Best Of 2011: Hidden Treasures

CAMPFIRE OK | Strange Like We Are (Ana-Them)
If you haven’t been paying attention to Seattle’s indie-roots music scene, then now’s the time. With the Head And The Heart blowing up, the city is moving back into the spotlight, carried on a wave of neo-folk musicians. For an example of this sound, you can’t do better than Campfire OK, a collective of musicians led by Mychal Goodweather. The band has the perfect formula: sweet, tremulous vocals, lush harmonies as dense as a Northwest forest, brilliant horn blasts, bombastic chord progressions and just the right amount of tambourine. This is a new-school tent revival; it’s music to lift the human spirit. —Devon Leger

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CREEPOID | Horse Heaven (Ian)
Like good ’90s music nostalgics, Creepoid understands the importance of balance and dynamics—the loud/quiet/loud factor. But why draw boundaries? The Philadelphia quartet’s impressive debut transcends typical motifs—drifting verses cutting to skyrocketing refrains—and discovers true interplay. Bassist Anna Troxell delivers an enchanting, Patti Smith-esque vocal on “Spirit Birds,” while her husband Pat pummels his drums. Sean Miller’s languid acoustic strums mix with delicate chamber strings (“Horse Heaven”) and guitarist Pete Urban’s wall of noise (“Graveblanket”). Lyrics broadly address addiction, innocence lost, ennui, depression, hope and love. It’s aggressive, introspective and a strong opening statement from an exciting band. —John Vettese

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ELEVEN TWENTY-NINE | Eleven Twenty-Nine (Northern Spy)
Pairing Tom Carter, axeman for Texas psych stalwarts Charalambides, with Marc Orleans, the ace-in-the-hole steel guitarist for acts including (but hardly limited to) D. Charles Speer & The Helix, Steve Gunn, Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Meg Baird and Chris Forsyth, is as surprising as a sunrise, and as striking. Their debut under the Eleven Twenty-Nine handle meets the psych/blues expectations of its players’ résumés, but it’s no side-project footnote. The guitar duo’s electrified trip wanders through loping post-Jack Rose blues, noisy space rock, humid drone and pensive post-rock. Deep blues roots keep this celestial psych planted in spaces between corporeal groove and ethereal meditation. —Bryan C. Reed

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FILTHYBIRD | Songs For Other People (Holidays For Quince)
This hard-to-pigeonhole band—Ambient Americana? Country and Brazilian? Folk jazz?—is anchored by singer Renee Mendoza and guitarist Brian Haran, a refugee of several NYC noise-rock groups. The tunes here, however, are anything but noisy. Contemplative would be a closer description. Like a choir, every instrument has a distinct voice that blends into a harmonious whole. “Last Night” is a folky samba marked by Mendoza’s airy vocals; the dark, dreamy meditation of “Mostly Of Waves” is full of surrealistic parental advice; “Now, I Know Better” considers the questions you never ask a lover until the relationship is over. —j. poet

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GOLD-BEARS | Are You Falling In Love? (Slumberland)
Slumberland Records specializes in new bands that sound like they’re from 1986, that apotheosis year of crashing, headlong guitar pop. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart were best in show back in 2009, but this year it’s Atlanta’s Gold-Bears, who do a better job of capturing that thrill of early Wedding Present than David Gedge and his current bandmates. Are You Falling In Love? is an album for record geeks who like cult bands. (Boyracer fans, take note!) It leads off with a 100-mph love song called “Record Store,” all buzzsaw guitars and emphatically declaimed vocals, and the pace and the thrills don’t let up for next half-hour. —Steve Klinge

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JERUSALEM AND THE STARBASKETS | Dost (De Stijl)
There are two key facts about Jeremy Freeze that you should be aware of. First, his guitar tone is such that you would assume said guitar spent a decade or two immersed in re-re-recycled cooking oil; second, you will probably never feel more irreversibly hangdog than Freeze sounds in Dost’s darkest moments. What we have here is a loose, raggedy string of exultations, ragers, torch songs and laments built from the essentials—rock-solid melodies, dynamite road-worn chops, vocals that will have your heart in a vise, all of it broken-down countrified and folk-amplified—which are then drenched in effects-pedal psychedelics and production alchemy that makes it sound like the music is on fire before the band somehow swoops in and rescues it, shoving forth in defiant, never-say-die triumph. —Raymond Cummings

