With the massive amount of new music in any given calendar year, it's easy to let more than a few quality albums slip under your radar. There's absolutely nothing wrong with getting an album, being excited for it and really planning on listening to it to only get distracted by an already favorite album that can't seem to find its way out of your iPod, CD player, Zune or however else you get your music fix.
A scenario like this happens more often than not, but there's still hope for those albums initially overlooked -- hope that usually comes in the form of a song that went unnoticed in the first place, yet now begs for repeated listens. That one song can open up an album that was, tragically, once overlooked. For all of those albums that had to sit the bench for a few months and wait their turn, I now present five of my overlooked albums of 2011 thus far.
Ford & Lopatin -- Channel Pressure (Software)
The duo of Joel Ford and Daniel Lopatin used to record under the name Games. Their brilliant 2010 EP That We Can Play produced one of my favorite songs from last year, "Strawberry Skies." Due to forthcoming legal pressure from rapper The Game, Games changed their name to Ford & Lopatin and released their debut album Channel Pressure in June on their own Software imprint. Buoyed by the solid lead single "Emergency Room," Channel Pressure is yet another magnificent piece of early 1980s analog synth and midi sequence homage from the duo. The not-so-subtle "Too Much MIDI (Please Forgive Me)" lays on the hokey 80s synths pretty thick, but in a good way. Ford & Lopatin manage to rework their beloved 80s electronic sound into a way that transcends any one decade -- if Channel Pressure were to released in, say, 1981, it probably would have been a rather popular record.
Baltimore duo Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner were, as I mentioned earlier this year, the Beach House for 2011 -- a Baltimore-based boy/girl duo playing inspired indie rock/pop music. While Beach House catered more towards the dreamy pop side of things, Wye Oak were more gritty and visceral in their harmonies. Wasner's vocals are an amalgamation of teenage angst and a the sudden realization of the responsibilities of being an adult -- lyrical content leans towards the former while being sung with a starkness bereft of the latter. Civilian is, to say the least, a rather fascinating record that may miss the mark for some. For those who accept it, though, it is by far one of the year's best efforts.
My one regret with this album is not familiarizing myself with it before Man Man played The Clubhouse this past May. I was about a week behind on the album and it didn't really grab me until the band had passed through Arizona. It sucks, too, because I would have covered the shit out of that show -- Man Man are rather notorious for their offbeat stage presence. If those shows are anything like what Life Fantastic sounds like, the prospect is frightening. Life Fantastic has perhaps one of my favorite lyrics of 2011 on the song "Piranhas Club," You feel like you can't breathe / You're out of control / The world is a shit show / You barely can handle." I don't think listening to any other album this year has been as much fun as when Life Fantastic finally clicked with me -- unfortunately, it took a little longer than expected to happen.
Hooray For Earth's fantastic debut was not lost on me -- I was grabbed by the album the first time I heard the two-song arc of "Sails" and "True Loves." I knew nothing about the band other than they were my new favorite band, thus the appropriate post I immediately wrote. I include them on this list because I feel that not many other people are too familiar with the New York rockers. Their charging, cascading take on indie rock is incredibly refreshing -- there's even a hint of inspiration in their melodies, like listening to Hooray For Earth is going to somehow change the world, even if just a little. Such earth-changing music simply cannot go unnoticed.
Can anyone tell me what the hell this is? Seriously, I have no clue how to eloquently describe Portland trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Perhaps it's because lead singer Ruben Nielson is from New Zealand, perhaps it's because they try their hardest to sound exactly like nothing else -- whatever the case may be, UMO have released one of my favorite records of 2011 by far. There is nothing I love more than music that is impossible to pigeonhole -- music that takes pride in its unclassifiable-ness. I was tipped off about UMO by a friend, and a few weeks after being told about them, I decided to give them a listen. I was not on the UMO forefront, by any means, but better late than never. Their song "Nerve Damage!" starts off with this soft, vocal/synth mix that is violently interrupted by 60s-era guitars and Nielson's fuzzed out vocals. The track changes from a kid's show theme song into garage rock into Julian Casablancas-esque vocals and back into the kid's show to finish things off -- all in a Ramones-approved two minutes and fifteen seconds. What else is there to say?