We’re at the midway point of the year, so it’s time for a quick review of the year in music thus far. The past two years have been chock full of great releases by some of my favorite artists: U2, Arcade Fire, The Avett Bros, The National, M Ward, Vampire Weekend, Mumford & Sons…to name only a few. Understandably, 2011 has suffered by comparison; while a few releases have captured my attention, I’m still looking for that one “great” album for 2011. (A heavy contender drops next week when Dawes releases “Nothing is Wrong”. If you’re unfamiliar with the awesomeness of Dawes’ soaring harmonies and SoCal vibeage, check out the video below of their signature tune, “When My Time Comes”.)
Back to 2011, a few albums and songs have been in heavy rotation lately. Here they are, with brief commentary:
- Eddie Vedder, Ukelele Songs – I don’t know who came up with this idea: Pearl Jam frontman Vedder playing a handful of originals and one or two covers accompanied by nothing more than a ukelele. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it is. But it works. You’d think after a couple of songs, the uke would get a little old; and who knows, maybe it will. (This album was just released this week.) But several listens in, this record is really growing on me. Coupled with Vedder’s always impressive vocal range, the ukelele lilts, sways, even jams on occasion, making this the perfect late-summer album.
- Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues – I’ve written a bit about the new Fleet Foxes album, but it’s the one release from the first six months of 2011 that has the chance to claim the top spot in my annual album review. If you’re a fan of lush, harmony-driven indie rock, then you’re probably already into Fleet Foxes. If you’re not, you should be. This is a great record.
- The Strokes, Angles – Since their first album came out over 10 years ago, I’ve been a fan of The Strokes. They came along at a time when the rock scene was desperate for fresh meaning and relevance and The Strokes were (unfairly) tabbed as rock & roll saviors for the new millennium. What young band could hold up under such lofty expectations? We’re probably better served to take these guys for what they are – a sporadic, dysfunctional rock band. Leave the salvation to some other band. This is finally the follow-up record they should’ve made on the heels of Room on Fire. Blending Julian Casablancas’ signature vocal style and Nick Valensi’s classic rock guitar riffs with a retro synth-pop backdrop gives this LP a throwback sound. Which is fitting, since the album was two years in the making. There’s still plenty of the bravado and self-loathing (sometimes in the same lyric) that we’ve come to expect from The Strokes. But there are moments (like “Under Cover of Darkness”, for instance) that remind you why you liked these guys in the first place. A solid album.
- Radiohead, The King of Limbs – I’m not ashamed to admit that most of the time, I don’t get Radiohead. I know that makes me some form of a “lesser” rock aficionado or something, but it’s true. This stuff is just way too obtuse for me. I’ve tried. I really have. After LOVING In Rainbows, I was really excited about this album. But it seems like they mailed it in on this one. I’m just sayin’.