2011 Mid Year Wrap Up: Most Underrated
Most underrated music website: Hardformat.org — Holding vintage aesthetics, DIY production, and intricate packaging as reflections of musical artistry, Hardformat fights the good, unwinnable fight for “brilliant music-related design.” The blog’s main author, Colin Buttimer, spotlights creative and inspiring packaging for albums of all genres.
Most underrated record label: Relapse — You probably remember a time in your late high-school days when you listened to the grittiest, most brutal black- and death-metal you could get your ears on. Undoubtedly, Relapse Records was a household name for you. For more than 20 years, Relapse has outspokenly fought for undiscovered doomcore and blastpunk bands—to the extent that it appears they’ve pigeonholed themselves into a niche. Not so. Sure, the label’s current roster includes the likes of Morbid Angel, Black Dahlia Murder, and Iced Earth. But Relapse also takes chances on fantastic fringe music, and has released genre-bending albums by Zombi, Horseback, and Black Tusk in just the past year.
Most underrated album: We Are Renegades by Pharaohe Monch — It’s not that this album is underrated, but as far as I can tell it’s underrated by those that should be overrating it. Pharaohe Monch has been in the underground rap scene for ages, and his latest album takes the game to new levels of social criticism, lyrical complexity, throwback-to-the-point-of-being-wonky production, and clever poetics. In short, Fela Kuti meets Eminem meets Dilated Peoples.
Most underrated single: “Dark Allies” by Light Pollution — Light Pollution came as a welcome surprise at the beginning of this year—a nice break from the inescapable Pitchfork-cycle of glo-fi/prom-surf, glam-rap/weed-rap, and dubstep/adderol-tronica. The enigmatic group will also be a welcome addition to the Mexican Summer label, channeling Madonna, Depeche Mode, and Nina Simone at once. Talk about three Hail Marys.
Most underrated underground scene: New South Wales, Australia — Sorry, Minneapolis. You’re cool and all, but I just crave something a little . . . weirder. Something from the Land Down Under. To be fair the game is stacked: Australia’s federal government handed out about $160 million to artists and arts organizations to get by, promote their music, and write the music they want to write and get paid for it. Australia is the homeland to bigger names like PVT and Cut Copy, but also the ABSOLUTELY FUCKING CRUCIAL New Weird Australia community.
1. Edo G. “A Face In The Crowd”
2. Kool G Rap “Riches, Royalty & Respect”
3. Elzhi “ELmatic”
4. Laws & Paul McCartney “Yesterday’s Future”
5. (tie) The Weeknd “House of Balloons” & Classified “Hand Shakes & Middle Fingers”
The British singer’s debut was largely ignored this year and her shows were sparesely attended. It’s a shame because she is terrific
They released their best record yet this spring but still seem to have escaped a lot of attention
The High Llamas
The cult band released a really good, if poorly received, record this year
D. Charles Speer and the Helix
Two really good albums this year but not a lot of recognition, unfortunately
Malaikat Dan Singa
Arrington De Dionyso’s Indonesian language project is one of the most interesting things I have heard all year
This is partially because McGuire, guitar/synth player in Emeralds, released a grossly underrated album last year (the amazing Living with Yourself), but I can justify a 2011 inclusion because his 2xCD career retrospective A Young Persons Guide to Mark McGuire was dropped earlier this year and shows that his older, self-released material is equally as commanding and engaging as his last LP. Truly an amazing artist. (and only 23!)
Of the crop of ambient/synth bands around, Forma may be one of the strongest. If that genre appeals to you in even the slightest way, check out this great band and their debut, self-titled LP.
While the band, and their excellent 2011 LP 936, have been getting lots of love in certain cirlces (rd: music nerds), they have not broken through to a larger audience, which is a shame. While I am not saying I want their songs sound tracking a new teeny bopper movie, I see lots of potential for the bands sound to reach out to more listeners than it currently does.
Not sure that the knotty, grimy, other world vibe of the Shabazz Palaces debut LP Black Up are for everyone, but damnit if it hasn’t knocked me out time and time again for the last few months. Even if he isn’t shooting for a bigger audience, he deserves one.
-Food Pyramid/Brute Heart/Lighted/Mother of Fire/Guante/Audio Perm/Tender Meat/Marijuana Deathsquads/etc
Allow me to step up onto my soapbox to pontificate about our amazing local music scene, as I do each time with these lists. I truly believe each of the bands listed above (plus many, many more) have a legitimate ability to become more than a “local” band. While I feel eternally lucky to live in a city with such a strong scene, I can’t help but wish these great bands greater exposure.