In an era in which every album —big or small, good or bad, laudable or regrettable, memorable or forgettable— seems like it's blogged, reposted, and Liked to infinity, the notion of records being 'under-the-radar' seems dated. In the internet's indie fishbowl, isn't it impossible to be overlooked or under-rated? The below records prove otherwise. Each is awesome, yet combined they barely bothered the blogosphere, at all, in 2011.
1. Bam Bam 'Futura Vía'
Scores of bands —from Sigur Rós to Bonde do Rolê— have shown the long-held belief that English-language audiences would never listen to foreign-language albums to be bunk. Yet, it's hard to think of a reason other than 'cultural differences' when wondering why Bam Bam's debut LP, Futura Vía, found little-to-no interest outside Latin America. The band make swirling, psychedelic, widescreen jams steeped in repetition, transcendence, and Animal Collective, sounding huge and boisterous and joyous even at their most experimental and/or atmospheric. Whilst there's Beach Boysy harmonies aplenty, for much of the album Bam Bam just jam it out, instrumentally; meaning there's not even theoretical barriers of language keeping them from the musical universal.
2. Born Gold 'Bodysongs'
This is a weird one. Once upon a time, there was Canadian band named Gobble Gobble. They mixed post-hardcore hysteria with fried chiptune electronics, and their liveshows —all performance-art-esque hijinks and genuine crowd interaction— were infamous. As they threw out early MP3s, Gobble Gobble seemed like hype-band in the making. Then, on the eve of their debut LP, mastermind Cecil Frena whimsically changed their name, to the banal Born Gold. And, as if unleashing some hex, all that budding buzz suddenly withered. Bodysongs arrived, boasting piles of Gobble Gobble's past hits, yet the set —despite being free on Bandcamp— was weirdly overlooked, both by those who once stoked the hype and those who should've discovered it anew. Apparently there's more to a band-name than you'd imagine...
3. Celebration 'Hello Paradise'
Celebration were underrated even when they were making two of the best albums of the last decade and ensconced in a cross-collaboratory relationship with TV on the Radio. So, it's hardly a surprise that, when the Baltimore band parted ways with 4AD, didn't employ Dave Sitek as producer, freely released their third album, and effectively retired from the touring grind, they all but dropped off the map. Hello Paradise was, in all honesty, Celebration's least-impressive LP; lacking the ecstatic fury and sonic heft of either 2005's self-titled set or 2007's brilliant The Modern Tribe. But Celebration at their worst still betters 99.9% of 2011's recorded music; Katrina Ford's voice truly one of humanity's great treasures.
4. The Deeep 'Life Light'
Shadowy Canadian electro duo The Deeep were one of the best new bands to arise in 2011; matching the slurred, soul-singing of Isla Craig to electronics suitably dark and, uh, deep. Their debut LP, Life Light, technically dropped in 2010 —coming out in the new-release deadzone of December— but it felt more like one of the first records of the new year; not least of all because it ushered in Not Not Fun's reign as Label of the Year (issuing discs by Psychic Reality, Maria Minerva, Diva, etc). Yet, rather than picking up steam as the year progressed —with the awesome "Slow Coaster" becoming a beloved dancefloor anthem— The Deeep sorted drifted off into the blogospheric ether; Life Light lingering in the ears of those who heard it, yet not pushing The Deeep towards deserved crossover.
5. Fakuta 'Al Vuelo'
After Chilean synth-pop babe Javiera Mena landed here last year, you'd be forgiven for thinking I'd earmarked a place for Santiago indie starlets yet to find cultural crossover. But Fakuta certainly isn't some token entry, herein. Instead, the debut disc for Pamela Sepúlveda —who has one degree of separation from awesome Chilean would-be exports like Mena, Gepe, and Dënver, and performs live with a trio of backing-singers called The Laura Palmers(!)— enshrines Fakuta in an ersatz palace gilded in synthetic synth sounds and salty, salty tears; playing with the sweet contrast between squelchy bass-notes and plasticky keytone, and the warm humanity and graceful reassurance of her voice. Al Vuelo is, in turn, sprightly, beautiful, and deep; worth repeat spins and, oh, downloadable for free.
