2011 has come to a close and everyone has been unveiling their “2011 Best Of’s”. I’ve been perusing all the lists myself. I wanted to go in a slightly different direction and share my favorite finds of 2011- the bands that just came across my radar this year. I get stuck in listening ruts where I don’t want to hear new music- I just want to bask in the comforts of my long time favorites. That has not been the case this year. So much fantastic stuff has fallen in my lap, music that could not be ignored. My life has become greatly enriched by the music on this list. I don’t want to number them to rank their significance. They have all contributed (almost) equally to the continued expanding of my heart and mind. With no further ado the top ten bands that have enhanced my listening catalog this year.
THE BRONZE MEDAL
I used to invest serious hours on Myspace Jumping from music page to music page- linked from the previous page’s “friends” section. I’d listen until I found “the one”- completely familiarize myself with their available selection of songs before moving on. I found many of my current favorites back when Myspace Music was in it’s prime. I now do the same thing with YouTube I discover a large majority of what I will share with you from random YouTube surfing. I peruse the music blogs, but it annoys me that they all seem to be regurgitating the same stuff. If it’s on one blog’s “hot list”, it’s soon on them all. I know that’s how it works, but I don’t like to be told what to like. I want to hunt it down for myself, relying on my ears alone- not the recommendation of some random blogger, regardless of their proven tastes. And yet, here I am joining the masses. (I feel as though I’m supposed to issue an apology here for forcing my tastes on you- but I will do no such thing.) The point of this rant is that I found The Bronze Medal jumping from video-to-video-to-video on YouTube The world stopped spinning for just under 5 minutes while this song had it’s way with me. I live for those moments of unexpected assault, when everything around you dissolves and you cease to exist except within the walls of the song. Nothing else matters. It becomes the only thing capable of nourishing you. Jump in.
OSCAR & THE WOLF
I’m so grateful this EP is available on iTunes. Often I find new music that I can’t get enough of and it will not be available for purchase. Or worse, available- but not in the states. So, I’m stuck making a youtube playlist and getting my fix that way. All 5 songs on this album are worthy of completely saturating yourself in. It’s difficult to choose one to share- but here goes.
I don’t play favorites. I just can’t. I have too many loves in the business and there is music for every mood. But that being said, I will confess to having a favorite. This guy is hands down my most cherished find of 2011. His LP just came out in October and I discovered him in April, maybe? I scrambled to get my hands on an EP and was able to secure two before the LP came out (thank you Amazon). Ben Howard doesn’t have a bad song. He doesn’t even have a mediocre song. I’ve spent most of this year scouring youtube for all of his available material and each time I came across a new song I was floored, yet again, by the poetry in his simple words, by the integrity of his songwriting. His lyrics express what I’m about. The core of things, the heart of the heart, the simple truths- he spells it out in a way that makes it all seem so obvious, so universal. He has a song for my every mood. Light and easy. Heavy and contemplative. Playful and oh-so JOYOUS. I’m all about pureness of heart and transparency and reminding oneself to search for beauty in every moment. So I’m a sucker for music that translates my rhythms. When I was in the getting-to-know-you-courting-phase with BH’s tunes I couldn’t help the awestruck feeling that kept washing over me. Where did he come from? He must be a gift from the musical gods. I kept saying “thank you” for the twist of fate that brought me to his music. Thank you (more please). It would’ve happened eventually, but I feel so blessed to have found him sooner, rather than later. Ben by himself is a treat, but combined with his band, India Bourne and Chris Bond- just top notch. The chemistry that comes from these three is really, really sensational. I had a helluva time choosing just one song to share. Do I share the song that hooked me- my summer anthem of 2011? Or do I share an unreleased song that lyrically knocks me on my ass each and every time I listen to it? Well when put that way, I think it’s clear that the second song I mentioned demands it’s very own blog entry. So know that it’s coming. [January 30th update. The aforementioned song and how it makes me feel can be found HERE.] I recommend headphones listening for this. There are literally hundreds of videos for this one song- it was quite difficult narrowing down which one to choose, the official video is lovely… but I love the rawness of the live videos, the energy of the crowd. And this way, you get a bonus song if you like. (2-for-1 video below)
I’m sure you’ll hear me mention this once or twice, or if you simply pay attention you will find through my shares that I’m am not drawn to female vocals. When I do come across someone of the lady variety that I like- I pay attention. This song resonates powerfully with me. Variations of it have played on my tongue countless times. I call my dearest friends my “shiny marble” friends. I’m a people collector and those kindred spirits, the ones you find yourself magnetically drawn to, the ones that breathe life and love into the most mundane of moments- I keep these friends in my shirt pocket, close to my heart. You can see why these lyrics hit so close to home: “You should see my favorite people, you catch a glimpse of gold through their skins. I walk on air whenever I’m with them- they’re where the happiness begins. And I’m alright on my own, but with them I’m much better. They’re like diamonds and diamonds are forever.” (sigh) Perfection.
