that. Or maybe I just need to listen to this when I'm 12 miles out at sea. Or standing on my head hopping on one foot rubbing my belly and patting my head.
The Tradition Lives: Yiddish-Moldavian Music of German Goldenshteyn
Here's one that's fun and as traditional as they come. Klezmer Music...directly from the expert musicians of Klez Kamp, performing the tunes of the little known Moldavian Jewish clarinetist German Goldenshteyn. Somehow I had the first German Goldenshteyn CD, which was recorded a few years ago while German was still alive. I really like that recording even though Klezmer is something I rarely listen to and know little about. Recently the musicians on that first recording got together and made a follow up, so I ordered it from the Living Traditions folks as soon as it was available. This may be traditional but it doubles as demented, circus-like music. Quite frightening. Can't listen to this all the time but it's a nice in small doses.
Flaming Lips - 4 Song Gummy Skulls EP
I'm not even sure if that's the official title. Over the last few weeks word surfaced that some new tracks by the Flaming Lips were available. I checked it out and it sounds like drugged-out dub-style Flips, a continuation of the groove they were hitting on their last album Embryonic, minus any really noticeable lyrics. Riffing and jamming...kinda similar to Bitches Brew Miles Davis or perhaps the Akron/Family. This is the kinda experimental stuff I wish Phish would do more of when recording. Gotta hand it to the Flaming Lips; at least they try to keep it interesting.
Others to watch out for...well My Morning Jacket has a new album called Circuital coming out 5/31. If the first two new songs available from Circuital are any indication, this isn't one to get really excited over. But I'll still check it out. Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three have a new album coming out in July. Expectations remain high for it.