6. Holiday Shores 'New Masses for Squaw Peak'
Holiday Shores' debut album, Columbus'd the Whim, was one of 2009's very best records, playing like some glorious, tropicalist take on Pavement-esque slackerism. Yet, even then, the Floridian outfit seemed overlooked; finding none of the hysterical hype that met pals The Drums and Surfer Blood. With Holiday Shores taking an oddball left-turn on their sophomore set, New Masses for Squaw Peak, perhaps it's no surprise the record slunk into the shadows. On jams like "Threepeat Got Old," Nathan Pemberton and crew play indie-pop that sounds wonky and uneasy; the rock-solid pop of past giving way to slippery, squelchy five-minute workouts that have the consistency of concrete that hasn't yet set.
7. Lost Animal 'Ex-Tropical'
As a kid, Jarrod Quarrell spent two years in Papua New Guinea; a stint of formative pre-adolescent tropicalism that included an obsession with Michael Jackson, forming a breakdance crew, and learning to play the local Kundu drums. Decades on, Quarrell wanted to return to the 'free' feeling of those carefree island days, as way of casting off the 'dismay' he felt at playing straight rock'n'roll. As Lost Animal, he keeps the greaser swagger —and the sneering, lip-curling delivery— he once used fronting Melburnian bands the New Season and St. Helens, yet sets it to washed-out synths, decaying organs, funky basslines, and hazy island vibes. The aesthetic is essentially surmised in one instant: Quarrell drawling "out on the moonless ocean/you sing 'be-bop-a-lu-la baby'" like a young Billy Idol over the sub-aqueous piano funk of "Lose the Baby."
8. North Highlands 'Wild One'
An 'overlooked Brooklyn band' seems oxymoronic. How could any outfit dwelling at the epicentre of the blogosphere not find themselves hyped way beyond their measure? Yet, North Highlands' debut LP, Wild One, was curiously underrated upon its 2011 release. To me, it was almost like the shadow to Twin Sister's way overrated debut LP, In Heaven; somehow overlooked despite its obvious superiority to a more famous foil. Their not identical twins, of course; but as another New Yorker outfit playing sunny indie-pop built on rippling rhythms and caroling female vocals, the comparison sits. And North Highlands nailed such a sound on Wild One, brittle-sounding guitars and mandolin dancing joyously under Brenda Malvini's sweet singing.
9. Skeletons 'People'
Speaking of overlooked Brooklyn bands: Skeletons are comparable to Dirty Projectors, share members with the live band for Glasser, and have collaborated live with African heroes Janka Nabay, Kasai Allstars, and Konono No. 1. If that seems like a recipe for blog acclaim, think again: the quartet are critically overlooked. Sure, when they kept changing their name (Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys; Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities; etc) the band were courting confusion. But after settling into their Skeletons identity on 2008's awesome, swaggering Money —a manic mixture of African polyrhythms, math-rock nerdiness, and haute tribalism— they hit their peak with People. Here, their hyper-complexity sounds elegant, settling into a jaunty jazziness that belies the incisive, satirical lyrics on the death of humanity in the 21st century.
10. Tara Jane O'Neil and Nikaido Kazumi 'Tara Jane O'Neil and Nikaido Kazumi'
If you listen to the self-titled album for Tara Jane O'Neil and Nikaido Kazumi, it's not surprising that it passed the world by. The record is barely there; a collection of ephemeral sketches scribbled in ad-hoc fashion. O'Neil spoke no Japanese, Nikaido no English; so the pair communicated, back-and-forth, through sound, and rolled tape whilst they did. There's no songs, here, just notes afloat in the space between them. Like a long-forgotten collaboration between Boredoms' Yoshimi P-We and Yuka Honda (Yoshimi and Yuka's Flower with No Color), it's significantly less than the sum of its twin contributors, but there are still moments when Nikaido —maker of peerlessly good albums and star of impossibly moving video— uses her magical, glorious voice to lift songs towards the truly transcendent.