It's always around this time when the year begins to take shape musically. Sure there are always a few solid releases in the early months, but it seems to be around March when the first albums I'm really dying to hear start making their way into the world. Recently I've been neglecting new releases, but this week I've been invested in 2011. Of course, I could never stay forever in the present. So I've added a couple of records from the past to keep things interesting. Enjoy.
Alex Turner - Submarine: These six songs, recorded as part of a soundtrack for a film of the same title, show a side of the Arctic Monkeys and Last Shadow Puppets front man that is rarely heard on the recordings of those bands. Accompanied mainly by acoustic guitar and piano, these tracks are softer than the hard edged early Monkeys material, or their grander recent work. The result is a pretty wonderful little album by one of the best songwriters of the past 10 years.
o'death - outside: The fourth album by the pioneering New York gothic folk outfit was one of my most anticipated albums of this year. Easily one of my favorite bands to emerge in the last five years, their previous albums all rank highly on my list of albums of the last decade. It only makes sense that this is hands-down the best album I've heard this year. Shifting slightly away from the death-folk harshness of their previous album, the band finds a something of a beautiful calm on this one. It's almost as if the last album, Broken Hymns, Limbs & Skin was an act of violent death and this album is the peace found afterward. Truly brilliant.
The View - Bread and Circuses: The third album from these four Scottish lads was another one of my highly anticipated albums of the year. Their 2009 album, Witch Bitch? was one of my favorite of the year, full of clever shifting arrangements and perspective that reminded me of The Kinks (not so much in sound, but in spirit). However, I must admit that though I enjoyed that album on first listen, it took many listens to really appreciate. In some ways, I'm seeing the same thing with Bread and Circuses. When I listened to it the first time, I thought it was just okay. But the funny thing was, I couldn't stop listening to it. Now, several listens in, there are a handful of songs that I truly love and I suspect the others will follow. It's a more mature album and more subtle in its shifts than the previous. But there is still an incredible energy to this band that always shows through. This is a band that truly deserves a larger audience.
J. Mascis - Several Shades of Why: The new solo acoustic album by the Dinosaur Jr. front man follows in the footsteps of 2005 similar Sing + Chant for Amma, only with more defined song structure. I very much enjoyed that album and was interested in checking this one out. What I discovered was an album by a musician that, decades into his career, is really hitting a new creative high. This is an album that simply grooves. It never feels forced. It just taps into a vibe and keeps going through it until the end. Once it was over, I found myself thinking, damn that was really good.
R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now: Even in the early '90s, I would be reluctant to ever say I was huge fan of this band, though I do own many of their albums and love many of their songs. The problem with R.E.M. for me has always been inconsistancy within each album. There are moments of alt-pop rock greatness, but they are mixed in with songs that border on annoyance. After seeing the video for the new single "Mine Smell Like Honey," and enjoying the song, I was curious to hear what this band had to say to the world today. My reaction to the album is about the same as previous. There's a bunch of songs that I could care less about. However, there are a handful of songs on here that rank among the band's best. "ÜBerlin," "All the Best," "Oh My Heart," "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I" and "Mine Smell Like Honey" make up a spectacular EP and thanks to the power of iTunes, that's what I've been listening to and loving.
Portugal. The Man. - Waiter: You Vultures!: Due to it's rarity, this 2006 debut is the last of this band's albums that I've acquired. Regular readers will know that I tend to gush about this band. They've had albums in my Top 10 of the year for three years running. This album, while also great, is naturally far less defined than the albums that came after. They are still experimenting with their sound and sometimes it doesn't quite work as well as others. There are still some epic songs on here. "How the Leopard Got Its Spots," "AKA M80 and the Wolf," "Elephants," and "Bad Bad Levi Brown" are all exceptional indie insanity.
Irma Thomas - Wish Someone Would Care: This 1964 debut album from New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas is great piece of soulful love songs. Irma's voice is amazing. The emotion shines through the way it should with any good soul singer. The one drawback here is the that the music isn't as memorable as Irma. The band isn't bad, but it sounds like a band you might hear in any good era nightclub. Still, there are some unforgettable tracks. "Time is On My Side," "Break-A-Way," and "I've Been There" are soul classics.
The Ugly Ducklings - Somewhere Outside: I was in no way unfamiliar with this Toronto garage rock outfit upon listening to this, their 1966 debut. I've long owned the compilation album Too Much, Too Soon (the only thing of theirs available on CD in the early part of last decade when I purchased it) which includes most of the songs on here. But I always like to hear the original LPs. Mick Jagger once called The Ugly Ducklings his favorite Canadian band, and for good reason. A mix of covers and originals, this is a fuzzy garage rock masterpiece. "Gaslight" is powerhouse. The band didn't last long, but they rocked while they did.