Great bands lack listeners

So, here we are — my last column of the semester. What pearls of wisdom should I leave you with as you venture unaided into the wilderness of modern music?

I think it’s time for me to do something I haven’t done enough of this semester: recommend you some music.

It seems like we’ve been inundated with so many new releases this year that I can barely remember most of them. A few big ones have dominated, but so many have slipped past our collective radar. In the interest of rectifying that situation, here we go.

Here, in no particular order, are four albums you probably weren’t listening to this year but should have been.

1. Erin McKeown, “Hundreds of Lions”

I’ve been becoming something of an apostle for McKeown recently. After hearing “Hundreds of Lions,” I would tell anyone who would listen how great it was in an attempt to counteract the plot to ignore it in most of the music press (that means you, Rolling Stone and Blender). McKeown’s sound is fresh and fascinating. Her sparse arrangements and incredibly varied styling make this album compulsively listenable. If you’re looking for something new, something that is busy defying categorization, go buy this record right now. You’ll be glad that you did.

2. Meat Puppets, “Sewn Together”

The Meat Puppets have become something of a cliché in the world of underappreciated bands. Long listed as important influences by every punk/indie/alternative band that you ever enjoyed growing up, critical and commercial success have always eluded the band. Ever listened to Nirvana’s unbelievable Unplugged record? “Oh Me,” “Lake of Fire” and “Plateau” all come from the Puppets’ second album and Curt and Cris Kirkwood (the creative force behind the band) play on those tracks on the album. However, despite touring with Nirvana and modest sales of their first major label album in 1995, the Meat Puppets faded into obscurity and eventually disbanded. Then, the Kirkwoods reunited a couple of years ago and started working again. “Sewn Together” is their best release since and it hearkens back to their early work with its fusion of punk, rockabilly and general insanity. If this album proves anything, it’s that after more than two decades of making music, the Meat Puppets might still have that explosive success in them. If not, they’re at least providing us with some consistently great music.

3. Eels, “Hombre Lobo”

I admit with some chagrin that I’ve only recently become aware of the Eels as a band. I had heard their breakout hit, “Novocaine For The Soul,” years back but had never really given them much play until I got my hands on “Hombre Lobo” a few weeks ago. Running from footstomping, danceable tracks like “Lilac Breeze” to introspective and heartbreaking cuts like “All The Beautiful Things,” “Hombre Lobo” is a truly amazing album. It’s a powerful odyssey of love and desire from the perspective of the eternal second fiddle and as sad as that is, I also found it strangely affirming. Whether you’re lovelorn or deeply in love, give “Hombre Lobo” a spin, especially if you’re one of those unfortunate souls who, like me, have never been introduced to the artistry of the weird and eminently talented band.

4. The Low Anthem, “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin”

To be fair, this album actually came out in 2008. However, few of us could have hoped to get our hands on that release, a run of CDs from a band no one had ever heard of featuring all hand-painted covers. Basically, unless you had seen them in concert, you probably wouldn’t have had a copy of the CD until it was picked up by Nonesuch records in 2009. Even now, with growing popularity and Barnes and Noble pumping their music non-stop, the Low Anthem still aren’t getting the audience they really deserve. A band with an oddly palatable obsession with Americana, their beautiful and charged music (often made with vintage instruments and recorded in a Rhode Island house heated only by a woodstove) is incredibly infectious. Try to listen to “To Ohio” without humming the melody later. You can’t do it. With catchy tunes, even the sad and slow ones, the Low Anthem are quietly winning legions of fans.

If you’ve already heard these albums and know these bands, don’t keep quiet. Get the word out. Tell your friends to listen. That’s what these bands need. In today’s market, their work is in danger of being drowned out, but you can make sure they get the chance to make more by listening and sharing. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

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