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* Favorite Vocal Albums of 2011 *

29th Dec 11 (Thu) 6 comments

I’ve been buying less music… or, at least a lot less mainstream (major label) music. This is also my fourth year now that I bought more instrumental CDs than vocal CDs. I think as I get older, I am drawn more towards jazz and other instrumental forms of expression. For that reason, the favorite vocal albums list goes first this go ’round. Hopefully my spilling out of music that I like finds interest with someone else. But if not, thanks for stopping by… check out the artists’ webpages, Facebox pages, yadda yadda yadda. A lot of these also made it on to my 2011 Mix CD (free streaming/download).

OK, now on to the best of what’s hit my ears this year…

Honorable Mentions: Iron & WineKiss Each Other Clean, Tres MtsThree Mountains, PomplamooseThe Album You Bought At Our Show (Thanks for That), MC FrontalotSolved and The RootsUndun.

BjörkBiophilia :: It started with an iPhone / iPad app… I was skeptical, but it turned out to be a really cool app and a really cool album.  I don’t think the actual music broke any new ground for Bjork, but her willingness to approach technology and manifest an album initially with a new format is what will keep her in the forefront for me.
Elysian FieldsLast Night on Earth :: Brooklyn-based sultry art rockers Elysian Fields don’t really tour outside of NYC often.  Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow find their way to Europe on occasion, but most U.S. fans only really have their studio albums to sate their musical desires.  This is their sixth full-length album in their near 16-year career.  Well crafted, well produced, lush vocals and folk meets dusky jazz.
BlackfieldWelcome to My DNA :: I was disappointed that I couldn’t make it out for this tour.  The album is good, albeit a little disjointed compared to their other two albums (probably due to Aviv Geffen doing more of the writing versus Steven Wilson who was busy with his solo album – see #9 below).  Nice orchestration and a solid offering from Blackfield.
Dream TheaterA Dramatic Turn of Events :: I almost didn’t buy this album.  I’m glad I did, but I’m still pretty pissed at the band for choosing to continue without founder/drummer Mike Portnoy after he expressed an interest in a short hiatus/breather.  They picked up a drummer I like (Mike Mangini, who i saw play with Extreme in 1995), but a BIG piece of what I loved about DT (after Kevin Moore left in 1994) was Mike Portnoy’s energy.  With his absence, I’m liking them less and less.  The album is good, but it’s way more bitter than sweet to me.
Foo FightersWasting Light :: Dave Grohl is a modern rock genius.  He rocks, he hooks, he continues to put out great music.
Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory OrchestraMTO Plays Sly :: A trumpet-led tribute to Sly and the Family Stone with guests vocalists.  This superb collection is less funk, but still quite enjoyable.  My favorite is the Antony-sung “Family Affair.”
Florence + the MachineCeremonials :: Soulful baroque-rock chanteuse won me over with their first album Lungs, even though I didn’t pick it up this year.  Her second album solidifies her as more than a fluke.  The album is dancey and dark.  Great for fans of Tori Amos & Kate Bush!
IncubusIf Not Now, When? :: Incubus took some time off so guitarist Mike Einziger could work on his degree at Harvard and singer Brandon Boyd could put out some art as well as his solo album.  They regrouped and put out an album that had a similar vibe to the ocean-groove Morning View.  They aren’t breaking new ground, but they still have a solid position in my ears.
The Jelly JamShall We Descend :: The supergroup of Ty Tabor (King’s X), John Myung (Dream Theater) and Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs) finally found some time to hit the studio!  The result is an excellent rock album…
ChevelleHats Off to the Bull :: Chevelle are a sleeper in my collection.  I almost write them off and then with each album, I think how stupid it’d be to write them off.  Great hard rock with a vocalist that reminds me of Maynard (Tool, etc).  I really need to see this band live – I’ve yet to have a the chance…
My Brightest Diamond & Murat EyubogluLetters to Distant Cities :: A short spoken word album, featuring the words of Mustafa Ziyalan.  Words spoken by Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), backing music by Murat Eyubolu, with two songs sandwiching the poetry – one by MBD and one by Clare & the Reasons.  A great arty piece.
 
Jason LudwigTanglings :: Jason Ludwig returns to the Cincinnati music scene after his 2010 band break up (Noctaluca) with two full-length albums (Tanglings and Lost in Love).  Tanglings is my favorite of the two, but they’re both quite excellent.  Well-produced, well-arranged, creative singer-songwriter that reminds me of a cross between the pop of Glen Hansard (of the Swell Season and the Frames) and the creative of Daniel Johns (of Silverchair). If you don’t like these albums, I’d be surprised.
Hotel LightsGirl Graffiti :: Darren Jesse was the drummer for Ben Folds Five, and wrote one of my absolute favorite songs for them – “Magic” from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.  He puts down the sticks and picks up the guitar and vocal duties for Hotel Lights.  This is HL’s 3rd album, and he continues to impress me with his versatile skills.  Poppy indie rock.
EisleyThe Valley :: The long gap between The Valley and their last album was trying for the band.  After many contract dispute with their former label (Warner), they were finally set free.  Many bands don’t make it out of contract disputes alive – it’s easier to break up sometimes.  Well, thankfully it’s difficult for Eisley to break-up, as they’d still see each other at holidays and family get-togethers (the band consists of 3 sisters, a brother, and a cousin).  The Valley picks up where 2007’s Combinations left off.  Alt-pop-rock goodness.  Vocal duties traded off between sisters Sherri & Stacy…
Tori AmosNight of the Hunters :: This was Tori’s first album on classical label Deutsche Grammophon.  I was skeptical at first, not because of the classical bent.  I knew she could handle that… I was skeptical due to the first artwork that looked plastic (which sadly stayed) and her last studio album was a lackluster (IMO) holiday album (blech).  Tori enlists her daughter Natashya on some vocals, and delivers one of my favorite Tori albums since 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk.
David BazanStrange Negotiations :: Continuing in his solo expressions after the official ceasing of Pedro the Lion, David Bazan manifests wit, a sharp tongue, and a questioning mind into his DIY-indie rock.  This year, he toured quite a bit, solo and with a band.  An album last year (Curse Your Branches), an album this year, and another on the way.  He’s slogging away, trekking all over the country, and making some great music on the way.
Steven WilsonGrace for Drowning :: Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson is a hard worker.  Whether he’s producing albums for others or making albums & touring with PT, Blackfield, No-Man, Storm Corrosion, or solo – he’s always busy each and every year.  This year brought his second solo album and a small tour.  The album is a bit more stripped down from his other projects.  It is reminiscent of Pink Floyd in spots – specifically this song “Home in Negative.”  He also rocks out a bit in the almost two hour double album… check out the video for “Track One” here (it’s a bit bleak then startling).  Gorgeous work.
WussyStrawberry :: Well, I was super happy when I found out that Wussy was putting out their fourth full-length studio album this year. They’re a fantastic rock quartet made up of Chuck Cleaver, Lisa Walker, Mark Messerly, and Joe Klug. They write catchy, poppy choruses and meld it perfectly with Midwest Americana-meets-indie-rock grit (or “Midwestern drone” as their press says).   Vocal duties are traded off with Chuck (of Ass Ponys) and Lisa (of Magic Words).
RadioheadThe King of Limbs :: I could probably put an “indie” icon next to Radiohead… I think technically they put TKOL out by themselves.  But they’re a huge superpower of a band.  I like this record, but I’ll admit that it’s still sinking in… I need to give it some more spins.  This album spawned a seven 7″ vinyl remix set.  The video for “Lotus Flower” also spawned a silly “Thom Yorke dancing” meme… one of my favorites being the tennis/fish and the “Single Ladies” editions.
Jeffrey FoucaultHorse Latitudes :: Jeffrey Foucault is a favorite Americana artist that I got turned on to by singer-songwriter/storyteller Peter Mulvey.  Jeffrey and Peter work together in the band Redbird (with David Goodrich and Jeffrey’s wife Kris Delmhorst).  I didn’t pick up Jeffrey’s albums until the past year and a half.  He’s definitely more on the cusp of country than I tend to traverse, but I dig his authenticity, poetic wit and charm.  He’s a delight on stage and a fantastic John Prine-esque songwriter for the new generation.
OpethHeritage :: Mikael Åkerfeldt hangs up the cookie monster vocals and “Swedish death metal” rattle and puts out a solid heavy metal album that is a tribute to his progressive metal ancestors.  I’ll admit, I miss the heavier side, but it’s still good to see Mikael evolve.
Over the RhineThe Long Surrender :: For those that don’t know Over the Rhine, they started out as a four piece in Cincinnati in 1989 and put out their “post-nuclear, pseudo-alternative, folk-tinged art-pop” indie debut ‘Til We Have Faces in 1991. After about a decade as a four-piece, Ric Hordinski (guitars) & Brian Kelley (drums) left.  Karin Bergquist (vocals) & Linford Detweiler (keys) carried on the Over the Rhine flame throughout the years… moving away from a rockier feel to a more folky-pop-Americana thing. What I like about Over the Rhine is they continually change and evolve into a different band with each album and each outing. I’ve seen them rock out, I’ve seen them jazz it up, I’ve seen them happy, I’ve seen them somber, I’ve seen them celebratory, and I’ve seen them tell stories that will make you laugh and cry.
dredgChuckles and Mr. Squeezy :: I love this band.  I hate the album title, but I love the band.  Modern progressive rock, tons of talent, thoughtful lyrics, none of that “prog wankery” that is generally detestable.  While it’s hard for them to follow-up the stunning The Pariah The Parrot The Delusion (from 2009), this new album does a hearty job of maintaining their quality rock standards.
My Brightest DiamondAll Things Will Unwind :: Shara Worden (aka My Brightest Diamond) took some time off since her last album – 2008′s A Thousand Shark’s Teeth.  She put out some stunning collaborations in the past three years (see #15 above) including her first kiddo; so the lapse in studio work was a-OK.  On this album, Shara teams up with NYC-based ensemble yMusic to create a lush backdrop for her gorgeous voice.  I can’t praise this album enough!
PusciferConditions of My Parole :: Tool / A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan makes wine and makes other music in his time off from Tool and APC.  I loved Puscifer’s debut and the subsequent EP, but this album tops it all.  It’s a brilliant record, recorded in one of his wine cellars with his friends – featuring backing vocals from Carina Round.  It’s self-released by Puscifer music with a small distribution partner (available in indie shops, primarily).  The tour this year was great (I caught Seattle), and I’m glad they’re heading out in the spring again (I’ll be at Portland).

