My picks for best new music

December 1, 2011

The Century's "Christmas picks" issue is out; it includes my annotated list of best (popular) music of the year.

I'm a bit self-conscious about my list this year. It more or less screams, "this guy had pretty good taste in music years ago, and he hasn't branched out much in a while." Gillian Welch, the Jayhawks, Tom Waits...old-timers and older-timers all. And even the somewhat newer folks on my list--The Head and the Heart, Fleet Foxes and Liz Janes--could be right out of an algorithm based on my early-aughts iTunes "most played" list. ("If you like Iron and Wine and Sufjan Stevens, you'll love..." )

In my defense: it was a great year for folks who came out of '90s alt-country scenes, once my bread and butter. I included Welch and the Jayhawks; I could well have included Wilco (whose new record is their best in years), Lucinda Williams or Ryan Adams. Age-60+ songwriters, too: Waits made the list; Paul Simon almost did. And it was a terrific year for Sub Pop records, the label that made its name in grunge and has since become a trusty standby for all of us who love gently edgy indie pop/folk. Along with The Head and the Heart and Fleet Foxes, Sub Pop releases by Daniel Martin Moore, Low and the Fruit Bats were on my short list.

In short, an abundance of obvious riches kept me from digging too deep. Not a bad problem to have. (I thought we'd never get another studio record from Waits or Welch; then we got both the same year the Jayhawks got back together.) That said, I'd be glad to hear what you think I overlooked. What are your picks for best of the year?