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SEAN MCCANN | The Capital (Aguirre)
Sean McCann doesn’t register on most folks’ radars, and it’s not hard to understand why. In the past two years alone, he’s released 10 albums of material, and as they run the gamut from the free-jazz freakouts and bit-crunched noise of Open Resolve to the gorgeous sleepscapes of Prelusion, it can be hard to know where to enter. His most magnificent opus, The Capital, probably won’t do you wrong. This half-hour blooming of ambrosial symphonies, Elysian scenery and pure, tangible shimmer somewhat eludes description, but its effect as soul balm couldn’t be more immediate. It’s an album that boldly advertises things as fantastic as an “Aerial Sapphire Show” and “Vanilla Maiden” on its tracklist. And it’s an album that delivers. —Jakob Dorof

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OSCAR + MARTIN | For You (Two Bright Lakes)
Melbourne twentysomethings Oscar Slorach-Thorn and Martin King lost obscure moniker Psuche and locked on to their sound, a soft rush of wobbly electric pianos and lilied drum pads, glassine vocals splashed out of clip-clopped puddles and oblong structures forever on the verge of toppling over. (The cardiovascular track meet also contains postmodern devotional “Chaine Maile,” reason enough for making this list.) If 2011 was the year R&B and indie pop renewed their vows, consider this the officiant: Junior Boys and Everything But The Girl in a Dirty Projectors slideshow, Bacharach and David for the single-parent generation. —Noah Bonaparte Pais

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RAW MILK | Tired Giant (Hilted)
Tired Giant came out of nowhere. Under the name Raw Milk, multi-instrumentalist Ben Hilt self-released the album from his home in Columbus, Ohio, describing his sound as “electro-acoustic anti-folk.” But it’s so much more. “The Ostrich” begins with a hard-working acoustic guitar and Hilt’s deep, reverb-y, lo-fi vocal timbre. He works the low end of a piano into a pounding rhythm, punctuated by sparse organ and trashcan-slamming cymbals; psych guitar walks the bridge. After hearing “The Ostrich” at a community radio station, we naturally googled Raw Milk, only to find social networking pages, as well as testimonies on raw milk. —Matthew Irwin

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WARD WHITE | Done With Taking The Cure (Ward White)
Plenty of today’s singer/songwriters take cues from the past. Not enough of them manage to sound unique when doing so. Done With The Talking Cure finds this New York artist channeling Scott Walker’s scope with Paul McCartney’s playfulness, all while creating something singular and compelling. Ward White’s clever words bemoan the pitfalls of humanity. Melodies soar and turn corners unexpectedly while his angelic voice portrays hope, despite his dark lyrics. Were it the 1970s, Done With The Talking Cure might be an AM-radio staple. In 2011, it’s simply miles above the limp indie fare that gets sold through commercials. —Jill LaBrack

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2 Comments

  1. Posted December 10, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Faust. Their latest is called ‘Something Dirty’. These guys have been putting out great stuff for four deacdes now. This should’ve been on your list and not stupid Radiohead. That damn RH record everybody knew was going to make year end best of lists as soon as the release date was announced. Listen, i’m a RH fan but i don’t put my brain on autopilot just because i dig them. When do we stop celebrating everytime they put out more wankery. We applaud everything they do like they are some retarded child that just learned to tie his shoelaces. At this point, an album of electronic polka or fart noises from them you’d deem best of the year. Faust, their forefathers who have managed to remain authentic should’ve made the list.

  2. Posted December 21, 2011 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    I think that it’s great that you guys bothered to make a list like this. I’ll need to check some of these out.

    For me, some of the albums that I didn’t see get any hype that I believe should have are as follows.

    Singer – “Mindreading”
    Cave – “Neverending”
    Javelin – “Canyon Candy”
    Nurses – “Dracula”

    I’ve also noticed that Death Grips’ “ExMilitary” popped up on 2 British lists, but nothing that I’ve seen in the states, and those cats are from Sacramento. I’d also mention Moon Duo – “Mazes”, but I was surprised to see that referenced. I guess that one might have been less off the radar that I thought.