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I didn’t realize how great a year it’s been for music in D.C. until I started compiling this list. While I didn’t hear many landmark, career-defining albums in 2011, there were a ton of great songs from both young and veteran artists. Whatever D.C.’s reputation, there’s a healthy community of smart, ambitious musicmakers in this town, and there was no dearth of fresh ideas in 2011. The following are personal highlights for me, in no particular order. (How could I rank Oddisee against Joe Lally? It just wouldn’t make sense.)
Hume, “Inverse Fireworks” (“Inverse Fireworks” single) The psych-inflected pop of this early 2011 track sounds miles away from the infinitely spaced-out Hume of late 2011, but its relative restraint makes the song all the more memorable. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTNIB03H5Fg
Meredith Bragg, “Birds of North America” (Nest) The haunting folk of Meredith Bragg doesn’t really belong alongside the more Americana-focused singer-songwriters in the area, even though that’s often who he shares bills with. The ever-persevering troubadour traffics in quiet subtleties, and the slight changes in timbre and instrumentation throughout “Birds of North America” reinforce a simple, repeated melody without becoming stale. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tgWAx0wZJM
Oddisee, “Skipping Rocks” (Rock Creek Park) With the kind of beats hip-hop heads dream about, this mostly instrumental record is like hearing the ‘90s in soft focus. Oddisee seamlessly blends live instruments with choice, ‘70s-style samples, and the result is a soundtrack to your favorite summer memory.
More Humans, “Mason-Dixon” (Demon Station) The harmony-laden post-punk of More Humans’ Demon Station was one of the year’s more pleasant surprises. This track somehow feels both breezy and urgent, showcasing both craft and accessibility.
The Caribbean, “Mr. Let’s Find Out” (Discontinued Perfume) One of the densest, strangest pop releases of the year (can you really call it pop?), The Carribbean’s Discontinued Perfume continues to occupy a strange, dark corner of my record collection. The hooks in “Mr. Let’s Find Out” aren’t especially obvious, but its texture-driven, stream-of-consciousness melody quietly refuses to leave. [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2011/12/02-Mr.-Lets-Find-Out.mp3]
yU, “If U Down” (the EARN) I may be a bit late to the Diamond District’s party, but this yU record has me stoked about whatever those three put out next. Smart, effortless delivery, conscious lyrics that aren’t pedantic, and warm, understated beats.
Deleted Scenes, “Bedbedbedbedbed” (Young People’s Church of Air) This song is inescapable. While the live version packs more punch, the recent single off the effects-drenched Young People’s Church of Air softly plants itself in your skull for the rest of eternity.
Poor But Sexy, “Fool Runnin’” (Let’s Move In Together) Despite featuring familiar guitar work by ex-Dismemberment Plan guitarist Jason Caddell, Poor But Sexy doesn’t quite fit into any particular D.C. scene…which is fine by me. Their funkiness recalls the golden days of yacht rock, and while their frank, straightforward relationship lyrics are somehow startling, they’re also weirdly bold and endearing. Oh, and the sample that kicks off this tune is totally Plan-worthy.
SPRCSS, “Ours is Expanding Light” (05/2010) The primal urgency of SPRCSS, replete with constant 16th notes, creates a constant forward motion. On “Ours Is Expanding Light,” an extended, slow build leads to a cathartic release that somehow feels longer than its mere four and a half minutes. In a good way.
Joe Lally, “What Makes You” (Why Should I Get Used To It) Three records deep into his post-Fugazi career, Joe Lally displays fresh confidence with “What Makes You.” It’s a mid-tempo rocker with an expectedly groovy bassline, and Lally’s understated vocal delivery adds heft to the song’s sultry attack.