In any given year, we are bombarded with so much new music that sometimes albums and artists that deserve a lot more attention somehow fall through the cracks, and don't quite get the careful consideration their work is entitled to. So, the bands listed here are the ones who I feel warrant a wider audience, as all of them released stellar records that should ultimately end up in everyone's collection.
Now, some of you might scoff and say that in certain circles, these artists are overly praised (even overrated), but I'm just looking to widen those circles by introducing some truly original artists to music fans that might not be aware of them. So, here are my choices for the 5 most underrated artists of 2010.
It feels odd to say that a band that might be broken up is underrated, but in the case of this innovative Calgary band, any attention they receive is completely deserved. On their experimental sophomore release, Public Strain, these young musicians crafted a blizzard of both sound and control, saying as much with their softer moments as they do with their Sonic Youth-like guitar squalls. I certainly hope they work through whatever differences that led to their recent onstage punch-up, but even if they don't, they've left us with two engrossing releases that will ensure that their Canadian rock legacy will last longer than they did.
4. Common Prayer
It's rare to come across an album that remains sonically and stylistically surprising as you go from one track to the next. Usually, you get a feel for the sound of a band through the first couple of tracks and they don't change things up too drastically as the record plays out. But with Common Prayer's stellar debut, There Is A Mountain, one song doesn't really prepare you for the original beauty found in the next. Lead by former Mercury Rev bassist (and current member of the Brooklyn band Hopewell) Jason Sebastian Russo, these songs are at once starkly beautiful and altogether unpredictable, and reveal more subtle layers with each listen. A truly indelible album.
I truly can't figure out Twin Cities musical audiences lately, where local shows for the Avett Brothers, Andrew Bird and the aforementioned Mumford & Sons will consistently sell out immediately (as they should), but the 400 Bar sits relatively empty when an exceptional band like Shearwater rolls through town, touring for one of the best albums of the year in The Golden Archipelago. But no matter, those that were lucky enough to be there were treated to a moving, intimate performance from a band that has consistently remained innovative and inspired, no matter who is listening.
2. The Radio Dept.
This Swedish dream-pop outfit has crafted one of the most technically brilliant albums of the year in Clinging To A Scheme, replete with effortlessly soaring melodies and innovative production techniques. Word of their talent is finally starting to filter in to the States (and Pitchfork honored them with Best New Music), but I think once they finally make their first local live appearance at the Entry in February, everyone will be under the same spell I've been immersed in since first hearing them.
1. Maximum Balloon
With all of the attention that Dave Sitek gets for his other, high-profile project, TV On The Radio, you would think that this album would've received its own share of comparably flattering accolades. But it seems to me that not only have a lot of people not even heard this funky, soulful record, but a good chunk of music fans aren't even aware it exists. Sitek hasn't really toured this album all that much, and the project hasn't received an exorbitant amount of press, but it deserves to be heard and heard loudly, as this record is a textured, spirited romp.