Top 5 most underrated artists of 2011

With all of the music that we consistently have at our fingertips, it's a given that in every year albums and bands that deserve to get heard and receive wider recognition frequently get buried under whatever is new or the next big thing. It's a sad cycle, and one that I'm as guilty of as anybody. But with the close of every year, I go back and give a listen to records that I've criminally overlooked throughout the past 12 months, and am always surprised and encouraged by the wonders that I find. Here is a list of five fantastic bands and musicians who I think we all should listen to more in the future. And if you are listening to them already, then turn it up and clue your neighbors in on some underappreciated musical gems.

5. Other Lives

After seeing and hearing Other Lives for the first time this summer outdoors at Madison's picturesque student union, I was actually angry with myself for not being exposed to them earlier. Their gorgeous, dusty musical arrangements are right in my sweet spot, and I was charmed and captivated by the easy elegance of their songs. With their recent release, Tamer Animals, this Oklahoma quintet has crafted a lovely, lilting slice of Americana that has kept me enthralled since the moment I first heard it.

4. Marissa Nadler

After being dropped by her record label after her fourth record, Marissa Nadler could have easily called it a career and focused her efforts on other pursuits. But instead, she started her own label and released her excellent self-titled fifth album with the help of Kickstarter. The result is a gorgeous, intimate collection of songs that are easily among Nadler's best. Her dulcet voice is accompanied by the perfect amount of subtle musical arrangements, which only makes the songs more moving and personal. 

3. Wooden Shjips

Perhaps it's the funny way that this San Francisco quartet spells their name that has kept them from reaching a wider audience. But their fiery brand of garage-rock psychedelia is hypnotic and raw. For all of the music fans who wonder where all the guitars in rock 'n roll have gone, check out Wooden Shjips newest record West. From the sprawling, gritty sound of it, all of the guitars ended up on this record. That's right, ALL of them. Their sound is both a look back to the untamed, hazy '60s, and a bold, clamorous leap forward past the reserved nature of most modern music.

2. Unknown Mortal Orchestra

I can't think of a better way to be introduced to a band than hearing them play live in a completely darkened theater, where you can barely tell that there are actually people on stage playing the music you are hearing. Such was the case on a sweltering July evening at the Varsity, as UMO kept the lights off to cool down the room a bit, but ended up setting fire to the place anyway with their inventive, infectious brand of rock 'n roll. Who was playing what or where it was coming from wasn't important, and only added to their appeal, as everyone just danced away in the dark to one of the best new bands going.

1. Cant

Twin Cities music fans obvously love Grizzly Bear, a point which is made clear by how quickly their shows sell out each time the band comes through for a local show. But Cant, the side-project of Grizzly Bear bassist and producer Chris Taylor, didn't draw more than 30 people to their Entry show back in October. While the music is a bit of a departure from his full-time band, Taylor's own music is captivating and original in its own right. And, he recorded the album with the help of Twin Shadow mastermind George Lewis Jr., who has cultivated a strong following after a couple of stellar local shows of his own. It's surprising to me just how many people haven't heard of this project. If you are a Grizzly Bear fan and haven't yet checked out Cant's dazzling debut, Dreams Come True, give it a listen while you wait for the next GB record to drop. You won't be disappointed.

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