No… wait… let me rephrase that:
Finding GOOD new music was difficult.[/quote]
These days, I’m finding it easier and easier to find, acquire and share my thoughts on new good (a personal measure of course) music. I started a similar list last year and thought I’d do it again – share some of my “hidden gem” discoveries. These albums aren’t necessarily new or recent releases – I just personally discovered them this past year.
What qualifies as a “hidden gem” in my eyes? I consume a LOT of music: at least 3-4 new full-length albums a week.
- If I download an album, then something on it caught my ear and caused me to commit.
- If I listen to one of those albums more than a couple of times in a week, then it’s probably “decent“.
- If I’m still listening to something 2-3 weeks after I got it, then it’s “good“.
- If I’m still listening to something after a period of a couple of months and/or I find myself actively looking for that artist/album, then it’s a “hidden gem“.
So without further stalling, here’s zee list:
- Jets Overhead – No Nations
Songwriting isn’t anything complex on this album – from a theoretical standpoint, it’s quite simple. The arrangements are basic and stripped down and as with Civil Twilight, Jets Overhead aren’t really one of those bands that’ll get you itching to start a mosh-pit at the front of the stage. Mix-wise, it’s a very present (somewhat compressed/limited) album, but they’ve created a lot of “space” and “air” in their sound. There are co-lead singers (male and female) and they work well together.
- Biffy Clyro – Only Revolutions
This was one of the first albums that really gave me one of those “What the…? Where did THIS come from?”. Biffy Clyro is a band that’s been around in the U.K. for a few years and has been topping out in the “Brit Awards”, but only recently gaining traction in North America. This album pushes all the right buttons for me – it’s got a LOT of variety. They go through a lot of styles and genres and bring you on a musical journey – all in one package. There’s something for everyone here – catchy riff-based songs, thought-provoking ballads and prog-inspired hard rockers. Puts a smile on my face for sure.
- Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
I like variety when listening to an artist – I like to hear good songwriting that takes me down familiar AND unfamiliar musical roads at the same time. There are a LOT of different sounds on this album, but the songs also have memorable and accessible elements as well. The mixes are in-your-face and on the louder end of the scale, but if you get past that, there is a lot of ear-candy in there. It’s not a rocker-album by any means, but there are indie, pop and electronic elements that keep my ears perked up.
- Flobots – Survival Story
Ever since I heard Ugly Duckling’s “Taste the Secret” album, I’ve been on the lookout for hip-hop”ish” artists who explore new, non-stereotypical avenues. Ugly Duckling created a concept album centered around two warring fast-food chains which incoporated a lot of tongue-in-cheek-with-a message humour. Flobots don’t exactly do that, but they infuse song-writing, arrangement and production elements in their tracks that kept my interest. It’s refreshing to hear so much ear-candy behind rhymes – sure there are loops in there, but there are live drums, guitars, strings, melodic choruses… You don’t hear THAT from your stereo-typical low-riding pimp-mobile do you?
- Thornley – Come Again
Crunchy guitars, soulful-Chris-Cornell-inspired voices and straight-ahead RAWK … with a bit of prog-inspired variety. There are some catchy melodic lines that you can picture driving a crowd to the standard call-and-response fare at a concert, and they’re backed by some great sounding rock tracks. The cool thing about this album for me is that there are curve-balls thrown into songs – arrangement decisions that keep my ears perked up. It’s a great album to get lost in.
- Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
The Foo Fighters have been around for more than a decade now. Shouldn’t they be fading into oldies-inspired obscurity? Pretty well all the “established” bands that released something this year offered up well … meh. Thankfully, Dave Grohl seems to still cling onto elements of his personality that keep him grounded to what makes the band’s repertoire great – catchy rock-based music that doesn’t disappoint. I’d love to find out how he gets inspired for all his ideas – there’s so much that’s fresh in the bands’ music. Foo Fighters seem to be one of those solid acts that consistently produce good, decent stuff.
