Since January, when I last posted about Destroyer's life altering Kaputt, a ton of great music has been shared with friends through a Facebook group called "Nighthawks." This amazing group is a collective of friends of friends of friends that gets to the point of complete strangers sharing their favorite movements in music. If there is one song that shows the joyous atmosphere of this group has been Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks". The comparisons to MGMT aren't such a bad thing if you ask me. They are the SoCal version of this new group of psych pop stars. The hook is undeniable and the Foster the People EP is enjoyable in it's 3-song span.
In a similar psychedelic vein comes Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Their EP is also a catchy yet a freaky throwback to lo-fi 70's groove rock and garage rock all in one. Their track "How Can U Luv Me" is a perfect track. "Nerve Damage!" is a bit weirder on record, but live these guys tear through their set with a crispness and a great groove that makes the lo-fi recording of the EP sound terrible. These guys probably have the most potential of making a splash this year, maybe aside from the much more accesscible Foster the People.
Also excellent, and the thing that lead some of this collective consciousness to UMO, is Smith Westerns. These guys revive Mott The Hoople and Big Star rolled into one and create some of the catchiest, sunniest music of the year. The overall pure rock glory that a song like "End of the Night" exudes is fantastic. "Weekend" is the song of the summer for me. It may have already been outplayed as the album came out in early 2011, but it's a summertime groove that is undeniabley perfect. I'll be cruising to the shore with this album. It's arena rock with a warmth to it.
Included in this bunch of newer bands making 2011 great is three album deep Aussie electro gurus Cut Copy. Zonoscope is a daunting album of catchy synth hooks and big guitar moments. They are carrying the torch of Electric Light Orchestra into the 21st century. "Take Me Over" is a strange combination of Katy Perry and Men At Work that works a little to well. But the real stand out is the slow burner into revelatory anthem "Need You Now" that launches this album into a chaotic pop music festival of sheer glory.
Also in the newer spectrum for this years goodies is Kurt Vile. He opened for Pavement last year and is a Philadelphia native, but I haven't been able to fully embrace his music until Smoke Ring For My Halo, yet another Nighthawks suggestion. "Jesus Fever" is a fantastic representation of the strange psych folk that is coming out of Philly. It's a beautiful song that has some crossover value waiting in the wings.
Enough about the plucky young upstarts. What about the stand by classic rockers?
In the realm of long running projects, 2011 is a bit polarizing and satisfying. Radiohead is the prime example here. The out of nowhere announcement and release of King of Limbs was mythic before it had the chance to let anyone down. And it's not a let down really, but a very curious album. More along the lines of Thom Yorke's The Eraser, it goes in a totally different direction than the more accessible In Rainbows may have had their fans hoping they'd continue to go. Regardless, it's still a great smattering of avante garde music. "Lotus Flower" is as close to a single as you'll find. It's a cool musical experience and an incredibly well written song, but it's moody and glitchy. It's inevitably polarizing. Whether you enjoy it, appreciate it or love it, it's an unavoidable song. Where King of Limbs really shines is in the track "Codex." It harkens back to "Pyramid Song" with it's slow climbing piano and a haunting Yorke vocal track. It's definitely the weakest album in the Radiohead pantheon (excluding Pablo Honey) but there is something beguiling about it. It makes it worth coming back to.
On a different level altogether, The Beastie Boys release their long delayed Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 and for some reason I feel like it has been forgotten. Are the Beastie's finally irrelevant? The answer is no. "Make Some Noise" is a funky ass track that shows an energy and scaled back approach that is refreshing. The Boys still have a little something, but it doesn't carry over the whole album.
Foo Fighters came back with Wasting Light, the closest to a return to form it looks like we're going to get out of Grohl and Co. And while it's not as bland as Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace, it's still doesn't hold a candle to the glory days of the Foos. It's definitely the best album since One By One. Grohl took some of Josh Homme's juice after working with Them Crooked Vultures to release the best Foo's track since the 90's in "White Limo" but the rest of the album lacks the same gusto and fire that "White Limo" has.
One of my favorite song writers, J Mascis, released a solo album this year called Several Shades of Why. It may be the best selection of songs from Mascis in a long time and they are beautiful and quiet tomes. You can hear all of these songs turn into Dinosaur Jr. songs, especially "Listen to Me." Not sure what the reasoning behind not using these as Dinosaur Jr. songs was, but I'm glad they aren't. The simplicity of this album is what makes it great.
I am sure there are a ton of things I have yet to fully listen to (TV on the Radio, The Raveonettes, Rival Schools) and there are a ton of new albums coming soon. Next post will deal with the tumultous year 2011 has been in the news.