50 Unheralded Albums from 2011

50 Unheralded Albums from 2011

In just one more trip around the sun, another swarm of immensely talented but under-recognized musicians has harnessed its collective talents and discharged its creations into the void. This list is but one fraction of those dedicated individuals who caught our ears with some serious jams.

Peter Wolf Crier

Pop Addict: Peter Wolf Crier’s Garden of Arms

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Peter Wolf Crier: Garden of ArmsPeter Wolf CrierGarden of Arms (Jagjaguwar, 9/6/11)

Peter Wolf Crier: “Settling It Off”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Peter-Wolf-Crier-Settling-It-Off.mp3|titles=Peter Wolf Crier: “Settling It Off”]

There are enough two-pieces nowadays that people understand the formula can work without a full backing band — and work well. When Peter Wolf Crier, the two-man collaboration between Peter Pisano and Brian Moen, released alt-folk gem Inter-Be in 2010, it seemed to have a good handle on what it was doing. An acoustic-driven approach, sprinkled with sporadic percussion and piano, established Peter Wolf Crier as one of the year’s best-kept secrets.

But that was the problem; the band’s sound was so subdued that it often went unnoticed, and the band struggled to put its stamp on the indie-folk scene. Peter Wolf Crier ultimately had two options for its next release: create another Inter-Be-esque album and risk floundering again, or expand and experiment. Though it stands to reason that either direction may have proven fruitful, there’s no denying that Garden of Arms is a product of the second option.

Okkervil River

Pop Addict: Okkervil River’s I Am Very Far

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Okkervil River: I Am Very FarOkkervil River: I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar, 5/10/11)

Okkervil River: “Wake and Be Fine”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Okkervil-River-Wake-and-Be-Fine.mp3|titles=Okkervil River: “Wake and Be Fine”]

Austin indie-folk band Okkervil River has always been pretty bookish. With lyrics that read, more often than not, like poems or short stories, Will Sheff and company have penned some of the most evocative and menacing lines in contemporary music.

From the haunting storyline of “Westfall” on the band’s 2002 debut, Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See, to the wistful longings of “For Real” and “Black” on 2005 standout Black Sheep Boy, to the sing-along chorus of “Lost Coastlines” from The Stand Ins, Okkervil River has crafted poetic, imaginative, visceral, and oftentimes harrowing tales. But the band’s appeal doesn’t begin and end with the lyrics. Instead, Okkervil River provides a vast arsenal of instrumentation and musical sensibilities, covering a barrage of genres within the indie scene. And with I Am Very Far, the band’s latest effort, those trends continue with much success.

Parts & Labor

Record Review: Parts & Labor’s Constant Future

Parts & Labor: Constant FutureParts & Labor: Constant Future (Jagjaguwar, 3/8/11)

Parts & Labor: “Constant Future”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/constantfuture.mp3|titles=Parts & Labor: “Constant Future”]

In 20 years, we will wistfully misremember that all of indie rock sounded like a handful of reliable, definitive bands. It will be tempting to include Parts & Labor in that pleasant exercise of self-delusion. Then again, it wont make our memories any easier to process or simplify.

The electro-rock group’s co-founders, Dan Friel and BJ Warshaw, write lots of lyrical phrases that don’t express a simple opinion or definite image but are tempting to repeat like aphorisms. On the chorus of “A Thousand Roads,” one of the best songs and finest examples of what they’ve achieved on the new album Constant Future, they conjure up one of many fragmentary but astutely realized landscapes: “Come on, praise the progress made, the sharpened grays of a thousand roads / all delays, no lazy days, the latent phase of a thousand roads.”

It may be about touring-band life, or how America seems to measure its worth in paved surfaces. Because it’s not didactic or preachy, though, it can gradually sink in and play with your head, with the internal rhymes and alliterations indicating that there’s some coherent thought running through it that can’t wait to get out.

Parts & Labor’s music also sounds like it reads. Friel’s electronics crawl through the songs like power-line hum given life and dimension, but the hooks, punk-shout-along-worthy choruses, and Joe Wong‘s drums keep insisting that it’s going to make sense to your instincts.

Black Mountain

The Groove Seeker: Black Mountain’s Wilderness Heart

On a weekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Black Mountain: Wilderness HeartBlack Mountain: Wilderness Heart (Jagjaguwar, 9/14/2010)

Black Mountain: “Wilderness Heart”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/08.-Wilderness-Heart.mp3|titles=Black Mountain: “Wilderness Heart”]

Thanks to endless comparisons to bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath, and tagged as a band obsessed with ’70s stoner rock, Vancouver-based rock outfit Black Mountain has a lot to live up to.  But beyond the umbrella terminology and exhaustive retro comparisons, the group doesn’t receive enough credit for striking a modern chord with mainstream and underground-minded audiences alike.

Weekly Music News Roundup

Over the past week, we caught news of a mini Soundgarden/TAD live jam, a new Kayo Dot album, a new/streaming Trash Talk EP, another Mars Volta album, another Zach Hill project, and a release date for the new Tortoise album.  Read about this and more after the jump.

Weekly Music News Roundup

The long-rumored Faith No More reunion has been confirmed (!!!).  Vocal heavyweight Mike Patton keeps busy with a feature-film soundtrack, MF Doom drops half his name and a new album, Dengue Fever provides accompaniment to The Lost World, hip-hop duo Themselves returns, and much more.