- The Sounds – Crossing the Rubicon
The Sounds have a new album entitled “Something to Die For“, but I find myself gravitating to pressing play on this one – which is their previous album (rel. 2009). I have a soft spot for female-led bands for some reason. I’m by no means a push-over for any act that has a woman singing, but my wife did point that “trend in the data” (Garbage, Metric, Lacuna Coil…). I like this album as it has some singable and memorable songs on it – kind of a Killers sound (their first album – when they were still good)… but with a girl. There’s also some welcome dynamics in the mix and a “raw” edge to the recording – no autotuning nor apparent editing. Very refreshing.
- The Fratellis – Costello Music
Like the Sounds above, this is not the Fratellis latest album (which is “Here We Stand” rel. 2009), but I seem to be playing this one more often than the other … and not just because of the cover … ahem. If there’s one thing that I can say about the Fratellis music it’s: Fun. These guys would be so fun to see in a club – a small one preferably, but the Commodore in Vancouver would be fantastic too. None of the songs goes over 4:00 and the sound is not something that you can easily pin down, but it’s all “expected” instrumentation – guitars, keys, bass, drums… There’s a variety and humour sprinkled throughout, but what seems to really set this apart for me is that the band really sounds like they’re really enjoying themselves.
- Various Artists – Sucker Punch Soundtrack
Again, I do not gravitate to this album because of the album cover. I don’t usually enjoy film soundtracks that are made of a compilation of individual songs. Those kinds of soundtracks usually sound like badly formulated mix tapes. This album, however, had some cohessiveness to it – the musical director and director seemed to have actually thought the music through. The songs are not just your run-of-the mill “hits” – there actually seems to been effort put forward to include matching-picture film scoring in them. It’s not going to win any Oscars (at least I seriously doubt it), but there is an edge that speaks well to the steam-punk / comic book aesthetic of the film.
- Ludo – Prepare The Preparations
If there’s one album “discovery” that blew my socks off this past year, this is the one. There’s something for everyone on this album. For anyone who loves variety and musicality in an album (i.e. me), this is a dream come. There’s elements of rock, metal, singer-songwriter, showtunes… They seem to pull it off without sounding like they’re showing off. Rather, the band seems to just riffing on whichever way the muse took them when they were writing the songs – and having fun doing it. If you crossed Muse and They Might Be Giants – I think this is what you’d get.
- Hard-Fi – Killer Sounds
Simple, straight-ahead pop-rock sounds with hints of synths sprinkled in. This is a highly-polished album with some great songs that’ll keep you moving. The songwriting isn’t breaking any new ground, but there are elements that pop out that take you by surprise. The music is tight and definitely suggests “dance to this”, but there’s also an edge to the tracks that keeps you reminded that this is a real band playing.
- Pony Pony Run Run – Pony Pony Run Run
Synth Pop. Remember that from the ’80’s? Okay, if you can’t, then that’s probably a good thing. If you can remember ’80’s synth pop, try to imagine it as actually being good. That’s what I think of when listening to Pony Pony Run Run. Yeah, my wife gave me a “they-couldn’t-think-of-a-better-name” look too when I mentioned them. The tracks are actually quite well written and although the sounds are “retro” and processed, there’s “real band” life in the album.
- Justice – Audio, Video, Disco
I have no idea why these guys use a cross as their “logo” (thought that was copyrighted by some other organization), but regardless of any religious affiliation or inference, their music has created an ear-worm with me. They’re classified as “Electronic”, but this with this album, they seem to be wanting to blur the line. Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers and Crystal Method come to my mind with that genre and I guess they’d fit there, but at times, they almost sound as though they’re a rock, and sometimes, prog-rock band. It’s synths and samplers that are playing but there’s a “looseness” that suggests that it’s a rock band with more than two people.
- Chemical Brothers – Hanna
For my last repeat-listen album, I thought I’d end off with another soundtrack. All the hulla-bulloo around our house (with the kids… really) is Daft Punk‘s Tron Legacy soundtrack which is quite good, but for me, got bumped out of my “heavy-rotation playlist” (a relative term of course) because of this one. The Chemical Brothers seemed to have abandoned the “radio friendly” approach that Daft Punk took with their project and opted for music that ebbed and flowed – serving the picture. There were more subtle uses of themes throughout the score and I felt that there was a welcome emotional depth and edge to this “electronic” score.