1. Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now?
This year’s top record might be a surprise, unless you’ve actually heard Who’s Feeling Young Now?. Punch Brothers‘ third (technically fourth if you count Chris Thile‘s How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, which also featured the band) album mostly left what the critics called “progressive bluegrass” in favor of something pretty close to indie folk.
After mixing genres like bluegrass and classical on their first albums, Who’s Feeling Young Now? focuses more on songwriting. Thile and the rest of the band still pluck and bow at virtuoso levels, but this time it’s more about how the instruments work together — often in the background — instead of the heavily layered bluegrass.
There’s also a great deal of instrumental manipulation. The violin on “Hundred Dollars” is about as far from the fiddle as you can get, and I’m still baffled how they managed to so perfectly cover Radiohead‘s “Kid A” with mandolin, acoustic guitar, violin, double bass and banjo.
And what better way to celebrate our album of the year than by seeing them live on New Year’s Eve? Tonight, Punch Brothers finish off their three-night run at Bowery Ballroom in New York, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Posted in Music Reviews
Tagged Bon Iver, Chris Thile, Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, Dawes, Destroyer, Edgar Meyer, Feist, Fleet Foxes, Fucked Up, I'm From Barcelona, James Blake, Kurt Vile, M83, Michael Daves, Middle Brother, Mountain Goats, Music, My Morning Jacket, Panda Bear, Paul Simon, Ryan Adams, Stuart Duncan, The Antlers, The Decemberists, The Head and the Heart, The Mountain Goats, Tom Waits, Top 20 of 2011, Wilco, Wild Flag, Yo-Yo Ma
20. Chris Thile & Michael Daves – Sleep with One Eye Open
If I haven’t made it blatantly obvious in the past few posts, I really like Chris Thile. The mandolin player temporarily stepped out from his band, Punch Brothers, to record an album with guitarist Michael Daves (and later, another with Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan).
In contrast to the progressive nature of Thile’s work with Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, Sleep with One Eye Open is traditional bluegrass. Thile & Daves covered 16 classic bluegrass songs by artists like Flatt & Scruggs, The Louvin Brothers and The Monroe Brothers. They recorded the album in four days at Jack White’s Third Man Studio in Nashville, which keeps the album to a simplified pace.
Sleep with One Eye Open feels spontaneous and surprisingly fresh for an album of traditional bluegrass songs. Most, if not all, of the album will be new to most listeners, but Thile and Daves’ clean, stripped-down take on classics like “My Little Girl in Tennessee” and “Cry, Cry Darling” are a perfect introduction to traditional bluegrass.
Starting next week, Kind of Bleu will be counting down our top 20 albums of the year. Before we do that, though, there are some albums that didn’t make the list that deserve some recognition:
Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile – The Goat Rodeo Sessions
I’ve never been a big classical music fan, but this must be a sign that I’m growing up. Honestly, this album was a surprise. With four big names on the front, I knew it would be good, but I didn’t know how much it would get to me.
Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong
Dawes isn’t afraid to show their love of Jackson Browne. Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith lays on hooks that could’ve been on Running on Empty and Browne himself even sings on “Fire Away.” The Laurel Canyon sound is as strong as ever 40 years after its heyday with bands like Crosby, Still & Nash.
I’m From Barcelona – Forever Today
Forever Today could easily be 2011’s catchiest album. Its irresistible opening track, “Charlie Parker,” is definitely one of my favorite songs of the year. The rest of the album is great as well. The 29-member band has given us their best to date.
Panda Bear – Tomboy
Whether in Animal Collective or as Panda Bear, Noah Lennox is a game-changer. His last Panda Bear album, Person Pitch, completely rewrote the rules, combining Beach Boys pop with psychedelic electronica in an astonishing musical achievement. Tomboy continues to explore what he created with a few new twists.
My Morning Jacket – Circuital
Circuital could only have been made by My Morning Jacket. For years, the band has been mixing their Southern rock melting pot full of classic R&B, psychedelia, and who knows what else to create what is definitively their own sound. No other band could take a song about black metal, add an all-girl choir and heavy brass and end up with what could be a James Bond theme. Three of the album’s songs were even originally written for the Muppet band Dr. Teeth and Electric Mayhem. Circuital is nothing but simply My Morning Jacket.
I’ve been driving more lately, which has given me the opportunity to listen to more music. The new albums by I’m From Barcelona, Fleet Foxes, The Antlers and Wild Beasts have been in heavy rotation in my stereo, and I listened to Chris Thile & Michael Daves’ album Sleep With One Eye Open on the way open tonight. Avett Brothers fans take note! This one sounds a lot like their early, more-bluegrass albums, but with a mandolin instead of a banjo. Also, if you haven’t heard Thile’s excellent mandolin playing on either of the Punch Brothers’ albums, you’ve been missing out.
The new albums in my car have been piling up, so I figured it’s time for another music to-do list. This one should be a breeze with my extra driving time, though.
The Very Best – Super Mom Mixtape
Esau Mwamwaya’s work with Radioclit as The Very Best is always interesting, and their latest mixtape promises more. The track list includes re-worked versions of Kate Bush, LCD Soundsystem and Kanye West, as well as two originals.
The Reatards – Teenage Hate
A little over a year since Jay Reatard died, Goner Records is reissuing some of his earliest work. This 39-track album features both Teenage Hate and Fuck Elvis, Here’s the Reatards – previously only available on cassette. This collection should shine some light on the early years of the garage rocker who was lost too soon.
Givers – In Light
Since Givers’ EP came out in 2009, they’ve toured with bands like Dirty Projectors and Ra Ra Riot. If their self-titled EP is any indication, the bands’ first full-length should be full of infectious indie-pop jams.
Warren Haynes – Man in Motion
This one seems like kind of an oddball on this list, but it’s been repeatedly recommended to me by a former professor, whose music taste I trust. Haynes’ bluesy take on soul music should be a great listen.