Check out the 2011 Mix for some samples, click the Amazon buttons for other samples, and support the music if you like what you hear!

My Other Favorites of 2011 Recaps:

~Dan – np: Trent Reznor & Atticus RossThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

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Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning (2011)

9th Jun 11 (Thu) 1 comment

Update 8/24: there’s a new video for the song “Track One” with the image below, as well as pre-order information at THIS BLOG.

After some news leaking slowly, Porcupine Tree/No-Man/Blackfield frontman Steven Wilson’s next solo album finally has a name… Grace For Drowning.  It also has a trailer…


http://www.gracefordrowning.com/

Recapping the news from prior posts:

  • it’ll be two 40-45 minute albums in the same package… due “Autumn 2011” (September-ish)
  • album names: Deform to Form a Star and Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye
  • pretty organic feel, mostly inspired by the darker end of vintage progressive music and some… movie soundtrack stuff (Morricone especially)
  • the usual array of excellent SW options: double-vinyl release, 5.1 surround sound, hard back book edition, CD, digital…
  • Update 7/19: free download… 9-minute full-track by signing up for the mailing list at http://www.gracefordrowning.com/

Stay up with his Facebook page and http://www.gracefordrowning.com/ for the scoop as it develops.  Steven just finished up his tour with Blackfield, and also in the works… Storm Corrosion with Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt (likely a 2012 release).

~Dan – np: Remy ZeroVilla Elaine

Steven Wilson’s upcoming double album

7th May 11 (Sat) Leave a comment

From Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson’s facebook page about his upcoming solo work…

The new solo album website will probably launch in early June now. The music is done, but we’re still working on film material and the deluxe edition. It’s presented as two 40-45 minute albums in the same package (which begs the question; when is a double album not a double album? When it’s 2 single albums issued together!) The album titles are Deform to Form a Star and Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye.

Good question…personally, I’d still call that a double album, but whatever… it’s just semantics.

