Back in the first week of January I put up a list of some bands I thought you should keep your eye on for breakouts this year. Some of them were educated guesses, others hopes, and quite a few longshots. Now we’re about halfway through the year, and many of these bands have already delivered some good stuff. Not all of them, mind you, but a good amount. Let’s go over some of them in the order in which I originally listed them.
1. Dastardly-I put them at the top of the list for a couple reasons, chief among them being that I know they have the talent to be something special. At the beginning of the year they released an EP called Bury Me In The Country which featured “Brief Thoughts On Death,” one of my favorite songs of the year so far. In August they’re releasing another EP, Ballads In Blue. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear it already, and it is completely different from what I expected. I tried to describe it a few days ago, and I don’t think I made much sense. Basically I think it sounds like Rodgers & Hammerstein filtered through David Lynch…if that tells you anything.
2. Bhi Bhiman-The biggest success on the list by a large margin. When Bhiman, Bhi’s second album, came out it was met with great reviews by The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, NPR, and Paste among others. I called it the second he opened his mouth last year at SxSw that he was gonna make it. So far this year he’s opened for Josh Ritter, John Prine, Martin Sexton, Joe Pug, and Rosie Thomas and played headlining gigs at some well-known venues around the country. Next week he stops in Chicago for the fourth time since January.
3. Adam Arcuragi-Also garnering much critical acclaim was Like a fire that consumes all before it…Adam Arcuragi’s latest album that came at the end of January. This was my introduction to his style, which he refers to as “Death Gospel.” He toured the US in support of the album, then headed over to Europe for a streak of dates. He also put out a great Daytrotter session back in May that you can check out.
4. Sons Of An Illustrious Father-In 2011 they delivered the album of the year, One Body. They took a bit of a break for a while and now they’ve headed out on their first big tour. They’re hitting Chicago on July 20th with The Canoes and The Buddies, so I’m eagerly awaiting that. They are down a member, as Sofia Albam left to play with her new band Thorn & Shout.
2011 kicked off with a bang. A couple days before the new year started, I got a copy of The King Is Dead by The Decemberists, and immediately called it the album to beat for anyone else putting out records. Then a couple weeks later I heard Dye It Blonde by Smith Westerns, and I was torn. Of course, by the end of the year I’d heard probably a couple hundred albums and while those two still remained in the top ten, it was silly of me to make such a hyperbolic proclamation. So I won’t be doing that again this year. Instead I will say this: We are a mere two weeks into 2012, and I’ve already heard a handfull of albums that could go the distance and be at the top of those year-end lists we music writers are so fond of making.
The first one I heard, and also the best so far, is the new release by Adam Arcuragi. Prior to getting the album, I was completely unaware of the man. He’s been releasing music since 2006, and everything that I’ve heard so far could knock your socks off. On Like a fire that consumes all before it… Arcuragi takes his “death gospel” to another level and really delivers one of those jaw-dropping records that makes one wonder how he’s not a household name.
The first thing I thought after the initial run of the album was that he reminds me of a young Bruce Springsteen, both in voice and in content. This is not a man interested in writing teenage love ballads, this is a man who attacks true relationships in the most beautiful way imagineable. His music is sometimes quite somber and sad, but more often it is uplifiting, spiritual, and honest.
A couple more spins through the record made me realize what a great songwriter Arcuragi is. He never over complicates matters, if something can be said simply he does so. The characters in his songs are never just blank slates that he uses to manipulate the listener. Rather they feel like real flesh and blood people that we can relate to. The album is filled with examples. But why write about it when I can show you in video:
I suppose one reason I enjoy Like a fire that consumes all before it… is the similarities between this and One Body by Sons Of An Illustrious Father that I’m sure you are all sick of me talking about. They both find their influences in american folk and americana, they both feel spiritual in nature. The biggest difference is that Arcuragi is far more fascinated with death. He writes about it a lot in all of his recordings, but it’s never morbid. Instead I think he’s trying to say that, one way or another, we are all going to die. We should be celebrating life and each other as much as we can in the time we have.
Adam Arcuragi, along with his band The Lupine Chorale Society, is starting a national tour on the 18th of January in Los Angeles. He will be stopping here in Chicago on the 30th, playing a free show at Empty Bottle (you must send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with his name in the subject line for admission). Like a fire that consumes all before it… will be released on the 31st of January, and I urge anyone who loves music to grab a copy.
There was a much longer version of this that was a bit more descriptive, but my system crashed and I lost it. So, now each band has a bit less said about them. However, I’ve decided to just add in a video for each one so you can get a decent sense of the music.
Dastardly-Their new album, Bury Me In The Country, comes out later this month. The way they experiment with country, jazz, blues and rock has me excited to hear it in it’s entirety.
Bhi Bhiman-Already generating good buzz for his second album, Bhiman, this singer-songwriter from San Francisco has a golden voice and the mastery of the written word required to keep listeners interested
Adam Arcuragi-Two weeks ago I’d never heard of this guy, now his voice is constantly repeating in my headphones.
Sons Of An Illustrious Father-In 2011 they put out my favorite album. In 2012 I hope they convert a ton of new fans. The only thing that may stand in their way is the chance that Ezra Miller becomes a world famous actor after his role in the soon-to-be Oscar nominated film We Need To Talk About Kevin. They seem to have their heads on straight, so I don’t see it becoming a problem.
Fanfarlo-Every year a band from the UK hits it big over here in the states, and this year I think these kids have as good a chance as any. They make good, fun, interesting pop.
Young Jesus-I just reviewed their record release show yesterday, and they have a new album dropping at the end of January. They’ve already got some road time in, and I think they have the stage presence and all-around quality music to gain a good following.
Cloud Nothings-They’re already getting good reviews for their new album Attack On Memory and last year they drew raves for their set at SxSw.
Tennis-Saw them open for Smith Westerns last August, and they put on a good show. They’ve got their follow-up to Cape Dory coming out in February and a tour to go along with it.
Fort Frances/Chaperone/Molehill-Cheating here a bit. These three bands are some of my favorites in Chicago, and I’m hoping that they get some more opportunities in 2012. Fort Frances has already announced a trip to NYC. Molehill just got back from the east coast. And word is that Chaperone may have some travel plans made as well. In my mind they should all be international superstars.