I’m notoriously slow on the uptake so some of these records may have seen the light of day prior to 2011, but here is some music that that I’ve been digging on this past year:
Becca Stevens Band – Weightless
Beautiful, out, sophisticated original vocal melodies and creative covers with subtly textured vocal and instrumental arrangements. She’s a bit of an open secret in New York and probably won’t stay under the radar for long.
Punch Brothers – Antifogmatic
Chris Thile’s new project, produced by Jon Brion. All of the gritty bluegrass and sophisticated/out harmony of Thile’s old band Nickel Creek, without the slicker pop melodies. It’s weird, and great.
Shusmo – Mumtastic
I love this New York cross-cultural fusion group. This follow up to their EP One features the same ensemble with a few more breakbeats and a dirrrrrrrty sound for Tareq Aboushi’s buzuq. Until tomorrow, they’re running a holiday promotion where you can download the album for only $5. Well worth the bandwidth.
Fayvish – YIDDPOP
A German group singing contemporary, original Yiddish music. Sounds something like Soul Coughing– vaguely jazzy, bare but colorful. Check out “Akhtsik er, zibetsik zi”.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – Revelator
Combining some of the best blues singing and guitar playing there is out there with 9 other incredible musicians culled from Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks’ respective bands.
Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Mavis’ voice still chills to the bone. Organic, traditional sounding and awash in tremolo.
Bon Iver (Self-Titled)
Bon Iver managed to follow up his successful For Emma, Forever Ago with a record that maintains the vibe of its predecessor but greatly expands on its sound. It’s organic and electric, intimate and vast.
Meshell Ndegeocello – Weather
What can I say, I’m a devotee. Groovy, vibey, sometimes crunchy, and surprisingly hooky. If you go into a Meshell record without expectations, you’re bound to come out the better for it.
Clinton Curtis – 2nd Avenue Ball
In full disclosure, I’m lucky enough to play in Clinton Curtis’ live band. 2nd Avenue Ball was made before my tenure, however, and I think the 15-track record is quite a masterpiece front to back. I’ll leave it at that.
Pomplamoose – VideoSongs
Nataly Dawn is one of my new favorite bass players, for the weird, angular lines that she lays down on these and other Pomplamoose tracks. Her other half, Jack Conte, is a brilliant producer combining an ear for creating sounds with incredibly interesting uses of electronic music techniques. Apparently this album is from 2009, so I’m just catching up to the party.
Erin McCarley – Love Save The Empty
Jamie Kenney‘s production takes the best of Fiona Apple/Jon Brion collaborations without quite so much brooding. The first three tracks alternate quirky verses with Coldplay-style epic hooks.
Sara Bareilles – Kaleidescope Heart
Super piano-poppy and awesome. This is how you write a pop song. Producer Neal Avron, who made his break with Everclear’s So Much For The Afterglow, sets the standard for textured but efficient arrangements, and ubiquitous LA session rhythm section Matt Chamberlain and Justin Meldal-Johnsen are so damn tight.
Maxwell – BLACKsummers’night
Already a couple years old, but this is the gift that keeps giving. An unbelievable soul/r+b record combining a tight live band with careful programming and production.
Any albums that should have been on this list that I need to hear? Let me know in the comments!