I confess this is sort of a one-song-stole-my-heart-kind of thing. I stumbled across Clock Opera at SxSW, and thoroughly enjoyed every single song they played. We saw them play twice. But in visiting their (limited) catalog after returning home, this is the one song that I return to time and time again. And the video is outstanding.
I don’t even remember how I stumbled across this EP and I don’t really have words for why I love it so much… I just do. This song takes me on an entirely new aural journey with each listen.
BROTHER & BONES
One of my pet peeves is falling hard for a song only to discover it’s the only good song on the album. Or worse yet, the only good song that band has EVER made. It’s happened. I always wonder what stolen wave of inspiration they rode to breathe life into that one good tune. I rarely purchase single songs. I want the whole album and I want the entire thing to tease me and please me. That’s not asking too much, right? I want to LOVE seven out of ten songs. If I find myself skipping more than three with regularity I’m pretty bummed and not likely to seek out the next album by that band. This is another youtube discovery. The first song I landed on was just the lead singer, Rich Thomas, and his guitar. It was a stunning song with captivating lyrics, mellow and still intensely powerful. I clicked another and got the full band experience. The vocals were the same, but the entire feel of this song was different. I was transported to the mid-nineties, driving down the highway in my first car blasting Rusted Root’s, Send Me on my Way. I’m not making a musical comparison here, it was just one of those weird déjà vu things. I loved it — feeling like I somehow already had a kinship with this music. Then I clicked on this song and what had been a budding crush hit me full on. True love. I knew this band was a powerhouse that wouldn’t tickle my fancy with just one or two good songs.
They are going to deliver. Mark my words.
THE ULTIMATE BEARHUG
I demand so much from my music. It must FEED me. It must broaden my horizons and take me to depths my own introspective nature wouldn’t take me to. The lyrics should have a certain vagueness that can allow for twenty different interpretations, or be so gut punching-ly honest you have no choice but to choke on the truth. But sometimes I just want to be a girl. I want something that doesn’t make my head spin, something that just feels good for no explainable reason, something that will bring a smile to my face no matter what. This band fits the bill. They have been such a refreshing discovery. The Ultimate Bearhug brings out a simpler version of me — maybe it’s that Doll’s delightful croon is reminiscent of another time. Whatever the draw, I can’t get enough of these guys. Not only are they one of my favorite finds of 2011, they are one of my most anticipated album releases of 2012.
I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight. I probably don’t. I do, however, believe in love at first listen. I need and want more Milo Greene in my life. From the first few seconds of the very first song I heard of theirs- I knew we would have a long and prosperous relationship. I have listened to the four songs available on their bandcamp a ridiculous number of times. Rumor has it their debut album is coming late spring. Oh boy. I already have hours of repeat listening planned.
I think this list needs a re-discovery honorable mention. I first heard Levi Weaver at SxSW 2010 and absolutely LOVED his live performance, but then he sort of fell off the radar. I checked a couple of times for tour dates and found nothing. Mutual friends and a brilliant twist of kismet brought him across my path again this year. I’m hooked. So, while he isn’t a 2011 “find”. He’s a re-discovery well worth mentioning. I highly recommend his albums (I now own them all), but the real magic is in seeing him live. The gods smiled upon me and I was able to see him three times this year.