~Dan – np: The Book of KnotsTraineater

Blackfield – Waving (music video – 2011)

23rd Mar 11 (Wed) Leave a comment

The first single from Blackfield’s 3rd album Welcome To My DNA… “Waving”…

Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree / No-Man / etc) & Aviv Geffen are taking Blackfield on the road in North America this spring.  The album is on-sale at Amazon

~Dan – np: PfRThem

Steven Wilson’s 2nd solo album (2/21 update)

21st Feb 11 (Mon) Leave a comment

More news to tack onto the original announcement (go here for that).  This is also from Steven Wilson‘s facebook page:

Thanks for all the wonderful feedback regarding my new solo record! Sorry, but “Cut Ribbon” once again failed to make the cut – although the 12 tracks / 84 minutes of music I’ve selected for the main release is quite eclectic, it has in common a pretty organic feel, mostly inspired by the darker end of vintage progressive music and some… movie soundtrack stuff (Morricone especially). The sound palette is made up of things like strings, choir, woodwinds, mellotron, organ, piano, fender rhodes, jazz drums, and warmer guitar tones, so the shiny metal attack of Cut Ribbon just doesn’t fit. But the track is all mixed and finished and sounds good, so I’ll find somewhere to release it. Definitely the album will come out on double vinyl too. Love the new Radiohead album! Here’s another still from the work in progress films Lasse is working on to include on the blu-ray version of the album.

~Dan – np: EarthAngels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1

Steven Wilson’s 2nd solo album

15th Feb 11 (Tue) Leave a comment

Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree put out his first solo album, Insurgentes, in 2008.  He followed it up with the concept album The Incident from his day gig (Porcupine Tree) in 2009, a live PT DVD (Anesthetize) and Insurgentes DVD in 2010… and now, 2011 will shower us with at least two SW-related records: Blackfield‘s third album, Welcome to My DNA (with a world tour), and his second solo album (based on this news on his facebook page):

My second solo album is nearing completion. It will be in the form of 2 separate 40 minute albums released in the same 2 CD set, and will also come as a blu-ray with surround mix, high definition stereo and a lot of visual material (Lasse [Hoile] is already working hard on films for many of the songs, attached is a still from one of these we shot a couple of weeks ago to a song called “Index”). We’re also planning a special Insurgentes style hard back book edition with a full length bonus CD of additional material. A year in the making, this is without doubt my biggest project to date, perhaps my most ambitious and personal music, and with some phenomenal musicians and performances on it (drummer Nic France in particular is going to blow a lot of people away). We hope a website will launch around April/May to start previewing material, with the album scheduled for September. More soon….

There’s also Storm Corrosion… his collaboration with Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth and Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater).  TBD/TBA…

He’s a busy dude.

~Dan – np: Ozric TentaclesArborescence

Blackfield 2011 North American tour dates

8th Feb 11 (Tue) 2 comments

Porcupine Tree‘s Steven Wilson likes to stay busy.  One of better side projects is Blackfield with Israeli pop-singer Aviv Geffen.  They’ve got a new website (http://www.blackfield.org/), a new album coming out (Welcome to My DNA), and a tour coming up…

Blackfield 2011 North American Tour

  • 18th May Washington, DC, 9:30 Club USA
  • 19th May Philadelphia, PA, Theater of the Living Arts USA
  • 20th May New York, NY, Irving Plaza USA
  • 21st May Boston, MA, Royale Boston USA
  • 23rd May Montreal, QC, Le National CANADA
  • 25th May Cleveland, OH, House of Blues USA
  • 26th May Detroit, MA, St Andrew’s Hall USA
  • 27th May Chicago, IL, Park West USA
  • 31st May Seattle, WA, Studio Seven USA
  • 1st June Portland, OR, Aladdin Theater USA
  • 3rd June San Francisco, CA, Slim’s USA
  • 4th June Los Angeles, CA, El Rey Theatre USA
  • 6th June Mexico City, MEX, Metropolitan Theater MEXICO

Unrelated Sidenote: Over the Rhine‘s The Long Surrender comes out today.  It’s a fantastic Americana, singer-songwriter, sultry pop album.  Check it out (click album cover to the right for sound samples)… you can even download a song for free (for a limited time).

~Dan – np: Iron & WineKiss Each Other Clean

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