Monday, January 9, 2012

2011: The Year That Music Got Better! (Pt. 1)

In my opinion music has been suffering a slow death ever since Kurt Cobain shot himself and Axl Rose lost his band (you know the real Guns 'N Roses). The mid nineties showed a shift in the musical terrain and that shift was a downward spiral (not to be confused with the Nine Inch Nails album of the same title). Since that time I have been searching every year for something new and inspiring, something to give me hope, something that is not like reading an AARP magazine while waiting for a dentist appointment. And then, the unthinkable happened. As I went through 2011 gathering new music, I discovered more than a handful of new bands that didn't suck. In fact, they were really good! Veteran artists were releasing equally good work, music with a modern edge, while staying true to old school roots. Oddly enough most of the new bands sound like they could have just as easily come out during the mid-eighties to early nineties. As Tricky said - "Brand New You're Retro".  So here is my first blog in a series of 2011 "best of" picks(Not listed in order of importance). I welcome all of your feedback and recommendations, as I'm sure I have missed some good gems. Also make sure and click on "join this site" to the right if you like!

TOM WAITS - BAD AS ME : This album is as vintage and cool as anything Mr. Waits has done. Waits always delivers more than a collection of music. We get a guided tour of a moonlit underworld full of vagrants and misfits, drunk polkas, sinister blues, and alley cat rock 'n roll - all drug up from the bottom of a Louisiana swamp and bottled with moonshine. Songs howled, not sung. And music that is beat out of the instruments rather than played. Then, in an effortless shift in tone, Waits shows us his soft side - looking back at the hell raising all nighters with sadder and wiser eyes. This is Waits' best selling album to date, and that is no small piece of business considering his following goes back as far as 1973. However, I don't think it has taken that long for Waits to mature as a songwriter. Maybe it has taken the rest of the record buying public this long to catch up.

SOPHIE HUNGER - SOPHIE HUNGER: If I had a musical crush this year it was Sophie Hunger.  On her self titled album, Hunger is credited for songwriter, guitars, vocals, piano, and harmonica. She sings in three different languages (English, Swiss, and German), and pulls influences from Folk, Jazz, Blues, and Dance.  The overall sound can best best be described as Sinead O'Connor circa '89-'91 but with the abstract experimentation and frayed emotion of P.J. Harvey. To add a cherry to this delightful Sundae, Hunger even quotes Bob Dylan in her acoustic song "Sophie Hunger's Blues". This album was the twenty-eight year old's first North American release and went fairly unnoticed, but I am predicting that will change. In the liner notes Sophie has scrawled the following words in childlike penmanship: "Hello America, can you hear me?" We are listening Sophie!

WILCO - THE WHOLE LOVE: Wilco's founder and singer/ songwriter Jeff Tweedy has gone through many changes since the band's first 1995 release "A.M." Most of the band's lineup has been replaced and their sound has gone from roots rock, alt country, indie folk, to art rock( Pitchfork magazine described their late nineties sound as "The Beach Boys soaked in bong water"). With all of the changes and experimentation, Tweedy has arrived with Wilco's strongest line up and perhaps the album that can finally eclipse 2002's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (The band's most successful and widely accepted release ). What's great about The Whole Love is it's complete accessibility.  This isn't  just a record for die hard fans like Sky Blue Sky or Wilco(The Album), this an album for anyone who likes great music. So if you haven't heard Wilco, this is an excellent place to start.

LADY GA GA - BORN THIS WAY:   Okay, I too went goo goo for Ga Ga. Maybe it's because pop music hasn't had a strong female leading the pack of hot divas since Madonna. Maybe it's because I am happy to see a young female with talent sending positive messages of empowerment. Or maybe I'm just relieved to see a pop star that wasn't discovered on American Idol. Sure there have been many deserving divas who have burned up with stage with hot dance moves and belted out some scorching vocals. But there's something wonderful about a girl who started in New York  not too long ago playing her keyboard at open mic night. Much like Madonna who started as a drummer and went around New york with a demo tape in her back pocket.  This success story wouldn't mean as much, however, if there wasn't true talent behind it. And there is plenty of talent here. Hopefully Born This Way is just a preview of what's to come.

See you on Pt. 2! Thanks for reading!