Best of ’11: Fred

FredThe Best Songs You (Maybe) Didn’t Hear 2011
Track 14: Fred, “Somewhere Else”

Irish rockers Fred recorded their newest album, Leaving My Empire, in Montreal, and it has an appropriately Arcade Fire-y sheen: the songs sound epic, and that’s a great accompaniment to their canny knack for perfect pop melodies. The whole album got a lot of repeat plays, but “Somewhere Else” earned a spot on this list thanks to the thunderous second verse (not a chorus, a verse — a nice, unexpected twist):

Leaving My Empire isn’t for sale anywhere in the US, so head to their Soundcloud page to hear more of the songs, and hit their website to purchase a digital download.

Best of ’11: The Head And The Heart

The Head and the HeartThe Best Songs You (Maybe) Didn’t Hear 2011
Track 13: The Head And The Heart, “Down In The Valley”

I said it before, back in April, so I’ll say it again:

Record Store Day ’11 was a success for me: I snagged nearly everything on my shopping list, I was able to also score vinyl for a friend whose local store dropped the ball & couldn’t participate properly, and I didn’t take any elbows to the face. Full details/reviews of my RSD’11 haul are forthcoming, but I wanted to share a bit about my 2nd favorite purchase right away: the self-titled Sub Pop debut from Seattleites The Head and the Heart.

I heard an early copy of their self-released album back in January, and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since: their brand of piano-heavy indie folk is a treat, and they have a knack for memorable melodies and songs. Why did I upgrade? All of the songs on their debut were remastered and/or re-recorded for the new release, and the work is evident: it sounds better than ever. It’s a great album, and you’ll definitely be hearing more about it around these parts. Check out “Down In The Valley,” which quickly became my favorite tune:

Like what you hear? Head to their website and trade your email address for free downloads of “Lost In My Mind” and “Down In The Valley,” then head to Amazon MP3 to download the rest of The Head and the Heart.

For the record, they’re also fantastic live:

Best of ’11: The Pack A.D.

The Pack A.D.The Best Songs You (Maybe) Didn’t Hear 2011
Track 12: The Pack A.D., “Seasick”

The White Stripes comparisons are inevitable for Canadians The Pack A.D. (they’re a boy/girl duo playing stripped down, bluesy garage rock), but that doesn’t dull their edge: Unpersons is loaded with ferocious, feedback-soaked rockers and a wild, foot-stomping energy that grabbed me instantly. The whole album is great, but the woozy, biting “Seasick” got the most repeat listens in 2011:

Best of ’11: Plan B

Plan BThe Best Songs You (Maybe) Didn’t Hear 2011
Track 11: Plan B, “Welcome to Hell”

British rapper Plan B proved two important things to me this year: First, that some rappers can actually sing (sorry, Kanye: auto-tune doesn’t count); and second, that a hip-hop concept album can work. The Defamation of Strickland Banks tells the story of a famous soul singer imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and tells it in an infectious way: the retro-styled hip-hop soul sound is sharp and compelling, conjuring images of a rough-and-tumble version Mark Ronson’s work with Amy Winehouse. I didn’t know that Plan B was a rapper before I heard Strickland Banks, making me doubly impressed by the emotion in his pipes. It was hard to pick just a single track to feature because the album is rock solid, but “Welcome to Hell” is what I returned to most:

Best of ’11: Milo Greene

Milo GreeneThe Best Songs You (Maybe) Didn’t Hear 2011
Track 10: Milo Greene, “1954”

I discovered Milo Greene in the nicest, most roundabout, Kevin-Bacon-game-y way: I went to see Adele while she toured behind 21 & fell in love with her openers from that tour, The Civil Wars. I caught The Civil Wars when they returned to Boston in the fall, this time headlining, and fell in love with their opening act, Milo Greene. Most of the audience, in fact, fell in love with Milo Greene that night: during the intermission, their merch table was mobbed, temporarily running out of CDs & vinyl 45s.

For good reason, too: Milo Greene’s music is a wonderful mix of pickin’ Americana/folk and plugged-in British rock, and their stage presence is great — band members rotate from instrument to instrument in between witty & heartfelt stage banter. They’ve gotten a good Mumford & Sons comparison from Entertainment Weekly, and I’m hoping they get a lot more attention 2012. Check out a nifty live rendition of “1957”:

Like what you hear? Head to their Bandcamp page to purchase their debut EP, The Hello Sessions.

Best of ’11: 8in8

Amanda Palmer, Damian Kulash, Ben Folds and Neil Gaiman, a.k.a. the band / via amandapalmer.netThe Best Songs You (Maybe) Didn’t Hear 2011
Track 9: 8in8, “One Tiny Thing”

Who’d have thought that the lead singer from OkGo would completely outclass collaborators like Ben Folds and Amanda Palmer? Back in April, I wrote:

Palmer, Folds, Kulash, and Gaiman (“the band,” as Palmer put it) took the stage in very good humor but in a near-delirious state thanks to the hectic songwriting/recording schedule of the preceding 24 hours. Their intent was to record 8 songs in 8 hours, hence 8in8, but as that became unrealistic, they settled for 6 songs in 12 hours: still a very respectable output… the real standout of the evening was the Kulash-fronted “One Tiny Thing,” with its dark, spare arrangement (it recalls OkGo’s “Hello My Treacherous Friends” in a very good way) and heartbreaking poetry about the end of a relationship: it’s a hell of a song, and it could/should be released as a single. Stream it below:

Head to Amanda Palmer’s Bandcamp page to download 8in8’s Nighty Night: the minimum donation is $1 to download the all 6 songs.

Best of ’11: TV On The Radio

TV On The RadioThe Best Songs You (Maybe) Didn’t Hear 2011
Track 8: TV On The Radio, “Will Do”

Art rock slow jamz don’t get much better than this. Nine Types Of Light wasn’t showered with the critical praise normally associated with a new TVOTR release, but I fell hard for it quickly: it’s steeped in soul and funk, and is deliciously warped. “Will Do” was an instant favorite: