This top ten list includes bands/artists whose music I’ve enjoyed in the past, but had lost touch with. Each of these were released in 2011 or prior, and can be streamed in full using the links in the text below. Enjoy!
Haley Bonar – Golder (Spit Comet Music)
On her fourth album, Minneapolis-based Bonar ventures further from the ethereal country-folk and haunted swamp blues of her first two impressive LPs, 2003’s The Size of Planets and 2006’s Lure the Fox. Golder sports more pop-influenced arrangements, especially on rousing, early-going standouts “Candy Machine Gun” and “Raggedy Man.” The second half turns hushed and introspective, as she flirts with a few different styles, alternating between twinkly piano/organ and gently-strummed acoustic guitar. As I discovered at her 2003 Knitting Factory gig opening for Low’s Alan Sparhawk (her first-ever NYC show), Bonar’s down-home, Neko Case/Tanya Donelly-like voice can stop you in your tracks, and it does throughout Golder, too.
La Snacks – AA 7” (Foolish Boy)
This Austin, TX foursome hasn’t released much since their quirky, yet melodic 2008 Newfangled EP, so these two new tracks are welcome. “Christ Sakes and Milkshakes” is buzzing, bouncy guitar pop, while “My Little Sugary Friend” is more relaxed and reflective. As before, singer Robert Segovia delivers his wry, acerbic lyrics in an assertive, brash, talk-sing style that vaguely recalls Ray Davies. Here’s hoping a follow-up full-length to 2005’s Brown Orange Black and Gray is somewhere on the horizon!
Deer Meet – You Can Walk Across It on the Grass (Some Obscure)
Led by Jimmy Angelina’s cutting, falsetto-tinged voice and razor sharp guitar playing, this Louisville, KY trio deliver another dose of their catchy and springy guitar pop. On Grass, their attack is even tighter and harder than on their excellent 2008 LP Turn to Clear Vision, thanks to nimble-fingered new bassist Scott Nethery. (They’ve since gotten a new rhythm section, however, and added a second guitarist.) It’s easy to see why they got to open two recent local gigs for The Lemonheads and Sebadoh.
The iOs – Victory By Attrition (The iOs)
I liked this Brooklyn foursome’s 2006 album In Sunday Songs, but somehow missed this terrific follow-up, which came out three years ago. Their best attribute is the delectable male/female vocals of guitarist Chris Punsalan and (especially) angelic keyboardist Autumn Proemm. They haven’t released anything since, and their Facebook and Myspace pages look quiet, so I’m not sure if they’re still active. But every time I hear the infectious “Joy Brigade,” “Born Into an Evil World,” and “Stand Down,” it makes me hope they make some more music soon!
The Secret Society – Peores cosas pasan en el mar (Gran Derby)
I first became acquainted with this Madrid group after hearing their 2005 debut Sad Boys Dance When No One’s Watching. On that stripped-down folk LP, and 2008’s similar but noisier follow-up I Am Becoming What I Hate the Most, leader Pepo Márquez delivered his disconsolate lyrics in both English and Spanish. But on this third full-length, he sings entirely in Spanish, and it’s easily their best album to date. After the lo-fi opener, the production becomes warmer and more full-bodied, and his voice is both captivating and romantic. Best of all, the album integrates more sounds and moods from his native country, especially Morricone-inspired spaghetti westerns and windswept desert soundscapes (see the sprawling “Si pudiste con tanto dolor, podrás con esto”). The gorgeous ballad “Cuídate, cowboy!,” which builds to a breathtaking duet with golden-voiced Alondra Bentley, further emphasizes the album’s eloquent beauty and distinctive sense of place.
Paper – As As (States Rights)
Although this album came out in 2007, I’m only recently discovering its charms. It’s a warm, bubbly ambient record, made by husband and wife duo Aaron and Adrienne Snow, of Connecticut’s dreampop/shoegaze guitar experimentalists Landing. I hear a lot of krautrock influences, especially Neu!, on mesmerizing tracks like “Boy” and “Mountain.” Judging from Landing’s Bandcamp page, As As looks to be their last studio album, although they’ve been posting a plethora of posthumous Landing recordings on the site. A treasure trove!
Tenebrous Liar – Run Run Run (Tenor Vossa UK)
In my review of this UK outfit’s 2008 LP Tenebrous Liar’s Last Stand, I described their music as “dark, demented, and deliberate, characterized by murky, lo-fi, feedback-drenched guitars and sludgy rhythms that lurch and heave like a sputtering locomotive.” Oh, did I mention they’re tense and gripping, too? They’ve released two LPs since then, 2010’s Jackknifed & Slaughtered and this follow-up from early 2011. Though they’ve whittled down from a sextet to a quartet, the above description still applies. And when you’re done listening to Steve Gullick‘s alternately growling and world-weary vocals, you can check out his excellent rock photography here. Dive in if you dare.
Giants – Giants 7” (The Mylene Sheath)
I hadn’t been keeping up with these atmospheric Iowa guitar instrumentalists since their 2007 debut LP They, The Undeserving, reissued on vinyl by The Mylene Sheath in 2008. This 7” contains re-recorded versions of the first four songs they ever made upon graduating high school in 2005 (they had originally intended to add vocals, but never did). It features more of the glistening, enrapturing guitars that made that debut so majestic and uplifting. This will tide us over nicely until their third album, planned for 2013.
La Resistance – Philosophy (Superphonic)
Birmingham, AL singer/songwriter Greg Summerlin’s second solo LP, 2005’s The Young Meteors got some Britpop comparisons in the press, but I thought its melodic pop leaned more towards bands like later Go-Betweens, The Chills/Bats, and The dB’s. However, this debut album from his new group actually does hearken back to that late ‘70s/early ‘80s British-influenced post-punk/new wave sound (especially Joy Division, Comsat Angels, The Sound and later Echo & the Bunnymen), with its tension-filled guitars, glacial keyboards, and cinematic scope. Given those influences, it’s hard to believe this terrific album is coming from Deep South, USA.
Canyons of Static – Challenger EP (Meters and Miles)
This Wisconsin shoegaze/dreampop quintet has just released Farewell Shadows, their follow-up full-length to 2008’s superb debut The Disappearance. But I’m still immersing myself in this four-track EP from last year, which introduced their new second guitarist Nick Elert. As I said about the debut, they “create majestic, expansive, and multi-layered instrumental soundscapes,” and that holds true on Challenger, too. Just check out the monumental 10-1/2 minute title track for proof. Glorious!